Dr Fowler commanded Jack to sit on the stool and remain silent. All four turned expectantly towards the door as it opened and Surgeon Wills walked into the room.
He beamed upon Fowler and Beatrice and bowed cordially to Lambert who had quietly stood up and taken a place beside the fire-place.
Wills had been in the house a number of times and he found it very pleasant after a life spent mostly upon board ship. He cast his gaze upon the comfortable furniture, the homely knick-knacks, the pleasant paintings and the rows of books.
Then his gaze alighted upon Jack. His eyes stopped for the briefest moment and moved on towards the sideboard. His eyes returned once more to Jack. They moved on once again, to Beatrice. Once more, however, they were inexorably dragged back.
He peered closely, sought out his pince-nez and peered even more closely.
‘My goodness,’ he cried. ‘It’s young Dawkins.’
Jack sprang to his feet and rushed across to the surgeon, grabbing his hand and shaking it enthusiastically.
‘Hang on, Jackie,’ Wills said. ‘I’m not a water-pump.’
‘Sorry, Mr Wills,’ said Jack. ‘It’s just that I’m real pleased to see you.’ He turned towards Lambert, bristling with vindication.
‘It seems we owe the boy an apology,’ Fowler said.
‘Possibly,’ said Lambert. He turned to Wills. ‘It’s clear that you know the boy,’ he said. ‘But he claims that he assisted you in the infirmary. Is there any chance that this is true?’
‘Every chance,’ answered Wills. ‘He was invaluable to me. Better than some of my paid assistants. The boy is quick-witted and nimble-fingered. He was adept at putting on dressings. Once, as I recall, he even stitched a convict’s wound.’
‘Told yer,’ Jack said triumphantly.
‘I’m sure he’s nimble-fingered,’ said Fowler. ‘It’s probably the reason he’s in New South Wales.’
‘That’s true for certain,’ Wills said. He gave Jack a look which was a mixture of the stern and the fond.
‘This, my dear friends,’ explained Wills, ‘ is the notorious Artful Dodger. He was the chief lieutenant of one of the worst criminals in London. No doubt, had he not been caught, he would have become an equally infamous criminal chief in due time.’
‘Artful Dodger?’ said Beatrice. ‘What a peculiar title.’
‘Artful because he was the most adroit picker of pockets in the Capital,’ said Wills. ‘And Dodger because once he’d made his steal he would duck, dive and dodge faster than any policeman could follow. It’s all in his record, which I had occasion to read on board the transportation ship.’
‘Lambert here wants me to take me into my home,’ said Fowler. ‘What do you think of that?’
Wills considered. ‘It’s a risk. I’ll not deny it. But Jack Dawkins is as bright as he’s cunning. He can read a little and write the odd word. If you can turn his blackened soul to goodness then he may prove a good servant.’
‘Oh let’s try to turn his blackened soul,’ cried Beatrice. ‘Please, Father, let’s try.’
Fowler smiled fondly at his daughter. He always found it hard to refuse her.
He considered it carefully and at great length. The others fell silent and waited. Even the sofa appeared to hold its breath.
‘We shall try,’ he said at last. ‘We shall give him a trial.’
‘A trial?’ Jack said. ‘I don’t want no more trials.’
Fowler laughed. ‘By trial I mean we will keep you here for a while, maybe two months. If you prove yourself amenable and hard-working, and eschew wrong-doing completely, then you will be given an extension of six months. We will review your behaviour every six months thereafter.’
‘That’s harsher terms than Parliament operates on,’ said Lambert with a whistle. ‘But I don’t think you’ll get fairer than that, Jack Dawkins.’
‘But will Governor Gipps agree it?’ Fowler asked, suddenly doubtful.
Lambert nodded. ‘I think so. He will want to please Chief Killara.’
‘Then it’s settled,’ cried Beatrice with joy.
Fowler turned to Jack with a stern look. ‘First my lad, you shall have a bath.’
Jack backed towards the wall, his hands held up as if warding off an enemy.
‘No I won’t,’ he said. ‘A bath robs your strength and addles your brains. Everyone knows that.’
For answer, Fowler rang the bell. The maid entered immediately. She blushed, realising that her speed would indicate she had been listening at the door.
‘Lisa,’ Fowler said, ‘ask Mrs Bullmore to join us.’
Lisa curtseyed and disappeared.
Two minutes later she reappeared. Her face looked rather strained. ‘She’s coming,’ she said. ‘She was in the middle of a pie.’
She felt a presence behind her and stepped to one side.
Mrs Bullmore stepped into the room and, with a magisterial look, surveyed them all.
‘I was in the middle of a pie, Dr Fowler,’ she said.
She was a small woman, not quite five feet high but appearing almost as many broad. She was dressed in black for she was a widow. A white smock covered her upper body. It had, no doubt, been clean this morning, but now it looked like the apparel of a murderer.
Blood stains were spattered across the front of the smock in a diagonal line, the result of a fearsome contest with a hen reluctant to give up its life. Mrs Bullmore was a firm believer in serving only the freshest of food and, wherever possible, preferred to dispatch her own rather than leaving this task to the butcher.
One of the hen’s feathers was lodged in a pocket, either a belated attempt at surrender on the part of the fowl or a trophy of war on the part of Mrs Bullmore.
Below the blood could be seen a thick smear of butter, flour and lard. Arranged upon this foundation were gravy stains, picked out in the shape of Mrs Bullmore’s small but heavy hands.
She wore a linen cap upon her head but this had proved inadequate for its job and her hair was festooned with traces of flour, sugar and egg, the residue of a recalcitrant lemon meringue pie.
She stood with a large knife, which appeared covered in brown gore, and fixed Fowler with her stare.
‘I’m sorry to have interrupted your work,’ Fowler said.
‘It was your pie I was in the middle of,’ she said.
‘Of course,’ Fowler said. ‘But I wanted to show you Jack Dawkins. He is to join the household. And, directly you have finished your lunch duties, I want you to give him a bath.’
Mrs Bullmore stared at Jack. She took a deep, satisfied intake of breath. ‘It will be my pleasure, Dr Fowler,’ she said.
Jack cringed, feeling almost as threatened as he used to be by Bill Sikes.
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