Finding a Way: Background Chapters – part four.

Before you settle into read this short excerpt, here’s a reminder about the Book Funnel Promo for LGBTQ+ Romantic Mysteries. Included in this list is ‘Guardians of the Poor’, the first of the Larkspur Series, plus many other titles that offer a mix of LGBTQ romance with a mystery plot or subplot. As you know, all of my Clearwater, Larkspur and now, Delamere novels/series are mysteries with romance, or romantic mysteries. I decided to put the first of each series into this promotion, as each series fits with the theme.

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Finding a Way, unpublished chapter two (first draft)

Sleep, coloured by memories, and broken by Mary knocking up, looked forward to after one hour studying, twelve hours labouring, and five hours driving, was less welcome to Jack than it had been, because the date had been set for his test, and like a runaway horse, it came at him faster than he could control.

On the day, the rain held off, and he hired Charlie to take him to the examination office, expecting to sit at a table and fill out documents. Instead, he met with an official-looking man, who, rather than wish him a good morning, asked him to recite a route before the pair had shaken hands. Jack told him the information he wanted, and recited several others, making no mistakes.

‘How long have you been learning?’

‘A year, Sir.’

‘A year?’ The examiner’s face flushed red around his full beard. ‘Impossible. Come back in twelve months.’

‘I can’t, Sir. I need to start earning.’

‘Impossible, I say.’

‘Let me prove myself, Mr…?’

Mr Whoever—Jack never learnt his name—remonstrated, but Jack held his ground until the examiner gave in.

‘If you can tell me this, I’ll let you pass,’ he said through gritted teeth, and announced the start and finish locations for an imaginary but complicated journey.

Jack visualised his maps, saw the streets in his mind, thought of his brother, and the empty rent jar, and started at the beginning. Along the route, he added asides, contingencies against men working on the road, difficult traffic depending on the time of day, and highlighted his shortcuts, until his fare was safely delivered to the correct destination, where he gave the appropriate price.

The examiner’s face turned from red to pale.

‘One year?’ he muttered. ‘Never seen it before.’

‘But have you seen it now, Sir?’

‘I have, I’ll be damned. You made not one error, and you gave an accurate price. How old are you?’

‘Recently turned twenty-five. Is that important?’

‘It means you’ve at least another fifty years ahead, if you live that long, and it means you’ll do better than older men in the cold weather. Do you drink?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Why not? No money?’

‘That is one reason, I admit, but even when I am in pocket, I use my earnings to pay for my brother’s care.’

‘What’s wrong with him?’

‘No-one knows. As my grandfather Reggie Merrit said, my brother is special.’

‘Reggie Merrit? Of Limehouse?’

‘Yes, Sir. My grandfather. Died last year.’

The examiner’s mouth dropped, and for a second, Jack thought he saw sadness cross the colourful face.

‘We started on the same day,’ the examiner said, reaching for a sheet of paper. ‘Didn’t know he’d died. Bob Hart still living?’

‘Yes, Sir, and working. He and the others who work from Limehouse have been teaching me.’

‘Tell him he owes me three shillings from ten years ago.’

‘I shall, Sir. May I know your name?’

‘Old Reggie had a son, didn’t he?’

‘Samson Merrit. Died last year…’

‘Right before me eyes. Best thing about the turn, if you ask me. Never like that Marie Lloyd woman.’

‘You were at the music hall?’

‘Aye. Seems our paths are intertwined, Mr Merrit. I can see you got your knowledge and tenacity from Reggie, and your looks from your father. You’ll be popular on the ranks.’

Jack’s heart picked up its pace as the man began to write, but not wishing to pre-empt what he hoped would be good news, he said nothing.

‘I’ll put you out a green card. Present it whenever a policeman asks for it, be careful who you hire your rig from, never take a grey horse, and stay sober. That’s me advice to the grandson of the fairest cabman I knew. Sorry to hear about Reggie, but remember to tell Hart about the three shillings.’ The examiner thrust a piece of paper, and Jack took it before he changed his mind. ‘Present that at the desk, and come back to pick up your card and number when they say. After that, you’re on your own, Mr Merrit. Except you’re obviously not. One year? Out of Limehouse? Who’d-a-thought it? Go.’

Jack had entered the office as nervous as a bag of kittens being held over a river and left it a confident cabman with a new career. All that remained to be done was to save for his initial rig hire, which, Will had calculated, would take him only a couple of weeks. After that, to rent Reggie’s old rig from Mr Harris at the yard, and give up the dock work. Then, he could follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and start earning decent money.

He had accomplished the first part of his plan, the next would take more time; to keep his promise to Will, and find the family decent lodgings further west, away from the soot, and the stink of the sugar refinery. That done, he would find someone willing to offer Will employment, and Ida a decent retirement.

Some of what he hoped for would come true before the year was out, but it would not come without heartache and a whole heap of trouble.

You can discover what that trouble turned out to be in ‘Finding a Way’, and while you are doing that, I continue to work on part two, ‘A Fall from Grace.’ There will be more news in my Wednesday blog.