Time quake, p.3
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       TIME QUAKE, p.3

           Linda Buckley-Archer
 

  ‘Do you wish me to accompany you, my Lord? Or any of the men?’

  ‘Thank you, but no, William. I scarcely think an assignation with the charming Mrs Stacey and her clever niece should cause you to be fearful for my person. On the other hand, I sense that our redcoated friends are restless. An attack of cabin fever begins to afflict them. We should take yesterday’s incident as a warning sign.’

  ‘I conveyed your displeasure to Sergeant Thomas, as you requested, my Lord, and I know that he remonstrated with his men – although I fear it was in a half-hearted fashion. I am given to understand that the men see such incidents not as misdemeanours but rather as the spoils of war.’

  ‘The spoils of war! Fleecing some pathetic fellows who cannot hold their wine? And surely it cannot have slipped Sergeant Thomas’ attention that battle has not yet commenced.’

  ‘With respect, my Lord, that is not how the men see it . . . They hope for much out of this campaign; indeed, you have promised them much . . . and, surrounded by the temptations of this city, I fear they grow tired of being confined to camp.’

  ‘A soldier’s life is not all action,’ snapped Lord Luxon. ‘This ragged band should be more sensible of the unique honour bestowed on them . . .’

  ‘And yet, my Lord,’ said William softly, ‘they come with the Colonel’s highest recommendation. Sergeant Thomas says that every last one of them would lay down their lives without a murmur if he asked it of them.’

  ‘Very well, William, very well. Besides, if Mrs Stacey’s niece is free with her information they will have action aplenty ere the month is out . . . and it is true that this maddening heat is enough to turn a saint into a scoundrel. Profit from my absence and contrive to divert them in some way.’

  ‘A visit to the cinema, perhaps, my Lord?’ suggested William hopefully. ‘I could escort them, of course . . .’

  ‘Yes, yes, do so by all means,’ Lord Luxon said, waving his valet away. ‘Reduce the guard to two for the afternoon and tell the men that when they are on duty they are to refrain from spitting on the pedestrians below.’

  William tried not to smirk. It was true that the men’s aim was excellent. ‘Yes, my Lord.’ He clicked the cab door shut and bent down to address the driver, who observed beads of sweat trickling off the end of the valet’s nose.

  ‘Hey, buddy, there ain’t no law that says you’ve got to keep your jacket on. Your engine’s gonna overheat . . .’

  William ignored him and rapped the roof of the cab as if it were Lord Luxon’s coach and six all set to gallop up the sweeping avenue of elms that led to Tempest House.

  ‘Fraunces Tavern, if you please, my man, and be smart about it.’

  Later that afternoon, William and half a company of English redcoats who had last seen action during the Seven Years War in the autumn of 1762, drank cold beers in a bar they frequented off Sixth Avenue. It was owned by Michael, a shaggy-haired Irishman who – having convinced himself that they were actors on tour refusing to come out of character – now treated them all like long-lost friends. They perched in a line on high stools, hunched over the bar, while Michael showed them photographs of his large family and encouraged them to move to America where, if you worked hard, like he had done, anything was possible. Afterwards they trooped into a near-empty film theatre on West Houston Street where there happened to be a retrospective screening of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was their third experience of the magic of the big screen and William had bought them generous quantities of cookies. Now they waited in breathless anticipation for the lights to go down and for the next three hours they lived through every last second of the epic story that unfolded before their eyes. As the first episode drew to its conclusion and Boromir, mortally wounded, fought bravely on against the odds, it was all William could do to hold the men back and stop them rushing the screen to help this flawed man whom they instinctively felt to be their comrade. When the noble Aragorn smote his foul foe, the redcoats all leaped to their feet, roaring their approval and embracing each other, and punched the air with their fists. ‘Huzzah!’ they cried in voices hoarse with emotion. ‘Huzzah!’ And then, as Boromir died and Aragorn spoke words of comfort to him and told him that he had not failed in his quest, the surge of emotion that the men experienced in this dark, cocooned room in the middle of New York almost overwhelmed them. They gave in to heart-rending sobs. Two teenage boys, seeing the film for perhaps the thirtieth time, looked around in wonder at these burly grown men who clearly felt the same way about this story as they did. They would not have to explain to these guys why they were driven to keep coming back for more and why real life mostly did not match up . . .

  William, more restrained, dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief, all passion utterly spent. He had seen many wonders since arriving in the future, but no invention had impressed him like that of moving pictures. Indeed, he had often felt homesick since Lord Luxon had taken a fancy to New York but how, he wondered, would he accustom himself once more to a life without the thrill of the big screen when, as surely would happen one day, his master would finally return home?

  At the same moment as Sergeant Thomas and his lads were resuming their watch on each level of the zigzag of metal stairs in Prince Street, their heads filled with stirring images and music, dreaming of glory whilst spitting at the Orcs below, Lord Luxon was stepping out of an elegant building on the corner of Broad and Pearl. His visit to the Fraunces Tavern Museum, with its many exhibits dating from the American Revolution, had moved the English aristocrat in ways which would have disturbed the museum’s curators. As he strode past portraits of America’s famous sons, Lord Luxon was put in mind of the portraits of his father and uncles at Tempest House. These proud military men had never hidden their poor opinion of him, yet all their achievements put together would appear insignificant compared to the audacious plan he envisaged.

  The sun beat down onto his blond head and he squinted in the strong light. He was accompanied by two carefully acquired Manhattan acquaintances, the raven-haired Mrs Stacey, immaculate in scarlet linen and pearls, and, more importantly, Alice, her niece, a research student in the History Department at Princeton. Alice was an elfin-faced young woman in her mid-twenties, with a shining bob of chestnut hair. She was dressed for the heat, her black, tailored shorts revealing the legs of a runner. His guide for the afternoon had surpassed all expectations. Alice’s commentary had been as insightful as it was compelling. He had chosen well, Lord Luxon reflected. She had an elegant mind – which was more than he could say, at least from his eighteenth-century perspective, of her outfit. The notion that it was acceptable for a lady to wear shorts still struck him as surprising.

  ‘Surely you cannot mean, madam, that this is one of the oldest buildings in New York?’ asked Lord Luxon with a sardonic smile.

  ‘Now, now, behave yourself, Lord Luxon,’ laughed Mrs Stacey. She turned to her niece. ‘Alice, I can see it’s going to be difficult to impress someone who owns a thirteenth-century castle in Scotland . . .’

  Alice’s pale green eyes widened. ‘A castle?’

  ‘Oh, I rarely stay there. I can assure you, madam, that most caves are more comfortably appointed . . . I am mostly to be found on my estate in Surrey or at my town house in Bird Cage Walk.’

  Alice pushed back her hair behind her ears. ‘Bird Cage Walk?’

  ‘Yes. The house has a fair prospect over St James’s Park.’

  ‘A fair prospect . . .’ repeated Alice, taken by the turn of phrase. ‘I studied in London for a while. I had a bedsit in GreenPark – I must have walked past your home many times. Bird Cage Walk – what a great address! And I love it that Charles II’s habit of displaying his menagerie lives on in the street name.’

  ‘I wish I had as good a head for facts as you, Alice,’ said Mrs Stacey. ‘I have difficulty recollecting who won the last Superbowl.’

  ‘Sorry, Aunt Laura, I’m being a bore. I’ll take my historian’s hat off now—’

  ‘Pray do nothing of the k
ind!’ exclaimed Lord Luxon. ‘Your reputation precedes you. It is on account of your learning that I have been anticipating this rendezvous with such pleasure – and I assure you that I have not been disappointed. Upon my honour, I count on becoming frighteningly well informed in your company.’

  Lord Luxon gave a respectful bow in Alice’s direction.

  ‘Ah, such a gentleman!’ exclaimed Mrs Stacey, touching her heart. ‘You are a rare breed, Lord Luxon. I hope you don’t turn out to be a wolf in a sheep’s clothing!’

  Lord Luxon let out a resounding howl, startling several passers-by. The two women laughed. This handsome milord was proving good company, even if he did insist on speaking like someone out of a costume drama. Mrs Stacey had already offered Lord Luxon the use of her summer house in the Hamptons whenever he cared to use it. Lord Luxon, however, seemed less impressed by Mrs Stacey’s stellar social connections than by Alice’s knowledge of American history. Intrigued though she was by Lord Luxon, Alice did not quite get him. He had listened, in rapt attention, to everything that she had said about the museum exhibits; his manners were old-fashioned to the point of eccentricity – doubtless an affectation which he cultivated – but she sensed something else going on underneath that cool, Anglo-Saxon exterior. Something she could not quite put her finger on. But, hey, Alice told herself, at least he’s not boring . . .

  ‘Ha!’ said Mrs Stacey, tapping the museum catalogue. ‘This is what I was trying to find. Washington’s farewell speech to his men before he left for Mount Vernon and the quiet life.’

  ‘Washington? The name escapes me . . .’

  Alice grinned. This guy enjoyed playing games. ‘General George Washington – you know, first President of America? Big in the Revolutionary War . . .’

  Lord Luxon flashed Alice a smile in return. ‘Is that so? Upon my word. Fascinating . . .’

  Alice returned his look. ‘Upon my word . . .’ she repeated softly.

  ‘And to think,’ continued Mrs Stacey, ‘that Washington said goodbye to his men in this very building. After such a resounding victory against the British . . .’

  Alice burst out laughing. ‘Now don’t you go sparing the feelings of our English visitor, Aunt Laura!’

  Lord Luxon admired the flashing of blood-red nail varnish as, with a sweep of her manicured hand, like a gash in the air, Mrs Stacey waved aside the remark.

  ‘Listen: With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honourable . . . Isn’t that moving?’

  Lord Luxon ostentatiously stifled a yawn and Mrs Stacey tapped him on the back of the hand as if he were a naughty child.

  ‘It is moving,’ said Alice. ‘There can’t have been a dry eye in the house after everything they’d been through together.’

  ‘You’ll have to forgive me if I do not share your patriotic fervour,’ said Lord Luxon.

  ‘Didn’t I tell you he’s a terrible tease? Take no notice of him, Alice,’ said Mrs Stacey. ‘A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Britain lost America. But we’re all friends again now, aren’t we, Lord Luxon?’

  Lord Luxon took hold of Mrs Stacey’s hand and stooped to kiss it. He glanced up at her and his ice-blue eyes met her warm brown ones.

  ‘Indeed we are, madam, and why ever should you doubt it?

  Though would an America still under British rule be so undesirable?’

  Alice started to laugh while Mrs Stacey wagged her finger at him in mock disapproval.

  ‘Why, Lord Luxon! I am shocked to the core! Here you are, a guest in the Land of the Free – you should feel ashamed of yourself . . .’

  ‘Ashamed, madam? Alas, I gave up that emotion long ago. Besides, as my friend De Courcy is fond of saying, shame is so terribly bad for one’s posture . . .’

  ‘But would you change history if you could?’ Alice persisted. ‘It’s an interesting question – would you have had Britain quash the American Revolution?’

  ‘I am an Englishman, and loyal to King and country. Surely you would not have me harbour treasonable sympathies? Certainly I would. Indeed I would!’ Lord Luxon’s smile suddenly vanished. ‘I should have had our redcoats trample your sainted General Washington into the dirt . . .’

  Mrs Stacey’s intake of breath was audible. There was a prolonged and uncomfortable pause, during which time the sun beat down on the three figures’ heads, and Lord Luxon’s words hung heavily in the air. Alice tried to make some sense of his outburst. Was this Lord Luxon’s idea of a joke? Did he enjoy being provocative? But he calmly returned the women’s searching stares without a hint of apology. Then Mrs Stacey’s face suddenly cracked into a broad smile, as did Lord Luxon’s, and soon both of them were laughing.

  Alice studied the Englishman’s fine-featured face and smiled. ‘I don’t know if you play poker, Lord Luxon, but if you don’t you should!’ said Alice. She wanted to ask him why he had said loyal to King rather than Queen and country but something made her hold back. For an instant, she realised, he had actually made her believe that, if he could have done, he would have won back America for King George III. It wasn’t often that anyone managed to catch her out. Alice’s eyes sparkled.

  ‘Daring to say such a thing about George Washington in front of two good American citizens!’ said her aunt. ‘I am beginning to find you out, Lord Luxon! You are a tease, a terrible tease!’

  Lord Luxon inclined his head in a slight bow but he was already starting to laugh again, which set off Mrs Stacey and Alice. Lord Luxon pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his eyes. ‘A tease? On the contrary, good ladies,’ he said, barely able to get the words out. ‘I assure you I meant every word . . .’

  When, last night, after supper, I told Peter that I had a mind to set down on paper the momentous events we had lately witnessed, he became suddenly animated. To my astonishment, he told me that his grown-up self had already given a copy of The Life and Times of Gideon Seymour, Cutpurse and Gentleman, 1792 to his father, a book that I would not complete until after I had seen my fiftieth year! My young friend plainly did not grasp the turmoil that erupted in my heart at this, for he asked me, a most cheerful smile playing on his lips, if I believed that with each second that we lived and breathed we were erasing our previous histories!

  Shaking my head, for I knew not what to say, I took my leave of him in order to reflect awhile in the cool of the night. Perhaps it is due to Peter’s tender age that he appears so little dismayed at the notion of an existence wiped clean away. Whereas I, more encumbered with the baggage of a life already lived, walked around and around Lincoln’s Inn Fields, pursued by a flock of questions that hovered over my head and would not fly away.

  The notion that there is somewhere another Gideon Seymour, with the same flesh and hair and appetites, whose heart beats to the same rhythm, who has, perhaps, the same dreams and longings, distresses me more than I can say. Yet what disturbs me more is the notion that this other Gideon Seymour’s life could be overwritten by my own in which I become a kind of cuckoo in my own nest.

  Yesterday I awoke not doubting the truth of who I am, a truth so evident you could rap your knuckles on it and feel the pain. But today a great crack has appeared in Life’s certainties, for is it not in our nature to wish to be on the one hand the same as our fellows, and on the other to be different? For if I am not unique in all the universe, am I not, in consequence, a lesser man?

  Gideon Seymour

  Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 1763

  CHAPTER FOUR

  St Bartholomew’s Fair

  In which Gideon is horrified to learn of

  Lord Luxon’s deception and the party

  pays a visit to St Bartholomew’s Fair

  The party waited on the steps while the footman and the driver finished making ready Sir Richard’s coach and six. The horses were skittish and unsettled and they snorted and pawed the ground. Kate held on to Peter’s arm. A procession of
billowing clouds, streaked with an ominous red, raced across the pale evening sky, buffeted by a strong south-westerly wind that blew Sir Richard’s tricorn hat clean from his head and sent it scuttling over the pavement. Peter broke away to run after it. Kate flinched and stretched out her hand after him as he darted off. She noticed the Parson observing her and let her arm drop slowly to her side.

  ‘The weather has turned,’ declared Parson Ledbury, turning to Sir Richard. ‘That is the last of the summer, you mark my words.’

  Kate was gripping Peter’s arm as he walked back to the steps to return the tricorn hat back to its owner. She saw the Parson, a frown on his face, looking first at her and then back towards the empty space next to Hannah where he was sure she had been standing but a moment ago. He looked at Kate again. She knew precisely what he was thinking. How had she passed in front of him without him noticing? The Parson shook his head in puzzlement. Kate stared fixedly in the opposite direction.

  Bats flitted about in the twilight above their heads and, far away, a mournful church bell tolled. They all squeezed inside the carriage and breathed in its now accustomed odour of leather and horseflesh. Kate sat between Hannah and Peter, whose hand she held tight in hers. Opposite the children sat Parson Ledbury, Sir Richard and Gideon. Peter reflected that not so very long ago there would have been no way that he would have let a girl hold on to him like this, no matter how upset she was. But he did not pull away and even gave Kate’s hand a reassuring squeeze. She looked up at him and smiled.

  ‘Everything will be all right,’ he said.

  ‘I know . . .’

  Sir Richard’s coach and six rumbled out of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The streets seemed curiously empty. Amazingly, theirs was the only carriage in High Holborn and not a single street hawker was to be seen. Hannah said that it must be on account of the great fair in Smithfield. Half of London would be in attendance. The sound of oversized shop signs swaying and creaking in the wind and horseshoes striking granite setts echoed through the streets. Kate watched a pug dog, on the corner of High Holborn and Gray’s Inn Lane, mesmerised by some dry leaves whipped into a dancing whirlpool by a gust of wind. The dog backed away, growling. Then it charged helter-skelter up the street, barking a warning to anyone who would listen.

 
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