The Malted Shovel, exuberant heart and soul of Hollinbury Hamlet, buzzed with talk while the ale flowed. Talk of Dumb Lukey's crazed acts and the romance between Lucinda and Joe Lee, the Thames bargee. Talk of the Crimea and the terror of Napoleon. At the tavern, hard-headed Beatrice and her sister Dot care for their invalid father and for Lucinda, their pretty orphaned niece. The inn is their livelihood but village business is ever Beat's business too. And now some dark cloud has descended on them all ...