|The English Roses: Hearts of Gold
Author: aims80 PM
Mary is forced onto the streets when her Mum remarries & works as a prostitute. An ugly incident sees her enter "Belle's Brothel" where she meets Adam Hamilton- the man destined to change her life forever. The only question is: for better or for worse?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 10 - Words: 37,320 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 10-29-10 - Published: 08-25-10 - id: 2841608
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's note: I have finally come up with a name for this story of "The English Roses"- "Hearts of gold, a meaning which will become clear by book IV and the end of the story.
"Mary, can ya just look after the boys for an hour or so? I've got to go and see Doctor Keating." Mum asked me, virtually the moment I got in the door home from work.
I was tired from work, my feet were aching from being on them all day, my back was sore from constantly bending and lifting heavy things, and my head was pounding, and truthfully all I really wanted to do was go to my bedroom- my sanctuary- and fall onto my bed and go to sleep. I actively disliked my job- I might go so far as to say I despised it- but unfortunately I wasn't qualified to do the sort of work that might intellectually stimulate me or give me a purpose. Because at the age of fourteen and three months, a year after Mum married Tim, I had to leave school.
Mum had just given birth the first time to twin boys so she had stopped working as well as giving the family two more mouths to feed once they were a little older and on solids. Tim had made no secret of his opinion that having me continue in school even from virtually the moment he married Mum three years ago was pointless. I'd be better placed working and making money for the family. Then she had sided with Tim and thus my education ended. I'd thought to go into service with the hope I might manage to get a position working not as a governess but as a nursery maid instead. Originally Tim was a fan of this plan- my being in service would most likely mean I would be a live in maid and therefore be independent of my mother and stepfather and save them some money. However for some reason he changed his mind and pushed instead for me to do some other kind of work which would help support my new family. Mum had resisted up until the time the twins were born, when she and Tim decided she would not go back to work and instead be home with the children full time. She had not been able to afford this luxury when I was born but Time was determined that this time she would. It took awhile but eventually I got a job in a florist shop.
The elderly couple who owned and ran it, Mr. and Mrs. Watkins, had been very close to Tim's mother and it was through his reference that I got the job. The plus of the job was the ability to be creative. Somehow I had a knack for floral arrangements and the elderly couple were pleased to enough to give me some free reign. The man, Eric, was in the shop regularly but he did not officially work there. Rather it seemed he spent much of his time engaged in leisurely pursuits that were eerily similar to my father's but with more skill and losing less money. His wife, Melanie, explained to me pretty early on that he had been very sick a few years back and had almost died twice and that his health was somewhat precarious so stress and working were not good for him. I didn't mind that because Melanie and I got on rather well. The Watkins' had one son, a man in his late twenties who had recently buried his wife and his son, and he didn't live in London. After the deaths he had moved south to Cornwall where he worked as a pretty successful journalist. I had not met him. But because of Melanie's age I did all of the hard work. Had it not been for Mum and my twin brothers I would have walked away and got a job I much preferred but getting work in London right now was hard and I didn't want to see Mum or the children suffer for my somewhat trivial complaints of being almost always tired and sore.
But Mum looked equally tired and not at all well. She was carrying her and Tim's third child and was almost full term, but while her previous pregnancy had presented little problem this time around she was carrying the baby very low, it was a lot bigger than the other two had been, and she'd been incredibly sick almost the entire term. As a result she looked pretty bad- pale skin, gaunt cheekbones, very dark circles beneath her eyes, lank hair, and she always seemed to look green around the gills. And she had no energy and no patience, making life rather difficult in the little house.
So, of course, I said yes to looking after the boys. "Are you all right though Mum?" I asked anxiously. "You saw Doctor Keating just last week."
"I'm fine. Or I will be once this baby comes out of me." Mum said, though she avoided looking me in the eyes. She gave me a wan smile though. "Mary have I told ya how much I appreciate all ya help? Ya are the best daughter any woman could have."
"I know." I said.
"Please God this baby is a girl. Tim's so desperate to have a girl that if it is another boy I might have to bear another child." Mum said.
This was no secret to me: Tim had made mention of it many times.
"Mum…you could say no to having another baby." I said hesitantly.
Mum looked horrified. "Oh no, Mary. I could never refuse my husband. It's my wifely duty."
"But there are things-" I began.
Mum crossed herself. "I sincerely hope you are not suggesting what I think you are Mary. That would be the biggest sin." She said.
"But for health reasons-" I tried. Seeing Mum like this scared me incredibly. Always being tired, always being sick, always looking upset. How could Tim even consider putting her through this again if the baby was a boy and not his longed for and desired daughter? If he loved her then surely he'd think about her welfare first and foremost. I wondered what would happen if I tried to talk to him about it. I didn't think he would be too receptive.
"I must go or I'll be late. If ya don't mind I've got a joint of meat in the oven with some potatoes and could ya do some veggies to go with it?" Mum asked.
I said I would and she left. The boys were in the living room, playing with two toy trains that they'd recently been given. They looked all like Tim and I had seen no signs of myself or Mum in them as babies, toddlers or young children. But I loved them, though they tired me when I had to look after them and they were spoilt and demanding boys at just over two. Tim doted on them and they could do no wrong, they didn't hear the word "no" or get any kind of punishment for bad behaviour from either their mother or father. It was in direct contrast to the way I was treated and the rules that governed me strictly. Despite being sixteen years old I sometimes felt like I was still thirteen.
"Hi Tom, hi Joe." I said, alerting the twins to my presence. Their full names were Thomas and Joseph though they were rarely called by anything other than their shortened versions.
Both twins looked up but Tom returned to his train play with no comment, whereas Joe gave me a big smile and said, slightly indistinctly, "Mary. I love my sister."
Though it was sometimes hard to tell them apart the twins had distinct personalities. Joe was the elder by five minutes though it seemed sometimes more like five weeks or even five months since he had learned to walk, talk, eat, and to be toilet trained much earlier than his twin. Tom still wasn't entirely toilet trained and his words could be hard to decipher to me, though Mum swore blind she understood every single word. Luckily Joe often spoke for Tom. Their personalities were also different. Joe was outgoing, playful and easy to excite. Tom stood back a little, observing before joining in and he was shy with people until he really got to know them.
"I love you too Joe. You too Tom. I'm just going to be in the kitchen getting tea ready if you need me." I said. I knew I should be supervising them more closely and indeed if Tim got home to see the boys playing in a room without adult supervision he'd be very annoyed. But I didn't have the time to do that. I had to get the vegetables ready for dinner, wash the boy's bedding, and do a load of ironing. This was what life was like in Tim's household. I sometimes felt a little like a real-life Cinderella from the fairy tale. I'd learnt pretty quickly to simply do my chores and not complain if I wanted peace and harmony in the house.
The first time I'd rebelled, about two months after Mum and Tim married and blended our two little families into the one was still stuck vividly in my mind. Tim's original rules about times I had to be home from school or with friends, homework being done, and my little share of the housework being completed had seemed quite fair. However it was not too long before my chores got increased because Tim hated seeing Mum work all day and then come home to do housework. Never mind that I had school for much of the day too. When I failed a test I had not been able to study for because I'd had too much to do around the house as Mum had gotten a pretty bad flu and was stuck in bed for almost a week Tim's reaction had been to punish me. For two weeks I would come home straight from school and I would be home all weekend too. I appealed to Mum, telling her straight out Tim was not my father and he had best stop acting as though he was. Mum had promised to talk to him. And she did. But Tim made it clear to her that if this family was going to work he had to have the right to punish- and conversely reward- me as he saw fit. Mum agreed with him and the punishment stood.
From that time on Tim had not been shy in asserting his authority if I did something to displease him. The fact that I was now a young woman, not a girl, and working instead of going to school, counted for naught. Not that he was ever cruel to me, just unfair. Naturally I resented him for that and not being a good enough actor to hide that, he knew my feelings and as a result our relationship hadn't developed into anything approximating the relationship between a daughter and her stepfather.
By the time I had done the vegetables, washed the boy's bedding and put new sheets and duvets on their little beds that were in a similar position to what mine had been on my old street in a partition in the lounge room, Mum was back from the doctors. She looked a little better and claimed the fresh air had helped. I was worried about her, but I didn't have the energy to think about it right then. I hoped the baby she was carrying would be a girl, and I hoped she didn't come out later than her due date.
The next morning I was scrubbing the floors of the florist shop after having swept them after the day's bouquets had been made and put on display, when the bell above the shop door rang.
"Excuse me, do you do wedding bouquets?" Asked a voice.
I got to my feet quickly, ignoring the protest from my legs, and turned around and then gasped out loud. For I recognized the new customer.
"Kim!" I cried, delighted. About six months before I had been forced to leave the school so too had Kim. She had gone into service, working ironically in the London home of the Pagnel family, the same who owned the "Pagnel Ironworks" where her father had worked for quite a few years before being laid off, as a ladysmaid to the eldest of the two daughters, Nancy. She and I had remained close though after I too had gone to work we didn't manage to see one another as often as we'd liked to and instead communicated more so in letters. But regardless we continued to be friends. For the past year she had been courting another of the Pagnel servants, the manservant to the eldest of the three boys in the family, James. Unfortunately James had recently married and had set up his own home with his new, young wife, so Kim and Michael had been separated by a forty minute walk. Clearly their relationship had continued to thrive.
Kim came to hug me. "Ya looking well. But," she pulled back so as to examine me more closely. "Tired."
I laughed it off. "Who isn't tired? We're working women Kim. We should be glad we're able to work. It's not really that long ago that women weren't permitted to work."
"Same old Mary." Kim said, but she was speaking fondly.
"Tell me about Michael's proposal. Was it utterly romantic?" I demanded.
Kim laughed now. "Ah Mary, are ya still living in a fairytale world? Where Prince Charming comes and sweeps ya off ya feet?"
I blushed. "Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Well, no, but it ain't healthy to always be dreaming. Still he told me what he loved about me and it was this long list and rather romantic I suppose." Kim conceded.
"Tell me about your big day plans?" I asked.
"Well I know the bouquet will be terrific- ya will do it, wont ya?" Kim asked.
"Of course I will!" I said. "Free of charge too."
"It won't be a big wedding. We can't exactly afford it. It's just Michael and I, my parents and brothers and sisters and Michael's father and brother, his mum is dead. Father O'Harrison is doing the ceremony even though neither Michael nor me live in the parish anymore but I just wanted my old priest to do the service. And my horror of a boss is only letting me have one day off for the wedding and honeymoon. I have to be back at work at six the next morning." Kim replied.
"What about after you're married? How do you live together when you're working in separate homes now?" I asked.
Kim looked deflated. "Well we can't really, can we? Michael's boss said he could live at the Pagnel home and just come to work each day but it's kind of hard because his job mandates being there for his boss for dressing and all so he'd have to get up really early to get there on time. And Miss Nancy won't let me live out. She wasn't going to let Michael live there even after his boss, James, said he could either but her Mum stepped in and said he could. But, like I said, it wouldn't really work out. So instead we're living apart but we'll see each other as often as we can and spend our days off together. We've just gotta' save for a few months and then we're going to get a room somewhere in the middle of the Pagnel home and James' household and live there." She explained.
"But then how do you…oh, never mind." I began to ask, but realized it was pretty indelicate and stopped.
Kim laughed, not at all embarrassed or scandalized by my lack of decorum and decency. "Where there's a will, there's a way. That's what Mam always says. Though I reckon Miss Nancy might have something else to say. I tell ya Mary she is the devil incarnate, may God forgive me."
"Surely she can't be that bad." I said. Realizing I had been standing still and talking and not working I got the mop and began to finish cleaning the floor off.
"Oh she's that bad and worse!" Kim disagreed vehemently. "Sometimes I wish I was back in the kitchen working hard than putting up with her. I was so excited about the promotion when I went from house maid to ladysmaid so quickly. I knew that Miss Nancy went through ladysmaids pretty well but I thought maybe they were exaggerating when they left the house at a dead run. Like I hadn't dealt with Miss Nancy too much so though I knew she was a bit of a cow I didn't know how bad she were. If it weren't for the extra money and for Michael and I walking out already I would have turned tail and ran too. Miss Alisha, she's the younger daughter, has had her maid for almost a year and she shows no sign of wanting to run so I guess it's just Miss Nancy who is a real so and so."
"What about the master and the mistress? Oh and your Michael's boss?" I asked as I finished mopping the floor and motioned to Kim to follow me as I quickly carried the damp mop through to the back of the shop and into the trough to drain where I wrung it out a couple of times until it was relatively dry and then hung it on a hook on the wall. Mrs. Watkins was not in the shop, she had gone to deposit the week's takings into the bank. Her husband nagged her to do it every day because he didn't like the shop having that much money on the premises and he also hated the idea of her carrying such a sum through the streets to the bank once a week. But she resisted. It was legally her shop she was quick to remind him. So they'd reached something of a compromise: he would always accompany her to the bank with the deposit money. Although I doubted he'd be much good against a mugger in his old age and his illness. Luckily nobody would suspect the couple to have much money on their person so they'd not likely be much of a mugging target.
"They're all good to work for. Mr. Pagnel spends most of his time in the city, but Mrs. Pagnel spends most of her time in their country estate with Miss Alisha. Miss Nancy is only allowed to remain in the city with her chaperones- her Aunt and Uncle because though her father is in the city a lot he's also away a lot for work and when he is there he's too busy working to chaperone his daughter. And Michael's boss, James, is a good boss. Although his wife Helen is a bit of a cow- she was really spoiled growing up and ya can tell, so Michael says. James indulges her though because he seems to love her awfully much. There are two other Pagnel boys. Well men rather. There's Edward and Francis. I don't see Edward much since he's rarely in the city. Francis is in his last year at Eton and he wants to go and study medicine at university but it's a bit controversial." Kim told me.
"How could it be? Studying medicine is a wonderful thing. Something to be very proud of." I questioned.
Kim shrugged. "I agree with ya, but his father doesn't. He thinks all of his sons should follow in his footsteps and be part of the family business. He's building a dynasty not a company is what he always says to anyone who'll listen. But his mum is pushing Mr. Pagnel to let Francis go to study medicine. He's a nice enough young man, Francis, but he's very quiet. And he's often sick. I think he was a very sickly child. In fact a few times over his childhood he got so sick they thought he was going to die. He missed almost a whole year of school but through the family governess and work from his form masters at Eton he still passed the end of year exams." She told me.
The clock on the wall in the shop chimed the hour and Kim started. "Is that the time already? Bloody hell, I better run all the way back to work. Miss Nancy is not one for her ladysmaid not being there when she might want her. I got one of the other maids to cover for me when I dashed out to see ya because the wedding is in two weeks and I wanted to give ya plenty of notice to do the bouquet. And if ya can come to the wedding ya'll be very welcome. I'd like Michael to meet ya. He's heard lots about ya."
"Wait, what do you want in the bouquet? What colours do you want?" I asked, anxiously.
"Oh whatever ya think is best. I don't really have a favourite flower or colour. I trust ya." Kim replied, waving her hand. She gave me a quick hug and kissed my cheek. "Oh. I almost forgot to tell ya I ran into Norah the other day."
"How is she?" I asked automatically and a little indifferently. We had never patched things up and salvaged our friendship. Over the past few years I had seen her a couple of times and we'd had two stilted conversations about how each other was, what they were doing, just short ones but polite enough. I had never forgiven her for judging me so harshly when I had physically done nothing wrong. She had never forgiven me for my mother's mistakes. But I had gotten over the hurt she had caused me. I had kept friends like Kim and a few girls from my old street and made new ones. But I hadn't seen Norah for about ten months now.
"A mother." Kim replied. She waited- and was rewarded with- my look of amazement and shock. "Yup. And an unmarried one too. Her parents disowned her when they discovered she was expecting but after the baby was born, a little girl, they let her back into their homes and lives but she didn't stay long because I imagine she was mad at their treatment of her originally. Now she works in a bar and lives above there in a room with her girl."
It was a shame to hear Norah had suffered. But I didn't feel entirely sorry for her after how she'd treated me, how much she had upset me.
"See ya soon Mary." Kim said as she left.
I leant against the trough weakly. I was surprised that Kim's news of Norah had the ability to affect me after a few years had gone by between the time when we were best friends and when she effectively cut me out of her life without so much as a word. I had thought I had put it behind me and I didn't miss her anymore. But now I realised I had not done that and I needed something from Norah now, a few years on; I needed her to explain why she'd let my mother's actions ruin our friendship, I needed her to say sorry, effectively I needed her to give me closure so I could move on in my life once and for all. So tomorrow I would speak to Norah and I'd make her speak to me regardless of whether or not she wanted to.