One Man's Treasure

One man's treasure. His whole family's curse.


6. 5

The mistress of a thief is what was referred to in Cant as a 'mollisher'.

Desdemona Rosalind Faulkner was technically Ben's mollisher - but she was... different. It was an upside-down world, you see. Girls like that were doomed to spinsterhood, for the simple fact that their fathers were abjectly greedy.
Des was the daughter of a recently-wealthy, middle-class/bordering-on-upper-class businessman - and he refused to hand that carefully-accumulated wealth to some other man when he died, simply because that other man was married to his daughter.
It was thus for Des's father: have a son to continue the business, or leave it to his daughter. At the time, the former had yet to be fulfilled and it was beginning to worry the old man. But we're going off-topic.
Circumstances had a disconcerting, confusing effect on Desdemona - especially as she watched her friends marry-off one by one at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen at most... But alone she sat, in her father's house, withering her way into her mid-twenties.

So how did someone with a name as pompous as Desdemona Rosalind Faulkner, end up with a sketchy character from the Victorian underworld like Benjamin Robertson?

Funny story - he had stolen something from her. A fogle, to be specific.
And, as unwomanly as it might have been, she chased after him for it. Ben got away but he later found out that Des had been severely injured for chasing him through the crowded London streets - a broken leg caused by a collision with a cart-horse.
Run that hard for a handkerchief? It had to mean something to her.
Ben felt bad about it and so returned Des's fogle to her the same night through her bedroom window. They immediately shunned each other. Then they talked. Then they laughed.
And they eventually became friends of a kind.
And now?
Ben didn't know what they were now. Those of his ilk would call her a mollisher all right - because that's what she was to them. Some might even call her a Judy or a dollymop.
But Ben couldn't help but feel as though he was the, well, mollisher in this scenario.
Des would never marry him - her father would die just hearing it - and she didn't really love him: she just found him entertaining or interesting.

Ben shrugged the thought off as he made his way towards the Faulkner estate, crouching behind the wall and observing the hired guards around the area. It didn't matter. It wasn't important. He was dabbing a rich businessman's daughter, and more than just the one time.
How many thieves could say that?
Ben clambered over the stone-wall carefully, and snuck passed the half-snoozing guards as he made his way to the correct face of the house. It was a beautiful estate, with white-brick walls - pretty green vines climbing up them - and a rusty-red tiled roof. He found it and looked around him, checking to see if someone was coming his way, and then began to climb the wall all the way up to Des's window.
He knocked on the glass lightly, hoping that she heard it and that no-one on duty was looking up. The curtain parted, and she smiled brightly at him before pulling open the window and letting him slip in. She was beautiful (far more comely than Anne) but stress gave her look of fatigue. Her eyelids drooped heavily and her smile - though often sincere - was weak. Still, her long auburn hair and large, seductive eyes were enough to draw attention to her. She was wearing an off-white night gown - nothing else. Her calves and feet were bare, as were her forearms. She wire no jewellery and her hair was undone, fanned-out to complement her face.

“Ben!” she said, happily, “It's been a while since last we met.”
Ben accepted her warm embrace, “It has,” he said, kissing her hair, “I'm sorry about that. Lots of nests in London to raid, love.”
Des giggled tunefully and kissed him softly, “By God, you stink! I should have a bath run for you,” she raised a brow suggestively.
Ben hesitated, “Des...”
“Oh, come now,” she said, teasing and pulling at the buttons on his shirt, “Not bashful, are you?”
Ben paused, then took her hands in his, “I need to talk to you,” he said.
There was a moment of silence before Des broke out into hysterics, “Holy Mother of God! You're leaving me, aren't you?” she said holding her face, “I knew this day would come! I knew you'd walk out on me! Who is she, Ben?” she wailed, “Who dares to take you from me? I'll match her, I swear I-”
“Shh!” Ben said, taking her shoulders and holding back laughter, “Christ, Des, I'm not leaving you! Now stop that before you wake your father, your mother and all your other ancestors!”
Desdemona stopped abruptly, “Oh.”
Ben smiled and then rubbed the back of his neck, “I'm just... I came to talk.”
“And then...?”
“We'll see...” he chuckled and then in a more nervous tone, he said, “I'm quite disturbed tonight,” and Des could see it.

She paused thoughtfully and smiled at him with reassurance and sat down on her bed, smoothing out her nightgown. Ben stripped off his jacket, his shoes and his heavy belt, and went up to her - lying down and resting his head on her lap. Des undid the tie in his dark hair and stroked it back gently. Ben closed his eyes contentedly.
Anne was never good at this, he thought to himself.
“What's troubling you, then?” Des asked him.
He paused a moment, allowing himself to sink deeper into her calming euphoria, before speaking the words that made reality a hard thing to live with, “I saw a child die today.”
Des raised a brow, but didn't say anything, waiting for Ben to continue.
“He wouldn't reach my shoulders, tiny as he was,” Ben said, “And so thin and crooked-backed, you could see his bones through his soaked clothes in the rain. Never seen a clean face in the mirror. Never heard his mother sing him to sleep. Never had a decent father to rely on. And I watched him die, Des,” Ben said, “I watched a punisher put a black sack around the boy's tiny head and a then a thick noose around his scrawny neck and then drop him,” he sighed mournfully and shut his eyes tight, “the way he kicked out... Des, that could so easily have been me a few years back. It could have been me today or next Wednesday or the next...” he took a shaky breath, before saying, “Poor tooler - just doing what he needs to, to get a decent morsel in his belly... I'm never going to forget that.”
“It's not on you, Ben,” Des said softly, “There wasn't anything you could have done.”
“I wish I could have. I wish I did.”
“You would have just been strung up like the boy.”
“You don't understand, Des. The way his body just hung there after they'd crapped him, limp and swaying. It was like one minute there was all this colour, all this vigour and energy to him and then... Nothing. Just like that.”
“Did... Did you know him?”
“I might have. I couldn't put a name to the poor chavy's face, but I've probably seen him before. Us thieves, we're family people, brothers to each other...” Ben paused, “And I feel like I betrayed him.”
“What were you doing there anyway?”
“Every Wednesday, there's a hanging. Most of the time there's quite a few. With all people, toolers make a decent keep by picking pockets.”
“You were there to steal?” Des asked, with a slight gasp.
“From people who wanted to entertain themselves by watching other people die,” Ben countered, his face darkening.
“I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to be insensitive...” Des said quickly, “I'm sorry, Ben, for what you had to see. I can't imagine what it's like to see that happen, to feel the way you do.”
“Thank you.”

Des smiled down at him - her neck-line dipping so that he could see her cleavage, “Did you come to see if I could make you feel better, Ben?”
“Is that a challenge?”
Ben sat up and looked at her, “You know it is.”
Des laughed, putting her arms around his shoulders and kissed him. He responded to her, her thin frame materialising beneath her loose gown at his touch. When they let go, she looked into his eyes, “I've missed you, do you know that?”
Ben gave her a look, “You don't mean that, Des.”
Des's face blanched, “Of course I do,” she said.
He didn't believe her and so said nothing.
“You must know I do!” she insisted, hurt by his silence, “Why would you ever think otherwise?”
“Because your a gentleman's daughter, Des!” he said, almost resentfully, “And I'm... I'm the kind of person people want dead.”
“I don't want you dead.”
“Because I'm a nice pass-time.”
Des gasped in disbelief, “How could you say that!”
“I won't hear anymore of this! I love you, Benjamin Robertson. Maybe I didn't at first, but I do now. And don't you dare try to convince yourself that I don't, because I do!”
Ben stared at her for a while, “But... you can't.”
“But I do...” Des said in a softer tone.
Ben shook his head, “We can never be together in this world, Des.”
“We'll make something of it.”
“No. There isn't a way.”
“I'll elope,” Des suggested, “We'll marry.”
“Oh, yes, a sound idea!” Ben laughed sardonically, “You can come live in my den and eat what scraps and pigskins I can bring home!”
“I don't care about any of that. Ben...” Des took his hand, “I mean it. Do not take my affections lightly.”
Ben closed his eyes and shook his head slowly, an ironic smile on his face, “I don't. It's just very, very, very hard to believe.”
“An argument for another time, perhaps?” she asked, leaning closer to him.
“Please,” he replied.
“Now, how about that bath?”
“Oh, we'd need to undress before we get to that.”

They never got to get to it. A sharp knock came at the window and Des yelped and pulled down her gown to hide her knickers before seeing who was there. A spindly child was waiting on the ledge of the open window.
“What is this about?” she asked, cross and flustered, blushing furiously.
Ben got up and put a hand on Des's shoulder, “Heyo, Eric,” he said to the boy.
“Mister Ben,” Eric replied, “Mister Edward told me to come here for you.”
Des looked sharply at Ben, “You're leaving now?”
Ben hesitated, and then looked to Des, “I... I have a meeting to attend. I didn't think the time would fly so fast.”
Des folded her arms and look at him incredulously, “You came here for a quick kip?”
“Well... When you say it like that...”
Des threw her head back in disbelief and derision and turned away.
“Just go, Ben!” Des snapped.
Ben stood there indecisively for a moment, but then rubbed back his hair, took his things and turned to the window - following Eric down the wall and out of the Faulkner's territory.

Ben sighed sadly and then looked at Eric's face, “You a'right, chavy?” he asked, stopping and taking the boy's chin in one hand to look at the small bruises on his face.
“Mister Edward doesn't like being talked back to,” Eric murmured, looking at his feet.
Ben paused, “Bloody pillock's temper'll get him killed one day,” he shook his head, “He'll get a good talking to, Eric, I'll make sure of it. For now, though...” Ben touched the pouch on his belt and took out a few coins and handed them to Eric, “Thank you for coming to get me. Take this and go buy yourself a decent tightener, eh?”
Eric smiled a little, “Thank you, Mister Ben!”
“Take care of yourself, chavy,” Ben said setting off for the don's house.
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