Savage, p.2Richard Laymon
Bill would know what to do, all right.
Give him a peek at his sister’s back, and he would deal with Barnes in a most appropriate manner.
“I’ll go and fetch him,” I said.
Mother glanced at the clock on the mantel. So did I. It was nearly nine. “Best wait for morning,” she said.
“He doesn’t go on duty till midnight. I’ve plenty of time to catch him before he sets off.”
“And there’s the rain.”
“A drop of rain won’t hurt me.” I tucked the bloody handkerchief back into my pocket, rushed across the floor and hefted the poker. “You keep this at hand, and don’t hesitate to use it.”
Nodding, she accepted the poker.
I hurried into my room. There, I snatched up my ivoryhandled folding knife—another gift from Uncle. I thought to offer it to Mother. A good sharp blade might be better than a poker for helping Barnes to mind his manners. However, I decided she might be loath to use such a deadly weapon, so I kept it for myself.
And a good thing I did so. Later on, it was to save my life.
When I returned to the front room, Barnes was still snoozing. I got into my coat.
Mother gave me a few shillings. “Take a hansom, darling.” Then she forced an umbrella on me.
She gave me a hasty kiss.
I said, “Be careful now, Mum. Don’t trust him an inch.”
Then I was on my way.
I Set Out
From the street, I gazed up at our bright, cheery windows and didn’t mind the cold rain on my face. What I minded was leaving Mother with Barnes. I wished I’d bashed him better. He was bound to wake up and Mother, being so good-hearted and forgiving, would take pity on him.
She’d want to ease his distress. Given half the chance, she’d unlock the handcuffs so he could stretch his arms and get comfortable and take a sip of tea, and then he’d be at her again.
She might have a problem finding the key, however, as I had it in my trouser pocket.
I was feeling a bit pleased about that when Mother came to one of the windows. Spying me, she raised a hand and wiggled her fingers. I waved back, never guessing this would be my last glimpse of her for many a year. Then I opened the umbrella and set off at a quick, splashy pace.
It didn’t take long to reach the cab rank at the corner of Baker Street and Dorset Street, where my eyes lit on the familiar, round figure of Daws. Glad to find him on duty, I hurried over to him. Daws and his horse were both spouting white clouds, the one from a briar pipe turned upside down to keep out the rain, the other from its nostrils as it snorted.
“Master Bentley,” he greeted me, the pipe bobbing in his teeth and shaking out a shower of sparks that drifted down and sprinkled the bulging front of his coat.
“Good evening, Daws. Hello, Blossom.” I gave the horse a solid pat on the neck. “I’m off to my uncle’s, 23 Guilford Street.”
“We’ve had a spot of trouble,” I said.
“Hello. Trouble, is it?” He gave the brim of his top hat a tug. “Bill’s just the chap to set it right, I’d say. Jump aboard.”
I scurried into the cab. It pitched like a skiff in a storm when Daws, at the rear, hurled his bulk into the driver’s seat.
“Mind yer teeth!” he called out.
With a snap of the reins, we were off at such a lurch that I was thrown against the seatback. We raced along at an amazing clip. I should’ve thought Blossom incapable of such speed. Her hooves clamored like cannon shots on the pavement as Daws shouted and cracked his whip near her rump. On more than one occasion, dashing around street corners, we tipped and nearly overturned. It was a rousing ride from start to finish, and I should’ve enjoyed it greatly if my mind hadn’t been burdened with worries about Mother.
When I found us in front of Uncle’s lodging house, I leaped to the street before we had stopped.
“Watch yer step!” Daws called. Rather too late.
I wasn’t in the puddle but a moment before I regained my feet. With a drippy wave to assure Daws that I hadn’t ruined myself, I ran for the front door of Uncle’s.
But it was Aunt Maggie who opened to my knocking.
She looked greatly surprised to see me.
“Trevor! And you out on such a night?” She darted her head about, peering into the darkness behind me. “Where’s Catherine?”
“She sent me to fetch Uncle William. We had a row with Rolfe Barnes, and she’s home keeping guard on him.”
“Come in out of the wet.” Though in a haste to be off, I followed Aunt’s instructions. When dealing with the female breed, I knew even then that explanations wasted a passel more time than simple obedience. They’re a thick-headed lot. For stubbornness, they’ve got mules beat by a mile.
“You’re a dreadful sight,” she said. “You’re soaking wet. You’ll catch pneumonia for sure. What happened to your face? Oh, dear.” She touched my cheek, which hadn’t hurt much up till she started poking at it. “Barnes did this to you?”
“Yes, and he whipped Mum with his belt.”
Aunt’s eyes widened. Her mouth fell open, then closed a bit and she pursed out her lips. “Oh, Bill will just about kill him.”
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” I admitted. And wished she would get around, someday, to calling for him. “My cab’s ready to go.” I pointed it out to her. Daws answered with a cheery wave.
“Bill’s not here, of course.”
“He hasn’t gone on duty yet?”
“He went off hours ago. It’s this horrid Ripper business, you know. They have him working double shifts so that the poor man’s rarely home at all.”
The news didn’t perk me up. Now, what was I to do?
“Mum wants me to fetch him,” I muttered.
“That’s quite impossible, really, I should think. Would you care for some tea and a bite…?”
“Oh, yes. You’d best ride it on home, then.”
“I’m supposed to fetch Bill.”
Aunt Maggie frowned. “Are you quite all right?”
“I don’t much care to leave without him.”
“He isn’t here, Trevor.” She said those words very slowly as if speaking to a half-wit.
“Yes. I understand. He’s on duty.”
“Quite. Rest assured, however, I’ll certainly tell him first thing about Barnes and he’ll take the matter in hand.”
“First thing tomorrow. Now, you hurry on back to Catherine.”
“Yes, ma’am, is it?” With a tilt of her head, she fixed her eyes on me and squeezed them narrow. Studying me out. Though I tried real hard to look innocent, it didn’t wash. She nodded to herself. “I’ll have a word with the cabman, if you please.”
I hailed Daws. He climbed down off the hansom and scurried for us nimble and quick, puffing smoke. While I waited, Aunt Maggie hotfooted it into the parlor. I heard her clinking some coins. She came back about the same time Daws showed up at the door and doffed his hat.
“I wish you to return young Trevor here straightaway to his own lodgings,” she said. “I fear he has other intentions, but you’re to mind what I tell you, as I’m paying his fare and giving you a bit of something extra.” She emptied her fist into Daws’s hand. “Ride him to 35 Marylebone High Street, and nowhere else. Is that quite understood?”
“Quite, quite, yes. Not to worry. Back to his mum it is, or I’m no Daws and I am. Yes.”
She gave me a quick look as if choosing a target, then kissed the bruised part of my cheek. “Now, off with you,” she said.
“Come along, Master Bentley.”
Polite as you please, I bid farewell to Aunt Maggie and hurried off with Daws.
“Could you take me home by way of the Leman Street police station?” I asked.
“But you’re my friend, aren’t you?”
“I’m pleased to think so.” He gave me a swat on the back. “Now you wouldn’t ask your friend to break his word, would you?”
“I suppose not,” I muttered, and stepped aboard.
The cab shook as it did before when Daws climbed to the driver’s seat, but this time it didn’t bound away with a lurch. Daws clucked and Blossom snorted and we started rolling along. I sat there, having lowdown thoughts about Aunt Maggie. She always had been rather a stick in the mud, and now she’d done her best to spoil my mission.
Well, it just wasn’t in me to get carted home like a prisoner.
I’d set out to fetch Uncle William, and that’s what I aimed to do.
As John McSween would later say, “You do what you reckon needs the doing, and damn them that tries to stop you.” Though I wouldn’t be meeting up with John for a spell yet, that was just how I felt about matters while Daws was turning the hansom around.
I jumped out. This time, my feet cooperated. I hit the street running.
“Trevor!” Daws shouted.
“Cheerio!” I yelled. With a glance back and a wave, I raced around a corner.
I rather expected Daws to give chase, and he proved me right. Blossom came along at a trot and the cab rattled by, Daws keeping a lookout for me from his perch. Well hidden in the dark of an alleyway, I watched them pass.
Soon, they were gone. And so was Mother’s umbrella, which I’d left behind in the heat of my escape. The umbrella was in good hands, however. An honest fellow like Daws was bound to drop it home for me.
Feeling rather proud of my derring-do, I crept out of the alley. A four-wheeler went by, but there was no sign of any hansom, so I returned to Guilford Street and struck out, heading east.
Directly across the road was Coram Fields, and a straight shot up Guilford Street should take me to Gray’s Inn Road. There, a turn to the right would lead to Holborn, which I could follow eastward to the area where a map might’ve proved quite useful if I’d had one at hand.
With confidence born of youth and ignorance, however, I never doubted that I’d somehow find my way to the Leman Street station and locate Uncle William.
Me and the Unfortunates
And so I set off at a brisk pace for Gray’s Inn Road.
I kept a sharp lookout for hansoms. Daws may have given up on me, but I took no chances and ducked out of sight on the rare occasions a cab came rolling along.
Gray’s Inn Road led me, sure enough, to Holborn. I scooted along at a fair clip that had me huffing and warm in spite of being soaked to the skin.
Whenever I got an urge to slow down, I pictured Mother alone with Barnes, maybe watching out the window and wondering why I hadn’t shown up yet with Uncle Bill. Barnes wasn’t likely to harm her, not shackled like he was. He might even snooze along till morning. But Mother would like as not have a rough night of it, anyhow, what with waiting for me. She was bound to worry. And she’d be worrying all the more if Daws should pay her a visit and tell her how I’d dodged away.
By the time Holborn started to be Newgate Street, I’d stopped dodging hansoms. I even gave some thought to hailing one and taking a ride back home. Dang my hide, though, my pride just wouldn’t allow it. I’d started off to fetch Uncle Bill, and I aimed to get the job done.
Before I knew it, I was hotfooting it past the Bank of England. I cut across the road, rushed on by the pillars in front of the Royal Exchange, and got to Cornhill.
Cornhill went in the right direction, and I followed it. Pretty soon, I was in foreign territory. Leadenhall Street? I’d never been this far east. But east was where I wanted to go.
So far, there’d only been a handful of people about. But that changed. The farther I walked, the more turned up. They roamed the streets, sat in the doorways of lodging houses, stumbled out of pubs and music halls, leaned against lamp posts, lurked in dark alleys. They were a sorry looking lot.
I saw mere tykes and many youngsters no older than myself. Some just roamed about like stray dogs. Others seemed to be having a good time with their chums, chasing each other and such. Every one of them was barefoot and coatless and dressed in rags. They shouldn’t have been out in the cold and rain, but I figured they must have no place better to go.
Some of the grownups wore boots and coats, but plenty didn’t. A lot of the women had shawls pulled over their heads to keep the rain off. There were men in hats with brims pulled down as if they didn’t want anyone to see their faces. Nobody at all had an umbrella, so it was just as well I’d lost mine.
Even without a brolly, the cut of my duds made me stand out all too much. Heads turned as I hurried by. Folks called out to me. Some came my way, but I picked up my pace and left them behind.
They’re likely just curious, I kept telling myself. They don’t mean to harm me.
Mother liked to call such folks “unfortunates.” Uncle Bill, when he had me alone to regail me with Ripper stories, put it otherwise. To him, the unfortunates were “a godless crew of cutthroats, whores, riffraff and urchins” who dwelled with vermin, carried horrible diseases, and would cheerfully slit a fellow’s gullet for a ha’penny.
I figured Mother’s view was tempered by the goodness of her heart, while Uncle Bill’s was likely jaundiced by the nature of his work, and the real truth might fall somewhere in the middle.
The people all around me sure did look unfortunate, but they couldn’t all be ruffians and whores. I’d read enough to know plenty of them worked hard at such places as slaughterhouses, docks and tailoring shops. Some were peddlers, carters and dustmen. They did the hard and dirty work, and just didn’t earn much at it, that’s all.
As I walked along, however, I couldn’t help but get the jitters. Uncle Bill might have a tainted view of things, but that didn’t mean he was altogether wrong.
I kept a sharp eye out.
As John McSween would later tell me, “Look sharp, Willy. You wanta spot trouble before it spots you.”
And what I spotted, just about then, was a gal up against a lamp post. Her curly hair was all matted down with rain. She looked older than me, but not by much. Except for a bruised, puffy eye, she was rather pretty. She wore a long dress and had a shawl wrapped around her shoulders. As I got closer, she pushed herself away from the post and took a step toward me.
I pulled up short.
This might be one of those whores Uncle Bill’d told me about.
I got all hot and squirmy inside.
Figuring the wise move would be a quick bolt for the high ground, I glanced across the street. But over there was a legless fellow propped against a wall. He had a patch over one eye and a bottle at his mouth. He wasn’t about to chase after me, but I didn’t much relish getting any closer to him than I already was.
So I stayed my course.
The gal walked right up to me. I stopped and gave her a smile that made my lips hurt. Then I did a sidestep, hoping to dodge her. She sidestepped right along with me. She grinned.
“What’s your awful hurry?” she asked. I reckon that’s what she asked. It sounded, like “Wot’sur ohfulurry?” Her breath fairly reeked of beer.
“I’m afraid I’ve lost my way. I’m trying to find…” There, I hesitated. It might not do, at all, to let such a person know I was looking for a police station. “I’m on my way to Leman Street,” I told her. “Is that far from here?”
“Leman Street, is it? Well, Sue, she’ll take you right there, won’t she?”
Once I’d figured out what she’d said, I felt my stomach sink. “Oh, that’s not necessary. If you’d just be good enough to tell me…”
But she stepped right in against my side, took my arm and commenced to drag me along. Mixed with her beery fumes was a flowery sweet odor of perfume that wanted to clog my nose.
“No, it’s quite all right,” I protested
“A young toff such as yourself and you’d be sure to run afoul of the likes of which would do you horrible harm and likely leave you for dead and you shouldn’t want that now should you? Sue, she’ll see you safely along and we’ll get where you’re bound to be going by and by.”
“Thank you, but…”
“This way, this way.” She steered me around a corner.
We were on a street even narrower than the one we’d left behind. Several of the gas lamps were out, leaving big patches of blackness. On both sides were lodging houses, many with broken windows. Few had lights inside. I glimpsed people in doorways and leaning against walls and roaming about in the darkness ahead of us.
If I had to be in such a place, I was glad to have company.
“What’s your name?” Sue asked.
“And Trevor, do you like me?” She pulled my arm so it met up with the swell of her bosom.
Not wanting to offend her, I let it stay.
“You’re very kind,” I said.
She gave a throaty laugh. “Kind, is it? Oh, but you’re a sweet young toff and a brave one at that.” She turned her face to me and her beery breath rubbed my cheek. “Am I a pretty one?”
Her face was only a blur in the darkness, but I easily recalled how she’d looked under the streetlamp. Besides, I would’ve agreed that she was a pretty one even if she’d looked like the back end of a horse. Just to keep her happy. “You’re quite pretty,” I said.
“You’d like a go at me, now wouldn’t you?”
I wasn’t sure what that might entail, but it scared me plenty. My mouth got dry and my heart started whamming so hard I could barely catch my breath.
“It’s awfully late,” I said. “And I really am in quite a rush. But thank you, anyway.”
“Aw, you’re such a shy one you are.”
With that, she steered me into an alley.
“No, please,” I protested. “I don’t think…”
“Now it won’t take any time at all, Trevor, and then we’ll be right along on our way.”
Sue was just about my own height. She might’ve outweighed me some. But I was strong for my size, and quick. Could’ve broken away from her, if I’d tried.
Savage by Richard Laymon / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes