David Graham’s Novel ‘Paddy Doran’s Box’ is coming along great. This is just a sample from the early section. Get an Irish accent in mind to help the hilarity of much of the mayhem.
The reality of dreams
In the quietness of the cold chapel, Lord Frederick gingerly placed his hands on the edge of the altar and stared in disbelief at its macabre contents. In spite of his disbelief he took in every detail of the corpse, noting that it was clothed in a midnight blue velvet frockcoat, pale blue silk waistcoat and white blouse, white breeches and white stockings and that a pair of black silver buckled court shoes lay at an awkward angle to the legs. Although the clothing had succumbed to the ravages of time, it was still evident that they had once been fine garments.
Resisted a sudden urge to straighten the shoes, Lord Frederick turned his attention to the skeletal hands that lay on the remains of the corpse’s white ruched silk, cravat. The hands lay on top of each other, rather than crossed on the chest, as he would have expected and, on closer inspection, he saw that they were covering something. He hesitated for a moment, then reached in and carefully moved aside each one of the small skin sheathed metatarsals and phalanges.
The ‘something’ that he uncovered was a rawhide drawstring pouch.
The pouch was about the size of a man’s hand and although it showed signs of much use, it was still in relatively good condition. Aware that in the Middle Ages such receptacles were used for carrying valuables, Lord Fredrick picked up the pouch and shook it gently. His eyes widened in surprise when he heard the unmistakable clink of coins. With heightening excitement and his wounds momentarily forgotten, he untied the drawstring pulled open the neck of the pouch and looked inside.
The word bounced around in his head like a long lost acquaintance, then slowed to a pulsating presence.
When his mind had stopped reeling Lord Frederick slowly upended the pouch over his left hand. His eyes widened that bit further when two gold coins dropped onto his grubby palm. His excitement dissipated somewhat, when he realized that that was all the pouch had contained.
Grimacing in response to the pulsating pain in his wrist Lord Frederick tucked the pouch into the right hand pocket of his frock coat and then examined the coins closely.
Having handled gold coins on numerous occasions, he was in no doubt that the coins he held in his hand were solid gold. Finely embossed with the image of a chalice on one side and that of a tree on the other each coin was about two inches in diameter and about an eighth of an inch thick. ‘Well, well. I have not seen the like of these before,’ he muttered; quietly intrigued that the coins bore no date or inscription.
Somewhat disappointed that the pouch had not been full of such coins Lord Frederick placed the two coins in the left hand pocket of his frockcoat along with his recently depleted purse of golden guineas. Then he moved round the altar to pick up the crucifix and his cane. Only to discover that both lay crushed beneath the edge of the slab. He had no choice but to lift the slab clear. By the time he had done so, the wounds on his wrists were bleeding again and his bruised and swollen jaw ached abominably.
Stiffly, Lord Frederick stooped and picked up the badly distorted crucifix, noting as he did so, that the crucified Christ had been bent into a sitting position by the weight of the slab. He was not the least bit concerned about the damage. As he had surmised the moment, he first saw it the icon was solid gold. Once smelted back in London, it would fetch a considerable sum of money.
With that thought in mind, Lord Frederick picked up his damaged cane. He did not intend leaving that behind. The head and ferule were sterling silver. He would have both fitted to a new cane. He checked that the two gold coins were still in his coat pocket and in spite of the pain in his jaw managed a faint smile of satisfaction. Then with no further thought to the damage, he had wrought on the altar or his disturbance of its contents he quickly crossed the room and opened the door.
When he stepped outside, Lord Frederick found the old butler slumped against the chapel wall fast asleep. His hat and wig had tipped back and his forehead was resting on the cloak draped over his knees.
‘Get up!’ Lord Frederick ordered harshly.
‘Umm,’ Patrick muttered sleepily and slowly raised his head. ‘Me’lord!’ he cried jerking instantly awake and bumping his head on the chapel wall. His throat was dry and the body heat he had generated on the way to the chapel had turned to a cold layer against his skin. ‘I’m sorr’y, me’lord!’ he said his voice heavy with mortification as he tried to get his cold legs to function. ‘I tried t’stay a ‘wake, me’lord,’ he said feebly straightening his wig and hat as best he could with one hand to avoid letting the cloak drag on the ground whilst he struggling to get onto his knees.
Lord Frederick watched him dispassionately. ‘You evidently failed abysmally,’ he said coldly and turned way.
The feel of the solid gold crucifix in his left hand and the thought of the gold coins in the pocket of his frockcoat filled Lord Frederick with covert elation. He felt new energy and virility coursing through his frame. Avarice-fuelled energy rushed through his veins. Familiar feelings triggered by the imminence or possession of money. He immediately wanted to gather all the items his inventory had unearthed and return to London. His iron will won out over his feelings. He slowed his breathing and relaxed his bruised and swollen jaw.
Behind Lord Frederick Patrick had managed to get his meagre weight onto his good leg. ‘Forgive me, me’lord,’ he mumbled apologetically and paused to rest. ‘I jus’ need—’
Lord Frederick rounded on him ‘Where are my mother and father buried?’ he asked consciously injecting a neutral intonation into his voice. He was acutely aware that he was asking a member of his father’s household for information to which he should already have been privy.
‘Buried, me’lord?’ Patrick asked in a preoccupied tone as he commenced the tricky process of getting to his feet. ‘Forgive me, me’lord. I’ll have t’put y’ur cloak down, me’lord.’
‘Never mind about the cloak,’ Lord Frederick barked with growing irritability, ‘My parent’s graves. Where are they?’ he demanded with rapidly increasing exasperation.
‘Y’ur parent’s graves…me’lord?’ Patrick pondered the question with difficulty as he paused with his weight on his hands and his left knee and his bad leg slightly extended behind him. He braced his left hand on the chapel wall drew in a deep breath and hauled himself laboriously to his feet. ‘Uhhhh, dear me,’ he wheezed and leaned back against the cold wall. ‘Forgive me…me’lord. I…jus’ need t’get…me breath back… me’lord,’ he mumbled and closed his watery, red rimmed eyes, whilst he waited for his head to clear and the fire in his right hip to damp down.
‘Will you plea…’ Lord Frederick began then stopped. Even in his agitated state of mind, he would not allow himself to plead with a servant. ‘Stop repeating what I have said and tell me where my parents are buried,’ he commanded in a low succinct tone.
‘Why they’re in their gardin’ a rest, me’lor…,’ Patrick said stooping slowly to pick up the cloak.
‘And where exactly is that?’ Lord Frederick asked coldly.
‘Sorry, me’lord,’ Patrick said straightening up and draping the cloak over his right arm. ‘It’s, eh? It’s down by the river. There’s a lovely little meadow down there that y’ur mud’er an’ fa’der loved very mu—’
‘Who is buried in the altar?’ Lord Frederick interrupted impatiently.
‘…in the altar, me’lord?’ Patrick said still picturing in his mind the natural beauty of the waterside meadow that Lord and Lady Cairncross had had consecrated as their final resting place. Patrick’s old servant heart missed them both keenly. Now, more than ever, he needed their guidance and direction. He knew instinctively that he would receive neither from his new master.
‘I don’t know what ye mean, me’lord,’ he replied with evident confusion and fussed about smoothing the cumbersome cloak over his arm to give his head time to clear. ‘Y’ur mud’er an’ fa’der are buried in the groun—’
‘Stop saying ‘me’lord!’ Lord Frederick snapped.
‘I’m sorry…me…’ Patrick began and faltered in a complete flummox. ‘How shall I address—?’
‘Never mind! Just tell me whose skeleton is in that chapel altar?’
‘Skelitin’…me’…lord?’ Patrick said his voice low and hesitant and his heart heavy with gloom. ‘What skelitin is that, me’lord?’ he asked trying desperately to bring his mind back to the present and concentrate on what his master was saying.
‘There is a skeleton in the altar! In there!’ Lord Frederick said jabbing the silver head of his damaged cane at the chapel door. ‘Surely my mother or my father must have put it there.’
‘Oh. That skelit’in’,’ Patrick said greatly relieved at last that he understood what Lord Frederick was talking about, ‘Yes, me’lord,’ he said in an effort to pull himself together. ‘I’m sorry, me’lord. It was sixteen years ago. I’d almost forgottin’ abou—’
‘You were aware that there is a skeleton in the altar?’ Lord Frederick said.
‘Yes, me’lord,’ Patrick said tucking his arms under the cloak and hugging the heavy garment to his chest.
‘Whose skeleton is it?’ Lord Frederick asked annunciating each word. He was finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the old servant’s slow witted and irritatingly vernacular responses to his quest for information.
‘D’Viscount Tolbert, me’lord,’ Patrick said.
‘Viscount Tolbert?’ Lord Frederick said. ‘Who was he? And what is his skeleton doing in my mother’s chapel?’
‘Why he’s…He was y’ur Uncle Richard, me’lord.’
‘My Uncle Richard,’ Lord Frederick said growing increasing aware that the cold air was aggravating his swollen jaw and making his eyes water. ‘I was not aware that I had an Uncle Richard,’
‘I don’t t’ink ye ever saw him, me’lord,’ Patrick said his voice low and distant. ‘He went off t’the Holy Land after his new bride was killed be a mad cow at d’Dublin Docks. On the very mornin’ they were due t’set off on their honeymoon in Italy it was. Terrible t’ing it was, tragic. Nobody saw nor heard from him for over fourteen years after…’
Patrick’s voice faltered at that point in his painful narrative when the realization dawned on him that to have discovered his uncle’s remains Lord Frederick must somehow have removed the heavy slab from the altar. That must a been that loud t’ump I heard, Patrick thought. Is there no level t’which this terrib’il’ man will not stoop? He’s desecrated his uncle’s restin’ place an’…an’…’
‘And?’ Lord Frederick said cutting in on Patrick’s unsettling thoughts.
‘Sorry, me’lord,’ Patrick said mechanically. ‘Eh. Then, eh, one evenin’, sixteen years ago it was me’lord. Y’ur Uncle was found slumped at the main gates. More dead than alive he was. Riddled with sickness an’ fever an’ rantin’ about gold. Nobody could make any sense a what he was sayin.’ It was a terrible time here, me’lord, terrible. Y’ur dear…y’ur mud’er nursed him for t’ree days an’ nights before he passed away in his sleep. It was then that y’ur mud’er had this chapel built, an’ y’ur uncle’s body laid t’rest in the altar. I don’t think she ever really got over his dea…’
Ranting about gold, Lord Frederick said to himself and held up the pouch. ‘Have you seen this before?’ he cut in.
Patrick stared at the pouch in disbelief. The last time he had seen it was sixteen years previously, when he had watched Lady Cairncross placed it on her dead brother’s chest.
‘Well?’ Lord Frederick asked impatiently.
‘Yes…me’…lord,’ Patrick said in a breaking voice, ‘Other than d’filthy clothes y’ur uncle was wearin’ when he was found, that was d’only possession he had. There were two gold coins in it, me’lord,’ Patrick added making a concerted effort to emphasizing each word. ‘Y’ur dear mud’er left the coins in the pouch an’ put it on y’ur uncle’s chest an’ laid his hands over it, before the slab was put on the altar.’
‘Take that back to the house,’ Lord Frederick said dismissively and dropped the damaged cane against Patrick’s chest.
‘Forgive me, me’lord,’ Patrick said fighting to keep his eyes open and his courage up, ‘Are ye not goin’ t’put the pouch back in y’ur uncle’s grave, me’lord?’
‘No I am not!’ Lord Frederick scoffed derisively. ‘Of what use is gold to a skeleton,’ he added pointedly and turned away with the crucifix clutched in his left hand. He immediately turned back and drew the old pouch carefully from his frockcoat to avoid catching his still smarting wrist. ‘But,’ he said, tossing the empty pouch against Patrick’s chest with nonchalant indifference, ‘If it makes you feel better. You put that back. I will keep the gold.’