Chapter 6: Bread and Cabbage
The hound caught up to me less than a block from the Depot, but instead of staying along the river, I quickly walked the five blocks north to Seventh Street. Taking that main thoroughfare through the financial district wasn’t any safer for a vagabond like me, but if thugs were now pulling delivery boys off the streets to fill the workhouses, then the river road west of the depot was no place to be walking.
I ducked into a vacant doorway to brush the dirt left from scrambling across train platforms from my clothes. I was still too shabbily dressed to be working on this side of the river, but until I stole better clothes, these were going to have to do. I tucked a loose lock under my cap, knowing my stubbornness that kept me from cutting my hair short like a real boy was foolish, but hanging on to this one vestige from my past was the single sentimentality I allowed myself. Besides, in this city, the fate of orphans of either sex was equally bad, and being sold to the workhouses as a boy or to the cheap brothels as a girl resulted in an early death. I had managed to survive disguised as a boy despite my long hair, and it provided the advantage of becoming a girl again should I need to don a different disguise.
I smoothed the tangled coat of the hound, thankful that he was at least cleaner after his swim across the river. We were both still too shabby to pass for a proper delivery pair, especially walking through the financial district, but only an over-zealous Spotter would dare to confront us there and create a scene. At least I hoped as much as I stepped back into the street to continue my charade. Uncannily, the hound seemed to understand, and he took up his proper place at my left heel, almost as if he had played this role before.
My fears of drawing attention had been unfounded since the early risers occupying the street were focused on their own business. They paid no attention to us, and by the time we crossed the district, steam-coaches and growing crowds provided enough bustle to allow us to become a nondescript delivery pair, regardless of how unkempt we looked.
The wide paved street and the clean marble buildings ended abruptly, and the road curved and descended the low hill that separated this section of the city from the area above the West Levee. The bakeries, butcher shops and markets along Chestnut Street sat between the financial district and the brothel district, and although Chestnut bustled with steam and horse drawn carts preparing to move goods throughout the city, I knew the daylight hours would find few people walking the streets beyond.
Stealing a loaf of bread and a head of cabbage was easy as I quickly cut down the busy street before crossing, but I did not risk a bolder foray attempting to pilfer any of the meats or sausages from the butchers. They were more watchful than the bakers and grocers, especially since I had a dog at my heel, and most butchers had dogs of their own lying in wait for careless starving vagrants to try their luck.
The early morning frenzy on Chestnut was in stark contrast to their neighbors one block over on Walnut, and the bars and brothels were as silent and deserted as the dirty cobbled street. Lingering would attract attention should anyone be awake, so I cut down the alley and headed back toward the river. The district went from posh to common in a matter of five blocks, the establishments getting cheaper as they neared the river. However, each one catered to anyone with coin in their pockets, the demarcation only differentiating their prices rather than the class of their customers. A wealthier man living up the hill overlooking the district was as wont to take his cheap whores and rum by the river as any dockworker, and I had long ago learned that darkness tended to equalize most men, especially once they let what hung between their legs drive them.
I stopped when I reached the back of McGowen’s, the filthy doggery where I had been indentured soon after being brought into the city. I thought I would feel more disgust upon seeing this place again, but the eighteen months since I had run away had hardened me to all abuses in this city. I rubbed my tongue along the inside of my bruised cheek, reminding myself why I was here.
Tonight, the same man who had unexpectedly come into Feigl’s and hit me would return to McGowen’s looking for me. He would come to reclaim me so he could sell me as a whore on my birthday, expecting me first to serve him wares different from the cheap ale and boiled cabbage at McGowen’s – although with the long scar running under my chin, I would be considered just as squalid and low a commodity as that fare. However, I knew this would not happen, and I sat in a darkened doorway of an alley storehouse to share the bread and cabbage with the hound, contemplating how I would kill this man tonight when he returned.
Posted in: Archives, The Pocket Watch, The Pocket WatchPublished: March 8, 2011