May’s gentle, melancholic smile was lost in advancing shadows. ‘I want, more than anything – ’ But he stopped himself from speaking, and allowed himself to be engulfed in the encroaching darkness.
‘I know what you want,’ said Bryant. ‘I was just thinking of the city in the most recent quarter of its life. All the dark and bloody history that’s being forgotten so quickly out there. London, the site of the Guy Fawkes plot, home of Newgate and Bedlam. The tarred heads of Jacobites on spikes at Temple Bar, the Cato Street conspiracy, the Sidney Street seige, the Gordon Riots and the Lollards. Thomas Blood and the stolen Crown Jewels, the highway robbers John Cottington, Dick Turpin and Moll Cutpurse, John Sayer stabbed in the Mint, Elizabeth Brownrigg torturing her maids, Jack the Ripper, the Krays, Ruth Ellis, Jonathan Wild, Jack Sheppard, the Fenian outrage of 1867, the Dynamite Plot of 1883, the Battle of Stepney, the death of the bomber Bourdin, Charlie Peace, the Mannings, Franz Muller the Railway Murderer, Crippen, Christie and Nilsen, the Tichbourne Claimant, the Smithfield burnings, the crowds at Tyburn Tree, Execution Dock at Wapping, the Ratcliff Highway murders, the Shooter’s Hill executions, the scaffolds and gaols at Southwark, Bridewell, Clerkenwell, Wandsworth, Coldbath Fields, Ludgate, Millbank, Brixton, Holloway, Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Fleet, St. George’s Fields and the floating prison hulks at Woolwich – an overwhelmingly populous timeline of death, desperation and the damned. You want to be here, amongst it all.’
‘Until the very day I die,’ said May, his smile first shy, but slowly broadening.
‘Then we must drink to your continued health,’ said Bryant, raising his glass.
‘And to yours,’ replied May. ‘And to the dark lady who always stands between us. To London.’
They drank and watched in contented silence as an iridescent sun sent shivers of golden light across the water of the Thames, lighting the serpentine channel of the radiant river, opening a path to the heart of the city.
From ‘Ten Second Staircase’