Four months until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.
They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’
And you can read more about Skin Like Silver, of course.
I try. But as God sees, at times it feel like an uphill battle to fight against sin.
Patrick Martin sat back and looked at his words in his diary. An admission of weakness, he thought. But the week had been long and seemed fruitless. He’d given out Bibles, stopped to pray and talking with some of the families around Quarry Hill. He’d done some good, held a woman’s hand into the night as the Lord took her, given a little to a couple to buy food for their daughter. Prayed with some, read verses from the Testament to others. But so many more paid no mind to religion, to their souls, to right or wrong.
A tap on the door roused him from his thoughts.
‘Your supper’s on the table, Mr. Martin.’
‘I’ll be there in a minute, Mrs. Townes.’ He stood and studied himself in the mirror. Hair thinning, a thin mouth, not the face of a man who took life lightly.
He’d been a serious child, drawn to religion but never a man for the cloth. Working for the Leeds Town Mission suited him to the ground. Not to proselytize but to evangelize. That was the motto; that was his creed. To be the agent, to visit again and again, to hope for that open door in the heart.
One all too often slammed as he approached.
He knew he was a prim man, not one to bend with the wind or changing tastes. But what kind of example would he be without steel in his spine? How could he tolerate the girls who made their livings as prostitutes instead of honest labour, or the ones who had their children out of wedlock? The Scriptures made their points on these, and he quoted them, although he tried to be gentle.
He’d looked at girls when he was young, even lusted, although he couldn’t have given it a name then. Always the free thinkers, the ones with gaiety in their eyes. Now, though, he had his calling. Maybe a wife sometime, if he ever found someone Godly.
But Leeds was becoming overrun with socialists and suffragists. Women who thought themselves the equal of men, when the truth was that they needed a man to guide them, to lead them to responsibility.
His notebook lay on the desk. He opened it and leafed through the first few pages to the report he’d made for his superintendent after the first half year he’d worked in Quarry Hill.
The prevailing vices are these – adultery, fornication, drunkenness, swearing and gossiping. Since I came to the district, eleven children have died of burning; and to me it is no wonder, when I find so many houses left with the children, and the mothers ‘throng’ gossiping with their neighbours, The Lord’s Day is awfully profaned – washing, baking, and sleeping in the afternoon, and in the evening, drinking…
And so little had changed. Each day he attempted to make some difference, to affect a life, to bring someone closer to God, to help someone see the Lord, to put a little light in them. Just that afternoon he’d called at one house to see a woman who lived with her daughter.
‘I’ve called to see your mother. How is the old woman?’
‘My mother is in hell,’ she answered, giving the sharp edge of her tongue, ‘where you will be shortly; begone, you bloody Methodist, or I’ll let my dog at you.’
What could he do but walk away, finding consolation in the Scriptures: I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee. Speak my word and be not afraid.
Patrick Martin closed the book. In the mirror he straightened his tie and the wings on his collar before smoothing down his hair. Saturday evening. Mrs. Townes would have a pork pie for his supper.