London Mine
Chapter 1
Awkward shopping

'Mr. Panites Offendable Charities' is what the signboard looked to read, but upon closer inspection I saw it read, 'Mr Panthors Old Tables and Chairs'. Not exactly what I was looking for. Ever since I struck a cloud of gas in my mine, my eyes have been none too keen. I needed a canary.

I stood on the porch and tried to look through the dirty windows. The shop was a relic within itself. With the sorry economy of 1728 London, anything that said 'old' was often bought at a good deal. I had just that morning, bargained my way to a handsome pair of boots in the Mendable Kettle Shop over on Wallingsford Way. Since a chair was made of wood, I hoped the shop might have a pick ax or two.

The door to Mr Panthers shop was a rust-crusted beast that took both my hands and a foot to open. It was old oak and the remaining iron coverts were rusting off, leaving an orangish dust on the door-sill. I bent over to brush the rust from my new boots, dismayed to find there was now a thick cut in the kicking toe, where the leather was thinner than a penny.

I closed the door and a corner of it fell off, apparently the home to termites who scattered as I interrupted their meal. The door, looking like it had once been part of a castle, was now not much more a home to pests, who in my estimation who have devoured the door with the coming month. A door that spoke that the proprietor had valuables inside. That assumption would be quickly laid aside as anyone entered the dusty and musty confines of the shop. It amused me to wonder how far the termites had shopped.

There were five rows of head-high book shelves. None contained the usual expectation, them being called book shelves, of any bound parchment wordlings. The cases were full, and in them lay indiscernible objects entangled and piled upon each other.

I chose the center aisle, presuming this the quickest route to the shopkeeper, who I now heard tinkering in the back. It was a tight corridor, and I found myself focusing on the objects on the shelves. I stopped at one which was laden with traps, for mice, rats, cats, and even a useless fly mechanism that relied on the principle that a fly would land on a string above a flame. Most were made from wood but their deadly teeth were of sharpened iron.

The beard, I had been meaning to shave off, got more of a surprise than me. When the knot in it, bound with a string of silver, must have and most certainly did, brush a mechanism in a rat trap and clamped down with fearful force and noise. I took a step back, where upon my back encountered a stabbing feeling. Something not a stranger to me. I turned, the rat-trap still married to my beard and saw the dangerous end of a broken sword poking from the shelf and now me. I reached back and thankfully my hand revealed no blood had been drawn.

So far, I assumed in my thrashing to and fro, that I was the only witness to my spectacle. But no such luck was coming. In three's they say. I was somewhat relieved that the third was facing me, a smile on her lips, mannerly containing a laugh which was obviously trying to escape the lips of the prettiest girl I had seen in some time. Now I felt more than silly standing before her, caught in the trap. I reached down and tried to impart it from my locks. It had ensnared itself in my hair and somehow entangled around my silver chain.

Unabashed and without hesitation, she approached me and reached out to help relieve me from my snare. She stood within a breaths stance. This was as close as I had been to a woman since my dear mother died. And then, the only touch was through a pair of gloves the Barber made me wear. He saying, he suspected the plague or some such nonsense. But I knew it was form bad air in the mine underneath our house. I could not tell him of my suspected diagnoses for fear our mining enterprise would be brought to light. Unfortunately she died and my last remembrance of her was a cold hug through thick gloves.

This girls was only inches away and tugging gently almost playfully on my beard as if she enjoyed it. I could smell her and feel her warmth which was creating more than a bit of me down below.

“Please be careful with the chain. There is much of my history locked in it.” Hoping my breath had rid itself of a stale breakfast.

“I would love to hear about it sometime.” She smiled and looked into my eyes like she wanted me.

“I am Adam.” I felt introductions were in order.

She ignored that. As she worked my beard trying to untangle the mess, I stared into her eyes, she not once looking into mine. Her eyes were Scandinavian blue and her hair was Viking blonde and her lips looked like a perfect fit for mine.

I took a deep breath and was enchanted if not consumed by her aroma. Thistle tea I speculated. A good wash for the morning mouth after a good rubbing by an oak twig. The same as I.

“Peppermint.” She said. I not fathoming the reason.

“Oh, I stupidly acknowledged. “Your breath is of peppermint.” My blood was warming and I felt things stir.

She suddenly took a step back, pushing me away. Me, fearful she was aware of my arousal, but then my ears caught up to the moment as I heard the ancient floor behind me squeak.

“Father. This man has become caught in one of your traps.”

He looked past me to her and said, “Your...trap. As always.”

Ah things too good to be true. I was not the first she had come close, in the tight shop.

The father, a bent frame of a man, his spectacles perched so far on the end of his nose, combined with his forward leaning disposition, it was amazing they did not fall off. He turned them on me. Looked me up and down, no smile of welcome apparent. He reached up and gave the trap a pull to no avail save for bringing a wince and a grunt from me. I, missing the soft hands of my previous rescuer.

“You fond of the beard?” He asked.

“Not particularity, meant to shave this morning. Wish I had.” Not really meaning it now, for the girls nursing had me in a lustful state, which was rapidly retiring because of the closeness of her father, who picked up the broken sword on the shelf next to us, that had already had a stab at me and said. “Hold the bottom part of your beard tight.”

I did as ordered and though the sword was broken he slashed as swiftly and cleanly as if it was not his first time. I nodded at him, smiling and holding the trap and six inches of my beard.

He was looking at the sword, waving it about as if were whole, obviously proud of his swordsmanship. “HMS Halifax, 1723. Only served one year on account of the scurvy. But I was a fair swordsman for a gunners mate.”

“So traps and daughter aside. How may I help you?” He asked. His smile growing now that there might be profit to be made.

“I am in need of some mining equipment.” I realized I still held the trap and my hair in my hand so I carefully removed the chain, took the hair, and seeing he was not going to offer a place for me to throw it, I stuffed it in my coat pocket.

“Here give that to me.” He nodded at my pocket.

It was strange having the ball of hair to him. It felt too familiar, whereas with his daughter, it was a closeness I could spend the day with. Unfortunately, I had just read a journal about a Suffolk witch who made dolls from human hair and claimed to have powers over the benefactor.

“Have your read Suriah's Journal?” I asked.

“Never heard of it. Don't read anymore. All trash.”

I hoped he was right. But nonetheless I was relieved.

“Rats?” He smiled.

“Sorry?”

“Lots of rats in mines, I hear.”

He seemed too old to have a daughter of about eighteen, who had disappeared during the one- sided sword play.

“Oh, no. I haven't seen any, so my run-in with traps is hopefully done. I need digging tools. Pick axes, shovels, hammers, carnies and the such.”
“Canaries? For the rats?”

The old man was either playing with me, or had a loose screw. He patted about his well-worn and stained leather apron until he found a pocket and withdrew a pair of gloves. He put them on, nudged me aside in the thin isle and headed to the back of the shop. “Follow me.” he ordered.

We soon came to the rear of the store, the daughter, sadly nowhere in sight. Along the back wall were barrows and an assortment of weathered tools.

I picked out a pick, a sledge hammer, a couple of crow bars, some leather knee pads. “No canaries?” I somewhat joked.

Then was surprised when he replied. “Yes.”

“My niece has a few. Pets you see. Be like trying to pry a mother from her babies though.”

He looked me over and I saw he noticed my new boots. “But everything has its price.”

“I thought she was your daughter?”

“Maybe. Got six of them around. Gets mixed up sometimes. What's it to you anyhow?”

He looked at my growing pile of purchases and showed his greedy smile.

“So, would she sell them?”

“They're her pets. Not for sale.” Then his attention fixed on the purse that I pulled from coat, fat with coin. “How much you offering? I could take it up with her.”

“What do canaries normally go for?” I asked.

He thought a while. “A lot I hear. Since I assume you'll be using them to save your life.”