‘Ohhhh she’s a grand old dame,
who lives down the lane;
but what she has best,
is hidden up her dress!’
The roar of laughter and the clash of beer mugs awoke Randolph from his reverie. Whilst detailing his adventures to Lord Bertrand, he had been reminded of the manuscript that he feverishly wrote during his stay at the Regency Asylum in London. Although almost perfectly unaware of the circumstances leading to his incarceration there following his visit to the archaeological site; the manuscript had left somewhat of an indelible mark on his mind. Not able to remember exact phrase or events; certain names or objects kept passing his thoughts: Gibil, Pero, Guzu and someone or something called Azad. The names sounded vaguely Middle-Eastern and that had indeed been the objective region Randolph had set forth to explore on behalf of the East Indies Company; yet, he was certain he had not made it far beyond the City of Jerusalem before becoming waylaid completely off the beaten track.
The guide, Charles, had been acquired in a dingy bar in Jerusalem; well off the main drag near the Old Quarter. The ancient city looked from a time long distant to the observer; with winding streets that made chaotic chasms between bazaars; pilgrims and cut purses. The sights and smells transported the visitor to a different age; one of Biblical scripture, worship and of Heavenly miracles. The only miracle visited upon Sir Randolph was the availability of drink in such a pious and devout place. Sat together in the grimy bar, Randolph detailed the need for up-to-date maps. Charles nodded along gamely until he roughly stopped Randolph by grasping his shirt fronts and pulling him over closely. His breath reeked of garlic and soured milk.
‘Listen. Other place.’
Charles’ eyes became slithers in the parchment desert of his face. With glance either way, eyes darting for potential eavesdroppers; he grunted the name of a Plateau in the region. Some distance from Jerusalem and as yet, unexposed to Western eyes. Randolph considered the possibility; ‘An unexplored region – Bottomley Plateau?’
The question became a firm commitment to Charles’ untouched fruit; the Plateau drew Randolph to it with the pull of a thousand souls.
‘Say ‘Dolphy; I had heard some quite awful tales about you in London.’
‘Oh yes? Pray tell what were they?’
‘That you had become a cannibal!’ Bertrand choked on his beer as his laughter flowed freely, his eyes however remained alert to Randolph’s reaction.
‘Oh that old business. No, I’m afraid there is no truth in that matter, Berty. When I became stranded atop the Plateau, I resorted to eating frozen donkey, prepared by my guide Charles.’ The name brought a lump to his throat; the thought of flesh made him nauseous. The smells of the tavern became overpowering; beyond the table of old vagabonds, two horsemen reeking of lavender and manure sat mournfully over a drink a piece. In the corner was a lady, all dressed in black with a cowl-
‘Whas’ that I hear? Frozen donkey m’lord?’ A scoundrel friend of King Nick interjected. The table roared with laughter and demands for the tale of the frozen donkey. Randolph held his hands to the mass and batted away their inquiries. The one they called Slim Jim kept grunting the word ‘donkey’ before dribbling with hysteria. His broken teeth no dam to the biblical floods pouring forth. Randolph shuddered:
‘Instead gentlemen; perhaps a tale of the gods of the Orient might suffice?’ Offered the Explorer to the throng.
‘Gods above and gods below; weave us a tale my fine fellow; but first I bellow! MORE DRINK LANDLORD, we’re dry as a BOARD!’ King Nick announced to cheers of agreement.
As Randolph began to relay the tale of the Queen of the Night who chopped the head from a rebellious mountain, everything all of a sudde-
He awoke to find Lord Bertrand arguing hotly with the Landlord. Rubbing his eyes, Randolph found himself laid out upon a roughshod hewn bench of ash-wood. King Nick and his courtly cronies were observing the scene with great delight. The back of his head felt sore; as he pushed to a sitting position, hand to the back of his head, Lord Bertrand noticed his awakening with bulging eyes and mouth agape.
‘Oh thank goodness you’re awake. Tell him ‘Dolphy; these men are thieves and I demand satisfaction from the law.’
Looking up, a wisp of red hair falling across his face Randolph looked questioningly at Bertrand, following his gestured hand to the table of the King of Thieves. King Nick was a picture of innocence and virtue. Sat firmly upright in his seat, arms folded across his scrawny chest; he refuted the allegations of theft simply through force of posture alone.
Randolph spoke: ‘Berty what is going on? Last I remember I was telling a story.’
‘Yes you were drunk and fell over, me and a couple of the fellows left you on that bench to sleep it off somewhat. Whilst we were moving you, one of these,’ Lord Bertrand pointed at King Nick, who looked hurt in return. ‘One of these,’ Bertrand continued; ‘filched from my very pocket, whilst performing a charitable act, no less! Such ungodly folk these Northerners. No scruples, no morals, no-‘
‘Right, I understand Berty, truly I do,’ said Randolph, palms facing the irate Lord. ‘King Nick,’ the old rogue perked up and gave Randolph a beatific smile. ‘Yes, Sir Randolph, what can King Nick, do for one so quick?’
‘Shut up you old rascal! He’s flattering you ‘Dolphy: don’t listen to him,’ interjected Bertrand.
With a gesture of calm to his friend, he looked again at His Highness.
‘Now, King Nick, I know you to be a gentleman of the highest order Sir,’ King Nick nodded sagely. ‘However, my friend seems to have misplaced some fortune of his; perchance you may have heard a tale of the whereabouts?’ Randolph bowed low to the King.
‘Well said, my erudite fellow and friend. Indeed Nick has heard the word of what may have occurred. But, in all due respects my most preferred, your friend is nought but a flamin’ turd.’
Raucous laughter broke out across the barroom. Stifling a broad grin, Randolph apologised profusely for the disrespect by his friend and by magic, coin appeared on the table in stark view. No hand had moved, no person had stirred and yet, there it was. Picking up the coin and casting a lingering morose glance at Sir Randolph; the Lord took seat on the other side of the room, well away from King Nick and his companions and resumed his drinking in a bad tempered fashion.
‘Ohh the grand lord lost out,
now sits there with a girlish pout,
drinking alone; we’ll call him Smiler Mahone!
To Smiler Mahone! Drink up, for the sulking gnome!’
The law eventually arrived in the form of a magistrate and two bored looking bailiffs. They appeared to be well armed with wooden clubs and well versed in their use. Many a head they had cracked between them. However, on this occasion, due to the fact that recompense had been made, and the fact that the magistrate was a good friend of King Nick’s; no further action was taken. Much to the loud disgust of Lord Bertrand:
‘Oh this will not do; tell them ‘Dolphy; tell them this will not do.’
‘Yes tell them, ‘Dolphy,’ came the reply from the cheap seats in a chorus of falsetto.
Randolph ushered the magistrate to one side and slipped him a coin before Bertrand’s mouth landed them both a night in a very cold, rat inhabited gaol. The law left without further pause and the night continued on.
The following morning, slumped once more in a chair in the foyer; Randolph awoke to the baleful and bloodshot eyes of his friend, Lord Bertrand. Pointing a finger at his face, the repentant Bertrand proclaimed loudly into the Manchester morning:
‘That’s the last time I’m ever going drinking with you!’
A most entertaining and costly, spectacle.
To Chapter Five