Suddenly he was pulled off of me. I heard a scuffle, a cry, a punch, and a thud. Opening my eyes slowly, I tried to take in the scene. Frederick lay on the floor and someone stood over him. It was dark in the theatre and I was unsure of faces. I leaned against the wall, shaking and wrapped my arms numbly about myself.
“Ella,” a deep, quiet and calming voice spoke through the darkness. I knew him. He came toward me and gently touched my elbow.
I said nothing, but reached out and took hold of his arm. I was still involuntarily shaking.
“I’ll take you home,” He spoke in a low tone as he pulled me gently forward.
I walked with him, leaning on his arm in a daze. He lifted the curtain and we passed among a few constables. I dimly remembered Juliet mentioning that Lawrence worked as a detective and researched for the House of Lords. As we walked out of the theatre my mind flew in a thousand different directions.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner,” Lawrence looked down at me as we stood under a streetlamp, waiting for the cab.
The events that had swirled around me had taken my voice. I remember not realizing he had spoken to me for a few seconds. When I did notice, I squeezed his arm and stared mindlessly into the street. My pulse was slowing, but I still trembled. I jolted at the sound of carriage wheels and clip-clopping of horses’ hooves. Lawrence handed me into the cab and I huddled into a corner of the bench, pulling up my knees to my chest. I felt the carriage sway a bit as he climbed in behind me.
“Would you like me to sit by you?” He asked as he climbed in.
“I- I still smell like him.” I threw my knees down and wrung my hands, as if somehow that would make the scent disperse.
“It’s alright.” Lawrence voice was soft and warm in the dark as he moved toward me and took my hands. “It’s alright. It’ll take some time for the shock to where off. Just breathe.”
“How did- How did you know to come?” I stared into his face in the darkness.
“Juliet told me about it, but-” He paused for a moment. “I’ll be honest. I’ve been investigating Frederick for a long time because I have suspected him of business crimes. When I leaned of his interest in you I actually sent Juliet to you. I knew his intentions were vile and I wanted to at least have a minor connection in the interest of your safety.”
“Why would you do that? Who- who are you?” I remembered wondering if we’d met before he had come into the shop that day.
“You might remember meeting me. I was the boy your father rescued from a group of rowdy young men in the street. They were beating me and your father sent them packing. I think you were by the fire with a spinning wheel when he carried me in.”
I remembered at once, especially because I had held my father in such high esteem for the event.
“I promised to repay him someday, but he died before I could. I’ve kept an eye on the shop ever since. When I learned you had to sell and Frederick was planning to buy-”
“What?” I bolted up. “Sell the shop?”
“You didn’t know?”
“No! Why wouldn’t mother tell me? That’s why she was cutting wages. So, is that- is that what he was talking about? Bringing in money- but what did he mean by-” I couldn’t bring myself to repeat his words.
“Ella,” Lawrence’s voice sank to a quiet whisper. “I hate that you have to be in the middle of this. I’m sure you know he owns a factory and a sewing house.”
“Yes,” I replied. Something in the tone of his voice warned that he was about to tell me something dreadful.
“He’s been forcing his seamstresses into prostitution. He’s runs his own business is it.”
I dropped against the back of the carriage, trembling again.
“It’s alright, Ella.” He again squeezed my hands gently. “He’s on his way to meet the law.”
“What is- What is-” I couldn’t force the words out. I was gasping, trying to cry, but I couldn’t. I suddenly squeezed his hands, a new fear gripping me. “Don’t take me home! Take me home with you. Say that I met Juliet at the theatre and she took me home because needed a dress repair. Say anything! I can’t face my mother like this, or, or sleep in a room with a fifteen-year-old girl who doesn’t know the first thing about anything. I-”
“Ella,” Lawrence leaned closer. “You’re safe. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.” He directed the cab driver a different way as I shivered, burying my face against his shoulder. “But to rest your mind over the company, my father has been looking to buy into the industry for a number of years.” I thought I heard a smile in Lawrence’s voice as he said those words.
Several servants met us as the carriage stopped at the house. One of them opened the door and took my hand as I climbed out. “Good evening miss.”
Since the moment Frederick had forced himself on me nothing had seemed real, this least of all. Lawrence led me into the house on his arm. Juliet was rushing down the stairs when I entered the house, her white cotton night gown flowing behind her. She threw her arms around me at once and didn’t let me go.
“Ella, Ella. Thank God you are safe!”
“Could you let her sleep with you tonight?” Lawrence was speaking quietly to Juliet. “She shouldn’t be left alone, not while she’s still in shock.”
“Of course!” Juliet eagerly replied.
“Laura, draw a bath for Miss Middleton and tell someone to make a cup of tea.” He must have been talking to a house maid. “Oh, and lay out a night gown too.”
“Yes, sir,” I heard a sweet voice respond.
“Come upstairs. I’ll show you my room.” Juliet had her arm still around my shoulder as she led me up the stairwell. “It’s not as big as my room at the manor, but it’s cozy at least, and the bed is very big.”
“I’m sure it will be nicer than anything I’ve ever seen.” I smiled gratefully.
That night was one of the strangest of my life. It was wonderful and horrible all at the same time. No one had ever taken care of me like that before. I wondered if it happened often, considering that Lawrence likely rescued people on a regular basis in his line of work. Juliet fell asleep first and I tossed and turned on that big bed, my mind running and rerunning the week’s events. Dawn came as a great relief to me with the waking house. My mind was is no state to be left to itself.
Juliet and I spent all of Saturday together wandering about her house, reading books, talking, and spending time in the lovely back garden. Lawrence insisted that I take a rest from work as the shock would last a few days. While I felt strange over the subject, I was glad enough to take his advice and enjoy the family’s hospitality. Juliet was kind, her parents were kind, though they didn’t spend much time with us, all the servants were kind, and so was Lawrence.
Sunday morning I was sitting on the window seat in Juliet’s sitting room wearing a dress that I had made for her. She’d insisted that I borrow it. I felt a bit odd, but quite lovely.
“Ella?” Lawrence was standing in the doorway dressed in a black suit, a top hat in his hands. “There’s somewhere special I’d like to take you.”
I rose from my seat. “Are we going to church?” I noticed he wore a light blue caravat and a waste coat of the same material. It drew out his eyes, which again distracted me.
“Not just any church,” He smiled with a twinkle in those blue eyes. “Have you been to hear him? Spurgeon?”
“No!” I wanted to dance with excitement. “I’ve yearned to go!”
“Well, come with me, let us go and hear the prince of preachers!” His face beamed as he beckoned to me.
When we were walking down the hall he said something I’ll never forget.
“You know Ella, you don’t have to rely on yourself so much. God is a great God, and He never asks you to live by your own strength.”
I looked up at him with a puzzled expression.
“The Christian life isn’t about rowing your boat; it’s about setting your sails to the winds of the Holy Spirit.” His deep voice sank into me. “But also, it’s not a one man sail boat. It’s a ship. Remember Jesus’ prayer that all who follow Him might be one?”
“Yes,” I struggled to break my gaze and grab the stair rail as we descended to the first floor.
“You’re not alone, Ella. Don’t ever be afraid that you are.” He paused at the foot of the stair and looked at me. “When your father died, God didn’t abandon you to go this alone. There are always people who will listen to your thoughts. And,” he looked at his feet for a moment. “And, Juliet and I are in that number.”
So, what happened to Ella Middleton after that? Almost every story in the world is an unfinished story, merely because The story isn’t finished yet. Christ hasn’t returned, so we can only read a few chapters. That wasn’t the end of my life at all, it was just an episode. But everything changed in that weekend at the Willingham household. Juliet and Lawrence became family to me. I worked for them and my hours changed enough that Aunt Louisa and I visited regularly. Mother eventually retired and spent most of her time with Aunt Louisa’s children. But the real question you are all wondering is did I marry Lawrence?
Life isn’t something that happens merely in a chapter. It was several years later. But yes, my name is Ella Willingham.