Jack Jones made his way into the sleepy little town of Elstow, about a mile south of Bedford in Bedfordshire, home to perhaps five hundred souls—give or take half a hundred. There was a notable stone cross in the center of town where he stopped to survey for a tinker's shop. "A bloody tinker!" he muttered. "I'm carrying mail for a tinker? What next, a milk maid? A bar wench? At least he's one of the better sort with a forge and a settled station." In a bit, when it was not obvious where he should go, he headed to the parish house next to the church of Saints Mary and Helen and approached to knock on the door. By chance the vicar himself answered.
Jack asked, in a slow voice, watching his word choice carefully to be better understood, knowing that his accent was often something of a bother, "Good marrow, good sir. Could you be directing me to the shop of one Thomas the son of Thomas, a tinker?"
"And you are?" the vicar asked.
"Jack Jones, dispatch rider, at your service. I'm up from London with a letter for Goodman Thomas, the tinker."
"A letter you say?" The vicar looked skeptical. "And just whom in London would be writing a letter to Thomas?"
"It was given me by the office of one Isaac Abrabanel just east of Temple Bar."
"Don't tell me Thomas has gone and borrowed money from a London Jew that he can't pay back?" The vicar let out a deep sigh. "That man will end in debtor's prison and his wife will be asking for charity. I knew it. I told her father not to let Margaret marry beneath herself. This is what comes of marrying for love."
"I wouldn't know anything about that, Vicar. I just have a letter to be delivered. Could you please tell me where I can find him?"
"Go to the cross. Face east. Take the middle of the three streets. When it forks, go left and the shop will be on your right. There is a shingle of a mended pot hanging over the door." The vicar started to close the door.
"One more question, of your grace, please. Would you know if Thomas has his letters or do I need to take a reader with me?"
"No, he does not. But his wife, poor woman, does." And with that the vicar did indeed close the door.
Jack led his horse through the town. When he entered the front door of the tinker's shop he was promptly addressed.
"What can I do for you?"
"Are you Thomas the Tinker?"
"No. Thomas is my brother. We share the shop. What can we do for you?"
"Does Thomas have a son named John? The lad would be not yet seven years of age."
"That's right. What is this about?"
"Could I have a few words with his wife, Margaret?"
"You could . . . if I have a mind to call her from the kitchen, which I am not about to do until you tell me what this is all about!" By this time the tinker had put down his tools and stood up from the bench, quietly picking up the heaviest of his hammers.
Jack decided he'd better answer quickly. "I have a letter for your brother. I suppose it will be all right if I give it to his wife, seeing as Thomas hasn't his letters and she will have to be the one reading it, anyway."
"A letter, you say?"
Jack lifted the flap on the pouch over his shoulder and brought forth a folded parchment, sewn with a string, set with wax and sealed with a stamp.
"Maggie?" the tinker called out.
"Yes?" The answer came from the back of the house.
"Can you come out to the shop, please?"
Margaret pushed open the door that separated the shop from the living area. She was drying her hands on her apron as she did.
"This fellow says he has a letter for your husband."
"How very odd," she replied. "Are you sure?"
"The letter is for one Thomas, the son of Thomas, a tinker in Elstow, who has a son named John," Jack said.
"That would indeed be my Thomas. But why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone be sending Thomas a letter?"
"Goodwife, could you tell me your father's family name?"
"What an odd thing to ask."
"True enough. I've never been instructed to asked the likes of it before but—" Jack put the letter back in the shoulder pouch and lifted a small bag of coins. He tossed it up and down in his hand, causing it to clink with the distinct sound of large silver coins. "I was told to ask and if I didn't get the right answer, the letter and the money are to go back to London."
The tinker promptly answered. "Bentley. The family name is Bentley."
Jack set the bag down and dug a stoppered inkwell out of his shoulder pouch along with a quill and a bit of paper. "Goodwife, would you please assure yourself that the seal on the coin bag is unbroken and then sign a receipt?"
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