|The English Roses: A New World
Author: aims80 PM
Jenny's life has never been easy, from the drudgery of the workhouse to the indignity of the brothel, to the humility of the Hamiltons. A broken heart leads to revenge and a new start. Please R&R. COMPLETED.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 55 - Words: 184,042 - Reviews: 117 - Favs: 16 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 03-25-05 - Published: 03-26-04 - Status: Complete - id: 1562501
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
[A/N. This is not technically a sequel to "Nellie", however it does involve some of the same characters. My plan is to write four stories in this series; Nellie, Jenny, Sally and Brenda. Like with "Nellie", "Jenny" will basically follow Jenny's life, including her time in the Hamilton household. However unlike "Nellie" that will not form the majority of the story for the simple fact that it would get boring if all four stories took place mainly in the same spot. Despite my starting this story now it will be awhile before the next chapter is uploaded due to my operation/time in hospital. Which reminds me- thank you all for the good wishes. I've got two days before I go in so hopefully I can make the most of them! *grin* Also thank you for the constructive criticism with "Nellie." When I get the chance I will go back and change things around a bit so there is more interaction with Robert and his character has the chance to be developed properly. As for the idea of getting "Nellie" published I don't think that it's good enough and to be honest I'd have absolutely no idea how to go about it. But enough of "Nellie", now it's time for "Jenny" and I hope this story turns out as good as "Nellie" and you all like it as much as you did "Nellie." BTW: I am also going to try and continue with "The Winds of Change"- thank you for those of you who reviewed it since I really want to know whether its worth continuing or not! Anyway, enough from me, time for the first chapter of "Jenny."]
Isighed with frustration as I failed to thread the strand of white cotton through the eye of the needle for the fourth time and stifled the urge to throw the needle across the room. Despite the fact that I could tell it was a sunny day outside from the small window at the top of the large, dark and damp room inside the lighting was very poor and my eyes ached from hours of sewing. My fingers were red and swollen and my back was sore from bending over the table for so long without a break. Angrily I threw the needle down onto the blue coat that I was hemming, that I had to have finished by dinnertime. I'd never been much of a sewer and even after coming here to the Marylebone workhouse six years ago when I was only ten I still hadn't learnt much.
Beside me Mary Ann, a small, red haired girl and probably my closest friend in the workhouse, glanced nervously at me. "Yer getting' behind." She whispered, not before checking to make sure she wouldn't be overheard. Rules in the workhouse were very strict and it was expressly forbidden to talk whilst working. I'd had trouble getting used to it when I first moved from the infants school into the sewing room at twelve and had been whipped by Matron a few times. Now I, like most of the inmates, had mastered the art of whispering out the side of my mouth so that if anyone happened to be passing the open door they wouldn't think I were talking.
"I know, I just can't thread the bloody needle in this dark." I said angrily. "I've always been hopeless at sewing. Before I came to this hell hole I didn't even know what a needle was."
After finishing in the school I'd been put in the sewing room but when the matron realised how inept I was when it came to darning and sewing and I was given chores in the laundry or kitchen instead. I'd spend hours on my knees; eyes watering from the chemicals put in the hot water, hands red raw despite the thin gloves I was given to wear. However a broken ankle from slipping on the soapy floor had forced me back into the sewing room. Even before the cast on my leg was barely dry despite the instructions of the doctor the matron had reluctantly called to see me who suggested I spend a week or two resting. And the last three years had seen me struggle to sew my quota on a weekly basis.
"'Ere, give it ter me." Mary Ann whispered holding out her hand. Without hesitating I dropped the needle into her hand and she deftly threaded it for me and handed it back with a smile. "Before Mama died she used ter take in rich people's sewin' fer extra money and when there was an awful lot ter do I used ter 'elp 'er." She explained, picking up the trousers she was working on.
"Would you two be quiet for heaven's sake?" A middle aged woman looked up from her sewing to shoot a dirty look in our direction. "If you're not careful you'll have the matron in here and if she sees the state of this skirt I'm working on I'll be for it."
Mary Ann leant over the table to eye the woman's work. "Yer've dropped a few stitches 'ere-" she pointed to a spot, "but yer can go back an' pick 'em up easy enough."
The older woman sighed and pushed her hair back from her forehead. "I just don't think I'm ever going to get the hang of this. I never learnt to sow before…..before I had to come here. I lived in Chelsea and we had servants to do this type of thing. Our house…."
I tuned out, concentrating on my coat instead of listening to the woman's story. I'd heard many hard luck stories since I arrived here and the thing that had always stuck in my mind was how once people arrived at the workhouse, once they walk through those front gates, they are all on the same level in reference to pecuniary circumstances, despite perhaps having come from backgrounds as different as chalk and cheese. Women who had once moved in the highest circles of society, but whose husbands had lost all their money in a bad business deal or through gambling debts shared rooms with women who had barely eked out an existence living on the streets in extreme poverty.
"Yer tellin' them ter shut up and now yer gasbaggin' like an old woman." Another woman, Catherine, said shaking her head. She was a recent addition to the workhouse and her son was here somewhere but she'd yet to find him. I'd heard her crying at night from the shame of being forced into the workhouse and the worry over whether her son was all right or not. Judging from the little she'd said I gathered she and her son had lived just above the poverty line until she got sick and lost her job. From there it was only a small step into the workhouse.
Mary Ann laughed. "It's not like talkin' is stoppin' us from workin', stupid bloody rule that is." She said, dramatically threading her trousers as if to prove her point.
"I'd like to think that was the case." A voice came from the doorway and inside the sewing room everyone stopped dead for a moment and then realising who it was hurriedly began to sew again, myself included. The matron stepped into the room, tapping a large cane against her hand. She was a big woman, tall and solidly built, and towered over pretty much every woman and child in the workhouse. Unlike the rest of us women and girls she wasn't wearing a rough brown dress but instead she wore different clothes all the time, some of which were recognizable by us working in the sewing room. When I'd first realised that I had been disgusted. I thought the sewing we were doing was being sold and the profits being used to keep us in clothing and food but it was quite possible I was very much mistaken. "But somehow I doubt it. And you, Mary Ann, seem to have quite a mouth on you."
"Sorry matron, I were talkin' but I were still workin'. Yer can see me trousers." Mary Ann said and she held up the trousers for Matron's inspection. From where I sat I thought they looked fine but Matron snorted disdainfully.
"Put down your sewing and come with me Mary Ann. After your punishment you can come back in here and finish them." Matron said.
"But then I'll miss me dinner." Mary Ann protested.
"That's not my problem. And for heavens sake talk properly. You went to the infant's school did you not? You learnt to speak properly and you know the rules about it do you not?" Matron snapped.
"Matron it was my fault Mary Ann was speaking." I said quickly. "I spoke to her and she replied. I know I shouldn't have-"
"Providing I believe you Jenny- which I don't- it wouldn't matter. Mary Ann knows the rules and she shouldn't have responded." Matron replied cuttingly. "I don't see you moving Mary Ann! Are you coming?"
"Yes Matron." Mary Ann said softly, and with a sigh she got up from her seat and left the room followed by Matron who stopped in the doorway to give us a warning look and remind us that dinner would be served in an hour and a half and we must be finished our clothing before we could eat. Then she left with Mary Ann.
"Poor bugger." Catherine said with a shake of her head. "She don't spare yer nothin' when she's punishin' yer. I got whipped when I first got 'ere, before I came into 'ere fer demanding to know where me son was goin'."
A few people gave sympathetic smiles but most were too scared to talk in case Matron hadn't actually left and was lingering around somewhere outside to listen for anyone else talking. It was blatantly obvious from the very beginning of my time in the workhouse that it was a dog eat dog world and so long as you weren't the one getting into trouble it was best to keep your mouth shut and your eyes down. As such it was unusual to see anyone sticking up for someone else but as Mary Ann and I had become fast friends being the closest in age in the sewing room and our bedroom we did try to help one another.
I sighed and tried to keep working on the coat. Mary Ann hadn't been in the workhouse long, perhaps only a year or two, and had only been in the sewing room the last six months. Unlike most of the inmates Mary Ann and I had developed a sort of friendship which was rare in this place. Most people kept to themselves, either broken by the workhouse and the system, or grieving for their old lives, or perhaps even in shock at the new conditions in their life. Of all the workhouses in London Marylebone was one of the larger ones, averaging well over a thousand inmates. Most were adults, and of these adults most were female. Marylebone was also, as my mother had said when she dropped me off at the gates six years back, one of the better ones. She assured me that even though it was going to be hard work and harsh conditions once I turned eighteen I would be assured of some kind of skill I could use in the outside world.
Thinking about my mother took my concentration off my sewing and I pricked my finger. I swore under my breath, but kept sewing. I thought if I could get the coat done to a satisfactory level before dinner I might try and do some of Mary Ann's trousers. I didn't think about my mother much any more. At first I'd cried myself to sleep each night and been sure that eventually she would come back to get me. But I soon learnt she wasn't going to come back, I was here for the indefinite future. In some ways despite the hard life we lived in the workhouse it had been better than the life I'd shared with my mother. My father had died when I was about six and afterwards my mother had started drinking a lot so that what little either of us managed to earn was spent on alcohol for her rather than food for us. Marylebone Workhouse designated each Wednesday for the purpose of granting out-door relief and I was one of the regulars lining up. Beside me in the line were ragged mothers with their children I their arms, and at their feet, old infirm men, and young men who are in destitute circumstances. Looking up at the looming structure of the workhouse whilst I was in this line made me determined I'd never let myself be put in there. Unfortunately one day my mother decided enough was enough and that she couldn't support herself, let alone a child, and she half-dragged me to the gates of the workhouse. I cried and carried on, begged and promised, but all to no avail. My mother was adamant that there was no other alternative and I entered the workhouse.
I must have gotten lost in my sewing because before I knew it the bell rang for dinner. Because this place is one of the larger workhouses there is not one room big enough to accommodate a large number of inmates and consequently we take our meals in different places in groups of about one hundred. For instance those of us working in the sewing room now stowed away our finished garments and then took up our bowls and cutlery from underneath the tables which we then carried down to the kitchen. Upon entering the workhouse we are issued with our regulation uniform, a bowl and knife, fork and spoon, and a small cup for tea or water. The bowls are all old, stained and chipped and if you happen to break it you have to go through a long lecture by Matron about responsibility and looking after your things before being issued with another. In the kitchen we joined a long line of inmates waiting for food. Catherine was standing in front of me and as she did at every mealtime she scanned the line anxiously.
Another woman from the sewing room saw this and she leant over to her. "Have ya thought that perhaps he's in the infirmary? Was 'e sick when ya arrived?"
The place is divided into two departments. The department for the sick is called the infirmary, and the department for the healthy is the workhouse. Those in the latter are made to work in one of the few different areas, or perhaps are loaned out to those who can afford them for a certain sum a week. Often healthy, strong men are loaned to wealthy farmers for harvest.
"Nay he weren't. I just wish I could see 'im, even if it were fer a few minutes only." She said desperately.
"MOVE ALONG." One of the workhouse guardians prodded the two women impatiently. "If you're gonna' hold up the damn line p'rhaps you should go back to the back!"
The two women muttered apologies and the line moved forward. Eventually we reached the top of the line where weak tea was poured into our cups, a surprisingly thick vegetable soup was poured into our bowls and a slice of slightly stale bread was placed on top of the soup. Taking our meals we hurried back to the sewing room so as to eat before it went cold. As per usual there was no real talk during mealtimes as we shoveled food into our mouths looking like we lived only for our food. Little though it was it was enough for us to be able to get through a day of work six days a week.
After finishing our meals we washed our cutlery and placed them under our beds ready for breakfast in the morning. There was a strict routine in the workhouse that I had found hard to get used to. We were woken up half an hour before breakfast where we were expected to wash in the small dirty bathrooms attached to each of the large dormitories. If you were near the front of the line you were right, but if you were slow getting out of bed you'd miss out and spend the morning worrying about being taken aside and berated for lack of cleanliness. After breakfast we began work at precisely eight in the morning and worked through until twelve where we had half an hour for lunch. After lunch we were given, on alternate days, the chance to go out into the yard and exercise for half an hour before returning to work. On the days where we didn't get to exercise we went straight back to work. We then worked through until six thirty when we had an hour for dinner. Lights went out precisely an hour after eating dinner so inmates made the most of that precious spare hour a day. Some wrote letters to people on the outside, some read books that were smuggled inside the workhouse by sympathetic guardians (of which there were a few), others simply sat and stared into space thinking about how low they had sunk in life. I had nobody to write to having no idea whether my mother was alive, whether she was in London or even in England.
I lay on my bed and closed my eyes and did what I'd been doing nearly every night for the past few months- thought about the escape plan I was hatching. My planning was meticulous as I carefully took note of even the smallest of details and made sure I had a contingency plan in case things went wrong. I'd been biding my time until I had everything planned perfectly but lying there on yet another cold, boring night I wondered how much more of this place I could take. Perhaps it was time to put my plan into action?