Thursday, 6 February 2014

Hester Bliss: dark corners

Peregrine was anxious to leave the tailor's shop in a hurry - he had to get back to the printing workshop before he was missed. Printer's devils didn't get a break to eat their meagre bit of dinner - the journeymen kicked off to the chop house to smoke and drink, locking the younger boys in the shop. Peregrine had wriggled out of a half open window to bring the news about Adelaide. He hopped from foot to foot while Hester dampened the fire, picked up a shawl and muffler, and carefully locked up the front office.

It was cold outside, and the pair of them had their thick cloth mufflers wrapped right around the lower half of their faces. They walked in silence, keeping their heads down and hands tucked inside their sleeves. Peregrine sometimes ran ahead a little to make sure of the way, hanging back for Hester to catch up. Night was falling, and the Leerie-men could be seen trudging along, spark box dangling from one hand and glimmer pole over the other shoulder. Some of them also carried cudgels swinging from their belts. It was well known that the dippers, crackers, corner-boys and other criminals held a grudge against the men who went around lighting the streets of the city.

Dark corners could still be found, however, off every main thoroughfare - places where the tops of the buildings loomed up into the sky blocking even the light of the moon, twisting wynds that turned back in on themselves, and staircases that seemed to descend into the very depths. Peregrine ducked into one of these, and Hester followed, after a cautious glance over her shoulder. The flight of steps cut straight through the layers of the city, down to the river docks. They didn't go quite that far however, but turned into a little slip of a street, near the bottom, where the doors opened onto a long damp alley that jostled the back of the warehouses.

Peregrine counted doors silently, until he stopped at one that had a dirty sheet of paper nailed to it. He knew what it said, having set the type himself that very morning.

Sara Twil - 8 yr * Addy Burd - 6 yr * Tom Brit - 7 yr * Jos Lun - 12 yr * Ana Park - 9 yr

 He remembered every badly-spelled word, not daring to deviate from the hand-written scrawl that came from the fist of the customer. He had already been fearful of what would happen if he was caught working the press. The man had pushed into the shop early, before the journeymen had clocked in for the day, and insisted that Peregrine do the job for him there and then. He'd followed the boy up to the case-room and leaned back against the setting rack, arms folded. Hands trembling, Peregrine had taken a sheet of paper from the discard box, set the type and inked up the rollers. He'd just pulled the first proof away when the man had snatched it from his hands and clumped downstairs. There had been just enough time for him to clear everything away before the shop-bell rang again as the journeymen arrived.

He felt a sharp elbow in his side and saw Hester looking at him. He nodded meaningfully at the door, pressed something into her hand, and ran back the way they'd come. Hester glanced down at the knife he'd given her, although she'd guessed by the shape of it. It had a slim blade, used for cutting the strings that held the paper stacks together.

 Hopefully she wouldn't have to use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment