Treasures from an Earthen Pot
Horace Smythe lowered the pot carefully into the straw-lined wooden case. Sammy, tired from his day’s work as a messenger in Smythe’s factory, watched him miserably from across the cold, dark packing room. He saw a pot which looked quite different from any he’d seen before. It was about ten inches high and a foot in diameter, a glossy mottled brown colour with four sturdy handles equally spaced around it. Sammy couldn’t read but he could tell there were letters written near the top.
Horace Smythe was unaware of the two other figures watching him. Mary, from her wet and uncomfortable position in the alley outside the packing room, saw a pot that would save her family. She in, turn was unaware of a tall figure in a black coat and hat standing just a few yards away at the end of the alley. Smythe closed the lid of the case and wrote some words on its label.
“Take this to the boat Enterprise at South Wharf . Be as quick as you can and don’t drop it,” he said to Sammy. “You’ll get your money tomorrow.”
Hugging the heavy case to his bony chest Sammy set off running as fast as possible for a ten year old boy with bare feet. He was very careful: he couldn’t afford to drop it for they needed the money at home. He reached the wharf in ten minutes, but Mary had reached it first.
The wind blew in gusts down the alley between the warehouses belonging to Gorse Bank Pottery taking with it old newspapers and anything light enough to follow its mad game. Above the sound of rain running from the roofs could be heard the slapping of water from the canal wharf at the centre of a maze of alleys. A motley collection of buildings surrounded the wharf: tall brick warehouses; mean wooden sheds and a profusion of bottle kilns, their convex curves dwarfing architecture and humanity alike while they spewed out smuts and smoke which covered everything in a layer of black soot. In daylight hours the wharf, a large basin of water separated from the main canal by a low arched bridge, bustled with activity, but now the darkness of a late November evening was punctured only by the tiniest strips of light from the cabins of the moored boats, and it was difficult to imagine any human presence there. Cobbles gleamed wetly, and the wind and rain stirred the sluggish brown water whose rank smell mingled with the odour of soot and baked clay from the kilns.
Desperation made Mary courageous as she shivered in the shadows near the boat Enterprise. She saw Sammy arrive and knock on the door of the cabin. While she watched a woman emerged, took the case from him and placed it under the canvas sheet which covered the hold of the boat. When she was sure that Sammy had gone and that the boatwoman was safely back inside her cabin Mary moved silently across the cobbles, lifted the canvas, took the pot
from the case and turned to creep away. She didn’t see the bollard. In seconds, she had tripped, dropped the pot and as she hit her head on the ground she saw her family’s salvation in ruins. Somehow she stumbled to her feet and staggered despairingly towards the steps at the end of the wharf.
A tall, ghostly figure appeared out of the darkness and hurried after her, but suddenly stopped and turned away quickly melting back into the shadows.
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