Rags to Riches I P
Elsie was just thirteen when the generous benefactor had come to the workhouse looking for a skivvy and all the girls had been lined up so that he could take his pick. Elsie was surprised when he stopped in front of her and she gave a little curtsey as she had been told to do. The man looked her up and down and made as if to move on but then stopped to take another look. Elsie was a thin little wisp of a girl so, he reasoned, being so thin meant she probably didn’t eat very much so that went in her favour because he wouldn’t need to lay out a pretty penny feeding her. She also had rough red hands, which suggested she might be hard working and for such a wisp of a girl she looked quite strong but the deciding factor was that she did have a nice thick mop of hair that one day, he thought to himself, would be her salvation.
He also noticed the child had nice long fingers which suggested to him that she carried the potential to be able to play the piano better than any concert pianist, delighting his guests with her extensive repertoire and all without the expense of a single lesson. Yes, this child seemed like perfect ‘big house’ material. She came with good references too being born of a gin-sodden mother and a violent father. All the generous benefactor had to do now was ascertain that she had a suitable name and then they could be off. A man in his position had to be careful. The last thing he would want to harbour under his roof and protection would be a skivvy with a name which might cause the child to have aspirations above her station; names such as … erm, Octavia or even worse, Hortense a name not to be countenanced! Such an abomination could not be tolerated and might well afflict his wife with a severe case of the vapours or even send her into a steep decline!
‘What is your name, child?’ he bellowed, quietly.
‘If it so much as pleases, sir, the good people here in the workhouse have very kindly given me the moniker Elsie Scraggit, sir! But you mustn’t fret yourself, good sir; I will answer, to whatever it pleases you to take a fancy to and no mistake!’
‘You seem to have a lot to say for yourself. This does not auger well if you wish to avail yourself of employment as it suggests you might have ideas above your station and who, pray, is this Monica person?
‘Oh bless, your heart, sir, you mustn’t worry about my use of the term moniker, sir, I am not making reference to a person it is just that my writer needs a chance to prepare her readers for my moment of epiphany, sir. Nothing to trouble you, sir, you mustn’t give it a moment’s attention. Look, I have just the very red, rough skin that should see us through half the book, sir, so you can look on me as a good investment. I can scrub floors with the best of them as you will be certain to see if you should be so generous as to offer me the chance to show you.’
So the deal was struck and Elsie Scraggit was on her way to the ‘big house’ and the rosy future that beckoned. On arrival at the ‘big house’ the first thing Elsie’s generous benefactor did was to be so kind as to give her a nice pair of stiff, shiny boots to wear as she had spent all of her thirteen years walking about the workhouse barefoot. His motives, however, were not entirely altruistic as he didn’t like the look of her feet as they were filthy, with great big calluses and what looked like a bunion on one foot. Besides, he didn’t want guests to the ‘big house’ to think he was miserly and it was indeed fortuitous that he had a pair of boots hanging about the place that were just her size. Then his generosity overpowered him yet again and he supplied Elsie with a rough calico dress that declared to the world that her position in his household was somewhere below that of his dogs. However, Elsie was delighted with the calico dress and although the stiff shiny cold boots were very heavy she was not one to complain as she was not used to being treated so well. She looked on this job as having prospects. If she worked hard, who knows she might rise to become a… a…Scullery maid!
No, she mustn’t let her imagination run wild. She must keep her feet firmly on the ground. Well she could hardly do otherwise as the boots were so heavy they kept her weighted down and Elsie thought how clever the generous benefactor was because it seemed he had anticipated the possibility of her being carried off by the wind should a sudden squall spring up. The boots however were a little on the tight side and she hoped they would see her through to the end of the book as she could not find it in her heart to be so ungrateful as to outgrow them. The dress too must last until such time as she made good in the dénouement so she made a point of refusing food as if she ate anything then she might grow too generous for the dress and such inconsiderate behaviour might be construed as being ungrateful and she felt sure such a despicable act would, understandably, not be tolerated by her generous benefactor.
However, Elsie quickly adapted to the routine of scrubbing endless floors, blacking an untold number of grates and as she got two days off each year she liked nothing better than to find a floor to scrub by way of recreation. However, despite her best efforts she was rounding out quite nicely and her hair had miraculously taken on a shine she felt sure had something to do with the brushing that had been done for almost half a book. She couldn’t think what else could have caused it. By now, she had risen also in position as she had left the scullery and was now allowed to scrub floors above stairs and so felt she was really on her way as it looked like her career was set fair.
Then one day a kind visitor came to the ‘big house’ and he seemed to be very taken with our Elsie even to the extent of stopping to speak to her each time he came, which threw her into complete disarray. Not being used to verbal interchange she was covered in confusion which was handy as the rough calico dress, by now, didn’t cover as much as it should. So, to be covered in confusion was something of a relief to Elsie as her generous benefactor, when he had supplied her with clothes on first arrival, had not thought to provide underwear too so when she was on her knees scrubbing floors she had always to be careful not to present her south view when she, herself, was facing north so to speak.
But then, one day, the kind visitor bought her a book which she gratefully accepted though a goodly pair of bloomers would have been more useful. However, she did not want to appear ungrateful so she stood up and curtseyed as she thanked him by saying ‘Thank you very muchly, good sir, but I am a lowly thin wisp of a person, though rounding out quite nicely now and with a shock of thick lustrous hair but if it so much as pleases you, sir, I cannot read a word.’
The kind visitor was mightily impressed by the dignified way she resumed her position scrubbing the floor. In fact, he had never seen a more dignified scrubber. But he just smiled warmly with a twinkle in his eye. He had mislaid his other eye and try as he might he just could not remember where he had put it. No doubt it would turn up at some point. If not it meant that he had put it in a safe place and so consigned it to oblivion. But, nevertheless, he said ‘Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that because, I have your master’s permission and so I am going to teach you to read. Now what do you think of that?’
‘If it should please you, sir, won’t I make the pages wet?’
The kind visitor replied kindly ‘No need to worry about that for I have secured special dispensation for you to be allowed to get up off your knees for a period of two hours at the end of the day so after working just sixteen hours you will be allowed to go up to your attic to learn to read by candlelight. Now tell me I’m not a kind visitor to the ‘big house?’
‘Oh, kind sir, I hardly know what to think!’
‘Then don’t, my dear, people of your lowly position are not equipped to think, that must, and should, be left to your betters, of which I am one.’
‘Begging your pardon, sir, I was forgetting my station.’
‘Think nothing of it because apart from teaching you to read I think I am falling inexorably in love with you.’
‘Really sir, oh that is kind but I have my eye on a tall, handsome reprobate with an aquiline nose and a sardonic smile who is never going to treat me well and who will probably disgrace me and then abandon me in Brighton.
‘Oh, well there is nothing to be done if you are hell bent on such a course of action. However, before you decide, you might like to consider that I have a huge country pile in Staffordshire.’
‘Oh sir, would that I could take advantage of your kind offer of marriage but I think my master’s insipid daughter is the writer’s choice for you.’
‘Marriage! Who said anything about marriage?’
‘Begging your pardon, once again, sir, but I presumed that marriage was what was on offer as the genre we find ourselves in requires such a commitment.’
‘That depends on who our writer is?’
‘Yes, I agree, sir.’
‘Well, I can’t speak for you but the writer who created me was Elizabeth Gaskell.’
‘Gaskell! Gaskell! I don’t believe it. My author is Jane Austin! Heavens to Betsy, I’m in the wrong book and my name is not Elsie Scraggit at all it’s Elizabeth Darcy nee Bennet. Why am I wasting my time talking to you and on my knees too? I live at Pemberley and I’m rich and I don’t know what Mr Darcy will have to say about all of this. It is an outrage and an indignity not to be endured and proud man that he is I dare not think what he will have to say about his wife being so ill used. Before Mr Darcy took me as his wife good society held to the belief that it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a large fortune, of which he is, must be in want of a wife, which I now am, being the mistress of Pemberley. But what he is definitely not in want of is a scrubber such as I have become, thanks to the generous benefactor of Your story. Mr Darcy is at this very moment visiting his aunt at Rosings but once he is appraised of my situation he will be so incensed that there will be no holding him back. So, if I were you I would make plans to leave the county as a matter of some urgency because I shouldn't be at all surprised if he calls on you, and the generous benefactor, and in a moment of unbounded fury presents...HIS CARD!