Mrs Clementine Clark
Magdalena, as life would have it has moved to London, to, as life would have it, work for Mr Gregory Picton, in his dressmaking store in Hartwell Street. She lives with a young widowed woman called Miss Katherine, whom I have yet to meet, but hear via Magdalena’s correspondence, is apparently wonderful. Magdalena has also befriended a woman who goes by the name of Miss Nancy Fallington, who just so happens to be Mr Gregory Picton’s first cousin, their mothers being sisters. Sadly though, Mr Picton’s mother passed away many years ago, so he is somewhat distanced from this side of his family. Miss Nancy is what people would call a Londoner and apparently fancies women, her best friend Miss Francesca, also being her lover. Boy, does Magdalena gossip! A month after the wedding, I am sitting in the bookstore with Lily and Hilary one day when all of a sudden Lily tells us she has bleeds. I give her my congratulations, and then realise that I haven’t had mine own for at least two months now. “I haven’t had mine in a while.” I tell the girls. “You might be expecting.” Lily says. “Oh, I do hope so. Matthias would love to have a wee babe. A boy perhaps.” “Did you hear Magdalena moved to London? Actually moved there to live?” Hilary asks me. “Yes, we heard. Miss Helen has now sort of replaced her, sewing dresses for all the neighbours.” “She writes me often, and I knew Mr Picton had a store, but never did I think she would move there. What about her poor mama?” I ask. “She works for Mr Picton?” Hilary shrieks. “She does. Has she not said?” I ask. “No, she has not. She neglected to tell us she worked for Mr Picton.” Hilary says. “She did not mention she had seen him nor that he owned his own dressmakers.” Lily says. “I’m not sure why she didn’t say all of this to you both. She wrote it to me. Ah well. Whatever I hear, I’ll be sure to pass onto thee.” I smile. When it reaches one o’clock Hilary closes the bookstore, and we go into the tearoom at the public house. It has been a popular place for chatting and gossiping and drinking, and is a nice reprieve for all we ladies, when there aren’t enough swap days to be had, or debutante balls to attend. “Mr Boroughshaw and I are courting.” Hilary announces over scones and tea. “Is that so?” I ask sheepishly, Lily having already told me. “Lily. Keep your news to yourself, and my news to yourself.” Hilary is annoyed. “I’m sorry Hil. I couldn’t help it. I had to tell her.” Lily says. “It’s alright really. No harm done.” I say. “Will he give you a ring?” I ask. “I don’t know. I hope so. He is ever so handsome. And an excellent conversationalist. We could talk for hours if the neighbours weren’t spying on us through their windows.” “How are you progressing with Joseph Lily?” I ask Lily. “Rather well. He says we shall marry in three years when we are old enough.” “Jolly good. Good girl. I hope he treats you well.” I say. “He does. He treats me very well.” Lily says. “I would say I am expecting ladies for it has been a rather long while since the Red Poppies bloomed.” I say, rubbing my tummy. “That is exciting. Have you written to your mama?” Hilary asks. “I have. I am waiting for her letter.” I say. “What is this I hear about Mr Clark and a group of carpenters building a climbing frame for the children in the square?” Hilary asks. “Tis true. I heard it from Mr Clarence Picton himself. Council feels the children ought to have something to climb on.” I explain. “And Matthias can help?” Hilary asks. “He can. He knows all sorts about building. I have no idea how. Perhaps he learned much from his dad?” I suggest. “He must be naturally inclined in that way then. Joseph is an apprentice in carpentry and he says it is quite complex.” Lily says.
“My red poppies have not bloomed this month my darling.” I tell Matthias as he undresses me in bed that evening. “Ah, you’ll be with babe. Tis why.” And then he is kissing me everywhere, and suffocating me with bearish hugs and overwhelming displays of affection. “You are very much hoping I am with child, aren’t you?” I say. “I am. Are you not?” He asks. “I am. I look forward to being a mother. Pushing a pram around the square while all the kids fawn over the babe, and your Mum pushes them out the way.” I laugh. “We ought to hold off on getting that pet lamb then.” He jests. “We ought. A baby might be trampled on.” I say. “I should start saving for the pram then.” He says. “You should.” I say. “Have I told you how much I love you Clementine?” “You have my darling. Have I told you how much I love you?” I ask. “You have, but please do tell me once more.” “I love you Matthias.” I say. “Oh pet, come here. I need to kiss you.” He says, scooping his hand under my head and pulling my face to his, locking us in an intoxicating and overwhelming kiss that forces me to breathe through my nose for quite some time. “I liked you as soon as we had danced.” I confess. “I liked you as soon as you fell to the ground, and I scooped you up in my arms, and held you close to my chest and breathed in your scent, a scent so pure and sweet. You were like an angel in mine arms.”
Seven months later I give birth in the infirmary to a beautiful baby girl whom I name Scarlet. She does not have any of my looks, and looks only like Matthias. Magdalena sends gorgeous little dresses in the post for Scarlet to wear when she is bigger, and I wrap them in tissue paper, and store them in our bedroom for saving. Heather crochets Scarlet a mountain of bonnets, socks, mittens, cardigans and booties, and Helen sews baby suits she can wear as a newborn, one we won’t have to worry about dirtying. Scarlet has her first visit with grandmother Heather and all of her aunties as soon as I am discharged from the infirmary which is a lovely milestone, that literally causes Matthias’s eyes to well with tears. He is a very happy daddy. A visit with my family however will have to wait until I am feeling up to going to the countryside. Mama has written to me that she would love to visit me, but all of my brothers would want to come with them, and that’s impossible because there in no where for seven extra people to sleep in my house, nor in Heather’s. Mama wasn’t too keen on paying for a room at the public house again, for she doesn’t really have the sort of money to be doing that, and so I said Matthias and I would cart it to the countryside to see them instead, for the three of us can fit easily inside mama and papa’s house. It is a tough business being a mother, and having to clean soiled cloths when one’s mind and body are sleep deprived. When I minded the babes in the nursery we sent their soiled cloths home with them, or we disposed of them – whichever their parents could afford. I don’t have the luxury of being able to do that now. I have to wash them all myself and shovel Scarlet’s waste into the soil cabbage patch in the backyard for the vegetables. “The council are building a climbing frame for the kiddies in the square. I’m going to help them.” Matthias says. “A climbing frame? They will like that. Their mothers will never get them to come in for their tea then.” I say, whilst breastfeeding Scarlet in my soft chair. “Nay, they won’t.” “When will it be built?” I ask. “We are starting it tomorrow.” “What about the post office?” “Helen will watch it for me.” “Will she now?” “How’s my babe going?” Matthias plays with her fingers and she latches onto his thumb and grips it. “She is good. She loves her food.” “Like her daddy.” “Boy, don’t I know it.” “You’re a fine cook. I can’t help it.” “What’d be her excuse then?” I ask. “Your breasts are lovely.” “Give over, you cheeky man.” “Proof is in the pudding. Look at her. Sucking like a baby pig she is.” “She has a strong bite she does.” I say. “Does she hurt you?” “No. She knows what to do. It’s mother nature.” “I wish I could be in your lap like that right now.” “Matthias, get away. Don’t you have work to do?” “No. Post office has closed for the day.” “What’s the time?” “Ten past four.” “Ten past four. I better cook tea soon.” “I can do it.” “You can cook tea?” “I can. Watched ma do it many a time. What are we having?” “Roast chicken with beans, peas, and boiled potatoes. Can you do that?” “I can. You just stay where you are and I’ll be gone into the kitchen.” “If you’re sure.” “I don’t want to interrupt her dinner. Besides, I can’t feed her can I?” “No. That you can’t.” I laugh. When Scarlet has had enough, I burp her, and lay her down in her cot, and go into the kitchen. Matthias is standing in front of the hob, stirring the peas and the beans in the pot. “Miss Hilary and Mr Boroughshaw are courting.” I say. “I thought so. I saw them walking together before.” “How is Christina going at the nursery? Did she come in to see you today?’ “She did. During lunch. She loves the babes.” “No doubt they’ll all be wanting to see Scarlet again soon. I should go over to your mother’s again tomorrow.” I say. “You should. She would like that very much. And the girls love having a real baby to knit for instead of their dollies.” “I know. Aren’t they gorgeous? I think there are eleven bonnets and beanies here from just your sisters alone.” “Mittens would be too hard for them, is that why?” “I think so. I can’t knit mittens mind.” “I can’t knit at all.” He jokes. “Ha ha. Very funny. I can’t build climbing frames or houses so we be calling it even.” “Can you wake me at eight?” “Don’t I always?” “Yes, you do. Just thought I’d remind ye.” After dinner Matthias sits in his chair reading a book, whilst Scarlet sleeps, and I bathe in my bathtub in the washroom. Hot water on skin is the most luxurious feeling in the world. Any woman who can bathe in a bathtub full of hot water ought to think herself a Princess. Surrounded by candles, I read Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lost for Love. Matthias pokes his head around the doorway. “What are you doing?” “I’m bathing.” “And reading.” “What are you doing?” “I’m watching.” “Watching what?” “Watching you.” “Would you like to join me?” “I would.” Matthias says, propping his book down on top of the lavatory seat, and undressing leaving all of his clothes on the tiled floor on top of my dress. I move forward in the bathtub so he can slide himself in behind me. “And what if she cries?” I ask. “What if she does? I’ll go for her.” He drags the tips of his fingers up my naked arms, and then brushes my shoulders with them, before wrapping them around my torso and hugging me to him. His jaw rests on my shoulder. “This is golden.” He says. “It is.” I drop my book onto the ground, closing my eyes. “I know why you like this room so much. The candles, the warmth, the vapour in the air. It’s like heaven.” “It is.” “May I please you?” “Please do.” I say. He moves his hands away from my torso and drops them lower between my legs where he rubs my private area up and down. He jostles his whole body so that I am sitting on a better angle for him. With his right hand he digs two fingers inside my private area, most deeply, so it feels like it is his penis instead. I moan out loud, and tilt my head back, onto his shoulder. “Oh darling.” He says. “I know.” I whimper. “Feel me.” He whispers. “I can.” I breathe. “I need you.” He is desperate. “Let’s get out of the tub.” I say. Matthias and I get out of the bathtub and he lies on the washroom floor on top of all of our clothes on his back. I sit on his gloriousness and moan when it fills me. I bend my head down lower to kiss him, but as he moves his hips under me, thrusting himself in and out, in and out, I lose focus, and can’t concentrate, and all I can do is whimper and moan with every thrust. Matthias moans and grunts and I feel his gloriousness tensing inside my body, which sets me off strongly, and I scream, and Scarlet starts crying. “Keep going. Let her cry. She’ll be ok.” I say. “To be sure?” “Yes. She’ll fall back asleep if I shut up.” I say. “You’d best be quiet then.” He nibbles on my lip and we kiss something fierce. He ejaculates inside my body which sends ripples through me and I shake and quiver and collapse on top of him. After a while we get off the cold hard washroom floor, and hop into bed, naked, his stomach pressed against my back and his arms caging me in tightly against his chest so I can’t move. Scarlet is fast asleep in her cot beside me. Matthias wakes the next morning and goes to work with the rest of the men in the square who are helping build the climbing frame for the children. I go down to the post office where I have a letter from Magdalena waiting for me. She tells me she has been to many a ball with Miss Katherine and her new friend Miss Nancy Fallington, and Miss Nancy’s lover Miss Francesca Verelia. She is enjoying life in London society much, for there is always an occasion to be making a dress for herself, something she couldn’t do much as the parties in the square were scarce. The London socialites apparently adore Magdalena’s work and she has been inundated with rather expensive orders. Women in London aren’t afraid to order the richest silks and the smoothest satins, and Magdalena is often ordering fabrics from Italy. All Magdalena has to do at a party is say her name upon arrival and guests all flock to her, wanting to chat with her about her latest designs, and whether she has ever considered designing for men, to which, she says she has not. She tells me some of her dresses have appeared in magazines, which I feel annoyed upon hearing, because I won’t ever see these magazines. Magdalena also says she feels she has several admirers; the most uncanny of them being Mr Gregory Picton himself, which she says is rather odd because they have known each other their whole lives and never once has he shown the slightest bit of romantic interest in her. And also because he is her employer, and she could never court her employer. Apparently he is very lenient with her at work, and often wants to sit with her in the backroom, talking over tea and scones, and their chats are truly meaningful and inspiring. She says she does understand how Miss Charlotte could despise the man, because of what he did to her, however she likes to look at him under her own light casting no aspersions on his character. She says it was her friend Miss Katherine who initially pointed out his affections for her, as Magdalena had not recognised them herself and simply thought he was friendly and polite because they had grown up in the square together albeit at a distance because of her shyness. I write back to Magdalena telling her that I applaud her decision to judge his character according to how she finds him, and I am gladdened to hear that they get along so well. I tell her that if I put my knowledge of Mr Picton aside, then he is a very favourable man to be courting indeed, and now that he owns his own dressmaking store, and they have this in common, she could be assured that he would guarantee her financial security should they marry. I tell her not to include what she has written to me in any of her letters to Miss Charlotte, for it may offend her to know that Magdalena works for and holds the affections of a man who ill-treated her in the past. I add that my saying-so may be futile for her letters to Miss Charlotte might have already been received. However knowing she has a clever head on her shoulders, I trust her that she would know to keep this information away from Miss Charlotte’s knowledge. I write that Scarlet is doing well. That she loves the breast, and she latches on rather well, completely draining me dry. Matthias is liking fatherhood and it suits him. He has recently helped build a climbing frame in the middle of the square with a few other men for the kiddies which they all love. Many of them are out playing on it until eight in the evening when Matthias is walking home from the public house. I tell her I often see her little brothers and sisters on the frame and I will yell a hello to them, and they will give me a hello back and ask me if I have heard from her, which I will either say yes, or no, according to whether I have had word from her or not. A few days later I receive another letter from her responding to my letter. She tells me that Gregory as he wants her to call him, has declared his affections for her, and he can no longer go on working alongside her daily, delivering her orders, and looking at her in a way that says he feels only friendship for her when he feels so much more for her. His feelings overwhelm her, she says, and she never knows how to respond, often dizzying and fainting, and coming to, to find Miss Katherine has loosened her corset, and she is half-sitting, half-lying on the chaise-lounge in the backroom of the shop, where Gregory will be waiting for her to come to with a glass of water and a piece of sugar. His attentions during her anxious episodes are admirable and his patience with her astounds her for she always thought any man would do away with a woman who was so delicate all of the time. Gregory says it makes her more endearing, she says. She knows that pretty soon he will ask for her hand in marriage and she really does not know how to respond. She is starting to have small feelings for him and if they grew into love and she marries him that will only offend Miss Charlotte and she doesn’t want to be doing that. She tells me to kiss Scarlet’s forehead ten times from her, and to tell her that Aunty Magdalena loves her much. She asks me how married life is. I write back to her again and tell her that married life is better than I ever thought a marriage could be. Matthias is the most caring, selfless man I have ever met, and I was very lucky I met him when I did. I tell her I have given Scarlet her kisses from her aunty. I ask her if she minds me sharing her news with the Patterson sisters for I see them regularly in the tearoom at the public house and inside their bookstore. In regards to Gregory, I say, if he proposes she ought to accept his hand in marriage and the feelings of others should not hold her back from finding her own happiness. Miss Charlotte will be offended naturally but it can’t be helped if Gregory has decided he feels ready to settle down with Magdalena. I tell her that his father Mr Clarence Picton is rather ill and does Gregory know? The next morning is a Saturday and Lily, Hilary, Scarlet and I have a picnic on the lawn, and watch the children play on the new climbing frame. “I have had a few letters from Magdalena these past few weeks and she has much news.” I say, eating my ham and cheese sandwich. “Go on.” Hilary says, holding Scarlet in her lap. “Well as cupid would have it Mr Picton has fallen in love with Magdalena and she knows he is bound to propose any day.” I say. “Good Golly Miss Molly. However did this happen?” Hilary asks. “I never thought he would love a friend of ours. I am stunned.” Lily says. “Charlotte and Magdalena are two very different people. We mustn’t judge.” I say. “I don’t judge. It’s just that. This is Mr Gregory Picton you are talking about. The most admired man in the square. He could have any woman he wanted. And he loves our most beloved and dearest.” Lily says. “I know. I understand how you are looking at this.” I say. “What about all the women in London? Surely he would have been captivated by them?” Hilary says, letting Scarlet chew on her finger. “You’re forgetting Magdalena is a London woman now. She doesn’t belong only to the square. She has made quite a name for herself with all the well-to-dos. Her dresses have been in magazines, and she attends all sorts of wonderful parties. Parties the Square could only dream of holding.” “What about her anxiety?” Lily asks. “She tells me he finds her endearing in her anxious state and he is often sitting right beside her when she is feeling panicked or when she has fainted. Apparently he is very attentive to her feelings. Which, in my mind displays a great kindness. He must really love her.” I say. “I am gobsmacked.” Hilary says. “I am too.” Lily says. “I was. When I first read it. It took me a while to grasp it fully. But I have now. And I am so glad if she is loved. Because isn’t that what any of us ever wants? Just to be loved by another?” I ask. “You are right. Yes. Of course. To be fair. You are right.” Lily says. “I do wonder what Miss Charlotte will think of this.” Hilary says. “Where is Charlotte today?” I ask. “I think she is at home. I did ask her to come today, but she said she was feeling unwell.” Lily says. “Oh. Well perhaps I will call on her later, and see if she is ok.” I say. “Tell Clementine what you did.” Hilary says. “Clementine. Do you remember that chat we were going to have a while ago about being close to men?” Lily asks. “Yes, I remember it. I am sorry we never did get around to having it pet.” “Well, Joseph and I, and I have told Hilary, so she already knows. Joseph and I, we did it all.” Lily says. “What? You what? No. Lily, you didn’t.” I am shocked. “I know. I am a fool. But we got carried away. And now I’m worried.” Lily says. “Have you told your mama?” “Lord no. If I told her what I have done she will kill me.” “Hilary?” I look at Hilary. “What can I say? I’ve made the same mistake once or twice myself.” Hilary says. “Oh golly. What am I to do with you both? Matthias was my first and last so I was never in that sort of situation.” I say. “You are the smart one in our group.” Hilary says. “Will Joseph say anything? Will he go about bragging to his friends?” I ask. “No. He won’t. He loves me. He knows how stupid it was. He apologised over and over. And he told me it was all his fault. And he should have just controlled himself. But he couldn’t.” Lily explains. “Where did this happen?” I ask. “In the back of the bookstore…” Lily says. “Lily! In the back of your papa’s shop! My goodness.” I say. “You’re telling me.” Hilary says. “What am I gonna do if the worst should happen?” Lily looks at me. “Well if you really love each other, then the worst won’t be the worst thing to happen, will it pet? Look at me and Matthias. We love each other very much, and now we have wee little Scarlet.” I smile. “Father Clanley will never marry us. We’re only sixteen!” Lily says. “Ah but I am sure your birth certificates can be fixed properly.” I say winking. “How do you mean?” Lily asks. “Matthias sells the birth certificate paper in the post office.” I say. “Oh Clementine, you are a bloody gem! Yes. If the worst does happen, Matthias can make new ones for us and Father Clanley will be none the wiser.” Lily smiles. “I never thought I would see the day when my little sister breaks the law.” Hilary says and laughs. “You could be with her on that.” I wink. “James and I are very careful.” Hilary says. “Why doesn’t he propose? You are both old enough to be getting married.” I say. “He will. Soon. I am sure. I think he is just saving for the ring.” Hilary says. Master Fletcher Mason runs past us to hop into his horsecart. He has a very funny look on his face. “Did you see that? Master Fletcher? He ran and got into his horsecart. He looked worried.” I say. “No, I didn’t see him.” Lily and Hilary say. I get up off the grass and run over to the moving horses who are doing a 360 degree turn in the middle of the road. “Master Fletcher. Is everything alright?” I shout to him. “No Miss Clementine. Mr Picton has just died. I have to fetch Mr Gregory Picton immediately.” “What?” I blurt out, but ofcourse he has no time to reply as the horses have galloped down the road by now. I sit back down on the grass next to the girls and Scarlet. I am not sure how to tell them what I know. “Mr Clarence Picton has just died. He has gone to fetch Mr Gregory Picton.” I say staring at the grass. I take Scarlet from Hilary and hug her to my breast. “What?” Both girls ask. “I don’t know what to say. I’m in shock.” I say. “How heartbreaking.” Hilary mumbles. “I feel like crying.” Lily says and she does actually start crying. Lily’s crying sets us all off, and we all start crying, my tears falling onto the top of Scarlet’s head as she sleeps. Our picnic has suddenly become depressing, and though the sun is still shining and the kids are still playing outside, it’s not happy anymore. The day has been changed. We finish our sandwiches, and our tea, and I change Scarlet’s cloth on the grass. Matthias comes up to us; he has just been to the public house. I tell him the sad news. He takes off his hat and holds it to his chest. “By golly. That is sad news. Does his son know?” he asks me. “He will soon. Master Fletcher has gone to fetch him just now.” I say. “First his mother and now his father. What will the poor man do?” Matthias says. “Can we go home Matthias?” I say feeling emotional. “Yes my love. We are going now. Ladies: safe on home now.” He says to Lily and Hilary. “Yes we be safe. You and all.” Hilary says. I place Scarlet in her cot, whilst Matthias boils some water on the hob. He brings my cup of tea into our room and sits on the bed beside me. I am in my day chair looking out the window at the whole square. “Death is a sad thing.” Matthias says, holding my hand. “It is. I am in such a shock Matthias. I feel I can’t breathe.” “You can breathe darling.” He rubs my back. “All I feel like doing is sleeping.” I say. “Why don’t you sleep then?” He asks. “Because it is only one o’clock and Scarlet will wake for her milk soon.” “What if I give her the milk from the bottle?” “You can. Yes, I guess you can.” I say. “Alright. Get into bed. I’ll tuck you in.” He says, and I kick off my boots and pull back the duvet and hop into bed. Matthias kisses my forehead, closes the curtains and wheels Scarlet’s cot into the drawing room, where, if she cries, she won’t wake me. The next thing I know I am being woken by Magdalena calling my name. “Clementine. Are you awake? I am here Clementine. Will you wake lovely?” She says, and I open my eyes and see her silhouette in the doorway. “Ay, pet. Come here.” I say. “Can I hop in with you?” She asks. “Yes, do.” I say, and she pulls back the duvet on Matthias’s side and slides in. We can hardly see each other but we sense what the other is feeling. We cuddle into each other and I scrape my hand through her hair. “Too much has happened. His father dead. He is inconsolable. I don’t know what to say to him. I realise I love him. But his father is dead.” Magdalena mumbles. “You said yes then?” I say. “I did.” “When?” “Yesterday.” “I am happy for you pet.” I say, kissing her cheek. “Thank you. I am happy and sad. He won’t stay in London now.” She says. “Oh Magdalena. I am a fool. I didn’t realise.” I say. “He loves me and I love him, but I want to stay in London. I have made something of myself there. Here I am just Miss Magdalena Baroche, the quiet shy girl with anxiety. But in London I am someone. Someone important.” She says. “He doesn’t have to take over his father’s work.” I say. “I know. He will feel obliged to though.” She is crying. “Oh dear pet. And how do you feel?” “So confused. So so confused. I wish I never loved him at all. I feel I am being torn into two.” “Where is he now?” I ask. “In the infirmary. Speaking with the undertaker.” I hold her in my arms and kiss her cheeks. My words are not enough. “I was so shocked and saddened by the news I had Matthias put me to bed. My shock and sadness is nothing to yours. I’m sorry darling. I really am. I hope you both find a way.” I say. She is sobbing into me. I stroke her head, and tuck some hair behind her ears. “Thank you Clementine. I hope you know that you are my dearest friend. Not even mama knows I am here yet. I had to come straight to you.” She says. “Oh darling. You already know that you are mine. I do love you.” I tell her. And I mean it. I love her in the way that only a friend can love her closest friend during a crisis. With my heart. “And I love you.” She sniffs, burying her face into my breasts. I pull her in close to me, and realise that friendships can be emotional and they can also be spiritual. Emotionally and spiritually we cleanse one another. “I want to stay like this forever.” I say, completely contented. “Hmm. Me too.” She smiles. “Will you stay in the square tonight?” I ask her. “Yes, we will. We will sleep at his parent’s house. “What is the time now?” I ask. “Just past three o’clock.” She says. “I would like to preserve this moment for you have healed me, and I hope to have healed you, but I should see to Scarlet.” I say. “Yes, you must. Thank you Clem. You are my angel.” She says, and we both get out of bed, and go into the drawing room where Matthias is reading in a chair and Scarlet is in her cot by the fire. “Is she alright?” I ask him. “She is fine. Are you alright?” He asks me. “Yes, I’m ok.” I say, and look at Magdalena. “Tea?” Matthias asks her and goes into the kitchen to boil the kettle. “Aunty Magdalena can finally visit baby Scarlet and what is it to be? She is asleep.” Magdalena says smiling over Scarlet’s cot. “Wake her.” I say. “No. I won’t be doing that. I know how hard it is to get them back to sleep.” “Show me your ring.” I say. Magdalena shows me her ring. It is beautiful. “Who might that be from?” Matthias asks. I get up and kiss her on the cheek. “Gregory.” She says. “Hmm fancy that. He does keep his cards close to his chest he does. Congratulations lassie. I am sorry we are seeing you under such circumstances.” Matthias gets up and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “I too am sorry. It was unexpected. We knew he was ill but death was far off the Sisters said.” Magdalena says. “People get things wrong all the time, don’t they pet?” I say. “They do. They do. He must have deteriorated quickly.” She says. “Suppose you’ll be living in his house now?” Matthias says. “Umm, that be a soft spot Matthias. Magdalena has made something of herself in London. It would be an awful waste of her talent to be coming back here. But that is for them to discuss.” I say. “Oh. Gee. Lassie. I am sorry. You are in the wars.” He says. “Thank you for the tea Matthias. I will go.” She says. “Want me to walk you?” I ask. “Nay. You’re right. I’ll go. You stay inside where it’s nice and warm.” She is crying. We stand up and I hug her, and walk with her down to the bottom of the staircase and to the door in the backroom of the post office. I pull her to me again, and she leans in against me, and we embrace for a long while before she leaves. I close the door behind me. We all attend Mr Clarence Picton’s funeral inside Saint Joseph’s Church. It is the saddest funeral I have ever been to. Mr Gregory is on his hands and knees at the altar screaming “Papa, papa. You can’t leave me here.” Magdalena is on her knees beside him, rubbing his back, sobbing, in pain because he is in pain. She wears a black satin dress with a high laced chiffon collarette and a black lace veil. Despite this being a funeral, she looks gorgeous. As always. The ribbon on her black silk bonnet sticks to her chin from her tears. I am squeezing Matthias’s hand so tightly. The whole scene is overwhelming. My tears roll down my face and collect in the ties on my bonnet as well. Every woman’s tears do. Scarlet is crying, and Matthias must take her outside whence Lily and Hilary move in closer to me, and we all hold hands and pray to the Mother Mary. Charlotte sits beside Christina crying into a handkerchief, dabbing her nose. The whole church is wondering the same thing: will Gregory stay and continue his father’s work in the Square or will he return to London with his new fiancé to their store in Hartwell Street? A day later Master Fletcher Mason carts Gregory’s and Magdalena’s personal belongings into the square and takes them directly to Gregory’s house in the square. I see him and the horse trot by when I am outside chatting to Lily and Hilary. Magdalena is going to be in need of her friends we realise. We all walk to her house next door to the square hall building and I knock on the black glossed front door there – a door I have never knocked on before. Gregory opens the door to us, thanks us for coming and leads us into his front drawing room. He does not come in with us. He gives us our privacy. “Magdalena darling.” I say, sitting down beside her. “Clementine. Oh I’m glad you are here. Let me hold her.” She says wanting Scarlet. I hand my daughter over. “How are you feeling?” Hilary asks her, sitting in front of her on a little footstool. “Distraught. Absolutely distraught. My career is over.” She starts crying. “Oh Maggie. Don’t say that. The women in the square love your dresses.” Lily says. “I know pet. But it’s not the same. I was someone in London.” She says sniffing. “Magdalena, you are someone here too. You are Mr Gregory Picton’s fiancé. A year ago that was everything!.” I say. “I know. It’s rather amazing how the world works isn’t it? We’ve lived in the square our whole lives and he has never once considered me. I move to London, and suddenly he wants to marry me.” She cry-laughs. “Perhaps London showed him something in you he had never seen before?” Hilary says. “Like what?” She asks. “Your skill. Your talent. Your quality.” I say. “Perhaps you were always so shy that you made yourself invisible to him?” Lily says. “Perhaps. I do fright when asked to dance by men.” “Yes, pet. You do.” I say. “Miss Charlotte won’t talk to me. I have tried talking to her a few times and she has kept on walking.” She sniffs, and then breaks into crying again some more. “She will come around. Just give her some time.” I say. “You always thought you would be overlooked because of your anxiety. But you were wrong. He loves you in spite of it.” Hilary says. “He does. He really does. He is ever so patient with me. I was wrong to assume it would repel him. It doesn’t.” She says. “You’re the talk of the Square now. Not Miss Anna Hollingsworth. That means something where I come from.” Hilary says. “I know. It really does. You’re right. I’m blessed. He truly loves me. He doesn’t know why he never noticed me.” “You were too shy.” I say. “I was. But I couldn’t help it. I was anxious.” She says. “Perhaps dress without corsetry from now on?” I say. “I have considered it many times.” She laughs. “How does he feel about selling the store?” I ask. “He is devastated. It’s not something he ever wanted. Having to leave. It’s not something I wanted either. But I love him terribly. I do. I couldn’t bear to be apart from him.” She says. “It’s really love.” Lily says. “It is.” “You are lucky Maggie. The angels are watching over you.” Hilary says. “They are.” She smiles and sniffs. “Will you stay here?” I ask her. “I will. I have moved all my things here already. My sewing machine too.” “So, you will sew for the women in the Square?” I ask. “I will. That’s what I must do.” She sighs. Gregory comes into the front room with a silver tea set and props it onto the tea table in front of us. “Ladies. Have some tea. You’ll all feel better.” He says. We all whisper our thanks, take a teacup and saucer each into our laps, and he sits down in the corner beside the piano, sipping his own tea. “I’ve just been telling my friends how saddened we were having to sell the shop.” Magdalena says. “Ah yes. It was very disheartening indeed.” Gregory says. “Perhaps your lady friends from London will come here for their dresses?” I ask. “It would be far too out of their way Clementine. Hartwell Street is more convenient for them.” Magdalena says. “Yes. Of course.” I say. “Well ladies, it has been a pleasure sitting with you. I must go now and finish off some paperwork for the council.” Gregory says, standing up and leaving the front room. “Mr Picton.” We chorus after him.
Nine months later.
The gang and I are on the front lawn with our men at a swap day. I swap some old jewellery for some unused cloth nappies with Miss Bessie. The girls think I’m insane, getting rid of such beautiful pieces, but I wear them no longer and taking the cloth nappies from Miss Bessie was the least I could do after her terrible terrible miscarriage. Charlotte looks ill and sits down on the grass clutching at her head. “Are you alright?” I ask her. “Shall we get the doctor?” Hilary asks. “No, I will be alright. I have a migraine is all.” She says. We keep an eye on her, dissatisfied with her state. Matthias and Gregory are watching her as well, speaking about getting the horsecart. Charlotte screams out in agonised pain, claws at her head through her bonnet, and then falls sideways, her face crashing onto the grass, her skin deathly, taut, pale, her eyes closed. We all scream and shriek out with horrified shock. Matthias and Gregory jump up, scoop her off the ground, and carry her lifeless figure between them, and throw them into Gregory’s horsecart stationed afront of the Landsdowne Square hall entrance, a few metres across the road from where we sit. They throw her into the cart, both hop up in the seat and gallop away to the infirmary. We all break into tears, and Scarlet at eleven months old looks up at me, worried. She starts crying as well but only because I am crying. Quick word fires across the lawn: Miss Charlotte is dead. We attend her funeral three days later after learning she suffered a brain aneurysm. We stand in the front pew of Saint Joseph’s church, dressed all in black, wearing black lace veils to hide our faces and our distress. We sob reservedly, and not too loudly, while Matthias, who is holding Scarlet on his arm, holds my hand, Gregory holds Magdalena’s, James holds Hilary’s, and Joseph holds Lily’s. Father Clanley talks of a woman with much to offer the square, having looked after the babes and giving her smiles wherever she went. None of us can hear what he is saying for we are all drowning in our own grief, and his words do not touch our ears. With four other men, Matthias and Gregory walk out of the church holding her casket. We follow them and Father Clanley to the graveyard beside his church, where Charlotte will be buried. I can’t ascertain what upsets me more – the fact she died so young, or the fact she died without ever marrying and having babes of her own. Maybe it all upsets me and my only consolation is in knowing she is now at peace with her parents who loved her dearly. She has left her house with all of its contents to the council for it to be sold. Her clothing, books, and personal items, she says in her will, are to be evenly divided among her four closest friends: us. Naturally, a few weeks later, Gregory sells her house and with his key lets us four women into her home so that we can divvy up her belongings. I have left Scarlet with Heather while we are there. We each take what we want and close the door behind us, Magdalena locking it and pocketing the key to return to her fiancé when she returns home. We all go to the tearoom inside the public house, sit down and order several teas. Charlotte being gone has left a hole in my heart, one I will never replace. “No amount of babes will erase her loss.” I say. “No. No they won’t.” Magdalena says. I feel so empty. I really loved her.” Lily says. “I did too.” Hilary says. “I know. I did too.” Magdalena says.
And then she tells us that she is expecting a child.
We each give her our congratulations in one form or another. “Gregory must be thrilled.” I say. “He is. He can’t wait to be a daddy.” Magdalena says.”Matthias was like that.” I say. “You know what they say. One goes out and one comes in.” Hilary says. “Tis true.” Lily says. “He doesn’t mind you that are not married?” I ask. “Nay. He says he sets the rules in this square. Why ought he mind, when he knows his intentions are genuine and he commits to me forevermore?” Magdalena says. “People in the square will mind.” Hilary says. “Let them mind. Everybody knows I am his fiancé and living with him. If we never marry it won’t be the end of the world.” Magdalena says. “Well children bring love. And love makes the world go round. What is marriage? It’s a piece of paper. It’s nothing.” I say. “Exactly.” Magdalena smiles. “Gregory adores you. Everyone can see that.” Hilary says. “Can they?” Magdalena asks. “Yes. It’s plain on his face. And the way he looks at you and talks to you.” Hilary says. “The way he puts his arm behind your back. And pats your waist. It’s lovely.” Lily says.