Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rough draft of Chapter 1

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Here's the first draft of chapter 1 for 'Emma' (really have to think of a proper title soon).

Comments always welcome.

Thinking back I should have beaten her, that’s where I went wrong with Emma.
Emma was enchanting, that’s why I stole her from Mephistopheles. I confess that my acquisition of her services was not based solely on prospects of financial gain. She had unearthly looks rather than beauty but it was hard to take your eyes off her. She looked ethereal but her character was that of a scheming minx. I found that combination of fragility and deviance irresistible and fell in love with her.
Having told you that my emotions were involved you may understand why my later judgement in regard to Emma Butcher was flawed.

I saw her for the first time on stage at the Alhambra. She made a brief appearance each night as a Fairy captured by that incompetent illusionist Mephistopheles, such an arrogant stage name. He would lure her across the stage place her in a box and make a vast bother with chains and padlocks, even throwing the keys away. then he would perform some other small illusion with flowers before her cries from captivity softened his heart and he ‘magically’ freed her.
It was a tedious act with a poor climax and the public’s applause was directed at the pretty assistant rather than the Conjurer.

I sat through this performance on three consecutive nights before I confirmed my first impression; that he had no right to the girl and that I owed it to her to rescue her and make her a central part of my own much superior act.

I’d learnt that she was not his daughter as I’d thought; back stage gossip said that he’d fetched her home with him one night to the great annoyance of his wife. Apparently Emma had attempted to pick his pocket and instead of beating her he chose to make her his new assistant. He told Flossie his wife that the girl was very agile, she’d wriggled like a worm on a hook when he caught hold of her. He never mentioned that she was eager to do whatever he asked.

Emma’s supple body was obvious but her sensuality was not. Most people were held by Emma’s large eyes and silvery hair and failed to see that her waif like appearance was assumed.
Flossie had reluctantly agreed that the girl could squirm into the small compartments used in Mephistopheles stage paraphernalia where Flossie no longer could because of pregnancy and so Emma had been a part of the act for several weeks.
I went to visit Flossie. We’d had an interesting conversation that had run along these lines;
‘ I wanted to visit you Madam to offer my praise for your husband’s act. He is a master of illusion. I have seen him often in years past and always admired his skill, together with your graceful assistance. You have both been an inspiration but I am concerned. May I ask is he quite well?’
Flossie looked puzzled and I went on.
‘It’s only that I feel his assistant may be failing him; she does prance about a lot more than she ought and her shrieks from the box are really quite irritating. He almost dropped the magic curtain too soon last night. I was right side in the wings and she was still clambering up on the box. She is clumsy too.....’
The lady was looking discomfited now.
‘ Please don’t think Madam that this is a criticism of your husband I only fear that he may be too close to the girl to see her faults. Perhaps his attention has been diverted by worry or maybe he is sickening for something?’
‘Yes Sir you may well be right in your estimation of my husband’s mind.Thank you for your kind words. I shall speak with him.’

I made my goodbyes and left feeling quite smug. The very next day Emma was thrown out and was dodging her way down the street pursued by a furious Flossie. I stepped out from an alley and pulled Emma back into a doorway.

‘Hush keep still. If the old girl catches you she’ll knock you senseless.’

Emma struggled in my arms, but I had the measure of her.

‘ Well what has gone wrong? You’re back on the streets my girl and that’s not the place for you.’

She tossed her head and pulled back from me ‘ And you’d be knowing where I should be do you? If you want a personal whore you’ve got the wrong girl here.’

‘Emma, dear girl. I am offering you a good position. You will be on a stage alone with all eyes on you.’

‘ On stage, you have an act? You think that’s where I ought to be ?’ She’d relaxed a little.

‘I have and I do and so do you. Come with me and I’ll explain over some pie and mash.’

That did the trick, Emma admitted to being ravenous. Flossie had half starved her while she’d lived with them.


I moved Emma into a room in my lodging house. She possessed only what she stood in so I dug into my purse and got her a new dress. Never before or since have I seen someone enraptured by a dress. Emma buried her face in the little velvet collar and continually stroked the skirt murmuring about it’s colour, it was blue, saying how it made her think of Heaven. She was so pleased. It made me feel I’d done something praiseworthy and noble in getting it for her, even though it was second-hand.

I’d explained my idea to her carefully. She was to become a mind-reader. She would stand blindfolded alone on a stage and tell members of the audience what was in their pocket or handbag. I would stroll among the audience and hold objects for her to ‘read’. We’d develop a code in which I could tell her what I had in my hand. We would make a mint of money.

Emma was immediately enthusiastic and wanted to start work on the code straight away. We practiced for days until our opening. I had been so confident about obtaining Emma that I’d booked a slot in the next week’s variety show at the Hippodrome on that first day; I’d decided it would not be politic to start at the Alhambra.

Emma didn’t disappoint me, she was marvellous.
Her hair was brushed till it shone, it cascaded over her shoulders and I’d cut it to a neat line that ended at breast height.
She wore the blue dress and stood hands folded, demure and sweet while I opened the spiel.

‘ Tonight ladies and Gentlemen you are priviledged to witness evidence of the astounding bond between two souls. I have long been a student of the Occult For many years I’ve known that I had powers but I was alone. No one else understood or felt the spirits that stirred within me.................. My searching took me to Russia where I found this child in a convent. The Mother Superior told me of the girl’s ability to see with her mind’s eye what was happening in the world outside the convent walls. Mother said she believed the girl’s piety was so great that Our Lady had granted her a special talent. I spoke to her charge and immediately knew that this little nun was an advanced soul
The young nun’s name is Sophia Natalia Ouspenskaya and through my persuasion she has been allowed to leave the convent and travel Europe with me in order that we may show the miracle of our conjoined talent to all who seek proof of God’s power.’

We had chosen the russian name because Emma had a strange speaking voice, sometimes she mispronounced words. I think she must have come from an immigrant family. This speech oddity was beneficial and Emma worked on her voice to give herself an accent that might have come from anywhere East of Dover. I’d also decided on the ‘nun’ bit which wasn’t usual in a stage artist, but I thought it gave Emma class and made me a virtuous scholar!

At this point in the act the spotlight moved to Emma who remained unmoving, silent but who opened her eyes. I’ve said already that her eyes were large; they were also of a brilliant blue that sparkled in the spotlight’s beam. I had instructed Emma to look towards the light rather than the crowd and not to blink until I told her to close her lids again.

‘Sophia, whose name means Wisdom in the ancient language of the Greeks, is now moving into a trance state which I have induced so that we may give you a small demonstration of our powers.’

I then instructed Emma to close her eyes.

A stage hand came out from the wings carrying a small box. Placing the box on a table near me he opened the box and wthdrew three items; an egg, a cup and a child’s shoe.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen I must beg you to be silent for a few minutes. I shall hold each of these things up in turn and you must tell me. By show of hands only, no words at all, which object you wish Sophia to tell us about.’

Having reminded them again of the need for absolute silence, I then produced each thing in turn to the audience and they raised their hands to vote.
Once something was chosen the other two objects went back in the box and I would then move ten feet away from Emma and turn to the audience again.

‘I shall now use the power of my mind to convey an image of this object to Sophia’s mind and ask her what I am holding.’

With a flourish I would raise both hands above my head and look up to the ceiling.

Emma, on the first night, said softly.

‘ You hold in your hand something that tells us about our Saviour’s sacrifice.’ There were murmurs from the crowd.
She then moved her head slowly from side to side. The audience hung on her in silence.
‘You hold a cup which serves to remind us of that cup which Our Lord passed among his Disciples at the Last Supper asking them to Drink from it in remembrance of him. Hallelujah.’

I was indeed holding the cup. Emma knew this because I counted the steps away from her aloud and ten meant the cup.

The audience were pleased but not completely won over. I walked back to Emma
smiled and said ‘Sophia. Your powers are strong tonight, can we do greater wonders?’
Slowly she nodded. I produced a blindfold mask and tied it around her head.
Then I waved my hands closely in front of her, but Emma didn’t flinch.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen. May I crave your assistance? I will walk among you and you shall see these gifts more widely displayed.’

There were murmurs in the crowd as I climbed down from the stage and walked the aisles until I saw the smiling face of a young lady with an equally happy man sat beside her.
‘Madam’. she nodded ‘and Sir’.
‘Would you retrieve something from your person and lend it to me for a moment.....
Please don’t say anything,but pass the item to me.’
The eager lady scrabbled in her handbag for a moment and produced an ornate mirror.
I thanked her and held the mirror up for the audience to see.

‘Sophia, can you hear me speaking ?’ again the nod.’Can you see what I have in my hand?’ She shook her head.

‘Tell us what I have here please.’

Emma raised her hands in a supplicant gesture and spoke.

‘You hold something that shows the Lady her image; but she may see her real self in the eyes of others. You hold a mirror.’ There were gratifying gasps from the Lady and many others in the audience.

We then repeated this performance with several other persons and different objects until Emma suddenly dropped her head forward and swayed a little.

‘We have exhausted her. She must stop now. Thank you.’
I returned to the stage and removed Emma’s blindfold. Then putting my arm about her shoulders I helped her forward. She curtsied and I bowed.

Then Emma made a gesture that I’d not taught her. She blew a kiss to the audience and smiled. They applauded vigorously and we left the stage.

We performed that act with variations on the theme for several months. The theatre had full houses every night and as the Manager admitted, much of that was due to my appearances, so we were paid more money.

Success was an aphrodisiac and Emma and I became lovers.
I’d arrived at her door dressed to go out and eat breakfast but Emma was washing her hair. While I waited for her I helped her dry her hair while we chose new key words for pocket watches and hankies , far the commonest things produced by audience members.
I was behind her rubbing the back of her neck when she reached up her hand to take the towel from me.
I looked down ,her face was so appealing in the morning sun and I leant forward and kissed her hand.
‘Ernest. You Silly.’ she laughed and I knew that I had to have her and to Hell with the consequences.
We never had breakfast that day, but I found I’d been starved for something more than food.
Until I took Emma to bed I’d never been interested in a woman after the first few times, but this was different. The more I had Emma the more I needed to have her again.
She was excited by my desire. She would laugh as we caressed and her passion would increase as mine did. We would tear the clothes from each other. We made love at any time and in any place that was available.

I found it difficult to maintain the fiction that I was her Guardian and she the little nun. Emma however, was the complete actress. She could break free of my arms , tidy her hair, wash her face and become composed and serious in a trice.
Not only was lust making me hollow-eyed; avarice was eating at my innards.
We were making a good wage, but only a wage.
I’d calculated what we were worth to the Hippodrome and knew that I’d not be content until all that money went into my pocket. Scheming to achieve this kept me awake at night.

It was at this time that I heard about mediums like Maslyn, who were gaining some notoriety. I began to think that we mightchange direction in our employment.
I couldn’t see where great money could be made in talking to dead people and instead tried to see performances by magicians and escape artists. I had an idea of using Emma as an escapologist. This proved to be an entertaining notion. There was a lot of excitement to be had from tying Emma up and then watching her struggle when I’d tied the wrong knots. Naturally I apologised each time for my mistakes.
Unfortunately it became sensible to give up these games after Emma bit me.
Eventually I decided to bring in a little illusion to enhance the act and to focus attention more directly on myself, Emma was getting a disproportionate share of the stage door attention....
We opened with a section where I performed a few levitations with small items like vases and small tables and then we closed the act with a levitation of Emma just to show that I was the stronger mind.

After the evening show I sometimes treated Emma to supper in a swankier part of town. She loved this. It gave her an opportunity to dress up and paint her face. I think she also started to long for a better life. As we watched the Nobs chatting to each other I could see Emma’s face go soft and dreamy and knew that she imagined herself mixing with them. All I wanted was money, enough to quit this country and go to America. I saw myself as the owner of a fancy saloon out West; a high quality place with showgirls. A place where I need not work any more aside from counting the takings. I had no desire to join ‘society’. They seemed bored and useless like sheep grazing aimlessly.

I took pride in my act. It was capable of capturing the attention of a crowd without need of elaborate stage machinery that was prone to go wrong at critical points. I had an able assistant in Emma who was quick to absorb the changes that I made in our patter. She worked well with me and was keen to put forward her ideas which were sometimes worth using.
I was a skilled man living by the exercise of my wits not a drone existing on inherited wealth. It was a great pleasure for me to take money from such people. After supper Emma and I might stay at our table drinking coffee and I would demonstrate a little card trick to her. More often than not this resulted in somebody wandering over to tell me how easy it was to fool a woman but that he could see through it. When the Gull accepted an invitation to sit with us I knew I had him. Every time a foolish man took my bait I could be sure of taking enough to pay for our supper and a hansom home.

Emma decided to make friends on one occasion. Accordingly on visiting the powder room that evening Emma spoke to a young lady from the group of Nobs across from us. The girl was looking in a mirror and adjusting a hat pin.
‘I told her I thought her hat was the most charming hat I’d ever seen.She put the mirror in her bag, snapped the bag shut and said. ‘’Well I don’t take that as a compliment coming from the likes of you.’’ I was struck dumb Ernest. There was no reason for being so nasty after I’d complimented her stupid hat.’
Emma was close to tears.

‘ You should stop trying to be liked by those people. They’ll always despise you because they don’t know where you come from and they are afraid you’ll be a thief or worse.’
‘They’re afraid of me?’
‘Yes, afraid of you and me or of anybody who’s a bit different.’
Emma suddenly smiled across the room; one of the women was looking in our direction. Then Emma raised her hand and pointed the gypsy curse at her all the while smiling broadly. I saw the woman start in her chair and clutch at the arm of her companion. He listened to her, looked across at me ,then shook her off and resumed chatting to his cronies.
‘You see? He was thinking that if he had come across I might pull a knife on him. So he turned away. They are afraid Em, remember that.’

After a year there was enough cash to move to a rented house. Now that I had enough to need a strongbox I found the desire to live in a safer area.
The house was in Hackney, actually in lower Clapton near the Pond. A genteel area not ruffian ridden like the Mile End. Emma pronounced it suitable as soon as she saw the frontage. The entrance was reached by a flight of stone steps guarded by a pair of battered gargoyles. She thought they looked grand and that they were the thing people would notice rather than the paint flaking off the front door.
Emma was often right about appearances so the gargoyles stayed and I paid a lad a shilling to repaint the door.
We hired a maid of all work named Kat and Emma insisted she have a ‘best’ apron hanging always close to the front door so that both servant and house would look ‘respectable’. Kat was also to sleep in Emma’s dressing room. I was not totally displeased by this change of circumstances. Emma was still highly desirable but change adds spice to life. I’d become heavily involved with one of the chorus girls and she was wearing me out. Emma hadn’t noticed because she usually climbed into my bed in the mornings when my strength had revived.
We might have stayed as we were indefinitely but for the theatre burning down.

On a Wednesday evening in May one of the limelights flared and caught the curtains at the close of the singer’s act that was before ours. As the dancing girls left the stage I winked at Polly, the pretty creature and she giggled.
Emma and I were waiting ready to step forward and begin when the right side curtain in front of us became a sheet of flame. We could hear screams from the auditorium but the flames were headed back-stage. I pushed Emma and told her to get out of the stage door on the left side of the building as I grabbed a fire bucket. I wasn’t intentionally brave that night; everything happened so quickly that there was no time to think about what I was doing; several of the stagehands joined me to try and stop the fire. We managed to drop the flaming curtain to the floor and beat out the flames but behind it the wooden flats had already caught. It didn’t take long for us to realise that this fire was too fast for us. There was little confusion back stage because most of us had experienced fires before. We were out on the street before the fire engine arrived. I don’t know why I led the firemen back inside, I may have been fuddled by the smoke, but I hadn’t seen Polly come out and guessed she might be waiting in my dressing room for me. The silly chit would never have had the sense to look out the door at the ruckus.
So I had to go back in. All I did was lead the way through the passages towards the stage and show them the blaze. Once the firemen had got busy I hurried to the dressing room, opened my door and sure enough Polly was lying on my couch disrobed and now unconscious. I threw her over my shoulder and headed out. As I turned past the wings. I heard creaking over my head and felt sparks igniting my hair and skin . As I picked my way through falling debris I looked up and saw a gantry (terminology?) lurching downwards. I yelled ‘Look Out above’ at the top of my voice; fortunately the firemen heard me and in some sort of huddle we forced our way out as the roof timbers crashed into the building.
In the morning newspapers I was a hero.
It must have been the manager who decided to milk the fire for publicity. He’d been in the pub across the way when it all happened, but claimed that he was an eye-witness to me ‘rescuing’ three firemen from certain death. The article on the front page was illustrated by a drawing of the handsome ‘’Ernesto Mystic Maestro’’ dragging a semi conscious fireman through lurid flames with a swooning yet fully clothed damsel around my neck. Emma was much displeased about Polly when she guessed why the girl had been late to leave the theatre,but our little house was besieged by the curious and she wasn’t one to disappoint them.

Indoors I was bandaged, coughing and wretching; out on the doorstep Emma,wearing her best satin wrapper with hair hanging around her head like silk, gave interviews.
She told the reporters how brave I’d been which was music to my ears and true in a manner of speaking.
I waved from the window but the press were hanging on Emma’s words.She went on to tell them that I was her servant, majordomo was her exact choice of wording. It was my duty to protect her because she was a russian princess who had only been allowed to come to England once it was ‘guaranteed’ that she would be safe in my care. The reporters smirked when she said this. Emma blushed,I didn’t know that she could blush until then.
Naturally rescuing her- Princess Sophia- had been my first duty and only then had I returned to the flames. As I was now incapacitated Emma was moving to an Hotel where she would remain if I couldn’t resume my duties.

Emma came back into the house after this announcement and I heard her tell Kat to pack. Then she entered the front room.
‘ You bitch. How dare you suggest that I’m a Gelding to those reporters. That was unforgivable.
‘That’s good. You won’t mind that I’m leaving.’
‘You’re not really going. You can’t, we are a class act and I’ll sue you if you go.’
‘ We don’t have a contract Ernest, you never even given me that as security.I am going because you are an unfaithful dog. I knew you had your eyes on that little red-head bitch, but I hadn’t guessed that you were bedding her yet.
‘I have been your devoted lover and your hard-working assistant and all this time you’ve been working your way through the entire chorus line. Well this is the last straw. You and that Floosie sprawled across the front pages of the gutter press.
I will not be ruined by your behaviour. I can manage my own life and I should have left a long time ago.’
She spun around and left slamming the door as hard as she could.

I decided not to worry. Emma would come back. She needed me; who else could manipulate an audience for her? Who else would give her the spotlight and ten percent of his earnings to squander? She’d be crying and crawling back in days and in the meantime Polly would soothe my burns.
I knew that I wasn’t heartless, I had been good to Emma; both generous and affectionate. This was just like those times when she stamped her foot and broke crockery. Making up was always an exciting process, rather like making love to a tigress who might scratch deeper than warranted. I was looking forward to that and decided that Polly was no substitute. I showed Polly the door and pondered a while. That remark about me had been viscious but understandable I supposed but
what did she mean about going to ‘an hotel’. Unless she’d been picking pockets in the lobby Emma had never set foot in anything grander than a lodging house. I’d not asked where she was going because it was probable that she’d sleep on a park bench, but when she didn’t come home after the first night I surmised that she’d gone somewhere with Kat.

It was not until three days after she left that I had real cause for concern.
I’d been trying to shaved when the doctor arrived to check my burns and for payment. When I went to my cash box it wasn tucked far back beneath the bed as usual.
Taking the key from my pocket I raised the lid and reached in and felt nothing.
Dragging the box clear of the bedding I threw the lid back and saw that it was empty.
Immediately I knew that Emma had cleaned me out. There had been almost thirty pounds in the box along with my gold cufflinks. The jewellery box on her nightstand looked as it always did, overflowing with Emma’s geegaws,but I’d recently bought her some pearl earrings and they were gone too.

‘She planned this. The bitch, the ungrateful little bitch. I’ll beat her black and blue when I get hold of her.’

I stormed down the staircase before I was reminded that I’d no way of laying hands on her and the doctor was frowning at me as if I’d gone insane.

I think I nearly did end up in the madhouse in the weeks and months after Emma’s betrayal. I drank as I searched for her and cursed her as I drank.
My father told me that women and dogs were better for beating and he always treated my mother no better than one of his hounds.
‘A man goes out and works hard. My dogs earn my money for me so I feed them, but I don’t fuss them. They might get uppity and not work so well if I did. An’ women are the same. Feed them and work them and take the stick to them because they’ll get bothersome if you don’t.’
My mother ran away when I was twelve and a few months later one of the dogs attacked my father and chewed his arm badly so I decided he was wrong about both of them.
I never had a dog myself but I had a lot of women and they aren’t all the same.Some of them did behave better if you bossed them, but even there I always found threats more effective than sticks. If a woman isn’t sure what’ll happen next she’ll be cautious; but if she knows you’re going to hit her she’ll turn one day just like that dog.
Most of my women did fine just from me telling them that I cared about them. They were an easy handle if you just said the right words sometimes.

Emma had never been straightforward. I treated her kindly when I first took her up and she very quickly started misbehaving. So I let her know that I was no fool and came down hard on her, but then she’d love me right back into place. I let it go in those early months. She was young, only a kid really and she couldn’t have been that wised up about men. But maybe Emma was born to play with a person’s heart and mind because she was good at it.

After she left I tried to work out her ways. Sitting with a bottle in my hand I’d bring her back to mind. I’d be sitting with my account book and Emma would kneel on the floor close by; she’d say nothing and she’d sit perfectly still looking at the fire or the pattern on the carpet. I’d work on but I couldn’t ignore her.

‘What are you doing?’ I’d look at her and she’d look at me with those eyes half shielded by her lashes.
‘I’m dreaming.’
‘What are you dreaming about?’
‘You Ernest. I’m dreaming that you’ll touch my hair and kiss me.’

Then I’d be on the floor next to her and I’d run my hand over her hair and she’d lift her face to me and I’d kiss her. The accounts would wait until the next day.

Another time we’d be leaving the theatre and walking the street. Emma would be looking in every doorway and at every carriage that passed. I’d ask her what she was doing and she wouldn’t answer. If I asked again she’d smile but still say nothing. If I grew annoyed Emma would cross the street or turn and go back the way we’d come . I was always afraid she’d get into trouble because she looked so vulnerable and so I’d go after her. Then just as soon as she’d begun teasing me she would stop and rush into my arms.
Once I stood my ground and waited for her to stop playing with me. She didn’t come back. She vanished and I didn’t see her again until she arrived, on time, for the next evening’s performance. She rain into the dressing room crying and trembling and I comforted her and never asked where she’d been.

I know now that Emma was in charge of me and not the other way around. The tantrums, the frenzied delicious love-making, her sudden appearances and disappearances all confused and dazzled me.

I couldn’t believe that she’d gone for good this time, that’s why I kept hunting for her. I didn’t try to get into another theatre because I had no act. I just played cards for money and did some street magic. I lost the house when I defaulted on the rent. I didn’t care about that but it made me more desperate because now there was nowhere for Emma to come back to and I imagined her returning only to find strangers living there. She must have found work and the only work she knew was theatre so Stage doors became my focus. I moved round from one to another convinced tht Emma would walk out the door and into my arms sooner or later.

I was sleeping rough by this time. I got rolled a few times and in this way I lost my muffler and shoes. When I found a corner to sleep I dreamt of Emma walking past and calling for me but not seeing Ernest in the wretch I’d become.
I didn’t sleep much because the nights were colder so I started seeing Emma everywhere I looked. I was almost run down several times from running into the road chasing my vision. In the end I must have just collapsed but I have no memory of that.

The room I woke in was large but it was crammed to overflowing with crates and bales.I lay on a small campaign bed and somebody stood over me with a steaming mug. There was a wonderful smell coming from the mug.

‘Good morning and welcome. You’ve slept long and I think you must be hungry now.’ He moved the mug towards me and I clasped it and gulped the burning soup down as fast as I could.
‘You’ve not been well for several days. A fever had you in it’s grip, but you look better now.’ he smiled.
When I tried to ask for more soup, no words,no voice only a sound like a crow came from me. My benefactor smiled again and said.
‘I think I can guess what you mean. Come with me and you shall have more in your belly.’

I tried to stand up on my own but my legs gave way. The man was prepared for this and caught me before I went down.
‘You’re still sick and must go slowly.’ He steered me with an arm around my waist and we went out of the room into an office. He sat me in a chair and turned to a side table where there was more soup on a gas ring and bread in chunks on a plate.
He passed the plate to me while He refilled my mug.
Then he pulled up another chair and began to talk.

Simon was his name. Simon Peter he laughed; he said his mother had wanted him to go into the church and had given him a good name, but he’d gone into the family business which was in cargo shipments. This was one of their warehouses and this was his office. He liked to be alone so that he could concentrate but his father’s office was just across the courtyard.
Simon had arrived at work one morning to find me rolled up in his doorway. He’d not been able to wake me and had seen that I was sweating and moaning he’d had a couple of the warehousemen carry me inside; and there I’d lain for three days and nights. There were always several watchmen on duty in the warehouses and they’d had instructions to call Simon from his house if I woke in the night.

‘Why did you take me in?’ I managed to croak when he drew breath.

‘It’s possible that some of my mother’s kindness rubbed off on me. I really couldn’t let you die on my doorstep it wouldn’t have looked good would it?’

He moved on to tell me that one of his interests was prison visiting and through talking to men in the city gaols Simon had come to realise how priviledged his own situation was.
‘I hope I don’t sound like the pious do-gooder. I have employed some of these men when they were released and most of them reward me with hard work, so it’s more a case of enlightened self-interest.’

A messenger boy came in then and after Simon had read the note he said.
‘My father needs me to go down to one of our ships. You ought to stay here and rest, but I’ll understand if you’re gone when I get back.’
When I’d eaten more of the bread I went back in the warehouse to put on my boots. I fully intended to leave but looking at the cot I was overcome with the desire for sleep and lay down intending to nap, but it was growing dark when I woke again.

This time I felt stronger and got my jacket and boots on before I went back to the office to get out of the building.
Simon was at his desk.
‘Hullo. Would you like a wash and shave? there’s a lavatory and a sink in there and a razor and soap.’ He pointed at another door I’d not noticed before then bent his head to his figures again.
I washed and came back as he put down his pen.
‘Thank you.’ I said ‘I don’t deserve your kindness, but I’m grateful for it.’ as I headed for the door Simon said.

‘Maybe you have a home to go to, but if not you’re welcome to stay in there a while. When you feel up to it you can help out with loading the carts. I always have work and wages for a willing man.’ Again the smile.

All at once his suggestion seemed the sensible choice to make;perhaps because I was desperate and starving, although I like to think it was more that I could see how good a man I’d met.
At any rate I said that was very good of him and he gave me half a crown to get some food. Then he took me out into the courtyard and I met Arthur Brown, the night watchman. Simon told him to let me in when I came back. Then he bade us both goodnight and went home.

‘Another stray. Gawd Almighty this place‘ll be turned into a home for the feeble-minded soon.’ said Arthur Brown. He looked me over and sighed.
‘Don’t you be out drinking or I’ll bar the door on you, see if I don’t.’
Then I was back on the street and scratching my head over the strange twists of Fate.

I went into the first tavern down the street. It was busy and cheerful and after I’d had pie and mash and a glass of porter I began to take stock. I needed money and a roof over my head and it seemed that luck was giving me that. If I could start a new life for a time it might help me to stop craving Emma once I was back on my feet I could resume my search. There was still money in my pocket so I ate another pie, drank another porter and went back to Marshall’s.
That evening I thought it was just Fate that had me pass out at Marshall’s Yard. I soon learned it was more than that. God was offering me a second chance through Simon Marshall.

Mother had been a regular church attender before she ran off and I learnt to read at Sunday school. When she went I made up my mind that I’d succeed in life despite my troubles. I kept reading and taught myself letters. Later I learnt how to tot up money from working on a market stall, that’s also when I learnt that you can sell anything if you pitch it right. The man who gave me a start was called
Enry, just Enry, I never knew if it was his first or last name. He knew my dad and owed him money so he took me on to pay the old man back. Then he told me I was useful and kept me as his assistant. He sold tea, flour, sugar cheaper than in a shop. It wasn’t good quality I found out but there were those who couldn’t afford any better. Enry always swore that he never put anything harmful in the stuff he sold. Only a little chalk or dust maybe.
Anyway I learnt how to sell whatever we had. I always gave the old ladies a pinch more; that way they thought they had one over on Enry and we never got any complaints.
I didn’t go home except to sleep but hung around in the pubs because the people inside were sometimes free with their cash. There were the drunks who dropped coins, they’d drop three and I ‘d give them back two.The whores’d sometimes slip me a coin to find them a customer, the bookie who needed a runner might catch my eye as did the gamblers who needed a distraction while they slipped cards to the bottom of the deck.
That’s where the magic started. It was too tempting to trick the foolish. I taught myself a couple of coin moves and then a few card tricks and I’d entertain at the tables.
I never thought of it as sinful or wicked. It was surviving and slowly it grew to be decent money. Where was the harm? God didn’t have a presence in the public houses of the East end, nor in the theatres when I got that far. My life was on course for success until Emma.

But never mind that, now I had a place; very different from what I’d expected or wanted, but a place to start again.

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