The hoops from the skirt were digging into her thighs as Charity sat on the side of the small but not uncomfortable bed in her top floor room. With a groan she had been examining her last pair of decent hose, now ruined beyond repair, by the frolicsome capers of her young charge. The Honourable Jeremiah Wentworth Ames.
She felt utterly drained, for the child seemed to possess an endless amount of energy which kept her on her toes from seven-thirty in the morning until seven-thirty at night. Not that the young gentleman was overly capricious or purposefully wicked: he just did not understand that she simply could not afford to replace articles of apparel, worn out sooner than anticipated, by his antics.
She wrinkled her nose up as she caught sight of her dress: at least this ‘uniform’ saved her own clothes from over-zealous use, thereby causing hardship and wear. The child had not an iota of understanding what it was to be rich or poor. His mother, true to her own excessively eccentric behaviour and rationale (or lack of it as Charity sometimes thought), kept the child cloistered from the fact that it was money which made the world go round, encouraging thus rather a strange sort of communism to exist in the household betwixt served and servers. Or, at least that was what she wished her neighbours, family and friends, to observe: for she loved to shock Society with her delinquent behaviour. And who was Lord Wentworth Ames to demur? After all, it was she who held the keys to the coffers.
Charity decided to call it a day and began to undress for bed. She felt sorely in need of cleansing her complete body, for she felt mucky with sweat and dirt. She had not realised just how filthy the town of London was going to prove. Nor indeed how noisy of a night time, when revellers were up to their tricks.
She splashed a sponge of faintly brownish water over her arms and breasts. She pulled a face at the stale aroma which seemed to issue off the material. She decided to perfume her body with some cologne: that might disguise her smell a little better. She vowed that on the morrow she would rise early and fetch fresh water herself from the basement kitchen. Despite the promise that she should have such a commodity as clean water whenever she needed, no-one so far had seen that she had fresh supplies even every other day. In all the four weeks she had been employed, never more than once a week was fresh water deposited in her chamber.
How dashing, she mused, as she lay tumbling her ash-gold locks onto the pillow, Fitzroy, Lord Rispian of Andover, had looked that evening. She had glimpsed him as he had been descending the great staircase, all set on a night painting the town red. What a rake he was! He had been, she considered, incredibly sweet to her on the few occasions she had met him in the house, even joking about his sister's extraordinary ways and hinting darkly that perhaps there was insanity in the family. Which remark had been followed by an explosion of leg-smacking laughter: her leg. He was himself no less than a man of his time. He used a suite of rooms on the second floor-of the spacious house. Why he still resided within the family stronghold, Charity could not quite fathom. Had she been able to see his exchequer, she would have realised that it was simply much, much cheaper for him to reside with his elder sister. It cost him nought.
Once she had broached the question concerning her internalised quandry as to whether Lord Rispian was a man of material wealth with the less-than-communicative housekeeper. She had considered that she had posed the question delicately, but the housekeeper, with a somewhat injured expression, had replied to the effect that me Lord Rispian was massively rich, he merely liked to be near his dear sister, who was devoted to him.
Up to this point, he had acted with dignified propriety as far as her own person was concerned. Ah, but had poor, sweet Charity an idea of what the early morning light would show, she would not have mused so touchingly tender upon the young blade. Although, she had continued to muse, he had not the kind of looks she in her girlish way had previously considered handsome or fetching, she was just then beginning to comprehend a new nobility in the set of his brows, which – although of an indeterminate shade of brown, were bristly and bushy. His face was square-jawed, and although he steered away from overdrawn facial decoration (he let the fashionable opulence of the Age be more bespoken in the fancy, fine garments he wore), he did on occasion favour the odd heart-shaped patch just below the ample fleshiness of his lower lip and there was a certain savoir faire in the style of his wigs.
His voice was deep and cultivated and he had simply, or so thought Charity, simply the most wicked laugh. She clambered up the stairway which led to sleep, a touching smile upon the pale rosebud mouth. Her last waking thoughts ran along the lines that, all things to be taken into consideration, she had been most fortunate to land a position in such a desirable household.
She slept soundlessly, like a young child, making no movement or stir. Without a sound coming forth from her until a slight creaking jar made her move in the bed, so that she threw one arm over the coverlet, one breast sneaking a preview over the edge of the sheet. A man's form was sloping across the room, his weight being borne in the main by the bunched toes and the balled soles, just the rustle of fine silk across the floor-boards. She became aware of a fumy, heated breath bearing down upon her, fanning into her nostrils, the stench of alcohol so overpowering that it would all but have sedated her into unconsciousness had she not struggled hard to come to. She struggled awake to feel a large but soft hand fondling her exposed breast, a man's weight pressing her into the all-too giving mattress. She wanted to scream but the man’s other hand spread fingers over her mouth. She began to squirm in the bed, trying to remove her erstwhile chaste body from this assailant.
“Shush, shush, me beauty. Whaddaya wan’ wake the house? ’Tis only Rispian, who comes to pay court to the sweetest piece of muffin I ever did set me eyes on. Uuuhhhmmm; let me touch you.”
His hand kept up its investigations and she felt him fumbling with something, she didn't know what. The voice was not drunk, although Charity, frightened into a hyper awareness of the moral peril she was in, could detect a slight blurring of the words.
The gentleman removed his fingers from across her mouth and before she had time to utter as much as a soft ‘Ooh’, hot lips were seeking the virgin nectar of her own. She could feel Lord Rispian, for she did not doubt that it was he, becoming a heavier weight upon her. She felt that he must surely squeeze all the breath out of her, if he remained much longer spread-eagled as he was on top of her.
He was sucking at her mouth, trying to part her lips, trying to poke his probing thick tongue into her mouth. She wanted to gargle.
Suddenly she knew what she must do. If she could but pretend to play his game, it might give her a few minutes’ grace in which to work out her next gambit. She willed herself to relax and said, as coaxingly as she she could:
“My dear Lord Rispian Fitzroy: I guessed not that you cared. Perchance you might prefer to lay beside me, for I am sure that you cannot be comfortable in that position, nor indeed, with so much clothing on.”
She, in turn, felt the man relax on top of her and with a smile in his voice he spoke: “Ah, so you will accept my amorous calling card, fair wench? Good! That shows wisdom on your part, for what you might fight to protect, I would only take by force anyway, and now we can let Mistress Venus play the easier with us.”
He gave a low laugh which seemed to emit from his stomach, ‘What sport,’ he thought, and with a lascivious sigh, he rolled off Charity and lay still, pressed up against the side of the wall for a few seconds. “This bed is awful narrow,” he grumbled, fumbling with his clothing. “Here, my love, feel the power in this!”
Before Charity could move he had clasped her hand and forced it down upon his penis. She flinched and then pretended to be knowledgeable, cooing about its length and proportions. He let go of her hand to continue disrobing himself. Quicker than the spume running atop a waterfall, she had grasped the brass candlestick beside her bed and with an almighty thud, it landed on the top of the disrobing Lordship’s head. She was shaking as she replaced the candlestick, inwardly despairing at what she had been forced to do, and trying vainly to keep a cool head, for she must think fast and rationally now. Alas, the candle had jumped forth from its position in the holder and she spent some minutes looking for the thing. With tremulous hands she found a tinderbox and relit the candlewick.
What if she had killed His Lordship? Cautiously she looked at the man's prostrate form. He seemed to be sleeping no more deeply than she had seen her young charge on those occasions when she had peeped in at the young master. He was breathing all right, but there was a swelling and a trickle of blood from where she had ‘crowned’ him.
“My Heavens,” she groaned, “What am I to do now?” “You must get away and quick about it,” a voice in her mind answered her. With a speed and a thoroughness she did not concede to owning before this incident, she was dressed and had a small bag packed. She would have to leave the heavy portmanteau: it was too big and cumbersome a thing to lug around with her. She did not have an inkling as to what the hour was, for it was dark outside the window still. By the flickering candlelight, she took one more glimpse at the recumbent form and closed the door to so it thudded closed behind her.
She must make escape from this household, that was for sure. For all she knew, such an action as she had just taken might be enough to have her sent to a penal institution. She shivered at the thought. And money! What was she to do for money? Oh yes, she had a little still, but there would be no hope of seeing any wages from this household, not even for the short time she had worked here. Let herself be hopeful, she thought mercurially, that the solicitor might have sold the house for her and deposited some money at a bank somewhere. All these thoughts coursed through her mind as she crept down the silent staircase, her bag bumping against her legs. She stopped suddenly afeared. What was that - whirring and ticking? Then she recalled. There was a large and elaborate time-piece on the landing, just where the staircase divided into the two flights of stairs leading to the ground floor.
She must know the time! Faint shafts of greyish light were beginning to steal into the house, illuminating dully the coloured glass windows. She tracked the rays, as, seemingly to her bedazzled brain, they led her out of this house of horror and threat and fears. She could not, alas, see the face of the clock. Placing her bag upon the floor, she reached up and slid her fingers to the catch of the glass covering over the clock face. Like a blind person, she traced the outline of the big hand and the small. It was, she estimated, coming up to six-fifteen.
Then! She'd best hurry herself away from this residence.
Although the household was rather lax in some respects as regards the keeping of the early morning hours, she was sure that the punctual and assiduous house-keeper would soon be up and around to tend to her duties. And that woman being of a mind which had proclaimed that Lord Fitzroy Rispian could do no wrong!
Not bothering about the propriety of the thing, Charity headed towards the main front door. It took all of her ebbing strength - for hers was a nervous, highly strung disposition - to pull the heavy bolts back. She unlinked the chain which rested inside the door. At last, she was outside! Free! Away she fled, from the house and the horror which had hit her so suddenly and drastically: she shot like lightning along the empty thoroughfares, the dawn light becoming the stronger he further she distanced herself from Bloomsbury.
When she was over half a mile or so away, she considered the possibility of being able to hire some sort of conveyance to take her out of the neighbourhood totally. She pulled her cloak closer to herself, frustrated that she had - out of habit - donned the hooped gown. With a flash of inspiration, she tore the hoops from their hold in the fabric and folded the material about her legs, like large pantaloons. Not that anyone would be inclined to notice the oddity of her garb at this hour in the morning. She had even forced the scarlet wig upon her head. With an impatient gesture, she all but ripped it from her head and would have discarded it in the gutter. But something made her hold on to it, and she stuffed it unceremoniously into the bag she was carrying.
Her own locks shimmered pale corn blonde in the early morning sunlight. Hastily, she threw up the hood of her cloak and scarfed the lower part of her face. By the corner of one noble terrace of houses she espied a sedan chair and, propped against a wall, the sleeping forms of its two carriers. ‘Dare I?’, she wondered. She had no choice. Hot tears were now threatening to flow from her eyes and she had not the will to stem the flow as it cascaded over the ashen pallor of her complexion. She approached the more respectably dressed of the two men and tugged gently at his elbow. He awoke with a start. She was relieved to see that he had an honest face and did not smell of gin.
He shook his head, trying to drive the sleep from his brain, and, after listening mutely to her for a few minutes, ushered her into the shrouded confines of the chair. He shook his colleague into consciousness. He was a good man at heart and though he had not made much of the cock and bull story the girl had given him, the coins she had shown him had convinced him that they should at least be paid for their labours.
He had decided to carry his fare as far as Chelsea. The shadowy silhouettes of the carriers and the chair, were soon bobbing up and down against walls and on the dewy freshness of fresh springing grasses.
It was going to be a wonderful day, decided the foreman.
Over the highways they carried their fare, one Miss Charity Cottrell, into Chelsea.