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Love and Prudence

    Herbert noticed and he took hold of her elbow and led her round the back of the big wild rosebush behind the tea table and put his arms round her. He’d long wanted to stroke her blonde hair and put his arm around her slim waist and give her a squeeze, and now he could. She was quite pliant in his arms and he hadn’t expected that, not after he’d seen how hard she’d slapped Lily. Not like Prue that wasn’t, she must be very upset.
      The tears tipped down her cheeks, and he used the only handkerchief he possessed to dry her eyes. ‘Come on, Prue. Cheer up, love.’
     Herbert got carried away and kissed her forehead right where her blonde fringe stopped.
     ‘Oh! Herbert!’ Prue nestled into his arms and took comfort from his sympathy, till she remembered his family’s filthy cottage and the abject poverty of his mother. 
Still Herbert smelt clean and nice and she set great store by that. But the table had to be cleared and she’d the pots and things to wash in the scullery back at the house, she’d better get on.
     ‘I’ll carry everything back. You get started on the washing up. The lad’ll see to the table.’ Herbert more than halved her work and she was washing up in the scullery before she knew it.
     She heard the clapping from the cricket field and knew the match was finished. Good, she thought, ten minutes and I’ll have done and I’ll have a lie on the bed for half an hour. Just as she had put all the pots away and was wringing out the dishcloth, the sunlight coming through the outside door was cut off and Prudence turned to see who’d come in.
     It was Billy. Her face went a fiery red, she felt such a fool, him seeing her hot and tired, wringing out the dishcloth of all things. Why couldn’t she have been looking pretty sitting on a seat in the sun being. . . . .well. . . .elegant? But no, old workaday Prue was at her worst.
     In a hoarse whispery voice she asked, ‘Can I do anything for you?’
     ‘All depends.’ There was something cheeky and bold about his face and Prue felt confused. She liked Billy no end, but she distrusted that look.
     She put on a brave front. ‘Quite right, it all depends.’ She stood with her hands on her hips presenting herself as well able to cope with anything he might have in mind but feeling wobbly inside.
     Billy bent his head and stepped into the scullery. He wasn’t employed by the House and she knew he shouldn’t come in but he had without so much as a by-your-leave.
     ‘You’ve no business. . . . .’
     ‘I have.’ It took him three steps to reach her, grinning and smelling of drink. ‘Kiss. Give me a kiss, Prue, my love.’
     She remembered Herbert’s gentle kiss on her forehead and she knew instinctively Billy’s wouldn’t be like that.
     ‘No. No kisses for you. Go away.’ What was she saying when his kiss was what she wanted?
     One of Billy’s big hands reached round her waist, his other hand cupped her chin and she was pulled towards him despite her resistance and his lips were kissing her with an urgency she’d never expected.
     There was no escape, she kicked his shins, struggled to push at his chest to force him away but it was no good, he was just too strong for her. When he began caressing her throat and neck with his lips she began to scream and when his hands began roving all over her body she screamed louder still but struggling to stop him was useless. This wasn’t what she wanted, not at all. She became so frightened she couldn’t scream anymore.
     He’d slammed the outside door shut when he came in, but she heard it crash back on its hinges and a voice shout, ‘Stop that!’
     Billy released her and swung round to see who was there.
     It was Herbert.
     Billy sneered.
     Herbert catapulted himself across the scullery floor, and, lifting his arm back socked Billy hard on the jaw. For a moment Billy hesitated with a dazed and puzzled look on his face and then crumpled to the floor. Herbert began to kick Billy as he lay there semiconscious.



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