Mr H's Angels Added£1.29
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(A short story of 3075 words)

Mr H's Angels

Historical Fiction Literary

by Jo Reardon

London in the eighteenth century is no place to raise a child alone, without money or a place to live. Lili knows that the only hope her son has of living a better life is to take him to the Foundling Hospital where he might, if he's lucky, find a place in Mr Handel's famous choir.

('Mr H's Angels' was shortlisted for the Cinnamon Short Story Prize in 2014)

Lili is small and the muscle in her arm stretches and aches from carrying the baby all the way across London. He is tied to her waist by a shawl, the fringes of the cambric blending into her dress so that, from a distance, no one can even see that he is there.

She wears her best dress, yellow sprigged muslin with pink roses woven into the linen. An old dress of her mother’s, patched and darned but kept fresh with lavender and rosemary picked from the Physic Garden on a clean dry day. The heat of her body warms the cotton so that she fancies she can smell her mother rising from its creases and folds. She has to catch herself to remember where she is and that her mother has been dead some three years now and is not here to help her. She is only aware of the smell of the baby, milky and sweet, melting into her skin as she hurries through the crowds, down towards the river and on into the shock of the city.

The raised stones in the lane at Chancery make her stumble, jagging the thin leather of her shoes. She puts a hand out to the wall to stop herself from falling but no one even notices, busy as they are – the pedlars and river hawkers, the rouged and hennaed girls with their long and violet silent eyes, minding their own business. She knows this part of the city as well as they; here she can whisk between horses and people like air, skitter across roads and mud, jump away from trouble if she has to. It’s when she goes north and west that she is less certain of herself, where the boundary between river and city leads to fields and pathways that she can no longer recognise, but this is where she has to go. She can’t turn back from her purpose now, not even if she wanted to...

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