Paternoster Tales: Chapter 15

A child catcher

Two things happened when Agatha’s mother screamed.

First, everyone and everything on Paternoster Square froze. And second, what had been invisible suddenly became starkly, glaringly, point-at-it-and-judge-it visible.

It was as though two switches had been flicked, simultaneously. The first dimmed slowly as though on a timer, as heads turned to glare at the only other child in the square and the disheveled tramp talking to him. The second lit up the tramp brighter than an interrogator’s lamp.

People started to shout and run. Hands grabbed at Harry and pulled him away. His father was found and the boy pushed into his arms.

A paper page ripped. Rough hands dragged Patrick to his feet and he stood unsteady in the centre of a gathering crowd. He was their child catcher. More fragile than they had imagined. Swaying like the broken branch of a tall tree, waiting at any moment to crash to the ground and splinter apart into the instantly forgotten remnants of a forgotten life. Fingers prodded at his coat and pockets. The contents of his satchel were spilled on the ground. And his sketches of faces and buildings and children held up for all to see. They only saw the drawings of the children. A police-woman arrived on a bicycle and held patrick’s arm until a car arrived to take him away.

Not speaking to anyone for months had robbed Patrick of the words he needed to protest. As he shuffled away, a broken puppet between to burly heavily armed police puppet masters, he stopped briefly and turned. His eyes found his dog’s and he told him to “Stay.”

Thus a terrible injustice was observed by Paternoster. And he made his first move to correct it. The judge – remember him? – had been crossing the Square and would have missed the tableau had a puff of wind not blown a sheet off the top of the pile of papers he had been carrying.

Paternoster’s second move came later. But first, he sent us out to hunt for Agatha.

And he told me to visit Silas.

Silas. The reason I choose not to dwell on my past.

Silas. Why did it have to be me?

“Because you know the tunnels. You know where to find him,” replied Paternoster.

Silas …

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