The Cockney Angel

The Cockney Angel by Dilly Court Read Free Book Online

Book: The Cockney Angel by Dilly Court Read Free Book Online
Authors: Dilly Court
with a glass of red wine and followed by apple pie swimming in a pool of thick yellow custard. Arthur ate well too and kept her entertained with anecdotes about the people he met in his work, and grumbles about the strictness of his father who, in his opinion, expected impossibly high standards from his own son and was far more lenient with the other apprentices.
    ‘He says I spend too much time carousing and gambling,’ Arthur said, wiping custard from his chin with a table napkin. ‘But I say a fellow has to let off steam somehow. What d’you think, Renie?’
    ‘Hmm,’ Irene murmured, leaning back against the wooden settle. She was so full that her stomach hurt, but it was a good feeling and not one that happened very often. Their diet at home was frugal at the best of times, and quite often the family were reduced to eating bread and scrape for weeks on end. The taproom was filled with tobacco smoke and the smell of sap oozing from the burning logs, which made pleasant snapping and crackling sounds, adding to the general hubbub of conversation and occasional guffaws of laughter from men drinking at the bar. She was pleasantly sleepy and filled with a sense of well-being, and had not really paid much attention to Arthur’s question.
    ‘Don’t you agree?’
    ‘Agree to what, Artie?’
    ‘That a fellow should be allowed to have a bit of fun at the end of a hard day.’
    ‘I’d have to say yes to that, but it all depends on what type of fun you’re talking about,’ Irene said, suddenly alert and cautious.
    ‘Let’s have a laugh or two. I know a place where we can go to round the evening off. You’ll love it.’ Arthur rose to his feet, holding out his hand. ‘Come on, Renie. I’ll take you somewhere exciting.’
    Unaccustomed to wine, Irene allowed her better judgement to be overruled, but she was still questioning Arthur’s intentions as they crossed Fleet Street and made their way towards the river. She was excited but also a little nervous, and she clutched Arthur’s arm more tightly as they walked the cobbled streets between tall buildings that seemed to bend and bow to each other above their heads in Hanging Sword Alley. The night-time sounds of the waterside were softened into an eerie background music of muffled hoots from steam whistles, the rhythmic flapping of sails and the splash of water as it lapped the stone steps. There was a pervading smell of cess and rotting vegetable matter and she covered her mouth and nose with her hand. They had come to the end of the alley and the small court was momentarily illuminated by the moon as it struggled out from behind a thick bank of clouds. Irene was aware of shuttered windows and an almost deathly hush, which was shattered when a door opened and a man staggered outside much the worse for drink. The sound of loud music and laughter flooded out in his wake, accompanied by a gust of stale air smelling strongly of tobacco smoke, ale and raw spirits.
    ‘This is it,’ Arthur said, taking her by the elbow and thrusting her into the narrow, dimly lit passageway.
    ‘Artie, if this is a gambling club I won’t stay,’ Irene said anxiously.
    ‘Don’t worry, I’m not taking you into the gaming room.’ Closing the door behind them, Arthur led her down the corridor and knocked three times on a door at the far end.
    ‘I don’t like this,’ Irene protested. ‘I want to go home now.’
    Even as she spoke, the door opened and she found herself in a large room lit by dozens of candles in wall sconces and candlesticks placed on long trestle tables. Women sat on benches chatting, drinking tumblers of what smelt like gin, and smoking clay pipes and cigarillos.
    ‘Good evening, ladies.’ Arthur doffed his hat with a flourish.
    A few heads turned, although most of the women were seemingly too immersed in conversation to bother about the newcomers. Irene gasped as the heat and tobacco smoke hit the back of her throat, but as she looked round the room she

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