Originally created for the Quibblo Story Contest. Finished!
Elise Parrish - Elsie for short - is just another 19th century lass. She's starved nor well-fed, very poor nor rich: in short, her existence has been boring and bleak. Out of the blue, however, her petty life is turned upside-down in ways she had previously thought impossible.
Unfortunately, only fairy tales have happy endings... and Elsie Parrish, The Average 19th Century Lass, is by no way in one.
Chapter One: Elsie's Envy
Elsie blushed and held on to her basket tightly, trying not to let her gaze drift to the large shop windows, behind which the big-eared, lanky boy was currently helping out two dames, who sniggered behind their hands every time he turned to reach for another flask. â€œI need to go, Minnie,â€ she urged softly. â€œPapa will be upset with me.â€
â€œJust one more minute!â€
â€œOne,â€ Elsie allowed grudgingly. The fact that she was not alone in her affections regarding the perfume boy displeased her. But it was not fair of her to say that the boy was hers, for Minnie had been the one to show Elsie who he was, just a couple of weeks back. At first it had been just a little fun, something to laugh about together â€“ but then Minnie had started defending the boy whenever Elsie pointed out the size of his ears and, on occasion, spoke dreamily of the possibility of them being together. Until Elsie began feeling pangs of envy, she hadnâ€™t realized that she, too, had grown fond of the boy. That, in fact, she was often angry with Minnie for getting that hazy look in her eyes, a look which meant she was thinking of him; of August, as Mr. Giovanni â€“ the shopkeeper â€“ called him.
â€œSomeday, Iâ€™ll talk to him,â€ said Minnie, a faint smile dawning on her gaunt face. â€œHeâ€™ll like me, donâ€™t you think, Elsie?â€
â€œHeâ€™ll never settle for anything less than a dame,â€ bit Elsie before she could help herself, feeling a cold sensation spread through her body. â€œJust look at him, all fancy with the ladies! Think about it, Minnie â€“ heâ€™ll never even throw so much as a glance at us!â€ It was silent for a moment, and realizing her mistake, Elsie hastily added, â€œAt you...â€
Alas; it was too late. Minnie looked up sharply, her nostrils flaring. â€œUs?â€ she repeated softly. â€œUs?â€
â€œI meant you,â€ Elsie mumbled, heat flooding to her face. â€œI didnâ€™t...â€
â€œOh, Elsie, I know just what you meant.â€ Minnie pushed away from the window and wrapped her arms around herself, watching a carriage nearby. Her shoulders were pulled back stiffly. â€œItâ€™s not fair of you. You were someone I could confide in.â€ Her voice rose until it became shrill, and Elsie stepped away as Minnieâ€™s fury was unleashed upon her. â€œI saw him first, Elsie. I did! And there you go, stealing the one thing I have!â€
â€œIâ€™m not stealing anyone!â€ cried Elsie. â€œAugustâ€™s not mine and he is most certainly not yours! He cannot be claimed like a plaything! For goodnessâ€™ sake, be reasonable!â€
Minnie burst into tears and stamped her foot childishly, uncaring of the disapproving glances that were thrown at her. She was still shouting at Elsie when the latter began to walk away, the very tips of her ears burning with shame and her eyes stinging with withheld tears that her friend had caused to be born. Her stride was brisk, and she clutched the basket tightly to her body, trying to pretend that it wasnâ€™t Minnie who was insulting her with such humiliating terms. Her breath was shallow and there was a knotted feeling in her chest, one that only increased with every step she took away from the shop. And although people were already throwing her odd looks for walking so quickly, her pace still wasnâ€™t swift enough to escape from Minnieâ€™s burning gaze.
Elsie broke into a run, indifferent to the realization that the filth on the street was turning the bottom of her plain dress into an unsightly shade of brown. She shouldered past people as the streets became busier, ignoring irritated cries and accusations. Her basket was tugged at by little boys and old women alike, while others grasped the hem of her sleeve in an attempt to stop her. Elsie elbowed those people discourteously in the stomach, trying to make her large feet move more quickly so that she could soon be in the safe presence of her father and brother.
â€œElsie!â€ cried a surprised, familiar voice. A large hand folded around her arm, and she whirled around to face John. The latter gave her a bewildered and somewhat censorious look. â€œWhat are you running around for?â€
She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. â€œFatherâ€™s lunch...â€ She ran her tongue through her mouth, tasting the words before uttering them. â€œItâ€™s late.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure heâ€™d rather have his lunch late than be told his daughter was behaving inappropriately in public,â€ said John, putting a hand on her shoulder. â€œCome on, now â€“ put a smile on that pale little face.â€
Elsie obliged, but kept her eyes downcast as he steered her through the crowd, his hand still firm on her shoulder. Her white cap had loosened during her flight, and she could feel it shift on top of her flaccid hair. A gust of wind, she was certain, would be able to take it up into the air within a second. Troubled by this thought, she looked up and reached to readjust it. Her hands were just fumbling with the chord when she saw the boy (no matter how often Minnie mentioned he was called August, he was, and always would be, the boy to her). He was standing in front of a stall selling watches, looking with longing at the golden chains (which were, of course, not made out of real gold) and the round, delicate clocks attached to them. Currently, he was running his hands over a faux silver sample, his lips curled upwards once again.
Feeling herself heat up, Elsie hooked her arm through Johnâ€™s and dragged him the opposite way, mouthing a silent prayer. It was not possible for August to have arrived at the market in less time than her? Surely his shift had not been over; it was only just a quarter past three, after all.
â€œElsie, where are you going?â€ her brother asked, coming to an abrupt halt. â€œFatherâ€™s stall is the other way!â€
â€œThe boy was there,â€ she admitted, casting her eyes towards the ground again. â€œThe one from the perfumery.â€
John, who was the only one (apart from Minnie) aware of her affections, looked miffed. He bent over and said quietly to her, â€œI told you to ignore that boy. You set your standards too high, Elsie.â€
She licked her lips and kept her eyes on the ground, studying the hay, rotten fruit and animal droppings strewn there. The disgusting stench rose around them like a thick cloud, and eventually, John pulled a face and started walking again. To fill the thick, uncomfortable silence between them â€“ although one could argue that it was already filled by the loud noises of the market square â€“ he began to chatter in a teasing tone of voice. â€œSpeaking of boys, Elsie... do you wish to know what I heard?â€
Elsie didnâ€™t reply, and John continued. â€œ I heard Isaiah Bell wants to buy you a Christmas present.â€
At this news, Elsie glanced up and gave her brother an incredulous look. â€œDonâ€™t be ridiculous.â€
John pursed his lips together, suppressing a smile. â€œItâ€™s what I heard from Jasper.â€
â€œYou and Jasper gossip like two girls,â€ said Elsie, unable to keep a giggle from brimming over her lips. â€œIsaiah is fond of Molly Brown.â€
â€œAh,â€ said John. â€œAnd where did you hear that?â€
â€œItâ€™s a rumour,â€ she admitted, nudging John as he began to grin triumphantly. â€œNot a word, John,â€ she warned. â€œNot so much as a single remark.â€
â€œMy lips are sealed... on one condition, sister,â€ he promised.
â€œAnd what would that be?â€ asked Elsie lightly.
â€œTell me this: That boy youâ€™re so fond of, would he ever be willing to court you?â€
Elsie looked at her brotherâ€™s pockmarked face, a wave of grief crashing down on her. Her lips tugged and she breathed in and out slowly, trying to ascertain that her voice would be steady when she spoke. â€œI donâ€™t know, John,â€ she finally said, an aching beginning in her chest. â€œI truly donâ€™t.â€