My Victorian historical saga is available on pre-order at 99 cents for a very limited time. I can claim expert knowledge of the background to this book, as I used to work in a museum based on the history of a local woollen mill. We actually had one of the machines still up and running! I did some research into workhouses too, and came up with this authentic tale, following young Bella Hart’s unfortunate upbringing, the love this lonely outcast finds in a busy factory town, and the tremendous obstacles of class distinction and behaviour with which she’s faced. There’s some heart-stopping drama, and some plot twists I can guarantee you never saw coming! The book’s up on Amazon now, so grab your discounted copy today and prepare for an absorbing read! http://mybook.to/workhouse
Bella Hart fumed and fretted in the Punishment Cupboard. She was tempted to ram her fist against the door, but what she’d rather be doing was ramming it in Marie Froggatt’s face. It was all her fault, with her spiteful insults which had goaded Bella into giving her a slap. It had only been a little one, but Marie had flown wild, and Bella’s back still ached from the blows rained down upon it. But when she got out of here, the other girl would pay for it—oh yes, she would!
Time passed, and gradually, the regular noises of the workhouse died away. Bella knew it must be bedtime. But there was nowhere to rest her head. The only thing in the cupboard with her was the noisome pot in the corner in which to relieve herself. She’d have to grope around when she needed it—the cupboard was dark as pitch. Had the people who built this place, with all their good intentions, made this stupid cupboard for a purpose? There had never been anything in it but the chamber pot, the now invisible curls of dust and the smell of mouldering wood. Perhaps it was always intended for a prison, a place to punish small girls like Bella who couldn’t keep their tempers.
She wasn’t even sure what all the insults had meant. But the tone had been enough to infuriate her. She’d lashed out, and the fight had begun. Some adult women had come, and finally, the Matron arrived to find the girls separated and hanging—faces flushed with tears—in the arms of their captors. Marie’s quick tongue had got her out of trouble, so she’d be all comfortable in her bed now. But Bella would get her revenge—that bed would never be safe again for Marie Froggatt.
“Bella? Are you asleep?”
Miss Ainsty! What was she doing here? She should have been home long ago. Lessons had ceased many hours since, and the teacher was usually doing her sewing at this time—before the daylight died and the gas flared too dimly.
“No, Miss.” Her voice sounded small, sullen.
“Ah, Bella.” Miss Ainsty’s sigh whispered through the chink in the door. “Child, when will you ever learn to mind your temper?”
“But it’s not fair, Miss. She started it by calling names.”
“Did that make it right to hit her?”
“It was only a little slap.”
“After all I’ve told you, Bella. You’re a great disappointment to me.” Miss Ainsty’s voice was soft, for the child was one of her favourites.
“Can you let me out?” pleaded Bella.
“I haven’t the key. Matron’s got it. You’ll not be out before breakfast, I’m afraid. Have you had any supper?”
“No. Not allowed.”
“Why do you do this? You’re your own worst enemy.”
Bella digested this information and found she disagreed. “If I hadn’t hit her, she’d have done it again. Anyway, what she said about me was a lie. And that’s a sin, to lie, Miss, isn’t it?”
The gentle sigh came again. “Dear Lord! I don’t know why I waste my time with you. You’re a bright girl, very bright. You could make something of yourself—yes, even in a place like this. How many times have I told you how to behave properly, how to rise above these people?”
Bella wondered if she was supposed to count and give an answer. But before she could speak, something rustled in a corner and she squealed. “Rats! Oh, Miss, rats! I hate rats!”
Rustling and thumping came from behind the door, followed by Bella’s whimper. “Oh Miss, can’t you get me out of here?”
Miss Ainsty smiled ruefully. Where was all that bravado now? The belligerent child was now a little girl again, sniffling and squirming in her prison.
“Please Miss… rats!” as if it was the worst thing in the world. She should be used to rats by now—there were plenty in the workhouse yards. But everyone had their Achilles Heel.
The girl in the cupboard was sobbing now. “Please get me out of here, Miss Ainsty. I don’t like it when there’s rats.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
The teacher stood up and dusted down her skirts, picturing in her mind the terrifying mountain of a woman she would have to confront. She was no coward, but the Matron was enough to quell even the stoutest heart.
Cowering in a corner, the girl heard the light footsteps fade away. If she kept very still and quiet, perhaps the rat would not run over her foot. But she didn’t know if she had the courage to do it.
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