An extract from A Blind Bargain 



'No man wants to buy damaged goods,' Lily's ma told her before she went into service. She tried to drum it into Lily that she should keep herself to herself and never let a man take advantage.                                                   

     'There's time enough for that sort of thing when you've got a wedding band on your finger. Let him give you his name first,' she said, 'because if you let a man take liberties, he'll think you cheap and lose interest.'

     'What do you mean? Lily asked.

     Her question was only met with mutterings that told her nothing. Lily found the conversation vaguely uncomfortable so when her ma asked her if she understood she said 'yes' although she didn't really.

     And that's why Lily was unprepared when Edward Boyd-Taylor slipped quietly into her room that night.

     She had been lying on her back in the narrow, lumpy bed, gazing up through the little fanlight in the roof at a few pale stars, while she relived every moment of the day. She couldn't remember when she had ever felt so happy. It was as much as she could do not to jump out of bed and light the candle stub again so that she could take a peek at the beautiful hat and bury her nose in the delicate bunch of violets. But it was almost midnight and she was alread beginning to feel sleepy.

     She had almost dropped off when she sensed there was someone in the room and before she opened her eyes she could tell it was him by the distinctive fragrance of his expensive cologne.

     'Are you awake, Lily?' he whispered.

     She blinked at the flickering light of a candle held a few feet from her nose and saw Edward, shadows leaping and fluttering over his handsome face, as he looked down on her.

     'What are you doing here?' she gasped.

     'I wanted to see you. We had such a lovely day that I didn't want it to end.'

     For a moment she was hardly able to speak for the shock of seeing him there. 'But... but I shall get into trouble if they catch ou in here.'

     His face spread into a wide grin. 'Then we shall have to make sure they don't, won't we?' Smothering a laugh, he turned and placed the candle on top of the battered chest of drawers. He peered curiously about the room, such a narrow cramped space, so small that there was hardly room for the bed and chest, and his eyes alighted on two sketches that Lily had pinned to the wall.

     'Did you do those?' he asked.

     Lily sat up in bed and pushed the hair from her eyes. She drew her legs up and hugging her knees, found herself answering him. 'Yes. That one's my parents' house in Pimberton and the other is my brother, Josh, only I didn't get his nose quite right.'

     'You draw remarkably well.'

     It was all ver well for him, she thought, standing there making ordinary conversation as if he was in the drawing room downstairs instead of here in her room, but her mind was whirling at the thought of what would happen if they were discovered. It wouldn't be him that would be for the highjump, not the master's son. No, it would be her. She would be sent packing and no mistake.

     At that moment, to add to her torment, she heard hurrying footsteps on the bare floorboards of the passage outside. Edward heard it too and frowned. Lily froze, holding her breath, straining to hear until she heard the click of a door shutting.

     'You really shouldn't be here,' she persisted. Half of her, the sensible half, wanted him to leave and the other half, the half that was terribly in love with him, wanted him to stay.

     Ignoring her remark, he sat on the edge of the bed. 'Where did you learn to draw like that?'

     'Nowhere. They're just scribblings. I've always done it.'

     There was an awkward silence. Lily watched him while he studied the drawings, thinking how handsome he was; especially when he smiled. She liked the way his fair hair curled at the back of his neck. She even liked his walrus moustache, now that she was getting used to it, although it did make him look older than his nineteen years.

     'Do you like it?' he asked.

She wasn't sure what he was talking about until he nodded his head towards the red and white hat box.

     'Oh yes, yes. And the violets. I cadged an old fish paste jar from Cook for them. Aren't they lovely?' She reached out for the little arrangement and taking them up, buried her nose in the delicate flowers. 'There!' she said, holding them out to him.

     He took them from her, replaced them on the chest and started to stroke her arm. 'You know, Lily, hardly a minute goes by when I am not thinking about you.'

     She sat, breathless, hardly able to believe her ears. She could tell, by the way he looked at her, how sincere he was. 

     'How pretty you look with your hair loose about your face like that. The loveliest girl I have ever seen!'

     Lily opened her eyes wide. No one had ever told her that before.

     'Don't look so surprised. I'm telling you the simple truth. You do know, Lily, that I'm dreadfully in love with you?' He took her hand and she watched, fascinated, as he turned it over, uncurled her fingers and kissed her open palm. The moustache tickled, making her smile.

     'You do believe me, don't you? You don't think I'm leading you on?'

     'Oh no, Edward, I've never thought that!'




The sun rested on the broad hillsideee where the slopes lay deep in summer grass. Now and then a blackbird called but otherwise there was nothing to disturb her sollitude.

     Lily had grown plump and comfortable in her old age, content to stay at home and pass the time sitting in the sunshine. Normally one day resembled another, but today she had received a letter.

     A breeze rustled the paper as it lay in her lap. She picked it up, turned it over and folded it before slipping it in her pocket. It had come from France. Hector had written it; the spidery letters evidence of the shaking that plagued him these days.

     So Charles had gone. Lily was glad that the end had been quick and without pain. And she was glad that he had found a peace and a quiet contentment living with Hector all these years.

     He had been a truly remarkable man. And he had been kind. She had thought that when she first met him and he had never given her any cause to change her opinion. Lily smiled to herself as she remembered. He had opened up her eyes and mind and greatly influenced her creative efforts, but it had been his kindness that had enabled her to rise above the pain of delusion. She had lived a life of deception and self-deception but never once, in the ensuing years, had she regretted the time she had spent with Charles.

     There were moments, though, when she had wondered about Edward. Had he really loved her? At one time she would have said yes but perhaps it had been wishful thinking and his love had only existed in her imagination. He had remarried as soon as his divorce from Eleanor had come through; an American heiress by all accounts, if the gossip was true. If she had had any doubts about her decision not to accompany him to America, they had been dispelled as soon as she heard that news.

     But it had all happened so long ago. She wouldn't be thinking about it now, raking over old ground, if it hadn't been for the letter. Now her mind was travelling back to when it all began.

     It seemed in that year, in the year she had loved Edward, carried his child and married Charles, that she had lost the joy of her childhood, and when Charles had left for France, coming back had been a kind of pilgrimage.

     Nobody had wanted the Big House after her father had died. Josh and Mary had their own established home, poor Freddie had died in the Great War, and others were scattered elsewhere. Even Violet had surprised them all, taking off the way she did to join the Suffragists in London. And so Lily had come back to live in Pimberton with just Hilda to look after her. Father's workshop had been cleared out, the hoary old cobwebs swept away, and Josh had enlarged the little casement windows to let in more light so she could paint.

     And how she had painted! She had been obsessed with painting children, trying to capture the innocence in their bright lively faces. She realised now that it was a search for something pure and beautiful. A panacea for her wounded feelings. A balm for her soul.

     So long ago! The years since had been kind to her. Now that she was old she slept a lot and lived on her memories. So often, these days, they were the memories of childhood. It seemed as if she had come full circle and she wondered if that was the way of all mankind; to travel back down the years to where it all began.

     When she closed her eyes she could see the ghosts of children in the ephemeral mists that played over the meadow, hear their laughter in the trees, their shrieks in the call of a magpie as it darted from bough to bough.

     And today, perhaps because of the letter and the memories it had stirred, as she dozed she heard her mother's voice speaking to her over the years. 'One day you'll undersatnd,' she had said, that time when Lily had come running home; running home after the discovery of Charles's secret passions. What was it she was meant to understand?

     She understood that it was possible to will herself into contentment, to accept the difference between what she had expected and what she discovered, what she had hoped for and what she got. But she didn't understand why some were destined to lead a life of unhappiness because of other men's bigotry. No, she didn't understand any more now than she did then.

     Even the perspective of time had not been able to supply the answers. 


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