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Pen Your Pride

Part Three: If You Only Knew

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"What's wrong, sweet'eart?" Polly did not wait to be invited, as she joined Raff at his lonely corner table in the bar.

"I'm engaged." He did not look up from his beer.

"Well, congratulations, darlin'. You don't look too 'appy about it, if you don't mind me sayin'."

"No, well I didn't have much of a say in it. Or any say at all, really. My parents have arranged it." Raff stared angrily into his beer.

"Careful, you'll curdle the 'ops if you frown anymore. You don't 'ave to do anything you don't want to. Just tell your folks you ain't interested. S'not like they need you off their hands, is it? You earn a decent wage, I'll wager." She snorted to herself, "wage, wager, s'like I'm a bleedin' poet."

Raff laughed at this and looked up. "A perfect poet, Polly."

"There ya go, see. You wanna marry me, I make you laugh, says a lot if you find a person who makes you laugh!" She laughed again. "Although I reckon I'm old enough to be your mother."

"I wish you were my mother."

"No, you don't sweet'eart. This ain't no kind of life."

Just then there was a scream from the balcony above the bar and a half naked woman ran out of one of the upstairs rooms.

"Oh bleedin' 'ell, 'ere we go!" Polly pulled a knife from her garter and headed towards the sound of the scream. Automatically Raff stood up and followed.

"What 'appened Betty?" Polly asked, pulling a cloth off the table and throwing it round the shoulders of the trembling girl.

"'E bleedin' branded me, Polly!" Betty turned her hand to show the burned mark of a ring seal on her palm.

"Alright, darlin', it'll be alright."

"We need to run it under cold water," Raff said examining the burn. It looked familiar. "Do you have a pump?"

"Yeah, out the back," Polly indicated. "Danny," she called one of the burly bouncers from the door. "Take Betty out to the pump and let her cool her hand. No-one touches her, got it?"

"You got it, Pol." The man gently put his arm around Betty and led her out.

"Right, the bastard 'o did this does not get to keep 'is balls." Polly said firmly, and started to march up the stairs.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Raff asked awkwardly as he stumbled up after her. "I mean, shouldn't we call the police?"

"Darlin', the police don't come 'ere, we are an embarrassment to the government 'o wants to pretend we don't exist. We 'andle our own justice 'ere."

She barged into one of the upstairs rooms, where Sir Thomas was buttoning his shirt.

"Oh, it's you..." Polly almost spat the words. "I told you that you weren't welcome back 'ere after what you did you Martha. Now, your balls are forfeit."

"I need my money back, I am not a satisfied customer," Sir Thomas drew a pistol and pointed it at Polly.

"You ain't gunna shoot me, ya wanker." Polly stood her ground. "You might be rich, but you won't get away with that."

"Who says I won't? There's no credible witnesses here," his tone was mocking.

"There's me." Raff pushed in front of Polly and looked him right in the eye. "What are you doing, Thomas? Do you really think I'll marry you after this? Just leave, stop causing trouble and leave. If I tell father what you've done he'll lock you in jail himself. I knew I didn't trust you, and now I know why."

"Isabelle?" Thomas looked at Raff incredulously. "What are you doing here? And what are you wearing?"

"I'll tell you what I'm not doing, and that's branding prostitutes, what on Earth were you thinking? You're sick! Just go!"

"I'm sick! You think you're a man! I am telling your mother, and when you've finished your treatment in the sanitorium we will be married, you will produce me a son and with our combined wealth our family will be secure, and we will never speak of this again."

"No!" Raff took the candlestick from the corner table and smashed it into Sir Thomas' face, sending him crumpling to the ground.

"Oh bleedin' 'ell!" Polly muttered, examining the body. "I reckon 'e's dead."

"What do I do?" Raff dropped the candlestick on the floor. "I didn't mean to kill him, I just couldn't go back to the sanitorium, I couldn't, it's awful, you don't know what it's like..." He pushed his hands through his hair and spun in circles looking for inspiration in the walls.

"I reckon I don't know much about you at all, Isabelle," Polly began tactfully, "but you saved my life, and we're in this together, come on, I'll look after you. We run, now, before anyone finds out what 'appened."

Raff nodded and followed her out.

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