Here is the third chapter of Dr Michael Apichella’s adventure novel The Chronicles of Johnny Pilgrim, which is set in Bury St Edmunds.
The murmur of low voices mingled with the plummy aroma of tobacco smoke in the foyer as Johnny Pilgrim returned home.
Roger, along with their surrogate mother Mary Rookes, neé DuBois, being French by birth and culture, waited anxiously for his return.
She had come to England to work when she was 16.
In her thirties, she met and married her thrifty husband Christopher, and they kept a popular coffee house in St. Edmundsbury, a fine Suffolk-pink building covered in decorative pargetting squeezed between the ancient grey stone Norman Tower and St. James’ Church, and now long since demolished. While the Rookes’ handsome dwelling stood, neither boy wanted for a bed, nor a loving peck on the cheek (or clip around the ear when deserved) from ‘Goody’ as Mary was known to all in town by the time she had
reached her middle years.
Now she stood making round eyes at Johnny as if his hair were on fire.
‘Never fear if we have guests. I brought provisions enough and more.’
Johnny held up sugar, bread and cheese and other victuals.
‘Oh, Johnny you’re a saint, you are. How I will despise the time ere you leave this house as needs be one day. Isn’t he just a saint, Roger, my dear?’
Leaning heavily on his walking sticks, black-eyed Roger sniffed. ‘My brother Johnny has his moments.’
Goody held out her hands like a woman receiving a lifeline, but her eyes moved away from the coffee rooms to the closed door of the adjacent drawing room.
Johnny raised his eyebrows curiously. ‘Mr. Addams and an important gentleman have come to see you and Roger,’ she said, jabbing a bent forefinger towards the door.
Avoiding Johnny’s quizzical glare, Goody swept a loose strand of white hair back into her tight chignon, turned on her heel, and moved to serve two customers chatting contentedly over saucers of tea and long clay pipes in the next room.
Mr. Addams was well known to the family; indeed, it was he to whom Goody had turned when she recognised Johnny needed a tutor to continue with his education beyond what she could offer. Roger shyly shuffled aside, indicating with his chin You first.
Knowing Roger’s reserve with strangers, Johnny grinned. ‘Shall we see who Mr. Addams has fetched along today?’ He stepped inside the room with Roger on his heels. Mr. Addams, the Cambridge beadle who was Johnny’s tutor in the classics, bounced unsteadily on the balls of his feet, hands clasped behind his back like a man learning to skate on the River Lark.
Attired in a smart blue satin suit and remaining rigidly near the flickering flames in the fireplace, the other gentleman Johnny knew to be a Mr. Stanley, the prominent Ipswich lawyer.
Mr. Addams made a quick bow from the waist. ‘Good day, Master John and Master Roger.’
Frowning, Mr. Stanley’s eyes appraised Roger’s bruised eye.
Goody reappeared in the chamber, bidding all to sit. Johnny preferred standing until he knew the nature of their business. ‘Will the gentlemen be wanting coffee or tea?’
The beadle shook his head, and Goody Rookes moved away in case they changed their minds. The only sound now was the heavy tic, tic, tic, of the grandfather clock in the corner.
‘Well, well, well John,’ said the beadle at last, ‘how is the French coming along?
‘Je vais de force à la force, monsieur Addams.’
‘And the Latin?’
‘Quia unum solum hominem. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Maior.’
‘Tush! A man of war and not diplomacy?’ Mr. Stanley pressed tapered fingertips into a steeple.
‘Do you wish to pick a fight with some local Hannibal? Come to that, there was some talk in the bank earlier about more penny-begging and a broken pate in the market today. Come, bend down.’
Glowering, he made a perfunctory examination of the angry lump on Johnny head.
Mr. Addams signalled for the lawyer to hold his peace for the moment. A swift gathering of cumulous clouds high above the town siphoned off the sunshine in the chamber. Turning his small olive-coloured eyes into the street, Mr. Addams clicked his tongue.
‘I do hope it won’t rain again. It’s been the wettest summer I can recall in many a year.’
‘You gentlemen haven’t come all this way to discuss the weather, surely?’
‘Indeed.’ Mr. Stanley cleared his throat and unfolded a yellowed parchment
across his ample lap. ‘I bring important news for this household.’ He tapped the document with his monocle like a director about to conduct a chamber orchestra.
‘Hold any questions until I have read it through.’ Adjusting the lens, he spoke in a stentorian voice. ‘On Lady Day, 25 March, 1745 Mr. Elias Partridge, Esq. of St. Edmundsbury, in the country of Suffolk, departed this life following a short but virulent illness. His last thoughts were for his two surviving children.’
Johnny knew only one man by that name – a distant kinsman whom he’d never met and who resided in Ipswich town, not St. Edmundsbury.
But Uncle Elias had neither wife – nor children, thought Johnny. ‘Whereas, on the 17 th of June 1730,
Mrs. Emma Partridge died while giving birth to her second son. A boy. Understandably, Squire Partridge was inconsolable; moreover, as the baby was born bright blue, he was expected to expire before another day had passed.
Squire Partridge duly gave orders that his wife and son should be buried in St. Mary’s churchyard St. Edmundsbury, in the family vault.’
Johnny glanced at the beadle. Before the boy could form a question, Mr. Addams flourished the palm of his hand, and Mr. Stanley continued.
‘As is known to Messrs. Addams and Stanley, the “blue” son did not die but rallied and lived. And whilst full of gratitude to the Lord, in the days that followed the burial of his beloved Emma, and in the light of the fact that his first son was born with crooked legs on 12 January 1728, Squire Partridge felt he could not care for this infant as well as tend to the demands of a crippled two-year- old boy.
‘Inasmuch as he was not in a fit state to care for these boys, he approached his deceased wife’s cousin, Christopher Rookes, an enterprising St. Edmundsbury innkeeper. With the help of young Lawyer Stanley,’ here he glanced up as if to be sure they discerned him as one and the same, ‘it was arranged for the brothers to be
brought up in the Rookes’ care until coming of age or until Squire Partridge departed this life, which ever came first.’
He paused briefly, making a face as if trying to extricate a bit of cheese from his false teeth. ‘The document notes in another hand that Christopher Rookes died on 5 April 1733, and that Elias Partridge provided 2 pounds, 2s. and 1 d. for a Christian burial for said Christopher.
Thereafter, he allocated the sum of one pound per month to Mary Rookes as keep for his estranged sons still in her care. Not exactly a princely sum,’ muttered Lawyer Stanley soto voce before continuing. ‘From time to time, Elias Partridge rode down from Ipswich and sojourned at St. Edmundsbury where he kept his domicile, so as to execute his duties as chief shareholder of Partridge and Clements, the wool and yarn manufacturers owned and operated in Kings Road.’
‘God forgive him that not once did he ever offer to so much as to call in to see his sons and show them first-hand any fatherly love and devotion – though, good man that he was, he had tried his best to show it after his own fashion,’ put in Mr. Addams who was wont to see the best in everyone.
Johnny could no longer hold his tongue. ‘Stay, Sir! What, pray tell, are the names of Squire Partridge’s sons?’
The men exchanged awkward glances. Finally, Mr. Addams laid a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. ‘The “blue” babe was Christened John.’ He blanched. ‘Yes, Johnny. Elias Partridge was your father and you are his younger son, now nearly fully grown, and yon Roger Partridge there, your elder brother, is his rightful heir.’
© 2016, Michael Apichella, All Rights Reserved
For the next chapter, visit the Bury Free Press website next Sunday at 6pm.