Straightening his bow tie, Henry Dynsdale appraised his reflection in the mirror above the coat butler of his front landing. Not bad. Who was he kidding? He’d never been a dandy and wasn’t about to begin. The muted herringbone of his tweed jacket had a thread of crimson punctuating its rough texture echoed in the red of his bowtie. Just his style. Sliding an arm into his overcoat he grabbed the curved handle of his umbrella from its brass stand and headed out the door.
Hurrying along Portobello Road, the leather of his oxfords scuffed against the pavement as he made his way to the bus stop. He wondered how many guests would be in the queue today, being 5th of November. Though not an official UK holiday, it was still widely celebrated with bonfires and fireworks. Not ’til evening, he thought.
Standing under the eve of the shelter he peered up to the darkening sky. Would it be snow? Probably just an early November day of rain.
A middle aged woman in navy raincoat leaned against the narrow bench in the shelter, clicking together the heels of her sensible shoes, two wheeled shopping bag trolley parked next to her. He acknowledged her with a proper nod.
Whizzing along the road, the number twenty one bus pulled to a stop in front of them. Henry lifted an arm, inviting the woman to board first. He swiped his Oyster pass over the electronic eye, offering her the last vacant seat with another nod.
“Thank you.” She peered over the readers perched at the end of her nose, winked, and opened her Mills and Boon.
Was that a flirt? He shook his head to regain perspective and reached into his waistcoat pocket, pulling out his prized gold heirloom watch his father received for fifty years service at Lloyd’s Banking Group. Half seven. If the bus didn’t have riders every stop, he’d be there by eight. Henry watched vehicles vie for position, cabs of multi color the lion’s share.
The windows speckled with evidence of the start of showers. In two minutes time, condensation had replaced clear and the tyres zhinged along now wet asphalt. Seven fifty two. He pressed the stop request button and the bus pulled over kiddy corner to Parliament. By the time he slipped through the employees only entrance, Ben was tolling the hour.
“Good morning, Henry.” Sybil the gift shoppe lady paused in her progress toward her post, offering her brightest morning smile.
“Good morning, Miss Smith.” He returned her greeting with politeness as she passed. She was a dear, but too many hours hearing about her kitty’s fur balls and what flowers she planned to plant come spring put him off dallying.
“No wonder he’s never married,” Miss Smith said to her fellow gift shop matron, bony hand held to mouth. Did she want him to hear? Surely not.
Married? Not likely. Not from his lineage. Lonely? He brushed an unseen piece of lint from his jacket, cleared his throat and moved on.
Stepping over the wood threshold, he entered Westminster Hall. Each and every day as he began the work of educating tourists about their own heritage, calm flowed through him like the warm elixir of a Napoleon Brandy. He lifted his eyes to the magnificence of the high hammer-beam roof soaring twelve plus meters above. Considered the greatest creation of medieval timber architecture, he knew he was a lucky man to call this place his daily office.
What an ‘office’ it was. The voices of past trials held within these thousand year old walls echoed in the vast open space. King Charles the first, Sir William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Cardinal John Fisher, Guy Fawkes and the rebel Scottish Lords of the 1715 and ’45 uprising— all faced their day of justice beneath this roof. He paused, goose flesh prickling his neck.
“Henry.” One of a trio of his fellow guides saluted as they walked past on their way to check in.
Henry loved history. He loved his place in it, if only as one cog in the infinitely complex wheel of British society. Entering the small cloak room he deposited his foul weather gear, then hurried toward the gate where the morning’s charges would already be queuing. He paused long enough to glance at the life size statuary of kings, placed in mid-thirteenth century niches overlooking the hall. He drew in a breath scented with ancient alkaline stone mixed with musk of aged wood, and sighed. God, he was a lucky man.
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