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Love and Prudence

     He was coming across the pitch towards her and she was blushing right down to her boots. ‘Hello, Prue, my love, my usual please.’
     He drank the whole pot full in one go, holding his head back and her seeing his Adam’s apple sliding up and down, up and down and admiring the sun-kissed skin of his throat. When he’d emptied the glass, he put it down and grinned the same kind of grin Herbert had given her but Billy’s set her insides on fire. It was a good thing someone called his name and he moved off because she felt as though her legs had all but melted away.
     There was nothing for her to do while the game was being played so she lounged on the grass watching Billy score nineteen runs in his innings. After that the match had no more interest for her until Billy’s turn to bowl, so she idly watched the game and the spectators until she was needed. Prudence fell into a reverie in which Billy and she were walking through Turnham Woods hand in hand, he was just about to kiss her full on the mouth and she was trembling with the excitement of it all when the tea interval was called so she had to leave that delicious moment and jerk herself back to real life. Prue served the tea in a complete dither.
     Herbert had offered to serve the ale so he was constantly in her view, joking and laughing with everyone and making her realize what a popular man he was, quite different from that straight laced footman she knew him as back at the house.
     Then the Rector’s daughter, Mary, appeared, escorted by, would you believe it, Billy Biggs, and Prue’s heart turned to stone.
     Prue tried hard to sound welcoming. ‘Y-yes, Miss Mary, what would you like to eat? Here we are then. Tea?’
     She could have stuffed the fairy cake Mary had chosen right down her throat and not lifted a finger if she’d begun to choke. As for Billy he sank two pots of ale and wolfed down three fairy cakes, smiling and chortling at Miss Mary as though she was the only girl in the village. If he thought Miss Mary would melt at the touch of his hand or the sight of his smile he’d got another thing coming. Mary was prim and proper, right down to those fancy slipper things she wore. No ordinary boots for her, oh! no. Ice cold and not a smile in her for us ordinary folk. Thought herself a cut above the Turnham Malpas people she did because she’d been to France. Imagine that, France where they spoke different from Turnham Malpas people and understood each other too. He was wasting his time with her.
     Billy didn’t tease Prue like he would have normally, she didn’t even rate a second glance he was so absorbed in Mary. He never touched Mary she noticed, not like he did all the other girls, an arm round their waist or catching hold of their hands, or looking as if any minute he’d have his arms round them. . . .kissing. . . . .
     When the second half of the cricket match began Prue looked at the clearing up she had to do. At the rough and tumble piles of half empty cups, with fairy cake papers dropped in them, and the saucers all askew. What had happened to that Lily Rose she’d promised. . . . .there she was coming out of the woods with that Tom Quayle from the cottage on the green and a more idle lazy useless family you couldn’t hope to meet.
     ‘Lily Rose! I’ve been waiting for you to help me. Where’ve you been.’
     Tom said, ‘No prizes for guessing where we’ve been.’ He sniggered in a silly fashion and so did Lily, and Tom slapped her bottom making her laugh. Prue sniffed their breath and thought she smelt whisky like in the master’s decanter thingy in the dining room. She looked at Lily and saw a strange look in her eye, wild and relaxed kind of. ‘Lily! You been drinking?’
      She giggled and said coquettishly, ‘You can ask but I shan’t answer.’
     ‘Don’t you be cheeky to me.’ Before she knew it she’d slapped Lily across her silly drunken face. It wasn’t fair. Everyone had a boyfriend except Prudence Wright, even a stupid useless piece of rubbish like Lily Rose Senior.
     Wild with temper and disappointment Prue scurried about clearing up. Dirty cups and pots in the baskets, left over cakes wrapped up for her to take to her Granny’s on Sunday, milk back in the churn, sugar scooped up into the bag, cloth for her to wash on Monday and. . . . . .tears welled in her eyes.



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