The slums of Benton, August 21, 1824
“Tommy! Tommy! Speak to me!”
Tommy’s eyes fluttered open and he gazed at the blurry image of his mother. Even with the beating he’d just had he could tell that bruises were starting to bloom on her face, and realized that once again he had failed to protect her from his father. Though how a boy of five could fight a onetime prize-fighter, even though the latter was as drunk as a lord, would have been hard for anyone to imagine.
“Ma?” he said in a slurred voice. “A’ ya a’right?”
“Of course, Tommy. He stopped beating me when he started beating you. But there’s no telling when he’ll come back. So you must go.”
“Go? Bu… ‘fi go, who… pertect ya?”
“We’ll talk of that later. I won’t be here long, and will join you soon. But you must run to the Home and find Rose. Find Rose and have her hide you, and tell her I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Tommy staggered to his feet, bounced off the table and two walls before reaching the door, then turned and looked at his mother. “Why you na come wif me now?”
“I just need to rest for a few minutes. I’ll be right behind you. But you need to go now, because if you’re still here when your father comes back he might kill you.”
“Tommy! For the love of God, run to the Home! Now!”
Tommy opened the door then looked at the prostrate form of his mother, the finger on her outstretched hand pointing toward the opening. It was pouring outside, and he didn’t want to leave his mother. But she repeated her words, so wiping his eyes and his nose, he turned and ran into the street.
The ‘roads’ in the low places where the most destitute of those in Benton lived were merely dirt paths, and in the downpour were essentially sloughs between the rude dwellings that served as homes, so the going was slow, but at least it was straight, for the Home lay only a mile to the west of the bridge, and all the roads in the area ran parallel to the river, save for the few alleys that connected one road to another. And except for one thing, Tommy would probably have reached the Home in less than an hour; but just before he reached the bridge a man stepped out of an alley and tried to grab him. Even as young as he was, his mother had warned him about the evil things that could happen to children in the streets near his home; so he leapt to the side, ran as fast as he could, dashed into another alley, crossed two roads, then ran the other way until he was out of breath. He staggered on for another block or two, then noticed a porch with a missing board on one side, and decided to see if he could pull one of the other boards out and hide.
When Tommy woke the rain had stopped, and outside the enclosure under the porch it was bright and sunny. For a few moments he had no idea where he was, or why. Then he remembered last night, and crawled out of his hole.
He didn’t realize it, but he was only two roads and a few blocks from his home. But since he had never been further than a block or two from his home on his own prior to last night, and always on the road that it faced, he might as well have been on the Moon, as lost as he was.
As a result, it was several hours later when he stumbled onto what he realized was the same road he’d started on the previous night, and recognized the urchins he usually played with.
“G’noon, Tommy,” one of them said. “I did’na ‘spect t’ see ya agin afta las’ ni’.”
“G’noon, Frankie,” Tommy replied. “Wha’cha mean, afta las’ ni’?”
“Ain’t’cha heerd? Yer pa kilt yer ma, an’ they pult her bod from th’ Erin this morn.”
“My ma’s bin kilt?”
“An’ my pa?”
“No’un knows. Prob’ly ran.”
Tommy wanted to just sit down and cry. But he couldn’t do that without the other boys teasing him, so he hid his feelings the best he could, slowly walked to his home and tried the door. It wasn’t shut tight, so he closed it behind him, sat at his chair, laid his head on the table, and only then let the tears run till they ran dry.
For the rest of the day he remained in the house, too tired and unhappy to stir from the kitchen. When he slept he slept on the floor of the cuddy that served as a pantry. When he was hungry he ate what he could find that didn’t have to be cooked. When he had to relieve himself he went to his parents’ room and did it on his father’s side of the bed. Then he ate or slept again.
By the next day he knew what he had to do. He had to go the Home, tell Rose that his mother was dead, and see if they’d be willing to take him in. It was late in the afternoon when he made the decision, and by the time he gathered his few possessions and gave up his search for any money that might have been left lying around, the Sun was going down, and in the narrow streets between the houses it was already getting dark.
He could have taken the straight path he took the first night, but his narrow escape at the alley made him afraid to go the same way. So he cut through the alleys from road to road until he was on the wide path that, all unknown to him, connected the western side of the north river road that ran past the Home to the large estates well to the east of the slums. Still, he felt sure that since the path ran past the back of the homes crowded against the Erindale it must pass the Home somewhere. So he trudged toward the slowly fading glow in the west.
Given his slow pace, and the fact that he had cut well to the east of his home to make sure he wasn’t anywhere near any place he’d been on the night he first left his home, it was getting dark by the time he passed the bridge. And with no moon out, and no abode to shed any light on his path, that meant it was getting very dark. Still, he now knew for sure that he was on the right path, so he just kept trudging along, his eyes dully watching the barely visible ground beneath him.
Suddenly there was a glare of light ahead of him, and as he raised his arm to cover his eyes, he heard the rattle of wheels and the pounding of horse hooves. Realizing that he was about to be run over, he threw himself to the side, and knew no more.
Tommy woke as if in a dream. He was in pain, so he couldn’t be dead ― or at least he hoped not, for he didn’t want to be in pain for the rest of Eternity, and surely he hadn’t lived long enough or done enough bad things to be sent to Hell.
Besides, Hell couldn’t have beds as big as a room and more comfortable than anything he’d ever slept in or worn, or furnishings that looked grander than any place he’d ever seen or imagined.Nor was Hell likely to have some kindly looking gentleman sitting near the bed he was in, let alone one who when he opened his eyes stood, walked over to him and said, “And how are you feeling, young man?”
“Turrible,” Tommy replied. “I ache a’ over.”
“That’s to be expected,” the man said. “From what I was told, you were lucky to have been merely knocked to the side of the road instead of being trampled. But the couple of broken bones you have should heal very nicely the way the doctor set them, and most of the other aches and pains should disappear in a day or three.” The man walked to a long embroidered piece of fabric that hung by the side of the bed and pulled on it, then sat down again.
“Master Hobbs should be here soon.”
“Master Hobbs. The gentleman whose carriage nearly ran you down and carried you here.”
“He car’ed me?”
“No. His carriage carried you here. You see, when one phrase refers to a given object, the next usually refers to the same object.”
“Fraze? Wha’ tha’?”
“I can see that you haven’t had much of an education.”
Though Tommy didn’t know all the strange words, let alone the strange accent the man uttered them in, he realized that he was talking about what his mother had called ‘teaching’ him.”
“My ma bin larnin’ me ABCs.”
“Ah. So you do have a mother. Master Hobbs will be glad to hear that.”
Tears rimmed Tommy’s eyes. “No. Pa kilt her.”
The man frowned. “That may make a difference. Still, there is always the Home.”
Tommy didn’t like the sound of that. He’d tried to go to the Home twice, and both times ended in disaster. That must mean he wasn’t meant to go there. But he didn’t say anything about that, as it obviously wasn’t his place to say anything unless asked to in a place like… wherever he was.
“So,” a jovial man said as he entered the room. “Our little patient has finally awakened?”
The new man leaned over the bed and looked at Tommy. “And how are you feeling, my lad?”
Tommy said more or less what he’d told the other man.
“Well, at least you’re awake. You know, you’ve been asleep for nearly two whole days since our unfortunate encounter.”
“Twa day? Wha’ day tis it?”
“Wednesday, the twenty-fifth.” The man winked his eye at the other man and smiled at Tommy. “Did you have some appointment you’ve missed because of that?”
“Na. Bible wi’ ma Sundays. But…” His eyes started to tear up again. “No mor’ wi’ ma…”
The first man moved close to the second one and whispered something into his ear. The second man frowned and nodded.
“Well, we needn’t talk about that. My wife wants you to stay here for a few days, until your injuries are better healed. So the only thing we need to worry about now is how to find any of your other relatives. So what is your name, young man?”
Tommy knew that if he told them his name, he might somehow be returned to his father, if he was still around. And he didn’t want that. So he tried to think of another name he could give them.
“Hard t’ member. Hed hurt.”
“I imagine that all of you hurts. But surely you can at least remember your name.”
Tommy’s eyes fell on a fat book lying on the bedside table. He couldn’t read what it said, but it reminded him of the fat book his mother read from on Sundays. What was that called? He frowned and tried to think, ignoring the pain the frown was causing. Then he remembered. It was something like King James Bible. James must be a good name, to be on a Bible. And he did know a boy with a similar name.
“Jamie,” he whispered.
“What?” the second man said, bending closer.
“Jamie,” Tommy said more loudly. “I’m Jamie.”
“Very good, Jamie. And do you have a family name?”
“That’s the name that tells one Jamie from another. As an example, my name is William. But there are many Williams. So I have another name as well, which I got from my father. He was Weston Hobbs, so I am William Hobbs. You see? We have different Christian names, but the same family name. So what’s your family name?”
“Got n’uther. I’m Jamie,” Tommy said, then more emphatically stated, “Jus’ Jamie.”
And that’s how ‘Tommy’ vanished without a trace.
Blind Man’s Bluff, mid-July, 1840
(Deleted from excerpt since partly recaps previous novel’s ending)
(Donton, Sunday, July 21, 1840)
(Deleted from excerpt since not as important as the following chapter)
(Monday and Tuesday, July 22/23, 1840)
Jamie and Moira’s friend Annie are in Donton on a business trip of sorts. They are sharing a suite at the Carlton Arms Hotel, registered as brother and sister, with her in the bedroom and him in the sitting room. This chapter was chosen as the excerpt because it is tied to the Prologue.)
Since Jamie had asked for someone to wake them around half-six, and they were both still suffering a bit from the rigors of their trip, despite their early bedtime morning seemed to come early on Monday. Still, despite some yawning on Annie’s part while she put on a casual outfit for their trip to the dining room next door, she was well awake by the time they returned to their room and donned their business clothes. And after consulting his list, Jamie hailed a cab and had it take them to the nearest publishing house: Griffin Press.
Unfortunately, that proved to be a futile exercise, for as the editor explained the company was in receivership, and the future owner had not yet decided what to do with the place, save for changing its name to Black Press. So though they would be trying to complete the few projects already in progress, they would not be accepting any new proposals in the foreseeable future. So Jamie crossed that off the list, and they took a cab to the next closest place, Good Works, which had a placard out front stating, “If it’s from Good Works, it’s a Great Buy!”
The editor there was more enthusiastic, saying that if it had been something of the sort that his company published, he would have been happy to have a sub-editor look at it, and see what he thought. “But we don’t publish children’s books. The illustrations make them far more expensive than books without colored illustrations, which makes them a risky investment. Why don’t you try this firm, instead?” He scribbled a name and address, and after a lengthy ride they found themselves at a loss, as there was nothing resembling his suggestion anywhere in the vicinity.
Jamie hailed yet another cabbie, showed him the note, and asked him if he had any idea whether the fellow who gave it to him had played a trick on them, or if there might be another explanation.
The cabbie rubbed his chin and supposed, “May be ‘e meant ‘artford Road, ‘stead o’ ‘arbor Drive. That be in the business part o’ town, it do.”
Jamie looked at the nearly illegible note and nodded. “I suppose he might have. Can you take us there?”
“‘Op in, an’ I’ll ‘ave you there in a few ticks.”
Fortunately, that guess proved right and they were soon standing outside Illustrated Classics. But to their dismay that name was all too accurate, as the firm only published illustrated versions of novels that had been best sellers for the best part of fifty years. So by lunchtime Jamie and Annie had visited three places and were no closer to finding a publisher for The Wee Little Man than when they left Benton.
Jamie steered Annie to the nearest dining room and ordered a lunch and some cool drinks, since despite being on the coast it seemed nearly as hot in Donton, dressed as they were, as it had been at Blind Man’s Bluff.
“I don’t know about you,” he said, “but after three such experiences, I don’t really feel like trying to do any more work today. I suppose we should try to find some way of getting a list of publishers who are more likely to be willing to take a look at the story, but in the meantime we should go back to our suite, change into more comfortable clothes, then go someplace you would like to go.”
“Would you mind going to one of the art museums? I’ve always wanted to see some of the great artists’ works in person, instead of just a black and white etching in one book or another.”
“I can’t promise I’ll be nearly as enthusiastic as you, but I promised you a good time, and if that’s what you want to do, I’m willing to take you. After all, even if I were bored to tears, anything would be better than this morning.”
“Well, I hope you won’t feel that way, but whether you are or not, I greatly appreciate your offer, as I’m sure it will be as interesting to me as I’ve always hoped.”
Nearly six hours later even Annie was tired and footsore, and since Jamie had had more information about painters and painting poured into his head than he’d ever heard or wanted to hear in his whole lifetime, he thankfully escorted her back to the hotel, where each of them freshened up, then once again went to the dining room next door.
“You know,” he said, “although this is a very nice place, and I like both the food and the prices, I’m sure there are other places we could try, if you’d like some variety.”
Annie looked up from her plate. “That would be nice if we can afford it; but I’m used to eating nearly the same kind of food most every day on the farm, so I’d be willing to eat every meal here if it would help.”
“I’m sure there are all sorts of dining rooms with similar prices but with fare from all over the continent in Donton. The only question is whether there are any as conveniently placed as this one. So perhaps we could eat breakfast and dinner here, but see if there are any places that aren’t too far from where we’ll need to go tomorrow morning.”
“And do you have a list of places to go, yet?”
“Not yet; but as you know, I stopped at the front desk on the way here. And what I asked the clerk was if he could get me a list of stores that sell illustrated books for children. For we could ask the proprietors of such stores if any of them come from publishers in Donton.”
“That sounds like an excellent idea,” Annie agreed, and after a moment’s thought suggested, “and perhaps we could also do the same thing at a public library. For then I could see what sort of things they have that the Benton Library doesn’t carry, and suggest that they add some of them to their list of future purchases.”
“I’d think that with all the books Gael has, you wouldn’t need to go to a library.”
“I’ll admit that he has an unbelievable collection, but there are some sorts of things, like art books, that are hard to get copies of second-hand; so I’m sure that a top-rate library would have many things that I’d like to see, but he can’t find or couldn’t afford.”
“I thought he was a well-to-do farmer; in fact he’d have to be to have a library like his, even if all the books are second-hand.”
“I’m sure he’s better off than almost any other farmer in the district, save perhaps Robertson; but he has a big family now, and before he met Mia he never made any effort to grow crops for sale. From what mama says, he was too depressed to do anything more than he absolutely had to do to keep body and soul together. Of course you wouldn’t realize it only knowing him now, but he looks better now in almost every way than he did when I was a little girl, and we called him ‘Old Gael’.”
“I suppose the love of a good woman changed him.”
“I’m sure it did. Mama often says that for a man to be truly happy he has to have a good woman to love and care for him; and Mia was obviously the perfect woman for Gael.”
“And what does a woman need to be truly happy?”
“Silly. She needs a good man to love and care for her!”
“Well, I hope you find such a man, for as vivacious a girl as you are, you deserve nothing less.”
“You, sir, are one of the most outrageous flatterers I‘ve ever met. And since you’re my ‘brother’, you shouldn’t be saying such things in a public place, even quietly.”
“Why not? Isn’t it true?”
“I suppose, at least during the wonderful treat you gave me today. But still, though I thank you for the kind words, none of my brothers has ever said anything like that. So I don’t think you should, either.”
He nodded. “All right. In that case I’ll ask for the bill, and we can go back to our suite and make plans for the morrow.”
“But can we make plans? We still don’t know where we need to go.”
“Hopefully, the desk clerk will have an answer to my question soon, and I’m sure he can tell us where the nearest library is without even having to think about it.”
“In that case I’ll start separating things we can take back to our room, so that when you get your bill we can get something to put them in at the same time.”
As it turned out the desk clerk said he should receive a list of several bookstores that sold children’s books within about twenty minutes, and knew exactly where the nearest library was; and when asked about a map of the area, said Jamie should be able to buy one at any of the nearby newsstands. So Jamie escorted Annie to their room, told her he’d be back in a few minutes and to bolt the door, then started to leave. But Annie opened the door and called out, “Jamie! We forgot to mail the letter!”
He turned back, said he’d arrange for that on his way out, left it at the front desk for just that purpose, then headed outside. Sure enough, there was a newsstand only half a block away, and though its owner was beginning to close up for the evening, he wasn’t at all unwilling to earn a bit extra, so Jamie was soon back in the room, poring over the map with Annie standing behind him and doing her best to follow the way he was marking it.
“The circles represent the bookstores on the list the clerk gave me, the square is the nearest library, and the ‘X’ is where we are now. We can take this with us tomorrow, and add symbols and other information for publishers and such at that time.”
Annie nodded. “With so many bookstores, hopefully there are several publishers, as well.”
“I hope so; though I also hope we won’t have to see all of them before we find one willing to publish the book and offer a royalty that will make it worth while. For if it costs us more for the trip than the royalties, though it should be a thrill for Moira to see it in print, it will be a dearly bought present.”
“But most of the cost is due to my coming; and since it’s probably the only time I’ll ever get to come here, you should think of it as a once in a lifetime present for me; and one I will never be able to adequately thank you for.”
“So despite this morning’s disappointments, I take it the visit to the museum more than made up for it?”
“Today was a day I shall always treasure, and though I know ― no, especially because I know ― it was a trial for you, I shall never forget your kindness.” With that she gave him a peck on the cheek and added, “Thank you, Jamie, and pleasant dreams.”
“Are you going to bed already?”
“I’m afraid so. For although I had a wonderful time today, all the running around we did has tired me more than I would have expected. So if we’re going to be doing more of the same tomorrow, I should go to bed now.”
“All right. Rest well, and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Unfortunately, the next morning was almost as useless as the previous one, as it turned out that most of the books in the bookstores were printed in other cities, and the same proved true at the library, though Annie supposed that if they’d been subscribers and been allowed to look at the books with colored plates that were kept in a special room they might have learned something useful. So though Jamie ended up with a list of several ‘possible’ places to try, most of them were pretty low on the list of places the booksellers usually bought from. Still, although between the library and the bookstores the entire morning was lost, he did have hope that the next day would prove more fruitful; and while going from one place to another he noticed an Italian dining room with decent prices on the chalkboard out front, and asked Annie if she’d ever had Italian food.
“Not that I know of. What is it like?”
“Why don’t we go back to the place and see?”
So in about twenty minutes they were seated at a small table in a colorfully decorated place, looking at bills of fare that told Annie absolutely nothing about what the foods connected to the words on the bill of fare were.
“I’d recommend the ragù alla napoletano con polpette e rigatoni and una piccola insalata con aceto balsamico.”
Annie stared at him. “What in the world are those?”
“Una piccola insalata con aceto balsamico is a small salad ― like a side dish ― with balsamic vinegar dressing, and ragù alla napoletano is a meaty tomato sauce made with raisins and various spices, and some kind of seeds which add to the texture more than the taste that is popular in Napoli, especially when mixed with or poured over polpette and rigatoni.”
“If you think I’ll enjoy that, I’m willing to try it… but I have no idea what some of those words mean.”
“You know what meatballs are, of course.”
“I suppose they must be some kind of meat, rolled into a ball.”
“That’s pretty much it, since depending on the country and sometimes even the inn you’re in, the meat could be almost anything, from fish to fowl to pigs, rabbits, beef or even horsemeat. Polpette are meatballs anywhere from half an inch to an inch in size, usually made of one of the cheapest meats available, and served either plain or with sauce. In this case the balls are soaked in Neapolitan-style sauce ― the ragù alla napoletano ― then everything is placed on one kind of cooked pasta or another. Rigatoni is a particular kind of pasta popular with the Neapolitan version of the dish, and most of those in our camp loved the meal, because it’s tasty and being made of inexpensive meats, you can get a lot of food for a moderate price.”
Throughout much of this discussion Annie’s eyes had been wide and her mind somewhat dazed, but she seized on one thing she thought she’d heard of before. “Napoli sounds familiar. Did you write about it in one of your letters to Moira?”
He nodded. “Yes. It’s a major seaport, and therefore a convenient place to arrange a match when you’re traveling mostly by ship, as we did in our latest overseas trip. Of course I mostly wrote about the various things we did, rather than what we ate, or the various attractions that we were told about, but didn’t have time to see, like Herculaneum and Pompeii. Though we could see Monte Vesuvio, as that’s a large volcano not far from Napoli, so that in some ways it towers over the city.”
“I think I’ve heard of Pompeii. Isn’t that some sort of buried city that’s been under excavation for a while?”
“Yes. It and Herculaneum were destroyed and their remains buried by an eruption of the volcano about eighteen centuries ago, and have been under some form of excavation or other for most of the last two centuries. From what we were told, they provide some of the best views of what the homes of wealthy ancient Romans were like.”
At this point the waiter who had been patiently waiting for them to order finally asked if they were ready.
“Yes,” Jamie said. “We’ll each have ragù alla napoletano con polpette e rigatoni with an extra half serving of polpette for me, and una piccola insalata con aceto balsamico, with the aceto balsamico sul lato.”
“Certo, signore. And would you and the signorina like some drinks?”
“Do you sweeten your limonata?”
“No, but we provide zucchero, so the customer can sweeten it to their taste.”
“In that case, una carafa per quattro e zucchero. Inoltre, I don’t see gelato napoletano on the fattura del prezzo. Is that available?”
“How large is a single serving?”
The waiter used his hand to show the size.
“In that case, depending on the signorina’s appetite, we’ll have one or two servings when we are done with the rest of our meal. And since it’s warm today, per favore put molto ghiaccio nei bicchieri and bring the limonata and such al momento.”
“I know you’ve traveled around a lot,” Annie noted, “but I’m amazed at how you rattled off the names of the items you ordered.”
Jamie smiled. “I learned a little…” (he held his thumb and first finger slightly apart to illustrate ‘a little’) “…Italian while at Hobbs Hall, and you can hardly spend two weeks dining in a foreign town without learning the names of most of the things you eat, and if it’s a good idea to ask for an alteration of how it is served. For instance, if I hadn’t asked for the dressing ‘on the side’ the salad might have been drowned in it, and though it would be very tasty at first, by the third or fourth bite it might make you feel too ill to take another one. Aceto balsamico is an excellent dressing, but a little of it goes a long way.”
His discussion was interrupted by the return of the waiter with their lemonade and salads. And though Annie was surprised by how lovely the bicchieri were compared to the glass tumblers used by the dining room next to the Carlton, thanks to the fact that Jamie’s suggestions proved just as tasty to Annie as they did to him, little more was said other than how good the food was till after they left the dining room.
“So,” Jamie said, “now that you’ve been fed and watered, what would you like to do this afternoon?”
“I think the first thing we should do is go back to our rooms, so I can ‘freshen up’.”
“That’s fine with me. I could use such a break as well. But do you know what you want to do afterward?”
She looked at him in obvious uncertainty. “I know it’s a terrible imposition… but would you mind going back to the art museum? I know I got to look at a lot of paintings yesterday, but from what I understand there’s a good statuary collection there as well, and I’ve never seen a real statue. For except for some children’s books, none of Gael’s books have pictures, and even the art books in the Benton Library only have black and white etchings of various busts.”
As it happened, Jamie had seen a number of statues while overseas, and couldn’t help but wonder how Annie would react when she saw what ancient Greeks and Romans thought of clothing or the lack of it. So he smiled and said he could stand another hour or three of that.
As it turned out his guess was correct, for despite her enthusiastic appreciation of how well done the statues were, Annie turned an enchantingly rosy shade when she realized how many of them were of nude men or women, and very rosy while trying to view and not view a piece showing a nude man and woman who were, to put it mildly, enjoying each other’s company.
“So,” he said as they left the gallery, “what did you think of the statues?”
“The craftsmanship was unbelievable… but how in the world can such things be put on display? If it were possible, I think I would have died of embarrassment.”
“The ancients felt that the human body was the most beautiful of all forms, and covering it was a crime. From what I’ve read, in ancient Greece it wasn’t uncommon for grown men to walk around without clothes even in public places, and their sporting events were carried out entirely in the nude. Of course females weren’t considered the equals of men, and even courtesans were expected to wear some kind of covering in public. But since female statues aren’t real women there was no desire to clothe them, save in cases where the sculptor wanted to show off his skill by creating the appearance of clothes which did nothing to conceal what lay beneath the ‘fabric’, and required a master’s touch to achieve.”
“I don’t understand. I know you’ve traveled a lot, but how can you possibly know so much about so many things?”
“That’s because I was raised at Hobbs Hall, as a companion for Miss Hobbs. When I arrived I was five and she was three; and though her brother was also about five, he hated having her trailing after him and his companions all the time. So her mother, to whom I owe everything I am, told her husband, Master Hobbs, that I should be given the job of being a playmate for Miss Hobbs. And she became so attached to me that when she had lessons, she refused to do them unless I was given lessons as well, so she’d have someone to practice with. As a result I received an education that very few men not born to wealthy parents could hope to receive.”
“I suppose that’s why you can write with such a beautiful hand?”
“I prefer to think of it as a masterful hand, but yes.”
“And to fill your letters with such enthralling prose?”
“That’s partly due to my education, but mostly due to the books of poetry and prose I read to Miss Hobbs to try to amuse and keep her in a good mood, even when she was suffering the most from her maladies.”
“You must have become good friends.”
“Very good friends. In fact she wanted me to call her Elisabeth instead of Miss Hobbs; but as a houseboy, I couldn’t agree to that wish, as her father would have...”
“Is that all you were? A houseboy?”
“Well, of course my main job was to serve Miss Hobbs, but when she didn’t require my services I was treated as the lowest of the staff, and did all the odd jobs that no one else wanted to do.”
“That seems strange. If you were valued enough to be Miss Hobbs’ companion, why would you be treated so poorly at other times?”
“When I arrived at Hobbs Hall it was because I was accidentally run down by Hobbs’ carriage, and his wife insisted I be taken to the Hall and cared for there; and as I said, it was at her insistence that I was given the job as Miss Hobbs’ companion. But Hobbs himself could never forget that I was just a street urchin ― a child of one of the families that live in the slums on the north side of the river, to the east of the bridge over the Erindale. And though he yielded to his wife’s desires, and after she died to Miss Hobbs’ insistence on keeping my company and the fact that I did a better job of keeping her in good spirits than anyone else, he could never forget that I was not of a proper class to serve anyone of high station; and though the other servants had occasional contact with such people, I wasn’t allowed to do anything that might bring me in contact with any of them.”
“But if you had a family, even if they lived in the slums, why weren’t you returned to them?”
“Because my father killed my mother shortly before I was run down, and to avoid the risk of being sent back to him, I lied when I told them my name.”
“So you aren’t really Jamie?”
“Yes, I am. Everything I am dates from the night I was taken to Hobbs Hall. And when I came to, the child I had been died, and Jamie replaced him.”
After that Annie was very quiet and pensive all the way back to the hotel, but once in their suite she turned to Jamie.
“Jamie, I’m sorry that you had such a hard beginning, and in many respects such a hard life. But I’m glad to know that thanks to what happened to you, both before and after you left Hobbs Hall, you are the kindest and most interesting person I’ve ever met; and I’m glad I have you to show me around Donton, as I’m sure no one else could do a better job of it.”
Jamie blinked his surprise, then smiled. “I’m glad you think that, whether it’s true or not. For though I fear we have a hard task ahead of us, I’m sure that being with you will make it almost as pleasant as if we were merely good friends going on an extended vacation.”
Annie swiped at the tears rimming her eyes and asked, “You won’t mind if I give you a ‘sisterly’ goodnight kiss like I did last night, will you?”
“Mind? Between you and Moira I now have the two most beautiful ‘sisters’ in the world. So how could I mind such a peck on the cheek?”
“I know you are an outrageous flatterer. But I shall accept the flattery, even though I’m sure it’s not correct, and wish you a very good night.” And with that she gave him a peck on the cheek and went to her room. But though she eventually went to sleep, she spent a very long time thinking about what he’d told her, and wondered if the way he had raised her spirits after the disaster at Warrick House was due to his being accustomed to being so kind and caring to Miss Hobbs. She hoped he didn’t think of her as still suffering in some way, as she couldn’t imagine enjoying anyone else’s company as much as his, and would far prefer to have him think of her as someone who was fun to be with, as well. And to ensure that she would have to be on her very best behavior, and never give him any reason to regret the burden he’d accepted by promising to take good care of her.
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