Tales of Yarn

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Romance
Isabel is the only child of Albert, a successful industrialist. Albert has long tried to find a suitablehusband to satisfy his daughter as well as fit the family name. But Isabel falls for Edward, the handsome but working-class coach driver. Albert is mortified and forces Isabel to end the

relationship, pressuring his daughter to marry George, his dashing colleague. Isabel succumbs to

her father’s wishes... but her heart remains true to Edward.

Submitted: March 15, 2016

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Submitted: March 15, 2016

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Chapter 1

Walking behind her father, Isabel wanted nothing more than to sit in the carriage and head home. Her boot heels thumped on the wooden boards of the gas lit finance department, alerting all the accounting clerks to her presence. She yawned into her gloved hand and thought it was evidence that it had been a long day. 

Learning the ways of her father’s business was proving harder than she thought.

Leaving the dimness of the shipping office, Isabel walked out into the bright summer evening. The busy street hustled and bustled under the evening sun. The road was amass with horses pulling carts with the goods destined for the docks while the pavements were occupied with a mix of noisy street sellers and top hated city workers.

Isabel stepped into the horse drawn carriage before slumping onto the soft cushioned leather bench seat. Leaving the door open, she thought, “Looks like summer has finally arrived.”

Waiting for her father who stood talking to the driver, she thought the heat felt repressive as she waved the hand-carved whale bone fan franticly. “Get me home quick, Father. I need the coolness of the garden.” Her eyebrows raised an inch as Albert hesitated with only one foot planted inside the carriage floor. “What’s wrong?”

“I think I left the safe open.”

“I’m pretty sure you locked it shut.”

Albert stepped back onto the cobbled road. “I can’t be sure... I must go back.”

“Father!”

“I know... it’s amateur.. a mistake an apprentice wouldn’t even make.”

Isabel let out a sigh. “You’d be sacked if you weren’t the owner.” She then rested her head on the back rest. “Go on... but please hurry up.”

~

The heat seemed to rise while Isabel sat alone in the carriage. Finding the temperature unbearable she stood from her seat before climbing out of the open door onto the street.  She walked into the shadow of the grand sandstone shipping office while doing her best to cool herself with the fan. Her eyes soon set on the young carriage driver. “You boy!” Isabel noted the panic on the young man’s face. “Yes you, the driver. What is your name?”

“Me Ma’m?”

“Memam? Is that name from the orient?”Isabel grinned, but noticed that the driver sat rigid on his seat while staring directly ahead. “You don’t look much like a Chinaman to me.”

“My...My name is Edward, Ma’am.”

“No need to whisper like a mouse. I won’t bite.”

“I mean not to whisper.”

Despite being early evening, Isabel thought that the sun had lost none of its strength. “Not scared of the sun, Edward? You must be cooking up there?”

“No.”

“And why not? Sit up there any longer and you’ll look like you’re from the colonies.”

Edward sniggered before sneaking a quick glance at Isabel. “I like the sun...In fact I like to make the most of it, seeing that it only makes half a dozen appearances a year.”

“So he speaks... I was beginning to fear that my driver was a mute. Where are you from?”

“Lancashire born and bred. I was  born in the village of Skipton.”

“Skipton?” Isabel stepped out from the shade, so she could cross Edward’s line of sight.  She felt a guilty pleasure burn deep inside while she played with her prey. “Can’t say I’ve been there... Eddie.”

“My family moved to Liverpool to work in your father’s shipping company. He was a stoker and she was typist on the third floor of the office.”

“What was her name?”

“Maggie Picton. She retired three years ago.”

“Oh.” Isabel stared at the two coal coloured carthorses that were rigged up to the highly polished black carriage. “The horses... are they yours?”

“As much as I would love to say they were mine, they’re not.”Edward felt his panic abating while his eyes devoured Isabel’s beauty. “They’re your father’s, I’m just lucky enough to care for them.”

“They’re my father’s? Really? Shows you how much I know.”

“You don’t ride?”

Isabel scoffed, “Never.”

“I thought all girls like horses.”

Isabel took a sideward step to keep a safe distance from one of the horses as it took an interest in her purse. “They scare me... plus they smell.”

“Smell... you want to smell some of the dockers, Ma’am.”

“I would rather not. Thank you very much.” Isabel eyes locked on to Edward’s. “Tell me... are you married?”

“Me? No.”

Isabel sauntered to the side of the carriage so her eyes were level with Edward’s bent knee. “And why not?”

“Should I be?”

“You’re twenty...”

Edward peered down towards Isabel, but quickly snapped his head back at the hint of her cleavage. “Fi... five. I’m twenty five.”

“Twenty five. Shouldn’t you have at least one child by now? I mean, that’s how you commoners behave, is it not? Father tells me you lot breed like rabbits.”

“Rabbits? Maybe some do.”

“You seem offended? I do speak too much sometimes.”

Edward did his best to sound convincing. “No... I would have one child, maybe.  If I had been lucky to have found love, that is.”

“Why haven’t you found the right woman?”

“You do like asking questions.”

Isabel shrugged her shoulders. “I’m intrigued... and truth be told, filling time.”

 “As a young man, I thought I had found someone. But she immigrated with her parents to America.”

“America? Lucky woman. I always wanted to go. Father has visited for business on several occasions. In fact he’s promised to take me on his next crossing.”

Edward breathed a sigh. “I wish I went with her. In many ways it’s my biggest regret.” He then hung his head while his mind dragged up memories he had tried to forget. “But I didn’t have the money at the time.”

“It must be terrible being poor.”

“It’s not so bad. It would be nice to be rich...of course. But God blessed us with what we have. So I think it’s best to smile our way through each day the best we can.”

Isabel witnessed Edward’s wide smile causing her to chuckle. “You do have a nice set of teeth.”

“Really?”

“One must not be well acquainted with sugar.”

“Sugar... I’d be lucky. I can count using the fingers on one hand how many times I’ve tasted it.”

Isabel scoffed, “Keep away from it. It’s more addictive than bad men.”

“Excuse me?”

“I really have to stop talking to strangers.”

“You asked about my love life... can I be bold enough to ask you about yours?”

“I...” Isabel turned as her father stepped out from the door of the shipping office. She then faced Edward and smiled. “We will talk again sometime. Goodbye... Mr Eddie.”

 

Chapter 2

Edward licked his lips in anticipation as he walked along the dark streets towards his much loved Golden Hind inn. As always, a group of children were sat on the doorstep playing ollies. Edward brushed the children aside with his dirt covered boots before stepping over the threshold of doorway. He entered a room thick with the smell of ale and tobacco and soon spotted his flat cap wearing friend. “Duffy the docker.”

“Edward the horse fucker... What’s took yeh?”

Edward slapped Duffy on the back of his well worn donkey jacket. “Half cabbaged already, Pal?”

“Of course I’m cabbaged. You had me waiting like a wife.”

“Anyway, you’ll never guess who I was talking to, Duffy.”

“Queen Victoria?”

“Near enough.”

Edward signalled towards the barman for a pint before sitting on a stool next to Duffy. “The boss’s daughter.”

“The foreman’s? Nothing special about her... right little wench, she is. Passes herself around like a tray of hot cakes.”

“No, not Jezzer. I mean the big boss. Albert Crompton’s daughter.”

“Mr Crompton’s daughter..?” Duffy shook his head disbelievingly. “Whatever. Why would she talk to a bottom feeder like you?”

“Bottom feeder? I should take you outside and give you a once over with my fists. ”

“Sorry... I guess I’ve had a pint too many. My tongue quickly marches while my brain crawls like a drunkard in the night. ”

“Better slow down before you go home, then. You don’t want to get a load of abuse from Marg.”

Duffy slipped his hand inside his jacket, then lifted out a tin of tobacco. “Margret knows to keep out of my way when I get home after a skin full.”

“I thought you told me you stopped roughing her up since your first child.”

Duffy picked up his clay pipe from the damp surface of the bar. “I’ve not laid an angry hand on her for a good while.” He then stuffed the fresh tobacco into his clay pipe. “I just mean rough her good in proper between the bed sheets.”

“Christ, Duffy. To think you recently became a lay preacher.”

“We’re all water boilers.”

“Here we go, another Duffy-ism.”

With the pipe between his lips, Duffy struck a match. “When we come to the boil, we have to let off steam.” He then drew on the pipe while he ignited the tobacco. “If not, the pressure becomes too much, and we explode.”

“You must be under a lot of pressure then, because you’ve been in more scraps than Napoleon.”

“Married with children.”

“The kids are outside.”

Duffy dragged back on his pipe. “Hopefully they’ll get cold and go home” He then exhaled a thick cloud. “So? Crompton’s daughter. What did she say to you..?”

“Erm... well.”

“If you say she just asked you to open the door... I’ll never share a pint with you again.”

Edward couldn’t hide his excitement. He leaned towards Duffy who sat in a cloud of smoke. “She talked to me for a good five minutes.”

“Fuck off. Your mouth spews more manure than one of your horses.”

“It’s the truth. Hey, she’s a right little minx too.”

“Minx?” Duffy pulled the pipe from his mouth then sipped on his pint of ale. “I suppose you took her to the bushes and rattled her under the full moon until daybreak.”

“I didn’t... I like my job. Very much doubt that Mr Crompton would take too kindly to finding me on top of his daughter. ”

“So? Go on... what did she have to say in these five minutes of yours.”

“She says I have a nice set of teeth.”

“Well...”Duffy inspected Edward’s teeth while his friend smiled. “Well... They’re better than rest of your face.”

“She asked me if I was married too.”

“Did she?”

“I’m not lying. Plus, listen to this.” Edwards glanced about to the bar to make sure none of the dwellers were eavesdropping. “She calls me Eddie. No one calls me Eddie.”

“I call you Eddie. Doesn’t mean I want you to bend me over the bar and pull down your breaches.”

“Bloody hell Duffy. I mean, no lass calls me Eddie. It’s always Edward.  Mr Picton or...”

“Bloody Idiot.”

“Yes, that too.”

Duffy struck a match then relit the tobacco which had burned itself out. “What she like then?” Coz, if her father is anything to go by, she would be fat, bald and tighter than a Jew’s pocket.”

“She’s well fed, alright. But not fat. Just... you can just tell she’s always first to the dinner table.”

“Nice. So got a bosom, then?”

“Too right.” Edward cupped his hands down by his waist. “Packs a good and proper arse n’all.”

“Anyway, keep dreaming. The only thing you’ll be riding, Son... is those damn horses of yours.”

“I know... but I’ve got a dirty imagination to keep me company.”

“Aye, at least it gives you someone else to think about. I mean. You’ve been boring me to death about bloody Katherine, since she jumped ship to America... seven years ago.”

Edward crossed his arms on the bar, then sunk his head. “I know... I know.”

“Has she still not replied to your letter?”

“Not received a letter in two years and a hundred and fourteen days. Not that I’m counting.”

Duffy expelled thick smoke through his nostrils as if he was a mystical dragon. “Definitely married... probably dropped a kid or two now.”

“Probably right.”

“Not done too bad yourself though. I mean, forget about this Lady Crompton. But you’ve climbed on a few since Kath.”

“If I ignore the fact that most of time I paid for the privilege, then yes.”

“Come, on.” Duffy climbed from his stool before padding down his pockets. “How much have you got left?”

“I’m not going down to the docks... forget it. Plus your kids are outside waiting for you.”

“We’ll leave by the back door. Come on, there’s this frog that works the corner of Canada street and Scotty road.”

“Why would I want an ugly one?”

Duffy picked up his tin of tobacco and slid it back into the inside pocket of his jacket. “Frog... as in French girl.” He then glanced towards the door. “Married to a soldier who came back from the war... Poor girl has got a few debts which we can help her pay off.”

“How do you know all this?”

“You know what I’m like. See her every weekend.”

“Your wife must really love you.”

Duffy necked the last of his pint of ale. “My father taught me well. Never marry a girl who finished her schooling... because they’ll boss you around like they own the place.”

“You never finished school either, Duffy.”

“I know.” Duffy let out a nervous laugh. “It was quite hard to find a woman who was less clever than I was.” He then coughed into his hand and quickly rediscovered his self belief. “But the likes of me are schooled on the streets. The school of life.”

“Anyway, you can visit your frog by yourself. I’m off. Got to get the carriage ready before sunrise.”

“You were made up getting that job.”

“I told you putting up with Ol’ Bill would pay off.”

“I don’t know. Getting up early to drive a carriage sounds kinda lonely to me.”

“Don’t get me wrong.” Edward walked at Duffy’s side towards the back door.  “I miss the camaraderie of the docks. But the horses talk to me...” Feeling Duffy’s piercing stare caused Edward to wilt. "What are you looking at me like that for, Duff? They do... using their eyes.”

“I was going to forget about the frog, and try to persuade you for another pint instead... but I think your drunk enough, Eddie.”

“I’m off. Want us to send the kids back to Margret?”

“Yeah, tell them I’ve gone to check on Grandma... I’ll be back in an hour.”

 

 

Chapter 3

The cloudless sky stretched from horizon to horizon while the heat from the sun dried the damp cobbled yard of the stables. Edward threw the water from the bucket over the soaped up carriage but grimaced as he got caught by the splash.  He then dropped the empty bucket onto the ground and took the strain of a second. But the sight of Isabel caused him to let go of the handle. “Can I help Ma’am?”

“I was walking to the gardens when I saw the stream of water... wondered if we had a burst pipe.”

“Mr Crompton told me to make sure the carriage was spick and span. But I’ll brush the water into the grid once I’m finished. Sorry for the mess.”

Isabel’s noted that the damp white shirt clung to Edward’s rugged physique. “It’s no bother.” She then glanced about to see if anyone was in earshot before walking towards Edward. “Truth be told, Eddie. I was hoping to see you again. When I caught word that you were in the yard, I just had to come and see you.”

“Really?”

“Don’t act all surprised... I would have thought you felt the same about seeing more of me.”

“Aye, you’re a nice lass. I enjoyed talking to you the other day.”

Isabel felt like jumping into the air, but managed to restrain herself to a giddy yelp. “Sorry. It’s just a nice feeling... don’t you think?”

“Feels one with pride, Ma’am.”

Isabel felt uneasy with the sheer velocity of the situation, so diverted the conversation. “So tell me... how are things in the big city? All I see of Liverpool is what I catch from the window of carriage, or that what I can see from the office. Must be more interesting that out here on the peninsula.”

“I suppose its fine.” Edward dried his hand on a strip of cloth before draping it over his shoulder. “If you don’t mind being kept awake at night by drunks or barking dogs, then woken early by the returning nightshift.”

“Oh. I might stay here then.”

“I can imagine it being rather good, if you happen to be privileged like yourself.”

Isabel tried to keep her sight from Edward’s broad chest. But her modesty couldn’t compete with her youthful curiosity, so her eyes examined Edward’s every quarter. “What does that mean, Eddie? What do you feel like you’re missing out on?”

“There are fancy theatres and grand galleries, handsome civic buildings which seem unnecessarily huge. I’ve always wanted to visit Lyon’s tea rooms for the fancy cakes. But I can’t imagine the likes of me would go down well amongst the fine china and Victoria sponge.”

“Why on earth not? I wouldn’t say it’s exclusive to the rich.”

“I suppose it’s not. But who could I take? It’s for couples and families. Plus I don’t know the difference between a custard cream and chocolate éclair. I’d look a right fool... or desperately sad.”

“I don’t think you have the fingers for bone china either.”

Edward laughed aloud. “I think I was built to lift pints in a pub?”

“Pubs... you’ll have to show me one day? I promise to take you to Lyon if you take me to a pub?.”

“They’re not a place for women. Not unless they’re... you know.”

Isabel felt confused. “No I don’t. Enlighten me.”

“Paid to be there.”

“Ah, you mean a barmaid?”

Edward felt uncomfortable and began to sweat. “Those as well. But I meant a...”

“Cleaner?”

“I meant... a woman of the night.”

Isabel felt shocked and slapped Edward on his upper arm. “Oh...” Despite being annoyed she felt impressed by how solid his bicep felt. “Oh you dirty thing.”

“I don’t mess around with them. Haven’t the money.”

“But you would if you did?”

Edward tried to convince while rubbing his arm. “No, of course not... Honest.”

“I can tell you’re lying.”

“OK. But not in a long, long time.”

Isabel frowned with disgust. “Good Lord.” She felt surprised at the strength of her sense of betrayal. “I’m very disappointed Edward.”

“But I was single!”

“But still? No wonder you’re still single... dabbling in the shadows like a gutter dweller.” Isabel huffed, then marched back towards the rear entrance of the mansion. She then froze as a powerful hand grasped her shoulder. She coldly peered over her shoulder at Edward.“... you touched me?”

“I’m sorry. I...”

“How dare you touch me?”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I was young and foolish back then. But now I’m a little wiser and don’t deal with such women. All I seek now is love. I have for a long time now. I promise.”

“Well good for you.” Isabel flashed a brief smile, before the sternness returned. “I must be going. Good day to you, Edward the Gutter Dweller.”

 

Chapter 4

The sun had barely broken over the horizon as the horses pulled the carriage along the shale road. Despite travelling this route countless times, the sheer grandeur of the gothic country mansion never failed to impress Edward.

 Edward felt surprised to see a figure waiting on the steps of the colonnaded entrance. As the figure came into view it became clear to Edward that it was Isabel. “Shit. Now I’m in trouble.” He drew the carriage to a stop at the end of the wide phalanx of steps. “Good Morning, Ma’am. I apologise for my lateness.”

“Mr Eddie... I’ve been waiting.”

“The horses were in playful spirit this morning. It took me more than a while to calm them. It’s the joys of summer, you see.”

“It’s fine, I was a little late myself.”

Edward dismounted from the driver’s seat, then opened the carriage door. “I was surprised to receive your telegram last night... I thought the postman had the wrong house.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Our little episode the other day had me worried that I had fallen foul of you. In fact feared for my job.”

Isabel snapped. “Don’t remind me of that sordid episode.” She decided to take a calmer tone. “Your job was never at risk.”

 “But I was also surprised because Mr Crompton told me he wouldn’t be needing me until he gets back from his business in London.”

“Yes. Father told me to take this time to relax... A nice gesture one might think. But I know it’s because he doesn’t want me unsupervised at the office.”

“Father’s are fathers. Just wants to protect you.”

“One would think that he sees me as a harlot. Isabel fixed her summer hat. “Anyway, as the sun is shining I thought a trip to the seaside would be in order.” She looked over her shoulder at a huge hamper that sat at the top of the steps. “Do be a good man and bring the hamper along.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Poor Miss Black pulled a muscle in her back lifting it to the door... so do be careful. I told her to go and lie on the kitchen tiles until its better. She’s there now, reciting from the new testament.”

Edward bent his knees and held the hamper with both his arms. He then lifted using his legs while taking the hamper into his chest. As he carefully climbed down the steps his voice quivered due to the stress. “If you don’t mind me asking... but... what’s in here?”

“Just the essentials for a day out at the beach.”

“That’s a lot of essentials.”

“Funny I didn’t have you down as difficult.”

Edward chuckled while walking towards the carriage. “Difficult?”

“You moan more than my father.”

“Sorry, but I’m a man. So where am I taking you? New Brighton?”

“West Kirby. I want to relax away from the crowds.”

Edward placed the hamper onto the floor of the carriage, causing the suspension to creak, before sliding it across to the far side. “And I thought coaling a ship’s bunker was hard work. Weighed a tonne.”

“I plan on a having a good day out. So stop moaning, you’re hard work is not in vain.”

“Come on, let’s get you in.” Edward offered his arm as support while Isabel climbed inside.

“Thank you.”

“Have you informed the house of your excursion?”

“Relax, Edward. It’s three miles up the road. I’d walk there if I didn’t have a carriage and a fine driver.”

“Thank you Ma’am. West Kirby it is.”

~

Edward whistled to himself as the two carthorses pulled the carriage at a leisurely trot along the forested track. The horses’ dark coat glistened under the rays of the sun that broke through the canopy of the oak woodland.

Isabel usually slept during carriage rides but her eyes remained open the entire journey as she daydreamed about the possibilities of the day ahead. She watched as the woodland gave way to open fields and the dirt road snaked down towards the quaint seaside villages cottages.

Upon hearing the laps of the waves, Isabel humped the roof of the carriage and shouted, “Stop the carriage Eddie. This is the place.”

“But West Kirby is a little further on.”

“No this looks fine.”

“As you wish.” The carriage rocked to a stop and Edward dismounted. He then opened the door and smiled while helping Isabel out on to the dirt path.

“Please bring the basket for me.”

“Certainly.”

“It will be worth the effort.” Isabel grinned while watching Edward once more struggle with the hamper. “I have had the kitchen prepare me a fine picnic.”

“That feels like a lot of food... are you meeting your friends?”

“I hope you’ve not had a heavy breakfast, Eddie.”

Edward carefully followed Isabel down the narrow sandy path which cut through the marrow grass towards the wide golden beach. “Just a boiled egg and a round of brown bread. Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re joining me for lunch.”

“What about the horses?”

“Don’t you feed them?”

Edward’s began to pant while struggling to keep pace as he carried the heavy hamper. “I mean... where shall I keep them?”

“What do you usually do with them?”

Edward could feel the sweat beginning to gather on his forehead. “I have to be with the horses at all times... they’re thoroughbred.”

“Don’t ruin my plan, Edward.”

“I can leave them at a nearby inn, I suppose. There are several in the vicinity.”

“Good. Do that.” Isabel stopped and looked about at the stretch of beach which was shelter from the wind by nearby dunes. “Then come and join me here at once.”

“Straight away, Ma’am.”

“Oh... and you can now call me Isabel... when we’re in private that is.”

Edward placed the hamper in the sand. Despite his backache, he felt good. “I’ll be five minutes, Isabel.”

“Make it four... I’m hungry.”

~

The coastal breeze tickled Isabel’s skin and played with her hair as she licked the marmalade which had found its way onto her rouge lips. Sat on the red and white blanket, she felt amused as she studied Edward who seemed caught in a food induced trance. “So? Do I prepare a good picnic?”

“It’s not a picnic. It’s a feast.”

“Well it’s there to be eaten... not gawped at.” Isabel chuckled as she passed Edward a china plate. “Start with the crackers and French cheese, then move on to the cold meats. But remember to leave enough space because I’ve included plenty of cakes for you.”

“I must try not to be greedy or I risk making a fool of myself.”

“I was going to take you to Lyon’s tea rooms. But with the weather being as good as it is... plus I think I’ve done a better job. Don’t you?”

“I’m sure you have.”

Isabel felt a surge of excitement as Edward took a bite from a cracker topped with brie. “I hope you like it. What do you think?”

“A bit different to cheddar or Lancashire... I tell thee.”

“Different but nice... right?”

“Different.”

“It’s French. I have something else from across the channel too.” Isabel unwrapped a bottle of wine from a protective towel.  “Some Bordeaux, no less.”

Edward appeared like an excited child. “Pass it here. I’ll open that.”

~

Hidden in the tall marrow grass, a stray dog stalked the picnicking couple while sniffing the air with his damp nose. Edward didn’t notice the mutt as he gazed lovingly at Isabel who nibbled on a sugar coated biscuit. “I feel like I’m dreaming.”

“Probably a sugar rush. It happens to me sometimes.”

“Your generosity makes me wonder what I have done.”

“You didn’t have to do much. It’s more of a case of being in the right place at the right time.”

“Well I’m a very lucky man.”

Isabel shyly smiled. “But that’s not to say I don’t like you.”

“Like me? Thank you.”

“You see... I hardly see men. Only those my father lets me see. And his taste in men is worse than his preference of shoes.”

“I guess I am in a rather perilous position then.”

Isabel grimaced at seeing the sudden panic etched on Edward’s face. Despite her reluctance to ruin the mood, she felt it was best not to lie. “I wouldn’t use the word perilous.”

“Oh dear.”

“Please remain calm.”

“But I need this job.”

Isabel could see the colour drain from Edward’s face. Reaching across the picnic blanket, she placed a hand on Edward’s knee while pleading, “I am having the best time with you.”

“Me too. But...”

“I won’t let him do anything to you. I promise. Look. Even if you lose your position. I’d get you a new one... I have contacts, you see.”

“It would be rude to abandon a woman.” Edward quelled his nerves. He then picked a biscuit from an open tin.“Especially when the food is this good.” Forgetting his manners he talked with his mouth full of biscuit. “Almost as good as the company.”

“Father would never let me be alone. That’s why I know he’s lying about his business trip this weekend.”

“I thought it was strange how Mr Crompton hired a private carriage and gave me the weekend off.”

Isabel lifted her glass from the soft dry sand. “He is seeing another woman. But I don’t blame him.” She then delicately sipped from the rim of the crystal glass. “I don’t even know why he insists on keeping it secret. Mother passed over ten years ago. I wouldn’t begrudge him a second chance at love.”

“I guess he just feels awkward. But at least you have a little bit of freedom.”

“It doesn’t mean I’m unsupervised.” Irritation layered Isabel’s voice. “Miss Black, the matron is father’s eyes when he is away. But after much skilled diplomacy she allowed me a day out alone.”

“With me?”

“Of course not. Miss Black thinks I’m at the woman’s institute. I was actually supposed to go today... but once she hurt her back, I just had to take advantage.  It was a true stroke of luck when she pulled a muscle lifting the hamper this morning.”

“You shouldn’t say that.”

“That woman has caused me so much bother down the years.” The look of judgment on Edward’s face filled Isabel with guilt. “But I shouldn’t, you’re right. I hope she’ll be alright.”

“She’ll be fine... it happens to us all from time to time.” Edward began to untie his boot laces. “Let’s go for a paddle.”

“A paddle? You mean for a boat trip?”

“No... as in getting our feet wet.”

Isabel held her glass close to her face while looking out towards the gentle waves. “In the sea?”

“Of course, Isabel.”

“But the water looks so cold.”

“Don’t worry. We’re not going swimming. But only because I haven’t brought my swimsuit.”

“One might not let such an inconvenience deter them.” Isabel glanced at her empty glass. “I have to stop drinking in the company of others.”

“A woman and alcohol is a good mix, in moderation of course.”

“Despite your class, you’re definitely a fine gentleman.”

Edward stuffed his socks into his shoes. “There are gentleman and rogues in every class, Isabel.”

“I know. It was supposed to be a compliment.”

Edward tossed his boots to one side then climbed to his feet. He smiled as he stretched out his hand to help Isabel up. “Come on. Let’s see how long we can last without our toes turning blue.” As Edward lifted Isabel to her feet, he noticed that she locked her fingers with his, leaving them to linger.

~

The welsh mountains appeared painted on the horizon of the estuary. With his trouser legs rolled above his knees, Edward grimaced as the cold surf washed over his naked feet. He turned to face Isabel who had hung back on the dry sand. “Come on, Isabel... It’s lovely.”

“You make for a poor actor. You’re literally shivering like a cat in the rain.”

“It shocks at first. But it now feels rather pleasant.”

“I’m still not convinced.”

Edward coaxed her with his hand. “Just a few steps into the shallows. That’s all I ask.”

“I’ll test it with me big toe. If it’s cold, then I’m going back to my champagne and strawberries.”

“That’s fine.”

Isabel baby stepped towards Edward who stood at the tide line. Lifting her long frock to her knees she then dipped her toe. “Wow! That’s cold.” But before she could pull back her leg, Edward grabbed Isabel by the waist and hoisted her off her feet, before swinging her around and plonking her feet-first into the water. “Edward, you cheeky rascal.”

“Stop being a bloody mardy bottom.”

“That’s so cold! And my dress is wet.”

“Just wait.” Edward placed a finger on Isabel’s lips, causing her to fall into silence. “Take a deep breath.” Feeling her tremble under his touch, he then slowly lifted his finger from her lips. “Now... not so bad, is it?”

“Edward..?”

“Yes.”

Isabel peered down as the water swirled around her mid shins. “You’re right. It feels rather nice, actually.” She then smiled awkwardly. “The sensation of the water and the sand feels lovely... in a strange way.”

“Come on, let’s go for a paddle down shore.”

“As long as you hold my hand so I don’t fall.” Isabel smiled as Edward bent his arm so she could link arms with him. “No silly.” She grabbed hold of his hand. “I said hands.”

~

The reflected sun sparkled on the crest of waves as the couple walked through the surf. As they continued their walk they could hear the squawks of seagulls while they circled above the fishermen who brought home their catches.  Isabel glanced at Edward then brought him to a stop.  “Thank you for a great day, Edward.”

“I should thank you. It was your idea.”

“I know. But you made it. So much so, that I don’t want to go home.”

Edward raised his eyebrows. “It’s getting late and if you’re not back before dark, it will raise suspicion.”

“I know you’re right.”

“Come on. It’s not over just yet.”

“What do you want to do now?”

“Steal a kiss?”

Isabel froze in shock. “I think someone should remember his place.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I just... thought.”

“Oh Eddie.... what have you done?”

“Ma’am. I...”

Isabel chuckled as if she was a schoolgirl. She quickly glanced about to make sure no one was prying. “A quick one.” Standing on her tiptoes, she reached up and pecked Edward on his cheek.

“Thank you kindly.”

 “You know how to woo a woman... as well as make her risk getting a reputation.”

“You’re the only woman I want to woo.”

Isabel’s heart suddenly felt heavy. “Why couldn’t you be a man of status... we could be together without any problems.”

“I don’t know why you’re so excited by me.” Edward chuckled, but noticed the sincerity on Isabel’s face. “You can do better.”

“I like you, because you’re caring and simple. We have only spent a couple of hours together but I have never felt this way... this excitement.”

Edward peered down at his ghostly white feet. “I would only cause you much ridicule.”

“Life is so cruel.”

“No.” Edward let out a sigh. “It’s not life, its people that are cruel.”

 “Do you think you’ll ever be rich?”

“Driving a carriage?” Edward gazed out into the estuary, as if he was searching for answers.  “Sadly, I’m never going to be rich.” He then took Isabel by her hand before peering into her eyes. “You’re going to have to be find yourself another man. One more suitable.”

“No.”

“As hard as it is for me to admit... It’s your only choice in this world.”

Isabel felt her heart sink. “I really don’t want to.”

“I’m sorry”

Isabel felt Edward place a finger against her cheek to catch her tears. She embraced him tightly while nuzzling the side of face against his chest. Staring out towards the Irish sea, she wished their futures were entwined.

 

 

Chapter 5

Albert felt lost in the music as he played his beloved piano, but his concentration was broken by the presence of his daughter. Peering over the sheet of music he watched Isabel hurrying through the room. His fingers immediately stopped dancing on the ivory keys, allowing his voice to be heard. “Isabel.” However, his daughter continued with pace, causing him to raise his voice. “I said... Isabel!”

“Sorry... I thought you were singing.”

“Poppycock! Come and stand next to me. I want to talk to you.”

“Whatever for?”

Albert closed the fallboard of the grand piano. He then placed his elbows on the polished surface before resting his chin on his hands. “What am I going to do with this rebellious daughter of mine?”

“I don’t know what you mean? I waited like a good daughter while you were away on business.”

“I have heard rumours.”

“About what, Father?”

“I think you know already.”

Isabel clasped her hands behind her back just as a schoolgirl would when listening to her head teacher. “I’m as clueless as a newborn... and just an innocent.”

“I have heard whispers on the wind that a certain somebody seems rather taken by Edward the driver.”

“That certain somebody is probably his own mother.”

Albert raised his voice as his patience melted away. “I wish not to play out this laborious game of smoke and mirrors. Now tell the truth.”

“If it is Miss Black who is spreading such rumours... then I have already told you. That woman has a vivid imagination. I have being warning you about that glorified maid for years.”

“So vivid that it’s true.”

“The darn woman should write for a living. Bloody nuisance she is, sprouting endless tales of yarn.”

“Even I have seen you talking to him.”

Isabel felt the pressure grow, stamping her boot on the oak floorboard. “Is it a crime?  We have shared a conversation or two. That’s all. I don’t see what is wrong with that.”

“Don’t stamp your foot like an impudent toddler, Young Lady. The reason you don’t like Miss Black is because she catches you out time and time again.”

“So... what has the housekeeper, or should I say... spy, seen this time?”

“You tell me?”

Isabel couldn’t meet her father’s eyes as she spoke. “Edward dropped me off at the women’s institute. Miss Black had to stay at home because she hurt her back preparing the picnic for the WI.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes.”

Albert rubbed his chin. “Miss Black trusts you... Is she right to?”

“Of course.”

Albert pushed back the piano stool causing it to scrape of floorboards. He then rose to his feet. “But Miss Black’s trust is misplaced, isn’t it?”

“No father? What have I done?”

“You tell me.”

A guilty Isabel groaned in frustration. “Stop playing these games. You said yourself you’re tired of playing.”

“You’re hiding something. I know.”

“Then just tell me what I have done wrong.”

“You didn’t meet the girls at the Women’s institute.”

Isabel rolled her eyes while she let out a groan. “I did.”

“Miss Black sent a telegram to the institute... asking if the picnic was suffice... they told her there was no picnic.”

“As cunning as a fox that woman.”

Albert stood toe to toe with Isabel, towering over his daughter. “You see... we give you the trust and independence you crave. And all you do is abuse it.”

“I went to West Kirby for a picnic.”

“You did not picnic alone... did you?”

“No, with Edward.”

“Hurrah!” Albert threw his arms in the air. “Finally, the truth... oh how I have missed the truth.”

“Stop it, Father.”

“No. You shall stop it.” Albert wagged his finger in front of Isabel’s face. “This is reckless behaviour which could sour the family name.”

“We only chatted... he is a gentleman.”

“I have nothing against the boy. But this is cruel for the both of you.”

“Why?”

Albert paced towards the bay window with his hands behind his back. The spatters of rain on the pane were a sign that the balmy summer evening had given away to a thunderstorm. “Because it is not to be.”

“But why not Father? Why not?”

Albert continued to look out into the storm where flashes of lightening illuminated the bay. “I’m a charitable man who sponsors generously the sciences. My employees are fairly treated... you only have to ask them and they praise my name.” He then turned to face his distressed daughter. “But I didn’t spend my entire life building a shipping empire, just to give it to a man who drives horses for a living.”

“But it’s me who will inherit the company..? Not whoever marries me. That’s why I have been working hard to learn from you. Father, I live and breathe the company... just like you.”

“Even so, you need a man who fits within the family... you’ll not just make yourself a laughing stock, but me too.”

“Father!” Isabel stormed toward the double doors of the music room. “When you use such words, you make me lose respect for the father I love.”

“It just frustrates me that I have searched high and low for a good man for you, only for you to turn up your nose. Then, lo and behold you fall for the bloody driver.”

Isabel opened the door to leave. “When mother died, you told me not to cry too much because you will love me twice as much. Well... I don’t feel you love me at all.”

“Isabel, of course I do. That’s why I will find you the perfect man.”

“I have found one.”

“You’re not capable... clearly.” Albert grimaced as the door slammed behind his daughter. He sat back on the piano stool and slumped onto its fabric cushion. “Stubborn... Just like her bloody mother.”

 

Chapter 6

Albert slowly paced around an ornate boardroom lit by natural light from the large bay window. A long polished oak table, lined with leather padded wooden chairs, dominated the mahogany panelled room. He walked amongst the fine artwork that depicted strange beasts that hung side by side with archaic maps of long lost civilizations. Upon reaching a showcase he rubbed his clean shaven chin while his beady eyes ogled certificates that celebrated his geographic society’s success.

Albert’s raised his bushy eyebrows as he inspected his gold plated pocket watch.  Slipping the time piece back into his breast pocket, he paced to the bay window.  He then gazed across the rolling greens of the manicured lawn that stretched down to the cold gray waters of the river Mersey. The sight of a steam ship bearing his company’s crest on its funnel caused him to nod in approval. “On time... just.”

 A sudden knock on the door snapped Albert from his timekeeping. “Enter.” His face lifted with a smile as his star employee entered the room.  “George... as dapper as ever.”

“A house with vies of the river just so you can inspect your ships... sometimes I wonder why you didn’t just move the office into this house. There’s enough room in this place.” George reached out to shake Albert’s hand. “I would have got lost if it wasn’t for the housekeeper.”

“Crossed my mind to move the operation here... but something about working from home just didn’t sit properly with me. What can I do for you?”

“I must say, Old Boy... I’m a man with much on his mind.”

“Please, take a seat. So tell me, Son....”  Albert pulled back the chair at the head of the table, then sat. “What is on your mind?”

“I have had a proposal.”

“For what?”

George could feel Albert’s intense stare, but remained determined. “I must admit, Old Boy... it’s one I find rather tempting.”

“Stop dancing around my totem pole, George. You might be the master of five languages...”

“Seven.”

“Seven... but when talking to me. Talk in English.”

George pulled out an envelope from his inside breast pocket. “Lord Craven... He has written to me.”

“Craven?”

“Yes.”

Albert ground his teeth. “I’m guessing it wasn’t a bloody love letter.” The mere mention of Lord Craven’s name caused a deep lying anger to swell inside Albert. “What did that scoundrel want?”

“My signature.”

“I heard he has planned for a polar exhibition. He must want your expertise.”

“Indeed, he wants me to head it.”

Albert thumped the table with his fist. “How dare he? How dare he piss in my pond.” He took a deep breath, then drew his hand across his chubby cheek.  “Did you sign?”

“Not yet... but like I said. It’s more than a little tempting.”

“Can I read the letter?”

“Of course, Old Boy.”

George recognised the handwriting of that of his old business partner. The betrayal still burned him like hot wax. “Why... the sneaky little toad.”

“No need to call him names now. We’re all gentleman, Albert.”

“He’s not a gentleman.” Albert screwed up the letter and threw it at George, hitting him between the eyes. “Neither are you. Judas... bloody Judas!”

“Albert... you’re being hysterical.”

“I made you. I bloody made you. And you treat me like this?”

George felt like shrinking. But knew doing so would only encourage Albert’s temper. “I know you made me.”

“I’ve sponsored you from the moment you left public school. I would have thought the belief I had shown you over the years would have instilled a level of loyalty.”

“Of course it has. I have named lakes and mountain ranges after you. There is a collection of Greek marbles named after your estate.” George stood from his chair then pointed towards the showcase. “I mean... look around this room, all the artefacts you proudly display... most were discovered by me.”

“You got there on my ships, spending my money. Let’s not forget the three ransoms I paid to get you out of trouble.”

“There was something lost in translation between me and the mogul’s daughter.”

“Yet, you’re as loyal as a Soho jezebel.”

George did his best not to make eye contact until Albert’s rage had run its course. “I could have easily named the marbles after myself.... So with all due respect, don’t talk to me about loyalty.”

“I have always treated you like a son.”

“If you did, then why do you refuse me a place on the board of the society which I made famous?”

“It’s not my decision alone. The board decides, we make all our decisions by committee.”

George felt Albert’s anger wane, so decided to put forward his own agenda. “Anyway... I have recently changed my demands.”

“What are they now? What will it take to retain your services?”

“Your daughter.”

“Isabel?” Albert felt himself slip into shock.”My Isabel?”

“Word has it you’re struggling to find her a suitor... well look no further.”

“The audacity! I should use your ungrateful corpse to de-barnacle my entire fleet.”

George winced then raised his open palms. “Albert please. No need to use empty threats.”

“They’re not empty. Believe me... What’s more, once I’ve finished removing the barnacles, I’m going use what’s left of your body as fuel for the boilers of my tramp steamer.”

“Look. Since I arrived back from the Zambezi, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that Isabel has grown into a quite a woman. I saw her at the church service. Stunning.”

Albert shook his head in disbelief before resting it on his clenched fist. “But you’re as famous for your drunken womanizing as you are for your survival skills. Every man would want you as his pioneer... but never as a son-in-law.”

“You know as well as me that you shouldn’t believe what the tabloids say. Plus a lot of my carnal conquests were just to fit in with the natives.”

“The mogul didn’t give you a ringing endorsement. Neither did the sheik nor the Zulu chieftain... come to think of it, is there a civilization you haven’t pissed off?”

“At the end of the day, as one of the most famous explorers in the world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people I encounter want to make a name for themselves by causing a scene involving some make-believe scandal. I make them famous.”

Albert shook his head. “But still.  Sometimes one thinks you spend your time mapping bedrooms than exploring the unknown.”

“But now I want to settle down.”

“You don’t know how to settle down.”

George took a deep breath as he expressed his plan. “I’m tired of travelling. I’d be happy to take a more sedate position in the geographic society.”

“Boardroom?”

“Yes. An advisory role. You know, train the next generation of explorers. With my eighteen years in the field, I could consult. How does that sound?”

Albert’s expression suddenly lightened. “I’d be able to keep my watchful eye on you as well. But why the change of heart? Craven’s offer was for more fieldwork... not a boardroom job. My daughter isn’t that beautiful to give up the life you have enjoyed much success.”

“I have travelled the world... from one horizon to the next. Trust me... nothing is as beautiful as Isabel.”

“But you’re old... Twice her age in fact.”

George displayed a confident grin. “I am still young enough to plough the most stubborn of fields.”

“Christ, steady on, Filthy Frolics.”

“That feeling of disgust you feel right now... that’s exactly how I felt when you called me old.”

Albert pictured his young daughter, then slipped into a nostalgic daze. “She’s just graduated from finishing school... I was hoping to find someone her own age.”

“And have you found one? No... Plus, all girls grow up. I’m sure she’ll be excited to live the life of a proper lady of the house.”

“I think you’ll be surprised by her temperament. Isabel is quite unique. She’s more interested in engineering than anything to do with woman’s duties. I think she’ll see herself more as a business partner than your wife.”

“An independant spirit... sounds a challenge.”

Albert groaned as he ran his hands across his face. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.”

“Look, Old Boy... you want me to hang around, then I need rewarding.”

“I’ll reward you handsomely. But not with my own flesh and bone. Not with my only child.”

“You make me sound like a blood thirsty Aztec who’s going to sacrifice Isabel to the sun God. All I’m interested in is finally having a loving, committed relationship.”

Albert folded his arms across his chest.  He breathed heavily while staring at George. “I’m a protective father, that’s all.”

“I want to make her my wife. I will cherish Isabel. So much so, she’ll think she is a queen.”

“I will pass on your interest. And return to you with Isabel’s thoughts. But if she says no... I want you to respect her decision. If she says yes, I want you committed to me, to the society, but above all... to Isabel.”

George couldn’t hide his smile as he reached across the table and firmly shook Albert’s hand. “Of course, Old Boy... we’ll be family.”

 

 

Chapter 7

Albert sat behind his large desk while scribbling his signature on the bottom of a handwritten letter. After placing the pen back into the inkwell he leaned forward then softly blew onto the damp ink. A heavy double knock caused Albert to raise his eyes towards the oak panelled door. “Yes?”

“It’s me, Edward. I believe you want to see me.”

“Yes, yes I do. You may enter.” Albert began to fold the letter using his ruler to guide the creases. He felt annoyed that Edward left the door ajar. “It’s not your stable, Edward. Close the door properly behind you”

“Sorry.”

“I have some unfortunate news.”

After closing the door Edward stood opposite Albert’s desk. “What is it Mr Crompton?”

“Edward...”

“Yes, Mr Crompton.”

Albert slipped the letter into a prepared envelope. “There is no gentlemanly way about saying this. So I’ll just have to be blunt.” Standing from his chair he handed Edward the envelope. “Edward, I have to let you go.”

“Mr Crompton?”

“I’m sorry.”

“But why? What have I done? I drive you to the office on time, without fail. I do all of what you ask and more. Never once have I took a wrong turn”

Albert sat back on his leather chair, leaving Edward standing. “You have done nothing wrong... other than steal the heart of my daughter.”

“What?”

“Don’t deny it, Boy.”

“I...”

“You’re a good looking chap that I’m sure has no problem with the ladies.”

“But Mr Crompton, I have done nothing to merit losing my job.”

Albert leaned back on his chair then folded his arms across his large belly. “Hand the paymaster the letter to receive your compensation. You’ll find that I have been more than generous.”

“Generous..? I think you’re treating me unfairly.”

“Don’t be ungrateful Boy.”

Edward patted the letter up and down on his hand. “I’m not ungrateful.” He took a moment to steady his nerves before stating, “But I do want a proper explanation.”

“I have given you one already.” Albert pointed toward the door. “Now take your tackle back to the Liverpool. I don’t want the likes of you here... demanding an explanation on why I don’t want you corrupting my innocent daughter. B’Jesus... what the friggin world coming to?”

“Mr Crompton... Please. I promise, I told Isabel we can’t be together. I have already put distance between us because I know there is no future.”

“I can’t rest with you here, Edward. You have to leave.”

“But I love this job. I love these horses. Please, I don’t want to go back to the irregular work of the docks”

Albert glanced up at the mosaic ceiling depicting a maritime scenario. “You were born a docker... it should be like going home for you.” He then faced Edward once more. “Bringing you here was a mistake. A mistake one on which I have much regret. I’m sorry.”

“I will go. But give me the grace of a month.”

“A whole month? Not possible.”

Edward stood tall while he spoke from his heart. “To find work somewhere else, as well as settle a few payments first... then you have my word, I will be gone. Never to bother you again.”

“You have some backbone, Edward.”

“Please show me this mercy.”

Albert twiddled his forms while processing Edward’s proposal in his mind. “Sounds fair to me.”

“Thank you, Mr Crompton.”

“But only on the condition that you totally ignore Isabel.” Albert thrust his finger towards Edward.” And I mean to the point of rudeness. I don’t want you to even look at her. Do you understand?”

“I agree.”

“Good.” Albert stood from his chair. He then ran his hands down his tweed blazer. “I have to be harsh, but I never wanted this.” His eyes then met Edward’s “Believe me, I have nothing against you. Just, I can’t have Isabel falling in love with a man who isn’t suitable.”

“I understand.”

“Now, now return to your duties.”

“Thank you, Sir.”Edward turned and walked towards the door, fighting the tears that were threatening to spill down his cheeks.

~

Stood on the steps of the shipping office, Isabel smiled at Edward who waited diligently beside his carriage. She whispered, “Eddie... Eddie.” To her frustration Edward did not flinch. She then glanced back into the foyer of the shipping office where Albert seemed locked in conversation with the group of American investors.  Confident that Albert was going to be busy for a while she hurried over to Edward on the street. “Hey, since when have you developed a deaf ear?”

“How can I help you Ma’am.”

“I gave you permission to call me by my first name, Eddie.”

“I have no such right to call you by your first name, Ma’am?”

Isabel felt saddened that Edward refused to make eye contact. “So... you’re ignoring me?”

“It’s the right thing to do.”

Isabel took a step backwards. “The right thing to do... never felt so wrong.”

 

Chapter 7

 

Albert groaned while slowly climbing the grand staircase of his large country mansion. He felt his that his bones ached more than they should and believed his heart was not what it once was. Despite his worries, Albert continued to climb with purpose.

After one knock, Albert opened his daughter’s bedroom door. “Isabel.”  The sight of his daughter peering down a bronze coated telescope aimed at a ship on the river reminded him of himself.

“Father! You should wait for me to answer before knocking.”

“Daughter like father... hey? Has the Cumbrian finally set sail?”

“That’s her. But she’s over three hours behind schedule. You need to ruffle a few feathers at the office.”

“Ruffle? I’ve plucked a few feathers. But it’s a miracle its only three hours later. Apparently a fire broke out in her coal bunker.”

Isabel opened a mahogany case that sat on her writing desk. Holding the lid open, she studied the case’s contents which included a full set of telescope lenses. “Talking about extinguishing fires... I have kept my distance from Edward.”

“I know.”

“So what do you want?”

Albert slowly sat on the edge of his daughter’s bed. “I’m not getting any younger... My bones ache and to be frank. I think I will be joining your mother in the not so distant future.”

“Don’t say that, Father.”

“Oh don’t worry about me. I look forward to setting eyes on your mother’s most pleasant features again.”

“I do miss mother too. Not that I remember her much. Sadly not much at all.”

“You’re the image of her.”Albert shuffled to one side as Isabel sat by his side. He then gently brushed the cheek of his daughter. “I always wanted a son. But in you, Isabel, I see the brains and fortitude that will allow you to succeed in this world of men. ”

“I don’t doubt that father?”

“But still, a strong woman needs a strong man. Especially in the shipping industry. It takes a certain type of steel to manage seadogs and deal with hardnosed merchants.”

“I told you, Father. I’m in no rush to marry”

Albert cleared his throat so he could project a more commanding tone. “I know, I know. But it’s time now.” He paced his delivery to add weight to his words. “George Coldstone of the Geographic Society has proposed a rendezvous with you.”

“Dr Coldstone. Really? I thought he would be too busy going native in Borneo or hunting large black women on the savannah.”

“Isabel.”

Isabel climbed from the bed and walked to the telescope. She then peered down the lens to view an incoming ship. “If you want my honest opinion, Father. George is rather dashing... for the older gentleman, that is. I would prefer a man in his twenties.”

“He may be relatively old. But George is an intelligent, successful and from an esteemed family.  You could do a lot worse.”

“I have always seen him as an uncle that I was fond of, rather than person i would want romance with. Kind, yes, dashing... most definitely. But he’s older, and I've known him from when I was a child. Doesn’t seem right.”

George stepped up to the telescope and swung it away from an annoyed Isabel. “Forty is not ancient. I know plenty of fulfilled couples who have large age gaps.”

“I know father... But you know that I’m a free spirit with my own heart and feelings.”

“Stubborn is what you are.”

Isabel scoffed, “I take after you then.” She snatched the telescope from her father. “Honestly, sometimes I think your ears are just stapled on... because I swear you never listen to a word I say.”

“I want to secure your future.”

“I don’t need a man to be safe and secure.”

“A man can offer you love and guidance. I will not always be here to help you.”

  Isabel groaned as she straightened her back. “I will be inheriting the shipping company... and mostly like take your role as patron of the Geographic Society. I think that is more than a secure future.”

 “But... But you’re twenty three and not even a whiff of marital promise.”

“Edward springs to mind.”

“You must forget about Edward. Move on, Isabel.”

Isabel ground her teeth but knew she had no choice. “I will meet George. But I can’t promise wedding bells. So I don’t want you to build your hopes up.”

“I won’t. But George said he saw you at the service in St Lukes last Sunday. By all accounts you left quite an impression on him. I can’t believe you did not notice him.”

Isabel nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders.  “I had a lot on my mind, Father. I would have thought you had too. But it seems nowadays all you think about is marrying me off.”

“It’s my one last duty as a father.”

 

Chapter 7

Sat on a bench under an ancient oak within the grounds of her family home, Isabel looked over the ornamental boating lake. The sun made the water glisten while every now and then a fish bobbed to the surface causing ripples to disturb the mirrored sky. Despite the idyllic surrounding she turned to scowl at Miss Black. “I have to be frank Miss Black...I have nothing but disdain for you.”

“I have heard much worse from you, Ma’am. What has got your knickers in a twist today? I thought you would be excited about meeting Mr. Coldstone.”

“I would be a little... but not with you acting as my shadow.”

“It’s your father’s orders.”

Isabel waved the whale bone fan next to her face as her stress added to the stifling summer heat. “I understand... but what I resent the most is your slyness.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I know you snitched on me and Edward.”

“Again, I only carry out your father’s wishes. It’s clear that Edward is not the man for you.”

“But you think George is?”

Miss Black shrugged her rounded shoulders hidden under a black shall. “He is a man of class and grand stature. In your father’s eyes, he’s perfect.”

“What about mine? Does my opinion not count?”

“Today you will have your say.” Miss Black’s elderly face beamed a smile which hinted at a past beauty. “If I’m honest, I saw him today. I think you’ll be more than pleased.”

“I remember him from my childhood... he could have only have gotten older and fatter.”

Miss Black chuckled. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

~

Isabel walked towards the tall and dark haired George. She thought his skin appeared olive but weathered, as if he had lived a full life. Excited, she quickened her pace. But the quiet cough from the chaperoning Miss Black reminded her to walk at a lady like pace.“George Coldstone.” Isabel offered a smile. “It’s been a good while.”

“I think you were twelve years of age the last time I saw you.”

“Eleven, I do believe.”

George glanced at Miss Black who stood behind Isabel. “Chaperone? It’s only a walk around the orchards.”

“Isabel’s father insisted.”

George gestured for Isabel to walk with him along the avenue of apple trees. “I must admit you have come a long way since I last set eyes on you. If I’m honest I thought you were a sickly runt back then.”

“I struggled a lot without mother. Emotionally, I was a wreck... I suppose it must have showed.”

“You clearly recovered well. For now... now you’re as pretty as a garden rose.”

Isabel face lifted with a hint of a smile. “A garden rose. Not a bad compliment.”

“I’m not a wordsmith. Nor am I poet.”

“Shame” Isabel mocked George with an overblown sigh. “I like the arts. Nothing woos me like a romantic poem.” She then heard another cough from the shadowing Miss Black. “Since when has the word, woo, had a place in Miss Black’s dictionary of forbidden words?”

“Since I deemed it forbidden.”

George glanced at Isabel who shyly avoided his eyes as they walked among the trees. “I do like the theatre and reading. I also write.”

“Yes. I have seen your name on father’s journals.”

“However, I mustn’t lead you on. As my journal articles are rewritten for me by my ghost-writer. My own sentences read like a badly composed shopping list.”

“I like to write when I have the time.” Isabel stopped walking and deliberately made eye contact with George. She thought his eyes were dark and piercing. “But since I’ve taken on more of an active role at the company... well, I just don’t have the time to dedicate myself.”

“Well, when we become engaged in matrimony...”

“When?”

“OK... if, we become man and wife. Then you can take a more relaxed role in the company.”

Isabel continued to walk down the snaking coral path. “I will sit at the helm of the company once my father steps down from his position. And I don’t want to be a ceremonial figurehead.”

“Don’t you want children?”

“Yes. Yes I do.”

“Good. So do I. We can start working on it as soon as you wish.”

Miss Black suddenly shouted in despair. “Jesus wept... Talking about procreation is strictly forbidden. You’ll both get me sacked!”

George ignored Miss Black and stared at a disgruntled Isabel. “But one day you will have to make a choice between work and children.”

“I thought this was supposed to be about romance? But it’s turned into something akin to the Spanish Inquisition.”

“Sorry. It’s just I really like you and wouldn’t want to have a false start.”

 “I suppose you don’t have much time for false starts, considering your advanced years.”

George winced. “Your sharp wit cuts like a knife.”

“Don’t worry... I still think you’re a very handsome gentleman.”

“You do?”

Isabel felt glad that Miss Black had given up chaperoning, instead choosing to suck boiled sweets under the shade of a tree. “Most definitely.” It hadn’t escaped Isabel’s attention that George’s cheeks were flushed with colour after hearing her compliment. “I do believe the fearless Dr Coldstone is blushing.”

“I’ve never had a woman say that to me.”

“Whatever.”

George did his best to keep a straight face. “Honest.”

“I know of your reputation for wine, women and song. I bet you’ve laid with women in every corner in of the world.”

“OK. What I meant was, that I’ve not had a women say how handsome I am in English.”

Isabel felt her confidence leave her. “What languages have your women spoken?”

“Several.”

“I probably shouldn’t ask... but I’m intrigued to know how many of these exotic women you have known intimately.”

George had long accepted that truth was the best policy. “I can speak Arabic, French, Zulu, East African Click and Portuguese oh as well as Spanish of course.” However he could feel sweat building up on his brow and quickly wiped it dry with the back of his sleeve. “And I have met women who speak in each of those.”

“Well I speak English and Liverpudlian.”

“I hate that accent.”

“It’s a necessary evil with working in the city, I’m afraid.”

George felt his heart tighten while he dwelled on Isabel’s beauty. “Your father is worried that I will not make you a good husband. But believe me, I will be loyal as a pet dog.”

“I like obedient dogs.”

“And that beautiful necklace I see.”

Isabel reached to her neck to touch the gold necklace. “My father passed it down to me when I turned eighteen. It belonged to my mother.”

“I will decorate you in fine jewellery to match it.”

“May I ask..?”

“Of course. Fire away.”

“How come you have never married?”

“Well.” George chuckled nervously. “That was quite a broadside.”

“Sorry.”

 “But I will let you into a secret... I married when I was seventeen.”

“What happened?”

George glanced down at his feet while he strolled at a leisurely pace. “She could not cope with me being away for long periods. She told me of her worries but I did not listen to them. As a young selfish man... I was having too much fun to worry about my wife.”

“What happened in the end?”

“She left me... and is now married to a vicar.” George bit his lip. “I understand she had every right too.”

“You were winning me over until the last few minutes.”

“But like I said. I was young. I have now, finally grown up with no wish for future exhibitions.” George could see the worry played out on Isabel’s face. He glanced over to see if Miss Black was still vigilant, but sighed with relief that she had disappeared. He then took hold of Isabel’s hand and peered into her hazel eyes. “Seeing you made me realise what I have been missing. If I kept abusing love... How would I ever truly be happy?”

“I’m glad that you see me in such I light. I really am.”

“Then, marry me.”

“George?”

“I don’t need an answer now. You can take your time. But as far as I’m concerned, you’re the woman for me.”

Isabel covered her mouth with her gloved hand. She then let out a giggle before glancing back towards the huge mansion. “I have to go back.”

“Call me a romantic fool. If I could write you a thousand letters and a million poems I would. But all I can say is that I love you.”

~

Isabel paced along the long corridor towards her father’s study. Her excitement almost made her pace break into a run. Pushing open the door with both hands she spotted Albert writing a letter. “Father, you never guessed what happened to me today?”

“I dare not think. Poor Miss Black has been going about her chores as if she has seen a ghost.”

“I have a wedding proposal.”

“Bloody hell.” Albert dropped his pen, not noticing the spatter of ink on his letter. “Just wait until I see him.”

“Father, I thought you’d be happy.”

“But you’ve only met once since you were a child. What’s he bloody thinking about?”

Weighed down by confusion, Isabel leant against the closed door. “But you know him well? He’s not a stranger.”

“I know, I know. But still? I think the guy has been cursed by some shaman or something... He’s not acting normal.”

“I was really shocked too.” Isabel’s face then broke into a smile, which melted her father’s heart. “But pleasantly so. I found him very charming, and he’s lost none of his looks.”

“Just look at the smile... It would suggest one has made up her mind? Do you think it could work?”

Isabel stepped up to Albert then threaded her arms around his waist. “We’ll take our time... but I’ve not seen anything I don’t particularly like.” She rested her head on her father’s chest, smelling the rich cologne she has always known. “I mean, he has history... quite a lot of history.”

“True. But there is nothing you can do about that. A long as he’s not killed, the all you can do is judge him from today onwards.” Albert reached down and kissed his daughter’s crown. “Love you.”

 

Chapter 8

George shielded his face from the sun until he stepped into the shade offered by the gazebo. Inside he found Albert reading the business section of a broadsheet newspaper. “I can guess what you want to talk to me about, Old Boy.”

“Asking my daughter to marry you? On a first date?”

“I got a little carried away with such beauty. I’m sorry... I just wanted to express myself fully before I go back down to London tonight.”

Albert folded the paper and placed it on the table beside the breakfast tray. “You’re a mature adult... stop acting a fool. What’s got into you, Man?”

“I don’t know... but I’m serious.”

“I’m just shocked... so out of character of the rough and tumble action man I know.”

“I’m being true to myself. The last twenty years was me running away from it all.”

“Running away, maybe. But you found riches and fame in the process.”

George broke into smug snigger. “Yes.” But he quickly returned to giving his testimony. “But seeing Isabel’s face... it made me want to stop running.”

“You promise?”

“You have my word.”

“Well, it’s a good job that Isabel is onboard with the idea.” George then rose from his wicker chair. “To the smoking room for a celebratory whisky and cigar.”

“But it’s not even eleven.”

“You can drop the perfect son-in-law act now. I know George Coldstone, and I know he is a hard drinker. So let’s open that vintage.”

George chuckled with a hint of sarcasm. “I thought you had forgotten about the vintage.”

“Not a chance... George. Not a chance.” Albert walked up the lawn back towards the mansion. He couldn’t stop smiling as he thought of finally getting his daughter wed. “So, I’ll organise the formal engagement at the guild hall of the society. Make it official for you and Isabel. You’ll have to invite your parents.”

“My parents... yeah my parents.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing... I’ll inform them when I can” George opened the door. “Nothing at all.”

“Why don’t you stay the night? Help me finish my bottle?”

“I can’t. I have a buyer for my apartment in Kensington, so already bought my ticket for London.”

“Darn... I’ll just have to finish it alone.”

George took a step back into the room. “Don’t worry, Old Boy. I’ll help you finish it before I go.”

~

Thick smog lay close to the ground turning people into shadow puppets while buildings appeared like mere silhouettes. George could still taste the whisky on his lips as he strolled along the crowded cobbled streets towards the city’s train station. Hands firmly inside the deep pockets of his frockcoat, he kept his eyes on the cobbles in order to avoid standing in droppings from the carthorses.

George’s bladder ached, causing him to dart into an alley where he decided to relieve himself against the brickwork.  He sighed with relief while he listened to the trickle.

 “Penny for the blind”

“What? Can’t you see I’m having a piss?” George then realised his mistake. “Sorry, that was rather rude of me... but surely you could hear it?”

“Penny for the blind.”

George turned his head and saw a young boy holding a tin car. “I don’t believe in charity... But I’ll give you a toffee. How about that?”

“Come on, Sir. Please.”

“You obviously not that bad if you’re turning down toffee. Go on, sod off.”

The young boy shook his tin once more. “Aye. Come on... a man in such a fine coat can surely afford a measly penny.”

“I thought you were blind? How do you know about my coat?”

“Err... I could smell the fine cotton, Sir.”

George buckled his belt. “You’re a charlatan.”

“You’re so tight your boots squeak.”

“Hey, less of that you rascal I told you I’d give you a toffee.”

“You’re a tight bastard.”

“The language!” George ground his teeth. “In fact, come here. I’m taking you to the police station. Maybe they’ll teach you some respect.”

“No. Get off.”

“No it’s for your own good. Typical bloody Northerner.”

The young boy began to scream, kicking his legs while George picked him up. “Help!”

“Stop it.”

“Lads! I’m being kidnapped by a dirty pervert.”

“What did you just call me?”The alleyway suddenly became blocked at the end with young dirt covered children, brandishing stove pipes and broken bricks. George turned back and noticed the other end was also blocked by a second angry mob. “Oh... shit.”

“Not giving me a penny has cost you your wallet.”

“I’m not going to get bullied by a bunch of half starved scallies...”

“Get him, lads!”

 A stove pipe across the back of George’s legs brought him tumbling to the damp ground where he was then promptly jumped on by several boys. He tried to crawl out of the mass of bodies while being kicked and punched but eventually succumbed to the vicious assault.

Half naked and bloodied, George stumbled onto the high street into the arms of a surprised policeman.

 

Chapter 9

In the pale morning light the virgin mist clung to the dewy grass. George yawned while parting the mist as he strolled towards the waiting carriage. He then doffed his top hat towards the driver who sat upon his seat with the reins in his hand. “Morning, Driver. Albert will be out shortly.” George suddenly stopped in his tracks as he felt Edward’s eyes upon him. “What is it, Boy?”

“Nothing. Sorry, Sir.”

George suddenly felt conscious of his bruised face. “It’s your kind who did this to me.” He placed his hand on the brass handle of the carriage door. “Bloody scum, the lot of you.”

“I hope your wounds mend well, Sir.”

“Words, just words.”

Edward’s stared ahead while he whispered under his breath. “Words yes... but they’re sincere.”

~

Albert stepped inside the carriage before closing the door behind him. He smiled as he sat on the leather bench seat opposite George . “Lovely crisp morning.” Noticing George’s mood, Albert asked, ”So... why do you look so flustered.”

“Your driver, I want him vetted. He looks young and full on mischief.”

“He is young. But when Bill retired, he recommended Edward. Told me he used to volunteer in the stables as a child, is trustworthy and of good character. Anyway, he is leaving at the end of the month.”

“Why?”

“Nothing of note.”

“No commoner is trustworthy. They’re not that different to vermin.”

Albert fingered his neatly trimmed moustache. “George. I know what happened to you was rather frightful.” His face then cracked a wry smile. “But you shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush. You know that.”

“Albert, they beat me and left me for dead. Edward could easily do the same.”

“I don’t think the grim reaper was sharpening his scythe in anticipation of your untimely arrival, George. You have a few bumps and bruises... I think you’re shaken up more than anything.”

George clenched his fists while he burned with indignation. “Worse has happened to me at the moghul’s dungeons. But what scares is this... Just imagine if it was Isabel who was attacked instead of me.”

“I would rather not think about it.”

“You should. It’s the lack of law and order here which makes me want to take her back on London.”

“The company is based here... and will remain so. You were unlucky, that’s all.”

“I hope your stubbornness doesn’t cost you.” George held Albert within his stare. “Please tell me you never let her travel alone?”

“Of course not. My daughter’s safety is paramount. She always has an escort, whether it’s me, you or a trusted member of the house.”

“After my experience last week, I’m going to start carry arms... if it’s OK with you.”

Albert raised his eyebrows then froze in disbelief. “Arms?”

“I want to protect both me and your daughter.”

“What do you mean by arms exactly?”

“A pistol.”

Albert searched George’s face for a hint of jest... but found none. His sight then dropped to George’s open blazer where the butt of a pistol perturbed. “A pistol? Don’t you think this is an overreaction to your unfortunate episode.”

“There’s no overreaction when it comes to Isabel’s safety.”

“You have a point, I suppose. Just, I hope you never have to use it.”

 

 

Chapter 10

Isabel could not stop admiring the blue diamond that lay encased on a band of white gold. Her eyes finally peeled away from the engagement ring to find the smiling face of her fiancée. “George... it’s perfect. I almost want to cry.”

“The perfect ring for a perfect woman.”

“I can’t thank you enough.”

“Well, apart from your love. All I ask in return is to accompany me on a visit to parents so I can invite them to the official engagement party which your father is organising.”

Isabel glanced down at the ring on her delicate finger. “Of course.”

 “I’ve had your luggage prepared and packed on to the carriage.” George took out his tin of tobacco from the inside pocket of his frock coat.  “But before we set off I just want to discuss some business with your father.”

“Sure, but don’t drink... I can tell you’ve already had a whiskey.”

George appeared annoyed, but swallowed his anger.“Just a tipple after lunch.”

“Sorry. Just, I don’t want you to sleep for the whole journey.”

“I will keep you company, my love.”

Isabel squeezed the fingers of George’s hand. “George.”

“Yes?”

“I can’t wait to see your parents.”

George’s smile appeared broken. As if he didn’t believe his own words. “I’m sure you’ll find them delightful.”

 

Isabel wondered out to the waiting carriage. She couldn’t stop examining her ring until her eyes finally lifted from the jewel to find a familiar face. “Morning. How are you?”

“Good, Ma’am. Thank you.”

“Eddie! What are you still doing here if you’re not going to act normal. Plus, I’m moving on, and I think you should venture to new pastures.”

“Don’t worry, Ma’am. It’s my last week.”

Even though she remained resolute, Edward’s admission rocked Isabel. “What will you be doing next?”

“I’ll be OK.” Albert’s keen eyes had spotted the gold ring. “Congratulations.”

 “I’m sorry, Edward. If things were different...”

Edward appeared empty. “But they’re not, are they? So no need to apologise.” His tired smile placed a huge burden on his wounded heart. “I wish you both well.”

~

Isabel could smell the telltale scent of whiskey on George breath once he closed the door of the carriage.  She let out a small sigh as the carriage began its journey to the railway station.“I do believe that you’ve been drinking, George. I don’t mean to go on... but it’s not even lunchtime. That’s just plain wrong.”

“Spend one day with my parents and you’ll understand why I’m drinking.”

“I’m sure they’ll be delightful.”

George took out hip flask and took another swig. “Then prepare to be disappointed.”

“George, put it away... you couldn’t even walk straight to the carriage.”

“I’ll sleep it off during the journey.”

“How far is it again?”

“Two hours on the train. We’ll be there before dinner.” George snuggled into the corner of the cabin, then closed his eyes.  If not... then beware of the wrath of my mother.”

“She can’t be that bad.”

“If she wasn’t... then I wouldn’t feel the need for getting blotted.”

“You’ve had a drink virtually every time I’ve seen you.”

George yawned into his hand. “I want to relax and sleep before the stress of seeing my parents.”

“Don’t sleep... I want to talk.”

“I think it’s best I sleep. If not, I tend to do things I regret.”

Isabel stood from the bench seat then stepped across the cabin to sit beside George. “Thank you for the ring.” She leaned against George then rested her lips on his cheek. “I can’t wait to be Mrs Coldstone. Wife of the famous explorer.” Her heart raced as George met her with a smile.

“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?”

“On numerous occasions. But it’s always nice to hear.”

“You could be a Goddess... a Goddess so beautiful, that even Venus would pale in comparison.”

Isabel blushed under such compliments. “George, please. I think it’s the drink speaking.”

“I mean it.”

“Then thank you.”

“Isabel? I want to ask something of you.”

Isabel could feel George’s stare upon her. “George stop it... you’re making me blush.”

“I can’t wait to marry you... let’s wed this weekend.”

“This summer, George. We’ve already agreed the date.”

“But I want to plough you.”

Isabel gasped, her ears where unused to such language. “Plough me?” She then slapped his shoulder. “You filthy man... such words should be left for the bedroom... or a brothel.”

“Don’t blame me. It’s you who inspire my tongue.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, George. I am a woman of high moral and much virtue. I should only inspire the greatest of gentlemanly conduct.”

“I am a gentleman and you are indeed a lady of virtue.” George then, grinned menacingly. “But a completely fuckable one.”

“George. Now that’s enough. Seriously.  Wanting to plough me like a randy farmer is one thing. But the F word is truly repulsive. Now go to sleep.”

“At least give your fiancé a little teaser. Something for me to hang on to until the wedding night.”

Isabel rolled her eyes while peering out the window as the carriage travelled the country lane. “George... the sooner you start snoring the better.”

“Do you love me?”

Isabel felt George’s Scotch scent breath on her cheek as his arms brought her closer. “Of course I do... If I didn’t, would I put up with such rude behaviour.”

“Then, please show me just a little bit of the beauty God bestowed you with.”

“My face and my heart has all the beauty to keep you happy for now. My nakedness will come once we are wed.”

“But that fantastic bosom needs to see the light of day.”

“My bosom often sees daylight.”

“When? I thought you said you were a virgin?”

Isabel chuckled. “My breast sees the light of day every morning... when I dress.”

“You tease... you have had my cock solid as a broom handle.”

“What do you mean?”

George gestured down to his lap. “Have a look.”

Isabel’s glance naively dropped, she then covered her mouth with her hand. “For God sake, George. Put it away!”

“It won’t go back in.”

“Well at least cover it with your hat.”

“What do you think? Greek like, don’t you think?”

Isabel sat rigidly and looked directly ahead while she searched for her words. “One thinks it’s sufficient for its intended use.” She then pleaded, “George! You sound like a randy school boy. Please. You’re making me feel more uncomfortable now.”

 “Once thing I found on my travels is that love and sex go hand in hand. It’s the same the world over. No need to worry, just follow your heart... let it loose and come and join me.”

“Not a chance George. Honestly where have you discovered such atrocious behaviour..? You’re worrying me.”

 “Really? But I thought you were enjoying it.”

Isabel shuffled over to the far side of the bench and gazed out of the window.  She felt that the train station couldn’t come quick enough. “All this scandalous talk is guilty pleasure for a moment or two. But you’ve pushed it too far now. Now put your manhood away and sleep off the alcohol.”

“Please? How about a kiss and some heavy petting?”

“Sleep, George. Or you’ll force me to ride with the driver and leave you here... with only your rude ways for company.”

George’s eyes lit up. “But you did say guilty pleasure?”

“A little flirtation is good for the soul, yes.”

“So you admit it... you do have a dirty side to you.”

“George, sleep.”

George’s voice sounded low and threatening. “You do want a bit of George... don’t you?”

“Only when we’re married.”

George swooped across the bench and pushed up against Isabel, forcing her against the wall of the carriage. “Just let yourself free, and experience what it’s like to be with a real man.”

“I am with you, committed to you.”

“Then give us fuck.”

Isabel slapped both George’s shoulders. “Get off me!”

“Stop being a prude and spread those long legs of yours.”

~

Isabel’s harrowing screams caused Edward to sit straight on his driving seat.  He brought his horses to a stop and applied the break of the carriage. He jumped down onto the dirt covered ground and ran to the door where he threw it open. The sight of George forcing himself onto a tearful Isabel caused him much disgust.  “Sir, I must ask you stop.”

“Piss off.  Continue your duty. We mustn’t be late for the train.”

“Sir.”

“Do as you’re told. Or I will dismiss you immediately.”

Edward closed his eyes then raised his voice. “Let the lady go. Or...”

“Or what? What are you going to do?”

“I will forcibly remove you from the carriage.”

“Alas, this is not your carriage to throw me out of. And this fair lady is my property... meaning I do as I please. So, one should kindly close the door and return to his duty.”

Edward stood tall and firm. “Sir... the lady is clearly distressed. As a gentleman, I can’t ignore this fact.  Let her go, or I will be forced to act.”

“You know what..? I’ve had enough of this. You’re both about as much fun as a severe case of piles.” George climbed off a dishevelled Isabel. “We can all be friends, can’t we, Edward?”

“I hope so.”

“Then be a good chap, and understand that I’m drunk as a brewery rat.”

“Please Sir, ride up front with me. The fresh air will do you good, cool you down and clear your head.”

“I will remain here.”

Edward glanced at Isabel who slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid I can’t let you, Sir.”

George sighed. “Edward, you’re dismissed.” He then pulled a pistol from his inside breast pocket. “Permanently, so.”

“No!”  Isabel threw her leg in the air, kicking George’s arm and causing him to skew his shoot. The gunfire alarmed the horses, causing them to bolt. Unbalanced inside the moving carriage, George stumbled towards the door before being kicked out headfirst by Isabel.

Edward stood to one side while George fell to the ground. He quickly picked up the pistol while a dazed George gingerly picked himself up from the road. “Sorry, George.”

“It should be me who apologise.”

“It’s too late for you.” Edward held pistol by its warm barrel, then smashed it’s butt across the back of George’s head, rendering him unconscious. However, he had no time to think about what he had just done as he heard the cry of his horses and crunching of wood. “Isabel!”

Edward rolled George into the field drain before racing over to the carriage which sat overturned in a field drain. His heart pounded as he inspected the wreckage. Staring through the broken window of the door, he found inside a tearful Isabel lying prone against the far wall. “Isabel, are you hurt?”

“I’m hurt all over... but what is in total ruin is my pride.”

“Let’s not worry about that now. Come on, let’s get you out.”

“Take my hand.” Isabel felt her bones ache as she reached out to take hold of Edward’s hand. “I don’t know what to do. All I know is that I want to get away from here... away from George. I never want to see him again.”

“Run back to your father.”

“I want to. I really want to. But father will only send me back to George.”

Without thinking, Edward spoke from his heart. “Then come with me.”

“You think it’s the right thing to do?”

“Yes. But be quick. We must go right now. George will stir at any moment.”

Isabel yelled in pain while Edward pulled her out through the empty window space. “But where will we go?”

“Wherever out feet take us.”

“And where will that be?”

“We will find out when we get there?”

Free from the carriage, Isabel complained as she dusted herself down. “Edward... you talk in riddles.” She then broke into a smile and embraced her rescuer. “Talk to me like the gentleman you clearly are.”

“Isabel. I’m not talking in riddles.” Edward glanced around the open fields that were planted with an autumn crop which was yet to reach maturity. “The truth is, I have no idea where to run. But I know we have to get as far away from George as possible, or end up in prison. I’m now a fugitive.”

“Then I am a fugitive too. We shall run together.”

“I can think of worse partners in crime.”

“The feeling is mutual.” Isabel felt worried, but could not ignore the excitement. “But we need a plan.”

“For now just have to keep moving.”

“But which direction”

“Aye, we do.” Edward returned to the carriage where he uncovered the saddle that was packed amongst the luggage. “Luckily for us, George was a keen rider. I packed his saddle this morning.”

“You... you’re not going to put me in a horse, are you?”

“You’re gonna have to conquer your fear of horses pretty damn quick.”

“Oh dear...” Isabel watched as Edward freed the horses of their pulling gear. “Oh deary me. ”

“It’s a blessing, Isabel. We ride as far as the horse can take us, then disappear underground.”

“Well, I can’t think of a better idea.”

Edward began to saddle one of the horses, but not without taking a glance over his shoulder to make sure George still lay in the ditch. “For now there is no better idea.”

“I think the only way we will find peace is leaving the country.”

“Scotland?”

“I was thinking further afield.”

Edward grunted as he buckled the saddle straps tight, then tapped the flank of his horse. “Ireland?”

“Bloody America, Edward.”

“Oh... But we need to pay for a ticket? Where will we find such money?”

“I have plenty back at the house.”

“There is no way we can go back.”

Isabel showed Edward the Engagement ring. “I’m sure this ring can pay for a return as well.”

“It’s pretty little bugger. Just like you.”

“Father always has cotton ships docking at Liverpool. Maybe we can stole away on one of those.”

“Then, let’s get you on this horse.”

Isabel pointed to her full length skirt. “What about my skirt? It won’t let me straddle.”

“Ah... good point.”

“So?”

Edward nonchalantly shrugged. “Gonna have to take it off.”

“I will not. Edward... that’s George speak.”

Edward pulled out a knife. “Then we’re gonna have to make some adjustments.”

“I think it’s best the dress stays in one piece for now... I don’t know how long I will need it.”

“Isabel. Every second we spend messing around increases the likelihood of us landing in a prison cell.”

Isabel groaned. She stared down the empty field track while taking a moment to think. “Give me your full length ridging coat to change into. I’ll button it up like a dress.”

“Fine... if that makes you more comfortable.”

 

Dressed in the full length leather riding coat, Isabel passed Edward her dress. “Put it in the saddle back carefully.”

“I’ll do my best... if it fits.”

Isabel stood by the horse. She thought the beast looked larger and more fearsome with every passing second. “Edward. I just can’t... It’s huge.”

“Remember last month at the beach?”

“What?”Isabel suddenly screamed as Edward hoisted into the air over.

“Christ! You’re heavier than I thought. Straddle the horse, quickly...”

“Edward... you cheeky fellow. I had a heavy breakfast of bacon and egg.”

With Isabel safely on the horse, Edward held his aching back. “Phew.”

“Sorry.”

“No bother... honestly. Now let’s get out of here.”

~

Albert followed the policeman down the sunlit corridor of the private hospital. Despite the warmth of the air, the moans and groans of the patients sent a shiver down his spine. Albert’s sight then landed on George who lay in bed with his head bandage. “Forgive me for my abruptness, George. However, my concern mainly lies with finding my daughter. Did you have a good look at the devil who took Isabel?”

“What did I tell you about needing a pistol?”

“I allowed you to arm yourself... but it did no good.”

George grimaces while his head throbbed. “I will have my revenge, just you see.”

“Revenge on who? Who is this man? Speak to me, George.”

“The driver.”

Albert gasped as his worst fears were realised. “Edward? Good Lord!”

 

 

Chapter 10

Cloaked by the shadows of the night, Edward led Isabel down the quiet street of a sleeping city. On reaching the familiar house Edward opened the rickety gate then paced up to the door where he rattled the brass knocker.

The dull light of a gas lamp shone through the small window in the door, signalling that someone was home. Once the door opened Edward smiled at his friend. “Duffy, I need your help.”

“Need my help?”

“Yes. Isn’t that just what I just said?”

Duffy struggled to wake from his haze of drink induced sleep. “Come on... it’s a Friday night. I’m sloshed... couldn’t even please the wife.”

“You need to get me on a ship.”

“Why?”

“I got myself into a bit of bother.”

The shock helped Duffy to finally wake from his slumber. “What have you done?” His eyes then caught the faint outline of a woman who hung back by the gate. “Who’s the girl? You’ve not got her pregnant have you? You’re in fulltime work, do the right thing and pay your dues.” The figure then walked out from the shadow allowing Duffy to witness her beauty. “Jesus and fucking Joseph. Good... Good evening Ma’am.”

“It’s not a good evening and I’m definitely not pregnant. And you sir, are a foul mouthed gutter rat.”

“Are you..?” Duffy then glanced at Edward. “Is she Albert’s daughter?”

“Yes, it’s Lady Crompton.”

“No disrespect... but Ma’am, why do you need my help?” They’re your father’s ships. You can have yourself a first class cabin quicker than a blood hound can smell its own fart.”

“Oh Lord... did I just hear that?”

Duffy did his best to straighten his back. ”Sorry, Ma’am, forgive me... I’ve been drinking tonight. It’s my son’s birth...”

“Shut up.”

“OK.”

Edward placed his boot on the doorstep. “It’s not so simple.”He stared at Duffy, whose face was lit by the yellow light of the flickering gas lamp. “She can’t be seen.”

“You’re... kidnapping her?”

“I wouldn’t word it like that.”

Isabel rested her hand on Edward’s shoulder and gave him a warm smile. “Edward is not kidnapping me.” She then glanced back at Duffy. “Quite the opposite.”

 “My head is cabbaged. I need to get back to bed.”

Edward felt the heat from the gas lamp against his neck as he stepped up to Duffy. “Don’t abandon us, mate.”

“I’ll never do that... you know me.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

“Come one. The wife and kids are sleeping. Step inside and we can talk this over in the parlour.”

~

The air was cold in the parlour while Duffy poured three cups of whiskey.  He picked up a cup in each hand, passing one to Isabel. “We haven’t got any crystal glasses... not used to such esteem guests.”

“Don’t worry. I would drink from a cloudy stream right now. Thank you.”

Duffy then passed the second cup to Edward. “Where do you want to go?”

“America.”

“America. Right... right. ” Duffy paced about the room in thought, then slapped a hand on his face. “You’re going to get me lynched.”

“I’m sorry, Duffy. I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t need to.”

“I’m a family man. I have three kids and a wife to think about. How could you?”

“You weren’t a family man when you were screwing the Frenchie!”

Duffy pointed towards the ceiling. “Keep it down, will ya?”

“Sorry.”

“You’re going to have to wait a few days. There’s no ship to the US until the end of the week.”

“We can’t wait... we’re wanted.”

“Fuck sake.” Duffy picked up his pipe that was already packed with tobacco. He slipped it between his lips before lighting it from the unshielded gas lamp. “The Caledonia... We’ve been loading her all week. She’s taking on fresh water in the morning and then she’s good to go.”

“Can you get us onboard?”

“The only thing is, it’s going Halifax, Canada.”

Isabel jumped off her wooden chair. “That will do.”

“OK.  It’s a bulk carrier carrying all sorts of dry goods. It will be cramp and smelly amongst the cargo, but if it’s good enough for the Irish then it should be good enough for a couple of runaways.”

“You’re a gentleman after all.”

“Right, we’re going to have to go down to the docks now.”

Isabel let out a desperate sigh. “I’ve been on my feet all day, I was hoping to finally get some sleep.”

“If you want to get on that ship without being noticed, it will have to be before sunrise.”

“I know.” Isabel stared down at her aching feet. “Well, I suppose there is no rest for the wicked.”

“Before we set out on this misguided adventure... What are you going to use as insurance?”

“Insurance?”

“If you need to bribe a crewmember?”

Edward felt his pockets. “I have the grand amount of forty pence.”

“I have my jewellery.”

“Not sure it will be enough.”

“Luckily I was dressed in my finest.”

Duffy grabbed his jacket from the coat hanger. “We’ll soon find out. Let’s go...”

~

The air felt heavy and laced by the smell of burnt coal as Duffy hurried down a cobbled street flanked by huge warehouses. His heart pounded like a steam locomotive on the rails while his eyes darted from one shadow to the next. He glanced over his shoulder towards a tired Edward and Isabel who lagged behind. “Keep close, you two.”

At the dockside a sea of tall masts appeared like a moonlit forest. Suddenly a dull thunder of a foghorn crashed through the darkness of the night, causing Isabel to let out a screech. Duffy stopped and eyeballed Isabel. “Quiet, will ya. You don’t want the night watch to start asking awkward questions.”

“It’s too late. Someone is here.”

“What?” Duffy froze at the sound of heels on cobbles.

The tall shadow spoke with a French accent. “Good Evening, Duffy. You’re rather late for your Friday night session.”

“Manon... I had a feeling I’d bump into you here.”

“I have a fresh bottle of olive oil and an empty bed... shall we?

Duffy felt the rush of excitement flow through his veins. “Ohhh.... you’re the devil in person.” He then felt his neck while looking at his desperate friends. Reluctantly, he turned to face Manon. “Unfortunately, I’m busy with my friends.”

“They can join us.”

“Really?”

“As we say in France, two baguettes are better than one.”

Duffy turned towards Edward who didn’t seem impressed. He let out a sigh and returned his focus to Manon. “ Sorry, Manon. But we must be going.”

“You only walk these streets when your drunk and desperate... have you found another woman?”

Duffy glanced over his shoulder while he walked his friends towards the ships. “Of course not. You’re the only home-wrecker a man needs.”

~

Duffy hid behind a parked cart, gesturing for Edward and Isabel to follow. He gazed through the darkness towards the giant ship which sat anchored to the dockside. “There she is, the Caledonian.”

“Right... but there’s a watchman on the gangway.”

“That’s where Isabel’s jewellery comes in.”

Isabelle didn’t think twice as she slipped off her engagement ring. “Take it.”

“Give me your necklace too. Just in case.”

“My father gave me this.”

The horizon was turning a dark purple as dawn approached. Duffy took off his flat cap, then ran his hand through his dirty blond waves. “Look. There’s two of you, that’s double the risk for him.”

“That’s a diamond ring, he’d have to work for ten years to pay for that.”

“Even if it is... you’re not in a position to bargain.”

“Duffy, come back if the ring isn’t enough.”

“Time is short, just give me the damn thing. I’ll keep it hidden in my pocket unless he drives a hard bargain.”

Isabel felt a cold shudder as she felt the necklace leave her skin. In fact, she felt naked as she handed it over to Duffy.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“I wish I could say it was a pleasure.”

Duffy slipped the necklace into his pocket and walked toward the gangplank. “Right, stay here until I wave you on.”

 

Edward watched from behind the cart as Duffy approached the watchman.  Chewing his nails relentlessly, he felt the conversation between Duffy and the watchman lasted longer than it should.

Dawn approached as the first chatter of birds began a stir. Eventually Edward noticed the watchman leading Duffy to a gas lamp where they inspected the ring. He then smiled as Duffy gave the signal. Edward took Isabel’s hand and marched her toward the gangway.

 

Chapter 11

Deep inside the darkness of the ship’s hold, Edward sat with an empty crate. His tired eyes closed over as he felt himself begin to doze. Snuggled into his side, Isabel hid her face under the blanket which the watchman had provided them. Despite wanting to sleep, Isabel’s mind felt too restless to switch off. “Edward..? Edward!”

“Yes.”

“Why did you come to my aid yesterday?”

“I had no option.”

“But you’ve thrown away everything you have... for someone you don’t even know.”

“I didn’t have too much to lose. Don’t worry.”

“Even if you didn’t” Isabel felt herself welling up. “I’m still indebted to you. You’ve humbled me.”

“You’re not... not until we’re free of this mess. Once we set foot on Canadian soil, then you can thank me. Until then, I fear all I’ve done is make a bad situation worse.”

“You saved me... even if the worst happens.” Isabel kissed his shoulder. “You put your life on the line to save mine.”

~

Isabel woke feeling uncomfortable. She tried to ignore the discomfort, but would not cease. “Edward?”

“Yes.”

“I need to...”

“Need to what.”

“Mother nature is knocking.”

Edward kept his eyes shut. “Ah. Well.... you’ll have to go behind one of the crates.”

“A woman needs her comforts.”

“We’re stowaways... we don’t have comforts. We’re not exactly travelling first class, are we?”

Isabel began to sweat.  She groaned, “I might be a stowaway, Eddie... But I’m still a lady.”

“What do you want me to do? Take out a magic wand and wish you an outhouse? I’m not a magician.”

“Outhouse? I come from a house with six flushing toilets. She rolled her head against the steel hull. “Now I don’t even have a pot to...”

“A pot to piss in?”

“I would prefer that you wouldn’t use such language.”

“Sorry Ma’am.”

Isabel slowly climbed to her feet. She had to steady herself due to the roll of the ship on the open sea. “However, I am facing a crisis... and a pot would be much appreciated.”

“What type of crisis?”

“What type of question is that for a lady? It’s my business, and my business it shall remain.”

“I know...” Edward finally opened his eyes as he asked Isabel. “But is it liquid.”

“It’s not.”

“Christ. Just hang on, Lady.” Edward groaned under his blanket. “We’re stuck down here for almost a week. Can’t share this space with stowaways of a different nature. Just wait until it’s dark and we’ll sneak on deck.”

“It’s a crisis, Eddie. A crisis is a crisis for a reason. I’ve been putting it off for hours.”

“Bloody women.”

Isabel felt annoyed by Edward, and wondered when had her hero changed. “Excuse me?”

“Nothing.”

“It has nothing to do with being a woman... it’s simply nature.”

Edward threw back the blanket. “OK.” He then slowly rose to his feet. “I’ll see what I can find.”

~

Edward grumbled to himself as he walked amongst the neat lines of packed crates. Holding a stevedore’s crowbar which he took from a hook by an access door, he explored the crates. At random he chose a crate and forced off the lid using the crowbar. “Would you believe it... your prayers have be answered.”

“A shipment of lavatories?”

“No... but large biscuit tins.”

Isabel huffed. “How will eating help the situation?”

“You can use the empty tin.”

“Oh my God.”

Passing Isabel the tin, Edward shrugged his shoulders. “I’d rather you do that than dirty the floor.”

“Shut up.... I demand you take me in search of a lavatory.”

“Your pride will put us in danger.”

Isabel pleaded with tear filled eyes. “Please, please I’m desperate.”

~

Walking down narrow corridor lit by electric lights, Edward led Isabel by her hand in search for a lavatory. Each corridor appeared the same, and they soon became lost.

Finally, fortune appeared to smile as Edward spotted a small brass sign. “There you go. You can finally have you’re...” His heart then froze at the touch of a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Shit.”

 

Chapter 13

The rain appeared to fall in gray sheets while George traipsed the through the dockland streets. His tall hat shielded his face from the weather while his full length coat kept him dry to his knees. He climbed the steps then leaned against the door before knocking his fist against the damp wood. His drunken smile greeted Manon. “I heard you’re the best fuck in town.”

“I’m glad the word of mouth spreads quicker than my legs.”

George then pointed his gloved finger towards a gold necklace. “Where did you get the gold?”

“It was bought for me.”

“Nonsense.”

Manon felt intimidated and stepped backwards into the simple house. “It was.”

“Don’t lie to me. Who gave it to you?”

“Sir... I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

George grabbed Manon by her slender shoulders. “Start talking wench.” He held her against the wall. “I said talk.” With one hand around her neck, his free one held the necklace so he could inspect it. “Just as I thought.”  He then ripped the necklace from Manon’s neck.

“I took it from a regular.”

“Who?”

“What does it matter to you?”

George’s anger was replaced by sadness. His hand eventually released Manon’s neck  “It’s... it’s my fiancée’s necklace.”

“He is a married man.”

“Is his name, Edward?”

Manon felt her neck. “He tells me that his name is Duffy?”

“Tall, dark hair?”

“Blond waves. Smokes a pipe.”

“Blond waves..?”

“He did have two friends with him.”

“Of course!” George let out a laugh. “Take me to him”

Manon watched George march towards the door. “You will have to reward me first.”

“I have business to attend to. I’ll come back and saddle up once you take me to Duffy.”

~

Duffy operated the pulley system on the derrick crane, slowly lowering the crate into the ships hold while always noting the stevedore’s signals. A job he had done since leaving school, it was just a regular day. As the stevedore signalled the release of the crate, Duffy flinched as he heard the whisper of George’s voice.

“Frogs... never to be trusted, Duffy.”

“Who’s that?”

“You’ve been a naughty boy.”

“I don’t follow?”

George gave an unnerving smile. “Manon.”

“Oh...you know her?”

“She’s just an acquaintance... a friend of a friend.”

“Ah.” Duffy swallowed his fear. “I tell the wife the same thing.” He asked, “You look pissed off. What do you want?”

“Edward Picton. Where is the bastard?”

“I don’t know. Did he not come to work today?”

“Of course he didn’t.” George closed the door of cabin of the crane.  “Stop acting daft.”

“I’m not.”

“Manon told me you two are as thick as thieves.”

Duffy’s felt his pulse rise. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not pulling your plonker, Boy. But I’ll cut it off. Now start talking?”

“I really don’t know where Edward is.”

George pulled the necklace out of his breast pocket. “Then explain to me where did you get this?”

“Never seen it before.”

“It belongs to my fiancée. Manon says she lifted it from you, last night. She also saw you with a man and a woman. So... which ship are Edward and Isabel on?”

“I wasn’t with them. I promise. I... I couldn’t sleep and went for a walk with my wife and son... he looks mature for his age. Manon was mistaken.”

“I don’t know why you’re defending a kidnapper. He has taken my fiancée. You’re putting our own life on the line for a criminal.”

“I’m not putting my life on the line for no one.”

“Yes you are.” George pulled out his pistol pushed the nozzle onto Duffy’s chest. “Tell me what you know... everything.”

“Christ.”

“1... 2...”

Duffy closed his eyes as he heard George remove the pistol’s safety catch. “They’re on the Caledonia. The necklace was a backup bribe which I forgot to return.”

“Cheating on your friends... not even the rats would eat your putrid corpse.”

~

Sat on a bench inside a bustling Canadian immigration office, Isabelle rested her head on Edwards shoulder. The large hall was filled with hundreds of exhausted people carrying their lives in tired cases and trunks. She felt drained and could only whisper, “What do you think will happen? Stowaways aren’t welcome.”

“I don’t know... but I fear they may send us back.”

“Promise that you’ll stay with me... whatever happens”

“Of course.” Edward stroked the dark waves on Isabel’s head. “I wouldn’t have come this far, just to suddenly leave you.” His eyes were then drawn to a tall uniformed man who had approached him with several other officers.”

“Please follow me, Sir.”

Isabel clung onto Edward’s arm and glared at the officer. “My lover goes nowhere without me.”

“Immigrants are interviewed separately.”

“Why?”

”It’s the way we do things here. Now, we can cause a scene or we can do things in a civilized way.”

“I’m not letting him go without me.”

Edward noticed the lack of sympathy on the officer’s face. He then turned to face Isabel. “Don’t worry, Isabel. I’ll be fine.”

“No. What if they lead you away... how will I find you?”

“I will be OK.”

“Edward?”

Edward pulled himself free of Isabel. “Please. Don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“I won’t rest until you return.”

“Neither will I.”

Isabel began to weep as Edward was led away. The pain of being forced apart from Edward in an alien environment proved overpowering as she broke into tears. A female officer remained at her side then asked, “Madame, please follow me.”

“Why?”

“There is someone who I think will be excited to see you.”

Isabel felt a deep fear inside. “Who?”

~

 Edward walked into the small interview room. The blinds were drawn and the room was lit by daylight from a small desk lamp.

“Sit.”

“I’d rather stand, thank you.”

Two burly officers stood behind Edward then forced Edward by his shoulder’s to sit.

“Edward Picton, I’m arresting you on the suspicion of kidnap and attempted entry to Canada under false alias.”

“I...” Edward arms were forced behind his back as he was put in handcuffs. Suddenly the door opened and in stepped a familiar face which filled Edward with dread. “George?”

“Fine job gentleman. Can you leave us alone for a few moments? Me and Edward need to be... reacquainted.”

Edward watched in horror as he was left in the room alone with George. “How did you get here before us?”

“First class tickets on an ocean liner... beats the pants off the tramp steamer you sailed in on. I’m sure my voyage was a little more comfortable that yours.”

“It wasn’t exactly luxury... but, as they say, it’s the company that counts.”

“You’ve caused me lots of sleepless nights, Edward.”

“Not got a lot of sleep myself.”

George stood opposite, then peered down at Edward. “What possessed you to think that you can steal Isabel from me?”

“I did not steal her.”

“Yes you did.”

“I did not! You lost her. She came with me willingly.

“She did not!” George slapped Edward across his face with the back of his hands. “Why would Isabel want a mere commoner like you... when she could have a gentleman of wealth, status and power.”

“She wanted love.”

“Love..?” George laughed dismissively, then struck him a second time across the face for a second time. “Love..?”

“Ask her yourself, she’ll tell you?”

“I don’t know how, but you’ve corrupted her. Isabel loved me.”

Edward felt blood trickling from his nose. “You didn’t treat her right.”

“I treated her no different than how a woman should be treated. I asked for nothing more than what she ought to give me.”

“I did not imagine what happened in carriage.  I saw with my own eyes.”

“The only thing that was wrong was you.” George clenched his fist then hit Edward across the face with so much force that he fell from the chair onto the stone floor. “All you are is a bloody peeping Tom.”

“Hitting me will solve nothing. Killing me won’t either. Do you think she’ll come back to you after all this?”

“Probably not. But as long as you don’t have her...I’ll live the rest of my life in peace.”

“You’ll never find peace.”

George kicked Edward, who yelped before curling into a protective ball as if he was a threatened hedgehog. “Look at you... just look at you. I’m going to leave you so disfigured not even your mother will recognise you.”

“She’s in heaven.”

“Good... that’s where I’m sending you.”

“Guards!”

“They’re in my pocket... or rather, Albert’s.“

“If you’re such an honourable gentleman... then how could you kill a man in cuffs? At least give me a fighting chance.”

“There’s nothing honourable about me.”

~

Albert stepped into the small interview where the sight of his daughter brought a sense of relief and a huge smile to his face. “Isabel... Oh Isabel. I’ve been so worried.”

“Not as worried as I am now.”

“What do you mean? You’re ordeal is over.” Albert tightly embraced Isabel but felt little in return from his daughter. “Daddy has come to rescue.”

“Rescue from what?”

“From...”

“From a dream..?” Isabel stepped from the embrace then frowned at Albert. “From the arms of a good man..? From true love?” She scowled at him through fiery eyes. “Which one is it, Father?”

“How come you speak with such a tongue? Just look at you, it doesn’t look like you’ve been living a dream. You look terrible and you... smell even worse.”

“You... and Geor...” Isabel held her head in her hands while she cried, “I don’t even want to mention his name. He put me through hell.”

“How can you accuse him of this? We tracked you down to save you from Edward.”

“I was running from George, Father. Edward saved me. He is the gentleman to George’s monster.”

“George? A monster? How so? The poor man... he has been worried to death! Edward left him to die in a field drain.”

“All George was worried about was the truth.”

“The truth? If you mean the argument between the both of you. He told me he had got a little drunk and perhaps his tongue was loose.”

“George forced himself upon me when we were travelling to his parents. Edward saved me.”

“Ah... but still. I’m sure you can talk things through. You do love each other, after all.”

“Father? Does the fact he forced himself, not mean anything to you?”

“Men are men. Have a few whiskies and we become like rutting stags. If we’re not fighting with one another we’re mounting anything that presents itself.”

“Father..?”

“Sorry. I had a sip while waiting to see you.”

“For God’s sake.” Isabel shook her head. “I’m surrounded with drunkards.”

“I know George is a good man.”

“He is not. I never wish to see him again. Now, I demand to see Edward at once.”

The door opened and in walked George, wiping blood from his hands with a cloth. “Sorry, I’m afraid that isn’t possible.”

“What have you done to him?”

“What has he done to you? I’m sure I overheard you defending the brute. He is nothing but a lowlife scum.”

“He is of higher morals than you. I can assure you.”

George shrugged his shoulders. “Anyway, he has been handed over to the police. I’m sure he’ll be among his own company once he is in jail.”

“What for?”

“Kidnap of course.”

“I went willingly.” Isabel ran for the door. “I must tell them quick.” But George blocked her path.

“Now stop it. Pull yourself together, Woman. I’ve missed you, and glad to have you back. You can at least show the same respect.”

“Respect... respect? You lost my respect because you never showed me any. Not to mention tried to shoot Edward. Now get out of the way.”

“No. I can’t until you regain control of yourself. You’re acting like a emotional little girl.”

“Move out the way, you beast.”

Albert tried to step in between the warring pair. “Come on Isabel... stop making a scene. I’m sure you can both work it out. We’re all adults.”

“No. I demand to see Edward. At once.”

George placed a hand on each of Isabel’s shoulders. “I demand that you forget that man at once.”

“Take your filthy hands of me.”

“Isabel... please.”

“I’ll never forget Edward”

 “You have no choice.”

“I’ll never live with you, never be with you. I don’t want to. As far as I’m concerned... you can rot in hell.”

Albert found the situation too distressing. “I think we all need to calm down here. There is no need for this behaviour from the both of you.” He gazed at George. “I think the wedding is off.”

“I want the ring back.”

“Isabel? Hand the ring back to George.”

“How do you think I paid for the crossing?”

George raised his arm as if to strike Isabel, “Why you ungrateful whore.”

Albert stood in the way of George, and gripped his forearm. “I’ll reimburse the cost... just to see the back of you. I mean it. Go and work for Lord Craven. You’re suited for one another. Both slimy worthless toads. Now, be gone with you.”

“Albert, Old Boy? Have you not seen how she just disrespected me?”

“I have now realised that I was wrong to accept your proposal.”

George appeared lost for words while staring at Albert. “You’ll regret those words.”

“I mean it. It’s more than clear to me that you’re both not right for each other.”

“I want to be fully compensated for the lost ring.”

“I told you already. I shall pay back each and every penny.”

“I’m glad it’s over... she’d as frigid as a penguin’s backside.” George shook his head before walking away. “Good riddance... To the both of you.”

~

Isabel barged into the interview where Edward lay like a bloodied pulp. Tears streamed down her cheeks while she fell at his side. “Oh, Edward, what has he done to you?”

“Nothing that can’t be put right.”

“The beast.”

“Where is he?”

“Gone.”

Albert peered around the door, then winced at the sight of Edward. “I will go and find a doctor.”

 

Chapter 14

 

With the sound of wedding bells fresh in his ears, Edward took Isabel into his arms. “I think tradition calls for me to carry you over the threshold of the home.”

“Absolutely.” The gathered crowd cheered as Isabel jumped into Edward’s arms. “I’ve been waiting for his moment... to be married to a man I love”

~

Isabel drew the bedroom curtains closed before chuckling at the feeling of Edward hugging her from behind. She leaned back against his solid body while a sense of excitement flitted inside as his roaming hands began to explore.

Her flimsy nightdress made her feel naked under his touch, driving her excitement.  The moment his hands slipped under her garment Isabel breathed deeper with every breath, every brush of his hands. The feeling of his fingernails softly raking her naked stomach sent erotic sensations tingling through her body.

Isabel felt disappointed when Edward withdrew his hands. Wanting to continue she turned to face her man. Resting her lips against his, feeling his excitement she pushed him towards the bed.

Feeling Edward push the straps of the nightdress towards the end of her shoulder and suddenly stopping, Isabel nodded, then let the nightdress fall to the floor.

Despite her innocence she felt confident in her undressed state and remained comfortable in Edward’s presence.

 Edward took Isabel by her hand and lay her gently onto the soft bed amongst the mass of velvet pillows and cushions. He then began to worship his love with his lips, tasting and tracing her body with his tongue.

Isabel closed her eyes so she could focus on the bliss. She quietly groaned under touch and felt herself break free.

Laying under Edward, Isabel guided him to what he longed for. She then wrapped herself around him never wanting to let go.

In the darkness of the candlelit bedroom Isabel’s heart burned intensely. A wide smile adorned her face as she peered deeply into her lover’s affectionate eyes. She quivered to the touch of her husband while embraced in his arms. In silence she rested her head on his chest where she listened contently to his beating heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Dominic Murphy . All rights reserved.

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