This Friday for Open Pen, we have a piece from Bethia who is open to any critique so long as we are honest 😉
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to comment on this piece! Even short, simple comments are very helpful. So please do not feel obliged to give a long, comprehensive critique.
Open Pen is a critique opportunity on this blog. It is specifically meant for teenage writers who want feedback from their peers, but anyone is welcome to submit. If you are interested in submitting or learning more about Open Pen, you can on the Open Pen page.
The Lark (Part 1) by Bethia
This is my story, though you may hear it told differently by those who only know bits and pieces of it. I am a misunderstood man. Much of my later life is obscured to the public eye by shadows, and though this is all very well for the public, it is not good for you, my child, for every child should know the true story of his own father. Let this letter be the light to dispel the shadows.
Much of my early life is well known. It is known that I was born on January 1, 1699 to a poor couple in the lower parts of London, that I became apprenticed to the local smithy when I was ten, and that I became a full smith on my twenty-first birthday. It was known to the clients of the forge that I preferred the detail work with silver and gold over the rougher work with iron. I had relatively good manners, and could read a very little bit. I also worked a little bit with mathematics. It was shortly after my twenty-first birthday that my life was lost in shadow.
I lived in a place where the men around me were dirty, dingy, poor, and, well, common. They lived in those dark, dirty, crowded houses, which you can still see as they stand where they have stood for as long as I can recall, a silent testimony to the wretched state in which the common Englishman lived. Thieves, murderers, and their victims lived together on the same street. Crime abounded, bribes exchanged hands, and even when there were honest men hunting criminals down, men who should have been stopped disappeared down a thousand dark alleys and on hundreds of rooftops. There was a time when a decent man could not walk down the street by himself without being robbed or attacked. By 1720, however, this had changed. Thieves would run away from footsteps instead of towards them, and I wondered greatly at the reason. It was not long before I learned.
As I was walking to the forge, for my own poor abode was but a short walk from it, I overheard a conversation between some gossips. They were speaking of a robbery on the greater bank of the Thames, and though at first I barely listened, my casual ear caught the words, “the Lark”. “What did it mean?” I asked myself, and soon I heard the answer. It seems that a well-to-do merchant had been robbed the night before, but he hadn’t lost a single shilling. By the time the merchant had freed himself from his bonds, he found all of his recovered goods on his doorstep. This was not the first of these strange occurrences, apparently. Many of the other gossips standing around shared other such stories, and some even mentioned a cloaked, shadowy form with the silhouette of a bow and sword by its side retreating from the scene of the crime. Some asked if maybe this form was the thief, but others countered these assertions by further claiming that the form had been seen in the act of returning the goods. All referred to this giver by the name of the Lark.
At first I thought of this as mere gossip, but then I began to hear such conversations everywhere, even among those who did not usually gossip. These conversations continued for over a month.
One night I went to the Blue Boar, a tavern near the forge. I stood in a corner to listen to the news that could usually be heard around the place, as I did not usually drink, and it was not long before I heard yet another conversation about the Lark, but this one was different from the others. Whereas the majority of the others had either praised or at least been tolerant of the Lark’s work, this group was slandering the Lark’s name and questioning its motives. The leader of this group was a large man, one whom I had heard called the “Thief-taker General of Great Britain and Ireland”, and he seemed to be a favorite amoung the majority of the honest citizens of London, a fact I have had later cause to remember. In his hand he held a short silver stick, as if he were nobility of some kind. At the current moment, his eyes were wild with drink and his speech was slightly slurred. His name was Jonathan Wild.
At first I sat quietly listening, until I could take it no more. I stood up to leave, but right then Wild said, “Ptah! If that Lark character wanted to do some real good in this city, he’d actually turn those criminals in once in a while. It is against the law for a good citizen who has done nothing wrong to not do so. I bet he is either some kind of monster, or he is a well known criminal himself who ought to be killed on sight. I think we ought to go and find out, men! Bring him to justice!” The drunk men rose at this with a cheer as if they were one body and started grabbing chairs and smashing them on tables to make clubs. The tavern keeper could only stare in astonishment at the scene unfolding.
I am a fair man, or at least I like to think so, but that man was voicing his opinions too strongly. His speech, short as it was, was intended to rile the mob to action against the Lark. As though he was invoking the mob to advance on one of London’s most watchful citizens and bring him out into unwanted publicity for their own amusement or revenge. Yes, the Lark was technically doing something illegal, but was he doing something immoral? Was letting criminals go after they were stopped wrong? Was it not a form of mercy? No one had talked to the Lark and heard what he had to say. This had to be stopped.
“But why me?” I asked myself. I was not the man who would stand up to a mob and tell them to desist from their destructive behavior. “Why is no one else lifting a finger to stop them?” I practically screamed the question in my head. Then I noticed that I was probably the only one in the tavern besides the timid old tavern keeper who was sober enough to be able to stop them. I would have to be the one. Perhaps God had put me here at this time so that I could gain courage. So I tried to be brave.
“Men! Men!” I shouted as loud as I could muster in order to be heard over the din that had arisen. It took a few tries, but finally they settled down enough to listen to me. “Men, why are you set against the Lark? To most of the city he is a hero.”
Wild slowly walked up to me and stared me down, then he just guffawed in my face, the men following suit. His breath stank. “It’s the tiny smith!” He roared.
He was right. Even though I had been working at the smithy for over eleven years, my frame was still slight and thin. This was probably due to the fact that I did the detail work, which, though it had caused the others smiths to mock me, I still loved to do.
My heart beat as though it would burst out of my chest. For a moment, I thought it would explode and I would die right there of fright. I held my ground, however, despite the hopeless odds in the case of a fight, and stared back at him with a determined scowl. When the chortles had died down, I said, my face giving no lie to my words, “I will stop you if you dare to destroy another stick of wood that you may declare war on the Lark. He is not an enemy to this town; he is a blessing. I will not let you torment him.”
Wild just stared at me at first as though I were mad, which I suppose I was, but then he turned to face his companions. I saw them grin at him and a few of them nodded, and then he whipped around and hit me in the stomach with his silver stick. It caught me somewhat by surprise, but I only groaned and stood still, though not quite as tall as before. Seeing that I did not back down, he was prepared to give me another blow when the tavern keeper stepped in.
“Mr. Wild, sir,” he said, nervously wringing his hands as he faced the tall man before him, “the lad is merely concerned for your welfare, as well as the protection of my property. Let him be. You have given him enough to think about. He’ll not cross you again, will you lad?” Old Mr. Davian looked so scared I did not have the heart to deny it, especially as I was not so sure that I would ever see Mr. Wild again, so I shook my head.
Wild looked satisfied, but he still bent down and whispered in my ear, “You better not, or I’ll make sure you don’t next time.”
The tavern keeper came up to me after they had all left and thanked me enthusiastically for my assistance. But he also gave me a serious warning. “Wild is a dangerous man, Mr. Rainier. A very dangerous and powerful man. you will be a needin’ to keep a careful eye out for him now. He’ll not let this go.”
I thanked him with a thoughtful nod. Though my countenance was calm, my thoughts were in turmoil. Had I done the right thing? Was I right in standing up for the Lark, or should I left the subject well alone? No. I should have done what I did, for they were not just making war on the Lark, but were hurting the welfare of an elderly gentlemen who had done nothing wrong, unless selling too much drink to a prestigious and powerful man is wrong, which some may argue is true.
As I started to leave the tavern, I saw for a brief second the silhouette of a cloaked figure in the window. When I blinked, questioning whether I had actually seen it there, it had disappeared.