More from “Bon Fire Night (par deux)

More from “Bon Fire Night”
Haunted his entire life..Westminster Hall docent Henry Dynsdale wishes he had never heard of bonfire night…

Sydnee twisted a few silken strands of hair into a corkscrew about her index finger and lifted her gaze to the grand parliament building. The honey coloured limestone drearied by rain was nonetheless intimidating. She imagined brilliantly uniformed guards cantering horseback in perfect military rows down the street and round the corner toward the Abbey.
“Come in out of the weather, dear.” Her grandmother’s voice interrupted her musings. Woolen skirt beaded with rain, the crest of her white cotton shirt soaked, Sydnee was unfazed by the damp.
Dashing beneath the canvas awning, she sidled up to her Gran. “How much longer?”
“The doors should open momentarily,” Gran replied in her soft, patient voice.
Not more than a dozen people in front of them, the duo had arrived early at Syd’s insistence. She’d been reading about William Wallace and the brave heart of the Scots. This was the place of his trial. This was the place she had to see.
“Gran, when was the first time you visited here?”
“I expect at about your age.” She sent an appreciative glance across the facade. “So many years ago and this place still awes me.”
“Look.” Sydnee pointed toward the door. “Someone’s letting us in.”
“Good morning ladies and gents. The first twelve will tour with Charles.” The elderly man at the door leaned forward appraising the crowd. “Looks like the rest of you are burdened with me.”
A chuckle rumbled through the short queue. Weather or time of year seemed to have held the throngs at bay. Syd was glad she’d have the place nearly to herself. Well, themselves. Gran was the coolest of her relatives and this was their day together.
The first group shuffled forward. A short and stout guide emerged and directed his dozen to follow with the wave of an arm.
The remaining six gathered around the tall bespectacled man with the tweed coat. He looked just perfect for the role, Syd thought. Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who.
My name is Henry Dynsdale and I shall be your guide today as we walk through one thousand years of history. If you are good, perhaps we shall tarry a bit more than most.” He sent a nodding wink Syd’s direction.
“I am a self avowed History-o-phile, at least when it comes to the structure before you. The first royal palace was built on this site in the eleventh century; Westminster, the primary London residence of the Kings of England until a fire destroyed much of the complex in 1512. After that, it served as the home of Parliament, which has been meeting here since the thirteenth century, and the seat of the Royal Courts of Justice, based in and around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire ravaged the heavily rebuilt Houses of Parliament, and the only structures of significance to survive were Westminster Hall, the Cloisters of St Stephen’s, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.”
“So much for the Wikipedia tour,” he said. “We are here to breathe and taste the things that happened within these walls.”
Sydnee gazed into his liquid blue eyes. Taste? Undimmed by time, they had the liveliness of her peers, but the depth of the ages.
“Whilst I realise each of you may have your favourite character that learned his fate within these walls, perhaps it would be best to discuss the man whose effigy we burn each 5th of November.”
“Bonfire night!” Sydnee blurted.
His kind eyes fell on her. “Yes.”
“It’s something to do with a man who wanted to blow up this building, right?’
“Affirmative again. Most young people haven’t a notion of the history behind the night the skies glow with fire. They view it as nothing more than a fun holiday tradition when in fact it involved espionage on a somewhat less than grand scale.”
“A group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed gunpowder plot, part and parcel of a scheme to assassinate King James the first, the plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House Of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder. An anonymous letter tipped the authorities off, prompting a search of Westminster Palace during the wee hours of fifth of November. They found old Guy guarding the explosives. Scapegoat Fawkes was used as a sort of deterrent to further treachery, sentenced in this very hall, to hanging.”
“Early seventeenth century had quite a penchant for the dramatic.” Sydnee’s Gran broke the pause with her understatement.
Henry turned toward her. “And who might you be, dear lady?”
“She’s my grandmother. Elise Lockwood.” Syd divided a glance between them.
Henry’s rather large hand enveloped her Gran’s delicate one. “Charmed.”
Elise smiled, the corners of her eyes creasing in that way they did when she was particularly pleased. “I believe he committed suicide rather than face the horrific things they had planned for such a traitor.”
“Yes. Jumped from the scaffolding.”
“Broke his neck, before they could,” Elise added.
Syd couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. Gran was flirting with Henry. She might be only fifteen, but she knew attraction even when it was between people four times her age.
Granddad had died when Syd was two. She had little memory of him, but knew from her mum that they had been a fairytale couple.
Gran had never shown any interest in a man—until now.
A man?
Syd looked back to Henry, mentally stripping away years from his features. Yeah…he must have been hot about a century ago because she could still see the square of his jaw and admire the thick tousle of his hair. Doctor Who’s grand dad. Yeah.
Henry broke the lock his eyes held on Gran and scanned to the others. “Is there anyone here that can tell me what else is traditional on bonfire night?”
“Fireworks.” Syd offered.
“Absolutely. We celebrate our ability to keep the monarchy intact, as well as this glorious medieval building.”
“Now, if you will be so good as to follow me inside, we shall have a look at the oldest existing part of the palace—Westminster Hall.”
Henry pushed through the door, remaining fixed on the other side so as to hold the heavy wood open for the group. As Elise passed he offered a warm smile that seemed especially meant for her.
Syd wasn’t quite sure how she felt about this turn of affairs, but she imagined they might have more in store today than just history.
* * * *

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