Mudlark by Lara Maiklem

Mudlark by Lara Maiklem

Author:Lara Maiklem
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Liveright
Published: 2019-09-26T16:00:00+00:00

That dark night at London Bridge, as the tide dropped lower and lower, my torch lit up treasures all around me: buttons, coins, buckles, and the fine shards of broken eighteenth-century tea bowls, many hand-painted with delicate flowers; thickets of pins, beads and tiny plain metal studs that would have decorated medieval leather belts and jerkins; more clay pipes than I had ever seen before. It was impossible not to step on them. I collected the longest and winced as others cracked and popped beneath my feet.

Every time I stopped to scrutinise the foreshore there seemed to be something new and different to collect. I found a worn Georgian farthing stuck flat to an old river-slimed post and a blackened wafer-thin Elizabethan penny lying at the bottom of a shallow water-filled dip. My torch reflected off the face of a late sixteenth-century jetton – the thin copper alloy tokens that were imported in bulk from Germany and used as reckoning counters, together with a chequered board to keep accounts. (The government’s accounting department is still known as the exchequer, after these boards.) On one side was an imperial orb and on the other a circular design of crowns and fleur-de-lys with a rose in the middle, and the name of the maker Hans Krauwinckel around the edge. What I like best about jettons though are the words of doom and damnation that also run around the outside. Who could fail to be nudged into contemplation by ANFANG DENKS ENDT (At the Beginning Consider the End), or inspired to tighten the purse strings by reading HEVT RODT MORGEN TODIT (Today Red/Alive, Tomorrow Dead). This one, rather appropriately, read GOTES GABEN SOL MAN LOB (One Should Praise God’s Gifts).

I had already emptied my finds bag into my rucksack twice and was fiddling with its zip when the beam of my torch ran over something interesting: an open-ended oblong box, slightly thinner than a cigarette packet, with two comma-shaped perforations on either side and a scalloped edge. It’s lucky I saw it – one more step in that direction and I would have crushed it. I bent down to pick it up. I could see it was carved from a single piece of what looked like bone or ivory, and something about it looked familiar. It was about the same shape and size as a scabbard chape – the protective fitting from the end of a sword sheath – but I’d only ever seen them in books and museums, and those had been made of metal, never ivory or bone.

I wrapped it carefully in a plastic bag and put it in my rucksack. It was past two o’clock in the morning and the tide was about to turn. I stayed for another hour, by which time I was exhausted and the tide had advanced well up the foreshore. There didn’t seem much point in staying to search what I could easily get to in daylight hours and I reckoned the river had given just about all it was willing to give that night; it was time to catch a cab home.


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