Hello there reader :-)
This is a series of stories I wrote as part of a larger anthology of stories called "Tales of Albion", that revolve around English life. Some of them are based on real events, some on fiction, some are my original stories. They are not all fanfiction, so I cannot post them all here, but I might post them elsewhere. I will notify if I do.
"Of tears and mist" is series of stories based on Sweeney Todd; since I love the movie so much, I just had to add a little compendium of stories based on Sweeney Todd into my little anthology.
All the original stories I have already written are in Russian, and I am now translating into English. I will be happy to hear any suggestions about improvements in language, since English is not my first language, although it is my best foreign language. If I gather more readers (I hope!!), and someone asks for the original Russian stories, I will post them!!
I hope you like this compedium, and I hope you recognize characters and places, since I will not always make them obvious; sometimes you might meet someone you know, or notice a hidden link, surprise or connection! Sometimes, I might take some liberties with the original plotline, but nothing too obviously deviant. I look forward to reading your comments.
I. The Waiting Woman
"Rotten, wet place this is, lad."
The rain was not so strong, not as strong as it was when the ship was entering the harbour. Then, it had come down in sheets, obscuring the view with a watery film, and if one just about forgot the presence of solid ground beneath one's feet, one would think they were underwater, in some resurrected Atlantis.
Now, it came down in little droplets; soon it would reduce to a simmer, and then simply an occasional drip-drop from the sky. But it would never stop. No, that would not be London if it did.
Now the constable, who usually patrolled the harbour with a set face and a clock in his mind, counting down the idle, cold minutes of uneventful duty, stood side by side with a young, fair-headed man, whose smile immediately gave him away as a newcomer to London. When he thought of the idealistic enthusiasm with which young people regarded the job of a 'guardian of law and order', he would snort, in a way that ruffled his rich ginger moustache, in which he had recently started detecting flecks of gray. Flecks of gray that despaired him to no end, that he blamed on a life wasted on patrolling a square area of cobbled road leading to a rather deep puddle of dirty water people dared to call a river. Now, for once he seemed to be needed; this over-enthusiastic, ambitious student from Bristol had come to him for advice before he set out to try his luck in this British Atlantis.
"Rotten, wet place this is, lad," repeated the constable to the student. Although happy at being needed, the student stirred irritation deep in the constable's mind. His freckled skin, sun-bleached hair and the jovial smile that one would never find on the face of a Londoner reminded the constable of his own one-time idealism and zeal. In fact, jealous would probably be a better word to describe the constable's feelings, no matter how hard he pretended for himself that he was annoyed.
"There's something romantic about this place…something mysterious," the student said, smile unperturbed. The constable snorted, and the ginger moustache moved. As far as the constable was concerned, the closest London got to being romantic was a brothel.
"Son, London's a tough place," the constable said. Indeed, it was a place tough enough to wipe the smile off any over-enthusiastic scholar's face.
"Oh, I love a challenge…that's why I came here…opportunities are so limited in Bristol, you see…" again, the ginger moustache moved. A crack of thunder muted the constable's snort. Oh, what I'd give for your limited opportunities in Bristol, son, he thought to himself.
"So, I suppose you'd better be on your way, son. There's a carriage for ye. Remember what I told ye about Mrs. Malkin's. Best inn around. An' you'll be off fer a fresh start tomorrow, lad."
As the student made for the carriage, he stopped. If not for the constable and the student, the harbour would have been deserted, and the solitude had that cold, lonely romanticism that so appealed to the student; it was nearly empty, in fact, apart from a couple of unused wooden crates lying a small distance away from the water, and the carriage.
Now, however, a woman, dressed in a ragged dress and bonnet, emaciated and stooping, shakily made her way to the breakwater. She walked purposefully, shivering, clutching her tattered shawl around herself. Yes, there were beggars in Bristol; the student was not a complete ingénue; but for some reason, this woman, whether young or old he couldn't tell, caught his eye. She walked over to a wooden crate and sat down upon it. The wind, cold, bitter, biting, blew on her, making the tatters of her clothing flutter. She did not seem to flinch, but continued to sit there, facing the water, where the ships would dock. She then proceeded to remove her bonnet, and the student had a sudden, fervent desire to approach her and cover her with his warm tweed jacket, with his trusty raincoat. He remembered his mother, ill in her deathbed with fever, he remembered covering her with blanket after blanket as she shivered, and when she became still, he had thought that he had succeeded in making her warm, and he had smiled at her peaceful face. Only when he had laid his cheek against hers, it was cold, and when he called her name, which resounded with a pained echo, throbbing like blood behind a bruise, in his head, she had never answered.
And now, as this woman lifted off her bonnet, he noticed her hair, fair yellow and wispy, the tangled tufts tossed by the wind, and imagined the way it must have looked before, soft, golden, waving down her back, like his mother's. The hair he had so often buried himself in, cried into. The woman continued to sit there, and as the student approached her, careful so as not to startle her, he noticed that her cheek was streaked with water. Was it tears? Or just the rain? She did not look tearful; she seemed distant, perhaps a little expectant. He looked over her tattered form once again, and realized she was waiting, waiting for someone, or something; was she waiting for a ship to bring her a loved one she had lost? Or was she awaiting a storm to take her to him?
"The waiting woman," whispered the constable suddenly, making the student jump.
"Oh, you scared me!" exclaimed the student in a whisper; he had not heard the constable approach him. "Excuse me?"
"The waiting woman," the constable said. As scornful as he was of London and its inhabitants, he loved stories, myths, legends, and tales; he seemed like the skeptical type, but what bored man had not turned to some form of seemingly pointless recreation, something that would occupy his mind? And when the mind tried to justify itself for taking interest in myths and legends, it would whisper to him, in the dead silence of the night: in every tale, no matter how tall, there is a morsel of truth. And when that voice spoke to him, it spoke the Queen's English, like that of this student beside him. It made his preoccupation with tales seem important. "She comes here every day, and just sits here, until dawn breaks. Then she gets up and leaves. As simple as that. It's like she's waiting for someone. Or something."
"Who is she?" asked the student, his eyes still on the Waiting Woman.
"No one knows for sure," said the constable, smoothing his moustache with his fingers. "I mean, I see 'er often in town. She begs for money an' all, and me thinks she's not right in the 'ead. She sings, what sounds like nursery rhymes and doomsday prophecies set to music, has a rather foul mouth…but otherwise she's harmless. Just a 'alf-crazed beggar woman. Though apparently she has enough wits left about 'er to come here and wait…"
"She doesn't look crazy," said the student quietly, although he didn't know; did the woman know what – or –whom she was waiting for? Or was it just a bizarre working of the wounded mind, when it recalls little details and makes one perform actions without knowing their grander reasons?
"You 'aven't seen 'er during the day, son."
"But she must have been…been…normal once?"
"Aw, son, lots of stories about 'er around town. Some say she's a ghost – codswallop, of course, it's brighter 'an a Bristol day that she's solid an' alive, an' from this world all right. Some say her husband left at this precise spot, and she comes back 'ere to wait for 'em. That makes more sense, I think."
The student remembered the story, that story his father told him. About the dog. The dog that had belonged to a soldier, a soldier who took the dog to the station, fared it well and left for war; the soldier died in that war, and the student didn't remember why that war was fought, and who fought it, and it didn't matter, but he remembered the dog, because that's what mattered. Because the dog came to the station every single day, and sat there waiting for his master. Because even years and years passed after the soldier's death, the dog came back to the station, at the same time every day, and waited for his master, until the dog itself died. Died at the station. And the student thought they should have put up a statue, one of the purest gold, to commemorate this dog's loyalty; a statue worth more than those of Napoleon and Alexander the Great; worth more than any loot gained in battle.
And it did not matter, whether one was a dog, or a human being, or a ghost. Loyalty and love don't know these divisions.
And he sat down, a little distance away from the Waiting Woman, and heard the carriage horses trot away, the constable retiring to his post. The tiny droplets of rain became bigger and bigger, faster and faster, but neither the Woman, nor the student moved. He let the rain stream down his face, and soon he wondered why the rain was so hot on his cheeks. He let it wash away his pride and the volumes of pointless literature stored away inside his head. He let it wash away the money from his dreams, the ambition and greed that went hand in hand although he denied them, leaving only him, naked, raw in his humanity, leaving only the last tune his mother played for him on the piano reeling in his head, the tune that his father would replay thousands of times on his violin with its bow of shredded horse hair, not for love of the music, but for the memory it created.
Soon, in its eternal cycle of flood and simmer, the rain died down, and the clouds dissipated.
The horizon lightened to a washed-out indigo. When the student turned, the Woman was gone.