WARNING: Contains violence.
Charlotte shows Mrs Stapleton her mettle.
For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.
London – 1840
Mrs Stapleton, Millie and Mary were going shopping, they had a lovely wicker basket and bonnets, very ladylike. I could’ve gone with them but I’d learnt the hard way I couldn’t fight dressed as a lady and Ellington might still be looking for the girls. He brought them to work in his factory and Father Brennan had stolen them away, no-one took what Ellington deemed his.
While they walked along the street I walked along the rooftops in my jerkin with my hood up. I wasn’t going to assume that daylight would protect them, even if he sent another vampire the sun didn’t bother them, Bran and I had lain in the garden for hours in the past and he never got so much as a peely nose. It wasn’t the first time they’d gone shopping with Mrs Stapleton but that didn’t mean anything. At least I didn’t have to think about Meredith, she was at home with Bran learning to write, perfectly safe. Father Brennan on the other hand, he was a grown man and he’d brought the trouble on himself, it was better to keep my eye on the children.
Why he’d chosen these children of all the ones that worked in Ellington’s factory I didn’t know but I could only deal with one problem at a time and stopping Ellington seemed more pressing. Once I worked out how to get to him.
I flicked the catch on one of my mechanised scabbards and the knife shot into my hand without taking off my fingers. Satisfied I locked the knife back into place.
Up ahead the road was blocked. A cart had tipped over and spilt a load of manure across the cobbles. People were gathered around with buckets and shovels to steal it. Everything was a commodity in London.
If you were bothered about a bit of manure the obvious route around to get to the market was along the alley in-between. It was a narrow, most of them were, easy to trap someone, no doubt why people were taking the longer route along a wide road that took them all round the houses, quite literally. There were some places in the city you didn’t go even in daylight, you might find people like me in them but with fewer morals.
‘Follow the road, Mrs Stapleton,’ I muttered. ‘It’s a trap.’ Even if it wasn’t one of Ellington’s men, it could be a gang of thieves which was no better.
I ran across the rooftops, dropped into a crouch out of sight and peered down into the alley. It was narrow, there were windows and doors along it but none of them led anywhere you wanted to go. Someone could be hiding in one of the doorways, or behind a door and I’d never know.
I was still trying to work out if someone was lurking when Mrs Stapleton and the girls started walking down it.
‘Bugger,’ I muttered. I’d been hoping Mrs Stapleton was a woman of sense, but then I supposed it wasn’t her sense that was the problem. Living with Bran might make it easy to settle into a bubble where the whole world seemed safe. Making people feel safe was what Bran did, though he didn’t seem to realise, despite shy little Meredith running around in his shadow.
Movement caught my eye when the trapper stirred in a deep set door to peek out at his prey. Duncan, I knew him too well. He used to work for Aubrey as the person he called when he wanted something very nasty and immoral doing. Duncan was dangerous because he knew exactly what he was doing and exactly why it was wrong but he didn’t care.
Mrs Stapleton carried on walking as if she hadn’t seen him. The gap was closing fast.
I jumped, grabbed a window opposite, jolting my arms. Jumped again to a lower one opposite. Duncan stepped out of the doorway into their path. Too close.
I swung and dropped the last two floors. I missed his head and hit his bulk. We hit the ground. I bounced onto the the cobbles, smacked into the wall and struck my head on a doorstep. I flopped onto my front and my brain decide it was a good time to start forgetting so my limbs forgot how to work in unison.
There was screaming, not mine, thankfully.
Duncan’s foot came down on my back and my face smacked the damp cobbles. He grabbed the back of my jacket, lifted my shoulders and pulled back my hood. ‘Mary, Mary. Quite contrary. You always were a fool.’ He flipped me over onto my back and held me down by my throat. ‘Four. Who shall I do first, you or a little one?’
I wrapped my legs around him, pulled him close and head-butted him. The sensible thing to do would’ve been to skewer him through the noggin. I punched him instead. The Bogyman who’d haunted my youth was under my fist.
He smack me into one wall then the other. My ribs cracked and pain fired through my torso. I tumbled, he tried to rise I got my legs around him, arms around his neck and squeezed. He pulled at my arms and slammed me against the walls trying to shake me off his back but my fury held me there.
Mrs Stapleton the girls were still there. She had her arms around them hiding their faces against her dress. They were crying but I didn’t see why they were complaining.
Duncan fell to his knees, still struggling to prise my arms from round his throat.
‘Bitch,’ he spluttered. ‘Too soft t’do it.’
Ellington or coincidence? I didn’t care.
I snapped his neck.
He crumpled to the ground. I leaned against the wall, it didn’t need to hurt in the morning, it already hurt.
Time was wasting. I crouched down with my back to Mrs Stapleton and the girls under the pretence of checking if he was dead and stabbed him through the heart, just to be sure.
‘Mummy!’ Mary cried, straining away from Mrs Stapleton to get to me.
I flipped my hood up then picked up Mary, my ribs didn’t like it, they’d rather I was lying on the ground complaining.
Mary pressed her face against my neck. ‘Mummy, I don’t like the monster.’
I looked Mrs Stapleton in the eye and said, ‘I’ll never let any monsters hurt you.’
Mary and Millie continued to cry but Mrs Stapleton gave me a small nod. Very small.
If anyone had been waiting outside the alley they didn’t try to follow us but I took them home the twistiest way possible, just to be sure.