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Sissy: Virtue/Part 2

Learn more about some of my favorite secondary characters from Hope for Charity, my upcoming novel set in 18th century England, in this series, The Backstory.






Sissy: Virtue/Part 2 (Part 1)

by Sandy Kay Slawson


The close call with Da earlier in the day made sleep impossible for Sissy. The scene played out in her mind. Over and over and over. What if mum and Aida hadn’t come home when they did? Could she have brought herself to---kill him? Maybe he’d have taken the knife and slit her throat or satiated his depraved lust before stabbing her to death. What possessed her to think she could defend herself against the brute?

Mum believed his lie, but not Aida. She saw through it and questioned her, but Sissy had no intention of sharing the full details with her innocent sister.

“Don’t fret, Aida. I am unharmed. Thank the Lord you and mum came home when you did. It ended well enough, but one of us might've been in the gaol this night. I’ll be more careful from here on out. Maybe if I were meek like you, he’d leave me be, but I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut. It does naught but draws his ire... and attention to me. It might be better if I find a way to support myself and get away from him."

“I understand why you want to go. He’s a mean one he is, especially to you. As long as I stay quiet, he doesn’t bother me. Something about the way he watches you... eww. It gives me chills it does," Aida said.

Careful not to wake Aida, Sissy rose from the bed, packed a flour sack with her things, and hid it at the bottom of the laundry basket. Once she found a job, she’d retrieve the sack and leave for good. One day, somehow, she’d rescue her sister, as well.

Mum packed her bag to leave after yet another harried father came to beg her assistance in the birth of a child. Aida came from behind their dressing screen. "May I go with you, Mum. That's my friend's mum."

"I suppose. Sissy, you'll handle the chores by yourself and make sure your Da has food on the table?" Mum said.

Sissy did not want to be left alone with that man, but she'd hurry through the work and be gone before he awoke. With Aida away, at least she'd be free to go. "Yes, I'll be fine."

After mum and Aida left, Sissy worked with quick, quiet, and frantic energy to sweep, mop, bring in more wood from the pile out back, and make breakfast. She put a bowl of mush, the last hunk of bread, and tea on the table for Da. Who cared if it got cold?

Sissy ate a little mush, but nervousness stole her appetite. She discarded the contents, wiped her bowl with a wet cloth, and put it away. As she readied to leave, Da came out of his room. Sissy grabbed her shawl, opened the door, and nigh escaped but found herself pulled inside again.

"What are ye about, lass? Where's your mum and you sister?" Da said.

Fear boiled in Sissy's chest, and a lie slipped out. They'll be here in a minute. They went to borrow-- something from our neighbor."

Da smirked and glanced around the room. "You're a horrible liar. Your mum's mid-wifery bag is gone. It seems I'll have me chance to punish ye for that bit o' foolishness yesterday. Eh?"

"No, I... just meant to slice the bread... as you said." Sissy tried to pry Da's fingers from her arm as he dragged her across the room.

Da chuckled. "A terrible liar." He grabbed her chin and forced Sissy to see the vile intentions in his hooded perusal before he shoved her back onto the pallet.

The unexpected fall gave Sissy no chance to prepare before her head hit. The thin padding offered little protection. The blow to her skull near about struck her senseless. She shook the fog away, ignored the shards of pain, and attempted to arise. Da's body landed atop her and crushed Sissy into the pallet.

Help, Lord!

Da reached for the hem of Sissy's dress. She screamed. Da covered her mouth with his filthy paw. "Shut up or it'll be worse for you," he said.

One inch, two inches, three, her dress rose. With wide, wet eyes, Sissy begged him to stop. A knock on the door resounded. Da halted and glared a warning for her to remain silent. Another knock came, this one more urgent. Da shouted, "Who is it?"

"Rubert Wiggins, my wife is in labor. She needs the midwife."

"She's not here," said Da.

The man did not leave but pounded with more insistence. "Where might I find her?"

Da cursed under his breath and twisted toward the door. The grip on Sissy's mouth loosened. "I've no notion. Go away--"

"I know where she is," Sissy yelled. "Come in--" Da's hand clamped off the words, but the man had heard, and the door began to open.

Da cursed again, then gave Sissy a murderous glare before he jumped off of her. Sissy pushed around him and met the man as he entered. "Hallo, Mr. Wiggins. I'll take you to my mother. Let me grab my shawl, and we can be on our way." Sissy grabbed the wrap and shut the door in Da's livid face.

When Sissy and Mr. Wiggins reached the tenement where her mother worked, she left him in the kitchen and followed the sound of labor pains.

"Cecilia, why are you here," said Mum as she wiped the woman's sweaty brow.

"I brought a Mr. Wiggins. His wife is in labor, too," said Sissy.

"Alright, I'll go speak with--"

"Mum, wait. First, I must tell you something."

"O? What is it?" Mum's brow dipped. A worried frown replaced the tiredness that had been there a second before.

"'Tis Da... he tried to-- to-- molest me," Sissy said.

"Shhh, don't speak such nonsense--" Mum glanced at the woman, but she writhed in the bed and paid them no mind.

"'Tis true. Mr. Wiggins's arrival saved me."

"Your Da may be a ne'er-do-well, but he isn't that wicked. He's never truly hurt you girls. You must have imagined it."

"But--"

"Stop. We'll speak of this another time. This is not the time or place. Perhaps if you minded your tongue, you'd not find yourself in trouble with him as often as you do. Go home and stop imagining evil intent where there is none. You'll see. If you behave, he'll soften towards you," said Mum. With one more glance at her patient, she left the room, and Sissy had no choice but to follow.

The sun grew high in the sky before Sissy abandoned the employment search. The places she’d queried had no openings or wanted someone older and more experienced. Dejected, Sissy wandered off the path which led home and into the market square off the main road through town.

Hunger ravaged her thin body, for she’d eaten the few spoonfuls of mush and nothing more. Earlier in the day Sissy used a hairpin to retrieve a halfpenny between two cobblestones. She prayed she’d find something to eat among the tables and blankets filled with a cacophony of goods. The life of the market swelled with boisterous vendors who hawked their wares. More than one attempted to show Sissy their merchandise, but she learned from her mum how to nod, smile, and push through.

On the outside perimeter of the market, a handsome youth a year or two older stood behind a table with three loaves of bread. Sissy’s stomach growled.

“Hallo, how much is your bread?” Sissy said as she studied them.

“We’ve sold everything but the Wheaton. If ye want it, ’tis a pence per loaf,” he said.

“May I buy half a loaf for a halfpence?”

The young man frowned, and Sissy’s hopes dashed. She spun around before he noticed the shame which washed across her features.

“Wait, miss. I didn’t give my answer."

Sissy blinked several times to disburse the moisture before she faced him. “Yes?”

The young man’s countenance softened. “Take a whole loaf. I’m ready to be done and on my way home.”

“But I don’t have a penny for the whole —.“

“No, one loaf for a halfpence. ’Tis an end of the day discount. They’re not as fresh as this morn. A halfpence sounds reasonable to me,” he said.

“’Tis only past mid-day, won’t your employer question you about the money?”

“My father is the baker, and he’ll understand when I explain.”

“Explain what?”

“That a pretty girl made me forget every bit of business sense and I couldn’t help myself,” he said with a wink.

Sissy’s lowered gaze and bonnet hid the blush the flattery seared across her cheeks. “I thank you, but I don’t want to take your hard earned money. Half a loaf is enough.”

“Are you on break? Do you work nearby?”

Bemused Sissy said, “No, I’m searching for employment in the area. Why do you ask?”

The young man scratched his fair scalp. “I saw a sign yesterday… where did I—? O, yes… at The Stratford Bridge inn.” He pointed. “The sign said they have a maid’s position open. You ought to apply if the job is still available.”

“O, I do so appreciate the information. I’ll go straightaway and enquire. Here’s my halfpenny for the bread. I don’t want to dally and miss the opportunity.”

The youth pressed a whole loaf into Sissy’s arms. “No arguments. I’m about to go home and plan to drop these at the poor house, anyway.”

“As soon as I earn my first wages, I’ll pay for the other half,” said Sissy.

The fellow shook his head and grimaced. “You are a stubborn lass, aren’t you?”

Sissy shrugged and hurried in the inn's direction.

On the way home, Sissy ate a small portion of the bread but set the rest in her bag to share with Aida later. The conversation with the innkeeper filled her with many emotions; joy because they gave her the position of upstairs maid, fear because she’d never worked outside her home, and sadness because it meant she would leave her mother and Aida behind. The position came with a tiny room of her own, which contained a cot, a trunk, hooks on the wall, and three meals a day. If only she could bring Aida with her, but to bereave their mother of both daughters at once would be cruel. Aida ought to be safe, at least until she blossomed. Sissy hoped the girl would have a couple more years at home before that happened.

On the pallet later that night, Sissy whispered to Aida, “Are you awake? Aida, are you awake?”

“I am now. What do you want?” Aida twisted to her side and faced Sissy.

“I found a job near the market square… at The Stratford Bridge inn.” Aida’s intake of air tugged at Sissy’s heart. “There’s a room there for me and they expect me to move in tomorrow morning and start work—Don’t cry, Aida love. We’ll still see each other and there’ll be more food around here without my mouth to feed.” Sissy rubbed Aida’s arm.

“I said I understood, but I didn’t really think you’d leave. What will I do without my big sister? I’ll be too lone—.”

“Shhh, don’t wake the house. I’m as heartbroken as you and shall miss you more than I can say, but this is something I must do before Da truly ruins my life. I beg you, don’t tell anyone where I’ve gone… ever. This is our secret until I tell you different. Promise me.”

“I-I promise, but—.”

“Please, Aida, if I could take you with me I would, but you’re too young. You need mum more than I do. You’ll be safe. But if Da treats you in any way that makes you uncomfortable, run and find me. Do you hear? And don’t be alone with him. I mean it. Stay with mum or out with your friends as much as possible. He’s not to be trusted,” said Sissy. If the man hurt her sister, she’d not hesitate to—.

“I hate him. Why can’t he go instead of you?”

“Because he’s the man, and I can’t make him or stop him from doing anything. To be safe, I have no other choice.” Sissy sighed. Da’s wickedness caused this. Not her. This sorrow and rending of their family could be laid at his feet. “Best get some sleep. I'll be gone before you awake. I love you, Sweet Aida.” A new life awaited her but not for Mum or Aida. The Almighty must watch over them, for she could do naught but pray. Sissy closed her eyes and let the hot, wet drops of grief fall.


The End

 
















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