As she opened the shop door, she heard the chimes of Master Humphrey’s clock. Exactly 7:15. She had struggled to waken in the dawning hour, as every morning. “That is what I deserve,” she thought to herself, “for choosing Mrs. Lirriper’s lodgings.” Forewarned it was a haunted house, she sniffed at the suggestion. She was not the sort to indulge in thoughts about spirits of the night. Too fanciful. Until she met the signal man. He walked through her walls, signal lantern in hand, waving and yelling directions to trains visible only to him. Apparently, this had been his room before an unfortunate accident. He waved the midnight train right at Mugby Junction; the driver, having trouble with right and left, went left.
At least that was Mr. George Silverman’s explanation when she described her nightly visitor at the dinner table. Despite herself, she found Mr. Silverman, another lodger, rather hansom and engaging. Fancifully for her, she dreamed when she nodding off, of a holiday romance, of holding hands by the Christmas tree.
Mrs. Lirriper, before retiring for the night, would offer her a slug from the household gallon bottle of Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions for Haunts, Sweats, Faints, and Dyspepsia . She shook her head; she was a tea-totaller and the stuff reeked of alcohol. Mrs. Lirriper’s legacy to her boarders – a taste for gin and rum. She left temperance pamphlets in the foyer for her fellow boarders.
She seemed prim and proper – always dressed in a crisp white linen shirtwaist and a dark skirt which just swept above the paving stones. An over jacket of wool in winter, lighter cotton in summer. Her raven’s hair was tidily tucked and pinned into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her only luxury was hats – she had 28, one for each day of the week no matter if it be Spring or Fall. Today, seeing as the season was frozen deep into winter, she sported a woolen cap.
But underneath her orderly exterior, she was a wild-eyed socialist and staunch suffragette. Her job at Master Humphrey’s publishing shop provided access to materials and machines to produce subversive literature. Hence, her early arrival, despite never getting enough sleep. Today, she needed to flop down in the queer chair rescued from a first class passengers’ lounge during the wreck of the Golden Mary on the shoals during a blustery wintery storm. That was the story Master Humphrey told anytime a client perched on it’s ancient salt-stained leather.
She thought it was probably bosh, like so many of his stories. Unlike her, he had a very active imagination. She was certain that there were no sewer-dwelling reptiles who were going into society on nights when the moon was full. Nor the existence of a Captain Murderer who was hunted down by a riotous mob to the Holly-tree Inn. Rather than undergo a trial for murder, there, in an upstairs room, the Captain disguised himself as a lamplighter, then slipped away, embarking on a long voyage. He knew, according to Master H., of the perils of certain English prisoners, so he opted for Canada rather than Australia. All this from Master H.’s personal knowledge, of course. As he always said, “I would sooner perpetrate a fraud on fairies, than tell a tale that was not true.”
The clock chimed 8:00; she had fallen asleep! So much for printing the newest suffrage song. Instead, she listened for the rattle of the door announcing the appearance of her co-workers. And, thought about the awful tasks ahead of her. That strange gentleman, the Baron of Grogzwig, had left a draft of his latest book, A Madman’s Manuscript to be Read at Dusk, for her to copy-edit. That was her real role, to wrestle a nobody’s story into a somebody’s masterpiece. The Baron was not the best of writers; “Prince Bull”, a fellow copy-editor nicknamed him. He also was extremely sensitive to editorial changes, challenges and suggestions. She did the work, and let Master H. explain to it all to him.
Then there would be the tedious dealings with the firm of Dombrey and Son – a company history as dry as the dust in their tea warehouses. One of their clerks dropped off a draft of Volume X yesterday. Ten! And, they wanted copies for wholesale, retail, and exportation. If it not for her subversive causes, she would don on hat and coat and march away as fast as she could. Stopping only long enough to thumb her nose at the No Thoroughfare sign at the beginning of the shop’s back alley.
A key in the lock; it should be her two co-workers, late as usual. But only Mr. Barnaby Rudge, looking as crumpled and disarrayed as ever, emerged when the door was firmly shut and locked again.
“Where is our mutual friend?” Dorrit asked
“Ah,” replied Mr. Rudge, “That is the mystery of Edwin Drood. He is now an uncommercial traveller. Sketch book under his arm, he is off to paint pictures from Italy; draw sketches of young gentlemen, village coquettes, and young couples. His palette contains more than just a red pencil now.”
Dorrit sighed. Hard times. She had such great expectations of Mr. Drood joining her socialist circle, and thus helping her edit the society’s Mudfrog Papers. Perhaps she could recruit Mr. Silverman . . .
Concocted for Tale Weaver #125: of the writerly persuasion.
This strangely woven story is a tapestry of Charles Dickens titles. From the more obscure to the more obvious, there are 42 of them in all. Perhaps I should have presented my tale in serial form . . .