Chapter 3

Written by: Ray Stone

“Who is he?” asked Mary. “Why are you frightened?”

Both turned from the man and stood by the gas lamp on the corner of the close. 

“He is a cruel thug who works at the behest of my master. He will be searching me out now that I have escaped.”

Mary turned sideways to study the man.  A battered and filthy brown felt hat covered long greasy black hair that hung limply in disarray across his broad shoulders. An equally grubby leather jerkin, torn to one side, covered a once white shirt. 

“My master discovered me reading to his daughter instead of teaching her needlecraft. He believes that women become witches when they are too wise in the ways of the world through reading books. Books teach wickedness, he believes.”

“That is absolutely wrong,” replied Mary angrily. “Who is your master?” More gently, she asked, “What is your name?”

The young girl began to sob softly. “I am Sophia and my master is the Prince Regent. With the King so ill and at death’s door, the Regent has ruled in his place and will soon be crowned King.”

Mary watched the thug from the corner of her eyes. Together with his unkempt appearance, his repulsive pock-marked face, and small squinting grey eyes, conveyed an evil violence. Mary shivered. 

“Follow me.” Mary took Sophia by the arm.

They walked quickly back to the previous close and turned into it. After several yards, Mary entered an alley, holding a kerchief to her nose. The acrid smell of human waste and rotting food scraps strewn across the narrow path hung in the still air about them.

***

 A fire of kindling and some precious lumps of coal burned in the grate of Mary’s parlour. A bowl of potato soup had returned the colour to Sophia’s cheeks. As the flickering flames danced in her blue eyes, the frightened look relaxed and she recounted her story.

“I’m an orphan brought up by nuns who gave me over into the service of the Royal family. The Prince Regent was already in power and a crueler man there’s never been. His wife is spoiled with money that should be used to build a city sewer. Phoebe, his daughter, is strictly kept, unable to venture beyond the castle walls. I read every day from the bible and am able to read a little from the daily news sheet when his Highness is not around.”

“And what is that fold of beautiful material for?” asked Mary.

“To exchange for passage on a clipper. I have to escape.”

Mary reached out to hold Sophia’s hand. “Forgive me for what might be my misunderstanding but I do not believe I speak to a servant who not only reads but who has such opinions of the wider world that she shows much intelligence through schooling.”

Sophia’s eyes lowered. “Please, Mary. I beg you to help me. The castle is my prison.” Her pleading eyes looked up into Mary’s. “I am Princess Pheobe.”

Comments

Wow Ray!! How can I continue after such brilliant preceding chapters? I am not sure if I can stay true to the language and description of the time. I have always loved your stories about Victorian England. Reading this chapter transported me to a time which has held a great fascination for me.
Thank you, Hemali, I'm glad you enjoyed the chapter. I'm sure yours will be a success.
Oh, what a lovely twist at the end, Ray. Totally unexpected and beautifully executed. As Hemali says, you had me in the kitchen and in that time. You captured the smells, the grime and the grim reality of life in that time.