A Yellow Scrap of Paper
I first published this story in December 2022 as a Christmas gift for my readers, though the most Christmassy thing about it was probably the cover. It’s available free to all members of my Readers’ Club. Contact me if you’ve forgotten how to access the Members’ Page.
Or you can read the opening 500 words here without signing up to anything…
The story is a self-contained extract from my work-in-progress, The Descent of Chloe Jackson, and it tells the story of Albert Marsh, one of Chloe’s great great grandfathers.
Bermondsey, South London. Christmas 1920. Demobbed from the army, Bert has got himself a cushy job as a railway porter at London Bridge Station. He and his missus have their future all mapped out, but a little scrap of yellow paper could change all that forever…
A Yellow Scrap of Paper
(Chapter 9 of The Descent of Chloe Jackson)
Paul C. Mercer
Bert waited in the dark. The man next to him pulled on his fag, the tip glowing bright for a bit, then thrown to the ground and stamped out. London Bridge, third Christmas since the guns went quiet. But here he was, him and the lads, shuffling to keep warm, listening out for the whistle. Uniform buttons catching a bit of light in the gloom. Misty breath. Cold feet. And then, the signal. The low rumble in the distance getting louder. A flash, lighting up the pale faces around him. A sudden explosion of noise and metal, choking smoke, and the scramble of men and equipment, surging forward.
No wonder some of the lads flinched as the doors swung open, cracking back against the carriage sides, one after the other, like a burst of rifle fire. Just in front of Bert, Dick Harris ducked half an inch, like the machine-gunners had him in their sights again.
But they weren’t Krauts, tumbling from the train, filling the platform. They were your commercial travellers, your shift workers, your dazzling socialites off to their clubs, Ladies and Gents off the Continental. Dress cases, steamer trunks, bonnet cases, wicker baskets, Gladstones, Imperials, suitcases large and small. Tuppence a bag, if he was lucky.
Bert pushed his trolley forward. It was every man for himself out there, eyeing up the luggage; how many, how much, how posh? ‘This side. London Bridge. Everybody, this side. Mind your step.’ The old cove from First Class looked good for a bob or two. Smart coat. Topper. Diplomat back from Paris, most likely. No-one else spotted him. No bags in sight, but he was casting around, waiting for someone to off-load the old canvas and leather. Someone like Bert. ‘Evening, Sir. Get you a cab?’
The gent in the topper turned, and nodded, stepping back from the carriage door to let Bert get at his bags; half a dozen beauties, all polished leather. They’d slip all over the place on the trolley, if he weren’t careful. But there was half a crown in it for sure.
‘Hey, you. Porter.’ Bert turned. It was the bloke from this morning. Commercial traveller. Brown Derby hat. In his fifties, probably. He’d given Bert a briefcase and a small portmanteau to be left at the cloakroom, and tried arguing they counted as one piece, ‘cause he’d strapped them together. Here he was, striding down from Third Class, waving his yellow cloakroom ticket.
Damn it. Topper wouldn’t stand for it if Bert took up Derby’s ticket ahead of him, and there was that half-crown to think of. But the yellow ticket was a “special”. If Bert didn’t deal with it, things could get tricky. He looked down the platform. Thankfully, all the lads were tied up with other passengers, so Derby had no-one else to turn to. Topper was adjusting his pocket watch off the station clock, and not paying attention, so Bert stepped a few yards back down the platform to meet Derby. ‘Sorry, Sir. I’m just dealing with this gentleman right now, but, if you’ll let me have your ticket, I’ll fetch your bags in just a moment.’ He reached out for the ticket.
What’s so special about that luggage ticket? And will Bert get his half-crown? To find out, and to find out quite how much trouble one little slip of paper can cause for Bert, please sign up for my Readers’ Club. You’ll get the rest of this story (and others), as well as regular Newsletters every six weeks or so sharing some of the things I’m learning as I set out to write this book.
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