|Image by Lisa Humes|
The antique bell over the door jangled and the madame looked up. A tall man in an astrakhan coat looked over his shoulder and slipped into the shop. He walked up the central aisle of the shop, casting glances either side. Madame Duval didn't think he was interested in her collection of esoterica. No, she knew a furtive expression when she saw one.
"Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to my Emporium. Do you require any help?" she asked. She fluffed up her mass of unruly red curls and straightened her green robe.
"Do you, um, are you, er, have you been busy today?" asked the man. He stopped in front of the counter, but stayed several feet away. His fear of the occult clung to him like an objectionable smell.
"I have made several small sales, yes, although as you can see, at present you are the only customer," replied the madame. She hopped up onto the stool behind the ancient brass cash register.
"Ah, I see. Capital, capital," said the man. A small section of his moustache had come away, revealing the small patch of glue beneath. Madame Duval guessed the black hair beneath the top hat was not his, either.
"May I show you anything? Do you have something particular in mind?"
"I, er, I heard that you're the person to come to for unusual items."
"Indeed, my shop is the only place to buy these items," said Madame Duval. She gestured to the display case behind the man. He looked at the beautifully illustrated tarot card decks and shuddered.
"It's not something like that I'm after. No, what I need is probably more of an...under the counter item."
"And this is not something you can purchase from the apothecary?"
The man shook his head. Madame Duval suppressed a smile.
"Sir, it is a crying shame that you cannot purchase said items from a reputable trader," she said. She placed heavy emphasis on the word 'crying'. The man's face lit up.
"Exactly! Exactly! So, er, do you have any?"
"I do indeed. Do you have anything particular in mind?"
"Whatever's the most popular will be fine."
Madame Duval slid off the stool and removed a small panel from the floor. She lifted a wooden box from the hollowed out space and placed it on the counter. Ten glass vials of different colours lay nestled on black velvet inside the box. The man's eyes roved across the bottles.
"How much is that one?" he asked. He pointed to the lavender vial.
"That one is £10, four shillings and tuppence."
"That's ridiculous! I can't afford that!" Horror and indignation burned in the man's grey eyes.
"How about the green one? It is only £4 and seven shillings."
"And the pink one?"
"£3 and two shillings, sir."
"I'll take that one." The man fumbled in his pocket for money. Madame Duval removed the small pink vial from the box and wrapped it in tissue paper. He handed her the money.
"Now, remember, sir. Falsifying tears is a grave offence. Six years in the workhouse, last time I checked. If anyone catches you, you did not get these from me," said Madame Duval. She handed him the package.
"Don't worry, no one will know. I only need them for tomorrow. It's my wife's funeral, and, well, we weren't exactly happy, but I need to look upset or her family will never let me inherit anything," said the man.
"I do not need to know particulars, sir. All you must do is put two drops in each eye approximately ten minutes before you need to cry, and no one will know they are not your tears."
"Only two drops per eye?"
"These tinctures are incredibly potent, sir. I would not wish to bore you with the technical details."
"Oh...well, thank you very much. Good day, Madame."
The man shuffled out of the shop and hurried away down the street. Madame Duval returned the box to its hiding place beneath the floor and ducked through the velvet curtain behind the counter.
Madame Duval followed the narrow corridor around a tight bend. She turned up the gaslight at the top of the crooked staircase and stepped down into the gloom.
The stairs took her into a low room with a vaulted ceiling. Light flickered in glass orbs set at intervals along the central rib. A wooden rack filled with test tubes and glass flasks took up the far wall. A stout woman worked a foot pump beside a small distillery in the centre of the room.
“How does the distillation go, Amarine?” asked the madame.
“Well, it goes very well. I shall have another bottle of our finest Blue ready by the time you close this evening,” replied the woman.
“Good, good. I shall also need another bottle of Pink.”
“Consider it done, Madame.”
Madame Duval nodded and headed back up the staircase to the Emporium. Amarine turned a dial on the distillery control panel and left her seat. She waddled along the room to an iron door set into the far wall. It swung open with a protesting squeal. Pale light fell into a narrow chamber, dancing across rusty bars and scared faces. Amarine reached for the padlock of the first cage.
“Come on, Number Eight. Your turn to cry.”
* * *
A note on money
I used a currency converter to work out the money. £3 and two shillings would be worth approximately £150. £4 and seven shillings would be £210, and £10 and four shillings would be approximately £493.