The Tale of Charity Clayhanger
Copyright © 2012, Dave Potter
This story, which is set in the same alternative Britain as my other tale, ‘The Tale of Anastasia’, explores that world further, including some of the more extreme segments of its society. It was inspired largely by xqilinxxx’s ‘Ultra Fetish Dressing Story’, an incredible graphic tale which was posted on his Deviant Art site and has now disappeared, seemingly lost forever, and also ‘Proper Lady Dress’, a phot manip by the same artist which was also lost to the web until Paulo sent me a copy. If anyone has a copy of the dressing story that they could forward to me, I would be eternally grateful. Also, if anyone is inspired to write a tale set in this alternative reality and they would like me to post it on this site, then I would be more than happy to do so. Until then, enjoy…
Links to all the parts of the story:
Emily sits in her chair and remembers vividly the day when her life changed irrevocably. She was sitting in the kitchen of their humble family home in London with her mother and brother when there was a knock at the door. Her mother rose and answered it. Seconds later a policeman appeared in the room. “I am very sorry to have to tell you this,” he announced, “But Mr. Carter was killed today in a motor accident near to Kings Cross railway station.” Immediately her mother broke down in tears, having lost the man she loved so much. She too would have broken down in despair if she’d known just what consequences this would have.
The funeral was a simple affair for the Carters were not a rich family. Samuel had been a delivery driver for a local furniture company whilst her mother worked as a maid in a large house nearby. Her brother was still at school but she had finished two years before and was now working in a factory. Like I said, they were not rich, but what none of them had realised was just how poor they were. That however, was made clear after the funeral in the office of J. P. Dickson and Associates Solicitor.
“Your husband was deeply in debt, Mrs. Carter, to his boss, Mr. Cartwright. He owed thousands, far more than you can ever hope to pay off with your jobs. He had a gambling problem it seems. Effectively now, under British Law, all his property belongs to Mr. Cartwright and of course, when I say property, that means you all too, for females, as we know, in this country are owned by their protecting male, whilst you Master James, are still a minor. Your fate, I am afraid, is in Mr. Cartwright’s hands.”
Mr. Cartwright was the owner of the furniture store which Emily’s father had driven for. They had only met him on a few occasions and barely knew him, but their new guardian was a man in his sixties of some limited means, owning two shops and three lorries. After the reading of the Will, they took a taxi to the store and were invited into his office. As he heard the situation he sat back, closed his eyes and nodded. “Well, well,” he said, “I tried to help your father – he was a very good worker for me – but that weakness with the horses… What can I do? What can I do? The fact is, I needed the stipend he was paying me to pay my own debts off and so… I need to make some kind of money from you all? But how?”
“Both Emily and I work, sir, and James is about to finish school,” said Mrs. Carter.
“What are you like in your studies boy?”
“I come top of the class and do well in exams, sir,” replied James and it was true, for unlike Emily he had always excelled at school.
“Hmm… and what work do you ladies do?”
“I am a maid and Emily here works at Cavendish Biscuits.”
“Well, I’ll never make my fortune from either of you two will I and yet… yet you are a handsome lady Mrs. Carter; how say you to marrying again?”
“Sir, my husband is not yet cold in his grave so it is hard to say, but I shall do what I must for my family’s honour.”
“And you Emily?”
“It is an honour I dream of but no man so far…”
He looked her up and down. Emily Carter was a plain girl with mousey hair and freckles and rather dull grey eyes. Not a looker by any standards, nor was that compensated for by great intelligence. However, she did have spirit, a fire that raged in those grey eyes. Fire however, does not put bread on the table and Cartwright was not surprised that no man had chosen her yet.
“But you are still a virgin…?”
Emily was quiet for a moment, looked at the floor and then muttered, “Sir, I am afraid not. At school, a boy… it was a terrible mistake…”
“Well, this gets worse and worse; a plain girl, no longer a virgin and with no great intelligence. The only conceivable way I get regain my investments is in finding a good match for you but how am I to do that?”
No answer came; silence reigned. Emily was ashamed of her eagerness to lie with Johnny Baxter, ashamed of her stupidity and ashamed that she was so ugly compared to her beautiful mama. She was a failure who was helping bring her family into ruin.
“And yet… maybe, just maybe not… Hmm… I must see. Mrs. Carter, may I have an appointment with you tomorrow afternoon at three?”
“Yes sir, certainly.”
“Fine then, good day to you and my condolences for your loss. He was a good man, a good worker for me. He shall be sorely missed by us all.”
The next day Emily returned home from her work at Cavendish’s to find her mother and brother sat by the kitchen fire. As she opened the door they looked up and her mother gestured her over. “Emmie, sit down dear, I have something to talk to you about.”
“Is it about your meeting with Mr. Cartwright?”
“Yes dear, it is, and I need to hear what you have to say for it is quite unexpected yet could be a great blessing for this family. I went there today at three as requested and he invited me in and then asked first of all if James could work for him as soon as he finishes school. He is looking for a new accounting manager and is prepared to pay a handsome wage which will go some way towards clearing our debts. I was very grateful and about to thank him when he bade me listen more. He then said that he had a proposal for me also. He said that a beautiful woman like me should not be slaving away as a maid but instead should be looked after and after our visit yesterday he had been captivated by me and thus wished, as soon as the mourning period is over, for me to become his wife!”
“Really? What did you say?”
“Well, I was stunned; what could I say? But he is prepared to pay a handsome fee, far in excess of what a middle-aged widow could normally expect and our family’s needs must come first, so I said yes. He did however, have one stipulation.”
“What was that?”
“That he could have sole legal responsibility for your future, Emily. In the marriage contract it will be written that he decides your match, not us. He wants to recoup some of his investments by matching you with a good and rich man but he says that to do that you need more education, in order to become more ladylike and so on. You are not a natural beauty Emmie, but your inner beauty, your good kind heart and hard work shine through and he feels you could make an excellent wife for some lucky man. First though, he intends that you attend a finishing school for young ladies for six months or so. Those were the conditions he gave but I would not agree, for both your dear father and I always said that your fate should be your own when it comes to your heart. I told him that you yourself must agree and he understood and said that I have until Sunday to make my mind up otherwise the offer is withdrawn. So Emmie, the choice is yours; will you let Mr. Cartwright decide your fate?”
“Mama, the chance to save my family, marry well and receive a lady’s education! How could I refuse?”
“Oh Emmie, you are a pet! You have saved your dear family from ruin, of that I am sure!”
Three months after that conversation, they were all sat in the large townhouse of Elijah Cartwright. Mrs. Carter was now Mrs. Cartwright and James was now his accounting manager. Emily, dressed in a pretty blue dress with a crinoline four feet in width – she had never worn a proper steel cage before, let alone a corset, was sat across from them. Elijah was smiling. “Well, my dear daughter, this is your last day with us until you start your new school. St. Werburgh’s Finishing School for Young Ladies is an excellent institution with a good reputation for taking ladies of a lower class background and transforming them into fine wives for gentlemen. I hope you enjoy your time there and your marriage afterwards which I am in the process now of arranging and which will, I hope, see your family free of debt so that your brother will be able to start his own family free of any obligations to me.”
“Sir, I shall enjoy my time there I am sure and thank you, thank you for all you have done for us.”
“It is nothing my dear daughter,” he replied with a strange smile.