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Friday, 24 February 2012

Read My Novel, Free: Chapter 7

Breaking Faith is a paperback and an ebook. I'm posting individual chapters here, each week, so that those who wish can read the book in full and free of charge.

Chapter 1 appeared on 13 January and following chapters appear each Friday. You can find them via the archive.

Read, enjoy, invite your friends.

Chapter 7

Friday 19th March

‘You’re a fool, girl. Always have been, always will be. I’ve a mind to scourge that sin from you again. What do you suppose we’ll live on? Fresh air and your idiot pride?’
Father had been angry since I had been out of work but what had caused this particular outburst I did not know. He had made the beating as humiliating as it was painful. The pride I had gained from Leigh was gone. My back, bottom and thighs were still striped.
Hope, at least, was better for my constant attention and I was pleased the redness and discharge had gone during the past few days. I assumed Father did not clean her properly, but dare not tell him until he was in a better mood.
‘I’ll find another job, Father. But it won’t be easy with so many people out of work.’ 
‘Of course it won’t be easy, girl! You should’ve thought of that before you insulted the wretched sinner. I’ve told you before to keep your fool’s mouth shut. Who cares for the opinions of a stupid, ignorant maid like you? Nobody. Keep your words to yourself in future, or I’ll flog you till I spill your blood.’
‘Yes, Father.’
Hope tossed her cover off again and I put down my encyclopaedia to fix it.
‘Leave her be. It’s warm enough. She needs air to keep her skin healthy. Why must you always be covering her up?’
‘I just thought… well, she’ll be nineteen soon, Father. I mean, is it seemly for her to be…?
‘Seemly? Seemly? There’s only you and me here, girl. Hardly a public spectacle, is she? Leave her be and get me a cup of tea if you’ve nothing better to do. The Devil makes work for idle hands, you know. It’s a shame you don’t show such concern about me instead of insulting your bosses every few minutes.
‘You’ve managed to get yourself banned by the main employer in the neighbourhood because you imagined some sort of assault. As if a respectable man like Furnswurth’s going to do a thing like that. As if any man worth his salt is going to show a second’s interest in an ugly, stupid strip of a girl like you.
‘Now you’ve offended your new employer. What do you suppose people are going to say about you? I’ll tell you what, girl. They’ll say you’re unemployable. They already say you’re an idiot. I worked hard to get Furnswurth to take you on, and what do you do in return? Insult the man and accuse him of an act he’d never commit. I gave you the benefit of the doubt before, but I’m inclined to think you made it up, except you haven’t the wits. If I thought you had, I’d give you a thrashing you’d not forget in a hurry, I can tell you. Obviously, you just misunderstood the man. Now everyone’s got you marked down as argumentative and troublesome. How you’re going to get employment again, I don’t know. We’ll all starve. My word, but I’ve a good mind to whip your foolish hide off…’
‘I’ll make you a pot of tea, Father.’ I dashed into the kitchen and filled the kettle. With Father working himself up to a temper, being out of sight was the best way to avoid another belting on my already sore skin. It was one thing to accept the righteous punishment for my sins but I didn’t think I deserved another bout of penitence just yet.
From the window over the sink, I frowned as a car pull in at the foot of the track. Only Father’s friends from the chapel ever visited and they generally arranged in advance. In any case, none of them had a car like that. It looked just like Leigh’s. I gasped as Leigh opened the car door and stepped out.
Watching him approach up the rough track, I allowed the kettle to overflow and spill cold water down my front. That alerted me to my state and I put the kettle on the stove and lit the gas before leaving the kitchen.
Father looked up from his book and stared at the wet patch spreading down the front of my old white underskirt. ‘Where’re you going, girl?’
‘I’ve got to go and put…’
‘Make the tea. I’ll tell you when you can change.’
‘But, Father there’s a...’
‘I can see the wet patch. Leave it. If you’re cold and uncomfortable, all the better. You might be more careful next time.’ He licked his lips and swallowed as if his mouth was watering.
‘It’s not that. I must go and change before….’
‘Don’t argue with me, girl!’
His tone was dangerous and I had learned over the years not to push him, especially in this mood. ‘Sorry, Father. But I really think you …’
‘Think? I don’t care what you think!’ He pushed himself up out of his chair by the fire. ‘You don’t think. You’re a fool, girl, an imbecile and an ugly, useless selfish one, at that. If it wasn’t for my constant vigilance, you’d be a whore like your mother and the rest of your sex.’ His hands were at the buckle of his belt.
I was trapped. Leigh was almost at the door and I was in a skimpy black bra, more lace than fabric, and a short white underskirt made transparent by water; my alternative housework clothes. I dare not argue more with Father as he pulled the belt out of its loops. I retreated to the kitchen.
The knock at the door was loud and Father could not ignore it. He was caught between replacing his belt, covering Hope, getting me through the front parlour to the stairs and answering that insistent knock. I knew he would leave me in the kitchen until the visitor had gone, if necessary, even if that was all day. Hesitation brought a further knock and he replaced his belt and went to open the door. In his anxiety, he pulled it harder than he meant to and it swung back rapidly, showing us all to a startled Leigh.
I dashed from the kitchen to the stairs before Father had time to even greet him. I don’t know why I paused at the foot of the stairs, but Leigh looked disturbed as he met my eyes. Then I was up the stairs and pulling on my skirt and jumper.
When I returned to the parlour, the front door was closed and Leigh was standing on the mat, looking irritated as Father tried to pull the quilt from under Hope so he could cover her. In other circumstances, the scene might have been comical, but Father’s puritan stance coupled with my modesty led only to embarrassment.
‘Stupid girl! How many times have I told you to keep her covered, and not to go around half dressed yourself?’
I wondered if Father’s lie sprang from his desperate need to keep his reputation pure.
Leigh glared at Father and then turned his gaze to me with an abrupt smile of what looked, incredibly, like pleasure. ‘I’m sorry to intrude on your privacy. I’d like a quiet word with you, Faith, if you don’t mind?’
‘She’s sorry she argued with you, Mr Longshaw. She’s a stupid girl and I’ve punished her, of course. I told her she doesn’t deserve to be employed by a generous and respectable man like you. I must apologize for her stupidity, but she…’
Father halted as he realized Leigh was staring at him with utter contempt.
‘As I said, Mr Heacham, I’m here to speak with Faith.’ He addressed his next question to me. ‘Is there somewhere we can talk, Faith, please?’
‘Only the kitchen, Leigh.’ But his manner gave me courage to ask. ‘I expect my bedroom’s out of the question?’ I glanced at Father.
‘It shouldn’t take long. Wherever you’ll feel most comfortable; outside if you’d rather, though it’s a bit cold.’
To my amazement, Father nodded at the stairs, nodding more vigorously as I arched my eyebrows in question.
‘Please.’ I pointed. ‘Right, at the top of the stairs.’
As always, my room was tidy and fresh. There was so little in it that it took seconds to keep neat. Leigh waited for me to enter and suggested I close the door. I had to kick away the wooden wedge for the first time in years. Leigh took in everything with a sweeping glance and his face clouded briefly before he smiled broadly at me.
‘First of all…’
‘Please, Leigh, do sit down.’
He perched on the edge of my narrow bed, patting the space beside him. ‘I’ve come, first of all, to apologize for Friday.’
‘I’m sorry, too, Leigh. I was unforgivably rude.’
‘You were passionately vociferous, honest as always, and frank in your opinions. Mistaken but not rude. I was harsh and unjust, and I’m sorry.’
‘Thank you, Leigh. But there was no need…’
He held up his hand and I fell silent, wondering what he wanted.
‘Secondly, I want to thank you, Faith. Thank you for all your hard work at Longhouse, but especially for doing a job, on your own initiative, that I’ve put off far too long. You never said you’d written to the bad debtors. On Tuesday, I had a reply from a couple and a third replied today. All positive, all clearing their debts. I can only assume you used some sort of magic in your letters. You’ve brought in significantly more than your salary for the year.’
He paused and I wondered if I was supposed to say something. I could think of nothing so I just nodded and smiled my uncertainty.
‘The main reason I’m here, Faith, is to offer you your job back.’
I jumped up, surprised, delighted; not believing my great good fortune and about to accept the offer before it vanished.
‘Oh, I know I don’t deserve you, but if I were to offer you a pay rise, say ten, no, hang it, you’re worth it, fifteen per cent, would you be willing to return? Please?’
My mind reeled. I almost admitted I would go back without the extra money, but the thought of Father’s anger appeased by the increase stopped me. I blushed with guilt as I accepted. ‘Thank you, Leigh; I’d be delighted to return. But I think we should make some rules about certain things.’
He smiled and relaxed. ‘I think we only need mutual respect for each other’s positions. Do you think that would do it?’
‘It’d be a starting point.’
‘We’ll have a good talk; see if we can’t at least understand each other’s point of view?’
‘I’ll look forward to that.’
He held out his hand and I placed mine in it and we looked at each other until he let me go again.
‘If you want, and you’ve time to wait for me to get ready, I can return with you now.’
‘There’s no need to rush, Monday would …’
‘I’d really much rather start right now if I could, Leigh.’
‘I’d like that, too. I’ll wait in the car.’
‘I’m sorry to seem awkward, but would you mind waiting downstairs? I promise I’ll be no more than five minutes. I just need to… change my clothes.’
‘Okay. Best change that wet underskirt and that sexy black bra, eh?’
I blushed again and he shook his head at me in a way that made me feel he cared. He winked, a gesture I had seen given to others but never to me. ‘Don’t worry, I saw nothing I shouldn’t. And don’t be long.’ Then he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
For the first time since Mother had left, I changed my clothes with my bedroom door shut.
Father was standing awkwardly at the foot of Hope’s bed when I returned to the parlour. He had managed to cover her up. Leigh was by the front door, impatient to leave.
‘I’m off to Longhouse, Father. Leigh’s given me another chance.’
‘More accurate to say Faith’s given me another chance, Mr Heacham. You have a remarkable daughter.’
Father glanced at me and sneered. ‘I know her better.’
At the front door, I paused to collect my coat from the peg and faced Father. ‘I’ll be home, as usual, about six fifteen.’
‘You’ll be home just after five. I’ll be giving you a lift in future, work permitting. From time to time, you might have to wait the odd half hour, morning or afternoon, but I’ll still get you home earlier than if you were walking.’
I was about to protest but the expression on Leigh’s face, coupled with Father’s recent lecture about arguing, stopped me. ‘Thank you, Leigh, I’d really appreciate that.’
‘You’ll spoil the girl. She needs firm discipline and…’
He turned to face Father. ‘What she needs, Heacham, is love. Allowing Faith to walk nine miles a day so she can work to support you and her sister, suggests a less than Christian attitude. I’m only sorry I didn’t realize sooner just what a strain it was on her. It’s a pity you didn’t see fit to help her out.’
Father opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. Leigh waited for a few seconds before he opened the door and gently urged me ahead of him.
All the way down the track, Father’s expression of unspent rage at Leigh’s accusation floated before me. I feared I might suffer on my return home, because of Leigh’s criticism, but I had seen that Father was not the man I thought he was and that Leigh was a better man than I had believed. I would never feel quite the same about either of them again.
At the car, Leigh opened my door first and helped me with the seat belt before he climbed in to drive. ‘Will your father be watching?’
‘I’d like to give you a thank you kiss and welcome you back.’
‘And you want his permission?’
‘Your permission, Faith. It’s his reaction and treatment of you that worries me.’
A kiss would be terrible, in Father’s eyes. ‘Can it wait until we’re at Longhouse?’
‘I’d rather have Abby jibe about me taking advantage of an innocent virgin than risk your father’s anger causing you suffering. Yes, it can wait.’
I tried not to let him know it was my first journey in a car, pretending hard to relax. ‘Did Father say anything to you?’
‘He insulted your intelligence again, made excuses for the woman on the bed… your sister, Hope?’
‘She suffers from a rare brain disorder. They tried to operate when she was a baby but it went wrong. She has the mental age of a year-old infant but the body of …. Well, you saw. She developed into the shape of a woman but she’s never menstruated. Oh! Is it all right to say that to a man?’
He nodded. ‘Better than being coy about it. Every woman bleeds and I prefer the proper term to any of the multitude of euphemisms. I’ve noticed that about you, Faith. Most people call body parts and functions by anything other than the right name, but you always use the correct medical term.’
‘That’s all I know. It’s what I read in my encyclopaedia or what Father says.’
‘Is Hope’s lack of body hair natural?’
‘It just never grew.’
‘And is she always naked?’
‘Father says it’s better for her skin to have the air to it. And it’s easier if she has an accident, you know. She has a nappy in the night and I take her to the toilet morning and last thing, of course. It makes washing and oiling her simpler.’
‘Faith Heacham, you’re amazing. Absolutely amazing.’
He pulled the car up at the side of the road. We were well out of sight of the cottage and out of the village. There was no one about. He leant across and kissed my cheek. ‘Abso-bloody-lutely amazing.’ And he drove off again.
I touched my cheek. His lips had brushed my skin so lightly it was almost as if I had imagined it, but the sensation was lovely. If that was kissing, no wonder people enjoyed it.
‘Faith, I know you respect the privacy of others and I know you value privacy for yourself. But I also know how honest and open you are. May I ask you a personal question? I have my own very good reasons for asking but you don’t have to answer if you’d rather not.’
Leigh did not normally go around the houses so I wondered what he wanted to know. ‘Ask away.’
‘Do you normally wander around the house dressed… like that?’
I thought he might ask me to do the same at Longhouse. ‘At home I do. Father won’t have me ruin my office clothes by doing housework in them. And, of course, with there being only him and Hope there it doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, does it?’
‘Perhaps not. Has your father ever touched you, in the way Furnswurth did when…?’
‘Leigh! He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t ever do a thing like that. He said I should never let a man see or touch my breasts or my bottom or my genitalia, because it’s sinful and makes men lust for the flesh. He said I mustn’t show my body because men’ll think I’m offering it to them.’
‘But it’s okay to be naked or half dressed in front of him? He won’t lust after your flesh?’
‘He’s my father, Leigh. He’s a Christian. He’d rather die than do anything like that! No, Leigh. He’d never, ever touch me like that. In fact, apart from when… well, he never touches me at all, really.’
Leigh looked at me curiously; he knew I had been about to tell him something. ‘What did he mean about you being punished, by the way?’
The beatings were humiliating and, as Father had made clear, they were private; between him and me and God. There was no need for anyone else to know about his attempts to save my soul from damnation.
‘He …er …I think that’s private, really. A family thing, you know?’
‘I see.’
It was hard to imagine anyone putting so much meaning into two words. I felt he did see, all too well. I no longer felt certain about what I should tell him. Something inside me wanted him to know everything about the life I shared with Father. But another part of me wanted to keep the whole thing private and hide it from him forever.
It was impossible to decide which was right and the only way to stop the argument going round and round inside my head was to change the subject. I said the first thing that came to me. ‘I’ve missed you, Leigh. That is, I’ve missed working at Longhouse.’
We were driving up the lane toward the gate and I wanted to get out to open it, but I had no idea how to unfasten the seat belt.
Leigh looked at me as the car slowed to a halt. ‘You’re a funny lass, Faith. I’ve missed you, too. Welcome back.’
He twisted to unfasten my seat belt but I held my face ready, expecting another kiss. He shook his head at me before he kissed my cheek again as he unclipped the belt. ‘God, but you’re a puzzle, you are. Intriguing and fascinating. Go on, hop it and open the gate, wench.’
He had called me that before. I had no idea what it meant, but he said it with such good humour that I smiled and did as I was told. He was still shaking his head at me and smiling as he drove in through the gate.


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