The Petticoat Men

The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing Read Free Book Online
Authors: Barbara Ewing
Tags: Fiction, Historical
lady: ‘What was her life, I wonder, Mattie?’ She talks to them quite often and she’s always giving her shawl to someone.
    We both clean our house, Ma and me, and do the washing, and I do the front steps and Ma does our cooking and I sew my hats by the window or under a good lamp, and when Billy comes home we all sit in our basement kitchen and tell of our day. Billy so likes his work at the Parliament, specially now that he does the clerical things, he often tells us such funny stories about the goings-on there, how Mr Gladstone speaks very loud, and gets secret letters inside other ordinary envelopes for instance!
    ‘Who from?’ we said.
    ‘Spies? Mistresses? I dont know!’ and we all laughed to think of the Prime Minister of England having one or the other.
    ‘Very nice handwriting, William!’ said Mr William Gladstone to my brother Billy years ago.
    ‘We’ll get maids when I’m old,’ Ma said firmly when we asked her if she might like to do less, and Billy and me looked at each other and rolled our eyes, she’s fifty now! She made Billy’s shirts too, and pretty gowns for me, and finally we purchased her greatest treasure: a Singer Sewing Machine! We like the clicking hum it makes when the treadle goes up and down – she sews in our little back parlour in the evening sometimes, and on Sundays, and the Singer Sewing Machine hums and clicks, and Billy reads us books or the newspapers, just like our Pa used to.
    That’s enough. That’s all you need to know about our life.
    Well – that was our life I mean up till that first Sunday in May when we first heard of the arrest of Freddie and Ernest, with Billy reading to us from the Reynolds News in our little back parlour.
    ‘You want to hear a bit about the case from The Times ?’said Billy now to us.
    ‘We know it’ll sound different, course we do,’ said Ma, sipping her port, only today she wasn’t laughing, she sounded sarcastic.
Decent people may not willingly hear of these things, but a case presenting novel and extraordinary features is sure to be a subject of curiosity to hundreds of thousands, and acquires an importance which may demand some notice.
    ‘Hundreds of thousands of people?’ I repeated stupidly, not believing this. ‘Reading about Freddie and Ernest do they mean?’
    ‘Bloody hell,’ said Ma, and she looked quite angry.
In the present day it is impossible to prevent such a case from being discussed by the public at large, and particularly by people who unite a strong appetite for the morbid and sensational with a credulity beyond bounds concerning the malpractices of the classes above them.
    ‘Now that’s enough!’ said Ma and suddenly the turkey-ruffling started full-tilt. ‘ Credulity beyond bounds concerning the malpractices of the classes above them indeed! They’re jumping up and down at The Times , I know one or two of them hypocrite journalists who work there,they’re getting excited about Lord Arthur Clinton and who knows who else being involved, “Cant have that,” they’ll say at The Times , I see they dont say his name, but someone knows and they’re getting exercised about it! Freddie and Ernest may be “gentlemen” in ladies’ gowns. But Lord Arthur is the Nobility – that’s what’s causing all the excitement, they wont care what happens to Freddie and Ernest, you’ll see,’ and she tightened her lips and she seemed suddenly really furious and do you know what she did then? she took The Times from Billy and stalked down to our kitchen, us following her, and she wrapped bones and rubbish in it, got it all greasy.
    ‘I suppose Queen Victoria is reading this version, and shaking her royal tiara in horror, as if her children are little darlings – like the Prince of Wales!’ she said, wrapping angrily. ‘Ha! And dont think we’re going to be sitting here next Sunday drinking port and reading gossiping newspapers. Next Sunday we’re going to go and sit with Mrs Portmanteau.’
    Billy and I rolled

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