Nowhere Lane – Chapter Thirty-Four Waste Ground

Rebecca Shelley rested her head against the blue wing-cushion of her first class seat, letting the train rhythms flow through her body as she prepared for sleep.  Beyond smoke-smeared carriage windows Beaconshire’s browns and greens of Spring flitted by, lit by the first rays of a very watery and apologetic sun.  As always, her rebellious eyes defied her; tired though she was, they would not close.

Opposite her, Patrick’s head was already rested, his eyes already contentedly shut.  She found herself openly appraising him, his thick, unruly hair, large, expressive features, soft, full mouth. In the last twelve hours her body had pressed for warmth against every inch of his, causing her to think she knew him as well as she had known any man.  Even in the bone-chilling cold of that dreadful struggle beneath the stones she had discovered nothing to disappoint her.  His was not a competitor’s body.  He would be an unlikely sportsman, a very uncomfortable athlete; his courage was not exemplary, but it was enough.   He was intelligent rather than clever, sensitive rather than slick – sensitive enough to cry.  She had always thought she could love a man who cried.

Her friends sometimes teased her with the prospect of a relationship, to counter which she would reply to the effect that she had never had one, or wanted one.  That was untrue, of course – wasn’t it?  She had often speculated idly, when she met attractive opposites in the course of her job, or on the street.  She was speculating in just such a fashion now:  he was interesting, this Hallcroft man, yet would that interest stand the test of a month, or even a week in her company?  The idea was ridiculous!  He ran a business, a successful one, from a small mansion in the sticks.  She was a professional journalist with a small, very untidy apartment in Fulham. He had a wife.  Well no – he was married, but she could see, as everyone else around Jacqui could see, that the couple were an unequal fit.  Jacqui loved him, he respected her.  When he had agreed to come to London they had rowed – in another room, but Rebecca overheard.  Jacqui mistrusted him.  So she could see it, too.

Focus beginning to drift, thoughts clouding, Rebecca’s eyes submitted to impending slumber.  She missed the moment when Patrick’s eyes blinked open, and she was unaware of how, for the miles until the train’s first stop at Baronchester, and with equal freedom, he studied her.

The travelling companions, despite exhaustion in the aftermath of their ordeal, were intent upon reaching London, because the evidence was mounting that Edgar, the Driscombe heir was to be pursued from there.  For Rebecca, the spur of a breaking story offered motivation enough: for Patrick less so.  His presence had no other function than to offer a firm identification if a woman, seen with someone they supposed to be Edgar boarding a van in East London, should prove to be Karen Eversley.  And of course he was anxious but did he want that?  Yes, he supposed.  Nevertheless, he had seen the effect this revival of the Eversley affair had upon his new wife, as well as himself: there were feelings buried beneath the turf of his conscious mind, and he might have wished they remain so.

Karen; the old flame – the flame that would not go out, whatever the nobility of his efforts to extinguish it, but crept close behind him, leaving a little trail of ashen memories in its wake.

To meet the train Jackson Hallcroft, Patrick’s father, had driven his son, Rebecca, and Joshua Turnbull, their saviour at ‘The Green’ from Radley Court into Caleybridge.  Jackson, who had refused to leave Turnbull alone at Radley Court with only his daughter-in-law and Inga for company, was yet unwilling to expose him to the mercies of Stafford Driscombe’s ‘people’,  Everyone owed Turnbull a debt of gratitude so, given that the local police could not be trusted, they provided Turnbull with dry clothes and dropped him off at a street near to the bus depot, leaving him, with as much cash as the family could muster for a fare, to ‘make up his own mind’ as to his destination.   They took this decision fully aware that Turnbull might spend the money on his next ‘fix’ and return to just those people he claimed to fear most, but their options were limited.  Their last sight of this shrunken man, standing despondently on Bridge Street’s rain-washed pavement, was immortalised in the flare of Rebecca’s camera.

At ‘The Huntsman’, while Rebecca was changing into her own clothes and packing, Patrick made a telephone call.  Jackson settled up with an extremely sleepy and irritable clerk before they embarked on a race for Caleybridge station.  There, Patrick and Rebecca caught the early morning express, bound for London.

#

The white van was leaving.  The woman watched it through a rain-spattered casement with vague fascination, her gaze fixed on its lights as it cut a path through the darkness, a lonely feature receding into a black landscape.

A windows.

Her curious hands explored the wooden frame with probing fingers to find every tiny weakness in the putty, every small draught.

Her window.

She was confused.  She had no idea where she was, only that the van journey to get here had been long and arduous.  The rear of the van, though fitted with seats, provided a ride both cold and rough, with no other facility for comfort.  Rain had beaten down on the thin roof, a constant tattoo of noise which mingled discordantly with a radio’s unceasing blast of contemporary music.  One of the cheap speakers that relayed the sound had lost its attachment to the rear corner of the van, and swung by its wire for the whole afternoon, knocking against the van’s metal doors.  That was over now.  What was next?

She tore herself away from the glass, looked around her.  A basic, functional room:  all she could, or did, expect.  Bare, white walls (she could ask for posters perhaps if she was to stay here), a bed made up with a green blanket that looked fairly comfortable, a brown oak wardrobe and an extra garment rail, already crammed with her garments.  Next to the only door a dressing table with all her pots of make-up and other cosmetics brimming from it.  They had lost no time, the big lounge-suited men who took care of her – who were patrolling somewhere out there, in the dark.

Sighing, the woman sank down upon the bed, allowing her eyes to rest.  She remained prone for maybe half-an-hour, listening to the silence, though she knew her day was not yet ended.  When, from somewhere else in the house, she heard a cry like a hound giving tongue, a continuous siren of sound rising to a furious crescendo, she was prepared.  She was ready.  She rose to her feet and crossed to the dressing table.

“Coming, Edgar,”  She murmured, as though the face in her mirror was his.

#

A hand nudged Patrick’s shoulder.  Rebecca grinned down at him.   “Restaurant Car’s open.  Come on sleepy-head, let’s get some breakfast.”

The dining car was quiet.  There were some customers, though, to set the galley rattling and bring the parlance of cooks to life.    A clutch of owlish commuters with thick British Railways coffee squinted at big City broadsheets – Telegraph, Times and pink Financial Times –  leaving printers’ ink fingermarks on their cups.

“How can you eat that?”  Rebecca reproved Patrick for his choice of a full English breakfast feast – double egg, sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomato…”

“I’m hungry. I need building up.  How do you stay alive on a pastry boomerang?”

“This is not a boomerang, it is a croissant.  Furthermore, it is a British Railways croissant, and as such it is as filling as any three-course meal (and as chewy).”

“Not surprising.  It looks as if it suffered an abusive childhood in the Loire Valley.”

“Honestly, mature though it is I imagine this train is as close to France as this croissant will ever get.  Why the Loire?”

“I just like the name. Region Pays de la Loire; do they eat croissant there, do you think? So what happens at Paddington?”

“No idea, I hope someone will meet us and tell us.  They’re working on tracing the van after it left our contact’s yard.  We’ve also got someone watching Stafford Driscombe.”

“He wasn’t with the group who hired the van?”

“Nah.  They would just be goons.  But the fact they transferred from a car to this van implies they had something to hide, and maybe they had a journey in mind.  I reckon they’ve left London. If Edgar Forbes what’s-his-face is with them, they’ll need to be going somewhere secure and private.”

“Could just be a nursing home,”  Patrick suggested.

“Could be.  I don’t think so. Too risky.  See, our Stafford’s in an awkward spot.  There’s nothing wrong with having a brother who’s not quite the full shilling, but to suddenly reveal him after thirty-odd years might not seem an ideal cabinet minister-type decision.  And then, of course, there’s all the murders.  Sorry, I know that’s a sensitive point; I’ll shut up now.

“We’re due into Paddington at eight-fifteen, right in the middle of the bleedin’ rush hour, so this next bit’s promising to frustrate.”

Their express rolled under Paddington Station’s Victorian canopy in the company of three or four local commuter trains that disgorged their stressed human stampede almost simultaneously.  Borne along by the suited host Patrick and Rebecca were submerged for a while until the forced Venturi of a ticket barrier spat them out onto the concourse.

“Bloody ‘ell, they’ve sent Purvis!”  Rebecca exclaimed as they carved through crowds towards a taxi rank.  “What are you doing here Purv – you can’t drive, can yer?”

A substantial man with significant yellow teeth like a beaver was holding up a white card which read:  ‘SHELLEY’ in scrawled felt-tip.  “Nah, George is driving.”  He spoke like a rising bubble.  “We’re meeting Tarq at King’s Cross.”

“Why – train north?”

“Think so.  Tarq should have it confirmed by now.  Hope he has, anyway.”

The car had forced itself into the rank of taxis amidst loud argument.  Rebecca and Patrick slid into the back seat, whilst Purvis leapt into the front.  George grunted a welcome, then began the business of levering the car out of the taxi queue – more argument, a lot of creative language and a liberal quantity of motor horn.

Rebecca leaned towards Patrick and told him confidentially, “No matter what you might be led to believe in the next twenty minutes George has never killed anyone.  Brief me, Purv: you’ve been watching Mrs Driscombe, haven’t you?  Anythin’ interesting?”

“Loads, ‘Becca, me love.  Loads!”  The beaver teeth flashed in Patrick’s direction; “I’m watching Jacinta’s apartment, aren’t I?  Well, nothing until yesterday afternoon: this woman in a mini collects her and they drive off somewhere – so I calls it in to Tarq and he says if she comes back, spook her.  Get down there, lots of close-ups, ask her about her husband, that sort of thing; see what she comes up with.  He says, ask her where her husband’s brother is! Good one, right?

“Sure enough, a couple of hours, she’s back, and she’s cracking up – I mean, really.  Get this, when I ask her where Stafford’s brother is, she goes white as a bleedin’ sheet.  And there’s more.  The totty in the mini, the one she’s out with.  It’s her SISTER, baby!  Her own blood and flesh!  Shitty-mouthed little cow, as well – you should have heard her!  Anyway, she’s screaming out at me to leave her sis alone, and Lady Muck can’t find her key, so I says:  ‘Where’s Stafford’s brother now?’ She doesn’t answer. There’s no heavies around, so I get between her and the door and I keep asking; same question.  She keeps schtum, doesn’t she?  Sis though, she’s goin’ mad.  The two of them start shouting at each other and Sis is trying to get her back in the car, and she’s on at me all the time, questioning my ancestry and that, and I keep pushing with the question, and at last – get this – Sis is shouting: ‘No-where near here.  Nowhere you can find him’.”

Rebecca cheered.  “Yeah!  Well done Purv!”

“Wait, that’s not all.  I take a stab, don’t I?  I have a go.  I say:  ‘Yeah, long way to Yorkshire.’ And Lady Muck glares at me, and her mouth drops, and she says:  ‘how d’you know that, you bastard’?”

“Yorkshire?”

“Yep.  If yer lookin’ for Lady Muck’s brother-in-law, Becca luv, start with Yorkshire.  That’s why Tarq’s booked us all on the nine o’clock out of King’s Cross.  It stops at York.”

‘George’ had left the run of one-way systems and never-ending traffic queues as soon as he found a rabbit hole down which to plunge, and there followed a bewildering succession of narrow streets overloaded with parked cars, tight corners taken too fast, cyclists terrorized, pedestrians narrowly avoided.  Patrick quickly lost all sense of direction and contented himself with clinging to his seat while he prayed.

“Wouldn’t the tube have been quicker?”  He ventured when he could find breath.

“Nah, not this time of day.”  Rebecca replied; “Be bleedin’ lucky to get on it, and worse luck if it gets stuck.  Don’t worry, George knows his stuff.  He’ll get us there.”

“Ex-police Class One driver,”  George said cheerfully over his shoulder.  “Used to do this for a living.”

“Still does,”  Purvis commented.  “Look at that stupid berk!  Get off the bleedin’ road, Charlie!”

#

The woman was waiting for the knock at her door, unsurprised when it came.  The voice through the panels was harsh.  “He wants you.”

It was a new man.  A man she did not know or like.  He seemed unwilling.  Who could blame him:  could she?  She opened her door to him and he stared.

“Alright.  Put a dressing gown on.  I don’t want to see your artwork.”

In the torment of the move she had almost forgotten what it was like, being ashamed of her painted nakedness, so the big man’s remark stung her, a little.  She threw a bathrobe over her shoulders.

“How the f**k can you go around like that!”  His voice reeked of disgust.

She answered simply:  “He likes it.”

The man led the way along a short passage to stairs, then down into the hallway of the house.  He waved a hand at a door.  “He’s in there.  He’s pissed.”

The woman nodded, expressionless.  She did not fail to notice extra bolts that were obviously recent additions to the door’s oak sturdiness. Its handle was stiff.  The man followed her inside.

It was a small room – not cramped, but modest by comparison with the one Edgar was accustomed to, with walls painted a neutral cream and a single pendant light hanging from a stained white ceiling.  The floor was carpeted – a cheap imitation of Persian weave, and the double bed, confined to one end of the room, though fitted with retaining rails, was equally reduced in extravagance from the silk and leather acre of mattress she was used to sharing with Edgar.

He, Edgar, was seated in a heavy wooden-armed chair facing her.   His legs and arms were strapped to the chair and he was naked, apart from a pair of ludicrous black tights and a small towel, discreetly placed across his lap.

“Poppy darling!  My dearest!”  He welcomed her effusively.  “Come and see what they have done to me!”

She glanced about the room, a professional glance.  “The bed.”  She said in a toneless voice to the man behind her.  “It needs to be moved away from the wall.”

“It stays there.”  The man said.

“No, it moves away from the wall.  I have to be able to get away on both sides, do you understand?  And those bonds won’t hold him.  He can smash that chair if he’s angry enough.  You need something stronger, and a firm anchor point to restrain him.”

“You’ve got what you’ve got.”  The man grunted.

“Shall I prove it now, then?”   She offered, still in the same dead voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I can make him really, really mad at you.  I can, can’t I, Edgar?  If I were you, I should start running.”  Edgar illustrated her point with a helpful snarl.

“All right, all right.” Muttered her guard.  “We’ll see to it.”

“There are two of you then.  The other one, the one in the van – is her coming back?”

“None of your business.”

“I’ll take that as a no.  There should be three of you.  You’d better go now.  I don’t play to an audience.”

The man withdrew, although whether he would continue to witness his floorshow through the keyhole of the door she had no way of knowing.

“Darling Poppy, I’m so glad you’re here.  You have no idea what they have been doing to me.  Look at the state I’m in!”

The woman looked.  Through all the fog of merciful forgetfulness, she retained some strands of memory.  His hair, though still long and straggling was steel grey with age and receding.  If anything his complexion had become more sallow with time, his hawk nose even sharper, his nightmare eyes still blackly shining with a penetration that might find its way through steel.  His body was thin:  it could not gain weight no matter how religiously he was fed, although it had lost not an ounce of its determined strength.

“You look fine.”

“I’m a waste ground; a waste ground, Poppy darling.   And you; how do you look?  Take that rag off.  Let me look at you!”

The woman shrugged the bathrobe from her shoulders so it fell at her feet.  She stepped out of it without thought.

“You’ve done the special one for me, like a princess!”  Edgar cried.  “You know what that does to me.”

“I do.”

Over time; interminable time, her response to this one of Edgar’s many obsessions had honed her body make-up arts to a generous perfection.   She had learned how color could entice or repel, defend her, or portray vulnerability so that, subtly employed, she could induce different shades of mood in Edgar.  Tonight, she had chosen blue.  A light blue powder over her entire form, highlighted to white so the bones of her fingers, her collar bone and her femurs almost shone like silver.  The shadows were dark, as dark as midnight could make them.

“I wanted you.”

“And you called me, as I taught you.  But you don’t want me, you don’t, Edgar.  Not tonight.  You’re tired.”  The strangeness of this statement came upon her so unexpectedly she almost choked.   ‘Tonight’.  It was night, not day. For the first time in her memory, there was an outside, a window.

“I want you.  Come here, my darling Poppy!”

“No, Edgar.  Not now.  Tomorrow.  We’ll play together, one of our special games.  It’ll be twice as good for waiting.”

“I am tired.”

“Of course you are.  It’s been a long day.”

Almost immediately, Edgar began to affect drowsiness, as though he was about to sleep.  “We are going to be married, you know, Poppy darling.  It will be a grand affair!”

“Yes, Edgar.  Soon.”

“Soon.   The Prime Minister will come!”

“I know; I know.”  The woman withdrew, slowly, gathering her bathrobe to her as she did so.

Edgar’s voice followed her:   “You’ll be dressed in black, you’ll be covered in stinking shit!  Stafford will give you away and I’ll wed you with a ring of razor wire to cut off your f***ing finger you bitch!”

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

 

 

 

 

Nowhere Lane – Chapter Twenty-Eight              Alliance        

Harald Maassen, Jacqui reflected when their evening together had concluded, was something of a masterpiece.  Yet pencils or paints would never suffice to capture the vitality that transformed those strong, Teutonic features into smouldering life.  There was essence in the man, some engine buried deep that propelled an indefatigable quest for life and purpose; an engine, she had to feel, that was wasted in Patrick’s harsh commercial world.

Sitting on the sidelines, translating as fast as she could when he groped for an English word in his stuttering grasp of the language, she saw how Patrick shared her admiration, and how ably Maassen reciprocated.  Ideas flew between them with shuttlecock urgency, their mutual plans growing with every exchange.

When at last, with the hour well past midnight, their new German friend confessed his tiredness, so the business of the day had finally to close, Jacqui felt the curtain drop.  Maassen was a past distraction now, for the true issue of her day had yet to be resolved.   Patrick suggested they take coffee in his room.  With not a little trepidation she agreed.

An elevator bore them upwards in silence.  At the end of an exciting, pensive day there were no more veiled inferences left.  As she crossed the threshold to his room, small talk:  “Was it a productive day, do you think?”

“It was outstanding!  If Harald isn’t running our European operation by the end of the year we will have failed somewhere.  What did you think of him? Did he surprise you?  He surprised me!”

“I liked him.  But then…”    Jacqui felt obliged to equivocate.

“Ah!  The dreadful ‘but then’!”

“You were a revelation.  I never saw the salesman in you, Pat.  I’m a little awestruck.”

“Well then, it’s mutual – you are a very capable translator.  Did you never think of doing it for a living?”

“I suppose I lacked courage.  I’m an under-achiever, hadn’t you noticed?”

Patrick’s room overlooked Hyde Park. They sat in tub chairs by his window, gazing over regiments of stately trees at the distant shimmer of Knightsbridge.

For some minutes neither spoke. It would be wrong to deny the weight of expectation that hung like a rain-cloud above their heads.  Eventually Patrick suggested room service.

“Champagne?  To celebrate, you know?”

Jacqui gestured her refusal;  “Not for me.”

“I thought it…”

“I’ve had enough to drink.  Whatever is said tonight, my love; whatever might happen, I don’t want to wake tomorrow morning with the excuse that I was light-headed.”

“Am I?  Your love – am I?”

Jacqui stared at him; “How can you ask?  You know – my god you must know my feelings?  I’ve been plastering them over every billboard I could find.  What’s the matter with you – can’t you read?    I’ve loved you, in my quiet little way, for years.  So I thought, maybe…”

“I have a feeling I won’t like what you say next.”

“There’s a problem, still.  We might as well both admit it, mightn’t we?  I’m not a fool, I know why you brought me to London and I know why I’m in this room.  But there’s someone else here too, Pat.”

“That’s not true.”

“No?  I’ve seen it in your eyes. You still think about her.  That’s not unnatural, of course you do, and I wouldn’t mind that, but I’m not Karen.  I could never be Karen!  Can I tell you what scares me?  You might not even remember.  It was that first Monday after you and Karen had gone out together – to some concert or another.  You came into the office with a look in your eyes; a fever I’d never seen before in you.  It’s never left you, that fever.  It’s still there now.  I can see it every time you look at me.  You’re looking at me and seeing her, and that’s nothing I can compete with.  She’s as much with you in this room as I am.”

Patrick was thoughtful, his eyes drawn to Jacqui’s sorrow and his fingers searching for a note from the rim of his glass.  The true object of his search was honesty. “So, believing that, why are you here?”

“Oh, I don’t know!  Wishing, dreaming, hope, perhaps?”  Jacqui made to get to her feet.  “What am I doing; what am I saying?   Look, this is all wrong – a silly, tragic mistake.  I’m going to go to bed, and sleep off all the wine.  In the morning everything will be back to normal and we can both pretend this never happened, okay?”

“Please, don’t go?”  He reached out a hand, staying her gently.

“Pat, I think I have to.  It was a really wonderful day, but it’s over.”

“Give me a minute, yeah?”  As she made to rise from the table, he came to her, slipping an arm about her shoulders.  His fingers stroked the softness of her cheek and he let them linger there, caressing yet assuring and strong.  His power was all around her, a pulsating force that all her dreams had told her she would never be able to deny.  Her dreams spoke truth. “All those years – I just want one more minute?”   She might have resisted – for an undecided moment she was disposed to try, but the moment passed.  Sighing, she leant into his cradling arm.

“You’re right, in a way, because you can’t just stop loving somebody, but she isn’t standing between us.  She’s gone.  What you’re seeing is my guilt, because I let it happen, whatever killed Karen.  Oh yes, she’s dead.  I know that now, and her ghost doesn’t haunt me.  But every day I accuse myself for my stupidity; because there must have been something I left undone – that haunts me.

“We worked together all day today, and  I enjoyed it.  But it isn’t about that.  It’s about seeing you this morning on the platform at Caleybridge, a vision of something lovely I have, no matter what you say, dreamed about.  It’s about hearing your voice say hello; about seeing your car on the drive as you come to visit, about your smile.  It’s about being first to see that smile tomorrow morning, and every morning.  I want you, Jacqui – not just as a friend anymore.  If you would agree, I’d like us to try for something greater.”.”

A warm tear touched his fingers  “We’re not speaking of love, here, are we?”

“No?  We’re speaking of something stifled for so, so long, that needs to be made real.”

Standing so close, finding she was able to rest in the cradle of his arms, she felt safe.  She felt sure.  But she could not admit to that.

He took her cheeks between his hands and made to kiss her, but she twisted her head aside.  “No, Pat.”

“You can keep saying no to me, but I’ll keep coming back.  This is about you, not a ghost from the past.  We are really much more than just friends.  I can’t blame you for doubting me, but I’m certain you’ll accept the truth in the end.”

“Look, Pat…”

“I love you, Jacqui.”

She turned her face from him, so he should not see the tears on her cheeks.  “You always know the right bloody thing to say, don’t you?”

“I mean it.  It might have taken me years to find it out, but I really do.”  He kissed her neck, gently.  “Give us a chance, darling?  Give us both one chance?”

There, in the enclosed heat of a hotel room on a hot August night, a contract was made.  The enclosed heat of suppressed passion was unleashed in an act of love that, for all its inexpert desperation, would seem generous enough at the time, and in a time when so much of life was oppressive it would not fail the test of two people, each in their different ways seeking redemption.  Only the wisest of us would detect the moving finger as it traced its message across those darkened walls, and only the most perceptive, creeping between the closed leaves of Jacqui’s mind, would witness her final thought before she dropped into  exhausted sleep, and be a little shocked, perhaps, to discover it was of Harald Maassen.

#

In October of 1969, amid the season of swirling mists and wet leaves falling, the book of Gwendoline Hallcroft’s life finally closed.  Her difficulty walking and climbing stairs meant she had taken to sleeping in the old games room on the ground floor at Radley.  Jackson had equipped it for her and he employed a full-time nurse, a shining star of a woman who rejoiced in the name of Henrietta, which led Patrick, a little unfairly, to call her ‘Hen’.  Hen, petite, with mousey hair and a perpetual smile, clucked about the house, making it her duty to give hourly reports to anyone who would listen about the wellbeing, or otherwise, of her patient.

“She’s bright as a button this morning, Mister Hallcroft.  Took her breakfast really well.  I think her appetite’s coming back!”

Or:  “Not so good today, I’m afraid.  She’s been a tiny bit sick, but never mind.  Better tomorrow!”

Everyone knew the prognosis was not a long one.  The cancer that had been nibbling at Gwendoline for months or maybe even years had developed a taste for her flesh, and begun devouring her voraciously by the day and the hour.  Having established that her disease was incurable she resolutely refused treatment, preferring to close the book of her life with as much dignity as possible.  Nevertheless, her ending was a sudden, cruel affair.  Maybe she was aware she stood at the gates, and being persuaded her time had come she took advantage of Hen’s inattention, forcing herself from her bed to walk out into the frost of an early weekday morning.  She was found huddled at the door of Chuffy, her favourite horse’s loose box.  What the disease had yet to conclude the brittle autumn air accomplished.  She was stiff and cold when Jackson discovered her.  She was just fifty-six years old.

Gwendoline was laid to rest one raining afternoon in her family’s plot in the churchyard at Heighton Sibley, with the black umbrella’d mushrooms of her people clustered around her coffin, a box so light only four bearers were needed to take her to her last bed.  As they walked from the grave – Gabrielle nestled against her father’s arm, behind them Patrick and Jacqui, whose place in the family had strengthened since Karen’s loss, held hands together.  A sombre Paul tailed that sad little procession back to the limousines, wrapped in his thoughts.

Gwendoline’s death opened a dark chasm under Jackson.  There were whole days when he did not appear at the factory, or surface from his study.  So Patrick became managing director of Hallcroft Carpets in all but name, and Jackson would happily have yielded the position to him officially if he had asked.  If the Hallcroft family’s personal tide was ebbing the same could not be said for the business, which, on the strength of Patrick’s vision, was growing to almost double its former size.

How did Jacqui feature in all these changes?  On the face of things she might have seemed an unlikely mistress of Radley Court, yet that was, eventually, to become her role.  After their first stumbling night together on that epic London adventure, she appeared to feel justified in committing herself to a relationship with Patrick.  Meetings once confined to one or two a month now took place three or four times in a week, the further development of which was only constrained by the fact of Gwendoline’s illness.  In the weeks following her funeral, those constraints were removed.  Jacqui, already valuable to Patrick as a translator, extended her role, helping within the business wherever she could, staying by Patrick’s side when he needed her, there in the background when he apparently did not.

On the first week of November the family dispersed, inasmuch as Gabrielle, who had  remained in the family home to tidy up her mother’s affairs and comfort her father as much as she could, rejoined Paul, who had already returned to his Manchester firm.  Amanda, who agreed to board with the school where she had managed to remain for her last four years, also departed.  The dwindled Hallcroft clan made a promise to meet again at Christmas, but before she left Gabrielle had a short conversation with Patrick.  She gave him a reassurance she knew he needed.  “I’ve discussed it with Sprog.”  Gabrielle said.  “Go and do your stuff, Patsy.”

Patrick and Jacqui were given to walking by the lake where, long ago, he had walked with Karen.  It was on such a walk on a damp Sunday afternoon that Patrick suddenly grasped Jacqui’s arm and pulled her to him in a kiss.  His evident passion alarmed her a little, so she stepped back, gently resisting.

“Pat, not here, darling.”

He grinned at her conspiratorially.  “Why not?”

“Because it’s cold, and it’s very, very wet…”

“Ah, I see.  Not the appropriate atmosphere for settling an important question.”

Jacqui felt her heart taking standing jumps at her throat.  She swallowed hard.  “Then again, it might be.  It rather depends upon the question.”

“A two-part question.”

“Oh PAT!  Get on with it!”

“Alright then. Will you marry me?”

There, by the lake, they agreed they would marry in the spring.  Much later, as they walked back to the house, arm linked in arm, Jacqui asked:  “What was the second part?”

“Second part?”

“You said it was a two-part question.”

“Oh yes, I did, didn’t I?  This is a bit more difficult, Jacks.  Suppose I asked you not to wait until after we’re married?”

Jacqui chuckled.  “I wasn’t aware that we had!”

“No, that isn’t quite what I meant.  Would you move in with me, here now, or tomorrow, or soon, at any rate?  You could have a room of your own, of course, and we’d get somebody permanent to look after the house, as well as the two Mrs Bs.  I mean, you’d have whatever you wanted, and you would save Father and me from rattling around in our own echoes.”  Patrick finished humbly. “I realize it’s an awful lot to ask, and we’ll buy our own place if you tell me that’s your choice.  Just think about it, if you will?”

“I’ll think about it.”  Jacqui agreed.  “Would it have to be a permanent arrangement?”

“No.  Apart from you and I, nothing is permanent.  For a few months maybe until things get settled, a few years if you want to, forever if you get to like the place enough.”

“And I can get to ride the horses?”

“You ride!  After all this time I didn’t know!  Yes, that would be great!  I thought I was going to have to sell them, though Gabby made me promise to keep Chuffy if I could.”

“But I’d have to sleep on my own?”

Patrick put his arm around her and hugged.  “Would you want to?”

“No, Patsy, I wouldn’t.”

So that was how Jacqueline Greenway, who was to be Jaqueline Hallcroft-Smythe on the fifth of March the following year, became the mistress of Radley Court.  The process was gradual at first:  she spent hours inducing Jackson from his self-imposed isolation, gaining his trust. She advertised and found a young Swedish girl in need of work.  Inga was tireless and hopeless at the same time, spreading a thin film of unattended dust and a gravel of broken crockery behind her wherever she sought to improve, but she was willing to work all hours, managing to placate the formidable Mrs Beatty and mildly torment the capable Mrs Buxham in the process.  In short, Inga slotted into the chaotic dysfunction of Hallcroft family life, and brightened Jackson’s firmament with her outrageously brief mini-skirts.

The stables also had to be reduced.  Of the horses only Chuffy and Shiner remained; two backs upon which Jacqui could ride if she wished, though she set about coaxing Patrick onto Shiner.  A nephew of Mrs Buxham’s who liked to be known as Shane was paid cash for two hours of stable work each day, and exercising the animals when others could not.

Throughout all these changes Jacqui kept working in Caleybridge.  At Christmas, when the family gathered once more, Gabrielle remarked that she never seemed to stop.

“You’re taking on too much, sweetie.  This place drinks up your time.  Mumsy had to give up work to do it, and Daddy was more help than he is now.”

“He practically lives in that study of his,”  Patrick admitted.  “Not that he was ever particularly present, but he still had more time than I seem to have.  Jacqui’s going to have to learn to drive the new mower, come spring.”

“That does it!”  Gabrielle exclaimed.  “DO something, Patrick!”

Patrick nodded.  As soon as an opportunity arose, he confronted Jacqui:  “I wondered if you were so attached to County Hall you could never leave it;” He said, “although I think that would make you unique.  So I also wondered if I could ask you to work with me – in the Company, I mean?  Dad agrees – you’d be a great help in liaising with Maassen and building up the European operation.”

Jacqui agreed.

Thus, out of the sad weeds that wept for Gwendoline’s passing a new Hallcroft order was created.  Patrick and Jacqui ran Radley Court as well as Hallcrofts, aided by Inga and the two redoubtable Mrs. Bs.  Inga’s value proved to be twofold, for she not only kept house for her younger employers, but also revived Jackson’s spirits by flirting with him mercilessly.  At first Patrick was suspicious of her motives, but it quickly became clear she had no other purpose than to draw the grieving widower out of his malaise and return him to life.  She had great success.  As February clenched her cold fist around Radley Court, Jackson returned to the Company he had built.   We cannot say if he approved of the many changes his son had wrought, for although there were innovations he might have considered controversial, much of his entrepreneurial flair had left him, and for a while, at least, ambitious son and weary father worked quietly together.

It was to be a troubled year, 1970.  A year that witnessed the expansion of the distant war in Vietnam also heralded the end of the liberal youth culture that had created The Beatles.  A country tired of socialist government came riding in upon a reactionary wave which bore up many a political whale that had slumbered in the deep while hippiedom and the generation of free love cavorted above their heads.  And one such very mediocre humpback was none other than Stafford Driscombe…

 

© Frederick Anderson 2018.  All rights reserved. Each chapter of this book is a work of fiction.  All names, characters, businesses, organisations, places and events in the story or stories are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, places or events is entirely coincidental.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

 

So, What Now?

Well, it happened!

Those of us who did not sit up through the night of 23rd June woke in the morning to a country that is new to most of us:  an independent nation no longer huffing obediently at the heels of the ‘burgers’ of Brussels.   The UK has voted to leave the European Union.

And the question that engages me is – what happens now?

I have no doubt that the creature emerging from its chrysalis is a shadow of the voracious caterpillar it once was, in those days before a grocer’s elitist son glued it to an over-tenanted portion of the northern hemisphere known as the Common Market, more than sixty years ago.  Small, damp and rather blousy, it must spend time drying its wings before it can become what?  A glorious and beautiful butterfly, or a trundling, zeppelin of a moth?   Does the Britain that now looks so crippled soar brilliantly into the sun, or sacrifice itself to the naked flame?

What comes next will depend upon who leads.  Prime Minister David Cameron’s rather pathetic attempt today to persuade his nation that he would fall on his sword was tempered by his intention to wait three months before doing it.  He will, in his own words, ‘steady the ship’, thinly disguised rhetoric for ‘I will delay this as much as possible’.  And those of us watching got the uncomfortable feeling he has not given up,  though we may rest assured that, even if he succeeds in his tactic, the Tory Conference in October will have a finely honed blade ready.  So who?

Boris Johnson seems the obvious candidate, Theresa May is also in the running, as is Michael Gove, despite his insistence he seeks no high office.   Exciting enough, but there is an odd further possibility, which I will explore, if only because I like odd possibilities.

There is no doubt the referendum on Britain’s EU membership was the result of discontent within the Conservative Party.  Nonetheless it would not have happened had not Nigel Farage’s UKIP party given it voice.

What occurred on June 23rd was a rare example of true democracy.  For a large proportion of UK population government is an irrelevance, something to amuse the ‘educated’ which costs them money, but about which they can do nothing.  They are unrepresented, principally because the British Labour Party is a grotesque, stuck in a quagmire of trade union megalomania and neo-communist dogma that was rejected by a thinking working class (there – I’ve used that damned word ‘class’) thirty years ago.   The referendum gave everybody a simple, straightforward access to a political process:  ‘yes’ or ‘no’.   It brought The Unrepresented from their houses, many of them for the first time in thirty years.  It gave them an influence otherwise lost to them, and it raised a political map of the United Kingdom which showed starkly how little Unity there really is.

In all of England only London really came out strongly in favour of the EU.   The Superdome, the Bankers’ Bubble stood tall amidst a seething sea of doubt and dissent.  Atom City against the real world.

It is futile to even imagine the Conservative Party, or any leader arising from it, will do more than quantify the risk that carpet of inconvenient intelligence outside the dome represents.  And then dismiss it.   But they’ve been wrong before!   Suppose they decide to reinforce their post-EU mandate by calling a General Election, and suppose Farage’s UKIP steps into the breach the Labour Party have left unguarded?   Could UKIP manage to draw those same Unrepresented from their houses – is it possible UKIP could form a government?

It is intriguing, and I admit very unlikely, but what a proposition a Nigel Farage-led government presents!   A commodities trader turned Prime Minister is a very Trump-like prospect for a future independent UK, and I relish the thought because the pot needs stirring, and I can think of no better man than Farage to hold the spoon.

So there we are.  Newly independent of Brussels, free of EU federalism.  Brushing fantasy (and Farage) aside, I honestly don’t know what the future holds, but I am experiencing the optimism of youth once more, and I love it!