Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Recipe for Punch, Chapter 116

Chapter 116:
Philip Astley's Legacy

As Morgana painfully made her way up the twist of crumbling stones, she remembered something she had not let dance through her thoughts for years.

She'd been on public display since her infancy--between the painful surgeries she had endured at the hands of curious doctors and butchers of all walks of life to the times when the people she'd first thought to be her parents would accept a penny from dirty-faced children who wished to see the "little lobster baby."

In fact, one of the earliest moments she could recall--the moment she realized that she was a living creature of her own, whatever she was meant to be--was being gawked at by a sickly-smelling bunch of urchins from the Female Orphans Home who had peered at her through the tall iron fence of their asylum.

"You gals wanna better look?"  "Father" had asked as he grabbed her by the wrist.  "She be gentle, she will.  If'n you don't poke at her or summat."  He had dragged her over to the fence and pressed her against it--the cold bars pressing against her belly and making her shiver.  The orphan girls had jumped back, squealing so loud that surely their voices could be heard across Lambeth to Carlisle House and, even, the Thames which burbled under Westminster Bridge.

"Father" had laughed as tears sprung up in Morgana's eyes.  Sure, those girls were also unwanted--orphans whose best chance at life was to learn a little needlework and how to mend, but they were...pretty.  Even the ones with the plainest faces, even those with thin hair and bony bodies--they were pretty.  Prettier than Morgana on the whole.  They'd be wanted one day, by someone.  

Morgana knew she would not.

That was the day "Father" had pulled her to Astley's Amphitheater.  As her stinging eyes cleared, she remembered looking up at the place with its long, fluttering banners.  He pulled her inside where her nostrils filled with the heavy, meaty scents of dung, sweat and sawdust.

Philip Astley was charming, Morgana recalled, even though she could see his eyes widen when he first looked at her.  He was a loud, stout man with a wide smile and a booming voice.    "No, no, good sir.  Astley's Circus does not...does not feature such...attractions."

"I need to do summat with her."  "Father" growled.

"Such a pretty face the lass has.  'Tis a pity about the rest of her.  Look!  John!"  Mr. Astley called out.  

A handsome man with broad shoulders and strong arms looked absently up from the center of the amphitheatre.

"Come here and behold this little lady."  Astley waved.  He leaned forward to Morgana and her "father."  "My son, John..."

"I've seen 'im, Sir."  "Father" nodded.  "'Im up there on those horses--standin' like he's on the solid ground.  I seen 'im also at the fireworks for King George's birthdays."  He added proudly.

Mr. Astley grinned.

The word "lass," led young John Astley to presume that he'd been summoned to gaze upon some comely creature.  His eyes flashed approval when seeing Morgana's bright face, but his handsome countenance contorted to one of revulsion when he looked upon the rest of her.

"Ugh..."  John winced.  "We don't take that kind here."

"Now, John."  Mr. Astley barked, a bit of scolding creeping into his bravado.  "We're all God's creatures."  He paused.  "Listen, friend," he looked upon "Father," there's a traveling show what comes past Westminster Bridge.  Sometimes we let them set their camp on the field's behind Hercules Row.  They're here just now.  Why not bring your girl to them."

"They'll take her."  John Astley sniffed.  "Odd to say, they got worse than her."

"They're in Lambeth?"  "Father" asked.  "They do be here now?"

"Oh, yes.  Came late last night.  Bring this lass to her,"  Philip Astley nodded.  "I'm sure they'll treat her well."

They hadn't.  Those days in Lambeth with the Curiosities Show were not the worst of Morgana's life, but they were certainly not the best.  It was the first step in a journey of agony.

The memory made Morgana feel an anger she'd not known since she'd met her nephew and niece and Robert and their lovely staff of gentle faces.

She suddenly felt stronger.

She thought of Mr. Astley--his wide shoulders and big belly and how he'd meant no harm, really, but how his words doomed her to a life in hell.

Morgana climbed the rest of the way up the stairs, feeling the stones shift under her feet.

Though it hurt her to do it, she pressed on the wooden planks of the trapdoor with her hunch, falling inward as the door gave way.  

Her lungs filled with fresh Yorkshire air and she coughed.

Rolling until she could find a position wherein she could right herself. Morgana began to laugh.  Rising clumsily, she hurried--bouncing, hoping that her bound arms would not throw off her balance again--to the side of the folly's tower.

"I'm here!"  She shouted with all her power.  "Help me!  I'm here!"

Several men who worked the gardens spotted her and pointed.

"Help me!"  Morgana called out.

"We're comin', ma'am!"  One of them dropped his rake and ran, grabbing the arm of another man and the shoulder of yet another.

"I'm free!"  Morgana shook with relief.  "I'm free!  I'll soon be back with you, Punch! Robert!  Lennie! Dear, dear Lennie--I do hope you're safe!  All of you!"

Morgana's relief would have quickly melted had she known that known of them, least of all Lennie, were safe.

She nodded.  "Thank you, Mr. Astley."

Did you miss Chapters 1-115 of A Recipe for Punch?  If so, you can read them here.  Come back tomorrow for Chapter 117.


Book Gurl said...

I love the reference to Astley's Circus. I guess you know that William Blake was his neighbor and that they had dealings both friendly and otherwise. Great chapter!

Joseph Crisalli said...

Thank you, Book Gurl. Yes, the larger-than-life Astley and the equally larger-than-life Blake were neighbors. In fact, technically the Blakes were tenants of Philip Astley since he owned the whole row of houses in the Hercules Buildings. Astley is such an odd character. When I was looking for a circus owner who could have rejected Morgana, it made sense both in timeline and location that it would have been the father of the circus as we know it. I appreciate your comment.