He woke up screaming.
The whites of his eyes bloated and broad with thin red capillaries interspersed, eyelids bulging and blackened. His scream was piercing; sending echoes reverberating and joining together creating a cacophony of voices, screaming in unison.
His face was white, whiter than the full moon at clear midnight. Drowsy grey clouds drifted across his eyes; his mouth wide, lips stretched back and gum bared. His chin length red hair pushed back; wild and tangled and caked in dirt. The scream continued unabated. For five minutes he screamed before finally, assistance arrived in the form of two burly porters and a nurse with greying hair tied in a bun. Her name was Sister Agnes and she had come to attend to the patient. The two porters grabbed at his arms, the hands fixed and whitened in stubborn grip on the side of the rusting bed. They clutched and nudged at his fingers, trying to prise them free but they would not give. Sister Agnes tutted and clapped her hands, the porters stepped back and the nurse approached the patient, staring him intently in his blue eyes.
‘Randolph. Randolph. Can you hear me Sir Randolph?’
Sir Randolph Phineas Bottomley, the heir to a minor Baronetcy in North Wales continued his scream, his voice seemingly steadfast despite the intrusion. He had not noticed the arrival nor had the awareness to sense the scramble at his peripheries. The nurse clicked her fingers and the porters jumped to attention. The larger of the two, a slovenly man in his late thirties by the name of Aldhouse smiled in a sly, sycophantic manner at the nurse. The smaller, lacking in bodily fat and bulk and with a long thin nose went by the name of Harcastle. Sister Agnes spoke to the pair:
‘You there, yes you.’
‘Yes m’lady,’ replied Aldhouse in a greasy tone.
‘I’m not an aristocrat you uneducated buffoon, I am a nurse, Sister Agnes Carpenter. A member of the Royal Society of Nurses and you address me as Sister, do you hear?’
‘Good. Now you run along and fetch Dr. Wickholm immediately; tell him Sir Randolph has finally awoken from his catatonia. Off you go.’
She waved Aldhouse away briskly and as he left she turned to Harcastle, his glasses bobbled on his thin nose as she called him to the side of Sir Randolph.
‘This man is a Baron; therefore he requires the utmost care and consideration. Do not manhandle him, assist him with compassion. Now fetch me water.’
Harcastle scurried off in search of a bowl and water. Sister Agnes continued peering into the eyes of the patient; they struck her as most odd. The pupils were dilated but vast in circumference, surely larger than what is found naturally occurring.
Aldhouse returned first; in the hurried wake of Dr. Wickholm.
‘Out of my way all of you,’ he said as he bustled past the waiting nurse. ‘Let me take a look at our distinguished guest.’
‘Sir Randolph, it is Dr Wickholm and we are in the Regency Asylum in Camden in London. Can you hear me at all Sir?’
Randolph’s eyes flickered but the screaming continued harsh and ever increasingly shrill in pitch.
‘This will not do,’ said the Doctor. ‘Sister and you there,’ he ordered, pointing at the sweating Aldhouse by the door. ‘Help me get him lying down, we need to try and get him calmer, come on now don’t dawdle.’
The three of them gently eased against his rigid arms, as solidly fixed as those afflicted by rigor mortis, holding him bolt upright in bed in the dingy asylum cell. The walls were made of brown stained brick, with a small barred window, highly set. The light was dim from the windows and need often be supplemented by candle light. Thick and cheap yellowy-white tallow candles that burned with an unpleasant odour.
Harcastle returned with a filthy tin bowl of brown water; Sister Agnes relieved him of the water and tended to Randolph’s brow, the brown water trickling down his face leaving streaks of orange and brown sediments. He sidled up to the simpering Aldhouse and asked in dulcet tones:
‘Is ‘e dyin’ Awldy?’
‘I’d say ‘e is; on ‘is way out this one.’
‘Silence you pair of imbeciles!’ roared the Doctor whilst gently lowering Sir Randolph back onto the bed. He was still screaming but the volume had decreased and it appeared that he might be coming calmed. His breathing ragged between intermittent periods of lung bursting wails.
‘His pupils are still terribly dilated Doctor.’
‘As I see, Sister Agnes. As I see. Pass me a candle if you would please.’
Sister Agnes placed the lit candle in the Doctor’s open palm; moving closer to Randolph, the flame sending shadows scattering across his face, clouds crossing the moon fast and slick. With hands still gripping the sides of the bed, Sir Randolph P. Bottomley; heir to the 6th Baronetcy of Maes Pennant in Clywd, North Wales and Member of Parliament for Clywd; began to come round. His eyes unfocused for so long by the dark sleep of coma were ill adjusted to the light of the candle. Shying away, he placed a filthy pyjama arm between his eyes and the flame. Dr. Wickholm, observing his distress passed the candle to Sister Agnes, who passed it on to the slumped and waiting Aldhouse :
‘Dispose of this immediately please Mr Aldhouse .’
Aldhouse grinned gormlessly and nodded, ambling off into the corridor of B Ward, Regency Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed, Camden Town in the City of London.
The year is 1843 and Queen Victoria reigns supreme. The United Kingdom is beset by a zealous fervour for industry and invention. Fields of neat corn the pride of the farmer through Jethro Tull’s ingenious seed drill over a century ago, now supplemented through new machinery and the well ordered factory rather than the farm as the main employer of the common folk. Innovation was coming thick and fast with London and Manchester at the poles, gathering all riches and people to them with ever growing prosperity.
Sir Randolph sat up in bed. His eyes hardened with a deep frown. Harcastle looked closer, sniffing; ‘Move away from him, give Sir Randolph some space.’ The porter shifted away and looked hurt as the Sister reprimanded him further. Randolph heard none of this; his mind which was once lost was now starting to find its bearings, lost at sea no further it seemed. Dr Wickholm spoke gravely to the patient:
‘Is there anything we can get for you Sir?’
Randolph stared uncomprehendingly at the surrounding people.
‘What ‘e means is, do you want a drink or some food?’ Sister Agnes hushed Harcastle with a withering stare.
‘Sister, if you would be so kind as to ask the porters to remain outside of the room please.’
‘Go on, outside you go. Go on, shoo!’
The Doctor continued to look into Randolph’s face. It was lined with worry, his mouth forming a circle expressing great shock whilst his eyes began to form tears. The Doctor repeated his question:
‘Sir Randolph, is there anything we can get for you Sir?’
‘A quill and paper immediately;’ came the shaky reply in a voice not quite of his own. Harcastle was sent in errand and returned swiftly, to the astonishment of the Sister who assumed it reason for the lazy porter to slack off. In the meantime, Aldhouse had returned from disposing of the candle and stood gawping at the aristocrat, as if brought back from the dead. Dr. Wickholm spent the intervening moments before the writing materials arrived to check Randolph’s vital signs. Everything was in order apart from a heart murmur and the look of sadness that had descended from his face to his whole demeanour. Passing the requested paper to Sir Randolph carefully; Dr Wickholm stood back as the heir to the Baronetcy of Maes Pennant scribbled furiously with the two porters leering over his shoulder:
‘The Plateau, a tayle of Gods and of Woes
Sir. Randolph Phineas Bottomley Esq.
London, England 1842
Once upon a time in a far and distant land…
Every good story begins with a bang; in this case, a combustible reaction. The star in the sky exploded once again and illuminated the world below.
The brothers awoke at first light. The plateau shimmered, covered in a frost that enveloped the rough soil and stone. Once, the plateau had been home to a large plantation and hanging gardens, but the owners long since departed, beaten by the harsh climate and harsher locals.
Dressed in rough woollen shirts and work trousers, the brothers stood on the veranda of their dilapidated homestead. Their breath amplifying…’
To Chapter One
© DJA 2016 All Rights Reserved.
Cover: Taken at Tatton Park, Cheshire. ©DJA/CMA 2016