I feel that so much more than just seven days have passed since I landed in Southampton. Although, what happened there is still very clear in my mind.

We made port around 3pm that day and, after a less than formal farewell from the Captain and his crew, I took stock of my meagre possessions and the pitiful contents of my pocket book. As soon as my feet were on dry land I knew my best course of action was to find the nearest pawn broker.Perhaps it was the effects of that freezing cold December afternoon or just his natural demeanour but he was less than charitable and my only option of securing the funds for my journey home was to say goodbye to my fathers pocket watch. It was the only thing I had of worth save for the necklace I kept hidden, and I would not risk loosing that. That watch had been with me through thick and thin. I am not ashamed to say I had formed a rather sentimental bond with it, but needs must.

Somewhat heavy hearted I set foot towards the train station. I arrived at the ticket office only to be confronted by another equally stone faced man, obviously tired with his lot in life and eager to make others likewise. Our negotiations over the cost of a ticket for the last train of the day were getting rather heated when a blasted little urchin up and snatched my pocket book from my very hand and, before I could reach his ear, made off through the crowds with it. He moved through the throng like a slippery eel and, with my kit bag over my shoulder, I made after him as best I could.

I chased the little runt all over town, through alley ways and busy market squares. I would loose sight of him and think all was lost only to catch a glimpse from the corner of my eye and set flight after him again. As we reached the park he doubled back and set off into town once more before I could get a hand to him.

Somewhat out of breath and feeling the full weight of my bag, I rounded the corner into Bove-barre Street but the boy was nowhere to be seen. So many alleys and doorways led in so many different directions that I knew it would be hopeless to continue my pursuit.  I could feel the rage as it welled up and my anger seemed fit to consume me when, To my surprise, several yards ahead of me I saw my pocket book lying in the middle of the pavement. For some reason suspicion was the first thing that came to me and, cautiously, I made my way over and stooped to pick it up.

No hand came to steal it from my grasp or to fall on my shoulder and so I opened it to inspect the damage when, surprise upon surprise, I found its contents intact. Had he dropped it before having chance to clean it out? Had he thought his flight futile under my dogged determination? Unlikely but I fear I will never know.

Bolstered by the return of what little wealth I had my thoughts returned to the train that, after my guided tour of Southampton, I had surely missed. My only option, to find somewhere to spend the night before setting off once again in the morning. I was about to ask a passing gent where I might find the nearest boarding house when I realised I was standing right outside one. It appeared more than a little run down but, with what little money I had, I thought it probably within my means and so I decided to try my luck.

It was as I mounted the stairs and made to open the door however, that a reflection in the glass caught my eye. Using my foot to prop open the door I made the pretence of counting the contents of my wallet once more in an attempt to take a closer look.

The reflection I saw was not that of the little thief but of a man. A man that, now I brought it to mind, I had seen several times on my way around this little town and now he stood in an alley across the street watching me.

The sky was beginning to bruise as the winters night fell in and although his face was shrouded he made little other attempt to conceal himself. He had a strange look about him as he stood with his arms and ankles crossed and leaning with his shoulder to the wall. His cloth was wealthy but well worn. Not dirty like a street sleeper but lived in. He bore the fashions of many countries which made it difficult to make a guess as to his place of birth. It was fair to say though, that amongst the people of Southampton, he stood out a little.

Having decided I could discern little more from his reflection I made my way inside hoping that the next face I met would be a little friendlier. Friendlier may have been the wrong term, the boy at the desk was outright nervous and only too happy to meet with my request for a room at the pittance I had to offer. As he showed me up to the next floor and my lodgings for the night, I tried to engage him in conversation only to get stammered one word answers and nervous laughter. I have to admit that I found it infuriating more than anything else as my return home had not been a joyous one and my patience was wearing a little thin.

Handing me the key to my door he wished me a good evening and backed out of the room keeping his eyes to the floor. I cared little, the room left a lot to be desired, I cared even less. It had been a day I longed to see the back of and now I had a place to rest my head for the night before I made my way home to my family.

Now alone in my room my thoughts returned to the man I had seen watching me from the shaded alley across the road. He seemed to be watching me intently as I pretended to count my money. I made my way over to the window which looked down at the spot where he stood but he was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps I had made too much of it but I was certain I had seen him several times that afternoon and always his attention seemed to be on me.

I settled into the same activity I had every night since leaving Egypt. I took the necklace from its hiding place amongst my things in the vain hope that it had decided to show me its secrets, but of course there was nothing. Laying back onto the dusty sheets I felt my eyes grow heavy and I slipped into sleep.

It must have been several hours later that I awoke and immediately found myself disorientated and feeling so sick, and lacking of vital energy that I could barely move. My stomach was turning cart wheels and, as I tried to take to my feet the room span so violently that I fell to my knees. I closed my eyes and steeled myself trying to find a moment of calm in the maelstrom in my head, it didn’t seem to help. Fumbling for the lamp on the bedside table. I found some matches and, with great effort, struck one and applied it to the wick. The light hurt my eyes and it took a lot longer than usual for me to grow accustomed to its glare. It was as I steadied myself, managing slowly to get to my feet, that I heard the door slowly open and close before slow, shuffling footsteps entered the room behind me. What ever it was, it brought a fowl stench with it.

The adrenaline that coursed through my veins now gave some respite from the churning in my head and stomach. The outright fear took care of the rest. With my heart pounding in my ears and every stammering breath catching in my throat I slowly turned to face the thing, holding the lamp aloft as I did so.

I felt the very air rush from my lungs, it would have been a scream but my ability to make any sound at all seemed stolen from me. The thing that stood before me was twisted and misshapen. Once a man it now stood hunched, wrapped in sodden bandages and oozing from visible rends and pustules that covered its skin where the bandages did not. I could hear it breathing. Every breath rasping a bubbling in its diseased throat. Groaning softly as it’s shoulders fell on the out breath.

It was then that some sense returned. I had seen the effects of leprosy before but never in this country, and I understood then why I had felt so when I awoke. This poor creature looked exactly as I had felt.

Although the fear in my heart was still tangible I also began to feel pity. This pity however, was stolen away the moment it moved. It flinched, startling me and my pulse quickened again, Slowly it started to shuffle towards me, it’s arms outstretched reaching for me as I recoiled to the wall. Its hands were almost on me when I heard the words “What?, what do you want from me? tell me how and I will help you”. It took a while to realise that it was I who had spoken.

Its hand was almost to my shoulder when, like smoke in a breeze it disappeared. I stood for a moment, the lamp raised in front of me as my eyes searched the room fretfully but saw nothing. The smell had gone, the sickening feeling had gone, the pounding and swirling in my head had gone. I started to feel weak at the knees as my senses came back and my sight started to dim. I managed to find the table and rested the lamp just as I passed into darkness again.

I awoke on the floor with sunlight streaming through the curtains. I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the glare and as I started to move I felt the pain in my head. I had obviously struck something on my way to floor last night as I passed out. After a while I made it to my feet and hastily started to pack my bag. I knew it must be passed eight in the morning by the sun at the window and I was in no small rush to leave this place and make my way to the station. I made my way down to the desk but there was no one to be seen. That suited me. I left my key on the desk and walked out the door with no great sense of wrong doing.

After the events of the day before and the night spent in my haunted room I was in no mood for the miserable wretch I had encountered in the ticket office and so, drawing myself up to my full height, I made straight for his window and prepared myself to batter it down in order to get what I needed. I was somewhat defused when I got there to find a very helpful and rather attractive young lady sitting behind the desk instead.

She was able to provide me with all the tickets and information I required to make the journey home and that is where I have been these last few days. The rest of my journey, although not completely smooth sailing, was certainly a lot less eventful than that night. I have been enjoying the company of my Mother and Father and some good home cooked meals. Tomorrow I must report back to camp to be debriefed on the campaign  It will be good to see some of the lads again.

I haven’t looked at the necklace for several days. It is still stoic in its refusal to tell me anything. That man still troubles me however. I do not want to give in to paranoia but I am certain I saw him at least once on my way here from Southampton, but I can not say for certain.

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