Sunday, 24 October 2021

F Fic, Non-fic

One Day in the Life of Digby Chattersworth

by Daniel Rattelle

 One Day in the Life

It was six o’clock sharp on a Wednesday morning and Digby Chattersworth, Esquire, was getting dressed. He had made his toilet, running a brush through his thinning black hair, then removed his flannel nightdress and sleeping cap and placed them on his bed. Every morning for forty years Digby put his left sock on and then his right, followed by shirt, collar, and tie, then trousers. His tie was the only variable. Some days it would be a bowtie, others a long broad necktie, because, as he says, “variety is the spice of life.” Today was a plain black necktie. After he had fastened his braces he took a peek in the looking glass. “Capital,” he thought.

He walked downstairs to the kitchen where his wife, Edith was preparing breakfast. She wore the floral headscarf he had ordered her. It was made by unwed mothers in The Ukraine. “Good morning, my darling,” he said as he gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Good morning dear,” she replied with a smile, “did you have a nice sleep?”

“As I always do. And thank you ever so much for such a splendid breakfast.”

Edith blushed a little, “Why Digby, I’ve told you that you don’t have to thank me. As you say ‘only doing my duty.’’’

In truth though, Digby did feel he had to thank her. Even the most junior solicitors in the county had at least one housemaid, but hiring a housemaid was against Digby’s principles.

“Of course, dear.” Digby opened up the Grafton Bugle that lay on the table. Edith poured a cup of tea from a rather chipped pot. Digby added his own milk and sugar without looking up from his paper. He took a sip and raised his bushy eyebrows in satisfaction. Edith procured a small white plate from a crowded cabinet and began to plate breakfast. A coddled egg, toast with fresh butter, and a piece of ham.

“Will you go to the swim later?” she asked, placing his breakfast before him. Digby chuckled.

“Heavens no. Not for me. Mark me, those chaps will catch their death, if not drown. In the Channel in January?”

“I don’t know. It seems rather festive to me. A fun way to mark the New Year, isn’t it? Besides the whole town is going to be there.” Digby’s eyes perked up. “Apparently it is quite popular in America.”

Digby let out another chuckle. “Well then. That just proves my point.” Edith smiled. She snuffed out the lamp as the sun was beginning to come out. “That means I must be off.” Said Digby as he finished up the last of his toast, “perhaps though, it being a civic event, I’ll let the clerks off early to go see it. Perhaps it might just motivate them. They’re all fine fellows though, I mustn’t jest.”


Digby turned the key to his offices at precisely a quarter to seven, just as he was accustomed. It would be another half hour before the clerks arrived and another hour and a half before his first client. This was when Digby did his best work. Just yesterday, around this time he had figured out a rather clever solution to Mr. Nelson’s property dispute. And last week he had all but solved most of Europe’s financial woes, but that, of course, is another story. This morning, to Digby’s dismay, was to be different. It was the first of the month and he had some bookkeeping that he had to take care of himself. One check sent out to the British Suffragette League, one to the Temperance Society of England and Wales, and one for a second bottle of Dr. Branson’s Miracle Hair Tonic.

Digby placed a stamp on each of the three envelopes, put back on his coat and bowler hat, and crossed the street to the mailbox. As he dropped his mail into the slot, he caught Mr. Nelson out of the corner of his eye. He tipped his hat, wondering what he was doing in town so early.

“Mr. Chattersworth, good morning. And a happy New Year!” said Nelson with a big jovial smile. Digby couldn’t help but notice his moustache needed trimming and that his suit was rather ill fitting.

“And a good morning to you. What brings you to town at such an hour? You being the industrious man that you are. Don’t the cows need milking or some such?”

“I’ve got farmhands for that, sir, besides it’s you I want to see.” Digby was not unaccustomed to unexpected clients, but did not prefer it. “You see, and no disrespect, but I don’t much like your plan at all. That Johnson is grazing his cows on my land! A man’s got to take action. I didn’t take a bullet to me leg for Queen and Country to me conquered on me own turf!”

“Very well, very well, come inside.” Digby led Mr. Nelson into his office. A clerk had slipped in and was busy making copies at his desk. Nelson hung up his coat and flat cap on the coat rack, following Digby’s lead. Digby shut the door and sat down at his small oak desk and gestured for Nelson to sit opposite him. “Mr. Nelson, should find my solution quite sensible. Twenty Pounds per annum, mutual grazing rights.”

“But he’s on my land. I don’t want a deal. I want a fence!”

“As we discussed last time, it is not technically your land. The deed is not at all clear.”

“I remember my grandfather grazing his cows on that pasture, and I’ll bet his father before him. How’s that for clear? Is Twin Oak Farm going to keep shrinking with every generation that comes and goes? Where are the good people of Grafton going to get their milk and cheese? You tell me that!” Digby did not have the heart or inclination to school Mr. Nelson on the hard economic facts of centralization and progress. He merely smiled and nodded. “We’re both Wessex men, yeah? What would old King Alfred do? He certainly wouldn’t hide behind legal paper and twenty quid a year.” He pounded on the desk for emphasis.

Digby was about to say, “Well Alfred was a rather adept compromiser,” instead he pretended to look over something in his ledgers and replied, “We can do twenty five. No more.” Nelson shrunk back in his chair. He scratched his mop of hair with a troubled look. This look was one Digby was quite accustomed to seeing in his clients. They all somehow thought the law was on their side. Usually it was at this point they would agree to Digby’s plan, it being correct, and slink back to their lives. Instead Nelson jumped to his feet, grabbed his coat and, pointing at Digby with his hat said:

“Thank you very much, sir. But I’m going to take my case to Lord Wallop. That’s what their lot’s there for, anyway. Good day to you.” He dawned his cap and was off into the grey morning.

The rest of Digby’s morning was taken up by two minor clients and more bookkeeping. He was uncharacteristically troubled by the Nelson case and tried to distract himself with some light reading. Just as he had selected an old favorite, The Narrative of Captain Cook’s Antarctic Voyage, there was a knock on his office door.

“Oh, hang it all,” said Digby to himself. “Enter.”

On the other side of the door was James Spenser. Spenser was a young man with fine red hair from York, apprenticed to Digby to become a solicitor in his own right.

“Pardon the intrusion, sir,” he said, attempting to disguise his northern accent, “but it’s one o’clock now, I wondered if we might pop off to the beach to see the swim?” Digby had altogether forgotten about that whole affair. “We’ve just about finished everything up for the day, just got to finish off the copies for your meeting with the Hospital Board on Thursday.”

“Oh yes, yes. Nice work, Spenser. Off you go, then. Enjoy yourselves and happy New Year and that,” replied Digby with a wave of his hand.

“Do you mean you’re not coming?”

“Oh heavens no! No, no, no not for me.”

“But sir, everyone’s going to be there. It’ll be a marvelous time. I’ve even heard Lord Wallop is going to be there.”

Digby sighed. He felt he was being placed in a pickle and didn’t see anyway around it. He already had a reputation for being something a spoilsport among the other gentlemen in town, he couldn’t afford to lose his reputation among his betters. “Very well,” said Digby, rising from his desk. He snatched up his coat and hat and made his way to the beach.


More fog had poured in throughout the day so that a layer of mist clung to the bottom of the chalk cliffs at the beach. A large crowd had gathered and Digby felt he was drowning in a sea of grey trench coats and Union flags. Children were perched on their fathers’ shoulders; women wore their Sunday best. Digby looked around to see if he could catch a glimpse of Lord Wallop. Theoretically he objected to the aristocracy, but Digby, ever pragmatic, knew he had to play the game so long as he lived in England. No sign of the Earl yet. Mrs. Nelson and her seven children stood by the shore. Her two eldest were splashing in a trench they had dug while the rest eagerly watched the cliffs. Two seagulls cawed overhead. Just then a lone figure appeared on the cliff, the crowd gasped and then went silent. Digby squinted to try to make out who it was.

The man wore a blue and white striped swimming costume and had muscles that made Digby shrink back. His hair was blown slightly in the wind, revealing a piercing, determined look as if he were King Alfred surveying the field at Ethandune The man walked, with a slight limp, to the very edge. It was Nelson! Three other men appeared behind him.

Then, as if he had been deaf, but could now hear, the thunderous cheers of the crowd erupted in Digby’s ears. Digby did not cheer or clap. He could not even move. The pits of his arms were cold with sweat.

Nelson raised his arms above his head. Digby couldn't tell if the crowd had gone silent or if his ears had failed him again. Nelson leapt. A marvelous swan dive. Digby traced his body all the way down. Finally, Nelson broke the sea in an eruption of water that went halfway up the cliff. Three more bodies fell. When Digby’s hearing returned, he found himself, along with everybody else, jumping up and down, applauding, cheering.

“Well done, Nelson! Well done! Capital! Captial, old boy!” he shouted. Nelson’s head appeared from under the water with the same stone expression, about thirty feet away from the cliffs. Small Icicles had formed on his moustache as he swam onward, strong as any whale. Digby ran toward the water, cheering all the while. He ran until he was ankle deep in the frigid Channel. Nelson started doing the backstroke, a gesture of victory. Someone in the crowd started a rendition of God Save the King, and Digby could not help but join in.

Dan Rattelle is a writer living and working in Western Massachusetts. His fiction strives for subtlety, morality, and depth of character. Some of his favorite authors include Flannery O'Connor, G.K Chesterton, and Graham Greene.


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