For interested readers, an excerpt from my Victorian historical fiction novel. Victorian slang and working class ways of talking are some things I have been practicing and trying to master in my writing for years now. I hope you readers enjoy, or can impart any useful criticisms or advice:
Several minutes passed. The warm tears that poured from her eyes cascaded down her cheeks, rolling along the curve of her mouth before streaming down her chin and falling against the collar of her blouse. She hugged her legs against her chest and buried her head in the folds of her dress, trying in vain to gather some more warmth. But she could not seem to stop her body from trembling.The thump of metal against wood came from some distance away, followed by a string of loud oaths.
“Would ye shut yer trap!” someone else bellowed.
Her head snapped up in the direction, tears still falling from her eyes. She heard footsteps echoing among the wooden crates. She covered her mouth with her hands and pressed herself against the crate. The rough wood bit into her arm through the soaked cloak and cotton dress, but the solid frame of the crate helped to keep her still.
“Which one did ‘e say it was?” a low, gruff voice cut through the darkness, closer now.
“They’re right over ‘ere,” another voice said in reply. “They came in today. I saw the boxes meself.”
Rose wondered if the two men knew of a place to stay. But she recalled the stories the blackguards who roamed the streets at night. She had already been robbed once today; she was not eager to get herself into worse trouble.
The footsteps stopped. She heard something soft and heavy hit the ground.
“Where are the others?” the first voice asked.
“Jest you’n me’n the boy.”
“The Boss wants to see a bit o’ the goods first.”
Rose waited, straining to hear more. Besides the light pattering of rain on the canvas she could only discern grunts and heavy breathing. She cautiously lifted a corner of the canvas and peered out into the night.
It took her a few moments for her to distinguish two black forms as they lifted a crate off one of the piles to the ground.
The larger one of the pair motioned to the ground. “’And that over,” he ordered.
Lifting a long, slender object from the ground, the smaller man passed it to his compatriot, who then thrust the object into the crate. He began to bring the object up and down, causing the nails in the crate to creak with the effort.
“Gorrit!” he murmured as the lid broke free.
The darkness was suddenly dispelled as a flash of yellow burst from the direction of the two men. She covered her eyes and looked away.
“Where are they?”
“Look under the cloths.”
She heard the men rifling through the contents of the crate. “Right there,” the second voice said.
The first voice gave a low whistle. “Boss’ll be paying well if they’re all like this’un.”
Curiosity made her squint into the light and observe the two men. The smaller man held the lantern, illuminating himself in the gloom. He wore dirty blue trousers, a striped red and white shirt, with a navy blue cap over his head. He bent over the crate, giving light to his bulky companion. Rose could only see his profile outlined in the dull radiance his comrade shed. The larger one fell to his knees. He began to transfer some tightly wrapped objects from the crate to a burlap sack that he produced from his coat. Rose observed each bundle that was taken out of the crate, trying to figure out what they were.
But before she could determine the purpose of the bundles someone pulled her canvas covering away from her.
Rose looked up, dumbstruck, at a new personage. A young boy held the canvas in his hands. He had a dirty brown hat pulled low over his dark eyes gleaming in the light of the lantern. He grinned mischievously.
“Lookit ‘ere, Bill!” he called out. “An undercover Yardie!”
The two men snapped their heads in her direction. Rose suddenly realized that she should not be there. But before she could react they were at her side, the larger one gripping her arm and yanking her to her feet. The smaller one shoved the lantern in her face to see her better.
The large man thrust his gritty, unshaven face towards hers. “What’re ye doin’ ‘ere, eh?” he hissed, the stench of stale beer in his breath.
She turned her head away, facing the smaller man instead. He had a tightly drawn face and a small pointed nose which gave him the appearance of a rat. He leered at her, showing dirty, yellow teeth.
“Yeah, what’re ye doin’?” he parroted.
“I- I- I- du-don’t know,” she stammered.
“Think of seein’ somethin’ that ye weren’t ‘posed to, eh?” He gripped her arm more tightly.
The pain drew her voice back out. “Nu-no! Nothing!”
“It don’t look like you was seein’ nothing,” the rat-face man said.
“I was just t-t-trying to ge-get out of the co-cold!”
“I think ye was tryin’ to get in on some of our goods,” the larger man said in a dangerous voice. “I think ye wanted some for yerself. What do ye say, Pete?”
“Oh, I dunno.” The rat licked his lips. He reached out a hand and slowly ran his fingers along Rose’s cheek. “Tryin’ to get some of our goods, Ladybird? Was ye plannin’ on payin’ us for ‘em?”
Rose had meant to scream the answer, but it came out as a whispered, “No.”
“Wot’ll we do wit ‘er, Bill?” the boy asked.
The large man glared up at the boy. “Yer ‘posed to keep lookout! Why aren’t ye at yer post?”
The boy pointed to Rose. “I’m doin’ my job! I found this’un for ye, didn’t I?”
“Back to yer post!” Bill snarled.
“Boss’ll ‘ear about this,” the boy huffed, disappearing into the darkness.
“I says we teach ‘er a little lesson,” the rat said, a roguish expression on his features. “Make sure she think twice ‘fore squealin’ to the coppers.”
“Yer right. Get me my bar,” Bill said.
The rat lost his grin. “What?”
“Get me my bar,” Bill repeated, motioning to the crate.
The rat lowered the lantern, casting his face in shadows. “What are ye goin’ to do, Bill?”
“Don’t want anyone on us. The Boss’ll have our heads fer it.”
“Yer goin’… goin’ to…” The rat imitated hitting himself on the head.
“Get the bar!” Bill snarled.
“No!” Rose cried, trying to pull her arm away. He only griped her arm more tightly and chuckled darkly at her weak attempt.
“Bill! Ye can’t! We’ll ‘ave the coppers on us fer sure!”
“Ye yellow bastard! I’ll get it meself!” He dragged Rose to the open crate. She saw the crowbar lying on the ground. He bent down and picked it up.
“Let go of me!”
He twisted her arm expertly to bend her over and then raised his hand, preparing to swing the crowbar down on her head.
“What do ye think yer doin’?” a harsh feminine voice cut in, staying Bill’s hand.
Bill spun around, crowbar still raised. He peered into the darkness. “Oo’s there?” he barked. “Show yerself!”
The form of a woman materialized out of the night next to Pete. She was slightly taller than Rose and had a thinly lined face with rouged cheeks and red lips. She wore a brown netted shawl and dingy pink dress with imitation roses at the breast and in her brown hat.
“It’s jest me. What’re ye doin’, Bill?” she murmured as she approached Bill and Rose.
Bill glared at her, but slowly lowered his weapon. “None of yer business!”
The woman took Rose’s free arm. “I’ve been lookin’ fer ye everywheres, dearie. I told ye that ye shouldn’t be walkin’ around. Ye’ll catch yer death o’ cold out ‘ere!”
“I... what?” Rose asked, confused.
“What is this, Scarlett?” Bill demanded.
“I might ask ye the same, Bill Stryker. Now get yer filthy ‘ands off my niece.”
Bill looked from Scarlett to Rose, as if seeing them for the first time. “’Uh? Yer what?”
“Ye ‘eard me!” the woman snapped.
“Ye lyin’ ‘ore. She’s too genteel to be yer niece!”
“What are ye sayin’? That I can’t ‘ave nice relations?”
“No ‘ore ‘as nice relations! Ain’t that right Pete?”
The rat glanced from Bill to Scarlett, as if afraid of saying something wrong. “Weel…” He shrugged.
Rose coughed. “Aunt Scarlett, can we go home?” she meekly asked the woman.
“O’ course, dearie,” she said, linking her arm in Rose’s.
Bill swore. “I don’t believe it!” But he let go of the girl. Then, throwing the crowbar down, he barked, “Get back ‘ere, Pete! No more ‘ruptions!”
Scarlett began to lead Rose away from the two men as the rat rushed back with the lantern.
Rose stopped. “My bag,” she whispered, and pointed to the crates where she had been hiding. “I left it over there.”
The woman gently nudged her. “Get it.”
Rose retrieved her bag, lying in a puddle of stagnant water where it had fallen when she was pulled out from behind the crate, and returned to Scarlett. The woman took her by the arm and quickly walked away.
When they were out of earshot of the two Scarlett whispered, “Ye got to be careful on the docks. They goes there near every week for goods.”
Scarlett lightly squeezed the sleeve of Rose’s dress, causing some of the dampness to fall on her hand. “Yer wet and near well freezin’!” she exclaimed.
“I know,” Rose murmured.
“Ye got somewheres ta go?”
Scarlett picked up her pace. “We’ll go ta The Black Crow. Millie’s a good’un, she’ll get ye right warm an’ dry in no time!”
Rose remembered that Fran had warned her to stay away from The Black Crow. But the thought of getting dry was too tempting to turn down, and she did not want to insult Scarlett by refusing her offer....