The Great Trouble

The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson Read Free Book Online

Book: The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson Read Free Book Online
Authors: Deborah Hopkinson
went on around them.
    I could just imagine one telling my stepfather: “Bill, my friend! I saw that lad of yours today, walkin’ right through the market, bold as brass. Run off, has ’e? Now, that’s a shame, after all you done for him. His name is Eel, ain’t it? Too slippery for you, is ’e?”
    Talk like that would make Fisheye Bill boil with rage. He couldn’t stomach the fact that I’d been smart enough to disappear. Could I let Fisheye get near me again?
    The smell of onions and frying potatoes wafting out from the pubs made my stomach growl. I was pinched with hunger, and hadn’t touched a morsel since breakfast at the Lion. The Lion. I wondered about Queenie. I wouldn’t be there to feed her anymore. How would she get on? Would anyone remember to give her scraps or fill her tin water cup?
    Then I thought of Abel Cooper. When the foreman had come in on Monday, he’d found the scrawny black kitten, still a bit damp, curled up in the center of his chair like she owned it. “And who, may I ask, is this?” he’d grumbled.
    “This here is Queenie, sir. Some boy threw her into the Thames. Lucky for her I was there,” I told him.
    “Very gallant of you, I’m sure,” Mr. Cooper said sarcastically. “But how did she end up on my chair?”
    “Aw, c’mon, Guv, have a heart. Besides, the Lion needs a good ratter.”
    Abel Cooper grunted. Later, though, when I’d gone back into his office to deliver a message, I found Queenie still on his chair—only this time on his lap.
    Queenie would be just fine.
    The closer I got to the Thames, the worse the air smelled. I thought about how this day had begun, with Abel Cooper warning of the trouble miasma would bring. As bad as my own troubles were, things were a lot worse for Mr. Griggs. How was he doing now? Maybe I’d been wrong about the blue death. Tomorrow I’d go back and check.
    But I had somewhere else to go first thing in the morning. I swallowed hard, thinking about what would happen when I appeared without four shillings. I’d had those shillings yesterday, put away safe in my tin box. But that was yesterday.
    I couldn’t think of that now. I might not be able to add more than a penny or two to what Mrs. Weatherburn had given me, but I had to try. I had to be a mudlark again, like it or not.
    The sour, rotting, filthy smell hit me full in the face as the river came into view. My stomach lurched. Probably just as well it was empty—and likely to stay that way for another day. But luck was on my side—it was low tide.
    Pa had taken me for walks by the Thames, I remembered that much. I’m not sure it smelled as bad back then. What I do keep from that time is the feel of his large, firm hand around mine.
    Pa never tired of watching the river. “Just look—the barges, the fishing boats, the coming and going of goods!” he’d say, throwing out his arms. “The Thames is like a rich, throbbing blood vessel keeping all of London alive.”
    Pa felt so sorry for young mudlarks that he sometimes called the littlest ones over to give them a penny. He couldn’t have imagined how true his words would turn out to be for me: this river had kept me alive many a day before I got my place at the Lion. And now it would do so again.
    I wouldn’t get many pennies a day selling coal, bits of wood, or globs of fat tossed overboard by a ship’s cook. But it would keep me going. With what I earned from Dr. Snow, I might just be able to make it—at least until winter set in.
    With a sudden, fierce stab, I missed Pa. He’d been gone three years now. Just as London was divided by the Thames, my life was divided in two. There was the part before Pa died. Then there was everything else that had come after. More and more, that earlier time seemed to be fading, like a dream that drifts away when you open your eyes to the light.
    One moment I was staring at the glittering river. The next I was rammed hard in the back. I went flying through the air and tumbled into

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