Installment Four from “Bon Fire Night”
Haunted his entire life, Westminster docent Henry Dynsdale wishes he had never heard of Bonfire Night…
“He’s awfully nice, isn’t he Gran?” Sydnee grinned in her sweet youthful way.
“Yes, dear.” Elise pushed the handle of her purse to the crook of her arm.” Are you quite certain I cannot talk you into some trinket from the gift shop? Perhaps Rodney would fancy-”
“I think we ought to invite Rodney along tonight,” Sydnee interrupted.
“Shall we? Oh yes.”
Her attempt at dissuading Syd from inviting members of the opposite sex seemed to have backfired. “So you don’t mind Rodney now?”
“He’s not so bad.”
Just last week he was the devil incarnate. Sydnee had trudged about the house saying how she would never allow herself to stoop to the level of other girls and allow a boy to hold her hand…much less to consider anything close to a boyfriend in her life. Rodney, their long time neighbour, had as of late, turned from best friend into ‘a boy’.
Elise tried to keep humor from lighting her expression, remembering her own turbulent early teen years as she fought the inevitability of seeing boys as more than friends.
“All right then dear. We’ll ride the Underground home after lunch and see if Rodney would like to come along. Perhaps we can sort through some of his things as well to see it there is anything appropriate to assemble your Guy this evening.”
“When are we going to see Mr. Dynsdale’s things?”
“I don’t know, child. Perhaps he didn’t really mean to-”
“Are you ready for lunch ladies?” Henry’s voice startled them. Elise turned about nearly bumping into him.
“Oh…I ‘m sorry, Henry.” He’d grasped her shoulders to steady her.
“Not at all, Elise. You don’t mind that I use your given name, do you?”
She felt heat flush her face. “No. Please do.” Why did she suddenly feel her granddaughter’s age? Silly. Smoothing the material of her woolen skirt, she sent a hand to her hair. “Would you mind if I freshened up a bit first?”
“Not at all. There’s a ladies lounge on the way.”
“Thank you. We’ll follow your lead.”
They made their way from the enormity of the hall into a dim corridor that wove like a maze through the bowels of the building. Elise was quite certain that should they lose Henry, they’d be well and truly lost. Past a row of wooden cupboards crafted as beautifully as any rich paneled room, Henry stopped.
“Down the hall and to the left.” He raised a directional arm. “I shall wait for you here. The lunchroom is just through the door, there.”
She looked across the hall to an unassuming door half open. Another indication of how lost she’d be. Did they construct these halls purposely to disorient?
Elsie nodded and made her way to the ladies lounge. Carpeted and narrow, the room was lit by natural daylight from the arced window of the Parliamentary exterior. She paused to have a look through the unassuming white sheers covering them. The stonework of the curved mullions was weathered, yet still very beautiful. She recalled her visit to this building as a young girl. Never had she dreamed of access to anything like what she was seeing today.
Returning to Henry, she paused a moment to watch as he and Sydnee chatted outside the door. Elise couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen Sydnee as at ease in the company of an elder. Her face was tilted up to his as she listened to him speak. Relaxed, genuinely interested, Syd looked very grown up.
“Are we ready?” Elise asked as she arrived.
“Madame.” Henry pressed the door full open, indicating that they pass through before him. Elise looped her arm through Syd’s.
They entered, heads swiveling to take in the amazing room opening before them. Rich waxed wood paneling decorated by oil paintings of MP’s and Prime Ministers past. Portraits hung from a thin rail nearly invisible to the casual observer, each illuminated by a small light strategically placed beneath it.
White linen-covered round tables dotted the long room. Across the plush red carpet were two wider doors open to daylight. It appeared that the rain had stopped, a slant of sunlight cutting through each door and pooling on the carpeting immediately inside. Had the doors not been open, Elise was quite sure the chamber would seem stuffy, but with the advent of the fresh air, the well-appointed room welcomed.
Of the dozen round tables, only one was occupied. A formally attired gentleman approached, his black woolen trousers, white dress shirt and matching jacket closely resembled a tuxedo. Had Henry not been present wearing his comfortable tweed coat and camel trousers, Elise would have felt quite under-dressed.
“Good afternoon. My name is James. May I show you to your table?”
Impeccably groomed, clean shaven, black hair slicked back like an Italian tenor, the waiter reminded Elise of an old-fashioned butler. Long gone were the days of such elegance. She felt a twinge of melancholy.
“Thank you.” Elise bent at the waist just enough to acknowledge and convey her respect. They walked to the second table. James pulled out a chair, seating Elise first. Henry remained behind, allowing the waiter to perform his well practiced duty.
“Miss?” He then did the same for Sydnee. The expression on her face mixed surprise and pleasure.
“Thank you.” Her tone telegraphed how impressed she was, how thrilled to be having this unique experience.
No prices on the menu, unease bubbled in Elise’s stomach.
“I’ll not have either of you worrying about this luncheon. Making use of this facility is part and parcel of working, as we docents do, here on site. We are appreciated by Parliamentary concerns for our service in educating and entertaining the public. They show theirs by allowing us access here on special occasion.”
“Is this ‘special occasion,’ really?” Sydnee asked in innocence.
Henry peered over his spectacles at Elise. “What do you think, dear lady. Is your granddaughter as special as her Gran?”
A tempest of embarrassment swirled in her stomach, tempered by Henry’s charm in asking. “She is the product of two more generations of advancement over that of her dear grand-mama.”
“Good answer, Elise, but I doubt its veracity. Surely it is in the years of experience that we are polished to perfection,” Henry said.
“Perhaps rough hewn still.”
“Aye,” Henry said in faux Scot burr.
“Why don’t you like the Scots Mister Dynsdale?”
“It is nothing personal, child. I fashion it being something learnt from childhood.”
Sydnee lowered her menu to the tablecloth telegraphing an expression of speculation. “Aren’t we supposed to form our own opinions?”
Henry’s ruddy cheeks blanched. “Indeed.” He shifted his gaze to Elise. “You have a granddaughter wise beyond her years.” Scrolling his attention back to Sydnee he addressed her with complete candor.
“I apologize, young Miss Lockwood, for my previous bias as concerns Sir Wallace. It is wrong to allow one’s country of origin to so colour one’s voiced opinion when the subject concerned is revered by history’s focused eye.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion, Mister Dynsdale.”
“Not in so far as my position as guide and purveyor of accurate historical fact dictate, my dear. Thank you for your tolerance.”
James returned, hands clasped behind his back. “May I take your order?”
And so they ate, enjoying each other’s company. Elise watched as the somewhat convention-controlled man they’d met at the door of Westminster Hall mellowed into a warm, open gentleman. She watched as he interacted with Sydnee and found herself smiling.
It had been far too long since she smiled.
* * * * * * * *
Bon Fire Night is one of eight short stories – Coming Soon in 55 Portobello Road- A Collection of Short Stories