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Saturday 30 May 2020

๐Ÿ“š Segment 6: Mudlarks and the Silent Highwayman - Alan M. Clark

Thank you for joining us for the sixth segment in the serialisation of Mudlarks and the Silent Highwayman, an Historical Supernatural Illustrated Novelette by (, IFD Publishing, 69 pages).

A story of hope enduring in the midst of illness and death.

We are nearly half way in and will continue to publish new segments throughout the week-end.

If you missed the previous segments, you can catch up, find out more about the story, its serialisation and Alan M. Clark here, or jump to the segment you missed by using the links below.


|| Synopsis || Segments: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 || About the Author ||

      “If Papa were here—” With the thought of his father, anger welled up in Albert, cutting off his words.
      The strain lifted from Mum’s features for a moment. “He would give me that smile of his,” she said in a wistful, dreaming voice. “Oh, how he could grin.”
      Papa had used his winning smile on her every time she caught him in a lie or he failed to do his part and disappointed her.
      Albert Gladwick senior had been a good father before he went off to the war. Young Albert recalled that on his seventh birthday he and Papa had made a climb into a church tower to get above the incessant coal smoke haze and view the stars. His father had carried him most of the way up on his shoulders. On that magical night, they’d seen green wisps of the northern lights. “Rare, that is,” Papa had said with a warm smile, “a gift given only to good boys.”

"That Magical Night": click here to purchase the original drawings by Alan M. Clark
      At present, Albert remembered that event as the happiest moment of his life.
      Because watermen had many of the skills required to crew ships—knowledge of piloting among currents, anticipating tides, and dealing with changes in weather—the Royal Navy had pressed many of them into service during the Anglo-Egyptian war, Albert Senior among them.
      If Papa had died in Egypt, Albert thought, at least I’d have the memory of who he’d been. He made that all a lie.
      Missing a leg, mustered out of the Royal Navy with no pension, and tormented by experiences of which he spoke only cryptically, Papa had become a bitter, broken man, good for nothing. He could not go back to work on the river. Young Albert had done for him while Albert senior drank away the household funds. In addition to the charring work she did by day, Mum had taken to selling matches, flowers, and pencils on the street at night to help keep the family fed. Some nights she’d be out until dawn, trying to earn.
      “Common tail, you’ve become,” Papa said one morning when she came home. “I know how you earn. Don’t try to tell me different.”
      He raised a hand to strike her and young Albert grabbed his wrist. Albert senior wrenched the hand loose and backhanded him with it. The boy fell, struck his head on the bed rail, and began to cry.
      “If you were my son,” Papa said, his sweating, unkempt face a fright to look upon, “you wouldn’t weep so easily.”
      Albert ceased to cry, and stared at his father’s crazed features, not understanding.
      Papa had a brief look of shame, said sadly, “You’d be better off if I crossed the river.” Then he’d fled the room.
      That had been over a year ago. Papa had never come back.
      Albert didn’t look for his father in South London. He didn’t think the Thames was the river he’d meant.
      If Papa still lived, having but one leg, his prospects were poor. If he’d been whole, Albert could have imagined all sorts of reasons for his disappearance. Men went missing from London all the time. No, if Papa had not died, he’d become lost on the streets or somewhere in the relief system.
      Albert’s sadness for the loss of his father had slowly turned to anger.
      What had he meant to say to Mum about Papa? “If he were here, willing to do his part…,” Albert began anew.
      “The illness will pass,” Mum said with a stern look.
      He knew that if Albert Gladwick senior stood before them in that moment, she would defend him and his worst deeds, still smitten as she was with his smile.
      In his disgust at the thought, Albert nearly walked out to return to the wherry.
      But then Mum looked him in the eye, said, “I have you, and you’re a good boy. You have done your best to look after me, better than I’ve done for you.”
      With her words and the warmth in her eyes, he felt like a grown man, capable and honorable, a good feeling in the hard world in which he found himself.
      No, he could not leave his Mum in her time of need.

In Dreams or in Sooth

      Near dusk, Albert realized he’d lost an entire day that could have been used to salvage from the wherry. He fought with himself, finding his unwillingness to abandon his mother unreasonable. Still, he could think of no falsehood that would give him the time he needed to do the work at the river. Even though making his salvage from the wherry would help Mum too, he couldn’t bring himself to admit to her that he’d been lying about how he made his earnings. On his third trip that day from their lodgings to the public pump to fetch a bucket of water, he almost abandoned the errand to go to the river. Darkness had crept up on him, and he decided as he had before that the light necessary to work at the wherry would only bring unwelcome attention to the wreck in the night.
      Returning to the dimly-lit interior of their room, he nearly tripped over the heavy porcelain chamber pot resting in the middle of the thin walkway between the bed and the table. The pot, rather full, needed dumping again. Tiny flecks of white swirled about in the colorless waste within.
      His mother had returned to bed.
      Albert placed his bucket on the open central shelf of the corner hutch, dipped water from it into a cup for Mum, and set the cup on the bedstead. Lifting the brimming chamber pot, he carefully took the vessel out and poured the fluid into the privy vault. He’d already performed the chore six times that day.
      Returning to the room, he found Mum inclined in the bed, drinking from the cup he’d filled for her. Much of the liquid spilled down her stained nightshirt. Although constantly thirsty, she’d had no appetite since falling ill. Her retching produced little but a clear liquid.
      “I’m hungry, Mum,” Albert said, hoping she’d send him out for food. If she did, he’d have the excuse to visit the wherry, perhaps cut a few rushes from elsewhere along the foreshore to throw atop the vessel to help keep it hidden. If he ran the whole way there and back, she might not miss him. He might even have time to stop in the marine store to sell the linen cloth.
      “Bit of toke,” Mum said, her words gummy from lack of spittle. She gestured toward the upper cabinet of the hutch where she stored the edibles.
      Resentfully—he felt little hunger, despite his protestation—Albert found and ate the crust that remained of a loaf of bread, the last bit of food in their room.
      Not long after dark, he began to suffer a severe loosening of the bowels, with a thin, watery discharge. He tried not to think that he would soon find himself in the same condition as his mother. During a lull in the seemingly endless evacuation, he donned his nightshirt, got in the bed on the side next to the wall, and lay down beside Mum.

Mudlarks and the Silent Highwayman copyright © 2020 Alan M. Clark

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