The Squire And The Dwarf
Old Squire Peckman was the epitome of civility, stiff upper lip and all that rot.
At seventy-nine Squire Peckman was still an imposing man. Only those who had known him a long time would notice the slight forward lean. Even so, his steel-grey hair still showed like a beacon a half a head above the average crowd. Standing an impressive one hundred and ninety six centimeters, Oliver Wadsworth Peckman still commanded attention whenever he entered a room.
Rising at precisely 05:30 every day, Peckman had breakfast with the ‘Earl of Grey’ accompanied by two kippers on heated scones, prepared as always by Miss Jane, the downstairs maid, and served on sterling silver and Spode Bone China as had been the custom of the Peckman family since the early 1780s.
After breakfast the squire had the Bentley brought around by Alfred and promptly at 06:30, headed off out the gates of Peckman House only to return in the late afternoon for his ritual tea and sweet cakes.
Where “old Peckerhead,” as the staff affectionately referred to Squire Peckman among themselves, went, between 06:30 and 15:30, only Alfred knew and no one had ever dared ask the solemn and silent one hundred and ninety nine centimeter mountain of a man, who had been the faithful gentleman Butler and companion to The Squire since coming back Home to Peckman House in 1965.
Squire Peckman had brought Alfred to Peckman House right after the war as an infant. The staff had raised the toddler till he was nine and then he was sent off to a military boarding school in the north. The Squire himself went to see him twice a year for the next ten years and on his final visit in the fall of 1965, brought the now fully grown Alfred back to Peckman House, where he entered into his long standing tenure as the Squire’s private butler, chauffeur, and confidante.
The glaring resemblance between master and butler was whispered about in back stairwells and secluded areas of the extensive gardens, but was never broached in the light of day… so to speak.
Some believed that the Squire had, during his time in the war office with the Sir Winston gang, been involved with a very young mystery lady of Hungarian or Romanian descent.
It was further rumored that the lady was, indeed, an exquisitely proportioned dwarf, being a mere ninety-nine centimeters. Due to her diminutive size she was thought of more as a plaything for gentlemen then a genuine entertainer and was put upon to ‘entertain’ certain high-ranking emissaries of various friendly and not so friendly nations.
In her capacity as an entertainer, she was allowed to travel rather freely throughout Europe during the war years and was thus able, it was said, to get, carry and deliver messages from all manner of operatives within Nazi borders.
Everyone she entertained anywhere, believed her act to be wonderful and all perceived her as a harmless naïve toy to be used for their pleasure only, and never suspected that a person of her stature could possibly be anything other then what she personified.
Peckman House was situated just outside the city limits of the historic City of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire. The Peckman family had been granted Squire Status and a 900-hectare estate here, in the early 1700s by King George II as reward for gallant service to the House of Brunswick and the Hanover Line of Royalty.
Sir Randolph Alfred Peckman, the builder of Peckman House, was made a full knight at the court of King George II. Randolph’s son Sir Archibald William Peckman had retained the family knighthood but all successive heirs had been referred to simply as Squire with no official right to be addressed as Sir.
Squire Peckman was today, as every Wednesday, driven by Alfred to the City of Leeds, some twenty-eight kilometres North-East of Huddersfield.
In Leeds they stopped, again as always, at a baker’s boutique and bought a dozen cinnamon buns, a loaf of French bread and some dinner rolls, then to a butchers shop and acquired a small roast of lamb some sausage links and several pork butterfly chops. The green grocer was next where assorted fruits and vegetables were purchased.
Many years back, Alfred had questioned the Squire about these food purchases but was told that it was a charitable affair and he did not wish to elaborate further. Alfred never again asked, and now decades later, he simply acknowledged them as part of a routine which must be followed.
Alfred brought the Squire to a taxi stand near the University, on Woodhouse Lane. The squire left Alfred and the Bentley there, but not before admonishing Alfred about never leaving the Bentley without bringing the cell phone with him. Peckman then got into a cab and Alfred was free till 14:00 when he was to return here to pick the Squire up.
Alfred had also been informed many years before, in no uncertain terms, that under no circumstance was he to try to find where Squire Peckman went and being a true and obedient soldier, for he thought of himself as such, had never tried to follow him and had always obeyed the squire’s wishes.
Squire Peckman had always been a fair man and he treated Alfred more like a son than a servant. Alfred was given unlimited use of the Bentley on those days when the Squire went on business outings and he was always left with an amble amount of money through his own MasterCard, paid for by Squire Peckman, so that he was free to pursue his own interests during his off hours.
This particular day, as it happened, Alfred’s very favourite actor-celebrity and Chancellor of Huddersfield University, Patrick Stewart, was to address the Alumni and as Alfred had spent many afternoons at Huddersfield lecture halls during the late eighties where he had completed his degree in English Literature, he wanted very much to hear Mr. Stewart talk.
Alfred had always enjoyed the camaraderie of the much younger students at Huddersfield and when afterwards he came home to his comfortable rooms at Peckman House, he would settle down with a pint and watch Jean Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise fight off the never-ending continuing doom of mankind. To have this opportunity to get back to Huddersfield and to see, and possibly talk to, Patrick Stewart, well this was an opportunity not to be missed.
Patrick Stewart was to make his address at 11:00, and Alfred would get to Huddersfield U about 10:30. He would have time to find a good seat in the Lecture Hall and then afterwards he would take his lunch in the Number 10 cafeteria, named after “10 Forward,” the lounge On the Enterprise - D of Jean Luc Picard.
These thoughts were idly running through his mind when the cell-phone suddenly came alive with “God Save The Queen.”
Being a conscientious driver, Alfred instantly slowed the large sedan down and managed a quicker than he liked stop on the gravely shoulder of the motorway at the same time flipping open the cell. A quick glance told him it was the Squire calling.
The Squire never called Alfred unless it was a dire emergency and already sweat was starting to form small beads on his forehead.
Alfred managed a quick hello and then he heard, the static scratched voice of the Squire, telling him in sharp tones to proceed with haste, to an address on Kirkstall Road, just on the Outskirts of Leeds.
Alfred knew the area well having many times visited the Kirkstall Abbey, an old historic ruin of a Monastery built between 1150 and 1180 by monks of the Cistercian order and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, now a famous tourist site.
Making an illegal U-turn, something he would normally never attempt, Alfred pointed the Bentley back towards Leeds, forgetting about Huddersfield and Patrick Stewart.
It took Alfred only twenty minutes to reach his directed destination. He crossed the river on Bridge Road, crossed under Abbey Road and soon was at the intersection of Kirkstall Lane and Kirkstall Hill.
A quick right turn onto Kirkstall Hill and a few seconds later he entered a long, winding driveway, obscured by large oak trees, leading to a small two storey, meticulously kept, Huckvale-style cottage from the turn of the last century.
Squire Peckman was at the front door waving Alfred to hurry. Alfred noted an older auto, with a medical insignia on the license plate, parked in the yard as he quickly shut down the Bentley and eased his large frame out of the car.
He was quickly ushered into the house, by the Squire, up a set of stairs and into a darkened room. The Squire took hold of Alfred’s arm and slowly led him to the large poster bed in the centre. A man, no doubt the doctor who owned the car in the driveway, was bent over the person laying propped up by many pillows in the centre of the bed, and as his eyes were grew accustomed to the darkness of the room, Alfred saw something his conscious mind was not quite prepared for.
Having resided at Peckman House these past fourty years, Alfred had heard from various household staff, the same rumours about the Squire and his wartime affairs, but being a true gentleman and a devoted servant to Squire Peckman, he had always dismissed that type of gossip as plain nonsense and would never belittle himself, let alone the reputation of the Squire, by giving any credence to that type loose talk.
At first glance Alfred wrongly assumed he was looking at a small child, but as his nervous eyes focused on the person’s face his breath caught in his throat and a barely audible gasp escaped his lips.
Alfred looked quickly at the Squire and then back to the bed, at that moment the small, wizened face opened her, for it was definitely an elderly female face, large luminous eyes and a small smile formed around her dry wrinkled lips.
A tiny arm and hand extended from beneath the covers and reached towards Alfred, but Alfred stood rooted to the carpet not daring to move.
He could see by the diminutive features on the face of this person, that she had, at one time, been a very beautiful woman, and as his mind raced back to all the hurtful rumours he had heard and overheard when people thought no one was listening, his chest constricted and tears filled his eyes as he suddenly realized that all those rumours had indeed been the truth.
Squire Peckman, at this moment, took him by the arm, moved him towards the bed and place his large hand over the small reaching hand, while saying; “Alfred, your mother has waited many years to meet you, and now as she is leaving this earthly life, her last wish was to see you just once and speak to you in person.
Alfred looked at the frail body lying before him. A flood of emotions from joy to unbelievable sorrow and deep resentment enveloped his mind. How could this be? Why had he never been told of his mother? He had firmly believed that she was killed in the accidental detonation of an unexploded bomb near her house in London, shortly after his birth. The Squire had taken the young Alfred into his house to raise as his ward, because his mother had been the Squire’s personal secretary as well as his distant cousin.
Now, sixty years later, to confront the truth in this unbelievable manner, well it was all too much!
Alfred had only had a few moments with his newfound mother. He had been able to softly caress her small face and wipe a teardrop from those shallow cheeks.
With barely a breath left in her, his mother had whispered in his ear how proud she was of him and to “be a good boy and always stand by the Squire”. She had closed her eyes and as all strength left her little hands in his, he knew she had slipped peacefully away into the hereafter.
Nary had a word been spoken between them on the way back to Peckman House.
After all the necessary arrangements had been made, his mothers body had been removed by the coroner’s office. A small funeral service was scheduled for the following Friday and then her body was to be cremated and her ashes flown back to Romania, there to be scattered with her other deceased Hungarian relatives in the Szekely region forests, as was her family’s custom.
Now, sitting in a comfortable leather chair in the small but well appointed library of Peckman House, a good Scotch to steady shattered nerves clutched in his hand, Alfred was patiently waiting for the Squire to finish the last chapter of this incredible story.
Oliver Wadsworth Peckman had always been a very private person. He had been active in the war department as a special liaison envoy to the MI5 unit of defense.
His keen early interest in the entertainment field of stage and theatre had been the catalyst, which had put him in the office of the intelligence-gathering department instead of in the war operations theatres of the trenches of Europe.
Among the many entertainment acts that had offered their help to entertain homeland troops abroad and also attempt information gathering, was Anna-Lee Hurwitz, a Hungarian born citizen of Romania, who, although a dwarf, had a powerful singing voice and was extremely agile with her slim small body.
When Anna-Lee took the stage in her miniature gown and started her slow undulating dance in rhythm to her mesmerizing singing talents, few if any could look away
Anna-Lee had used her tiny charms to lure many valuable pieces of logistical information away from unsuspecting enemy heads of state and had been able to get this information back to British intelligence through Oliver’s network of entertainment spies.
On a rare trip back to England in 1945 towards the end of the war he and Anna-Lee had spent a week-end together in London. Anna-Lee was to have gone back for good to Romania and join her entertainment Family after the war and it was unlikely that they would ever see each other again.
Although it was an unmentionable taboo at the time, emotions got in the way and Anna-Lee ended up pregnant.
Fearing that her family would never understand, Oliver and Anna-Lee decided that it would be best for all concerned if she stayed in England had her baby and then rather then keeping it, adopt it away as soon as it was born.
But alas that never happened. Upon seeing her perfectly normal baby boy after a very difficult birth, Anna-Lee could not bear to give up the child, but neither could she keep him.
Oliver, despite himself, loved Anna-Lee and could not bear to see her so distraught. He bought her a small house in Leeds and after she had nurtured the baby for a year he had adopted him and brought him to Peckman House.
He had had great difficulty in having the baby named after his second cousin Elizabeth-Ann Rawlins, but through a former war associate, now working for the Local Adoption Service Authority, he was able to have a few documents secretly altered.
That little fact had bothered him ever since, but it was a necessary evil at the time if he was to have guardianship over his young son.
Oliver had always dreaded this day, all the while knowing that it would happen someday. He had however hoped, cowardly as it was, that his solicitor would be having the pending conversation after his demise, but this was not to be.
For all these years he had been a steady companion and sole supporter to Anna-Lee.
During the early years, she had tried to go back to her entertainment. She had been booked into several venues, but somehow her diminutive persona had been increasingly viewed as comic rather then just pure talent, and she had sadly given up her career and retired to a simple life of tending her gardens and her favourite roses and lived each day only waiting for Oliver’s visits.
Oliver had brought her progress reports about Alfred and she had many photo albums filled with his pictures taken by the Peckman House Staff, of the growing young boy. Upon Alfred’s entry to the Military Academy, the pictures grew sparse and she had to contend with only the yearly class pictures, which Oliver brought her.
The past fourty years had seemingly slipped by so quickly that it almost seemed time had stood still, and now his lovely little Anna-Lee was dead and somehow he had to confront his long time ‘confidant and servant’ to tell him that in fact he was his father and that all this was to be his when he himself passed on.
Alfred was used to the Squire's silence and waited patiently for the old man to start, but when he could stand it no longer he simply asked…. why?
To Alfred surprise the Squire did not answer, instead he stood up from the chair where he had recently sat down, went to his large mahogany desk in the corner, grabbed a large volume of leather-bound papers and handed them to Alfred and said “read this”.
Alfred was about to say something but the Squire held up his hand, pointed to the papers once more, and turned and left the room, leaving Alfred with his question still unanswered and apparently with a lot or reading to do.
Several hours had elapsed when Alfred finally put down the faded pages. It was quite dark outside, which meant that he had entirely missed his supper and there did not seem to be any normal house noises in adjoining rooms, which would indicate the staff had already retired for the night.
Obviously the Squire had left instructions not to disturb Alfred at all and had also retired to his private suites.
There had been a massive amount of information in what turned out to be the Squires life memoirs and Alfred had been most embarrassed in many instances to read the many personal and intimate entries from non other then his own father, writing about his life’s anguish without the love of his life, his very own mother Anna-Lee.
In their own manner, his father and mother had done what they deemed to be the best for all concerned. Alfred had been raised as a God fearing man, been given every opportunity for a good education, received relative freedom to pursue his interest and allowed money enough to spend when and if he wished and above all they had somehow managed to stay together as a couple even though they had to live in separate houses and could only see each other sparingly.
Now both houses as well as the Peckman fortune, would be Alfred’s and through the bad times and good times of it all the Squire and Anna-Lee had been able to sustain an enduring, loving relationship, which under normal social conditions, in modern England, would have garnered scorn and ridicule for both the parents and the son.
Alfred went to the kitchen and found that a meal had been left for him in the refrigerator. He heated it up in the Microwave and then ate his solitary meal in deep thought. He would certainly have to have conversation with the Sq… his father in the morning, but for now he needed his sleep.
Alfred sat up suddenly, out of a deep dream-filled sleep, in which he had been stuck in an impenetrable tangle of rosebushes and someone was trying desperately to cut him free. Clearing his mind he glanced at the clock; five thirty… he had overslept. He dressed quickly and went straight to the Squire’s room, he still could not get himself to address the Squire as father, he knocked quickly, as always, and entered the room, fully expecting the Squire to be dressed and eating his kippers, but the Squire was still in bed seemingly asleep. Obviously the Maid must have knocked and hearing no answer had left him to sleep.
Alfred approached the bed and was about to touch his newfound father when he noticed dried blood around the Squires mouth.
Gingerly feeling his forehead, Alfred immediately knew that his father was no longer alive.
Somehow the stress of the prior days events had taken their toll on an old heart and he had expired in his bed, to join forevermore, his beloved Anna-Lee.
Alfred quietly closed the door and set out to make the necessary arrangements.
This was going to be one long day.