The Shriving of Miss Esme Stamp…

Episode Three…Prize Money

Constance Stamp was a woman of pronounced views when it came to her offspring, and it was not difficult to understand her individual ascent for money and position. Something she had always instilled in her daughter. She was after all, now well placed largely through her own endeavors. It had not always been the case. She was the only daughter of a middle class family doctor with a practice settled to a woefully poor area of Leeds. The soul was often gratified whilst the stomach went hungry. Her life took on its meaning when she met and fell in love with a young army captain named George Stamp. She had gone on the invitation of a friend to a dance in the officers Mess at the nearby Victoria Barracks. Her friend had said romantically; they should go with the hope of meeting a dashing and handsome young officer.

George was nineteen, not very tall, but good looking with a wavy shock of snowy hair and the deepest blue eyes Constance had ever seen. His presence was hypnotic to her and she never took her eyes off him all evening. They were married in the following spring. She was completely devoted to him, and later, when he died on the Somme; she tried to kill herself with an overdose of aspirin behind the locked door of her now desolate bedroom.

Joshua Deans was surprisingly honest to his word and Esme was brought back to good health in the comfortable confines of a quiet and expensive nursing home not far from her mother in west London. When she was ready she had the benefit of a private tutor in the shape of the kindly Miss Ralms under whose approving and disapproving eye she flourished. The awful pain of the Samuel Deans incident ebbed with the unfolding of time and youth for Esme until the memory gradually melted away like a long dead ghost. When she was twenty one, she was given the last of the Deans money; a sum of five thousand pounds. By now she had grown into a rare beauty.

It was a gentle winter; that January evening of 1925 when a man stepped into her life once more and ultimately her world changed forever. That man was Charles Henry Hepworth.

To the north of Regents Park warm wholesome breezes lifted from the slopes of Primrose Hill and fell with a kiss upon the arboreal road of quiet worthy villas that edged to its green heaths. To the south The Thames shone with an effortless tranquility in the long, closing, lowering evening dusk. A dissolving glissade of pink drawn light peered through a tiny opening that remained in the thick collected claret curtains of an upstairs bedroom window at number 33 Queens Terrace. It fell hopelessly across the girl’s outstretched, bed reposed, reclining naked leg. The advancing glow from a table lamp took account of the girl’s satiated nudity with spreading hungry yellow fingers that caressed the very crevices of her flesh and touched the pages of a strewn-flat open copy of  “The London Illustrated”  Esme’s careful blue eyes read the announcement once again:

Young ladies of a pretty complexion should visit and give their details to the manager of The Peoples Palace in Mile End Road before the 15th of this month to enter The London Illustrated Grand Prize Beauty Contest. The lucky winner will receive fifty pounds and a place in a top London chorus line.

Her bright inquisitiveness roused itself upon its own white sharp speculation. The river soft prowl of her pretty silver throat now stone-arid dry. The folds of her pink pear-lips rocked moist from a pink plump tongue. A swallowing secretion of wakeful dew scaled the absorbing thoughts from her now open mind. She would go to The Peoples Palace, and give her name. She was quailing. Oh, but the fun of it! The simple daring of it! She would seek out the manager. She would not tell her mother.

It was her usual Tuesday visit to Oxford Street that gave her the opportunity to take a secret bus to Mile End Road. She stood quietly and thoughtfully for some moments, facing the grand old grey building of heroic colonnades above which great dull crusted brass letters proclaimed that she had arrived at THE PEOPLES PALACE. She counted the ordered and rigid passing of time, the notion of her mind and nerves, and stroked out her cobwebbed spirit. Then with a brisk decisive elegance; walked up and through its half open doorway and into a dimmed chandeliered lobby.

Those following weeks, she had kept that secret with a determination not to tell her mother until the very last moment, perhaps…as late as the evening before. Her mother would not be so beastly as to stop her then! Meanwhile, she would attend her routines: her weekly trip to Oxford Street; her afternoon piano lessons and her mother’s endlessly boring dinner parties from which tiny clusters of dim chatter tramped over her elfin ears like drops of pointless water. It was during a particular breakfast that Esme gave in her news. Over some yellow fish and green poured tea from the silver pot nicely heated to a peak and served by Emily in a tight black white fitting raiment and beautifully carved miniature breasts.

At first, her mother rumbled quake-like, then peered out at her daughter from a pink and red painted face with an unsurprising wince.

‘I beg your pardon!’ Constance stared at her deforming child with a creasing, flaking, dry-powder look. She pushed her sugar-less, water-cooked porridge to one side.

‘Are you mad? – Friday evening! How dare you go behind my back – and on your own – are you completely skull-less child? I will not allow it! Heaven knows you are becoming difficult!’ Her eyes were wild and she pulled firm her whitening knuckles.

Esme lifted herself from her steep cherry chair. It snorted backwards a little; then rested thankfully against her sound calves. The palms of her hands pushed flat and thick to the tenebrous table. Her face had the look of uncompromising indignation.

‘I’m going mother. Whether you like it or not!’ her nostrils suddenly flamed from a readiness, ‘and besides, there is a prize money of fifty pounds! That worth considering isn’t it!’ She flumped back into her chair with a choler grace; it beamed at the tight-buttock pleasure once more.

A spreading, valuing dust began to melt around Constance. It soaked her pores like a rinsing warming bath. ‘Fifty pounds, you say? But it’s such a working class thing to do darling. After all; you on the stage! She looked at her daughter retreatively. ‘No, I can’t allow it! Besides, my friends would be most upset to know that a daughter of mine had paraded herself in such a common way!’

‘I’m quite sure your friends would cheer me, anyway they are boring and stuffy. I don’t think they would much bother what I did.’ She bit her lip; regretting the words immediately.

‘Are you entirely clothed in ill-behaved manners? There is no need for your flippancy. My God! If your father could hear you now!’ With dramatic flurry she lifted a white chiffon handkerchief from a sleeping pale-green skirted pocket and wiped an imaginary tear with the sincerity of an inspired sob.

‘It’s your age…I know it is. I’ll put your conduct down to that!

She subsided; irresolute, uncomforted in her own indignation.

About Patrick

a photographer, writer and blogger, a studio and press photographer since the mid 1960's, first published writings in 1974
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