Have you ever wished you could travel through time?
Meet someone who can do just that…
A Time Traveller’s Trilogy of Torment!
by Stephen James
Here is the inaugural instalment of this intriguing trilogy. There are two more to follow. So, be sure to devour all three stories in their correct order for the continuous storyline to be interpreted correctly. I shall post the second a few days later — and the third a few more days after that. Click on “follow” and you will receive an email alert to let you know as soon as the next story appears.
As William Steed Cosgrove, a forty-two-year-old wood-machinist stepped down from the Hansom cab, its soft suspension sagged under his powerful frame’s weight. His buckled shoe hit the ground in a shallow puddle. The glistening sheen of the pavement flagstones, under the morning’s mist of rain, made their charcoal tones look like billion-year-old volcanic rocks. Several horse-drawn carriages skittered across them leaving tiny rooster-tails of water. This was the year 1867. It was Baker Street, in the heart of London, England. Exactly 9.42 am, on a Thursday, was the time. William had folded-shut the back cover of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ scarcely nine hours previously. Being a Sherlock Holmes junky, he had stayed up late to finish it — riveted to the word-maestro’s incomparable text. After which, the whodunnit’s challenging plot had drawn circles on the walls of his mind, suffice to give him a rough night’s rest. Everything was fine, except Will Cosgrove lived in Brockenhurst in South Hampshire, over seventy miles away, in 2015…
“Don’t remember seein’ you get in, kind sir,” remarked the driver, leaning down from his platform at the back of the cab — hand cupped. “Let’s call it twopence-halfpenny, my good man.”
He paid the cab driver, noticing the stout image of Queen Victoria engraved on the pennies as they dropped. Will raised his top hat and planted his gentleman’s cane between the flagstone joints, politely asking, “what year would this be, driver?”
“That’s a strange question. Why, it’s 1867 of course! What… ‘ave you been sick or somethin’?”
“In a way, yes. Thank you, friend. And a very good morning to you.”
The blinkered horse — tail held high, clip-clopped off with a gentle trot. Fine-looking William strolled off as if he knew exactly what was going on. The truth; he didn’t know but couldn’t let the public determine it. He’d never owned a suit with tails in his life. He was married to a woman but couldn’t for the life of him remember her name. And… this was not the first time he had fallen through time; however, this was the furthermost in years that he had gone. The bleak weather forced him quickly to the undercover awning of a cake shop, where a well-dressed woman stood fidgeting with her bonnet’s dampish flowers. Her parasol rested against the shop’s window beside her string bag. Cosgrove glanced past her pretty-featured face, in order to catch a glimpse of his own image in the glass. His mortal form had materialized, inside the stationary Hansom cab, several blocks away, therefore, he had no idea of how old he was. The face staring back looked barely old enough to shave. Each time in the past during his time-leap journeys, he’d always felt the same mentally — in fact, his knowledge of modern-day life remained entirely up to speed. But there were no cellphones here and no credit cards to flash around. The era he was currently in seemed to be moving at a sloth’s pace. At this second, he was a man in his twenties comprising the wisdom of forty-two years’ experience. An onlooker could be forgiven for believing this to be a Godsend, but Cosgrove was mindful not to intervene with history’s line of chronology. He knew that he was not really supposed to be there. It all felt like a very realistic dream, however, it wasn’t. And that sloth pace was about to change…
“Good day madam,” he offered to the attractive brunette, their eyes meeting in the rain. “Let us stand clear of that breeze. I see your shopping is a trifle damp.” William’s devour-rate of historical novels had put him in good stead of the required language. He removed a handkerchief from his coat’s pocket and offered it to her. Their hands shook twice as she grasped the white cloth.
“Very kind of you sir,” her polite cockney accent replied. “I have just fetched a present for my father. He’ll be fifty tomorrow, you know. I bought him a charming new fob watch from Harrington’s. Solid gold it is… took my last savings, but you only get one proper father, don’t you?” She glanced her chestnut coloured eyes towards the string bag. “You from around ’ere then, are you?”
“Not entirely,” he nodded in reply. “William Steed Cosgrove… at your service miss!”
“Bassingthwaite. Miss Emily Bassingthwaite to be precise. Interesting middle name, that is!” The striking girl’s cheekbones raised with the radiance of her smile. “Where’re you from then?”
At that very moment, before he could answer, a carriage pulled by four groomed Appaloosa stallions drew up beside them. It distracted their focus. On its blind side, a scruffy hooded man skulked in the mist — keeping low behind the horses’ withers. In an opportunistic blur, the nimble thief snatched Emily’s bag and ran a nine-inch knife blade across her stomach. She slumped against the shopfront — tiny hands clasping her blood-soaked dress. In a flash, he was gone…
A stern voice shouted from the carriage window. “Get the scoundrel! Go on son!”
In two minds, Cosgrove swung his eyes to the voice. His strong hands were supporting her hips, but his conscience knew this was meant to be, and his presence wasn’t. There were no policemen in sight. He considered the blade and his own belly but saw little choice.
“I am a doctor!” blurted the voice. “You chase him, boy and I shall look after the girl!”
William had been a good-quality soccer player all through school and represented his local Hampshire Hurricanes at club level, right up until he turned forty. He tossed his top hat and cane aside and took off like a cheetah. From the corner of his eye, he saw the thief vanish around a brick wall leading into a narrow laneway. Scores of people were funnelling-out from its entrance, many being cannoned aside. As they parted, it forged a path for his pursuit. Out the other end and down the street, across between horse-drawn traffic he chased. Ducking, weaving, skidding on cobbles, and side-stepping pedestrians he pursued. Will Cosgrove’s buckled shoe sounds echoed off the grimy brick walls. The adroit thief’s head spun around over his shoulder. Only a few yards away now. A sudden change of direction found them entering another very narrow lane. The walls towered high on both sides. In this alley, there was nothing but darkness. He caught a glimpse of the blade in the villain’s right hand. They were in a dead-end laneway. It was now or never…
“Back-off or die!” screamed the filthy unshaven individual, turning to face Cosgrove. The look in his yellowy eyes glared as mean as a snake. Knife in one hand — his booty in the other. The threat was real.
William said nothing as he leapt at the man’s waist in a rugby-style crash-tackle. His strong, angry, wood-machinist hands wrapping around the thief like a resolute anaconda. Their combined weight hit the slippery flagstones with an almighty crunch. The knife spun out of his hand. The bag’s contents, strewn around the grappling men, soon revealed the magnificent gold watch and chain. It spilt free from its leather case. The two men rolled on the ground scratching and thumping one another, their faces only inches apart. A small crowd of facial expressions began to appear through the hazy moist light at the lane’s open end. Still no police. Cosgrove, although slightly lighter in stature occupying this younger body, had adrenaline and determination as his allies. He quickly subdued the criminal by applying a choke-hold from behind. But what next?
William couldn’t help thinking about how important it was not to alter the course of history. Between each of his heavy gasps for breath, he wished his mortal form would dematerialize and send him back home to his bungalow at 14 Beaglehunt Street in South Hampshire, where he knew his wife was at present occupying their queen-size ensemble by herself. Alas, something he had learned about with the previous travels, was that he was always away for a period in excess of at least one week. So, that option was not about to happen.
An elderly gentleman and his wife began to wander towards them. He called out. “Who’s down there? Show yourself at once!”
“No!” shouted William. “It is not safe for you! Call for the police at once, please. I have a criminal in my keeping… an attempted murderer, in fact!”
The old man scurried off nodding, in his funny little dottery way. Then something extremely strange occurred. The apprehended man, who was tugging with his own wiry arms, spluttered a sentence past William’s forearm. “You’re a Cosgrove, aren’t you? I can tell—” he coughed.
Confused by the utterance, William gritted his teeth. “You disgraceful contemptable lowlife! What did you just say?”
The man coughed, “I said you are a Cosgrove. I could tell the moment I saw your eyes—”
“Shut your mouth… you damned criminal scum, or I’ll see an end to you!”
“Look at me,” gasped the choking individual. “Stare at your own eyes!” he wheezed.
Impossible; thought William to himself. Then, suddenly remembering his twin sister Janet’s self-compiled genealogy book which she had pestered him to read, he remembered her documentation about a nineteenth-century vagrant from the capital, named Arthur Cosgrove. Time felt like it was standing still. It rained no more. Will’s warm breath’s vapour gathered in a cloud before his eyes. The vagabond had stopped breathing. Cosgrove’s immediate thought was; But I have hardly got any pressure on you — there’s not a chance in hell you could die from just this?
William let his flaccid body settle on the cobblestones. He leaned over the corpse to look. There was no mistake. The now-visible eyes and face, having had the hood fall away during their fight, was a doppelgänger for his own. What wasn’t apparent, was the fact that he had died of a heart attack, brought upon by his efforts to overcome his suppressor. This homeless individual was riddled with Vibrio-cholerae, by virtue of London’s barely-existent sewerage system. His poor respiratory tract and weakened heart had simply given in. Within minutes, two constables appeared from the shadows above them. The tall one’s truncheon rested on William’s shoulder…
The weeks of hell dragged slowly by for incarcerated William. The cold crudely-painted walls of Newgate Prison were his new home. Emily Bassingthwaite, who had survived the cowardice attack, came to visit Cosgrove on many occasions. She grew very close to him and he remained moderately hopeful. However, way back in this harsh period of history — the law was still the law and scruples were somewhat unscrupulous. Unfortunately for Will, life was decidedly cheap. No medical autopsy had been performed on Arthur. It was still regarded as manslaughter.
On her most recent visit, she opened-up her jar of truth. “This is preposterous, Steed,” she vented sympathetically through the bars. “I have explained the circumstances thoroughly to the authorities, but—”
He frowned back. “Why do you call me by my middle name, Emily?”
“Because I like it! and… I like you, very much!” she qualified.
“Accepted my dear. However, as far as they are concerned, I killed a man and for that, they will hang me. Let’s not forget, that this is 1867 and the laws were quite rudimentary back then—”
“What in Heaven’s name does that mean, Steed?” she interjected, pouting her puzzling smile which was as beautiful as her contented one.
“It means… it means… it means that I am as confused as you. But, if I had answered your very first question when we originally met — when you asked; ‘Are you from around here then?’ The truth, well… the truth you simply wouldn’t have believed.”
Her eyelashes flew apart. “Try me?”
“Guard!” he called out in a loud firm voice.
“Yes, what is it, prisoner Cosgrove?” answered a uniformed gentleman, whose dark whiskers and sideburns, all joined in one, stuck out like a woolly daffodil around his face.
“Pray, let this good lady into the confines of my cell, sergeant. We have much to discuss.”
“Okay. But be mindful, I’ll be watching you very closely, sir!”
“Oh… open the blasted door!” yelled Emily. “Can’t you see that I love him, and—” She hesitated, knowing it wasn’t quite that simple, before possibly making a fool of herself.
William Steed Cosgrove, figuring that he had nothing to lose by telling this charming young lady everything about where he came from, started from the beginning. He had attempted to explain it to the authorities. They merely laughed at his pathetic attempts to be committed into a lunatic asylum. Over two hours later, Emily reassured, “I do believe you, Steed.” Her smile was priceless.
He finished… “Even though I cannot remember her name — let alone who she is, I do have an unborn wife, somewhere out there… So, that is why I cannot permit myself to fall in love with you. The worst part is; now that Arthur Cosgrove has died prematurely, I don’t even know if I’ll ever even be born. How dreadful is that? In a way, the longer I stay in prison — is the longer I stay alive!”
“As I have told you before, my father is one of the best criminal barristers in London, Steed. You recovered his watch. That meant a lot. At least let him try to get a pardon for you.”
“Greatly appreciated, my dearest Emily, but lawyers definitely do not work for free. I have no money whatsoever! Believe me, from past experience and where I come from, this I know to be one of life’s coldest and hardest facts.”
Emily burst into tears. “He’ll work hard for you — for me, Steed darling. If you tell me that you love me, of course, that is.” Her cute, cockney, Eliza Doolittle accent melted his stubborn armour.
“Time to leave miss!” roared the guard, grabbing her by the upper arm. The door swung shut.
“Go ahead then, I am very fond.” He guiltily kissed her through the cast-iron bars. “Let’s see what he can do.” William could not bring himself to say what Emily was so desperate to hear. She parted ways, blowing him a kiss, which he returned.
Within ten days the Assize judge’s gavel had crashed firmly against its block…
Will lost his speedy trial, despite Bassingthwaite’s legal prowess and strong pleading appeals for leniency. Judgement was passed. Cosgrove’s hanging date was set for November 23rd at precisely 10.00am sharp. The day arrived quicker than a liar’s promise. Heartbroken Emily could not bring herself to attend. The daunting walk played havoc with his mind. William had read a great deal about the punitive penal system before the lead-up years to his folklore hero, Sherlock Holmes’ emergence on to the literary scene. He knew that these gallows were going to be the short-drop strangulation type. The type held in public areas outside the prison walls, as an exhibition for the public’s enjoyment. The passing of The Prisons Act of 1868, whereby, far more humane methods of capital punishment (the long-drop neck-breaking type) were introduced, was not until next year.
He stood at the Newgate Prison gallows — thick hairy noose of rope around his neck — coils resting behind his ear — entire body trembling. His feet were perched on a stool which was about to be kicked out from under him. A large crowd of festive onlookers began cheering. A juggler stopped his balls practically mid-flight to observe the hanging. William’s heart was pounding so hard that it hurt; This was not what time-travel was all about, surely?
“Proceed!” shouted a dark featureless voice.
Suddenly, his body atomised into microscopic particles, then, vanished completely into thin air leaving an empty swinging noose…
His amazing escape caused quite a commotion amongst the Londoners. Over several weeks, dramatic articles sprawled the front pages of the Illustrated London News. Exaggerated versions of the truth surfaced — the unsuccessful manhunt, eventually brought to an end. Emily, however, always knew the truth.
William Cosgrove rematerialized in his own bed to the accompaniment of his wife Angelica’s gentle purring sleep. Conan Doyle’s book sat on the bedside table with a bookmark at the beginning of the penultimate chapter. He glanced at the glowing digits of his radio alarm clock, they read; 10.53 pm. He thought; still two chapters to go? Strangely, he had not returned to the exact time as he’d left — but William now knew the unpredictable ending to ’The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
The following day at his sister Janet’s house, the siblings sat staring at the self-published genealogy book, open at page 191. “What is it, Willy? And, why are you so eager to find out?”
“Shhh,” he said, thumbing down the page. “Oh my gosh… listen. Walter Henry Cosgrove who was our bootmaker ancestor, married a woman by the name of Emily Bassingthwaite, in 1869. The family tree shows they had seven children. It says Walter had a brother come-gaolbird named Arthur. This old census document you photocopied, states that he died at the hands of a mysterious killer, way back in 1867!”
Janet frowned back. “So, exactly why is that so important to us right now?”