Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Riverboats Part 13: Satisfaction

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The carriages were gone when I returned to the police station. I imagined they had left in a flurry as soon as Mrs Hunter was gone, men shouting and horses snorting. The image of arrest and triumphant return soothed me as I waited for them, but as the hours dragged by and the light through the window turned to gold and then to darker blue, my thoughts turned anxious. By nightfal they had still not returned.

Laneham came to the station, alone, and found me sitting in the hallway, head in my hands, far more worried than I had the right to be.

‘Is quiet, he signed. Are they not back?

No.

He picked up my hands from where they had fallen onto my lap, and gently tugged at me to stand.

‘I need to wait,’ I said, snatching them back. ‘I need to be here, if something’s gone wrong, I need to answer to it, I need to help…’

On that last word, I looked at him. He was a grown man, and he looked as solemn and concerned as a grown man would upon hearing bad news, but in that moment what I saw was a skinny young boy with ill-fitting clothes and perpetual trembling from fear. I had to answer to him, didn’t I?

‘I don’t understand,’ I said, to him and myself. I spoke softly, but still my voice sounded like a wailing child. ‘Mrs Hunter said she would tell them the right place – she looked as if she was really going to help us…and she wouldn’t have betrayed her word. Why would they still be out is she told them the right place?’

Laneham knelt in front of me.

If he had any warning, he would run.

‘It can’t all have been for nothing!’ I whispered. ‘And if they couldn’t find him, they would be back by now…’

Unless there was a huge fight. Unless shots were fired and officers were killed.

He can’t run far, Laneham signed, his gestures a welcome interruption to such morbid thoughts. They must be searching still.

I breathed. It was possible. My shoulders dropped.

But –

No, my hands were shaking too much to sign. I returned to speech.

‘It’s a long time they’ve been searching.’

He frowned, and looked out the window. The same darkly determined look he used to wear whenever Archibald Hunter, or anyone involved with the feud was mentioned, the same look he had when Clark used to insult me. I would never have thought him capable of it, once, but I knew now: that was the look of impending violence.

It is late and you should go home, he signed, turning back to me. I shook my head. I couldn’t bear the thought of what might happen if I left.

Edie, he insisted with a condescending expression, you’re no use here. You should rest. I’ll walk you home.

He held out a hand to me and I realised he was right: my eyes hurt, my back was sore, all my muscles were worn out from the stress of the day. I was not fit for help, even if I was needed. I took his hand and I was glad to lean on him as we left the station. We said nothing during the walk to my home; I had nothing to say, and I was only happy to feel his arm pressed close to me, and the comfort it gave after a hard day. We reached my parent’s tiny house, and I was reluctant to let go of him.

Thank you, I signed. He stroked my cheek.

It’s nothing, he signed.

Weeks away from being close with Isabel; even longer without him. I was so tired and worried that, if not for that look back in the station, I would have said I’d marry him if he had asked at that moment.

‘Are you going away tomorrow?’

Yes, unless something more important rises.

‘Then I’ll visit in the morning, once I’ve found out what’s happened. If–’

I was going to tell him that if I didn’t show, then he could assume that something important had happened and should come to the station – but at that moment, the door beside us opened, and my mother stood there. Her eyes widened when she saw Laneham.

‘Oh!’

She blinked and cleared her throat before speaking more.

‘I – I was wondering who Edie could be talking to…’

My father asked what was going on, and appeared beside her. His face fell, and he nodded at Laneham. No-one spoke; my parents stared at this handsome young man who had once been the hope of their family, a man whom they had said was dead, rather than admit that he had gone to their enemy. Laneham stood, and took their stares without any look of reproach. Only I could see the sorrow in his eyes as he looked at his former parents – not his only former caregivers, I remembered now. The dapper and mournful man I had met earlier that day had done far more for Laneham than we ever had.

‘Thank you for walking me home,’ I said. I wanted him away from them, away from that painful recollection.

Laneham turned away from my parents, kissed my cheek, and left without another sign or look. I wanted to watch him walk away, but my mother hustled me inside.

‘My,’ she said once she shut the door. ‘He’s turned out fine, hasn’t he?’

‘Turned out cheeky, more like,’ my father said, ‘doing that at my doorstep. Do you never get tired of being trouble, girl?’

I left them without acknowledging their words. It would never be right, what had happened. We could never return to how things were, how we had planned them, how we thought they ought to be. But I knew that in time, and with work, we could move forward. My parents would accept Laneham again; he and Isabel would acknowledge each other beyond being enemies; the boats would sail on through the ports, with only teasing shouts between those passing, in place of gunshots. It would happen…but only after the end, and the end had not come yet. I laid in bed, knowing that the police were still rummaging through the dens in town, and knowing that the one man who could unravel everything was still hidden away in the darkness, safe.

*

I knew the banging at the door must be meant for me, so I rushed to answer it before my parents could rise. I was still half-asleep when I opened the door, my bleary eyes working hard to recognise the man with the lamp at his face.

‘Miss Heinlein,’ he said, ‘it’s urgent.’

Finally, the name of the face came to me: Edward, Edward Miller – Helena’s old flame. I was utterly confused as to why he’d be there.

‘What? What’s wrong?’

‘Laneham and Clark, they’re going after Archibald Hunter – they’ve gone off just now.’

‘What? That’s not possible – they don’t know where he is.’ They hadn’t heard what Mrs Hunter had told the police, so they couldn’t have any idea.

‘There’s policemen all over East Dulwich today, and no-one knew why. The pair of them came to talk to us in the pub and seemed interested – I thought they looked like they knew something. Then Clark asked me if one of the Baileys’ old men still owned a pub there, and I said yes so he asked which one and how to get there. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise what they meant until I saw them talking to each other with their hands, and they made that sign for “Hunter” a lot…’

‘You don’t know that sign,’ I said, more peeved than I should have been at such an idea.

‘I do, it’s the one they use all the time–’

He touched his two index fingers and thumbs together in the shape of an arrowhead. Hunter.

‘Anyway, they left and then Marc McBain came in and said the police were looking for Archibald Hunter and I realised what I’d done – they think he’s in the Palmerston and have gone after him. I don’t want this to blow up again, and I know you don’t – and Laneham won’t listen to someone like me, but he’ll listen to you, Miss Heinlein. Please, you have to stop them!’

I nodded, though I could barely believe what I was hearing.

‘Thank you for telling me – I’ll go as fast as I can, if you can tell me how.’

I rushed to put on my boots and coat as he told me the way to go. I ignored a call from my mother as I ran out, slammed the door behind me and followed Edward to the church street, which would lean on to the road to Dulwich.

‘I can make it from here,’ I said. ‘You need to go to the station and see if there’s anyone there who can help, or who can send a message to Christian McNeil.’

‘I can’t let you walk through town by yourself at night!’ he said, appalled.

‘I need more help than you!’ I said, rather unkindly because of my panic. ‘Please, Edward, be quick and you’ll find me again before I get there – I promise I won’t get lost!’

He did not look as if he would do what I said, so I started running and the next time I looked back at him, he was running the other way, to the station.

The shock kept me running for a while, barely seeing where I was going except to check the street names. Archibald Hunter had run from his old hiding hole – fine. He had hidden in a place which was owned by a family related to the Hunters – fine. Laneham and Clark had realised this – fine. But to go after him themselves? To not tell anyone their intentions? It only meant one thing: they still wanted his blood. After all this time, they were still determined to have vengeance, despite everything they had done to help me, help everyone. After the shock, came the fury: how dare they? How dare they think that revenge was for them and not for anyone else? How dare they betray me and everything I had done to stop these murders? All my hard work, all the heartbreak of Isabel and Harriet and even Mr Hunter himself – how DARE they?

And, I thought as the rage subsided and the despair swept into its stead, how dare Laneham throw his life away like this, after everything he had said to me? How could he risk himself on something so stupid, when I was still here?

I slowed down, out of breath and out of power, and I realised I was alone, in a dark and unfamiliar street, in a dark and unfamiliar part of town. I wanted to cry, I wanted to stop, I wanted to turn back, but that would be giving up, and even if I gave up, I would still not be home for a long time yet.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid as I walked down those alien streets. Every rattle and shout and slam made me jump, afraid for my life. I kept my head down and tried to keep to the shadows whenever I passed a person, wary of what they were doing. I tried to keep hidden from the drunken men outside the rowdy public houses. I saw women of the night on the corners for the first time in my life, who eyed me with scorn as I passed them as mousily as I could. A dog jumped out from behind a gate a scared me, and soon afterwards a beggar tried to speak to me, tried to grab my arm – I didn’t even hear what he was asking me for – and that’s when I ran again. Once I turned down the next street, and the empty one after that, I felt slightly safer, but I was still on edge and it took a long time for my breathing to return to normal. Mostly, though, despite this, the night was cold and the roads quiet, and until I came into East Dulwich, I had little to occupy me but my heated, unquiet thoughts.

There were lights in the distance, shaking slightly – hand-held lamps. I sped up my walking, knowing that the Palmerston was a little ahead and round the next corner – and that’s when the shot ran out. I sprinted round the corner, and saw five carriages surrounding the hotel, men spread outside the doors, all looking at the front door in anticipation, guns drawn. Huddled next to a carriage were an old man and two women – the man complaining bitterly. I ran up to the nearest man.

‘What’s happened? Who fired?’

‘Young lady, this is a police matter – you should be at home,’ the man said, not looking at me. I recognised him.

‘Morris, is Mr McNeil here?’

‘Wha – Miss Heinlein? Get down!’ He motioned to behind him. ‘Mr McNeil’s inside, the shot came from there. Mr Hunter’s armed – what are you doing here, anyway? Get back or you’ll get hurt!’

‘But Laneham and Clark–!’

‘They’re inside too,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry we won’t let any–HEY!’

I jumped out from behind him and he had to push me back.

‘Stay where you are or I’ll put you in cuffs! It’s dangerous in there!’

‘But…’

I couldn’t voice my objections. If the police tried to stop them, then they could all end up dead: Chrisian, Clark and Laneham. Another shot rang out, piercing my already-shot nerves, and dread flooded my stomach. Shouts were coming from the building. Yells. Someone sounded as if they were in pain. I sank into a crouch behind Morris, and I hugged my legs. The yelling continued. Oh God, it was over! They were dead – they were all dead!

The shouting increased until I could tell they were out the house. Morris shouted:

‘Hands down!’

I opened my eyes again. Morris moved, and brushed his leg against me behind him.

‘Miss Heinlein – you can look now, it’s safe. They’ve got him.’

I jumped up and looked: in front of the pub doors, there was a large imposing man, with the same dark hair as Mrs Hunter, and he was shouting obscenities at the top of his voice. Clasped around him, pinning his arms and with one arm around his neck, were Laneham and Clark. Behind them, wiping his brow and smiling, came Christian McNeil.

‘Right, boys, let’s get him in.’

Two policemen joined Clark and Laneham, and with their help, Christian wrestled the struggling man’s arms to behind him, and put his wrists in shackles.

‘Hey Chris, look what I found!’ Morris called out, as the men tried to move the prisoner towards a carriage. Laneham, Clark, and Christian all looked at me with surprise; Christian recovered from his shock first.

‘Miss Heinlein! We did it! Look at what your fine work has brought us – Mr Archibald Hunter himself!’

The prisoner looked at me as well, and scowled. He seemed perplexed as to how this girl could have possibly helped to capture him, and for that, the rest of the policemen laughed. They threw him in a carriage, and the owner and his family as well – the old man glared at me and muttered as he went past. Christian came over to me.

‘I’ll be taking him in myself, and it’ll probably take a long time to sort everything out. Wooh, it’s been a strange day! You should go to bed, Edie. There’s nothing else you can do for us.’

I didn’t know what to say. I was still confused as to what had happened.

‘Feel free to take a lift home though – Perry got word of what was happening, so he sent extra carriages. There should be space enough for you all.’

He beamed at me.

‘Don’t look so shocked, Miss Heinlein! We did it! It’s all over!’

I managed to give him a shaky smile.

‘Thanks.’

He told me to take care, and that he would see me tomorrow at the station, and then he got in the carriage with Archibald Hunter. I walked over to Laneham and Clark, and we watched until the carriage drove away and out of sight.

‘It’s a good thing we told the police,’ Clark said, once it was gone. ‘He put up one hell of a struggle – shot the wall twice as well. We couldn’t have done it without them.’

Laneham looked at me, grey questioning eyes, still surprised to see me.

‘I thought you were going to kill him,’ I confessed. ‘Edward told me you’d come here, and realised why – and I thought you wanted to kill him, before the police could get him.’

‘And get ourselves arrested, after all that we’ve done?’ Clark snorted. ‘Of course not.’

‘You didn’t tell anyone why you were going here.’

‘We didn’t trust anyone else to come here, for the same reason you didn’t trust us,’ he continued.

Why are you here, Edie? Laneham said, eyes still on me.

I…I came to stop you. I thought you would listen to me.

Clark turned away and smirked to himself, but Laneham looked worried.

You would have run into a fight? And how did you get here?

I…

I dropped my hands for a moment before telling him, because I suddenly felt foolish – all my fear, in the face of the truth, looked stupid.

I ran here from home.

He stared at me, dumfounded, for a moment, before pulling me into his embrace, holding me tight, as if to make up for the dangers I had faced before.

‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered into his shoulder. ‘But he’s the one that ruined everything for us, as well as hurting your family…I thought that, even after all this, you still wanted the satisfaction of killing him.’

Laneham pulled away and signed:

Catching him is all the satisfaction I need.

I burst out laughing; I had to wipe away the tears, but I laughed nonetheless. I had never felt such a keen relief as I felt at that moment. Laneham took me in his arms again, and only a pointed word from Clark – that we should get in a carriage and go home – was enough to separate us. As we travelled back to the docks, I leant against the back of the box and thought over what had just occurred, and everything else that had happened since the day I left the Endeavour.

‘It’s over,’ I said. Laneham squeezed my hand and smiled, but I had to say it again:

‘It’s all over.’

I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. I had faced two warring sides, and the two people I loved the most had sworn to kill each other, and I had stopped it.

I had won.

 

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Written by G.J.

08/11/2012 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Riverboats

Tagged with , , , ,

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