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Authors: May McGoldrick

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Ghost of the Thames (5 page)

BOOK: Ghost of the Thames
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“Jemima.”

“Jemima . . . with the white mark like
a cloud in one eye?”

“That would be the girl.”

“Say no more, sir. Everyone in this
place knows the slut. She has a terrible wicked tongue and a more
terrible weakness fer the sauce, if ye be getting my
drift.”

“I do.”

“This Jemima used to be a reg’lar
’ere. A complete waste of a woman. Why, she’d get a fellow or two
to be buying ’er drink after drink until she got so dead drunk that
they’d carry ’er off and have their way with ’er fer nothing. No
profit to nobody. . . ’erself included.”

Edward was afraid the man was telling
the truth. The woman’s language had been so coarse when she’d come
to his house that his doorman had nearly turned her away. And when
Edward had finally spoken with her, he could smell the alcohol on
her.

“She was bad fer business, and we had
a falling out, ye might say. Took four of us to throw ’er out, and
I should tell ye that the whole crowd enjoyed seeing ’er sitting
splay-legged in the mud of the lane. Ye never heard such language
coming from a woman. Like a jack tar on a bender, she was. The long
and short of it, sir . . . she’s banned from coming into the Oar.
Indeed, now ye understand why she’d be saying such things. Anything
to be bringing me trouble.” He shook his head forlornly. “And me, a
poor citizen, just trying to keep the wolves from the
door.”

This was nothing more than what Edward
had expected. Another dead end.

He tossed another shilling on the
desk. “I’ll be looking about the village for a while. Find me if
you think of anything else.”

“My pleasure, to be sure, sir,” the
man said, brightening up. “And if ye see something ye’d like and
decide to be staying an hour or fer the night, ye just let me
know.”

Moments later, Edward was glad to be
breathing in the damp air outside. Foul as it was and heavy with
the smell of the river, it was still more to his liking than the
air of the Broken Oar.

At the upper end of the way, he knew
his carriage was waiting for him. Perhaps this is all a waste of
time, he thought, listening to the muffled noise of the taproom
behind the shuttered windows. He looked up at the three-quarter
moon above and shook his head.

As he started up the lane, he heard
the soft cries of a struggling woman mingled with grunting of a
man. The sound was coming from a narrow alley next to the Broken
Oar. At the end of the alley, Edward saw a wharf in a clearing. It
was not difficult to imagine a women being taken by force there. He
made a quick decision and went quietly down the alley. Beyond the
wharf, the short mast and patched sail of a boat were visible,
bobbing up and down at the end of a rickety dock. The scene
unfolding in the open yard, however, made him freeze momentarily in
his tracks.

A cloaked woman—wielding an oar that
was longer than she was tall—strode to where a grunting ox of a man
had his struggling victim pinned beneath him. Edward moved quickly
across the littered yard. Before he could reach them, however, the
woman swung the oar, striking the attacker on the side of the head
with enough force to knock the man unconscious.

The assailant lay slumped over his
victim. And as the woman with the oar raised it again, Edward
recognized her in the light of the moon.

“Sophy!” he said. She whirled to face
him. “What the devil are you doing here?”

 

CHAPTER 5

 

 

“Captain Seymour?” Sophy would never
have recognized him if he hadn’t spoken.

“Bloody hell,” he growled, moving
briskly toward her. “Did you just kill this man?”

“I certainly hope so,” she replied,
looking down at the breathless woman, still struggling to free
herself from the dead weight of her attacker. Grabbing the man’s
hair, Sophy yanked his head back. He slid to the ground in a heap.
“No. He’s breathing. Too bad.”

The victim was young, a tiny thing,
and she was shivering violently. Tears were pouring down her face,
reflecting streams of moonlight on her dark skin, and Sophy pointed
to a shadowy corner against the building.


Over there, where you
won’t be seen.” The woman seemed to understand, and she quickly
moved into the shadows.

“What are you doing here, Sophy?” he
asked, more sharply. “I was told you were still at Urania
Cottage.”


I am still at the
Cottage,” she said quietly. “Three men have just gone into that
long shed attached to the tavern with the other women they have
brought. Do you have your pistol with you, Captain?”

He frowned and nodded. She stretched
out her hand. “May I borrow it?”

“Are you mad?”

“I shall only need it for a short
time.”

His hands landed heavily on her
shoulders. He turned her around until she had no choice but to look
up at him. “You will explain yourself right now.”

She pointed toward the shed door.
“Those men are bound to come out any time now. I saw them force at
least a dozen women and children in there. This one. . . . ” She
kicked the body at her feet. “This one decided to give that poor
creature a lesson in proper behavior before going in. I don’t know
if I can lay open all of their heads with this oar before the
others notice and come after me.”

“And what do you hope to
accomplish?”

“It is quite simple, Captain. Free the
women and children.”

“And do you think this will be the end
of their troubles?”

She glared at him.

His hands dropped from her
shoulders. “I read in the
Times
not a fortnight ago that there may be over eighty
thousand prostitutes walking the streets of London. Most of them
live in slums and opium dens. Do you know where they end up? In the
Thames. Their bodies fished out and dumped in Cross Bones
graveyard. Now what do you think is to become of these that you
rescue . . .
if
you are able to free them?”

“It cannot be worse than what was
happening right here a moment ago!” she snapped. “This woman wasn’t
willingly giving herself to that jackal for a fee. She was being
forced. And I was floating in that river not too long ago, if you
recall. Perhaps I was one of them. Perhaps I was destined for your
Cross Bones graveyard.”

Her words silenced him. The anger was
roiling inside of her.

“Not recalling any of my
past, one thing I
do
remember is this. I would prefer to die than let this happen
to me or to any other woman. I’ll fight them with whatever means I
have. I shall use my bare hands if I must. Now, will you loan me
your pistol or not, Captain?”

His dark eyes bore into hers for a
moment longer.

“No,” he growled. “But I shall see to
this matter.”

“But—”

“You go find my driver. My carriage is
at the top of this lane. Tell him to go to the constable’s house by
the village square. We passed it on the way here; he’ll remember.
And you will wait in the carriage. Do you hear me?”

Sophy held her ground, unsure that she
wanted to go.

“Go,” he barked.

The sound of voices came from the
closed door of the shed. It was true that if they were to do any
good, they would need help. If that shed led into the inn, then she
had no idea how many men might re-emerge.

She ran through the dark alley and, at
the end, turned up the lane. There was no one in the lane or the
cross street at the top. The Captain’s carriage, however, were
exactly where he said it would be. The driver was standing by the
horses, a heavy-headed cudgel in hand, ready for any trouble that
might surface. With wariness in his stance, he watched her
approaching at a run.

“Captain Seymour sent me.”

Sophy doubted the driver recognized
her. Hurriedly, she relayed the Captain’s instructions. With a
frown he nodded, turned, and ran toward the market square to fetch
the constable.

She stood by the horses, absently
stroking their muzzles and sleek necks, and considering whether she
should go back to the yard behind the Broken Oar. Perhaps she
should at least return to the woman who had been attacked, she
thought.

When she’d followed the ghostly figure
from Urania Cottage to this village, Sophy hadn’t known what to
expect. The young woman had simply gestured and Sophy had silently
followed until they reached the inn and tavern. Then, still hidden
in the darkness of the alley, she’d heard the noise and commotion
of the group being forced out of a boat and herded toward the shed
on the far side of the yard.

The women were speaking in a variety
of foreign tongues, but in spite of that, it was clear they were
frightened. Some sounded sick. Many were sobbing.

Too angry with the scene unfolding
before her, Sophy had paid little attention to the danger or to the
fact that her guide had disappeared. She only knew that something
needed to be done, and when one of the men had pulled the young
woman out of the line and thrown her against an overturned boat,
Sophy’s sense of judgment sailed away on the breeze. She had picked
up the first solid piece of wood that she could find.

Now, out of the darkness, the driver
reappeared with two men in his wake. They ran past with barely a
glance in her direction and disappeared down the lane toward the
river. It was then that she saw the girl in white, gazing at her
from inside the carriage. Sophy hurriedly climbed in, closing the
door. She sat across from the phantom.

“Tonight was the second time you’ve
done this,” Sophy said sharply. “You disappeared just when I needed
help.”

“My intention was only to bring you
here. You knew what to do. You did as you were supposed to
do.”

“I didn’t do anything. Those women and
children are still there. What is to become of them?”

“They are better off already than they
were before. That’s all you can do for now.”

Her friend was speaking in
riddles, but Sophy couldn’t bring herself to be angry. She knew
that if the Captain and the other men were successful, those
women
would
be
better off. Sophy stared at the golden hair cascading around the
shoulders of her guide. This was the closest she’d been to her, and
still she couldn’t really study the features of her face. She was
like an image in a dream, a reflection in water. Sophy reached
across to touch the woman’s knees. Her fingers touched nothing but
cool air.

“I am imagining you,” she said,
suddenly feeling sick to her very core.

“You can see me.”

“Who are you? What are
you?”

“Does it matter?”

“It does to me. I need to know if I’m
losing my mind.”

“Were those people you found behind
the tavern only in your imagination?” the specter asked softly. “Do
you believe you could have walked the dark and dangerous streets to
the outskirts of London and arrived here without my guidance and
protection?”

Sophy knew she couldn’t
have.

“Am I the only one who can see
you?”

Before she could answer, the carriage
door flew open. Captain Seymour peered in, and Sophy could see the
look of relief in his face to see her there. She glanced back at
the empty seat across from her. The woman in white was
gone.

Removing his top hat, Captain Seymour
climbed in and sat where Sophy’s ghostly friend had been sitting
only a moment before.

“Were you just talking to someone?” he
asked.

Sophy took a deep breath, trying to
recover herself. It was no dream. She had been having a
conversation with a ghost.

“Sophy?”

She forced her attention back to him.
There was dirt on his coat. The cravat at his throat was askew.
He’d clearly been in a scuffle. She looked up into his face. She
understood what the buzz among the girls at Urania Cottage was all
about. He was handsome—exceedingly so. And confident. And at this
moment, he looked impatient.

“I asked you—”

“No,” she said quickly. “I was simply
thinking aloud that you might need my help to finish the fight I’d
started earlier. I was considering coming and giving you a
hand.”

He stared at her for a moment as if
she were daft. And then he smiled broadly, a chuckle escaping him.
She was pleasantly surprised with the sound, and felt a layer of
tension peel away.

“I believe you would have,” he said in
a low voice.

She smiled back at him. She was not
jesting. If not for the appearance of her ghostly guide, she would
have returned to the tavern yard.

The carriage driver’s head appeared in
the doorway. “All set, sir.”

“Very good.” The Captain’s voice of
command had returned. “We’re away, then.”

The door shut, and Sophy felt the
carriage rock slightly as the driver climbed to his
seat.

“Is it safe to assume that you are not
hurt?” she asked.

BOOK: Ghost of the Thames
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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