London in Chains

London in Chains by Gillian Bradshaw Read Free Book Online

Book: London in Chains by Gillian Bradshaw Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gillian Bradshaw
ask the sort of questions she didn’t dare ask Browne. She wished, too, that she could have had a look at the bookshop. She’d never set foot in a bookshop.
    They went up one lane, down another and into the yard of a tavern. Two great curved white beams framed its door; Lucy took them to be wood until she saw the inn-sign naming the place as The Whalebone. She stared at the white beams, impressed, trying to imagine a whale and wondering what part of the animal the bones came from. They looked a bit like a wishbone.
    Browne, however, ignored the relic and turned right to unlock one of the stable buildings. Lucy thought it might be a carriage house, but there were no carriages inside. Instead it was festooned with sheets of paper, hung up like laundry on lines that criss-crossed the room in fluttering ranks. In the centre of the laundry lines stood a wooden construction which looked like the bastard offspring of a poster bed and a cider press. Lucy stared at it curiously. So that was a printing press! She’d never seen one before: there was no such machine in the whole of Leicestershire.
    â€˜Here we are,’ said Mr Browne with satisfaction. ‘Now, the first thing is safety.’ He walked over to the far wall, where there was a table set under a dusty window. ‘If ever you hear any disturbance out in the yard, you climb up on this and go directly out of the window. If the alarm turns out to be for nothing, well, there’s no harm done; if it’s the Stationers’ men, then at least you’re safe. Do you understand?’
    â€˜Aye, sir.’ With a nervous glance at Browne, she climbed up on to the table. She opened the window and looked out. It stood over a coal-cellar, and she saw that it was an easy step from the window to the roof of the cellar, and another easy step down into the yard. She closed the window and climbed back down from the table, reassured that if she did have to go out of the window, she wouldn’t break her ankle.
    â€˜Once you’re out of the window, you should be well,’ said Browne. ‘Just walk off. Don’t run. If anyone questions you, say that you had business with the keeper of The Whalebone. He’s one of us and will back you up. I’ll tell him you’re here, and he’ll likely come by this morning and make himself known to you. His name’s Trebet, Ned Trebet.’
    The name Ned was an unpleasant reminder of the man who’d rejected her – but it was a common enough name. She settled her nerves by picturing an old, fat innkeeper in an apron, bustling about, giving orders to his wife and children: a man who’d be no threat. ‘Aye, sir.’
    â€˜You must take care, though, not to let any stranger know what you’re doing here, even if they seem well-meaning: London’s as full of informers as a dung-heap is of worms! When you’re on your way here, if ever you think someone is following after you, don’t go in. Walk on by and come back when you’re content that no one is watching to see where you go.’
    Lucy swallowed. She’d never imagined that bookish people engaged in such behaviour. This was like poaching, or levelling a hedge to let your cattle graze on land a lord had enclosed for his own private use. Her father and her brothers had done both, and she knew how carefully they went about it: the checks to see that no one was watching, the excuse made ready beforehand in case someone was. She supposed, though, that what Mr Browne was doing was similar to levelling a hedge: he was breaking down the fence the Stationers and Parliament had put around the printed word. She ducked her head and uttered another subdued ‘Aye, sir’.
    â€˜Don’t look so frighted, girl! I hope you’ll have no trouble, but it never does harm to take care. Now, as to what you’re to do . . .’ He went to one of the laundry lines and took a paper from it. ‘Have you

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