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The Dressmaker’s Daughter

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘Before, else I wouldn’t have took them, would I? I did offer them back.’

‘What did you fall out about?’ She’d been dying to ask.

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’

‘Oh, go on.’ Her eyes flashed with anticipation. ‘Tell me.’

He emptied his glass and threw the end of his cigarette into the fire. ‘It was over you.’

‘Me?’

‘She kept on as I fancied you and accused me of seeing you on our nights off. We had a blazing row and in the finish I said I might as well play the part I’d been cast in.’ He smiled at her expectantly. ‘I’ll get another drink, like Joe said. Shall I get you one, Lizzie?’

‘Please. I’ll come with you, if you like.’

To get out of the smoke-filled room through the middle door into the scullery they had to push past Tom Dando, laughing at Beccy Crump’s irreverent cursing. Eve was in the scullery sitting at the table, as if guarding the beer, still wearing her white apron over her best black frock. She was talking to Sarah, with Sylvia and Jesse standing by.

‘’Scuse me,’ Ben said, sidling into position past him to get to the beer barrel.

‘Oh, Lizzie, I forgot to mention … our Stanley’s coming home in May or June,’ Sylvia said casually, looking Ben up and down with evident approval.

Lizzie considered that Sylvia’s comment was unnecessarily mischievous in the circumstances and she felt her colour rise. ‘Well, give him my best wishes, ’cause I don’t suppose I’ll see him. I think he was avoiding me before he went away.’

‘Oh, I don’t think so, Lizzie. He’s got no reason to avoid you. You two were always the best of friends.’

Lizzie was aware of Jesse’s eyes burning into her, which was unsettling. She passed her glass to Ben and he filled it from the large stone bottle of lemonade, and handed it back. ‘Thanks, Ben,’ she said with a smile, then sipped her drink.

Sylvia said, ‘Joe and May must be doing well to get the house in such fine order … And to have so many lovely things about them. Especially the new piano … And they’ve only been married a year, Jesse.’

‘I know,’ Jesse replied with indifference.

Lizzie was certain that the next thing to come from Sylvia’s lips would be her own expectations of life when she married. In anticipation, Lizzie glanced at Jesse and reckoned he was thinking the same.

‘With the pair of ’em workin’ they can do it,’ Aunt Sarah chimed. ‘There’s no reason why you and Jesse shouldn’t do the same when you’m wed.’

‘I’ll wait till I’m asked, Mother,’ Sylvia replied stiffly. ‘And perhaps you shouldn’t presume anything till I have been.’ She flashed a withering look at Jesse.

Jesse coughed, shuffled his feet and ran his hand across his moustache with unease. He avoided Sylvia’s glance, swigging the last drops of beer from his glass. Lizzie sensed the tension between them. This was obviously a sticking point; a matter of contention they’d touched on before, but not yet resolved.

Lizzie had no desire to witness an open argument on the subject when she already knew Jesse’s feelings. Maybe it was time she made herself scarce. The last thing she wanted was to have to take sides. ‘It’s so smoky in here,’ she exclaimed. ‘I think I’ll go outside for some fresh air.’

Ben put his glass of beer on the table, glad of the opportunity to accompany her.

But Jesse sensed his intention. ‘Here, Ben. Fill this glass for me, will you. You’re nearer the barrel than I am.’

Obligingly, Ben took the glass and began to fill it.

It bothered Jesse to witness what he believed was Lizzie’s attempt to entice Ben outside. But his own hands were tied. He could do nothing with Sylvia at his side. He could do nothing without revealing his true desires and, in any case, he had more respect for Sylvia’s feelings than to do so openly. But since there was this unexpected competition he ought to do something to combat Ben’s apparent claim and stake his own at last, because he’d been unable to erase this slip of a girl from his thoughts. It was time to tell her how he felt. Perhaps it was even too late.

‘I could do with using the privy,’ Jesse remarked, in an attempt to slip his leash, and moved to follow Lizzie.

‘It’s the top of the yard, Jesse,’ May said. ‘Past Jack Hardwick’s pig-sty. Take an oil-lamp with you.’

‘It’s all right, May, I’ll find my way.’ He barged past Sylvia, opened the door and went out.

‘Well mind you don’t mistake the pig sty for it and piddle on the pigs. It’ll chap their skins vile this weather.’

He closed the door behind him. He had beaten Ben outside, but he could hear the others chuckling at May’s remark. Why did she have to say anything at all? It only drew attention to him. Now he felt even more conspicuous having left at such a sensitive moment. He hoped his real intentions did not look obvious. But he’d acted on a split second impulse, less inhibited because of the alcohol, driven by this urgent need to tell Lizzie how he felt before his rival established himself; and to hell now with the consequences.

The moon was surrounded by a broad, silver halo of air frost. It shone over the back of the brewhouse, lighting the yard up more brightly than any oil-lamp could. The frost on the roofs of Grove Street beyond reflected it back through a million tiny, shimmering crystals. There was no sign of Lizzie, so he stepped down the entry and into the street. He scanned left and right and saw her slender figure silhouetted against the gas lamp opposite the brass foundry, her hands behind her back, her head down. When she heard his footsteps she turned towards him, smiling radiantly, believing it to be Ben.

‘Lizzie. I’ve got to talk to you.’

‘Jesse!’

From The Sailor’s Return they could already hear singing. They watched a middle-aged man, walking from the opposite direction, open the door to the pub and enter. Jesse turned and looked over his shoulder to ensure neither Sylvia nor Ben had followed.

‘Look, Lizzie, I’ve got to talk to you.’

‘To me? What about?’

‘About Sylvia. I’m not in love with her.’

‘You as good as said so before. Ages ago.’ She turned to see if Ben was seeking her yet.

‘I know I did. Trouble is, I believe she thinks a lot of me.’

‘She does. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’ll ever find anybody better.’

‘Well that depends, Lizzie. One person’s idea of perfection ain’t necessarily another’s … Here, let’s move away from the lamp. I feel as if the world’s watching.’

They moved a few yards further on to where the terrace was staggered and the recess would conceal them from view. But Lizzie was reluctant in case Ben couldn’t find her. She shivered. The bitterly cold night air seemed to penetrate through to her bones, and the gold studs in her ears were so cold that they made her lobes hurt. She wished she’d thought to put on her coat. At least she would be able to turn the collar up.

‘Well, it isn’t really fair to let her keep thinking I’m in love with her, is it?’

‘I agree. Doesn’t she know yet how you really feel?’

‘Well, yes and no, Lizzie. We’ve talked about marriage, and I’ve told her I’m not ready for it yet. But I did tell her once as I loved her, that’s the trouble. That was in the beginning, and to tell the truth I believed it myself at the time. Not now, though. It was a mistake to say it and I admit it. But how could I tell her after that it was a lie?’

‘But she’ll have to know sooner or later,’ Lizzie said and shivered.

‘I know that, Lizzie … Sooner, I reckon … You see, there’s somebody else.’

‘Oh, Jesse. You mean you’re going with somebody besides Sylvia?’

‘No, no. I mean there’s somebody else I want. Somebody else I’m in love with. I’m not seeing her … yet.’

‘Oh. So are you giving Sylvia up then, for this other girl?’

‘Well that’s my intention. If it all works out.’

‘It’ll break her heart, you know, Jesse.’

Lizzie was surprised at the ease with which she was talking with him. Throughout her life till this minute she’d never spoken more than a dozen words at a time to him. The obvious differences in age and gender, and their mothers’ senseless feud, had always conspired to create this unfortunate forbiddance, in her mind at any rate. But already she was engrossed in his personal life, pleased that he should consider her worldly enough to confess to. Whatever advice he asked for she would give it, impartially, and gladly. He was out of her own emotional reach now, anyway.

The sound of Joe now playing his new piano drifted out, and the accompanying singing drowned the revelry from The Sailor’s Return. Lizzie’s teeth began to chatter.

Jesse sighed with desperation. ‘Lizzie, I can’t go on as I have been – denying myself to spare Sylvia’s feelings. I swear, you’ll never believe just how hard it’s been. I’ve got this … this longing for this girl and it’s driving me mad.’

Lizzie thought how sad and intense his face looked in the half-light. She saw his eyes fill up, and his sincerity moved her. She began to understand the agony he was going through. ‘Does she know, Jesse?’ she asked intently. ‘Does this other girl know you feel like this?’

He shook his head. ‘I’ve never had the courage to tell her. I’ve always been afeared she’d turn me down.’

‘Then it’s time you said something. If you don’t, how will you ever know whether you’ve got a chance? … So who is she? If you want to tell me, that is.’

He bent down and picked up a stone, then immediately tossed it back into the horse road as he fought with his indecision. He had to tell Lizzie; he had to confess his love; and it had to be now, or the moment would be lost forever.

‘It’s you, Lizzie,’ he said, turning to look into her eyes for her reaction. ‘It’s you. Nobody else. You’re the one I want.’
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