Authors: Carl Leckey
I don’t think she realised she was in a dodgy part of town. Anyway from there I drove her to a big posh house in Park Road, she was in there for about an hour. I took her next to that place where they do the grave stones in Whetstone Lane. Then we went to Flaybrick cemetery. She was dead upset when she came back to my cab. She was really crying her eyes out. I felt right sorry for her.”
I urge him on when he pauses. “Where did you take her to then?”
He laughs and informs me. “That was funny, she just said. Take me to a nice hotel by the seaside.”
“I mean by the blinkin seaside in Birkenhead? I ask you?
It was me that suggested New Brighton. Being as she was evidently posh I took her to the best place there.”
“Where’s that?” I ask. He replies in an unbelieving voice as if everyone knows the answer.
“The Hotel Victoria of course, where else would you stay if you had a few bob to spare?”
I put my coat on and tell my mate. “The trail is hot, come on Norman take me to the Hotel Victoria right away.” I thank the driver and controller and we set off for New Brighton.
I remember the hotel is the place where the music hall stars stay when they play at the Floral Pavilion and the Tivoli on the sea front. As part of our Sunday school outings we were taken to the hotel to wonder at the place. Not to go inside just to stand and dream.
Never in my wildest fantasies did I imagine I would ever actually enter the place. Once, we had a glimpse of Vesta Tilley as she scuttled out of the hotel and departed in a handsome cab.
Now I enter the place with confidence and approach the reception desk.
“Good afternoon sir may I be of assistance?” A nice looking young Lady enquires.
“Yes you can. Do you have a Lady Angelique Carstairs staying as a guest?” The girl looks embarrassed. “Er we do but er?”
I explain. “I am her Son, is she staying here or not? Come on love what is the problem?”
An officious looking man takes over. “I will handle this Miss Bellany.” The girl scurries gratefully away.
I repeat my request for information “Is my Mother Lady Angelique staying here?” He enquires. “You are Lady Angelique’s Son Sir? Would you care to step into my office, it’s a bit more private in there?” He lifts a flap in the counter I follow him into his office.
When we are seated he hesitantly explains. “May I introduce myself Mr er Carstairs? I am the manager of the hotel. Gillon is my name. I find this very difficult, forgive me? It is the policy of the Hotel to settle guest’s bill on a weekly basis. Unfortunately a fortnight has gone by and your Mother’s account is outstanding. I am in a dilemma. I have disobeyed the rules by allowing this to occur. I have to ask your Mother to settle her bill and leave. I am reluctant to do this, she is such a lovely Lady but what can I do?” Again I lie for the sake of my Mother.
“That is why I am here. I should have been with her when she arrived but unfortunately I was delayed by a business appointment. I am here to settle her bill and to book in myself. May we do that now?”
His face lights up. “Thank you sir I hope you appreciate my position, I was dreading.”
I cut him short. “No problem. Thank you for being so understanding I usually handle all Mother’s finances.” I confess confidentially. “Mother has no idea about bills and things. You know what nobility are like?” He preens himself. I don’t suppose he does but he evidently deals discretely with other situations involving rich people. I shake his hand and inform him “I will settle the bill at the desk and book in to your excellent hotel.
Could you tell me where I can send a telegram?” Much to my delight he informs me. “We have full telegraphic facilities here in the hotel sir. The office is just to the right of the reception desk. Don’t be surprised Sir when you find that the hotels telegraphic address is Comfort Wallasey.”
He adds proudly “It was an idea of mine. It epitomises the hotel don’t you think?”
I nod my agreement. He continues explaining the facilities available for the guests.
“There are also telephonic facilities, but unfortunately only for local calls.” He adds quickly. “But it will be improved shortly. In fact I am assured by the telephonic company it could even be today. The shortage of skilled engineers due to the war has held up the installation.”
I thank him for his assistance and return to reception where I settle Mother’s bill and book myself in.
The receptionist Miss Bellany discloses.
“Lady Angelique is out at the moment but she has booked dinner for eight o’clock tonight.
Would Sir like the Queen Victoria suite overlooking the sea?”
I have to go for it, dreams don’t often come true. I have a feeling of elation as I sign the register with exaggerated flourish as if I do this on many occasions.
I reply casually as if I do this kind of thing routinely. “I certainly would my dear and will you book me in for dinner at a table close to Lady Angelique? I want to surprise her. Please do not mention I am here will you?” With a conspiratorial smile she assures me my secret is safe with her.
A uniformed page appears as if by magic and takes my valise to the Victoria suite.
I send two telegrams, one to Harry at the depot, the other to the hotel OSCADA informing them where I am staying. I then write a letter to Denise bringing her up to date with developments.
I have to move from the other hotel in down town Birkenhead into the Hotel Victoria. This is my opportunity to live out a childhood fantasy of being a guest in my dream hotel. What a fantastic setting to meet my Mother face to face. Returning to the taxi we head back to Birkenhead and Mrs Jones’s house in Park Road. She welcomes me warmly from her chair with an apology. “I am sorry I can’t rise to greet you. My poor old legs have finally given up. Without my dear Pamela I couldn’t manage.” She takes the hand of the young woman she introduced on a last visit as a bit of a useless girl. Pamela has evidently been promoted to a companion and nurse as the old woman’s health deteriorated.
Mrs Jones explains. “Your Mother visited me about a week ago. She said she would call again but hasn’t as yet. I told your Mother about your visit when you left the army. I also informed her about the articles I gave you.” Something else she discloses intrigues me. “Adam my boy forgive me for what I am about to tell you but I made a promise and could not break it. As you know Millie was uneducated. Before Millie died she asked me to record in a book all the details about you. How she found you, why she did not notify your real Mother it is all recorded in there. You see she was convinced you had been killed in the war. She asked me to give the book to your Mother if she ever turned up looking for her. Needless to say I gave it to her when she visited me. I think she was in the nick of time. I feel my time on this earth is rapidly drawing to a close. Shortly I shall be meeting my maker.”
I reply. “Oh! Don’t say that Mrs Jones I hope you will see a few more years out before you leave us.” She smiles gratefully for my sentiments but I see she has made her mind up.
I add. “If only Millie had told me these things. I wonder why she kept everything secret from me.” Mrs Jones replies. “I am sure she had her reasons my dear, it’s too late now. No time for regrets we will never know now. But you have something wonderful to look forward to. You shall shortly be meeting your beautiful Mother.”
“What if she doesn’t accept me as her Son?” I reply glumly.
She assures me. “She will of course accept you, and be proud to do so my dear boy. I am certain of that.” I thank Mrs Jones for everything she has done for my family. In the hall as I am about to leave Pamela hands me a piece of folded paper. “This was pushed through the door sir. Would you take care of it?” A quick scan reveals the bill from the stone mason. “Thanks Pamela, leave it with me.” As I stuff it into my pocket I enquire. “Is she really that ill Pamela, she is a lovely woman?” She replies sadly. “I am afraid she is going downhill fast, she has chronic heart trouble as well as arthritis.” I reply. “She thinks a lot about you Pamela, you have certainly changed since I saw you last.” She blushes and replies. “That was quite a while ago Sir.
Mrs Jones has been so kind. She engaged a tutor to educate me.
I have had elocution and deportment lessons. Do you know what her favourite saying is?” I shake my head she continues. “There is a Lady in every woman Pamela, it just needs bringing out. I love that old Lady so much. I don’t know what I will do when she goes?”
Pamela wipes a tear from her eye and suddenly informs me. “Do you know Mrs Jones was a talented artist before arthritis took hold of her?
Her poor hands became so painful she couldn’t hold a brush, but she never complains she just says. “It’s the will of God, he must have a purpose.” She has such faith.
Myself I think it is so unfair. She has been a good and kindly Lady all her life why should God make her suffer? Answer me that if you can?”
Pamela’s outburst startled me. I have no answer to her question. The same thoughts have plagued my mind for as long I can remember.
“I remember my er, Step Mother telling me she had worked for an artist, so I assume that was Mrs Jones eh?” Pamela reveals. “Yes she is very talented she had exhibitions years ago with great acclaim from the critics. Do you know for many years she never parted with any of her work for any price offered and believe me she had lots of offers, but she has been selling off many of her paintings lately.
I don’t know how she could part with them? They are so lovely.” Pamela discloses another interesting detail of the good Lady. “She taught me how to paint you know?” She adds proudly. “I am considered by some of her friends to have artistic promise myself.”
I compliment her. “Good for you Pamela, you are a very attractive young Lady. I hardly recognised you when I arrived. If I wasn’t a happily married man I would be asking you for a date. Still I suppose you have potential suitors clamouring at your door?”
She blushes again and informs me. “I have no time for boys. I prefer the company of my own kind. If you don’t mind me saying so Sir you have changed since I saw you last. You looked half starved then and if I remember you were still in your army uniform. Look at you now? You have smart expensive clothes with some meat on your bones.”
Her next statement shocks me. “If I was that way inclined I might be asking you for a date.”
She blushes and abruptly changes the subject after making that startling announcement.
“Mrs Jones is planning to adopt me. She has been like a Mother to me since she took me in. I am so grateful. Did you know all my family died in the flu epidemic?”
“Yes Pamela I believe it was about the same time I lost my adopted parents. You deserve it love. I know what it’s like to have no family believe me. If things work out for me thanks to the assistance of Mrs Jones, I might at least have my real Mother again.”
Just as I am about to leave her at the door I have no idea why but I turn, kiss her on the cheek and say. “If anything happens to Mrs Jones please let me know I would like to help in any way I am able, she has been a true friend to my family.” I hand her one of my business cards.
On my way back to the taxi I am still puzzling about what she said about boys. Was she referring to mixing with working class boys or was she totally rejecting any involvement with men in general. This reminds me of something I will have to confront when I finally meet my Mother. How I will broach the subject I have no idea. What is the relationship between her and Lady Emily? There have been many hints that it is more than Sisterly love between them. I did myself witness some odd behaviour as I drove them to Dover once. Why has the lawyer Jonah Wilkes been engaged by Lady Emily in a slander case? Is she the slanderer or has she been slandered?
I should have cleared that up when I stayed at St Margaret’s.
I retrieve my luggage from the hotel, settle the bill, buy Norman a pint and head back to New Brighton. On the way I wonder how I will approach my Mother.
We are discussing it when Norman pulls up at a flower shop. “Here’s the answer Adam. Take her some flowers. My misses loves to have a bunch when she is feeling a bit down. I reckon your Mum would appreciate it?”
When I enter the shop I stand around amongst the many vases of flowers in a quandary, what kind of flowers will suit the occasion?
Noticing my dilemma the shop Lady asks. “Who are they for?”
I reply vaguely. “It’s for a Lady, my Mother to be exact. I haven’t seen her for a long time.”
She advises. “Then there is only one flower that says it all. That’s an orchid. We have these in a special cellophane presentation box.”
The Lady points out the orchid on display. “If you require it we will deliver to anywhere on the Wirral. We will also include one of these messages of your choice?” She shows me a series of highly decorated cards with messages already written in beautiful copper plate golden letters. I select one with the simple message.
From an admirer
The Lady encloses it in the box and gives me a strange look as I pay the bill. I note her puzzled expression.
I enquire. “What! Is the message not right?”
She replies hesitantly. “It’s none of my business Sir, but to your Mother? Don’t you think it’s a bit formal?” I reply. “It will be alright I don’t want her to know who the orchid is from. Let her think it’s from a male admirer.” She smiles. “Oh I understand now. Good idea. Where shall we send it?” I advise her, “Deliver it to Lady Angelique Carstairs at the Hotel Victoria. I want it to be on her dinner table when she arrives at eight o’clock tonight, is that possible?”
She replies. “Of course Sir we deliver up to ten o’clock in the evening. Have a nice time with your Mother.” I am almost at the door when I notice a large bunch of flowers. I scoop them up and take them back to her, hand her a half crown, bid her farewell for a second time and leave the shop.
At the entrance to the Hotel Victoria I thank Norman for his assistance settle up and tip him handsomely whilst promising to keep in touch with him. As he gets back into his cab I hand him the bunch of flowers.