On Monday, I shared with you the first in a series of entries from a day journal belonging to Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, whose life in Colonial Boston is the focus of the upcoming Thieftaker books (beginning with Thieftaker, book I of the Thieftaker Chronicles). In the first entry, dated 30 January 1765, Ethan was hired by a local baker to look into a minor mystery in his neighborhood in the South End. Today I present the next entry, dated 1 February 1765. I will share with you the final entry at the end of the week.
Friday, 1 February 1765
After meeting with the baker, Roger Bell, on Wednesday, I undertook a survey of Tanner’s Lane and the nearby alleys to see if I might encounter a likely perpetrator of the thefts that had so plagued the man and his wife. I found little. And so, on Thursday evening, with Bell’s permission, I situated myself inside his shop, just beside the door to the cold cellar where he stored his raw goods and those items that hadn’t sold during the course of the day. It was a clear night, and a waxing moon hung over Boston, faintly illuminating the cellar through a lone high window. A vat of sponge dough fermented by the far wall, and bags of raw flour surrounded me. There were as well a few unsold loaves and some pies and tarts.
I hadn’t told the good baker that I was a conjurer and I certainly didn’t let on that I intended to use a spell to conceal myself so that our thief might fully enter the shop before I confronted him. I used my knife to cut my arm, whispered “Velamentum ex cruore evocatum,” — concealment, conjured from blood — and waited. In vain, as it turned out. Nothing happened that first night, and eventually I cast another spell removing the concealment conjuring and returned to my room above Henry Dall’s cooperage.
Tonight, I returned to the bakery, positioned myself similarly and again drew blood for a concealment conjuring. At first it seemed that I would again waste my evening. But just after the ringing of the nine o’clock bells at the Old South Meeting House, I heard a quiet scratching at the lock on Bell’s cellar door. A moment later, the tumblers turned over, the door opened with the creak of rusty hinges, and a figure slipped silently into the cellar, taking care to close the door once inside.
I waited until this person had moved deeper into the cellar, then cut myself a second time, recited to myself the spell ending my concealment charm, and said, “I believe you’re trespassing.”
The figure spun. I glimpsed a gleam of metal, moonlight on a blade. Without thinking, I kicked out, my foot connecting solidly with flesh. The blade clattered on the floor, and a voice cried out “Ow!”
But this wasn’t just any voice; rather, it was that of a young girl. She tried to dart past me, but I grabbed hold of her arm. She kicked at my shins, and I lifted her off the floor, tucking her form under my arm and pinning her in place so that for all her flailing, she could do me no harm.
Throughout this, she shouted “Let me go! Let me go!” and called me by names that no girl of her age should have known. I also couldn’t help noticing that she weighed next to nothing, and felt like she was little more than bone and parchment-thin flesh.
“You are a thief,” I told her at last, keeping my voice calm. “And it would be within my rights to cut your throat and leave you on this floor to bleed to death.”
Sheriff Greenleaf might have debated me on the legalities of this, but my words had the desired effect. She fell silent and ceased her struggles.
“I have a knife,” I told her, “and I’m perfectly willing to use it. Do you understand?”
“I’m going to put you down. Don’t try to run.”
Again, a nod.
I swung her down to the floor, and, of course, she immediately tried to run past me. I put out my hand and pushed her back, sending her sprawling onto the floor like a child’s doll.
“Who are you?” I asked, as she scrambled to her feet.
“Who are you?” she shot back at me, sounding bold to the point of insolence.
I suppose I could have refused to answer such an impertinent question, but I decided that in replying I might make clear to her the seriousness of her situation. “My name is Ethan Kaille,” I said. “I’m a thieftaker, hired by Mister Bell to find the sneak who has been pinching food from his shop.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” she said, her gaze sliding away. “This is the first time I’ve ever done this.”
Even in the dim light of the moon, I could see that she was no more than twelve or thirteen. She was tall, gangly, her limbs long and awkward. Her face had a pinched look, but she was still pretty in a rough sort of way. Her hair appeared to be red, and the bridge of her upturned nose was sprinkled generously with freckles.
“If you lie to me again,” I said, “I will take you to Sheriff Greenleaf and be done with you.”
“What will he do?” she asked, her voice dropping almost to a whisper.
“Put you in the gaol, until you can be hanged as a thief or transported somewhere to labor in the cane fields.”
“You’re lying. They don’t do that to children.”
“Children don’t break into shops and steal.”
She didn’t cry, or beg me to let her go. I suppose I should have taken that as evidence of her courage. Instead, I couldn’t help thinking that a girl her age should have held on to more of the traits of childhood. I didn’t let it show, but I felt a great sadness for her.
“What’s your name?” I asked again.
She hesitated. Then, “Mary Parkes.”
“And where do you live?”
“On Milk Street, above Abbot’s Smithy.”
“What do you tell your parents when you leave your home this late at night?”
The girl stared down at her feet. “My Mum and Da are dead. I live with my uncle. And he doesn’t care much how late I go out, so long as I bring him something to eat at the end of the night.”
I didn’t know what to say to that.
“Is it just you and him?” I asked after a lengthy silence.
“I have a younger sister. Kate.”
“And what will your uncle do when you come home empty handed?”
She met my gaze for just an instant before looking away, but that was enough. If her uncle had been standing in the cellar at that moment, I would have used a fire spell to reduce him to a pile of ash.
“Don’t you have any other relatives? Anyone at all?”
“My mum’s aunt is in Roxbury,” she said. “But my uncle says he has papers that make Kate and me his wards.”
I didn’t wish to see the child or her sister beaten, or worse, but I had taken coin from Roger Bell and I couldn’t allow her to steal anything more from the bakery. After a moment’s thought, I fished into my pocket, pulled out a shilling, and held it out to her. The girl’s eyes went wide, but she didn’t reach for the coin. She was like a street cur, too wild to accept scraps from a stranger’s hand.
“What’s that for?” she asked, her eyes never straying from the coin.
“Take it,” I said. “Bring it to your uncle. Tell him that you weren’t able to steal any bread tonight because the baker was waiting for you in his shop. But you found someone, a street captain who is looking for some sharps to help him with a job. Tell him the man said that there’d be lots more where this came from.”
I raised a finger, silencing her. An idea was forming in my head. A way to make Bell happy without making a mess of this girl’s life, or that of her sister.
“Tell him I want to meet him,” I finally said. “There’s a tavern on Sudbury Street called the Dowsing Rod. I’ll be waiting for him two nights hence in the alley on the north side of the tavern. Can you remember that?”
“Why are you doing this?” the girl asked, her expression wary as she regarded me.
“Because I can’t let you steal from this bakery anymore. And I don’t want your uncle hurting you. Now, do you remember what I said?”
“The Dowsing Rod on Sudbury,” she repeated. “Two nights from now, the alley on the north side.”
I smiled. “Good. And now there’s one more thing I want you to do.”
Her eyes narrowed. That is, until I told her what I had in mind. Then she fairly beamed. And she took the shilling from my hand.
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