February 20, 2006 at 10:40 pm #1768LaynaParticipant
Outside, the church bells wove together a tapestry tolling the hour out over the peeks and gables of rooftops and along the gutters of shabby streets. Inside, the old grandfather clock with its face painted half of the moon and half of the sun added a quiet harmony to the outside melody. The house continued to settle as houses do during the night. The groan of stairs. The sigh of hallways. Windows wishing to close their sleepy, forever-staring eyes. All while the winter wind flirted about the eaves and tickled the chimney bricks.
Riley listened to the bells. One. Two. Three. All the way to twelve. Midnight. When witches walked and cast their spells or danced on the green. She knew a country girl?s knowledge of witches and had a city girl?s disdain for such things. Of course, she would still toss salt across her shoulder if it spilled. Small things so much a habit now that she no longer thought about them. Nor as she lay in her narrow maiden?s bed under a thick quilt did she ponder such things. She wanted very much to be asleep. She knew she was supposed to be, but it kept gliding right out of reach when she thought she?d have it.
Now she turned. The sheet twisted about white narrow hips and she stared at the curtained window. Sighed. Shoved her arms under the pillow and waited for sleep to dance up like it was supposed to and call her away. Funny that only a few months ago midnight would have been early, the midway point of her night perhaps. Until illness laid her low. Before Death kissed her pale cheek with the promise to return.
Oh, she told herself. Those were some grand times. Fine times. Her smile turned secret and she remembered laughing with Mary Jenny while sharing a bottle of gin, both of them sprawled across a bed not theirs. Walking free as free with Quentin. His arm loop around her waist and before they?d both know it, they?d have watches in need of christening. We?ve t? take ?em t? church, he told her every time and grinned wide. Black eyes merry as hellfire. She would part with her share and a kiss.
Not everything had been jolly. Penny?s face slashed like it was. Or finding oneself off to Newgate. People joked hell was on earth. Riley believed that to be true, save it was kept behind prison walls and she never, ever wished to walk there again. Couldn?t afford it anyhow. Fools went in thinking there was no cost. Riley laughed to herself, recalling a noble woman there for her husband?s debt, how her face drained of color when the talk began of how one needed to bribe to get anything. And what a list that was. Water. A spoon. A mattress. More. Those pretty earrings and bracelets gone in a snatch. Riley cut the fine buttons of jet and ruby chips from her gown later while she slept. One looked out for themselves at Newgate. No one else ever did.
Interesting life to say the least. She managed, through luck or miracle, to escape without looking worn, without bearing the marks most girls did by now at her age. Whether it was the Devil?s help or God?s blessing she didn?t know. Didn?t much care. She would?ve praised either if she needed to.
A maid?s life was the very last sort of life she saw for herself. Her ideas of climbing high among the gentry began and ended with the idea of becoming a rich man?s mistress. If she could do that, she would have been well set. For a while at least. But men were fickle things with a tendency to lose interest after a time. Though Riley never bothered herself with wondering what she would do. She never wanted to fall in love with the idiot cully. Only that he loved her, or imagined so would?ve mattered. Sadly, her ideas about that would never see the light of day.
Am I sad, she asked herself. Really, am I. She rolled onto her side. A drape of shadowy curls swept down the edge of the bed. For the freedom she lost, which reformists would argue about, she gained aspects she hadn?t had before. A constant home. Constant food. The chance at something of an education so she could go beyond just making a simple mark upon paper. A room of her own. The idea of safety with paying for it. There were gains, she allowed, and good ones as well. Not to mention she was in debt for the help done.
Then she heard it. The soft patter against her window. Alarmed, she pushed herself up from the bed, grabbed for her dressing gown and slipped into it. The room was painfully dark, but she managed to light the lamp before she ended up stumbling about and drawing more attention than she wished for. She tied the curtain back and threw up the window, ducking just in time to miss being hit by a scattering of pebbles.
?Who?s it?? she hissed into the cold air. Christ?s teeth. Madmen out at this hour. Disturbing a body from a bed. She glared down into the shadows below, searching for movement in the hedges. For something.
?Successful jade you are now, yeah?? A ripple in the darkness. The wink of metal.
Riley pressed her hands to her mouth to hold back a scream. Save it wasn?t one of fear but delight. She knew the voice as well as she knew her hair was dark. Not thinking about it, she leaned across the windowsill, curls trailing down and gown falling open. A whistle up at her.
?Minx,? and laughter followed. ?Forever t?tease me. Know me now, then, do you, Riley??
?Neven,? she breathed on a wild grin. ?Neven, wait?I?ll run down.?
?Nah, nah. Whistle an? Pony. Tomorrow. Find a way an? I?ll see you, sweetheart.? His face finally turned up to hers. Sharp angles and pale. Pale as she was. Dublin-born, him. Part of why she liked him so well. She could speak without worrying over what word to use. His grin matched hers. ?Tomorrow.?
?Then,? she nodded and didn?t wait for a goodbye. It wasn?t her way or his. She only slipped back from the window and shoved it down again. The curtains fell into place. Carefully she gathered the pebbles he?d thrown from the floor and stowed them into the drawer where she kept necessities. Deal with it later. Finally she sat herself down on the edge of her narrow bed in the lamp?s glow. Hands shook as she laced them together. With a laugh she flopped herself backward.
Neven. He must?ve escaped from Newgate after all.February 20, 2006 at 11:06 pm #2315Jeff CrowleyParticipant
Beautiful as always m'dear. It is good to see your work again after all this time.February 20, 2006 at 11:29 pm #2317CatherineParticipant
Great post, as ever! Looking forward to seeing more from you…it's about time 😉
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