Mulligan's Yard

Mulligan's Yard by Ruth Hamilton

Book: Mulligan's Yard by Ruth Hamilton Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ruth Hamilton
is my yard, Diane. All the buildings in it, including the inn, are mine. It is my duty to protect those who work here from thieves and vagabonds like
yourself.’
    She felt almost hypnotized. Were she to live in Ireland among folk with voices such as this, she’d be in a permanent stupor. Even though he was telling her off, even though the tone had an
edge to it, she wanted to stay and hear more. No, she wasn’t hearing it, not really. She was feeling it, letting it flow through her like warm cocoa, silky, smooth, comforting.
    ‘Diane?’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Are you hearing me?’
    She went for the truth. ‘Not really. You’re putting me to sleep.’
    A smile tugged at his mouth, but he bit it back. ‘You’re a thief, child. A common thief. Listen to me, please. The women whose money you meant to steal are not rich. You steal from
them and you steal from their children. How do they buy food? Will they have to become thieves so that their families might thrive? The disease called theft is very contagious – that means it
spreads. So, while you use their money, they are forced to take someone else’s. Am I clear?’
    She was listening now. ‘Yes.’
    ‘So, what are your immediate needs?’
    She had never thought about any of this before, had never worried about those she deprived. The main driver behind Diane’s behaviour was a picture in her mind, an image of Joe with his
little crooked legs and his thin white face. Feeding her brother, getting clothes and shoes for him and for herself – these necessities had been the mothers of Diane’s inventiveness.
‘Food for our Joe,’ she replied thoughtfully.
    ‘And fuel? Who pays for coal?’
    She raised her chin. ‘If we can’t buy it, I pinch it.’
    He saw the defiance colouring her cheeks. ‘You cannot continue like this. Eventually you will be caught, then you will spend years in a variety of institutions. Who will care for your
brother when that happens?’
    She folded her arms. This was all very well – she even agreed with the man – but what was the alternative to stealing? ‘All right.’ Her voice was low. ‘So can you
tell me how we manage on parish pennies and a few bits from the temple? What would you do if you got up in a morning, no coal for the fire, no bread, no milk? And if you had a little brother, could
you look him in the face and tell him that he’d just have to get on with it and starve to death?’
    He tapped on the blotter with his fingers. ‘How old are you?’
    ‘I’m eleven – just.’
    Eleven and going on fifty, he mused. ‘I shall not inform the police as long as you comply with certain conditions.’
    She sat rigidly still. ‘Go on, then.’
    ‘I must speak to your grandmother.’
    Diane almost cried out, but she managed to overcome the urge.
    ‘How old is she?’ he asked.
    ‘Very old,’ she answered. ‘She must be going on sixty.’
    Yes, sixty would be aged to a child of eleven. ‘And she never gets out of the bed?’
    She shrugged. ‘She goes down the yard, gives herself a bath in front of the fire one night a week. But she’s not been out of the house for years.’
    It was time to introduce himself to Diane’s grandmother. It was time for Diane’s grandmother to be introduced to her granddaughter’s way of life. Something had to be done. He
stood up. ‘Come with me,’ he said firmly.
    Diane left her chair. ‘Where to?’
    ‘Number thirteen John Street,’ he answered. ‘In my car. We shall arrive in style, my dear.’
    They entered the house together. There was a tiny vestibule, then a small parlour through which they had to walk to reach the kitchen. Furniture in this ‘best’ room
was sparse – just an old table, two straight chairs and a black horsehair chaise. The kitchen was warmer, certainly fuller. It contained a large dresser, a central table, some chairs, a
rocker, a black range fire and a bed under the stairs. In this tumbled item sat a woman with hard eyes, greying scraped-back

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