Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oranges and Lemons, part 3

Mr. Caldwell was a thin man of relatively good health, a chronic dry throat and subsequent cough, due to inhalation of copper fumes in the factory, being his only outward sign of ailment. His long gray hair stood testimony to a slight eccentricity and age of eight and fifty years, but his sharp gray eyes projected a clear and deliberate mind. He stated flatly he had lost all desire for the company of others and had not stepped, nor ever intended again to step, one foot past the marble vestibule of his flat. Whatever his reason for doing so was not something he felt the desire to confide in me, nor did I care.

My first week was spent engaged in the purchase of a large steamer trunk, which was to conform to specific dimensions detailed to me by Mr. Caldwell. Why would a man owning two large and well-traveled steamer trunks require a third? At the time the logic was vexing.

My next task seemed quite in line for a man with such a charitable history. I was sent to the Bank Of England to arrange an account for a John Martin Havisham, a young man I understood to be the new recipient of Mr. Caldwell’s benevolence. I was given an envelope containing details and the amount to be deposited from Mr. Caldwell’s account, an amount that raised more than one eyebrow of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.

With the bank transaction completed I was further instructed to set up a weekly account with the grocer just off Carter Lane, handing them each a similar envelope with instructions for administration of the accounts. By weeks end it seemed my domestic tasks were completed, the accounts arranged and the aforementioned steamer trunk having been delivered. We would now begin work on the memoirs.

Mr. Caldwell wanted to complete the memoir in six months, suggesting I move into his guest quarters. I gladly consented. He was very insistent that I not publicize the project and kept me busy twelve hours a day. My only respites were visits to the market when I delivered sealed envelopes given to me by Mr. Caldwell with the weekly order, asking for them to be filled and delivered after nightfall. On one occasion an envelope wasn’t sealed. On peering inside I noticed the order was to be charged to the account of J. M. Havisham. It seemed odd to me but, endowed or not, it was still his money.

For the next six months I worked earnestly taking copious notes detailing every event of note from his privileged childhood right through to his incredible travels abroad. By the end of October I had everything I needed to convert sixty years of facts into a compelling memoir.

On the twenty-eighth of October Mr. Caldwell called me in, asking if I would take care of a small matter he had arranged. It was the trunk, the very trunk he had made when I first arrived. He said it was filled with old ledgers and invoices from his business. He had contracted with two surly blokes of questionable repute for the trunk to be picked up, taken down to the docks, and set ablaze until reduced to ashes. I was to accompany the men to ensure the deed was done.

We were on Blackfriars Lane when a gunshot spooked the horses. I was knocked to the ground. The trunk rolled off the back of the cart, crashing onto the cobblestones. The fall had broken open the trunk, exposing a badly decomposed body. I was helped to my feet by two constables, who immediately locked me up.

The subsequent investigation challenged every ounce of sanity I had. It was determined, through questionable police work and assumption, that the body in the trunk was Ebenezer Caldwell. The house on Fleet Street was searched, producing no physical evidence to support my claims of his being alive. What was found was enough evidence to indict me for murder. The Mr. Caldwell I knew had disappeared completely. The two men hired to transport the trunk were never seen again.


A key turning in the lock of my cell door interrupted my thoughts. My hand went to the tin cup. To my surprise a man walked in. He was my height, wrapped in a wool coat, scarf and hat. The turnkey stayed behind. With a grunt he closed and locked the door, leaving me alone with my visitor.

The man waited, listening as the footsteps faded off down the passage. He pulled open his scarf, lifted his head and removed the hat.

I pulled myself up from the floor. The shock on my face was evident. My attempt to speak was waved off.

“I can only imagine what you must think of me,” he said. He took a labored breath between sentences, followed with a raspy cough. “God forgive me. I was mad with anger. I certainly didn’t expect this result.”

I was speechless. Here before me was the man I knew to be Ebenezer Caldwell, the man I was accused of killing.

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