In the county of Northumbria, nestled snugly in a green patchwork quilt of rolling hills and wild rivers sat the small market town of PagansWart.
The dwellings that made up Woodcutters Lane were like most others except for one small abode. Built long ago when life was simpler, kinder and goodwill was abroad amongst all men, it sat hidden down a blind back alley away from the more normal offerings of commerce and trade.
Standing two stories high, it was strong and sturdy having weathered the tests and ravishes of time. Within its walls, life was lived, wares were bartered or bought and where many a tall tale echoes like a mournful ghost bemoaning its fate to the dead of the night. During its lifetime, this building has seen many faces from cobbler, fishmonger, pawnbroker, grocer to a tinker. Each adding their own page to the history within it's walls.
Our tale shall begin here.
With snowflakes falling and surrounded by tall, dancing shadows cast by the setting winter sun, a small figure scurried breathlessly through the alley.
Elizabeth Rose grasped the hem of her swirling black skirt as she ran, her small boots crunching in the freshly fallen snow as her imagination conjured phantom figures lurking in the black as pitch coves of Woodcutters Lane. Reaching up to clasp her bonnet, she glanced over her shoulder looking back into the night from where she fled, her fear washing over her good sense for she imagined the fine hairs on the nape of her neck prickle as if someone was watching her.
But to her wide blue eyes, the alley sat silent, dark and still.
Gasping with relief, she finally reached its mouth where she screeched to a halt, looking this way and that as she tried to compose herself for she was about to enter PagansWart's main square where the hubbub of the mingling masses were enjoying the last few days before the Christmas break. Not only that, it was a Tuesday and it was market day.
Sellers, stallholders, traders, shirkers, tinkers and most likely pickpockets came from miles around to partake in the age old ritual of barter which brightened up the mundane existence of those that lived in the shire. Situated in the main square, surrounded by lop-sided, red tiled, white fronted, black latticed shop fronts, the market was a hive of activity built around rickety stalls laden down with wares of all types and persuasion supplemented with wagon traders selling lotions, potions, cures fer this and that from the backs of their carts.
With heaving breast, she becalmed her thudding heart and taking a deep breath stepped out into the babbling throng. To the curious onlooker, Ms Rose was a comely lass, fair blonde of mane, short, slight in stature with surprising strength forged from long hours in the mills but with a fine turn of heel that bedecked her with a fetching sweetness that was slightly offset by the naughty gleam and knowing glint in her blue eyes.
Indeed, if the patrons mingling about the market that winter's day realised what she had been up to not an hour beforehand many a shock would be gasped and many a fan would be unfurled to hide a blossoming blush. For as Lizzie wound her way through the market, she could only think of one thing as she grasped the shilling in her pocket.
Her backside didn't half throb like a sore tooth!!
Surrounded by the stench of spiked pig roasting on a spit mixing with the putrid ness of the great unwashed, she stopped and turned to look from whence she came. Reaching behind her, cupping her bustle to give it a soothing rub, she winced at the memory.
Of Mr Tiggywinkle.
The gentleman who lived at number twenty-two Woodcutters Lane and who was the owner of Ye Old Spank Shop.
Percival Tiggywinkle stepped back as Mr Baldock the carpenter hammered in the final nail. From the top of his ladder, the thick set craftsman turned to his customer.
"There e' go Sir, ow's that. Is it straight now ?" he asked as he leaned so far back that he was in serious danger of doing himself an injury.
Mr Tiggywinkle reached up and rubbed his chin. "First class Mr Baldock, first class if I say so meself. Tis a fine banner you've crafted Sir and at a fair price." he smiled.
The carpenter nodded. "That be music to a workin' man's ear's Sir. Now just let me give the wood a bit o' spit and polish then we'll call it a job suitably done."
Packing up his tools in a goatskin bag, Mr Baldock humbly accepted his dues and was about to take his leave when he paused at the door. "Er, this 'ere establishment yer about to open. Be it for, what I thinks it's for?" he asked, reaching up to scratch his thinning pate.
The new owner smiled and nodded. Splendid. Now here was an opportunity for some much needed free advertising, for he knew the Carpenter was a frequent visitor to all the watering holes hereabouts and could no doubt be counted on to spread the word of his new venture far and wide.
"Indeed Sir, indeed." he nodded. "A grand idea tis it not ?"
Harry Baldock stared around the room. Well, when Mr Tiggywinkle had first come into his joinery and asked him to make a shopfront banner for his new enterprise, he had nearly dropped his hammer in surprise !!
But now, looking around.
It made sense....sort of. "Aye Sir, mayhap yer right. Sometimes a gent needs a bit of help keeping his fancy on the straight and narrow from time to time. I tell you Sir, they'll be wanting the vote next !!" he laughed.
Slapping him on the shoulder, Mr Tiggywinkle followed him out into the alley where several passers-by were gawping at this newest addition to PagansWart.
Mr Baldock noticed the bemused and not a little shocked gazes. "I think yer gonna find yerself with many a curious visitor Mr Tiggywinkle of that I'm sure." he laughed. He turned and doffed his cap. "G'day Sir. Ye never know, perhaps we'll meet again one day soon. Yer little shop has given me a seam of rich idea's that a working man with a spouse and four wilful daughter's should keep in mind !!" With a wave, he set off down the cobbled street, whistling a cheery tune as the winter sun slid slowly behind a skyline of puffing chimney pots.
Reaching up to straighten his handlebar moustache, Mr Tiggywinkle turned to find himself standing toe to toe with a rather smartly dressed lady of mature leaning. He clicked his heels and bowed. "A very good winters evening to you Madam."
Beneath her yellow bonnet, the lady looked from his smile to the sign above his door then back at him again, her mouth agape in surprise. Flushing red, she reached into her large purse, fished out an ivory fan and with a flourish, feathered it open to hide her face. "I seriously doubt that good Sir. A very good day to YOU!!" she replied haughtily and marched off without a backward glance.
He watched her disappear down the lane and he doffed an imaginary cap. "One day Madam, perhaps one day." he smiled as his eye's fell on her retreating broad beam.
Ye Old Spanke Shop was an instant success. That very next morning when he flipped his little sign over from "closed" to "open" for the first time, Mr Tiggywinkle found himself with a queue of curious onlooker's patiently waiting outside his doors for opening time.
No doubt the Carpenter had spent the night liberally telling lurid tales to the men folk as he drank his fill in many an ale house. His strategy had worked it seemed.
Of one thing there was no doubt. For the female populace of PagansWart, there would be many a tear shed as a result of many a rosy glow from this day forth.
Mr Tiggywinkle was of fine character and bearing.
He had reached the ripe old age of 52, bore a rambling mop of grey, was of lanky means, skinny with it and had a hearty jaunt topped off with a warm manner and charming gaze.
Since his new establishment had opened, he had built up a healthy customer base who visited regularly to bid him good-day and peruse his latest wares. At the end of each day, he would shut up shop, retire to his upstair's room where he'd check his takings and record his sales in a leather bound big red book. With each item tallied, he could forecast which items he'd need to buy wholesale regularly, which to discard and so on.
Under flickering candle-light some things were clear. The long bladed leather strap, made with a craftsman's eye and quality hide was his most popular item, why in the past week alone he had sold thirty such items. With quill in hand, he smiled imagining the scene's being played out in households near and far. Nothing like a taste of the strap to bring a wife or daughter to heel. Perching his round spectacles on the edge of his nose, he ran his finger down the tally to see what his most popular items were.
Pictures, illustrations and books. It seemed the fine upstanding gentlemen of PagansWart liked to see and read of the erotic exploits of others just as much as the upper classes down in the big smoke. He had bought those item's on a whim during a visit to the spires of London. He had happened upon a small shop hidden away in a notorious part of the city, just north of the Thames where charlatans and ladies of dubious persuasion hawked their not so obvious charms. In a bleak corner he had found them stacked on a dusty shelf, after a brief perusal he had bought the lot fer they had tickled his fancy.
Sitting back in his chair, he certainly hadn't expected them to be so popular. Drumming his fingertips on his desk, a thought occurred to him. A slow smiled crept upon his face.
Stepping back to let a Hanson cab pulled by four shires rumble past, Elizabeth Rose could feel her belly grumbling its discontent. "Oh hush." she muttered to herself as she stepped carefully onto the cobbled street, wrapping her woollen shawl tighter around her as the first flush of snowfall swirled about in the chill of a winters breeze. All around her people were scurrying too and fro as she made her way tiredly home across the market square after another day labouring in the mill workhouse nearby. It was a Friday and with just a week to go till Micklemass, the populace of PagansWart were out in numbers, stocking up with supplies to tide them over the two day holiday period. As befitting the time of the season, the stores were festooned with decorations which made each window fair burst with colour. Each traditional tree was draped with paper tinsel and had mock parcels adorning the base and to top off the festive scene, the local schoolchildren were gathered in the square, glowing tavern lamps in hand or on stick to sing carols and ask for donations for the sick and needy.
Mr Hattersley the Butcher was especially doing a roaring trade with a wide assortment in sizes of turkey, chicken, duck and goose hanging from pirate-hooks in his shop window.
Lizzie paused, surrounded by the yellow glow of lamp-light she pressed her nose up against the window of Mr Tuttle's Bookstore and sighed as her eyes wandered over the covers of his Christmas display and to stare at one book in particular. "I wish...I wish." she mumbled to herself. She reached into her dress pocket and pulled out her purse, frowning as she counted its contents. It was no use, the pittance she earned at the mill wasn't enough what with having to keep not only herself but her widowed mother and two younger sisters who were still at school. Her mother was unable to work due to problems with surviving the pox, so her wage was the only money coming into the household to put food on the table. As ever, a situation made worse with Christmas around the corner, still, during the year she had tried to put one or two coppers away to be able to make merry and buy one or two presents to make a day of it.
Trouble was it left nothing for herself.
She knew in her heart of hearts, that her wish would remain just that...a wish. With a sigh, she closed her small purse, tucked it away, stepped back into the night and turned to make her way home dreaming of far away lands and explorers tales told in a big blue book.
As young Ms Rose set off home for the weekend, heavy of heart and pondering how she might be able to earn an extra shilling or two she would have been shocked to know that her "salvation" and the solution to her problem was at that precise moment pasting a small notice onto a wall at the end of the alley to Woodcutters Lane.
Early the following morning, Lizzie was up lighting the fire in the black and sooty grate to warm the house up before her mother or younger sisters were up. Still dressed in her long white nightdress, she opened the front door to a world to the first major snowfall of the winter. Turning to close the door against the chilly wind, she set the kettle on the grate to make a hot cup of tea to warm herself up for the start of the day just as her mother came into the kitchen. "Brrrrr, its freezing Lizzie, has the snow settled ?" asked her mother who wobbled into the room rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"Aye mam. Enough to cover me boots I reckon. I've just set fire away so sit yerself down and I'll make yer a bit of breakfast while I wait for the kettle to boil." she smiled as she walked to the pantry to get the bag of oats to make some steaming porridge. A little while later after they had eaten their fill, her mother looked across the kitchen table at her eldest daughter.
"Are you off out Lizzie to town today ?"
Lizzie nodded as she sat licking the porridge from her tablespoon. "Aye mam. Think I'll try to get us a chicken fer Sunday dinner from the Butchers. Some tetties, carrots and peashoots too ."
Her mother reached across and laid her hand over her daughter's. "Yer a good lass dearest, tis a hard time for us all what with buying fer Christmas and all, sooner yer sisters are finished school and earning their keep the better.." she smiled sadly, knowing the burden their situation had put on her eldest daughters young shoulders.
Lizzie clasped her mothers warm hand for they both knew the answer to their problems.
She needed to earn more money.
The sun hung like a yellow crystal in a blue pallid sky as Lizzie made her way through the snow covered streets of PagansWart. Dressed in a long grey dress hidden under a woollen black coat and cape with a bright red scarf wrapped around her shoulders to keep out the draught, she skipped across the lane carrying a sizeable chicken and assorted vegetables in her string bag. It had been a most productive morning, she had managed to get a good deal and save a few pennies by bartering with the Butcher for the biggest clucker on the hook...each copper piece saved would be put aside to buy knick-knacks for Christmas. As she was wont to do, Lizzie spent the rest of the morning window shopping, wistfully gazing at things she wished she could buy if only she had the means. With the big day drawing nearer, the pang of spendthrift gnawed her to the very marrow of her fine bones. She had to find a way of earning an extra income !!
Outside the Bookstore, she lent forward and rested her forehead against the window, her brow furrowing in helpless frustration at her destitute situation.
"Good day Miss, are you thinkin' of spending your hard earned wages then ?" came a voice over her left shoulder.
Not a little startled, she gasped, turning with wide eyes to find the son of the local Council Yeoman smiling at her. Blinking with shyness, she took a second to compose herself and still her thudding heart. To mask her feelings and gather her wits, she made a show of brushing the flakes of snow from her clothes as they settled on her.
"Oh, I umm Sir, ye gave me such a fright ye did. A a gentleman would of coughed to make himself known so he would." she admonished him as she flushed warmly.
Alain DeBoar held his hand's up in apology, smiling and shaking his head. "I fear I am but an oaf when it comes to social grace's Miss but I bear ye no ill will." he laughed as he watched her studiously avoiding his gaze due to excessive shyness. A trait which he found very becoming on so pretty a lass.
Glancing up at him beneath fair lashes, she shrugged her shoulders. "I was but teasing Sir. No harm done. In truth, I was just seeing what to buy my younger sisters as presents.
DeBoar let his warm gaze drop from her sparkling blue eyes to the full wide gleam of her smile and her perfect white teeth. For a lass of common stock and mill labour, she was a fine sight as she grasped her string bag in front of her, fiddling with the straps and buckles nervously. Like her family, he had lived all his years in PagansWart with his father and mother regarded as fine upstanding citiziens with a line stretching back generations to the Norman conquest.
At a rounded twenty-seven, Alain DeBoar had followed his father into family law and as befitting his civic duty, earned an extra few shillings on the side as a trusted officer of the local guard with ten men under him who upheld the laws of the land in the district. He bore himself well, of sizeable height - over 6ft or so, dark of complexion with a hint of the pox mark on his sculptured cheeks, an affliction he had thankfully fought off in his younger years. He was, according to town gossip, still single and unattached although when he had to attend functions as per his office he would usually have a titled lady on his sleeve to accompany him for proprieties sake.
Even the common women who toiled in the mills beneath the clacks and clicks of the spindles and looms talked about him, nudging each other whenever he rode by on his tour of duty. It was a rich topic of amusement and speculation that even Elizabeth Rose found herself drawn into whenever her friends gathered to eat their bait at dinnertimes. Daydream dreams. But in their hearts they knew he was a class above them.
Now, standing tongue-tied before him, Lizzie smiled at the memory of whispered words.
DeBoar, seeing the faint smile furrowed his brow in bemusement and now, even more intrigued with this young woman, inspected her person closer. He knew of the Rose family, living off Church Way, over the years he had watched the family forge a hard living with the father, mother and then eventually, after the passing of the pater and the illness of the mother to the pox, the daughter earning a hard living in the Mill Workhouses that dominated the area due to the abundance of sheep farming in the shire.
A head lower than him, she just about reached his chin with her glorious blonde hair tied back with red bowed ribbon sitting daintily on her crown leaving a waterfall of mane hanging down her back. Underneath her simple black cape, he could see the silhouette of her figure built strong with hard labour, pleasing in shape with her upper body sweeping like a swallow to wide hips tapering down atop long legs. He knew her name, knew she had seen nineteen summers. He had checked the town-hall records one day many years ago on a whim when he had first seen her playing with friends as he fished on the riverbank.
She had been fourteen. Dressed in a blue and white smock that reached below her knee's and black woollen stockings, she had run carefree with her schoolfriends without a worry in the world. She had borne the next five years well, no doubt the death of her father had changed her outlook on life as well as her duties. Letting his eyes rove over her frame, they settled with a frown on the swell of her chest, all to prominent even under a mound of clothing.
He blinked and looked up to find her staring at him with a curious, pensive look in her eyes. Ah...caught admiring a jewel. He stepped back. "Forgive me Miss, my mind was on other things. I shall bid ye good day and best wishes for the season, kindly pass on my regards to your family." he bowed his head.
Lizzie returned the nod. "Thank ye Sir I shall. With the weather turning I should be off lest we both freeze. A Merry Christmas tide ter you and your's too." she replied, lifting her gaze and overcoming her shyness to stare into his dark eyes. It was but a brief glance, a moment in time but the contact of souls sparked and flickered as something passed between them...something unspoken.
Confused, with a flush she broke the spell and looked down to take a shivery breath. With a hesitant step back, she reached up to brush a stray strand of hair away from her face then turned and set off across the square to head for home. As she made her way through the crowds, she knew he was standing there watching her. She could feel her heart hammering in her chest as a warmth washed over her making her tingle from head to toe.
She wanted him to watch her even if it was only in her dreams.
Alain DeBoar stepped forward and leaned his arm against the lampost with the snow falling heavily now. His eyes followed her. With her sun like hair, she was easy to follow in the crowd of grey's and black. He was about to turn away when he saw her pass the alley to Woodcutters Lane. She had stopped to look at a sign stuck on the wall. He watched as she walked on a few steps hesitantly then paused again. Finally, she looked around and thinking no one was watching her, she turned back and stepped forward to re-read the bill more closely.
He saw her grasp her bag to her chest, look around again as if she was worried someone had seen her reading the bill then to his surprise, she walked hesitantly into the alley of Woodcutters Lane.
Alain DeBoar stared at the message.
He turned and stepped into the alley opening looking to where the young Miss Rose had disappeared into not a moment before.
His gaze returned to the bill.
His shock and surprise was all engulfing.
She couldn't have gone there ?
But he knew she had. "What are you up to bonny lass....what are you up to.?" he murmured as he stared at the address on the white sheet.
Number twenty-two. Woodcutters Lane.
"Ye Old Spank Shop ?" he wondered aloud.
A little while later.
The stench of hops, sweat and tobacco hung in the air as Alain DeBoar stared at the candle reflections rippling in the dark waters of his mead. About him, the swarm like murmur of humanity buzzed loudly as the alehouse filled up with its regulars enjoying a Saturday out in PagansWart. Serving wenches, dressed in billowing, white blouses showing ample bosom and swishing, black skirts that were just the right side of decent paraded around the tables carrying jugs of ale whilst trying to avoid many a pair of drunken hands looking to pinch a choice seat that happened to wander near. In the dark recesses of hidden coves, tales were told, arguments fought over and merry songs were drunkenly sung with lyrics both festive and crude.
But for one man, sitting alone near the window, the daily life of the Red Lion Inn mattered little for his mind and eyes were elsewhere this winters day. Making sure of a window seat, DeBoar had ordered a best bitter and sat facing out into the market square with an unhindered view of the alley to Woodcutters Lane.
Deboar stepped back from reading the message posted on the wall, the message he had seen the young Ms Rose reading not five minutes before. What on earth was she up to ? Surely she wasn't going to enquire about that. He looked at the last line and frowned.
"A fair sum paid.."
As the breeze picked up and the snowfall glittered around him it suddenly dawned on him. "The money." he muttered. "She needs the money."
Mr Tiggywinkle let his spectacle's slide down and perch on the end of his nose as he looked at the young lady standing before him blushing prettily as her eye's stared roundly at the trinket's in his shop. "Now are ye sure ye understand what the er...position entails my dear?" he asked kindly, not believing his luck that so comely a lass had not only put herself forward for his requirements, but had even the courage to step through his front door in the first place.
With her face blushing red, Lizzie chewed nervously on her bottom lip as she considered what she was letting herself in for. When she had seen the note by chance, her good sense had nearly made her walk on by. But something...something had made her stop and turn back. Frowning as she read the entire advert, she had been left in no doubt what would be required of her if she put herself forward for the position. Not least of which was her backside.
But her eyes had settled on the last line. "A fair sum paid."
The prospect of an extra few shillings rang the bells in her head, but could she let someone do...do THAT to her person ?
Come to think of it, what else might she be asked to do ?
With a start, she realised she was no stranger to the feel of the hand or lash for her dear father had ruled his household with a stern manner and many a time when wiles got the better of her and her sisters he had ordered them to bare and bend for a bakers dozen with his fearsome strop. As she thought of the emotions that used to wash over her as she waited for her punishment, she felt a shiver she'd not felt for many a year - the shiver of anticipation.
"Think of the money." she had murmured as if goading herself on. Clasping her string bag to her bosom, taking a very deep breath to steady her nerves, she stepped into the overhanging shadows of the alley and made her way down Woodcutters Lane to the Ye Old Spanke Shop.
She nodded. "A...aye Sir. I think so. A shilling by the hand and three by the strap or bamboo." she stuttered, finishing shyly by glancing at the elderly gentleman under wary lashes.
He smiled and nodded. "My dear. You have my word as a gentleman that you will be treated with the utmost respect and civility as well as being safe about your person." he reassured her, "And fret not about the small group who will observe the proceedings for they understand they will be sworn to secrecy and that what we do under this roof shall stay within these four walls and that your identity will remain a mystery. On my honour Ms Rose."
Lizzie looked up. "M...mystery ?"
She watched as the man smiled. "Aye lass, only I will know who you are."
Lizzie frowned, wondering how her identity would remain unknown to the watchers. "But, but how Sir. If I'm to be ...be punished in front of them how will they not know ?" she asked, her voice breathless with concern and wariness.
He raised a finger and twitched his nose. Turning, he went behind his counter to rummage in a drawer. "You will wear this."
Even Lizzie smiled as he faced her holding "A mask ?!" she laughed.
He slipped it on over his grey head. "They seek him here, they seek him there.." he huffed.
Enjoying the charade, Lizzie clapped her hands despite herself. "For they seek that elusive scoundrel everywhere!!" she giggled.
As if sweeping off an imaginary hat, he swept her a low bow. "Touché Mademoiselle." he smiled, winking at her through the tanned leather mask which covered his face from forehead to the top of his hairy upper lip. Slipping it off, he gave it to her. "Try it on my dear."
Making eyes at him, she eased it over her pretty face fiddling with the strap to make sure the fit was comfortable.
Mr Tiggywinkle nodded in satisfaction. "Perfect. No one will know who you are Ms Rose....no one.
Pulling her red shawl and coat tighter to keep out the whispering chill, Elizabeth Rose emerged from the alley shadows of Woodcutters Lane. With a sense of relief that no one was taking a blind bit of notice of who she was and where she had come from, she quickly skipped forward into the madding crowd to make her way home and ponder her new "employment" and the prospect of extra coinage.
Trudging along, her boots slipping in the slush, she thought of Mr Tiggywinkle's last words. "Now my dear, seeing that there's a trust between us I was intendin' to put on a first show this coming Tuesday afternoon around tea-time say fourish. I'll shut up shop early and invite one or two of my regulars to come visit. If ye be willing Lizzie, oh, can I call ye Lizzie ?"
With pursed lips, she bobbed her head. "Aye Sir, seeing as yer me new employer and all."
"Good, good, best get off on the right foot. Now, ye say you're a Mill lass. Will that be a problem with yer time ?" he asked, reaching over to pick up a taper to light his pipe.
"That be true Sir, I toil in the workhouse as a stitcher but its doors are shut fer Micklemass 'til after the turn of the year so if ye want me to attend on Tuesday coming so be it. I'll be here around a quarter to the hour if that be ter yer liking." she finished getting to her feet and fastening the buttons on her coat.
"Splendid, splendid. We have a bargain, I shall inform only those in the know when to attend." he said delightedly, coming to stand beside her. Taking her right hand, he bent forward and briefly kissed her knuckle before clasping it in handshake.
Lizzie smiled sweetly, no one had ever done that before, but then...."Mr Tiggywinkle Sir, you shouldn't." she exclaimed, looking at the coin resting in the palm of her hand.
He raised a finger to her lips.
"Ssssh lass, think of it as a wee treat for being so accommodating. Now go on, I shall see you three days hence when we have our little get together and fret not dear lady for you will be treated like a treasure amongst us. Now be off home with ye !!" he grinned, giving her a slight pat on her rump to send her on her way.
Lizzie squeaked, her blond ponytail and red-ribbon dancing around her blushing face. "Sir !!" With a wagging finger, she turned and left the shop with Mr Tiggywinkle chuckling and waving at the door.
But Lizzie was mistaken.
Someone had seen her.
Someone had been waiting and watching...for her.
Alain DeBoar sat forward as she emerged from the alley. His brooding eyes riveted to the slight figure huddled against the pains of winter, watching like a hawk as his quarry stared at something in the palm of her hand then with a brief glance left and right, step forward to become lost in a tide of humanity.
As she disappeared from sight, he got to his feet, drained the last of his dregs and left the Inn.
For Lizzie, the following days passed slowly with her mind in a permanent state of confusion and vexation that made her excited and nervous all at the same time. Even her sisters had noticed the change in her mood, for it was rare for their eldest sibling to be still in bed on a holiday Monday with the sun high in the sky and nearing mid-day.
"Are ye alright Lizzie, ye've been actin' funny these past two days ?" asked Gertrude, who at fourteen bore a shock of unruly ginger hair that had a life of its own and a face that was as freckled as those with the pox.
"I agree." echoed Beatrice, the youngest of the Rose clan at twelve and who was as bright as a button and precocious with it, "I fink sumfink is bothering you Lizzie." she lisped. Then with a nudge to her sister. "P'raps our Lizzie is faint of heart. Mayhap someone has taken her fancy !!" she laughed, causing both of the younger girl's to giggle behind clenched fists.
Lizzie just made a face and threw a pillow at them. "Pish tush you two, no more teasing lest Father Christmas greet's a locked door and blocked chimney!!" she scolded.
As they skipped from the shared bedroom grumbling, Lizzie flopped back onto the bed and stared at the whitewashed and cracked ceiling. Resting her forearm on her brow, she closed her eyes. Even now, she could feel her bottom start to quiver in anticipation.
With the festive holiday well under way, the town of PagansWart was a hive of jollity and activity as it prepared to see in the festival with a huge fur tree sat squat in the middle of it's townsquare and bedecked and draped with all manner of decorations. At its foot, carollers sang, bells were rung and people made merry which was as good an excuse as any to forget the worries of life and hard living.
The Red Lion Inn was especially busy that day with traders coming in from far and wide to prepare for the most important day of the year, the Tuesday yuletide market. With its tavern festooned for the season, it was packed to its oak rafters with people drinking themselves into a stupor as befitting the time of the year. It was a crisp day out with the breath hanging like a lakeland mist as the air crackled, the biting frost adding a sheen to the compacted fall of overnight snow.
Alain DeBoar stamped his feet before making his way inside the Inn. Smiling at the regulars, he made his way to a window seat where he undid his black overcoat and eased himself down.
"G'd day Sir. Wot can I get yea this chilly morn apart from meself like ?" came a voice to his left. He looked up to find Bertha, a serving lass of more mature years by far leaning over him with her low cut bodice straining to contain a fine pair of milky white bosoms as she rested both her hands on the table.
DeBoar sat back and smiled. "Ahh lass, I fear your charms befuddle my mind. Let me see, I shall have a mug of yer best bitter and the house special for today, which is ?" he asked.
"Duck Sir, Mr Potter did bring down a number of mallard at sunrise. But mind fer the pellets Sir. He used his blunderbus coz his eyesight is not what it once was ye see. Just fer you, Bertha will bring the best cut's from the breast, a succulent leg with roasted potatoes, carrots and sprouts as well." she smiled, her uneven teeth glinting in the sunlight as it streamed in through the window.
"That will be fine Bertha, as ever your service is impeccable." he replied, winking at her.
The buxom lass made a face and whipped her cloth against his arm in mock offence. "Oh, you Sir are a pirate. Now if I were 10 year's younger I'm sure Bertha could teach ye a thing or two eh ?" she cackled. With that, she turned and waddled off, cursing and dodging the stray hands that nipped and pinched her most impressive backside as she made her way to the kitchen.
DeBoar smiled. She'd eat him alive given half the chance. As he waited for his meal, he settled back and rested his head on the back of the stall.
Thinking of her.
He closed his eyes.
Out of the mist a figure approached.
She was there...again. As she always was lately. Especially after the events of their encounter just Saturday past. He still found it hard to believe what she had done and was, to all intents and purposes, prepared to do in order to earn more money for herself and her family. "Prepared to do." he muttered to himself. The message on the wall reverberated around his head.
"....Shop is looking for an accommodating lass to be a recipient willing to partake in a special show for selected and trusted individuals with an interest in the subject of this here establishment. It must be noted that the successful applicant will be required to undergo chastisement both clothed and unclothed as befitting an agreed contract. The successful applicant will be treated with courtesy, good-manners and principle. A fair sum will be paid as befitting the nature of said employment. Interested parties please contact the owner and proprietor of Ye..."
So, apparently, she was prepared to do it. That was the only answer he could come up with. In his mind's eye, visions of her danced before him, her blue eyes flashing, her fair hair whipping about her like a field of windswept corn as .with a secret glance she bent over raising her skirt's and petticoats to reveal her soft white...
The thought of her was starting to drive him to distraction. "Bloody fool. She's but a lass...and a commoner." he muttered under his breath.
Forget her. But as she slowly faded from his dreams, looking up at him over her right shoulder with sparkling eyes so blue and pure as she bent forward, resting her hands on her knee's and thrusting out her...her....
He slowly opened his eyes and looked down at his hands as they rested on the table. Each was clenched tight into a fist. She would be his undoing if he wasn't careful.
Suddenly, out of the blue. With a start he sat forward at the sound of a familiar name.
DeBoar jerked his head around at the mention of the words which held him sway at that precise moment in time. They had come gruffly, in a chortle from the alcove behind him. Slowly turning until he was glancing over his shoulder, he saw that it was the voice of the Carpenter, Mr Baldock, who was sitting with his back to him supping a mug of ale whilst deep in conversation with a Mr Archibald Brewster of Brewsters & Brewsters Accountants.
DeBoar eased his head back until it was resting on the wooden timbers separating each bench....making it easier to eavesdrop on the conversation. He listened with rapt attention.
"....he sells all sorts of stuff so he does. Heh heh, tis a shop for the head of the household if he be wanting a little knick-knack to still a shrewish wife or calm an errant off-spring so it is." whispered Mr Baldock, leaning forward as if divulging some great secret.
Archibald Brewster reached up to fiddle with his greasy black fop and ease his penny frames onto the bridge of his beak like nose. "I have to say, it sounds frightfully intriguing my dear chap. In truth I'm surprised he's managed to stay open what with the law and all." he snorted, wrinkling his nose as a particularly drunken and smelly bogwaller staggered past him heading for the door.
The Carpenter held up a hand and crooked a finger at him to come closer.
Archibald Brewster looked around before bending close until they were nearly touching noses. "Sir ?"
Baldock licked the froth from his upper lip. "A little birdie tells me that there owner of that particular establishment is going to put on a..." he paused, glancing around to make sure no one was listening,"....special entertainment for certain Gentlemen who regularly visit his 'umble abode." he whispered, his bushy eyebrows arched high on his forehead.
Brewster stuck out his bottom lip. "Entertainment ?" he dribbled.
The carpentre nodded slowly and winked "Hmm hmm. But only fer a select few methinks."
Taking out a not very clean handkerchief to rub his spectacles, Brewster sat back pondering the notion of the word "entertainment". Trying not to appear unduly interested, which of course he was, he took another swallow of ale, smacking his lips as he considered his companion's rather interesting little tid-bit of gossip. "Intriguing Mr Baldock, most intriguing and when, pray tell, is this little get-together taking place and how would a gentleman secure such an invite ?" he asked.
Harry Baldock, PagansWart's resident gossip and knower of all things hereabouts smiled as he divulged his great secret. The sum of which, he had heard from Mr Pipkins the Cobbler who, as a regular visitor to the Ye Old Spanke Shop was a close friend and confidant of its owner, Mr Tiggywinkle. "I hear tell, a secret mind, so keep it under yer hat, that an agreeable lady of unknown stock will be dealt with most vigorously for the entertainment of sed audience termorrow at four." he finished, sitting back and folding his arms with a "well, what do you think 'bout that then...eh.?" grin on his smug face.
Mr Brewster wiggled his tongue between his pudgy lips and reached up to dab his face with his hankerchief, staring at the Carpenter, he scooped up his ale, took a long draught and plonked it down on the stained wooden bench with a resounding thud. "Are you....you know?"
Mr Baldock laughed and nodded. "Aye Sir I'll be there. But be warned though, I fear there are but a few places left for honourable men such as yourself to make their curiosity known Are ye interested ?"
The thought of witnessing such a circus of debauchery washed over him, making a shiver pass through his plump, well fed frame. "My good fellow, I wouldn't miss this fer the world!!"
Bertha stood open-mouthed, staring at the empty space as she held onto a steaming plate in one hand and grasping a slopping mug of ale in the other. In between, her vast bust was wobbling with undisguised disbelief and anger.
He was gone.
"Men !!" she cursed.
As the winter sun rose over the land, the big red cockerel stood to attention and sang out the sunrise to a still slumbering world. At the sound of the cockcrow, after a sleepless night spent tossing and turning, Elizabeth Rose groaned and promptly buried her head under her pillow. With a sigh, she knew one thing above all others.
Her day of reckoning had finally dawned.
Patting his stomach and burping a contented burp, Mr Tiggywinkle dabbed his lips with a napkin, got to his feet and went into his kitchen to clean his plate. Whistling as he scrubbed away, he glanced up at the sound of whirring cogs, sprockets and levers. As the old Grandfather clock chimed three bells, he smiled for he had just shut up shop and taken an early tea in order to prepare for his little get-together with some of his "regulars" and one or two others who had, by word of mouth made their interest known to him via trusted sources.
With the winter light fading slowly he made his way downstairs to await the young Miss Rose, for he would need to instruct her and prepare her person before his visitors arrived. Picking up his big red book, he checked his guest list and with quill in hand counted the two rows of chairs he had put out in the middle of his shop floor. Ten paces in front, five apart, he had placed two shoulder high ornate candle stands and in-between had draped a long black curtain over an oak beam to create the illusion of a stage on which he was going to play his role.
His role ?
Ringmaster of course.
Ahhh yes, one the benefits of being the owner of Ye Old Spanke Shop !!
"Pish-tush." muttered Lizzie as she fiddled with the length of ribbon for it seemed to have a mind of its very own this day. Stamping her foot in frustration, she looked down at her hands for they were shaking slightly. "Courage Lizzie." she whispered to herself. "Courage."
A sound made her turn.
"Lizzie be not so much in a rush my dear, tis the holidays. No need to hurry now is there ?" smiled her mother who came up behind her and laid her hands on her shoulders. "Here dearest, let me help you with that." she offered, taking the strip of cloth from her daughters hand and reaching up to tie her blonde hair with a neat bow, leaving a single silken pony-tail hanging down her back. "There now Lizzie, ye look as pretty as a picture," she enthused, turning her daughter from the mirror to face her. Blushing, Lizzie looked into her mother's eyes and blinked away tears.
Her mother saw the look. "Lizzie?"
Lizzie stepped forward and hugged her mother to her breast. "Mama, I love you, Gertrude and Beatrice very much remember that." she whispered tearily.
Her mother held her at arms length and looked at her puzzled. "My eldest daughter, you have a kindred heart and loving soul. If it wasn't for your efforts, our lives here wouldn't be much at all. You are selfless and bear your duties well and always with a smile. I promise things will get better and easier as your sisters grow older and I'm sure with a fair wind, you will find someone who loves you just as much as you love him and you will leave home to get married and live happily ever after. Now, be not sad for that is a wish for another day." her mother smiled.
Lizzie dropped her head at the mention of marriage. Reaching forward, her mother lifted her chin with a finger. "All things come to pass Lizzie, one day you will fly my nest and raise a family."
Lizzie shook her head.
The thought had always been a dark whisper to her. But with her time taken working in the Mill and her attentions needed at home, it was a situation she dismissed out of hand. Besides, although the labourers had stared at her person uncommonly long with obvious interest in their eyes once or twice, she had never seen a suitor come calling.
Her mother saw her frown. "Fret not Lizzie fer none of us know what the Good Lord has in store fer us, your time will come. Trust me pumpkin, your time will come."
Glancing at the clock, Lizzie stepped forward, picked up her bonnet and fastened it on her head then she turned and kissed her mother warmly on the cheek. "The future can take care of itself mother, but fer now I have to go. I shall be back by six." she whispered giving her a hug. Turning to leave, she paused as she was about to open the door. "This year, we shall have a Christmas Tide to remember, I promise." With a determined nod, she closed the door with a click and was gone.
To meet her fate.
Mr Tuttle looked up as the brass bell above his door ding-a-linged. "Fiddlesticks!!" he muttered, for he was just about to close his Bookstore early, seeing as he had urgent business elsewhere that particular afternoon. Hopping from his stool, he approached the silent figure standing looking at his leather bound wares. "Good day to you Sir, can I be of some assistance ?"
The cloaked figure turned. "Aye, perhaps. Do you know of a Ms Rose, a Miss Elizabeth Rose.?"
Mr Tiggywinkle turned to Lizzie, winked, then took a deep breath and stepped out from behind the curtain. As he disappeared to greet his guests, Lizzie swallowed hard for her mouth was dry and her heart was thudding like rolling thunder in her chest. Looking down, she stared at the long red-dress he had asked her to wear with its full flowing pleats, tight waist and to her blushing surprise, a very low cut neckline plunging rather saucily between the valley of her full breasts. Even with this candour, it was undoubtedly the most beautiful thing she had ever worn. As for the other item of clothing he had asked her to wear !! She blushed as she remembered his bumbling words and matching hue.
"Er, perhaps these as well my d...dear.." he had stuttered, handing her the "garment".
Not a little shocked, she had nodded and scurried off to change in his washroom. When she shyly returned, he was in the kitchen preparing a pot of tea for them both. Over the whistling kettle, she approached quietly behind him.
"Sir ?" she whispered.
With a start, Mr Tiggywinkle turned to find himself gawping with popping eyes at a vision in red and gold.
"D..do I look alright. Do you like it Sir ?" she asked hesitantly as she walked into the room.
Mr Tiggywinkle had blown out his cheeks as his head bobbed up and down, it took a while for him to find his voice and express his most admiring wonder at her obvious charms. "M...my dear Elizabeth, you look absolutely splendid. Your beauty is a sight to behold!!" he had gasped offering her a chair. Sitting drinking tea, as he outlined her part in the play he kept looking at her and shaking his head muttering "wonderful...lovely."
Lizzie smiled at the memory of his befuddled manner, a trait which endeared him to her even more.
At the sound of his voice, she looked up.
"Be still my beating heart." she whispered as she reached up and slipped the mask over her head, making sure her long, blonde pony-tail wasn't tangled and with a shiver of anticipation, eased the leather down to hide her identity.
It was time.
Mr Tiggywinkle walked the stage with much bravura like a showman.
He addressed his audience.
"Good fellows. Welcome. Welcome to my little get together at the Ye Old Spank Shop!!" he enthused, spreading his arms wide and enjoying the ripple of applause from his enthusiastic guests. For some reason, something wasn't quite.
Twirling his grey moustache, he continued on with his introduction. "I, Percival Tiggywinkle invite ye fellow enthusiasts to bear witness to the chastisement of a young lady who it pains me to say has been a wee bit neglectful in her duties as lady of this house. I'm sure ye'll agree that if the Mistress is failing in her bans, she has to submit to the whims of the Master of the household. Is that not so?" he finished, rubbing his chin in a pondering manner.
A low murmur of agreement was heard from his audience, one or two of whom were shifting uneasily in their seats.
"I am so glad ye all agree good Sir's. Tis good ter see that we be of like-mind in our morals and manners. But I can see ye be mindful of the time, so without further ado let us begin the punishment !!" With that, he turned his back to his guests and faced the dark curtain. "M'lady. Your time has come. Come forth at once to be dealt with!!" he called loudly and with a flourish reached forward and pulled away the cloth.
There was a gasp as the shroud fell away to reveal a silent, slender figure hidden in the overhanging shadows. Mr Tiggywinkle approached with lit taper in hand and ignited each candle-wick. Blowing the wand out, he stepped back and held out his hand. "Come here my dear. Don't be afraid." he whispered.
Pausing slightly, the figure approached slowly until she was illuminated by the yellow glow of the flickering candles either side of her. A low murmur of surprise rumbled amongst the enrapt witnesses, with whispering gasps of "A mask !! How splendid!!" to the fore.
Mr Baldock, seated in the front row began to clap. Mr Brewster, sitting to his left joined in. Mr Tuttle slipped off his penny frames, hurriedly cleaned them with his kerchief lest he miss a precious moment, put them back on again and gazed speechless at the angel on the stage as did the other noted members of the audience.
Mr Tiggywinkle sat on a high backed chair holding his hand out to his lady. "Come my dear, you know this is the only and fairest way don't you ?" he asked.
Through the mask, Lizzie glanced at the rapt audience, her heart hammering harder now as the moment of fate arrived and she delved into another world. She turned to him, dropped her head and nodded.
"Good. Now remove the dress." he ordered.
At his words, she felt a warm flush sweep over her from head to toe leaving ever nerve tingling in embarrasment and sinful excitement. As she reached up to undo each red button on her red dress, she felt herself become someone else. Her true spirit floating away leaving....leaving what ? She blinked and looked down to fumble open each clasp. Strangely, with each button undone she found that new spirit within her growing stronger for she saw that she held sway over these men.
They were there to see her.
See her get punished.
Blushing hotly now, with the dress open to her waist, she shrugged it off her shoulders and eased it down to her waist leaving her upper body dressed in a plain white, sleeveless bodice. The motion of her full breasts there for all to see as she reached to her waist, slipping the dress over her wide hips and down her legs to leave her standing with nothing on other than flimsy top, frilly bloomers and black stockings that reached to mid-thigh. With a natural sweep, she reached up and undid her ribbon then shook out her long golden mane which made Mr Boggle the Pawnbroker break into a most ungentlemanly like sweat. Licking her lips, she turned to the audience to let the men stare at her as the dancing shadows flickered across her form. There was a collective gasp of stunned admiration and awe from the watching assembly.
The lady was undoubtedly stunningly beautiful.
Where on earth had Mr Tiggywinkle discovered her ?
Such a treasure !!
Mr Tiggywinkle smiled at the reaction.
Wonderful. Wonderful !! Although he always knew it would be from the second Ms Rose had stepped fatefully through his shop door. "Now my dear." he continued on." I fear your wiles are most unbecoming in a society lady and I regret I must.take you to task over them and teach ye the error of yer ways."
Lizzie bowed her head and nodded like a naughty child. "Yes Sir. I'm sorry Sir fer being such a nuisance." she whispered.
He nodded with satisfaction at her words. "Good. At least ye know yer faults. Now come, I think this time I shall merely warm your seat with a slapping." Taking her small hand, he guided her to his right side and started to ease her over his lap. As she lent over, she realised that her bottom would be facing the audience. She glanced up at him with faint alarm in her wide eyes. Seeing her startled look, he winked and smiled, his warmth reassuring her for with a soft gasp, she bent over him and settled herself down to wait.
For her spanking.
"................afraid, on the bare my dear."
Blinking back emerging tears, Lizzie jerked her head up as she felt Mr Tiggywinkle reach down and pat her upturned rump which was now situated at a most alarming height.
"Don't you agree my Lady ?"
With the blood rushing to her head and her heart pounding in her ears, she considered his request for her bottom still throbbed after a good tanning over her bloomers.
"S'ppose so Sir." she whispered.
Mr Tiggywinkle turned to his guests and with raised eyebrows and a grin, he rolled up the sleeve's of his white shirt. "Thats the spirit dearest, now let me see if I can undo these fiddly things." He reached down and began opening the canopy of her bloomers which hugged her most impressively wide and spread bottom very nicely indeed. As each button was slipped through its slot, the members present eased forward in their chairs to get a better view of the beautys emerging femininity.With the last lock open, Mr Tiggywinkle reached inside the white garment and paused.
He looked at his male companions.
"Behold. My lady's backside."
Lizzie grunted as another resounding slap landed on her most wobblingly sore cheeks. As the pain of her thrashing seeped into her soul she realised it was no use, she had tried to keep a stoic demeanour about her person and bear up well without fuss or murmur. But as his blows peppered ever inch of her fleshy bottom, the heat had risen unbearably and was now a most uncomfortable thing to endure. Her gasps of distress and pain slipped easily now from between her clenched lips. "Ahhhh Sir please, not soooooo hard. It hurts so !!" she keened as her punishment continued with mounting sting and soreness.
Mr Tiggywinkle mopped his brow with his handkerchief. "Fret not my Lady, just a few more to impress your wandering ways on you. Bear up now for blubbering won't cut your sentence!!"
Lizzie jerked her head up at the fierceness of the blow.
"Oooowwww, it stings sooooooo.!!" she whined.
He reached down and tugged the bloomers open wider to gain more access to her charms, licking his lips at the vision before him squirming over his lap for Ms Rose had a most impressively big bottom, which at that moment was turning a very dark shade of red indeed.
Her behind was parted by a most prominent crevasse from where, after each spank, certain feminine secrets winked in alarm as her alabaster flesh bore down on the sting. Lizzie blushed, knowing that as each of Mr Tiggywinkles spanks landed, her stockinged legs kicked wildly as if they had a mind of their own thus revealing her most intimate places to the silent group.
"I, I am sooo sorry Sir pleeease I won't be n...naughty anymore !!" she shrieked as she grabbed his knee.
Her spanking was nearly over but not quite. "Very well my dear, one more to remind you what will happen if you err again." he sighed.
She bobbed her head with relief. "Th..thank you Sir I promise...I promise."
Mr Tiggywinkle raised his right hand and paused. "Ready my girl ?" he asked softly, laying his left hand on her quaking shoulders.
Lizzie squeezed her eyes shut tight, bit her lip and clasped her hands in front of her for she knew that this last spank would be the hardest delivered by far. Steeling herself, she nodded her head once.
So, with a resounding crack and a pained yelp that echoed around the room, Elizabeth Rose earned her first shilling.
A little while later, in her own bedroom, Lizzie stood shaking as she undressed, wincing as she pulled her bloomers over her sore rump. "Psfttttt..ow...ow." she mumbled to herself as she untied the laces of her bodice. She had ran all the way home as if the fires of Hades itself were licking at her heels, slipping and sliding her way through the market throng, thankfully there had been no one home and she had rushed up the stairs to her and her sisters bedroom to recover her poise. Now staring at herself in the mirror, she frowned as she thought of the men that had witnessed her get her spanking.
Even in the candle-light, she had recognised most of the ensemble if not by name then by reputation. Persons of means no doubt, acquaintances of Mr Tiggywinkle. Mr Baldock the Carpenter, Mr Pipkins the Cobbler, Mr Boggle the Pawnbroker.
To her surprise, her eyes had settled on old Mr Tuttle. Dear Mr Tuttle of Tuttles Bookshop. Why she even knew him well enough to be on first name terms seeing as she spent many an hour daydreaming as she perused the tomes that were stacked neatly in his bookcases. What a surprise to find so kind a gentleman such as he witnessing her thrashing!!
Undoing her ribbon, she shook her hair out and watched it fall like a silken web around her shoulders as she picked up her ivory brush and began teasing out the tats in her long hair. Sitting gingerly on the corner of her bed, she slowly breathed out, a long sigh of relief now that her ordeal was over, for now she could look forward to buying one or two presents with the two shillings her throbbing backside had earned.
"One as a gift." she whispered to her reflection. "One sorely merited!!" she finished with a pout that made her smile ruefully. Clasping the coins to her chest, she stared at her reflection and nodded with relief for one thing stood out more important above all others, her secret and who she was safe.
"Thank goodness for the mask." she whispered to herself.
As the girl ran past and disappeared into the crowd, a dark figure emerged from the lengthening shadows of Woodcutters Lane. It watched silent as the fleeing lass become one with the masses. Stepping into a shimmering pool of yellow lamp-light, the cloaked figure nodded slowly as the night cast its blanket over the land.
Any lingering doubt was now gone.
Twas Micklemass Eve and the late-evening bells ding donged merrily as the residents of PagansWart left the Fourteenth century church after attendin' Father Brambles service of thanksgiving fer the miracle of tomorrow. Still humming yuletide carols and feeling the spirit of the season in their very marrow, the cheery crowd made its way into the village to no doubt do a bit of last minute shopping and making merry.
Trudging through the snow with the sun setting quickly in a darkening sky, the Rose family walked arm in arm, all except that is fer its youngest member Beatrice who was skipping along and singing "Oh Come all Ye Faithful." at the top of her lungs causing many a nudge amongst well-wishers and friends who walked the way with them. Wrapped up in a red coat and shawl with a cosy woolly hat snugly fitted around her ears to keep out the chill she turned to her kin. "Mama, lets not go home yet pleeeeeeease. I want ter see the carollers in the square and visit the toy shop, an' the Butcher's ter see his prize turkey, the one's thats as big as me !!" she pleaded before ducking a snowball thrown by Gertrude who was sticking out her tongue in a most unladylike fashion
Her mother just sighed and smiled. "Yes dear."
Beatrice clapped her mittened hands in glee and bent double as she tried to fashion a ball of snow, looking between her legs as she called out to her eldest sister. "Ye and all Lizzie and stop being such a grinch. Ye've had a face like a burnt pudding fer the past few days. Cheer up tis Christmas!!" she laughed standing straight and scampered away down the lane afor, with a shriek she slipped and with knickerbockers on full show, fell plumb bob on her rump with an "Owchh!!". Mrs Rose groaned and hugged her other daughter's to her as they walked at her side.
"Tsk. I fear fer the man who catches her fer she'll drive him round t'bend !!" she laughed.
Gertrude, dressed in her best frock and black coat giggled and nodded. "True Mother, she's full of jumping beans that one. Wherever did she spring from ?!!" she smiled as she looked across at her eldest sister who was staring unaware's across the snow covered hills.
The wind whisked between them as if carrying her call away.
"Elizabeth !!" she called louder.
Startled out of her musings and ponderings, Lizzie blinked and blushed. "Oh, what? Gertrude forgive me I was miles away." she apologised, her brow furrowing as she tried to concentrate the mind.
Gertrude shook her head. "Beatrice speaks the truth mama, Lizzie has been most funny these past days. Is everything alright sister ?" she asked with concern as her mother also stared at her eldest with a questioning gaze.
"Wrong ? No, nooooo its just, well, things on my mind. Fiddlestick things of no import or worry, pay me no attention fer I will be right as rain especially after such a wonderful service by Father Bramble." she smiled reassuringly as she hugged her mother tighter to her.
Her mother lent over and kissed her gently on her forehead. "Be of good cheer my Lizzie and ferget the wider world and its ills fer tomorrow we shall make a day of it for tis a day of joy and celebration fer all." she whispered.
"Aye." grinned Gertrude" Tis Christmas !"
"....on the feast of Stephen as the snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even."
Standing beneath the great Tree, decked with all its finery and festooned with tied wishes from children near and far, the carollers sang heartily to the festive crowds as they packed the stores that surrounded PagansWart market square. Beatrice skipped from each brightly lit window as she sucked on a candy that looked like a snowman, her eyes round and wide as she gazed with child-like wonder at things she wished Father Christmas would bring down her chimney. "Look mama, look at that Dolly, the one with stripy stockings and knickers. Isn't she sooo pretty ?!" she sighed as she rummaged in her sweetie bag and pulled out an elf.
Mrs Rose patted her on the head. "Yes dear, she's very pretty." she smiled, sighing sadly inside at the sound of her youngest innocent joy for something she knew she could never have. Lizzie, standing aways back watched her little sister rub her rosy red nose against the glass and kick her heels in frustrated longing.
She smiled a slow smile.
Lizzie felt her heart beating faster as her family made its way along the row of shops...past the greengrocers until they found themselves before the window of the Cobblers, peeking in she saw.....oh!! She felt herself blush warmly for there stood Mr Pipkin and right next to him was Mr Boggle the Pawnbroker deep in whispered conversation as he awaited fer his shoe to be stitched. With a guilty start, she stepped back as Mr Boggle glanced in her direction, her breath catching in her throat.
"Does he ?" she quaked inside, gasping with relief as she watched him turn, paying her no heed as if she were no more than a passing stranger thank goodness!! "I wonder." she muttered to herself, with a smile she turned to Gertrude who was wrestling with her younger sister trying to pinch a jellytot from her bag.
"Pish tush you two, leave yer sister alone Gertie lest she throws a fit and bubbles.!!" she frowned as they stopped and looked at her. Beatrice stuck out her bottom lip and pouted.
"I do not bubble Lizzie, tell 'er te leeeeeeeeave me candy alone!!"
Lizzie eased them apart and shook them.
"Where's mama.?" she asked.
Gertrude nodded down the street. "She be in the grocers buying some nuts and berries fer the pudding."
Lizzie nodded. "Alright, now go give her a helping hand fer I've got one or two things to do, now go on shoosh!!" she laughed, turning them and giving each a pat on their rumps. Watching as they scampered away, she smiled ruefully and reached around to quickly rub her own backside through her clothing.
"Fer you Mr Tiggywinkle." she giggled to herself. Taking a deep breath she opened the door to the Cobblers and went in.
Tapping away at an upturned boot, Ernest Pipkin looked at his dear friend, Benjamin Boggle the Pawnbroker and agreed most enthusiastically at his pertinent point. "Smashing she were, a real beauty with a bustle that thawed the coldest heart indeed Sir. I have to confess that Mr Tiggywinkle did enliven the season by pullin' this Christmas cracker from his sack!!" he laughed, trying no ter swallow the pins peeping out from his pursed lips.
Mr Boggle lifted his black cane and tapped its base on the counter. "Verily Mr Pipkin, such finery on the gel...though he be a sly devil fer making his treat wear a mask..s'ppose it wise though in the circumstances, but dash it Sir wot a mystery, fer I find myself out and about with the memsab and blow me, every filly I pass I cannot help but think to meself. "I wonder ?" " he sighed, pondering Mr Tiggywinkle's secret damsel in distress.
The Cobbler rested his hammer on the anvil. "Aye, agreed, though the word is that those also present are of the same musing. Who is she, where is she from ?" he wondered aloud. "Not only that, I hear a rumour that she be of gppd breeding stock, p'hraps even a society gel. Wot say ye ter that Sir ?" he finished, staring at Mr Boggle who, as he rubbed the underside of his whiskery chin with the pommel of his cane looked suitably perplexed and befuddled.
"Gadzooks Sir !! Ye mean she did it cos she wanted to ? But maybe she is merely one of the floozies that loiter by the Wool sheds. The one's that spread their skirts fer a farthing, er not that I er....have ever partaken of their services a'course yer understand !!" he bumbled.
Mr Pipkin smirked fer he knew of Ms Hattie and her caravan of disrepute who dwelt in the gypsy camp on the other side of the village With a sigh, he shrugged his shoulders. "Plausible Mr Boggle plausible, but yer deduction has one flaw. The lass looks like no hag to my eye's that's fer sure. She be of good breeding stock if ye ask me and if she be well ter do then she be not needing funds either. So what other explanation is there ? Except she be into this rosy cheeks lark." he finished sitting back and folding his arms over his smelly bib.
"Mr Pipkin, I concede your words make sense. I agree that the beauty of the lass indicates she be a female of means." the Pawnbroker considered with a nod. "Oh and another thing, did ye notice who else was in attendance at the er entertainment.?" he asked the Cobbler.
Mr Pipkin shook his head. "In truth, I never noticed fer I was sat in the front row and such was the show that the place could of been aflame fer all I be aware.!!" he grinned.
Mr Boggle nodded his point. "Aye Sir, that be so but wait fer this be juicy gossip, ye see just as I was about to take my seat I noticed a figure enter quietly and stand back in the shadows. Now, I was a might surprised at this because Mr Tiggywinkle told me only eight persons would be present but counting carefully there were now nine."
Mr Pipkin rubbed his chin, deep in thought. "Eight is what I was told an all Sir, but I never noticed this Gentleman in the wings. Did ye get a good look at 'im?"
The other man shook his head. "Alas not for he kept himself well hidden. Probably wanted his identity kept secret. Can't says I blame him what with that gossip Mr Baldock around and he left once the deed was done, but I did notice one thing about this person." he noted.
"Oh ?" asked the Cobbler.
At the sound of the door bell, Mr Boggle paused in mid-flow as a hesitant figure entered the shop. The figure of a young girl.
It had worked. He was right, they hadn't recognised her, even when she stood close and looked them in the eye as she bid each of them good day fer they seemed more interested in discussing something of import. Mr Pipkin had silenced his visitor who had stepped back to let her enter. He gave her a nod and lifted his tall topper in greeting as she walked around and looked at the boots, shoe's and leather goods on the shelves.
Feigning disinterest, she had eavesdropped as they continued their hushed conversation, catching the last morsel of their subject.
"....think he were wearing a uniform under his coat but the thing I noticed most Sir, was the glint of a pin at his breast !!" he finished, leaning forward whispering.
"A pin Sir ?" replied the Cobbler. "Wot sort of pin ?"
Before answering, Mr Boggle looked around and saw that the young lady seemed most interested in a particular item and was examining it closely. He turned back to his friend of many years. "Most unusual it was Mr Pipkin, fer I swear it was the image of a hawk!!"
As she made her way to her favourite shop, she pondered their conversation for they were surely talking about what had happened. She frowned for she didn't recall seeing anyone standing in the shadows, e'en though the mask had restricted her vision a little. Still it was all in the past now, she laughed to herself as she recalled the look on their faces when she had picked up a small leather bag with a loose strap intending to buy it as a special present fer her mother. Approaching the counter, she had smiled sweetly at Mr Pipkin who was looking at her over the rim of his spectacles with some slight curiosity in his smile. Biting her lip, she examined the bag as the Cobbler sniffed a sale.
"It be good quality Miss, strong and sturdy." he offered.
She nodded as she examined its insides, slowly looping the strap in her hand until a length was hanging double and loose from her grasp. "Aye Sir, I'm sure it is. My, this strap is long. Is it supple?" she asked looking up innocently.
"Supple ?" asked Mr Pipkin confused.
She nodded. "Aye Sir, supple. A lady likes a strap which is strong and supple." she explained, her eyes twinkling in amusement as she stared at the two red-faced gentlemen who watched bemused as she pulled at the leather, grasping it and tapping the loop against her other hand. Mr Pipkin plopped his bum down on his stool and blustered open mouthed at her.
"Er, well blimey Miss ye don't say. Ain't that a bit of gossip Mr Boggle ?" lisped the Cobbler as he licked his upper lip.
Mr Boggle looked as if he wanted ter be someplace else and not facing this young lady who had reminded him of .the er...little get-together he and Mr Pipkin attended late yesterday evening. He spread his arms wide and blew out his cheeks. "Verily Madam. " he stuttered. "Gadzooks Mr Pipkin there be more to these here baggins than meets the eye I shall have to quiz Mable more closely on the matter in future." he finished as he fiddled with the knob on the top of his black cane watching as this young girl blew theatrically on her hand.
"Hmm, ye were right Sir. Tis fine leather. Tis true also that a lady needs a good strapping..." She slapped the length of leather against her palm - twice."....on her bag." She looked up to find the two of them staring red faced at her and open mouthed. Mr Boggle looked like he was going to burst and as fer the poor Cobbler. Twas just as well he was sitting on his stool.
Laughing at the memory, she pulled her coat tighter around her as she continued on, her relief that knowing her identity was safe was mighty indeed. Light of heart, she reached into her pocket, grasping her purse with a sense of elation and expectation for she knew the moment she had been waiting for, for so long was nigh at hand.
With a spring in her step, she made her way to Mr Tuttle's Bookstore.
Across the other side of the square, sat astride his horse, Alain DeBoar sat silently watched the young girl and her family make their way along the street doing their last minute Christmas shopping with the younger Rose daughter's skipping in front and peeking into each shop window and pointing out treats to their mother who walked arm in arm with her eldest, Elizabeth. He eased forward as he watched the happy group part leaving the figure of his attention standing alone looking in the Cobblers window. As she disappeared inside, he nudged his mount forward into a slow gait and made his way through the crowds. Nodding at well-wishers, he drew to a halt beneath a snow covered oak and waited.
In the yellow glow of shop lamp-light, he could see her in conversation with the Cobbler and was that Mr Boggle standing fidgeting with his cane next to her?
He frowned. What was she up to?
Why was she putting herself into such a situation which could prove the undoing of her good name ? His gaze got narrower and narrower as he contemplated her actions. She should be avoiding those men like the plague. Especially those men.
Unless she's confronting them on purpose. "Lass.....foolish lass." he muttered, his breath swirling round him like a white mist. Taping the flanks of his horse, he moved forward slowly and watched as she left the Cobblers to make her way down the street. With a brooding stare, he watched her hunch forward laughing into her mittens and skip on as if overcome with relief. "Foolish lass." he smiled grimly. Easing himself between the throng of well-wishers, he turned towards her and followed her at an even pace watching her as she walked before him unaware of his presence until she came to the bookstore where she stopped suddenly with a jolt as if in shock.
Pulling to a halt, he lent forward and waited.
Her distress was painfully visible to see as she raised her hands slowly and laid them on the window as if to steady herself against a bitter blow of disappointment. DeBoar, in his heart could feel her pain as she dropped her hands lifelessly to her sides and pressed her head against the glass in resigned defeat.
It was gone.
Lizzie felt her heart burst.
It was gone.
"For nothing...all for nothing." she gasped, laying her hands on the window as her tears started to flow over her cold cheeks. Resting her head forward, her hands dropped lifelessly and numb. "Whyyy ?" she cried aloud to the night. As she gave voice to her disappointment, she heard the soft sound of crunching snow approaching.
She stepped back quickly wondering who it was. Even in her moment of heartbreak, she realised something...someone...was near. Slowly turning her tear stained face to her left, her watery gaze blinked as she saw the silhouette of a figure on a horse watching her silently. Shaking, she stepped back further and faced the shadow as she reached up to wipe away her tears.
"Sir ?" she whispered.
With a click of heels, the horse walked towards her.
Swaying on her feet, she frowned as she bent forward slightly trying to get a better look at the rider who was watching her torment. The mounted figure stopped a few paces in front of her. With wide eyes, she saw it slip from the saddle and with rein in hand walk towards her until she saw.....
Thank the Lord.
"Oh Sir." she sniffed with relief. "I thought ye be a stranger following me, tis a relief ter see its only y..." But even as she spoke, her voice died in her throat as a shaft of light from an overhead lamp fell across his coat where something glimmered and gleamed.
Her hand came up to her mouth in shock.
It was a pin.
A silver pin.
In the image of a hawk.
DeBoar watched the girl's face change from relief, to a frown, then finally to a mask of horror as she looked up at him. For a second their eye's met.
Lizzie stumbled back a step. He knows. With a cry of alarm, she turned and fled with her skirts flapping in the wind. As she disappeared into the night, he stood motionless for a moment before walking to the window of the bookstore. He stopped and looked down for he saw something shining in the snow. Bending down on his haunches, he picked it up and studied it.
Alain DeBoar stared at it and slowly gripped it in a fist. "Never again." he whispered.
As the dawn broke with a chorus of bird-song, children everywhere were rising early with anticipation in their hearts fer they wondered if St Nick had paid them a visit over night and left them gift's and present's under the tree or in an stocking hung from the fireplace.
Unable to pretend she was asleep a moment longer, twelve year old Beatrice Rose quietly eased back her bedcovers with concentrated silent ness so as not to wake her sleeping sisters. With her dainty tongue stuck between her teeth, she slipped on her slippers and crept towards the door, wincing at every creak and groan of the floorboards. Reaching up to click the bedroom door open, she turned and looked to make sure they were still asleep lying in single beds underneath the frosted window and away in dreamland...hmmm, Beatrice frowned fer she could see Gertrude was hidden 'neath a mound of blankets snoring gently as usual. But where was Lizzie? Her eyes widened for she could see her bed was empty, but not only that it looked like it hadn't been slept in at all!! Even at such an innocent and tender age, Beatrice knew something was wrong with her eldest sister for when she, Gertrude and her mother had returned home after looking high and low for her they had found Lizzie sitting by the fire staring into its golden glow.
Their mother had rushed to her side and grasped her hands. "Lizzie dearest, wh..where have ye been, we've been sick with worry." she cried softly, wrapping an arm around her eldest daughters shoulders and hugging her to her breast as Gertrude joined her with a sigh of relief that her sister was safe. Beatrice unsure of what to say or do, stood back and watched as Lizzie quickly reached up and wiped away a tear before she turned and answered.
"Sshhh shhh, do not worry mother fer no harm has come tor me." she sighed. "Twas only that I felt a little faint and had need to be at home. I'm sorry mama, Gertrude, Beatrice fer not minding my manner's and telling you afor I left." she smiled apologetically reaching up to pat her mothers arm for comfort.
But as Lizzie had clasped her mother and Gertrude to her, Beatrice had seen the brief flash of anxiety in her sister's eye's. A mixture of fear and pain.
Lizzie looked up at the soft thump thump of footsteps coming down the stairs and reached forward to stoke the kitchen fire with the poker. She smiled as she saw her youngest sister yawning and peeking through the open door. "Merry Christmas Beatrice." she grinned warmly as the young girl hesitantly entered the kitchen and looked around wide-eyed as if she expected to see a tall gentleman with a white beard and a huge sack tut tutting at seeing her up and about so early a' the mornin'.
"Lizzie. Wh, why are ye up so early ? Has he...has he been ?" she whispered worriedly as Lizzie got to her feet, still dressed in her nightgown and took her small hand. Shaking her head, Lizzie bent down and put a finger to her lips.
"Sssssh Bee, I haven't so much as had an ounce of courage to go and see yet fer I thought I'd need ye beside me to stop me being afraid just in case the hobgoblins be about to cause trouble!!" she said quietly with a theatrical shiver. Beatrice, still clutching her old and tattered teddy nodded with excitement and a little fear.
"Eeeeh tis so Lizzie, I hear tell that after St Nick has left by the chimney pixies, sprites and wisps are about looking fer to play tricks on little people like me and cause mischief by hiding their presents!!" she gasped as she bit the right ear of her teddy to still her chattering teeth.
Lizzie nodded with a solemn face. "Then we shall go and face them together Bee shan't we. Perhaps then we can look under the tree without being afraid, now let us be ever so quiet and go and see what St Nick has left fer us from his sack." Reaching up to grab her elder sister's hand, Beatrice chewed harder as they went into the still dark sitting-room to see what this day would bring.
"I shall call her Sally, wot do ye think Gertie? Is Sally a fitting name fer so fine a dolly and didn't I tell ye that St Nick's little helper's would find my note I posted up the chimney ?" asked Beatrice as she drew a small comb through the doll's curly locks before tying it up with a red ribbon. Gertrude looked up from her new paint box and thought on the question.
"Twas a lovely surprise to find her under the tree and Sally is a lovely name fer her Bee." smiled her sister as she glanced up from her doodling and winked at her with affection as the whole Rose family rested after the trials of preparing and eating Christmas dinner.
Mrs Rose turned to Lizzie as they sat before a roaring fire with the logs and coal crackling and snapping merrily in the grate. She smiled for today had been such a good day with one or two surprises found under their Christmas tree such as the doll for Beatrice, the paint box for Gertrude and a lovely leather bag for herself. All thanks to her eldest daughter. But such presents, even gratefully received made her pause and ponder fer where had the money come from ? "Tis been a wonderful Christmas morning Lizzie fer I've never seen yer sister's happier and content with their gifts and I with mine. Ye must of worked extra hard fer the mean's to buy such things" she whispered, watching as Gertrude sat before the tree festooned with baubles, paper tinsel, holly and surrounded by cards from friends and relatives to sketch it with one of her crayons.
Lizzie blushed slightly and nodded. "Mama, twas the least I could do. Tis true fer the mill has been so busy these past few week's that they asked us to work extra hours to cope with the demand. So I jumped at the chance to earn a few more coppers." she replied feeling herself flush at the small fib.
Indeed it had been a wonderful time, for she always loved this day as all the hardship and grind borne over the year was swept away by seeing the joy in the faces of her family at the giving and receiving of presents around the hearth. In reality it was of no import where she had earned the extra few pennies fer it had been a means to an end and she knew the opportunity was still there to earn more..if she was prepared to go through with Mr Tiggywinkles little escapade again.
But even as the thought crossed her mind, a vision of a silver hawk danced before her which caused her heart to flutter with fright and a little fear at the thought that someone knew who she was and what she had done.
There was also the small fact that it was him.
Staring into the flames, she bit her lip as she wondered what he would do with this knowledge fer the thought scared her silly as the undoubted shame brought upon her head and her family would be great indeed and she would loose her employ at the mill fer sure. Such had been her shock at seeing the silver pin on his breast, she had sat all night in the chair worrying herself sick with her imagining nightmares of a thumping rat-a-tat-tat on the door as they came fer her to lock her up and brand her a loose woman with low morals and the decorum of a strumpet. Maybe he was waiting till after Micklemass passed ?
Maybe he would forget all about it.
No he wouldn't, fer she had seen the look in his eyes as he had walked up to her in the snow with his horse by his side. He knew. He knew what she had done and she knew that he had watched it being done to her. For some reason, the idea that he had been there watching her getting spanked both filled her with shame but also sent a shiver down her spine that shook and warmed her to the core of her being.
As the festive afternoon wore on, parlour games were played, carols sang and the early evening shadows crept over the land kissing the earth with crystal lips as the chill of night breathed her icy breath.
"Tis getting colder Lizzie and the scuttle is empty, be a dear and go out to the shed and fill it up with coal again, oh and bring some logs in as well !!" called Mrs Rose from the kitchen as she made a pot of tea with the kettle whistling behind her as it sat on the fire.
"Yes mama." she sighed getting up from the chair and slipping on her boots over her black woolly stockings. Opening the backdoor, she gasped as the wind swirled around her, nipping her warm skin with its frosty touch as the first few flakes over another snowfall fell from grey leaden skies.
"Be quick Lizzie fer it looks like a storms on the way and I don't want ye to catch a chill or else ye'll miss the dance by spending Old Years night tucked up in bed.!!" warned her mother. "Oh, and take the lantern fer tis getting dark outside as well."
Lizzie picked up her shawl, wrapped it around her and set off down the yard to the coal shed swinging the scuttle in one hand and the lit lantern in the other as she pondered the future especially the upcoming dance. As ever on the last day of the old year, all the citizens of PagansWart gathered at the Town Hall an hour before midnight to celebrate the passing of another year whilst dancing and making merry as they bid goodbye to the old and welcomed in the new. For Lizzie, it would be the first opportunity to wear the new frock her mother had bought her for Christmas. She was determined to forget her trouble's and enjoy herself most heartily even if HE was there. But that was some days off yet.
As she slipped and slithered her way down the path, she looked up as the wind whispered through the treetops and rattled the slates on the small shed roof, a sure sign that Mother Nature was puffing up her chest and intending to sweep the cobwebs away from over the land afor sprinkling it with a dusting of pearly white. Lizzie stopped suddenly and looked up. Way up high she could see a bird slowly circling and silhouetted against the fading orange glow of the setting sun. It was a hawk. She stood watching as with a tilt of its graceful wing, it turned and headed off towards the moor land's no doubt looking for food to fill its belly and sate its hunger before the snow's closed in. As it disappeared in the distance, Lizzie gave a shiver and frowned to herself for being so silly.
"Pish-tush Elizabeth fer tis no omen." she muttered to herself as she reached up to open the shed door with its hinges creaking and groaning as the encrusted frost shattered from the metal and fell to the ground in a silver shower. Inside all was dark as she stepped in and placed the scuttle on the hard ground before she held up the lantern and looked around for the shovel. "Now where are you ?" she muttered with her breath billowing around her.
Eerie shadows danced like will o' the wisps cast by the flickering flame of the lantern as she looked around waiting fer her eyes to become accustomed to the gloom and mirk. The shovel was sitting propped up against an old bucket. As she reached for it her gaze fell on something lying atop the pile of coal. Something that shouldn't of been there in her shed. Carefully watching her step, she gently placed a boot on the mountain of coal to steady herself before she reached forward with her free hand and picked up the object. "A parcel ?" she wondered aloud as she held the lantern up to see better.
It was nigh enough 12 inches long, 6 inches wide and about 3 inches thick. It was wrapped in paper decorated with snowmen and tied neatly by a red ribbon. If that wasn't strange enough, Lizzie's eyes widened as she saw a small tag attached to it with the message "To Miss Elizabeth Rose - compliments of the season." written on it. Such was her shock that she nearly dropped the lantern.
Crouching down, she placed the lamp on the floor and carefully undid the bow before slowly unwrapping the paper with her hand's shaking at the wonder and mystery of it all. As the packaging fell away, Lizzie gasped as if struck by a heavy blow and her hand came up to her mouth with a flush of warm surprise washing over her even as she knelt outside in the winter chill.
It was a book.
But not just any book.
It was the one from Mr Tuttles Bookstore. The blue book, the one she had always wanted. The one she had saved up for and been devastated to discover it gone from his window.
Someone had bought it. Bought it for her. In the distance, way up high the hawk hovered slowly as it circled its prey.
The days since Micklemass passed calmly and serenely by as the weather closed in and blanketed the countryside with a deep covering of white that brought life to a standstill. But for one young lady, the days had been a strange mixture of worry and wonder that had her lying awake to the small hours pondering the events of Christmas Day and the discovery of the mysterious parcel found in her coal shed.
"Where's the scuttle Lizzie ?" asked her mother looking up as she wrapped a cloth round the hot handle of the kettle before pouring the boiling water into the slightly chipped teapot. "What's that in yer hand ?" she finished as her daughter walked into the kitchen as if in a daze. Lizzie looked from the present to her Mothers questioning frown.
"I....in the shed, I found this. It's a....the book." she whispered, before sitting slowly down on the wooden chair and placing the opened parcel on the table carefully lest it vanish in a puff of smoke. Intrigued, her mother stood over her and noticing the attached message, she lent forward and read it.
"My my. It seems ye have a secret admirer Lizzie. Though to leave it in such a place baffles me. P'rhaps he couldn't get down the chimney !!" she smiled, patting her eldest on the head. At that moment, the door swung open and in waltzed Beatrice who was discussing the merits of bath-time with her new Doll.
"Wots that ?" she asked spying the book on the table.
"It looks like someone's taken a shine to yer sister Bee and left her a special present fer her to find !!" winked her mother.
Beatrice stood stock still fer a second before "Gertie. " she shouted. "Our Lizzies got a secret admirer !!" She then turned and ran out of the room to get her sister.
Lizzie groaned and put her head in her hands.
In his living-room Alain DeBoar sat back, finger's entwined with his thumb's tapping his chin as he watched his friend's making merry with wine and dancing a jig as Old Tom played the piano accompanied by his best friend Nobby on the fiddle as they conjured up carols to celebrate the festive spirit. Most of his relations were here as were close friends and aquantences to celebrate with song and dance after feasting on a sumptious banquet of traditional festive fare. He glanced up as a certain Mr Bertie Bunion, his father's doctor approached him with a somewhat unsteady gait before plonking himself down on the chair next to his and enjoying the warmth given off from the crackling fire.
"Watto Sir, a fine shindig if I do say so meself. Surely there be no better way to celebrate the tradition's of the season with good company such as yerself Mr DeBoar and these fine patron's of good taste and manner's." he smiled, his cheeks rosy more from his inebriation that from the glow of the logs."I have ter say Sir, but whisper it softly mind that ye seem to be the subject under much discussion amongst those ladies by the window !!"
DeBoar turned his head slightly just in time to catch a number of huddled giggler's gasping and turning away behind fluttering fans as if caught in the act of discussing something or someone they shouldn't be. With a frown of irritation, he saw it was the friend's of his fifteen year old sister Francesca. He had no doubt that his sister was up to no good and making mischief by dangling juicy bit's of gossip to her friends about him. There were times he wished his father would take her in hand by turning her over his knee fer a good dose of common sense and be warned not to arouse the hopes of her crowd as to his possible interest in any of them. Perhaps they were scheming as to who he was going to ask to go to the New Years dance ?
He smiled at the thought for even though his father had often gently coaxed him into ending his bachelor status to breed him an heir, for the dance this year DeBoar had found himself resisting all invitation's from pushy matron's eager fer their virgin daughter's to gainsay a chance to perhaps eventually marry into a named and wealthy family and to rise in the social standing of the borough as a result. Indeed, his sister had thrown her hands up in the air in exasperation at his "Not my type fer she cackles like a crow Francesca." rejection of another card asking for an escort to the last day of the year festivities.
"Alain!!" Francesca would wail "Beware brother fer you will end up old and grey with only cobwebs fer company !!" before she'd go into a sulk and stomp off to her bedroom where she would try to think up another way to get her stubborn kin married off so she could have the run of the household all to herself. Meanwhile, he'd just sit back in the chair, turn to look at his father innocently and shrug "Women!!"
But as he sat quietly before the fire amidst the noise of people enjoying themselves he knew the truth and reason for his hesitancy and stubbornness this year. The reason why he had lain awake at night. The reason why his mood shifted and ebbed like the waxing moonlight tide. The reason why now lay in the breast pocket of his shirt. Reaching in, he took it out and looked at it as it glistened in the firelight.
The shilling. He wondered if she would be there. At the New Years eve Town Hall dance.
Trudging through the freshly fallen snow, Mrs Rose and her daughter's Elizabeth, Gertrude and Beatrice walked with friend's and family towards the Town Hall which, even as they approached, they could see was a hive of activity as people from all over the district came to bid farewell to the old year. Lit aglow with lanterns and candles, it painted a festive picture as they made their way up the steps, through it's huge oak doors and into the hallway where they handed in coat's and shawl's to the attendants.
Coming from the ballroom was the merry jingle of festive tunes and the sound of dancing feet that had Beatrice bouncing around impatiently with her pink face beaming as she smoothed down her best frock and grasped Gertrude's hand tugging at it. "Hurry, hurry fer we're missing it all!!" she whined as her sister lolluped behind her with a "Tis such a slowcoach ye are sister. Come ON !!"
Gertrude turned to her mother and Lizzie. "She is impossible mother !!" she complained before with a giggle she let her younger sister lead her into the milling throng of partygoers. Mrs Rose shook her head, laughing gently as she reached up to smooth her blue dress and make sure her neatly pinned hair was still in one piece. That done she stepped next to her eldest daughter who was handing her coat over and waiting for the ticket. With a warm gaze and much pride, she studied Lizzie who was dressed in the new gown she had bought for her as a Christmas present. The gown was a deep black with a high tight buttoned collar that swept gracefully down into a pinched waistline that billowed out past her daughter's wide hips into a flowing pleated skirt that swirled and swished as she walked. With her long blonde hair tied back with a black ribbon with its single tail hanging down her curved back she knew, with no small amount of motherly pride, that her daughter looked absolutely stunning. A fact confirmed by the admiring glances from a great many gentlemen as they made their way to the main hall.
Up on the stage, the orchestra played on as the middle of the huge room became a whirl of colour as couple's and children danced. Other's sat in a circle of surrounding tables resting, eating or chatting enjoying the sights and sounds around them. Giggling behind her fists, Beatrice nudged Gertrude as she spied another suitor come calling at their table with an awkward bow to their mother before turning to Lizzie who was frowning at all the name's on her dance card. Much to her surprise, she had not been sat fer a moment when the first blushing and stammering man had come asking her hand to dance. At the first, Lizzie had turned to look at her mother who made eyes and smiled warmly at the youth who stood fidgetting and fiddling with his bow tie as he glanced over his shoulder towards his friends who were urging him on with the intention no doubt of being the next in line for a turn on the dance-floor with the prettiest girl in the room by far.
"Ma'm, Miss," he began, a quiet determination in his gait as he made his introduction. "I would be honoured if you would accept my invitation for the next dance. That is if you have a spare space on your dance card ?" he finished, his thick brown hair flopping over his brow.
Lizzie was at a loss fer words unlike Beatrice who jumped right in. "A'course she'd like ter dance. Wouldn't ye Li..Elizabeth ?!" she grinned, enjoying being at the centre of so much male attention even if it was fer her sister. Lizzie sighed, making a "I'll get you later !!" face at Beatrice who lent across the table and rested her chin in her hands sighing as she watched Lizzie being led reluctantly by the hand onto the floor by the rather handsome suitor. "Isn't he soooooooo yummy Gertie?" she sighed, reaching for a slice of chocolate cake, nibbling it and tapping her feet to the music as the dance began again.
At the far end of the room, Alain DeBoar leant against the wall watching the proceeding's with a group of friend's who were busily discussing the merit's of member's of the opposite sex with whispered comment's of yea or nay as they looked around the room.
"Egad Sir, what say ye to the choices available to a such a fine set of bachelors as we eh ?" laughed Percy Bowles who stood swigging rum punch. "What's wrong Alain ? You've been as quiet as a mouse ever since we set foot in this place. Show some festive spirit for heaven's sake man !!"
To his right and left, his social companions Digby O'Donnell and Herbert Hardy nodded in agreement as they both stared at one particularly attractive filly who twirled by close enough for them to spy a fine turn of ankle. "Tis true DeBoar, is there something amiss fer ye've had a face like thunder since we arrived. Oh I say, look at that one, over there. The one in the pink dress, every time she dips a curtsey her bosom nigh flee's the coup!!" leered Digby who twisted around to get a better look at a possible grand entrance by such a fine pair of treasures.
In spite of himself, DeBoar glanced to the subject under discussion, even admiring the girl's lack of guile at her predicament with a wry smile. Raising his glass, he saluted his three drinking companion's. "Men of good taste." he offered as he drained the last of his glass.
Trouble was they were right.
He was in a foul mood fer his mind was settled on a constant vision which bedevilled him night and day. Since he and his companions had arrived not fifteen minutes before, he had found himself looking around hoping she would be there. But such was the melee of people, he had not seen her and with a sigh of disappointment he convinced himself that because of their encounter at the bookstore she would think it wise to stay away. He had seen how upset she had been at first hand and the day's since had caused him to doubt the wisdom of his interest in her for she was still young and without social standing. But when he was alone and closed his eyes all he could see was her smile.
"I fear my spirit is sorely lacking this night Digby." he sighed, reaching into his pocket fer his cloakroom ticket. "Think it wise if I call it a night and..."
He was about to finish when Percy grabbed his elbow and whispered in exclaimed admiration. "My God. Who is THAT ?" he whistled as a flash of flowing black spun past them and across the dance floor to become lost in the midst of other's dancing and scurrying children. Each man turned in the direction, frowning as they tried to see who he was talking about.
"Dash it Percy, what, who and where ?" grumbled Herbert as he fished in his breast pocket for his monocle as Digby stood on tip-toe to try and get a better view over the bobbing heads.
"Which one Percy old chap ? " he muttered. "Dang me if I can't see a blasted thing !!"
DeBoar shook his head, grinning at the disappointed look's on their faces at having seen, or not as the case may be, a fleeting vision dance before them before spiriting herself away to safety. "Cheer up Percy, if she's dancing she must be spoken for. Either that or the drink has gone to your head and befuddled your brain." he laughed as he turned to go.
Percy turned his head and made a face. "Tis not the drink which has addled my brain Sir, twas a lass of uncommon beauty fer I know what I saw even fer a second." he grumbled, hurt that his word was taken so lightly by his companions.
"Happy hunting Gentlemen fer I shall bid ye a good night." nodded DeBoar and walked out of the room to collect his coat fer he wanted to be away out of this place.
As he handed over the ticket and received his long black coat, DeBoar listened to the sound of laughter and music coming from the hall and thought on his bad manners for in his haste to leave he had forgotten to even wish them a happy and prosperous New Year.
"Sourpuss." he snorted to himself as with a sigh of self-disgust he made his way back into the hall intending to wish them well before finally leaving for home where he would sit and pass the time alone with his own thoughts and mood. Walking up to the three men who were still watching those dancing, he slapped Digby on the shoulder. "Forgive my manners gentlemen for I forgot to wish you all a happy New Yea..." he began.
"THERE SHE IS !!" hissed Percy, pointing his finger at a figure in black who had spun to a halt as the music died away and swept a low graceful curtsey to her male partner.
Herbert peered through his eye-piece and whistled low and long. "Egad Sir, you are right for once Digby old son." he breathed as the crowd parted to give those standing with him a better view of her. "Now there is the reason God made women."
"I say, she's as pretty as a picture with a figure to match !!" grinned Digby as he tried to think of how to make an introduction to so stunning a lady. Only DeBoar was silent as he walked slowly behind his admiring companion's who were staring at the object of their admiration who had her back to them as she was led from the floor. Admiring the way she filled her long black dress, DeBoar felt something was amiss as his gaze settled on her long blonde tail as it flowed down her back reaching her hips.
Somehow, she looked...familiar.
Lizzie nodded to the man.
"I. thank ye, the dance was most enjoyable Sir..Sir ?" she smiled, her face flushed from the effort at being held so close as they had danced.
"Thomas Swift, I am second son of Archibald Swift of Swift's Furnishings and the honour was surely all mine for being able to escort so beautiful a Lady. May I leave you this." he interrupted breathlessly, placing his calling card on the table before bending forward to take and kiss her hand. Beatrice, who was sipping lemonade through a straw giggled at her blushing sister because she was so enjoying the parade of interested young gentlemen to their table.
"Thank ye Mr Swift, you are most kind." said Lizzie sitting down as he left to return to his table across the other side of the room where all the landed gentry sat.
"Are ye alright Lizzie ?" whispered her mother who had a sparkle of amusement in her look as she gazed warmly at her grumbling daughter who even as she sat complaining of being too tired to dance anymore was still attracting glances from around the room.
"My feet are so sore mama !!" she groaned, reaching down to massage each throbbing foot. "How many dances is that ?"
"NINE !!" hiccupped Beatrice before she burped and laughed.
Gertrude shook her head. "Ye seem to be the belle of the ball Lizzie and no wonder looking like the way ye do." she smiled warmly also quite enjoying being the centre of attention. Lizzie flopped back in her seat fanning herself, her fair skin flushed and her face radiant and aglow.
She needed some fresh air. "Mother, I'm going to take a walk outside fer a moment to clear my head, I won't go far and I'll be back soon." she sighed, slowly getting to her feet as her mother nodded before turning to gossip with a neighbour. Walking around the outside of the room, Lizzie made her way to the entrance unaware that her every move was being followed.
As she turned, DeBoar felt his heart lurch in his chest and thud like thunder as he watched her sweep a low curtsey and return to her table where he could see her mother and sisters sitting nudging each other as her dancing partner reached for and kissed her hand.
He gritted his teeth. His hooded gaze followed the young man as he made his way back to his table where he was immediately surrounded by other men his age who were seemingly prying him with questions as to who this lovely girl was and what had happened as they danced. The thought that he had held her in his arm's made DeBoar frown even more. "Fool." he muttered as he returned his gaze to the subject that interested him the most, watching her as she whispered something to her mother. She suddenly stood up and made her way round the table's past men young and old who turned to stare with undisguised appreciation to the sway of her charms. As she reached the door, she stopped suddenly as if in shock.
Entering the room was Mr Tiggywinkle who on seeing her gave a brief nod of recognition before making his way to the table's laden with food and drink where Mr Baldock, Mr Pipkin and Mr Boggle were standing chatting together making merry as they supped rum punch. DeBoar watched as Lizzie steadied herself, smoothing down her skirt's before she made her way outside.
"Golly, now there is one tasty morsel I'd like to eat every morning, noon and nite eh DeBoar. Isn't she a beauty ?" Digby sighed wistfully, turning to look over his shoulder at his friend.
But no one was there.
"DeBoar, now where the devil has he disappeared to?"
As the midnight hour approached, Lizzie made her way out onto the step's looking up into the darkness that sparkled with pin-points of shimmering light. Wrapping her arm's around and hugging herself, she stood alone with her thought's that were a source of much surprise to her for the events of the past hour had been most unexpected indeed.
Rocking slowly back and forth, she glanced down at herself with a critical eye as she wriggled her toes trying to ease the ache in her feet for she had never danced so much as she had that night and every muscle and bone from her neck down throbbed like a sore tooth. She knew she was pretty in an ordinary way or so her sisters had teased her. But to find herself under so much male attention had been a bit unsettling especially as they all seemed to want to hold her close as they twirled her around and around the dancefloor. Perhap's the dress had something to do with it fer her mother had clapped her hand's in delight when she had first worn it in the kitchen laughing "Oh Lizzie, it suits you so!!"
Examining herself now, she could see that the black highlighted and contrasted starkly with the colour of her hair and eye's with the top fitting snugly over her curves. In fact, the most noticable thing was the way her ample bust thrust out due to the tightness of its cut and weave. Black must really show her figure off to its best.
"I must look alright then !!" she laughed quietly to herself, blushing as she reached up and slowly ran her hands over her bosom down to her prominent waist. Behind her, standing silently in the shadow of a pillar, DeBoar watched with a small smile on his face as she looked up into the night sky hugging herself. He quietly walked into the light until he was close behind her as she stood unawares. Now was the time. The moment had arrived.
"You look beautiful Miss Rose."
At the sound of the voice, with a gasp, Lizzie spun around to find herself staring wide eyed at the man who these past days never seemed far from her thoughts and dreams. He stood but five paces in front of her, dark and forboding dressed all in black with the light of a lantern casting his face in shadow as it gently swayed behind him in the cold winters breeze.
She stared at him unable to speak due to the thudding of her heart and the shiver of fear that crept up her spine. She could feel his eyes staring at her with an intensity that took her breath away and brought a flush to her cheeks realising that the tight sew of her cloth enhanced her already womanly shape and made her wish she had put on her coat before coming outside.
Not able to meet his still silent gaze, Lizzie turned her head slightly and nodded towards the black night in an effort to appear calm, composed and to somehow break the tension she could feel in her very marrow. "I....I, twas so stuffy inside I had to come out for..for a breath of air e'en if tis cold enough to freeze the blood." she stuttered lamely biting her lip, clasping her hands in front of her as she wondered why he was staring at her so intently. Still he did not answer and just stood there, his face masked by the shadows from the backlight as the Town Hall clock chimed a quarter to midnight.
She was about to speak again when he stepped forward apace causing her to take a resulting step back in surprise thinking it best she keep a safe distance between them just in case. As if drawn, her eyes fell to the lapel of his coat noticing that the silver pin had disappeared. She could feel the rapid beat of her heart quicken when she thought of its significance and how it had been a constant nagging worry seeing who was its owner.
"This man has seen me stripped nearly bare !!" she shivered to herself, feeling a warm flush despite the cold. The knowledge that he had been there that afternoon, had seen her undress then being spanked for money made her feel light-headed at the shame of it. Through her embarrassment his words finally dawned on her....he had called her beautiful. "Beautiful," she whispered quietly. "Me?" The question was taken by the wind as she frowned up at him thinking she had mistaken his words and their meaning. But her eyes opened wide as she saw him smile and nod.
"Indeed so Miss Rose, tis plain fer all to see this night looking like ye do."
Sshe blushed, feeling both pleased and self conscious at his attention for he kept staring at her with that look which seemed to strip away her every defence to leave her emotions naked before him. But something was bothering her as his eyes held hers. Why was he standing before her now?
"My God, she doesn't know. She truly doesn't know her beauty." Deboar thought to himself as her saw the bemused look on her perfect face. The realisation brought him up short for the last thing he wanted to do was frighten the girl as he had done the other night when she had fled from him. He knew he had to tread warily for he could see her mind was in a turmoil and that she was not comfortable in his presence. "It seems you've made quite an impression amongst the menfolk inside Miss Rose. I don't think I've ever seen so many whispered words because of one young woman. "he smiled. "I have no doubt that come tomorrow you will find yourself with many a calling card to reply to after your appearance at the dance tonight." he finished as he stepped by her side where she turned with him to look out at the winter landscape.
Considering his words, Lizzie shrugged her shoulders and shook her head with a small laugh. "Ye speak falsely Sir. I think ye over-estimate the interest of other's and after all I am but a humble commoner." she replied reaching across her chest, hugging herself as the chill began to bite.
"Ahhhh fool I am with manner's to match, here allow me." he urged, slipping off his coat and wrapping it with her thank's round her shoulders to keep her warm.
As they stood silently looking out, Lizzie knew she could bare no more night's lying awake or days where every knock at the door stilled her heart for fear it was this man beside her coming to confront her. Now was the time to speak out, to ask him his intentions and why he had been at the Shop that afternoon before Christmas in the first place. Biting her lip, her heart thudding wildly in her chest, she glanced up at him as she gathered her courage and told him of her fears. "Sir, I..I.." she began hesitantly, her mouth suddenly dry. "I know." she whispered softly, her breath billowing like a veil around her blushing face.
Deboar looked down at her. "Know ?"
She took another deep breath and nodded as she looked down at her boots. "I know ye were there..that afternoon." At that she looked up at him again and their eyes met, each searching for the true meaning of why they stood together in the quiet still of a winters night.
Deboar blinked a little in surprise at her straight forward manner, another trait to much admire he thought to himself approvingly. But as he looked into her glistening eyes, he could see her fear and it caused his heart to ache knowing that the uncertainty must gnaw at her so. He nodded. "Aye, I was there. Standing in the shadows." he sighed.
Her eyes opened wide as her suspicions were finally confirmed and out into the open. Lizzie broke his gaze and hugged his coat around herself, the faint masculine smell of him surrounding her..protecting her from the cold, a thought she found comforting for some reason.
"How did ye know I was.?" he asked.
"From others, they spoke of ye. Not by sight but by what they noticed ye were wearing. They saw the silver pin at yer breast."
Ah, he nodded, finally understanding. The hawk pin.
"Twas while I was shopping fer present's in the Cobblers, I overheard them talking fer they had been there as well." muttered Lizzie, reaching up to flick away a straying wisp of blonde hair as she looked down to the front of his black coat where there was no sign of the item which had caused her so much trouble. Now that all pretence had gone, she needed to satsify her curiosity. Something that had nagged at her so each night as she had lain awake staring at the ceiling.
Why he had been there.
Looking down at her fair head, Deboar could sense the question she wanted to ask. "I saw you." he began as she turned slightly towards him. "That day when we met while you were looking in the bookshop window. I saw you reading the notice, the one posted on the wall next to Woodcutters Lane."
"Oh." whispered Lizzie as everything suddenly became clear. So after she had bid him a good day he had indeed stood watching her as she had crossed the market square. He had seen her read Mr Tiggywinkle's notice and disappear down the alley to his shop. His spanking shop.
"Why ?" he smiled ruefully as their eyes met briefly.
Sighing like he bore a great weight upon his shoulders, Deboar continued on. "Curiosity in the main I fear Miss Rose. After you entered the alley, I followed to see what it was that caught your attention. Truth to tell Miss Rose, the discovery was a great surprise to me for the meaning of the written word was plain for all to see. I found myself at a loss to understand your reasons why and perhaps thought I was mistaken. It seemed there was only one way to find out." he said quietly. "And find out I did, standing there in the shadows. Even though you wore a mask I knew it was you by your manner, bearing and hair of course."
Lizzie stood in silence as she listened to his words. Though she now knew his reason why he had been there and witnessed her spanking from Mr Tiggywinkle, it still didn't truly explain why he felt he HAD to be there. Of what import to him was her well-being ? Was it to protect her ? To make sure no harm befell her ? Or was it something more ?
Before she could ask him, he spoke first. "Why Miss Rose, why did you do it ?"
His question caused her to pause for the telling would be too painful as it bore testament to the lack of mean's her family endured from day to day. But she knew she owed this man an explanation. Looking down at her hands she spoke from the heart. "Twas Christmas Sir. I, my family, we be needing the money." she whispered, feeling the wash of shame and embarrassment sweep over her. Lizzie could feel the tears starting to well and looked down at her entwined fingers unable to meet his gaze lest she see disgust in his look fearing that her reputation in his eyes now lay in tatters.
But his answer was not what she expected.
"Money. I see. In truth, Miss Rose I suspected as much fer you strike me as too sensible a woman to partake in such an unlikely endeavour without good reason. Speaking of which, that reminds me. I have something belonging to you." he replied, reaching into his shirt pocket. Glistening in the lantern light, he held it out for her to take.
It was a shilling. Her shilling she realised. The one Mr Tiggywinkle had paid her for taking a spanking in front of others including the man now standing in front of her.
"You dropped this in the snow outside the bookshop when we last spoke. I believe you earned it."
Peeking round the entrance door, Beatrice watched as her eldest sister stood facing a tall dark man who reached into his pocket again and offered her what looked like a small card. Frowning, she wondered what was going on for she could see that Lizzie was upset as she took a pace back shaking her head as the man leant forward and spoke to her again.
"Whatever is wrong with Lizzie ?" she thought to herself. Maybe she should go and get her mother just in case her sister was in trouble. As she was about to run back into the hall, she stepped back behind the door out of sight as Lizzie turned in her direction and walked quickly back into the warmth of the building. As she did so, she shrugged a long black coat from her shoulder's and threw it at the stranger who stood watching her depart. Seeing that her sister was safely back amongst others, Beatrice turned and quickly ran back to her table where Gertrude and her mother sat enjoying the last moments of the old year.
Five, four, three, two, one...HAPPY NEW YEAR !!
With much cheering and clapping, the people of Paganswart sang, drank and welcomed in the first day of the new year - January 1st 1898.
Everybody was on their feet, hugging relatives, friends and complete strangers as they celebrated the moment with much joy in their hearts. Mrs Rose, Gertrude and Beatrice grasped each others hands, quickly joining in to dance a posy in the middle of the room with all the merry masses. All that was, except Lizzie who sat staring at the card in her hand. On it was a name and an address.
Oblivious to the hullabaloo around her, she stared at it with her heart in her mouth. It was as she looked at it that she felt herself shiver as if someone was watching her. Glancing around, her gaze moved around the room until with a start she saw what had raised the fine hairs on the back of her neck. Across the other side, near the entrance he was standing watching her. Quickly looking away, she returned her eyes to the small card as his last words to her before she ran from him thundered in her head.
"Listen to me well Elizabeth Rose. You will have no more to do with the proprietor of that shop do you understand. If its money you are after then be at this address tomorrow evening at six for I shall reward you well for a private meeting. " he remarked coldly to her face. He had then stepped forward menacingly and whispered in a cold voice. "Be there or else."
On the card was a name and address.
Alain DeBoar esq.
St John Manor
The first day of the new year found the county in the grip of a bitter storm that howled its venom, cast its white spell and froze the waters be they river, lake or stream.
Looking out through an upstairs window stood Alain Deboar, his eyes fixed on the snow swept country lane leading to his home as the old Grandfather clock ticked a slow tock, the spire-hand creaking its way to the top of the hour as its smaller companion pointed straight down. Sipping a warm brandy, Deboar slowly rolled the edge of the glass across his upper lip pondering the events of last night as the old year had faded and died and the new dawned like a freshborn babe full of hope, innocence and anticipation.
In his gut he felt the pang of remorse for the events had not gone as planned and had cast him a frown of regret at their outcome and the pain his last words had caused the young Miss Rose.
He knew he had lost his temper and the thought bore deep within him for he had seen her shocked reaction and the brief flash of fear that had crossed her beautiful face as she had turned, casting his coat at him before running back inside the Town Hall. "Fool." he muttered to the silence. What else should he of expected her to do ?
The hours since had seen his mind re-living over and over their conversation until the sweet lilt of her voice echoed through his very marrow.
She would never turn up.
"Bloody fool, she must think you a right bastard DeBoar."
"Do you intend to do it again Miss Rose ?" he asked quietly but with unmistakeable intent. "For I warn you, I think it unwise for a young woman such as yourself to be associated with such a place."
His words hung in the air between them as the sound of laughter wafted from the Hall as Lizzie stared at him round eyed, numb with shock for how could he demand such a thing for twas most assuredly none of his business anyway !!
"In fact Miss Rose, I'd strongly advise against going back to Woodcutters Lane at all." he continued as his eyes bore into hers. Warily, Lizzie stepped back apace as the man before her leant closer, the determination in his stance sending whispers of fear coursing up and down her spine as her mind danced around seeking to give a suitable reply to his low whispered threat.
Aye, she knew she had heard him true for the menace in his mood was undeniable as was the steely glint in his dark eyes that shone out from the shadows across his face. From somewhere deep within, Lizzie felt her strength of character return with her sense of dignity close on its heels for how dare this oaf speak to her thus e'en if she was no more than a commoner in his eyes.
The very nerve of the man !!
Lifting her chin to stand straight and proud, she slowly placed her hands on her hips and glowered at him with a look that would brook no argument. "Hear me well Sir fer shall I say this only once. Fer a man of breeding I find ye have the manners of a gutter pig with the talk ter match. No doubt in your eyes my actions cast me as nothing but a penniless harlot who would do anything ter earn a crust but remember Sir, though ye be the Law hereabouts ye have no right to issue threats."
DeBoar blinked with surprise. Far from heeding his words, she had confronted them with a determination that surprised him and made him hesitate on his intent of purpose he had intended for her. But what exactly had he intended ?
He knew well enough.
It had been the very sight of her undressing before the gathering that haunted him so. For he had not had a moment's peace ever since. All he could think about was the sight of her naked over Mr Tiggywinkles lap and did his stomach not churn at the thought of her doing so again before the slavering group of supposedly "refined" gentlemen ?
He knew in his heart that he was determined she take no further part of such an escapade even though it was for a just and gallant end. But as she stood before him on this stark winters night, a stubborn frown on her beautiful face with the snow gently falling around them he had to make her understand that his words were intended and meant for her own good.
He had to warn her. Scare her into never going back.
But how ?
Lizzie watched uneasily as the oaf reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small card. As he handed it to her their eyes met and held.
"Listen to me well Elizabeth Rose. You will have no more to do with the proprietor of that shop do you understand. If its money you are after then be at this address tomorrow evening at six for I shall reward you well for a private meeting. "
As he stepped back, Lizzie gasped in shock, her hand reaching touching her lips at the surprise of his ungentlemanly behaviour. Her breath caught in her throat as the true meaning of his demands dawned on her.
A private meeting?
Surely he did not want her to submit herself to him and let him do what Mr Tiggywinkle had done to her in his shop ? Please God no.
But looking down at the address on the card she knew it was what he meant for what other reason could there be from his words. Feeling the ache grow in her breast, she raised her head and searched his dark and brooding face wondering whatever had happened to the kind man who always greeted her with a smile. Something flickered in her mind, a thought that added to the chill that nipped her pale skin. He was using his postion, as an Officer of the Law to his own advantage.
How could he stoop so low ? Is this man of such base morals that his.....his lust would allow him to take advantage of her ? She but a young woman with neither station or means ?
What would he do if she refused.?
Would he arrest her, throw her in the lock-up along with the loose women of the night ? Lizzie swallowed hard for she knew the shame such a disclosure and disgrace would bring upon her mother and sisters. The cold realisation that there was no way out brought forth an anger she had rarely felt. It flared hotly as its venom flowed through her veins and bolstered her wounded pride. With a last silent glance, she grasped his cloak from her shoulders and threw it at him before she turned and ran back into the warmth of the celebrations with her heart torn asunder for why did it have to be him ?
"Or else..." he had warned. "Or else..."
Holding his lantern up, the nightwatchman peered into the gloom beyond the circle of light at the small figure huddled against the cold walking towards him as he made his way on his rounds. To his surprise, the figure was that of a young woman. A pretty one at that with wisps of her blonde hair escaping the hood of her cloak.
"Evenin' Miss, bit dark fer one as young as ye to be out on yer own." he asked, his breath billowing out from beneath his black hat.
Lizzie stopped and looked up at the man. "Oh, thank ye Officer but do not fret fer I am on my way to meet someone and tis only a short step ahead I promise."
"Hmm hm, then best get along then afor the frost wakes and makes mischief my dear." smiled the old man indicating the way with his light.
Thanking him, Lizzie stuck her mittens in the pocket of her long black coat and set off again on her way trudging through the crisp ankle deep snow. The meeting with the nightwatchman had been but a momentary diversion for her thoughts which settled about her like a dark shroud that deepened with her every step as she got nearer to her final destination that sat at the end of the lane.
St John's Manor.
The home of Alain DeBoar.
The only sound was the crackling of the logs blazing merrily in the grate as Lizzie stood before the flames warming her hands as the shadows of her figure danced flickeringly around the room and over the silent figure of the man who watched her intently but a few paces away.
DeBoar, seeing her rubbing and massaging her hands, filled a small glass with a measure of brandy and walked over to her ."Here, drink this."
Taking his offering, she nodded slightly glancing shyly up at him."Thank ye Sir, I'm sure this will ease the shaking in my bones." she said taking a wee sip and feeling the fire burst forth. Staring over the glass rim, her eyes followed the man around the sparsely lit room as he walked to the window and looked out into the black night.
The shaking in my bones she mused. Twas not only the biting cold of winter that made them so. For she knew all too well the true reason for it stood before her brooding and quiet.
"I'm surprised you came Miss Rose." came his voice suddenly, making her start.
Licking her lips, she considered his words.
Why had she come ?
Because he ordered her too.
Because the consequences for her not doing so would bring forth the fear of what he would do. But she was determined to hide that fact for she would not let him see her afraid of him whatever happened this night. By being here, she had decided to call his bluff. "Surprised Sir, no. Fer it seems ter me I have no choice in the matter judging by yer position o'er me regarding matters of the law. Though yer desire to see me in yer private quarters leads me to think that matters of the law be the last thing on yer mind." she finished, quietly folding her hands before her.
DeBoar was dumbfounded. Not for the first time with this girl. Once again she had met his question with a thrusting response that pierced his guard unexpectedly. She was quick witted for one so young, a state of affairs that made him smile inwardly much admiring her fortitude when she stood alone in difficult circumstances such as this.
But he had one advantage over her. He had seen the brief flicker of fear when she ran from him outside the Town Hall. The whisper of her innocence had peeked forth and shone out to him in her beautifully pure blue eyes for a moment.
Revealing her true self.
She was afraid.
He could sense in her manner the reason she was here now was not only to confront her fear but to try and show him that she was not afraid of him. She was calling his actions to account by her presence thus meeting his challenge and asking of him "Why have you ordered me here ?"
"She must think I truly want to chastise her." he realised, feeling his heart skip a beat for to be truthful the idea of such an event wasn't entirely unappealing to his mind seeing how lovely she looked sitting before him now especially having already witnessed what lay beneath her petticoats once before. Meeting her hesitant gaze, the possibility of having her in his arms - at his mercy surged through him raising thunder in his mind as he made a decision that would roll the dice of fate for them both.
He would call her bluff.
Sitting opposite her as she sat quietly, DeBoar considered the young woman as she looked around the room. She was still wearing her long coat, though the plain frill of her white dress peeped out from the bottom along with her laced black boots. Even plain dressed, she still looked stunning to him with her thick blonde hair drawn back and coiled into a neat bun though stray whisps of fair silk floated round her pensive and wary face. He could sit watching her forever but that would prolong both their agony for he would have to be cruel to be kind. "How much did he pay you ?" he asked quietly.
Lizzie jumped at the sound of his voice. "Pay ? Twas but a silver shilling Sir."
"Did ye think it a fair price ?"
"Fair price Sir ?"
"Fer services rendered Miss Rose."
Blinking at him, Lizzie considered his question in silence.
"Well," he asked again."...do you ?"
She stared at him before looking away. "In truth tis something that I had not given much thought to Sir." she replied hesitantly, wondering where he was leading her. "At that time, the wage seemed a fair sum fer what he asked of me."
"I see, then you would no doubt expect a higher recompense for your services to be employed elsewhere I take it ?"
Twiddling her thumbs, she narrowed her gaze trying to see his face that was masked by the shadows making it difficult to judge his demeanour. Was he playing a game with her ? But why would he do that and more importantly, why with her ? "I think Sir, that the person or person's who would want my services already know the answer to yer question." she calmly replied even though her heart beat wildly in her chest. " Besides Sir, yer query is surely redundant fer since that first time I know of no interest from others.....only yours."
At that, DeBoar nigh burst out laughing for her cunning was refreshing to see and made the challenge of winning her much more intriguing. "Well met Miss Rose, perhaps your words are correct for only you, I and the proprietor of the spank shop know who you truly are." DeBoar nodded. "And I do wish to partake of your service fer my own personal pleasure."
"Ye do ?" Lizzie blurted out despite herself. He certainly had been blunt and to the point.
"Very much so Miss Rose for why else are you here ? Now shall we discuss the matter of what I want you to do for me and negotiate a fair price for your services that will satisfy us both ?"
Lizzie could only sit and stare at him as he got to his feet.
Elizabeth Rose stared at the three silver coins in her quivering hand. "Three shillings Sir ?" she gasped out loud.
"Considering that I have no knowledge of the going rate for such an activity it seems a reasonable minimum to start with. Why, does it not meet the value you place upon yourself ?" asked DeBoar innocently, a warmth spreading through him as he enjoyed her confusion at the tidy amount he had lain in the palm of her hand.
Lizzie shook her head in wonder. "I, I...but three shillings Sir." she whispered as she slowly closed her hand, gripping the coins in a fist lest they disappear." Yer estimation of my worth more than exceeds me own by a fair margin."
Since he was standing over her, she could see into his dark eyes clearly as she looked up to meet his penetrating gaze. It was a look which seemed to always shake her to the core of her soul. Feeling a lump in her throat, she nodded and spoke with quiet and heartfelt determination as she acceded to his demands. "I shall not return to the abode of Mr Tiggywinkle if that is what ye wish."
DeBoar felt the surge of triumph coarse through him as he nodded. "It is Miss Rose for I want no other man to be able to buy your service." Holding her shining gaze, he stepped closer. Lowering his face until his right cheek was close to hers, Lizzie shivered as his masculine scent wafted to her and the soft wisp of his breath danced round her ear.
"It is my intention to have you fer myself."
Even thought the room was warmed by the log fire, Lizzie still felt herself shiver as she slipped off her heavy coarse coat and laid it on the fine chair next to where she stood as her new master sat opposite watching with an impenetrable look on his masked face. Turning to him, she clasped her hands before her nervously, unsure of what he wanted her to do next as she stood dressed in a simple white frock that she usually kept for Sunday best.
Her heart had long since lost all sense, rhyme or reason as it galloped in her chest leaving her breath gasping quietly as she licked her dry and parched lips wondering what he wanted her to do. Perhaps she should ask him.
"Sir, I...shall I ?" she began.
"Come here. Stand before me for I wish to see what I'm paying for." he ordered with a calmness he was not feeling for the wonder of her filled his senses be they sight, smell or sound. Watching as she hesitantly stepped towards him, he let his eyes marvel and admire this young woman who captivated him and was forever in his thoughts.
"Give me your hand." he asked softly, reaching out an upturned palm as she stood before him. With a slight quiver, she slipped her's into his, watching as he held it with his thumb caressing it with a gentle touch.
"Are, are ye goin' ter s..spank me Sir ?" she whispered.
DeBoar looked from her soft, small hand dwarfed by his own up into her wide eyed gaze. He hadn't meant for this to go so far but he knew that while he had these precious moments alone with her, his rising ardour now ruled over his common sense and decency.
Nodding, he gripped her hand tighter. "Aye my fair Elizabeth Rose, I intend to spank you this night."
The Final Chapter.
The bitter month's of January and February thankfully passed as they always do giving way to an early spring as March dawned in full bloom with bright sunshine shining down upon the town of Paganswart. It was a time of rebirth and renewal that brought a skip to the step with the town full of hustle and bustle as people were out and about doing this and that. One such family was the Roses.
"I shall be but a moment Lizzie, wait fer me outside while I purchase some salt from the grocers."
Elizabeth Rose nodded her head watching as her mother went into the shop. "Yes mama." she sighed, trying not to sound too bored but failing miserably.
Resting against the wall, she closed her eyes enjoying the warmth of the sun on her face. Having cast aside the clothes of winter, she was dressed in a light shawl and blue dress which reached to just below her knee. Reaching up behind her head, she fiddled with her ribbon which was tied in a spectacular bow to keep her long fair hair in some sort of order for it had grown long and unruly over the last few months with its sprightly twisting curls.
Daydreaming, her mind drifted off someplace else. Somewhere far more interesting to her. A slow secret smile crossed her face as her thoughts settled on the one subject that was always close at hand no matter what she was doing these days. Of him. Always of him. Had it really been more than a month since that first night ? It seemed only yesterday that she had stood before him.
"How time flies." she marvelled, hugging herself happily. Since that first time, she had visited him twice more and each time he had paid her the sum of three shilling for her service. It had become a regular thing between them. A secret thing which she found herself looking forward to despite the obvious "discomforts" she had to endure.
At first she had tried to convince herself it had been about money, the earning of an extra income. But after each meeting, as she lay awake in the dark hours by the light of the moon, her heart would soar and daydream of this man Alain DeBoar as he held her down over his knee and began to unlace her bloomers. Her smile got wider and wider recalling those delicious feelings that sent tingles up and down her spine and made her feel quite faint. There was also another small matter which made her heart flutter.
It was the smell of leather.
The first time.
"Remove your dress for it will just get in the way." he ordered, looking up at her as he held her hand in his. Lizzie just stared at him feeling faint at the thought of undressing before this man. It had been ordeal enough with Mr Tiggywinkle but this, this was different for she could sense something that she'd never felt before.
A feeling of danger that was overpowering to her.
"Do as I ask or else I shall be forced to bring this contract to a swift conclusion Miss Rose for I most assuredly don't want to waste my time as well as your's."
Reaching up, Lizzie undid each button on the front of her plain dress with trembling fingers until it hung down from her shoulders open to the waist revealing her simple white shift with its neckline plunging into the valley between her heaving breasts. Not a word was spoken as she carefully eased her garment down over her wide hips letting it drop to her feet where she elegantly stepped out it.
"Loosen your hair."
"Sir, m..my hair ?"
"I want it down."
Pulling out the clips that secured her hair one by one, the soft waves of her silky mane cascaded down to settle about her face and coil down her back reaching her narrow waist. All the while she could feel his eyes on her as she undressed for him. The here and now is but a fleeting thing, a moment in time that is gone as soon as it arrives but as the slow tick tock of the Grandfather clock was the only sound heard it felt as if time itself stood still.
Willing herself forward, she quietly walked to him as he sat forward. He reached out behind her as she stood between his legs and gently clasping her thighs he pulled her towards him.
"Don't be afraid." he whispered before turning her, guiding her down over his left thigh until she laid across him with her upper body hanging down and the tips of her boots lightly tapping the floor behind her.
As if in prayer, Lizzie clasped her hands in front of her and screwed her eyes tight shut as she bobbed and swayed over his knee letting him nudge her this way and that until he was satisfied her person was at the right height for him to begin.
It was then she smelt that smell.
Of leather. His boots.
"If you are settled shall I make a start ?" came his voice from above, startling her.
He was asking her ?
"I, I um, think I am Sir." she replied hesitantly, bringing her gripped fists to her mouth and nibbling nervously on the knuckles as she awaited the first blow.
Enjoying her daydream, she savoured the wash of emotion that washed over her. The touch, the feeling and those sparkling sensations that was now so much part of her young life for she knew that one day, perhaps one day soon, they would come to an end. Even though the furnace would rage through her soul, kissing her with a sting that brought a gasp to her sweet lips she knew she would miss it for its end would mean the end of being alone with him.
To her, it was the only thing that mattered, for in those moments with him she could dream and pretend that she was his and that he was hers.
That they were together.
"Lizzie, wake up fer ye be daydreaming again,." scolded her mother, gently shaking her daughters arm."Tis been to much of a common occurrence these past few weeks my girl. Have ye gone soft in t'head my Elizabeth fer yer always struck me as a sensible lass not taken with whimsy."
"Oh, I were just um....sorry mama," gasped Lizzie, blinking against the glare of the sun and blushing as her Mother took her arm in hers and guided her down the row of shops.
"Always be mindful of the here and now Lizzie, keep yer wits about ye fer pickpockets and thieves will not think twice to relieve ye of yer purse." warned her mother.
"Good girl, now let us see what the Bakers been baking today."
"........are ye listening Alain ?"
DeBoar turned, looking suitably embarrassed at the young lady at his side as they made their way across the main square enjoying each others company. "Ah, forgive me sister, my mind was elsewhere."
"So it seems, is something wrong dear brother ?" asked Francesca as they walked arm in arm.
"No, tis nothing lass." DeBoar sighed, patting her hand like he was reassuring a small child and smiling at her.
Francesca shook her head. "I somehow think not Alain fer I can sense these things, indeed father says you've been most preoccupied these past weeks ." she smiled, looking inquisitively up at her brother as he towered over her.
"Really Francesca, its nothing to worry about trust me."
"But we are kin. So why not confide in me fer I only want to help Alain. Cross my heart and I tell no lie. " she urged sweetly, tugging at his coat sleeve with a twinkle in her eye for she knew something was amiss and the prospect of her dear brother being bamboozled by something was most unusual in the extreme for he was always a paragon of utter unflappability. "I truly only want to help. " she chided him again as he frowned and glanced at her.
"Oh aye, more like being nosey." he grunted, shielding his eyes from the morning sun as it sat low in the crisp blue sky as they continued to make their way through the crowds to the main row of shops.
"Alain, I swear I am not, don't be such a tease !!" she laughingly gasped, slapping his shoulder to scold him for being so right. "Is it a woman ?" she whispered impishly, noticing with satisfaction a tightening of his grip on her arm as they stopped before the Bookshop. Well, well, could it be that her brother had finally met his match ? Oh, this was wonderful, exquisite and a true revelation that nigh had her bouncing up and down like an eager puppy. Ah, but the trick now was to find out the where, when, why and more importantly....who. Indeed, she would have to be careful and tread with the utmost caution for she knew her brother was scornful of such gossip and a slip of the tongue would find her in the doghouse.
But one thing was more important than above all others. Her dear brother, the most respected Alain DeBoar had set finally his cap to some fine lady. She couldn't wait to tell her friends !!
Lizzie grunted silently as she felt him finally rest his warm hand on her covered bottom having delivered a solid two dozen strokes to her upturned rump that was now gently swaying as she laid over his trousered lap. The feelings and sensations were overwhelming. She felt like she was drowning in them as they raged up and down her womanly frame from the tips of her boots to the top of her head where it felt like a swarm had taken up residence. Behind her, above her, she could hear his soft breathing as he caressed her soothingly.
What is he thinking ?
Had he finished ?
The pang of disappointment at that particular thought surprised her. Surely for paying the sum of three shilling he wanted and expected her to give him more ? "Please don't let him stop." she whispered, a silent prayer to herself for she never wanted this moment to end. It was then she felt it. The split on the seat of her bloomers being undone as he tugged each button free making her gasp softly as the cool air wafted over the still blushing cheeks of her revealed and bare backside peeking out through the gap.
He was going to do it.
It felt as if her heart had stopped for she felt quite giddy at the prospect of letting him do that to her. There was no doubt in her mind that she would let him for it meant only one thing to her. Her total and desired submission to the man of her dreams.
"A woman ?" he shot back, a little too sharply for the barb of her question had pinched him through his guard. DeBoar could feel his whole being, the who and what he was tighten up like his soul was being crushed in some invisible vice and he knew there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
"Methinks you're going deaf as well. Yes, a woman silly. You do know what one of them is don't you ? Though p'rhaps not for it has been an age since you've brought one home and introduced her to us. So ? " asked Francesca again, enjoying the befuddled look on his face.
DeBoar frowned deeper, then shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe."
He winced as his sister let out a shrill squeak of delight and planted a ripe kiss on his cheek, hugging him and giggling as he made a face and wiped his cheek.
"I knew it !!"
The smell of freshly baked bread wafted gently on the breeze as Lizzie and her mother entered Mr Higgins Bakers shop with the little brass bell above the door dingaling merrily just as Mrs Butterworth, his endearingly rosy-cheeked assistant brought out a large tray of still sizzling Cornish pastries.
"Mornin' Mrs Rose, mornin' Elizabeth, wait till I put these 'ere hotty's in the window and then I'll serve ye. Shan't be a tick." smiled the middle-aged woman dressed in a long black dress covered by a huge white pinny, topped off with a dainty white hat.
"No hurry Olive, its too grand a day ter be rushing about." replied Lizzie's mother cheerily as she lent over the counter and sniffed the scrumptious, mouth watering smell emanating from a pile of freshly baked apple tarts with a twirl of sugar on top. Since Lizzie was bringing in more money they'd been able to afford one or two extra treats when out shopping and those tarts did look tempting !!
"Right, now then wot can I do fer ye two fine ladies this day hm ?" asked Mrs Butterworth resting both hands on the counter above a wide selection of current buns, cream cakes and chocolate rolly-polly's with strawberry jam oozing out of the middle.
"Well, let me see now, ummm I'll have four of yer biggest steak pies and ahhhh, two large stottie cakes and four of yer apple sundays fer today Olive. Can't think of anything else, what about you Elizabeth dear....Elizabeth ?"
The feel of his hard hand on her roasting bare backside was exquisite, a touch of fiery heaven that with each thunderclap took her breath away as she keened and gasped as she bucked and kicked over his sturdy knee with the distinct smell of his leather boots filling her nostrils. "Ahhhh....Sir !!" she whispered harshly as his rough palm fell again. "Oooooh, please it stings so Sir, please stop." she groaned softly, squeaking as he tipped her further over until her nose brushed the carpet and concentrated three quick fire hefty blows to the under hang on both her hot cheeks.
But he remained silent and continued on.
"Lizzie ? Wake up girl !!"
Blinking with surprise, Lizzie blushed as she realised the two other women were watching her with a puzzled frown on their faces. Mrs Butterworth crossed her arms under her ample bosom and chuckled. "Seems yer daughter has other things on her mind my dear. I think affairs of the heart judging by her high colour." she smiled warmly as Mrs Rose tutted and looked to high heaven.
"Oh shush Olive, God give me strength fer that's all I need. " she sighed exasperated. She reached up and laid her hand across her daughter's brow. "Yer not ailing are ye Lizzie, or does Mrs Butterworth speak the truth of it ? Are ye lovesick ? I know there were a a fair number of men interested enough ter ask fer yer hand at the New Years dance." she asked concerned.
Lizzie blushed even redder and stepped back shaking her head. "Nno, course not mother how could ye think of such a thing. As fer those at the dance, not one has come calling have there ?"
"Then those concerned have neither taste or eye's in their empty head's as far as I'm concerned my dear Ms Elizabeth." laughed the Bakers assistant.
Lizzie shrugged her shoulders and shook her head sadly. "I think not, fer who would want to have me ?"
It was then that the brass bell rang into life as the Bakery door opened.
For DeBoar time stood still and froze him to the spot as his gaze fell on the young woman standing beside the counter with her mother. He felt his heart quicken, watching dreamlike as she turned at the sound of the bell and looked directly at him with her eyes widening as she recognised him and her high cheeks flushing warmly before she dropped her gaze and stood fidgeting with the tassels of her shawl.
It took a brief moment for Francesca to realise that her brother hadn't followed her into the shop. Indeed, to her surprise, he seemed to be most reluctant to enter the premises at all. "Alain, is something amiss ?" she asked slightly confused, reaching forward to tug at his hand.
"What ?" he muttered, before coming to his senses. "No, of course not. Nothing at all. I swear"
"Then come in and choose something to eat." she urged, leading him in by the hand until they stood side by side with the other customers who were, judging by their attire, of working class stock. Francesca peeked over the counter inspecting the wares "umm"ing and "aahhh"ing to herself for she was most particular in what she ate. It was then she noticed the older woman had turned and was smiling at her and her brother.
"Good mornin' " she said pleasantly.
"Yes, it is isn't it. A good morning to you and yours too." replied Francesca politely."My, Mr Higgins has truly outdone himself this time for those custard tarts look wonderful. I think I shall have one of those Mrs Buttersworth if you'd be so kind. What about you Alain ?"
As she spoke her brother's name, Francesca noticed the young lady, who had until that moment stayed silent and not favoured either of them so much as a brief glance, lift her head up suddenly as if struck a blow. Francesca was slightly taken aback by the manner of the girl's bearing. With a flawless complexion, rosebud lips, pert nose and what seemed a spectacular waterfall of silken fair hair tied up and hidden underneath a plain but tidy bonnet it seemed this girl was a natural beauty. Turning her head, she looked up at her brother smiling. "Alain, I asked...." she began, but to her surprise she found him staring most intently at the young woman who seemed to be deliberately avoiding his gaze. Her word's caught in her throat for the fire in his gaze was plain to see. Francesca blinked, wondering what on earth was going on.
As time passed...
Over hill and dale the sunlight raced. Chasing away the shadows of clouds and kissing all it touched with a life-giving warmth that made the onset of spring burst forth with a kaleidoscope of vibrant colour. The month of May had dawned bright and clear, a welcome relief after the pitter-patter of April showers as Lizzie and her younger sisters, Gertrude and Beatrice made their way through the swaying fields of yellow wheat towards the beck that trickled invitingly. A quiet place to have a picnic.
Bounding ahead, Beatrice, the youngest of the trio at 12 skipped along happily without a care in the world with her pig-tails flopping behind her as she carried her fishing pole with a small net attached to one end. Spinning around, she waved it at her sisters who were each carrying a basket. "Come on ye two afor the kingfishers, warblers and heron's eat all the sticklebacks and there's none left fer me to catch !!" she whined, urging them to hurry up.
"Hush Bee." smiled Lizzie, shifting the weight of the basket to her other hand. "We're nearly there, stop being so impatient."
"Aye button yer lip Beatrice fer ye protest to much seeing as we're the one's doing all the carrying." grumbled Gertrude as they reached the farmers gate, carefully swinging it open and making sure it was firmly tied shut before slipping their way down the grassy hill towards the riverbank. Picking their spot underneath the hanging splendour of a tall Sycamore in full flush and pomp, Lizzie spread out a woollen chequered blanket for them to sit on and began laying out some plates for sandwiches and three small beakers for their fizzy pop.
"Ham and beetroot or pork and pickle ?" asked Lizzie, unwrapping the cloth which kept the flies and midgies off their dinner.
"Ham !!" shouted Beatrice holding her plate up.
"Manners, what do ye say ?" tutted Gertrude, giving her younger sister a disapproving look.
Beatrice made a face, but turned to Lizzie with a dimple." Dearest sister Elizabeth, may I please have a ham and beetroot sandwich ?"
"That's better. One or two ?" asked Lizzie, smiling in spite of herself.
"Um, may I have two cos my belly's rumbling terribly." replied Beatrice before turning to Gertrude and sticking her tongue out.
Resting against the gnarled trunk of the aged Sycamore, Lizzie watched as her sisters paddled and splashed about amongst the shallow reeds looking for something to catch and put in their jam jar's for to take home and show their mother.
"Keep still Bee, yer scaring them all away !!" shouted Gertrude, hands on hips with her knicker-bockers rolled up to mid-thigh whilst holding the glass jar looking exasperated as her younger girl splashed about shrieking as she chased the tiny freshwater fish too and fro.
Lizzie smiled, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the fresh smell of meadow as she lent back and looked up through the canopy towering over her head, watching as the sunlight sparkled and danced through the leaves. It was a lovely day, peaceful, with a gentle breeze spreading natures seed all around. A welcome diversion from the grind of the workhouse. She sighed, wishing that God's day would last forever.
So much had happened since the turn of the year, unexpected things, things that had made her blood quicken, things that had opened up a whole new world to her - much to her own surprise. But one thing was constant and that was the workhouse. Now more so than ever seeing as the opportunity to earn a little extra had apparently come to an abrupt end. Still, least she had managed to save and put a little by for a rainy day. But, as she had come to realise, it wasn't the money that truly mattered. Not in the end. Not to her. Not now.
As before, on a Friday evening after finishing her week's labour she had gone to stand expectantly, nervously by the entrance to Woodcutters Lane waiting for him to pass by on his watch astride his horse. He had told her this was the best way for him to contact her without causing suspicion for when he passed, if he turned to her and raised his cap, she knew he wanted to see her again. If he did not, it meant that he was unable to meet her for a good reason.
It had been the Friday of the fourth week. She had ran home, quickly changing as she usually did. She had made sure she had washed away all the grime then combed her long hair until it was neat and tidy before heading towards the alleyway to wait.
She had waited and waited. But he never showed. Disappointed, she had returned home feeling heavy of heart for she suspected something was amiss. Something had changed. On each Friday for the following three week's she had thus waited expectantly. But of him, there was no sign.
It was then she realised that he wouldn't ever be there again. It was over.
Listening to the sound of her sister's laughter as they splashed about and feeling the dull pang of loss and heartache, she closed her eye's as the memories of the last time he had been close washed over her. It had been in the Bakers shop all those months ago.
"It is Mrs Rose isn't it ?" asked DeBoar, ignoring his sister.
"Why yes, yes it is and you are ?" replied Lizzie's mother. "Oh, wait a moment aren't you the town constable and also the son of the parish adjudicator ?"
"Indeed, my father is John DeBoar, I am Alain and this," he smiled, resting his hand on her arm,"....is my sister Francesca." he explained as his fifteen year old sister bobbed a polite curtsey at her introduction.
"Tis a pleasure to meet ye both." smiled Mrs Rose warmly as she noticed the man's gaze turn to her daughter who for some strange reason was hiding behind her and was staring at her boots. "Oh, forgive my manners, this is my eldest daughter Elizabeth."
Feeling her heart thudding in her throat and knowing most assuredly that she'd rather be someplace else, she took a deep uneasy breath and lifted her eyes to his.
He was staring intently at her.
"P..pleased to make yer acquaintance Sir." she whispered, feeling the colour drain from her face as they stared at each other for a brief moment. She was thankful she had managed to say anything coherent at all. Holding her gaze for a second that felt an eternity, she jumped as he stepped forward, took her hand and raised it to his lips. She shivered as his warm breath caressed her knuckle before his lips touched her dry skin.
"And I you Miss Rose."
Slowly opening her eyes, Lizzie sighed deeply as she remembered the feel of his lips on her quivering hand and the unnerving caress of his gaze. She thanked the Good Lord up above when her mother had turned to them with an innocent "Come Elizabeth, we must be going. Good day Sir, Miss DeBoar. Iit was a pleasure ter make yer acquaintance."
Blushing with her heart thudding in her chest, she avoided his look as she followed her Mother out of the Bakers shop. Unknown to her, it was the last time they would be so close.
The sun sat high in a crystal clear blue sky as through a haze of twinkling dust, Mrs Rose sneezed loudly as she gave the hearth rug another wallop with the worn carpet beater as it hung over the clothes line. As was custom, she was doing the spring cleaning while her children were off out on a picnic and the weather had taken a turn for the better.
Stepping back, she reached into the pocket of her pinny and pulled out a clean hanky to wipe away the tear's and blow her nose. As she reached up to fasten the clip which held her greying hair in a neat and tidy bun, behind her she heard the click of her garden gate being opened and closed. With a curious smile, she turned to see the tall figure of a man walking up her cobbled path until he came to a stop before her. Raising her hand to cover her eyes against the glare of the sun, she squinted as he reached up and removed his hat.
"Oh, its you." she smiled with surprise.
Lying back, Lizzie listened to the blackbird singing as it sang from way up high as she continued to watch over her sisters. A quiet gentle peace had settled over her as she felt the warmth of the sun caressing her, making her mood of despair and disappointment ebb slowly away. She realised her life had returned to what it had always been and probably would always be as long as she lived. Those brief moment's were over. A memory. From her past. The sound of a squeal opened her eyes as Beatrice slipped and slithered her way up the grassy bank, her jam jar swinging from her grasp to where the picnic blanket was laid.
Gasping for breath, the youngest Rose, red of face held it up. "Look Lizzie, its a big bug !!" she laughed, showing her the spindly insect that floundered in its glass cage. "I caught it in me net." she told her, waving it around for effect.
Kneeling up, Lizzie peered into the misty water. "Oh, isn't he a funny little thing Bee ?!" she laughed indulgently.
"Uh huh, do ye know what he is Lizzie ?" she asked, peeking over the rim of the jar as the insect skated about on the surface of the water.
"Hmm, no. I've got no idea sweetie. Mayhap ye can take it to school on Monday and ask Mrs O'Toole if she knows." replied Lizzie, reaching down to sweep the flecks of grass from her skirt.
Beatrice made a face. "Mrs O'Toole !!" she cried, glancing over Lizzie's shoulder as something caught her eye."She'd squish it fer sure. Perhaps he will know." she wondered suddenly, nodding towards someone approaching in the far distance.
"What ?" blinked Lizzie, momentarily at a loss.
"Him over there, the man sitting on the farmer's gate watching us." said Beatrice pointing her rod in the direction of the boundary fence.
Looking over her shoulder, Lizzie felt her heart drop down to her boots and bounce back up into her throat for even in shadow with the sun behind him she knew who the man was. It was him. As her emotions rose to the surface, it seemed as if all the whispers of nature and the melody of bird song had suddenly ceased and the only thing she could hear was the thud of her heart and the rasp of her breath.
It was him and he was sitting there watching them.
"Can I Lizzie, please ?" came a voice.
"Hmmm what ?" she mumbled, the colour draining from her face as she continued to stare at the silent figure dressed all in black.
"Ask him about my funny looking beetle silly !!" sighed Beatrice. Taking the matter into her own hand, she stepped over the picnic basket and crying a "I think I shall, shan't be long." she scampered up the hill toward's the figure before Lizzie could stop her.
"Beatrice !!" she called out in vain. But the young girl had already reached the man who had knelt down as she had approached so she could show him the jar's prisoner. Quickly getting to her feet, Lizzie reached up to fiddle with her red bow just as Gertrude approached with a wide smile on her young face.
"Seems Bee has found a new friend." she laughed, looking down as she twiddled her damp toe's in the fresh grass. "He somehow looks familiar. Do ye know who he is Lizzie ?"
Lizzie felt herself blush at the question for she truly did know who he was and that he most assuredly knew her. "Verily Gertrude, I know him well." she whispered softly, more to herself than her sister.
"Its a wot Mr DeBoar ?" giggled Beatrice, covering her face with her hands as her new friend blew into the jar making the funny looking thing slither about.
"A waterboatman." replied the man as he crouched beside her holding up her jar for them all to see.
"What a peculiar name." smiled Gertrude, sitting cross-legged on the rug enjoying the company of this man who had introduced himself to them all as a Mr Alain DeBoar.
"Aye, here look closely, can you see how he can walk on water ? That's how he gets his name." he told them, looking across at Gertrude causing her to turn pink and suddenly bashful.
Only Lizzie was silent, trying to regain her composure as time passed since Beatrice had grasped his hand and dragged him over to their picnic spot where they all now sat. Truth be told, Lizzie was afraid her voice had deserted her or lay hidden beneath the sound of her beating heart as she pretended to be calm and collected in his presence. Emotions she was far from feeling inside.
"Isn't Mr DeBoar clever Lizzie ?" said Beatrice excitedly as she sat down, rummaged around in the basket and pulled out an apple to munch on happily.
"He is Bee." replied Lizzie, hugging the young girl against her. "My sister is right Sir, ye must be a well travelled and learned man to know such things." she asked, her eyes meeting his before sliding shyly away and pretending to look for something to eat herself.
"Ah, well now then. Learned maybe. Travelled yes. It is my good fortune in life to have journeyed both near and far." he smiled, handing Gertrude the jar.
"Even o'er sea's Sir ?" sighed Gertrude, making a face as she held the container at arms length with Beatrice giggling and pointing at her. Gertrude just stuck out her tongue and made a face.
"On occasion, mostly to France and the lowlands towards the north. I guess I have travelled a fair bit during my life." he pondered, nodding.
"Lizzie dreams of travelling to lands afar and exploring, don't ye Lizzie ?" revealed Beatrice, resting her chin in her upturned hands enjoying his stories.
"Is that so ?" the man asked, looking at the eldest Rose girl.
Lizzie just shrugged her shoulders feeling slightly embarrassed for she knew her circumstances made it an impossible dream.
"Uh huh Sir, " stumbled on Beatrice not noticing her sister's discomfort. "She even has a big blue book with maps and stories and and...it even shows our town and where we live !!"
"It sounds a wonderful book Beatrice." laughed Alain gently.
"Oh tis Sir. " agreed Gertrude." It has also to be said, one found in mysterious circumstances too. Twas meant as a present it seems for my eldest sister this Christmas just past, though the admirer appears to have lost his way and delivered it not down a chimney but by way of our coal shed !!" she laughed loudly.
"Do ye want an apple Sir ?" asked Beatrice, rummaging again and plucking out a red juicy one and offering it to him.
"Thank you kindly Miss Rose." he accepted, taking it and thanking her. As he was about to take the first bite, his eye's met the eldest sister and held her gaze.
With a smile, he winked.
"For those that are pure of heart, their dreams will come true one day Miss Rose if they want them too. You should look for the sign of the black cross closer to home one day."
Beatrice and Gertrude scampered up their garden path calling for their mother leaving Lizzie carrying the nearly empty basket's and musing on Alain DeBoar's enigmatic last words to her before he bade each of them a good day as they departed at the crossroads and headed for home.
Reaching the door, Lizzie bumped into Gertrude who was hurrying down the stairs. "Mother must have gone out Lizzie fer the house is empty. Mayhap she's gone into town shopping ?" said Gertrude.
"Yer probably right fer the larder needs stocking up again I think. Here help me with this Gertie." asked Lizzie, placing the baskets on the kitchen table where they began to take out the plates and beakers for to wash and clean.
Standing at the kitchen sink as she rinsed each plate before handing it to Gertrude to dry with the tea towel, Lizzie looked out into the garden where Beatrice played with a ball and stick in the late afternoon sunshine.
"He's very handsome isn't he ?" said Gertrude suddenly.
"Oh, who ?" replied Lizzie, feeling her heart beat faster despite herself.
"Pish tush Elizabeth, ye know who. Mr DeBoar of course silly." sighed Gertrude dreamily.
"Oh well, suppose so." she mumbled.
"Well, I think he is. He has lovely eyes and a nice smile. He's rich too !!" laughed Gertrude as Lizzie scrubbed the cutlery. Bathed in the rays of fading sunlight that still shone brilliantly through the window, Lizzie gasped suddenly and stood stock still staring into the distance with a frown on her face.
"Lizzie is something wrong ?" asked the other girl puzzled.
Lizzie turned with a funny look on her face and grabbed Gertrude by the shoulders. "Of course, its so obvious !!" she cried out, gasping and laughing.
"Are ye alright sister ?" wondered Gertrude, feeling a little afraid by her elder sisters alarming change in manner.
Dropping the dish-rag into the sink, Lizzie wiped her hands dry on her pinny and ran from the kitchen scampering up the stairs towards their bedroom as Gertrude stumbled after her.
Sitting on her bed, Lizzie sat staring at the page as Gertrude stood beside her resting her hand on her sister's shoulder for support and comfort.
"Ye mean ?" whispered Gertrude in awe." He, he sent ye the book ?"
Lizzie nodded, still confused and in shock as her mind reeled with the revelation laid before them. "Y...yes Gertie. It seems so." replied Lizzie, feeling her eyes fill with the beginnings of tears.
"But.....why ?" gasped Gertrude.
Before she could answer, Lizzie turned as her mother came running into the bedroom looking ashen faced, teary-eyed and flushed at the same time.
"Oh Lizzie, my Lizzie. Thank goodness yer back. I've been at my wits end running around looking fer the three of ye !!" she gasped, kneeling down to hug her eldest daughter in a warm embrace.
"Mother is, is something wrong ?" asked Gertrude concerned as Beatrice came running into the bedroom wondering what was up and why her mother and Lizzie seemed to be crying.
As one, each of them looked down at the open book lying next to them on the bed for there on the town-map of PagansWart was drawn a small black cross. Over where Alain DeBoar lived.
Reaching up, Mrs Rose cupped Lizzie's face in her hands. "Dearest daughter, you'll never guess who came to see me today...."
Another time, another place.
In the fading light of a spent sun, the pale beams of sunlight fell lovingly over the soft skin of the naked young woman as she quickly rose to her feet. Reaching behind herself she began to rub the smart sting of her freshly spanked buttocks. "Hmm....that stings so." she whimpered, not with anger or hurt but with desire and lust.
"And so it should for didn't you say that it fire's the blood that runs through you ?" chuckled the tall figure who got to his feet to stand over her, smiling a warm smile as she pouted up at him with her face framed by a waterfall of hair turning gold.
"Suppose so, least it was only a spanking Sir." replied Lizzie, laying her hands on his bare chest.
"Hmm, only eh ?" he smiled, running his own through her hair." I think its about time I gave you another dose of the strap then." he pondered aloud.
Stepping forward, she moulded and rubbed her body against his. She heard herself moan as she kissed his throat for she felt her sap rising as it always did when they were alone. Suddenly he bent down and swept her off her feet and carried her towards the bed where he laid her down and quickly covered her.
"Fear not my fair Elizabeth, I intend to take care of us both this night." he promised, feeling his own ardour rise at the sight of her.
Grasping his shoulders, Lizzie laid her lips against his in a loving embrace and whispered to him. "Then love me Alain, my dear husband....love me till the end of time."
Ding-a-ling Ding Ding.
From behind his counter, Mr Tiggywinkle looked up at the sound of his doorbell ringing merrily. He smiled as a dark head, partially hidden beneath a tidy bonnet peeked round the door wide-eyed at him.
"Why hello there. Please come in." he said warmly as the figure of a young lady hesitantly entered and closed the door behind her. Grasping her bag to her chest, she came to a stop before the counter.
"Can I help ye ?" he asked pleasantly.
Looking left and right, the girl swelled up her chest taking a deep breath,"Uhhh ummmmm, I er...I'm looking fer a Mister T..Ter..Tiggywinkle." she whispered, flushing warmly as she peeked up at him with a shy smile on her face.
"Ahhh, look no further my dear fer I am he. How may I be of service this fine summers day hmmm ?" he asked, reaching up to straighten his bow tie.
"Oh well, I er...I was just passing when I er..noticed yer er...poster on the wall next to the entrance to the alley about er...lookin' fer a certain type of lady." she mumbled pinkly.
"Aha. Just one moment Ms..." he began.
"Trotter, Peggy Trotter." she replied quickly, bobbing a curtsey as he took her hand and kissed her knuckle. Stepping over to the door, he looked up and down the alleyway through his window then reached up and slid the bolt home locking the door. Turning, he showed her to a table, pulling out a chair for her to sit on.
"Now then Tilly, why don't we have a little chat."
It looked like the "Ye Old Spank Shop" had found another employee.