Here’s another excerpt from my historical novel A Weaver’s Web set in early 19th century Manchester area, UK …
Henry couldn’t sleep. He lay in bed worrying – about Tuesday, what Sarah would do if she found out their money had been stolen, how he would feed the family next week, the business, how he hadn’t told Sarah he was going to sell it, and where he would get the money to pay his employees, the moneylender, and the landlords of his house and factory.
He thought of the scoundrels who robbed him, picturing them in some late hour tavern getting drunk, perhaps keeping company with one or two ladies of the night, laughing and joking. If only he had managed to get to the Cloak and Dagger. He had no doubt a card game would have been on, being payday. And the beer would have flowed, with a pound or two or more added to what might already have been in the till … and the money would still be there. He knew the publican used to keep the takings in his back room, until one night an intruder broke in and his wife got knocked over the head as the man made off with the money. Fearing for her safety, she had made her husband hide the money in the front room, the bar itself, ever since. But Henry knew where it was hidden.
He looked across to Sarah’s side of the bed. He couldn’t see her in the pitch dark, but heard her slow regular breaths and occasional gentle snore. His heart quickened at the thought of all the money. The risk was great but he felt he had no choice. He was desperate, surely more so than the taverner could ever be. If he got it, he would think of it as a loan and repay it as soon as he could.
To have any hope of getting the money, he first had to get out of the house without waking Sarah. She was a light sleeper and usually woke if one of the children coughed or if a horse rode by. As he eased himself out of bed, he heard her stir. He didn’t move until satisfied she was asleep again. Then he sat on the end of the bed and fumbled with his trousers and boots. But she woke.
‘Henry, is that you?’
‘Er … yes.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Here. I’m just going downstairs for a drink of water. I can’t sleep.’
She didn’t say any more, and he tiptoed from the room, carrying his boots so she wouldn’t hear them on the wooden floor. Downstairs, he took the strongest knife, put his boots on and crept outside. It was so dark he could hardly see where he was going. All the time, he listened for any sign of life, but there was none. When he got near the Cloak and Dagger, he saw the faint outlines of a man and woman staggering along the street giggling. He waited for them to pass. Everything was silent again. He tried the tavern door but it was locked. Henry knew it would be fastened on the inside by a large wooden latch. Using his knife as a lever, he exerted more and more pressure. Just when he thought the knife might break, he heard the latch pop. He pushed the door open and went inside.
(cover of A Weaver’s Web showing the Peterloo Massacre, Manchester, UK, 1819)
In almost pitch darkness, he inched his way to the opposite side of the room next to the counter. Slowly he bent down and ran his hand over the floorboards until he got to the fourth one. This was the loose one. Again he took his knife and used it as a lever. The floorboard creaked as it came up. He stopped and held his breath, straining to hear any sound from the back room. He was about to resume when he heard coughing and muffled talking. He froze. The murmurings went on for some time. He prayed they would stay in bed. His legs and then his arms started going numb. Either he had to get up and sneak out or go through with what he had come for. Not wanting to leave empty-handed, he shook the feeling back into his hands and felt along the earth for the till. He knew if he made a sound, he would be caught. His hand came to a box-like object. The lid came off easily and he slowly picked up a fistful of coins, holding them tightly so they wouldn’t jingle. He put them in his coat pocket. The talking had stopped, but this didn’t mean everyone was asleep. Ever so carefully he took another handful and another. He didn’t take all the money as the publican had a family to feed.
After he replaced the floorboard, he stood up. His legs wobbled from being stooped so long. He crept towards the door, pushing his hands against his pockets, and out he went. The moment he closed it behind him, he let out several gasps. He leant against the wall until he got his balance.
His jacket bulged so much he put many of the coins in his trouser pockets as he walked home but then had trouble keeping his trousers up. Suddenly he saw a figure ahead. He realised how vulnerable he was, with all that money. The figure lurked in and out of the shadows and was carrying a truncheon. Henry saw it was a constable and was about to turn and go the other way, but left it too late.
‘And what might you be doing wandering the streets at this time of night?’ the watchman said. He was unsteady and appeared to have had a few drinks.
Henry put on his best upper class voice. ‘I was just going home from my club, and …’
‘A likely story. I’m going to search you for stolen goods.’
‘… and I saw someone trying to break into a house.’
‘If you go to the corner behind me and turn right, it’s a little way down on the left. Quick.’
‘Thank you, Sir. Goodnight.’
The constable stumbled off in the direction Henry indicated and was soon gone. Henry couldn’t help chuckling before he hastened along, wondering how much money he had. But it was too dark and dangerous to stop and count it. When he got home he checked up and down the street as far as he could see, which wasn’t far. It looked clear. He transferred all the money to his coat pockets and went inside and upstairs. He took the coat off and quietly laid it on the floor next to his side of the bed. Removing his boots, he accidentally kicked the chamber-pot, causing Sarah to wake up and turn over.
‘Now what are you doing, Henry?’ she said sleepily. ‘That’s twice you’ve woken me.’
‘I … had to use the potty.’ He got into bed and soon fell asleep.
– end of excerpt –
A Weaver’s Web is available from these sites:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00H52SEEK