Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Serial: Lord Merville's Whore Part 6

 Retrospectively, Sunday wasn't such an ideal day to commit to making weekly posts on. That said, I'm going to stick with it. Today's post is all plot development I guess. There's certainly no sex, if anyone is reading just for that :) Please let me know if you are reading and you have any thoughts or comments, either at the bottom of the post or email me madelynne at madelynne-ellis dot com.

LORD MERVILLE'S WHORE: PART 6
Madelynne Ellis
Copyright 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Filled with a wretched urge to flee and never return, Thea gained the outside world and sought the security of the church-yard. Beneath the ivy-riddled thatch of the lych-gate she sank into the gloom, her head in her hands. There was no sense in sniffling about what was; her rings were lost and her remaining jewelry would have to be sold, every item of it, including that which had come to her from her mother and maiden aunt.

She snuffled into her handkerchief. At least none of it would be accomplished today. Due to her presence of mind that morning, fearing footpads on the roads, and pickpockets in the market place, she’d left her possessions at the Roost. The valuables divided, and wedged behind a loose brick in the boudoir fireplace and stuffed into the mattress of the mouse-riddled old cot. Besides, to get a good price she’d have to journey further afield, perhaps as far as Barnard Castle or north to Durham itself.

And why, should she give up everything for him, when he’d already taken everything away from her? She had no friends, and no position. Why, he hadn’t even inquired as to where she was staying.

Thea sat a little straighter and willfully relaxed her shoulders. Breathe—think clearly.

It was bad enough to know that he’d given her to Richard with little compunction. He hadn’t even been addled by drink when he’d done it. No, it had been cold-blooded. He’d seen the inevitability of his arrest and deliberately used her as a means to cushion his fall, expecting her to seize Richard’s offer rather than risk losing her home.

Only, she hadn’t.

He didn’t understand pride.

He didn’t understand her.

Yes, she desired Richard, but she valued promises.

“Damn you, Phillip.” She could find little in his actions to nurture her loyalty to him.  Oh, she’d help him, because she had made that vow before God, but she wouldn’t do it at the expense of everything she owned. Somehow she had to survive too. Those jewels were her only security.

Damnit, Thea—think! There had to be another way, some other option she’d hereto overlooked that would save them both.

*****

The ferns swayed softly in the breeze, and the quartzite rock sparkled in the sunshine. There was nothing remarkable about the secluded hillside, and nothing to mark what had passed there the previous evening, save a single thread of rope, cut through, and left tied to a tree trunk.  The coarse hemp scratched her palm as Thea looked around at the tiny clearing. It had seemed larger the previous night, when, in truth it was little more than a bare patch among the bracken, overlooked by four or five aged trees.

She traced her finger over the S-shaped notch Spiggot had cut from the bark of one. No one else knew the whereabouts of his plunder, and she was in dire need. It would be foolish not to make use of the knowledge. After taking a swift look around, she bent low over the mushrooms sprouting around the base, meaning to use them as an excuse for her interest should anyone ride past.

The sack was heavy. Coins clinked as she raised it from among the roots, but she didn’t stop to admire the contents. Instead, she pushed the pocket deep into her satchel, and mounting Bessie again, steered back to the road and home to the Roost.

Her limbs trembled as she tipped the contents from the sack onto the bed on the top floor of the Roost. Guineas scattered across the bedspread like faerie gold. There’d be enough, once she’d pried the gems free of their settings to keep Phillip comfortable, although perhaps not enough to stand surety for his release, and she’d need more to clear the debts. Thea counted the coins back into the bag, and then turned over each of the additional pieces in turn.  She’d have to be careful about how she made the sales. Stark was still out there, not to mention Spiggot’s partner. The last thing she needed was a highwayman after her seeking revenge.

*****

“See this,” said the man before the window in the pawnbroker’s, pointing at a grubby piece of tapestry displayed within. “That were me dad’s and me granddad’s and his dad’s before that. ‘Twere given him by the younger Sir Henry Vane of Raby, afore they cut his head off, and now this fool is asking a mere half a crown for it. Don’t seem right somehow, like it’s sacrilege or something.”

Thea shook her head and edged around the wretched, tottering fool, her basket clasped before her like a shield. He was missing three fingers from the gnarled fist that curled around the top of his crutch, and his skin had weathered to the iron-tinted brown of the river Wear.

More so than at the prison she needed to stay alert here. The whole area seemed tainted with a grubby miasma that left her feeling soiled and uneasy. She rubbed at the bare skin of her forearm. God willing she would not need to stay long, and need never return.

Thea pushed open the shop door and went inside. The dimly-lit establishment reeked of poverty, the scent of unwashed and un-perfumed bodies, blended with layers of stale tallow fat, despite the absence of patrons. There was only one other customer, a young man, barely more than boy with spindly limbs and shock of bright red hair. He whistled as she entered, sucking the air through the gap where his front teeth should have been, before skirting around her to the exit.

Only when the doorbell ceased to jangle, did she approach the counter, which stood beyond an array of mangles and washing boards. A glistening array of mismatched silver spoons lay upon a pile of neatly folded sheets in the exact centre of counter. Unable to quiet her nerves, Thea glanced around. The old man remained outside, still gazing at the piece of faded tapestry. She doubted he could see much of the interior, leastways little enough for her to be concerned about him being privy to her business. Bad enough that folks hereabout knew of Phillip’s arrest, without them knowing the exact details of what she was forced to depart with to pay for his release.

The proprietor leaned over the counter towards her, his brow crumpled into an uneasy query. “Can I help you?”

She’d dressed modestly, but despite that, she stood out among the washer women and scores of barefooted urchins that roved the streets.

“I have some items I wish… Well, I wondered how much you might give me for them. Some of them are quite fine.” She lifted a velvet pocket from her basket and pulled wide the drawstring so that he might peep inside at the collection of pendants and bracelets. “There are these also,” she added, showing him the box she’d so recently offered Richard as an alternative to her person.

“These are yours?”

She bowed her head a fraction, avoiding his gaze, for fear of betraying her deceit. “Times aren’t so good. It would be best if I could dispose of them without making too much fuss. To avoid talk, you understand?”

“I understand you perfectly, Mistress…” He didn’t identify her with a name, but paused long enough to make her suspect he knew it, or at least suspected her identity.

“Can you help?”

He nudged the pocket’s contents with one beefy fingertip. “Perhaps, although, I have to be honest, if it’s a good sale price you’re seeking, you’d be better off taking them to a jeweler, or perhaps a sympathetic friend. Take a look around, there’s not much demand for this sort of finery around here. Sheets do well, any sort of linens, bottles and crockery. Owt common, like. There ain’t many fine folk seeking such purposes here. Hargreave round by the weir would likely serve you better or perhaps one of the folks up in Durham.”

“That’s not… The emeralds…” Perhaps, those she could take to a jeweler, and her other personal jewelry, but not the items she’d gained from Spiggot. She knew nothing of their history, whether their owners had lived locally or further afield, and the local man, Hargreave might recognize individual pieces. Possibly, they even bore some of his marks. She hadn’t looked too closely. And as for friends, she had none… None to turn to even for shelter for a night let alone willing to pay for her cast off jewelry. “Please, if you could offer something.” Come to think of it, perhaps she couldn’t even risk her personal treasures, who knew if they were truly what they appeared. Richard had been suspect of the emerald, and she had no wish to have the sale witnessed by anyone of her own class. “It would be better… I’m not sure I want to lose them entirely, you see, perhaps this way, when the wind changes, I might come back. That’s how this best works, is it not?”

“That is the typical arrangement, yes.”

“Then what can you offer me?”

He poked again amongst the pouch, picking out a few pieces for closer examination, before inspecting the emeralds and the long string of pearls that had once belonged to her grandmother. He scratched his chin. “I’ll give you sixty percent of their worth, in coin, mind, since ‘tis ne’er the end of the week.”

“Thank you.” Coin would be easier. Paper notes would involve the interaction of the local bankers, and likely they would demand the payment of any debt Phillip owed before they handed over gold with which to pay others. Thea drew tight the pouch strings and pushed it towards the pawnbroker. At least she could be confident of the gold and its worth, unlike the clipped silver coins that had circulated in her childhood.

The pouch he handed back, heavy with clinking guineas. She was faintly surprised he had so much milled money on the premises.

“A pleasure doing business with you, ma’am. I hope you’ll honor me with your patronage again.”

Dear heavens, he sounded like her old dressmaker, always desperate to ensure her return, no matter if she’d spent a penny or twenty pounds.

“I should keep matters close to your chest,” he advised.

“Yes, of course. Thank you.” Thea hurried from the pawnbroker’s, the heavy pouch pushed down between her breasts behind the barrier of her stays.

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