Thursday, 25 June 2015
Short story of Austen's time
I've posted a short I used when writing with dice, but this one occurred to me and I felt the need to get it onto paper. In a way my characters here are more Austenesque than those inspired by Heyer, being at the lower socio-economic end of the nominal gentry. And very nominal they are... Mr Theophilus Inchpenny is based on my grandfather, and he's dead and can't sue. This is only the first draft, and I may rewrite it entirely but I thought in the meantime I'd share.
Across the Street
Miss Emily Inchpenny sighed in exasperation as her stocking snagged on the rough wood of the cheap, deal stool on which she perched. Already they were more darn than stocking, but Uncle Theophilus would make such a fuss if she asked for some money for some more.
She sighed, and bent to her work again, writing steadily in a neat, round hand. And then, covertly, she peeked out of the window, to see if she could see Him in the building across the street.
The building across the street belonged to Loveday Shipping, and it was plainly a prosperous building. Why, only recently Mr. Loveday had installed the new gas lighting! And even before that, they had burned enough candles to light the ball of a debutante of one of the upper ten thousand! Not, mused Emily, that she had any real idea what that might be like, but it sounded good, and the office had always blazed with light, not like the thin, inadequate light cast by the evil-smelling tallow dips here.
He was there.
He was a handsome young man, seeming well built, and dressed most dashingly, with coats so tight that he must have a valet to help him on and off with them. One could see him so easily in the bright light across the way. He surely could not be a mere shipping clerk!
However, even the shipping clerks from Loveday Shipping dressed better than anyone she had ever seen here, where her uncle’s chief clerk resided in a shabby frock coat of times gone by, with the resigned inevitability of a plant grown so long in a pot that it has taken on the shape of the pot.
Emily missed plants. She was able to go to the park on Sundays, but the little breath of green was enough to almost make it worse. She blinked hard on an unbidden tear and returned to her writing.
“Papa, have you any idea who that beautiful young lady is? The one who sits writing in the window, with the most extraordinary clothes?” asked Lawrence Loveday. He had finished the accounting for the day and had taken his figures to his father to be looked over.
“What, the girl in Pinchpenny and Eke, you mean? Inchpenny and Peake, I should say,” said his father.
“A good name for them,” said he. “Yes, she. Or do I mean her?”
“I don’t know why I sent you to a good school if you don’t know one from t’other; and it’s no good asking me, all my education came from being a chandler’s boy until I was able to lay information about a plot to engage in barratry I overheard.”
“I know, Papa, up to no good, and creeping about the inn with intent to startle your master and his inamorata with fireworks. You were a hell-born babe.”
“Yes, wasn’t I? but Lloyds were generous with their reward, and it saved the lives of the poor devils of sailors who would have been murdered when the cheating captain scuttled the ship after passing off the cargo to another, to gain both cargo and insurance money. And I think you mean she.”
“More than likely,” said Lawrence. “Which being so, do you know who she is, or not, Papa?”
“She is the niece of old Inchpenny,” said Mr. Loveday. “As I understand it, her father was a parson, the elder son going in for law, and the younger for the church, and having been orphaned she lives with her uncle who has turned off his junior clerk to save money, since she writes a fair enough hand to work for him for nothing.”
“Nothing?” Lawrence was shocked.
“Not a penny. And you wonder why she wears odd clothes. I suspect she has had to resort to raiding the attic for any garment not in rags, regardless of its age. Either that or her parents were so unworldly that they failed to notice that the nineteenth century had dawned and passed its first decade,” he added dryly.
“And I thought myself hard done by on the wage you make me live on!” said his son.
Mr. Loveday frowned.
“You manage to dress up well enough like a dandy,” he said.
“Give you my word, sir, if you saw a dandy, you’d eat your words,” said Lawrence. “I purchase my own fabrics at the wharf and have a man make them up for me. It costs a fraction of what a coat like this would set me back if I bought it from a fashionable tailor who bought his own fabric.”
Mr. Loveday managed a half-approving grunt.
“Literally cutting your coat to suit your pocket,” he said. “You look well enough. And you’ll not regret learning economies when I make you my partner on your birthday.”
“Uncle, it is unseemly that I should be seen in public with holes in my stockings and a gown almost in rags, almost showing that my underwear is indecent,” said Emily.
“Ingratitude! Base ingratitude! Have I not given you a home out of the goodness of my heart?” demanded Theophilus Inchpenny.
“No, you gave me a home because I threatened to write to the newspapers to draw the attention of your clients to my plight had you turned me out of doors penniless,” said Emily.
“Yes, and it is nothing short of blackmail!” cried Inchpenny.
“Which, having attempted it once successfully emboldens me to consider the same ploy,” said Emily. “In that I shall take myself to the park and beg on Sundays, explaining that I am not paid a wage for the hard work that I do, and thus must beg for my clothing. The rags I am wearing, which also need washing as I have nothing to change into, will bear me out on that.”
“Good G-d! how did you come by such a brazen idea?” Inchpenny was horrified.
“By having a child press a penny into my hand as I walked home yesterday, and saying ‘please, beggar-lady, buy something to eat,” said Emily. “Bless the child, I could not refuse such a generous spirit.”
“And you did not give the penny to me? You thieving wench!” cried Inchpenny.
“It was given to me, sir, not to you. And I did buy myself something to eat, since I knew that by the time I had delivered all the letters you had sent me to deliver I should be late for dinner, and you would tell me, as you indeed did, that I must go hungry for being slow,” said Emily, with asperity. “And how my poor father must turn over in his grave to have his daughter trudging the street looking like a beggar.”
“It prevents you from the unwelcome attentions of any who might take you for something else,” said Inchpenny, then beamed in satisfaction. “It is for your own protection.”
“That is the most specious argument I have ever heard,” said Emily. “And if I had a couple of decent, modest gowns, then I should not be mistaken for such an unfortunate woman in any case. You have my ultimatum; fifteen shillings for a couple of new gowns and Saturday afternoon off to purchase them, or I shall spend Sunday telling the people of Hyde Park how I am treated. I have a good voice. Perhaps I shall write a song about it, and sing it to a popular tune.”
Theophilus Inchpenny went purple.
“I will lock you in your room!” he declared.
“Then I shall leave the office on Monday and do it then,” said Emily. “You will not keep me incarcerated forever; you need me to do all the junior clerk’s work since you turned off poor Mr. Jukes.”
“Infamous! You will beggar me!” cried Inchpenny.
“Unlikely. I’ve seen your accounts, and you could afford to show off your only female relative in gowns that cost pounds, not shillings,” said Emily, bitterly.
Muttering, Inchpenny dug into his pockets.
“Fifteen shillings. Not a penny more,” he declared.
“Even a tweenfloors maid has her clothing provided and five pounds a year,” said Emily. “And had you paid me half what you paid Jukes, I should have been able to be a pretty advertisement to the firm. But I thank you, though you have had more work out of me than one hundred times that amount.”
“Just get out of my sight, and get on with your copying!” shouted Mr. Inchpenny.
Emily got out of his sight adroitly, breathing very hard and trying not to be sick. It was one thing to know that she needed to stand up to the miser, and quite another thing to do it. She whispered a prayer of thanks for the strength given to her to do it.
And if she had a decent gown or two, depending on what she might find second hand, she might then covertly write for positions as a governess.
She sighed. It would take her away from Him, if she managed to gain such a position, but then, He was only a dream; did not even know that she existed.
Lawrence watched Her slip out of her seat, and sighed. Poor girl! There had to be something one could do; her every movement showed that she was ladylike in all particulars, and yet so miserable.
“Papa, can’t we employ her as a clerk?” he asked.
His father raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“And where would the poor girl live?” he asked. “We have a bachelor house, since your dear mother died. And would she not think it odd to be offered a job that is never done by women?”
Lawrence sighed. “I see her so bowed down and … and crushed,” he said. “Pinchpenny will work her to death, and before that he will make her old before her time.”
“There is nothing you can do that a respectable girl would countenance for one minute,” said Mr. Loveday.
Lawrence, who was only half listening to him, gasped as he saw Emily return.
“Why, Papa! She has almost a spring to her step! Do you think she has told him that he might go to Hades?”
“I doubt it,” said Mr. Loveday, dryly. “But as I shall not get any sense out of you otherwise, you may leave work early and loiter to see if you might fall into conversation with her.”
Lawrence’s face fell.
“I doubt she even knows I exist and will think me some lewd fellow to thus approach her,” he said.
“You will not know if you do not ask,” said Mr. Loveday, who had noticed Miss Inchpenny’s glances no less languishing than his son’s. It was a respectable match, and moreover if it survived the imaginations of two young people separated by a street that might as well have been an ocean, then it would cock a snoot at old Inchpenny.
Mr. Loveday had no hesitation in cocking a snoot at Theophilus Inchpenny whom he had loathed since his days as a chandler’s clerk, when the junior partner of Inchpenny and Peake, when Peake was still alive, had treated him with scorn.
“Miss Inchpenny! May I have the pleasure of escorting you?” Lawrence lifted his high-crowned beaver to her. That was the single most expensive item of his apparel; it was no good skimping and getting a cheap beaver made of rabbit fur. They fell out of shape in the rain.
“You have the advantage of me, sir,” said Emily, blushing violently. Why never in her wildest dreams had she thought He might speak to her.
“Lawrence Loveday, at your service,” said Laurence, with a bow. “We ought to be introduced by a third party, of course, but I can’t see your uncle doing that.”
“Not without charging for it, anyway,” said Emily. “Oh dear, that was not proper of me.”
“Oh, I’ve heard stories about your uncle from my father,” said Lawrence, cheerfully. “He’s a man who’d skin a flea for its hide and tallow.”
Emily giggled. She was already quite drunk with her success, and the laugh escaped.
“What a pretty giggle you have, not like some of the silly titters some girls give,” said Lawrence. “Miss Inchpenny! You will think me dreadfully rude, but there is something personal I wish to ask you!”
“Why I am such a dowd?” said Emily, wearily.
“Lud, no, the man couldn’t stretch the hide of a flea round you to give you a decent pelisse, and only one would bite him for he hid his blood in a vault,” said Lawrence.
Emily laughed right out at that.
“Mr. Loveday, I wish I could say that was a calumny on my uncle!” she said.
“But you can’t. So I know why you’re dressed like a … forgot what I was going to say.”
“Beggar? I know. A little boy gave me a penny yesterday, and it gave me an idea.”
“I say, Miss Inchpenny, I know some beggars make good money, but it ain’t a job for a nicely brought up young lady,” said Lawrence. “All I was going to ask you was how it was you suddenly came back to your stool looking buoyant earlier.”
“You … you noticed me?” Emily’s eyes widened.
“I’ve been watching you for weeks and trying to pick up courage to talk to you,” said Lawrence. “And I thought I might scare you. But today you have an air of … of steel,” he said.
“Well, it does not redound to my credit,” said Emily, “but I must have more than one gown and preferably one or two that are not threadbare.”
“And other essentials too, I wager,” said Lawrence. “I don’t know the details, never having had any sisters, but, well, men have more than top things.”
“And so do women,” said Emily, blushing again. “I would not, I think, really beg, but I threatened my uncle that I would, and tell everyone why I was. So I have a whole fifteen shillings!”
“Mean old skinflint!” said Lawrence. “That won’t go far.”
“I was planning to purchase second hand garments,” said Emily. “I’m not a ship owner’s offspring.”
“Oh, I’m on a salary until my birthday next month, when I’ll be a partner,” said Lawrence. “I have second hand garments too, but only the ones you can’t see. I know a tailor and I buy fabric off the wharf.”
“How very enterprising you are,” said Emily, admiringly. “I had thought that a man so handsome could not possibly be clever as well! Oh dear, I am not accustomed to conversation with strangers, I did not mean to be rude,” and she covered her mouth with her hand.
“Oh, I don’t take offence at being told I’m clever and handsome,” said Lawrence, “Especially by a beautiful woman!”
“Oh, I pray you, do not mock me,” said Emily.
“I’m not. The costume may not do anything for you, but your lovely titian hair and wonderful profile have brightened my days. And I almost feel I know you, watching your conscientious work, your studied patience, your frustration and anger in your shoulders. But you will think me a terrible Paul Pry to have watched you; and I hope you will forgive it.”
“Oh, Mr. Loveday, I have watched you, too, and seen how you work diligently, and how you have bent over another man’s work and shown him how to do something, and so patiently!” she said.
“Well then! We did not need an introduction for we already know each other!” said Lawrence. “Oh Miss Inchpenny! I hope it would not offend you, but would you like to leave your uncle’s employ?”
“It can scarcely be called employ, since he doesn’t pay me. I hoped to find some other situation,” said Emily.
“Well, Papa said we could not offer you a home, so it would not be right to ask if you would be the new clerk we need, since Mama died some years ago, but I have a plan! I have my shirts made by a girl who takes in sewing, and her sister has just got married, and she wanted to share her apartment with another girl; would that suit you?”
“Mr. Loveday, you are going very fast,” said Emily. “You overwhelm me!”
“Well, you don’t have to decide right away,” said Lawrence.
Emily came to a stop.
“Yes I do,” she said. “And if you’ll take me to her right now, and she likes me, I will stay with her, if the offer of a job is genuine. I am as good a clerk as any man, and I would like a job for pay. And I may as well do the same job and get something for it, so long as it will cover my rent and my food.”
“Oh a junior clerk starts at forty pounds a year,” said Lawrence.
“Oh my,” said Emily, for whom that was untold riches.
“Share with a gentry-mort? She’ll look down on me,” said Betty Hardcastle.
“I assure you, Miss Hardcastle, I’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Emily. “I’m sure we can come to an amicable arrangement about living together. And if you don’t like me, perhaps I can stay until I find somewhere else.”
“Well that won’t take long,” said Betty, casting a look at Lawrence. “Well, dearie, if you don’t mind that I’m as common as muck, we’ll deal extremely well together. I ain’t a trollop, so there won’t be no unwelcome callers, and there’s a poker by the door to discourage any that think otherwise.”
“I like the way you think,” said Emily.
Theophilus Inchpenny was furious that his niece did not come home; and then worried that something had happened to her, and that someone would manage to blame him when anything that happened to her would be her own stupid fault.
Emily had delivered the letters she was supposed to deliver, which was one thing at least, or rather he received enough replies to suppose she must have done. She had probably spent that hard earned fifteen shillings on stupid clothes and got herself used and thrown in the river.
After the weekend, Inchpenny glanced out of the window and was almost apoplectic to see a well-known red head seated on a stool in Loveday Shipping’s office. He hurled out of his own office to demand an explanation of her, and was brought up short by Lawrence himself.
“You have my niece in there! Disporting herself in an unladylike fashion doing a man’s job!” he howled.
“Oh, funny that it wasn’t unladylike when you had her doing the same for you but without pay,” said Lawrence. “She’s rather good; fluent in French and Italian, a great boon to the firm. Papa had no hesitation in raising her wages to seventy pounds a year, with promise of a raise in three months.”
Inchpenny’s eyes started out of his head.
“He’s paying her seventy pounds a year? A girl?”
“A linguist,” said Lawrence.
“I want to talk to her!” howled Inchpenny. “She need to know what’s due to her own flesh and blood.”
“Funny, I didn’t think you understood what is due to flesh and blood,” said Lawrence. “Ah, Miss Inchpenny.”
“I saw Uncle Theophilus, so I came out,” said Emily.
“Ah! Regretting it, I see, my girl! I don’t know where you are living, but I wager you miss a real home!”
“I do miss a real home,” said Emily, and went on as he smirked, “But the last one I knew was with my parents. You have a house in which you live, with poorly-cooked food from the cheapest of cuts, badly served. I am able to afford a servant, who knows how to shop and cook. As you might have, if only you paid proper wages and did not employ the cheapest slattern you could find.”
“Oh, I see! You have set up house living in sin – what would your poor father say? Well let me tell you, when this fancy man of yours tires of you, he will discard you…..Hey!”
Inchpenny managed no more as Lawrence took him by the shoulders, rotated him, and frogmarched him out.
“Oh Lawrence, I mean, Mr. Loveday, you are quite splendid!” said Emily, when he returned.
“By Jupiter, Miss Inchpenny, I’d fight any dragon for you,” said Lawrence.
“Oh, Mr. Loveday!” she managed.
Theophilus Inchpenny was not invited to the wedding several months later. Betty however was, and was delighted to know that she was to be the modiste to the wife of the ‘and son’ of what was now Loveday and Son, Shipping.