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- Albert


The Lamplighter

There he was, just as always, working his way down the street. It was shortly before dusk and the shadows were already beginning to grow deep. Darkness would soon descend upon the town and its streets, but the gloom would be partly dispelled by the gas lamps. Mrs Lucy Gilyott, who used to be Miss Lucy Ormerod, was standing at the window of her drawing-room looking down the street.

There he was; the old lamplighter who came day in, day out, to attend to the gas lamps. Old? How old? Sixty, perhaps - or maybe even younger. Not so old, really. Lucy was over two years past her 50th birthday, but she didn't consider herself to be old. Of course, she'd had a fairly comfortable life and had taken care to make the best of herself through thick and thin.

She was born into a middle-class home, her father being in business for himself as a shopkeeper. By the time she was turning from girl to young woman the business had grown to the extent that they had a carriage and servants.

Although she'd had her difficulties from time to time, there had only been one real regret in her life; Henry Stocks. They had known each other through most of their childhood, often playing down by the river. They had grown up together - and grown apart.

Lucy had never forgotten the day they sat together under a cloudless summer sky and gazed at the wide stretch of the muddy river. She was thirteen and wearing her prettiest dress. He was a year older, an awkward age when girls can be an embarrassment. They were too young for real feelings of love and desire, and yet too old to be play-fellows.

There was a long silence, broken only by the squeal of a seagull circling overhead.

"A penny for them."

"What?" Henry was startled out of his reverie.

"I said - a penny for them."

"For what?"

"Your thoughts, silly."

"Oh - ay." Henry remained silent and motionless for half a minute, still gazing at the water, and then spoke softly. "I was just thinking on that shore over there. I were wondering what's to be seen and what the folk are like."

"Same as us, I should imagine."

"Ay, mybbe. But I'd like to see for meself."

"Why not go across then?"

Henry shook his head. "It's too far."

"No more than two miles, father says."

"I reckon he's wrong. More like two and a half. Anyway, that river's treacherous. I knew a man who tried to swim it. Current took him away and nobody saw him again."

Lucy gripped his arm. "Don't you try it then, Henry. I don't want you to be swept away."

"Don't be daft. I've got more sense than that. I might try taking a boat across sometime, though."

Henry pulled up a piece of grass and chewed on it thoughtfully as he gazed intently across the water. Lucy knew that look. It meant that she had been dismissed from his mind. He was in a world of his own; a dangerous, distant world that she knew nothing about and could never enter. She had to break the spell and bring him back to her.

"It's my birthday next week." Lucy's voice cut into Henry's thoughts. "I'm having a party. Are you going to come?"

"Don't suppose so."

"Why not?"

"Don't expect I'll be wanted."

"Of course you are. That's why I'm asking you."

"Ay, mybbe you want me there, but I was talking about your mother and father."

Lucy looked blankly at him. "What do you mean?"

"You know," Henry evasively replied.

"No, I don't!" Lucy was indignant. "You just explain to me what you're talking about Henry Stocks."

"Well, I'm a nobody. No father and a mother who does other people's washing to keep a roof over our heads. I've got no education, no manners and no prospects. I'm not fit to mix with the likes of you."

"But we've known each other for seven years. We've played together on the river shore."

"That's as maybe, but I've never been asked to your house. They've turned a blind eye to our friendship so far, but it won't last much longer."

"What are you saying, Henry?" Lucy felt a quiver of fear at his words.

"We're growing up. I'm getting on for fifteen while you'll be fourteen next week. We're no longer a pair of knockabout kids. Things can't be the same."

"What sort of things?"

"Look, Lucy, your dad's a successful man who aims to be more successful. He'll have plans for you - and they won't include me. Come on, I'll race you to the dock."

"What?" Lucy was taken completely by surprise as Henry quickly rose to his feet and hauled her up after him.

"We'll go and see if any of the whalers are in." He tried to pull her along.

"Oh no, Henry Stocks! You stop here and now. We were having a serious conversation."

"Too serious for me. I want to see the ships."

"Well, I don't." Lucy pouted. "They're smelly and dirty."

"That's the difference between us, you see. You're a fine upstanding young lady in a pretty dress who doesn't want to get herself soiled by hanging around a common old dock, while I'm..."

"A boor!" Lucy interrupted in a sudden fury. "A low, mean, ungentlemanly boor!"

"Ay, Lucy," Henry said softly. "That's what I am - ungentlemanly and don't you forget that."

He let go of her hand and turned away.

"No, Henry!" Lucy was immediately repentant. "I didn't mean that." She took hold of his arm.

"Ay, you did."

"No, I swear!"

"It don't matter, anyway. It were the truth, even if you didn't mean it. You don't want to be mixed up with the likes of me. It wouldn't be right."

Henry gently pulled his arm free and began to walk along the path. Lucy remained where she was, but called after him.

"Henry, don't leave me."

"Got to, Lucy. Our childhood's over we're not for each other any more."

He stuck his hands in his pockets and, with shoulders hunched, continued along the track towards the town and the dock. Lucy gazed after him and felt a tear run down her cheek. Henry was a fool. He failed to realise that she had loved him when he was seven, she loved him now, and she would love him for ever more.

*****

The old lamplighter, having completed his task, disappeared round the corner of the street. He would return early in the morning to extinguish the lamps, but Lucy Gilyott wouldn't see him. She would still be in bed.

She sighed and turned away from the window. Why did she feel the shadow of unhappiness creeping across her well-ordered, comfortable existence? Why was there a longing for a life she had never had? A feeling, somehow, that she had missed something? Henry Stocks was a figure from long ago, but nevertheless, he had never been far from Lucy's thoughts. Their paths had rarely crossed since that day by the river.

*****

No doubt Henry was right when he felt he would be socially unacceptable to the Ormerod family. They were trades people; high enough in the social hierarchy to find Henry Stocks undesirable. The son of a washerwoman, he was also a drifter.

Henry's schooling had been cursory. He could write, but only very slowly, with much thought and many mistakes. His counting was little better, and he had no knowledge of the world or its history. But he was a very strong young man and hard work was not beyond him, though the opportunities were limited. There was work in the docks, but that was restricted to the families of the men who built them. Outside the town there were farms and Henry had made the occasional sojourn to them, working in the fields for a day for less than the price of a loaf of bread.

Anyway, the land was not for him; he found it hard and unyielding. It gave him no satisfaction to till the soil and somewhere, deep inside him, Henry felt that life should hold some joy and reward. His mother had found nothing but unrelieved suffering and hardship; it was not going to happen to him.

The answer came to him that day when he went to the dock and watched the arrival of a whaling ship. Over fifty vessels sailed out in the spring, returning from the Arctic in the late summer or autumn. They promised an uncompromising life, full of adventure and excitement, with a reasonable chance of a good financial reward.

The following season Henry signed on as an apprentice on the 'William', a typical, sturdily built three-master. A few days before sailing he met Lucy in the street. She was with her mother so only a few words were possible.

The young girl was horrified when she learned of Henry's plans - especially when he said he intended to spend his whole life at sea.

"One day I'll be a captain," he proclaimed.

"But it's so dangerous, Henry. Many of the whaling ships never return."

"Not so very many."

"Nine last year."

"But the crews were all saved. They get trapped in the ice, so everybody climbs off and walks away to be picked up by another ship."

"Please take care, Henry." Lucy wanted to squeeze his hand to reinforce her words, but the sight of her frowning mother prevented her.

Henry was as good as his word and stayed as an apprentice on the whalers for seven years, after which he signed on as a seaman. It was 1835 and the weather in the Arctic was particularly bad. Four ships were lost, including Henry's, but, as he had told Lucy, the crews were able to walk away, so he returned home none the worse for his experience.

Lucy had kept in touch with Martha Stocks all those years, eager for news of Henry. She had grown into a very attractive and eligible woman. Much to the delight of her parents, she was courted by men of wealth and breeding; but, to their annoyance, she seemed intent on marrying none of them

There were frequent arguments between Lucy and her father until the day she met Philip Gilyott, the eldest son of a successful jeweller and diamond merchant. As a son-in-law he suited Mr Ormerod perfectly and when Philip asked for Lucy's hand in marriage permission was immediately forthcoming.

It was a momentous year for Lucy. In 1837 she became Mrs Lucy Gilyott and also lost touch totally with Henry Stocks, for in that year his mother died. There was nobody at the funeral except Lucy and two neighbours of the dead woman. It was late spring and the whaling ships had long since sailed. Henry would learn of his mother's death months later when he returned.

Lucy was greatly saddened by the loss of Mrs Stocks, realising that her only line of communication with Henry had been severed. But maybe it was as well. In her new position as a married woman it was better to cut all ties, no matter how tenuous, with the first love of her life.

First love? Oh yes, she loved Henry without a shadow of doubt and would never forget him. But it was a useless, wasted love which she knew would never be returned. She had prepared herself for a second love; Philip, a handsome, charming young man with a sense of fun and a zest for living.

The two men were complete opposites, the one morose, silent and inward thinking, rarely showing his emotions; the other bright and witty, a voluble talker on a wide variety of subjects. Henry was born to be alone and unsuccessful, while Philip was gregarious and had the ability and knowledge to succeed at everything he tried.

Lucy had no hesitation choosing between them, simply because there was no choice to be made. Henry would never marry her for he believed himself beneath her. So she married Philip.

The first few years passed quickly - too quickly, Lucy often thought - but she was content with three children to look after, two boys and a girl. Then, after fifteen years of marriage, an almost imperceptible change came over her relationship with Philip. He withdrew into himself and a worried frown often appeared.

Rumours began to drift towards her through various people and she came to realise, gradually, that Philip was involved with another woman. Secrecy had been preserved for the first year, but such affairs could never be permanently hidden.

At first Lucy felt a white-hot fury at being betrayed and could barely bring herself to speak to her husband. She soon realised there was little she could do about the situation and when one mistress was discarded to be replaced with another, she consoled herself with the security of her position as Philip's wife.

The second fifteen years of her marriage were not as happy as the first, but Lucy stoically accepted life as it had been given to her. She gave her time, attention and love to her children and then watched them get married, one by one, and leave home.

In 1868 Philip died, leaving behind a flourishing business, managed by his two sons. Lucy was left alone in a large house with nothing to do and no one to care for and cherish. She received regular visits from her family and welcomed the attentions of her grandchildren, but after their departure the house seemed more empty than before.

Her eldest son, Edward, had taken over his mother's financial affairs and the hiring and firing of servants. Once a month he would come to attend to the book-keeping and give instructions to Bates, the butler. Lucy was grateful for Edward's help and yet it made her feel even more like a useless ornament.

In her loneliness Lucy took to day-dreaming about the past and what might have been. It was a useless exercise, as well she knew, but she couldn't help herself. There were no tangible legacies of Henry Stocks; no portraits, no letters, no gifts. Nothing but Lucy's memory of two children playing and growing up together. Was it possible to fall deeply in love with someone as a child and never stop?

She made discreet enquiries about Henry, but to little avail. Over the years the whaling industry had drastically declined and now, in 1870, there were no ships sailing from the port to the Arctic fishing grounds. It seemed there was nobody around to remember Henry Stocks, a man who had made no particular mark for himself.

Lucy realised he could well be dead, though he would only be about fifty-four; not really very old. She felt an overwhelming, almost obsessional desire to know what fate had befallen him. Was he happy? Did he still remember her and if so, in what way? With affection, she liked to think. Then, one afternoon just as it was getting dark, she noticed an old lamplighter.

Why he should suddenly catch her attention she had no idea, but she felt compelled to watch his slow progress down the street. There was a lamp outside her house and when the old man reached it he seemed to look right at her. Did he give her a half-smile and a slight inclination of the head?

Every evening after that Lucy eagerly watched for the old lamplighter coming down the street. She always thought she saw him smile and nod and became more and more intrigued. She fancied she could see something familiar in the way the man moved; the look in his eyes stirred distant memories.

Lucy constantly had to crush the desire to rush out into the street and confront the man, but for a lady of her position to converse with a lamplighter was out of the question. She steadfastly resisted temptation, but at what a price.

Each night when she went to sleep she would dream about Henry Stocks and how happy she would have been as his wife. In her waking hours she knew the palpable untruth of this, but nothing would stop the dreams. To Lucy it seemed as if she was haunted by the memory of her childhood sweetheart and she had no idea why. After all, theirs was a completely innocent and fairly brief friendship. She had found security, love and some happiness with another man, so why did she have this pressing need to find out about Henry?

*****

Lucy Gilyott, who used to be Miss Lucy Ormerod, was standing at her drawing-room window watching the slow progress of the old lamplighter. He hadn't quite reached the lamp outside her house when he staggered slightly, then fell to the ground.

With a cry of alarm, Lucy rushed into the hallway, calling for the butler to assist her. She went down the steps into the deserted street in a matter of seconds and kneeled down by the lamplighter, gently lifting his head off the hard pavement. She could see now that it was indeed Henry. He was groaning slightly.

"Oh, Henry!" Lucy said involuntarily. One half of her realised she was behaving foolishly, but the other half longed to do even more.

"Let me take him, my lady." It was the calm voice of the butler.

"Thank you, John. Please carry him into the house, if you can."

The lamplighter was picked up with little effort so thin was he, and borne into the house. He was taken into the drawing-room and placed gently on the sofa. A low moan escaped his lips as he was carefully lowered onto the soft cushions.

"Send someone round for Dr. Walker, John."

"Perhaps, if I might suggest, my lady, it would be better if the fellow was taken to the hospital."

"No," Lucy said sharply. "It's best that he shouldn't be moved."

"As you wish, my lady."

The butler departed, but almost immediately a maid appeared in the doorway.

"What is it, Mary?"

"Mr Bates said to stay with you, ma'am."

Lucy exploded. "Mr Bates is a...." She managed to stop herself and continued in a calmer voice. "You may wait just outside the door, Mary."

"Yes, ma'am." With a little curtsey the maid left the room.

"Oh, Henry Stocks, why did you leave me?" Lucy whispered.

There was nothing except a slight rasping sound and then: "I'm a nobody. No father and a mother who does other people's washing. I've got no education, no manners and no prospects. I'm not fit to associate with the likes of you."

A tear gently rolled down Lucy's cheek and fell on the sofa. She held the lamplighter's hand tightly. When the doctor came he made a cursory examination of his patient.

"Malnutrition and poor living conditions," he brusquely announced.

"I want him to go to hospital and have proper care and attention," Lucy said.

"He won't be able to afford it."

"Maybe not, but I can."

"You're willing to pay his hospital bills?" the doctor asked incredulously.

"I want to see him get well. He has as much right to treatment as I have."

"Very well, I'll make the necessary arrangements and inform Mr Edward."

"I shall inform him myself," Lucy said firmly.

"Of course."

The doctor obviously wished to have no part of this business. However, his income depended upon the patronage of wealthy patients; he had no alternative but to comply with instructions.

*****

"Everything is in order." Edward closed the large ledger. "I must say Bates and Mrs Joliffe do a first class job. They give me not the slightest problem."

Lucy had been waiting for this moment, but now she found herself barely able to speak. It was so stupid. This was her son and yet she felt nervous about bringing up the simplest subject. But it had to be done, and this was the time.

She cleared her throat. "Edward..." She hesitated.

"Yes, Mother?"

"I want you to add an extra expense to your ledger."

"Oh?"

"An old friend of mine - someone I knew as a child - has fallen on hard times. He's a lamplighter. Now he's sick and in hospital. I would very much like to pay his bills."

"Mr Stocks is a very lucky man," Edward said quietly.

"You know?"

"It's difficult to keep a secret in a town like this. I know you've been making enquiries about a Henry Stocks and Bates told me about the lamplighter."

"Oh, really, can't I trust anyone?" Lucy exploded.

"He did what he thought best."

"Am I to be spied on in my own house, by my own servants?"

"Please try not to be too hard on them. They're concerned about you, that's all."

"I'm entitled to a life of my own."

"Of course you are." Edward held his mother's hand. "I know that father treated you rather badly and you must have been dreadfully unhappy."

"I had my children." Lucy held herself stiff and erect, trying to control her feelings.

"But now you have nothing. Except memories; going back before you met father - as far as Henry Stocks."

The tears were beginning to fall. It was no good. Lucy had to give way to all the pent-up emotions she had been keeping in check for so many years. The story of her love for Henry poured out while Edward listened in sympathetic silence. The ticking of the mantelpiece clock mingled with gentle sobs after Lucy had finished. Edward was looking out of the window as he spoke.

"Why don't you sell this house, Mother, and buy a cottage in the country. I know of a very pleasant one for sale only a few miles out of town. Mrs Joliffe could go with you and I'd take on the other servants."

"What would I do in the country?" Lucy sniffed. "I've always lived in the town."

"The air is better for someone who's not well," Edward pointedly replied.

Lucy stared at him. "Are you suggesting...?"

"I wouldn't dare suggest anything," Edward said quickly. "Your life is your own. I just want you to know that I'm behind you, whatever you do."

Lucy clutched his arm. "Thank you for that, Edward. Thank you."

*****

When the old lamplighter left the hospital he found a carriage waiting for him. The door was open, inviting him to enter, but he hesitated.

"Get in, Henry." The voice was kind, but firm. "You're in no condition to walk anywhere."

He obediently climbed in and found himself sitting opposite an attractive woman who looked much younger than the fifty-two years he knew she must be. They sat in silence as the carriage drove along, gradually passing from town to country.

"A penny for them."

"What?" Henry was startled out of his reverie.

"I said - a penny for them."

"Oh - ay." Henry remained silent for a moment then said, "I were just thinking how I'd made a right mess of everything."

"Yes - you did rather."

Another silence.

"Where are we going?"

"To the cottage I've bought."

"That's nice."

"Of course, we'll have to get married."

"Ay - it's best that we do."

The man who was older than he should have been, yawned and lay back in the corner of his seat. He drifted off to sleep ad Lucy smiled. She had someone to care for again and someone who needed her.

"Hello, Henry," she said softly.

5 mad rant(s):



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  1. Arbitary Juggernaut said...

    Yes finally i have posted another long story that probably would not be read. =.="
    But before you do comment there is one thing about this story u should know...
    I originally wanted this to be a successor to the Lenev file. But due to certain urgencies that i did not foresee i this story has unwittingly taken an altogether different route.

    But hey so what rite? I find it sad that i cannot seem to be able to find the time or the inspiration to write about the universe of the cradle... Sorry Jared...

    hope you enjoyed the story thou... :D  

  2. Henry Yew said...

    One of the best stories I have read. The way things take a turn in this love story, though conventional, is intriguing, too.  

  3. gungrave1988 said...

    The story was touching. It was kind of a happy ending. Alls well that ends well. (^__^)  

  4. Nikol said...

    What do you think of Obadiah Shoher's extensive reply to Ed Said at http://samsonblinded.org/titles/edward_said_end_peace_process.htm ?  

  5. Arbitary Juggernaut said...

    Honestly: I have no thoughts on the subject.  


 

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