This is a sample from my novel ‘Artful’. It is available as an e-book from all good retailers.
After being convicted of the theft of a snuff-box the prince of pick-pockets is sentenced to transportation to New South Wales.
As the line of convicts shuffled down the road towards the river they saw long masts rearing from the decks of countless ships berthed against the banks of the Thames.
‘The Transportation Fleet,’ said an old man beside Dodger.
‘We’re not going on them, are we?’ he asked, his eyes widening. ‘Them hulks, all round the world?’
‘That’s the plan, son.’
‘Well it’s a blooming nonsensical plan if you ask me. I doubt any of ’em would cross to Southwark without sinking.
‘Shut up,’ called one of the guards.
In surly, grumbling silence, the convicts trudged up the gangway of the first ship. As he neared the deck Dodger saw three rats bolt down the plank towards land.
The man behind him sucked in air in a loud, horrified gasp. ‘They know it’s cursed,’ he cried.
‘Not half as much as you are,’ cried one of the sailors, making his friends laugh at the jest.
The ship that Jack had been assigned to was called ‘The Hornet.’ It was already ancient when it had been pressed into service to supply the fleet at Trafalgar. Before that, or so it was rumoured, it had been a slave ship running from Bristol to Africa and the West Indies. As the men were shoved below decks to the damp and fetid hold awaiting them they could well believe these rumours to be true.
One elderly man who had spent his years tramping the highways became wild-eyed with terror at the sight of the pent up, noisome gloom and began a fearsome howl of distress which only ended when two guards knocked him unconscious.
‘The bastards,’ said Dodger but not so loud that they could hear him.
‘Let’s hope they’ve killed him,’ said a huge man with a sprawling, knotted beard. ‘It’ll mean more grub for us.’
Crimp pushed his way into the large man’s shadow. ‘Don’t believe it, Trench,’ he said. ‘They’ll eat his grub themselves or sell it to us, what’s starving.’
‘Shut yer mouth, Crimp,’ said the bearded man. ‘I’m sick of the sound of yer already.’
Crimp laughed but it was a laugh devoid of humour. He turned his eyes towards Dodger. ‘What you looking at?’ he growled.
Crimp grabbed him by the throat. ‘Well see you don’t look at me in future. Not unless I tells yer to. It’s me who will do the looking, and the catching.’
‘Leave him be,’ said the big curly haired man who had been watching Jack and Crimp before they boarded. ‘He’s only a boy.’
‘I can guess yer interest, so I can,’ Crimp sneered at him.
The man did not answer but gave a quick glance towards the guards. They were looking elsewhere. He took a step towards Crimp and seized him by the hair. He twisted it violently, causing the little man’s back to arch over, exposing a scrawny throat. The big man ran his fingers slowly from one side of the throat to the other.
‘See here, boy,’ the big man said to Jack, turning Crimp as though he were a doll. ‘This neck is little stronger than a rabbit’s.’
He jabbed his finger at Crimp’s gulping Adam’s Apple making him squeal. ‘One chop from me and it’s his grub we’ll be eating.’
Crimp waved his gloved hand ineffectually in the air while his left tried vainly to unloose the big man’s hold.
‘Enough,’ said Trench. He squared up to the big man and gave a belligerent stare. ‘What’s your name, friend?’
The man released his hold upon Crimp’s hair and sized Trench up and down. ‘Beresford,’ he answered. ‘Want to make something of it?’
Trench shook his head. ‘No. Not this time. But just remember one thing.’ He pointed to the skinny one-eyed man. ‘I can hit Fred Crimp, I can punish him, but you can’t.’
Beresford stared at Trench for a moment. ‘Fair enough,’ he said. ‘And the same goes for the boy. I can punish him, but neither you or your creature touch him.’
Trench nodded. ‘It’s a bargain.’ He stalked off, Crimp running after him.
Jack grinned up at his protector. ‘Thanks very much, mister. My name’s Jack Dawkins.’
The man gave a slow smile. ‘Mine’s Beresford.’
‘Just Beresford? Ain’t you got a first name?’
‘If I ever had, I’ve forgotten it.’
Jack nodded sagely. ‘I think Beresford is right enough for you.’
The big man grinned and ruffled Jack’s hair.
Artful is available for $3.00 or equivalent from all good retailers.
My subscriber list gives you advance notice of my new releases and exclusive access to free stories.
It’s simple to sign up….. Just click on this link: http://eepurl.com/DTnhb and it will take you to a sign up form.