© Anna Hunt
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One Stolen Kiss
(This is intended to be an introduction to the early days of two main characters in my published book "One Dark Night". It's set in 1815 in the county of Kent, England, during times of hardship for most people.)
I remember the day I first saw her. I watched her walk. It was the way she moved that pinned my eyes to her: it was lyrical. Would that be the word? Yes, lyrical. It told me so much about her. She moved with such grace; tall, willowy – where did she come from?
That was a while ago and it was time I found out more so I followed her. She floated towards the other end of the bay, the wind at her back urging her gently along. The rhythm of her walk never changed; it was mesmerizing. Then suddenly she slipped out of view, over the edge of the cliff. I stared in disbelief then ran fifty yards before it struck me: she’d disappeared onto the ledge. My ledge. Perfectly positioned to observe the comings and goings of the Revenue Men at Watch House. Useless lot they were. For a few guineas all the men charged with keeping watch for smugglers would obligingly visit the nearby town for the night.
I’d caught my breath, I could now silently slide onto the ledge and surprise her. But she looked up. It was the first time I’d seen her face closely. She gave me a glimmer of a smile. Not welcoming, nor was she afraid. I make sure no girl is afraid of me, it’s not in my best interest. A somewhat bigger smile flashed across my own face. She turned away.
She didn’t reply. I liked that. Most girls, flattered, began to flirt. And so I sat there, claiming my territory, watching the sea and planning the next landing. She was, after all, no more than about thirteen and now at seventeen, I didn’t need to try.
The next time I saw her was a month or so later. Same place and more or less the same time – early evening. The nights were drawing in and she had an old, black shawl around her shoulders. She’d tucked her legs up and her ankles showed. Slender, with a promise of fine, long legs attached. She surely heard me leap onto the ledge but she did not even look this time so there was no suggestion of a smile. Not an ounce of encouragement. Probably very wise.
“Hello.” She ignored me. I sighed loudly, stood up and sauntered around to her other side. She needed to know she was only here by my kind permission. I smiled. I don’t think there was man or boy who’d dare to snub me in the whole county, nor woman, yet here she was... I sat down next to her. “Hello.”
She lowered her eyes, pulled her shawl up to her face and I swear she tried to hide. I pursed my lips. What a fool, I was. Her face was covered with bruises. Not one, but two or three at least. I reasoned that they had not been caused by a fall because they were all in various stages of healing.
“Who did this to you?” She didn’t answer. There was no sign of her crying, just a dignified silence. And then she spoke and I’ll never forget that moment. Her voice was soft and slightly husky.
“I need to find work.”
Success! I chided myself for my lack of empathy. “What sort of work?” Her refined tone had shocked me; I had never heard such a cultured voice, except once when I had sneaked into some sort of gathering in Merrygate. Those elegant ladies swooning over the actors at the theatre had never left my mind. She hadn’t replied. “You’re Lucy Yorton, aren’t you?” She raised her head a little and replied to my first question.
“Pirate?” She blinked several times. “Prime Minister?”
“Please don’t jest. I must find work tomorrow or I shall have nowhere to live.”
It was at this point that I remembered I’d promised to meet a girl. She could wait. “Have you worked before?”
“What did you do?” I didn’t want to suggest something unsuitable for her.
“I worked on a farm near Brookington.”
A farm – good. “Did he do that to you?” I indicated her bruises.
I’d heard her mother shouting at her a couple of times when I was passing. “Your mother?”
She pulled some blond curls out from her white cap and across her face.
“Why aren’t you working at the farm now? Wood’s Farm? He’s not a bad man, is he?” As I questioned her, I began to realize why a girl like Miss Lucy Yorton would not want to be working there. She confirmed it by pulling her shawl tight across her tiny bosom and tucking her ankles under her too-short frock. I’d not put her through any more humiliating moments. “There’s a job for you at our farm. Go and see my ma tomorrow and tell her I sent you.”
“Won’t you be there?”
Oh that voice, so appealing. “Not first thing, no.”
She smiled. I had to leave her, taking the smile with me, and my smile grew as I realized she knew where to go.
I spent the rest of the cool evening with my current girl. Ma wasn’t keen, especially as I’d have a long night ahead.
By midnight, the Revenue men had been paid and were out of our way. The sliver of moon gave no light and nigh on twenty-five men stood ready on the sandy shore. Pa had, once again, drunk too much brandy and slurred his orders. Not that it mattered much as we didn’t need any: we had a slick procedure, practised over many years. We hardly needed to wait for a dark night, we could have done it all in daylight. Then I saw him: farmer Wood. Short, hairy and dressed like a scarecrow. Now what’ll it be? A swift kick in the groin or something slower? The crabs, maybe the crabs. I’ll stake him out naked on the rocks, cover him all over with seaweed and let the crabs graze, nicking him as they did so; he’d welcome the incoming tide.
A pinpoint light flashed from a quarter mile out to sea. I seized my lamp and signalled the luggers to come closer, guiding them past the rocks. I issued the order to stand ready and sent Wood into the sea, waist high, with a grapnel hook to haul the barrels in. Torches were lit to guide the donkeys down to the water’s edge. Tubmen, with small barrels strapped to their front and back, slowly made their way to the cliff’s edge and up to the pathway cut out by the stream.
The delivery of a hundred gallons of brandy, another hundred of gin, and salt, tea and bolts of cloth took no longer than a couple of hours and all of it made its way to Jerusalem Farm, where me and pa would first apportion some to the men, then send most on to London.
I turned to signal the safe arrival of the goods and caught hold of Wood wading out of the sea.
“Job done,” he called with a satisfied grin.
I imagined that grin on his face when he approached Lucy and I hit him. My fist to his chin. “Don’t ever go near Lucy Yorton again.” For good measure, I hit him again and he fell back into the sea. I turned, glanced over my shoulder to ensure he’d get up again, and left him spluttering. I had to remember he was a member of our North Kent Gang and we’d need him another day.
The following morning, I watched her as she walked up the path to our farmhouse. I definitely needed to keep an eye on her. Both eyes. She wore a maid’s white cap – it wouldn’t be white for long – and the same old frock and black shawl. She was coming around to the back door so I left by the front.
Within five minutes I was at the rear of her mother’s cottage and a quick glance over the wall into the yard showed exactly what I wanted to see: a line of washing. I chose which pieces I wanted then strolled around to the front door where I silently placed a single white rose, thumped on the door then disappeared to the back again. I leapt over the wall, removed my chosen pieces and went to the other end of the terraced cottages to my loyal, old friend, Bodger. He wasn’t there. I needed something to carry my stolen goods in so I looked around, found a piece of an old curtain he was using as a blanket on his bed and wrapped the wet clothes in it. I left him a few copper coins, enough to buy him food for the rest of the week and peered out of the window to watch Lucy’s ma holding the white rose with a mystified look on her face. When she smiled and turned to go inside, I imagined her expression turning to rage when she next went into the back yard.
On arriving at the market, I went to Tucker’s stall. He and his woman would likely help me out.
“Mornin’ Tucker. Sleep well, did you?”
He grinned. “Very well, thank you, Dan. Another successful run. I’ll be round tonight, like you said, to collect my share.”
The look on his wife’s face told of her gratitude. “Is there something we can do for you?”
“Aye, there is.” I unwrapped my bundle of wet clothes. “You’ll need to dispose of these somewhere other than round here.”
She held up the three dresses and the lace shawl. “That haughty old cow Yorton’s?”
I grinned. “Fine quality, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
She chuckled and said, “What’s she done to anger you?”
“Have you seen her daughter’s face?”
She took a step back. “No, but I know what happens. She turns up at the farm like that. You’re right, it’s her mother what does it to her.”
I didn’t want to know any more so I added quickly, “Make sure everyone knows not to touch her – Lucy, I mean. Her life’s becoming a misery.”
“Farmer Wood needs to know...”
“He was the first to know. She’ll be working at my farm from now on.” They both looked alarmed.
“You sure she ain’t a spy for the Revenue?”
The image of the white rose flashed through my mind. She was innocent. “I’m sure. Her life consists of supporting that blood-sucking mother of hers and not much else.” I could see they were still suspicious. “I’ll keep an eye on her.” I knew I probably couldn’t but I’d very much like to. I needed to get to business. “A guinea – that’s all I want.”
Her hand went out to seize the clothes and Tucker put his hand in his pocket and produced a gold guinea.
With that guinea, I bought a knitted blanket, not new but in good condition and in addition to the old curtain, which I returned, Bodger would be a bit warmer when the winter came.
Back home, I packed my bag, strapped it to our donkey, and said my goodbye to Ma in the kitchen.
“I’m only ten minutes away if you need me,” I nodded towards our farm fields. I could take my Pa on nowadays if he continued to knock Ma about. “You just let me know. And if he so much as goes near Lucy, tell him he’ll pay for it twice over.” I took a deep breath. “And anyone else who gets too close, so you might as well warn ’em.”
Ma pursed her lips but agreed. “Your aunt and uncle will be glad of you, but I’ll miss you and that there Lucy will not make up for all you do.”
“I’ll see you don’t lose out. There’ll be enough crops to send you some and you won’t even have to pick anything!” I looked around and smiled at his anxious mother. “She’s nothing to me, Ma. Too young. But I don’t like to see innocence spoiled.”
“Aye, you’re right.” She nodded and her pride in her son shone on her face.
“Where is she?”
“In the barn, mucking out.”
Oh nice... “I’ll go and give her a few words of advice. And Ma...” I gave her a stern look, “I’m going to send her off to the market now to get some decent clothes. Don’t stop her.”
From the barn door I could see her bending over, picking up things from the floor and stacking them on the shelves. I couldn’t resist this opportunity; I’d have to wait a long time for another. She was singing. I recognized the tune; it was a hymn often sung in church and while she concentrated, I crept up, wrapped my arms around her waist, spun her around and kissed her, firmly but gently, before she had a chance to object. Something inside me leapt; was it my heart? I could hear myself breathing. What had I done! “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. It’s a goodbye kiss. You won’t see me around much – if at all. I’m not far away though, so if you have any problems from any of the men, I’ll be at Jerusalem Farm. Don’t let them near you. Understand?” She smiled. I was forgiven. I took hold of her hand, turned the palm up, put a half-guinea in it and told her to leave now and buy some clothes from the market and take them home. “I don’t want your mother getting her hands on this. Understand?”
She looked a little wary. “Tell her we made you or you can’t have the work.”
I rode away on Nellie who, through lack of my concentration, came to a halt at the gatehouse. I looked over my shoulder and saw her in the doorway holding a pitchfork. She waved and my smile was as big as the barn and hers like warm sunshine.
I dug my heels into Nellie, turned her, and closed my eyes as I made up my mind she would one day be mine.
(This is intended to be an introduction to the early days of two main characters in my published book "One Dark Night". It's set in 1815 in the county of Kent, England, during times of hardship for most people. It is for a book of SHORT stories.)