A New Gin Frontier

Naught Quite the Truth, Chapter 3

If you haven’t yet read the other chapters, please start here – Chapter 1.

Far, far away…

A majestic sailboat slowly entered the River Thames and Abigail stood on the ship’s deck transfixed at the sprawling city before her. The boat was set to dock at the Port of London, one of the busiest ports for trade and growth in all of Europe. A sense of excitement and fear rippled through Abigail’s body, with an underlying sense of sadness she couldn’t yet shake.

After José’s birth, Abigail was taken by an overwhelming sense of sadness. During a time she thought would be her happiest, Abigail was gripped by darkness. Her mother should have been there, holding Abigail’s hand and her baby nieto, but she wasn’t. And Pedro’s long absence only worsened the feelings beginning to engulf her.

Without her mother and lover, Abigail felt adrift. She looked into the face of her child and saw a lifetime of responsibility and sacrifice, something she wasn’t yet able to face. Abigail knew her father, José Martín, would be better equipped to raise her son in their beautiful home town of Ronda. And so she fled.

© Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas' Woman At The Window. © Edgar Degas, The Courtauld Gallery, London

London was one the world’s most enterprising, diverse and vibrant cities fuelled by coffee houses, newspapers, literature and a new world way of thinking. In London, Abigail could become lost. She could disappear among the city’s 750,000 men, women and children. She could start again.

Interrupted by the sudden sound of the boat’s horn, Abigail’s thoughts quickly dissipated and she was alerted to her new reality in front of her. Pulling into the port, the ship’s seaman scurried around the deck at a rapid pace. The port itself seemed a bustling metropolis. There were hundreds of moored boats in the river and everywhere she looked men were hard-at-work unloading cargo of varying sizes.

Abigail made her way onto the wharf immensely crowded and overburdened with cargo, Abigail had to push her way through. Still, the melting pot of people, produce and cultures was a far cry from her home in Ronda. She could see little children running through the crowd, swiftly and cleverly picking the pockets of unwitting passersby.

Suddenly, like a swift blow, she was reminded of her own son José. Would he grow to look like her? Would she ever see him again? Abigail swallowed a churching feeling inside and refocused on the situation at hand.

With very few possessions to her name, Abigail needed to find work. She’d been told by some passengers on board Oxford market was one of the few places a woman could work, unless she was prepared to do domestic chores, . Abigail approached a middle-aged merchant woman, who was unloading crates of Indian Tonic Water onto the dock:   ‘Perdon how might I find the Oxford Market?’.

Aye Spanish are ye? Si ye’ll need to get yerself to Soho, but that’s for the likes of the upper class love, not fer the likes of us. An omnibus will get ye there,’ said the woman.

Gracias! And would you mind if I purchased a bottle of your tonic water?’ exclaimed Abigail.

The woman directed Abigail toward the omnibus and generously gave her a bottle of tonic as a gift for her journey.

The streets were filled with people, horses and carriages. The scene was wet with mud, with numerous downcast men and women siting in the streets begging. She noticed many people seemed to be swigging some kind of liquid from clay bottles in the street, but wasn’t sure what it was.

The horse drawn omnibus was packed with other patrons but from the top deck she had the perfect view of the passing city. Arriving at the market, Abigail was a woman on a mission. She would find a  merchant and persuade them to hire her.

The market was one of London’s oldest. Abigail was filled with trepidation at her plan, what if she failed? Inside the covered market, stallholders were crammed cheek by jowl selling sugar, spices, ginger, tobacco and a myriad of other items. And then she saw it. Amongst the pineapples, potatoes, lemons and other vegetables sat a basket of the most bonito oranges!

The merchant behind the stand was a woman of Abigail’s age, who had a kind smile beneath a face of deep set wrinkles that had no-doubt been brought on from hard-living.

‘Hola, may I speak with you a minuto,’ said Abigail.

The woman was kind to Abigail, agreeing to let her start the following day on a trial. Abigail couldn’t believe her luck! The magic of Seville oranges and gin had brought Pedro to her, and now Seville oranges had helped her to find her first ever job.

Her heart ached when she thought of Pedro and her bebé back in Spain. She knew Pedro would eventually find out about their son and when he did he would finally have to choose between their son, and his wife, Madrid and his obsession with his life as a matador.

But something about the beautiful magnífica fruit Pedro had given her, had brought her good fortune again. It made her think what other fortunes would the Seville orange bring to her?

Abigail made her way back to East London, where she planned to reside, feeling a quiet sense of accomplishment.

To be continued….