Although the room now set aside for the coroner’s inquest was large, it was already almost filled when he arrived. Fortunately, the usher had kept spaces free for witnesses on the bench nearest to the front. Adam hoped he might be seated next to the Vicar of Gressington, but that was not to be. That reverend gentleman was right at the other end of the short row of benches. The man next to Adam was elderly and had a somewhat florid and whiskery complexion. He was also most eager to strike up an acquaintance.
‘Captain George Mimms, sir,’ he said, twisting round with difficulty to offer Adam his hand. ‘Once of His Majesty’s Navy, then a merchant. Not a witness, like yourself. Merely an old man allowed to have this seat by reason of my infirmity…and a small donation to the funds of our good usher!’
‘Adam Bascom, sir. A physician.’
If Adam hoped by his brusque reply to stifle further attempts at conversation, he was soon set right on the matter. Capt. Mimms had either failed to notice the snub, or chose to ignore it. ‘Bascom…Bascom. Then you will be from Trundon Hall, sir? A relative, perhaps, for I have seen the new squire on one or two occasions and you and he bear a striking resemblance.’
‘He is my brother,’ Adam said. It was impossible not to reply without showing the most egregious rudeness.
‘Indeed, indeed. And a physician. A most worthy profession, sir. To have such a profession is a great good fortune. Though it may be hard and wearisome to attain, it confers sufficient status to talk at ease with the gentry and the nobility. Yet is does not deprive you of an equal ease with the merchant, the tradesman, the farmer and the man who follows the plough. I, sir, have no profession at all. I was an idle and feckless youth, who ran away to sea before my twelfth birthday, consumed with stories of pirates and privateers. I faced the most cruel disappointment, for the sea is a harsh mistress and the captains of ships learn their skills at her hands. In the end I saw that I must work hard or perish. Thus I prospered and became the captain of ships belonging to others. Later I had my own ship, and finally I have shares in ten ships and own a trading house at Yarmouth besides. Nowadays, I am too old for such work and the hard years at sea have left me lame and short of breath. I have given my business to my sons to run and live in this pleasant little town. I have become a source of amusement to many, sir, but I hope of pleasure to a select few.’
At once, Adam regretted his rudeness of a few moments ago. Here was a man of sharp wit and long experience. He should have treated him with respect for his age and his ability to turn a poor start in life into significant wealth.
‘Forgive me, sir,’ Adam said. ‘I have been deuced rude in my response to your politeness. I can only plead that I am more than a little apprehensive at what is to come. I have never attended an inquest before, and now must give my evidence before such a multitude of persons.’
Capt. Mimms smiled and patted Adam on the arm. ‘Think nothing of it, my good sir. For I took no offence, seeing that none was intended. Nor should you feel the least nervousness at what is to come. Mr. Allsop, the coroner, is a most punctilious lawyer and will have nothing take place that is not proper to such a solemn event. It was at his instigation, I hear, that they moved proceedings from Gressington into Holt. The inn at Gressington has but a small barn available. The death of such a prominent personage as the Archdeacon of Norwich is bound to draw a good crowd of the curious.’
‘Is that the measure of this crowd then, Capt. Mimms?’ Adam said. ‘A mere congregation of the curious?’
‘Not all, young sir. I see many of our local clergy, attending out of respect to one of their number. Or do they perhaps wish to be seen to do so by that tall person standing up to your left to survey the crowd? That is Mr. Yerkins, the bishop’s chaplain and his right hand man. Over and beyond Mr. Yerkins, I see Col. Mansard and Mr. Unscombe, both persons of quality and owners of substantial estates. Maybe they knew the archdeacon. There I see Mr. Loffard. He will, I imagine, be writing a report on proceedings which we will see in The Norfolk Intelligencer in a day or so. John Refford to my right is a merchant like myself…Ah, here is Mr. Allsop. The game is afoot!’
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