The Charred Tree

Bound By Silence: Arrival

The cloaked figure slowly walked the narrow street heedless of the fog and the dark between the widely spaced  and guttering street lamps. The steady soft clip that accompanied each footfall on the cobbles echoed slightly between the cramped buildings and faded into the sound of the almost-slumbering city—the muted voices of the dock workers as they drank the last round before being escorted out of the pub for the night, the distant clang of a ship’s bell from the quay, the occasional squall of cats fighting in the stinking alleys over some bit of food, the low voices of a prostitute negotiating her fee with a prospective customer. Night wrapped itself around the East End of London and all but the most depraved of the city’s residents lay sleeping in their beds.

The late hour did not bother the man in the dark cloak but the sounds and atmosphere of the old city kept bringing back the memories. This was where he had grown up with his brother and sister—was that the street just ahead? The glow of the next street lamp revealed the facade of buildings familiar to him. Yes, this was the street that lead to the market nearest his childhood home. That was where he had learned his first lessons in life; where Old Man Mymms had striped his back for stealing fruit from his stand and where he had once played with his chums. They had done what they had to in order to survive and when there was no honest work to be had they hoped to not be caught. When not scraping to keep body and soul together they had roamed these streets, the poorest in London, as if they owned them. This was…

Home.

That word seemed strange to him when paired with this place. London held a diversity of memories for him—some good, but mostly bad. Many of the past years had been spent on the continent and he had lived with Monsignor Dubois for more of that time than anywhere else. The abbey in northern Italy was the place he had come to think of as home. He had spent those years both in study and in work for the Monsignor. He had enjoyed the long sunny days of working the vineyard almost as much as he had enjoyed the hours of intense scholarship and verbal testing by the Monsignor and the Brothers. It had not taken long for him to view his master as a surrogate father as well as the spiritual mentor in his studies. The abbey had become his home and he had never thought any other place would hold that distinction for him. Now, unbidden, the city of his birth had reasserted its claim to that place in his heart and mind.

The realization surprised him and he stopped in the abandoned street and looked around. The sights and sounds from his childhood were familiar but they seemed sharper due to his long absence. Each detail revealed in the flickering gaslight stood out as if begging for his attention; as if begging for his notice.

“G’evenin’, sir. Are you all right?” The husky voice came from the alley he had just passed. The surprise nearly made him jump from his skin and he turned to face the voice. The door in his mind that hid the more unsavory experiences from his childhood opened a crack and the memory of The Fishman flooded his thoughts. The Fishman had hidden in the shadows and preyed upon young boys. It was something that was not discussed with your friends because of the unnaturalness of the act and the shame that accompanied it. Sweat broke and he felt the shirt sticking to his thin body.

“Who’s there?” he called, his pulse pounding in his ears.

“Now I might be asking you that same question, sir, seeing how you’ve been standing there staring into the darkness. Besides, it is my business to know the people in this area an’ I don’t know  who you might be.” A constable emerged from the shadows and walked into the circle cast by the street lamp.

A wave of relief passed over the cloaked man and he felt the night air begin to chill his damp brow. It wasn’t the menace from his childhood after all; merely a constable walking his rounds and inquiring about a person he did not recognize.

“Constable, you startled me. I wasn’t expecting anyone out at this hour. I’m on my way to my sister’s home at the upper end of Brick Lane.” He reached up and pulled the hood of the cloak back to reveal his face to the officer. “I am Father Thomas Lenoir.” He offered his hand.

“Catholic, eh?” The constable looked unimpressed. “And your sister would be?” He raised his head slightly and looked down his nose at the priest.

“Faithe. Faithe Fitzsimmons. Her husband is Robert Fitzsimmons who works at the bank over on the Whitechapel Road.” The pounding in Thomas’s ears had faded and he no longer felt the unease the constable’s greeting had caused.

“Ah. I know Robert Fitzsimmons and his wife. I did not know that Mrs. Fitzsimmons had more than the one brother, though. Why have I not heard of you, sir?” The skeptical eyes stared down at Thomas like those of a hawk.

“I left London many years ago—before my sister married.” This was enough although it lacked the details that had shaped his life since that time. “I’m not surprised that I’m a relative unknown here now.”

The constable nodded absently and looked him up and down again. “That makes some sense, sir. I suppose you’re here to attend the wedding of your niece?” The piercing eyes watched Thomas carefully.

The priest smiled as he responded. “Wedding? No, sir, I think you must be mistaken as my eldest niece is but ten years.”

The constable smiled at him. “That’s right, sir.” He gave the priest a smug smile. “I must have gotten a bit confused in the night air. But she is a pretty little miss. Do you know which house it is?” Thomas realized that he had passed the constable’s test to verify his identity.

“It is 17 Court Square.”

“That’s right, sir.” The suspicious look finally faded completely from the officer’s face. “Up Brick Lane and Court Square will be on your right. Have a good evening.” The constable tipped his hat to Thomas and resumed the rounds while the priest continued up the dimly lit street to reacquaint himself with his family. He was anxious to arrive. It had been far too long since he had seen his sister.

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2 thoughts on “Bound By Silence: Arrival

  1. Great story! I really like the detail it sucked me into the story. I am waiting to here the next installment.

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