Boys and Bones
©2016 Karen J Carlisle
“It’s not fair!” Florence thrust her hands on her hips and glared at her father.
Thaddeus Blake, normally an imposing man, crumpled into his chair and reached for the bottle of sherry. He poured himself a large drink and took a swig.
“No, it’s not,” he said.
Florence opened her mouth and blinked. She had expected an argument, raised voices at least.
“It’s not fair poor Mary’s died of Typhus. It’s not fair her children will likely end up in the poor house. It’s not fair I have no sons to take over the business. And I need a spotter.” He poured more sherry and swirled it slowly in the glass. “I’d hoped you would have married by now. But you refused –”
“A store clerk or a butcher?” She narrowed her eyelids.
The glass clunked on the table.
“Would you rather the rat catcher? There’s not many’d have you if they knew where the money came from, girl. And, if it’s to continue, I need a spotter. I need someone I can trust.”
A spotter, indeed!
“Really, father. Mother would roll over in her grave.” Florence pursed her lips.
Thaddeus raised an eyebrow. “At least she’s still safely in the ground.” He rose slowly, his gaze fixed on the floor
Florence’s heart sank. Her hands fell from her hips. She knew it pained him to talk about her mother.
“Father, I’m sorry.” She rushed to his side and slipped an arm around his waist. “I’ll be spotter.”
His muscles relaxed.
“But I’ll need a new dress.”
The veil fluttered around Florence’s cheeks and fluttered against her neck. She dabbed at her eye with her handkerchief with a black-gloved hand and sniffed.
Not too much. You don’t want to attract too much attention.
She scanned the graveyard. Three burials today. This was the last.
The shovel slapped against the mound of earth.
Metal scraped against a tombstone behind her. Two men dragged a long iron cage toward the grave. It fell with a clatter. They collected heavy mallets and pounded the cage deeper into the earth.
Florence sighed, mopped her eye. She drifted back amongst the long shadows of the gravestones and passed the guard on the second internment. Father would be waiting.
Shadows widened and flooded the graveyard as the moon dipped behind the church. A cool breeze whistled between the headstones. It tugged at Florence’s charcoal woollen dress. She pulled her shawl over her forehead and wrapped it tighter. She raised her finger and pointed toward the side of the graveyard.
“Over there,” Florence whispered.
Thaddeus grinned and swung a coil of rope over his shoulder. Flecks of soil sprinkled to the ground.
“Any guards?” he asked.
“Just the one,” she replied. “On the other side of the church.”
“Right then we’d better be quick. Come on, Skinner.” Thaddeus signalled for his partner. A bearded man stepped out from the shadows and nodded.
Florence led the men through the maze of stones to a rectangular mound of earth cleared amongst the spreading ivy.
“Usual direction?” asked Thaddeus.
Skinner paced out several steps from one end of the mound. He peeled a section of ivy from the ground, grabbed his wooden shovel and thrust it into the soil with a dull thud.
“Go, Florence. Keep watch for that guard.” Thaddeus unfurled the rope and loosened the noose.
Florence picked her way back toward the church and hid behind the trunk of an oak. She could just make out the vague outline of the guard’s shadow as he paced the grave.
Was this to be her life now? A spotter for a resurrection man. What was she to tell any curious suitors? Her heartbeat faltered a beat. She caught her breath. There’d be none if word got out.
Gravel crunched on the path. Florence ducked her head back into the shadow and peered into the darkness.
A small flame bobbed closer casting a long shadow behind it.
Florence’s muscles twitched.
The pool of light crept closer. She pressed her body against the trunk. If she moved, she’d be seen.
I must warn Father!
She pursed her lips and held her breath.
The light washed over the gravestone in front of the oak.
Too close. A noise may be investigated.
Florence peeked around the trunk. A tall figure trudged past, his face illuminated by the oil lamp. He was young – not much older than she – and . . .
The youth trudged on.
Florence’s heart fluttered. She choked in another breath. She struggled to stay silent as her lungs expelled the air.
The guard straightened and removed his cap, when the youth neared the grave.
“All’s quiet, Mr Langdon,” said the guard.
Langdon. Florence licked her lips. Mrs Florence Langdon? Her cheeks burned.
Langdon stood; head bowed, for several minutes, and then spoke:
“I’ll return tomorrow night.”
Florence’s heart pounded. Tomorrow night.
Langdon pressed something into the guard’s hand and returned along the path. Florence leaned into the trunk, hoping for another glimpse in the lamplight. It was not to be. The lantern was held low as her quarry marched from the churchyard.
A muffled thud landed behind her.
Florence spun toward the sound.
Thaddeus and Skinner padded closer, carrying a man-sized bundle on their shoulders. Florence glanced in the direction of the guard. He had returned to his pacing, seemingly oblivious to the noise. Florence’s muscles relaxed.
“You took your time, father.” She pulled the shawl closer, trying to hide her red cheeks.
“The ground is getting harder to dig,” whispered Thaddeus. “We’ll need a few more before winter.”
“Then I’d better do more spotting tomorrow,” said Florence with a smile.
The Wizard of St Giles is a work-in-progress novel, set in my steampunk world of Victorian mysteries and adventures. You will meet two new characters with a mission – to rid Europe of a supernatural scourge. They uncover a covert operation infiltrating the highest echelons in their plans to control the fate of humans.
Boys and Bones was the third story written in world of The Wizard of St Giles