Short Story: Seeking Pretty Things

The clatter of wheels on cobbles filled the air as Fenton and Gillie left the alley. A broad thoroughfare lay before them, thronged with horse-drawn vehicles and people who all seemed intent on either heading to or from places with great concentration and purpose. Here and there small stalls sold hot food or newspapers, and the voices of the people running them blended with the noise that washed over them.

“We’re looking for Peddle Lane.” Fenton said, linking arms with Gillie so that they didn’t get separated.

“Over there,” Gillie responded,”I recognise the pawnbroker sign next to the entrance. Charlie’s boys keep using it for slingshot practice – that’s why the top ball’s so dented.” Her finger pointed it out unerringly. Fenton squinted to make it out.”

“Your eyesight’s better than mine. Come on then.”

“Well of course, I haven’t ruined it peering at old ledgers by candlelight, have I?” She kept pace with him, guiding him between a couple of hansom cabs and out to the middle of the road. They paused there a moment to let a tarpaulin-covered cart rattle past, and continued to the relative safety of the other side of the street. Their way from there to the pawnshop was simple; with the crowd light enough for them to walk side by side. Sure enough, a side road could be seen next to the shop, bounded by an archway between the buildings.

Fenton led Gillie past the shop and into the mouth of the lane, which was lined mostly with the doors to tenement buildings. The buildings were tall and crammed side by side. Families and workmen lived side by side here, behind the shops and offices on the main roads. Gas lights were already glowing at intervals here and there even though the day’s light had barely begun to fade. The other end of the lane wasn’t far away.

“Why are we going down here? I thought you said you had something to show me?” Gillie asked. They were about halfway along the lane already. Fenton looked across and grinned.

“You keep teasing me about all the old books while you gallivant round causing trouble. I’ve lost track of the number of conversations we’ve had about the amazing things you’ve found while thwarting your colourful nemesis collection.” He grinned and pushed his glasses back up where they had drooped a little down the bridge of his nose. “So there I was last night, working my way through Hawksmark’s Primer and I found something that I think you’re going to love.”

“Oh? So that’s what you get up to while I’m defending the Realm?” Gillie pretended to be affronted, but the little smile quirking her lips suggested otherwise. “If I didn’t know better Mr Fenton, I would think you were a little jealous of my midnight perambulations!”

“Perish the thought.” They were nearly to the other end of the lane, and Fenton stopped. He turned to look back the way they had come, and gestured for Gillie to do the same. The little gasp of joyous surprise was exactly what he’d been hoping for.

“Oh Fenton – ” The sun was in just the right angle. The plans in the primer had hinted at it, but the reality was far more than he had hoped. The placement of the local architecture had been a labour of love  – written in stone, bricks and mortar – and right here and right now the day added the final touch: a rose formed of sunlight and shadows right in the middle of the lane.

“You keep finding wonders in times of danger or in the darkest places, but I thought that seeing something beautiful in and of the light would help bolster you when it gets tough.” Fenton’s voice was quiet.

“It’s so pretty. I’ve never been given flowers by a city before.” She admired the sight before her a little longer. “You old romantic, I thought you didn’t care.” Gillie beamed, and enjoyed his momentary discomfort.

“Well, of course, we work so closely, I have to make sure you’re operating at your best with how important the Work is…” he twisted and turned in the light of her regard.

“Of course, Fenton, of course.” She patted his hand, linked arms, and let him walk her back out into the City.

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