Hello everyone! Damianista welcomes you to the Fan Fiction of the month!
I believe many of you have read the first chapter The Urchin in the Attic in Mel’s wonderful The Forsyte Saga fan fiction Gentle Means. We are thrilled to bring you Chapter 2 today. Hope you enjoy our beloved Soames’ new adventures and come back for more!
At last I’ve had time to finish my second chapter of the Forsyte fan fiction. Sorry JaniaJania there’s no Larkin in this one, but I promise you’ll see his hottie self in Chapter Three! Lol! Thank you all for reading! – Mel
Music (If you so desire.)
…and then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again. – Caliban
Chapter Two: Freakish Encounter
Soames’ mouth was one grim line as he bounded into the open carriage. “Take me to Old Nichol,” he barked.
“Sir?” His driver Dockwood glanced back, not trusting what he’d heard.
“The Old Nichol, Shoreditch side.” When Dockwood hesitated, Soames prompted irritably. “Onward! We don’t wish to be there after dark.”
“No indeed, sir.” Dockwood whipped the horses to action, checking his pocket watch as the conveyance rattled towards the London slums. It was just after three; a deceptively beautiful day for riding into hell. If his master’s business was brief, he could get him home without being set upon by ruffians. The sunlight caught the gleam of a diamond pin in Forsyte’s ascot. Lord, but rich folk were foolish. Dockwood shook his head and sighed.
The boarding house was located not far from Bethnal Green after one crossed Boundary Street into yet another network of poverty and want. It was one of the last edifices with some vestige of decorative trim, which only added to its tawdriness.
For a moment Soames merely stared, handsome features contorted with disgust. This was what Larkin Forsyte had brought him to, though the rapscallion and his kin had no right to claim that noble surname.
“Are you sure this is the place, sir?” Dockwood warily inquired.
Soames did not have to check the letter in his pocket. His solicitor’s mind was like a fortress, though, admittedly he could not imagine the alluring Lilith Forsyte would take rooms in such a hovel. Perhaps they had, indeed, fallen upon hard times, but that was of little concern to him. He took one last look to steel himself. “Yes, Dockwood. This is the place. Wait here. Won’t be long.”
By the time Soames reached the creaky gate, a servant had hunkered on the steps, pail and brush beside her. He gingerly navigated as she furiously scrubbed, creating a gray lather beneath his immaculate shoes. He rapped three times with his cane and was shocked when a hunchbacked girl answered, craning her neck to peruse him.
“Is Miss Forsyte at home?” He demanded to know, squinting past at a cluttered foyer. The unfortunate creature appeared to be mute as well as malformed, but she crooked a finger nonetheless, indicating he should wait until she fetched someone of importance. In time the proprietress appeared, a gussied, buxom woman with frizzled hair. She’d long ago christened herself Madame Devereaux and her interest was piqued at the sight of Forsyte’s fine attire.
“Well, we don’t see your kind on that threshold often. If you’ve come lookin’ for pleasures of the flesh, you won’t find them here, sir, unless your tastes run towards the preternatural.”
Revulsion flamed Soames’ cheeks. “I’ve come to see one of your boarders. A Miss Forsyte.”
Madame Devereaux’s brow arched. “She’s a good girl, sir.”
“I’ve no interest in her reputation. I’ve come on business. Now will you take me to her or shall I -”
At that moment, a golden-haired moppet ran by, chased by a youngster of similar age with no lower limbs. He adroitly loped, palms slapping the hardwood floor. Madame cackled as they romped towards the kitchen. “That’s Fifi and Gimpy Gus. It’s Gus’ birthday today. I was just on my way to get ‘im a nice new coat from the tailors. They got to be specially made, you know, because of…well…the poor lamb, shoulders like a pugilist though he’s only eight. Fine strappin’ lad, or half a’ one you might say.” Another throaty giggle. “You should join us, sir. Cook put sixteen eggs in the cake. Going to be quite a feast!”
He swallowed back the bile rising in his throat. “I am otherwise engaged this evening. Can your girl give Miss Forsyte my card? I’ve not much time.”
“Oh tush, we don’t have such formality here. Clemmy!” She summoned the girl with the crooked back who’d been lurking, eyes intent upon the striking gentleman. “Take this chap to the laundry, and if he tries any funny business you lock him in the pantry. Save him for a woman more suited to his age and inclinations.” With that Madame D departed with a wink, the plume of her hat brushing Soames’ cheek as she passed.
Forsyte followed the shuffling girl to the back of the place, where the temperature rose and an acrid scent of lye assaulted his nostrils. The laundry room was abuzz. African conjoined twins poured water into a cauldron that an armless lass stirred with her feet. The work was arduous but they wiped their brows and laughed merrily. In the corner, the Strong Man beat out stains and cranked tattered attire through the wringer. Another stirred a second cauldron, bony elbows jutting, so thin his ribs could be used as a washboard. He joked with the dwarf that handed clothespins to an awkward giant stringing garments upon a makeshift line. Most of the women gathered round washtubs, panting and raking. Soames’ attention was drawn to a young girl making poor progress in her task. She handled the togs delicately, little hands chafed from heat and lye. A woman of enormous girth nudged her ribs and laughed when the girl gave the offending garb an irked look.
It surprised the visitor when Clemmy tugged the sleeve of said girl, whose face lit up, smile curling. “Cousin!” She chirped, and came bounding over, surprisingly tall, freckled face framed by an unruly mass of ginger hair that bounced with each step. Her eyes were a crystal blue, nose pert, pink lips delicately formed.
Soames flinched when she threw her arms around his neck with marked familiarity. “There’s been a mistake. I’ve come to converse with Miss Lilith Forsyte.”
The girl chuckled, “But it is I, Luna, her sister!”
He was taken aback. “But you were a child at my parents’ ball.”
“Yes!” Her laughter was silvery, musical. “It’s been nine years! I’m fifteen now. Sixteen in four months!”
Nine years! The realization stunned Soames. So much had occurred in the interim. Developments he preferred to block out: Bosinney’s death, Irene leaving, followed by the dissolution of their marriage. Then there was Annette, a French shop girl who married him without sentiment and provided him a child out of mere duty. Neither seemed of much consequence to her, nothing ever did except frippery and flirting with foreigners. Yet this girl before him grasped both hands and peered up with so much open joy he felt a blush rising. Only his mother had ever shown him such affection, but that had been long ago, when he was a boy. He cleared his throat. “I had hoped to find your sister here.”
“Lilith? Oh no, she is touring A Parisian Romance with Mr. Mansfield.” Luna pulled him towards the door. “Do take tea. It will get me out of laundry duty. I never have visitors!” She continued to clutch Soames’ hand as she led him to a dining room where yellowed cloths draped tables of varying styles. His eye was immediately drawn to a woman in faded finery, also armless, lifting a cup to her lips with curled toes, sipping with the utmost refinement. He hesitated. This had been a very bad idea.
“Come on, we can sit by the window!” Luna hurried forward, indicating a chair. Her wilted petticoats rustled beneath a dingy skirt with soggy hem, and when they were settled in Soames noted there was a mismatched button on her bodice. Still, he had to admit there was an odd prettiness to the girl, like a wood nymph or beleaguered Dickens heroine.
Two cups were set before them by a hobbling girl tyke with whiskers.
Luna leaned forward, ringlets shaking about her flushed brow. It was distracting how wild and free her hair. Soames remembered Irene’s impeccable coiffures. It had given him rare pleasure to set a stray tendril to rights. Luna’s was a hopeless case, and he did not hide how much it rattled him. “I’m so glad you’ve come to see me,” she said.
“I would never presume to visit you, Luna.” Soames uneasily countered. “Madame Devereaux’s was indicated in Larkin’s letter as the place I might reply. And since I have been unable to locate your brother I assumed this must be where your sister resides.”
“That’s because he is lately in the company of Lady Rosedale. They are taking a cruise. Along the Nile, I believe.”
“Yes, he is definitely in de-Nile,” Soames muttered, turning his teacup so the chip did not cut his curled upper lip, “of certain loss in a ridiculous lawsuit.”
“Lawsuit?” The girl raised her chin, oblivious.
“Against our family! If your brother thinks he can extort another sum he is sadly mistaken.” Soames lowered his voice as the bearded girl brought the scones, obviously stale.
Luna shrugged, avoiding his stern stare. “I don’t know my brother’s outside pursuits. Were you funding one of his projects? He’s an excellent producer, you know?”
“I know nothing of the kind. I wasn’t aware the man worked at all.”
“Certainly, he works!” Luna’s russet brows arched. “He’s looked after Lilith and me all our lives.”
Soames was compelled to explain there was a very great difference between honest enterprise and rapacity. Instead he let Larkin’s rash missive burn a hole in his coat, struggling to keep his tone level. After all, this wasn’t much more than a child before him. “Luna, it is imperative I speak to one of your siblings. Preferably your brother. Which returns to London first?”
“I believe Larkin and Lady Rosedale return in two days. She lives in a very pretty place with mauve trim. I don’t remember the street.”
“I know the street,” Soames returned grimly. Lady Rosedale was a widow who’d enjoyed a roster of lovers since her husband died six years before. Lord Rosedale had been a member of Parliament and a very fine man. Despite his widow’s dubious conduct, she remained a glittering member of society. “Thank you for the information, Miss Forsyte. And now I must…” his words trailed off. Throughout their brief conversation he’d had the distinct impression of being watched. Soames darted his eyes towards a dim area of the dining room where little sunlight graced. “Tell me, Luna, why is that…thing … staring at us?”
Luna gave the singular looking man a wave. “Oh, that’s Lorenzo!”
“Yes, the dog-faced boy, though he isn’t a boy anymore. Been with Mr. Norman’s show since he was ten or so. He’s rather protective of me, I think.” Luna smiled.
“Dog-faced boy? Why, that’s madness!”
“Last week the Alligator Lady had a baby. The most adorable little thing! He has scaly skin and such a cute snout! That will be good for them later on, Mr. Norman says. A family act can be quite lucrative.”
This was all too much for Soames to process. He sat back, drawing a deep breath. “Luna, how long have you worked with this rabble?”
“With the sideshow and circus? About five years.”
Soames could barely fathom. “Do you mean your brother left you with these people when you were ten?”
“Yes!” Luna glowed. “They are very kind to me.”
“But you are hardly unfortunate in form and mind. What exactly do you do in an outfit such as this?”
“Any and everything, really. When I was smaller I wore a mask and tail and pretended to be the Feejee Mermaid. Sometimes they let me ride the ponies dressed as a clown. I was never pretty enough for a satin leotard. Now I help cook and launder and take care of the horses, though I don’t like mucking stalls that much. I get so blistered.” Luna exhibited her thin hands, turning the palms to the light. There were definite callouses.
“Dear God, girl, while your sister preens before the gaslights and your brother takes cruises, they have you mucking stalls? Luna, this will not do.”
“I’m not unhappy, cousin. No one likes mucking stalls, but there are other advantages. I like when I get to perform in any small way. Lorenzo is teaching me how to sing and recite Shakespeare. He says I have potential!”
“Dash Lorenzo! Luna, not only is carnival work a highly undignified profession, you should be chaperoned.”
“But they are all my chaperones.” She gestured towards the others having their tea, her gaze resting upon Lorenzo, whose own melancholy brown eyes had never left her.
“Carnies as chaperones?” Soames challenged. “You may think you can trust these freaks of nature, but you cannot know anything of the outside world. Why, all manner of folk come into this place. And what of those that frequent Mr. Norman’s tawdry exhibits? Only the lowest dregs of humanity would take pleasure in such hideous spectacle. You might have been moderately safe as a child but that time is over.”
“Why? Why is it over?”
“Because you are on the brink of womanhood, and you may end up…pretty…”
“Pretty what, cousin?”
“Just…pretty! And we are not cousins.”
“No, girl, we are not, and I feel it only just to tell you, as gently as I can, that your brother has used my family ill. For years he has perpetuated a fabrication that shall soon come to light. When that happens, I pray you find more respectable means of employment. Or marry, girl. A nice clerk or blacksmith or farmer might treat you well. Just for God’s sake, separate from your siblings and these abominations!”
In his fury, the last word carried and the clinking of cups in saucers ceased. All eyes were upon Soames as silence fell among the boarders, a sad, heavy disquiet of forbearance and not a little pride. He threw his napkin upon the table. “I must go.”
Luna stood quickly. “Will you visit me again?”
“No.” Soames made for the foyer, man on the run.
“But you’ve been so kind! I still have the toy you gave me. The little cat.”
“A trifle.” He took his top hat and gloves from the table near the door. When he turned to give his last farewell, he saw tears brimming in her pale blue eyes. In the Forsyte family there was a rare strain of ginger-haired progeny every generation or so. Soames was one, his grandmother had been another. He had to admit, peering down at Luna was like looking upon the tall, finely boned matriarch in daguerreotypes of old. And for all her peculiarity the girl had been sweet, almost doting. He sighed. “Find your blacksmith and my wife and I will host a wedding breakfast. Good day.” He pressed his card into her trembling hand and was gone.
Luna stood at the threshold, running her thumb along the gold engraved lettering: Soames Forsyte, esq. Solicitor. She read the card many times until it blurred in her vision. Footsteps approached and she didn’t have to look back to know it was Lorenzo, keeping a respectable distance, his luxuriant golden-brown curls scented with bay rum cologne.
“That was my cousin,” she said softly. “He’s very important.”
“And married.” Lorenzo had obviously trailed closely.
“Yes. I’m to be received when I wed a blacksmith or farmer or some such.” As Forsyte’s carriage rattled away she closed the door forlornly, resting her brow against it. “Imagine me, married!”
“Plenty of time for all that,” Lorenzo assured her gently. A hundred emotions bubbled within him, and not one he dared articulate. “Shall we practice our Mozart?”
“I have to finish helping with the laundry.” Luna touched his arm as she turned, offering a weak smile. “Renzo, if I married a blacksmith or farmer would I have to muck stalls?”
He chose his words carefully. “I should hope, if they were of any means, they’d have a hired boy to do that.”
Her brow furrowed. “I’d best choose a clerk, just to be sure.” She was still pondering the possibility when she made for the laundry, shoulders slumped.
Lorenzo lingered in the shadows, watching the steam envelop her body as she disappeared into the inferno. In the past five years he’d seen Luna through many a milestone. He was ten years older and had indulged her, nurtured her, watched her body mature with a sort of dread. It was a body he could never, would never, think of tainting, and yet he languished in secret longing. Luna’s was an affection he could never claim except as mentor, and that had been enough…until that day. Her prattling joy and little glances had been enough until he saw her direct them at a man so like her it stunned to see them at tea, coppery heads angled, blue eyes locked. When she looked upon her visitor in all the ways she’d once looked upon him, Lorenzo’s heart crumbled to ash within its cavity.
There had never been hope, and now there was less than. Now there was only wretchedness.
Author’s Note: For my Master’s Thesis lo those many years ago on the actor Edwin Booth and 19th Century popular culture, I studied Barnum and circus folk, developing a great affection. The reactions in the chapter are from Soames’ point of view, certainly not my own. The Mr. Norman Luna speaks of is Tom Norman, the British equivalent of Barnum and an early exhibitor of John (Joseph) Merrick, aka The Elephant Man. Though his tenure with Merrick was brief, Dr. Treve’s accusations of cruelty (since proven false) have sullied Norman in the eyes of history. He was described by many as benevolent, so Luna was most likely happy with the carnival. I would have been, lol!
Photo Credits: The Forsyte Saga (2002, Granada Television,) East of Eden (1981, Barney Rosenzweig, Mace Neufeld & Viacom Productions,) Far and Away (1992, Imagine Films Entertainment, Universal Pictures,) Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006, Edward R. Pressman Film, River Road Entertainment, etc.) The Boarding House is actually Chelsea House Victorian Inn in Michigan. Not shabby at all but I did think it was eccentric and “artistic” enough in its architecture to displease Soames.