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The Bread of Kindness



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  #1  
Old August 26th, 2011, 8:54 am
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Marina  Female.gif Marina is offline
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The Bread of Kindness

Here's a story set in the Victorian Era, which I have put aside for the moment (there are several stories "put aside" at the moment though, thanks to study), which is about a woman who meets Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man.


Chapter One

Coughs of old, dusty-haired men mingled with gruff mutterings of the young males.

Grey-haired coiffeurs, the oldest at sixty, mingled with dulling tresses of male youth.

Faces, old and young, folded into valleys and hills of wrinkles.

Even the youngsters in this hellhole had hairlines of wrinkles on their foreheads and cheeks.

Nails yellowed with decades of tobacco, fingers calloused with months of workhouse strife.

Minds shut down, submitting to a life of hell in an isolated building.

A charity building without charity, embedded on the borders of Leicester.

“Leicester Union Workhouse”

Even the mud larks scrabbling on knees and hands in the rancid mud of the river banks preferred their job over the workhouse.

No one tolerated the idea of being in a workhouse, where men, women, and children toiled day in, day out.

Hell wasn’t a place of torture after death.

Hell was right here on Earth, in the middle of Victorian London.

Hell was right here, in the workhouses, in the eyes and hands of the tortured and the supervisors.

No need for torturing, agonising flames of hell when you had the Poor Law institutions.

The workhouse was an eternity of hell—such an eternity one could hardly have noticed when their lungs exhaled a final time, their eyelids drooping over glassy irises forever.

If one were to see the row upon row of male faces when visiting the Leicester Union Workhouse one would hardly notice anything alarming in their features.

Just their terrible weariness and drudgery work.

But as one’s eyes travelled over the increasingly younger faces, one’s expression took that of alarm and horror.

No one forgot his face, and none let him forget it.

He had not ever known a cordial handshake from womankind, nor had he been shown an ounce of charity since his dear mother died.

Yes, his aunt Jane and uncle Charles loved him dearly, took him into their home.

He tried to find work in order to support them, but in the end, was unable.

Jane was soon to have a baby, another mouth to feed.

Joseph feared he would be a burden if he stayed.

They insisted he stay, they would find a way to cope.

Still, Joseph Carey Merrick wished not to be a burden, and to the pain of his Uncle Charles and Jane, in March 1880, he entered the workhouse for the second time.

He had stayed once before for six weeks between December 1879 and March 1880, tried to find work, but was all in vain.

Back to the terror and misery, with no other way.

The other young men delighted in jeering at him, pushing him around, and making snide comments on his appearance.

Some dinners, someone would casually push his plate to the floor, making it seem like an accident.

No, he had to go hungry.

“Please sir, may I have some more?” would no more work for Joseph than it did for Oliver Twist.

Grime and dirt eclipsed the crisp sky of daytime and the star-studded wonder of night.

Floorboards squeaked with mice, fidgeted with the scrabble of rats’ feet.

Leaks dripped from the rafters, dripping into little puddles in various corners.

Worse still, visiting days were all too few and far in between.

How Joseph yearned to be able to see his Uncle Charles more often!

How he yearned to be able to write letters to him!

Alas, the workhouse forced all to be hermits, secluded on an island that held the foundations of hell on Earth.


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__________________
You who I called brother,
How could have you come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Then let my heart be hardened,
And never mind how high the cost may grow,
This will still be so:
I WILL NEVER LET YOUR PEOPLE GO.

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  #2  
Old August 27th, 2011, 9:21 pm
Marina's Avatar
Marina  Female.gif Marina is offline
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Joined: 5667 days
Location: Nowhere
Age: 30
Posts: 750
Re: The Bread of Kindness

Chapter Two

May 1884.

Just another month in another year.

Another visitor’s day today.

A day that this time disheartened him—his uncle regretfully informed he was unable to make it this time.

Next time, he promised, he would endeavour to visit Joseph.

If there was to be a next time.

Outside, drizzle tickled the dirty windows, receiving no humour or giggle.

The wind joined in the drizzle’s game, trying to elicit some reaction from the assaulted wood and glass.

Shadows and stains of daytime spotted the corners of the visiting room, watched over by staff.

No one could escape without notice.

He did not dare reveal himself, but the young man hid himself in the shadows, quietly wishing he had someone visiting him.

Though Joseph knew his uncle loved him very much, never did he feel so far away than on this visitor’s day.

Amongst the visitors were a couple of well-dressed, but not overly so, women, their wide dresses carving their figures.

One had black hair straighter than a parallel line, curled up into some unusual bun.

Her companion had thick, curly tresses of red, done up in a simple, yet elegant, hairstyle.

One carried a tiny purse with a huge bow, dangling from a black ribbon from her thin arm.

The other young lady clutched a cloth bag in one hand; her other rested lightly upon a slightly pronounced belly.

Even from where he was, Joseph could tell the redhead looked rather bored, her eyes staring round at the inhabitants and the interior of the room.

Not exactly a building a lovely woman should be visiting on a day out, but perhaps she was accompanying her friend.

Some offensive odour caught her by the nose, causing her to wrinkle it slightly. The resting hand moved to wave away the sickening aroma from her nose.

The brunette didn’t take any notice; simply carrying on her fast chatting to the man she was visiting.

At the same moment, Joseph thought he faintly caught the smell of fresh baking, but dismissed it as a wishful imagining.

Jane always brought him a little treat on visiting day, and it seemed his mind was dreaming of her baking.

A commotion of conversation snagged the two women.

“You’re wondering about that over there aren’t you?” the brunette asked her companion.

“What?”

The first made no attempt to lower her voice. “There’s a deformed…thing… Stinks to high heaven, he does. Ick. No wonder he’s in the workhouse; his poor parents must’ve died at the shock of him.”

He should have been used to such comments by now, but like a persistent wasp, every word stung him again and again.

The redhead narrowed her eyes at her companion, clearly disapproving. Was it of his presence, or something her friend had said?

Overhearing the banter, another worker chimed in with his views.

“Go on, go see him. Bet you’ll lose your baby afterwards!” cackled a worker missing a finger. “Go on, he’s so ugly! We’d love to see you give birth from the shock!”

To Joseph’s surprise and slight shock, the redhead just threw a rude hand sign at the worker.

Secretly, Joseph thought the man deserved the blunt gesture—the obvious relish the worker had showed in wanting to see the poor woman so shocked she birthed forth quite disgusted him.

He hadn’t realized he’d stepped slightly out of the shadows to take a closer look, and not a second too soon, her eyes locked onto him.

A gasp struggled from her throat, but no scream.

“You know, Lucretia,” the black-haired woman piped up. “If you want to see that thing, you’ll have to pay me two shillings.”

The woman named Lucretia was clearly appalled at the suggestion.

“Ex…excuse me? Why would I pay you to see someone? You didn’t pay me to see Max, did you?”

“Of course I didn’t! He’s not mad-looking, is he?” The brunette jerked a thumb at the worker. “Oh go on, Lucretia, you know how much you like those circuses.”

“Don’t you have eyes? This is a workhouse.” Max cut in. “Not the Gaiety Theatre.”

“It certainly isn’t.” the redhead agreed. “But if you’re so inclined to see me have a start, then fine.”

She was determined to show them she was not as delicate as they thought.

Lucretia was not the sort to faint at a whiff of alarm, like many women.

Then again, though she told no one, she never tied her corsets so tight that one’s very lungs were being gagged and bound along with her waist.

No wonder she didn’t faint as so easily as many of her peers.

Her chin held high, defiantly, the woman strode to the corner, keeping a sturdy calmness.

Several feet away, the woman halted her steps, shock registering in her expression, even as Joseph recoiled back into the embracing shadow of the corner again.

No scream, just the gasp and wide eyes.

Seconds later, she relaxed, easing out a deep breath.

But what she had seen of the man was indeed like nothing she ever saw before, as if some clumsy craftsman had tried to whittle out the form of a human with his eyes taped shut.

He was not tall, certainly not taller than Lucretia—he wouldn’t come past her shoulder at the very least.

Like a low-hanging cliff, a boulder of overgrown bone distorted his forehead, overshadowing his soulful eyes.

A harsh trail of tumour like growths slashed one side of his face, another small bone growth under his right eye.

His left arm was delicate as a child’s, perfectly formed to the finger-tips.

Not so for his right arm, thick as the trunk of a young tree, the fingers twisted and swollen; only the thumb remained normal.

Both hands were wrapped in dirtied bandages, fingernails worn to the quick.

Lucretia’s eyes wandered to his feet—overly large and just as deformed. His toes curled painfully against the cold floor.

Even in the frail light, she saw he was malnourished—but so were many others in the workhouse.

The fragile shadows, hovering in perpetual twilight, did not mask his fear, the way he backed up against the wall.

He tried to say something.

It sounded incomprehensible to Lucretia, although she tried hard to understand.

Poor man… she mused quietly. Whatever has happened to make him this way?

“What did you say?”

Again, she barely made out the words, but context spelt it for her.

“Don’t hurt me…”

It was said in such an achingly pleading and soft voice that Mrs Reid felt her heart pause momentarily in compassion.

My Lord in heaven, he is so young… her compassionate thoughts whispered.

“I won’t do any such thing.” Lucretia soothed. “See? I have no weapons.”

The young man appeared unsoothed, wearily dragging himself to a nearby bench.

Lucretia winced—one leg was stiff and unyielding, appearing to be used more for balance than for walking.

The curve of scoliosis malformed his already bent back, making him appear even smaller in height.

The strange man bent his oversized head forward onto his lap, wrapped his arms about his knees as he sat stone still on the bench, the oversized grey worker’s uniform his only clothing in winter, summer, spring, and autumn.

Just sitting there, exhausted beyond belief, as though the workhouse had sapped all the energy and spirit from him.

Lucretia’s thoughts formed two debating teams on whether she should approach.

“Don’t be daft.” Some cautioned. “Stay back.”

“He could use some company.” Other thoughts urged. “No one is here to see him.”

Despite his odour, Mrs Reid willed herself a few steps closer, footsteps sounding loud on the bare ground.

As though he’d heard her footsteps, the young man lifted up his oversized head, fearful eyes seeming to hardly dare to look into her own.

Though he didn’t know it, Lucretia saw a fearful soul trapped in his eyes, yearning for at least a blossom of sympathy, a gesture of kindness.

“What is your name?” she asked.

A shaft of light, and Lucretia could see he couldn’t close his mouth properly.

She had to ask him to repeat a few times, until she had his name:

“Joseph Merrick.”

A smile warmed her young face. “I’m Mrs Lucretia Reid. A good day to you, Mr Merrick.”

Two dark eyes widened in surprise; was it Mrs Reid’s imagination, or were they more moist than before?

When was the last time, if ever, he had such a cordial greeting?

“G’d…g’d day to you…madam.” He almost whispered, arms still crossed around his midsection against the cold.

Stuck for something else to say, Lucretia asked, “How is the workhouse?”

His eyes squeezed shut, a tremor shuddered through his shoulders and spine.

A hand over his eyes, as if to chase away some awful memory.

Why’d I ask that for? Lucretia scolded herself, although she continued nevertheless.

“Are you cared for in here?”

“Yes…I am…”

But his voice was flat and unconvincing; both knew it was an untruth.

Both knew very well one was lucky to get a scrap of food, let alone a full hearty meal, in the workhouse.

No, he was no more cared for in health than the sun rose in the west.

The weight of the cloth bag suddenly reminded Lucretia of its presence.

Reaching a hand into the bag, the woman pulled out a small loaf, able to fit into the palm of one’s hand.

With a genuine smile, she reached the morsel toward him.

“For you.” She said, wholly sincere. “For your health.”

Seconds passed as the young man stared from her to the loaf.

Slowly reaching forward, he took the bread from her, expecting the woman to suddenly snatch it back.

She didn’t do any such thing.

“Thank…thank you…Mrs Reid.” He quietly thanked.

“May I shake your hand?”

Lucretia held out her left hand, waiting for him to shake it.

No woman ever had done that before.

His left hand’s delicate fingers trembled as they tentatively coiled around hers, feeling them clasped in a polite handshake.

Tears streamed from his mournful eyes.

“The first…you’re the first…”


__________________
You who I called brother,
How could have you come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Then let my heart be hardened,
And never mind how high the cost may grow,
This will still be so:
I WILL NEVER LET YOUR PEOPLE GO.

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  #3  
Old August 31st, 2011, 5:38 am
Marina's Avatar
Marina  Female.gif Marina is offline
Fifth Year
 
Joined: 5667 days
Location: Nowhere
Age: 30
Posts: 750
Re: The Bread of Kindness

Chapter Three

“You are a strange one, Lucretia.”

Long stretches of shadows arched over the dirty, recently rain-washed cobblestones.

Small clots of dust were swept up by the long skirts of Rosie MacDonald and Lucretia Reid as they strolled to a carriage.

“What do you mean?” Lucretia asked.

“You were talking to that freak like nothing was out of the ordinary. Do you not see?”

“My vision is very well thank you for asking.” Mrs Reid said. “And yes, I did see he was deformed.”

Rosie looked at Lucretia with an odd expression. “And yet you were comfortable?”

Lucretia heaved a deep sigh. It was a yes and no.

“His stench was rather bad, but believe me, Rosie, he was quite clearly in need of company.”

Her companion snorted. “But not of your precious bread! You don’t give bread to poor-law freaks like him.”

“Oh yes? Is that a law now? And would you not mind calling Mr Merrick a freak?”

“Don’t get all high-and-mighty, Lucretia, that was a waste of perfectly good bread.” Rosie whispered under her breath.

“Listen to yourself talk.” Lucretia countered. “You sound perfectly high-and-mighty yourself.”

Their walk abruptly stopped, Rosie having found her carriage back to London; she wouldn’t be back again for a while.

Tense silence as Rosie was helped into the carriage by the driver.

Settling herself into the seat, Miss MacDonald turned back to Lucretia.

“You have that thing’s stench on you.” She reported. “Try explain that to your dear husband.”

With a final, overly saccharine smile, she waved at her friend.

Lucretia waved back, only out of politeness.

Inside, she was seething.

Surprise was one ingredient—her reaction to Rosie’s words, the indignation she felt at Merrick being called a ‘freak’.

Annoyance was sieved into the mixture—at Rosie, for her condescending words and attitude. At thinking she had all the answers!

Confusion—why did she feel such a need to protect Merrick? It wasn’t as if she was to see him again. She only went to the workhouse because Rosie made her come too.

Her husband chose to visit a friend in Leicester; their carriage was coming later.

As she walked, Lucretia became aware of one or two passersby holding their noses as she passed them by.

Discreetly breathing in, she realized the young lad’s stench still clung to her.

Or was it just the stench of Leicester they were so offended by?

Somehow, Lucretia was sure it wasn’t the latter.

Trying to ignore the hands fanning noses, she turned into the street and knocked on the door of the home her husband was visiting.

Lo and behold, her bespectacled husband, Richard, was the one who answered.

“Ah, you’re back, Lucy.”

He leaned in to give her a kiss, pulling back when the smell of the workhouse caught his nose.

“Hm, I take it that workhouse has all the pleasant smells of a sewer?”

“Long story.” Lucretia said. “I shall tell you when we return home.”

“Very well.”

It was dusk when the young Reid couple’s carriage finally arrived.

One last goodbye wave, and they cantered into the gathering twilight toward London.

Cocooned in the carriage’s walls and low ceiling, Lucretia confessed her story.

In disbelief, Richard snapped his glasses off his face, agape.

“Good Lord! Why the sudden desire to befriend workhouse inmates?”

Sighing, Lucretia leaned back on the cushioned seat, regaining her reasons.

Pity, a poor soul, deformed through no fault of his own, friendless.

Her husband slowly edged his glasses back over his nose.

“You do understand some of them trick unaware ladies into their clutches?”

“Oh Richard, of course, Rosie told me all that.” Mrs Reid laid a hand on her husband’s arm. “I feel Mr Merrick was not that way. That he really needed someone to show him charity.”

“And…and you gave your last loaf to him?”

“For his health.”

Despite the odour still clinging to Lucretia, Richard slipped an arm around her shoulders, feeling her lean her head against him.

“You’ve always had a big heart, sweetie, haven’t you?” Richard murmured. “But be sure no one takes advantage of it, even in your delicate condition.”

“Richard, you know my name and delicate never belong in the same sentence.” Lucretia declared. “Like oil and water, they do not mix.”

Fondly, he ruffled her red hair. “That’s for sure.”

“Please don’t do that, Richard,” Lucretia mock-scolded. “My hair’s frizzy enough as it is!”

Chuckling, her husband did it one more time, just to tease.

Reminded of the baby’s presence, Lucretia absent-mindedly laid a hand over her swelling belly.

Unlike so many couples whose marriages were arranged, Lucretia and Richard truly loved each other.

And their first child was conceived not just because they had to.

She..or he…was conceived out of true love between two very loving and intimate humans.

Lucretia was eternally grateful to God for the good graces of sending her Richard as her everlasting, loving husband.


__________________
You who I called brother,
How could have you come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Then let my heart be hardened,
And never mind how high the cost may grow,
This will still be so:
I WILL NEVER LET YOUR PEOPLE GO.

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  #4  
Old September 3rd, 2011, 12:14 pm
Marina's Avatar
Marina  Female.gif Marina is offline
Fifth Year
 
Joined: 5667 days
Location: Nowhere
Age: 30
Posts: 750
Re: The Bread of Kindness

Chapter Four

Unbeknownst to Lucretia, cruelty returned to snatch Joseph of the much anticipated morsel.

He managed a small nibble, forgetting in his delight he was not in the shadows, hidden.

The delicious taste of freshly baked bread, risen on the self-same day, spread over his senses.

Memories flickered across his mind like shooting stars in the night.

His mother’s baking—muffins, loaves, or even a small cake for his birthday.

Always so inviting…how much he missed her!

Each day he yearned to see his mother’s face again, her soulful brown eyes and warm smile.

The way she would embrace him in her arms, every hug more soothing than the one before.

The walls of the workhouse suddenly closed in again, shutting out the sunlit memories from so long ago.

A couple of leering, beefy men stood above Joseph, arms folded across their chests.

“So!” one spat. “The freaky thing has a treat today, eh?”

Joseph shivered, held the slightly-nibbled morsel protectively toward him.

But the second man suddenly grabbed the loaf, ripping it out of Joseph’s hands.

“No freak deserves this little treat!” the second man crowed. “Must’ve mistook you for someone else!”

“No…” Joseph insisted quietly, though he knew they wouldn’t listen. “She didn’t…”

The two men chuckled unpleasantly. “What? What? I can’t understand you through that drool.”

“Let’s show him something!”

Roughly, the two inmates dragged Joseph up, even despite his useless hip, ignoring his cry of pain.

There was a rats’ nest in one corner, a little community within this depraved hellhole.

“Hey, there it is.” One man pointed to the rats’ nest. “Throw it there.”

Suddenly, they let go of poor Merrick, who collapsed to the floor.

At the same moment, it dawned on him what they were doing.

And he could do nothing about it.

Struggling to hold back tears, he was forced to watch as the rats swarmed over the morsel tossed into the corner.

Their beady eyes flashed, as if in excitement, as their gnashing jaws tore into the loaf with unbridled relish.

Satisfied, chuckling to each other, the two inmates walked away, ignoring Joseph, who was staring, transfixed at the rats’ ravenous feasting.

He desperately wanted to look away, and yet…he couldn’t.

Only when the last crumb had been licked up by a rat, did Joseph struggle to stand up on his feet, unsteadily dragging himself to his work station.

The bell had rung, everyone back to work for more hours of monotonous, dull work.

Even as the harsh fibers of the rope he was picking apart slashed against his hands’ skin, his mind replayed the scene over and over.

The loaf was stolen, enjoyed by rats living in a corner.

The bread given to him by a charitable lady, who had visited only once, but he still saw her face clearly.

The smile, the gentle eyes, her red hair.

Was she an auburn-haired angel come to visit him?

And would she return again?

Though he dared not hope, Joseph prayed that night she would return.

He wished with all his heart he could see her again…

For now, he could only see her in his memory of the day, her face with its sincere smile…



__________________
You who I called brother,
How could have you come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Then let my heart be hardened,
And never mind how high the cost may grow,
This will still be so:
I WILL NEVER LET YOUR PEOPLE GO.

Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old September 5th, 2011, 11:01 pm
Marina's Avatar
Marina  Female.gif Marina is offline
Fifth Year
 
Joined: 5667 days
Location: Nowhere
Age: 30
Posts: 750
Re: The Bread of Kindness

Chapter Five

As her face never faded from Joseph’s memory, nor did his from Lucretia’s.

Once, she even dreamed about him.

It wasn’t an unpleasant dream—on the contrary, it was rather enjoyable.

She was showing him a baby just born.

She couldn’t see the baby’s face—Lucretia woke up yearning to have seen the infant’s smile and big eyes.

Even waking up, she remembered his eyes, the way he talked to her.

Strangely, there was no unpleasant aroma in the dream, as if he had a fresh bath.

Blearily opening her eyes, Lucretia focussed her mind on the last strands of the dream.

To think but two months had passed since Rosie had dragged her to the workhouse.

Yet, as if it had imprinted itself in stone, Merrick’s face never left her mind.

Nor, apparently, had his name—why’d her mind even remember it?

Not many lived long in the workhouse…if they ever got out of the building.

She had been four months pregnant then.

Absent-mindedly, she ran her fingers over the swelling dome of her belly.

To think two months ago, it looked simply as if she indulged a little too much in sweets.

And now, it was a rounded dome, the baby ever-growing inside.

A product of true love and desire.

The couple still managed to make love, but now her pregnancy was starting to get in the way.

It would be several weeks before they could finally once again express their love in its ultimate gesture.

For now, Lucretia settled with snuggling close to her husband, feeling his warmth against her.

A secure and warm presence that lulled her back into sleep—a dreamless slumber this time.

When she awoke with the first rays of dawn and birdsong, the dream about Merrick lingered still in her memories.

And to think this time she wholly agreed to accompany Rosie to the workhouse later that day.

Only, this time, not out of reluctance.

With her heart, she hoped to see Merrick once again.

And in the kitchen, tucked away from staling air and wandering bugs and vermin, was a fresh bun.

Waiting to be escorted with Lucretia to the workhouse.

A gift for a poor man, whose face never left her memories for an instant.


__________________
You who I called brother,
How could have you come to hate me so?
Is this what you wanted?
Then let my heart be hardened,
And never mind how high the cost may grow,
This will still be so:
I WILL NEVER LET YOUR PEOPLE GO.

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