Back in London, all Lizzy could think was, “Bloody hell.” She muttered it as soon as she stept off the platform and started her trek down, then up, then down and up again. It wasn’t that she was trying to get away from anyone, it was just how the underground was designed – as a vertical maze. That was the hell. The bloody part wouldn’t hit her until she got to the surface.
Natural instinct drove Lizzy to brace not for fresh air, but for the putrid stink of the local butcheries. Barring all sense of fashion, she withdrew her handkerchief from her pocket and made it a neckerchief, the type she saw those cowboys wear in the moving pictures. Well, on the posters.
“Bloody,” she muttered ruefully. “Hell.”
She wasn’t quite sure what she would do next, so Lizzy focused on simply getting home. The word sounded a little off, even in her mind, but ‘home’ was what the building was, technically. Her father had been a butcher, and a good one, until he tried to butcher her little brother and ended up meeting the axe himself. That was her first crime, which led to her first con. Even Mister Davies, who now ran the little store, believed Lizzy’s father must have bolted. After all, he had been going a little funny in the head ever since Lizzy’s mother died.
Lizzy stopped and discovered her feet had led her back to the very street where her life had begun. Irritated at herself for not dawdling more, she was about to turn back when who but Mister Davies cried out?
If she were a cat, her hackles would have crashed together in their efforts to rise. Lizzy was not ready for this. She was not ready to be back here.
“Mister Davies?” she asked politely and smiled. He was an odd man, but harmless. Well, armless, and no one would be buying meat from an armless butcher if she hadn’t done the selling for the first three years. He was forever grateful to Lizzy for giving him that chance. She was forever grateful to him for being a man who asked for nothing more than what he was given. If he hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, she and her brother would have been out on their ears.
“Jacob came back just a few days ago.” Mister Davies was beaming. “I’ve got two new apprentices working for me now, but none have touched your room, don’t you worry.”
Lizzy smiled, more genuinely this time. Her room was the attic.
“Are they treating you alright, Mister Davies?”
“Everything is is fine, Young Bessie!” She wished he would stop calling her that – it made her sound like veal, even though she knew he didn’t mean it that way. “And you if need any money-”
“Mister Davies, you’re too kind!” Lizzy waved him off. “But just knowing I have a safe place to sleep between jobs is enough.”
“I am sorry to hear that Bristol didn’t work out.”
“Well, fresh sea air isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” And the hotelier was much smarter than she gave him credit for. He had caught her red-handed, the first to do so in years. Well, he had caught her until he let go, which men tended to do when they caught a jewellery box in the face and a pointed heel in the knee. “I was able to save a little money, at least.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
Lizzy made her excuses and went inside the old house, to find her brother and to get some answers.
“What the bleedin’ hell is this nonsense about you gettin’ married?!” She had tried to refrain from screaming at him, she really had. Right up until she saw him.
“Good to see you too.” He looked good, she had to admit. Healthy, bright. Optimistic. He hadn’t looked like that in well over ten years. “And don’t you go worrin’ that you’ll be abandoned – you can come with us!”
Lizzy’s jaw dropped. “What, to get married?”
“To America.” Jacob rolled his eyes. “You’ve always wanted to go there.”
She could slap him for his idiocy. She should slap him, but she didn’t.
“India,” she stressed. “I’ve always wanted to go to India.”
“Well, that’s right next door, isn’t it?”
“You’re getting mixed up with the West Indies.”
“Am I now?”
“How in the-” and she used words she had been out of practice of using since she’d left home, but they all came rushing back. “-did you manage to land a lady?”
Jacob shrugged and said, “We’re in love.”
“No; it’s true.”
“She likes my poetry.” He smiled. “And my drawings.”
“You were meant to be a footman. How did you have time to draw? Or write poetry?”
“She inspired me.”
“Look, we’re leaving for America in three days. You buy yourself a ticket or…” He gestured around. “You can stay here.”
Lizzy stared at her younger brother. Last she had seen him, he was sensible, mature, cynical and jaded. Exactly as she had always been. Was this what love did to a person?
“I really don’t like Americans.” Lizzy was not including the cowboys in that assessment.
“We’ll be staying with Emily’s uncle, so it won’t be all American.”
“What’s an English aristocrat doing…” Lizzy frowned. “Wait, her uncle?”
“He’s exactly the man you’re thinking of – he made like King Edward and married an American divorcee. Seems it’s quite fashionable these days.”
In the end, Lizzy decided not to follow her brother to America. Later that night she practised forging a recommended for her next job application, when she was struck with the idea she should be practising something else. Lizzy did have a little money, enough to go to the docks and meet the folk working the American ships. Surely some would be American. Surely some would be happy to talk with her. Maybe if she practised enough…
After all, while the English had to have pedigree, Americans just had to give the impression of money for doors to open.