The group poured over a large map of greater London while the girls slept in Alfred’s double bed in an adjoining room. Soon enough they had drawn up the plan and were almost ready to embark when Albert noticed Tom, Henry’s and Gestalt’s less than spectacular attire. After several more minutes and on close inspection of both Alfred and Albert’s wardrobes, the three men managed to dress more like English gentlemen and less like characters out of a sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale.
Gestalt stands in the passageway, his left hand scratching at his uncomfortable breeches while his right hand straightens his pointless waistcoat. A neat powder-blue bowtie finished off his ensemble, which he also fiddles with, much to his companion’s dismay.
“So my good man you’ll look after the ladies then?” Henry asks Albert while casting a caring eye towards the sleeping forms, paying careful attention to Elizabeth.
Clapping him on the shoulder Albert responds, “As if they were my own kin lad. Never fear I’ll have them feed and dressed by the time you lot come back.”
“Very well we leave them in your capable hands.” Tom adds, “Now if we’re ready we should be off, if my ears don’t deceive me that’s Westminster ringing in eleven.” Sure enough, in the distance the abbey bell can be heard ringing across the great expanse of London.
Setting forth Henry takes one last look at his lady love and then joins his fellows as they steadily walk down the footpath, all the while Alfred’s cane clicking to the rhythm of every second step.
For some time they walk amongst the stone buildings of town, Tom and Henry pointing interesting facts and places out to Gestalt. Places from their youth and some from popular fiction.
Gestalt listens on patiently, occasionally asking questions or pointing things out himself, then suddenly he exclaims, “Should we not try and find a faster mode of transportation, perhaps one of these equine creatures?” pointing to a horse drawn carriage.
Laughing out loud Tom claps him across the back, “Quite so friend, I suppose the guided tour can wait.”
Stepping to the curb Tom draws two fingers into his mouth and blows, an ear piercing whistle ushers forth, several pedestrians jump, clearly shaken by the recent noise and vibrations in their city. Holding a hand up Tom signals a sorry before hanging it out perpendicular to catch the eye of a cabby.
Sure enough a rattling old wagon groans to a halt besides the group, the pea-green paint flaking from here and there, while some of the brass banding, discoloured now, folds away from the wood panelling.
“A stage it is not!” Alfred says while placing a hand on the wagons upper lip, dust and paint flake off at his touch.
“You lot climbing aboard or no’, I got other passengers a waiting for me’ services I ‘av?” The gruff and unclean coachman asks.
“Yes, yes!” Tom grunts, “It’ll do chap,” he whispers into Alfred’s ear. “Now just get on.”
The four men scramble to climb aboard the boat shaped vehicle, the whole while rusty suspension and old wood lets out tired screams and yells, not unlike an old man being wrestled out of his chair.
Once seated the coachman cracks the whip and the two mangy horses burst into a steady trot. “Now where you be off to my gents?”
“Saint Bethany’s Boys home my good man.” Tom calls to the man above the clatter of tack and harness.
“ay sir.” He responds with a sort of hiss before pouring more whip onto his horses.
The ride through town offers the men time to discuss their plans in further detail
“Clearly we must speak with the head mistress, she would no doubt be able to direct us to the ledger, and then we can identify if our Mr Anderson did indeed live there.”
“Toms right we must do that, I suggest we try and talk with some of his teachers.” Henry adds.
“Presuming their still working there lad.” Alfred nods, “You know nuns laddie, their pretty old when you’re a lad, cant imagine many from Anderson’s time are still kicking around these days.”
“Those old crones have a way of hanging on my friend, besides most of them are in just as much need as the poor sods they look after. I imagine we’ll find at least one that looked after Anderson.”
Nodding Gestalt takes it all in, the world very different to his, the sky above flecked with distant clouds while many birds inhabit the air, dense black grey smoke spills from occasional building. Everywhere construction is taking place, huge stones are lifted into place by elevated devices with long counterbalanced arms, heavy, thick twine holds the colossal weights in place. The sound of the place challenges his every thought: horns, buzzes, the clatter of traffic, beasts of burden everywhere, and mechanical things that chug and burp as if alive. Every now and then he catches a glimpse of a river, its centre clogged with craft, some small enough for one or two men, others huge and loaded with produce, stone and other materials.
Turning his head he looks into places of commerce, banks and financial establishments while others, on the opposite side of the road, trade in fabrics, machines, and common household goods.
Abuzz with activity Gestalt feels slightly overwhelmed, his friend take notice of his changing posture. Henry slides over to sit beside the man. “Very different from home isn’t it?”
“Yes.” The only word he can utter.
“Don’t worry lad,” Tom yells across the carriage, “you’re in good hands.”
“Thank you for bringing me.” He utters back as his eyes are drawn to a black smith pounding out a horseshoe.
“You don’t need to thank us lad, we’re grateful you’re here for the ride.”
“No, I must say thank you.” Gestalt says looking into his friend’s eyes, “This is going to make a wonderful book when I get home.”
The three men laugh out loud and soon enough Gestalt joins in.
As the joviality begins to cease the coachman burps out. “You’re here gentlemen, and that’ll be three shilling.” Crooked yellow teeth look back at the men, and a proffered hand twitches with anticipation.
Dropping several coins into the filthy hand the four men climb down from the tub, it quickly rattles away with many whinnies from the horses to reveal the stately Saint Bethany’s Home for Boys.
A shell of a building with cumbering walls, shattered terracotta roof tiles and a garden overrun with weeds, not to mention the uprooted pathway and dead oak in the front garden. Several broken windows glint the bright sunlight across the street like a lighthouse beckoning a ship into the harbour.
As the men watch the building shudder under the weight of a gentle breeze half a dozen filthy street rats and urchins stream from the front door, their heavy leather boots causing a crescendo to fill the neighbourhood for a moment. As quickly as they appeared they are gone and with them the noise.
“Well that answers my first question.” Henry utters.
“Well yes, I guess it’s still open for business.” Tom replies.