Mabel crowley book one, p.1
Mabel Crowley: Book One, p.1E.H. Nolan
Thank you to my loving and supportive family who waited patiently for the ink to dry. Thank you to the educational Mrs. Read, the talented Professor Johnson, and the CreateSpace team for guiding me through the publishing process.
Tell Taylor’s “Down By the Old Mill Stream,” recorded and released in 1910, appears in courtesy of the Public Domain.
Alberta Hunter’s and Lovie Austin’s “Downhearted Blues,” recorded and released in 1922, appears in courtesy of the Public Domain.
Copyright © 2013 by E.H. Nolan
Edited by Jessica Read
Cover Illustrations by Howard David Johnson
All rights reserved.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Title font is set in Champignon, designed by Diogene.
Text font is set in Garamond.
In dedication to Mabel and Charlie, without whom,
this story would not have been written
Mabel Crowley hated her name. Oh, “Mabel” was alright; it was “Crowley” that displeased her so. Whenever she heard it spoken aloud, she pictured someone so wrinkled and old, it would be necessary to stare as one would at a confusing painting in order to determine whether or not the massive wrinkle could ever have been considered a woman. Anyone named “Crowley”, Mabel was convinced, was destined to become an old maid. Certain names lent themselves to the image of a spinster, like “Pratt” . . . and “Crowley”. Ever since she was a little girl, she longed for the day she would marry and retire her insufferable surname in exchange for one that would ring out into the air and make a good impression when spoken.
Mabel Landry. Mabel Martin. Mabel Ayes. No, “Mabel Ayes” sounded like “mayonnaise”; that would never do. Each time—yes, literally every time—she would become introduced to a member of the male species, she would pair up his last name with her first. If it sounded acceptable, Mabel would concoct an elaborate fancy in her head of how she and her new friend would fall in love and marry.
Marriage—oh, that was a subject that occupied her thoughts for hours on end! Mabel longed to marry, to have a house and husband of her own, and to someday raise her children. Mabel knew she’d be a wonderful wife; in fact, sometimes she felt that she was born to be a wife. With her manners, breeding, kindness, supportive nature, and eagerness to run a household, any man would be proud if Mabel was the mistress of his manor. Oh, what a wonderful life she’d lead once she was married!
Mabel was the only child of Henry and Rose Crowley. She did not, however, adopt the introverted behavioural type generally associated with only children; instead, she learned at an early age to create elaborate fantasies in her head. With no siblings to contradict or compromise her ideas, Mabel was allowed to play out whatever dramatic fancy she pleased. In that respect, and no other, she was spoiled.
She came from a wealthy family and received the customary privileges money provided, but she didn’t place her nose in the air and look down on others. In fact, Mabel’s nose, even in physical form, never turned up. Her nose lay flat on her face, nostrils taking their place on either side of the pug-like cartilage. She inherited this nose from her mother, but all other facial characteristics resembled her father. Both Mabel and Henry Crowley were the proud owners of large, wide eyes in a deep shade of grey. Their chins betrayed the width of their upper faces and descended to a slender point. When Mabel was a little girl, Henry would trace the outline of her face with his index finger before she went to sleep. Long after the routine exceeded its necessity, Mabel still requested the “heart face game” before bed, insisting she didn’t sleep well without it. Henry, devoted to his only child, was happy to comply.
Henry Crowley was a rich man and could have very well bought whatever his only daughter desired, but Mabel never wished for an abundance of material possessions. Mabel was more concerned with events and amusements playing out exactly to her liking.
Henry Crowley was a rich man, though he was not overly wealthy nor part of the elite upper class. His job as a banker required him to live in a large city for business, but Rose had wished to live in the quiet country for her child. As a compromise, they settled in the city of Wells, near countless rural areas in Somerset.
The Crowleys had a good name and were respected, but Henry was never able to raise their status to the very top of the ladder. After all, he was still a working man, and there were gentlemen who did not need to venture outside their homes to earn an income. On the other hand, Henry Crowley was a much respected man, one of the very most upper of the middle class.
At the lower end of the expanding middle class were men who had enough money but who had to dirty their hands for a living. Jonathon Archer was one such. He owned his own business, Archer & Sons Livery Yard, and it was quite a success. Jonathon belonged to the third generation of Archer & Sons and was in the process of training his successor. He loved his work, as had his father before him, and his father before him. The Archers loved horses and treated them as their children. Grooming, feeding, raising, training, breeding, nursing to health, riding—everything was a joy and a thrill, from welcoming a newborn foal into the world to the old mare’s last glorious lap round the pen.
However, Jonathon’s eldest son shared nothing but his name with his father. The younger John didn’t want to take over the family business. He was under the impression that one could control one’s lot in life and he was determined to make his mark in the world on his own. The senior Archer was more than mildly disappointed but gave his blessing when John left for London to find work.
The youngest Archer, Charlie, took great interest in his father’s work, and in no time, Jonathon was happily bestowing his vast knowledge of horses onto his second son.
Under Jonathon’s care, Archer & Sons began providing an added service: boarding horses. When the first Archer created the stables, his main priority had been to keep it afloat, to make sure it would survive more than one generation. When Jonathon’s father took over, he turned the stable into a highly successful and respected place of business.
Jonathon’s family was very well cared for; although they weren’t considered upper middle class, they were in fact financially quite comfortable. The added lucrative feature of boarding horses created a connection to those of a higher class. Members of higher classes who lived in houses without sufficient land or without stables would board their horses at Archer & Sons, paying them handsomely and visiting their horses whenever reminded by the bill.
Henry Crowley was such a customer. His daughter had expressed a desire for a horse of her own once she began taking riding lessons, as was customary for girls of her status. Devoted and wealthy father that he was, Henry purchased an animal for his little girl and set up the foal to board at Jonathon’s stable. Little Mabel, only thirteen when she first received her gift, took a train eleven miles to the town of Bruton with her father and visited Ginger once a month to practice her beginner’s riding lessons.
Within a year, she felt so comfortable there, she requested her father cancel her riding classes and arrange for private riding lessons at Archer & Sons. By this time, Jonathon had trained his apprentice thoroughly, and it was the youngest Archer who gave Mabel her riding lessons. Drawn together by their mutual love of her horse, yet separated by class distinction, Mabel and her teacher Charlie got on splendidly. He was patient and kind. She seemed no different to him
Outside the stables, she was his superior, but inside the pen, he was more experienced and he was responsible for her well-being. Mabel liked that her teacher was her age; often they would forgo the lessons and end up playing together the entire afternoon. Mabel and Charlie became such good friends that she pleaded with her father that he might increase her lessons to twice a month.
She still felt awkward atop her horse and was frightened when Ginger’s speed was greater than a walk. When Mabel finally felt comfortable at a walk, Ginger moved slightly faster; Mabel yelped and wobbled and gripped the reins for dear life. She was terribly embarrassed, especially because Charlie exuded nothing but confidence while atop a horse.
Once, she was trying to regain her balance and act as if she was a competent rider to impress Charlie. They were riding round the ring together, side by side at a trot, and she wanted to pretend that she could keep up with him. Suddenly without warning, Ginger stopped in her tracks, causing Mabel to lurch in her saddle. She fell forward and held onto Ginger’s neck, trying to catch her breath. She tried to coax Ginger into walking but was terribly unsuccessful.
Ridding ahead of her, Charlie turned round and came back to where Mabel was stuck. He saw her predicament and chuckled to himself. He knew what the problem was; he had trained Ginger to stop moving whenever she sensed that Mabel was frightened. He knew that Mabel still wasn’t comfortable, and he wanted to make her lessons as pleasant as possible.
Mabel watched Charlie as he trotted his horse around her stationary one, watched how he handled himself and the horse with ease and confidence. Just as suddenly as she had stopped, Ginger broke into a trot again. Mabel’s heart leapt in her chest, but she told herself it was only because her horse had frightened her. She momentarily switched her focus and tried to regain control of the animal, but once she and Charlie were again trotting side by side, she managed to steal sideways glances every once in a while at her riding instructor.
Inside of another year, by the time Mabel and Charlie were fifteen, Mabel looked forward to seeing Charlie just as much as she looked forward to seeing Ginger.
At that age, it is natural for boys and girls to take notice of the opposite sex and develop crushes on anyone who is even the least bit attractive. Mabel was not a striking beauty, but she was pretty; she did not want for admirers at school. However, any brief romances were just that—brief. Once the boys heard Mabel’s tendency to ramble on in speech, they quickly transferred their affections to other, less talkative girls. The only person, boy or girl, who listened to Mabel’s conversation was Charlie.
Around the time Mabel began noticing that Charlie took a keen interest in what she had to say and contributed enough to her monologues to transform them into dialogues, she also became aware of something she hadn’t noticed before: Charlie was a very cute boy. He had a fantastic smile; the right corner of his mouth began it and halfway convinced the left side to join in. It was as if he knew he was about to do something mischievous and then got caught by an elder relative. Charlie’s slightly upturned nose was planted in the centre of his square face; Mabel concluded that she had never seen a face with such a perfect structure, despite the fact that every face she’d ever seen contained two eyes, a nose, and a mouth.
Charlie, with his seemingly perfect face, should, in theory, have had dozens of girlfriends and an even greater number waiting with bated breath for an opening in his schedule. However, Charlie never became obsessed with girls as so many boys his age had. He knew he’d eventually have to fall in love and marry, but while he was still unencumbered by the pressures of adult life, he wished to spend all his free time with his horses. Some would argue that Charlie’s love of horses exceeded that of his father’s. Charlie spent every waking hour in the stables. He dragged himself away to go to school, but after the few tortuous hours were behind him, he would run all the way home to take advantage of every precious minute he lost while confined in a classroom.
The only girl Charlie ever spent time with was Mabel, and that was only because her father was paying for her lessons. Charlie hardly noticed she was a girl and just treated her like any other customer. However, as time passed, he began to enjoy himself around her. He actually looked forward to hearing her latest theories and ideas. She was a joy to talk to; he had never met anyone like her. She never looked down at her him or treated him as any less than her equal. When Charlie took extra preparations for Mabel’s bi-monthly visits, such as an attempt to comb his unruly hair or a cautionary wash behind his neck, it was only then that he realized something extraordinary about Mabel: she was a very pretty girl.
The senior Archers and Crowleys never suspected that a romance might blossom between their teenaged children. They assumed that both would know and keep their places in society, and that there would be no trouble. Mr Archer took no notice that in Mabel’s second year of riding lessons, she had barely improved since her first day. Mr Crowley never noticed that Mabel took extra time in front of her looking glass before leaving for the train station, never questioned that oftentimes she donned her daintiest frock and returned from her riding lessons without a smudge of dirt on her clothing. It was on the afternoon that Mrs Crowley found small pieces of straw in Mabel’s hair that the unsuspecting parents realized just how blind they had been.
Mrs Crowley sat her daughter down, as was a mother’s duty, and questioned her about Charlie Archer. Mabel was relieved to finally be able to speak what was in her heart, and she told her mother everything. As it turned out, Mabel had flopped onto a haystack after telling a particularly dramatic story to Charlie. Her audience of one clapped enthusiastically and helped her up on her feet. Neither one noticed the straw in Mabel’s hair, and Mabel’s mother was relieved beyond words to hear the true story of its origin.
Mrs Crowley was convinced that Mabel’s crush on the stable-boy was harmless. Charlie was obviously a nice boy; if he was going to take advantage of Mabel he would have done it already. She spoke to her husband, told him all was well, and Mabel’s travels to Bruton resumed as usual.
One fine spring day, Mabel skipped to the Archers’ stables with an uncontainable grin on her face. She greeted the master and mistress of the house and then dragged Charlie outside so she could speak with him.
“I’m transferring schools next year,” she told him. “I’ll be at King’s!”
The two were very excited and nearly shook each other’s arms off in congratulations. You see, King’s School was but half a mile from the edge of the Archer property. Mabel was to finish her education in Bruton and live in one of the dormitories for the entire year. She could see Charlie any time she wished, without waiting for riding lessons or trains or anything!
After Mabel left that afternoon, Charlie’s enthusiasm diminished. Of course, he was glad that Mabel would be spending an entire year in Bruton, but at what cost? She’d spend the day with her rich friends at school and then sneak away to see the stable-boy? After a couple of weeks, she’d realize that he was completely beneath her and she’d never visit him again! That night, Charlie told his father of his feelings for Mabel. Jonathon tried for hours to convince his son to forget Miss Crowley, that they were of different classes, and that nothing good could come of it. His heart ached for poor Charlie, and once he realized how deeply in love he was, Jonathon agreed to help his son in any way he could.
Inside of a month, Charlie had exciting news of his own to tell Mabel. He too would be attending King’s School in the autumn for his final year of schooling. Mabel did not give nearly as favourable a reaction as Charlie had hoped. She was confused. How was his enrolment allowed? Wasn’t King’s only for wealthy students?
Charlie felt so hurt; his father had been right all along. She’d always looked at him as hired help all these years.
“Just because my father works in a stable doesn’t mean we’re poor. He owns that stable. He’s got quite a bit of money, enough to send me to a proper sch
Mabel’s cheeks felt hot from the sting of his words. She was embarrassed and tried to convince Charlie that she meant no offence and was merely curious. She didn’t yet understand the ways of the world.
What Charlie neglected to tell her was that his father had fought vigorously for a month to get him into the school. He had begged and threatened, was kind and coercive, blackmailed and lied; but in the end, only one tactic was successful. Mr Archer agreed to pay double the tuition before Charlie was admitted into the school.
“I’m awfully glad you’ll be there, Charlie. I won’t know anyone else at the school. I hardly know anyone else in Bruton besides your family.” Mabel looked up at him, her wide eyes full of sincerity. Charlie quickly forgave her for what she’d said earlier.
“I’m awfully glad that you’ll be living in Bruton this year!” Charlie said, a joyful energy back in his voice. “You’ll be so much closer to—” he took a sharp breath “—your horse.”
That autumn, Mabel and Charlie prepared for their final year at school, in very different ways. Mr and Mrs Crowley travelled to Bruton with their daughter and moved her into her boarding dormitory. They met the headmasters and headmistresses as well as professors, and parents of Mabel’s living companions. The overprotective Crowleys blended with the rest of the parents at King’s; the rich were always quick to fuss over their children in the beginning and quick to leave them to flounder alone once the term started. A quick kiss and a “do take care of yourself” from her mother, an embrace from her father and an assurance that he’d spoken to every authority possible to make sure her time was enjoyable. The Crowleys and the Woods and the Clarks and the Hills and the Turners and the Harrisons and all the other privileged parents left their privileged children in the care of privileged professors; the silence was almost deafening once the adults had gone. Christine Cannon, Emma Chamberlain, Astrid Clark and Mabel Crowley were left to their own devices to get to know one another. They were polite, but only in a cursory way. They would have an entire year to find out each other’s quirks and irritations, and none of the girls wished to rush acquaintance with their flatmates.
Charlie’s parents did not accompany him to school; there was no need. Since he lived so close to King’s, he would still live at home and walk to school every morning. He had no flatmates to meet, no dormitory to decorate into a home, no headmaster to impress. Charlie felt guilty that his father had spent so much of his savings so that he could attend King’s, so he insisted on purchasing his school supplies and new wardrobe from his own savings. Charlie had very little money, but he had enough to clothe himself in a few expensive garments. He had to at least pretend that he belonged at the school. On the first walk to school, Charlie was incredibly nervous. His feet carried him faster than he had anticipated, and adrenaline was making him sweat. He had reached the entrance of King’s School and took a moment to soak in the magnificence. An expansive brick wall with columns excluded unwanted persons, such as those of Charlie’s background, and behind the barrier were glorious twin structures. Rows of cathedral windows seemed endless. Charlie had never seen such professionally laid brick, but perhaps he was taken in by the glory of the architecture in full. The brick structures rose high into the sky, even higher with the dark, slanted roofs, and it occurred to Charlie that this school deserved to be its own place of worship. The gardens were lush and green, with every type of flower and bush and tree imaginable—all trimmed to perfection and blooming as if it were spring. Even the sun was shining his approval—everything was welcoming Charlie to the elusive upper class and approving of his arrival.
Charlie enjoyed his first two classes immensely, not particularly because of the subject matters or the professors, but because he knew he would see Mabel as soon as the second class was released. His fellow students seemed to have made their friends already—a result, Charlie assumed, of their living arrangements in the boarding houses. Charlie didn’t mind that no boy approached him with an introduction; the only friend he cared about was Mabel.
Mabel and Charlie met up during their midday break, enjoying a peaceful snack out in the gardens. They talked nonstop about their classes, professors, Mabel’s flatmates, King’s School in general . . . The hour passed quickly, and the two friends were forced to bookmark their conversation until the school day was fully complete. They shook hands and said goodbye. Each took a sneak peek behind them for one last glance, and each was thoroughly embarrassed when the target of their gaze caught them in the act.
Charlie spent the remainder of the afternoon in the Boys Tower, and Mabel sat through her classes in the Girls Tower. It was dreadful to sit through the usual first-day-of-term speeches by the professors. Didn’t they know that the students wanted nothing more than to continue their summer holiday? No one was listening; they were waiting for their release into the fresh air and sunshine, when they could talk to their new friends in their dormitories or their old friends from the previous preparatory school. Mabel’s thoughts were solely focused on Charlie. He looked so dapper in his new clothes, but he still looked out of place. Once he saw her, he looked so pathetically relieved—her heart skipped inside her chest.
In the afternoon, Mabel gave Charlie a tour of the boarding houses. The massive brick structures were all very similar, but Charlie supposed that living in one would help in recognizing one apart from the others. The interior of Mabel’s house, Westalia, was decorated in pinks and purples and crimsons and fuchsias. Charlie assumed that the male houses were adorned in more mannish colours and styles. Mabel’s particular flat, on the first floor, was shared with three other girls. Mabel roomed with Astrid Clark because of the alphabetical order of the houses, and Mabel’s side of the room was infinitely tidier than her counterpart’s. Astrid was thin and blonde, with a constantly pinched look to her face. Charlie asked Mabel if she was particularly sore about something, but Mabel had quickly learned that it was merely Astrid’s normal facial expression. Charlie was also introduced to the girls in the neighbouring bedroom, Christine Cannon and Emma Chamberlain. They would be sharing a common living room with Mabel the entire year, so Charlie wanted to make a good first impression.
When Mabel had finished the tour, it was time for Charlie to leave. She walked him out of the building, and immediately her three flatmates began the first of many talks behind her back.
Mabel and Charlie alternated their after-school time together between the beautiful grounds of King’s and the stables of Archer & Sons. Mabel still liked to attempt to ride Ginger every once in a while. After all, her father was still paying for boarding and riding lessons, so she might as well pretend that he was getting his money’s worth.
While at the stables, Mabel would catch Charlie’s father watching them sometimes. She didn’t mind that he was “keeping an eye on them”; they weren’t doing anything that he couldn’t have seen. Now and then, Jonathon would pretend that he was outside for a necessary reason, and he coincidentally kept the two youths in his vision. At such times, Mabel would wave her arms above her head like a mad woman and shout at the top of her lungs, “Hello, Mr Archer!” Jonathon would give a small, embarrassed wave and retreat to the house.
Jonathon Archer had always been friendly to Mabel, but he was even more so that year, when she would spend time at his home. He was glad to see that the sacrifice he’d made for his son had been put to good use. The two children got along so well and were so happy together; even Jonathon occasionally forgot the class distinction between them. It was obvious to watch them, to anyone who saw them together—Mabel and Charlie had fallen in love.
Neither party had vocalized their feelings, but it was an everyday strain to keep the secret inside. They watched each other constantly, and nearly every other sentence out of their mouths was a compliment to the other.
“Won’t you walk me to school tomorrow? I loved our morning stroll yesterday.”
“What a smart coat! I thought I’d seen all the pieces in your wardrobe that matched your eyes.”
It was practically sickening how sweetly they treated one another. Charlie always insisted on walking her to every destination; he held doors open and umbrellas up. Once, he laid his coat over a puddle on the ground so Mabel wouldn’t dirty her shoes while crossing. Mabel was equally as thoughtful. On the rare occasion she was unaccompanied by Charlie, she would always be reminded of him in some way. If it was a trinket in a shop, she bought it. Charlie adored the small silver horse pin for his jacket, but insisted that she stop buying him gifts. If Mabel thought of Charlie because of a song played in the square, she’d learn it by heart and then perform it for Charlie the next time they were together. Even if the reminder had absolutely nothing to do with Charlie—and Mabel would sometimes have to stretch the connection very much indeed—Mabel would bring Charlie to the place where she was when she thought of him.
“Was there anything in particular you wanted me to see?” Charlie asked when Mabel brought him to a murky pond for the third time in a month.
“Oh . . .” Mabel wrinkled her forehead, trying to think of a plausible reason. “Well, I was here a few days ago, and I thought of you . . . but now I can’t remember why. I suppose I thought you should see it. It’s a . . . lovely pond.”
They looked at the muddy water surrounded by swamp-like weeds. It was far from lovely, but the company more than made up for the distasteful scenery.
Usually, Mabel and Charlie spent one to two hours together after school before suppertime. Charlie was only allowed in Mabel’s room for a maximum of one hour a day, as were the rules of her boarding house. When the weather warranted, they spent their time together outside in the expansive grounds of the school.
On the week-ends, they would spend the majority of their time together at the Archer property. Mabel would help Charlie with his work in the stables, meaning she would entertain him with conversation or give a noble effort in helping to groom the horses.
“She’s so beautiful,” Mabel said of a grey Dartmoor.
Charlie was distracted by the word “beautiful” and immediately thought of Mabel. He gazed at her, so glad that she did not return his stare. After what seemed an eternity but still not long enough, he tore his eyes away from Mabel and resumed brushing Dusty’s coat.
It was customary for the students to sit together in church; if, for example, Mabel and Astrid sat beside each other the entire month of November, and Mabel sat elsewhere the first Sunday in December, it was to be expected that Astrid would whisper to everyone around her, on that particular Sunday, every fleeting suspicion to explain Mabel’s absence. This fact was known to both Mabel and Charlie. An unspoken agreement developed into habit: their seating arrangement in church both pacified their peers and allowed them to enjoy each other’s company from a bearable distance.
As Mabel sat on the unyielding wooden bench, she found it difficult to concentrate on the sermon. Charlie was sitting diagonally to the left in front of her, as per their usual arrangement. When he would tilt his head to the right and sigh in boredom, as many of the students did every Sunday morning, he would wrinkle his upturned nose ever so slightly. Mabel found it most distracting. Charlie ran his fingers through his hair and propped his arm up on the back of the bench. Mabel’s eyes detected the movement and she was forced to stare at him longer than she had ever intended. His shoulder pulled tight the material of his clothing so that every bulge of his arm was visible beneath the cloth, if one took the time to look. Mabel blushed as she remembered seeing Charlie without his shirt the week prior.
She had walked down to the stable without notice; Mabel didn’t know why, but she had an overwhelming desire to visit Ginger. Mabel hadn’t called at the house, but instead went straight to the stables. Charlie was there, running alongside a beautiful chestnut mare. The sun was beating down on both of them; Charlie had felt too encumbered with his shirt and had discarded it near a fencepost. Mabel was surprised to see how muscular he was. Whenever she had compared him to the boys at school, he did seem to have more bulk, but she just assumed that he was chubbier than other boys his age. Beside the occasional accidental hand on his shoulder when dismounting Ginger, Mabel had never touched his body, and thus had never discovered that it was solid and not soft. All the other boys she knew were either slender or soft; nobody she knew had the opportunity to fine-tune their body with exercise or manual labour like Charlie, so naturally their bodies were still those of boys and not men. Mabel had never seen anybody with a build like Charlie’s, except his father, but he was older and tired from life, so Mabel’s eyes never lingered on his person.
Mabel watched him and the horse, both running and panting as one. Their muscles rippled; their sweat glistened. After running round the enclosure twice, Charlie swung himself onto the horse, bareback. It was so easy for Charlie; he had grown up around horses, riding was second nature to him. He rode round the circle twice more, yipping and cheering the horse on as a loving trainer would. As a reward, he let her drink from a pail of cool water as he patted and stroked her shoulders. After the mare had quenched her thirst, Charlie poured the remainder of the bucket’s contents over his head and neck. The water drenched his hair and cascaded down his chest and back. He shook his head back and forth to shake out the excess water, then returned his attention to the mare, cooing to her and congratulating her on a job well done.
Looking at him now, Mabel could hardly believe she never noticed how muscular Charlie’s body was. How could she have possibly mistaken his solid mass for adolescent chubbiness? Looking at him now . . . Mabel was certain that she had been staring at Charlie for far too long, so she tried to avert her eyes from the tempting sight in front of her. This was a difficult task, so Mabel felt forced to turn her head in the complete opposite direction from Charlie. Naturally, Jane Parkins, the victim of Mabel’s accidental turn, assumed Mabel was gawking at her. She self-consciously touched her hand to her braids and half-whispered, half-shouted, “Mabel Crowley! Don’t you know it’s rude to stare?”
Automatically, Mabel turned her head away from Jane, even though she hadn’t been looking at Jane at all; she had merely been looking at anyone who wasn’t Charlie! Looking as far away from Jane as was possible, Mabel felt her gaze drift, like a bad habit, back to Charlie. He caught her this time, and grinned. He knew she was ashamed to look at him but she couldn’t help herself, and it always amused him to think that Mabel Crowley might possibly harbour affections for him.
Mabel did not return his smile. She looked away from him, then back once more for a final look at his side smirk, and finally focused all her attention on the non-existent wrinkle on her dress. Mabel’s heart was beating against her throat; she thought she’d die if anyone spoke to her. Ashamed of her impure thoughts—and while in church, imagine!—Mabel wished at that moment that she were a Catholic instead of a Methodist. She wished for someone to confess her feelings for Charlie Archer, for there was no one in her life in whom she felt she could confide. Her classmates at school were already teasing her for even associating with him as a friend—what would they say if they knew otherwise? She didn’t dare tell Charlie—what if he didn’t reciprocate her feelings? The humiliation! She’d have to run away, perhaps even leave the country. If Charlie loved her, it would be proper for him to make his intentions known; nice girls did not act on their whims. Nice girls waited for the man, as Mabel was taught by her mother.
Mabel sat on the uncomfortable church bench, unable to think of God or prayer or repentance or repression. Charlie Archer was on her mind, and Mabel felt sure that the only way to relive herself of her unladylike feelings was to confess them and then be punished for her wickedness. Mabel began planning her conversion to Catholicism.
By the end of the service, Mabel had planned every minute detail and was so invested an
Charlie caught up to Mabel once they were outside and asked if she wanted to come to the stables that afternoon.
“No, thank you. I’m Catholic now.” The words came flying out of her mouth before she could stop them.
Charlie was puzzled and asked her to explain the connection between Catholicism and horses.
“Well . . . you see . . .” Why did he have to look at her so intently? Mabel kept walking in an attempt to regain her concentration. Inadvertently, she started walking in the direction one would take if one was inclined to visit Archer & Sons Livery Yard. “Catholics don’t like to do bad things, but sometimes they do.” Mabel had no idea what she was saying. “Sometimes, when they don’t want to do the bad things, they need to stay away from horses.”
“Goodness, Charlie, haven’t you ever thought about doing something you shouldn’t?”
“Of course, Mabel. But what does this all have to do with horses?”
Mabel looked at him, incredulous, and for a brief moment thought perhaps he had been spending too much time with the horses. How could he not understand what she was talking about? “Don’t be daft, Charlie. This has got nothing to do with the horses.” Mabel was walking very quickly now, unaware of where she was leading them.
“But you just told me you want to become a Catholic because you’re thinking about bad horses!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Charlie! It’s not the sodded horses—it’s you!”
For a moment, they both stood still, Mabel’s words echoing in the open air. Thankfully, they were no longer walking on bustling streets. There was not a person in sight.
“Oh no, I can’t believe I just said that.” Mabel covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head.
“I can’t believe it,” Charlie breathed. “You just said ‘sodded’.” Mabel shrieked involuntarily. “I’ve never heard you swear before, Mabel. You’ll be an awfully busy girl in the confessional next week.”
“Charles Archer! Was that all that surprised you?”
“Well,” Charlie smirked, the right corner of his mouth inching its way up his cheek. “I suppose not. But Mabel, to be honest, I don’t know if I should believe you or pretend I didn’t hear you. Or did you forget I’m the son of a stableman?”
Mabel rushed up to him, afraid to touch him but pleading with her eyes. “Believe me, Charlie! Believe me!”
“Mabel.” Charlie assumed the tone he so often used with Mabel, a loving yet instructing tone. He spoke this way to her often when she’d tell him one of her whims. He’d let her speak, enduring her emotional outbursts and colourful vows of impossibilities he knew she’d forget about entirely in a week’s time. Then he’d say “Mabel”, and pause while he gathered his thoughts. He was patient with her and always took the time to fully talk through her ideas before urging her not to go through with them. The pair never tired of this dance; it was entertaining to both of them.
“Mabel,” Charlie said. “We’ve known each other for three years now. We’ve seen each other quite often, at the stables, and now at school, so of course it’s natural for us to grow into . . . a certain fondness for one another. I’ve felt that way about you for nearly a year, Mabel, but I’ve always kept my place. Have I ever made unwelcome advances towards you?” Mabel shook her head. “Did I ever say or do anything to make you uncomfortable?” Mabel shook her head. “Not once did I step above my station,” he said, pride in his voice. “I’ve always behaved as a perfect stable-boy, because that’s what I am to you, Mabel. That’s all I’ll ever be. You’re a banker’s daughter. You’re a Crowley.”
“I don’t want to be a Crowley!” Mabel cried. “Don’t you know me at all?” She looked up at him, her large eyes on the brink of tears.
Charlie wanted so much to hold her in his arms, to take back everything he’d said. He looked at her with all the tenderness in his heart and took her delicate hand in his rough, calloused ones. Mabel’s heart pounded wildly, and until Charlie spoke again, her pulse was all she could hear.
“I do know you,” he said softly. “And that’s why I said it.” He pressed his lips to Mabel’s knuckles and turned away. With every step, the pain in his chest deepened. But Charlie, convinced that Mabel’s confession was merely another sentimental whim, knew he’d done the right thing.
In the days that followed, Charlie noticed a change in Mabel. She no longer spoke to him after class, no longer came to the stable in the afternoon. She looked miserable and lonely, and it was only then that Charlie began to consider the possibility that Mabel’s confession of love had been true. He had always known of the energy between them, and he had indeed held romantic feelings inside his heart for nearly a year, as he’d told her. However, Charlie knew Mabel well, and he was afraid that if he took her seriously, she would change her mind the next day, leaving him broken and humiliated. As she was clearly the one to harbour those undesirable feelings and not he, Charlie thought that perhaps she had meant the words of her accidental blurt.
A Crowley? The only daughter of Henry Crowley, the successful banker—could she really care for a common stable-boy? Wait, Charlie old boy, he told himself. Give yourself a little more credit. After all, he wasn’t such a bottom dweller that he couldn’t even dream of a pairing with the likes of Mabel Crowley. His father owned a successful business, and the Crowleys weren’t royalty. Still . . .
Charlie imagined calling on Mr Crowley, sitting on the uncomfortably stiff sofa and stuttering as he asked permission for Mabel’s hand in marriage. Marriage? Who said anything about marriage? Get hold of yourself, Archer. Mabel and he loved each other, but they were still in school; she had never hinted she was interested in marrying him. Had she? Didn’t she say, “I don’t want to be a Crowley”? Perhaps she only wished to belong to a different social class. Or perhaps she wished to soon be known as an Archer! No, now that he thought about it, Charlie couldn’t remember Mabel actually exposing any romantic feelings for him at all. The whole conversation had been so confusing; what if he had misunderstood her? What if she didn’t fancy him at all? The only way to find out would be to ask her directly. Oh, but if she did and he did too, then they’d have to marry! Whoa, boy . . . Slow down . . . He was starting to sound like Mabel. Remember, you’re a strong lad, Charlie told himself. One step at a time. It’s not a marriage proposal; it’s just a conversation . . .
Mabel dried her tears with her handkerchief as she answered the knock on her door. Miss Pratt, the dried-up headmistress of her dormitory, stood on the other side of the door with her usual unpleasant expression on her face. Her lips puckered as if she had tasted something sour as she informed Mabel of her visitor in the hall.
“Remember, gentleman callers are only allowed to stay for one hour.”
“Gentleman callers?” Mabel was surprised. “Oh,” she caught herself. “Yes, Miss Pratt.”
Mabel bowed her head and her keeper left. Mabel hoped Charlie had come to call, but knew he wanted nothing more to do with her after she had made such a spectacle of herself the prior week. To her surprise and delight, Charlie Archer stepped into view outside her door frame.
He looked simply splendid. His usually unruly hair had been combed, and his entire ensemble looked as if it were his Sunday best. He held a small bouquet of wildflowers in his hands, the varieties Mabel recognized from their prevalent appearance across the property of Archer & Sons. Once Mabel had beckoned him inside, Charlie presented the bouquet to her. She felt the heat on the stems from where his hands had been tightly gripped and saw sweat on his palms before he hid them in his trouser pockets.
“Mabel, I’ve come to talk to you,” he started.
As Mabel looked him over, she noticed his face was sweating as well. She wondered if it was a pa
“Mabel, what’s this all about?” Charlie extended his arm to indicate his change in topic from his originally intended one to that of Mabel’s untidy room. He had just noticed the array of clothing, schoolbooks, and two open suitcases lying out on her bed.
Mabel seemed startled as well, as if she had forgotten what had been responsible for the disaster. “Oh . . . er . . .” Mabel tried to remember her reason. “Oh, yes! I was going to . . . run away.” She finished her sentence infinitely less enthusiastic than she had started it.
“Run away?” repeated an incredulous Charlie. Would he have to talk her out of another poorly thought-out emotional plan? “Where to: a convent?”
Mabel understood his joke a few seconds too late, barely remembering her vow to become a Catholic the week before.
“I hadn’t figured it out yet,” she said. It had been such an emotionally draining couple of hours and she had been so consumed with the idea of leaving the town of Charlie Archer, she hadn’t even thought to choose a destination for her escape.
“Before you go, could you answer me one last question?” She could. “You see, it occurred to me that we’ve been going about this all wrong. On the other hand, I’ve never had a girl before, and you’ve never had a fellow, so it’s not really our fault. We don’t really know any better; certainly nobody told me how to go about it. It just seems to me that it shouldn’t be so complicated. We should be practical. If I fancy you and you fancy me, well, then, well . . . you see? You do, don’t you?” Charlie looked at her expectantly.
“Yes, I see,” said Mabel slowly. “But what about everything you said earlier? That I was just having one of my whims—”
“Forget what I said.” Charlie took a step towards her. “You know I lo— Oh, sod it—I love you, Mabel Crowley!”
Mabel released all the air in her lungs and looked round, knowing that no one else was in the room, but hoping that someone would have appeared to witness the most important moment of her life.
“So? Can’t I be your fellow?”
A nice girl should have asked for time to think his proposition over, but Mabel couldn’t. She had a tendency to overreact emotionally, and this situation most definitely called for an abundance of emotions. A soon as she uttered her enthusiastic “Yes!” Charlie collapsed with relief. He took a step back and fell back against the door frame. At last, he could breathe easy!
Charlie kissed her hands and wiped her tears, and both of them nearly fainted at some point in the afternoon. The hour was approaching and the happy couple said their goodbyes. Mabel set to work unpacking her things and tidying her room. She was so happy; she couldn’t even remember wanting to run away.
“Perfect!” Charlie called.
Mabel had trotted without a wobble or a yelp halfway round the pen. She directed Ginger round the remainder of the circle back to where Charlie was standing. She patted Ginger’s neck and smiled at Charlie. “Down, please,” she requested in her most endearing tone.
Charlie raised his arms to her waist and brought her to the ground once she had securely placed her arms on his shoulders. A small titter escaped her lips to ease the tension between them. They stood close, still holding each other. Charlie’s hands tightened round her starched waist. Mabel’s breath caught, and the next moment she felt Charlie’s lips on hers. It was a quick, tight-lipped peck, but it was the most marvellous experience either of them had ever felt.
Charlie gave an animatedly pleased sigh. “I’ve got such plans for the stables when I take over.” There didn’t seem to be anything to say about what had just passed between them, so he instigated another topic, one that held equal weight in his heart. “I’ve only been an apprentice these years, but next year, Father said he’d take me on as his official assistant.”
Mabel stared at Charlie, nodding, limp in his arms. She listened to his plans of training show horses and racehorses to raise his stables up a rank in the social ladder. He wanted to condition them and train them and eventually breed them, and become the greatest known livery yard in Somerset.
“Oh, that’s wonderful, Charlie,” Mabel sighed, her voice uncharacteristically breathy.
She continued to listen to Charlie’s rambles long after he had released her from his arms. He had needed his limbs to show Mabel exactly how he wanted to remodel the stable, in twenty years or so, after his father retired. As Mabel looked at her love, the orange sky framing his light brown tousled hair, she took in the mesmerizing sunset. Sunset—oh dear, was it that late?
Charlie helped her onto his swiftest horse then mounted himself on the saddle behind her. They rode as fast as Mabel could stand which, in truth, wasn’t particularly fast at all, all the way to Westalia House.
“Goodnight.” Mabel remembered their kiss and unintentionally grinned from ear to ear.
They took a shy step towards each other, then retreated. Mabel leaned forward, realized she was too close, and backed away. She took hold of his hand and shook it wildly.
“Goodbye, Charlie Archer!” She tried to run away, but Charlie still held onto her hand, requiring her to stay. He kissed her, another quick, dry peck. Dreadfully red in the face, Charlie stepped in the stirrup and threw his other leg over his horse as hastily as he could. He kicked his heels into the poor beast’s sides, and with a “Ya!” he was off into the fading sunset.
Mabel looked after him until blinded by the sunset. She was anxious for solitude so she could giggle and smile and tidy her hair and dry her palms—none of these things could be done in public, you know. Mabel hurried into her house and braced herself against the front door. She scanned the parlour and found no one to disturb her privacy. The girl whom Cupid had struck covered her mouth and grinned, hiding her secret from the world. She was so deliriously happy! Mabel floated down the hall to her bedroom, thinking to herself, Mabel Archer . . . What a glorious sound!
Mabel Crowley: Book One by E.H. Nolan / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on18 votes