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Saturday 6 June 2020

๐Ÿ“š Segment 13: Mudlarks and the Silent Highwayman - Alan M. Clark

Welcome to the penultimate 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 on the banks of the river Thames in 1884 Victorian London.

Trivia: The Port of London Authority (PLA) regulates all metal detecting and digging on the Thames foreshore (any scraping of the surface with any type of implement is considered digging) and any finds must be reported to the Museum Of London. On 17 December 2016, Tobias Neto found one of only 16 Victoria Crosses that were awarded to British soldiers on 5 November 1854 after the Battle of Inkerman (one of the earliest ever awarded), which has been narrowed down to belonging to one of two particular officers, and which is worth around £50,000. Since then regulations have been tightened, permits have increased in price, and, as of this year, mudlark licences which allowed digging of the foreshore up to a depth of 1.2 metres (3 feet 11 inches) are no longer being issued; standard licenses which allow digging up to 7.5 cm (3 inches) can still be purchased for £85 per year.

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 ||

      So concerned with what lay behind him, not watching his step, Albert tripped on another object in the mud. His foot had hooked onto something that he now dragged behind him. Turning, he saw he’d pulled what looked like a toy steamship out of the mud. The wet, clay-like soil flowed away from the thing, revealing a motionless burst of fire from a cannon, and equally still black coal smoke above the ship’s funnel. About the size of the bucket in which he’d carried water the day before, the small vessel, with its intricate rigging and perfectly formed, unmoving crew on deck, appeared as vividly complex as any ship he’d ever seen. Its tiny signal flags, though motionless, lifted on an unfelt breeze. Even the smell of it, the coal smoke and a familiar fermentation of aging in the sea, mixed with what he believed to be the odor of spent smokeless powder, confirmed that it was no toy.

"A Memory": click here to purchase the original drawings by Alan M. Clark
      Albert reached to touch an explosive shell, suspended just ahead of the still and silent flash at a cannon muzzle.
      Instantly, he knew his father’s horror at finding the dead and dying in Alexandria following the British fleet’s three-day-long bombardment of the city. Papa had been among the sailors sent from the fleet to fight alongside the British Expeditionary Force in the battle of Kafr El Dawwar. He’d been wounded and suffered the amputation of his leg, then was left in the heat of a dust and fly ridden field hospital to recover with little to help relieve his pain. Albert knew the sights of mutilation, the sounds of agony, the stench of blood that had become lodged in Papa’s mind from his time in the Anglo-Egyptian War.
      Having refused to fire upon young boys conscripted by the Egyptian forces to fight against the British, Papa had been the subject of a court-martial. With consideration for the loss of his limb, his sentence was merely the loss of his pension. Much worse, he’d lost his pride.
      Compassion for Albert Gladwick senior welled up in young Albert’s heart. Regretting his harsh judgement of the man, he knew again his love for his father.
      The ship was a memory of the one Papa had served aboard during the war. He had dropped the small vessel on the muddy foreshore when he’d passed on.
      Yes, both his parents had passed away. But away where—where had Papa and Mum gone?
      The girl’s voice, very close, startled Albert, and he swung around to face her. She had followed, come up from behind, and crouched down beside him in the mud.
      “You found a memory,” she said, a small delight in her voice, a shade of it in her eyes. “If you want to keep it, you’ll have to carry it with you. Looks like a weighty one. May I touch it?”
      Albert nodded uncertainly. She reached for one of the tiny ship’s flags, and closed her eyes. Her features moved subtly with emotion. Moisture appeared among her dry lashes.
      “Alice,” she said, as if remembering. “That was my name. Born 1832. I shan’t have thought of that without touching the soldier’s memory.” Her voice had gained more life.
      Was her name? Questions arose that Albert found too frightening to ask. No, she’s daft or touched.
       “Who are they?” he asked uneasily, gesturing toward the waifs wandering the foreshore in the distance.

"Who Are They?": click here to purchase the original drawings by Alan M. Clark
      “We are orphans and paupers’ children, mostly. Paupers who arrive grown have little hope if they are here for very long. With time, the heaviness of their hearts weighs them down. They sink deep into the mud and are lost until their time of remembrance is done.
      Albert looked down at the mud. As he’d done when finding his father’s smile, he pictured the horror of an adult buried beneath him. “How many?” he asked.
      “Some arrive each day. Those of us unable to pay to cross over must wait one hundred years.”
      With his gasp of astonishment, Alice placed her remaining hand, a reassuring one, upon Albert’s arm. “You’ll not suffer as we do,” she said with a touch of envy. Wiping away her gathering tears, she turned toward the water and gestured. “He’s here for you.”
      The cloaked figure in the boat had landed a few yards away.
      Albert recoiled, leaning into the small ship’s rigging.
      The figure made no move toward him, simply held out a hand in greeting, or perhaps to help Albert board the small boat. Silent, yes, but not a highwayman. Albert saw no menace in the pale face beneath the heavy hood.
      “There’s nothing to fear,” Alice said.
      She’s trapped here, yet she has it in her heart to comfort me?
      “You have someone waiting on the other side,” she said, not quite asking. “He wouldn’t have come if you couldn’t pay the fare.”
      The ferryman, as Papa said! Albert laughed at himself, and the fear Thomas Conway had given him of the Silent Highwayman. He is not here to rob health, but to carry people across.
      Did he take Papa and Mum? If so, they must have somehow paid the fare.
      He saw that the landscape across the river had taken on more color. The sky above reflected something like flowing cloth made of light, so much like the glimpse of the northern lights he and Papa had got from the church tower.

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

Come back tomorrow for the 14th and final segment of Mudlarks and The Silent Highwayman, or purchase your electronic or paperback copy, now ONLY $7.95, from...

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