Lizzie’s Legacy – Excerpt

Book 4 of Lizzie Series © 2004  J. Robert Whittle

 

Travelling along unfamiliar streets where every building looked old, worn and grimy, they arrived at a wall and faced imposing iron gates with the words Benson Foundry etched above. Peering through the gates, they watched as horses strained at heavily loaded drays and workmen scurried around the yard to the noisy clanging and banging of a prosperous foundry at work.

“What do you want, girl?” a sweating workman growled irritably when he saw the girl walking purposely toward him.

“Mister Benson’s office, please sir?” she asked sweetly.

Frowning, he pointed with a blackened hand through the swirling dust to a coal-streaked stone building at the end of the yard. Offering no further information, he turned abruptly away.

“Friendly folk, ain’t they?” she muttered, feeling her partner’s reassuring hand on her arm.

Sam Benson was staring contentedly out of his office window surveying the day’s activity when he noticed the arrival of the curious, nondescript couple.

“Now, who might they be?” he wondered thoughtfully, rising to his feet and adjusting the folds of his silk cravat.

Creaking loudly, the opening of the heavy oak door alerted Jacob Hardy, Benson’s longtime bookkeeper, in the outer office. Hunched over a high desk, he raised his head slightly and peered silently at the two visitors through wire-framed spectacles. Setting his quill upright in the inkwell, he smoothed the few hairs on his shiny, balding head and coughed to clear his throat.

“Something you need, young lady?” Hardy’s voice rumbled.

“Mister Benson, please sir,” Lizzie said softly, in mock humility.

Stool legs scraped harshly on the bare wooden floor. The clerk eased himself to an upright position and, shuffling slowly on wobbly legs, went across the room to knock timidly on Sam Benson’s office door.

“A person to see you, sir,” he called, without opening the door.

“Send her in, Hardy.”

He knew we were here, Quon’s fingers tapped on her arm.

“Go in,” Hardy mumbled disinterestedly, making no effort to open the door for them.

Quon stepped forward to open the door, allowing his partner to pass, then falling in behind her. He quietly closed the door as his eyes took in the dull, sparsely furnished room. He noted a single, small bookcase, a modest, unpolished desk, three wooden chairs and a well-stocked liquor cabinet with the doors slightly ajar.

“Who are you?” Benson snapped, neglecting to offer them a seat as he tipped back in his chair, eyes flicking from one to the other.

He hasn’t heard the rumour yet, Lizzie thought to herself.

“My name is Lizzie Short, sir. I’m your new council member!” she replied boldly, yet keeping her voice low.

“Like hell you are!” the foundry owner exploded. “A woman on council—I’d die before I would let that happen!”

“May I sit down?” she asked calmly.

“NO! STAND! I know who you are. You’re that trash from Slaughter Lane.”

Quon’s eyes flashed as he leapt toward the desk. “My Wizzy, you pig!” he exclaimed, crashing a fist on the desk under the foundry owner’s nose.

Arms flailing wildly, Sam Benson’s sudden movement sent his chair crashing backwards against the wall. Desperately trying to keep his balance, he clawed at the desk, scattering papers and sending a glass inkpot spinning across its surface and onto the floor, leaving a black stain in its path.

Lizzie took a step backward, making no attempt to stop her partner’s assault on the owner. Suddenly, the door burst open and another, younger man entered.

“YOU!” he bellowed at the girl. Seeing Sam on the floor and his chair toppled over, he advanced on Lizzie, viciously swinging his riding crop.

Although not absolutely sure of the identity of this man, both Quon and Lizzie were correct in thinking he was Benson’s son-in-law, Arthur Miller.

Like a springing tiger, Quon blocked the charging wool merchant’s action in a single bound. Taking a stinging blow on his forearm, the Chinese boy swung his fist into Miller’s flabby middle.

“Run Wizzy!” he cried as Miller’s body crashed to the floor.

© 2004 J. Robert Whittle

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