Annabell instead of taking from her purse the white five pound notes she’d intended, brings out a pair of nail scissors, begins clipping first one edge of a nail, then another.
“Young men do tend to converse with their fellows.” She brushes the piece of nail from the counter. “In this instance, that would be a pity.”
A protracted examination is now made of where the next cut should be.
The tiniest piece of skin falls from her erect middle finger onto his hand.
   Chapter Five
The Moon
Oh my love has left me with bairnes twa,

And that's the last of him I ever saw.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
He joined the army and marched to war.

He took the shilling,

he took the shilling and he's off to war.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
Meg gaily enters the servant’s living room.
Come, laddies, come; hear the cannon roar.

Take the king’s shilling and you're off to war.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
Cook wakes from snoozing after her lunch:  “Singing is it? Something has cheered you up.”
“Thinking of Miss Annabell’s wedding.”  Meg previews the food spread out on the table.
Well, did he look as he marched along.

Wi’ his kilt and sporran an’ his musket gun.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
And the ladies kissed them as they marched awa'.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
“Sounds more like you’re thinking ‘o Steven Gael, lass.”  
Meg scoops chicken, ham pasta, gooseberry fool custard pudding and curried egg onto her plate.  “The invitations did it, coming by post as they did.  Every letter I get is from him.”
She turns to the cook, “Miss Annabell sending us invitations to the church, makes me feel like we’re all family.  Beautiful writing.  Lovely paper.”
Picking up the curried egg with her fingers, chewing as she steps across to the window, she stares at the manor's growing garden.  She has taken in this east view how many times: plots of vegetables, glasshouses, Mr. Entwistle’s outdoor new shoots.  She looks over to the fields beyond, where in the distance is John and Mary Hopkins’ farmhouse.
“Don’t want them estate wallahs coming into my kitchen, messing it up.”  Cook closes her eyes.  “But I would just love to hear Miss Annabell and Mr. Edward take their vows.”
  “Final bans this Sunday.”  Looking at Looking at the white-haired woman in her chair, Meg smiles, continues softly with her ballad:
The pipes they played as they marched along, And the men they sang oot a battle song.

And the men they sang oot a battle song.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
March on, march on, cried our Captain gay, And for King and country, For King and country we will fight this day.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
“You miss him a lot, Meg?
“Steven Gael?  A fat lot of good that will do me.”
Mrs. Minton nudges herself against the back of the worn, green armchair.  “You used to give us more merry songs.”
“When Steven Gael wasn’t down there.”  Meg shivers though it isn’t cold.  In the servant’s living room they don’t get the sun afternoons, but it never seems to get that cold.
She walks across to poke the meagre embers burning in the fireplace.  “I does miss the idiot waving at me on ‘er bicycle.”
“You wish you never came here?”
“I could ‘ave done without His Nibs.  Even that first day he frightened me to death.”
“He was a tad younger then, sprightlier too.”
“I’ll never forget the day we came for the interview.  Mr. Horace McBride opening the kitchen door, standing all important like. Ma asking if the Manor still needed a underhouse maid.  Him bringing us up here.”
Meg returns to the table, picks around in the pasta for olive bits. She knew nothing about working in a fancy house, but Ma with three children, Ma was sure keeping her ears out.  At the Weatherby grocers she hears Mr. Yodwill the grocer talking of the maid position.
Ma had come back to their small house, taking Meg right off to the Magistrate’s manor.  Her and she standing in this room like scared rabbits.  Then His Nibs leading them back down the stairs, through servants hallway into this big place with stairs, shining glass hanging down from the ceiling.  Meg had never seen the likes of it.
Then they were in the Master’s study.  He frightened the devil out of her.  Squire Bexfield gave Ma a right querying.  The young girl, he said, might not be able to do the work.  At fifteen was it fair to the girl?  Perhaps if she started a position as a scullery maid somewhere?
Meg could tell Ma was rightplussed as to what to say. She said nothing, just looked unhappy.  Squire told Mr. McBride to fetch the cook.
It was a surprise to both Meg and Ma that Mrs. Minton spoke as she did.  “Everyone’s to start somewhere.”  The cook had smiled at her mother.  “Lass has to work to learn.  I’d to start cooking knowing nought.  Lord saw fit to give me the best cook in the world to teach me.  We’d be a sored lot if we did less for this girl.”
That was it.  She didn’t know at the time but when Mrs. Minton speaks that is always it.  Both for Mr.  Horace McBride and for Squire.  Meg brought her belongings the following Sunday, after her tears, after Bicycle Boy had to be told.
‘One-eye’ was Bicycle Boy’s name for Mr.  Yodwill.  She didn’t think it fair just because the grocer had a slight twitch in his left eye, but sometimes she had to laugh when Steven mimicked him. Steven Gael did deliveries for the grocer where the horse van wouldn’t go.
Thumping down that big hill on his bicycle, his cheeky face looking to see if she was watching, he would wave if he saw her through the window.
The brazen lad would kiss her when they were alone out back of their small house.  She let Bicycle Boy kiss her after she told him about the manor.  Real delicate he had been when she had cried. He’d come out to see her on his bike, he said.  What was the distance!  Nothing!
They would stand out by the pump.  Him trying to nudge as close as he could get.  Sometimes they would walk to the stream and the stone bridge and sometimes up to the copse.  She sighs.  The man with the King’s shilling did it. Steven Gael came and said he had to go join the army.
Meg spoons some more of the gooseberry fool custard pudding onto her plate, picks up the Derby cream jug with its peacock on its side.  In her emotion, she pours a dollop of cream over the custard.
Ma and Pa in the back room.  Bill, Sissy, young Jose and herself all in the room at the front.  She had to leave. She couldn’t wait for Steven Gael to take her away.
But where would he take her? Three other brothers were in the cottage he lived.  Poor as church mice his family. Taking the King’s shilling was a way to escape. He wasn’t going to work on no farm, he said.  So the King, or was it the Queen, took him.
‘Remember Majuba!’ he wrote on the back of his last letter. Whatever that meant.  We were fighting them twenty years past, he had written in his scribbly way, and now we were fighting them again.  Steven Gael is doing the fighting this time.
“Wondering if lad is safe?”
Meg turns to answer Mrs. Minton.  She still loves the lad in her heart though she’s sure he’s changed.  No doubt a changed man with all that war that keeps going on and on.  “It’s a worry,” she shakes her head
Somehow Meg knows she will never marry Steven.  That time has gone now.  But she can’t help wishing him back, out by the pumps, putting his arms around her on his leave time.
Cook cannot say anything.  Boys and men go off to war, many never return.  That’s the way it seems planned.  She doesn’t know why.  It just happens and that’s the end of it.
Before Woolly, before even Mr.  Minton who had to go die before his time, there was another.  He an apprentice stable hand — God rest his soul.  She at the start of her cooking.  He’d taken her heart, then signed up for the army.
Sometimes in her room she thinks of him, of his death so far away.
Then she allows herself a little cry.
Meg is singing again:
Come laddies come, hear the cannons roar.

Take the King's shilling and we're off to war.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
The ladies tipped him and pipes did play as he marched along.

O' he looked sae prood and sae gallent then.

Take the King's shilling and we're off to war.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
And they sailed away boys.  They sailed away boys, by the Broomielaw. 

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
March on, March on,”
cries the captain gay.

For king and country,
for king
and country we

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
The battle echoes to the sound of guns.

And bayonets flash in the morning sun.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
The drums did beat and the cannons roared.

And the shillin' didn't seem, The shillin' didn't seem much worth no more.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
And the shilling didn't
seem, The shilling didn't seem much worth no more.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
Some lost the battle their bodies fell. Cut down by bayonets and musket ball.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
And many of these brave young men, Would never fight for, Would never fight for their King again.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
Oh my love has left me with bairnies twa. And that's the last o' him I ever saw.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
He's joined the army and he marched away.

He took the shilling.

He took the shilling and he marched away.

The Game - The Enslavement Dream.
. . .
“I can’t hear you,” Bella shouts through the receiver. The oak-wood booth holding the telephone is at the back of the hall near the servant’s passageway.  Still cautious, she adds barely a whisper.  “The butler just carried coffee to his legal study.  He is in there.  That’s where the papers will be.”
Lawrence’s voice comes crackly through the instrument. “The picnic they’re having tomorrow, I’ll meet you.”  
“I’ll be working. After the food is served, I can meet you. Where?”
“Trees on the road side of the drive.”
He says more but a stream of crackling destroys any sense of it. She places the hearing piece back on its hook.
Listening for movement, her heart pounding wildly, she pushes down the wooden handle that releases the door.
She is not used to this.  Never has she done anything that might be considered intruding.  Leaning against the wall of the servant’s corridor, she has to stop.  At last in the quietness she takes up courage, steps back into the kitchen.
“Did you get through, dear,” asks Mrs. Minton, covered in steam from lifting the lid of a large pan of boiling water “Very crackly those phones.  I can’t abide them.”
Bella picks up a paring knife, resumes peeling and eying the potatoes.  “I was telling the agency I should be staying till Monday week.  Then I would be ready to move on.  It was difficult to hear.”
“I don’t know when Mr. Hews and Lady Middleton will be taking themselves off.  I heard some talk of the Squire and her Ladyship departing for overseas after the wedding. You are welcome to stay until the agency sends you on.
“When Miss Annabell moves to the estate and Miss Emily going home there will be less work.  I’ll tell Woolly the hall phone is not as good as it should be.  The battery goes down.  Batteries have to be charged at Biddiford ‘til the electricity comes.  Woolly just has to change the wires. There is a replacement underneath.”
Mrs. Minton comes over with a large empty cake canister, a cake just taken out of the oven.  “Would you give this to Nelly to clean, love.  I have to keep my eye on these pans, and the new Italian chocolate soufflé recipe is taking its time to rise.  Tell Nelly when she has a moment to come and see me.”
Leaving the potatoes, taking up the kitchen cloth that holds the warm canister, Bella walks with it to the scullery, puts her back to the door.
As she opens the door, Nelly seems to be staring at the wall with a most unusual face on her.  She turns to Bella with a big smile:  “She knew you were coming in.”
Bella drops the cake canister into the dish water.  “Cook says to clean this while it’s still warm.”
“She’s talking about you.”
“Who’s talking?”
“She’s been following you.  She says you’ve come looking for something.”
Bella turns quite cold at that comment.
“Looking for something?”
The young scullery girl stares into the wall.  “She says you’re here for a reason.”
Bella goes completely white.  “Who says it?”
“The girl — I told you.”
Bella sees things, but she cannot see anything now.  She stares at the wall where Nelly is staring.
Meg had told Bella about the girl who had done away with herself. “She still prowls about!” Meg’s eyes had been popping out as she spoke of it.  “That’s why we didn’t want you to have the room.  No one’s stayed in Polly’s room since she did it.  Ain’t been up those stairs myself since.”
For Bella, the tiny room had been a pleasant surprise. Meg and Lucy both helped, the three of them quickly getting rid of the dust. Fresh dark-red curtains were brought up, together with bed linen and a quilt made by Mrs Minton.  Mrs. Minton said she was glad someone was going to be staying up there.
“She’s saying she likes you.”  Nelly is looking very pleased.
Bella stares at the wall, still she cannot see anything.
“She’s saying she likes me?”
“She’s saying she likes you.”
Nelly makes a sort of a screech of a chuckle.  “Look at ‘er peering at us.  She’s ever so respectful at how you dress.”
. . .
Ronald pops his head around the library door.  “Arthur? McBride thought you might be here.”
Arthur peers through the gold-bridged, rimless pincenez eyeglasses he is wearing.
“Glad you’re alone.  Know anything about Yerkes?  That damn 40 inch they have operating.  I’m seeing dots that appear in one place one day, then another place another day.  They must be seeing something.  I’ve watched for hours.  I swear I see some of these dots move.”
Arthur removes the eyeglasses from his nose, folds them. “They do.  And it’s more than that, Ronny.  There are whole contingents passing by up there.”
The Squire looks surprised.
“From the package the service sent me, the Americans have a team trying to make sense of what they are seeing. Spiritualists of all things.”
“Spiritualists!  You don’t mean séances, that kind of thing!”
Arthur laughs.  “No.  The training these mind mediums undergo is very rigorous.  Mind training, a viewing in the mind if that makes any sense.  Through the mind they are able in a sense to see inside the airships.”
“What are they seeing?”
“That’s how they refer to them.  Creatures if you like.
Beings highly advanced.”
“By, God!”
“The American moon division is buried as ours, to an extreme confidential, not even disclosed to those dispensing the writs authorising funding.  It is a strange business this secrecy, but like our section, if people knew our work that would be the end of it.”
“They are talking to these ‘People?’ ”
“Minds shared is how I read it.  The two minds make contact and thoughts are exchanged.  Some get visions, drawing sketches. Some write their thoughts on paper. Once written as a report these contacts can appear quite chatty.”
Arthur continues: “One report in particular, of a female medium, was sent to me.  She writes that whoever she is in contact with has been appointed to talk to her.  She refers to him as a male.  He tells her they do not wish to become involved with our species, not at this time.  He says we are still too primitive.
“She asked him what he meant.  He said many off-planet beings stop by our planet.  There’s much more than we know taking place.  Much of it underground.
“The ship’s sailors telling of airships rising out of the water, this is real it seems.  Big containers rising out of the water.  These fly off, some of them to the moon.
“The medium asked if he was one of those taking people off the planet, placing them into infirmary surroundings on airships.  He replied in her thoughts that these who did this were of another species.  She asked him why they were taking people.  He said that it goes back through great periods of time.  Who she is now communicating are not taking people.  His ship was observing.
“She asked him how long he had been upon the moon. He said they came and went, his time is different.  We could bypass technology we are developing now, and pass to a greater benevolence he said.  We did not have to have poverty.  We did not have to have illness.  But this was a planet of imprisonment by controller people.  The medium asked him to repeat that last information he had given her.  He did so.”
“A penal structure upon the whole of humanity!”
“The ships, how are they being seen with the Yerkes?”
“It seems they know we are developing the capability to view them more closely.  They say they have the capability to disguise themselves from our telescopes when they wish, which they do when they approach Earth.”
Ronald stares at Arthur.  “The Americans they confirm this?”
“Yes!  The department sending us dispatches, hidden mind, as hidden in their internal government structure as we are hidden in the service structure.  Funding comes from a bureaucrat risen in power, an administrator who has control of a large government grouping.  It is very similar to our arrangement.”
“The experiments on humans?”
“The information we have is that a number of species are involved.  Mutilated bodies found dropped back upon Earth, we don’t know who are doing it.”
“What have you heard with regard to this great war they have planned for Europe, Arthur?”
“As far as the Empire is concerned, the deaths in the Southern African arena will first have to be ended.  These next weeks should see a major victory.  Boer intelligence, the Empire is suddenly swimming in gold.”
Arthur leans across the table, softens his voice.  “The service want me back because of new evidence of a larger war being talked about.  One for all of Europe.  Three to six million to be killed, perhaps up to ten million including the civilians.”
“My God,” Ronald comments.
“The plan is to bring America to its zenith of power.”
Ronald looks thoroughly stricken.  “I know you are serious, Arthur.  I think of Annabell and her children.”
“If these large wars continue throughout the century...”
“Time is nothing to them,” Ronald says. With the central banks they have unlimited funding.”   Ronald looks troubled.  “I fear the law itself is becoming one might say useless at obtaining truth.”
“It has never been not useless — except for protecting the powerful.”
“Yes!”  answers Ronald.  “Yes!  You are correct.”
. . .
“Zpectin er be gwain awm ver zex t’en!”   Annabell looks down from the trap.  “Six is when we think we might need the horses. But we are hoping to take a room if the hotel has one, so we might stay until late.”  She holds up a crown to the ostle.  Two inn stables they have tried, enticing each ostler with a shilling in vain.
“Zilling t’lent vir bouver, me ‘anzum,” the horseman winks at the young Miss.  “Crown ‘n vamlee ‘v party t’zeven ain’t even look’n f’n zay seek’n stay.  Stay long as ‘n likes, young misses.  Stay all night best ‘f ‘un.  ‘Osses ‘b’good ‘n stables.”
“Thank you!”  Annabell and Emily climb down from the trap. “Do not prepare them, then.  We will let you know when we are to leave.”
The two young women stroll briskly through the inner door into the foyer.  The hotel man tells them two rooms to suit the young misses are available.  The price he gives is somewhat extravagant. Annabell asks for the nicest, should be nice the price.  She requests the rose portmanteau be brought immediately as items they will be needing.
“Right away young Miss.”  The desk clerk rings the bell, a porter is given instructions to fetch the ladies bag from the trap. Now in their spacious room, both women are undressing.
“The town is impossible.  Whole world seems wanting to be in Biddiford this Friday.”  Annabell removing her chemise, wearing only flower accented, silk drawers that come just below the knees, walks into the alcove separated from the main body of the room.  Two water bowls are set out for them.  Pouring water from the jug, she immerses her face completely. “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Annabell blowing bubbles in the water, trying to get the dust of the journey out of her face.
Completely naked, Emily comes to stand behind her. Fingers softly massaging Annabell’s breasts, the pressure becomes firmer as she moves up and down.
“Ohhhhhh!  That feels so good.”  Annabell raises herself, grabs for a towel.
The hands that were touching her breasts are now at the waistband of Annabell’s knickers.  Just ever so slowly they are being pulled down.
Emily’s hands around Annabell’s hardened mound, the two mouths and tongues press into each other.  “Oh!  My Heart,” Annabell murmurs when the mouths are separated. Tears are falling from Emily and Annabell reaches to brush them away.
“It’s all right,” Annabell murmurs.  “It’s all right, Heart.  I’m not going anywhere!”
Emily pulled to the bed, cover moved back, upon the soft satin sheets they fondle, both girls completely naked.
“Will you marry me?”
“Marry you!  How can I marry you!”
“We will marry just you and I, together, in private!”
“Oh!  Can we?”
“That’s what I have come for.”
“You have come here to marry me?”
“For the rings.  Then we will marry.”  They both start to cry.
. . .
Through the market stalls the two girls hurry.  Through egg, cheese and milk, duck and chicken.  One fellow at a gap is calling for the end of British troops in a war of no purpose.  “We have the gold,” he shouts.  “Rhodes has their diamonds.  Leave the Boers in peace.”
Along, a boy has his cap at his feet singing.  A woman tosses a coin into the cap.  Annabell reaches into her purse, tosses a shilling.
Crossing from the market to the street, the young women go inside a milliner shop.  “I’m looking for something very thin.  Linen you can see through.  Do you have anything like that?”
“The kind of linen you are speaking of Miss is from Syria.  Their weave is very special.”
“Can I see some, please?”
“I’m sorry Miss, but expensive items we do not carry in stock.  We can order!”
“Yes!  How soon will the linen be delivered.”
“We will telephone if the mistress pays for the telephone message to the merchant in London.”
Back out on the street they stop to buy at a roasted chestnut stand. Two bags are purchased.
At a bench, eating the chestnuts, Emily asks, “Why do you wish for such fine linen?”
“I want to have some under garments made with it.”
“For Edward!”
“Yes, I was thinking for our wedding night.”
“And me!”
Annabell smiles shyly, “And for you!”
Annabell dabs at Emily’s tears which have begun to flow again.
“You will marry Edward and you will forget me.”
“No I won’t, Heart.”
“Yes, you will.”
Annabell takes hold of Emily’s hands.  “I will come and visit you and stay for weeks and weeks.  You will visit me and stay for weeks and weeks.  We will do this all the time.”
Only a few of the chestnuts eaten, lucky for an urchin who cannot be more than six who passes and is handed the two bags.
Annabell points to the shining glass clock above the jewellery shop further along.  “See!  That’s where we are going.  I am going to get uncle George a tie pin as our wedding gift to him.  To welcome him home, I want it to be special.  We will get our rings there.”
Hands clasped they rise.  Boldly marching towards the jewellery shop, Annabell trembling, excited, frightened, calls out:  “I don’t care.  I don’t care!  I don’t care!  I don’t care!”
Emily joins:  “We don’t care!  We don’t care!  We will do what we wish!”
Turning the knob, the two young women step inside.
With the tinkle of the bell, a young man comes from the back, dark-brown sideburns — slicked, as his hair — rimmed spectacles in the fashion of young men who wear eyeglasses.
“Good afternoon, madams.”
“I saw your advertisement in the newspaper.  You do etchings.”
“Indeed we do, madams,” the clerk is full of delight.
“We are the only place in Biddiford who do such work on our fine jewellery, in store, and I will say myself the etching master is an artist.”
“Good!”  Annabell brings from her purse a drawing she has. Handing it to him, she asks, “Is it possible to do an etching of this?”
The young man examines it.  “On what would you wish to place the design, Madam?”
“A tie pin.  This is a Bodhi tree.  They grow in India.  My uncle has arrived from India and I am desirous of presenting him with an etching of this tree placed upon a tiepin.”
“Do you have the tiepin, madam.”
“No!  I intend to buy one.”
Again the glow.  “We have some very fine tiepins, I must say.”  The clerk strolls across to a side counter.  “At this table, Madame. And might I add what a fine etching this will make.  The drawing is very well done.”
Now it is time for Annabell to glow.  “Thank you.  It is my drawing.  I took some time over it so I am hoping the etching will do it justice.”  As her eyes roam over the large range of tiepins, she points to one with three tiny diamonds inlaid.  “What do you think,” she turns to Emily.
“The one with the diamonds?”
Emily peers closer.  “I think it will please your uncle George very much”
The clerk reaches into the counter, takes out the tiepin.  Placing it into Annabell’s hand, he comments: “A very fine choice if I do say so.”
Annabell fondles it.  “Is it solid gold.”
“23 carat.  3 grain.  Very close to pure, Madame.”
“How much does it cost.”
“Eight sovereigns, madam, which includes the work of the artist.”
The inlaid tiny diamonds sparkling in the light, she hands the tiepin back to the smiling young man.  “I will buy it.”
“A charming gift for your uncle from India, Madam.”   The clerk gives the two young women a gaze that could be construed as something a town boy might give to two young women if he thought he could get away with it. Emily turns away from the gaze.
“The etching master does come in Saturday.  I would say it should be ready Monday afternoon, Madam.  Would you like the package delivered?”
“I wish to look at some rings, two rings, one for me and one for my friend here.”
“Rings?  Yes, Madam.  Friendship rings?”
“Friendship rings?  No I am interested in the wedding rings.  Show us the wedding rings that you have.”
“Ah!  A double wedding,” the young man’s voice has just become even more ecstatic.  “We are specialists in double weddings, if I do say.  For both grooms and ladies.”   The clerk walks across to another counter, picks up a tray of very modern looking rings, brings the tray back to them.
The two look over the tray, some truly beautiful: seed pearl, topaz, emerald, aquamarine.  Some have bows, some fleur-de-lis with shimmering cut diamonds encased.
Emily shakes her head.
“Can we see some more.”
“If you come to this counter, Madams.”
The three of them walk across.  Reaching into the counter, two trays are brought out.  Picking a slender ring engraved with a design of a flower, the clerk hands it to Annabell. “These we have both in rose gold and yellow gold.  They will make a fine match for a double wedding.”
Emily whispers into Annabell’s ear.
“We are looking for two the same.”
“We do have rings that have not been set.  Yes, indeed we do, madams.  Those can be made exactly the same.”   The clerk reaches inside the case, brings out a band with an eternity leaf design imprinted.
Annabell studies the ring, shows it to Emily.
Again Emily shakes her head.
Now a ring is handed to Emily, a rose gold leaf pattern, a mille grain surrounding both edges.  Emily passes the ring to Annabell, whispers.
“Something with no design, that’s what we are looking for.”
“No design!”  The clerk tries hard to not express his disapproval. “Of course!  Our undecorated rings are at the central counter, Madams, if you will follow me.”
Back they walk to the counter with the passageway at the side. The clerk turns to a drawer behind him.  “These are our undecorated rings, Madams.”
Two plain bands of yellow gold are handed to them. “They can be bevelled, or left quite delightfully as they are.”
Reaching out her hand, Emily fondles the ring that she has placed on her finger.  She slips the ring to Annabell, places it over her finger.
Seeing the smile in Emily’s eyes, Annabell tells the clerk, “These are what we wish for.”
“Yes, Madam.”  Turning to the counter behind, the young man brings from a lower draw measuring rings.  “For the two Madam’s size.”
The measuring rings exchanged a few times, the correct ones applied and then applied again, the clerk looks at the rings he had first given them.  Somewhat astonished he places them again on Emily and Annabell.  “They do seem to fit.”  He checks again the measuring rings in his hand.  “Indeed, both exact fits, Madams.”
An omen of goodwill not escaping Emily, impulsively she clasps hold of Annabell’s arm, leans over and kisses her love on the cheek.
The clerk: “Will there be engraving on the rings?”
Annabell looks at Emily who shakes her head.
“No engraving!  Can we take them now?”
“Yes, Madam, but normally we would package them together with the gentlemen’s.  When could we expect the gentlemen, Madam?”
“There are no gentlemen.  We will take the rings now.”
Suddenly nonplussed: “No gentlemen!”
“No gentlemen,” Annabell repeats
Staring strangely at them, the words are difficult for him to get out.  “As you would wish, madam?”
Hands now trembling, the clerk turns to the counter behind him. Not moving for quite some time, at last he picks up two glistening white ring boxes.
“Do you have one box.”
“One box?”
“Yes!  For the two rings.”
Again no movement for some time.  Then: “We do have a box that packages a gentleman and a lady’s ring together as a set box.”
“We will take that!”
“In the gentleman and lady’s ring box”
Continuing with his trembling hands, the rings are now placed in a deep-green velvet padded box, its outside the same colour.  This is then placed in a rose coloured bag with two gold braided carrying handles.
“I will just write out the receipt.”
Dabbing a quill pen into the ink pot, a receipt written on cream vellum.  Waiting for the ink to dry, the young clerk takes it upon himself to make the unfortunate remark that it is a pity.
“A pity!”
“A pity no gentlemen can satisfy!”
His back still towards them, he takes the receipt, folds it into an envelope that has the jeweller’s name embossed at the flap.
With a flair, turning, he places the package in front of Emily, hands the envelope unsealed to Annabell.
Picking up the envelope, opening it, Annabell instead of taking from her purse the white five pound notes she had intended, brings out a pair of nail scissors, begins clipping first one edge of a nail, then another.
The clerk watches entranced at the performance, his eyes resting on each thin piece of nail as it falls off.
“It would indeed be a pity,” Annabell’s tone, coldness quite perceptible.  “I’m sure you understand.”  Very slightly, another piece of nail is clipped.
“Young men do tend to converse with their fellows.”   She brushes the piece of nail from the counter.  “In this instance, that would be a pity.”
Another clipped edge of nail falls onto the counter.  “That would not be a good thing.”
Annabell then sticks out her middle finger so that it points directly towards the clerk.  A protracted examination is now made of where the next cut should be.  This time the search is not for the nail itself, but alongside the edge of the nail.
Aiming the nail scissors at the skin, slowly, very slowly she moves her middle finger over the clerks open hand, rests his hand on the counter.  The tiniest piece of skin falls from her erect middle finger onto his hand..
She glances at Emily.  Both of them stare at the clerk.
“You understand our brothers.  They would not wish...   they might express their anger.  They might even enjoy...” the sentence is not finished.
Nail scissors back in the bag, four five pound notes are tossed upon the counter.  “A man will present himself on Monday.  He will ask for the tiepin with the Bodhi tree.”
Annabell turns. “Come my dear.  Don’t forget to pick up our package.”  A fondness to her tone, Annabell makes a position with her arm, waits for Emily to slide her hand into it.
At the door Annabell turns towards the clerk, smiles.
“The money over is yours to spend as you wish.  Thank you for your kind assistance.”
© Kewe   All rights reserved.