The Shriving of Miss Esme Stamp…

Episode 74… The Return of Herbert Marks… (Part Two)

Charles and Esme visit Herbert’s shabby office in Brick Lane…

The sign above the door simply read Herbert Marks Theatrical Agency 3rd floor. Herbert’s long association with The People’s Palace as a placement agent was well known to Charles. That was an establishment of quite reputable entertainment on The Mile End Road serving up nightly its form of working men’s enjoyment. Now, here in Brick Lane, that venue seemed just a distant memory. Pushing the door inwards he and Esme took to the well worn and rickety stairs carefully counting each step in front of them.

‘I’ve been here before’ said Esme quietly. ‘More than once, and when I was looking for you again.’

‘I know sweetheart, I know, and I’m so thankful you did. The horror of Hinckley Common and that dreadful relative you had in France is all too vivid in my memory.’

They stove their thoughts, wishing Herbert could afford something a little less tiring on their limbs.

‘He needs looking after Mr Charles and that’s a fact. He’s in no fit state to see to himself.’ A rather rounded plumpish woman with a bright red face and a large black hat, sat squarely beside a forlorn looking Herbert and facing the visitors from the opposite side of Herbert’s unkempt cluttered desk.

‘You’re welcome to sit down, but that’s the extent of my hospitality’. She beckoned to the two chairs facing her. ‘I don’t know why he wants you here and there’s no need for it. He is in my charge now… For his own good!’ Her thrustful words silenced the two guests and for a moment they said nothing. Finally Charles ventured: ‘So you want to be married I understand?’

‘It’s for the best and he has agreed to the arrangement.’

‘Have you agreed.’ asked Charles, looking at Herbert.

‘Of course he has,’ was a sharp reply. ‘He has brave prospects and I have the ways to see that he gets them. He could be a master, a rich man and I’ll see to it that he becomes that!’ The determination in the woman’s voice was obvious to the three sat in homage, in the dingy little upstairs workplace, that Herbert called his home.

The woman was predomintant and clearly had set her mind on this rather shabby and yet, likable friend of Charles.

Charles could see diplomacy was called for and posed the simple question: ‘Is Herbert happy with those thoughts.’

Still Herbert had said nothing, his head bowed, looking down at his desk.

‘Herbert! retorted the woman. ‘Is quite sure! Aren’t  you Herbert?’

Herbert remained silent and sat quietly, declining to comment, perhaps wishing he might put his head in his hands.

At last, Charles forwarded politely, ‘May I ask your name madam?’

‘I am Mrs Vera Plum!’ was the curt reply.

A slight smiled creased across Charles mind. Somehow it reminded him of the game of “Happy Families” He said nothing.

‘Mrs Plum’ ventured Esme. ‘Are you divorced, is your husband still alive. These are considerations, you must admit?’

‘My dear Henry is no longer with us. A loving and devoted husband, if ever there was.’ A tear rose in one eye and she patted it gently from a crumpled handkerchief.

‘You say he was a loving and devoted husband, of which we have no doubt. But do you honestly think Herbert can ever replace him in your eyes.’ Esme looked thoughtfully at the soulful expression on the woman’s face. ‘Do you really think you would be truly happy with dear Herbert. Herby’ is at heart, a singular being, of singular habits, yes of kind habits to others, and in order to be that way, he has to be singular unto himself, and to be truthful to his beliefs. A simple belief in himself and what he is doing for others.’

Esme sat back in her chair. She looked seriously at the woman, and added, ‘I have a man like that. A man that has his own driving determination and I love him for that. Can you really cage Herbert like a bird, simply there to accept your will and determination and in turn to live out your fantasy life for you! Can you? You are wrong Mrs Plum, very, very wrong.’


About Patrick

a photographer, writer and blogger, a studio and press photographer since the mid 1960's, first published writings in 1974
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