Ten-year-old Jack Larkin has seen more than his fair share of shocking sights, growing up in the notorious Crown Saloon.
Broken hearts and broken bones are just a fact of life in a Gin Palace, but for orphan Dolly, the Crown is her last hope.
After the death of her mother, Dolly ran away from her sleazy step father Arthur, only to find herself living on the streets. When Jack discovers her hiding in the back yard of The Crown, he persuades his mother Nellie Larkin, to take Dolly in.
But Dolly has a secret – a very valuable secret – and Arthur is determined to get his clutches on her at any cost. And when local hard-man Ezra Morton joins in the hunt, the Larkins may have to risk everything to keep Dolly safe…
‘Jack Larkin, get yer arse in here NOW!’
‘I ’eard you, I ain’t deaf!’ Ten year old Jack yelled in response to his mother’s call.
‘Don’t you back-chat me my lad or you’ll find yerself out on the street with nowt but the clothes on yer back!’ Nellie Larkin shouted, her hands on her ample hips. A single nod set a grimy mob cap wobbling on prematurely greying hair which could not be contained by its pins. Nellie wore a full apron which, although once white, was now stained and a similar colour to her hair. The dress beneath had also seen better days and the hem at her boots was ragged and worn.
Jack gave her the once over and shook his head. In contrast to his mother he was tall for his age and slat thin which belied his strength. His dark hair was thick and his brown eyes held a constant mischievous twinkle. His old trousers fell short of his boots and the collar and cuffs of his shirt were almost transparent. His jacket was threadbare at the elbows and his muffler was old and dirty. His flat cap, however, was brand spanking new having recently been liberated from a market stall, and Jack wore it with pride.
‘Get on t’other end of that bar and get serving,’ Nellie swung out her fat arm and Jack ducked just in time to avoid it colliding with his head.
Walking to the end of the long wooden counter, Jack surveyed the room. It was packed full of men and women drinking gin – as much as they could pour down their throats. The noise was deafening as some folk argued and others sang loudly. Women screeched with laughter as people came and went through doors which seemed never to be still. There were no chairs or tables, just a mass of bodies lit by the gas light chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The etched plate glass window was obscured from Jack’s view as men pushed forward to be served their half pint of mother’s ruin.
Jack filled a glass from a bottle on the counter and picked up the coins. A row of huge casks stood behind him which were backed by large mirrors reflecting the light back into the room.
Serving another drink, Jack took the money and threw it into the massive black till with the handle on the side.
Feeling Nellie’s eyes on him, he ignored her and continued to fill glasses and take coins. He knew his mother didn’t trust him – she didn’t trust anyone where money was concerned – but he would never steal from her. Thieving outside of family was necessary on occasion, and Jack had no qualms about helping himself to something he needed – like his new cap. After all, Nellie gave him nothing except his food and somewhere to sleep and a bawling out now and then. But all in all, Jack didn’t think it a bad life; there were others in far worse circumstances than his. Some were forced into the workhouse; more were living on the street, so residing in his mother’s gin palace was what could be considered a fairly good existence.
Thank you, Lindsey Hutchinson and Boldwood Books
About the author
Lindsey Hutchinson is a bestselling saga author whose novels include The Workhouse Children. She was born and raised in Wednesbury, and was always destined to follow in the footsteps of her mother, the multi-million selling Meg Hutchinson.
Twitter – @LHutchAuthor
Lindsey’s profile on the Boldwood Books website – https://www.boldwoodbooks.com/contributor/lindsey-hutchinson/