YE OLDE NOT IN HAM

By Wendy de-Veryard

Story hour had finished and the children left Father's chamber full of high spirits. Today's story had been about Robin Hood and his merry men in Sherwood Forest, England.

Filled with the tale of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, the children hurried through the tunnels bubbling with excited thoughts of living such a wondrous and exciting life, as Robin surely must have done. It was a wonderful tale for any child to hear, but not only that the children had noted that several of the adults had wandered in to sit and listen as first Father and then Vincent related the historic tale to them.

After everyone had left Father and Vincent fell silent reminiscing on all manner of things, and were startled back into the present by the sound of footsteps approaching. As they looked up two children rounded the chamber entrance, wide eyed and so obviously distressed.

"What is it?" Vincent asked as they dashed to his side.

"Its William!" They chorused, "He's leaving us!"

"Leaving us!" Using his cane Father pulled himself up out of his chair "What do you mean?"

"We heard him."

Geoffrey nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, Kipper's right. William is leaving us."

"Slow down, slow down, and tell us what you know. Has William told you this?" Somehow Father couldn't imagine that he would.

"Not exactly. We overheard him grumbling, and then he started shouting but not angrily. Just shouting, like he was excited about going."

Vincent drew his brows together, "I don't understand, what makes you think he's leaving the tunnels?"

"Not just the tunnels, he's going to England."

"England!" Father cried. His mind was incapable of believing such folly.

"Nottingham is in England isn't it?" Geoffrey asked, he was sure it was, but then…

"Yes. Do you mean he's going to Nottingham? What exactly did he say?" Father replied, teetering between his seat and a half-standing position undecided about whether to go or stay.

"We were going to the kitchen for some cookies, and William was hitting something on the work bench. He had his back to us, and didn't see us enter, and we heard him shouting."

"Yes but what did he say?" Father asked exasperated.

"He was shouting, 'that's it, that's it I've had enough…' and then suddenly he cried 'got it, got it, ye olde Nottingham.' And then he laughed out loud, like he was really happy."

"He laughed?" Father was becoming more and more perplexed, and he finally sat back down in his seat thoughtfully rubbing his chin.

The two boys continued to stare wide-eyed at the two adults, and waited expectantly for Father to say something. After a few minutes their patience was rewarded.

"I think what we have here is a pure case of feeling neglected and taken for granted. William cooks for us without complaint, and we enjoy his meals, they are well prepared and delicious, but do we ever tell him so? Oh I know we say, this is good William, but when ever do we actually show him that he is appreciated as a valued member of the community and not just there to feed us? I cannot imagine these tunnels without William's jovial spirit among us, so we must think of something to show him how appreciative we are of everything that he does for us."

Vincent nodded gravely hoping that Father's idea would work. No William in the tunnels was unthinkable. It would be as unthinkable as no Pascal in the pipe chamber.

"We'll tell the other children. We'll think of something. William can't leave us." Kipper told his elders, "Come Geoffrey lets get on to it now."

Father nodded and let them go, before stating, "And we must do something too. Vincent can you put the word out, don't let William know of course, but go tell everyone in our community that we must show William how much he is needed among us, and not just for his cooking skills. I can't imagine these tunnels without William in them."

Bending to brush a kiss upon his father's brow before leaving, Vincent told his parent, "Consider it done Father." Before leaving the older man sitting and worrying about losing a much loved member of their community.

*** *** ***

By breakfast the next day everyone had been informed, and one by one as they entered the kitchen to sit down, they made certain that William was aware of their love for him.

"Morning William, mmm this smells delicious. Oooo, it tastes delicious too, have I ever told you what a wonderful cook you are?"

William stared at Jamie gone out. "Why thank you Jamie." He told her sincerely.

"Good food." Mouse champed on his toast and jam, "Arthur says so too."

"Do you have any more of those delicious, mouth watering cookies that you made yesterday William." Mary popped her head around the corner; "I wanted to have some sent down to Narcissa."

Father met her at the entrance, "How's it going?" He whispered before entering.

Mary whispered, "Good I think, but from what I've listened to so far, a few too many references to his cooking. If I were he and thinking of leaving I might get to thinking that's all people would miss me for."

"Good thinking. Look you grab people on their way in from over there, and I'll do it from over here, we must alter our strategy."

William continued in the kitchen, a little bemused by the compliments to his breakfast fare but pleased nonetheless, when the next group of tunnelers came in to eat.

"These are for you William." Samantha and Brook brought him a bunch of fresh flowers. "We thought you might like these."

"And these are for you too." Kipper followed them in with a packet of sticky sweets that he had been rationing to himself over the past week. It grieved him to give them up, but then he wanted William to stay.

"And these are for you too." Geoffrey came in now followed by Father and Mary, who brought gifts of their own, and waited as Geoffrey handed over two apples he'd been given by one of the helpers.

Vincent followed, "William, I wondered if you would like to have this book of prose, I know you like this particular book, and it seems that I have two of them since Catherine bought me another."

Absentmindedly, William took all the gifts until his arms were full and overflowing. He hadn't said a word. He couldn't find anything to say; though his mind was spinning with thoughts and feelings.

"What is this?" He asked everyone at last. The kitchen was full now, it was as if the entire tunnel community had converged upon it this morning, and everyone, young and old were bestowing him with gifts and or compliments.

"Have I missed something? It's not my birthday is it?" With joy his face beamed at all the attention he was getting but underneath it all everyone could see that he was perplexed. Nobody wanted to say anything least of all let him know that they knew he was thinking of leaving. But as the saying out of the mouths of babes is true so too is the fact that children often speak when their parents hope they will be silent, and little Cathy ran to William sobbing as she caught hold of his legs and cried, "Don't go William. I love you."

"Don't go?" William looked down at the child, then depositing his armload onto the nearest free space, he gathered the child into his arms, "Honey don't cry. I'm not going anywhere."

"Promise?" Cathy's face brightened.

"I promise Lassie." He looked up at the sea of faces with a question in his eyes. Father cleared his throat and began, " We know you are thinking of leaving us William. We just wanted to show you how much you would be missed. Please William, we may not often tell you that we appreciate you and your wonderful cooking, but we promise never to take you for granted ever again."

Everyone nodded, and words of 'here, here' could be heard whispering through the crowd.

"But I'm not leaving." William drew his brows together, "I never was."

"You weren't?" Suddenly Father felt a trifle hot around the collar, not to mention foolish. He glared at Kipper and Geoffrey in turn, who stammered, "But we heard you."

"Heard me, I don't understand what do you mean you heard me?" William asked. None of this made any sense, as nice as it was to be the centre of attention.

"Yesterday." Kipper told him.

"Yes yesterday." Geoffrey added, "After the story hour. After the story about Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest and…" Geoffrey deliberately spelt out the last word, "Not…ting….ham." with emphasis, as if that alone might jog William's memory. When it didn't appear to do, Kipper asked, "You were going to Nottingham weren't you?"

"Nottingham! Me!" William burst into nervous laughter; "What ever gave you that idea?"

There was silence in the kitchen, everyone now had lay down their spoons, or were holding the utensil somewhere between the bowl and their mouth in hesitation.

"We heard you." Geoffrey stammered. He too was beginning to feel foolish and unlike William was not enjoying being the centre of attention, yet felt fit to explain. "Kipper and I, we heard you. We came here after story hour, and we heard you bashing about in here, you were saying, 'that's it, I've had enough', and then you shouted 'got it, got it, ye old Nottingham." Geoffrey's voice tapered to a mere whisper, "We thought you were saying that you had just decided where you wanted to go."

Bit by bit realisation dawned on William's face, and he began to laugh. The more he thought about it, and the more he thought of what had taken place here in his kitchen this morning, the funnier it became. And he laughed harder and harder, noticing the curious grins of his companions, and he was surprised to note the obvious relief on many of those same faces.

"So you aren't leaving us?" Mary asked unnecessarily.

"Lord no Mary. What would I want to leave here for? This is my home and all of you are my family. And Nottingham! Why ever would I want to go to Nottingham?"

"Because of the story, we thought you wanted to go there." Father replied. William shook his head; "I don't want to go anywhere. Mind you its nice to know that you all think so much of me."

"We love you William." Mary told him sincerely, "And I speak for everyone on that score." Everyone nodded profusely and many voices could be heard confirming that as so.

William smiled a little embarrassed, but pleased as punch nonetheless, "Thank you." He mumbled, brushing away an errant tear. This was becoming too sentimental by far. Pulling himself up to his highest height William drew a deep breath, "Well now that's all established, can we get on with breakfast?"

A simultaneous sigh rippled through the crowd and people began eating again, until Vincent asked, "So tell us, what did you mean when Kipper and Geoffrey overheard you yesterday?"

"Oh that." William began to laugh again, " I was trying to joint the ham for tonight's dinner, and it was tougher than I first thought. I did have the tale on my mind too and it struck me as funny that there was a knot in the ham, I was just playing around I guess. Never expected someone to eavesdrop…" He glared at the two children concerned and then grinning went on, "I was just getting annoyed at the joint, and then suddenly it gave way and I rejoiced. Nothing more than that." The two boys were remembering as William spoke, picturing the problem in their mind's eye 'that's it that's it I've had enough', imagining the joint taking all of William's strength to split. And then his shout of 'got it got it, ye old…of course! Knot in ham, not Nottingham', the two boys sighed and were greatly relieved. William watched their faces and knew that they had made the connection, and he grinned at them, tousling each their hair in turn with one large hand, "Nottingham indeed! Its so far away for one thing, and even if I did leave the tunnels I would never go so far that I couldn't visit frequently." He paused, his grin spreading even wider, "mind you now that you've mentioned it…"

Suddenly he had every one's attention again and once more spoons made it only halfway to hungry mouths as everyone waited in anticipation for him to go on. William chuckled joyfully, his jovial frame trembling with glee at the sea of faces before him. "Perhaps I should live in Sherwood Forest." Everyone gasped and then happily relaxed as William told them from the heart, "After all you've certainly made me one of its merry men."

 

The end.