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Tuesday 2 June 2020

๐Ÿ“š Segment 9: Mudlarks and the Silent Highwayman - Alan M. Clark

Thank you for joining us for the ninth 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.

If, like me, you are finding Victorian London and the Thames fascinating, you might also like Alan M. Clark's Jack The Ripper Victims series and his guest post "Nipper Dippers, Mug-hunters, and Bludgers: Dangers on the Streets of the Victorian East End". This series is from the point of view of the victims: who were they? What was life like for them in London of the time period? What were their struggles, their hopes, their regrets? What of the decisions they made in life might have delivered them into the bloody hands of the Ripper?

We hope you are enjoying Mudlarks and The Silent Highwayman; here is segment 9.

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 ||

A Time of Remembrance

      Surprised that he had not hurt himself, Albert rose awkwardly. His feet, still in his shoes, sank deep into mud. That didn’t seem right. But then he remembered that Hardly had been in pursuit. Albert tried to look back that way he’d come, and found he couldn’t change the angle of his vision.
      His muddied head wouldn’t move! His right cheek and ear rested on his shoulder. Everything appeared sideways.
      Albert turned his body—the only way to realign his vision—glancing around quickly.
      The pier—gone!
      Something happened…I don’t remember…
      Had he fallen in the water and been carried downstream?
      He kept trying to move his head, looking out for danger.
      Nothing there, or, at least, very little. Everything, including the sky, had taken on a similar shade of gray. A near featureless foreshore extended into the dreary distance to either side and behind him.
      Why can’t I move my head? Have I broken my neck?
      He reached up to feel with his hands.
      Yes—he felt bones pushing the muscle and skin of his neck outward. Yet he felt no pain.
      That fall should have killed me!
      He felt fortunate to have survived, and thought of another incident in his life in which luck had safeguarded him. A draft horse had kicked him in the head while Albert reached for a farthing that had got away from him and rolled off the kerb to lie beneath a wagon. The force of the blow had tossed him at least ten feet onto the flagstone footway, but he had walked away with only a gash on his forehead.
      Albert would have to be careful not to make his neck worse before he could mend up. He might need a surgeon’s help.
      An odd quiet suggested his hearing had somehow suffered from the fall. Snapping his fingers, told him that wasn’t so. What had happened to the rumbling hubbub of the city surrounding the river, the sounds of countless feet, hooves, and wheels upon the stones of the roads, the innumerable voices of the inhabitants, the ringing grind and clank of industry, and commerce on land and in the river?
      The disorienting sideways view became tolerable in short order. He saw clearly the chill, gray river, its slow current lapping at the colorless mud along the edge. The bank had a different shape from what he’d expect to see near the West India Docks Pier, it’s curve more gentle. With the morning sun low in the eastern sky behind the embankment at his back, he should see its light shining upon the buildings across the moving water to the west. Instead, he saw merely dim silhouettes of the landscape; a couple of rocky prominences, a couple of dead trees, and no more. He saw no river traffic.
      Yes, taken downstream. Just don’t remember.
      Albert turned to his right and began walking upstream.
      In the distance, he saw a figure, a scavenger perhaps. Abandoning his natural caution, Albert ran toward the figure, but his vision, bouncing with his head on his shoulder, became too disorienting. Slowing, he got a good look. A boy, it seemed, crouched on the foreshore, poking at the mud with a stick. He wore several layers of mud-caked clothing, mostly rags, and some sort of large, cumbersome hat upon his head. No—not a hat, but a mass of filth-clotted, tangled hair, also caked, as if he, too, had fallen head-first in the mud. The figure seemed a growth on the gray landscape. Displaying no curiosity, let alone wariness—something unusual in a scavenger—the child didn’t look up as Albert approached.

"Indeed a Scavenger": click here to purchase the original drawings by Alan M. Clark
      “Tell me, please,” Albert said, “where are we on the river?”
      Like an old man, bent and broken with age, the boy rose slowly. For all his filth, he had a gold watch chain fixed to one of his numerous waistcoats, the end disappearing into pocket, where, presumably, a watch rested. So, indeed a scavenger, and a successful one too.
      Finally, he lifted his head.
      Albert gasped to see the features beneath the rat’s nest of hair. Yes, a child—the rounded shape of the face told that—though wrinkled with untold years of wear on what otherwise had a boyish shape. The lips and nostrils suffered cracks at the edges. The eyes, dull and somehow vacant, held the smallest hint of a great yearning deep inside. Indeed, Albert could see in the silent pleading gaze a curious and inquisitive boy, a poor waif trapped within an ancient, slow-moving body.
      Revulsion drove Albert back a few stumbling steps. He felt the tingling of his skin tightening into gooseflesh.
      The ancient boy dropped the stick, raised his hands toward Albert. The fingernails were several inches long, curled in upon themselves, some raggedly broken.
      Albert turned and ran despite the disorienting effect of his bouncing vision.

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

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