The Mourning Emporium


A note from the author

The children of The Mourning Emporium have already lived many adventures before they come to the pages of the book. And they continue to have them afterwards.

To imagine the faces of these children, I used cartes de visite, which were very popular in Victorian times, rather like business cards today. The cartes were small rectangular photographs mounted on heavy board and sometimes gold-edged.

I found Venetian faces in Venice, and London faces at London ephemera fairs.


As the Undrowned Child of the old Prophecy, Teo was the lucky – or sometimes unlucky – owner of a number of unusual gifts. One of these was that when people talked, she could see their words in their own handwriting in the air. The style of that handwriting revealed a great deal about them. As the Mayor's voice boomed out of his office, Teo saw smug lettering with absurd flourishes in gushing purple ink floating down the corridor.

'All done!' the Mayor smirked triumphantly. 'A good day's work. Got the Antonello boy off my hands, and now we'll not be troubled by that young lady again. Fortunately, there's a shortage of children in Norway.'

Venetian children

Teodora Gasperin (also known as Teodora Stampara and Teodoro Ongania) is twelve years old, small, has curly hair, and is not always entirely fastidious about her personal appearance or her choice of adjectives when she is upset. Teo may be extremely clever but she can also be disastrously clumsy, unless she's swimming, in which case she is as graceful as a dolphin. Teo is the 'Undrowned Child' of an old Venetian prophecy. She's the orphaned daughter of Daniele and Marta Gasperin, who were librarians in the Archives of Venice and members of the secret society known as the Incogniti, which has for 700 years protected Venice from baddened magic, and most particularly from the vengeful ghost of Bajamonte Tiepolo. Teo, a voracious reader, has some rare skills: she's a lettrice-del-cuore – she can read people's hearts by touching their chests. She's also a vedeparole: she sees the words people speak written out above their heads. But her ability to memorize entire pages of books is something she has taught herself, during long, lonely hours in the school library. Teo's future holds more adventures – she seems to be the kind of girl who attracts them.


Teo as a baby


Sargano Alicamoussa agreed, 'Young Lorenzo's tremendously nifty with the noodlework, yes. This boy takes the cake – no! – he confiscates the macaroon for brains!'

Lorenzo ('Renzo') Antonello is twelve years old and is also a great reader, linguist and historian. No one can see Renzo without remarking on how personally very elegant he is. He is the 'Studious Son' of the prophecy that names Teo the 'Undrowned Child'.As well as his skills with languages and history, Renzo is very dextrous with his hands and is an expert whittler. He also has an exquisite singing voice (in The Undrowned Child, his voice raised saints from the dead to help the army assembled against Bajamonte Tiepolo). Renzo is destined to be Mayor of Venice one day. When that happens, the city will be a very different place. In the meantime, he will proudly follow his ancestors' profession and become a gondolier.

Renzo as a baby
Fabrizio Colasanto

Fabrizio Colasanto, aged ten, is the only son of a couple from Giudecca who were killed in the ice storm of Christmas Eve, 1900. Fabrizio is like a cat: slender and agile, with very acute hearing and slanting green eyes. After his adventures in London, he will flourish at the Alicamoussa menagerie, being particularly attached to the lions and tigers. When he finishes school, Fabrizio will take a job with the police, and will become the smartest detective in Venice. A famous author will write books about his clever solutions to Venetian mysteries and crimes. Catchphrase: 'I should just about think …'

Emilio Ghezzo, aged eleven, has always been very interested in the weather. He's the kind of boy who doodles cloud formations in the corners of his school books and consequently doesn't do very well in exams. By the time this story starts, Emilio has already lived aboard the Scilla for five years and remembers no other home very clearly: his parents died in an accident at the Molino Stucky where they were both flour-packers. After the Scilla returns to London, Emilio does not take up Signor Alicamoussa's offer of adoption, for he wishes to stay on board. He will eventually graduate as a fully-fledged sailor and tutor, teaching younger boys about meteorological matters. Catchphrase: 'I'm thinking that …'

Emilio Ghezzo
Massimo Toffolon

Massimo Toffolon, aged ten, is an unusually patient boy, which means that he is particularly talented at sewing nets and training parrots to speak. Had the Colossal Squid managed to devour him, it would have been the end of Massimo's family line, for all his relatives were drowned in the ice flood. Like Fabrizio, he will go to live with Signor Alicamoussa and become the chief bird-keeper of the menagerie. Under his care, many rare species, such as the po'ouli and the pale-headed brush finch, will breed in captivity for the first time.

Rosato Condorelli

Rosato Condorelli, aged nine, is a gentle boy with large grey-green eyes and curling hair (when it's not been cruelly shaved off). He too lost his parents in the ice storm. Rosato is very tender-hearted and suffers almost as much as Teo does when their so-called captain Miss Uish kills and mistreats living creatures during their expeditions to the lagoon. Rosato has a special talent for carpentry. He is good with any kind of wood. After this story, he will become the chief maintenance officer at Signor Alicamoussa's menagerie, ensuring that all the cages are well built, well ventilated and well secured, not to mention artistic and beautiful.

Marco Salviati, aged twelve, is a young member of the famous glass-blowing family of Murano. He was also orphaned that night of the ice storm, also losing his brother and a baby sister. Perhaps because precision is in his blood, he has a real aptitude for nautical instruments. He will eventually become a lieutenant in Venice's merchant navy.

Marco Salviati
Alfredo Zanetti

Alfredo Zanetti is the youngest of the orphan sailors on the Scilla. At the time of this story, he was only eight years old, and unfortunate enough to have jugged ears and a high, sweet voice. But he is a hard worker and eternally good-natured, despite losing his parents and his three sisters in a shipwreck off the coast of Dalmatia when he was just six. He's lived on the Scilla ever since. On the voyage back to Venice, Alfredo spends his time writing a childish but very moving account of Miss Uish's mistreatment of children on the boat. He is particularly qualified to do so, as he was always her favourite victim. When published in the Gazzettino, it will ensure that the Mayor is drummed out of office for good. More importantly, it will ensure that all Venetian orphans receive proper protection in future. The authorities will never again be fooled by the likes of Miss Uish and Malfeasance Peaglum.

Sebastiano dalle Mutta

Sebastiano dalle Mutta, aged nine, is really good at knots. He is also rather aggressive and mischievous. More than one person has remarked that he has the agility and cheekiness of a monkey – though only when he has a good meal inside him, of course. He is also a strikingly handsome boy – almost as handsome as Renzo but in a different way: where Renzo is fair and slender, Sebastiano is dark-haired with shiny brown eyes and a good strong colour. He will go on the stage when he grows up, and become famous for playing the sidekick of the hero, the one who never quite gets the girl.

Giovanni Migotto was orphaned in a typhus epidemic, so he's already been on the Scilla for a year when this story starts, and therefore quite an experienced sailor. He is very interested in all things to do with food. He's very upset when Miss Uish sets him making birdcages. He'd have been happier peeling potatoes – if only there'd been any. After this story, he happily goes to live with Signor Alicamoussa and his Irish wife. Mercer is an archaeologist and novelist, who hates cooking, so Giovanni takes over the kitchen. By the time he is twenty, Giovanni will be the head chef at the famous Danieli Hotel in Venice. But he always insists on coming home to prepare a slap-up vegetarian lunch for his adoptive parents every Sunday.

Giovanni Migotto


Hyrum Hoxton

London children

Hyrum Hoxton, aged twelve, might easily have become a 'vagabone', as Turtledove would put it. His Irish mother died in childbirth. An aunt from Dublin carried him in a basket all the way to London, where he was given to a 'baby-farmer' to bring up. Baby-farmers took in large numbers of infants, and promised to look after them. But there were many awful cases of unscrupulous baby-farmers pocketing the money from the parents and then starving their wards to death. Hyrum nearly became the victim of one such, a Mrs Coffin, who allowed her wards a bath just once a month and obliged them to wear the same clothes every day. On the last Sunday of the month, their shirts were burned and they were given new ones, often those of fellow inmates who had recently died of neglect and starvation. When Mrs Coffin thought little Hyrum was close to death, she put him outside with three broken chairs one evening, hoping that the evening cold would finish him off. He was found there by Turtledove, and brought to the Mansion Dolorous, and fattened up (somewhat). Hyrum has always been one of the most requested children for funerals, as his face shows all the marks of a sad past, even at his young age. Given his natural aptitude for mourning, he will eventually join Tristesse & Ganorus as a junior partner.

Rosibund Greyhoare and Ann Picklefinch

Rosibund Greyhoare and Ann Picklefinch (the 'Haggis-munchers'), aged ten, ran away from cruel homes in Scotland. Both their mothers were addicted to gin, and beat the girls. Rosibund and Ann miss Scottish food. Their aptitude for cleaning coins will yield a wonderful result quite soon: handed a sack of dirty old money by a kind-looking gentleman, their scrubbing will reveal a collection of rare silver coins from Roman times in London. The British Museum will buy the coins, making the two girls prosperous enough to set up London's only Scottish restaurant, The Haggis & Sporran, just off the Strand, which will soon be famous for its floury baps, clootie pudding and of course, hot, rich, greasy haggis.

'Greasy' Ressydew, aged twelve and 'boy of all trades', is the unofficial leader of the Mansion Dolorous gang, and serves as Turtledove's loyal lieutenant. He has a great fondness for rashers of bacon, the consumption of which leaves him with a shiny chin: hence his nickname. His mother was a paper-bag maker, and his father cooked pickles in a Blackfriars factory. But both succumbed to the typhus when Greasy was only seven years old. Since then, he has fended for himself. Left to his own devices, he can whip up a hearty soup made of six sheeps' heads, a gallon of finest Thames water and a few onions. He will grow up to be a prosperous merchant, dealing in imported candies and hams – and also Venetian delicacies. In this he will be helped by Giovanni Migotto in Venice, of course. Catchphrases: 'Doan ye know?' and 'My treacle' as a form of endearment.

'Greasy' Ressydew
Sally Swinish

Sally Swinish, aged nine, was another victim of the baby-farmers. She was deliberately maimed in infancy by adults who wanted to turn her into a pathetic begging accessory. Turtledove found her pleading for a glass of water in Vinegar Yard, Drury Lane in Covent Garden. Unfortunately, Sally will not survive much longer than this story. That cough of hers indicates that tuberculosis has taken over her lungs. She will become one of the last victims of the Half-dead disease. But no pauper's funeral for her. Tristesse & Ganorus shall pull out all the stops and hold a first-class luxury funeral for Sally.

Tig Sweetiemouth

Tig Sweetiemouth, aged eleven, always seems to have something sugary in her pinafore. She is luckier than most, having spent her early months at the St Andrew's Cradle Home in Upper Rathbone Place, set up by charitable ladies for infants who could not be supported by their parents. Tig learnt to make patchwork petticoats and lived in relative comfort. But when subscriptions fell, the Cradle Home needed to economize, and little Tig found herself out on the street. Being an enterprising girl, she found work as a rabbit-puller at a hat factory in Southwark. The wages seemed good at first, but days spent in a stifling room, inhaling the fluff of the animals she plucked, began to have an effect on her lungs. Turtledove overheard her wretched coughing as she made her way to her digs one night, and persuaded her to accompany him to the Mansion Dolorous. After this story Messrs Tristesse & Ganorus decide to promote her to permanent shop girl. (Sofonisba is simultaneously promoted to official emporium cat.) Both girl and cat are given lodging in the home of Mr Tristesse's aunt, a kindly lady, childless herself, who eventually adopts Tig. And when Tig grows up, she will set up a luxurious cat home in the Catswolds for retired feline gentlefolk.

Robert 'Bits' Piecer

Robert 'Bits' Piecer is a mudlark, who spends his days in the mud on the banks of the Thames, looking for items that can be cleaned up and sold. Turtledove found him at the night refuge in Newport Market, in a sorry state of cleanliness and health. The nature of Bits' profession means he's wet and cold most of the time, and often hungry. But Bits likes river life, and cannot be persuaded to give it up. He'd rather be up to his ankles in Thames mud than scrubbed and buttoned up in a black suit for a funeral. He nourishes a hope that some day he will unearth something that will make his fortune, and, in another story, perhaps he shall. Catchphrase: 'I haint saying that I haint …'

Tobias Putrid, aged twelve, rummages through sewers for items to sell. The effect on his personal hygiene is what you'd expect. Tobias's own sense of smell is not good, which is why he can live with himself. After so many years in the sewers, with only water rats for company, he has developed a fondness for animals. Dogs, cats and other beasts do not shun him either. Turtledove does not flinch from his aroma; indeed finds it quite pleasantly interesting. The year after this story, Tobias will go to Venice to apprentice himself to Signor Alicamoussa, occupying himself with cleaning the cages and enclosures of the circus-master's animals. The canals of Venice make an excellent substitute for the sewers of London, and Tobias will continue in his old profession as a hobby when he has time. He will unearth many interesting objects from the ancient Venetian mud. Teo and Renzo will be his friends for the rest of his life, and he will join them in other adventures. Catchphrase: 'S'trouble.'

Tobias Putrid
Ophelia 'Fossy' Slanter

Ophelia 'Fossy' Slanter is probably about twelve at the time of this story. She cannot remember. Her father left before she was born, and her mother worked in the Bow match factory of Bryant and May, where she contracted cancer from exposure to phosphorus. She brought her daughter to work there too. After her mother died, and the 'Phossy Jaw' nearly killed her too, Fossy was taken in by a family of travelling musicians who taught her to play the fiddle. They hoped that her wretched appearance would fill the begging hats they placed in front of them when they performed. But Fossy's terrible injury did not prove profitable. People tended to look away rather than put money in the hat. Fossy saw that she was becoming a burden, and fearing the worst, ran away with her fiddle, to which she was devoted. When Turtledove found her, she was playing it from behind the curtains in a Punch & Judy puppet show so that none of the customers could see her. The music brought a tear to Turtledove's sentimental eye. Her ability to 'talk' with the instrument will bring her fame and fortune eventually, after this story is over, and new advances in medicine will allow doctors to rebuild her damaged face by the time she is twenty.

Margaret 'Marg'rit' Savory, aged ten, is always very kind to Fossy. She's the only one among the girls with a little flesh on her bones. Soon after she is rescued from the Bombazine, she finds a home and a livelihood with a Cornish-pasty-maker in Spitalfields. But she does not lose touch with her old friends from the Mansion Dolorous and frequently comes over with a tray of warm pasties. She makes one visit to Venice for Carnevale, and comes home with an excellent recipe for frittole, the lovely greasy doughnuts without holes that are sold on stalls on street corners in Venice during that season. They soon become all the rage with fashionable ladies in London.

Margaret 'Marg'rit' Savory
'The District Disgrace'

'The District Disgrace': no one will ever know her real name or age, not even the poor girl herself. She was found by Turtledove in a pile of potato peelings at the back of the Cat & Cauliflower pub. After this story, she chooses a romantic name for herself – Natasha Sminkova, develops her lisp, and enjoys much success as a singer of archly romantic ballads in the Mogul Music Hall. She will one day perform at the Fenice Theatre in Venice, to great acclaim.

Theophrastus 'Thrasher' Geek, aged twelve, general lad-about-town. His parents are both serving long prison terms and made no provision for his care. He's very musical, and once tried to apprentice himself to an Italian padrone so that he could learn to play the hand-organ, a big box of noise that Italian boys in London carried around their necks. But the Italian padrone did not want an English boy. The padroni preferred to import destitute boys from Italy, who had to leave their mothers, often widowed, back at home. That way they could keep better control over their charges. Thrasher was not to be stopped. Eventually he got hold of a set of bagpipes and learnt that if he played them loudly enough in genteel neighbourhoods then people would pay him to stop. His next employment was to beat the drum for the Mansion Dolorous funerals; though he nearly lost his job when a dear little white mouse was seen escaping from his breast pocket during an aristocratic funeral. After this story, Thrasher will go to work at Chiappa and Company's barrel-organ emporium in Eyre Street Hill (then known as Little Bath Street) and soon become fluent in Italian.

Theophrastus 'Thrasher' Geek
Pylorus Salt

Pylorus Salt is another general lad-about-town. He's a clever boy, but after his father was hanged at Newgate, his family fell into destitution, and Pylorus was never afforded any education apart from what the streets could provide. His mother died of cholera. Pylorus has a secret yen to be a scholar like Renzo, and he will help the London mermaids make a great success of the Seldom Seen Press, printing letters appealing to the consciences of the rich. He will also supplement the 'Conscience Letters' with handbills against the dreadful patent nostrums for ladies, despite the protests of Pucretia, Gloriana and Nerolia, the London mermaids, who never do give up on their favourite remedies. Catchphrase: 'You haint wrong.'




Other characters

Turtledove is the English bulldog who leads the Mansion Dolorous gang.

'Haint yew got no gall or gizzard, boy? A word 'twixt yew an' me – I likes to see a bit o' cheek in me childer. Doan like to see 'em too biddable. I likes character, lashings of it! I cannot be doin' wiv polite childer. Manners is the scum wot rises up when yew bile the spirit out o' a child.'



Pattercake is a friend of Turtledove's. He cleans the plates in an Italian restaurant. You might well ask how.

'Of course, yew wants to tell yer friends yew's safe,' said Turtledove reassuringly. 'Nothing simpler. I'll have a word wiv Pattercake.'

Pattercake, it emerged, was a barge dog on the Thames.

'He knows a bit of Eyetalian. He works nights in an Eyetalian restaurant. He'll run a message to yer friends on the Scilla. Customs officers won't bovver 'im.'

'How does a dog work in a restaurant?'

'He's a washer-up. Dogs is very handy that way. Can lick a plate clean quicker 'n an 'ooman can wash it.'

Sofonisba, the ship's cat, is a law unto herself aboard the Scilla. It is unfortunate that this feline, whose job is to teach ailuromancy to the young mariners, is chronically allergic to boys.

Sofonisba listened to Renzo with a tolerant expression.

'And you want me to help how?'

'Go down to the ice house and try to warm up her body with your fur. You know Teo . . . is . . . special,' wheedled Renzo.

'Evidently,' remarked Sofonisba. 'Not many girls can turn a boy that red in the face.'

'It's just that . . . I . . . ' stammered Renzo.

'Whatever it is you're quite unable to say,' remarked Sofonisba, 'is likely to be supremely uninteresting to me. However.'

Miss Uish


Malfeasance Peaglum is Miss Uish's assistant aboard the Scilla. He likes nothing more than flogging children, except perhaps naval rum.

Peaglum sniggered, a disgusting sound like someone treading fatally on a toad.

Miss Uish appears to be a classic English rose, with a taste for elegant clothes and sweets. But beneath those pretty curls lurks a diabolically cruel brain.

'Miss Canidia Uish,' the woman introduced herself. 'It is pronounced like “wish” in English.'

'As in “wish we'd never met you”,' muttered Teo inaudibly.



Malfeasance Peaglum

Bajamonte Tiepolo

Bajamonte Tiepolo was a Venetian nobleman who conspired to kill the ruler of Venice, Doge Pietro Gradenigo, in 1310. When his plot was wrecked by bad planning, greed and a terrible storm, he was sent into perpetual exile: the worst thing you can do to a Venetian apart from killing him. And indeed Bajamonte Tiepolo – also known as Il Traditore, the Traitor – was eventually murdered by Venetian secret agents. A column of infamy was erected to his eternal dishonour. In The Undrowned Child, the first book in this series, his ghost returns with a deadly mission ...

Signor Alicamoussa lowered his voice, 'This bloke, they call him Signor Pipistrelly.'

'The bat!' exclaimed Renzo and Teo with one voice.

Teo, biting her lip, explained, 'It is as a bat that Bajamonte Tiepolo shows himself when he does not choose to be – or cannot be – human.'

Harold Hoskins

Harold Hoskins is the Pretender to the British throne. He claims that he is the true monarch because Queen Victoria's ancestor, Edward IV, was not in fact legitimate. He wishes not only to seize the crown, but to avenge himself on the country that sent him to govern a penal colony on Hooroo, a remote island off the Australian coast, when he became just a little too persistent and inconvenient. He finds a natural ally in the ghost of Bajamonte Tiepolo, another dispossessed aristocrat who desires both power and revenge.

Who'd have thought it would be so simple to resuscitate the corpses of two hundred convicts who'd tried to escape the island back in 1835? The men had promptly driven their boat straight into Hooroo's deadly reef. All perished. Now their ghosts, unattractively shark-nibbled, had been raised from the sea bed and were turning into quite promising pirates. The Pretender's faithful Lieutenant Rosebud had taught them all the villainous arts. The Ghost-Convicts were still slightly defective in function, however, with an inconvenient tendency to steal sheep.

Skeleton Body
Sargano Alicamoussa


Sargano Alicamoussa, the handsome circus-master, is a member of the Incogniti, the secret saviours of Venice. He has spent much time in the Antipodies, obtaining rare animals, and this has lent a certain amount of rugged colour to his vocabulary. He's married to an Irish writer called Mercer.

'S a dirty shame!' cried Marsil, 'that gorgeousness shut 'way where nobody can see 'im or 'ave the use of 'im.'

'Aye,' sighed her companions. 'Prithee put me down for some of that!' and 'Always does a body good to see them blue-blue eyes, and that pretty-kissin' mouf . . . '

'Ladies!' warned Lussa, 'such Expressions are not appropriately Uttered by any Female other than Signor Alicamoussa's own Estimable Wife.'

Professor Mar์n

Professor Mar์n is the author of many books about Venice's natural and magical history.

The policeman saluted Professor Mar์n with a click of his heels. He would not have been so matter-of-fact about it if he had realized that the celebrated author was also a leader of the Incogniti, the secret society of protectors of Venice, and friend of mermaids, good ghosts and talking beasts.

Leonora and Alberto Stampara

Leonora and Alberto Stampara are Teo's adoptive parents. They come from Naples but have established themselves in Venice as directors of the new Museum of Lagoon Life.

Knowing them – Teo smiled fondly – Leonora and Alberto Stampara probably hadn't noticed the icebergs sweeping past the island. Their eyes would have been glued to their microscopes.


Sibella. You have to read right to the end of the story to find out who she is.

'This is the Sibellant siren? Wot the mermaids warned us to keep an eye on? I see there aint no bamboozable he-person can be safe when this female puts her "come hithers" upon 'im. Look how she snicker-snackers them eyelashes!'

About the book  Meet the cast   The floating orphanage  Unspeakable eatables  London in 1901   Victorian mourning  Quack cures and corsets