Chapter 8 - The Undertaker visits
‘It all depends on the area as to the carriage to use. If I take out the best then that’s a polish the next day. That’s a shilling not a thruppence to the worse.’ Josiah Taylor was very fond of his voice, alas in his job he wasn’t required to use it to the extent or the volume that he liked.
Therefore, in those times while in his funeral parlour with his employees. He enjoyed resting himself in the workshop at the end of the aisle and regaling his wisdom. Behind him a row of coffins ranging from infant to adult, in assorted sizes, like a set of ridiculous stairs. In front of him a newly finished item, ready for its client. He used it as an altar addressing his congregation.
‘I’m not a grocer, don’t bring back the empties, I want them full. When the doctor’s boy knocks at my door, you make sure that you get to the bereaved first, the competition is always on the lookout.’
Just as he was about to deliver his eulogy, with hands outstretched, like some Sunday morning lay preacher, the workshop door opened stopping him mid-sentence. Mr Tims, a small shrew of a man who had the countenance to match his work appeared. He spoke, with no regard to the interruption he had made to Mr Taylor’s lecture, in fact he had heard it so many times before, he probably could have performed it himself including remonstrations.
‘Dr. Broad’s boy is here. I’ve put him in your sitting room.’ Mr Taylor’s face lit up, he stopped his address, that could be concluded another day. Slapping his hands together he followed Mr Tims out of the workshop and along the corridor to his sitting room, opening the door and entering in a very melodramatic way. The sitting room was furnished much as a front parlour would be and also served as a receiving room, his eyes fixed on George and with a hearty voice.
‘Young George... How are you? - How is Dr. Broad?’
‘Very well Mr Taylor.’ One answer served for both questions, further response was neither needed nor sought. Mr Taylor’s voice now dropped to his professional one, as he clasped his hands in front of him as if in prayer. However, this was more to contain his emotion.
‘What sadness have you brought to me today?’ He recited the information given to him by Dr Broad, handing him the paperwork entrusted to him by Dr. Broad. Now it was Mr Taylor who summarised the situation.
‘Two gone; one only a child, another with consumption who will be taken by the end of the week.’ He shook his head as every syllable left his mouth.
‘My dear boy, these are indeed sad and cruel times we live in.’ It was quite evident, that the nature of three departing this mortal world in a middle-class area was very sad for the families. But he had a feeling that for Mr Taylor, this was indeed a two-penny visit; such was his saddened state.
George made it obvious that he should now go his business conducted. But believing that one good turn deserves another! He lingered with an air of expectation. Such was the sadness that he had brought, his expectation was met. A curled finger, hooking out two pennies from that fine waistcoat, as they dropped into George’s hand. Mr Taylor noticed one of the coins had the impression of Victoria on it.
‘Look George, one of our late Queen, it’s a sign that we are all mortal.’ Their business conducted George left. A newly fortified and refreshed Mr Taylor, bounced back into his workshop, time was now of the essence.
He gave instructions, shouting for Mr Tims as he did to take care of the certificates, though no instructions were really required other than the addresses, the horses and hearses having already been prepared, were ready and waiting in anticipation. After all, if Dr Broad’s boy came, it meant the man himself had been out and he was hardly going to visit Holmside the Garth or any of the other less than salubrious areas of the east end.
Within the hour, his black gloved hand was knocking on the muffled door knocker. He could see that preparations were already in progress. The door was opened and Albert invited him inside, Mr Taylor, stood in his black frock coat and removed his mourning hat as he entered, introducing himself.
‘I am Mr Taylor, Dr. Broad has informed me that I may be of service to you at this time.’ Albert nodded.
‘Please come into the parlour Mr Taylor.’ He was shown into the front parlour and offered one of the comfortable chairs near the bay window. The curtains had been closed, the light was dim, but enough to conduct the business at hand.
Jane entered the room and sat opposite Mr Taylor, she had been upstairs sitting with Alice. They were both expecting their visitor. Rather, than allow an uncomfortable pause to ensue Mr Taylor’s experience had taught him to launch straight into the business at hand. There was no getting away from what had happened, so the sooner they had grasped the nettle, the quicker a semblance of normality might return to the household.
‘I have been requested by Dr. Broad to call upon you. He has indicated that you may wish to use me, in my formal capacity with the recent loss of your little girl.’ For the moment he had forgotten her name, but he knew that this was the suitable form of address for the occasion, referring to her so was not improper.
Indeed, far worse to open a folder and refer to the deceased details, as if conducting a tax examination. They would give freely all information, his manner was such that, by the end of the conversation, they would feel not only that he had their best interest at heart, but they had known him for years.
‘Has she been attended to yet?’
‘No,’ was the melancholy answer. He now looked at Jane, his hangdog eyes showing, that he was suffering with them, his expression, of one that has suffered as they had. He was a consummate performer; how could you refuse any of his advances.
‘Would you like me to ask Mrs Freeman to help, she is very skilled, especially with our little ones?’ The tone was so gentle, it drew you in.
‘Yes,’ came the response. Jane took out her lace handkerchief from where it was tucked in her sleeve, and dabbed her eyes.
‘Will she be staying at home?’ He asked.
‘Yes’ was the short answer. Confirmations were what he required, so concise answers were as good as long ones, after all, she was upset! She placed her hands one on top of the other in her lap the handkerchief poking out, composing herself for a second before speaking.
‘I don’t want her to leave until she has to.’ At each juncture he nodded his acknowledgement, nothing would be a problem. He would arrange for Mrs Freeman to come in early that same evening, she would wash, prepare and dress the child, lay-her-out, had she thought of clothes? If not, Mrs Freeman could bring a laying-out gown for the child. They were a beautiful soft material and she would look like an angel; it was agreed.
‘She’ll stay in her room, I’ll not have her leave the house until she has to?’ Again, the answer was confirmed. With such a small child this was not an issue, after all one man could comfortably carry a child of this size in her coffin down the stairs. The initial business being concluded, it was now high time, he saw the deceased.
‘If you don’t mind, I will need to go up for a moment to pay my respects.’ They all rose and went upstairs to the room. As was his manner on entering the room he bowed his head and went over to the bed. He did not need to take his measure out. He had been performing this task too many years; he quickly gauged the weight and size. Everything was acceptable in the room, she would be laid out on the bed, there was room for the coffin underneath the bed frame, for use on the day.
‘Thank you, for letting me see her, we should go down now.’ They agreed and returned downstairs to the front parlour. He knew from experience that now was the time for conciseness. Too many options were not required. He asked about religion and the church they regularly attended. It was quickly decided that they would use the chapel and take a plot at the municipal cemetery. It was a large area between Grangetown and Roker, with an area reserved for children contained within it.
He gave them consolation, informing them that, this was a beautiful area away from the smog and grime of the town and where better to wait for the day of redemption. A date and time three days from hence was set, Josiah taking out his small black diary made an entry for this date. Informing them of the vicar who he would ask to attend them.
Josiah’s last task was to tally up the various items discussed and inform the Burns’ of the price. having performed this task, he asked when they would be able to make payment, payment in advance of course.