A Kind of Alchemy
by London Lampy
Sam knew his way around the city a little now, and he set out from the theatre confident that he wouldn't get lost. It was a crisp sharply cold day, the sky was very blue and the winter sun a molten white disk above him as he made his way through the streets. Parnell no longer felt as strange to him as when he had first arrived nearly two months ago, it didn't quite feel like home yet either, but the longer he lived there the more familiar it was becoming, and he certainly wasn't the out of place country boy he used to be.
Turning down a small side street he felt a sense of queasy anticipation deep in his guts, he'd avoided doing this for as long as he could, but Mother's words about how much he had cost Fran had eaten away at his conscience until he knew that his only option was to sell the brooch. There were several large jewellery shops in the area around The Empress but he didn't want to risk being spotted going into one, he needed to keep this as private as possible, so he'd found a smaller shop in a less busy part of the city. He walked as slowly as he could down the narrow street, stopping to stare into the window of a bookshop where several cats of various hues were sleeping in patches of sunlight amongst the tomes on display. He wondered if the shop sold cats as well as books, but the sign over the door just said "Lustrum's Books", so he supposed not.
The jeweller's shop window had lettering that said "Gold, Silver and Gems Bought, Best Prices Offered" running across it in curly black letters. Sam took a deep breath then rang the bell by the door to gain admittance, a middled aged man with with grey hair and a small bristly moustache to match let him in, and once inside he explained why he was there.
"Let me have a look and I'll give you a valuation." The man said, stepping behind the glass counter and producing a loupe from a shelf underneath. Sam pulled the brooch out of his pocket with a heavy heart, he'd wrapped it in a piece of tissue paper to protect it and he opened the paper and tipped the contents out onto a black velvet pad, the diamonds catching light rays from the bright sun coming in through the window.
"Where did you get this?" The man asked him with a frown, picking it up and weighing it in his hand.
Sam suddenly felt his palms go damp, he was sure that the jeweller must suspect him of stealing it, how could he have not thought of that? Why else would someone of his age posses something so valuable?
"It..." He cleared his throat. "It's my mother's, she...she gave it to me...to sell." He could actually feel sweat forming on the back of his neck and running down his collar. If this man realised that it was stolen he might contact the police, and Sam feared that he could end up going to gaol. If the shop door hadn't automatically locked behind him he would have been seriously tempted to grab the brooch back and make a dash for it.
"I see." The jeweller seemed to peer at him doubtfully, and Sam felt about ready to throw up from fear. "Lets have a proper look." He fitted the loupe into his eye and spent what seemed like hours to Sam scrutinising it. Eventually he put it back down on the pad and took the loupe from his eye. "I'll give you three pounds for the brooch." He said.
Sam let this sink in. "It's worth loads more than that." He retorted after a few seconds.
"What do you think it's made of?" The man asked, not unkindly.
"Gold, diamonds and pearls."
"If it were then yes, it would be worth very much more than that, but it's not. It's a well made piece I'll give you that, and it would fool most people, but not someone in the profession. It's gold plate, paste diamonds and faux pearls."
Sam was swamped by a crushing sense of disappointment, his mother had always thought it was real, and he'd had no reason to believe any differently, then something occurred to him. "How do I know you're telling the truth? You could be saying that just to get me to sell it to you cheaply."
The jeweller laughed, seeming not to take any offence at this. "Because this shop has been in my family for three generations and we haven't lasted that long by being cheating people, but if you don't believe me take it to any other shop in the city, they'll say the same thing. If you still want to sell it my offer stands, good quality costume jewellery like this is always popular and I doubt you'll get a better price elsewhere."
"No...thank you." Sam wrapped the brooch back up, tucked it into his pocket, and the man let him back out onto the street. As he left the shop he felt utterly desolate, how in the names of the gods would he be able to pay Fran back now?
Fran sat in his office opening his post from home, the first two envelopes had contained bills that he'd put aside to deal with later. He'd saved the best until last, it was a letter from Mulligan and he slit the envelope open with a smile on his face.
My Darling Frannie,
How are you? I feel like I miss you more each time I leave. Spending Midwinter with you was wonderful and I have decided that from now on I'm going to spend more time at home, I will henceforth only take engagements that don't take me too far from Parnell. The older I get the more I realise that life is short and spending most of it away from the person that you love is no way to live.
When I left you I was full of thoughts of home and family and I admit that I did something that perhaps I shouldn't have. I know that you're aware Sam gave me a letter to post to his mother, the postal address was coincidently for an area that I was due to be travelling through on my way south and I realised that I had just about enough time to make a small detour and take it to Sam's home village myself.
I know that he has told you very little of his background or the circumstances of his flight, and by my own means I also knew that the letter contained little more than the fact that he is still alive and instruction to his mother not to worry. So I decided to hand deliver the letter, reassure his family that he wasn't in any kind of danger, and see what information I could glean for you.
The first thing to say is that when he described it as being a small place in the middle of nowhere he was possibly understating the facts. It took me several hours of freezing travel on the post carriage to get there from the nearest town, a deeply uncomfortable experience that I wouldn't recommend to anyone. The driver told me that I was lucky to get even that as last year the snows had been so heavy the place was cut off for most of the winter. The village itself, indeed all the villages in the area, seemed to be trapped in a past era, they have no electricity or mains water, all their water has to drawn from wells or hand pumped, and they look on outsiders such as myself with curiosity and suspicion.
That's not to say that Dovedale (that's the village's rather bucolic name) is at all a squalid or unpleasant place, it seemed prosperous, every house I saw was in a good state of repair, and nestled in the snow it had a kind of cosy rural glow about it. I found Sam's family farm on the outskirts on instruction from the driver of the post carriage, and I went to call on them. Perhaps I should have listened more closely to you when you described the beating that his father had given him because the man all but attempted to run me out of the village when I mentioned Sam's name, telling me that he had no son and that if I didn't leave that minute he'd put a bullet in me. Stood behind this angry man were two women who could only be Sam's mother and sister, and the elder of the two clearly had tears in her eyes, but neither of them said a word as Sam's father ranted at me. Unfortunately as I was forced to leave before the man could carry out his threat I never managed to deliver the boy's letter.
Once I had left the farm I had little option but to return to the heart of the village and wait for several hours in the place's single inn for the post carriage to return to pick me up and deliver me back to some semblance of civilisation. The inn had good beer and a large warming fire and would have been pleasant enough place if it wasn't for the sideways looks that I was receiving from the locals. I did briefly consider performing some tricks to break the ice, but then thought better of it. It struck me as the sort of place that probably didn't take kindly to any form of "witchcraft", and being chased from Dovedale for knowing what card someone had picked didn't appeal, especially in the snow.
After I'd been sat there for something in the region of one hour the landlord, a Mr Harper who seemed a considerably more genial type than most of his customers, approached me and told me that there was someone in his yard who wished to speak with me. I followed him through the inn and out of the back door with a certain amount of trepidation, as always I had a few things concealed about my person that would give me the advantage in a violent confrontation, but if Sam's father had returned with his shotgun I was in trouble. Mr Harper left me in a yard that contained empty barrels, cords of firewood, and the tearful woman that I had seen back at the farm house hidden deep in the shadows, she thanked him as he went then turned to me.
"I can't stay for long, my husband thinks that I've come into the village to buy groceries." She was nervous, and with a husband like that I couldn't blame her. "You said that you knew where my Sam was, please tell me, I must know." Her eyes were filling with tears again.
I explained that he was in the city, safe and well, had a job, was lodging with a friend of mine (please excuse the friend part, it really wasn't the time to elaborate on our relationship) and that he'd written a letter for her that I was delivering. I passed her the letter and she all but snatched it out of my hands. It didn't take her long to read it, as I said the boy had written very little, and once she was done she asked me if he had given me anything else for her.
I have to admit that this puzzled me, I told her he hadn't, then I asked her what kind thing she thought he might have wanted me to pass onto her. At this she shook her head and refused to explain, and briefly she reminded me very much of her son. I got the feeling that when he left he may have taken some object that belonged to her or the family, are you aware of him having any such object?
She rapidly asked me more questions, was he happy, was he keeping warm in this weather, was he eating? I assured her that he was as happy as to be expected, he wasn't cold and as far as I knew he ate plenty, then she asked me when he was coming home.
I could tell from the look in her eyes that she already knew the answer to this, but even so I tried to inform her as gently as I could that I seriously doubted Sam would ever return to the village. She turned away from me for a few seconds, burying her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking, but when she turned back she nodded, she had accepted that her son was gone.
She asked me if I had a pen and paper so that she could write something back to him and I felt very bad having to explain to her that Sam had actually wanted his letter delivered anonymously, and that if she replied he'd know I'd broken his trust.
I did offer one thing though, I gave her your name and the address of The Empress and suggested that she might want to contact you (I told her to write to The Empress because I though Sam may spot a envelope with his mother's handwriting on it arriving at the house) so you should be getting a letter from her soon, if you haven't already. She then left, hurrying nervously away out of the back of the inn, and I went back to the long wait for the post carriage and the villager's stares.
Well Fran, I hope that perhaps some of this makes you feel a little better about the boy's previous lack of communication with his family, I'm certain that my visit gave his mother the piece of mind that she didn't have before. I'll be home soon, and will write again even sooner,
As always you are my heart,
Fran read the letter twice through, both surprised and delighted that Mulligan would go to that amount of trouble for Sam. He wondered if his lover was right and Sam had stolen something of his mother's, and if so what could it possibly be and was that one of the reasons that he insisted that his family wouldn't want to know him any more.
What Mulligan had done was a good thing, Sam's mother now had a way of knowing how her son was, but Fran wasn't quite sure that Sam would see it that way, and he knew that he'd have to be very careful to keep any letters from the village out of his sight.
As it was the start of the week there was no show that night, Fudge had gone out on a date with Earnest, who was under strict instruction to bring her home no later than ten o'clock, which left Fran and Sam alone in the house.
Fran was aware that something was bothering Sam, he'd been quiet all day, and his nails were taking a serious gnawing. "What's wrong?" He asked as they were sat in the kitchen eating a supper of tinned soup and toast.
"Nothing." Sam muttered, a sure sign that something was indeed wrong.
"Is it something to do with Victor?" He fished.
"No." Sam retorted defensively, then sighed and put his spoon down. "I want to move out." He didn't meet Fran's eye.
"Why?" Fran had certainly not been expecting that. "I though you were happy here."
"I cost you too much, I don't pay rent, I eat your food..."
"Sam!" Fran interrupted him. "Don't be stupid. If I didn't want you to be here I would never have let you stay in the first place, I don't need you to pay rent, and you don't eat that much."
"But I cost you more than you could afford, and I can't pay you back." The boy looked very upset.
"Wait, what do you mean you cost more than I could afford?"
"Mother told me that day he came to the theatre, he said I cost you a lot of money."
"He said you cost me a lot of money?" Fran frowned, he knew that the vile man had said more to Sam than simply being rude about his dye job, and things were starting to make sense now.
"He said that when you got me from him I cost you more than you could afford." Sam looked down into his soup.
Fran took a deep breath, he realised that he could sort this out without having to resort to lying to Sam, just. "Sam, I didn't pay him a single penny for you."
"But he said..." Sam frowned.
"Who are you going to believe, me or Mother? You don't owe me any money, he's just stirring things up because he's an evil cunt." Sam raised his eyebrows at Fran. "Don't tell Fudge I swore like that." He laughed. "But he is."
"I know." Sam vehemently agreed.
"So do you believe me?"
"I guess." Sam shrugged, looking like he was thinking it over.
"I'm telling the truth, I didn't give him any money for you, and I really don't want you to move out."
"I don't want to move out." Sam confessed. "And I am happy here."
As they cleared away their supper things Sam asked Fran if he thought his mother would have got the letter he wrote by now.
"I expect so." Fran replied, busying himself with the washing up.
"Good." Sam sounded very much more cheerful now. "Next time Mulligan comes home I think I'm going to write to her again."
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