Talk Of The Fenfolk
Samuel Loveday and the strange death of Eupham Naycroft
The mist gripped at the lowlands and slumbered across the fens. There was nothing here, nothing but the edges of reeds and the shutter of smoke and the snap of the branches. Here, in late November, the sea swept up high and the only way from Gremen Fen to Lewyck was the barrowman’s boat. By nine or so of the clock, the skies gleamed a hard white and save from the odd chimney, there was nothing but that great grey nothing.
Samuel Loveday wasn’t from this lost edge of the world. He was used to the shuddering halt of coaches and the scattered footsteps of factory children in the dark, the reek of gaslight and cracks of cloud through the twisting slums of Norwich. This wasn’t his place, this wild lonely place infested with the swarming burn of silence. The nothingness frightened him, as he stood there, staring out at the approach of that boat from the grey. At first it was a shadow, then the humped shape of a woman in a shawl, and the tall bent shape of the barrowman. Finally, faces, worn faces, faces sharp with the features of the fenfolk, that button-black gaze and that swarthy complexion and thin lipless mouth. He knew it well, by now, from the church, well enough to recognise the isolated appearance of the Gremen Fen inhabitants.
The woman, wrapped in thick ash coloured wool and thick with the scent of goosefat, rose to her feet. She was impossibly tall, a great height of maybe six or seven feet, her thin gnarled hands wrapped around a stick. She was ageless, perhaps forty, perhaps seventy, a sad indifference burning behind that stare. The barrowman wasn’t smiling either, his yellow teeth clasped hard around a clay pipe. The woman stepped heavily onto the bank, her boots sinking into the thick marsh. She didn’t flinch as the waters flooded the hem of her high skirts and left them black with peat, her eyes on Samuel with an intensity that scared him.
“Loveday,” she said wrapping up her skirts and hauling her huge frame up to him. “Thas be you, then.” She leant on her stick and extended her hand, grunting as he shook it. “Th’ said you’d be here by Tuesdee.” She was older, much older, he could see that now, her jaw folding into thick leathery skin around her neck.