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Rated: E · Novella · Fantasy · #1916489
Be careful what you wish for . . .
An Arabian Knight
Bertie Williams


CHAPTER ONE


Down at the end of One Shoe Lane, where the houses leaned together like broken teeth, a fog of chimney black and dried horse dung clogged the air and coated the dull, small window panes.  Drunken men staggered or lay in alleys or on doorsteps; the closest they could get to home before they collapsed.  The river’s clinging stench permeated the already fetid air accentuating the suffocating summer heat.

Molly clung to her rag doll; her only possession and lugged the wicker basket down the three flights of stairs from her dreary two room flat in the shack which she inhabited with her mother.  Her mother was not yet home from the streets and Molly was headed to the riverside where she would spend hours combing the banks for anything of value washed ashore by the tide.

Molly dragged the basket behind her with a listless step.  Two days passed since she had eaten anything of substance.  Her mother brought home three pence on Tuesday and they had shared a loaf of bread.  Since then there was nothing; it was now Thursday. 

Molly dodged horses, wagons, a man herding goats, and night soil pots the contents of which were regularly tossed from upper casements into the streets below.

A man in a doorway smiled and beckoned to her, holding out a wrapped sweet, but though Molly’s stomach begged her to stop and take it, she knew better and trudged on. 
The river lay before her.  A gray-brown fog clung to  the water’s surface, thick as a wet blanket.  She stood for an instant on the pavement looking down at the dirty sand and clutched her rag doll closer.  Then, she hauled the basket behind her, bumping it down the steps to the river bank.

The tide had just gone out and a plethora of strange and wondrous items could be found.  Molly placed the basket deep inside a pile of dried gorse and covered it with damp weeds.  She could not drag the basket behind her all over the embankment and she could not leave it exposed; the others would steal what she collected.

And, there were many others.  Across the strands on both sides of the river men women and children searched for anything they could hock to eat and live.  Molly had to be quick and look sharp for anything she might find.  She was ten years old and had learned in the last three years never to linger at a place where she found something and never to make any noise about a find.  The others would take it from her in an instant, so she stood a few moments on the water’s edge looking out onto the river as if she were a tourist on the French Riviera enjoying the view.  She saw a shiny piece of copper caught in the undertow and she did not want to bend down for it immediately.  She looked around, watching as others dug their hands into the wet sand looking for buried articles, then, with her toes she unearthed a copper ring about three inches in diameter.  She looked down at it and sat down on the strand waiting.  People looked at her, but thought that she was just a child, maybe one of the countless homeless waifs of the city playing in the water.  Quietly she reached forward and picked up the copper ring, quickly putting it into her pinafore pocket.

Molly sat there for a while longer; not too long, for she might miss other treasures.  She stood and walked slowly away from the spot and further along the water front toward the Great Bridge that bordered both sides of the river.

The Bridge was prime property for discarded treasures.  Molly remembered the day she had found a shilling leaning upright against one of the bridge abutments.  What a lucky day that was and how they had feasted, her mother and herself.

Molly found five lumps of coal, a teacup which she discarded because it was badly cracked, a pencil case which she kept and nothing more. This did not surprise her with so many others wandering and picking.

Molly’s stomach grumbled and a light headedness accompanied by nausea almost made her stumble. She spied a patch of high weeds to her right and headed inland toward it.  She would rest there for a little while and then continue.  She climbed over a piece of driftwood. Settling her bare feet on the other side of it, she noted a pair of shoes protruding from the deepest part of the bushes.

Molly looked around.  The shoes were well hidden from sight and she watched as the others milled about under the bridge or at the water’s edge in their desperate search for articles to redeem.  She lay her doll down behind the driftwood and scooted through a patch of bramble.  A man’s dead body, bloated from exposure to the river lay between the weed pile and the stone sea wall. 

Molly gulped.  She had seen dead bodies before; they were in the streets and in the lanes almost every day.  The man’s face was swollen and a whitish green color.  Flies and other insects crawled over his eyes and nose; his features partially eaten away by sea creatures.  Molly reasoned that the high tide must have left the heavy body here and then departed like a nanny releasing her charge.

Molly crawled to the body.  She could not stand up for fear that someone else would see her and come over.  This was a rare and wondrous find.  Molly searched through his pockets and found nothing but a card with illegible writing across it.  She looked at it as she lay flat on her stomach but could not make out a single letter.  There was nothing here, she was ready to crawl back out when her eye was caught by a glint of light on the mans left hand.

It was a ring.  A most magnificent ring.  It was gold in color with an immense red stone in the middle.  Around the outside of the stone were strange symbols that Molly did not recognize even though she new a bit of reading.  These symbols were not letters, or pictures and she was perplexed at their meaning.

Molly tugged at the ring.  It would not come off; the finger was too swollen with death and water.  She tried again and again, pulling at the ring.  She had to hurry.  Just as she had found this treasure, one of the others would surely come around soon.  Molly knew what she must do and she bit her lip. 

Looking about in the sand she found a piece of broken blue glass stuck in the roots of the weeds.  After sharpening the edge of the glass against a stone, she crawled back to the man and began to cut at the ring finger just below the knuckle joint.  It was hard work and seemed to take hours.  Gooey white-yellow fluid gushed out as she severed the last bit and pulled the finger up.  She removed the ring from the finger and tossed the digit into the weeds.

“Now,” she thought, “to get back up and out without the others seeing me.”

Molly crawled further down the bank through the high grown weeds and exited them far from the dead body.  She had placed the ring in her camisole for the article of clothing was a size and a half too small for her and was tight against her body. 

Standing up, Molly gathered some shards of glass, a piece of lead pipe and several washed out scraps of cloth and carried them back up the strand to the basket.  She placed them inside to cover the copper ring and pencil case, patted the camisole where the ring made a little lump on her chest and clutched her doll close to cover the lump.  She headed back toward the streets dragging her basket behind her.

***


Molly placed the pipe and circlet of brass on the battered table in the main room.  She was not interested in them although they might bring in two or three pence, for the ring was her soul preoccupation.  Her mother was not yet home and Molly hoped she would not be too much into drink to appreciate the ring she had found.  Every woman Molly knew drank gin.  It was one of the aromas that added it’s essence to the fabric of her life. 

She heard footsteps on the stairs.  Her mother was not alone and she quickly hid the pipe and brass ring inside the pile of dirty straw and rags that they slept on.  Then, she pushed through a back door that led out onto a porch.  From there she climbed up a  short flight of five stairs to a little room in a corroded turret that tilted crazily to the left, just barely attached to the building.  She was so light that it did not waiver in it’s attachment, and here, she was safe.  Molly had found the hiding place last year when one of her mother’s escorts insisted that he have both her mother and herself for his pleasure.  Her mother  managed to distract the man while Molly ran out the back door and climbed to the “Princess Tower,” as she came to refer to it.

She could hear her mother’s slurred speech through the floor of the tower. 

“Comon Freddy, gi’me the money.  I done what ye wanted . . .”

Her mother laughed suddenly and Molly knew it would be a while before she could go back down to the flat.  She pulled the ring from inside her camisole and studied it.  The red stone glowed with a soft attractive light.  Molly felt a warm tingling in her fingers as she turned it round and round to look at the symbols graven on the band.  She looked inside the band and noted that it was engraved with the word “Brethren”.  Though she could sound the word out, she did not know the meaning.  She held the ring in her hand and sat looking out of the turret window where a lone tree gathered enough strength to grow a few leaves in the alley below. This reminded her of the rolling hills and blue skies that she and her mother left behind when her father died four years ago.  With no man to provide for them and no relatives, they left the cows and geese of the countryside for the city and  landed here.

Molly sighed.  She missed that great expanse of green and the clear fresh air, and closed her eyes.  She drifted off to sleep.

When she woke, the sun had drifted high in the sky and the heat in the turret was unbearable.  She climbed down the steps and opened the door slowly to her rooms.  They never used the back room and it was empty save for two worn and tattered, stuffed chairs covered with years of grime.  Molly tiptoed to the door, opened it slowly and looked inside.  Her mother was asleep on the pile of straw, the pipe and brass ring laid on the table.  She was alone and whatever had been done had transpired while Molly dozed.

She wanted to let her mother sleep, but her stomach was screaming for food and the dizziness would not leave her.

“Mum . . . mum, wake up, will ye?  Mum . . .”

Her mother mumbled and turned over, but did not wake.  Molly saw the knotted handkerchief which her mother clutched in her hand and knew that her night’s earnings were inside.  She tried to pry her mother’s fingers open, but long practice taught her mother how to hold onto objects while she slept.  Her mother muttered and rolled over tucking the hand with the precious coins beneath her.

Molly looked at the goods on the table and licked her lips.  She knew where to take the items to sell, but if she did she might be labeled a thief and sent off to the workhouse.  She squatted down and pulled her doll close, waiting for her mother to wake.

The sun was almost set when her mother opened bleary eyes and looked about the room.  She raised an arm across her head and moaned. 

“Molly . . . Molly, where are ye?”

Molly came to her  and wiped her mother’s face with a rag soaked in water.  Her mother smiled and took the rag, running it along her neck and down the front of her bodice.

“Thank ye me dearie.  Ye always look out fer yer mum, dontcha?”

Molly smiled and nodded.

“Well, I see that ye caught some goods, eh?  We’ll take 'em to ol’ Jake in half a mo and get what we can fer ‘em.”

Her mother struggled to her feet and looked inside the basket at the three lumps of coal. 

“And, coal fer the fire too?  Well, me girl ye done splendid, yoo did!  Now, with what I got we can get a bit o’ meat and some bread and even cook up the meat with the coal . . .”

Molly held the ring in front of her mother’s face.

The woman stopped speaking and said, “'ere, where’d ye get that, Molly me dearie?”

“I got it from the river, this morning, mum.  I found it in the sand.”  She could not bear to think about cutting the dead man’s finger off so she lied about where she discovered it.

“That’s a mighty fine bit o’ discoverin‘, Molly.”

Her mother looked inside the band and said “brethren.”

“What does that mean, Mum?  Brethren.”

“It means, brother, kin.”

“We can sell it, right?”

“Well, we got to be careful at that.  We don’t know if it was a stolen piece or not.  If we sells it right off, they could think we stole it.  'Ere, give it to me and we’ll 'ide it in the safe box.”

Molly’s mother had loosened a board in the wall in the unused room and nailed a tin box to the floor.  Inside she kept a paper that proved she had been legally married to Molly’s father and lock of his hair tied in blue ribbon.  Now, she placed the ring inside and pulled the board back over the box.

“Comon,” she said to Molly, “let’s go sell those things and get something to eat. You’re a fine girl or me name ain’t Bridget Flaherty!” 

Bridget grabbed her daughter’s hand and they went downstairs out into the growing dusk.
On either side of the street ale houses were beginning to fill up with all manner of folks.  Rowdy voices flowed out onto the street, singing songs and cussing.  Most of them had been in the tavern the entire day wasting what little coins they were able to garner on the gin that would dull their minds to the conditions in which they lived. 

Molly felt a slight pause in her mother’s step as she passed the tavern and she knew that Bridget longed to spend their coins on gin, but walked on.  Molly admired her mother for that, she never spent money on drink when Molly was hungry.

They took the pipe and brass ring to Old Jacob the dealer.  He was the fairest of all the dealers in the area, though he gave the lowest price possible.  His shop was a collection of hoarded goods; rags, bottles, metal pieces, furnishings, clothing all piled helter-skelter about the shop. 

Jacob shambled over to them when he heard the little bell above the door tinkle.  He scrutinized the pipe and brass ring as if they were a treasure’s map and he the only one that could decipher their meaning.

“Four and a half pence . . .” he said squinting at them, for he expected an argument. 

“Awright,” Bridget answered, “four an' a half it tis . . . an’ I don’t need no return slip.  I ain’t commin’ back for ‘em.”

Jacob handed the four pence to Bridget and gave the half penny to Molly.  The girl curtsied and Jacob handed her another half pence and smiled.

“She always reminds me of my own daughter Lizzy.  You know, she died of the Cholera last year . . .”\

“Yes, Jacob,” Bridget answered sympathetically, “I remember.  Thank you.”

Jacob wiped away a tear and turned about muttering to himself headed toward the back of the shop.  Molly and Bridget exited to the street. 

“"Ere, Mum,” Molly said, holding out the coins she had been given.

“No.  Now, those is yours.  Yoo keep ‘em fer a rainy day.”

Molly put one half penny each into one of her pinafore pockets.  She didn’t want them to clink together and be heard by anyone.  They were her's and she meant to keep them.

The pair walked on through the fog filled streets.  They knew instinctively which turns to make at which corner.  In fog this thick you had to know or be lost till dawn in a miasma so thick a hand could not be seen in front of your face.  Across a wide square and up two more blocks they came to a butcher’s shop.  The smell of sausage filled the air and Molly leaned heavily against her mother as a wave of nausea and light headedness struck her once again.

“Be steady, me girl . . . we’ll have eats soon enough.”

Bridget smiled down at her daughter and patted her blonde hair.  Her face and her blue eyes bore the stamp of her father and when Molly smiled she almost broke Bridget’s heart for her father’s traits were strong in her.

They bought sausage from the butcher and half a loaf of bread from the baker and headed home.  Outside the ale shop Molly told her mother, “go on an’ get some drink Mum.  I know you’ve been workin’ hard . . .”  But, her mother shook her head negatively and said, “we best leave a bit for tomorrow . . . ye never know.”  Molly squeezed her mother’s hand and they went the rest of the way home.

They had gathered sticks of wood from the yard in back of their house and laid the coal on top of the flames.  The coal would not last long but they only wanted to cook the sausage and toast the bread.  Besides, the heat that would fill the room would make the place uncomfortably hot.  So, as the sausage cooked Bridget firmly set their only chair under the doorknob to prevent anyone entering and she and her daughter stepped out onto the back porch to catch what little breeze the evening brought.

“Look, Molly, make a wish . . .”

Molly looked up.  Only the bravest and truest stars could make their appearance through the thick atmosphere over the city and Molly closed her eyes and made her wish.

“Don’t tell me what it was, or won’t come true.”

“I know, Mum.  It was something good, though.”

Bridget smiled and sat next to her.  Soon the sausage was cooked and her mother went inside saying, “wait 'ere, I’ll be right back.”

When her mother returned, she carried their single tin plate with the sausage, the half loaf of bread under her arm, their candle  and her shawl over her shoulders.

“I thought it would be nice to have ourselves a picnic, me girl.  Spread me shawl out an’ we’ll eat right 'ere as if we was out on the commons.”

Bridget giggled and Molly smiled.  Her mother tried so hard to make things pleasant for her and Molly loved her.

They shared the meager repast, talking about how big the city looked from this vantage point.  When they finished, Molly said, “Mum . . . I want to put my half pennies in the safe box,”

“Ah, no, Molly.  That’s fer yoo to buy a sweet or somethin’.”

“I don’t want a sweet, Mum, I want to put them in the safe box.”

“Okay . . . if that’s what you truly want, then we’ll put 'em in before we goes to sleep.  And, you don’t have to go to the water tomorrow.  We 'ave enough to last us for another day.”

Molly smiled and helped her mother fold her shawl before they returned inside.  They paused to add Molly’s pence to the safe box and then entered the main room.  The room was hot from the stove and Bridget opened the rickety window on the opposite wall.  She picked up the newspaper sheets that the sausage was wrapped in and was about to shove them into the fire for disposal when a notice caught her eye.

“LOST - ONE GOLD RING”  the small headline read and Bridget smoothed the page out to read.

“Lost - one gold ring with red stone center, on the 25th of August, at the High Street abutment.  Twenty-five pound reward to anyone who returns it, no questions will be asked.”

“Well, well, will ye look at this?”

“What is it Mum?”

“Why . . . I believe it’s an advertisement for your little ring, me dearie.”

Molly looked down where her mother pointed though she could not make head nor tails of the words.  She smiled at Bridget, “are we gonna take it to 'em?”

“I . . . don’t know, yet, me girl.  We must be careful at this game.  We take it back and they calls us thieves and then we’re in the workhouse . . . or worse.  I’ll talk with Freddy about it.”

“No, Mum!  Don’t talk to anyone about it.  Freddy’l steal it I know he will,” and Molly began to sob.

“Awright, dearie, I won’t say a word.  It’s just twixt yoo and me.  I’ll tell ye what.  I’ll go take a look ‘round this here address and see what kinda folks they are.  Then we’ll decide what to do.”

Molly threw her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed Bridget’s cheek.

“Now, I’ve gotta go out.  You stay 'ere and sleep.  When I come back we’ll see about what to do with that ring.”

Molly wiped her eyes and watched her mother leave.  She lay down on the straw pallet but was unable to drift off.  She kept seeing the ring and the word “brethren.”  Molly sat up and shook the straw from her hair.  She yawned for she was tired, but the ring seemed to call to her.  “Just one more look,” she told herself, “then I’ll sleep better.”

Molly stepped into the rear room and moved the wall board aside.  She pulled open the lid of the box and noted that in the darkness the ring shone with a warm reddish light.  She picked it up feeling that odd tingling once again. Molly looked at the red stone, so hypnotic and alluring.  As she gazed she slipped the ring onto her finger. A face swam to the surface of the gem and a voice clearly said, “Your Servant . . .”

Molly pulled the ring off and dropped it.  She was shaking from head to toe and watched as the ring rocked back and forth on the floor where it had fallen.

She moved the ring with her bare toe, but nothing happened.  The dull red light still glowed from it, but no voice could be heard.  She nudged it again and nothing happened so thinking it her imagination she picked up the ring and placed it back on her finger and looked at the red stone again.

Once more the face became visible and a voice said “Your Servant . . .”

Molly gulped, “who . . . who’s speaking?  Who're you?”

“Who are you?” The voice questioned Molly in return.

“Are you inside the ring?”

“I am.”

“But, 'ow are you talkin' to me?”

“I talk to anyone who wears the ring.”

“How'd you get inside the ring?  Can you come out?”

“I will never come out.  I bear the burden of requests to be fulfilled.”

“Requests?  What do you mean, “requests?”

“If you do not know then you should not have the ring.” And, the red glow went out as if a candle had been suddenly snuffed.  Molly shook the ring, knocked it against the floor and wall but nothing happened.  Shrugging she replaced the ring into the safe box and went to the straw pile to sleep. 

***


Thunder woke her.  A tremendous crash overhead with lightning so bright it lit the early morning room around her.  Rain spewed in through the opened window and Molly hurried to close it down.  She picked up her rag doll and huddled down into the pile of straw.  She didn’t like the thunder it was loud and unexplainable and always sounded as if the heavens were very angry. 

She was thankful that she didn’t have to go to the river today.  The rain would make the other’s scarce, but it would be unpleasant being drenched looking under stones and digging in sand.  Molly had done it more than once before and she was happy about her reprieve.  She thought about the ring.

“Must 'ave been a dream,” she told her rag doll.  “Couldn’t 'ave been real.”

She crossed the room to the door, opened it and went to the wall panel.  Pushing it aside she opened the box and took out the ring.  It glowed softly, and the vibration was still evident, but she heard no voice speak.

“See, just a dream.”

Molly replaced the ring and the board and went to the outer room to await her mother’s return.

***


The sun was setting.  Bridget had never stayed away this long.  She always returned by the late afternoon whether she made any money or not.  Molly paced the floor, wondering where Bridget was.  Perhaps she knocked on the door of the house that advertised the ring.  Perhaps they called the police and took her away.
Perhaps . . .

Molly grabbed her doll and walked slowly down the stairs.  She had not been outside after sun down without her mother and the streets filled with people in the quickly gathering darkness frightened her.  She would go to Annie Milton’s house two blocks up.  Annie and Bridget were friends and Annie might know what to do.

“Why, it’s Molly Flaherty!” Annie said, tossing open the door.  “Come in my girl.  Where’s yer mum?”

“I don’t know Annie, that’s why I come.”

Annie had six children two daughters and four obnoxious sons that stuck their tongues out and pulled their ears to make faces at her.  The youngest girl, one year less in age than Molly was crippled with Tuberculosis and could not leave the rickety bed that was the only one in the house.  She smiled weakly at Molly and raised a hand in greeting. 

“"Ello Violet,” Molly said, warmly.  She liked Violet she was a quiet sober girl with a gracious disposition.  Abigail, two years older than Molly brought a bowl of broth for Violet and they sipped the broth sharing it.

“Are ye 'ungry, Molly?”  Annie asked.

“No.  I ate today,” Molly lied, she knew that Annie would give Molly her own meal and she did not want that.

“Now, about yer Mum . . . when did she leave?”

“Last night.  She’s usually home by this time, and . . .”

A furious pounding on the door interrupted their conversation.  Annie walked to the door and opened it.  A constable stood at the doorstep and after Annie heard his first words she closed the door behind her and stayed outside.

Molly hugged her doll close and looked at the girls as they shared the broth.  Abigail smiled at Molly while her youngest brother snuck behind and pulled Molly’s hair.

“Stop it Ralph or I’ll tell Mum!” Abigail said and the boy guffawed and ran back to his brothers.

Annie returned to the room her face gray and lines of worry creased her head.  She wrung her hands in her apron and looked as if she did not know what to do. 

“Molly . . . dearest girl . . . what was your mum wearin’ last night?”

Molly frowned, “ a grey frock, it’s all she owns.  Why, Annie?”

Annie knelt down by her and took her shoulders in her hands. 

“There’s no other way to tell ye ‘cept straight out . . . they think they found yer mum dead, Molly.  That murderer struck again last night and they think yer mum was 'is victim.  The constable was lookin’ fer yoo, but I told him I didn’t know where ye was.”

“No . . . my mum’s not dead, Annie.  She can’t be . . . she’s comin’ home tonight.”

Molly stood up and backed toward the door. 

“I’ll be goin’ now, Annie . . . I gotta be 'ome when Mum comes back.”

She opened the door and as Annie stood she darted outside closing it behind her.  Molly ran. She ran as fast as her little legs would carry her down the two blocks to her house.  A constable stood outside the door waiting for her.  Why did they want her?  Her mother was not dead.  She would know; she would feel it.

Molly darted down a side alley that wound around the block and ended behind her house.  The constables had not covered the back of the building because there was no ready access.  But Molly knew that if she climbed the uneven brick work she could make the first elevated porch and then the drain pipe to the second and then the third which was her own apartment.  Silently and swiftly with her doll held between her teeth, she climbed up and up until she swung her legs over the railing and onto her porch.

She opened the door to the spare room and heard voices coming from inside.  They were not familiar, certainly not her mother and she was frightened at who may be inside her house.

Soon, she felt braver and decided that wherever her mother was, she would find her.  She knew she was not dead, although what  happened to her she could not surmise.

Slowly, softly she crept into the rear room.  She pulled the board away from the wall and settled it quietly by the side.  She opened the box and took out all of it’s contents.  Then, she closed the box, replaced the board exited the room and climbed up to the turret.  Here, in her Princess Tower she could think things through and come to a decision.  She shoved the ring into her camisole along with the marriage certificate and her father’s hair and put one half penny  into each of her pockets.  Clutching her doll to her heart, she huddled against the turret wall and soon, was asleep.


***


Molly woke, startled.  She did not know where she was at first then, looking around the turret she realized that she had slept through the night in her Princess Tower.  Weak sunlight filtered through filthy window glass as she crept toward the wall and looked down into the back yard.  Mrs. Tredlow hung out her washing blocking the view of the yard.  Molly sighed and stepped back into the room’s center.  What to do, she wondered.  She left the turret and stepped slowly down the stairs to the porch that ran along the back of her apartment.  She looked down at the back yard bending over the rail.  No one was at the back waiting for her.  She cracked the door to her rooms and listened.  She could hear no voices.

Molly picked up her doll  and looked into it’s worn, dirty face.

“What to do, eh?  Wha’dya say?  Go inside?” 

Molly tucked the doll under her arm and pushed the door inward slowly, standing off to the side so she could not be seen.  No one came running to her, no angry voices and grasping hands accosted her.  She stepped into the room.

Slowly she approached the opposite door.  It had been left slightly ajar and she peeked inside.  It was empty.

Molly wondered where they had gone and if some sort of trap had been set for her.  Who were the men who were in her rooms last night?  Police?  Someone for the ring?

She poked her head through the doorway and looked about.  Nothing had been touched as far as Molly could see.  She ran to the pile of straw and shoved it about with her foot.  Three copper coins tinkled out of the straw and Molly scooped them up.  Now she had a little money which she must not use foolishly.

“We got some money now,” she said to her doll.

Molly saw the newspaper sheet in which Bridget had seen the advertisement for the ring tossed to the floor.  She picked it up and crumpled it and shoved it far to the back of the little stove.

“Awright,” she said, shaking her little doll, “lets get us out o’ here.”

Molly ran to the back porch, shinnied down the two drain pipes, climbed down the remaining bricks and into the back yard.  She looked around, feeling like a thief must feel after entering lodgings not their own.  The alley lay ahead and she ran for it, and out into the already crowded streets.

***


It was dark.  The rank smell of sewer water filled Molly’s nostrils as she huddled down in the rear of an alley and bit into an apple that she had purchased from a street seller.  She watched for people coming into the alleyway.  Molly had been startled once this evening  by a couple, half drunk on gin, looking for an intimate place.  The man had yelled at her when she popped her head out of the doorway and had even pitched a couple of rocks  her way to hurry her along.

Now she was bone weary.  All Molly wanted to do was to sleep and she missed her rooms and her mother terribly.  A tear pushed it’s way to her cheek and she wiped it away furiously.

“No,” she said aloud, “it won’t do to cry . . . I gotta find mum.”

She found a deep set doorway and huddled as far back as she could. Clutching her doll she nodded off.

“Oy!  What yer doin’ ‘ere?” a voice called.

Molly looked up.  It was a ragged looking young boy with dirty brown  hair that stuck up at odd angles.  His smudged face looked sternly at her and fear gripped her heart.
Molly did not answer.

“This  ‘ere’s my doorway, ye see?  Mine, an’ yer not welcome!”

Molly stood up and stepped into the dim light of the street lamp.

“Who are yoo?  I hain’t seen yoo ‘round ‘ere before.”

Molly didn’t speak, she was too exhausted and turned about to leave.

“’Eh?  I said what ye doin’ roun’ ‘ere?  I hain’t never seen ye before!”

The boy reached out a hand to turn her about and Molly turned first. aiming a furious kick to the boys shin that bent him over.  She ran and the boy took off after her.

Molly could hear the slap of water on the sides of ships and felt wood planking under her bare feet.  To her right were piles of wooden crates and sacks and she pushed herself through them and crouched behind.

She saw the boy stop in front of the boxes.

“Oy!  Where’d ye go?  I hain’t gonna 'urt ye?”  He looked around, waiting.

“Comon out . . . yer’ jest a girl, ye know.  Ye needs someone to look after ye.”

The boy sat down on a full sack and she saw him craning his neck back and forth searching for any sign of her.

“Look, my name’s Diggs.  What’s yers?”

Diggs waited.  Molly scrunched down even further wishing he would go away.

“Ye don’t know these streets . . . if’n ye did ye wouldn’t come inta me doorway that way.”

Diggs waited again.

“I kin sit ‘ere all night ye know.  I jest might do that.  Ye can’t run away in daylight . . .”

Diggs placed his hand in his pocket and said, “I bet yer 'ungry, eh?”

He held something up and said, “’ere’s me last biscuit . . . it’s yers if’n ye comes out . . . I mean it, it’s yers.”

He held it up high and although Molly couldn’t see it well, she wanted it so badly that her legs acted independently and brought her out of her hiding place.  Diggs tossed the hard piece of pastry to her.  She gobbled it down, all the while keeping a sharp eye on the boy.  Diggs did not move from the sack on which he sat, but looked at her with marked sympathy.

“There . . . see?  I hain’t gonna 'urt ye.”

Molly hugged her doll and looked at the boy.

“What’s yer name, eh?”

“Mo . . . Molly Flaherty.”

“Molly?  Like I said, I’m Diggs.  Me first name is Alfie, but everybody calls me Diggs.
Ye hain’t been out ‘ere too long 'as ye?”

Molly shook her head negatively and the boy stood up.  Molly backed away rapidly preparing to run.

“No, no don’t run away . . . look I knows a place inside where we can go and stay for the night.  I was 'eadin’ there when I foun’ ye.  Wanna come with me?”

“No.”

“Well . . . why not?  I fed ye, I hain’t gonna 'urt ye, an’ yoo don’t know nothin about bein’ on these streets, you’ll get good an’ beat up and maybe dead . . . mark my words.”

Diggs turned and started to go and Molly yelled, “no . . . don’t go,  I . . . I just . . .” and she began to cry.

“’Ere now, it hain’t as bad as all that.”

Diggs came close to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Yes it is . . . they got me mum and I don’t know where she is an’ the police come lookin' fer me an’ I can’t go back to my rooms an . . .”

“Police?”

Molly nodded.

“Wha’d’ya doo then?  Steal somethin'?

"No!  I'm not a thief.  I didn't steal nothin'.  The police said me mum was dead an' she ain't!  She's not dead, I would feel it if she was . . ." and she began to cry again.

"Awright, awright come on let's get inside.  These is dangeroos streets, Molly."

Diggs took her hand and led her away down alleys that twisted and turned but always stayed close to the edge of the turgid river.  They hid once from a policeman that was patrolling the alley ways, all the while Diggs gently holding her hand to keep her calm.

They came to a large dark building situated next to a wide wooden dock.

"Look," Diggs said, "see that window up there?  I'm gonna boost ye up ye get inside and wait fer me on the other side, awright?"

Molly nodded and Diggs bent over.  Molly hesitated a moment, and Diggs stood up.

"Look 'ere Molly, if'n I wanted the 'urt ye I would've done that awready, doncha think so?"

Molly tilted her head and said, "I guess so."

"Well, come on, we can't wait all night out 'ere, the Coppers'll be comin' by soon enough."

Molly climbed onto Digg's back and pulled herself up through the window.  She straddled the window sill and dropped down by her hands into the darkness.  Soon Diggs came over the sill and dropped down silently beside her.

"Over 'ere," he said and took hold of Molly's hand.  She could not see where she was or where she was going.  Diggs led her through piled crates and sacks far into the depths of the building.

"This 'ere's a ware'ouse.  They don't come in 'ere too often and sometimes ye can find some goods to eat lyin' around.  Wait a mo . . ." and Diggs struck a match with his thumbnail.  Molly could see Digg's face clearly by the light of the match, he was older than she, maybe twelve years or even thirteen.  She was still wary of him and followed behind far enough that she could run if necessary.

"Look . . . what I tell ye?  See that crate?  Oranges.  Probably goin' out on a ship tomorrow . . ."  Diggs took a pen knife from his pocket and drove the thing into one of the slats that sealed the top.  Molly heard the creak of nails and waited while Diggs reached inside to pull out four oranges, tossed her two and pounded the nails back into place.

"Never leave no evidence," he said and reached for her hand.  Molly pulled away and Diggs said, "come on, we can't stand in the middle of the floor eatin' oranges.  Those Coppers is fierce an' they shine their torches inside 'ere.  We best get outta the way.  Come on," Diggs said gently.

They found a place far from the windows up in a gallery that had straw strewn about the floors and small cages filled with chickens, ducks and other poultry. 

"Walk easy." Diggs whispered, "don't wake them birds, they'll send up a squawk that'll wake the dead."

They crept past to the rear of the loft and settled into a pile of straw.  Both of them tore into the oranges, the juice running down Molly's arms as she gulped the sweet tasty fruit. 

Diggs looked at her in the light of another struck match.

"'Ow old are ye, Molly Flaherty?"

"Ten years," she said, rubbing her eyes.

"My sister was eight last year.  Ye' reminds me of 'er.  She was yellow 'aired like yoo, She's  . . . she's dead now."

Molly looked at Diggs, while he sighed; a heavy thing that bore the weight of the world in it's sound.

"She died of the Cholera.  She was only eight years old, jest a little thing.  Then, me mum and dad died an' . . . 'ere I am, fendin' fer meself."  He said it with such an air of nonchalance that at first Molly doubted his story until she saw the steady stream of tears that he wiped away.  Diggs tossed the spent match onto the planks on the floor and lay back.

"Ye'd best be gettin' some sleep, Molly.  This place is safe for the next few hours.  Don't worry, I won't let nothin' 'appen to ye."

Molly settled back and soon she was in a deep sleep.

***


"Oy . . . oy! Molly wake up!"

She woke to Diggs kicking at the bottom of her foot.  She scooted back into the straw startled.

"I brought ye somethin' look," he said striking another match.  It was a thick, round loaf of bread that smelled freshly baked.

"'Ere, take a chunk" Diggs said and handed her the loaf.  Molly tore off a piece of the still warm loaf and ate it gratefully.  Diggs sat down beside her and they shared it off until there was nothing left.

"Now, we gotta get out before the sun rises.  Comon, we gotta go through the window agin."

Diggs took Molly's hand and led her to the same window through which they had come.  He boosted her up with the same instructions to wait for him on the other side.  He had proved to be a champion for her, so she waited for him to appear at the window sill and jump down onto the dock.

"Now, I knows a place to go," and she followed him along more twists and turns until they reached an old grey stone church set back off the wharves.  The surrounding tumble down houses formed a little grotto in the street where the church stood like a foreign object.  Diggs pushed the wooden door open and entered, pulling Molly inside behind him.  Molly shrunk back and would not follow him.

"Hain't ye never been in no church before?"

"No."

"Come, the Vicar's a good chap.  Maybe he can help ye fin' yer mum."

The Vicar was an ancient man with a bald pate and stooped posture.  He was kindly, though and gave Molly and Diggs each a bowl of soup and a chunk of bread.  He smiled as they gulped the food down and offered more.  His hands were gnarled with arthritis and browned with the sun.  He chatted affably about his garden in back of the little church and how he loved to while away his time planting vegetables and flowers. 

"I can't let you stay here today, Diggs," the Vicar said, "the Bishop is here this week and he won't want to see any Street Arabs hanging about."

"Tha's awright Guvnor, we got lots to do anyway.  I wonder, Vicar, is there some way ye can 'elp Molly 'ere?  She's lost her mum. Can't find her nowhere."

"Lost her?  Why, where do you live?"

"I used to live in One Shoe Lane," Molly said softly, "but me mum's been missin' now and I don't stay there any longer."

"Well, child, does your mother come to service?  You might find her there."

"I don't know, I don't think she does."

"Hmmm, I'll ask around at the service, what's your mother's name?"

"Bridget Flaherty"

The Vicar frowned, surely there must be a multitude of Bridget Flaherty's inhabiting this town.

"I'm certain she'll turn up.  Such a fine young lady as you are?  Why, I bet your mother is home right now waiting for you."

"Do you really think so?"

"Yes.  I really think so."

He winked at Diggs and the boy knew that he was saying this to placate Molly.  He thought she was a run away.

"Well, thanks Vicar, we'll be goin' now."

The Vicar wrapped half a loaf of bread for them and watched as they proceeded out of the church and down the lane to the crowded street.


***


They were sitting behind huge sacks of grain on the docks.  The sun had begun to set and Molly's head lolled against Digg's shoulder as she drowsed.  Her hand opened in her relaxation and a gold ring with a round red stone fell out of her grasp. 

Diggs' picked it up.  His fingers tingled as he looked around the outside at the strange symbols that lined the band.  He saw the word "Brethren" inside the band but didn't have enough knowledge to know the word. He put the ring on his finger. A bright red light shone from the ring, the face swam to it's brilliant surface and a voice said, "Your Servant . . ."

Diggs dropped the ring and stood, backing away, he woke Molly.  The bright light still shone from the ring.

"'Ow did you get the ring?"  Molly challenged.

"Yoo dropped it while you slept, Molly.  Ye 'ad it in yer 'and,"

Molly grabbed the ring up looking about for anyone who might have seen the glow or heard the voice.

"It talked," Diggs said.

"It talked to me too . . ."

From behind them a voice said, "what are you two doing back there"  Get out of here the pair of you or the Coppers'll be on you."

They ran, then, far down the dock and around the corner toward the inner city.  Diggs held Molly's hand so she could keep up.  He pulled her into a doorway and pushed hard on the door.  It creaked open and once inside he pushed it closed.

"Come over here and sit down.  Let's take a look at that ring."

"I found it," Molly began.  "It . . . it was on the strand after the bridge abutment down past Heron Row.  I took it 'ome and showed me mum.  She seen a advertisement in the noospaper for a lost ring just like it and went to see 'bout it.  That's the last I seen of 'er."

Diggs looked at the ring as it lay between them. He pushed it about on the floor with his finger, trying to get a response.  He picked it up and placed it on his finger.

"Your Servant."

Diggs fought the urge to throw the thing across the room and said, "my servant!"

"My Master."

Diggs looked at Molly bathed in the red light that the ring emitted.  Her eyes were wide with fright and wonder.

"What can ye do fer me?"  Diggs asked.  His heart beat in his breast, fear made his arms and legs tingle.

"What does my Master wish?"

Now Diggs smiled and closed his eyes.  He thought of an ancient lamp and the forty thieves and said, "I want . . . I want a fat roast goose with bread and taters . . ."

Before he knew what he had said, the smell of the goose and bread filled their nostrils.  They both stared from the ring to the food and back again.

"I knew it!"  Diggs exclaimed, "what yoo got 'er is An Arabian Knight!  One o' those Swamis that grant wishes.  HOO! HOO!  We can be rich, Molly, we can . . ."
Diggs looked at Molly and sobered. 

"Oh yeah, yer mum.  Well, at least we can eat," and smiling he dove into the best tasting goose he would ever eat.


***


Diggs had found a strip of hide, long and thin but leather tough and used it to place the ring around Molly's neck.

"If I'm right about yer Arabian Knight, we gotta be real careful about 'ow many wishes we make.  We already used one and maybe we only get three, so . . ."

Molly agreed and waited as Diggs tied the strand about her neck.  She placed the ring inside her bodice and patted it.

"We got enough food fer now, Molly.  I got the left over goose wrapped in this 'er noospaper.  Now . . . I think we're gonna need a bit o' help.  Let's go find some mates o' mine.  They're troo boys and good look outs."

Molly walked behind Diggs, holding tight to her rag doll.  She picked the doll up and looked into it's blank button eyes and thought about her mother.  She swallowed her tears and shook her head.  It wouldn't do to start wailing now, how would she ever find Bridget if she kept crying all the time.  She watched Diggs as he led the way through twists and turns, down back alleys and into buildings connected by doors so that they ran the whole length of a block.  They ascended stairs to the very top of one building and Diggs helped her out onto the slanted slate roof top.  Beside a chimney pot they sat and watched the fog begin to invade the city.  There would be rain later. 

The pair consumed the rest of their goose and potatoes, then entered the building, went down to the street level and into the back yard.  Through more alleys and as the sun began to set behind the thick cover of fog, Diggs said. "'Ere, we are.  Me ol' stompin' grounds."

He took Molly's hand and led her over trash piled high against a fence that bowed under the refuse's weight.  Then, they crossed the little yard and into a building that reeked of bad water and unwashed bodies.







CHAPTER TWO



Sir William Milton Hargrove IV watched out of his window as the carriage pulled into his driveway.  Hargrove had been waiting, and dreading this visit for two weeks.  One month ago he had made the biggest monetary arrangement of his life and the gravest error imaginable and now he was awaiting his due.  He sighed, for he was certain his reputation and finances would be taken into account. He waved his scented lace handkerchief in front of his face to ward off what he thought would be a sneeze.  Sir William straightened his cuffs and walked out into the front room where Lucy, his maid, waited for his orders.

"Coffee."  Hargrove said and waived the woman away, who curtsied and scurried off.

"Sir,"  Antoine, his butler said as Sir William sat down, "there is a gentleman here to see you . . . a Mr. Clovis."

"Yes, Antoine, show the gentleman in."

Hargrove looked around at the opulence which surrounded him.  Some of the pieces in the room in which he sat were already 300 years old.  Most of them were priceless heirlooms that had been in his family before the time of his great-grandfather.

Lucy entered with a silver tray on which rested a coffee pot. Gleaming silver spoons, a sugar bowl with creamer and delicate coffee cups imported from China made the little table gleam in the morning sun that came in through the windows behind.

He waved Lucy away and looked up with a smile at the man who entered. 

"Ahh, Clovis.  Do come, sit and share some coffee with me.  It is Brazilian, an excellent blend."

Clovis sat down, a greasy smile on his lips.

"Perhaps,"  Hargrove thought, "he believes he has some advantage."  He returned the smile and poured the coffee into the cups.  Adding a lump of sugar and stirring, he watched as Clovis sniffed the brew, nodded his head to Sir William and drank.

They sat quietly drinking the coffee for a while, Hargrove understanding that Clovis meant this as a war of nerves.  Several times Sir William brought his handkerchief to his nose, as a sneeze threatened.  The summer always brought him bouts of sneezes.

"Well," said Clovis, "the ring has been wakened thrice and used once."

Hargrove studied Clovis for a moment.  He was a large man; not fat; large.  His hands made the delicate coffee cups look like a child's tea set.  His head was round and gave the impression of a huge ball stuck atop a set of shoulders.  However, he exhibited a grace that told Hargrove that Clovis had not spent the times of his life idly collecting items.  Clovis was a man of action and there could be no doubting it.  His face was wide and his eyes black and deep.  There was something at once sinister about Clovis that belied the grace and intelligence within.

"A very dangerous man, indeed . . ."  Hargrove thought.

"That is unfortunate.  Have you gotten any closer to the culprits?" Sir William asked after sipping his coffee.

"I know who the culprit is," Clovis said smiling, "I want to discover how the ring came to be lost?"

"I have not the slightest clue."

"Oh, I see.  Did not Mr. Polston come to your door two weeks ago?"

"Mr. Polston . . . . Mr. Pol . . . oh, yes.  Well he was here but he did not stay.  I assure you. Wherever Mr. Polston went, he did not stay here."

"And you do not know what happened to him?  Why he has not returned to me and the ring with him?  You have no idea where the ring can be?  You see, the reason I ask these questions is because Mr. Polston was entrusted to you.  He was under your auspices while he stayed in the city.  I gave him the card with your name upon it myself.  With that sort of responsibility you should know of his whereabouts, is that not true?"

"But of course," Hargrove said in hearty agreement.

"I most certainly see all of your points.  But the fact of the matter is that Mr. Polston was quite opposed to my accompanying him about and my agents were fooled trying to follow him.  It seemed as though Mr. Polston wanted to . . . uh . . . disappear."

Clovis straightened in his seat.

"Disappear?  Polston?  Impossible!  He would never leave my service in such a fashion."

"Yet, it does seem to be so.  He left my door without ever entering.  You may ask my man Antoine.  He remarked upon it as well, that the man we had awaited for, for three days only came to the door, inquired if this was indeed my estate and after having been told it was; turned on his heel and departed."

Sir William settled his coffee cup on the saucer and continued, " I dispatched my agents immediately.  They followed him into the city by carriage and managed to keep him in sight all that day.  However, come night fall he gave them the slip."

Clovis looked at Hargrove with narrowed eyes.  His story was not an elaborate one and he was certain Sir William could obtain agreements to lie from his servants and cronies. 

"Well, I will have to look for Mr. Polston then in the city.  You will however remember our agreement.  You will receive nothing if you do not deliver the ring to me by the 23rd August.  It is now 15th August.  You have nine days."

Clovis rose, his frame towering over the delicate table and Sir William Milton Hargrove IV.  He fought the urge to cower backwards into his chair and met Clovis' gaze.  The large man turned and left the room.

Hargrove smiled and wiped his nose.  He drank the rest of his coffee and looked behind him as the carriage pulled away from his house.  He had little to worry about. He thought about his hidden ace.


***


Hargrove walked out toward his stables.  He had extensive quarters for his prized horses, many of whom were cup winners and champion racers.  He ignored the paddocks with his favorites and headed down toward the empty stalls in which he kept foals after they were weaned.  He had no foals in there now. No, he had his ace held securely within this hay strewn stall.

"Well."  Sir William stated as he walked into the stall. "Have you found the ring in your memory yet?"

Bridget Flaherty raised her head.  She had spent the last two days tied to a beam in Hargrove's barn.  She looked at him and said, "I tol' ye Gov'nor, I was tryin' a game on ye.  I never did 'ave no ring!  I thought to take 'alf the reward and never come back . . ."

"Enough!  The lie becomes tiresome, my lady.  You will tell me where the ring is as certainly as you told us your name and you will tell me soon.  Ready your forgetful mind, my lady.  We move to a more secure location soon.  My cohorts there are very talented at retrieving information."

"But . . . I don't 'ave no ring, truly, I don't."

"Hmmm, I would really rather you told me where the ring is, but, you will tell someone, and soon."  He pulled his watch from his watch pocket and looked at it's face.

"You have . . . . forty eight hours."

He snapped the watch closed, pulled his kid gloves down over his slender fingers and turned, leaving Bridget tied to the post.




CHAPTER THREE


Molly and Diggs had come to the end of their quest the night before.  They had ascended stairs that swung crazily under their weight, making Molly gasp in fright several times.  But, with Diggs' help she had climbed the two flights of rickety steps to a bare room with peeling plaster and no window frames. 

They had huddled into a corner and fell off to sleep, hand in hand. 

"OY!  Wha's dis? "

A voice woke them both.  Molly rubbed her eyes as she watched three boys about the same age as Diggs enter the room.

"Why . . . it's me!"  Diggs shouted, "Diggs yer ol' pal."

"Diggs!"  said the largest of the boys.  "Why, I hain't seen yoo in a long while, who's dis?"  he said, kicking at the soul of Molly's bare foot.

"That's Molly. She's me friend. We're roamin' together 'er an' me.  Molly, that big plug there is Tomlin, next to him is Mac and next to him . . . is Wordless.  He don't never say nothin'".

Molly looked at each boy, They were all filthy, shoeless, wearing whatever they could steal or salvage.  Their coats were torn and frayed, their pants far to small for them and each boy wore a cap that had definitely seen better days.

"So," said Tomlin, "what ye been up to?"

Mac had pulled several apples, a half round of bread and a large bunch of grapes from somewhere in his clothing.  Molly wondered where he had hidden all of it in the thin, ragged garments, but was grateful for the half apple, grapes and chunk of bread when it was handed to her.

"Ye see, lads, Molly 'ere 'as lost 'er mum.  I thinks there's somethin' mighty black about it too."

"Shoulda gone to the coppers."

"They was at my house lookin' for me.  I had to run away," Molly said, clutching her doll close.

"Wha'd'ya mum do?  Steal somethin'" Mac asked.

"Me mum never stole notnin' in her whole life!" 

"Awright, awright, I didn't mean nothin' by it.  Coppers, geez!"

"Whatever 'appened to "er mum, we gotta find 'er.  The coppers tried to tell Molly 'er mum was dead, but Molly ain't buyin' it.  Then, there's this . . ." Diggs said, as Molly pulled the ring from her bodice.

"That's a bonny thing . . ." Mac said, running his finger across the red stone.  The ring began to spread it's eerie red glow and Mac drew his finger quickly away and moved back to where the boys stood.  Wordless scrunched up his nose and sniffed, as if he smelled something odd. 

"What sort o' ring is that, anyway?" Tomlin asked.

"It's a Arabian Knight ring." Diggs answered, puffing out his chest, "I knew it was one the minute I seen it."

The three boys drew closer, looking intently at it. 

"'Ere . . . what's them words 'round about the outside?"

"Those ain't words," Molly said, "they ain't what mum told me was letters.  I don't know what they are.  And, look . . . inside."

"Breee . . .th . .breethrin . . ."

"Mum said it was 'brethren', it means brothers."

"Brothers?"

The boys stood back.  They looked at one another then retired to the far corner in a huddle to decide what they should do.  Tomlin returned to them, his hands clasped before him, trying very much to look like an important man he had once seen giving a speech.

"Ahem," he began, "me an' the lads, that is, Mac an' Wordless an' me, we will  . . . 'elp yoo out."

Diggs smiled and clapped Tomlin on the shoulder. 


***


W.M. Hargrove IV rode through the city streets in his sleek black carriage, his handkerchief to his nose.  It was not so much the sneezes now as the fetid smells that accosted him.  No matter, he would soon be in his city home, and there, the unpleasantness of city life could not enter. 

His Hansom pulled up before his white columned house.  Hargrove exited his carriage and walked up the wide stone passageway, lined with deep purple azalea.  The door was solid oak, salvaged from Hargrove castle.  The door was opened for him before he finished climbing the four steps up and a servant immediately took his hat, walking stick, top coat and gloves.  He sniffed.  The air had that scentless, dry quality that he so coveted. 

"I think I should like my breakfast, Annie.  And, do try to find Aloysius and send him to me."

Sir William walked down the hall to the day room.  The curtains had been pulled back to reveal a pleasant garden.  The furnishings were more of Hargrove's immense collection and he took a seat on the sofa.

"Come in . . ." Hargrove said in response to a knock.

A stocky man came in, closing the doors behind him.  He removed his cap and twisted it nervously in his hands as he looked at Hargrove.

"WHERE have you been?"  Sir William asked, smacking the arm of couch for emphasis.

"I . . .  I been lookin' for that ring, Sir."

Hargrove waited a moment, enjoying the trapped mouse reaction of his underling.

"And . . . pray, tell me, where is Mr. Polston?"

"Uh . . . er . . .'e's in the river, Sir."

"IN THE . . . river,"  Sir William had forgotten himself.  He was in the city now and many ears heard many things. 

"Yes, Sir.  Ye see, me an' Bob was tryin' ta take the ring, an' he kind of fell over the rail and into the river."

"Kind of fell?  You were holding him over by the feet and dropped him, you idiot!  Why did you not go in and retrieve him?"

"Neither me nor Bob can swim, Sir"

"Then you should have jumped in and drowned!"

"But . . . I got this 'ere, Sir," and Aloysius pulled out a square of newsprint and handed it to him.

Hargrove stared at Aloysius for a few more moments, tormenting him, then slowly unfolded the paper and looked at it.


"BODY FOUND AT HERON ROW BRIDGE ABUTMENT"

The curious incident of a body having been found at the bridge abutment near Heron Row.  The dead person was a male approximately 30 years of age.  He wore no clothing and had no other possessions.  The ring finger of his left hand was missing, but, it is supposed that sea creatures destroyed it previously to the body being washed ashore.

"What did you do with the ring?"  Hargrove asked calmly and he thought Aloysius would faint away.

"I don't 'ave the ring, Sir, I swears on me mum I don't."

Hargrove smiled, "I believe you.  But, someone has it.  Leave me.  Send Cuffee to me."

Aloysius hurried away while the maid brought in Hargrove's breakfast, "bring another cup," he said.

Cuffee knocked softly and entered, not waiting for a reply.  He was slender with an athletic quality like that of a boxer.  He had bright, intelligent dark eyes and black hair that he wore straight back.  In every way he looked a gentlemen until you noted the small gold hoop in his right ear.

"Mr. Cuffee," Hargrove said, offering the man a seat with a gesture of his arm.

"Did my too fools Aloysius and Bob, steal that ring?"

"No."

"Good.  They are idiots, but useful.  Who did, then?"

I don't know. I saw the two, Bob and Aloysius push Polston over the rail and hold him there.  I saw them lose control and drop the man.  A boat was passing just then and Polston got pulled into the undertow."

Sir William tossed the newspaper sheet onto the table.

"I saw that.  I went to identify him.  Told the police I was his brother.  It was Polston alrightm but the ring finger was cut off."

"Good work."

"I put an ad for the ring in the newspaper," Cuffee said, "hoping to flush out the person who had it.  When Flaherty came to look for the reward,  I sent my lads to enquire about her in the neighborhoods.  They found her house and I sent a couple of chaps dressed like police officers to look through her goods.  We found out she has a daughter, Molly. The girl wasn't there.  We waited till near dawn, but she must have run off when she saw my boys outside her house.  There wasn't anything inside the flat, just filthy straw, a stove and some mean sticks of furniture."

"Aaah, Cuffee lad, that is precisely why I pay you so well.

"The worst part of all this is," Cuffee said, "that you made Poston not trust you.  I always told you were the worst liar.  He saw right through your intentions to keep the ring for yourself."

"It matters little," Hargrove answered with a wave of his handkerchief, "you will have your chance with Miss Flahtery  this evening."

Cuffee smiled and watched as Annie set the cup before him.  "Well, well," Cuffee thought,  "she won't hold out long under my care."

***


The night air was sticky causing sweat to rise on Molly's skin.  She hugged her doll close to her, rolling the doll's scraggly hair between her fingers absent mindedly.  Molly was sitting in the room she had been left in by the boys.  She was used to the fetid aromas, that was not what bothered her, she was used to being hungry too and that didn't bother her much either.  It was the absence of her friends and the feeling of being totally alone that had her on edge.

The boys had decided that she would stay here and wait while they foraged for dinner.  The dark had descended like a heavy cloud on Molly and she huddled in the farthest corner from the door.  Only one street light penetrated the room at the back of this rickety house and her eyes were wide, trying to pick up any light possible.  The boys had assured her that she would be alright here, that no one ever came to these rooms and that was the reason they had made this their headquarters.

Still, she was uneasy.  Since the first night when she had joined forces with Diggs she had not been alone.  Now, she was and the world was a huge and very frightening place.  Molly heard footsteps on the stairs and pushed her body firmly against the walls as if they would part and admit her to safety.  The door opened and the light of a tiny candle lit the entrance. 

"Diggs!"  Molly exclaimed.  "I sure am glad to see yoo."

Molly's smile widened as she saw the lump of bread and two eggs that Diggs handed her.

"The eggs is raw, but good fer ye, so eat 'em up."

He did not have to tell Molly twice and she gulped them down. 

"Now . . .  I was thinkin', why don't we use the ring to tell us where yer mum is?"

"Oh, Diggs that's a wonderful idea.  You sure are a smart one, ain't ye?"

Diggs smiled and bowed his head at the compliment.

The boys is out and about on business.  Let's 'ave the ring, me girl, and we'll see what it says 'bout yer mum.  Now, we gotta be real careful with this.  I knows about these Arabian Knights and the ways  they trick ye.  See, we kin ask fer yer mum by name and be shown hun'reds o' Bridget Flahertys and never see yer mum.  They's tricky that way and make ye' use up yer wishes.  We gotta ask somethin' specific like . . ."

Molly considered the information then said, "tell the Knight that we want the Bridgett what kept 'er 'usband 'air in a box in the spare room at One Shoe Lane.  Not too many 'ave done that, I'll bet."

Molly took the leather string from around her neck and handed it to Diggs.  He took the ring from the hide and placed it on his finger.

"Your Servant . . ." came the familiar greeting.

"You will do as I say," Diggs began in a commanding voice.

"Your will is my command, Master."

Show us 'ere gathered where is Mrs. Bridget Flaherty of One Shoe Lane what used to keep 'er 'usband's 'air in a box in a spare room." 

Diggs finished his request with a flourish of his arm.  He thought it added authority to his words.  A red glow began to fill the opposite wall and wavered like the flame of their candle.  Against the wall was a picture as if the wall had disappeared and the children were suddenly transported to a bucolic country scene.  The picture moved and panned across a huge house and then to stables.  Inside the door of one of the stalls they spied a woman tied to a post.  Her head was hung and hair shielded her face from view.  Molly recognized the grey dress and yelled out.

"Mum!  Mum, 'ere I am!"

The woman's head shot up and she peered into the darkened stall.

"Molly?  Molly me darlin' girl, where are ye?"

"Oh, Mum, 'ere I am, right in front of yoo . . ."  and the red colored scene began to fade.

"But, where are you, Mum?" 

Bridgett frowned and said, "I don't know how yer doin' this Molly, . . . " and the scene disappeared.

Molly ran to the wall and placed her hand upon it.  She began to cry and call her mother's name.

"Now, now, we ain't got time for no tears.  Buck up, me girl it ain't over yet."

Diggs could hear the boys returning, running up the swaying stairs which creaked and moaned under their ill usage.  He hurriedly returned the ring to the leather strip and then tied it around Molly's neck.  He did not want the boys to know he had used a wish.

The three boys tumbled in through the door, smiling.  Tomlin was waving a pound note in his grubby fingers, "look at this, then.  Wha'd'ya say we goes and gets us some real food."

***


Cuffee was going toward the stable stall when he heard the prisoner within talking with someone.  Carefully he stepped close to the door, staying in the shadows.  He listened.  He heard the voice of a young child and the reply from the prisoner.  He stepped forward suddenly, startling Bridgett.  He walked to the stall wall and lit a lamp.

"Who are you talking to, my pretty?  Would it be your Molly?"

Cuffee grabbed hold of Bridgett's chin and raised her eyes to his own.

"Nobody, Guvnor.  I was just talkin' with meself, I was. I don't know no Molly."

Cuffee sneered and walked around the stables, kicking at piles of straw and examining all the corners and cubby holes.

"Your insane, is that it?"

Bridgett did not answer, but tried to squirm out of his grasp as he untied her hands.  He slapped her soundly across the face.

"None of that.  You will go with me without any trouble," he said, twisting her arm painfully, "won't you?"

He was close to her, so close she could smell the coffee he had drunk on his breath.  Her stomach lurched for she had eaten or drunk nothing for two days.

"Awright, ye got me good an' proper.  I'll go wit' ye."

"I don't see as you have any choice in the matter, my fine woman." 

He led Bridgett to a waiting carriage.  Hargrove had already taken his seat inside, holding his handkerchief to his nose to ward off sneezes and the musky scent of Bridgett's unwashed body.

"Do come and let us leave," Hargrove said, "the sooner we are through with this the better."

***


Clovis sat on an ornate rug placed in the middle of a floor in a  room in his house.  Only shelves holding artifacts and various jars of potions and oils lined the walls.  No other objects except for the ceremonial ones he needed were laid before him.  A bundle of herbs, a bowl filled with fragrant water, and a sharp knife were arranged in such a way so that Clovis needed little light to utilize the instruments. 

His huge shoulders gleamed in a dull candle's light from a mixture of oils meant to repel and conduct the energies that he needed to perform his task.  In the corner before him a wooden perch held a large black owl that stretched her wings and hooted softly. 

Clovis paid no mind to any distraction.  His eyes closed, his hands held upward and opened in supplication, he sought the whereabouts of the ring he considered to be his and his alone.  It had taken Clovis ten long years to track down that ring.  It had been a dangerous expedition.  Into India, across the Asian continent, onto the Russian steps and across the tundra into Moscow.  Then, on into Eastern Europe, Romania, the Balkans and, at last into and across the Transylvanian Alps.  He had found the ancient stronghold hinted at in the documents he had accumulated throughout his quest.  Only he had been able to decipher the coded symbols in the ancient texts which he matched to those on the ring.  From that he had learned how to waken The Servant; the captive Djinn within the ring.  He considered himself a member of the Brethren inscribed on the ring's inner surface.  He had decoded the symbols; he had wakened the ring from it's slumber; it was HIS ring.  But, he was a watched man.  The Others, the Brethren, knew of him.  Discerned that he had found the treasure.  He had sent it ahead to his man Poston, with instructions to take the ring to Hargrove.  Hargrove was to place the ring in a safety box at the bank.  Things did not turn out as he planned.

Clovis opened his eyes slowly and looked down at the bowl of water.  He cut several pieces of the herb bundle and lay them in the bowl.  He picked the bowl up and swirled it about, looking deeply into the liquid that had become clouded with the release of the sap from the herb.

Slowly, an image formed.  He looked deep, interpreting the picture which the herbs caused.  A building, long ago deserted and dilapidated beyond repair loomed over a filthy garbage strewn lot.  A fence, bowed under the weight of innumerable leavings of rubbish shielded a dirt path to a crooked back door.  Clovis looked deeper still.  He noted a street outside, and a small bake shop next to the house.

He drew back from the bowl, raised his head and smiled.  He rose, bowed solemnly to the east, west, north and south and placed his forearm beneath the owl.  The bird stepped slowly forward, climbing onto her master's arm.

"Come, Hepsebah," Clovis said to the owl, "let us eat our dinner."

Clovis left the room and crossed the foyer to the dining room.  His dinner had been laid by servants Clovis seldom saw.  They did their work, keeping out of their employer's way.  It was not necessary for them to annoy him with the sort of things other masters may need.  Clovis came and went at his own leisure, needed no help to dress himself and none whatsoever to put on his coat and hat. 

He sat down at the table and placed a half a guinea hen on his plate, with peas and potatoes.  From a cage that had been placed nearby his plate he pulled out a live white mouse.  He placed in on the floor and watched appreciatively as Hepsebah dispatched it with alacrity and grace.

As the bird returned to the chair back after eating, Clovis said, "I know where the ring is, Hepsebah.  I do not know who has it.  But, we shall find that out in a few hours, never fear.  The ring is only a finger's tip away."


***


The five friends had fallen asleep in the old rickety building.  Spread out between the two rooms they had settled in to wait for the morning.  Slowly, one of them stirred.  Tomlin sat up.  It was pitch black, but Tomlin knew the layout and were the weakest floorboards would squeak under his foot.  He stood.  Stepping over Mac and Wordless he crept toward the other room where Diggs and Molly slept soundly.  There was something Tomlin had a mind to do.

He cast a shadow in the other room because of the streetlight outside.  He ducked down to stay in the shadows.  Molly lay next to Diggs, her head resting on his stomach.  Diggs snored softly and Tomlin waited a bit to make certain they were soundly asleep. 

Tomlin had seen Molly remove the ring from her neck earlier as she sat studying it.  He hoped she had not put it back around her neck.  Slowly, as silently as he could, he moved forward.  There was the ring cradled in Molly's hand.

Tomlin reached out, placed his thumb and forefinger on the ring and began to lift it.  Molly frowned in her sleep and moved.  Tomlin froze.  She settled back down, just turning a bit to the left.  Her hand relaxed even more and the ring sat there like an egg in a nest.

Tomlin reached out and plucked it up. It made his fingers tingle and he almost dropped it back into Molly's hand.  He sat back on his haunches and waited a moment or two, being certain that she did not miss the ring and waken.  He crawled on all fours toward the apartment door, slowly opened it and scuttled outside to the hallway.

He ran down one flight, two and out into the yard.  Scooting behind a pile of rubbish he squatted on the damp dirt and placed the ring on his finger.  A soft red glow began to grow around the ring, spreading down his hand and outward.  A voice said, "Your Servant."

Tomlin licked his lips.  This was the Arabian Knight that Diggs had talked about. 
"Er, yes.  Yes, yoo are me servant.  I command you to give me a box o' gold and jewels!"
The ring grew hot on his finger and he pulled it off.  There was a bang that sounded like a Chinaman's firecracker and before his eyes a small box the size of a large jewelry case lay on a pile of refuse before him.

Tomlin placed the ring in his pocket and slowly approached the box.  Like a cat examining something strange that had attracted it, Tomlin walked all around the box, touching it tentatively.  Was it real, was it filled with what he desired?  He picked it up.  It was heavy; shining with a dull silver sheen.  He tried to open the lid, slipping his fingers under the clasp and pulling hard.  It did not budge.  He dared not take something to bang the box open, it would make too much noise.

"It's jest like a Genie to fool ya, Tomlin yoo dolt!"  He shook his head.  The ring had given him a box of jewels, of that he had no doubt, but he couldn't open it.  Tomlin looked about and decided to bury the box until another, more advantageous time.  He quickly pushed aside the piles of rubbish and digging down into the muddy earth he placed the box into the hole.  Then, he pushed the rubbish back up and over the covered hole, adding an old pile of rags to further conceal the secret place.

Tomlin re-entered the building, climbed the stairs, entered their rooms and lay the ring back into Molly's hand.  He shook his head.  He feared telling Diggs about the wish; he feared the outcome of using the ring, maybe the gold inside the box was cursed. 

"Well," he thought as he stepped over his sleeping compatriots, "I done me best . . ."  He lay back down but could not sleep.  His mind kept wondering over the contents of the little box he had hidden in a rubbish pile in the dirty backyard.


***


The dawn brought sunlight.  It streamed through the open casements lending heat to the early hours.  The children had left the rooms, there was no reason to stay.  They would wander the streets for hours searching for a handout or some food to pilfer.  They had just turned the farthest corner when a large man entered the house in which they had lodged. 

Clovis tried to climb the stairs, but his bulk prevented his ascent.  The stairs were far too unstable to hold him.  He looked around the lower landing, searching each room, most of them empty.  It did not bother him that he entered stranger's rooms.  His imposing figure made the inhabitants mute with fear.  He checked through each room finding no sign of anyone who might hold his ring.  Standing on the ground floor he looked longingly above to the higher landings.

"Here, you," he said to a youth who exited one of the apartments.

The boy turned to look at him, thin and dirty the boy looked eager to be of service for the copper coin that Clovis held out.

"Do you know of anyone who lives upstairs?"

"No Guv'nor," the boy answered, his eyes never leaving the copper coin.

"Will you climb the stairs and tell me who is up there?"

Clovis waved the coin in the air and the boy darted up the stairs.  He was gone for a moment or two, then returned.

"There's no one up there, Guv'nor.  There's only two floors, no' a soul upstairs."

Clovis tossed the coin to the boy and watched as he darted off. 

"Hmm," Clovis said softly, "they're smarter than I thought."

***


Bridgett sat in Hargrove's carriage.  She had been bound and gagged and her wide, frightened eyes stared at Cuffee who leered at her like a hungry wolf.  Bridgett had seen his sort before.  They were all about pain and misery.  He seemed eager to cause her pain.  Sir William raised his handkerchief to his nose and inhaled the lavender scent.  These dock side streets smelled abominably and he couldn't wait to be done with this business and home at his estate.

The carriage stopped.  Hargrove raised the little window shade and looked outside.  Cuffee opened the door and stepped down.

"He's here," was all he said.

Cuffee reached in and pulled Bridgett out by her arm.  She stumbled and he dragged her to her feet.  She sank to her knees unwilling to walk and Cuffee aimed a quick kick at her thigh.  Bridgett let out a stifled scream and he hauled her up.  Taking her face in his hand he said, "Now, now, none of that Bridgett."

Bridgett stood up and looked about.  They were on the docks by a row of huge warehouses.  Cuffee pulled her forward while Hargrove stepped warily down out of the carriage.  He told Aloysius to move the carriage to the back of the warehouse and wait to be called.  The carriage rolled away and Hargrove proceeded to follow Cuffee and Bridget into the warehouse.  The place was dank and smelled of waste and foul water.  They walked far into the interior where a soft light had been lit.  Bridgett began to struggle as she saw the huge man that stood next to the crates with the lantern atop.  He stood with his hands clasped before him, a huge black bird on his shoulder. 

Cuffee looked at Bridgett at her eyes wide with fear, feeling her tremble beneath his grasp, "I think, now," he said, slipping the gag down around her neck, "you will tell us, where is that ring?"

***


Molly sat up.  She had dreamed of her mother, she was calling her, crying.  They had returned to their headquarters sometime after dark.

"Diggs . . . Diggs wake up," she said shaking the boy.

"Uh?  Wha?  Wha's a matter?" Diggs questioned, rubbing his eyes.  It was still dark and hard to see anything.

"Something's happened to me mum. I can feel it, Diggs."  Tears were filling her eyes.

"Gimme the ring, Molly." Diggs said, and he slipped it on his finger. 

"Your Servant."

"Tell me where Bridgett Flaherty of One Shoe Lane, what kept 'er 'usband's 'air in a box is at this moment!"

The red light projected a picture of a dock and warehouses on the wall.  The other boys had wakened and watched from the doorway of their room.  Tomlin hung his head, it wasn't easy to keep his secret from his friends, but for now he would have to.

"'Ere, there's lots 'o docks, an' warehouses, where's this one, eh?"

The scene panned to show a large church with a domed top, and a small park.

"I know that place," said Mac.  "Me da used to work them docks. Come on, I'll show ye!"

Molly took the ring back and placed it around her neck.  The children hurried down the stairs as silently as they could, not wanting to wake the other denizens of the building.

It was quite a way to the docks and they ran as fast as they could.  Molly held tight to Diggs hand as he helped her keep up.

"I've gotta be brave," she told herself, "I've gotta help mum."

***


"I tol ye's, I don't know nothin' 'bout no ring.  I came to His Lordship on a lie."

Cuffee slapped Bridgett hard across the cheek.  She tasted blood and her eyes filled with tears. 

Clovis' shape loomed over her.  His hand was a large as Bridgett's face.  He ran a finger under her chin and forced her head up to look at him.

"She is lying," he pronounced.

Cuffee raised his hand in threat and Bridgett braced for the blow.  It came again and Bridgett sank into unconsciousness.

"We are here to find out what she knows, Cuffee.  Not to kill her."  Hargrove was looking for a place to sit.  The warehouse was dusty and he had been sneezing incessantly.  He waved his handkerchief at Cuffee who backed away from Bridgett.  Clovis placed a hand over her head and she rallied.

"Now, my lady," Sir William said, "just tell us where the ring is and we will let you go."

Bridgett looked around at all of her captors.  She knew in her heart that keeping the ring from them was her only hope of life.

"I don' know nothin' 'bout the ring.  I came to ye with a lie to make some duckets, that's all, I swear it."

"Then . . . perhaps Molly has the ring . . ."  Cuffee suggested and Bridgett's eyes grew wide with fear,  "I tol' ye, I don't know no Molly . . ."  Another slap rocked Bridgett's head back against the post.  She cried out, but was determined to give them no information.

Outside the dawn was rising.  Sun began to struggle through the thick haze of the city as the children arrived at the docks.  Mac lead them hurriedly along the wooden piers toward  a wide opening from which a large cathedral could be seen to their right.  Mac lead them into the dock area away from the main street. 

They came to a warehouse set in the shadow of the great church and Mac pronounced,"'ere we are.  Me Da worked this dock.  I know this buildin'. There's a way inside over 'ere. Come on."

He led the group around the back to a place where crates had been piled three atop one another.  He pushed on a nearby door but it would not give.

"Aye, an' this used ta be open all the time." Mac said.

Wordless grabbed Mac's arm and pointed at himself.  He smiled, and began to climb the pile of boxes.

"Where's he going?" asked Molly.

"If anyone kin get inside, it's Wordless.  We jest have ta wait 'till he comes back."

The children sank down along the side of the building.  They did not want to be seen in the gathering light.  Thankfully clouds had overpowered the sun and rain began.  The less light the better for them.

It seemed to Molly that Wordless took forever, but soon he jumped down in front of the group pointing upward.

They followed his direction and looking up found that he had opened a window on the third floor of the factory.  On the side of the window a drain pipe ran down the building's length.  The five began to shinny up, Molly behind digs and in front of Mac.  Wordless led the group and Tomlin took up the rear, keeping a sharp eye on the street.

They tumbled through the window, as quietly as they could.  There was no telling exactly how close they were to the men that held Molly's mother.  Inside, Diggs gathered them close.

"Now, listen.  We gotta break up and look about.  First one find's 'em gives a pigeon coo, got that?"

The boys all nodded.

"What's a pigeon coo?" Molly asked.

"Yoo know, coo like a pigeon.  There's plenty o' birds nestin' in 'ere.  With the mornin' they coo's.  Okay, let's go."

The boys all split up and Diggs held Molly's hand taking her with him. Softly they stepped across the floor to the wide doors.  Diggs stopped and listened but he heard nothing. 

He decided to search the next level up and pulled Molly along behind him as he ascended the metal stairs.  As he entered  the wide storage room the glow of a lantern attracted him.  Knowing it could be a watchman, he put a finger to his lips to signal Molly into silence and waved a hand telling her to stay where she was. 

Slowly, he crept forward, Molly losing sight of him as he proceeded into the darkness.
Diggs sunk to his hands and knees.  Around piles of sacks and boxes he crawled, keeping out of the dull light.  Closer and closer he crawled toward the brightness.  He saw Clovis first.  The large man was holding something up to a large black owl, who's head arched back to receive the chunk of food.

Diggs changed his position.  There were three men, and tied to a post in the middle of them was a woman.  It had to be Bridgett Flaherty.  Diggs retreated into the shadows as far as he could.  He put his hands around his mouth and made a perfect impersonation of a pigeon's coo.

The owl spread it's wings and hopped back and forth on Clovis' arm.

"Aah, Hepsebah, you wish to hunt."  He raised his arm jerking it up and down until the owl took flight.  The sound of wings flapping filled the air and soon the pigeons were all awake, squawking and filling the air with feathers.

Hepsebah swooped and dove, chasing pigeons low across the heads of the three men.  Clovis looked up, satisfied at the power that his pet exhibited.

"Clovis!  Why did you bring that bird?"  Hargrove asked annoyed.

"She's magnificent, look at her . . ."  Lost in the spectacle of his pet, he lost interest in Bridgett for a few moments.

Diggs picked up a chunk of loose wood from the floor and hurled it far to the other side of the room.

"What was that?" asked Cuffee.

"I do not know," answered Sir William, "why don't you find out."  He sneezed and wiped his nose once again.

Cuffee went to investigate the sound.  He walked forward toward the noise, looking left to right.  As he went, peering into the late morning shadows, he saw nothing as Mac's thin leg shot out catching Cuffee between his legs.  The man went down.

Quickly, Mac changed his position. 

"What the . . ." Cuffee asked rising and brushing himself down.  He examined the floor behind him but saw nothing that would cause him to trip.

"I know there's someone in here . . . when I catch you, you will be very, very sorry you came!"

Another noise sounded to his right.  He hurried to the spot but saw nothing.  Another pigeon coo and the owl swooped low across Cuffee's head, searching for prey.  Cuffee swung his arms about, warding off the bird.  He cursed and walked toward the noise.

Once again a thin leg shot out and Cuffee fell forward.  This time Tomlin had been waiting with a two by four of wood.  He hefted it over his head and came down hard on Cuffee.  Cuffee groaned and blacked out.

Now there were only two left. 

Molly had grown impatient  and followed after Diggs.  She walked slowly forward, until she saw Clovis and her mother tied to a post.  She couldn't help herself.  She ran forward, "Mum!  Mum!"

"Ahhh!  Molly!"  Diggs yelled, "I tol' ye to stay where ye was!"

It was all out now, and the three other boys came forward holding iron pipes and large sticks of wood.

Hargrove and Clovis looked around at the motley gang and Clovis began to laugh.

"Let 'er go, ye blighters!" Mac yelled.

Clovis whistled and his owl returned to his arm.  He said, "Stop them, Hepsebah," and the owl took wing swooping low over the boy's heads causing them to duck.  They waved their makeshift weapons trying to catch Hepsebah to no avail.

Hargrove turned to look at the three boys.  All attention had shifted to the three.  Clovis turned to see Molly run to her mother.  He made a grab for her and she turned toward him.  He saw the ring hanging from the cord about her neck.  He reached for it and she dodged.  He grasped her pinafore instead and she pulled back ripping a piece of it off leaving it clutched in Clovis' hand.

Molly ran.  She did not know where to go, but she knew that this huge man must not get the ring. 

Sir William called Cuffee.  There was no answer and he advanced a bit into the middle of the floor.  Light had flooded the room, and although the rain had dulled it, there was enough light to see the three boys standing in a row slapping their weapons into their palms.  Hargrove raised his handkerchief to his nose and turned to see that Bridgett had disappeared, her bonds hanging uselessly from the post.

"I say!  What is happening here?"

Clovis had run after Molly.  She was young and lithe and managed to keep ahead of him.  She ran toward the wall where there were a stack of boxes piled.  She began to climb them, clutching her doll close.  It was difficult to climb with the doll in her arm and reluctantly she let it drop to the floor.  She hoped that the large man could not climb the boxes. 

Diggs had released Bridgett.  He asked if she was okay then joined the other lads.  They had to catch up with Molly.

Wordless was the first one to run off after them, catching up quickly.  He followed Clovis up the boxes.  Clovis reached out to grab hold of Molly's foot but she was quick and evaded his grasp.  Molly came to an opened window from which thick ropes were strung.  Pulleys and tackles studded the rope.  It was used to haul boxes and sacks to the upper floors. Molly stepped over the ledge and grabbed onto the rope.

"Come now, little one," Clovis said gently, "that's a dangerous game you're playing  . . ."

He swung his thick legs out onto the window's sill. 

"Come back here.  Let me have the ring and I'll give you a gold piece."  He reached inside his vest pocket and produced a large gold coin.

Molly hung by her arms, shaking her head negatively.

"Suit yourself," Clovis said and began to cut the rope with a knife he kept in a sheath at his side.

Molly began to scream Diggs' name.

Suddenly, Clovis pitched forward.  He grabbed at the sill; at the rope but could not gain purchase.  With a loud yell, he fell.  Wordless had shoved him and now, as he rocketed toward the wooden dock below, he shouted words foreign to anyone who overheard.  His body began to change, to turn into something other than it was.  As Molly and Wordless watched in wonder Clovis spread wide white wings for he was no longer human.  Over Wordless' head Hepsebah swooped out of the window following her master.  The pair of owls, one black, one white, flapped their wings and fled off toward the western horizon.  Molly screamed once again as the  frayed rope began to give way.

Wordless yelled out, "MOLLY!"

Wordless held on to the rope with all his strength.  His single utterance had so shocked Diggs that he sped to the top of the boxes, reached over and helped him hold the rope until Molly came back to the window hand over hand and into Digg's waiting arms.

"OY!  What's goin' on in here?"  A man's voice interrupted the pandemonium.  Diggs looked down at a policeman who stood in the middle of the room, his hands on his hips.  Sir William Milton Hargrove IV sat down on a box and sniffed.  The game was up.

"Well," said Diggs, "I never thought I'd be glad to see a copper."


***


They had all been brought to the police station.  The four boys, Bridgett and Molly, Cuffee and Sir William Hargrove.  At the sight of Cuffee falling to the earth, Aloysius had sped away in the carriage. 

The bruises and rope burns that Bridgett bore proved her story that these men had held her prisoner to force information about the ring which Molly had given to the officer that had rescued them.

The police had kept the ring.  "Evidence," they had said.  With injunctions to make themselves available for a trial, they released them.

Now, the six of them walked slowly toward Bridgett and Molly's home.  Four days of adventure and nothing to show for it, Diggs had commented. 

Bridgett had hugged Molly close and said, "Oh, I don't know 'bout that, Diggs.  I got me darlin' girl back and we're all still alive."

"I . . . I gotta go do somethin' Tomlin said, scraping his foot in the dirt before the others, "I'll be back in a shot."

He ran off.  All the while he ran he thought, "couldn't no one take me box.  How would anybody know it was there? 

Maybe some ol' rag picker would look through the pile, maybe he'd see the new dug hole, maybe someone'd spied me  as I buried it, maybe . . ." these thoughts pounded inside Tomlin's head like a hammer.

He reached the back yard, heaved himself over the sagging fence and ran to the pile of debris.  Looking around to see that he was not watched, he pulled the layers of refuse back to reveal the covered hole.  He dug with his hands into the earth and pulled out the box.  It was still here.  He placed it inside his coat and rushed off to the others.

The group filed up the stairs at One Shoe Lane.  They all entered Molly's house, the straw pallet and scarred table still remained.  Molly pulled the wedding certificate and lock of hair from her bodice where she had kept them and handed them to her mother.  Bridgett smiled and kissed her daughter's cheek. 

"'Ere, lets go get somethin' ta eat.  We'll bring ye's somethin' back, awright, Molly?"  The girl nodded and went to take her basket back down to the riverside in a hunt for cast off treasures.

The sound of running footsteps stopped them all in their tracks.  Tomlin burst through the door.  He stood there smiling broadly, holding his coat tightly closed across his chest.

"It's a good thing ye tol' me where' ye's lived, it is.  "Ere, feast yer eyes on this."

Tomlin pulled the casket from his coat and settled it on the table before them.

"Open it Molly," Tomlin said.

Molly looked at her mother who nodded agreement.

Tentatively she placed her little fingers under the latch.  It would not open at first.  Molly took a deep breath and pried at the latch with all her might. It popped open and she lifted the cover.  Inside, the light shone on gold coins, several large jewels and two thick, silver braided chains.

Stunned, the cohorts looked at the box and one another.

"Where'd this come from Tom?" Diggs asked suspicious.  He knew Tomlin to be the best thief of their little troop.

"I . . . took the ring last night and wished it up."

"Wished it up?  Yoo mean, yoo didn't steal it?"

Tomlin shook his head, "Naw, I wished it up and buried it in the back yard of our 'ideout last night."

Bridgett held a stone the color of the sky up to the light, "it's real," she said.

"It's all real, Miss Bridgett, all of it.  An' I wished it up.  We ain't gonna steal nor beg no more."

***


In a patch of rolling green countryside stands a little house.  The family that lives there consists of four hearty boys and one girl.  There is a garden with vegetables and flowers.  Geese and hens peck at the yard dirt, a cow lows peacefully awaiting milking.  Inside breakfast has just been finished and the young girl helps her mother clear away the morning's dishes as the boys go to their chores.

On the wall in the parlor of the small farmhouse hangs a framed wedding certificate with a lock of hair captured in the lower left corner.  A rag doll that has seen better days sits atop the mantle piece staring at the world with dark button eyes.

Molly looks at it sometimes and smiles.  She is content and safe and that was all she ever wanted in the first place.  It was what she had wished for that long ago night when the whole adventure had begun.




Word Count 17,533
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