18/08/2015 by paulinebsc
Bettina tapped her foot impatiently. The store clerk was bumbling around in the back looking for samples for Bettina to take back so that Master Clive could decide on the material for his new suit. Every minute he spent in the back of the shop was a minute less for Bettina to spend with her lover. They had agreed to meet outside Holyrood Church in the High Street. From Noel’s shop the Bargate was only just visible. Even if she hurried Bettina was going to be late.
Bettina pushed her bag down to her elbows and clutched her woollen shawl around herself as she stepped out of the shop and into the weather. The wind blew straight across the park into Bettina’s face, filled with a damp mistiness which managed to seep through her without feeling like rain.
The quarter-jacks on Holyrood church were signalling the quarter hour when she arrived.
‘Yes miss, sorry miss.’ Bettina thought it best to keep to a subservient role ‘I had to wait for the material.’ She bobbed in a half-curtsey.
‘Oh well, never mind. Bring them up to my room.’ Imperious, Georgiana led the way across the street to the Dolphin hotel and up to her room. Bettina trailed behind as any servant would.
As soon as the door was shut and locked the atmosphere between the two women changed, and Georgiana hugged Bettina gleefully.
‘Hang on, Miss. Look at the fabrics first!’ Bettina insisted.
‘That can wait until we’ve hugged.’ Georgiana pouted.
‘We’ll never get around to choosing the fabrics if we don’t do it first.’
Georgiana didn’t stop the pout, but she did take the sample book from Bettina and look through it.
‘That cream coloured pinstripe looks good. What do you think my dear?’
‘Yeah, it’s nice. Shall I get the waistcoat to match? A bowler hat too?’
‘Order them for me, I’ll give you the money later. Now …’ she paused and grinned ‘down to business’
Georgiana turned Bettina around and pulled off her cloak. She turned round so that Bettina could get to the buttons on her dress.
‘Why do they insist on so many buttons?’
‘No idea, Miss. Just to be awkward I reckons.’
An arm went around her.
‘Bettina, what have I told you? Call me Georgie or Georgiana, never “miss” not when we’re alone.’
‘Sorry m… Georgiana.’
Georgiana slipped the partly undone dress from her shoulders and shrugged out of it. She pushed Bettina’s skirts and petticoats down, as Bettina worked to unlace Georgiana’s corsets.
When the clock chimed five times. Bettina raised her head from Georgiana’s breast.
‘I’ve gotta go, cook’ll need me to put the tater’s on for dinner.’
‘Not much longer, darling. Soon you’ll just be mine.’
‘Soon. But first I have to do you up.’ Bettina smiled, as she did her duties as a maid and laced up Georgiana’s corset and then buttoned her dress. Stroking and kissing her at every opportunity.
‘Here.’ Georgiana held out a coin.
‘What’s that for?’
‘Get a tram home so you don’t have to go for another quarter of an hour.’
Twenty minutes later Bettina ducked instinctively as the tram passed under the Bargate arch, romantic thoughts running through her head, although she knew she should be thinking about tonight’s dinner.
‘Oy! Betty! Master Clive wants a word with you. He doesn’t sound happy.’ Cook shouted from the pantry. Cook always managed to ignore the fact that Bettina hated being called ‘Betty.’
Bettina was puzzled, she could think of nothing she had done that Master Clive could have found fault with, but she followed orders and knocked on his door.
‘Ah, Bettina.’ Clive sounded stern, but not angry. ‘Mr. Noel asked me if the cream suit had fitted me alright, and the necktie and hat to go with it.’ He ushered her into the room and closed the door.
Bettina’s heart sunk. She had hoped to perform the transaction without him noticing.
‘It was paid for sir’ she protested.
‘I know. That was the first thing I checked. Was it for the young man you’re marrying?’
‘Yes sir.’ Bettina mumbled, not looking up.
‘I’m an odd size for a man. That’s why I have my clothes made especially. Many of my friends think I look more like a woman. Have you heard of Adelaide Dellamore?’
‘No sir.’ Bettina looked up now, puzzled.
‘There was a case in London a few years ago when Adelaide dressed as a man and married another lady. Does it ring any bells?’
Bettina blushed, he laughed as she her mouth opened in shock.
Clive took pity on her.
‘How far have you got with the wedding planning? Who’s giving you away?’
‘I hadn’t even thought about that sir.’
‘Good. I’ll do it.’ He smiled ‘don’t look so worried: I’ll keep your secret.’
‘You’re young lady must be a similar size to me. Do you think she’d give me advice about dresses?’
He laughed at the look on Bettina’s face.
‘You’re not the only one keeping secrets around here. You know my friend Thomas – big muscles, curly hair, plays rugby.’
‘Well he’s more than a friend, and he likes to see me dressed as a woman. I like dressing up too. I won’t tell your secret if you don’t tell mine. Deal?’
He grinned. He was charming man, Bettina couldn’t refuse.
Bettina’s grin matched his.
This was originally intended to be a part of competition asking us to write about living in Southampton or its history. I decided not to use this.
Holyrood Church (which was bombed in the Second World War) is in the lower part of the High Street: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holyrood_Church
The Bargate was the main gate into Southampton. In the days of this story the road went through the arch. Trams (and later buses) had to be low to go under it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bargate
The Dolphin Hotel is a historical hotel close to Holyrood Church. It is still a hotel. http://www.dolphin-southampton.com/history.html.
I found Noel’s Tailors in the Kelly’s Directory 1912-13. It no longer exists but its address was in what is now the centre of the town.