The following was based upon the excellent BBC series Cranford, which was first broadcast in 2007 in Britain and 2008 in the United States, and was adapted by Heidi Thomas from Cranford, Mr. Harrison's Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow, all by the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. I have no connection to the BBC or to Mrs. Gaskell.
"Winter is the darkest season when one is alone." – a quotation from episode three of Cranford
Chapter 1: In the Bleak Midwinter
Christmas Eve. Not as cold as it might have been, and yet Constable Graves had reason enough to stamp his boots and rub his hands together. Gloves were of little help to him nowadays; he was not as young as he'd been, and standing out in the cold of an evening made his very bones ache.
He longed to be home, perhaps with a hot brick to his back, and something warm to drink – spiced wine, such as Phillis made, should be just what he'd like at such a moment – but he'd been summoned out to the jail, to stand watch until Sir Charles should arrive. A fine Christmas Eve! He cursed the day he'd been made constable.
But something was about to happen; of that he was sure. Perhaps Sir Charles meant to have Gregson on the ships before the new year. Yes, that was it. Trust Gregson to spoil Christmas, along with all else, but he'd get what he deserved.
They'd never had to send anyone away before, not in a town where a stolen apple, or a quarrel between two draymen, was thought a calamity, and talked of by the ladies for days on end.
Still, after that business with the mayor, and the robbing of Dr. Harrison's house, they could do little else. Mind you, that young physician hadn't seen anybody – the culprit had fled before he'd got downstairs – but a knife had been taken, and so had the mutton.
Harrison had seen what had become of Mr. Johnson, though -- such a blow he took to the head, and his mouth bleeding too. Of course he'd been set upon from behind, and could not say who it had been, but not long after, Gregson had come to Johnson's Universal Stores with brass enough to spend, a good deal more than an idle fellow ought to have at any season of the year, let alone Christmas. If he'd not robbed anyone, he'd done something just as wicked.
Gregson's fate was certain, then, if Sir Charles was coming tonight. Before another month passed he'd send that worthless vagabond to Australia, or some such place, and they'd hear nothing more of Job Gregson.
Of course Gregson should leave behind a wife and children, one of them a babe not six months old. No doubt that lot would end up in the workhouse, though Graves had begun to wonder if Harry -- Gregson's oldest lad, said to be very clever -- had some scheme or other to see his daddy freed. Fancy that, a boy of ten thinking he could outwit Sir Charles Maulver and the mayor and the lot of them! A chance should be a fine thing. Any road, Harry had best mind what he did, or he'd end like his father, far away in Australia, or maybe on the gallows.
Someone was coming now, by carriage. Visitors, likely on their way to the Tomkinson sisters. Graves again swore softly at being left standing about while folk made merry of a Christmas Eve.
In the darkness he squinted at the approaching vehicle. That was no hired fly; it was Lady Ludlow's carriage, truly it was. Her ladyship abroad on Christmas Eve, and on this very street! He'd never thought to see such a thing.
Odder still, the carriage drew to a stop very nearly where he stood. The door opened, and a man stepped out, bending his tall form as though it had only been with some trouble that he'd fit inside the carriage at all.
It was Mr. Carter, her ladyship's steward. Now there was another one who'd no reason at all to make merry on this night.
"Mr. Graves." Carter nodded to the constable.
"I've come to fulfill a commission from my lady. We're to await the arrival of Sir Charles, and afterwards further instruction from her ladyship."
"From her ladyship?" The moment he said the words, Graves knew they sounded cross, and disrespectful to the bargain. He did not mean them so, but surely it was his duty to answer only to the mayor and the magistrate. What business had Lady Ludlow with him, and at the jail, on a Christmas Eve?
To be continued…