Excerpt for Taking A Chance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Taking a Chance

Mary looked at her father as he slept soundly in the corner of the room and sighed. She knew that he wouldn’t be getting up for a while and that was the last thing she needed today. Frustrated, she tiptoed through the cottage and out into the cold winter air; and wrapping her shawl tightly around her face she ran towards the barn.

Carefully, she took four eggs from the coop, dropped them gently into her apron pocket and grabbed the empty pail from its peg.

It took her ten minutes to draw the water up from the well and by the end of it she was exhausted. In the past, her father would have done this for her but ever since her mother had died two summers ago her father had not only lost interest in the farm, he had also lost interest in her and sometimes, she mourned for the kind loving father she once had.

Oh! how she wished her mother was there to hold her, and how she longed for those days when she would watch her mother knead bread on the kitchen table and then rub the flour from her hair. If only, she thought to herself, as she dragged the pail back to the cottage; losing half of its contents in the process.

‘Time to get up father,’ she called out, as she cut into the bread.

Her father opened one eye, looked at his daughter and groaned. He’d lived to see another day, but oh how he wished he could leave this god forsaken place. He loved Mary dearly, but nobody could take the place of her mother whom he’d adored. That woman had fair taken his breath away and there wasn’t a day that passed when he didn’t think about her.

‘The cows ain’t going to milk themselves father and I’ve got to feed the chickens as well as my normal chores. Robert has come down from Box farm to help today and he’s only after a meal for his troubles. If we’re going to get the churns into town today, you’d better get a move on.’

It’s bleak out there, I don’t see how we’ll get the milk to town today anyway?’ He protested.

‘We’ll do it, we have too! We need salt and flour and a lot more besides. We must get the milk delivered! People are counting on us.’

Her father grumbled to himself and sat up, pulled the curtain around his bed to hide his modesty, stood up and started to get dressed. Like it or not, he knew, they had to go to town, for the weather was on the turn and he knew from experience that it was going to get even colder; and he didn’t want to be left out in the countryside with no supplies. He might have wanted to starve himself to death, but he had promised his wife that he would look after Mary and he wasn’t a man who broke his word.

As usual, the journey into town was arduous. It took fifty minutes and the cart shook all the way, causing their bones to ache.

‘You better get as many supplies as you can Mary, looks like the weather may be on the turn and who knows when we will be in again.’

Mary nodded in agreement and got down from the cart while her father took the milk to the market.

‘Good to see you Mary, are you well?’ Mrs Stone asked kindly.

Mrs Stone, as well as owning the local shop had been a great friend of her mothers.

‘I am, thank you Mrs Stone and yourself?’

‘My joints hurt a little, but I can’t grumble. Riddled with it I am.’

‘Can I leave you this list while I go to the market to help my father?’

‘Certainly, let me see,’ she said kindly, looking down at the list. ‘Yes, I think we have everything here, of course I’ll need to be paid up front.’

‘Of course,’ Mary said, blushing slightly.

Since her mother had died her father had not been paying the bills promptly and their credit had been taken away from most places in town.

Mary walked across the muddy road towards the market and looked around for her father. Eventually, she spotted him talking to an old friend of his and as she walked towards them, she looked at her father as if for the first time and was surprised by what she saw. He looked even thinner than normal and his cheek bones were sunken in; and the mass of shiny brown curls he once had were now lank and grey.

He looked ten years older than his eight and forty years and a tear came to her eye when she realised, he resembled nothing of his former self, but she quickly brushed it away. She wouldn’t let him know how much she was hurting.

Her mother was dead and that was the end of it and her father just had to learn to live without her. She knew he was hurting, but so was she. He needed to look at what he had and not what he’d lost. He needed to start living again, after all, he was still a young man.

‘I’ve got a good price for the milk. Here, pay Mrs Stone and I’ll meet you at the cart. Say in half an hour?’ her father said quickly, before scurrying off down the road.

What he really meant was, come back in half an hour after I’ve been to the inn for a drink.

Mary placed the coins in Mrs Stone’s hand and after thanking her, Mrs Stone asked if she would like to join her for some tea. On answering yes, Mrs Stone called to a young girl to mind the shop and she and Mrs Stone walked into the back room.

Mary was pleased when Mrs Stone offered her a piece of cake and ate it greedily, for not being much of a baker herself she rarely had treats.

‘How are you Mary?’ Mrs Stone asked, genuinely concerned.

I’m good, but father is not doing so well, he just can’t get used to the fact that mother is dead.’

‘I know dear, the poor man, he misses her terribly, but enough of your father, seriously, what about you?’

Mary chewed the last piece of her cake, took a swig of ale and said shyly,

‘Working on a farm isn’t an easy life but we manage.’

‘I would offer you work here but times are hard, and the harvest wasn’t as good as it should have been and people aren’t buying much. So, it looks like we could be in for a hard Winter.

‘I think so,’ Mary said politely and then she excused herself, picked up her wicker basket and walked out of the shop towards the cart.

Thankfully, her father was waiting for her, usually he wasn’t so prompt, and she had been dreading spending any more time out in the cold; it looked like snow and they needed to get home and put the animals in the barn. The last thing they needed this Winter was for any more of their animals to die. They had lost a few cows in the summer and hadn’t been able to replace them, and if they were to lose any of the ones they still had, they would be done for.

Once the cows, goats and the pig had been locked up in the barn, Mary went back into their warm cottage to start the dinner. She was going to boil a nice piece of lamb that Mrs Stone had hidden in the bottom of her basket.

Two hours later, having ate the lamb and vegetable stew, her father went to bed. Leaving her to wash up. But she didn’t mind that, for she loved the quiet evenings. For a few hours, each night she could do exactly what she wanted and tonight, she was going to read.

Mary took the half-burnt candle from the back of the drawer, checked that there was some left, then took it over to the fire place and lit it. Then she retrieved her book of poems from under her bed and sat by the fire, ready to enter an imaginary world. A world she could only dream about.

Two days later and as predicted it started to snow and Mary and her father knew, that they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a couple of weeks. Mary was grateful that she’d had the hindsight to buy in what they needed, and she knew too, that if things got bad, they could always kill the pig. But she didn’t want to think about that. Luckily, she’d made plenty of preserves, pickles and salted meat which would last them well into the winter and hopefully, through to March.

‘Who the hell comes out in this weather?’ her father groaned, when he heard the knock on the door.

Mary went to answer the door but just before she opened it, she took the large pot down from behind the front door and held it tightly in her hand, and as she gripped the handle hard, she looked over to her father in the hope that he would come to her aid but as usual, he remained steadfast on the bed, his face showing no signs of emotion.

He may as well be dead, she thought to herself as she started to open the door, then she bit her bottom lip in anger, wishing she hadn’t had such a terrible thought.

‘Answer it girl,’ her father said irritably.

So, with no help coming from his direction she gingerly opened the door.

Relief washed over her when she saw her best friend Martha Rede standing outside.

‘Come in, good lord you look terrible. Come… sit by the fire.’

‘Martha dutifully obeyed because she was cold and her feet were absolutely freezing, due to the fact, that there was a large hole in the bottom of one of her boots.

Mary handed her a cup of hot broth and she drank it eagerly.

‘Whatever is the matter Martha?’

‘Father is sick, and mother was wondering if you had any spare food. He’s terribly weak. He’s not been eating see, they’ve been depriving themselves in favour of us lot. But I told him, if he doesn’t eat, who will look after us.’

‘We have food. I’ll make a basket up straight away. How will you get home?’

‘I’ve got the horse and cart, I don’t suppose you have any hay, do you?

‘We have some hay, but I can only spare a little, now stop worrying and drink your broth while I get some things together.’

Under the watchful eye of her father, Mary packed some salted beef Mrs Stone had given her and some winter vegetables, and when her father briefly turned away, she shoved some rye bread down the side of the basket. It wasn’t much but it was all they could spare. She would give her some milk too, that was something they had in abundance and she would give her plenty of plum preserve… a treat for her younger siblings.

‘We’ve barely got enough for ourselves girl!’ Her father said angrily, as he grabbed her by the arm as she passed by.

She shrugged his arm away and said rudely, ‘They’ve given us food in the past when we’ve had none. It’s the least we can do for them. Who do you think fed me and gave me shelter when you were grieving alone in the barn all those months?’

Her father shrugged his shoulders and walked back to his part of the room and swished the curtain across. The last thing he wanted was another row.

‘I’m sorry to be such a burden Mary but I’ve got no one else to turn too?’

‘You are a good friend Martha, I’m just glad we have some spare, now, would you like a piece of rye bread or have you had your fill?’

‘I’m fine now thank you Mary, but I’d better be going. They’ll all be waiting on me. This will see us out for a week or two, and then…’

But Martha said no more. She couldn’t allow herself to think that far ahead. Hopefully, when the weather cleared there would be work for her and her parents up at the big house. The snow always did some damage, and her father was a dab hand with wood and such like.

Mary watched her friend as she drove out of the gate and up the hill. It was over an hour’s ride to her house and she hoped that she would get there safely.

Mr and Mrs. Rede hadn’t been lucky enough to procure a farm of their own and they relied on labouring jobs or domestic work and that sort of work was scarce in the winter. With the snow arriving early this year, she hoped the family would survive. She wished now she’d asked Martha to stay at the cottage. It would have been one less mouth to feed for the Rede family. Even though her father would have forbidden it, she would have found a way around it somehow.

Thankfully, Mr Rede had been lucky enough to be born strong and healthy and when people were hiring, they would always pick him first, so she comforted herself with the fact that when the snow cleared, there would be a few repairs to mend; at least she hoped so - for the sake of their four children.

Mary and her father were laid up in the cottage for the next couple of months and their relationship was becoming more and more strained, so much so, that her father rarely came out from behind his curtain now and she had to slide his meals underneath it.

But eventually the snow did clear and they were once again able to make the journey into town and as usual, whenever they were in town, her father took the milk to the market and she went into the shop, which was the main area for gossip and news; Mrs Stone knew everything that went on in the village and the surrounding areas. And what she didn’t know, she simply filled in the gaps herself.

‘Where is everyone?’ Mary asked, as she walked into the shop.

‘They’re mostly in church. Little William Rede died, and a couple of babies out yonder lost their lives. Their poor mothers were too weak to produce any milk.’

Mary’s heart went out too little William’s family and her friend Martha. But at the same time, she was angry with Martha for not telling her just how bad things were. William couldn’t have been more than three months old and she’d already lost her eldest brother the year before in a farming accident. If she’d known the full extent of their problems she would willingly have taken the child in. Then she chided herself for not offering to do so when Martha had come to the cottage.

‘I’d leave them alone for now. It’s still raw. I’d given them a few weeks and then go and see them.’

‘Yes of course, I can do nothing for them now. I will wait.’

‘It’s god’s will my dear, nothing we can do about it. It was the poor babes time to go.’

Mary wasn’t sure if she believed in God, so she didn’t say anything. Although she tried to follow the ways of the lord, she could never understand why God would want to punish children when they’d done nothing wrong? Or why he would take those dearest to you.

‘Well, well, what have we here?’

Mary looked across the shop to where the booming voice came from, then smiled at the gentleman.

‘Frank’s me name, and you are?’

‘Mary,’ she replied shyly.’

‘That’s my brother Frank, just come back from sea for a few months. He’s staying here for a while.’

Mary was completely taken by surprise. In all the years of knowing Mrs Stone she’d no idea that she had a family. She’d just presumed that being childless and without a husband she was all alone in the world. Besides, it seemed strange that he was so much younger than Mrs. Stone; but she didn’t dwell on the matter for too long as it was really none of her business.

‘You haven’t met Frank, have you? He goes away a lot but he’s been sick, and he’s been staying with me while he recuperates. But he’s on the mend now and I see he hasn’t lost that cheeky tongue of his. He gets that from his mother.’

‘Caught something out in India,’ he said plainly.

Mary hadn’t met anyone who had been to India and she was intrigued.

‘Why don’t you come in the back and have some tea with us,’ Mrs Stone asked, and as usual, she called the little girl to help mind the shop. Mary didn’t know who the girl was and although she was sorely tempted to ask, she decided that it was none of her business; but she guessed, that with her ivory skin and black hair, the girl didn’t come from around these parts.

Mary sat on one of the wooden chairs in silence as Mrs Stone and her brother conversed. Frank was extremely good looking. He was tall, had a thick main of brown curly hair and his eyes were a brilliant blue. She wondered about his age for she guessed that he looked older than his years. Being a sailor and working out of doors had made his skin tanned and craggy. His voice was gruff too and his manners when drinking his tea were not to be admired, but still, his handsome looks more than made up for his lack of manners.

‘So, miss, what do you do all day?’

Mary was surprised to be asked that question and thought about it for a while before answering.

‘I help my father care for the farm sir and I look after the house.’

‘Of course, you do, you’re in training to be the mistress of your own home someday. Just like every other young maiden in these parts. Well, I’ll tell you straight. I’m on the lookout for a companion for life and it seems to me, you have all the qualities needed for that position. You’re pretty, in a country sort of way and you seem to be of sound mind. Are you up for it.’

Mary stifled a giggle, he was extremely brash and once she’d composed herself, she said, ‘You are very presumptuous sir, what about love?’

‘Love,’ he scoffed, as he stood up, towering over her small frame. ‘What about love?’

Mary had never met a man so forthright and she smiled and said, ’You think a lot of yourself don’t you sir?’

Frank laughed, a big haughty laugh that made Mary smile. She had never met anyone like him and she had to admit, she was taken with him.

‘Well, what do you say, do you want to be my companion for life?’ he asked mischievously.

Shifting nervously in her chair she looked up at him and said firmly, ’No sir, I do not.’

‘You don’t know what you’re missing my girl, how old are you?’

‘Five and twenty.’

‘Five and twenty eh? And still you are at home. I think you should not take my offer so lightly.’

‘Sir!’ she groaned, amazed and annoyed by his behaviour.

Frank went and sat next to his stepsister who was giggling to herself. She had never seen Frank like this before.

‘You may be a beautiful young maiden now, with your curves, those mysterious brown eyes and brown curls of yours, but over time all that will fade and then what will you do? I’m offering you marriage girl.’

Mary stood up and said as proudly as she could, ‘I thank you for your offer sir, but if there is no one else who will have me, it would not trouble me.’

‘Then spinster it will be. I see no men in this village. Perhaps you should not take my offer so lightly. You will have to go a long way to get a better offer.’

He had a point she thought. Sadly, the plague had taken a few of the young men, leaving mostly old men and women, and the ones that were left were starting to move to the cities, because there was more work there.

‘Please excuse me Mrs Stone I have to get back to the farm.’

Mary rose and Frank opened the door for her.

‘Can I walk you home my fair young maiden?’

‘No thank you sir, I know the way.’

‘I like your spirit girl. May I come courting tomorrow.’

He was coarse and too sure of himself and she knew that she shouldn’t like him but for some reason, she was attracted to him, but not wanting to appear too forward she said plainly, ‘You would have to consult my father on that matter. Good day sir.’

‘Then I shall visit tomorrow. Make your father aware that I will be coming.’

Mary did not answer for she didn’t want to appear too eager, but she was looking forward to seeing him again.

‘Who is this man Mary?’ her father asked suspiciously, as he picked a piece of lamb out of his front tooth.

‘He is Mrs Stone’s brother and wishes to become acquainted with us father.’

‘What do you know about him?’

‘He is a forthright man who will take no nonsense and although he does not show it, I suspect that deep within that bravado he displays he is a decent man. Except it may not be that obvious to everyone as he is very abrupt in his manner. Look, he has given us this tea. He said that he got it off the last ship he was on, it cost a lot of money.’

‘So, he’s money to splash around then has he? I suppose that’s one thing he’s got going for him. Do you want to walk out with this man?’

Mary smiled at the thought of walking out with him and said nervously, ‘I think I do father.’

‘Then I shall give him my permission when I see him.’

Dressed up in his Sunday best Frank went to see her father the following day and as promised, despite his doubts, her father gave permission for Frank to start seeing his daughter. Her father hoped that the fellow knew what a marvellously kind and sensitive person his daughter was, because although it may seem like he didn’t care, he did want Mary to be happy.

And now, two days after talking with her father, she was waiting for Frank to come to the cottage. He was over an hour late and with every passing minute she felt that he wouldn’t turn up. But just when she’d resigned herself to the fact that he wasn’t coming, he pulled up in a horse and cart.

She grabbed her shawl and a spare blanket and walked outside.

‘Good day miss,’ he said lightly, and as she got up onto the cart, he made no mention of his being late.

‘I thought you had forgotten me sir?’ Mary finally commented, as they rode out into the countryside.’

‘I could never forget you. The first time I saw you I was mesmerized by you. If I had been in London there would have been many a young lady who would have said yes to my proposal, however, in this tiny little village of yours it seems that formalities are the order of the day and I must woo you. But I can assure you of this madam, my wooing will not be of any length.’

‘You are very direct sir, perhaps if you were to speak in a quieter, more appropriate manner, those you intend to woo may be more apt to fall for your charms.’

‘I am not the sort of man who stands on ceremony, I prefer to speak as I find, but I apologise if I am too forthright. However, I make no bones about it when I say, that part of me will never change.’

‘Enough of this silly talk, let us alight and walk across the fields,’ he said brashly.

Mary liked that idea and when she got down from the cart, Frank took her arm in his and they walked across the muddy field. Unfortunately, February wasn’t the best time to go strolling in the countryside.

Damn,’ he said angrily as he tried to clear the animal muck from his shoe.

Mary laughed and said lightly, ‘Well, you would come walking after it has been raining for two days.’

He stared at her and for a second, Mary could see a look of rage flashing in his eyes, which made her recoil from him a little. But when Frank saw the look on her face he softened and murmured, ‘Forgive me for being so blunt.’

Mary nodded nervously and then Frank steered her towards a small inn situated to the left of the field. Strange, she’d lived in this area all her life, yet she had never seen the inn before.

They spent twenty minutes sitting in the smoky, dark hovel and unable to stand the stench of stale sweat and ale any longer, Mary insisted they leave and as they walked back across the field, she could tell that Frank wasn’t happy about it.

Mary looked at him closely. He was handsome and although he made her heart miss a beat and her brow perspire, she did have some reservations. For one thing, why did he want to marry her when he could have any lady he wanted in London. Not that she didn’t think she was pretty, but surely, London ladies were far more refined and sophisticated then she was? Also, he was very brash in his manner, was that how gentlemen behaved in London?

But then, not being familiar with men folk, she had no way of knowing how a gentleman behaved. So, despite her reservations she let that momentary feeling of uneasiness slip away.

She liked him. She really liked him. She especially liked the way he looked at her, as if she was the only girl in the world and she liked the strength of the man, his strong, bulky frame made her feel safe when she held his arm.

‘What would you like to do now?’’

She smiled up at him and said happily, ‘I don’t mind walking.’

‘Nor I.’

So, it was decided, and they spent another hour walking along the country lanes until it looked like rain and they had to make their way back to the horse and cart.

A week later and they were sat in Mrs Stone’s parlour drinking tea and eating home-made cake when a strange turn of events unfolded.

‘I’m so glad you could come for tea Mary.’ Mrs Stone said happily.

Frank looked at Mary, smiled, then looked back at his stepsister and said,

‘This can be a celebratory meal, we’re going to be married.’

Mrs Stone clasped her hands together and was about to get up and kiss Mary when Mary said, ‘Sir, you presume too much. We barely know each other.’

‘I like you, you like me, what else is there?’

‘That is my point sir, we have only known each other a week. I know very little about you. For instance, where do you live and what do you do for a living?’

Frank laughed and nudged her in the arm and said, ‘Is that all that troubles you. These are the facts. I live in London, I am a sailor and I have a fancy for you. Is that not enough?’

‘You have not asked about my feelings sir.’

Because I know you like me Mary, I can see it in your eyes. Now, now, do not play coy where my sister is concerned. She is a woman of the world.’

Mary had to admire the way he set about getting what he wanted and despite a small feeling of foreboding at the back of her mind, he was right, she did like him.

Over the next few weeks they spent a lot of time together and eventually Mary decided that if he did ask her to marry him again, she would say yes, for he was always polite and gentle with her. But there was another reason she wanted to get married. Her father was becoming more and more withdrawn from the world and no matter how much she tried to lighten his mood he was constantly melancholy, and she desperately wanted to get away from him and the village. Surely there must be more to life than waiting for something to happen. This was her chance to see London and finally, be the head of her own home.

Frank would often talk to her about London and all the exciting things that went on there and she felt sure, she would be happier there then at the cottage. Frank would also talk about his sea going adventures which she found absolutely thrilling, for when Frank recounted his adventures on the high seas they were filled with danger and excitement, a feeling she had never experienced before.

So, on a warm May afternoon, after a few months of courting, and just as she had finished churning the butter, Frank walked unannounced into the cottage and asked for her father. Eli walked into the parlour and sat down, and she was told to leave. She did so willingly and took herself off to the barn, for she knew what the conversation would entail and as she’d predicted, ten minutes later Frank was calling for her to come out of the barn and into the cottage.

‘Frank wants to marry you, are you happy with that?’ Her father said gruffly.

Mary looked at her father’s face and for one split second, she thought she saw a tear at the corner of his eye, but her father, observing that she was inspecting his features, turned away from her and walked back to his part of the room, so she couldn’t be entirely sure.

Mary looked up at Frank and smiled, ‘I accept,’ she said shyly, and Frank swept her of her feet and spun her around and she giggled with happiness.

Her father smiled too. The farm was no place for Mary, she needed a home of her own where the company was more conducive to her health. Living here with him couldn’t be easy. He knew he wasn’t doing right by her, but she reminded him too much of her mother and because of that, there were days when he couldn’t bring himself to look at her.

The Adventure starts

So, on a cold and grey June morning, Mary and Frank found themselves at the altar of St Stephen’s church being read their marriage vows overlooked by Martha and Mrs Stone.

Eli had said his goodbyes the night before and had remained in bed on the day of the wedding.

Mary expected nothing less.

Later, they had their wedding breakfast at Mrs Stones and then Frank brought the cart and horse around and before she knew it, she was sat in a carriage on her way to London. They were going to stop at the watering inn half way through their journey and then go on to London the next day.

Late that evening, Frank and Mary were shown to their room and as she entered the room, the smell of human filth took her breath away and seeing that, Frank opened a window, which made no impact on the smell at all.

Some candles had been placed on the fireplace and on a small table there was a plate of food waiting for them. Frank could see the look of apprehension on Mary’s face and said lightly,

‘The bed is clean Mary, that will be sufficient for us.’

Mary smiled at Frank and Frank, for the first time, kissed her on the cheek.

‘We’ll eat first Mary, but not before I get some wine from my bag. I took it from our last cargo and was waiting for a special occasion, and I guess you could class this as that. There will never be anything more special in my life then taking you to my bed Mary.’

He laughed and then winked at her, causing her to blush.

The meal consisted of wheat bread, cheese and some cold ham and they both enjoyed it, for they had not eaten since their wedding breakfast. The wine went down well, and Mary started to feel a warm tingling sensation all over and the wine helped her to relax a little which pleased her, for her stomach had been in knots all day worrying about the wedding night.

‘Well Mary’ Frank said, as he licked the last of the wine off his lips, ‘Time for bed my girl.’

Mary stood up and walked over to him and put her head on his chest and he put his arms around her.

‘No need to be scared Mary, I’m a dab hand at this, had plenty of practise see, what with me being a sea going fellow and all. So, don’t you worry, I’ll not hurt you.’

Mary looked up at him and smiled and with that, he lifted her up into his arms and kissed her tenderly on the lips and when his tongue searched for hers, she naturally succumbed to its forcefulness and then her whole body was on fire for his touch.

He gently laid her on the bed and then kissed her again, and as he did so she suddenly became aware that he was taking her clothes off.

‘Hey girl, don’t just lie there, do what comes natural, copy my actions.’

Mary didn’t like the way he’d said that but did as she was told, after all, he was the one with all the experience. Gently, she unbuttoned his jacket and then his breeches and he lifted her petticoats up over her knees.

Then, he was lying on top of her and that was when she smelt his dirty sweaty body and if it hadn’t been for the wine deadening her senses, she would have been sick. This was a shock. She had never noticed the smell of him before.

In a few seconds, he was inside of her and it hurt. But despite her protests he did not stop his actions and she cringed in pain as he relentlessly bore down on her. He was heavy and she felt every thrust as he bore down harder and harder. This wasn’t what she’d expected, and the pain was excruciating as he thrust into her.

He was oblivious of her screams and bore down on her again and again. There was no stopping him.

Then suddenly, he grabbed hold of her arms and forcefully pulled them up over her head while he continued to rise and fall, and she couldn’t get away from him. He was kissing her hard now, his foul stinking breath washing into her mouth like a stagnant pond and she could hardly breath. Then out of the blue, when she thought it could get no worse, he withdrew from her and forced her over so that she was lying on her front and then he pulled her onto her knees and entered her again, thrusting harder this time, making her scream even louder.

He clamped his hand over her mouth and then thrust more and more. His appetite was insatiable, and she pleaded with him to stop but he was determined to have his fill. Then suddenly, he heaved his bulky frame of her and collapsed onto his side of the bed. Leaving Mary shocked and shaking.

When she had heard her mother and father making love in the cottage, she had only heard tender whispers and whimpers. At no time had she ever heard her mother cry out in pain.

She was disgusted with herself and him. If this was what married life was like, she wanted none of it.

The next morning when Mary reached across the bed to find Frank gone, she couldn’t help but smile with relief. Slowly, she pulled herself up and looked down at herself. She had bruises between her legs and all over her thighs. Big yellow and purple bruises that hurt when she touched them. There were welts on her wrists too where he had held her and she dreaded to think what state her face was in, but she guessed by the dry blood she’d wiped away from her nose and mouth, his whiskery chin had marked her face.

She started to cry, a whimpering, silent cry of self- pity.

When the tears subsided, she got up, picked up the pitcher of water from the floor and filled the bucket with it and then scrubbed every part of her body. She wanted to wash away the vileness of the night before, a task so immense, that it was proving almost impossible.

‘It’s sorted,’ Frank said, as he walked back into the room unannounced… luckily, she had dressed.

I’ll fetch some more water Frank, I’ve used it all, you’ll probably want to bathe?’

‘Not I Mary, but if you want some water, I can get you some.’

‘No thank you Frank,’ she said bitterly. She’d tried in her own way to bring up the subject of washing, but Frank didn’t seem to want to know.

She was a funny one, he thought, after last night she should be glowing. Instead, she was melancholy and what on earth had happened to her face, she seemed to have come out in a rash. She certainly didn’t look as attractive this morning. Her face and eyes weren’t glowing as they once had been, and she seemed to have taken on a more sombre expression.

‘We can get the stage coach in an hour, meantime, do you want to eat?’

‘No thank you Frank, I’m not hungry.’’

‘You have to eat Mary, you need to keep your strength up, if you know what I mean, but if you’re not hungry, perhaps we can make love again,’ he said wistfully, winking at her and unbuttoning his pants at the same time.

Horrified she said quickly, ‘No Frank, you are right. I do need to eat. We have a long journey ahead of us.’

A disillusioned Frank led her downstairs and ordered some bread and cheese.

As the stagecoach sped across the rich Kent countryside Frank fell asleep, leaving Mary to her own thoughts. She was annoyed with herself. Frank smelt terrible and whenever he came close to her, she cringed. Why hadn’t she noticed that about him before?

She was dreading going to London, for she wished now that she’d never married Frank. He’d swept her of her feet and suddenly, she was starting to understand the reasons why. She had been a naïve young country girl who had fallen in love with the first person who had taken a fancy to her. But there was nothing she could do about it now. She just had to get on with it the best way she could.

But despite his brutal behaviour on their wedding night and the fact that he smelt, during the day, he was kind, attentive and loving towards her. Perhaps the longer they were married the more she would get used to the evenings. After all, perhaps that was how people made love; she had only slept with Frank, so she had nothing to compare it too. She had been a virgin and he’d had several bed fellows, so it was obvious that he knew what he was doing. It may be unnatural to her, but how was it for others?

Frank was a good -looking man and his features couldn’t fail to attract women, so she didn’t doubt for one second that he didn’t know what he was doing. She cringed at that and silent tears ran down her face. Was she the one who was failing him?

It was night time when they finally arrived in St Georges lane. Mary couldn’t see the house or the street clearly, but it didn’t look inviting. There were about twenty houses crammed together on either side of the street and the street was muddy and filled with excrement, rotting food and what appeared to be a dead pig.

Frank smelt like London.

‘I live on the top floor, or rather, we do,’ he said smugly.

Mary walked with him up the flight of stairs, avoiding several people sleeping on the steps. The stench of their bodies was horrific, and she thought she was going to be sick, but she just managed to get to the safety of their room in time to walk over to the window and throw up.

‘It’s not much but it’ll do us. I’m away at sea most of the time anyway, so its big enough for you on your own.’

After wiping her mouth, Mary turned and smiled politely, for what else could she do. She was married now and had to make the best of a bad situation. A situation that she had created. She had a new life now, no matter how hateful she found it and like her father would have said, she’d made her bed.

She had thought the cottage small, but this room was almost half the size. There was a bed up against one wall and on one side of it, in front of a small window, were two wooden stools and that seemed to be it. There was no pitcher in the room either and Mary decided that she would leave her clothes in her bag for now, for the floor was filthy, in fact, the whole room was grimy.

‘Where do we eat?

‘Here of course, you can get food in the shops, there’s a Bakeshop not far from here, and the meat man comes around occasionally and you can get food at the inn.’

Again, Mary didn’t say anything, her mind was still at the cottage. What had she done! Then she was shocked out of her melancholy when she heard Frank say, ‘Get your clothes of girl, I’m away tomorrow for three or four months and I’m going to be desperate.

Mary slowly started to take her clothes off, but she was too slow for him and he said angrily, ‘Just lift your petticoats girl.’

Then the torture began and as her body was violated again and again, in despair, she let her mind wander back to the green open spaces of the Kent countryside. Then to her horror he was telling her to do things to him and she felt even sicker than she had before. Frank was dirty everywhere and having performed what he’d ordered her to do and ashamed of herself for doing it, she walked over to the window and was violently sick in the street…again. A sleeping Frank was oblivious of her feelings.

As they’d driven up the road in the hired horse and carriage, she had noted that the river wasn’t too far away from where they were, and even though she knew it would be infested with every dead thing imaginable, she walked out of their room and down to the water’s edge and bathed in the murky water. Then she walked to the inn and bought some ale with the last of her money, took it back to her room and drunk herself into oblivion.

When she woke the next morning, she was pleased to find that Frank was gone. Relieved, she allowed herself a smile, then she got up and walked to the window and looked down at the street below. Just as she’d imagined, the street was filthy. She’d never seen anything like it. Children were prodding a dead pig with some sticks and some young boys were splashing in the filth that ran down the side of the street.

She turned her head back and looked at the bed sheets. They were filthy too and covered in filth of all sorts. Annoyed, she got up and pulled the sheets off to reveal an even dirtier mattress. She was going to have to throw them out; she would rather sleep on the floor with the insects, then lie in filthy flea ridden rags.

But where was she going to get new sheets? She would have to go to the market for some cloth of some kind. But first, she had to see how much money Frank had left her, so she walked over to one of the stools and noted that he’d left a few pennies, just enough for 3 large loaves.

The money wasn’t going to last long, and she knew, that if she was going to survive in London, she was going to have to find herself a job quickly. She would have to do that today, for there was the rent to pay on their room, food to buy and clean water from the water carrier to get. Not to mention new bed sheets.

When she’d married Frank, she hadn’t known what the future would hold, but she thought it couldn’t be any worse than what she had, but she’d been mistaken, it was worse. A lot worse. She was going to have to fend for herself in a cold, heartless world that she didn’t know, and the thought of that made her shudder. Frank was a man of the world, he should have known better than to leave her in a town she didn’t know, without any money. She was angry with him now and for a split second she hated him. God knows she had cause too.

Mary got herself dressed in her best frock and walked out of the room and as she walked down the stairs, she was careful to avoid all the bodies splayed out on the steps. She cringed when she looked at a young woman whose face was covered in sores. She was wearing a dress that had seen better days and her red hair, which hadn’t been washed for what seemed like forever, was hanging with grease, so much so that parts of it were sticking to her cheek. Mary suddenly wanted to throw up, which seemed to be a regular occurrence lately. She quickly ran down the rest of the stairs to cries of ‘Ere, ger out of it,’ and ‘Who the bloody hell do you think you are?’

Mary was starting to become aware, that the London she had thought of as being a gateway to a better life, was merely a filthy hovel in which lived dirty, debauched people who wallowed in their own filth. Oh, how she wished she was back on the farm with her father.

She cursed loudly when she thought about how much she’d moaned when she had to fetch the water from the well, and how she wished now that she could have some of that clean, fresh sparkling water. She’d had to drink ale this morning, seeing that having clean water was not one of Frank’s priorities.

Reluctantly, she walked along several streets, avoiding the cascading filth running down the side of the road as she did so, and at one point, she was followed by six or seven children hoping she would throw something their way, but if only they knew. She may have looked like a lady, with her new dress and new shoes, but she was just like everybody else in London.

Half an hour into her journey she was accosted by an old gentleman who wanted to procure her services and for the first time in her life, she used profanities. She was not, and never would be a lady of the street; no matter how hard her life got.

Luckily, just when she’d had enough of traipsing through the foul stinking streets, she noticed a small sign in a shop window that was asking for people to carry their wares. By the look of the shop and the wonderful smells emanating from it, she guessed it was a Bakeshop.

Mary boldly walked up to the man behind the counter and said hello.

‘What can I do for you today miss?’ The gentlemen asked.

‘I saw the notice in the window. Do you still need someone?’

‘Oh yes, but can you do it, that’s the thing. It’s not easy carting the bread baskets up and down the streets you know, especially in Winter.’

‘I’ve carried a lot of pails of water in my time. I’m stronger than I look sir.’

‘You’ve half talked me into it. You’re a charmer you.’

‘Thank you. When can I start?’’

‘Hang on missy, you don’t know what the wages are. I don’t pay much but it’ll be enough for your rent if you live around here, and a little food, but not much more. But there’s always some leftovers at the end of the day that you get to share with the others.’

‘I’ll take it. When can I start?’

‘You’ve got fire in your belly I’ll give you that, and just for your nerve, the jobs yours and you can start tomorrow. Bright and early mind. You should be finished before three and you can have Sundays off.’

‘Thank you, Mr…’

‘Farynor is the name. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to serve my customers.’

‘Thank you, sir. Thank you.’ She said cheerfully, as she made her way out into the street.

So as not to get lost, she looked up at the name of the street, it read - Pudding Lane.

When Mary arrived home to her putrid excuse for a home, she reluctantly sat down on the wooden stool and thought about her day. She was pleased that she’d managed to find a job, but there were other things she had to worry about now. Water being the main one.

She would clean her clothes in the river for now with some homemade soap she’d brought from home. As for clean drinking water, she would ask Mr Farynor about that tomorrow.

Mary looked at the bed sheets and tears fell silently down her cheeks. Resigned to the fact that it was this or nothing, she laid out one of her old dresses on top of the bed and used it as a bed sheet.

She only had two dresses left, the new one she’d got for her wedding day and her every day one. But needs must and there was no way she was going to sleep on that mattress without something clean beneath her.

The following morning, Mary drank some ale, ate a crust of stale bread then washed herself with some water she’d taken from the river. Then she put on her brown dress and sensible boots. She couldn’t wear her new dress as there was too much dirt in the streets and half of London seemed to have attached itself to the hem. Hopefully, this dress would last her a few days without her having to wash it.

The air outside stank but fortunately, it didn’t seem as bad as the day before. Perhaps, god forbid, she was starting to get used to it. But she didn’t want to get used to the smell of stale sweat and excrement, and as for the choking fog that seemed to come from across the river, she could do without that too.

Mr Farynor was ready with her baskets when she arrived at the Bakehouse. There were several buns and various kinds of bread in them, and when Mary lifted the baskets onto her shoulders, she suddenly felt overwhelmed by the weight of them and stumbled forward.

‘Are you sure you can manage girl?’ Mr Farynor asked kindly, as he held the baskets for her, while she regained her balance.

‘I am sir. ’Mary said, with as much gusto as she could manage.

‘Be back in the shop by three and they’ll be a drink and some stew waiting for you.’

‘Thank you Mr Farynor.’

‘Don’t thank me woman. I provide food for my workers because I don’t want my workers falling down on the job. Makes better business sense in the long run.

‘I’ve no one to show you the round so I’ve put directions down on paper and a list of customers. You can read, can’t you?’

Mary nodded, thankfully, her mother had taken great pains in teaching her letters and numbers.

‘The locals will help you find your way if you get lost. They’re a friendly enough bunch around here. When they’re sober,’ he added, as Mary shuffled out of the shop, trying her hardest to balance both baskets on her shoulders but failing dismally.

As Mary walked along the streets, she was alarmed at how many beggars there were, and at one point, she became so frightened by their aggressive manner, that she thought it best to go back to the shop. But luckily, a passing gentleman threw the children some coins and they scampered off.

She was going to have to be more careful in future and make sure she covered the bread with a cloth, so as not to let anyone see what she was carrying. Food was in short supply for some people and she knew that they would take advantage of her if they could. She couldn’t afford to pay for any bread that was stolen.

As if she didn’t have enough to contend with, now she had to watch out for thieves.

She had over fifty houses on her round and as the morning progressed, she thought her round would never end and her strength began to wane, but just when she thought she’d couldn’t go on, the sun came out from behind the clouds and shed its rays over her body, giving her a whole new lease of life; and two hours later, she was at the door of the last house on the list.

The house was owned by a Mrs Newington, and it was set apart from the rest of the houses. It was in a quiet secluded avenue that had trees on either side of it, and the house looked clean and tidy. There was no filth running down the side of this house.

She felt as if she’d stepped into paradise and It was obvious that she was in a better part of London, and for the first time since she’d got there, she found herself smiling.

It was a large house with a gated entrance and she knew instantly, that it was a gentleman’s house. So she walked around to the side entrance and gingerly knocked on the door and after a few minutes, the under-house parlour maid opened it.

‘You better come in Miss, the cooks just popped upstairs to sort out the serving rota with the mistress, she won’t be a minute. You’re new ain’t yer?’

‘Yes I am.’

‘Mr Farynor’s boys and girls don’t usually last long. The money is poor, and a lot of the Bakeshop workers get jobs in the big houses around here. I expect that’s what you’ll be looking to do?’

‘I haven’t given the matter much thought. I just needed a job.’

The parlour maid looked at her and sighed but said no more. She’d seen her sort before, hoping to come to London for a better life, only to find that it didn’t live up to their expectations.

Mary pulled the rolls and bread out of the basket and put the order onto the table and as she did so, she took a corner of one of the loaves and ate it. She felt a little guilty, which was heightened when she heard the cook shout, ‘Who are you?’

‘I’ve got your bread order madam,’ she said, shaking slightly.

‘Oh!’ The old woman replied, and then she reached into her pocket and pulled out some money which Mary politely took from her.

‘You look tired deary, care for a drink? she asked, for the poor girl looked as if she would keel over any minute.

‘Oh! yes please madam, I’d like that very much. Have you any clean water?’

‘You’re a funny one, Grace, go and get the girl some clean water.’

Grace giggled to herself, nobody had ever asked her for that.

Mary pushed her wares to one side and sat on the chair. She tucked the dirty hem of her skirt between her legs and took the water when it was offered to her. She hastily drank some of the water and when the cook wasn’t looking, she quickly poured some onto her hand and washed her face.

Then suddenly, a bell rang and all the staff excused themselves, but before the cook left she said nervously, ‘We’ve been summoned to a meeting upstairs with the lady of the house, she does this sometimes when she’s had an argument with the master. She needs to feel in control again, and what better way to do that then to tear us all off a strip. Happens at least twice a week.’

Mary put the money in her apron pocket and was just about to get up when a man entered the room.

‘Don’t mind me, finish your drink Madam,’ he said kindly.

Mary looked at the man and suddenly she felt a shiver go through her. He was tall, and he had dark brown eyes and short brown curly hair. He didn’t seem to go in for the wigs as other fine young men did and he looked very handsome.

‘I’ve just brought the bread order and I’m going now sir.’

‘Where’s the other lass who usually delivers it, couldn’t hack it I suppose, not many of them do.’

‘If I intend to make my way in London, I will have to last sir.’

‘Then I wish you luck Madam, you are going to need it. You must be the third worker in as many months.’

‘Yes sir,’ she said wearily, for she didn’t want to continue the conversation. London and its inhabitants weren’t what she was used to and the less said on the matter the better.

Ashton looked at the girl carefully, he’d never seen anybody as beautiful as she was. Hers was a natural beauty that only came with fresh country air. She was not from London, for she still had a little colour left in her cheeks. He loved her long brown hair and mysterious brown eyes and in that moment, he was smitten with her. She was like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise disagreeable world.

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