Authors: Mark C. King
Alexis, starting to get emotional at the very thought of her daughter being healed, locked eyes with Sigmund and implored, “Sigmund, you have provided so much for me and for Sarah. There is no denying that, nor would I try. I thought I would never have to look to you again for support, that you would be free of my burden.” She took a breath, choking back a sob. “But this is a chance that must be taken. Maybe this Italian doctor cannot help, but maybe he can! We must try, Sigmund. Please. We must.”
Sigmund nodded to himself. He knew she was right – if there was even the slightest possibility to help Sarah, it was worth every effort, regardless of price. Looking back at Jamison, he asked, “Can you trust this man? This Jonathan Fitton?”
“He is not a charlatan, if that is what you mean. He came to me having no knowledge of Sarah’s illness, for we hadn’t ever discussed it. I trust him completely. Our meeting each other – call it a coincidence, but I consider it providence.”
Sigmund knew his answer. Deep down he knew it the moment it was possible to help Sarah. He could never say ‘no’ to her. Taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he said, “I will try.”
“Try?” Alexis asked alarmed.
“I cannot guarantee success. My talents are a little rusty but that is not my true concern. The timeframe is the problem. Locating something of value that I can get at can be time consuming. Perhaps I will find an opportunity tomorrow, or perhaps it will take a month – I have little control over that.”
“Oh you must, Sigmund! You just must!”
Making a promise that he wasn’t sure he could keep, he looked her in the eyes and in his most confident voice said, “I’ll find a way.”
The early-morning fog that shrouded the city was disappearing under the bright late morning sun. Sigmund awoke to the hissing and chugging sounds of steam cars and the clop-clop of horse drawn carriages as they passed by outside his apartment. He sat up on his elbows and wondered if he had dreamed about the visit with his sister or if it actually happened. As sleep slowly gave over its control to consciousness Sigmund realized that it was no dream. Alexis and Jamison had told him about a possible cure for Sarah and the need for him to steal something in order to pay for it.
Climbing out of bed, weary from a restless night of reluctant thinking, he dressed swiftly, donning his usual work garb, grey trousers, white shirt, grey waistcoat, dark grey cravat, and his dark overcoat. Not very interesting but it worked. Sigmund cared only enough to not stand out. He carefully took his father’s watch, attached the chain, wound it, and placed it in his waistcoat pocket. Then, grabbing a hunk of bread and an apple for his breakfast, he stuck a second apple in his pocket for his horse.
Stepping down the hallway to the exterior door, Sigmund opened it to a lively Monday morning. It had a different feel than the previous day, for people were heading to work instead of play. It had a very different feel for Sigmund that had nothing to do with work or play – he was concerned about the difficult task he accepted. Had promised. A task that he wasn’t sure he could do despite the assurance he gave his sister. Descending his steps, he joined the citizens of London and headed to his own job. It wasn’t too far of a walk to the stables where he kept his horse and carriage, and with weather this nice the time went by even faster than normal. The sun was bright and the air clean – well, at least as clean as it gets in a city that burns this much coal. Good weather didn’t bode well for making a lot of money, as people enjoyed walking instead of taking his cab. This was not good news at all. He didn’t care about fares today but he did need people to be in his carriage. People led to talking and talking led to discovery.
As the son of a clock maker, he had the honed ability to tinker. That and a fantastically inventive mind has aided in the many inventions that allowed Sigmund to be an excellent burglar. His simplest and perhaps most useful invention was built into his carriage. A speaker horn placed inside of the passenger cab – hidden from view – attached to a piece of India rubber tubing, which Sigmund strung under his overcoat, led to an ear nub which allowed Sigmund to hear any conversation that took place in his cab. A moving carriage was considered one of the safest places to have a conversation in all of Britain and that was a correct assumption except for Sigmund’s cab. He had heard enough secrets to blackmail half of the government – not that Sigmund would blackmail anyone, it wasn’t his preference, too much contact with people. Still, the conversations and whispers of recent acquisitions – legal and not – gave Sigmund enough information to keep his family out of the poor house over the years.
After a few blocks he arrived at the stable that held his horse and the home of Harold ‘Harry’ Thorpe. Harry Thorpe was his mentor and closest friend after his sister, and as kind a man as there ever was. When Sigmund’s father, Walter Shaw, died – influenza – Harry and his wife Katherine were there to help the family. Sigmund’s mother, Cecilia, was completely devastated both by the loss of her husband and the now uncertainty of income. Harry, out of his own pocket, took care of the immediate needs. This kindness allowed the family – Sigmund, his sister Alexis, and his mother – time to grieve, gather themselves together as best they could, and eventually make arrangements to move into more modest living quarters. They had to sell their father’s clock shop but the money from the sale allowed them to get by for awhile until Sigmund could contribute and eventually take over the responsibility of the family income.
Although fourteen years old at this time and growing up quickly, Sigmund still needed guidance – Harry provided this. Harry was never demanding and never tried to replace his father, but his kind, knowledgeable words had proven the direction that Sigmund often needed.
When Harry’s dear wife, Katherine, passed on, Sigmund was with Harry day and night consoling him. After all that Harry had done for him, it was the very least Sigmund felt he could do. How do you pay back a man who had helped so much?
The one and only secret that Sigmund kept from Harry was that he had resorted to thieving in order to help support his family. He knew Harry would not approve, but it was a method that Sigmund found that allowed him to keep money coming into his family – and was something he was good at.
As he approached the stables he saw Harry spreading hay out for the horses. On catching sight of Sigmund, Harry stood up, his round face and red cheeks crunched with a smile and cried out, “A bit late this morning, eh Sig?”
‘Sig’ was not a favorite nickname of Sigmund’s but he allowed a few people to get away with it – Harry was first on that list. The old friend, his white hair a mess under his cap, was wearing his typical cream colored trousers, covered in hay dust with suspenders holding them up, muck boots that nearly reached his knees, a white shirt, and an old cream colored jacket that matched his pants. Attire of one who knew what real work was.
Watching him wipe sweat off his brow, Sigmund responded, “I had a rough evening.” There was no way he could tell Harry what happened, not without explaining things that he never wanted Harry to know about.
“Rough? You look like you bypassed ‘rough’ a long ways back my lad.”
“I would think of a retort for you Harry but I’m too tired. Or maybe I’m too respectful, old man.”
Harold laughed and said, “A crack about my age? You must be tired to stoop to that.”
“Yeah, I guess I am. How’s Ham this morning?” Ham was Sigmund’s horse, named by his niece.
“Ready to go. She’s in her usual spot, fat and happy.”
Walking into the stables, the smell of manure pungent in the air, Sigmund approached his horse, a white spotted mutt, and stroked her neck. While holding out the apple, he said, “Good morning Ham, how is my girl today?” Ham noisily ate the apple and pushed her neck into his hand, clearly happy to see him. Opening the stable gate Sigmund said, “Such a good girl. You ready to go make some money?” and he led her out to his parked carriage.
Looking over at Harry he said, “A late start means a later return, that alright?”
“Of course, of course.” Then considering the weather added, “I hope you get some generous fares.”
Finishing the rigging on Ham, he responded, “Yeah, that would be nice. Think we’ll head over to Regent Street today.” Rigging completed, Sigmund jumped up into the driver’s seat, gave a little snap to the reigns, and they started off. Again to Harry, “As always, thank you Harry, I will see you later.”
“Fare well, my lad.” Harry never tired of that little pun.
As Sigmund made his way northward across London, the streets becoming more congested the closer he got to the area of Buckingham Palace, he continued to think over the previous day’s conversation with Alexis and Jamison. Despite a night’s rest, the conversation still surprised him. That, and how he would fulfill his part, kept going through his head until he was finally distracted by a hand on the busy sidewalk ahead. Pulling lightly at the reigns, he guided Ham and the carriage over to the customer.
“Good day, sir. Where may we take you?” asked Sigmund to the finely dressed gentleman.
“Is your horse tired from a busy morning? I don’t want a slow pace.”
“No, sir. We had a late start, so Ham is fresh. You are, in fact, our first fare.”
With a look of puzzlement, the man asked, “Excuse me? Did you say ‘Ham’?”
“Yes, sir. That is my horse.” And continuing on with a fairly memorized statement to bypass the inevitable question, “Her name is the result of allowing my precious young niece to name the horse. Despite all our protests, she was firm on the name, so the name was given.”
Shaking his head as if to rid himself of this line of thought, the man said, “Very well. Let us be off. Charing Cross. Don’t spare the whip.”
The day proved completely unsuccessful. Nothing that would even remotely lead Sigmund to a successful burgle. Given enough time, eventually he would hear something, he always did. But there was no way to predict when it would happen. If Sigmund had a single rider, then there was no talking – Sigmund had passed a few waving men in an effort to only carry pairs which garnered a few unsavory comments. Even if he had a pair, or more, of passengers, sometimes people still rode in silence. And if they talked, it usually was about mundane things, nothing that interested Sigmund and certainly nothing useful.
He worked long hours, pushing Ham farther than he would like, but his situation was simple math – more hours meant more riders; more riders meant more conversations; more conversations meant a better chance at hearing of an opportunity.
Still, Ham and Sigmund could only go so long. Returning to the stables Sigmund made sure Ham had all the water and food she needed. And, after saying goodnight to the horse and thanking her for a long day of work, he went to check on Harry, as was his custom.
When Harry answered the door, he invited Sigmund in and they sat down to a late supper. Harry said, “I was about to start without you, Sig. Have a long fare?”
Sometimes Sigmund returned late if his passengers requested to go to the outskirts of London. “No,” he replied as he looked at the dish of stew that was placed before him on the beat up old table. “I just saw a lot of opportunity and decided to take advantage of it.” The room was warm, Harry liked to keep a fire in the hearth even in the summer months.
“Well, nothing like a little hard work. Makes supper taste better.”
“I guess I should have worked a little harder.” Sigmund quipped.
The conversation through dinner continued in a routine-like manner. Mostly talking about the stables and work and the silly things that passengers requested. Before long, Sigmund bid goodnight to Harry and walked home.
The next day was much the same. Sigmund worked longer hours than normal and still had nothing to show for it – other than a little extra in fares but woefully short of the amount needed.
It wasn’t until Wednesday, just after Big Ben rang noon, that Sigmund heard a conversation that would be his next opportunity. An exuberant wave snared Sigmund’s attention as he made his way down Savile Row, one of his typical haunts, hoping for some big spenders – and talkers.
The energetic waver was a nicely dressed man, average height, tufts of brown hair sticking out of his bowler. The traveling companion of this man was also dressed well, a portly man in his fifties, who looked quite disturbed. The younger man said to Sigmund, “The Golden Lion Hotel please,” and climbed in the carriage. The older, portly man said nothing to Sigmund and climbed in, swaying the carriage while he moved in his large person.
As Sigmund pulled into the street, he immediately started to hear the conversation happening in his cab via his devious invention. A voice, deeper than that of the younger man, started talking animatedly, “It is the most bizarre circumstance. What a situation to be in! Tell me, have you ever had a fortune at your fingertips and yet have it as unavailable as if it was locked in the Tower of London?”
The younger man responded, “No Mr. Barrymore, never had I been near any fortune, in or out of my grasp. How did this come to be?”
“A guest of my hotel, a wealthy man from Paris, purchased a beautiful necklace as a gift for his wife. The piece was housed in a dark wooden box and when the lid was lifted, a glorious sight was produced – a necklace with a gold chain and a heart pendant with three sparkling diamonds. I felt privileged just to see the item. Of course, he asked me to keep it in the hotel safe – as natural an occurrence as there ever was. Obviously, I obliged and placed it securely. But that very evening, tragedy struck! This man’s wife, the love of his life, died!”
“Good gracious!’ exclaimed the younger man. “How?”
“They were walking into the lobby and she just fell and expired. The doctors believe it was some sort of aneurism in her brain, for there was nothing obviously wrong with her. In any event, she died and left her husband a devastated widower. Never have you seen a man so gripped with woe. He was inconsolable. Not wanting to spend a moment more in the hotel where his wife died, he packed his belongings and left.”