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The Times, They Are a Changin'

The tall buildings stretched high into the night sky, the top spires of the churches and court houses surrounded in a wreath of smoke from the fires that burned in pot bellied stoves far below. However, the offensive brown cloud that hung over the city was not able to choke out the light of the moon. The cobbled roads wound their way through the city, spinning an intricate web, while taxis and food carts clip-clopped slowly down them. As one went further and further, into the bowls of the city, there could be found brothels and saloons, where painted ladies made their living flipping their skirts and rasing their faces to the heavens.

In the squalor and the filth, nothing remained pure for long. Nothing, that is, except her.

"Come on now!" huffed the fat rich man, "Surely you don't mean to turn me away for such a simple offense."

"Oh," sneered the young woman, her slender white hands on her hips, "Why yes, milord, twas only a small offense. Nothin' more." With a sudden move that made her skirts twirl, the woman bowled the man over with a stiff right punch. "Ya worthless scum!" The man landed heavily amongst the filth of the wide alley behind a run down saloon.

"She did it again," sighed a voluptuous blonde in a pale blue gown with a daring neckline and white trimming.

"You'd think she'd be used to it by now," agreed a red head in an equally daring sand colored gown, with a slow smile, "But it's rare to see someone as proud as she is around these parts." They stood at the end of the alley facing the street. They earned their keep the same way many young women in these parts did, but now they were turned a little, to watch the going ons inside the alleyway.

The object of their discussion, meanwhile, was standing over the fallen man. "Ya think you can come here an' treat me like common gutter trash?!" she snarled, speaking with the strong accent of one from the wet lands, "My position be no higher than a bar room chorus girl, but Magdalena ain't no wench you can buy with ze jingle of a half-filled purse! Now take yer filthy presence from mine eyes, afore I teach you how to treat a woman proper!"

The fat man scrambled up and hastened away, helped along by the boot of Magdalena. She spat disgustedly after the man, dark blue eyes burning with anger. She turned on her heel, tossing ash-blonde ringlets over her shoulder. She eyed the two strumpets who were watching her. Her smile was more friendly now, "Well, well, no wonder I was so mistaken. With you lot hangin' around all ze time, any ol' girl could be mistaken for some loose wench."

The women laughed. "Oh, you are a proud one, Maggie," said the blonde, patting the girl on the head, "And such a pretty little thing in that dress!"

Magdalena was dressed in a chours girl's gown of dark red and old black lace with high black boots and fishnet stockings that flattered her long slender legs. Her long hair was piled on top of her head, with the exception of a few ringlets that fell down to tease the creamy shoulders and collar bone. The black ribbons in her hair and the red and black lace collar accented her dark blue eyes with their long black lashes and her little, red Cupid's bow mouth. The gown and her innocent face gave the deceptive impression of fragility.

"I don't care what I look like or who ze man is!" declared Magdalena, angrily, "I ain't gonna stand for no trash treatin' me like they wife trash!" The older women chuckled, delighted with her "strange" way of talking. Raised in the low land swamps, among the wild men and foreigners who spoke poor English, Magdalena's speech had an odd flavor to it. With a voice like a nightingale to compliment her looks, it was no wonder she attracted so many male admirers. And each she spurned with a ferocity that surpassed their amorous passions.

"Honestly, though, Maggie," said the red head later, as the three of them ate bowls of a plain stew at the bar where Magdalena worked, "Aren't you the least bit interested in men? You've gotten so many rich and handsome men practically begging for a favor! You have your pick of the finest! Why, you'd never have to work again!"

"Zat is a poor trade for mine virtue," said Magdalena, tartly, "An' for my soul. No, my friend, I will wait for ZE man." The two strumpets broke down laughing. Magdalena rolled her eyes. She was often teased for her firm beliefs in waiting for not any old man, but THE man, the one man who would be hers and hers alone. The streets of Harperton were harsh. Many young girls' virtue and white knight dreams had been crushed under the wheels of the carriages that packed the streets. She could wait, Magdalena decided, she could wait forever if that's what it took to find that one good man.

It was well past closing time. The sun had not yet begun to fight it's way past the smog, to fill the city with it's halfhearted cheer. The saloon was empty, with the exception of the two strumpets, Magdalena and the saloon's owner and bartender, Q. The women sat at the bar, sipping poor tea and resting against the wood top, worn smooth and soft from use. There was a soft, gentle peace about the moment. Magdalena wished momentarily that she could take that peace and capture it in a jar, like she did with butterflies in her childhood, so that she could keep it with her.

A sharp nudge to her ribs shattered the tranquility. "Ow! What was zat f..." Her voice died on her lips as she spotted the police officer entering the bar and looking around. Spotting her, he quickly made his way over to her. He was a large man, with the face of a bulldog and the temperament to match.

"Oh fuck!" swore the blonde, ducking her head, "Maggie, what rich man did you piss off this time?!"

"Do ya mean jus' today?" asked Magdalena. She sat, watching the constable approach her. She knew this man. "What is it zat I can do for you, Georgelli?"

"Now don't you take that cute tone with me, missy!" growled the man, "I should haul you in fer all the complaints I've been gettin' about you concernin' assaulting gentlemen."

"I assault none that owes me no offense," answered Magdalena, heatedly, "Am I to be punished, while those who would do me hurt walk free?!"

"No," said Georgelli, trying to keep his temper, "But you're not the one to decide that. That's MY job, remember?"

"Do your job properly an' we would not be havin' such discussions," said Magdalena, with a toss of her head.

"Look you, we've been over this a million times!!"

"An' I have told you just as many!! I will not pause in defendin' myself!"

"That ain't–"

"Ah, constable?" The soft cultured silenced the dueling pair. Magdalena looked past the constable's bulky frame to see a slender, older man with neat grey hair and a suit. "If I may?"

The constable sighed, "All right, bud, it's your funeral."

The older man didn't seem at all put off by this. He bowed to Magdalena, "Miss Magdalena Lorenzo, I presume. I am Ricardo, head butler of the esteemed Moorhaven Manor and valet to my master, Lord Elijah Donnell. You may not be aware of this, but upon the nineteenth birthday of the young master, his father sent out a proclamation that ten fine young ladies would be selected as possible candidates to become the young master's bride."

Magdalena sat very still for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was cool, "I'm afraid I don' understand, Mr. Ricardo. What does ze marriage of yer young lord have to do with me?"

"Well, mademoiselle, I will be frank," said the valet, "I do not care for the young ladies who have appeared thus far. Though I have refused the worst of them, I fear that the nine chosen so far will bring my master nothing but unhappiness. He has had...." Here the old servant paused, choosing his words carefully, "A more difficult life then one would think for a person of his stature. I worry for him. I only wish for the best."

Magdalena's expression softened. She was touched by the man's devotion to his charge, but still didn't understand fully what he was saying. "An' what is it zat you want me to do?"

"Mademoiselle, I wish for you to be the tenth candidate."

They all sat there for a minute, in utter silence. Magdalena's jaw hung somewhere down around her ankles. It was the blonde strumpet who found her voice first, "All right, Maggie!! Looks like your man finally came around!"

"This IS great news!" said the red head, "With her gone, we might be able to get back all the customers she booted out." She gave Magdalena a sisterly kiss on the cheek, "No offense, love."

"It'll definitely bring down the amount of assault complaints," said the constable, "I'll be able to get a decent sleep at night."

"It's settled then," said the red head, "Candy and I will help her pack." She leaned over the bar counter and hollered at the bartender, "Oi! Q! Ya hear that?! Maggie's outta here!"

"Yeah I heard," hollered the bartender, "Best wishes, Maggie!"

"Best wishes nothin'!" stormed the red head angrily, "Give the girl her last pay! You owe her that much!"

"I'll go pack your things," said the blonde, placing a kiss on Magdalena's temple, "I really am happy for you, love."

"I'm goin' home," whistled the constable, twirling his night stick. Soon it was just Ricardo the butler and a still shocked Magdalena in the bar.

"I-I don' understand," sputtered Magdalena finally, "I'm only a swamp fisher's daughter. Nothin' so glamourous as ze ladies you are sure to have. I know nothin' of bein' a lady to begin with!"

Ricardo smiled, tiredly, "It is said that the most lovely flowers grow in the wildest of conditions. A swamp lily can outshine any rose."

"Yes, but we are not speakin' of flowers!" said the distraught girl.

TBC