Finding a Way: Background Chapters – part three

Over the last two Saturdays, I’ve shown you the original first chapter of ‘Finding a Way.’ Today, you have the first half of the original, unpublished second chapter. If you’ve read the book, you’ll notice that some of what is in here made it into the final draft. It wasn’t until I was about halfway through the story that I realised a couple of events in this cut chapter were needed after all, so I took the sections from here and reworked them into a later chapter. That’s how it goes!

The second part will be up next Saturday. On Wednesday, I will tell you the latest news about ‘A Fall from Grace’, the Delamere Files series part two.

I also have a promotion running, or rather, am part of one. You should have received a newsletter email about this (if you’re not on the list, the link is at the top of the page in the menu). If you want, you can head straight to the Book Funnel page and see what LGBTQ+ Romantic Mystery novels are currently on offer.

Here’s the first half of the original second chapter of Finding a Way:



The cabmen kept their word, and Jack kept his. Rising at five each day to study maps by lantern light, he followed Uncle Bob’s instructions, and learnt the street names one square at a time. The younger cabbie, Charlie Flex, who Jack took to instantly, gave him the tricks of linking streets in his mind, remembering patterns, and told him what to listen for.

‘A list of names ain’t no good no no-one when the fog’s in, you can’t see a dog’s dick’s length ahead, and you’re travelling blind,’ Charlie told him on their fourth night out. ‘It’s then you need to know how the roads sound.’


‘Yer. Listen to the wheels and the nag’s hooves. We’re on Kingsland Road, see? Pits, knocks, gravel here and there, get it?’


‘Now, turn next left by the Dodgy George, and we’ll be in Harman Street, and how do I know that?’

‘’Cos Pearson Street’s on the right going north.’

‘Good man. Listen how the sound changes. Getting towards poorer parts here, see? Dreadful road. Not flat. What’s next?’

‘Straight on and we’ll cross Hoxton Road.’

‘Good man. So, what if I want Ivy?’

‘Street or Lane, Sir?’

Charlie had told Jack to treat him as a customer, and to be polite no matter how drunk, obnoxious or hostile his fares were, and had worked with him on previous nights to better his language.

‘I want the Lane, but wait a minute. Close your eyes. It’s alright, Blister knows what she’s about. Go on, and you’ll know when you’re in Ivy Lane.’

Jack did as he was told, and with the ribbons slack in his hands, allowed the horse to lead. When he felt a jolt, he thought his companion had unbalanced the hansom, but it was the cab dipping, twice, and then the only sound came from Blister’s horseshoes.

‘Double drain beside the Turkish bathhouse,’ Charlie said, as Jack looked behind. ‘A good marker on a dark and foggy night, and there’s loads more to get to know. Now, let’s say I want to get to De Beauvoir.’

‘Square, Crescent or Road, Sir?’

‘Square. How will you get me there?’

‘Easy, Sir. Quickest is back to Kingsland, north, over the canal…’ A while later, Jack continued his commentary. ‘Next right’s Hertford, but it’s a dead end, and I ain’t leaving my fare to walk, not if he’s rich enough to live in De Beauvoir. Two right turns on is De Beauvoir Road, but before that, there’s Mortimer, and that leads straight into the square where I’ll ask him which side.’

‘Well done,’ Charlie said, and gave him a matey hug before letting go to tighten his coat against the night.

It was only a touch, but it meant something. The pair were snuggled in close on the bench. Built only for one, the space was cramped, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, there was something reassuring about being forced close to Charlie, a married man in his thirties, a supporter of the temperance movement and a nonconformist churchgoer. However, it wasn’t the thought of Charlie’s abstinence or piety that thrilled Jack and made his heart skip, nor was it the praise he gave when Jack made the turns with accuracy. Nor was it the friendship shown to him by Uncle Bob and his colleagues, and particularly by Charlie, who had encouraged and praised him the most. There was something else; something undefinable caused by the brief hug. It was only a show of manly support, and as affectionate as anyone had been with him, but because it came from a man and not doting old Ida nor daft young Will, it brought a sensation that chilled as much as it thrilled. If Charlie knew what reaction his touch had caused, he’d likely throw him from the bench and drive the hansom over him, church-going or not, because that was how men were taught to react to the abnormal interests of other men, an interest that had been stirring within Jack for some years now. Always denied, never expressed, but impossible to ignore, the thought that he was somehow different to normal men plagued his mind when he allowed it to, and although he kept the thought as deeply covered as he could, it rose to the surface in moments such as the one that had just passed.

To send it back to the depths, he remained silent and listened to the wheels and hooves.

‘Smoother road,’ he said. ‘And here’s the square, Sir.’

‘Good. Now, you got the Hackney map in your head?’

‘I have.’

‘Then, cabbie, I want to go first to Haggerston Park, then on to Limehouse. We’ll finish there. Quickest route, if you will, it’s damn freezing.’

The weather became colder as the weeks passed, but no matter if the night was marred by rain or was clear of cloud, and no matter if there was fog or snow, Jack took up his place with one of the cabmen, and drove. His days became a routine of learning maps, walking to the docks, doing his duties there, returning home, putting pennies in the food jar, and shillings in the rent pot, spending an hour with Will, and walking to Limedock station to start his five hours learning the knowledge. Ida was successful in claiming a little from the church to see them through Reggie’s illness, and Will took in some sewing, using what little he earnt to pay doctors. A stream of learned men came to the dwelling, each one poking this and asking that, but all any could say was that Reggie’s condition would never change. In fact, he would deteriorate, one said, and Ida should be saving for a funeral in the spring.

When it came, spring brought no change in Jack’s routine, though, by then, the long days had begun to take their toll. Sleep was the only break from the grind, and it came quicker and deeper. If it weren’t for Mary the knocker-up, he’d not have seen the mornings, and if it wasn’t for Will’s meticulousness in preparing Jack’s clothing and meal pack for work, he’d not have eaten. When he caught influenza, Will and Ida rallied around, forced him to stay abed for three whole days, while, despite his lame leg, Johnny Clarke from next door took Jack’s place at the docks, so he wouldn’t lose his job. Johnny took the wages for those days, of course, but his mother, Elsie, had a good run on her straw bonnet making, and was able to lend the family the shillings Jack had lost. There were no rides out during those nights. Instead, Jack studied his maps and had Will test him, even though his head thumped, his stomach was weak, and he could hardly speak.

‘Essex Street to Trafalgar Square,’ Will challenged.

‘Essex Street, Temple?’

‘Yes, from that Essex Street.’

The image of several squares flashed across Jack’s internal vision, black and grey lines, blocks, typeface and symbols, quickly replaced by the actual image of the streets, and Charlie beside him for the first part, Albert Cranny for the second.

‘It’s a dead end, so I’d turn her north, up to Saint Clement Danes, left into the Strand and straight down to Trafalgar. Try something harder.’

‘I will when you get that one right.’

‘I did. Ain’t no easier way.’

‘Ah, but there is a faster way,’ Will said, mopping Jack’s brow. ‘You could have turned left into Little Essex Street, right at the printworks on Milford Lane, and reached the Strand without having to wait for the traffic coming out of Temple Bar. You’d have saved a couple of minutes.’

Jack wasn’t surprised he’d missed a cut-through, he was surprised that Will had given him the correction without looking at the map.

‘You been learning these with me?’ he croaked.

‘Of course,’ Will replied, seemingly just as surprised that Jack needed to ask.

The influenza still had a grip on Jack when he returned to work, but he sweated it out, as Elsie Clarke said he should, and he returned to his routine of study, labouring, driving and learning, until one day in April, when, on returning from the docks, he found Uncle Bob, Albert and Charlie gathered at Reggie’s bedside. Ida was crying in the kitchen room, and Will was pacing the few steps from the sink to the window agitated, and counting seconds.

‘What is it?’ Jack said, throwing down his lunch pale, instantly knowing something was wrong.

‘Saying goodbye. Sixty. Twelfth minute, one, two…’

‘The doctor just left,’ Ida sniffed. ‘You best go in.’

Reggie was dying, Uncle Bob said, and seeing Jack’s consternation, laid a hand on his shoulder and told him he’d not got long.

‘You’re nearly there, Skip. You’ll get your licence in a week or so. Believe me.’

‘Believe in yourself,’ Charlie said as he also prepared to leave. ‘I’ll miss our time on the bench, Jack, but if you ever want to ride out, just to be alone, you can call on me, yeah?’

It was a troubled moment. On the one hand, Jack’s eyes were fixed on Reggie’s white face, and his drooping, sunken eyes, while all he could hear was Charlie offering to be alone and giving a strange message as if in code.

‘Just to talk,’ Charlie said, and left Jack wondering if he’d read his thoughts.

Alone with his grandfather, Jack sat beside him and took his limp hand, while in the background came sobs and numbers.

‘You going, Reggie?’ he whispered.

Reggie’s reply was a mumble, and a gasp, but the head made a tiny nodding movement, and his face screwed up as he concentrated.

‘You… Willie…’ the words were more than faltering, but Jack listened with patience. ‘Take care… My… Ida. Your… Brother…’ A sucking-in of saliva, a faint gasp. ‘Need you.’

‘I’ll look after your Ida, Granddad, don’t you worry.’ Determined to be the man, Jack held back tears. ‘I’ve nearly got it. I’ll have your old hansom back on the streets right soon.’

‘Promise you’ll… remember… Willie… is… Special.’

‘I know. He’s very special to me.’

‘Not stupid. Special.’

‘Shush, granddad. Rest.’

‘No… Point. Will… Special’

Ida and Will joined them, standing by the death bed, their sadness wrapped by acceptance, and with Will now silently mouthing his numbers as he counted the time from the doctor’s diagnosis to the moment Reggie Merrit drew his last breath.

‘Sixteen minutes, twenty-two seconds,’ he said, as Ida closed her husband’s eyelids, and lay her head on his chest.

Jack stared at the scene, hollow, exhausted, and frightened for what he now had to take on, but trepidation vanished when Will, his counting concluded, took him in his arms, and hugged him tighter than he’d ever done.

‘We’ll manage,’ he said. ‘I got my brother, you got yours. I love you, Jack.’

Jack filled his lungs, gripped his brother, and swallowed.

‘Love you too.’

‘Was it the enemas?’

Jack found it hard not to chuckle. His brother was one moment sincere, the next, innocent, but always, as Reggie had said with his last breath, special.

‘No, it wasn’t that.’

‘He’s with God now.’ Ida stood, and straightened her apron as if they’d just finished a meal and the table had to be cleared. ‘I best get the neighbours in. Willie, put water to boil for washing him, and fetch the towels from the drawer. He picked out his suit and his cabbie’s tie. Bob will tell the others at the rank, Jack, so you find the vicar. We’ll bury him proper at Tower Hamlets. I’ve been saving. The men’ll want to follow in their cabs, tell the vicar that, and say we only need a short service by the grave. It’s in a decent spot and there’s a place for me alongside.’


‘No time to grieve, son. We’ve work to do.’

As Ida predicted and wanted, Reggie was escorted to his grave by a line of hansom cabs, with Jack driving behind the funeral cart supervised by Uncle Bob, and Reggie’s other friends following. The service was simple and silent, save for the vicar’s words, but the gathering at the Waterman’s Arms afterwards was a boisterous celebration of one man’s long life.

That done, and the black crepe removed from the kitchen mirror, Jack’s life returned to what it had been as if the man who’d brought him up hadn’t existed. The only reminder was a photograph of Reggie in his coffin, donated by his cabbie colleagues as a memorial, and placed above the bedroom mantelpiece by Ida.

‘You boys will soon have this room to yourself,’ she said, looking at it with fondness. ‘I can’t leave him to his own devices for long.’

‘Don’t say that, Grandma,’ Will complained.

‘A bed to yourself, Willie. Look forward to it,’ she replied. ‘No, you won’t have to wait long.’

Continued next Saturday.

Meanwhile, take a look at what’s on offer here:

Finding a Way: Background Chapters – part two

Today, as promised, you have the second part of the first chapter of ‘Finding a Way’ that was cut and replaced with the first chapter as you have it now… Confused? Don’t be.

Last Saturday we had part one, and today part two, so you can always go back to last week’s post to start from the beginning. This chapter (and the one I will post next week), constituted the original opening for the book. I later decided they were more about me telling myself the backstory, and I ditched them, using only the salient parts in the final draft.

Just to remind you, this is 1st draft material and has not been properly proofread.

Will was more than Jack’s best friend and brother; he was also his responsibility and had been since he was born. On the outside, his younger brother was as fit and able as any twenty-year-old, as bonny as any other young man who lived on a diet of whatever Grandma Ida could find for the few shillings remaining after Reggie’s cab week, and although narrow of body, he was not underfed and never looked starved. It was inside that his problem lay, a problem no doctor had yet been able to name or treat.

Whatever the name for his strangeness, Will was not an imbecile. Jack had taught him to read and write, their grandmother had taught him to sew and wash clothes, but no employer would entertain him on account of his mannerisms; the way chairs had to be square-on to the table, the cutlery perpendicular, the plates washed twice, and the bedding turned down just so. There were never complaints or tantrums if these things were not done to Will’s satisfaction, he would merely move the furniture he thought out of place, or brush the dust from the blanket, turn the pot on the stove to the correct angle, or untie Jack’s boot laces when left by the door, and set them straight. To the family, this was just how Will was, but to anyone else, they were signs of inherent madness, and to strangers, that made him untrustworthy.

When his brother was twelve, Jack persuaded his foreman to give Will a day ticket to work. He wanted to prove to himself and the family that his brother could do more than read books, or stare at the embroidery hanging over the mantelpiece until, driven by frustration, he took it down, unpicked every strand, and sewed it back together because one stitch had been incorrect. Jack had faith in him, and Will was keen to show he could be useful.

The foreman was not impressed. Charged with stacking the sacks Jack was unloading from a clipper, Will was set to work in a warehouse where older, gruffer men swore and whistled as they hauled and handled. Having delivered his first load, and shown Will what to do, Jack returned to the ship to take on a second wagon-full and drove the cart back to the stores. There, to his dismay, he found Will had set the sacks in a line, opened them, and was transferring grain from one to the other so that each was exactly the same level. They were discovered before Jack could put things right, and Will was dismissed on the spot. Had Jack not spent years in the docks lifting and carrying, tending horses, and making himself invaluable, he too would have been out of work, but he was strong, reliable and never complained. The foreman docked him two day’s pay, and told him to ‘Get that idiot out of my stores,’ and he never tried the experiment again.

Will was not an idiot, and neither was Jack. It was clear to see that without two incomes, the family would soon be homeless. The rooms were not big enough to take in lodgers, although apartments with ten in two rooms was not uncommon in their street, but Ida had standards, and they were to be kept no matter the pain in the stomach or the chill in the air. It was bad enough for four of them to sleep in one room, live and eat in the other, and share the privy with four families, so renting out space was not an option. Nor was increasing his hours at the docks, because the company didn’t allow that, and neither would it have been possible for him to find night work and labour twenty-four hours a day.

There was only one way Jack could think of to earn enough to support everyone, and it involved a walk, a lot of thinking and a risk. If the first stage of his barely thought-out plan was a success, several months of hard work would follow, and that would have to be done while he continued to work his docker’s ticket. At some point, there would be a test, and he would need a license, but he was a fast learner, and already knew the layout of the East End. Learning the rest would take time, but it was not an impossible task and, thanks to Reggie’s years on the rank, he had contacts.

One of them was exactly where Jack knew he would be, smoking his pipe outside Limehouse railway station, chatting to another cabman, and complaining about the weather. On seeing Jack, the old man removed his cap and waved it towards his hansom while throwing up his arms.

‘Reggie can’t work,’ Jack called ahead. ‘Had a fit.’


‘Had a fit,’ he repeated when he arrived, hot but not out of breath after the long walk. ‘Can’t work no more.’

‘Why, you be pulling a me leg, ain’t you, Skip?’

Mr Hart had called Jack that name since he could remember. Skip Jacks were the boys of nag dealers, employed to ride them during sales, and Jack was good with horses.

‘Ain’t, Mr Hart. Grandad got a shock and fell down. Doctor says there’s no getting him right.’

Jack told him what had happened, and Hart passed on the news to his fellow cabmen, all of whom offered their sympathies and promised to visit when they could.

‘Yeah, well, he don’t need sympathy and hellos,’ Jack said, filling his pipe as the men returned to their groups and fares. ‘He needs a favour, Mr Hart. Rather, I do, and I was hoping you’d help me out with it.’

‘I’ll do what I can, son, but I’m guessing you’re heading for the lend of money, and I can’t ask the Mission to help you with that.’

‘That’s not it. I got my six days a week at West India. It won’t keep us for long, and I ain’t got none put by, none of has, but I got a plan, and I need your help with it.’

‘Not following you, Skip,’ Mr Hart said, holding a match to the bowl of Jack’s pipe.

‘Knowledge, Mr Hart, that’s what I want. Can you help me with it?’

‘Now you’re thinking I’m some schoolteacher? You sure it ain’t you what’s had a fit?’

‘No. I need to learn the streets.’

One of the first things Jack remembered about his grandfather’s oldest friend was the way his eyebrows met in the middle when he pulled a face. He was sure he’d done it to him as a baby, because behind him in the distant vision, were Reggie and Ida, laughing, and Jack could recall stretching out a hand and touching the strange man’s side whiskers. They had been black then, but now they were as white as a new sheet, as were his eyebrows which met, not to cause laughter, but in confusion.


‘How long will it take me? I know most of Whitechapel and Limehouse, Millwall of course, and far up as Mile End, but…’

‘Now hang on, Skip. What you saying? You want to take over Reggie’s cab?’

‘That’s the measure of it.’

‘You can’t just do that. ’Ere!’ Hart called to another on the rank. ‘Skip thinks he can get up there and nick our job quick as you like. Wants to learn the knowledge.’

‘Let him,’ one of the others called down from his seat before snapping his whip and clattering into traffic.

‘Yer, get started now, Skip, and you might be driving come Christmas,’ another encouraged. ‘You understand the nags, you only got a learn the rest.’

‘Christmas next year at least,’ Mr Hart said. ‘You can’t just get in a cab and off you go, Son. You got a learn…’

‘The streets. I know, and you know them, and you know what’s the easiest way for me to remember them. Will you learn me?’

‘What, just like that?’ Hart flicked away the match and laughed. ‘Getting the test’ll take you two years, and you never stop learning. They keep putting in new roads, new buildings going up, even new bloody bridges, which, I admit, are easier to find. You got a know not only your patch, but anywhere from Enfield to Epsom, what theatres chuck out what time, what master’s yard offers decent rates, and none of them do, not no more. Then there’s your charges. How you going to start if you ain’t got nothing put by? No, Son, you want to step into Reggie’s shoes, then get yourself better docking. You’re built for that, so stick to it. You’ve always been good at lifting and carting, you don’t want a be sitting up there in all weathers freezing your Tommy’s off, and getting the rheumatism from the wind. You’ll turn to drink when you’re bored, and there’s never a guarantee you’re going to make any more than the East India pays you.’

Jack had expected this and, on his way, had made his calculations.

‘I see it this way, Mr Hart. I get twenty-four shillings a week from the docks. If Grandma Ida can get some poor relief on the rent for a couple of months, my pay’ll cover all else, with some put aside. Hold on…’ Pointing his pipe prevented the old man from interrupting. ‘I know what you’re going to say. Reggie was putting out over a hundred and fifty pounds a year to rent the hansom and horse, right? It’s twelve shillings a week for winter, up to nineteen ’round Derby and Ascot weeks, but at that time, I can make three quid on each ride to the races, and it’s back to eleven a week come August. To pay the hire, yard and boy, I got to make ten shillings a day, six days a week to keep even, but there’s more than five million potential fares a day out there, so I reckon there’s room for me. I got the costs in me head, and I know what I’ll need to pay for the house and Will on top. You know Will can’t work much on account of his strangeness, but he’s been taking in some sewing, and now we’re going to need medicines for Reggie, and Ida’s getting along towards seventy, though she takes in a bit of washing. I thought it through, Mr Hart. I just need to know how to learn the streets, and how to get me licence. I’ll rent from Harris on me own badge same as you and Reggie. Now then, you’ve been Reggie’s best man since before me dad was born—Oh, he died last night, by the way, but none of us is bothered. So, I reckon, if you want to help your oldest mate, right now dribbling down his chin cos one half of him’s not working, the least you can do is point me in the right direction.’

‘That was quite a speech,’ someone said after a moment’s silence. ‘The lad’s thought about it.’

Other cabbies had come to listen, because there was never much to do at that time of day in Limehouse, and the next train wasn’t due in for ten minutes.

‘Yeah. Thought about it for the half hour it took him to walk over,’ Mr Hart said, studying Jack with his yellowing eyes and sympathetic frown. ‘Your dad died?’

‘Yeah. Fell down at the feet of Marie Lloyd halfway through the gallery song. Dead as a donkey. Probably got the biggest applause of his career, but I ain’t bothered about him. Now, what d’you say?’

‘I say it’s a pretty rubbish song in any case, Skip.’

‘The knowledge?’

Mr Hart stared at him and shook his head in resignation. ‘Two year at least,’ he warned. ‘That’s what it’ll take you. You got over two hundred miles of streets, more than twenty thousand street names, the routes, cut-throughs, tolls, the way the police watch you, and how things work. That’s without trying to make ten bob a day. Think you can do it?’

‘I don’t need you to put me off, Uncle Bob, I need you to help me out, and help out Reggie and Ida, but mainly, I need you to help me help Will. What d’you say?’

Maybe it was because he’d called him Uncle Bob, and been familiar rather than polite, but the old man’s eyes narrowed as he sucked on his dead pipe, and he glanced at his colleagues gathered to the side, his white eyebrows asking the question on his behalf.

‘If he’s got the stamina and the brains,’ a cabman said.

‘He’s got them alright,’ Hart muttered as if jealous. ‘But the time?’

‘I can put in five or six hours a night, and all day Sundays,’ Jack said. ‘That’d still give me time to sleep.’

‘The nipper’s got it all planned, Bob. No changing his mind.’

‘There ain’t.’

‘But I got to sleep an’all, Skip.’

‘Ah, you’re getting old,’ another cabman laughed. ‘The way I see it, young Jack, is this. Us men what wait and drive, drive and wait, we look after our own, and Reggie’s one of us, so that makes you family an’all. I’d be happy to take you out a couple of hours one night a week.’

‘Yeah, and me on Sundays,’ said another. ‘Least, a few times.’

‘Scottie’s the best for the cut-throughs,’ another said. ‘He’ll do it, won’t you?’

‘Who’ll pay me?’


‘Keep your bible out of it, Stan,’ someone laughed. ‘The lad’s keen, he’s quick, and most of all, he’s Reggie’s boy. I’ll learn him the West End.’

Charlie, a younger cabbie, volunteered to teach Jack south of the river and the bridges, while others offered their time here and there, but only because he was Reggie Merrit’s grandson, and cabmen were a fraternity, and before Jack had a chance to thank them, or take in the enormity of what he’d started, even Mr Hart agreed to teach him one night each week, although they all decided Jack would have to pay part of the cab hire because they would be working longer hours.

‘Study hard, Jack, and you’ll get your badge,’ Hart said. ‘I’ll have a word with Harris, he’s slippery, but the easiest to hire from, and he’s got a lad at the stables who’ll teach you the tack and traces.’

‘I’m ahead of you there, Uncle Bob. Been carting nearly ten years, ain’t I?’

‘True enough, but it’s different.’

‘When can I start?’

‘You can start right now,’ the younger driver said. ‘You can ride with me. Me nag ain’t called Blister for nothing, she’ll pull the extra weight.’

Mr Hart gave a final sigh of defeat. ‘Alright, Skip. There’s more than seven thousand of us on the stands, another won’t make a difference.’

You can find ‘Finding a Way’ on Amazon, paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter two, part one will be posted next Saturday.

Finding a Way: Background Chapters

For the next four weeks, I’m going to post the first two chapters of ‘Finding a Way’, the first of the Delamere Files series. These are not the first two chapters you will read in the published book, they are chapters I cut from the final book.

This was how I started writing the story. However, I soon realised that this was all backstory and didn’t make for a very punchy opening, and I was writing it to secure Jack Merrit’s history in my mind. This is why I cut them from the final draft.

Rather than post each 3,000-word chapter in one go, I have cut them in half to make it easier to read online. Remember, this is first draft material, so it’s not been honed or proofed or even worked on very much. It might, though, give you some background to how Jack became a cabbie, and it will tell you a little more about him and his brother Will. These first two chapters don’t give anything away, so reading them won’t spoil the book for you, though some of what’s in them, I later put into the final draft of ‘Finding a Way’ because it was necessary to do so.

Here is the first half of the original Chapter One of ‘Finding a Way.’

Limehouse, London


Jack Merrit’s grandfather began work as a cabman on the day that Brunell launched the SS Great Eastern at Millwall in eighteen fifty-eight. Some said it was an unlucky ship, because a previous launch attempt had caused two fatalities, and the great steamship, the largest ever built at that time, had become wedged on the ramp. This, however, did not deter the civil engineer, and nor did it discourage the then forty-year-old Reggie Merrit from attending the second launch, having arrived there with his first fare-paying passengers in his hired hansom. The birth of the massive ship marked the beginning of his thirty-year career on the London streets, sitting high above his cab, transporting the good, the wealthy and the misbehaved from one location to another.

Reggie had been married for twenty tears by then, and working as a labourer on the very ship he watched clank and grate into the river that January morning. With the ticket to labour concluded, however, and with no other prospect of dock work, he’d used his savings to learn the trade of a cabman and secure a vehicle rental from a dispatch office.

‘It’ll be far better money,’ he told his wife, Ida, as he left to collect his hansom on his first day. ‘We’ll have something to give the young’un for his marrying, and soon be out of Limehouse and somewhere further west. You’ll see.’

When their only son, Samson, married the following year, they were still living in the rented tenement by the Isle of Dogs, where the stink of the river choked, and the walls ran black with factory soot. Four years later, their first grandson, John Anthony Merrit, screamed into life on the parlour floor, delivered by Ida and a midwife who offered nothing more than rebuke for not pushing harder and a mug of gin for the pain.

The smell of the river and a new sugar factory were still tainting the washing two years later, when Samson’s wife gave birth to a stillborn, and two years after that, when the second grandson, William, came. His arrival was quieter than his brother’s, and he was slower to arrive, but at least he was breathing.

The factory whistles continued to slice into the family’s life even when Samson found good work in the theatres and became a popular artiste in the music halls. Although well paid and highly thought of, much written about in the newspapers and lauded for his ability to entertain, Samson Merrit did not entertain the idea of being a father. With Reggie and Ida bringing up two children he hadn’t wanted, and with his wife vanished as soon as she’d dumped the second boy on him, he moved himself to digs in Clapton, and ultimately, to a finer part of Hackney. There, the only way his parents or children heard of him was from the variety newspapers and bill posters, and, when Jack was twenty-four, via a messenger from Shoreditch who brought news of a tragedy.

Samson Merrit suffered an untimely but entertaining death on the stage of the Shoreditch Music Hall early in ninety-one. He left behind his two sons, a shocked audience, and an even more shocked Marie Lloyd, with whom he had been performing a duet version of ‘The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery.’ The coroner said the cause of death was heart failure and had nothing to do with his fellow performer. Ida Merrit said he’d had it coming and good riddance, but on hearing the news, Reggie suffered apoplexy that brought an end to his cabbing career the moment he staggered backwards into his chair and collapsed.

Thirty-three years after promising his wife he would better their lives, and despite his son’s success, Reggie had continued to work his cab, and Ida never reminded him of his promise, but kept their rooms as best she could, while caring for two grandsons she had nurtured into men. Working at the docks like his grandfather had, Jack’s income helped the four survive, but there was never a chance William would work and contribute. When Samson died, there was no will, and even if there had been, and even if he had mentioned in it his children, it would have amounted to nothing, because all he owned were debts.

Thus, on the day his grandfather became immobile, while the doctor advised Reggie to take plenty of enemas and drink dark ale, Jack stood thinking and knew something had to be done. His wages as a carter and shifter at the Millwall docks barely covered his contributions for food and left nothing for the care of his brother. With Grandfather Reggie unable to work, his grandmother now nearing seventy, and Will being unemployable, he had, in the stroke of Reggie’s apoplexy, become the breadwinner, and he needed a better job.

His mind worked as fast as his eyes as he scanned the cramped parlour, the shared bedroom through the torn curtain, the stone sink and pot-bellied stove until they came to rest on his brother, sitting vacant in the corner, staring, as he always did, at the pages of a book. The only indication young Will understood their predicament came in the flow of a solitary tear, possibly for a father he’d never known, but more likely for his grandfather. It trickled over his pale cheek, and dropped onto his once-white shirt, while he blinked as though trying to understand what was happening around him, and failing.

Jack’s gaze next fell on the pantry shelf and the half loaf of bread and two wrinkled potatoes, and thence beyond the curtain to the bed, where his once cheerful and lively grandfather, the man who had cared for him, educated him, and paid for Will’s doctors, now lay incapable of doing anything but wait for death.

‘I’m going out,’ Jack told his grandmother. ‘I won’t be long.’
‘Where to? Your father’s to be buried, your grandad’s not far from it, and you’re off down the Waterman’s Arms?’
‘No, to see Bob Hart.’
‘What for? The Cabmen’s Mission won’t give us no charity. They only give out God, and what use is that?’
‘I’m not looking for either, Grandma. I’ll be back before dark.’

Turning to Will, and taking his hands as he crouched, Jack made the same promise to his brother as Reggie had once made to Ida.

‘I’m going to find good work, Will. One day I’ll get us both out of this place. You stay and look after Grandma. You’ll behave, won’t you?’

Will gave one of his common smiles; a sideways twist of the mouth that suggested acquiescence, but usually meant mischief. It was not what anyone would expect of a twenty-year-old, but then, Will was only that age in body; he was much older in mind.
‘Promise me, Will?’
‘Yeah, alright. Where you going?’
‘You’ll see soon enough.’
‘Can I come?’
‘Not today.’
‘But where you going?’
‘Just out.’
‘Will granddad die?’
‘Not today.’
‘Samson was our dad, yeah?’
‘Yes, Will. Now, look after grandma.’
‘What’s an enema?’
Jack took his brother’s cheeks in his hands and turned his face away from the bed.
‘You’re my best mate, remember?’
‘Yes, Jack. I always remember.’

You can find ‘Finding a Way’ on Amazon, paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.

Chapter one, part two will be posted next Saturday.

An Earl, a Cart, and a Midnight Journey

The original Chapter 42 from The Larkspur Legacy

Continuing my theme of publishing never-before-seen sections of the Clearwater and Larkspur mysteries, here is the original draft of Chapter 42 of The Larkspur Legacy. If you’ve read the book, you will know when this section was meant to go; if you haven’t, it comes after a storm and before the climax.

Realising the book was running at over 175,000 words, I had to make cuts, and this scene, although fun to imagine, didn’t serve much of a purpose. There’s a fair amount of internal thought/exposition in it which I later took out and placed in pieces elsewhere, and the adventure could quite easily happen off-stage. In other words, it wasn’t necessary and was something of a filler, so it had to go.

As with the other cuts and unused parts of my novels I present here, this is a first draft and hasn’t been proofread. Let’s call it An Earl, a Cart, and a Midnight Journey…

A man and his horse deliver the mail by cart, Stock Photo – credit: AgeFotoStock


Prussia Cove

Archer was woken from a fitful sleep by someone shaking his arm. Opening bleary eyes, it took him a moment to remember where he was and the name of the pink-cheeked, blond man crouching at his side.

‘It is dark, Sir,’ Clem said. ‘We can leave as soon as you be ready. It be a fair way, so the sooner we’re on the road, the better it be.’

‘I am at your command, Mr Carter. Give me five minutes.’

‘I’ve loaded the cart with some straw and some blankets,’ Clem said, standing and stretching his back. ‘You be best with your coat. It be dried by the fire now. If ye be hungry, there be bread and such beneath the canvas.’

‘Canvas? Are we to sail to Bodmin?’

‘Would it were that easy,’ Clem said, and took a rain cape from a peg. ‘Mr Hawkins said plain there were a chance of you being followed or watched, and them as might be doing it weren’t a be trusted. I made arrangements to get you there without being seen, but it ain’t a be pleasant. Only other way be to risk the night train and the chance of a cab at the other end, but that won’t be safe enough. Be quick now, Sir, we’ve many miles a cover tonight.’

Archer gathered what few things he had, and when they were both ready, Clem extinguished the lanterns bar one and led the way outside. The wind had dropped, but the night air remained cold, and was penetrated by an overriding smell of damp grass. There were few stars between the mottled clouds, themselves fading to black as the last of the dusk withered behind hills, and to the south, there were only a few lights from passing ships.

‘You best be in the back, Sir,’ Clem said, lifting his lantern to show Archer where he was to travel.

It was a cart drawn by two horses that were merely shapes in the gloom. Archer regarded the rough boards, the crates and boxes, and the canvas, secured at the sides but open at the back.

‘It’ll cover you, but you’ll have a be laying down.’

‘I see.’

It was not the way the earl was accustomed to travelling, and for the first time on his journey, he silently cursed Lady Marshall for setting him the challenge. Being at sea had, at first, revived his passion for being aboard ship, but later, once boredom and the storm set in, his enthusiasm had waned. Now, clambering into the back of a delivery man’s cart and taking up a position he was to keep for several hours, he wondered why the old ladies couldn’t have come up with something less tiresome.

‘Just bang the backboard if ye needs anything,’ Clem said. ‘I’ll tie this lose so it won’t blow about, and you can undo it if ye must. I got a change the horses outside Truro and agin at Lanivet, but everything be in order fur that.’

‘How long?’

‘Will have to see what the livery gives us, but I be reckoning on six or seven hours, Sir. I’ll take them as fast as I can, but don’t want a draw no attention. Mr Hawkins wrote there be someone watching Larkspur, so we’ll not be coming up the drive when we get there.’


‘You’ll see, Sir. Right, head down. Get back to sleep if ye can.’

Surprisingly, Archer could. He’d dozed during the afternoon, warmed by the fire until his insides no longer felt like ice, but after three days weathering the storm, his body was more tired than he realised.

Waking when the cart stopped, he had no idea where they were until he heard Clem’s voice on the other side of the canvas.

‘They’s not as sturdy as this team. They be the best you got, Denzel?’

‘Aye, me ’ansome, that’s the best I can be giving ye.’

‘I seen more meat on dead dog. Ah, well if this be it, then this be it.’

The cart dropped, and Archer became squashed against the backboard, until, grunting and swearing, Clem and his livery man lifted the stocks, and another pair of horses shuffled into place with their brasses clanking.

‘Be off, then, I will,’ Clem said at length. ‘I’ll have them back in a day or so.’


The journey began again, and when Archer judged they were away from the stable, he kicked the crates away, and resumed his position. There was no chance of sleep after that. Not only were the new horses slow, but they were also cumbersome, and he could tell Clem was having difficulty keeping them straight. It would have been much easier to take a train, or even ride home, but Silas’ warning had been clear. At least, it had been clear to Archer. To anyone else, the prose printed in the Egyptian newspaper would read as nonsense.

Vanished be the one who once wore ‘Amore Salvat’ like a dream, the message said. It was a reference to the ring Simon Harrington had given Archer when they were lovers, and the same as the one he had gifted Silas. For what’s left behind may not here come with thee. A hidden legacy was what his mother had left behind, and thus, the ship could not land with Archer aboard. The part about dust to dust meant that Archer could pretend to be lost at sea if that was necessary, and Silas would tell the others it was a pretence. But know this: the crew has oiled the wheels, and those wheels are turning. Silas had put in place a plan, and everyone knew, including Clem, now singing to himself as though happy to be driving through the night in December.

The rest of the strange publication suggested Silas intended to put a stop to Kingsclere before Archer returned, and that was the part that concerned him most. There was no way of telling what Kingsclere would do to steal the treasure, and as that was not yet found, there was no way of knowing how desperate or frustrated the earl had become. With madmen like Tripp and who knew who else working against them, Silas might put himself in danger without thinking of the consequences.

‘No might about it,’ Archer said, his mind now turning to what he would find when he was home.

The crew would have reached Larkspur by the early evening, and Mario Ricci would now be back aboard the Legacy with Captain Kent. There was work to do, and he would be with Bertie Tucker again, for a short while at least. What happened when the ship was ready to sail, and Kent had decided what to do with her, was an unknown, but the Legacy probably wouldn’t put to sea again until after winter.

Silas, meanwhile, would be waiting at Larkspur, ready to bring Archer up to date on events. Where was Jimmy? He and Andino had had plenty of time to get to Athens and back, and what of Tom?

There was much to contemplate, and by doing so, he hoped he might again induce sleep. It was creeping towards him some hours later when the cart turned and stopped.

‘I hope you know what time it is,’ a disgruntled voice said.

‘Aye, be coming on three. You’ll get your money.’

‘But I won’t get me sleep, will I?’

‘You know what me grandfader use a say, Mr Nance?’

‘No, and I don’t care to, neither.’

‘He used to say you can sleep when you be dead. Now, help me get this tack off, and I hope you got a better team than these two scragabouts. Taken hours here from Denzel’s.’

‘That ain’t surprising. What you want a be using him fur?’

The discussion about horses, liveries and midnight journeys continued as the harnesses clattered, the cart tipped, Archer suffered laying in a silent heap while Clem went off and, by the sound of it, relieved himself. The smell of wet canvas started to get the better of him, and he was on the verge of giving himself away with a sneeze, when the cart tipped back, and the men tethered the next team. The noise gave him a cover, but it still wasn’t a quiet a sneeze as he would have liked.

‘What were that?’

‘One of your nags letting air,’ Clem said. ‘I be back wi’e, in a few days, like I said.’

‘Aye, and make sure it ain’t three o’clock in the fucking morning, Carter. Be on yer way, and don’t give them too much feed. These two blow chronic.’

‘Wouldn’t expect nothing better, Mr Nance. God be with’e.’

The trundling, clattering and repetitive clomping began again, and Archer tried to think of things other than what he might find at home.

It proved an impossible task. Andrej should now be with Lucy, but there had been no news of her condition. There was a wedding coming up, assuming the poor woman had recovered from whatever ailment she suffered, and there would be a child in the house, assuming it had survived. As Mr Tanner had confirmed his translation while abord the Legacy, there should be three new leads on the chalkboard, but still the fourth clue to understand, unless Silas or Tom had had any luck. Silas might not be there. Jimmy might have taken on Kingsclere hand-to-hand and been…

Sleep overcame him, and when he woke, he was grateful for it, because his thoughts had been straying to the worst, but once more awake, he directed them to the point of his godmother’s quest.

‘To give you the grand tour you never took,’ someone had said, and it might have been Tom.

‘Because she and your mother liked puzzles and knew you do too,’ had been another suggestion, but there was a deeper reason, and it had something to do with Lady Marshall’s original letter.

To distract himself from the numbing in his legs and the pain in his back, the stink of canvas and flatulent horses, he though back and strained his memory.

The letter had called it his mother’s ‘hidden treasure’, but his godmother had not told him what it was, even though she could have done so in five words.

‘A stash of Romanian gold,’ he mused counting the words on his fingers. ‘The crown jewels of Hungary.’ Unlikely. ‘Complete ownership of Rasnov Castle.’ What would he want with that, and why keep it a secret?

No, it had to be something darker than that, and, being transported in darkness like a tea chest had not put him in the mood for dark thoughts. They could stay at the back of his mind, but they were hammering to be released.

There was too much to think about, too many unknowns, and pondering them would do him no good.

Without a lamp, he was unable to see the time, and not wanting to annoy Clem, he daren’t ask, but he wasn’t even sure what day it was, let alone how far they were from Larkspur.

‘Well, this is a fine kettle of fish,’ he whispered, because talking kept him amused. ‘The Earl of Clearwater discovered packed in with crates, being delivered to his home in style… There is a good reason.’

There was. His safety, and it was not only at the front of Silas’ mind when he wrote his coded prose, but also in the minds of the academy men and his friends. Even cherishing what his crew of young, loyal men, and Mrs Norwood, had done for him was not enough to keep the dark thoughts from escaping their metaphorical cage.

Hard though it was to imagine one of Kingsclere’s men lying in wait for him at the Hall, it was easier to imagine Adelaide. Discovering Archer ‘lost at sea’ or in some other way not aboard the ship that was no longer his, the inspector would have flown into a rage of frustration. Hopefully, Andrej had taken the advice and blustered as Archer had shown him how, and Kent had stood his ground. Even if not, Adelaide would still be after Archer’s blood. What little news had made it to the Egyptian papers had suggested as much, and the inspector’s desire for arrest had been compounded, no doubt, by Kingsclere’s determination to destroy Archer’s good name.

That was another dark thought to be shoved in the cage at the edge of his mind. The bars were bulging, and the lock in danger of cracking when the sound of the cartwheels changed, the horses slowed, and he heard Clem call them to a halt, before he said, ‘What you doing here?’

‘Morning, Mr Carter,’ was the reply, and it was a voice Archer recognised. ‘We thought it better if I showed him the way. Besides, Trevik has to get to his fields.’

‘Aye. Been some damage. You be lucky you missed the worst of it.’

‘I didn’t. I be fair freezing, Trevik. Be there a chance of cocoa from your mother’s stove.’

A laugh was followed by. ‘Always fur you, Carter. Get unloaded, and I’ll take ye inside. Art can do the rest. You brought your delivery, have’e?’

Archer was starting to think he’d been forgotten, but the canvas was whipped away revealing a sky glittering with a million stars, and, when he struggled to sit up and looked over the edge, Clem, Trevik Pascoe and his second footman, Art, were gawping at him by lanternlight.

‘Good morning, gentlemen,’ he said, trying to summon a sense of normality. ‘I assume I am at Far Farm.’

‘Aye, here you be, My Lord,’ Pascoe said. ‘And glad we are a see ye. I’ve hot water on if you be in need.’

‘Let me help you, Your Lordship.’

Art, to his credit, said nothing about Archer’s scraggy appearance, his crumpled overcoat, straggly beard and smell, as he helped him from the back of the cart, but he did suggest Mr Holt was already up and about and would have a hot bath ready.

‘That is kind of you,’ Archer said, his feet stinging when they hit the ground and his legs weak from lack of blood. ‘I assume we are to walk?’

‘After you’ve had a cup of tea,’ the young footman replied.

‘Aye, Sir, come inside and be warm a while. It’s a fair clamber through them tunnels to your cellar.’

‘Ah yes,’ Archer said, remembering how Pascoe used to take them to visit Art in secret. ‘You really are following in your ancestors’ footsteps, Mr Carter. Smuggling me into my own home.’

‘Best be safe, Sir,’ Pascoe said. ‘There’s been a stranger on the moor many nights, and Art says he means you harm. Quick. Inside now.’

‘I’ll have you home before dawn, Sir,’ Art said, taking Archer’s arm to guide him. ‘There’s lot to tell you.’

Cut: The Larkspur Legacy

And The Clearwater Companion

Today, and now and then from now on, I am going to put up parts of the Clearwater and Larkspur series that were cut from the final publications. It’s probably best if you only read these after you have read the book in case there are any spoilers. Eventually, there will be a separate area on my site for these outtakes, and for other material that was/is destined for ‘The Clearwater Companion.’ I’ve decided that putting my energy into producing the companion for print will take me away from what I want to do when I get back to a new series in a week or so. Thus, over time, I’ll work to build up the companion online, so anyone can access it for free.

Meanwhile, it’s a rather long chapter that never was, but here is what was to be chapter twenty of ‘The Larkspur Legacy.’ In a nutshell, Dalston, Joe and Andrej are travelling across Europe to meet the boat but must make a stop in Vienna, where Andrej has been called by his father who works for the Emperor.

Note: This is the first draft and hasn’t been proofed. Some of what happens here is related later in the book by Bertie Tucker, which, I thought was a better way of telling this part of the story.



DAY 10 of the Legacy voyage

Brought up in the workhouse, Dalston Blaze never imagined he would one day cross the channel on a steamer, ride a train to Paris, travel on night sleepers, or roll through the European countryside, let alone visit Vienna. The journey had taken four days, during which he had gazed from the window marvelling at the different styles of buildings when the train pulled into towns and cities, steamed through tunnels, and crossed land both flat and mountainous. During it, when not examining platforms for anyone who might be looking for them, he had sketched and read.

Joe had been doing the same, studying his ancient Egyptian writing, and pondering over Lord Clearwater’s clue. Keen to see the country they were making for, he was less interested in the scenery and more in the history and customs of where they were going once Mr Andrej had completed his business. The hours between changes, he spent flicking through a book, turning the words into images in his silent mind, and now and then showing Dalston something of interest. A pyramid, a thing called a sphinx, tombs and columns, but also drawings of strange creatures; a man with a hawk’s head, crocodiles, and, the image of their clue, a man with the head of a jackal. On one page of his book there was a plate, and when he showed that to Dalston, it chilled his blood. “Anubis,” the caption read, “God of Death.”

At that point, Dalston said he’d seen enough, and turned to Mr Andrej for conversation, asking where they were, and if they had to change trains again that day.

The Ukrainian had made the journey a few times before and knew exactly which train to catch from where, when to change and where to stay on the two nights they had broken the journey. At those times, he had been vigilant when sending their location back to Larkspur, but so far, they hadn’t noticed anyone on their tail.

Mr Andrej had also spent time looking at a small portrait Dalston had made of his intended, and not long after they’d left Paris, said, ‘What shall we call him?’

‘What?’ Joe signed, and when Dalston translated, signed, ‘She is a woman, and she has a name. Lucy.’

‘I think he means the child.’

‘He knows it’s a boy? How?’

‘Da, will be a boy,’ Mr Andrej said when Dalston explained. ‘I feel this.’

‘Have you talked about names? Andrej, perhaps?’

‘Would be find name, da, but, Miss Lucy says she already has one child called Andrej. Maybe, I call him Danylo, for my brother.’

‘Or Daniel, if he is to be British born.’

‘Is idea, da.’

The conversation had been repeated several times, both while traveling and when they stopped in a city to wait and send word back to London. On the nights they booked into a hotel, they stayed long enough for a reply to come back from Mrs Norwood.

Your message sent on to LH. W just left as planned. God speed.

Messages, Mr Hawkins had said, were to be as brief as possible, and as carefully written in case they somehow fell into enemy hands, but it didn’t take much for Dalston to work out that news of their journey was being sent to Larkspur and that Mr Wright, Frank and Chester had left for Greece and Egypt. Although leaving a few days after the Egypt party, so as to make tracking more difficult for Kingsclere, Chester would overtake them somewhere on their route, because he was joining an escorted tour that left France with a party of tourists and took them across the sea to Alexandria. There, he would leave the group, and, with any luck, vanish into his own people and set about his preparations unnoticed. Before the parties left London, Mrs Norwood had suggested they memorise their routes and arrival times, so every man knew where he had to be by when, but Dalston hadn’t been up to that challenge, and instead, wrote the journeys in symbols in his sketchbook. By his reckoning, as the train slowed to arrive in Vienna, James and Frank would be two days away from London, at the point where Chester was to leave them and make his way to the coast in the south of France. From Marseilles, he would travel with the Cook’s escorted tour directly to Alexandira, and if anyone was watching him, he would be able to pick them out with ease from among the well-to-do and rich; the only people who could afford the ticket. At the same time, according to his notes, the Legacy would be sailing east towards Genoa while Chester’s steamer cut across in front of it. A few days ahead of them, prehaps, but it was the same sea, and the crossing routes made for an interesting pattern in his mind.

Also, according to his notes, they were to spend no more than three days in Vienna before taking a complicated journey to meet the ship. Chester had shown them the route on one of his maps, and said it was one thousand miles by road, a figure Dalston couldn’t comprehend, but they had eleven days to reach the port, and he wasn’t unduly worried. They would probably take trains, and make more stops, however, because there was no rush, and apart from putting Kingsclere off their scent, Dalston was keen to see Venice, San Marino and other places he had never dreamt of seeing.

From the workhouse to this, he thought, as he closed his book and, began to gather his things.

‘You thinking what?’ Joe asked, after waving in his face.

‘Nothing. Just setting the journey in my head.’

‘Nearly there.’

‘Yeah. Pack up.’

No matter how exquisite the décor in a first-class carriage, there was nothing better than the relief of standing up after hours of sitting down. Dalston stretched his long legs, and, as the other two found their bags, and Mr Andrej scoured the carriage just in case, Dalston lowered the window to watch the approaching platform.

The locomotive made a great fuss of slowing, emitting groans and huffs as if it wanted those on the platform to know it had done a masterful deed and dragged these people all the way from Munich without stopping, when, in fact, it had stopped several times. He ducked back inside to avoid a cloud of steam, and when he looked again, through the last of the mist, he saw yet another sight he never thought a boy from the Hackney spike would ever witness.

Two liveried men stood on the platform, upright, arms behind their backs and their heads held erect. There was nothing new in seeing servants stand in that way, all the waiters in London did it, but these men weren’t waiters. They were dressed in yellow tailcoats finely adorned with thick, gold braid on the inner sleeves and the lapels, and beneath, they wore grey waistcoats with buttons that sparkled in the sunlight. A beam of it fell through the station roof as if specifically designed to highlight them, and left the other passengers gawping in shadow. The men had dark blue breeches to high stockings, and flat, black shoes beneath. They were several steps up even from Mr Nancarrow’s fine livery, but at least the Larkspur butler didn’t have to wear a wig of the last century.

‘Blood hell,’ Dalston said as the carriage stopped directly in front of the pair. ‘There’s some right nob on this train, and no mistake.’

The mistake was his.

Mr Andrej said something that sounded like a swear word, and added, ‘Why?’

‘Is the emperor aboard?’ Joe signed with a shrug.

‘Must be.’ Dalston looked along the tops of the seating, but saw no-one else rising. He assumed it was bad form for anyone to leave the carriage before the Emperor, and so hung back, but when Mr Andrej swore again and opened the door, it dawned on him these men were there to meet them.

‘I told them we stay hotel this night,’ Mr Andrej said, standing back to usher Joe onto the platform first. ‘Why they do this? My father has sent them…’

Dalston stepped down next, leaving Mr Andrej mumbling behind, and as soon as the Ukrainian set foot on the stone, the two footmen snapped their heels together as suddenly as they jerked their heads down and up. Expressionless, one raised his arm to direct the party to the station exit, and the situation became even more strange when onlookers stood aside to let them pass. One footman, as Dalston assumed they were, walked ahead with the three of them in the middle and the other uniformed man behind, and it reminded him of being marched to the cells in Newgate prison.

‘We are shit at being secret,’ Joe signed as they walked, and his hand movements caused people to stare, worsening the spectacle.

‘Just follow, and keep your head down,’ Dalston signed. ‘At least no-one’s going to attack us when we have an escort.’

‘For Mr Andrej?’

‘Must be.’


‘Because he’s the son of a baron, and his father’s high up in the court. Weren’t you listening?’

‘Very funny.’

‘Oh shit. Is worse.’ It was Mr Andrej who said that, and when he was led from the station and into the sunlight, Dalston saw why.

The footman led them to a carriage, but one unlike any Dalston had seen. Bowl-shaped, the body sat high above four wheels, the back one larger than the front, and its top was adorned with fancy gold leaves pointing skywards. It had gold trim around its windows, large, ornate lanterns, and a crest on the door. Even the wheel spokes were trimmed with gold, and the two horses wore plumes, with their manes braided. They were held by another liveried man, this one wearing a cloak and tall hat, and holding a whip. He also bowed sharply when Mr Andrej approached, and one of the footmen opened the door, inviting the men inside. It was only then that Dalston realised they’d not collected their luggage.

‘Our bags?’ he said, but Mr Andrej wasn’t listening, he was trying to ask the footman something, but the man made no reply.

‘Not speak English,’ Joe signed.

‘Our bags?’


Porters arrived with their belongings and began loading them onto the back of the carriage where one of the footmen secured them.

‘We go,’ Mr Andrej said, and bent to climb aboard.

With no other option, Dalston followed, and took a place on velvet-lined seats, where furs had been provided against the cold air.

‘We go where?’ Joe signed, and Mr Andrej told them they were in an imperial carriage, so they were being taken to a place called Hofburg.

‘Is that a town?’

‘Nyet. Is where my father works and lives. Why he send this?’

Dalston’s guess was as good as anyone else’s. ‘To surprise you?’ he suggested.

‘Is big surprise, da.’ Mr Andrej smiled. ‘I write to tell him when we come, and I have two friends. Maybe he want to meet you.’

‘Maybe they’ll drop us at the hotel,’ Dalston said as the carriage set off.

It glided over the cobbles as though someone had put down carpet, and, as it took its leisurely pace through wide streets, he was able to admire the buildings. They passed a large park on one side, and four-storey houses on the other which became grander the further they rode. Well-dressed pedestrians stopped to stare in, as if they were expecting to see royalty, while others ignored the carriage and went about their business of parading beneath parasols, or wrapping shawls tighter as they sat outside street cafes sipping from delicate cups.

They had just passed a square with a statue in the centre, when Joe signed he wanted to ask Mr Andrej something.

‘Da, what?’

‘He wants to know why you don’t live here,’ Dalston interpreted. ‘Why, if your father is a baron in the Royal Austrian court, do you work as a groom in England? Sorry if he is being a bit personal.’

‘Nyet, Vohon.’ Mr Andrej was still smiling, and it broadened when he used his nickname for Dalston which, he’d said, translated as Fire. ‘I will tell him. I am not groom, I am Master of the Larkspur Horse, and I live where I live because I love Geroy, and I love my Lucy. I have my friends at home, so why I want to come and be here? You see how they treat me. Is embarrassment.’

‘But your father is here.’

‘Da. But this I not know until nearly two years ago.’

Dalston explained to Joe, who had been reading Mr Andrej’s lips, but he still wasn’t satisfied.

‘Joe asks a lot of questions, sorry,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t understand how you ended up working for Lord Clearwater when you came from abroad, and why you don’t now live in a palace with your father.’

If Mr Andrej was annoyed by the intrusion, he didn’t show it. He placed one of the furs over his knees, and rested back into the plush.

‘Is long story, Mr Joe,’ he said. ‘I leave my homeland when I was younger, I think fourteen, maybe not. My father… The man I thought was my father was dead. So was my mother, and my sisters and brothers, maybe. I not know. Our neighbour, Yakiv Blumkin, he tries to take me away from Russians who are killing our people, but I say, no. I go my own way. I come to England on ship with Captain Kent, who is now with Geroy on sea. I meet Banyak… Mr Hawkins. We meet Geroy, he gives us job. Then, January last year, I go with Pianino long way to Rasnov. Is in Transylvania, and we stop in Vienna where Mr Blumkin is, but he is not Mr Blumkin the neighbour, he is Baron Kubinsky of Judenburg, and he is in high position in court because his title puts him there. He tells me… He shows me he is my real father. But, I stay with Geroy, and I have Miss Lucy, and I have friends, like you have Joe, and I am happy where I am. Now, that is enough, questions, Mr Joe.’ He glanced from the window. ‘We are there in minute.’

Dalston had kept up with the translation as best he could, but it wasn’t easy when Joe interrupted him asking who Pianino was and what was Transylvania, which Dalston didn’t know how to spell. Pianino was Jasper Blackwood, he explained, the pianist, and he couldn’t say why they had made the trip, but all he and Joe needed to know was they were probably being taken to meet an important man, and Joe had to behave himself.

‘Me?’ Joe gaped. ‘Fuck off.’

Dalston grinned. ‘We never know, someone there might speak our language.’

‘Not likely. How long we stay?’

‘Two days.’

‘Why? We have lots of time. Maybe we stay longer?’

‘No. We have a schedule.’

‘But look…’ Joe pointed from the window. ‘All this. You draw. Look there, museum… and there, big church. No hurry to get to boat. We have ten days.’

‘What he saying?’

‘Joe wants us to stay in Vienna longer than we should. He thinks we have plenty of days before we need to be in Italy.’

‘Da, Mr Joe is right, but we must do what we are told. Jimmy knows best. I see my father today, tomorrow, and after, we start again on journey. We stay in one place too long, the svolochi find us easy. Safer is, we go in two days. Da?’

Dalston wasn’t going to argue with him, but Joe wanted to. However, their entry into a large, open courtyard put paid to more questions, because there was nothing else to do but stare in awe at their surroundings. After passing through a columned gatehouse, the carriage took a graceful curve, following a line of arches supporting columns that in turn supported a balustrade four floors up, beneath which were tall windows in a classically fronted, semi-circular building of immense size.

‘Fancy house,’ Joe signed as if he was bored, when his wide eyes betrayed what he really thought.

The carriage pulled up beneath another arch, where the weakening sunlight was supplemented by flaming torches, and Dalston waited for Mr Andrej to move first. The horse master himself waited until one of the footmen had opened the door, and Dalston assumed that was the form. Once the step was lowered, Mr Andrej ducked out, and they were met by another man wearing a military uniform who greeted them with the customary snap of head and heels.

‘Herr Blumkin, welcome,’ he said in English, but offered no hand to shake. ‘I trust you had a good journey.’

‘Was long,’ Mr Andrej replied.

‘Of course. I am Herr Gruber, assistant to Von Kubinsky. Your father waits for you in his chambers. You will stay at the palace, Sir, and I will show you up, but perhaps you would like your companions taken to the hotel. I can arrange it.’

‘Nyet. Why am I here?’

The man, no older than thirty, Dalston thought, but assured and upright, twitched at the bluntness.

‘Your father’s request, Sir. I will explain on the way.’

‘Nyet. Now.’

The man faltered. ‘Perhaps it would be best if your friends returned…’

‘Nyet. They stay with me.’

That time, Herr Gruber both faltered and twitched, his confidence waning. ‘As you wish, Sir,’ he managed. ‘They might wait outside the baron’s rooms.’

‘What is wrong?’


Mr Andrej growled in his throat. ‘You not tell me why we come here. You want rid of my friends. What is wrong?’

‘It really would be best if we were alone…’

‘Gruber, you say?’

‘Yes, Sir. Assistant to…’

‘Gruber. I not go anywhere without these two. They are under my protection. They stay with me. That is that. Now, why my father call me here straight from stinking train? We are hungry, we are tired, and we want rest. Find them rooms with me, but first, tell me. What is wrong?’

Gruber had paled, but waved a gloved hand and said something to the footmen who unloaded the bags and passed them to two more servants who had appeared from inside.

‘Please, come with me,’ Gruber said, and showed the party into a hallway.

It was not like any hallway Dalston had encountered. Their shoes squeaked on a marble floor as they entered something as large as the refectory at the Hackney workhouse. A massive stone staircase climbed to a gallery and split either side, with chandeliers hanging low from a ridiculously high ceiling. White and gold painted doors led to who knew where, and the walls were covered with paintings of uniformed officials, and women in glittering gowns. For all its grandeur, however, the entrance was cold, and Dalston chilled further when it dawned on him that Mr Andrej had demanded they stay the night in a royal palace.

Joe nudged him, and signed, ‘Fuck’ with his jaw dropped, but remained still when Dalston glared.

‘Before we go up, there is something I must tell you,’ Gruber said, one eye on the servants disappearing with cases. ‘Your father called for you because he is not well. He was keen to…’

‘What you mean, not well?’

‘I mean he is ill, Sir. Gravely ill.’

Gruber dragged out his words to give them weight, and Mr Andrej’s pallor soon resembled that of the official.

‘I must be honest with you, Sir. Your father, although sound of mind, is very week of body. The physicians have suggested your visit is timely. A few days later, and you may have been too late.’

Mr Andrej said nothing, but marched past Grubber to the stairs, and began to climb. Gruber, protesting, followed, leaving Dalston and Joe with no choice but to do the same. There was no time to explain to Joe what was happening, but Gruber had spoken slowly, and his English was good. Joe had probably read his lips, because he, too, looked grave as they took the stairs, following Mr Andrej’s ever-quickening pace.

‘My father is in his rooms?’

‘Yes, Sir, but please, we must ask the nurse if…’

‘We ask nothing. Why he not tell me this before?’

‘He was reluctant to inform you at all, Sir, for fear of upset. It was me who insisted you be called.’

‘You were right.’

‘I am glad you agree, Sir. To the left here.’

‘I know where my father lives,’ Mr Andrej yapped, and led them into a wide, heavily decorated corridor where windows overlooked a manicured garden.

‘Of course, Sir. Please…’ Grubber managed to slow the tall Ukrainian by placing a hand on his arm. ‘Quietly and slowly. We must ask the nurse if it is a suitable time to visit.’

Having passed through one set of double doors, Mr Andrej came to a halt outside another, his urgency evaporated, and his shoulders slumped.

‘Will you wait here, Herr Blumkin?’

‘Da,’ was all Mr Andrej said, and he turned away from the doors as if not wanting to see what lay beyond when Gruber slipped into the room.

‘Can we help?’ Dalston said.

Mr Andrej shook his head. ‘Sickness, I am used to,’ he said. ‘But this, I was not expecting. Why? Every time, why?’

Dalston could only shrug when Joe asked him what that meant, and seeing Mr Andrej’s distress, knew it wasn’t the time to enquire.

The servants appeared with the cases, but kept their heads down as they passed, and entered a room further along the passage in silence.

Dalston and Joe were under Mr Andrej’s protection, but at that moment, it felt as if the situation had been reversed. Mr Andrej, usually so assured and dignified, was trembling, and his eyes had moistened.

‘Would you like us to come in with you?’ Dalston whispered.

The big man turned to him, glanced at Joe, and beckoned them close. ‘Vohon,’ he said, and grabbed Dalston’s hand. ‘I not want you to come in with me. I need you come in with me. Please?’