Fleet Street had been my home for longer than I could remember. I was an orphan, and no one could tell me who my parents were, where they were or even if they were alive. I didn’t care, I had friends enough on Fleet Street. The alleyways were my home, and I confess that although the life of a beggar, if so I could be called, wasn’t glamorous, I enjoyed it well enough. I did not beg, thought. I danced for my money. Not in the more alluring ways that you may think would better suit a beggar, but simple dancing that my dear friend Gregory had taught me. He had managed to keep a harmonica from his times on higher grounds and played delightful tunes while I danced. We left a mans hat by us for money which would often be attracted when we were on the streets.
My life had not changed much in much time. I was sixteen on that fateful day. Although I was a mere street dweller, most would think me pretty if I had scrubbed my face clean from dirt. In fact, it surprised me how many men had come to me and mentioned this after I had danced. Of course, most had thought that I would offer other services, which I certainly did not. I danced for my money fully clothed and no less. It was a Saturday evening, and the sun was just setting on Fleet Street. My last crowd clapped as I curtseyed to them after a dance and they departed, slightly entertained, but some muttering amongst themselves of the state of the streets in the day. I tutted to myself, and turned to Gregory, who put his harmonica in his pocket.
“Is it not strange, Gregory, how people come to see us and yet complain the very next second of the state of our clothes, or indeed the state of our abode!”
“Can’t be helped, lass, I’m afraid. Bloody hypocrites, the lot of them.”
I nodded in agreement, and when I turned I gave a slight gasp. A man was standing there still, simply staring at me and Gregory. On the most part it was me, and I curtseyed slightly. However long I had been on the streets, I had not forgotten my manners.
“Good evening, sir,” I said. “Penny for the show, may I ask?” He searched in his pockets and pulled our several small coins from his pocket.
“All I can spare, young lady.”
“Lady, indeed. I am poor, sir, not in need of patronizing.”
“Never my intention.” He dropped the coins in the mans hat still by my feet and looked back at me. He was a queer looking man. He was tall and well built, although his must have been perhaps almost of forty years of age. His hair was a deep black and was rather unkempt, although I could not speak of that myself. His eyes were almost as black as his hair, and rather disturbingly staring. I could not even begin to explain the ghostly pallor he held, which may have been the thing that frightened me in the first place. His attire was not expensive. On the contrary, he looked rather a poor man, but was dressed well enough to tell me that he had enough money to get by. I looked him up and down and said:
“I thank yeh, sir. Yeh didn’t have to but such an amount in, but it’s always welcome.”
“Well, perhaps there is something you could do for me, to make up for that money.” I opened my eyes wide.
“I don’t know what sorta girl yeh think I am, sir, but I ain’t performing any services other than dancing, and that don’t come at no price to you.”
“No, no, I’m not asking for that, silly girl. I am inquiring of the whereabouts of a shop. A barber shop, I think. There’s a pie shop below it.”
“Well, I dunno about any barber shop, sir, but yeh can find Mrs Lovett’s Pie Shop down there.” I pointed towards the end of Fleet Street. Just as I did so, a carriage came by us and stopped directly by our way. Yet again I almost screeched as I saw the Beadle come out of it. He looked at me and smiled.
“May I ask, young lady, if you will come this way?” I looked at him, and nodded curtly. You never knew what sort of monsters you could get looking for a young lady, but I knew that the Beadle was an honourable man, not looking for anything from a beggar who didn’t do him no harm. If he was looking to arrest me for anything, there was always a trial, at which time the man beside me could always testify. The bag on his shoulder told me he was staying.
“I bid you farewell, sir,” I said in his direction. Gregory looked at me quizzically, but I ignored him and stepped into the carriage. The dark eyes of the man looked at the Beadle with a terrible grimace on his face. I sat at the carriage and ignored it, unaware of the adventure, if so it could be called, I had let myself into.
The Beadle stopped the carriage outside a large house. I recognised it immediately. The great Judge Turpins house, it was.
“Dear Lord! I haven’t been arrested, have I?”
“No, dear, the Judge had heard of you, though.” I did not notice the glimmer in his eye. “He wishes profoundly to meet you.”
“What would he want from me?”
“He has heard of your hardships on the streets and wishes most kindly to take you in, as his own.” An offer I could not refuse! Not that I was given a choice in the matter. The Beadle did not need to coerce me into the house, for I went in with eager pace. When we entered, the great Judge Turpin came to greet us. I curtseyed quickly, my head bowed.
“The Beadle tells me you come from Fleet Street, girl,” he said as he directed me up the stairs.
“Yes, sir. As long as I could remember.” He smiled.
“Well, I can assure you that you will not be going back there in some time.”
“In some time! Yeh plan to be rid of me soon?”
“Dear Lord, no, my dear, no. But there are shops down there, and I am sure that you would want to visit it again at some point. A home, no matter how rank the conditions, can always be missed.” I smiled. He knocked on a door on the second floor, and then opened the door without awaiting for any response. A young girl was sitting at the window, her golden hair flowing gently on her shoulders. She bowed her head as we entered.
“Good evening, sir.”
“Good evening, Johanna. I have a favour to ask of you. This is young…um-”
“Ruth, sir. Ruth Metcalf.”
“Ruth then. Yes, I have taken in Ruth as I have taken you in, and I wish for you to look after her until a room has been put in order.”
“Of course, sir.” She looked slightly alarmed at my shabby clothing. Dirt was patchy on my skin, and my skirts were worn at the bottom. A thin shawl graced my shoulders, but did not at all flatter me. I did not have a bonnet on, and my hair was freely wild, despite my efforts of having it placed up. She smiled soothingly after the Judge had left. I pulled at the sleeves of my dress, which were unattractively long.
“I do apologise, ma’am, for putting this burden upon you.”
“No burden at all. I do hope you’ll feel comfortable.” She stood and directed me towards the small bathroom that opened up from his bedroom. She gave me some towels and ran a bath, which I soaked in for a while in peace. I had not had a proper bath before, and it was so relaxing I could barely find my feet afterwards. Johanna gave me one of her beautiful dresses, although it was late evening and I did not plan on wearing a dress to stay awake in. However, it was ungracious of me to even think such a thing, and so the two of us sat together talking, me on the bed and her on the windowsill. Johanna seemed to be very interested in myself.
“How long have you been on the streets?”
“As long as I can remember.”
“It must have been awful.”
“Not entirely,” I said truthfully. “I have friends there.” I paused. “I really should not have left them. Well, him. Ever such a friendly man.”
“We are not an item, I can assure you.”
“I simply assumed, I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to worry about. But I do miss him already, yet I don’t know if I will be destined to meet him again.” I sniffed slightly, and then smiled. “But at least he is well off in his own way. He has talent in some fields, and was rich once upon a time ago.”
“I do apologise if you do not see him, but perhaps you can visit him if you get away.”
“The Judge had told me that I may wish to anyway.”
“As I said, if you get away.” I did not have time to ask what she meant by this when a knocking came at the door. The Judge opened the door and looked in at us. He smiled proudly at us.
“May I ask, Ruth, if you will do me the honour of joining me downstairs?” I looked at Johanna, who nodded.
“Yes, sir,” said I, slightly sheepishly. Johanna patted my shoulder as I left and picked up the sewing circle she had when I first entered. As we walked down the corridor, I brushed my light hair off of my shoulder. It was perhaps the same blonde as Johanna’s was, but mine was much lighter, almost a shade of white. I had not seen a clear colour of my hair in some times, and was proud to finally see it. The Judge led me into the drawing room which was further down the corridor from a glorious ballroom. He turned his back on me while he poured two drinks, and then smiled at me as he handed me a glass.
“Here, drink this up.”
“You’ve been through a long day.” I sniffed it, and then took a small sip. I coughed loudly.
“You’ll become used to it.”
“I don’t plan to drink it much longer.” He laughed, and then sat in the seat beside me. I looked alarmed as he moved closer to me. I took another sip, becoming more and more alarmed.
“Sir, I beg of you not to sit so closely.” His hand moved disturbingly deftly. I drank again as an outlet to me fear. He leant towards me. I leant back.
“What are you doing?”
“What do you think?”
“I- I think I should leave.” I made to stand but the Judge grabbed at my arm, making me drop the drink. Suddenly I felt drowsy. It was not a fatigue, but I felt weaker. He smiled evilly at me.
“You’ve poisoned the drink!”
“No, not poison. I don’t plan to kill you.” I knew what he very well intended. I was powerless as he forced himself upon me. I tried to scream out for help, but barely a sound came from my lips. As he violated me I could only let tears fall from my eyes.
When I recovered slightly from drowsiness, the Beadle entered the room and grabbed me by my upper arm. I had enough energy to let out a scream and attempt to struggle.
“Let go of me!”
“Not until you get into the carriage.” He threw me into the awaiting vehicle and then closed the door behind him. It sped off away from the Judges house. I looked out of the window, a cold sweat dripping down my face.
“Where are you taking me?” The Beadle did not answer. “Please, tell me where you are taking me!”
“You’ll see when we get there.” He smiled malevolently at me. I did not know what to do other than sit there. Only an hour ago I had been talking to Johanna, who I had quickly accepted as a good friend, and then now I was being taken to a mysterious destination. Not mysterious any longer after the Beadle threw me out of the carriage after it started to slow down. My body hit the curb with a thud and I lay limp, watching the carriage go off. I rubbed the back of my head to feel blood dripping down my neck. It was not much, but enough to give a dull pain that throbbed over my head. I cried silently there for a moment, and looked around. I was back at Fleet Street, where I had not long ago named my previous home. I was destined to name it home again. But I could not call it home until I had found someone to help me in my state. I looked up and immediately got up for the shop that stood in front of me. Mrs Lovett’s Meat Pies.
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