Summer Short Story #1
(Prompt: Write for at least 15 minutes about a physician, foreign letters, and a runaway. Include glass per the WordPress daily prompt.)
“Please, just open!”
One door and another, she frantically turned each knob, but they all held—until this last. Wrenching it open, she flung her body inside.
They thought she was a Tinker–a lock-pick and thief. By the looks of her, no wonder. More waif than ragamuffin, she fit the typical description. Except, she was not part of the gang. Today had been a bad day to edge around New London. The constabularies were too eager. She’d scrambled through more back alleys than she thought she would have to. The officer wouldn’t stop and another had joined him just now.
She quickly shut the door as shrill whistles grew closer, breathing quietly while her sides hurt.
“What if the master’s home?”
Better the owner than the police for now—she rationalized—and locked the door behind her.
A black cat. No, a spotted cat. There was a light patch on its head near its left ear.
“Shush, no one’s here.”
“Penny, have you got a mouse for me today?”
Freezing in the corner by the door, she looked wide-eyed towards the voice. A man’s–deep and cultured–surely, someone who wouldn’t welcome her here. Where could she hide? There were no cabinets to squeeze into. She should go back outside but when she turned, footsteps loomed just beyond–the voices belonging to them official and harassed.
“She went down here. She did.”
“Lay off it. We’ve been chasing her for bloody too long.”
“These damn Tinkers are getting the run of the city…”
Their voices drifted back down the ally, away from her door, and she let go the breath she’d been holding. Raising herself up to quietly undo the latch, she hoped the cat wouldn’t bolt—a stupid thought to have at such a time. Perhaps, it was because she was so very tired.
“Halt there, why are you bleeding on my floor?”
Caught, she blurted—because the master of the house was now upon her, with his cane barring the door.
“There’d been glass on the ground.”
“Well then, come here. Let’s have a look.” When she didn’t move, he hastily added, “I’m a physician, and you’re now bleeding upon my cat.”
He was right, the cat had rubbed up upon her shins, and its coat was wet in patches.
“Penny, you truly look the dreadful tale.”
Picking the feline up under its belly, the man shooed it away.
“Come here, girl.”
Then he bent an arm under her own and prod her further into his household with his cane.
“There, in that chair. Just put those letters aside on the low table. Yes, yes. Right there.”
She did as told because he was being kind, but her hand held onto some of those letters because she was nervous. Italy, India, the Americas… they were all postmarked from abroad, and they made her remember. She once had letters from far away countries to read.
“Why are you helping me, Sir?”
He briefly stopped from wringing the sullied clothe of water, looking to the tired girl in his chair.
“What’s your name, girl?” When she hesitated, he said, “Just your given name. I would not know you from a thousand others with just the one label.”
Though, there was once a time when loved ones called her Rose.
“Well, Rosamond—a very fine name, I might add—I am helping you because I am a doctor.”
“But I’ve no money to pay.”
By the time he’d cleansed and covered her knee, an unlikely arrangement had been proposed. For room and board, a few coins—for pin money and clothes–the doctor would have her be assistant to his housekeeper and his errand runner.
“I don’t understand. For all I know, you could be a Ripper, and you hardly know me. I don’t even know your name.”
“What?” Rosamond’s exclamation was a shocked question.
“Good God, girl. I’m not another Ripper. True, you do not know me.” He paused for grander effect and then continued with a flourish of hands.
“Doctor Gadson—not a Ripper. Phineas William Gadson. Of the three, I prefer Doctor. How do you do?”
“Fine, thank y–” Manners once bred well were hard to dismantle. “Where has your maid gone?”
“Off to get herself married, can’t think of why she’d go and do that—nice enough fellow, though, can’t fault her taste in companions. I was about to advertise, but here you are. Her old room with my housekeeper is quite vacant, and Mrs. Cooper, would welcome the help. So, would you like to stay on and work for me?”
“Why not? Do you have an intolerable disposition?”
“Not that I’ve been told.”
“Ordinarily, no… I’m sorry for barging into your house, Doctor.”
“Or course, you are. Then what? Do you lack the skills?”
“Cooking is not my forte, sir.”
“Can you prepare tea?”
“Then, you are redeemable. What say you?”
What was there to say? Homeless, a runaway from the St. Giles’ workhouse, Rosamond had no better offers.
“Thank you for asking me. Yes, please.”
“Very fine manners, indeed–except for that lapsed display earlier… No, no. I shan’t say another word of it from now on–We’ll get along famously. Besides, Penny likes you. She never bothers to show unless she’s a mind to, and she’s discerning. A good judge of character, my Penny girl is.”
Taking his pet in hand, he set her upon his lap while he arranged himself in the great winged chair by the window.
“Mrs. Cooper will be down in another half hour with tea. I expect you to join me, of course. Introductions and details… In the meantime, since you’ve my letters in hand, read to me. I daresay you’ll find some of them fascinating.”
Carefully tearing the envelope open, she began:
My Dearest Doctor,
I require your aid once again, my friend. May I reply upon your sense of adventure and goodwill? Please tell me you’ve not yet given up on my wretched soul. It would make me the sorriest of men. I will be traveling to New London on the eve of next month. Business of a most lamentable kind brings me your way, but there is hope for a silver lining—both in adventure and coin. May I call upon you to discuss?
Write to me and say yes.
Ever your servant,
John Stockholm III