Old British Terms:
Bob – shilling
Copper – penny
Stony-broke – poor person
Stay – corset
The snow was twirling, dancing in the early morning darkness, leaving a fine layer of powder over the shoulders and hood of the girl’s worn cloak. She pulled it tighter around herself and scurried along, keeping her head bowed to allow her to observe without behind overly obvious. She saw many things which filled her with a sadness unknown to many people of her status. For her it had been impossible to turn a blind eye to the suffering, pain, and longing of the humans living in the slums so close to her home, yet in a different world completely.
Sitting outside of their house on the porch, unaware of the winter cold biting into their overexposed skin, a large family was gathered, the mother with a baby to her chest and a small girl clinging to her leg. A sickly boy was sitting beside the mother, gathering warmth from her worn skirts.
A young woman standing behind her mother was absently watching the stranger pass, wishing she could be her, be anyone but herself. With her older sister married off for a promise which was never fulfilled, and large holes in the walls and ceiling of their home which could not be repaired, life as herself was bleak and cold.
The stranger hurried around the corner, fighting against the wind which was picking up and sending the snow around her ankles into a fury. The tiny white flakes each found a way through fraying seams into her boots and she was glad her warmest stockings had been chosen for this expedition. She had briefly felt guilty for choosing something which did not match the rest of her costume, however she reasoned that they would not be seen, and would rather have her cover blown than frozen toes.
As she marched on, seeing without being noticed, she watched many small children preparing themselves for a day of begging on the streets. It would do no good to be soliciting themselves on these roads, as everyone was as needy as the other, so they would go down the roads where the upper and middle class would frequent on a Sunday morning. If they came back with a few pennies they would be rewarded with congratulations and warm embraces, perhaps a little extra food at the next meal. If they came back with less than that, however, or worse yet nothing at all, there would no doubt be a severe scolding or whipping in store.
A small naked girl ran past her on the road, and the stranger stopped to let her past. She saw in the flash that her toes and fingers were blue, in danger of falling off from the exposure, but as she brought something in her clenched fist to her mother and grinned to her, pride spilling from her smile, neither of them noticed anything wrong at all. The mother had with her six more children but no husband, making the stranger wonder if she had walked the streets in her youth. All of the young looked like their mother with large dark eyes and dirty hair which would have been a light mousy brown had it been clean. However it looked as if these children had never been washed in all their lives. Only the eldest girl and boy had clothing on, and even that was scraps. The youngest three – all below the age of ten – wore nothing, and the middle girl wore just a thinning cap and held a crutch made from a tree limb under one arm. No doubt it was an accident from the mines which caused her disability, and it left the mother with one less child who could pull an income for the family.
Something about the crippled girl drew the stranger to her family. They watched with apprehension as she approached, conscious of the small fortune of seven pence in their mother’s hand. However, the stranger seemed to not be after it – stopping her approach ten paces from them without being told to.
The smallest girl was hiding behind her mother, looking at the young woman curiously, not politely hiding her glances as was taught to proper young girls. There was something different about her, the child decided. She carried herself differently, though her head remained bowed and she tried to appear as sad and poor as the other people there, there was a certain grace with which she presented herself. Dirt was smeared into her skin and face, stained her clothing beneath the layer of snow settled over her, but her stocking appeared new, and her face was round, as if she had been well fed. The mother noticed this as well, and though she could guess why, it seemed so improbably she tried to find another explanation, without success. This stranger was rich, and the woman could not figure out why she would be mingling with the people of her kind.
The young woman crouched down before the family, beckoning the smallest girl towards her with a gloveless finger.
The girl looked up at her mother for reassurance, and, seeing no fear in her eyes, only curiosity, she slowly slid out from behind the security of her mother’s flat skirt and skittered over to the stranger.
“My name is Jezebel,” said the young woman, “What is yours?”
“Elizabeth,” she said shyly, looking at the thin chain around the Jezebel’s neck. Unless this close, one could not see the fine silver which held a pendant low below the neckline of her dress between her breasts, but the little girl could see it, and she knew just by looking that it was worth more than she had ever owned.
“That’s a beautiful name. I have another name I would like you to remember – Marion. Do you know where she lives?” Jezebel asked, watching the small girl staring at her necklace chain in wonder. Slowly, Jezebel reached into her pocket and pulled out a coin, reached forward and put it into the youngling’s hand, closing her fingers around it.
“Give this to your Mama,” she instructed gently, standing up to full height again. The little girl back away slowly, then turned and dropped the coin into her mother’s waiting hand.
Jezebel put a finger to her lip, pleading for the woman to be silent about the shilling she just offered her. She knew that a donation to one family often meant being flooded with other poor children trying to turn your pockets inside out. She had seen many times a rare kindly man offer a penny to a child from his pocket, and ended up having all of his money gone by the end of the minute.
The mother’s eyes filled with tears of happiness, but she knew how her world worked, and as a gesture of thanks did not say a word, just opened a small pouch from around her throat and slipped the precious money into it.
“Marion?” asked the kind stranger again, now directing her question to her mother.
“Of course,” she said, pushing one of her children forward. “Daniel will show you. We know her very well; she is a kind woman, just hard on her luck, like the rest of us.”
Jezebel smiled sadly. “Thank you. You are very kind.”
“Bless you woman,” said the mother, the tears she was holding back forcing their way to the surface again.
Jezebel smiled, then noticed that the boy had already begun down the path without her, expecting her to follow. With a fleeting smile to the smallest child she followed along, pulling her hood farther over her face to block it from the now stronger falling snow. It was the beginning of a storm, but she would not give up this rare opportunity of having both her father and her stepmother out of the house for the morning to escape before church.
No words had been exchanged for the many minutes that Jezebel had followed the boy’s lead, and she was beginning to doubt his ability to speak. But when she pulled another shilling from her pocket and gave it to the boy as a reward, his thanks disproved that thought.
“Oh thank you Miss!” he exclaimed, quietly, as to not draw attention to her generosity, then raced back to his mother to share their new fortune.
Though all the buildings in the dregs were falling apart – holes in the walls of homes, window pane missing and piles of bricks which used to be walls made into community fireplaces on the sidewalk – none were as crumbled as the one before Jezebel. She looked with pain at the darkness coming from under the door and through the glassless windows, meaning the occupants could not afford candles or any such forms of lighting, and would most likely be at the lowest rung of the poverty ladder. There were many more factors supporting this, such as the cracks running through the walls and the caving in ceiling.
Jezebel knew she was stalling – looking at the door which was beckoning for her to knock on it, she could think of umpteenth reasons to leave, to not look back and pretend she had not come in the first place. But the exhilaration of stepping outside the upper class place of comfort and into the dreadful sadness of this new place was too great to not return to. She knew that allowing herself to walk away at that moment would make her too embarrassed to come to this part of the town again, and she did not want that.
So she raised her fist and knocked firmly thrice, then waited with breath in held until she hear a gruff, but distinctly female voice call out “who’s there?”
Jezebel did not answer, but the voice sent butterflies flapping wildly in her stomach. She listened to the light footsteps come to the door and throw it open in irritation, and watched the anger dissolved from her face as she caught sight of the girl before her.
Jezebel smiled sadly. “Hello Mother.”
The boy avoided shielding himself from the burning blows, though he undoubtedly wanted to do so, allowing the discipline to run its course. Often Edmund did not know which rules he had infracted until his father stopped pulling the leather down on his body and calmed himself enough to speak, and this was one of those times. The one thing the boy was grateful for was that he would never be struck in the face – though the sole reason for that was one Edmund did not know. His father knew he could fetch a good bride with much to offer a boy as good looking as his son, and wished not to mar it with his punishments, or do anything which might not make him a fitting husband.
Finally, with one final, hard whip to the sole of the foot, Edmund felt his father was done. Opening his eyes, he shivered as he looked into his father’s cold void eyes, not able to remember what it was he had done to deserve such a whipping, though sure a reason existed. His father never did anything without reason, which was why he was one of the best business men in the country, and how they had raised themselves from the middle to upper class so quickly.
“You will never speak to me like that again!” Edmund’s father shouted to the boy, still lying on the cold floor, not yet daring to stand.
“Yes, Father.” he said obediently. His father watched him for a moment longer, and then with a huff declared he would be going to the pub, and might not be home for supper. This had happened many times before to the boy, left with only his brother for company at the evening meal, and he accepted it easily. Though he did not hold anger for long after whipping his son, it was easier on the boy if there was time without his father to have the servants nurse his wounds.
It took Edmund two tries before he could stand, and even then it was a painful undertaking. Taking his time, he limped down the hallway, glad he only had to take a few steps before he could collapse onto his bed and call for a servant.
Edmund had time to think as the woman was washing the worst of his injuries. Though he was very nearly a man and expected to take over the family businesses when his father retired from his duty, he felt little passion for it. He thought his father’s slaves who worked in the farm were treated cruelly, and those who spun fine yarn in his factory worse, and knew that he would not enjoy taking after his father.
Perhaps he would not be so cruel to any of us if my mother had not died, though Edmund. She had passed many years ago, and after that the life and kindness she brought to his father’s heart left him. Edmund had never known her well, never come to love her, but his brother Richard, older than him by four years, had been close to his mother, and spoke of her frequently.
“Why can he not take over the businesses?” Edmund wondered out loud. The servant wrapping bandages around his peeled leg looked up in surprise at his sudden outburst, unsure as to whether she should be answering him. When he flushed with embarrassment and looked away, she safely assumed his words had not been meant for her ears, and went back to tending for him.
Edmund, of course, knew why his brother would not be the one to run the businesses – he was retarded, nearly slow enough to be put into a hospital to be taken care of, yet not quite. Richard would never be his father’s first choice for running the factory and farm.
“That will be all,” said Edmund, impatiently pushing away the deft hands of the women serving him. She had wrapped and cared for all of his worse cuts; the smaller ones could heal without help.
The servant bowed her head respectfully to him, then picked up her small tray of medical equipment and left the room.
Once she had left Edmund stood up slowly on his raw feet. The job has been well done, he decided, taking a few steps around his bed more painlessly than he had thought. Once it was decided he would be alright he dressed in breaches and pulled on his waistcoat, then, noticing the stormy and unpleasant weather outside, decided upon a heavy overcoat as well. He looked in a mirror and decided upon buttoning the neck of his coat higher than the customary fashion of a boy. Though he would leave it open when he is with his father, alone he tried to look as much a man as he could, though he forwent the wig sitting upon his dresser, still looking new from such infrequent use.
Instead he wore his brown hair tied back with a piece of ribbon in a way he knew his father would disapprove of, though at that moment he didn’t care what his father thought.
Once he was groomed properly he put his hat on and left his quarters, calling to Richard that he would be going out and not sure when he would return. Though there was no reply, the boy knew his brother had heard.
Making deep footprints in the fresh snow, the boy walked down the road, glad not to have to share the walk with too many other people. Few dare to venture out on such a miserably stormy day; however Edmund had always enjoyed the snow, appreciating it as a force of nature to be reckoned with but beautiful nonetheless.
Sometimes Edmund thought he would be better off being of the lowest class. For all he enjoyed the many privileges which his status brought him, there was something wonderful about the humble, beaten way which the poor lead their life so unrestricted by the boundaries society had forced upon the rest of them. And though he knew he shouldn’t, he found himself draw to their section of town, until he stood at the edge of one of their roads.
He had ventured far from his home, he noticed suddenly. He had thought it had been not too long at all but his watch told him otherwise. At this time of the year it would be getting dark soon, yet there was something which was keeping Edmund from following his better sense and leaving. The simple, everyday life of these exotically different people was holding his fascination, not allowing him to break his eyes away.
He had rarely seen the slums so close up. Not until the past few years had he even ventured out by himself, unescorted by his brother or father, and not until this moment had he ever found himself practically within the heath of a group of beggar on the sidewalk.
They looked more human than they were portrayed, he thought, looking at their haggard faces in the flickering firelight. Today was Sunday, the reason none were working in the mines or factories, but tomorrow they would be up before the sun and off to their backbreaking work, often carrying smaller sleeping children on their backs so that they would not have to walk the whole way.
The beggars knew it was uncommon that they would attract the attention of a person of higher class, and even more uncommon for there to be two in one day. But the bright-eyed head peeking around the corner to look in on their lives had not gone unnoticed, nor the rumours of a young woman with deep pockets hidden amongst rags.
Murmurs grew louder as the caught sight of her now shuffling more quickly down the roads. She had not noticed how late or how snowy it had gotten while she was in her birth-mother’s drafty house, and she was sure now that she would be in trouble with her father for being gone the whole day.
It isn’t my fault, she thought bitterly. If he hadn’t throw my mother from the house, banned me from seeing her, and forced his new woman into my life, then it wouldn’t have happened.
Her head down and deep in thought, she did not see the man look around the corner until she rounded it bashed into him.
Though she fell to the ground with an undignified oomph, Edmund remained upright, just stumbling back on his heels to right himself.
Jezebel was stunned out of her train of thought, and it took her a moment before realizing with a flush she was sitting on the sidewalk in the snow in front of a young gentleman. Stammering apologetically, she adjusted her skirts and stood.
“I am so sorry,” she said more directly once standing. She looked up from her hands to the man, who was trying – and failing – to cover up gently laughter at their embarrassment.
Her face turned red again and she looked away from him. He was handsome, at least when he was laughing, and she figured he could not be much older than she, perhaps a few years. She was concerned that he would bring up this unfortunate run in with her father, who would smack her soundly for being so atrociously uncoordinated.
“I didn’t find it the least bit funny,” she huffed softly. His laughter choked off into a cough, and then into a stiff silence between them.
“I am very sorry,” he told her, reaching into his pocket. “Please, accept this as further apology,” he continued, holding out to her a bob.
For a moment she was shocked, offended that he would think so lowly of her as to offer a bribe, but the look on his face, and the sudden memory that she was dressed as a poor begging woman made her realize his gesture was not one to degrade her, but something he believed was kindness.
“I cannot accept it,” Jezebel said, stepping back from him. “You see, I –”
“Something else, then?” asked Edmund, putting them coin back in his pocket. He knew not all needy wanted charity, and was not one to push it upon them.
Jezebel looked at the boy, a wickedly scandalous idea forming in her mind. You could, you know, she thought, looking again at the boy. He seems to pity you so much, but perhaps we always look the poor like that. Was I looking at mother like that while we spoke today? We spent the whole day together, and it was wonderful to see her again, but did I look upon her with such badly hidden belittlement? I can’t remember.
Wouldn’t it be fun to see how he would treat me? She continued to wonder. Edmund then made the choice for her.
“I must run now,” said the boy, “but… perhaps I could meet you here, again, next Sunday after church?”
Edmund was intrigued also with the possibility of friendship with such a stony-broke. He hadn’t ever considered it until now, but being around such people was exhilarating, not only because it was frowned upon, he decided, but because perhaps it will teach me something.
Edmund had been raised in a family who put a high price on education, and as a result he was fluent in English, Latin and French, and could speak some Hebrew, and was very skilled in arithmetic, reading and writing. He had learned to love learning, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do just that – in a field which was essentially unexplored.
“Yes,” she said timidly, smiling at the young man, and then added, “My name is Jezebel.”
“Mine is Edmund,” he said. Then, tipping his hat to the woman, said, “Until Sunday,” and left down the road away from her.
Once Jezebel was positive she could not see her anymore, a smile broke across her face and she quickly began shuffling down the street in a more hurried variation of a poor person’s walk.
She passed many people who gave her looks of disgust and pulled their children away from her, but she was too excited to notice. I will be prepared this time, she thought, checking to be sure no one was looking before sneaking under a farmer’s fence. I will bring paper and take notes of both him and everyone else. I will learn all about them, and about us. This is wonderful, father will be so proud!
She stopped in her tracks on her way to the farmer’s shed where she had hidden her other clothes in order to change into beggar’s attire. Of course her father would not be proud, she thought miserably, he would be disgusted she had even considered dressing like them, meeting with them, and she would be beaten for sure if he found out she would be doing it again.
She sighed, reconsidering her choice as she quietly opened the shed door and slipped in. Her father considered many things wrong, and beggars were one of them. He supported wholeheartedly the new advancements for factory working and labourers, and as a result their family’s factory was doing quite well. He believed that you could work them to death or they could die trying, and paid them pence on the pound for their hours and hours of hard work. Jezebel felt sorry for the poor people who had hardly a choice in the matter – their only other option was starvation – but her father did not care for her opinion on his business. That was a man’s places, he would tell her, and women have no place to question it. But, in fact, she did question it, and the answers her mind formed made her uneasy.
So once she was dressed again in her silky soft petticoat and her stay as tightly tied as she could make it herself, she decided to continue as she planned. She didn’t care who might be angry at her, this was something she would not pass up. And though she knew that many people of the slums knew she was not one of them, they seemed to not mind her being around, and would hopefully feel the same about the Edmund the next week.
She slipped her casual hoop around her waist, and struggled into her sage coloured gown. This was much easier when her lady’s-maid, Mary, was there to help her, but she could not risk going back home in her other clothes. Eventually she straightened the dress, laid it carefully over her hoop and pulled her stomacher taunt over her belly and chest. Tying her cap into her hair, she then applied her makeup by the dim light coming in through the window and with only a hand mirror to look by.
Once she had decided she looked acceptable, Jezebel stowed away her beggar’s clothing and mirror behind a bay of hay, wrapped her rabbit lined cloak around her shoulders, and went back into the snow, walking quickly with her head up as a good woman should walk. Thoughts of her devious plan were spinning around in her mind faster than the snow, though when she got home the only one who noticed there was something distracting the girl was her handmaid Mary, who said nothing in fear of being scolded for being too nosy.
Edmund looked around himself tersely. He was on edge, scolding himself over and over for coming, for promising a beggar he would come. What was he thinking? But then he would remember that he is doing it to learn about them, to see through her eyes how this little community worked.
She was not, as he suspected, late or not showing, but rather watching from a narrow alley just a few paces behind him. She was curious as to how he would react, thinking that a man of high status is waiting for a poor woman, and was recording it in her new leather-bound pocketbook.
After many minutes Jezebel slowly stepped out of her crevasse to make herself known to Edmund. She approached and tapped him on the shoulder, making him jump and pulling a giggle from her lips.
He raised an eyebrow at her then smiled as well, knowing that she would not know better. These sort of girls… they had been raised without the guidelines which shape society, and he was not sure how he felt about it.
“I am glad you came,” she said honestly. Through the past week she had been thinking of the freedom which would be offered by being someone else, someone so completely opposite to everything she had been raised to do, and decided she would have liked to have given Edmund a false name, had she thought of it earlier.
Edmund was not sure how he felt about coming, not yet, though as she offered to show him around, he found himself more and more appreciative of his choice to go. It was like stepping into a new world, and though Jezebel had been there before, she was seeing it for the first time through another’s eyes. The way he would point things out and see certain things made her smile with both his intelligence for the sciences, but his naïvety for the world around him. Whenever his back was turned, Jezebel was sure to write down his reactions, and both of their observations.
She was not sure what he would think if he were to find out she were not as he thought – after all, it was dreadful to lie, especially to a man – but as he invited himself back for the next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, she began to not care as much. Her worries evaporated as they began to meet during the week, sneaking away from the parents and the lives they had become accustomed to living by. They were discovering their own lives and interests, and sharing them with one another.
Somewhere along the line, they became best friends, and fell in love. Neither knew what happened first, or whether it was a gradual or sudden change. Their life together was held in secret from their real world, though open and appreciated in the world where they met. The family who Jezebel had helped with the crippled girl appreciated having her around, and she grew to love the children of the aging mother and cared for them. In return, the mother gave her what she needed to keep her ruse with Edmund going, even offering her home as Jezebel’s own when he requested to see where she lived. She was timid at first, wishing she could show him the beautiful house she lived in for real, before reminding herself that he didn’t love that part of her. It sent her stomach in knots whenever she thought of the pain on his face when she would have to eventually tell him she had been lying for so many months.
Both of their parents had realized their absence, though Edmunds father was just as pleased to have him gone as Jezebel’s stepmother. The only ones who missed the two were their siblings and Jezebel’s handmaid, though Edmund’s brother was often just as happy to have him out of the house. Since he had shown such little interest in running it, Edmund’s father had begun to consider his dim older brother to take over the factory once he was too aged, and Richard was more than happy to steer him in that direction. Edmund did not get in the way.
And though he loved Jezebel as much as he could, so much it hurt him when they parted at the end of the day, he knew there were many things which made it difficult for their relationship to flourish. He could never take home a poor woman to meet his father, and their marriage would prove troublesome if possible at all.
And though it hurt Jezebel deeply, she recorded every action of his in her little leather bound book, every time he flinched at an inner thought when someone spoke of ‘forever’, and whenever he would stop holding her hand when someone influential passed. She told him she understood, though he saw the unhappiness on her face as clearly as he felt it himself. He told himself he would not release her when the next person passed, yet they separated and he assumed the customary sneer of distaste at her. She learned that everyone believed they were above the poor, whether they were just making past or very well off, and realized in the beginning she would occasionally feel this way as well. But spending much of her life as one of them changed her mind about it, and by the next winter, she was bowing her head and flushing in shame whenever pointed whispers were directed her way.
One of these winter days, when the wind was blowing too fiercely to be on the streets, Jezebel was locked in her house, sitting with one of her sisters and muddling about with the embroidery on the corner of a handkerchief she wanted to give her father for Christmas. Her heart was not in it though, instead thinking of Edmund in his house with his horrid father – a fact he had confided in her just two months before – and his half-wit brother. She could only imagine what he might be doing, though she could only hope it was more interesting than the tedious process of stitching tiny birds into ivory cloth.
A knock on the door brought Jezebel and her sister from their thoughts. The girls jumped up and looked at each other – who might be dropping in on such a dreadful day? Nevertheless, as they heard a servant open the front door and usher in the visitor, they rushed to their chambers to be prepared in case their father should call them down.
While the eldest girl, Joyce, was downstairs entertaining with her step-mother, the girls upstairs chattered about who might be calling, and why they were staying for so long. Mary seemed to sense something important, pulling Jezebel’s corset so tightly she saw stars, and offering her favourite blue petticoat to show from beneath her dress. However, when the girl questioned, Mary sealed her lips with a knowing smile.
Her face powered and rouge and lipstick applied, her handmaid finally decided Jezebel was prepared to go meet her company. She was nervous as she descended the steps, and even more so as she saw the pleased – and slightly smug – face of her father seated in his chair with Joyce and her step-mother behind him beaming proudly.
“Jezebel, come here!” her father bellowed redundantly, as she was already approaching as fast as her pinched feet could carry her.
“Meet Mr. Davenport,” he said, standing and gesturing towards the gentleman across from him. With one glance Jezebel could tell he was filthy rich, and from her time living with the poor, found herself growing uneasy with his presence, recognizing him but not knowing from where. However, she bobbed a curtsey to him, nodding her head, and waiting until her father continued.
“You and his son are to be married!”
Jezebel’s blood ran cold. Of course, she knew she should have thought of being married off by her father, as that is what happens to every girl, but in her bittersweet happiness with Edmund, she completely forgot about her womanly duties.
That was when she realized where she knew him from, and her stomach knotted until she thought she would be sick – this was the man whose factory her mother worked in! She had heard tales from her mother when she visited her when Edmund was not available – he had been forcing her to work for hours upon hours in horrible conditions which robbed her of her dignity and sanity. He was a cruel man and a trickster, and his children were bound to be the same way.
“Jezebel!” her step-mother snapped, pulling the girl from her miserable thoughts.
“How wonderful for you, father,” Jezebel answered mechanically. “I am looking forward to meeting the gentleman.”
Her father beamed with pride, not noticing her brief hiccup in composure. “Well, if it works for Mr. Davenport’s perhaps we shall share a supper together before the wedding.” He said, looking to the man for confirmation.
Davenport smiled at the girl. “I would have it no other way. Does this Sunday work for you?”
“Of course,” answered the step-mother promptly, “we will be there at six, if it suites you.”
The man smiled at her. “Wonderful. I will see you then. Good-day sir, and my future daughter.” He took his coat from a servant holding it, nodded again to the family in the parlour, and Jezebel’s father lead him to the door.
It had all happened so quickly, Jezebel hardly had time to process it all, but once she heard the front door open and close, it shattered down on her.
“What are you smiling at?” she cried to her sister, running up the steps and throwing herself to her bed before bursting into tears.
Seeing her sisters was inevitable, as the three of them shared a bedroom, and though they questioned why she would be so upset over such a good marriage, after some time with no reply they stopped trying to reason with her and just left her to her sorrows.
Oh, Edmund, why is this happening!? She cried to herself, starting a new bought of tears after the last ones had just dried up.
She stayed in there for the rest of the evening and much of the next day, not moving from her bed except once to relieve herself. She slept much of the time, wept the rest, and was generally miserable until her father came in in the afternoon.
He chided her severely for acting so childish, and though he did not know what could have gotten into her, told her she had better smarten up, because she was not too old to be paddled.
A few moments after this scolding she came out of her chambers fully dressed for her school lesson, though in her darkest blue gown she could find, as if mourning something. And in her own way she was. She was mourning for losing Edmund, losing the life she had gained from visiting the dregs so often, and losing the freedom she had taken for granted. She knew tales of women who were married – some of them, like her mother, ended up thrown from the house, when their men tired of them, forced to work in appalling conditions like the one’s Davenport provides. Few married women are happy, because there is never love in their lives, Jezebel thought miserably, sitting in the school room and trying to focus on her tutor’s voice. It was proving difficult, though she tried.
This is how the rest of the week carried on as well, though as Saturday offered no lessons to distract her it was more painful than the rest of them.
Eventually, though Jezebel wished it would not, Sunday came. Mary spent the whole day after church preparing the girls, taking the most time on Jezebel, forcing her into a scalding hot bathtub and scrubbing her skin and hair with her long fingernails until it all shone. Her youngest half-sister laughed as she stood miserably in the middle of the room, dripping wet as if she had just come in from a rainstorm, letting Mary comb the tangles from her long hair.
When suppertime came the girls were all ready to go, dressed in their Sunday finest with Jezebel looking especially lovely. Her gown was made of peach coloured silk, trimmed with cream lace which was a smaller version of the piece around her throat. Though Mary had tried to make her take it off, Jezebel had stubbornly kept her mother’s necklace around her neck, the small quartz pendant slipped between her breasts and below the neckline of her gown. All that was showing was the thin silver chain, which could hardly be seen.
The girls piled into the carriage and were off down the darkening streets. They were not confined for too long, though, as the trip was a short one to Jezebel’s fiancé's home, and they were soon exchanging pleasurably greetings at the front door.
Jezebel was the last to enter, though perhaps the most warmly greeted. Mr. Davenport gripped her in a tight embrace which she stiffly returned. She couldn’t tell if it was imagined or not, but she swore she could smell her mother’s blood and tears on him.
“The boys will be down any moment,” said the host, offering Jezebel’s father a drink in the parlour before supper. He accepted, and the all followed the man down a hallway to a cozy room with a tray of drinks bottled in fine crystal off to the side. Pouring each man a glass, he gestured for the girls to be seated until his sons arrived.
When they did, standing tall in the doorway, Jezebel’s heart just about flew out of her throat.
“Ah, boys, we were just speaking of you,” said Mr. Davenport, standing. The girl’s followed suite, though Joyce had to pull Jezebel up with the rest of them. In her stunned state she couldn’t even think properly, let alone keep her feet underneath of her.
Standing before them were two boys – Edmund and a taller darker-hair version of Edmund. Jezebel could see a spark of recognition in his eyes as they glanced over her, though it quickly died off, leaving them empty again, only to have them flare up and his mouth drop open as his father formally introduced them.
“My sons, Edmund and Richard… this is Mr. Lewis and his family of beautiful girls. And this one is your fiancé, Richard. Her name is Jezebel.” he said, pulling the girl forward.
She looked into his eyes, eyes which looked so much like Edmund’s, but the man had been right when he said that his brother was dim. You could see it in his face, in the cruel and stupid way he held himself. Jezebel nearly burst into tears right there, but held them back and offered the man her hand.
He kissed the back of it and she drew back quickly, trying to avoid looking at his brother. It was difficult. She could feel his eyes on her, as if he were trying to believe that it was truly her, that there was no mistake.
Dinner was terse for Jezebel, surrounded by three men she disliked and one with whom she shared a forbidden love, though no one else seemed to feel the tension. Joyce attributed her nervousness at the marriage which was the highlight of the conversation, and patted her leg reassuringly many times through the course of the evening.
Edmund could not take his eyes from her, his disbelief poorly hidden behind his eyes. Jezebel had numerous times tried to catch his eye, only to have it averted every time in embarrassment.
Edmund was relieved when they finally left for the night, exchanging brief farewells before escaping to his chamber.
How could you have not seen it, you fool? He asked himself, sitting on his bed, burying his face in his hands. If you had only seen it… but why would she not tell you? She comes from a good family, we could have been married! And now you are just going to be able to watch her marry your brother, and you have no say about it. Why would she pretend? Why would you fall for her lies? You are a foolish man, Edmund.
It took him a long time to fall asleep that night, tossing and turning around, asking himself the same questions over and over: why did this happen? Why to me? To us?
He could have no idea similar questions were keeping sleep just out of Jezebel’s grasp as well.
They met, as was planned the last time they met, where they first bumped together around the corner. Though that memory usually got a smile onto their faces, today there was no smiling as they faced each other soberly. Jezebel was dressed as an engaged woman of her status should – her Sunday skirts on and her corset pulled tightly, plus a small star shaped patch adhered to her face on the left cheek signifying her new engagement.
Jezebel was the first to move – reaching into her basket she pulled out a small leather bound book. It had been her favourite possession for the past year. It was filled with secrets about them, about poor people, and many about Edmund alone. She handed it to the man.
“What is this?” he asked, though as it was opened it became obvious. “You had been recording us? Everything I said, everything… everything I did… why, Jezebel? Why?” she wasn’t sure, but it seemed like the question was directed to more than just the journal.
Tears filled her eyes. “Can we take a walk?” she asked, stepping closer to the man.
He bit his lip. “I don’t think we should be seen together in public.”
This reply hurt, and it forced the tears in her eyes to spill over and run down her cheeks, making flesh coloured rivers beneath the layers of power and rouges.
“Please, Edmund.” She practically begged, gesturing towards the slums. “No one will know. They never knew before.”
Seeing the pleading in her eyes and hearing the sweet way she said his name tugged at the strings of his heart, and he had no choice but to agree. However as the started down the road so familiar to them now, there was none of the comfortable closeness between them, instead only a terse, but safe, space, filled with awkward silence and pain.
“Why, Jezebel?” Edmund finally asked. She broke down and told him of her experiment – all of the data which he would find in the pages of her little book – which quickly turned into something which she could not control. He confessed after her that to him as well, their relationship had begun as an academic undertaking.
Though they both knew it had developed into something deeper, neither wanted to bring that subject up, instead just answering each other’s questions as honestly as possible as if this were to be the last time they spoke.
Jezebel was taking them on a different route as the spoke, and though Edmund didn’t notice, she grew tense as they approached their destination.
“Edmund,” she began, breaking him off before he could ask another question. “I have something else to tell you. I would like to introduce you to someone. I know that you know Dorothy is not my true mother, but neither is the woman you met at dinner the other night. I would like it if you met my real mother, if you would.”
Edmund searched her face for a trace of a lie. Finding none, he reluctantly agreed, and allowed her to knock on the door before them.
It opened a crack and a frazzled head popped out the opening. Looking from her daughter to the gentleman with her, it took her but second to put everything together.
“Well, it is about time you brought him to meet me!” The women exclaimed, throwing open the door to her guests. Though Jezebel had been her many times before and spoken of a man she had become very fond of, never before had they met. “I am very pleased to meet you… wait a moment, I’ve see you before! Your father employs me in his factory! Nasty old soul, ain’t he?”
Edmund flushed. His father’s treatment of his workers was not something which he enjoyed being brought up in the first conversation he shared with a stranger.
“Yes mam,” he answered in embarrassment. He had learned a lot from visiting here with Jezebel, and one of the most important was that the women were still women, and would flog you soundly if you forgot that.
The woman laughed soundly at his embarrassment and Jezebel’s sour look, though her laughter quickly diminished as she saw their formal clothing.
“What’s this, what’s this?” asked her mother, taking a piece of soft silk between her fingers from her daughters dress. “I haven’t seen you in your nice garb for many moons – is there a special occasion for celebration?” she asked, wiggling her eyebrows at Edmund. He looked stiffly beyond the woman and pursed his lips, not saying anything.
Jezebel looked sadly at her mother. “No, mother, I’ve come to say goodbye. I have been married… to Edmund’s brother and he must never know of these expeditions. So this will be the last time I see you.” Now her eyes filled with tears, looking upon her mother who was cast from her house so long ago. She had seen her so much in the past little while, and was saddened to know she would not see her again, unless it was her flinching away like a good wife should from a hag on the corner.
Edmund watched Jezebel say a long goodbye to her mother, his heart torn between his anger at being tricked for so long and the love he still felt. Once they were finally finished the woman unexpectedly took him into an embrace, holding him tightly for long enough to whisper quietly, “protect my daughter, don’t ever let her go.” She released him and pulled back, and Edmund saw more tears in her eyes.
“Come on, Jezebel,” he said, taking her hand gently. “We should be going.”
With a little force he pulled her from her mother’s doorstep, guiding her down the street of many memories, to the house of the family with the crippled girl. Here both of their farewells were tearful, as the younger children tried to grasp why their friends were leaving them. Eventually Edmund and Jezebel just had to leave them crying to their mother, as no explanation would be good enough for the little poor children.
As night was falling the couple made their way back to Jezebel’s house, parting formally but with an underlying pain which neither of them thought would ever go away.
The plans for the wedding were going quickly. If everything went as planned Jezebel would be joined within the month, living in the house with Richard and, until he found a home of his own, Edmund.
As Edmund hailed a carriage to take him to his house, he watched the windows of Jezebel’s house until they rounded a corner and could see it no more, then laid his face in his palms and sobbed silently.
It was the night before the wedding – Jezebel had been crying herself into restless sleep every night since she had seen Edmund last, and the dark circles under her eyes were evidence. Her family put her restlessness off to excitement over the upcoming joining, and though Mary knew better, she said nothing.
Edmund had been restless as well, though his nights were filled with papers and planning. He had decided vehemently the night after they said goodbye to the beggars he could not live seeing her in so much pain ever again.
Which was why he was pushing a few of his possessions – another pair of trousers, his dagger, a summer coat amongst others – into a sack which he could wear over his shoulders or attached to the bridle of his horse. Other things, like his hat and heavy coat, he wore as he dressed and mounted the dark creature, and set off down the streets.
His heart was pounding to the beat of his horses hooves clattering on the streets. He guided the stallion out of the flooding light of the streetlamp and looped his lead over a low growing tree branch.
Giving the animal an affectionate pat, assuring it he would be back soon he walked the last block towards Jezebel’s home.
He knew her chambers were on the upper floor, and had prepared himself with a small pouch full of pebbles attached to a belt around his waist. Taking one in his fist he prayed he was right in assuming she would not be asleep at this time so close before the wedding before throwing it at the window.
It bounced off with a clang, and he waited a moment before throwing the second.
This time the window was opened, and Jezebel’s sleepy face protruded.
“What is this – Edmund?” she asked in disbelief, looking as if she thought it was a dream.
“Jezebel!” he shouted hoarsely, relief bubbling in his chest as he saw her again. “I don’t want you to marry my brother.”
“I don’t either, but I have no choice! It’s what my father wants.” She cried back, still looking stunned that he was there.
“We always have a choice, Jezebel. I had a choice the first day I agreed to meet you again, and it was the best choice I made. You can choose now, too. You can choose to come with me. To run away with me. I have money, we can make it over the border to Germany or France, or we could go to the United States – wherever you want, I will go. I just want to go with you.”
Jezebel’s eyes filled with tears. How could she go? How could she not? If she stayed, she would be miserable, married to the brother of the man she loved. She would see her sisters, but she would be kept away from her mother and the friends she made in the dregs.
If she left, there would be chances to make new friends, with no father or birth customs to pay regard to. She could be who she wanted. And she could do so with Edmund.
The choice was obvious.
“I will be right down. I need to get some things together,” she said. Edmund nodded quickly, then stepped back and waited against the fence for what seemed like an eternity until Jezebel came down dressed in red riding clothes with a pack much like his own across her back. Her hair was plaited up and her eyes were glimmering with excitement.
“Are we really going to do this, Edmund?” she asked, accepting the dark cloak he wrapped around her shoulders.
“Yes, we are.” He said, smiling at her. He led her out to the street where his stallion was tied, helped her on and then slid on in front.
“So, where are we going to go?” he asked after starting his horse trotting.
Jezebel thought for a moment. “Germany, I think. I hear it’s beautiful, and we can start a home there, start a family.”
Edmund smiled, turned his horse around, and urged him to a canter.
“To Germany, then.” he said as she tightened her arms around his waist and leaned closer.
Edmund and Jezebel had little problem crossing the border, and arrived in Germany smoothly. They found friends of Jezebel’s mother, who offered them housing until they could get somewhere of their own. They married 23 days after entering the country. Neither of their families ever found them, or thought to search out of their home country. Jezebel became an important developer of Women’s Rights, as well as the Rights of the Poor. She was at every rally every held for support of both these causes, and Edmund supported her wholeheartedly. They had five children, who they named Mary, Richard, Daniel, Elizabeth and Marion. Edmund opened a successful factory which manufactured various metal parts. All of his workers were employed and paid fairly. No children ever worked there.
© Copyright 2016 CarlaM. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Historical Fiction
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