To Chapter Two
As the coach pulled out of Hazel Grove, Sir Randolph Bottomley had a funny turn. Overwhelmed by a sense of dread and despair he clutched the seat and started to quake. His knuckles whitened as he gripped the worn red leather with his fingernails. The wife stifled a sound of disgrace and drew her bag closer to her voluble chin. The husband, as ever, oblivious to all noise and motion continued staring into void space. The strange moment passed; leaving him with the low feeling of an army trampling on his mood. Through semi-closed eyes he observed the carriage, slowly moving his blue eyes round the interior before averting his gaze outside. ‘Was any of this real?’ he pondered to himself as the sights and smells of the grand City of Manchester flashed past the window.
Stopping outside the Police Office on King Street, the travellers alighted. The husband and wife first, with a gracious and nervy sway of his hand; Randolph waited until they had fully disembarked. As he stepped down, the wife was smoothing her black skirts down and the husband had finally awoken as was already talking in a business-like manner to his spouse:
‘Do come on dear, we’re awaited in the Office to see the Council Member for…’
The voice trailed away as from the corner of an eye Randolph spotted a black figure beyond the talking pair. Spinning his head rapidly to take in the vision, it no longer remained. Disappeared ever into the ether. With his scrutiny still fixed on the position of the ethereal figure; he gave the impression of staring at the married couple discussing their trip to see the politician.
‘Can I help you, son?’ inquired the husband in a severe tone. Randolph quickly regained his composure; ‘No and my apologies good Sir. Did perchance either of you observe a maid in black as you stepped from the carriage?’
‘No Sir, we did not.’ The elderly man stared intently at Randolph; studying his face whilst waiting for an explanation that was not forthcoming.
‘My apologies once more. Good day to you Sir and Madam.’ With that he bowed and retrieved his luggage from the coach. ‘Blazes of a haw-haw that one, Madam.’
‘Indeed he was Sir, indeed he was.’
Relieved to be away from the hostility emanating from the couple, Randolph made for the Manchester Bottomley offices on foot, valise in hand. Manchester had changed considerably since his last visit to the provincial city; mills and industry were everywhere. Stalking the pavements were a new breed of entrepreneur, freshly baked ideas and innovations ready to serve to the public in awe of progress. Towering chimneys dominated the skyline and the air felt leaden with grey dust and tired perspiration. The soot and commerce living hand in hand with poverty and need. Men in dirty shirts and worn slacks sat on cobbled street corners glum of demeanour without purpose or dream.
At the Bottomley offices he encountered Norman; Stanley Norman to be exact. The accountant and tallyman of the Bottomley Shipping Company that ran operations out of the docks of Liverpool in the nearby vicinity. Randolph had attended the docks once; the smell of the decaying fish had made him nauseous. The day workers thick with grime shipped items back and forth from the waiting boats. Wearing dusty tunics with braces, thick cloth caps and a coloured neckerchief of cloth, they toiled hard on the dockside. Pushing and pulling, with the occasional mishap that encountered a swift visit to the Manchester Infirmary and the loss of the day’s pay. Most injuries were left ignored under sun down, with the infirmary closed to the general public they would henceforth go home. By the dull candle light they would attend to their wounds and return to work the following morn.
Norman had very little to do with the toil of the dockside and instead employed labourers to move the produce and merchandise that made its way to the Bottomley warehouse and onto the British public. Randolph had ensured that the very best from the Indies arrived and was rapidly dispatched to London, for the finest shops and for the Houses of Parliament; as a gift. In particular; teas from the orient were most popular with the aristocratic households of the Conservative Party.
‘Good day Norman;’ said Randolph as he tilted his hat toward the small, thinly stretched man with nervous hands. A tic that left him at the mercy of people with lesser morals, assuming nerves they prayed upon his weaknesses. Often to be found sleeping under his desk at the offices, Stanley malevolently had the most unfortunate circumstance thrust upon him through malice and greed of others. The Bottomley’s paid him handsomely enough for a clerk and kept a studious eye on the stock in the warehouse, lest it fall into the hands of one of Norman’s supposed friends and acquaintances at the local gin house. Unremarkable of features, with a wife to match, Stanley was as usual attired in a worn brown waistcoat over a starched white shirt with faded and patched red trousers. He fiddled with his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a watch to keep his hands occupied as they conversed.
‘Good day to you Sir Bottomley, a most unexpected delight! It has been years since you last came to Manchester. The city is so much different now! Bigger, busier and with mor-‘
‘Yes, yes, thank you Norman,’ interrupted Randolph as Stanley had begun to twitch at his arm bands with a thin white hand. ‘This visit was not planned as one would assume, but for the good of my health;’ Randolph continued.
‘I’m terribly sorry Sir, are you unwell?’
‘Only in spirit Norman, only in spirit.’ Randolph turned and looked over the offices. ‘To the blazes with sleeping here. I shall stay at the new Palatine Hotel on Hunt’s Bank. Please forward any messages to me there my good man. I’m awaiting a passage on a barge boat home.’
‘You’re returning to Maes Pennant, Sir?’
‘Indeed I am Norman.’
‘Have you been home recently Sir Randolph? It has changed somewhat, your father is a recluse according to word from the canal boys.’
‘You’d have me take idle tittle tattle from base stock canal boys? Sir, you insult me and my father’s good name.’
‘N-n-no please no, sorry Sir Randolph; no offence was meant your Lordship. Jus’ the word passed on by ignorant folk Sir.’
‘Indeed Norman. Anyway, please send any forthcoming missive to me at the Palatine. I bid you good day.’
Randolph doffed his hat once again at the quivering Norman, hands clutched tightly together before his chest. ‘My apologies again Sir Randolph. You and your family mean the world to me..’
Stanley’s voice trailed away as Randolph walked out onto the raw street, the cold grasping around his ankles and cheeks. He smiled, he would send Norman a bottle of wine from the hotel. He had been teasing him since he was but a pup; but Stanley never grew wise to his gentle mockery. He called for a carriage and an urchin returned followed by a two-horse conveyance that had seen better days. Flicking the boy a coin, he said ‘To the Palatine Hotel, Hunt’s Bank and make it quick, I feel quite the chill coming on,’ before throwing his valise into the carriage and swiftly climbing aboard.
The journey was fast as requested. Delivered to the Palatine, Sir Randolph Bottomley checked in using his Parliament credentials and made for the nearest gin palace.
Dawn greeted the early workers already on their way to the local mills. Randolph awoke slumped in an arm chair in the lobby of the hotel, slightly worse for wear but generally intact. In the quaint lobby, low lit by gas lights and candles in supplement; a heated debate was occurring at the desk. A portly gentleman of some comportment was arguing with the manager.
‘…I say sir; this shall not do. Do I look as an urchin on the street begging accommodation? Sort it out immediately sir before I lose my temper.’
The manager squirmed in the dull light; flickering blades of a gas lamp sending shadows dancing across his gaunt long cheeks. A moustache of brown drooped limply from an upper lip with large watery brown eyes. He mournfully spoke, as one would in a funeral parlour:
‘We are most terrible sorry your Lordship; we’ve been ever so busy of late and…’
‘Bertie? Bertie? Is that you?’ interrupted Randolph as he approached the pair. The night’s disgraces gumming up his mind and mouth. With blurry eyes he peered at the stout gentleman with curiosity.
‘It IS you! Ha what a welcome surprise! Well hello there Lord Bertrand Entwhistle. Instead of giving this poor chap another ear bashing, perhaps we should retire to somewhere more comfortable. We have much to catch up on my good man, much!’
Without pausing, he grabbed Lord Bertrand by the arm and led him towards the exit of the hotel.
Safely ensconced on a bench at a local drinking den; drinks in hand, Randolph regaled his friend from university days at Oxford with some of the more outlandish tales of his travel and work since that time. With alcohol loosening up his eager tongue; story after story poured in a cascade of dramas and adventures. Lord Bertrand; a good friend of Randolph and the Bottomley’s listened rapt. As the day wore on; patrons came and left the White Lion at all hours, but a singular group of aging men remained; hunched over a low table they would shout and sing at regular intervals. Each more bereft of hair and tooth than the next; they would lustily raise their mugs, clunking together with a dull thud and toast yet another exploit or the exploited. Seated at the head of the table sat a man known locally as King Nick; his Christened name being originally John Parsons; long since left behind in a trail of scandal and skulduggery. Long lengths of thin, parched grey hair wisped over his face as he commanded the table of rogues; directing speech with a regal wave of a liver-spotted hand.
Noticing the long stay of the lordly pair; he gestured them over to join their rabble for the evening.
‘Come on gents! The night is getting long and there’s tale and song. Join us your Lordships; you’ll laugh ’till yer squeak pips! Hic!’
Rising unsteadily and walking with a less than lordly posture and gait; the pair took seats to the left of the old rascal King Nick.
The night proved to be a most distracting spectacle.
To Chapter Four
Cover: ©G. Taylor 2016. All Rights Reserved. Words: ©DJA 2016. Etc.