Winter's Breath

Winter's Breath

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 3

Chapter Two: The Concerns of Women

Elsie looked out of the small window, leaning close to it despite the cold that radiated from it; the thin glass offered not much of a defence against the terrible chill outside. The only thing that illuminated the damp, stuffy room was the dim light of the candles and moon..

“Elsie,” said Florence Parrish gently, tugging at her older sister’s arm. “It’s not good to stand so close to the windows at night, you know that. You’ll catch a fever!”

“I’ll be fine,” said Elsie distantly, her eyes fixed on what little was visible of the sky above. “You just go help Mama with her sewing. I’ll be there with you in a minute.”

“If you say so,” muttered Florence, glancing a last time at Elsie and sitting down obediently at her table, where she picked up one of her father’s shirts and began to sew, a concentrated look forming in her dark eyes. Forty year old Emma did not so much as glance up. As an experienced mother, she knew Elsie was better left alone to her thoughts, and so, instead of adding a remark to the conversation, she picked at the shirt of her youngest son – mischievous little Arthur, born into the world five years earlier – who had managed to create a hole the size of a fist in his Sunday blouse. Her hands were swift and graceful, barely seen moving as they darted the needle in and out of the white shirt. After a couple of minutes, when Elsie still had not joined them at the table, she let out a sigh and looked up.

“Come on, now, Elsie,” she said patiently. “It’s not well to dwell near the windows. Especially not tonight: there’s a cold draft.”

“I told you so,” said Florence under her breath, fumbling clumsily with the needle. She dared not toss a glance at her mother, of whom she knew must be gazing disapprovingly at her.

Elsie turned and walked away from the window submissively, hands twisted together. Sitting down on one of the uncomfortable chairs, she let out a tired huff and slumped. “Do we really need to sew?” she complained.

“One day,” Emma told her sternly, “even you will have a family to take care of.” She raised the blouse and pointed at the gap in it. “How do you plan on mending your husband’s shirts?” Seeing the hazy look on her daughter’s face, she added, “Sewing is not merely useful, Elise – it’s a respectable hobby, befitting of a proper lady. Men do not court women who can do no good in the household, unless they are prosperous enough to own a servant girl.”

Florence sniggered. “Elise is already wanting to court someone.”

“Florence!” Elsie hissed.

“What?” the girl asked, smirking cheekily at her sister. “Everyone sees it by the look on your face, ‘s about time someone says it.”

“That’s quite enough, both of you.” said Emma, sending them a chastising look. “Sit up straight and do your work.”

The youngest girl groaned, straightening her spine. “When will Papa be back?”

Emma’s lips twitched bitterly and her blue eyes hardened. “Your father made quite some money on the market today. It’s up to him to decide how long he will be celebrating in the pub, Florence.”

“It’s not fair,” she complained. “Why do we never get to go to the pub?”

“Because,” said Elsie smartly, “it’s not what proper ladies do.”

The mother glanced at her eldest daughter, lifting her eyebrows in mock surprise. “My my, Elise; you’ve been listening.”

“I do hear what you say, Mother,” she replied sharply, biting her tongue to refrain from adding, “But it doesn’t mean I agree with your rules.” Elsie was feeling a tad defiant these past couple of hours. After getting reprimanded by first John, then her father and lastly her mother, it was not a great accomplishment to provoke her. Her fight with Minnie and the realization that visiting the perfumery would be difficult from now on did not, as could be expected, help clear her mood. It was as if there was a dark, swollen cloud hanging over her head, pregnant with rain. Elsie wondered what she could have possibly done so wrong in God’s eyes. Had it been her selfishness? Her spite? Her lust? Any of those three would have sufficed to call upon His wrath, surely. When she had committed the sins, she had not thought that the sacrifice would be so great.

Sunken deep into her thoughts, Elsie grabbed hold of a pair of shabby trousers and inserted the needle, nearly pricking her thumb. “Mother,” she said absentmindedly, “when did you and Father start courting?”

Emma continued sewing. “You know the story. Why ask?”

“I just wondered what it was you got each other during celebrations,” Elsie admitted.

“I don’t believe that’s of relevance to you.” Emma laid down the blouse, stroking the stitches she’d made. “Nor,” she added, “is the current war between the French and the Prussians, if that was the next subject you were going to mention.”

Elsie closed her mouth, a moody expression flitting across her face. “I believe it is important to talk about public matters.”

“War is not the business of women, unless it concerns their men,” replied Emma.

In response, the young maiden scoffed. “War concerns everyone! Men, women, children – it affects us all sooner or later. You believe in educating us to the best of your ability, Mother... so why not discuss such things more often?”

“Elise,” snapped her mother, her voice filled with righteous indignity, “do not dare question my authority.”

At once, the girl bowed her head. There was something demanding in a parent’s tone that one could never ignore, much as you longed to. It was why, even now, Elsie pinned her lips together and sowed, wishing silently upon a star that one day, everything would be different. But wishing on a star, as the poor knew, did not get you far. If you wished to have something, you had to earn it; work for it. One had to appeal to God and please Him by giving Him all they had. And maybe then, Elsie mused, things would take a turn for the better. Maybe then, she and August could court each other. Maybe then, she would be able to afford a servant to do this sort of work for her.

One day, surely.

*

I want to thank everyone for their support! You readers have been amazing. Your comments, votes and reads are really keeping me going! To those of you who haven't voted yet, I'd like to ask you to do so now - normally I would not be so demanding, but this is for the Quibblo contest. Again, thanks so much!

Love, Linde

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