Even the most generous hearted would describe John Allcott as a difficult man.
He was a bachelor, his cottage rundown, the thatch ragged as tangled hair and more than one argument was had over his overflowing cesspit which he refused to have emptied on account of an argument with the night soil man Henry Baddick over a spilled pint of ale and a ruined kerchief.
Yes, Allcott was a drinker, such a regular in his customary seat at the Bird in the Hand – tucked in the inglenook, back to wall, staring into his glass with such malevolent looks one would suppose beer was like bitter aloes to him – the landlord joked the building had been constructed with his crooked back supporting the beams, knees tucked beneath him, strong as a stone buttress.
He eschewed human company, the only words he passed were to his brindle greyhound Rab, a creature as gnarled and evil tempered as himself. Allcott snarled when greeted, tumbled curses on bonny newborns, beribboned newlyweds and crisp spring mornings. Nothing pleased him.
Yet though this most cliff-faced of men dispensed only loathing and dark ugliness in his manner, his hands could create untold beauty. For John was a glass worker and could spin the molten substance into such glittering, glorious bottles and goblets that the wealthy and noble from four counties would travel to the village to possess his work. And as examples of how fine his eye was, how elegantly controlled his hand, he had created a model of every villager in coloured glass which he displayed along the sills of his workshop windows, each figure extraordinary in its spare lines, encompassing the stance and outline of a person and making them instantly recognisable.
Even the night soil man Henry Baddick said of his own likeness, ‘Tis canny,’ this being the highest compliment the man could give.
In fact, it was through Henry that John Allcott’s secret was revealed.
For one day Henry was at his job as usual, cart blocking the lanes, stinking like a plague pit in the August heat, the next he vanished, his horse found wandering Church Road snaffling dandelion heads, cart behind it still half filled with waste.
A search was made, but no Henry was found.
It was only when the blacksmith Ben Tawdle visited his privy to relieve himself of the previous day’s steak and ale pie that Henry was found, head down in the little wooden shack at the bottom of a cabbage patch, drowned in what the Tawdle family had left behind.
And it was only the day after that a sharp-eyed child by the name of Natty Hawksmoor, whilst spying for her own glass form, noticed that the muddy brown figurine of Henry Baddick was gone, leaving only a circle of clean sill behind …