A Silver Lining

A Silver Lining by Catrin Collier

Book: A Silver Lining by Catrin Collier Read Free Book Online
Authors: Catrin Collier
café. If she’d caught Ronnie she’d never have had to look for food for herself and her mother again.’
    ‘Well from what I’ve seen lifting your skirt leads more often to the workhouse than to wedding rings. But it’s a shame to think she’ll take her mother down with her. Lena McIver was a smart girl in her day, but then she would go and marry a Moore. Good-looking fellows, the Moores, but none of them lived long. Weak chests,’ the woman pronounced authoritatively.
    ‘I thought Lena’s husband was killed in the pit.’
    ‘He did, but if he hadn’t he wouldn’t have lasted long. Not with the Moore chest.’
    With the second bucket full, the two women turned around. They paled at the sight of Charlie.
    ‘Mrs Rees. Mrs Pickering.’ He nodded to them as he stepped forward with his own buckets. The women continued to talk, even before they’d moved out of earshot.
    ‘He’s always so quiet.’
    ‘Sneaking around ...’
    ‘Never know when he’s there ...’
    ‘Sly, like all foreigners.’
    Wilf Horton turned up with a bucket and stood beside Charlie. ‘Bloody dog messed up the front of my stall,’ he complained. ‘Just when I sent the boy off to the night safe.’
    ‘That’s always the way it is,’ Charlie sympathised as he stood back from the water splashing up from his bucket.
    ‘Bloody dogs. Oughtn’t to be allowed ...’
    ‘Tell me, Mr Horton,’ Charlie interrupted. ‘Do you happen to know who owns that empty shop by the fountain?’
    ‘Which empty shop?’ Wilf growled. ‘If you ask me, Taff Street has more empty shops than full ones. Ponty looks more like a ghost town every day.’
    ‘The shop that used to sell china.’
    ‘Meakins’ shop. Little wonder he pulled out, what with people cutting back to the bone. Not many have food these days, so there’s no point in them buying plates. He’s taken a stall on the outside market now. Less working days, less money, but then there’s less overheads and –’
    ‘Did he own the shop?’ Charlie pressed.
    ‘Does any trader own a shop in this one-horse town?’ Wilf retorted, using a phrase from a Western he’d watched in the Palladium. ‘That place is one of Fred the Dead’s.’
    ‘Thanks, Wilf.’ Charlie swung the heavy buckets easily into his hands and left the washroom for his stall.
    ‘Looks like that’s about it for the day,’ William greeted Charlie on his return. The last few customers were wandering between the stalls as they finally made their way outside. Like chickens searching for grubs they darted their heads first one way, then the other, scanning the counters in search of edible leftovers which the traders might be prepared to give away.
    ‘Missus ... hey Missus!’ Charlie shouted to a woman who was bundled up in a grey ragged blanket tied with a length of twine at what passed for her waist. ‘Do you want some bones for your dog?’ he asked when he caught her attention.
    She nodded, flaccid lips trembling around her toothless gums. He wrapped the shin bones and one small heart, all that was left on the counter, in newspaper, and handed them to her. She ran off clutching them close to her chest.
    ‘You know old Patsy hasn’t got a dog.’ Will tipped soda into one of the buckets.
    ‘Start with the meat safe.’
    ‘You could have sold that heart back to the slaughterhouse for dog meat,’ Will grumbled as he tossed a cloth into the hot water.
    ‘It’s not worth it for what we’d get.’
    ‘It would have been enough for a pint. You’re a soft touch, Charlie, and everyone around here knows it.’ He looked up from the counter he was wiping down. Charlie wasn’t listening. He’d picked up the wooden box that contained the day’s takings, and pulled out the notebook he kept in his shirt pocket. Piles of farthings, halfpennies, pennies, threepences, and silver sixpences were mounting up on the shelf at the back of the stall.
    Alongside them lay a few florins and half-crowns. There was even a ten-bob note,

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