Back to the Prologue
The pipe trailing the dank wall on the left hand side near to the ceiling was leaking. Drip. Drip. Drip. It was ceaseless. Sir Randolph sat in a corner of his cell, knees hunched up with arms wrapped around his stained linen trousers and damp bare feet. Drip. Drip. Drip.
A short shaft of sunlight that somehow sneaked through the barred, grime encrusted window signified that it was still day time. Sooner or later, the greasy porter who smiled inappropriately would be along with food; a thick, lumpy porridge with an awful aftertaste as per usual. Randolph passed the time rocking on his heels against the cool brick flooring, comforting his shot nerves.
The Member of Parliament for Clywd was miserable; ‘why should I bother?’ he thought. ‘What a rotten and wretched world this is.’
The nurse, Sister Agnes gave him special attention and was always most deferential, the porters were not perhaps quite so appeasing. Fussing around him sent her long nurses’ skirt twirling; ‘she sounds like a hummingbird of the Amazon Delta.’ he thought listlessly, unable to enthuse himself even with the most exotic of flora and fauna observed on his travels.
‘Come along Sir Randolph, you haven’t touched your porridge!’ The porter must have delivered it unawares; how had he missed it? Spoon by spoon, the kneeling nurse tenderly fed him the foul tasting porridge; he didn’t resist. He overheard another patient, his next door neighbour resist and she called for them to assist her. They were most cruel.
Porridge bowl spent and Sister Agnes beaming at him calling him a Good Lad, the deed was endured. Arms folded across her considerable bosom and fleshy cheeks inflated by false joviality, she departed in a convivial mood leaving him once more to the mercy of the broken pipe.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The Regency Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed was a grim affair. Made of brick long since soot caked on the outside; indoors smeared with the bodily fluids and effluence of the difficult to control patients and their heavy handed carers. Few who were deposited here by fraught relatives or dragged in ‘cuffed and bound from the magistrates ever saw the real light of day again. The majority were confined to their cells permanently, lest they harm the staff or other patients. Randolph’s door was opened wide, the portcullis of the peek hole left ajar. A privilege for a distinguished guest of the institution. Occasionally, he took it upon himself to test his legs and try walking down the poorly lit landing of the B Ward. As he slumped by the rooms, many closed and secured by key; he would make the acquaintance of others held in as high regard as himself.
Earlier today, he had the pleasure of meeting Lord Harnot. He had read about the case some four years back; an affair with a mistress that got out of hand and the deaths of the two loves of his life; the mistress and his prize stallion Brute. A bloody spectacle according to the newspaper reports, a veritable Hades. Lady Harnot, mortified at the disgrace had swooned at the proceedings; illustrated well by the newspaper’s resident law courts artist. And so, the venerable adulterous equestrian enthusiast and murderer was ensconced within the Regency at the court’s request. The four years had treated him poorly; lined had his face become, losing the arrogant chubbiness of a Lord of leisure. The broad smile replaced with a thin lipped cluster and a clenched jaw. The once opulent Lord Harnot was now skin and bone, with long grey straggly hair, yellow and misshapen fingernails and a stoop with a permanent crook in his neck.
‘Did you read Newton whilst at Oxford, young man? I found Principia a most wonderful companion to study and my studious pursuits of the opposite genders, eh?’ enthused the old Lord Harnot. Randolph blemished at his open infidelities and the candid and mostly, sordid tales of his youth at Oxford University.
‘I did read Sir Newton’s work, yes. I agree with your most fine summation your Lordship. If you’ll excuse my manners, I have to attend to a matter in my cell. Good day to you your Lordship. May the Lord find you blessed.’
Talking to Lord Harnot made Sir Randolph queasy after a time and he would beg the Lord’s forgiveness and find cause to leave.
Stretching outside his door, the bones of his neck and lower back felt fused and solid. Across the way, on the other side of the ward stood Greening copying his every move and expression perfectly. Greening, once an accountant at Lloyds, had lost everything in the Great Storms of ’39. Crazed at his loss, he took it out over dinner with the partners where he proceeded to attack them in turn with a fish knife. Two had suffered fatal wounds to the neck arteries before he could be disarmed by the waiters and kitchen staff. The trial had been swift and here he was, mimicking Randolph’s every move as though they were playing Simon Says in the Regency Asylum. Randolph had dubbed him the ‘Human Mirror’ but there was no one coherent enough to share his wit sadly.
Behind most of the locked doors were paupers; who once were thrust upon ships and moved from place to place to remove the strain on society, now enjoyed the comfort and charity of their fellow man. The ranters, the ravers and the preachers who offended the clergy with their shouts calling them indulgent wastrels usually ended up in the Asylum, assuming the gaols were full.
This morning was hopefully to take a different turn; for he had received a visit from his brother Richard, who upon seeing his clarity and sense of mind insisted to see Dr Wickholm immediately to discuss his release into his care.
At his shoulder he felt breathing. He turned to see Mr Aldhouse stood leering at him in a terrible way. ‘Alright guv, sorry guv I mean Sir?’ slid from his wet lizard lips as drool collected at the corner of his mouth. Randolph struggled to maintain eye contact, flickering between the floor and the horrible grimace before him.
‘Yes thank you Mr Aldhouse .’
‘Let us know if you need anyfing guv,’ the porter said as he slid round Sir Randolph, pressing against him. ‘Any-fing.’
With a laugh, he slapped Randolph on the shoulder and sauntered off towards Greening who was now copying Aldhouse’s every move with creative affectation. The other one, Harcastle, appeared out of nowhere and started beating Greening with a wooden cosh until he was curled in a foetal ball at the feet of the two porters. Time to go home.
Back in his cell. The stained brown-red brick, the filthy floor with streaks of red and black and the endless drip of the pipe for company. Someone had put fresh straw down around the walls to catch the damp; Harcastle no doubt, in an attempt to curry his favour. Even down here in the depths of Hell his name had some status.
He heard Sister Agnes call out to the porters: ‘Mr Aldhouse, Mr Harcastle; the gentleman in bed six requires your attention again. ‘Room six,’ he thought. The occupant of room six made it his business to bang on his locked door consistently throughout the day. Even after the porters had applied a beating, he would continue to slap the floor weakly for hours. Randolph had not seen the man in full view, but did catch a glimpse of long brown beard and what looked like dirty monk robes on passing one day. Welbeck was his name although little other information could be gleaned of the man from Lord Harnot.
Upstairs, in the offices of the Regency Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed, Sir Randolph’s brother Richard was speaking with the immaculately dressed Clive Rogers, governor and on the board of trustees and the bow-tied Dr Wickholm, no longer replete in doctor’s gown and instead wearing a blue tunic and white trousers. A top hat sat on his lap as they attended to their business.
‘Gentlemen;’ Richard called out haughtily, ‘I have spoken with my brother this morning, he seems most lucid and becalmed. Ergo, I should have him released post-haste! The Member of Parliament for Clywd has important business to attend to, as I am sure you are most aware.’
He finished with a flourish of his right hand and a brief nod of head to the pair. Richard with his short dark-brown hair and weasel’s nose poked his thin round glasses back onto the bridge of his quivering protrusion. Whenever nervous, he would instantly give the game away with a quiver of his nose; it’s how Randolph so easily won his pocket money and snacks from him at games of luck as a child.
‘I concur Mr Rogers,’ began the Doctor in a kindly voice. ‘The patient has shown remarkable improvements since arrival; from hysteria, to catatonia, his malady has run most terribly; but now I have confidence to say, he is cured and most able to return to society once more.’ To ensure the Doctor’s good report of his brother, Richard had slipped the man a pound, a veritable fortune for a doctor working in a public asylum such as this. Rogers pondered and paced; he seemed conflicted by the reports of the elder Bottomley’s obscure behaviour when in foreign lands, however, he understood that in helping the Member of Parliament’s fast recovery and return to civilisation; funding might be procured from Her Majesty’s Government with regards to their leaking roof. A deal had been struck prior to the meeting in a conversation that had taken place over a pint of black in the Nag’s Head around the corner in Camden Town.
‘I agree. Sir Randolph will be released immediately into your care Sir Richard,’ proclaimed Rogers authoritatively.
So Richard returned to his brother’s cell and helped him wash and dress. In a overcoat of soft green velvet, sturdy trousers of yellow and a smooth ivory silk cravat with shiny knee high black boots; Randolph once more looked his station in society. After a brief farewell to Lord Harnot, attracting odd glances from his brother and a wave which was returned beautifully by Greening; Sir Randolph P. Bottomley gathered his belongings and left the Regency Asylum, Camden in the grand City of London.
To Chapter Two
Ship of Fools by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1490-1500)
Cover by G. Taylor/DJA © 2016. All rights reserved.
© DJA 2016.