The water trickled down the drain, abundant with the grime and germs of children’s hands. After supper I taught sums and letters to the children told wonderful tales of the princess who saved a prince; tales of the glories of egalitarianism.
Now reader, I understand many of you shy away from the concept of equality, so, I ask if my beliefs worry you, do stop reading, for I would hate for my words be wasted on your daftness.
My father glanced up as I strode past his private study.
“Helen, do linger a moment. I have information that must urgently be discussed.” He groaned to his feet, his protruding stomach jolting his desk as his tongue traced his pudgy lips.
“Yes Father, what troubles you so much that it entails you to converse with a mere female?”
“An ingenious worker of mine has recently discovered a plot of land that is currently occupied by some rundown shambles that would be a perfect location to expand my premises.” He hobbled over to where I stood, grasping my shoulders in his corpulent hands.
“I fail to comprehend how this concerns me.”
He regarded me with an air of contempt, his lips curling at his feeling of superiority.
“Helen do acquaint yourself with Mr Edwards, the gentlemen to whom I referenced just now. He wishes to confer with you.”
A man glided out from within the confines of the shadows, his thumbs casually hooked in the pockets of his dark cutaway coat. He ambled towards me, an enchanting lopsided grin gracing his fiercely chiselled face. Dark brown eyes studied me from beneath thick, curling lashes. His face so perfect it seemed as that of an angel painted by an old master.
“Miss Darcy would you care to accompany me for a tranquil stroll? The clouds have parted and a splendid dappling of sunlight has graced this despondent corner of the world,” he asked, the words rolling from his tongue in an alluring baritone.
“Dear Sir, as charming as this offer may seem I would prefer to accompany you to the door and never set my eyes upon you again.” Regretfully so, I added silently.
“Oh hush now Helen, do not disgrace my name with your unruly words,” my father snapped. “He is a guest, and though he has no need to inform you of his plans, he insisted you be privy. You will listen to what he has to say.”
Mr Edwards thanked my father before sauntering past me,
“Consider my offer Miss Darcy, this day will lose its beauty if you are not there to share it.” He kissed my hand before once again disappearing into the shadows, a strong cologne lingering.
“I will not lose this business opportunity to your wicked tongue. Take that man up on his offer!”
“Oh father I shan’t come back to torment myself with the sight of your mendacious, blubbery self e’er again. I shall not remain placid as you tear down all I have fought for!”
Reader as you can envision I quit that house with a flourish worthy of that of an enraged lioness.
My irate departure and hasty march across the noisy cobblestone street, masked the sound of the man running down the tree-lined road.
“Miss Darcy, do wait,” he panted. “It isn’t safe for a lady to stroll the streets by herself.”
“Sir, you have the audacity to press on me your beliefs of masculine superiority? Do tell what there is to fear that you could so valiantly protect me from?
“Oh Helen dear, have you not heard of those vicious pirates that sail the streets in their fretful ghost ships, feeding on the fear of innocent women?”
“How appalling How is it I have never heard of this before?”
“Miss, I’m immune to this pretence of yours, I can see under the façade of strength and independence. You’re a lady and do not belong in the business world. So please refrain from interfering in something you could possibly even begin to comprehend.”
I glanced down at my hands, clenched into my skirt.
“Oh, I’m sure a brick building spewing filth into the air whilst women slave in horrible conditions is such a wonderful prospect that I, as a female, would not understand. Mr Edwards have you ever stopped to consider the sixty-seven children and twenty-three women who rely on my settlement house for food and running water. The same people who’ve run from belligerent, supercilious males now sit, entranced by letters and sums. All of which I provide by way of the settlement house. Yet you and Father want to eradicate it and build another brick hell!”
“You obviously have a strong emotional attachment to that horrid place.”
“It is my purpose in life! Whilst they may be getting food, water, jobs an education, I get the unparalleled pleasure gained from watching something you do so positively affect another.”
Mr Edwards slumped against the wall, digging his heel into the sodden ground. His dark hair slipped from its stylised perch, whispering against his furrowed brow.
“I had no idea Helen; your father only revealed that it was a filthy place for beggars.”
He brushed the hair from his forehead, his bejewelled fingers lingering above his downcast eyes; dark eyes laced with sincerity and anguish.
“Helen please, I thought that the factory would provide the poor with a means of income and a lifestyle, I had no idea that that was what you so generously provided; in a better environment may I add.”
“’Tis late for apologies and regrets Walter. If only you had used your intelligence and not listened to my pathetic father. It was pleasant conferring with you Walter, however I have a settlement house to run and you have lives to destroy. You will not get my school.”
Reader I lost the settlement house, now there stood Mr Edwards revelling in his victory, blocking my hurried escape. His hand rested on the mossy, ornate fence that slinked around the length of the astoundingly beautiful sandstone building.
“’Twas for the best Miss Darcy, surely you understand,” Mr Edwards assured. “Many more people will now be provided a work position. Is that not what you wanted?”
He took my hand, rubbing the palm with his smooth fingers.
“Leave me be Mr Edwards,” I spat, pulling my hand back, settling on my bicycle. “I must hurry along now; the Judge so kindly has provided me a week to bid farewell to the joy in my life; a week before those children are back on the streets with no food, no money and no defence against diseases.”
I felt his presence before he announced his arrival with a polite cough. The ceramic mug I was holding dropped from my slippery hands, plopping back into the bucket of suds. He stood in the doorway, his broad shoulders angled to fit.
“Helen please sit and relax, you work too hard. I have asked one of the maids to bring in tea to accompany an afternoon discussion to be had right now, no backing out.” He advanced into the room pulling out a chair for me before seating himself beside it.
“Mr Edwards have you not patronised me enough in the recent weeks,” I sighed, as I complied with the sincerity of his request.
“Oh Helen do stop being so formal, address me as Walter, like you used to, and I promise after this I shall ne’er again irritate one Miss Darcy.”
“Please get to the point Mr Edwards, I’m quite busy.”
His hands kneaded the hem of his woollen coat and he worried at his bottom lip. He jolted upright and strode to within a metre of where I sat.
“Miss Helen Darcy you have bewitched me. Since I first laid eyes on you I have been undeniably in awe by your beauty, and struck speechless by your cutting words. Such a smart and caring woman of the needy is a warming thing to see. Helen I am giving you the deeds of this site, as I know yours is the better purpose. I ask that as well as this you accept some of my funding, use it to hire some more teachers, reduce your workload. And finally I ask that it be renamed to the Edwards’ School of Thought for I hope to share my name with you. Will you, Helen Darcy, do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
I cocked my head and studied his devastatingly handsome face, his outstretched hands and most charming smile. I took his hand and smiled back.
Reader, I did not marry him.