The Turnip Field Treasure

Submitted into Contest #16 in response to: Write a rags-to-riches story.... view prompt




Raymond had convinced himself he loved the early morning, when the mists were still rising and the moon was still visible in the sky. He had persuaded himself that he liked the sensation of doing something furtive and forbidden. None of that was strictly speaking true. He was thinking with a degree of longing of a warm mug of coffee and the Today programme on Radio 4, and the farmer across the lane had given him his full permission to pursue his hobby in his turnip field that lay fallow that year. Fred the farmer had not used the phrase “Play with your metal detector”, but Raymond had a very good idea that he was thinking it. He might have to sell it soon. He needed the money. But best not think about that quite yet.

    He was mulling (Raymond was one of life’s mullers) on the saying that March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. This particular March had been more like an ill-tempered goat. Easter had been very early and was already over, and had been colder than Christmas. There were statistics that made out that was more often the case than not, but they were disputed. Raymond preferred his statistics undisputed.

    Whilst he was pondering old sayings and matters climatic and statistical, he heard his metal detector send out a signal. He did not get over-excited. True, there were mornings entirely without bleeps and whines, but if their absence was depressing, their presence was not necessarily cause for rejoicing or excitement. Still, perhaps he would find a few Roman coins one day. He and Fred had agreed to share the spoils of any finds, and he suspected that Fred, like many folk, thought Roman coins were worth more than they generally were.

    He retrieved his spade, that he had propped up against the rather ramshackle fence, and began to dig, trying, not entirely successfully (he’d never quite got the hang of this) to dig whilst keeping his detector at hand to give out a signal. Anyone observing him might have thought he looked like a slightly shabby marionette manipulated by a not terribly skilful puppeteer, but for all that, he was surprisingly efficient, and attacking the task with enthusiasm and doggedness. 

    It didn’t take many minutes before he managed to extricate his first find. At first he thought it was a horseshoe, but a horse that wore it would have had a very strange hoof, as the two ends met, or almost met. It was mud-caked, and not as heavy as he had expected. But he was curious. Leaving his tools unguarded, he bore it back into his little cottage and cleaned it up a bit. At first the mud was obdurate, but became easier to shift, and it was only a few moments before Raymond saw that he was holding a bracelet. A gold bracelet. Well, at any rate (he hurriedly reminded himself) a bracelet that was gold in colour. It could well be some made in China trinket that a young lady somewhat in drink had dropped in the turnip field only the previous night. It could be. But it was not, and Raymond knew it was not. 

    “Oh, my goodness,” Raymond said, and after a couple of seconds, he said, “Oh, my goodness,” again. He put the bracelet in a kitchen drawer and put a tea towel with a recipe for spaghetti Bolognese on it on top before going out to the fallow turnip field again. 

    Before long he had unearthed another bracelet, a couple of brooches, and what – no, it couldn’t, it couldn’t possibly be a crown, could it? 

    The morning mists had cleared now, and traffic was moving along the road by the field. Oh my goodness, thought Raymond, this is the morning when my life changes. This is serious. This is important, and it has happened to me. And there are things that need to be seen to and procedures that need to be instigated. He suddenly realised he was hungry, and anyway, you shouldn’t do such things on an empty stomach, so he had a bowl of cereal and a couple of slices of toast and low fat spread, and a mug of coffee. 

    The first thing to do was to tell Fred. “Morning, lad,” Fred said, amiably, putting his Farmer’s Weekly to one side. “Cup of tea? Or no, coffee’s your poison, isn’t it?”

    “I’ve just had one, thank you. Fred, there is something I need to tell you. You know we agreed to share anything I find in the field?”

    “Oh, found a few coins have you? Well done. All things come to those who wait. You keep them for yourself.”

    “I really think you should come and look.” Fred sighed, but followed him over to the cottage, where Raymond showed him his finds, saying, with a mixture of shyness and pride, “There’s more there, I think.”

    Fred used an expression that was considerably stronger than Oh My Goodness, then remembered his manners and amended it to “Bloody Hell!” “You know what this is, Ray?” he asked.

    “Not exactly,” said Raymond, who was a modest and truthful young man. “But I know it’s – a proper find.”

    “You’re not joking,” Raymond let out a low whistle. “And you say there’s more?”

    “I think so.”

    Raymond forgot that he was supposed to be spending the morning jobseeking, and Fred forgot that he had meant to finally get down to those accounts. They both spent the morning in the field, detecting and digging. They didn’t talk much, and didn’t need to. They made a good team, complementing each other. Fred was physically stronger, but Raymond had more of a knack for carefully extricating their finds from the heavy soil. They supposed that as they were metal, they couldn’t be that fragile, but they certainly weren’t taking any risks. Finally, they decided they had found all they were going to find in that patch, and the array of artefacts on the tarpaulin Fred had fetched out was, to say the least, impressive. Now they paused in their labours, their eyes met, and they had no need to say it. From now on they would be the men who found the Lincolnshire turnip field treasure. 

    Fred had a strong room at the farm that was far more secure than Raymond’s kitchen drawer, even with a tea towel for camouflage, and they transferred their finds to it, firmly locking the door. “I expect you – know what to do,” Fred said.

    “I do,” Raymond nodded, and set the official process in order. He supposed that the relevant authorities heard several callers a day tell them their find was different and didn’t blame them for the slightly world-weary tone. But they would find out soon enough. 

    They did, and even their professional, inscrutable masks briefly dropped at the glories before them. They realised they were playing cameo roles in this drama, and played them with aplomb.

    Raymond and Fred realised that soon enough, other people than the “authorities” would know about this, but decided that for a couple of weeks they would keep it to themselves. Not quite to themselves, of course. Raymond told his mother, Julia, and Fred told his wife, Sylvia. They were both thrilled to bits but not without their misgivings. So far as Sylvia knew, Fred had always been a good husband, but she wasn’t as young as she used to be and after all, Raymond had said he would share the money with him and not both of them. Julia couldn’t have had a better son, but though a doting mother, she was a realistic one, and knew that although Raymond had most definitely never been, as she put it, lacking in the brain stakes, he could be naïve and too trusting for his own good.

    It turned out that the Turnip Field Hoard was even more exciting than anyone had thought. It wasn’t Saxon, like that other hoard that had been discovered a hundred or so miles to the south, in Suffolk, nor even Viking, but, the experts discovered, came from an early Celtic people whose presence in the area had only been confirmed relatively recently. It was also worth even more than Raymond (and even Fred) had imagined in their wildest dreams, and museums were fighting over it. As they had known it would, it got into the press and onto the TV and the Internet, and not just locally, not just nationally, but all over the world. Raymond and Fred became famous – and also very, very rich. Both of them were millionaires. Sylvia and Julia, who had now become good friends though they hadn’t known each other before, shared their worries about them. But it seemed they were groundless. 

    Fred, who was more perceptive than people gave him credit for (and perhaps more poetic too) realised what was on Sylvia’s mind, and told Sylvia “Look – okay, I might have an eye for a pretty girl, sometimes. But I only have the heart for one woman and only ever will, and the fact we’ve come into some money isn’t going to change that.” They sold the farm – it wasn’t a split second decision, but Fred realised that though he’d inherited it from his father and always managed it well, his heart and soul had never truly been in it. And also, blinking away the tears that were very much a rarity for him, he remembered that when his dad had discovered his cancer was terminal, he’d said, “You make the most of your life, son. Take all the chances you have.” He and Sylvia had always entertained a pipe dream about retiring to the Isle of Wight, and now it was a pipe dream no longer. They bought a lovely villa, but (Sylvia saw to this) not one that was ridiculously big for two people, and he discovered what he’d suspected all along, that he was a natural on the golf course.

    Raymond, of course, was much younger. But despite that, or maybe because of it, he had his dreams too. He had always been happiest as a student, and now he could afford to go back to university and do postgraduate work in archaeology. But he was most determined he should never just “play at being a student”. Inevitably, some of his fellow-students (because it goes without saying they all knew he was what was now termed one of the “Turnip Field Millionaires”) looked a bit askance at him at first, but he won them over with his gentle, unassuming manner, and his willingness to talk about the find, but determination to prove himself on his own merits. Julia was relieved to see that he didn’t seem to be dogged by gold-diggers. She admitted to herself that it was hard to let go of the apron strings. True, he had been living in his own cottage for a couple of years, but it was only just up the road, and she could keep an eye on him. She couldn’t help wishing he had chosen a university closer to home but firmly told herself it was hardly a million miles away, and plenty of mothers would be delighted to have a son who kept in touch as often and as affectionately as he did. At first she had resolutely refused to take any of his money, but realised that was just false pride and was hurting him more than it was hurting her. She had made it clear she had no intention of moving, but it was a fact the new little car that didn’t rattle and whine was very welcome, and the holiday to Florida gave her memories she’d always cherish.

    She didn’t know how she felt about Raymond getting a girlfriend. Despite herself and the evidence hitherto, those worries about gold-diggers wouldn’t quite go away, but she wanted nothing more than for her boy to be happy, and though she knew perfectly well there were people who were happy and content to remain single all their lives, she had an inkling he wasn’t one of them. He needed a woman in his life. Or a man, come to that, she would have been absolutely fine with that, though she was pretty sure it wasn’t the case. 

    The thing was, when she visited his cosy little flat near the cathedral in the old university town, she was sure there was a woman’s touch there. She would have been hard-pushed to explain why – there was nothing obviously frilly or feminine, not even anything subtle like a book that (despite what people said) a woman was more likely to read than a man, or a bottle of fruity-scented shampoo in the bathroom. She was on the point of asking him more than once, but decided he’d tell her in his own good time, though perhaps a few hints might not be our of order. 

    After he had kissed her goodbye, and she had disappeared heading out towards the bypass in the little metallic grey VW Golf that was her pride and joy, he smiled. He supposed he ought to get round to telling her, but who knew how she might react? In some ways, if not all, she finally seemed to have stopped worrying about him, and he didn’t want to see that careworn look on her face again.

    “You’ll have to decide whether to tell her or not,” Gilda said, coming into the room and taking him in her arms. 

    “I know.” He didn’t want to think about that at the moment, though, only to look into Gilda’s intense green eyes and run his hands through her silky tumble of chestnut hair. And to lie beside her, either in silence, or talking about all that united them, more than anything that would ever divide them. She was a woman who valued and practised stillness, but every so often, her long, sensitive fingers would finger the little brooch she wore pinned to her simple, rich robe. 

    Because, although he was as honest as a midsummer day was long, Raymond had kept back one tiny bit of the horde, one simple brooch, not even gold, but Gilda loved it.

    Gilda, his Celtic princess.  

November 22, 2019 08:13

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