Authors: Dilly Court
As she came through the door, she saw her father crawling upstairs on his hands and knees with Clara urging him on like a harassed mother hen. Emily had remained seated on the chair by the counter, and her expression was anything but encouraging. Irene faced her sister, knowing full well what was coming. She had heard it all before, and she was not disappointed.
Emily rose to her feet, arranging her blue poplin skirt over the swaying hoops of a wide crinoline. She smoothed the matching bodice, trimmed with blond lace, and her hands fluttered to adjust the straw bonnet cunningly dyed to the exact shade of her gown. Irene watched the procedure with a sigh of resignation; even in a state of extreme agitation she had never known Emily to be anything other than particular about her appearance. To say she was vain might be a bit unkind, but it was true nevertheless. Emily had always been the pretty one, and she knew it.
Apparently satisfied that her appearance was no less than perfect, Emily shot a reproachful look at her sister. ‘How could you, Irene? How could you allow Pa to get into such a state that he had to be brought home by a policeman? The whole of Wood Street must have witnessed the spectacle.’
‘Don’t talk rubbish, Emmie. How could I stop Pa doing anything that he wanted to do? I’m not his keeper.’ Avoiding Emily’s accusing stare, Irene dodged behind the counter and began tidying the jars and bottles that her mother’s rheumaticky hands had not been able to replace on the shelves.
‘No, but you promised me that you would keep an eye on him. You obviously haven’t done so or he wouldn’t have got himself into that disgraceful condition. I don’t know what my Josiah will say when he hears of this.’ Emily began to pace the floor, although there was barely room for her and her crinoline. It swung from side to side as she moved, giving her the appearance of an agitated bluebell.
Keeping calm with an effort, Irene concentrated on re-stacking the shelves. ‘I can’t help what Josiah thinks. I did my best to find Pa, and it was bad luck that some bigwig police inspector happened to come across him flat on his back in an alley behind Newgate and more than a little swipey.’
Emily stopped pacing for a moment and clasped her hands to her breast, eyes wide with horror. ‘How embarrassing. You say a police inspector found him?’
‘That’s what I said.’
‘That’s even worse. You know that Josiah has hopes of becoming an alderman this year.
if it got about that his father-in-law was known to the police?’
‘I don’t suppose the cops go in for gossip,’ Irene said, smiling at the thought of the aloof Inspector Kent doing anything so mundane as to exchange chit-chat with his colleagues over a cup of tea and a plate of cucumber sandwiches.
‘But you said it was an inspector who found Pa. Who was he? Maybe Josiah is acquainted with him.’ Emily sat down heavily on the chair, fanning herself with her gloved hand. ‘Do you know his name?’
‘Inspector Edward Kent. He was a stuck-up toff and he looked more like a blooming clergyman or a lawyer than a copper. I didn’t like him one bit.’
‘Edward Kent! But that’s terrible. We met him at a function at the Guildhall. I was struck by his perfect manners and his air of good breeding. Josiah said that he’s the youngest police inspector ever, and that he could be made up to superintendent before he’s thirty, which is virtually unheard of, so Josiah says.’
‘Josiah says this and that. I’m sick of hearing what Josiah says, Emmie. And I don’t care about Inspector Kent. At least he let Pa off and we’re never likely to meet him again, so I shall just put him out of me mind.’
Emily opened her velvet reticule and pulled
a lace-trimmed handkerchief. She waved it at Irene. ‘Brussels lace,’ she announced, delicately mopping her brow. ‘Josiah imports it direct from Belgium. It’s one of his best selling lines, so he—’
‘Says – yes, I know,’ Irene interrupted. ‘Why are you here, Emmie? Did you come just to lecture me, or is there another reason for your visit?’
Emily’s cheeks flushed a delicate shade of pink and she twitched her shoulders. ‘You make it sound as though I only ever come to complain when it’s just the opposite today.’
‘Go on then. Tell me what’s so special about today?’
‘Well.’ Emily hesitated and her blush deepened. ‘I’ve come to take Ma back to Love Lane for an extended visit.’
‘What? But that’s impossible. We have the shop to run, and you know that Ma wouldn’t go anywhere without Pa, unless, of course, you’re thinking of inviting him too?’
‘Heavens, no! Josiah would have a fit if I suggested it. No, this is for Ma’s health and well-being. We have more than enough room in our house.’
Irene chuckled. ‘I know. You have eight bedchambers, a cook general and a maid of all work, plus a poor skivvy who comes in daily to do the cleaning.’
Emily smiled proudly, seemingly oblivious to her sister’s teasing. ‘Don’t forget the horse that Josiah keeps at livery and the dog cart he puts at my disposal should I want to venture further than I can comfortably walk.’
‘Oh, for goodness sake, drop the airs and graces, Emmie. This is me you’re talking to. It weren’t so long ago that you lived up above the shop with the rest of us with only one pair of shoes to your name and they was second hand.’
‘I’m doing my best to forget it. I’ve risen in the world since I married Josiah and I’m learning to speak proper – I mean properly. I want our children to be proud of their ma and not ashamed of a poor girl who came from the pickle shop in Wood Street.’
Irene stared hard at her sister. ‘What do you mean, children? Are you …’ She broke off and ran round the counter to hug Emmie. ‘You are, aren’t you? Oh, Emmie, that’s wonderful. You never could keep a secret.’
Emily smiled, but she held Irene at arm’s length. ‘Be careful, you’ll crush my best poplin, and this lace cost more than you’ll earn in a month. But, yes, I am in the family way and that’s another reason for Ma coming to stay with me. I need a woman’s company what with my Josiah being so busy with business and his two stupid sons refusing to leave home
though they are full-grown men. Big babies, that’s what I call them. If they didn’t both work in Josiah’s emporium, I would suggest that they moved out, but unfortunately he relies on them.’
‘Never mind the vile brothers. You mustn’t allow them to upset you, especially in your condition,’ Irene said, giving her another hug for good measure. ‘I’m really pleased for you, Emmie. I can’t wait to be an aunt.’
‘You could come and live with us too, you know. I’m sure that Josiah wouldn’t mind, and it would get you away from this horrid little shop.’
‘Ta, but you know I can’t do that. Even if you manage to persuade Ma to come for a visit, I couldn’t leave Pa on his own. Heaven knows what sort of bother he’d get himself into.’
‘Perhaps you’re right, but you’ll soon be nineteen and you ought to be looking for a husband. You need to find a man who would take you away from all this.’ Emily sighed heavily, shaking her head. ‘I’m afraid you’ll never meet anyone suitable stuck behind that counter.’
‘Well you did,’ Irene said amicably. ‘Your Josiah walked right through that door and bought a dozen jars of assorted pickles and sauces just to make an impression on you.’
‘That’s as maybe, but I made an effort to be charming, whereas you say exactly what you think, and men don’t like that.’
‘I can’t help it if I’m honest.’
‘You need to be careful, or you’ll end up as an old maid. Anyway, it’s late and I must get home. I didn’t mean to stay so long.’ Emily rose to her feet and glided to the foot of the stairs. ‘Ma, I’m going now, but I’ll be back tomorrow with the dog cart to take you home with me, and I won’t take no for an answer.’ She cocked her ear, and when there was no reply she shrugged her shoulders. ‘Until tomorrow then.’
Irene frowned. ‘I very much doubt she will come with you.’
‘Leave it to me,’ Emily said confidently. ‘Tomorrow morning, when Pa’s sobered up, I’ll tell him he must make her come, for her own health if nothing else. Another winter in this dreadful shack and she’ll be crippled for life. You just leave it to your big sister. I’ll show you how to handle a man, even a stubborn and selfish one like our pa.’ She made her way to the door and opened it, peering out into the gathering dusk. ‘Oh, dear. I should have left an hour ago. Now it will be quite dark by the time I get home and Josiah will be so cross with me for walking out alone.’
‘I’ll see you home.’
‘But then you’ll have to walk home in the dark.’
‘I’m not scared. I can look after meself, ta very much, sister. Right now I’m more worried about you and your babe.’ Irene snatched up her shawl as they left the premises. She had been lying when she said she was unafraid of walking the streets after dark. Only a fool would ignore the dangers of the night, but she was more concerned for her sister than she was for herself. She linked her hand through Emily’s arm. ‘Come on, girl. Let’s get you home before your Josiah sends out a search party.’
They had not gone more than a couple of paces before Danny caught up with them, red in the face and panting as if he had been running. He held out his hand. ‘Mr Yapp wants his money, miss.’
‘What’s this?’ Emily demanded. ‘Don’t tell me you’re in debt to that dreadful man, Renie?’
Irene hung her head. ‘I didn’t have quite enough to pay the full amount.’
Emily thrust her hand into her reticule. ‘How much, boy?’
‘A shilling, missis.’
‘Here, take it and tell your master he’s a money-grubbing old reprobate.’ Emily dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
Danny pocketed the coin with a grin. ‘Ta, missis.’ He walked off with a jaunty swagger,
Emily facing Irene with eyebrows raised.
‘I don’t have to ask why you hadn’t the funds to pay old Yapp.’
Irene shook her head. ‘No, it was Pa, of course. And thanks, Emmie. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.’
‘No matter,’ Emily said grandly. ‘Josiah is very generous with my pin money, but we’d best hurry. He hates unpunctuality.’
They set off, heading north towards Love Lane. Above them the sky was rapidly turning from velvet blue to inky black, and twinkling pinpoints of stars pierced the haze of chimney smoke that hovered above the rooftops. The street lamps sent out warm pools of yellow gaslight and the pavements were still crowded with late evening shoppers. Dark-suited businessmen and bank clerks with shiny elbows and frayed cuffs hurried homeward from their offices in the City, and costermongers shouted their wares, offering last minute bargains to clear their day’s stock of fruit and vegetables.
Emily clung nervously to Irene’s arm and was soon out of breath. She said that her new shoes pinched and she had to keep stopping to rest, holding her side and complaining that she had a stitch. But even allowing for their slow progress, it did not take very long to
the half-mile or so to Love Lane. Josiah Tippet’s five-storey townhouse with its elegant eighteenth-century façade and imposing portico made a definite statement. It was only a well-to-do merchant who could afford to dwell in such a residence and everything about it, from the sparkling clean windows to the highly polished brass door furniture and fresh paint-work, spoke of money and success.
Emily rattled the doorknocker, stamping her feet as she waited for the maid to answer her summons. ‘Where is that wretched girl?’
‘Don’t be so impatient, Emmie. Give the poor creature a chance. As I recall you’ve more steps for her to climb than in the Monument.’
This brought a smile to Emily’s lips. ‘Yes, it is a grand house. I’m very lucky.’
Irene stifled a sigh. No matter how large the house or how many servants and fine clothes Emily might have, Irene couldn’t help feeling that she paid a high price for her rise in society. Josiah was not a bad person, nor was he ever anything but pleasant in his dealings with his wife’s family, but he was fat and well past middle age. The thought of being intimate with a man who was even older than her father appalled Irene, but then she did not have to suffer his attentions, and to be fair to Emily, she seemed to be genuinely fond of her ageing husband.
The door opened and Emily stepped over the threshold, scolding the young servant for keeping her waiting. The girl, who was little more than a child, hung her head and muttered an apology. Emily turned to Irene, who had remained outside on the pavement. ‘Well, are you coming in or not?’
Irene shook her head. ‘No, ta. I’d best get back to the shop.’
‘Suit yourself,’ Emily said, shrugging. ‘But you will take care on the way home, won’t you? There’s all sorts hanging about who might do you harm.’
‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll run all the way and I won’t speak to strangers.’ Irene walked off with an exaggerated spring in her step, but as soon as she heard the door close she picked up her skirts and broke into a run. She had just reached the end of Love Lane and was about to turn into Wood Street when she heard a familiar voice calling her name. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Arthur striding towards her from the direction of Silver Street. Gasping for breath she was only too pleased to stop and wait for him to catch up with her.
Holding his top hat on with one hand, and with his muffler flying out behind him like a pennant, Arthur ran across the street, dodging in and out between hansom cabs and private carriages. He arrived at her side, smiling but
. ‘What are you doing out after dark, Renie? You know it ain’t safe.’
‘I just saw Emmie home.’
‘You should have taken a cab.’
This made Irene chuckle. ‘Yes, I shouldn’t have given me coachman the evening off.’
‘It’s not a joking matter,’ Arthur said, falling into step beside her. ‘Lucky I came along when I did.’
‘Did you get into trouble for being late this morning?’
‘No. The old man was out visiting a rich client so he didn’t realise I wasn’t there.’
Irene shot him a sideways glance. ‘Shouldn’t you be going home for your supper?’
‘Steak pudding at the Old Cheshire Cheese. Had you forgotten?’
She had forgotten but she did not want to hurt his feelings by admitting it. ‘Oh, I don’t know, Artie. Pa was in a bit of bother with the police earlier today. Maybe I ought to stay home this evening to back Ma up if he says he wants to go out again.’