in a Crowded Place
The Betrayal of Bartholomew Spire
“Pretty soon Bartholomew and Jane were expecting a baby,” Al said. “Just like James and Maybelle. Bartholomew was the happiest man in the world. He thought that maybe things would now change at Spire Hall—that they could be more like a family. And things did change, but it wasn’t the way that Bartholomew hoped.”
It was Saturday afternoon at last, and Sam and Al were alone on the third floor of Spire Hall. Again Al had slipped into a different sort of voice as he told his story. He had a rare talent for it, as if he had a window into the past and could describe what he saw there.
Bartholomew Spire’s happiness was real, Al said, something he could see and smell and taste. His happiness was William Stanley’s musty old bookshop, Jane’s smile, a world where everything was smaller and somehow more real than than the swirl of society at Spire Hall.
But then, in one tragic moment. Bartholomew’s life drained into hopeless despair.
The carefully-crafted world of Andrew Spire crumbled in one June moment, on a lonely and idyllic country lane just a mile north of the Hall.
James Spire’ had a light phaeton, a high, two-wheeled buggy that he persuaded his father to order all the way from London, and on that sunny June day James and Maybelle perched on that tall buggy behind Prince—a spirited young gelding that was James’s favourite—and set out for a pleasant drive.
From what Maybelle said, in those few last, whispered breaths, it had been a flock of the starlings that made Prince rear up in surprise, made the ridiculously tall buggy collapsed sideways.
James died instantly, his neck broken, and Maybelle had lingered for only hours after she was found.
“Oh, no,” Sam breathed. “That’s horrible.”
Al nodded sadly. “Spire Hall was like a tomb,” he said. “The whole point of Andrew Spire’s life, all the factories, the lying and cheating, the bloodthirsty business deals, had been to found a dynasty of rich Spires. He’d long since given up on Bartholomew, so James carrying on the Spire name and fortune had meant everything to him.”
Sam was spellbound, enchanted, leaning forward on the table. Yet even as absorbed as she was in the story, she was aware of how liberating it felt to be so comfortable with somebody other than Heather. He liked her, she knew it, and that was a new feeling. She said, “That’s such a sad story.”
Al nodded again, with a mournful expression that made him seem older than his years—as if, in his wisdom, he saw that greed was the saddest and most foolish vice of all.
“Bartholomew was crushed. James was more than a brother—if Bartholomew hadn’t already found a new home and a new family with the Stanleys, he might not have survived his grief. But the worst was yet to come.”
His father pretended to be even more grief-stricken than he really was, begged Bartholomew to make the funeral arrangements. And so Bartholomew stayed at the Hall, aching for his real home at the bookshop, until James and Maybelle had been laid to rest. Then he slipped away, dashed back to Porthaven and William Stanley’s bookshop—only to find that William and Jane were gone.
“They were just gone,” Al said, “no note, just gone without a trace. Bartholomew searched for them. He panicked. He even went a little bit crazy. He went everywhere, talked to anybody who might know the slightest thing. He heard only dark hints, second-hand stories of rough-looking men who came to the bookshop and were later seen at the docks with the Stanleys.”
A suspicion grew, and with it a cold, furious calm that brought Bartholomew’s grief under control. He rode back to Spire Hall and confronted his father.
Any doubts he may have had were stripped away by his father’s sneer, suggesting that it was high time that Bartholomew found a suitable wife to carry on the Spire name.
Bartholomew spat in his father’s face. He fled the Hall, vowing to never return, vowing to spend the rest of his life, if need be, finding his beloved wife and her father.
Then came the final twist of the tale.
The day after Bartholomew left for what he thought was the last time, Andrew Spire walked away from his grand home with one of his sporting guns tucked under his arm. He walked to the exact spot where James and Maybelle died, and then he shot himself.
Bartholomew, so suddenly and tragically the very last of the Spire dynasty, arrived back at Spire Hall with all of the books from William Stanley’s bookshop. He swept through the place, pushing aside the imported furniture, removing the marble busts from their alcoves and stashing them in forgotten corners and replacing them with bookshelves.
As if to highlight the gaping chasm that had lain between Bartholomew and his father, he found just one single book among all of his father’s belongings. It was a big Bible, a beautiful thing in gold and leather that was obviously bought just for show. It looked as if it had never been opened. Bartholomew tucked it away on a shelf and never so much as glanced at it then or for the rest of his life.
In fact Bartholomew barely even thought about being a Spire ever again. Being a Spire meant less than nothing. Andrew Spire didn’t just die; the memory of his life’s work died. Bartholomew gave the factory workers the company houses in which they lived. He sold the factories. He carefully dismantled everything his father had built. Weeds began to trickle through the gardens of Spire Hall, and Andrew Spire’s empire withered and died.
Bartholomew spent most of his father’s fortune searching for the Stanleys. He hired detectives, placed advertisements in newspapers across two continents, and never found the slightest clue.
It soon became clear that William and Jane were gone forever.
Bartholomew became like a book himself; living a different life in a different world. He descended in a world of leather and old ink, a world of his own creation. A world where his mind could soar, could escape the ruined life his father had had left smouldering behind him.
Those imagined worlds where he found escape became the real Spire legacy in Southside when he left his books to become a public library.
Al said, “He could no more be brought back into the real world than the characters in a book could be given flesh and blood and sent to work in the Spire factories.”
Al fell silent, his story clearly at an end even though it took Sam a moment to realize it was over. She shivered, sat back in her chair, folded her arms and hugged herself.
“That’s a horrible story,” Sam said. “What a poor guy.”
Al nodded slowly. “He had nothing left but his books. He never gave up hope, and he never stopped searching even after his life slipped away from him and he became the ghost of Spire Hall.”

Add your comment

Sign into Storybird to post a comment.

Create an account

Create an account to get started. It’s free!

Sign up

or sign in with email below