A boy on the cusp of adolescence, with wild, strawberry blonde hair and a face full of freckles carried a large flask into the back of the forge. The structure was half-open, looking out over the docks along the Thames, as it had once begun with simple boat repairs - but nowadays making custom fit machine parts and repairs was much more profitable. In the harsh, summer sunlight the masts of the boats threw deep shadows, gently meandering up and down in the water. Inside, the smell of soot and oil was accompanied by the hint of sweat from several men working the forge.
The boy weaved between the coming and going of men carrying supplies, and customers that came to place or pick up their orders. Until finally holding the bottle up to his older brother. Ross rewarded him with a firm, somewhat sooty ruffle through his curls, before opening the bottle and taking a much needed swig of cold water.
“Thank you Tommy.” He said with a smile, as he handed the flask over to another worker beside him that held down the glowing piece of iron with tongs. Before the iron would cool and become unworkable, he picked up his hammer again to get the last slight bends out.
“What are you making?” Tommy asked, eagerly leaning in to catch a glimpse of the work. Ross quickly grabbed his hands and pulled them off of the anvil, before he'd burn them or get hit by a hammer.
“Hey! What did da say about putting your hands where they don't belong?” He said sternly, and Tommy frowned.
“Thomas, if ye donnae to touch it, keep yer hands in yer pockets fer focksake.”
The iron part ticked up and down on the anvil repeatedly, as the worker held back laughter trying to keep it still.
Ross shook his head with a smile, and gave the iron two more hits to get it perfectly straight.
“He's yer da's son alright.” The worker said as they downed the iron part in water. Immediately it sizzled and steamed.
“Didn’t know the accent came with it, though.”
“Let’s hope that's the only thing that came with.”
Ross shook his head again and let out a quick blow of air, as he could imagine well enough what they meant.
“Roooooosss.” Tommy whined from beside him as he wiped his hands on a dirty rag.
“What did you make?”
“It's just a part, for those weaving machines.”
“What does it do?”
“What if it breaks?”
“Well then it donnae move. Use yer head first before ye ask.”
“Ross!” With a groan, Ross turned around as he was called for again, throwing the rag over his shoulder. The lumbering, tall figure of his father was still a sight to behold, even when he’d aged past his prime and had gotten a little too involved with his mother’s custard pies. They shared the same, thick, coppery red hair, but he wouldn’t be able to match his father’s forge-singed beard for a long time.
“Ye done with the Morris’ piece yet?
”“Yea, just got it finished.” Ross said as he pointed at the piece that was now given a last sanding.
“I need ye to do the repair today, and on the way there, bring this here to Colonel Norrington, would ye?” His father handed him an inlaid walnut wood case, complete with metal corners and decorative handle. He immediately knew what it was, since he’d assembled the custom made revolver it contained himself only two days before.
“Not doing it yerself?”
“Nah, got an emergency repair over at Porter’s. How about ye take Tommy with for the Morris repair, show him how it’s done?”
“Yea sure, c’mon Thomas! We got to go!” Ross yelled, and Thomas immediately darted up beside him.
A short while later, he’d cleaned himself up, put on a fresh linen shirt, and had put his tools and the pieces of machinery he needed in the back of a wooden cart. A cream coloured working horse with mane and tail cut short was geared up in front. Although the heat had been worse in the forge, the glaring sun was somehow even more unpleasant.
Ross wiped the sweat from his forehead, while at the same time giving the horse some water from a bucket. The mare drank so fast it sloshed and splashed slightly.
“What’s in that?” He heard Tommy ask from beside him while pointing at the walnut case in his other hand.
“It’s a gun Thomas, we have to deliver it to the military gentleman that ordered it. So I want ye to be good and quiet while we’re there, and then I’ll get ye some sweets on the way home.” As he tussled Tommy’s hair, the boy smiled and nodded. “Now let’s go.” With one hand he helped Tommy climb up, giving him a good push so he’d be able to get in the seat. It took Ross one step to get up himself, grabbing the reins while carefully laying the case between him and Thomas. A firm tug on the reins set the horse in motion.
Soon enough they trotted along the busy main roads of London between similar carts, factory workers and peddlers afoot, and more stately open buggies with drivers.
“Ross?” He felt a tug from Tommy on his shirt, and he looked over while at the same time trying to mend the horse through traffic. “Can I see?” Tommy pointed down at the case, causing Ross to sigh.
“No, I worked on it for weeks, I don’t want it to get damaged.”
“Please? Please please please,-”
“Fine! Just a look, but don’t ye dare touch.” Ross resigned, knowing he wouldn’t hear the end of it otherwise.
When the roads crowded a little less, he carefully opened the case on his lap, turning it for Thomas to see. A beautifully engraved gun was placed in the centre, with a matching holster and a package of bullets beside it for showcase. He only allowed Tommy to peek for a second, before closing it again, but that was enough for his little brother to gasp in awe.
“Did you really make that? Did da teach you?”
Ross shook his head while he focussed on the traffic again.
“No, uncle did. You know, uncle Ainsley in America?”
Thomas looked at him dumbfounded.
“Well, I suppose it’s been a long while since he were here. He taught me when I was sixteen, you must’ve been… four or five?”
“Does he make guns like that too?”
“Sometimes he did, but he makes army guns now, because they’re having a big war over there.”
“Does it pay a lot?”
“What do ye think dad bought that other house on the docks with?”
“A bit more than just this one, but yea.”
“Can I make guns too?”
“When ye get older I’ll teach ye.”
“But I’m older now.”
“Nah, older older, first we’ll get ye to work the forge properly.”
The cart came to a halt in front of the open gates of a large, stately mansion, surrounded by decorative wrought iron fences and a well kept garden in full bloom.
“This should be it.” Ross said as he looked it over.
“Is that really all for one person?” Thomas asked wide eyed, amazed by the size.
“I think so, probably his family too.” He said as he climbed down the side of the carriage, taking a lead and tying the docile horse to a lantern post just for good measures, even if it probably wouldn’t be necessary.
“Who needs that much house?” Thomas asked, as he took Ross’s wrist and hopped down from the seat.
“Don’t know, probably so they don’t get touched by filthy poor people?”
“But we’re not filthy people, right?”
Ross shrugged, not sure what he had to answer to that without ruining Thomas’s self worth. Instead he just placed a hand on his little brother’s shoulder and took them with.
“Remember, be quiet and polite, just let me talk. And don’t touch anything.”
Thomas nodded, and smiled a bit more, too caught up in taking every sight he could to question later.
As they both walked up the marble steps to the front door, Ross was the first to notice the heavy wooden door was cracked open slightly ajar. Unsure whether that meant he could enter, or if he had to knock anyhow, he stood still for a second to make a choice. Only to hear a voices from inside quickly get louder, accompanied by rapid footsteps.
“As I said, I need to check the sources in the library again, but if I am,-” The door was pulled open from the inside in a hurry. Before Ross could react or step out of the way, a very well dressed youth smacked into his waist – and was thrown back with the same speed he’d ran into him, falling backwards. A stack of books clattered against the floor, several papers sent everywhere.
Shocked, Ross immediately bent down to pick up the books closest to him.
“I’m sorry, are you alright kid?” He said as he walked over and looked down.
From above he heard a worried voice shout out.
“Milord! Is everything in order?” Ross looked up to see another youth look over the railing of the marble stairs. His heart sank when he realised they were addressing the person on the ground.
“Well yes William, of course, I always hoped to experience my own hallway from this particular angle. It has thrilled me beyond even my wildest dreams.”
“I apologise Milord, I hadn’t seen you, you aren’t hurt are you?” Ross stammered, deeply dreading that this was the moment where his life was ruined forever. Unsure what else to do, he knelt down to pick up more of the books and hope to avoid the ire of a royal.
The man on the floor merely lifted his head a little to give him a good look over. Pale blue eyes pierced out from behind round glasses, with his youthful face crowned by wild brown locks.
“By God, you’re alive. And here I was thinking someone had built a wall in front of my door just to thwart me.” The man laid his head down again, only to roll on his side and pick up the loose papers. At the same time the servant came down the stairs, doing the same.
“I really didn’t mean to Milord.” Ross shook his head as he set the stacked books on the floor, but it seemed the Lord had little need for his apologies.
“I believe you, what are you here for?” The young royal asked, as he took the remaining papers from his servant and quickly paged them through to sort them out again.
“I meant to bring an order to Colonel Norrington, I,-” He swallowed audibly, nervous as he was. “I’m a gunsmith Milord, well, part of the time.”
“Colonel Norrington lives on the second floor, up the stairs to the right.” Without giving him a second glance, the Lord pointed up in the direction he needed to be. “William, take the books from him.” With a sideways nod, the servant sprung into action and picked up the tall stack of books to carry with.
“Thank you, Milord, I-I hope I didn’t upset you, please have a wonderful day.” With a deep, grateful bow, Ross pulled Thomas with him up the stairs. As he looked back and down, he saw the Lord look up at him with a slight, rather kind smile.
“Likewise, Mister Forrest.”
He was already three more steps up the stairs, when the realisation set in his panicked mind.
Do you know me? How could someone like you know me? I never told you my name…
Stunned he looked down again, as if he would find an explanation there, but instead was met with the sight of the door closing.
In silence, Ross drove the cart to the Morris factory, still racking his mind over that strange encounter – and how lucky he had been not to have been put on a boat bound for the penitentiary colonies right there and then.
“Ross?” He ignored Tommy’s question, instead lost in thought. How did he know my name? Maybe the Colonel told him about his new gun? Yea… that’s probably it, right?
“Roooosss?” Tommy tugged at his sleeve.
“What?” He said, somewhat irritated, but immediately regretting it when he saw Tommy’s shocked expression. Rapidly he took his little brother’s shoulder, and smiled instead, giving them his undivided attention to make up for snapping. “What is it Tommy?”
“I found this.” Thomas pulled a folded piece of paper out from his pocket.
Confused, Ross took it and folded it open. He was met with elegant, cursive handwriting, that didn’t match anyone’s that he knew.
“Where did you find it?” He asked, fearing the answer.
“In that mansion.” Thomas said softly into his collar, realising he’d done something wrong.
“Fer focksake Thomas! Ye know better than to steal shite!” Ross raised his voice, bellowing the words like his father had done with him. Only to see Thomas’s fear, on the brink of tears, and quickly he held himself back. Still breathing heavily, he bit his lip and cursed internally.
“Ye stole this from a Lord, do ye have any idea what they do with people that steal from Lords?”
Thomas sunk down further, trying to hide as he shook his head.
“They put ye on a boat, to God only knows where, with rapists, and murderers. And that’s if they don’t hang ye for it!”
As he said the last words, he saw Thomas’s lower lip begin to tremble, and he did feel for him – but mostly he was afraid, terrified of what would happen to him.
Seeing the tears stream down his little brother’s cheeks, his heart sank even deeper.
There was only one way he saw to solve this, but despite it being one he hardly liked, anything was better than living in fear of Thomas being punished like that. With one hand he grabbed his little brother’s shoulder, pulling him in to face him through the tears. He held up the scrap of paper, making sure they understood.
“If anybody asks after this, no matter who or how, ye say I took it. I stole it. Got it?” Thomas’s sobbing stifled a little. Sternly he shook his shoulder, and asked again louder. “Got it?”
It was a slight relief to see them nod, and he let go, quickly putting the piece of paper in his pocket. He could only hope that Lord wouldn’t look for it – and if they did, that he’d at least be merciful if he handed it back over immediately.