The Inn was becoming steadily more crowded, and it was the usual jovial crowd of villagers gathering, keen to hear the news from Valorholm and to meet and greet their famous guests. The cheerfulness of Marlton on a fine early evening rapidly altered the moods of Linnaeus and Jenkins, who had been joined by Jack’s parents and Molly Brewer who was passing their table carrying a large flagon of ale.
“Now then, Molly tell me true, is the bull I’ve bought as good as it’s supposed to be?”
“Gentle as a lamb,” Molly replied, “He may even be here by now. Henry Farmer is to leave him for you in Tom’s paddock at the forge.”
“Good, good. Now then, my wager…” he said to the crowd in general.
“No doubt, no doubt at all that this dog”…. he pointed to Jake who was asleep at Tom’s feet “…is a remarkable dog, but herding chickens!?
I had a Welsh Collie who tried to herd kittens once ‘til their mother scratched him on the nose end, but chickens!?”
His eyes were screwed up in merriment, highlighting his laughter wrinkles. He insisted upon hearing the whole tale from the very beginning; the spilled beer and the subterfuge, and he howled with laughter at the description of little tots smuggling beer from the cellar. He insisted upon all the details right to the end of the tale, even the gate of the chicken coop closing.
When at last he was able to compose himself, he said, “Well, by God, if it’s the case, I believe two gold shillings each to the Kings will be well worth the price. Now then, what we need to do is demonstrate this, for seeing is believing.” He continued, “What say we ask Lord William to declare a feast day, the day after tomorrow and Linnaeus and I will donate a barrel of beer and a hog to roast!”
“Good idea!” confirmed Linnaeus.
By the next evening plans were well under way. Jenkins insisting that everything should be as close as possible to the original event, even down to the little ones smuggling beer. The original smugglers were now too big to pass unnoticed under Molly Brewers kitchen window but there were plenty of younger siblings and cousins eager to play the part.
Word of the upcoming feast and the added attraction of the chicken herding wager spread rapidly. The inn was full and people from the nearby villages were arriving to stay with friends and family. Marlton was very proud of itself, not every village could boast of under- fifteen champion archers and a chicken herding dog as well as two such famous guests.
Trestle tables were being laid out and the fire made ready to cook the hog that Linnaeus and Jenkins donated. A hog this size would take several hours to roast it cooked slowly, giving off a delicious aroma. The sun rose in the sky, the dew vanished and the crowd gathered as the smell of the roast began to spread. Most of the villagers brought food from home and laid the dishes on the tables. Lord William instructed the Manor house cooks to prepare pies of all kinds and roasted capons, and the bakers to make breads and puddings.
When all was ready Lord William banged his sword hilt on the table and began his speech.
“Ladies, Gentlemen… and Wizard!” he called, bowing.
“We are here to witness the wager between Master Bowman Jenkins, who believes the existence of a chicken-herding dog improbable, and Kings’ Idris and Edwin who believe that Jake the dog can indeed do as the legend explains!”
Rob and Jack took up their positions turning the roast hog at Jenkins insistence. Three of the little village boys eagerly ran off to sneak round the back of the Inn and opened the gate of Molly Brewers chicken pen, the little ones clutching the empty flagons were ready to sneak around the back of the inn. Jake took his position with the third group of the village children, still eager as ever to join in and disburse the chickens.
Jenkins howling with laughter, especially at the little smugglers who were taking their duties very seriously, as Alfred Brewer sent them to their tasks. Jake barked as he had done years before and the chickens scattered. Tom, who had been silent till now, whistled for Jake to come to heel.
“Now Jake lets show them how good you are! Way by, Jake!”
Jake went off to the left and nudged the furthest chickens towards the centre of the village green.
“Come by Jake!” instructed Tom.
Jake trotted around to the right side of the green and edged several more of Molly Brewers chickens towards the centre. Tom saw that the chickens were becoming unsettled and he whistled and Jake lay down with only his pricked up ears to show his intense concentration.
With the chickens now settled, “Come ahead Jake!”
Jake crawled ahead, moving the chickens closer together. Tom and Jake repeated this process going to the left, to the right, and ahead until the chickens, around twenty of them, were congregated close to the gate. The chickens were growing accustomed to the dog by this time and sensed no threat from him.
“Lie down Jake!” called Tom.
“Throw a handful of corn into the pen, Paul,” said Tom to one of the village lads who had years before been one of the original little smugglers. Some of the chickens nearest the gate saw the corn and went to feed, all the while Jake crawled, lay down and went left and right as Tom talked to him rather than commanding him. Once a quarter of the chickens were either inside the pen or close to the gate Tom said,
“Another handful please, Paul.” The corn was thrown as Jake moved the flock of chickens forward once more, and when around half of them were in the pen and feeding, the others turned and walked calmly into the pen to join the rest. Paul promptly closed the pen gate. There was a huge cheer and applause, accompanied by a couple of muted barks and a wagging tail from Jake.
“Amazing!” cried Jenkins.
“Outstanding!” agreed Linnaeus.
“That’s the finest wager I have ever lost!” continued Jenkins, banging his hand upon the table top.
Tears of joy in Jenkins bright blue eyes, his ruddy complexion confirming his delight, deep laughter wrinkles clearly visible around his eyes. The impromptu feast day was a huge success, with dancing and feasting lasting way into the evening, Jenkins still howling with laughter slapping his ample thigh, as he relived the little four and five year olds smuggling beer with such a serious intent.