Page the Second


A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi. (In front of you, a precipice. Behind you, wolves.)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Smidgen of MUDLARKS

Welp. That felt good. It always feels great to help someone. I'm going to put a snippet of MUDLARKS on. For your information, Joss has gotten himself into a tight spot in more ways than one. Sam the Sweep is forcing him to steal the Duchess of Wellington's diamond necklace while pretending to work for another chimney sweep.
The practice of setting a fire under him is a well-documented ploy, resulting in several well-known phrases we still use today. (Hopefully the practice of lighting a fire under the Climbing Boy has ceased.) I may add the info I learned about sweeps and climbing boys a little later. Until then:

Joss groaned inwardly as he climbed the ladder. Sam the Sweep was too drunk on his own reputation for good luck. His cheerfulness worked like the sooty grit, grinding into Joss's soul. Any time, now, Joss thought, I'll get just a bit bigger and never have to be a Climbing Boy again, for I'll be too big to fit down the chimneys. No more skin as black as the Foul Pits, no more of Sam's devilish hot-foot remedies for stuck or reluctant boys, and no more worrying that I'll suffocate to death, lodged in a chimney.
He crawled along the roof tree until he reached the first large stack. The Duke of Wellington is rich as Croesus. His fireplaces must be cavernous indeed. He leaned over and called down the flue, “Halloo there,” in Robbie Tidewell's voice.
There was a muffled answer, and then a louder, “Tis 'bout time ye were coming down. Shake a leg, Robbie, ye lazy lout.”
“Mam gave me a meat pie. I'm that full,” Joss shouted down.
“T'will be yer last iffen ye don't 'urry.” The voice was gruff with aggravation, making Joss think the man would probably pull Sam's trick if he didn't hurry. A lit fire hurried a Climbing Boy up nicely, so they said. It also often killed that boy. Joss nearly flew down the chimney, stopping only a little to scrub at some clinker, which showered down, making it appear he was working like a whirlwind.
Just as Joss feared, the chimney opened up as big as a vestibule with very few footholds. In fact, he had to jump down the last few yards.
“Took yer own sweet time, Robbie. Sweep the rest of the soot and clinker into your bag an' I'll go start on the next room. Ye'll sleep warm tonight in this lot. Coals are still warm.”
Joss refused to sleep in a bag of soot, no matter how warm the coals. But he smiled and began to sweep up the piles of clinker and dust. As soon as the other man was out the door, Joss flashed the piles into his bag and left it while he took off his sweep's slippers. Clean feet would leave no prints. He had to be careful not to leave prints of any kind. Prints would get them turned off without a character, which would, in return, cause bad luck for the household.
Never had he seen such breathtaking opulence, even as a viscount's son. The walls and carpets were crimson and gold medallions and lined with paintings and sculptures. The air was redolent of beeswax and polish and the scent of banks of flowers. Joss took only an instant to appreciate it, before he began his search for the Duchess Kitty's rooms. He avoided the next room in the corridor and hopped ahead.
At last, when he had despaired of finding it, he came to the Duchess' rooms. So spacious and elegant.
And there, just as Sam had somehow known, lay the necklace.
Joss held his breath, not wanting to disturb that glinting piece, that marvel of coruscating rainbows and shimmering beauty. He had no words with which to describe it, even to himself.
For just a second he paused to admire the fifteen large cabochons and the center pendant the size of a hen's egg.
Then he sucked in a great gout of air and snatched the carelessly tossed bauble, stowing it, not in his pocket where any searcher might look, but down his britches.
He schooled his face into a semblance of calm, although his heart pounded like a rabbit's as it runs from a fox. He could not run, only go as quickly as he normally ran in large houses or they'd think it amiss. He'd forgotten how many rooms he'd passed, galleries and drawing rooms and the great banquet hall where Wellington had held his Waterloo banquet. The heady aroma of the flowers made him lightheaded as he tried to remember which room he had come through.
And there it was. Only now the sweep occupied it, the steam boiling from his ears as he waited impatiently for “Robbie.”
“Sorry, Sir. I 'ad to use the necessary,” he croaked, trying desperately to calm his thudding heart.
“Git on wi' it. We 'ave more chimneys to do than ye can shake a stick at.” The man glared at him, almost as if he could see the shapes of the stones through the thin fabric of “Robbie's” trouser leg.
Joss wordlessly took up his bag and began climbing back up the chimney. There had been no time to secrete the gems in his bag of clinker. That went out with the sweep, at any rate. How exposed he felt.
The climb was quick work until he got to the narrower portion. Suddenly the flue seemed alarmingly small, cutting off Joss's breath in a rare fit of claustrophobia.
He felt the necklace begin to slip.
Joss closed his eyes, praying the strand would stay where he'd stashed it.
Every upward movement he made, the necklace slid further down.
Joss could not stop climbing, or the sweep would light a fire beneath him.
Or the jewels would fall.
Another inch.
He could feel the necklace dipping below his knee, the gems cutting into the skin of his knee.
The sweep looked up at him.
Joss knew it because the man's voice came sharply to his ears. “Ye are the slowest brat on earth. P'raps a bit o' warmth to light yer way and get yer blood a-pumpin'.”
Joss bent his leg a tiny bit, hopping to stop the gems from slipping, and the sweep from seeing the gleam of them as Joss climbed.
The bricks of the fireplace started to heat.
He had to move.
Smoke seethed around him, causing his eyes to burn. I swear I'll kill the man, Joss vowed to himself.
He reached down, the journey extremely slow.
At last Joss could reach the protuberance which had his trousers caught.
Agonizingly slowly, he freed the fabric and snaked his arm back up to grab for the next hold.
The necklace slipped, plunging downward into the Stygian, smoky darkness.
© 2016 by H. Linn Murphy


  1. Indeed. And that's just a taste. More Dickens-y goodness on the way sometime. Care to Beta read it?