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Authors: Jane Marciano

Capital Sins

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Capital Sins

 

Jane Marciano

 
 
 

©
Jane Marciano
2012

Jane Marciano
has asserted her rights
under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the
author of this work.

First published by The New English Library 1975

This edition published
2012 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 
 
 
 
 

To those I love and to
Adam
Szmigielski

and
John
Katten
for their patience and consideration.

 
 
 

The matron
smiled at the young girl standing across from her desk who was nervously
twisting the strap of her handbag between long fingers.

'You'll be
fine, Constance,' the matron said kindly. 'Don't worry.' She shuffled around
some papers before her and brought forth a large brown envelope which she
handed to the girl. In answer to the unspoken question in the girl's eyes, she
explained, '
In
here is everything you'll need, my
dear, and there's also some money to help you on your way... in case of
difficulties. It isn't much, but it's all the Home could afford.'

'It's very
kind of you, Matron,' the girl mumbled, showing her tension in a stiff smile.
'I'm grateful for everything you've done for me, you and ... everyone else.'
She controlled the wobbling of her chin, fearing to break down.

There was
the suspicion of a tear in the matron's eye when she said, rather huskily, 'Go
along with you, Constance. You've been a credit to us all and I can only say
that I wish all our children would turn out the way you have done.' She smiled
wistfully, remembering with affection that this girl had always been one of her
favourites, and added, 'But you're no longer a child now – sixteen, aren't you?
Yes, ready to try your wings.'

When the
girl continued to look troubled, the woman went on briskly, 'You're a good
girl, independent. Try not to allow things to get on top of you, and don't be overwhelmed
by other people. Remember that there's nothing to be frightened of.'

'I'm not
really frightened; more apprehensive.'

'Well, if
you ever get into difficulties, get in touch with me here ... and come back to
see us whenever you can.'

The girl
nodded, and her silky hair, newly washed that afternoon, fell forward over her
eves. She swept it back with an unconsciously graceful motion. The matron rose
and held out her hand.

'If there's
nothing else, you'd better be on your way before you miss the train. Now,
you've got your ticket"/ Good. You'll find the address of your lodgings in
the envelope; the landlady is a Mrs Withers. I have arranged an interview for
you on Monday and, if you have any trouble in finding the firm, just ask Mrs
Withers and I'm sure she'll help, she sounds very nice, and ... ' Her voice
faltered for a second and the girl looked at her quickly, but she controlled
herself. 'Don't forget that we're here if you need us.'

'Thank you,
Matron,' Constance said, but inside she knew that she wouldn't go running back
to the Home at the first sign of trouble.

She had to,
wanted to, stand on her own feet and, although already experiencing a sense of
loss, Constance knew she would overcome that in time, learn to be resourceful,
and would never return. Perhaps the matron realised it too for, as she ushered
Constance Sands to the front door, she hugged the girl against her motherly
bosom.

'Look after
yourself. Goodbye, my dear.'

And then
the girl was outside the iron gates of the Home and on her own...

While Mrs
Withers showed Connie around, the girl was trying to remember all the rules and
instructions she had just been issued. She'd had no difficulty in finding the
address, which turned out to be a large and seedy-looking old house, badly in
need of repair or at least a coat of paint, but meeting the landlady had been
more of a shock. Connie had imagined, and almost expected, a replica of the
matron: a big, busty woman with a kind face and manner, greying hair, perhaps
pulled back into a fat bun – but Mrs Withers was nothing like that.

The woman
who had answered the door to Connie's rap had peered out with a suspicious look
on her narrow face, and her eyes had been hostile as she looked her new tenant
up and down. Connie squared her shoulders, refusing to be discouraged.

'You'll
find that I'm very firm with my tenants,' Mrs Withers had warned Connie as,
trudging heavily, she had led the way up the rickety stairs to show the girl
her room. 'I won't stand
no
nonsense from anyone,' she
went on in a grating voice. 'And if I find any booze in your room ever, out you
go!'

'Yes, Mrs
Withers,' Connie said meekly, nostrils flaring as the landlady's gin-laden
breath fanned her face.

The woman
idly scratched her obviously dyed strawberry-blonde hair which hung around her
gaunt face like rats' tails (it needed touching-up because the roots were dark
brown) and then inspected her fingernail intently for dandruff. She eyed Connie
as she absently scraped the nail clean with her large front teeth.

' ...
And no drugs.'

'I
understand.'

' ...
Definitely no men either, you hear? It's hard enough without me man around the
place, curse him, to help me keep this a respectable boarding house, and I'd
like it to stay that way.'

'No, Ma'am
... I mean yes, Ma'am,' Connie replied in confusion.

The woman
turned on the stairs and looked at her sharply.

'You're
from the Home you say? Been in care, have you?' Her eyes narrowed. 'Well, I
s'pect
you haven't learnt to be trouble some yet, in which
case, don't mix with any
wrong'uns
and you won't get
to be.'

Connie took
the lecture in silence, too cowed by the other's behaviour to take it all in.

While
Connie inspected the room, Mrs Withers stood by the doorway like a guard, arms
folded across her flat chest.

'I'm sure
you'll find everything to your liking, Missy. The rent's more than reasonable,
you'll agree.'

'My name is
Constance Sands, Mrs Withers,' the girl said with a touch of spirit, at which
Mrs Withers sniffed.

The room
was shabby and drab, but clean and Connie felt a surge of pride in at last
having her own room.

'
It's
fine,' she said eventually and, lifting her suitcase on
to the bed which creaked at the weight, proceeded to unpack.

Mrs Withers
watched,
her expression disapproving.

'You mind
what I've told you, Miss Sands,' she said, heavily accentuating the name, 'Then
you and
me
will get along fine.'

Connie
dumped clothes on to the bed and took some wire hangers from the cupboard. 'You
don't have to worry about me.'

'I hope so,
but with looks like yours I'd be doubly careful.'

Connie felt
her temper rising. She had done absolutely nothing to warrant such apparent
hostility. This woman was being bitchy for no reason at all. Connie had had
enough of being instructed on how she was to run her life for the past sixteen
years and she was damned if she was going to take any more of it, particularly
from a complete stranger to whom she owed nothing. Her pointed chin lifted
proudly.

'Would you
really, Mrs Withers?' There was no mistaking the mockery in her tone, and the
landlady's face flushed unbecomingly.

'If you
want anything, ask!' And the door banged shut behind her.

The room
looked less bare and a little more homely once Connie had arranged her
knick-knacks on the few wooden shelves and dresser. She decided she'd have to
buy some vases – a few plants and flowers would brighten up things even more.
True there were no photographs, no family portraits; nothing to show that the
occupant had roots, but Connie couldn't help that.

After she'd
prepared supper for herself in the kitchen downstairs which she'd been told was
for the use of those living there, Connie went back up to her room and listened
to her transistor for a while. She fiddled with the knobs until she tuned into
music then, remembering house rules, turned down the volume so that she
wouldn't disturb anyone – not that she'd met anyone else, for the house seemed
deserted.

It was so
quiet. The silence made Connie edgy for she'd always been used to having people
around: the chatter of the other youngsters with whom she'd shared the Home had
been a constant background noise. Then she had longed for peace and quiet and
time to herself, for occasional solitude in which she could think and work out
her future – and now she had it.
Complete and utter silence.

Connie
glanced around, a rueful smile on her face. What the hell did you expect on
your first day in the big city?
she
asked herself.
It'll come in time, it'll all come, she resolved, almost fiercely. I'm going to
have everything one day, everything I had a right to expect!

Having
established this in her mind, she read a magazine for a while, sprawled across
the bed, even beginning to enjoy her independence when she realised there would
be no one round with the command, 'Lights off now, girls!' Connie could at last
do as she pleased, was her own mistress, and even the hatchet-faced landlady
wasn't going to
bleaken
her outlook.

She soon
tired of flipping through the pages of the magazine, though. The exotic and
beautiful gowns she saw pictured there excited, yet at the same time frustrated
her because she didn't possess such clothes. But one day I will, Connie thought
determinedly. And I'll marry a handsome man who'll adore me and give me
anything I want – and kids, I'll have lots, see if it doesn't come true! She
lay back on the covers and laughed to herself, delighted with her imagination.

Later, she
turned off the transistor and prepared herself for bed. She sat at the
scratched dressing table and began brushing her long hair, counting to fifty as
she did so. Life at the Home had taught her to be neat so, when she had
finished, Connie cleaned the brush and dropped the long golden hairs into the
waste paper basket. She stared at her reflection for a moment, Mrs Withers'
words returning to her mind. It was true, she thought, with not so much conceit
but
a matter
-of-factness. Why coyly deny it? She could
see for herself that she was very pretty.

She hadn't
realised it herself until all the other girls at the Home had shown they wanted
to be friends with her, wanted to be seen with her. It was a wonder Connie
hadn't had her head turned with all the flattery. An angelic baby had been the
first compliment. Later, such a pretty child, the Staff had whispered to each
other admiringly. What an attractive little girl that Constance Sands is, she
overheard them say of her as she grew older. Lovely, the doctor at the Home
told her after a medical examination, his hands lingering perhaps a fraction
too long on her limbs. And even if she had mistaken the awareness in his eyes
then, it was confirmed later when the matron said, when they all knew she was
leaving: 'You are going to be a very beautiful woman one day, Constance, and
why shouldn't you have something that not everyone else has, for a change?'

Staring at
herself now, Connie agreed. Of course she didn't spend each day thinking to
herself
how good-looking she was. She wasn't that conceited
or narcissistic, but the knowledge was there, and she thought of her beauty as
a gift that might help her to achieve what she wanted. The excitement mounted
again and it was morning before she drifted off into a deep, satisfying sleep.

At nine
o'clock, on Monday morning, Miss Sheila Delaney arrived at Jessop House, took
the lift to the top floor, fifteen storeys up, and walked through the door with
her name engraved upon it in gold lettering, into her office. She could just
hear the
clitter
-clatter of typewriters from the
other rooms and the sounds of mumbled talk and laughter issuing down the
hallway. She crossed the thickly carpeted floor and flung open the windows. Far
below the traffic crawled, its grumble distant and muted. The room, perched
above surrounding buildings, was bathed in a golden glow as the sun appeared
from behind clouds, enhancing Sheila's sense of well-being.

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