arts / Fagin Returns / writing

A new chapter to Fagin Returns

I realised, when re-reading Oliver Twist, that I did not have any strong equivalent to Nancy in my sequel to Dickens’ original story, so I decided to promote Sarah Thweedle, daughter of Fagin’s landlady by Tilbury docks, to a stronger female role.

This morning, I baptised my new laptop by writing a new chapter to the story, in which I sketched in the beginnings of a romance between this kitchen-maid and Fagin’s black manservant.

(This is the first draft, completed just a minute ago.)

Chapter 5: In which we eavesdrop on the dreams of a kitchen maid

Miss Sarah Thweedle paused at her kitchen chores, not so much as to think as to dream. For hadn’t she been told so many a time that she hadn’t the intelligence for thought, that she was born stupid, would never come to anything in this world, unless she bucked her ideas up. And stopped forever dreaming.

Well, no one could stop her dreaming, so she paused, looked into the middle distance as if the dirt-begrimed window didn’t obscure the view of passing feet in the street above her mother’s basement kitchen, thinking of the fine young man in the rooms several floors above, wondering if he, like her, was busy with his chores.

He was strange to her, not so much because of the colour of his skin, for she had seen lascars down in dockland, not quite so dark-skinned as he to be sure, but of a different tinge. Theirs was a sort of dirty grey colour, while he was magnificently black.

Black? That description did not do justice to the many faceted undertones of his colour. There were hints of ivory, deeper than the keys of the mechanical piano in the local taverns, where she’d sometimes must go to get her ma a jug of porter, even white, white as the flash of his strong, pearly teeth. She shook her head with irritation, for she hadn’t the talent to put her thoughts into words.

He’d looked so fine, in that frock-coat, fitting closely round his chest, not gaudy like the silks and satins of his master and the old Jew’s associate, put into the shade by the dark magnificence of his strong-boned face.

But a frock-coat, even though he carried it will enough, was not his natural habiliment. Of that she could be sure.

She could see him in her mind’s eye, back home in what she imagined would be some Afric land, a feathered headdress surmounting his dark curls, the muscles of his naked chest glistening under the tropic sun, a spear or some symbol of chieftainship in his hand – for she could not conceive of his being anything less than a native chief, perhaps even a chief of chiefs, before being carried away into slavery.

She blessed whoever had freed him from that entrapment, whether it be the Jew, or the preachers at the mission school who had taught him to speak his words more clearly and correctly than any native Englishman.

And his voice! A deep basso profundo that resonated in her very bosom, like the rumblings of distance thunder on a hot summer’s morning, promising soothing rain in its train.

She could not pronounce his name, so she could not even whisper it as she resumed her scrubbing of the dirty pans. Mister Dawkins called him Jimbo, but that did not respect his status in her heart. James was too English. Perhaps she might name him Solomon in her heart. Yes, Solomon, for he radiated wisdom in his speech, though to be truthful she had only heard a few sentences fall from his lips.

She did not dare to name what she was feeling about this exotic interloper into her dreams. Love? She knew naught of love, save when her mother raised her cracked, whining voice after she’d been at the gin, singing “Come into the garden, Maud”. The poet laureate’s words sang of nothing real to her.

She had never even seen a garden, nor knew anyone called Maud, strange name that it was for any woman in the world beyond a romantic male’s imaginings.

She was not innocent of the physicality of love, as she had wended her way between the painted hussies in docklands on her mother’s errands. She knew little of what passed between them and the sailors home from sea, and chose not even to try to imagine it. But if that was love, then it would not sully her thoughts.

Her mother’s voice broke into her reverie.

“Ain’t you done with them pots, yer baggage? There’s still the doorstep to scrub and blacken.”

And as she took the blacking from the cupboard, she thought once again of her beloved’s skin colour, and how it was far richer than any other blackness she had ever seen, or could ever imagine.

Aa Acrobat PDF version of the story so far (without this new chapter) may be seen at


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