Sunday 1st March 1914; Oxford, England
Jane tipped the full bucket of murky water down the front steps of the house. As she smoothed out the folds of her frock, Jane watched the liquid spread out over the pavement in small waves. In her mind’s eye she imagined that the water was the ocean, spreading out over the world and drowning everything in it.
As the small tide ran down into the gutter, she thought about all the houses and fields in Europe being swept away by the unstoppable wave, a force of nature against which no one from the meanest farmer to the greatest monarch could stand.
Thoughts like those often came unprompted into Jane’s mind. A candle flame would seem to her like a great inferno swallowing a city, a gust of wind became a destructive hurricane, and the distant retort of a hunter’s rifle made her imagine a firing squad. Her friends told her that she had a melancholy disposition but if that was so, it did not explain why she sometimes wanted to dance and sing with happiness for no reason.
“What’s this, Bess?” She called into the house.
Elizabeth, another maid in the same household, came into the doorway with a dirty cloth in one hand. They watched a ramshackle cart being pulled down the street behind a shaggy pony. On the bench at the front sat a tall police constable with a dark, flowing moustache. A young man was squeezed in next to him on the seat. The pair drew up in front of the kerb and the youngster stepped down, holding a bundle of rags in one hand and an old fishing rod in the other.
“That’ll be sixpence.” The policeman called down to his passenger.
“I’m just pulling your leg, Will. Stay safe and don’t get into any trouble, I’m sorry about your father. Try not to follow in his steps.”
“Thank you, constable. Have a good day.”
The young man began to walk towards the women, slipped on the wet steps and stumbled. Jane chuckled and nudged Elizabeth in the ribs with her elbow. Once he had climbed to the front door the young man stopped and, after making an awkward attempt to look Jane in the eye, he began to stare up at the high façade of the townhouse.
“Hello, Will.” Jane said. “I almost didn’t recognise you. What brings you here? This is Bess.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Elizabeth said with a smile, winking at her friend.
“Pleased to meet you. Hello Jane.” Wilson mumbled. “Your uncle said I should ask you to ask your employer if he has any work for me. His Lordship sent me away.”
“Come inside then, I just washed those steps you’re standing on.”
Read the latest installment of Killer in the Shadows here. If you missed part 1 it’s here.
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