Read Angelique Online

Authors: Carl Leckey

Angelique (13 page)

While we eat lunch he informs us the sleet has turned to snow. By the time we have finished our excellent meal a blizzard rages outside.

We are standing by the window having a last drink prior to leaving the inn when the door bursts open. A figure muffled to the eyeballs staggers in collapses on a chair in front of the fire.

After a minute or so he begins peeling off his clothes the Landlord hovers close by. The man orders a brandy, when he notices us he explains. “Ran off the road, my cars into a ditch about a mile away I couldn’t see a thing. I’m lucky to make it to this place didn’t know it existed. What a blessing.” Pointing to the ceiling he utters a strange remark. “Someone up there looked after me today I can tell you. I’m a stranger to these parts you see? I nearly froze to death out there.”

“Where have you come from?” I enquire. He gulps down the drink before replying.

“Up Chester way been visiting shops there. My home is in Whitchurch. Do you know the town?”

“Sorry. No we are strangers in these parts ourselves. We were on our way to a place called Acton Bridge do you know it?”

He replies. “Strangely enough I do, it’s close to Northwich. I have customers there. You have no chance of getting there today at least. The road must be well blocked by now. I am trying to get to Liverpool via the Woodside ferry myself. Looks like I won’t make it today either.

Do you have any rooms Landlord?”

The Landlord replies. “No I’m sorry there is no call for a hotel on this road Chester is so close you see?” Again the door opens two more snow covered figures enter and head for the warmth of the fire.

“Are you alright Tom?” The Landlord enquires as he recognises the men. One of them replies.

“I’ve stuck the wagon under the barn George. I’ll warm up then I’ll unharness the horses and put em in the stable if that’s alright? We’ll sort the beer out when it eases off. We ain’t going any further today. Looks like you are stuck with us until this lot clears.”

The Landlord smiles and explains. “It won’t be the first time.”

He addresses us. “These lads are draymen and have brought my delivery. It looks like you folks are my guests as well, unless you want to risk it?” I reply thoughtfully. “If you have no rooms we will have to try and make it to somewhere with accommodation.” He offers. “We have the lounge sir; you and your good Lady are welcome to stay here. We have plenty of blankets and comfortable arm chairs. You may use our facilities up stairs. To be honest my Wife and kids will be glad of female company I assure you it won’t be putting us out.” He adds. “This often happens in the winter. Two years ago in that bad snow storm we had ten people sleeping here for three nights.” I look out of the window and reply. “Thanks for the offer er George I’ll take you up on that incidentally the good Lady is my Mother.”

Landing in the pub leads to one of the best days I have had since leaving France. What a day we have. The draymen are a fund of good stories and the other chap a travelling salesman for Ladies corsets keeps us entertained with his memories. We learn to play bar skittles, crib and shove half penny. Angelique is a great hit with the men the Landlord his Wife and two kids. The youngest child Gloria really takes to my Mother and stands close to her as she plays the piano looking at her with adoring eyes. In the evening I invite the stranded visitors to be my guests for dinner. After an excellent meal in good company Angelique plays the piano and we have a great sing-along. One of the kids gives up her bed for Angelique she retires upstairs at eleven o’clock.

It is almost midnight when we settle down in the armchairs wrapped in blankets.

I sleep like a log until I am awakened by the sound of a steam whistle around eight o’clock. There’s no sign of my companions. After performing my ablutions I am looking out of the window when Angelique appears as immaculate as ever, greeting me with a kiss on the cheek she stands next to me.

I enquire “Did you sleep well Mother. She smiles and replies. “I did as a matter of fact, I had a little visitor. Young Gloria crept in with me during the early hours. It was her bed I was sleeping in. Fancy that, giving her bed up to a perfect stranger, they are lovely people Adam?”

She remains quite for a moment then adds. “You know Adam I really enjoyed having her snuggling up to me.” Angelique takes my hand looks me straight in the eyes and says.

“I missed all that you know? They never gave me the opportunity to be a proper Mother.”

I detect tears in her eyes as she speaks. I squeeze her hand slightly embarrassed by her revelation but at the same time I feel anger. I look out of the window again. “You have not told me yet why you abandoned me as a baby. This is the first time you have given me a clue as to why. When are you going to tell me the whole story Mother I am entitled to know?”

She explains, “Not yet my dear Son. I promise you I will tell you the whole sorry story but not now. This is not the time or the place. Trust me.”

As I observe the scene outside I see the snow has long ceased and appears to be thawing in the morning sun. The Leyland steam wagon with the name Birkenhead Brewery emblazoned on the side stands in the yard hissing and snorting like some prehistoric monster. They have evidently recovered the Salesman car he is alongside the vehicle the bonnet is raised and he is tinkering with the engine. The two draymen are clearing snow from the cellar flap to enabling them to replenish the beer stock. The Landlord’s Wife Julie appears, begins folding the scattered blankets and asks us what we would like for breakfast. After ordering I make a decision. “I am not going on Mother. The weather is too unpredictable, if the steam wagon is heading back to Birkenhead and the car is alright I intend following him. I shall take the train to Acton Bridge and Malvern to see my friends. I am not going to risk another road journey not at this time of the year. I was foolish to consider it in the first place.” She replies. “Whatever you decide my dear.”

We take our seats for breakfast. The dray men appear accompanied by two other strangers and the sales man. They take seats at the long table and begin chatting as they consume huge breakfasts. In answer to my enquiry the steam wagon driver informs me. “Yes mate I am heading back to the brewery in Grange Road East Birkenhead and our friend here is hoping to follow me if he can get his motor running.” He indicates the salesman and adds. “You are welcome to come along. I have to get Tom and Jack back to the brewery.”

Angelique enquires. “Are you taking the poor horses out in this cold weather on those slippery roads, surely that is courting fate?”

The drayman reassures her. “No Ma’am. We are leaving the horses and wagon here. We will off load the wagon onto the steamer. George and his kids will look after them he has a nice cosy stable block. My horses will think they are on holiday here.” His mate explains. “This was originally a coach inn and belongs to our brewery. We have the only horse drawn dray wagon left in the company. It’s kept more for advertising than anything. In the summer we attend all the fairs and country shows. Our chairman is very sentimental and likes the old ways. When I started work for them about thirty years ago we had twenty or more horse drawn dray carts. Then when our present chairman took over he introduced steam wagons. Funny thing is his Dad didn’t like them at all. Now we reckon when his Son takes over the brewery he will get rid of the horses and the steam wagons as well, he will bring in petrol trucks to replace them. Very modern minded is his Son.”

The salesman asks. “You have been a long time with the brewery then?” The drayman replies. “Yes thirty years man and boy except for my stint in the Army during the big un.”

I enquire. “What mob were you with?”

“The Royal Horse Artillery.”
He replies proudly.

Before anymore conversation takes place the salesman Harry intercedes with a question directed to me. “Did you drain your engine off when you parked up yesterday? I’m glad I did before I left my car. I ruined an engine last winter that way?” His words remind me of my negligence. Bloody hell after all my training during my army service I have committed a cardinal sin. My half eaten breakfast abandoned I rush out to the barn and examine the hire car. The cooling system is frozen solid, I reckon given time I could thaw it out but the block might be cracked or some other fault could appear. I make my way back to the dining room. “It’s frozen solid.” I explain. “What do you reckon on doing now?” The drayman asked. I reply thoughtfully.

“Well it’s not my car I hired it from the hotel I was staying at in New Brighton. I don’t suppose they have a telephone here or close by?” My companions shake their heads. The drayman offers. “You are welcome to come with us. That’s if you don’t mind sharing the cab. There is plenty of room and it’s nice and warm for the Lady. We can drop you off at a station on the way? You can contact the car hire company or hotel and tell them where the car is, let them worry about it.”

Breakfast over the salesman has his engine running the thaw continues. We pack our gear and I settle up with the Landlord. He refuses payment for the overnight stay but I insist on leaving a sum of money to repay their hospitality. “Look George you helped us out in hour of need. If you won’t take anything for the hospitality I want you to use this cash to buy Christmas presents for the children from us.” Eventually he reluctantly agrees and sees us to the steamer we take up seats in the snug cab and set off followed by the salesman’s car. A small diversion puts us at Woodside where the roads appear to have been cleared. We pick up a cab to take us back to the Hotel Victoria New Brighton. The manager is surprised to see us back so soon until I explain what has occurred. He informs me not to worry about the car he will arrange for it to be recovered and allocates us the same rooms we previously occupied.

Over dinner with Mother I discuss my need to visit my old army mates. She agrees it would be better if I travel alone. She evidently trusts me to return unlike a few days ago when she insisted on accompanying me

The next day incredibly the snow has completely cleared except for some slurry in the gutters and the gardens of the nearby houses. In fact it is as warm as a spring day. I walk alone to New Brighton Station and catch a train to Lime Street Liverpool. From there after a ten minute wait I board a Crew train. I know the next station to Runcorn is the one I want and prepare to leave my seat as the train is passing over a viaduct. I look out of the window in time to see a ship heading towards a set of locks. Recalling what the Captain of the Portia told me about his visits to the Weaver I can’t help wondering if it is his vessel heading towards Northwich or Winsford to pick up a cargo. The ticket inspector informs me that the Locks I have observed the ship approaching are named Dutton Locks. They are located about a mile downstream from Acton Bridge.

We pass over the river in a flash and pull into Acton Bridge station where I alight.The Railway Inn is located close by, very handy for me. As I book in I make enquiries about Sandy.

The Landlord doesn’t know Sandy personally as he is new to the pub. He does recall seeing a one armed man picking parcels up at the nearby station. When I return to the bar after putting my bag in the upstairs room a young Lady is serving behind the bar. She is a local girl and more knowledgeable than the Landlord she confides when I ask about Sandy. “I think you are talking about Mister Meadows. He lodges with the widow Johnson in the house by the orchards just over the railway bridge towards Crowton.” I enquire. “Is this his local pub? I would like to surprise him if I can?” Shocked by the suggestion she replies. “You won’t see the Gentleman in here. The widow Johnson is a strict Methodist and don’t favour strong drink. I reckon he is as well. No he never comes in here or the Maypole pub just along the road. I know because my Sister serves behind the bar there. I reckon between us we know everyone in the village that likes a drink or two, and your Mister Meadows is definitely not one of them. I do know this though that might help you. Your friend preaches at the chapel on the corner of Cliff road, it’s about a mile from here. He is usually there almost every day looking after the place. I pass there myself on my way to work he is always painting and tidying around the place. I am amazed how he manages with just one arm he even climbs ladders and cleans the windows. I shouted for him to be careful only the other day” When I am able to interrupt her flow of information I enquire. “Where is this chapel you are on about then?” She explains in detail.

“Just go out of the front door turn left past the Smithy and the Post Office you will come to the pub I mentioned called the Maypole just after that you will pass the village hall.

Now that is where your friend was when he first came here along with a few more poor souls from the fighting. It was a kind of hospital during the war and for some time after. Thank goodness they are all gone now. I don’t mean that in an unkind way but they will be better off with their own families. Some of the poor souls were in a terrible state when they first came here. I used to help out there with my Mother. I remember your friend was not very well when he first arrived, poor chap. He never spoke to anyone for ages we thought he was struck dumb. But good food and kindness and our local Doctor helped most of them to get better. Mind you not all of them improved, some of them have had to go into institutions.”

The Lady pauses to either catch her breath or to recall what she had witnessed. She then continues directing me to the chapel. “You will come to a fork in the road. Don’t turn right that will take you down the hill to the river Weaver. Keep on straight and keep going you can’t miss it. The chapel is on a corner of the cross roads.”

I have an idea and put it to her. “If he goes home for lunch surely he has to pass here I might be able to catch him.” She replies doubtfully. “I don’t think so, Mrs Johnson usually picks him up in the trap about four o’clock if she is not already at the chapel with him.” As she appears to be a fund of knowledge about the movements of the villagers I take her advice. After a plough mans lunch and a pint of excellent cider I stroll to the chapel.

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