Patrick stood open mouthed. After a time he managed to say, “Oh that is so pretty. I wish I could buy that for Ma.”
John laughed, a wisdom bestowed by his extra six years. “Oh yeah, that would look lovely, sitting on the box in the corner of our room.”
Patrick pouted. “Well I’m going to shoe horses like Bernard when I get bigger and have enough money to buy Ma a silver tea set. It will have writing on it, just like this one. It will say ‘to Ma from Patrick.’”
Denis smiled again. “Come on boys, we should be getting back to yer mammy. You can tell her about the tea set, Paddy. That will be almost as good.”
They left the store window. Patrick’s shoulders drooped, his arms were limp at his sides. He barely managed a glance at the Town Hall, situated at the head of the quadrangle of the Exchange Buildings.
“We can go and see Nelson first,” Denis added. A slow smile brightened Patrick’s face, and he managed a small skip as he moved towards the Town Hall.
Denis and his sons crossed Water Street and stood momentarily in front of the Town Hall. They then walked down beside the establishment, part of which was rebuilt after a fire damaged the municipal offices in 1795. As they rounded the corner of the building they saw the immense structure, a bronze statue of an unclothed Lord Horatio Nelson, draped in conquered flags, one foot on a canon, with other figures representing his four major battles. The whole monument stood 29 feet tall. Patrick was in awe of the sculpture, but Denis was not impressed with any depiction of the great English hero.
“Look at the skeleton,” John said, pointing to the form reaching out from beneath a sculpted flag.
“Chase you,” Patrick said, as his older brother started to walk around the 95 foot circumference of the monument base. He had forgotten his earlier dismay. After two laps of the statue, the boys came back to Denis, their exertions evident from their flushed faces.
They walked the rest of the thoroughfare along Dale Street buried in their own thoughts, Denis’s sombre mood returning. The bustle of central Liverpool gave way to an atmosphere of quiet resignation. Alleys that led to housing courts jutted off the main street. These were filled to overflowing with the ever-increasing numbers of Irish labourers and their families in their bid to escape the Irish famine. Tainted air drifted out of the alleys. The stench of rotting potatoes in Ireland had been replaced by the stifling smell of garbage and the privy middens of the courts.
“Want any chips?” one lad said as they passed. “Just a ha’penny.” Denis stopped, reached into his pocket for a coin and gave it to the urchin in exchange for a bundle of wood chips. Whole families were involved in the purchase of demolition timber, the making of the sticks and tying them into bunches, the children then sent out to hawk the product.
“But, Da,” John said, as he watched the halfpenny exchange hands, “we could get that ourselves.”
“I know, and we will. Tomorrow. But let’s take these back for yer mammy to heat us some soup.”
They came to Cumberland Street and changed direction to the right.
“Ma,” the boys shouted, when they saw Hannah, eager to tell her of their walk through the town centre. She was trying to settle James to sleep, in the house the Bennetts shared with four other families.
“Sh.” Hannah waved the boys outside. She laid James down and turned to Denis with an enquiring eye.
“Naw work,” Denis said with a shake of his head.
“I know, Ah’ve spoken ter Catherine. Paddy Kelly beat you home.”
“Did you hear about the steamer?”
Denis caught his breath, as if he was about to hiccup. “That poor woman.” He paused. “Frozen ter de deck, ‘annah,” whereupon his voice broke, ever so slightly, and he buried his head in Hannah’s shoulder.
This post continues on from my previous one about a fictionalised, chance meeting of two ancestors. Denis and his two sons arrive home in Cumberland Street.