Here is the fourth chapter of Dr Michael Apichella’s adventure novel The Chronicles of Johnny Pilgrim, which is set in Bury St Edmunds.
No one was more surprised than Roger and Johnny when they learned of Squire Partridge.
His legacy consisted of an annual income from investments amounting to £500, a townhouse catre-corner from Goody Rookes’ house in what is now-a-days commonly referred to as Chequer Square, and a sum of 60 guineas left in Squire Partridge’s strongbox at the time of his passing.
There were also sundry stocks and bonds not yet assessed for value.
‘Naturally, as elder son and rightful heir, all of the monies, goods, properties and chattels go to Roger,’ Mr. Stanley explained. ‘To be sure, I’ve arranged for my man, Mr. Stuart, to deliver the strongbox to your rooms later today.’ Mr. Stanley continued reading. ‘Roger may live in the house in Chequer Square until his death.’
Mr. Stanley pursed his lips, and here Johnny felt confident he would be named beneficiary as next-of- kin. But no.
‘After Roger’s death, the property reverts to Mr. Stanley or his representative to be sold, and the capital realised is to be invested and used to provide for two parish lecturers, upkeep and maintenance of the fabric of St. James’ and St. Mary’s churches, and to provide bread and fuel for the deserving poor of the two parishes into perpetuity.’
‘Mr. Stanley. Mr. Addams. A word, please,’ Johnny said, indicating with his eyes that he did not wish his brother to hear what he had to say. They crossed the room and huddled in the shadow of the clock. ‘As the younger son, I am not the heir, Roger is, and I praise God for that, truly. But am I to understand that I’m completely left out of my father’s will?’
His eyes darted from face to face. Their silence was explosive. ‘But why?’
‘Master John,’ began Mr. Addams, eyelids fluttering. ‘I have been your father’s friend and advisor these many years. And, right up to his death, I begged him not to do this thing to you.’
‘Verily, Squire Partridge went to his grave blaming you for the death of your goodly mother, God rest her soul.’ Hearing this confidence, Johnny dropped into the nearest chair.
‘His mind was affected by grief as I have never seen in a man,’ put in Mr. Stanley, shaking his head slowly. ‘His plan was – and is – to punish after death him whom he deemed his archenemy in life. His younger son.’ Mr. Stanley rubbed his palms like cynical Pilate washing his hands of the betrayal of Christ.
Brightening, Mr. Addams sought to change the subject. ‘Well Johnny, it seems your brother’s time living as a poor lodger here in Goody’s coffee house is over!’
‘How so?’ said Roger speaking for the first time to the company. ‘I am perfectly content here with Johnny and Goody Rookes.’
The lawyer began explaining to Johnny, not so much as looking in Roger’s direction. Johnny cut the air with his hand. ‘Yonder sits Roger. Lame he may be, but he is neither mute nor deaf. Speak to him not me.’
Mr. Stanley turned to Roger and made a half bow. ‘Quite right. Quite right. As arranged, Master Roger, you may take up residency in your late father’s house in Chequer Square. Everything is at the ready.’
‘And with the legacy,’ interjected Mr. Addams, ‘he – that is you, Roger, m’boy – may hire a manservant to see to all your needs withal.’ The beadle squirmed as if standing too near the fire. ‘Given your gimpy legs, if you take my meaning.’
Roger arched an eyebrow. ‘Aye. But I will have no need of a man, for I have my brother Johnny who may surely continue to live with me for as long as he deems it meet and proper. Indeed, that is my express desire.’
‘To be sure, that is what we had hoped, but I am afraid that will not do, Master Roger.’ Mr. Stanley consulted the parchment. ‘A codicil written in your father’s hand shortly before his demise stipulates: “Under no circumstances, even in the case of Roger’s own obstinacy, is John to benefit from one penneth of my bequest while Roger is alive, or following his death, under pain of the entire estate and its assets forthwith defaulting to the afore said beneficiaries.”
‘That is the law.’ Lawyer Stanley clamped his cocked hat on his round head indicating the matter was closed. ‘And that is that.’ Standing he bowed. ‘For my part, I do not like this business, no sir, not one
‘But Mr. Stanley. How shall I fare in the world? Goody Rookes will not live forever, and what very little she has will surely go to her daughters and not me.’
Mr. Addams’ elevated his shoulders abruptly as if he had just awakened from deep slumber. ‘Ahh, I was coming to that. Johnny, here’s the best news, of a certainty! Tomorrow morning you are to leave Goody Rookes’ home and come up to Cambridge to be a sizar. You are to have in exchange for your duties meals, a shared
room in the servants’ quarters with a study, a reader’s pass, five lectures a term, and two shillings pocket money per month. I’ve made all the arrangements with the seniour of Kings College. They are expecting you in the forenoon whence you may begin to discharge your duties. You are to leave St. Edmundsbury at Five of the Clock, so mind you get packing and have an early night. Think of it, Johnny. You’re to be a proper scholar at long last. Here is your pass to travel on the early stage on the morrow, and a letter of introduction to be given to one of the porters upon arrival tomorrow.’
He reached into his breast pocket and waved a sealed parchment like St. Nicholas proffering sweeties to a poor child.
At that, an ugly inner demon of shame rose up and revealed bottomless disgust, as if Mr. Addams had offered him a severed monkey’s paw. ‘A sizar? Me?’
‘What? You despiseth these gladsome tidings?’ Lawyer Stanley wagged his finger. ‘Mind you, young sir. It is Mr. Addams’ wish that since you do not have any part of Squire Partridge’s legacy, you will be sure to have a first-rate education. Think lad!’
Mr. Addams, placing his hand over his heart, made an unctuous bow. ‘Say you are glad of these terms so that my high estimation of your native intelligence, indeed your sterling character, will not have been in vain. Do.’
‘Nay. But did you ever tell my father your high estimation of me?’
‘I tried, Johnny. Indeed, I tried. In his pique Squire Partridge never wished to discuss how you fared. But for what it may be worth, why, I couldn’t think more affectionately of you if you were my own son.’
These words flattered Johnny, and he would be a liar if he said he was not appreciative. Moreover, despite a few rough edges, Johnny really did possess the palate and the intelligence to take a degree. Indeed, he seemed born to it. Still pride persisted.
‘But what duties might I be put to? I might be any green head’s factotum. No sir. That is no life for me.’
‘Ingratitude!’ exploded Lawyer Stanley, by now in the mood for a glass of rum before the long coach ride back to Ipswich.
Mr. Addams inclined his head towards Roger who seemed to have vanished into the ether, so little attention was paid to him during this passionate exchange.
‘Never forget. In three years’ time, you will be a Bachelor of Science, Johnny. Pursue any calling you like – the law, medicine, even become a Member of Parliament.
Roger, however, will merely be three years older.’ His voice trailed off. Johnny saw there was no use in arguing. Instead, he determined to even the score with an evil deed he never would have so much as contemplated had he known Squire Partridge’s entire estate was on the cusp of financial embarrassment, and with it, Roger’s short-lived financial windfall. But I am getting well ahead of my story.
Meantime, Johnny pretended contrition. ‘I see that I have spoken out of turn on this matter. I thank ye gentlemen, profusely and earnestly, and I accept the terms with no qualms, and, God be praised, am overjoyed at this chance to go up to Cambridge.’
Turning to Roger he quipped, ‘Well, Roger. After these many years living as orphans, not only do we find we have had a father all along, and a rich one at that, but in the same moment, we find we are orphans again, eh?’
Shaking his head, he moved toward the door. ‘But now I wonder if you gentlemen will be so kind as to leave us to grieve for our dear, departed father and to say our prayers for his soul in private?’
Sceptical Roger cast his eyes down and studied the tiny dust balls scurrying along the wainscot of Goody’s draughty house like miniscule racehorses at Newmarket.
‘That’s the boy, Johnny,’ said Mr. Addams, clenching his fists like the man who won a prize at a dog race.
‘I knew you would see the light,’ added Mr. Stanley. ‘And Roger. Be on the lookout for Mr. Stuart erelong. He brings the money box to which I referred.’ The lawyer turned to the beadle and nodded delightedly. ‘Perhaps this business is not so bad after all, eh, Mr. Addams? Would you care to join me at the White Horse Inn for
a hot rum punch while we await our coaches?’
‘I’ll certainly have boiled rosewater and honey!’
As the men gathered their wraps, Johnny glanced at his brother knowing Roger wasn’t fooled. Forthwith it was Johnny’s avowed purpose to convince Roger, of all people, that he was glad that he had got their father’s fortune, while Johnny was to scrabble for a living while gaining an education up at Cambridge.
And with hindsight, though his was not to be an orthodox education, nevertheless, by God’s grace, Johnny was about to learn a lesson he would never forget.
Casting aside his sticks and kicking off his down-at- heel shoes exposing a gap in his hose where his great toe protruded, Roger collapsed onto his bed and swung his indolent legs up onto the quilted coverlet peering into Johnny’s face like a soothsayer divining leaves in one of Goody Rookes’ tea saucers.
As he saw it, if the roles were reversed, Johnny would never take the money unless Roger got half, preferring to be poor but in good conscience than rich and shamefaced.
‘Please tell me, our father’s revenge – indeed, that’s the only word to describe it – does it gall you as it does me?’
‘It only makes me pity him.’
‘But you deserve better than a servant’s life, Johnny.’
‘I’m glad to be going to Cambridge; the Lord knows I’ve wanted to go up since I was a boy. And there’s an end to it. All’s well that ends well, quoth the bard.’
‘Tush. I don’t believe a word.’
Through clenched teeth Johnny spun his lies. ‘I am reconciled to make the best of a bad job, and you must be glad you will not go to your grave a poor man. Masters Addams and Stanley well shamed me when they contrasted your lot to my own.’
That portion of this worm-infested falsehood was, at the very least, true. Still, it was his plan for that night that made him suddenly rush to open a window as if to let out the horrid miasma in the air.
© 2016, Michael Apichella, All Rights Reserved
For the next chapter, visit the Bury Free Press website next Sunday at 6pm.