Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oranges And Lemons - Part 2

My parents were kind and decent people, giving without thought to the less fortunate, and instilling in me the patience to understand my fellow man. My mother was educated, a fortune of her being the daughter of a governess prior to her marriage, and set a formal schedule at home to educate me, as my father was insistent I attain an education and “clean” work with an annual salary.

My father worked a milling machine in a factory located on Cheapside, toward St. Paul’s. Mr. Ebenezer Caldwell owned it, having been bequeathed to him on the death of his father. He ran the business with his half-brother Anderson. Mr. Caldwell gave my father the job in gratitude for stopping what was certainly intended as a deadly assault. One evening at dusk, just prior to the glow of the gas lamps, a ruffian confronted Mr. Caldwell and his half-brother on their way home from the factory. When the man produced a revolver Anderson ran, leaving Mr. Caldwell to fend off the attacker alone. My father witnessed the confrontation and came to his aid, thwarting the attack. Anderson’s flight was regarded as an act of cowardice that was answered with his dismissal from the company. Mr. Caldwell never saw, nor spoke the name, of his half-brother again.

Those first years of employment for my father were a time of prosperity for my family. I went on to attend Harrow – Mr. Caldwell, I found out years later, facilitated my placement there. I thought the passing of my parents, due to an outbreak of cholera during my second year, would be the end of my formal education. Through Mr. Caldwell’s benevolence I continued, eventually attending Cambridge. I remember thinking through my university years how fortunate I was my father interceded on the attack of Mr. Caldwell. That quickly changed, driven with every ounce of malevolence I could dredge up from the bowels of Hades, to wishing my father had left him to die at the hands of his attacker.

You might think it shameful for me to speak of the dead in such a way as this. Shameful to condemn a man whose benevolence afforded my father a decent wage and myself a fine education. Perhaps you’re right. At the time I was so consumed with hatred for what he had done to remember the acts of kindness that actually defined his life.

The judge and jury listened patiently as the facts of my case were revealed, occasionally stopping the proceedings to quiet the assorted gawkers jammed into the gallery in the Old Bailey. They were told during the trial Mr. Caldwell was murdered in April of 1886, his body stuffed into a steamer trunk in the attic of his flat on Fleet Street. It was further asserted that I remained in the flat after killing the man, availing myself to his substantial wealth and property. The police and medical examiner gave detailed reports substantiating those claims; claims based largely on information supplied to them from the grocer who delivered our meat and produce, the stationer who sold me the steamer trunk and the banker who set up the account for John Martin Havisham.

My legal counsel, a man whose name I find no need to remember, a man scarcely my senior but mentally and judiciously most certainly my junior, was inept in his ability to dispute even the most subjective of claims by the prosecutor. His laziness placed my whole defense on my testimony, a testimony which brought laughter from the gallery after my insistence of Mr. Caldwell being very much alive up until the twenty-eighth day of October, the last day I spoke with him and six months after his confirmed death. These “delusions”, as the court referred to them, were dismissed as nothing more than a feeble attempt to substantiate a claim of mental incapacity in defense of my actions.

I pleaded with the court to hear me out, assuring the judge my defense would be simple and address each of the claims related to the prosecutor’s assertion of my guilt.

“If you still find my statements an insult to the integrity of the court,” I said, pounding my fist on the well-worn rail before me, “I’ll concede my guilt and waste no more of the courts time.”

The court was reluctant to indulge me, finally conceding due to the overwhelming insistence from the gallery. It appeared their expectation was of a fanciful tale of my consorting with an apparition; a carefully spun tale to divert the jury from the greed and murder depicted by the prosecutor. The chamber went silent as I began.

I had nothing less than respect and gratitude for Mr. Caldwell. At the time of my graduation from Cambridge he had sold his factory for a substantial sum, resigning himself to a quiet life of travel and leisure. You’ll think it odd my having never met the man personally, knowing him only through his benevolence, but such was the case.

With my schooling complete I was excited over the prospect of becoming a journalist and eventually a novelist. The stipend for my education and living expenses, an account set up for me at the Bank of England by Mr. Caldwell, was closed out on my graduation from Cambridge. I took a small flat above a bakery on Bread Street and spent the next three years as an editor with the publishing house of Bascomb & Aldritch, a rather prestigious house with ties to Cambridge. It was there, on that blustery day in March of 1886, when a letter arrived from Mr. Caldwell.

His letter was my first direct contact with him since my parent’s death, now twelve years past. It requested I meet with him to discuss writing his memoirs. He wanted people to know the good he had done in this life. This entailed my leaving Bascomb & Aldritch. Without hesitation I agreed, soon finding myself sipping Earl Grey tea in the sitting room of his flat on Fleet Street.

No comments:

Post a Comment