I saw her in glimpses, seraphim in the blinking lantern light. In a way she resembled all that London was in that year 1860 and all that it still is to this day; a beauty revealing itself in flashes, leaving one incredulous when it appears in the most unsuspected places and moments. The third year I called London home she acted the savior. Ironic that the grand capitol that swept a Dorset boy like me in its embrace, that instilled awe and welcoming within his bosom, would also become the stage for the worst pain to ever seize him.
Covent Garden hummed with yuletide commerce. Patrons of every ilk bundled and bundled some more, as if the frigid morning air were a habitual gadfly perpetually shooed away. Mothers and daughters wore two shawls, pinching them with one hand while the other grasped and prodded wares of confectionary, linens, flora, and baubles. Fathers in greatcoats and gloves conversed idly with costermongers, while using canes to shepherd wayward sons, toddlers and young boys wobbling in their mischief, excited with sundry activity the season brought.
Being a bachelor with no wee ones of my own, and a barrister’s clerk with but a little money to spend, I tended to make better progress through the seller’s stalls than those of more familial tethering. A couple items caught my eye which I thought of gifting to my mother, but nothing sold me.
“You there, how’s about a nice shawl for a lady in your life? Pretty as a picture in the Strand!”
“Young sir, a bouquet can go a long way, if you don’t mind me sayin’.”
“These chestnuts with a bottle of our vintage—ambrosia to the kings of Thessaly.”
I smiled at these offerings, but truth was, the best stock tended to be in the middle of the marketplace. Just the way I liked it. I cherished days like these in London, where I could leave Barrister Bloathewaite’s offices with recent wages and inhale the city in all its glory, its sights, sounds, smells, touch, and the occasional taste via seller sampler.
But the pain hit that day. Worse than ever.
That morning I had contemplated sending a missive, that I would be in with the doctor. But the pain below my navel subsided, and I soldiered on.
But here in the middle of holiday cheer it hit me, sharp as ever.
I grabbed my waistline as if to prevent me being guillotined in two. I stumbled, jostled passerby, and collided with the snow-strewn cobbles. Odd that once the pain hits a certain point it tends to numb right before fainting.
The faint lasted mere minutes and I felt myself floating. It dawned on me in my stupor, an angel had been sent to fetch me. Her face flashed as my consciousness undulated, a tide gleaming sunrise. The lanterns of the stalls revealed her soft face in the early eve. Chalky and fragile, small wisps of breath meeting the phantom of cold. Her lips and nose small but set in line like a sea vessel, her eyes the steadfast sails, watering in the momentum with which she transported me in the barrow.
As in and out as I was, I grasped that I did not cross the Channel bound for the continent. When the shilling hanging from above read “Physician” I knew I had remained landlocked. I knew that much before passing out again.
Mr. Roberts was a man who knew his craft, for the ailment I had, which he called “stones”, were to pass, albeit painfully, with the help of his regimen of elixirs and mixed powders and a certain prescribed diet. I was happy the bill had left me with a bit left to pay my rent and still get my mother a small gift to bring home for the season’s visit back to Dorset.
The following week I endeavored to purchase my mother’s gift and track down the barrow seller, the angel, who had conveyed myself to relief.
It must have not been my month, as it were, for as I traversed the crowds of Drury Lane I felt the pickpocket’s hand pull my billfold. I guess I was lucky in that regard, for many is the victim who never realizes they are being robbed.
I chased the lad toward Covent Garden, not enough time to notice if any constables patrolled nearby. Fortunately my daily walk to Barrister Bloathewait’s kept me in robust condition, and it took but a quarter of an hour to maneuver to an alley where my absconder could go no further.
“Hand me what is mine, and be gone with you,” I said, wanting to go about my day without further delay. I had a pity for those who took to these ways. Even though it was wrong, I knew starving families were often the motivation behind such acts.
The rascal wore a thick woolen cap and looked about as does a cornered animal wising for some escape to manifest.
“There’s nowhere to go. Give it here.”
With a rather high-pitched grunt, the culprit sprinted in an effort to throw me off balance and get past me. I felt myself stepping in the way and grabbing hold of this thief. The momentum took us both to the cobbles. What I thought was a boy squirmed in my grasp.
“Please don’t turn me in. Please,” a young woman’s voice pleaded.
It was then I met her eyes. She flinched as I removed the cap which unrolled the billow of wheat-brown locks.
“You?” My brows clenched as it dawned on me that this was the benefactor from the week prior. Up this close, she looked more a denizen of the heavens.
A look of vague recognition twinkled in her eyes, and was gone, a sparrow gliding through an arcade.
“Sir, here, take it.” She handed me the billfold. I do not remember putting it in my coat pocket, so muddled was my mind. “It was for my mother. She is sick. No one wants to help. Please, sir, don’t turn me in.”
We were both still on the cold ground, sitting in the dank alleyway. I helped her to her feet.
“Don’t you have money from selling your barrow-wares?” I asked, perplexed. “Surely this is not the way. What good would it do your mother if you were sent to jail?”
Her hands went to her face, and rivulets flowed.
“No, no. I didn’t mean that.” I said in soft tones. “I’m not going to report this. After all you did for me, bringing me to the doctor.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s just that what little money I make, most of it goes to the stall owner. And he pays me little.”
“Let me see if I can help you and your mother.”
Her eyes showed another gleam of hope, merely a flutter, but it was there.
She nodded, and the rest, as they say, is history.
It is said London is the epicenter of all Britain, from which all things stem. And that is true for me as well, for Angelia, the woman who saved me in Covent Garden that one day and then pickpocketed my heart, became the center of my universe, and eventually we wed. She had been abused by men who only wished to use and discard her. I had been a struggling clerk, shunned by a handful of maidens who thought me, admittedly true, not yet ready to financially support them in the way their fathers thought appropriate. Yet, our roads intersected at exactly the right time.
With some of my funds, and with appeals to certain charities with whom our law firm had business ties, Angelia’s mother survived her illness, and many is the night the three of us enjoyed dinner hearthside.
When I visited Dorset, my family was quite happy to see me, and though I had no gift for my mother, when she heard where those funds went and that I had met someone special, she said that was all the gift she needed.
Nolan has been published in Foliate Oak, Aphelion, Blood Moon Rising, Points in Case, and Defenestration Magazine. He’s worked with executive editors from TOR/Forge; Random House; Folio Literary; and Dijkstra Agency. Under a pen name, he self-published an Epic Fantasy novel, full of kingdoms and conflicts. He’s also taught creative writing and has his own curriculum. All this writing came after his childhood acting days in Baywatch, Disney’s Geppetto, and Pizza Hut and HBO commercials, one of which was featured in USA Today.