'Do let us go, Colonel. I'll drop if I don't 'ave a bite to eat.'
The old man looks down at his blanketed lap as if it were a newspaper and, raising his forefinger periscopically, recites:
'Disastrous overturn of train at Bishop's Itchington. Gunpowder explosion on the Regent's Canal. Steamer gone down off the Bay of Biscay. Destruction by fire of the Cospatrick, half-way to New Zealand, four hundred and sixty lost, mere days ago. Think of it! These are signs. The whirlpool of disaster. And at the centre of it - what there, eh? What there?'
Caroline gives it a couple of seconds' thought, but she has no idea what there. Alone of the three women who use Mrs Leek's house as their lay and lodgings, she's oddly fond of the old man, but not enough to prefer his demented prophesies to a hearty breakfast.
'Goodbye, Colonel,' she calls as she swings open the door and sweeps out into the street, closing him in behind her.
Now prepare yourself. You have not much longer with Caroline before she introduces you to a person with slightly better prospects. Watch her bodice swell as she inhales deeply the air of a new day. Wait for her to plot her safe passage through Church Lane, as she notes where the dung is most densely congregated. Then watch your step as you follow her towards Arthur Street, walking briskly along the line of litter left in the wake of the cab: first the blood, then a trail of seat-stuffing and wood-splinters. Perhaps they'll lead all the way to The Mother's Finest tavern, where hot pies are served from dawn and no one is going to ask you if you knew the woman who died.
Copyright © Michel Faber, 2002. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.
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