Yesterday morning I was in a strange double mood, good because the weather was Spring-like, bad because I wanted to go to my MEMORIAL BENCH. I posted a post asking if someone would please lend me their TELEPORTER and I was so grateful and surprised by all the positive replies that I found my little going-out rucksack and filled it with the things I need for going out – Cumberland sausages, 5 bottles of laudanum, 4 packs of beta-blockers, bottle of Diet Coke, bottle of water, hairbrush, purse, Nokia Hard Bastard, and the little present that Scotty bought me. Then I opened the back door and sat down on the lino, as close to the outside as I could get, and I waited. I waited for a long, long time. A long, long, long, long time.
I don’t know what time it was when I heard footsteps coming round the side of the house. I jumped up and nearly fell back down again – my right leg gave way, it must have gone to sleep because of how I’d been sitting (cross-legged like a Yogi). It was only Branwell though, happy for a change, so happy the smile almost skipped off his face.
“Dotty, sweet Dotty! What brings you such sadness on this glorious day of splendiferous sunshine?”
I burst into tears and told him.
“No, no, no, come along. Weep not, my chickling, for here am I, Branwell the Magnificent, come to your rescue, sans white charger but with love and friendship uncurbed. Off we go, off we go.”
And he took my keys out of the door, grabbed my hand and pulled me OUTSIDE before I realised what was happening, then he locked the door, took my hand again, and away we went.
The street was heaving with PEOPLE, shouting bickering squabbling laughing braying PEOPLE, a polarised muddle of the wealthy middle classes posturing and preening their way round the shops, and the dirty, thin and stinking poor. I couldn’t take it all in, there was too much bustle and noise – beggars called out for pennies; women argued with stall-holders, trying for a bargain that wouldn’t happen; scrappy, raggy children ran to and fro, ducking and dodging; a wool-worker coughed and hawked up a great glob of blackness from his lungs and spat it out right in front of me; barrows and carts clattered on the cobbles; horses whinnied and snorted; dogs barked; a handbell clanged and clanged – and Branwell whisked me through it all in seconds, the stench of sewage and sickness and cooked meat and rotten fruit and unwashed bodies so strong I could taste it.
“Hang on, where are we going?” I asked when we’d slowed to a trot and the sounds of the street weren’t so loud.
“A jar of cheering sweetness, my dear. Your face resembles the sad arse of a sow due for the slaughterhouse. O wretched maid of long torment, your smile would set my heart content. But woe is you and woe is me, diddly dum and fiddly fee. Ha ha ha ha ha.”
“Shut up, div. Tell me where we’re going.”
And he pointed to the inn a few steps ahead of us.
“I’m not going in.” My heart was thumping.
“Yes, you are!”
And he pulled me to the door, kicked it open and dragged me inside.
It was so dull and smokey in there I had to blink loads of times before I could see. The room was small and dingy; brown walls, thick sawdust on the floor. A man with massive, black mutton chop whiskers stood behind the bar. Just two other people were there, an old man sitting in one corner of the bench seat that ran across the back wall and down one side of the room, and a boy collecting glasses from the tables.
“Dawson! Two jars!” Branwell shouted, though we couldn’t have been six feet away from the bar. He led me to a table next to the only window in the room but the panes of glass were so thick I couldn’t see out.
“Sit, sit!” Branwell gestured at the bench with a grand sweep of his arm. He sat down next to me, took his little box of snuff from his coat pocket, opened it and offered it to me.
I shook my head, “Eeew, no thanks.”
He took a big pinch and sniffed it up one nostril then the other. Quick as you like, he whipped out his hanky and started sneezing into it. “That’s better,” he said, his eyes gleaming.
“That’s fucking disgusting.”
He laughed. “No worse than many things.”
The boy brought the drinks to us on a tray, two great tankards of beer. It tasted so strong I had to sip it. Branwell downed half of his in one go.
“What are we doing here, Branwell?”
“Being merry! Sup your porter and cheer up. Have you eaten yet? I am ravenous, starved, I could eat a scabby dog. Dawson!”
“Mutton, sir. Broth.”
“Two plates, then. And bread, but only if it is warm. I want none of your mould at my table.”
The broth was lovely, full of big chunks of fresh meat and veg. The bread was even lovelier, soft and springy and warm. I sneaked a handful of Cumberland sausages out of my rucksack and passed a couple to Branwell. I put mine in a slice of bread and had the best Cumberland sausage sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.
“How’s little Emily today?” I asked when we’d finished eating.
“Still weak. Although your medicine appears to have done the trick. She was up and about this morning, at her desk rummaging through papers. Charlotte scolded her.” He rolled his eyes, sucked in his cheeks, jumped out of his seat and stood in front of the table, his hands clasped together in front of him – “Sister, sister, what ARE you thinking? Shoo, shoo, back to bed!”
I couldn’t stop laughing. He sounded just like her. “She’s not that bad, is she?”
He sat down. “At times she is a terrible harridan, Dotty. Terrible. There are certain particulars that should be kept within the family but quite honestly, I am at my wits end with her antics.”
“Why, what has she done?”
“She burnt many of my writings. Onto the fire, cast into the flames as though they were words infernal, penned by the Devil himself.”
What could I say to that? I knew she’d done some burning – after little Emily died she burnt loads of her poems and edited loads of others (little Emily told me), but I didn’t know she’d burnt Branwell’s stuff too. Before I could think what to say he said,
“They take me for a fool. The Great Published Brotherhood of Whispering Bells. They think I am blind to their secret.”
He picked up his tankard but he’d emptied it. He banged it down on the table. “Published! They are published and yet they lie to me that they are not, and they continue in their lies day after day. I am not to be told their news for fear it will send me far into a mad wretchedness of mental agonies from which I shall not return.”
I stayed silent. So did he, after he’d shouted for the boy to bring him a refill. I took my Nokia Hard Bastard out to see what time it was but it wouldn’t turn on properly, no signal.
After a while he let out a big sigh. He sat up straight and turned to me.
“Accept my heartfelt apologies, Dotty, my friend. I am a ranting dolt, an angered berk who should know better. I promise I shall not allow our day to be further marred by talk or thoughts of my own grievances when my intentions are to bring a smidge of light and happiness to us both. We, the soul-sick, mired in woe…”
“Shut up, you rhyming twat.” I gave him a punch on the arm.
“Are you ready to move on to the next stage of our adventure?” he asked.
“What is it?”
He smiled, a great big beamy smile, and then he tapped me on the nose with his finger. “Wait and see. Wait and see.”
(TO BE CONTINUED)