Reading Sundays: THE END OF CHILDHOOD (Part 1), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

“Ten thousand pounds, Clayton. That’s my price.”

“I haven’t got the money.”

“Come now! I hear you’re to marry an heiress with thirty thousand.”

“Why should I pay? Your daughter is a slut.”

Papa bared his teeth. “I think you should be very careful what you say. I have witnesses.”

*   *   *

“This cannot go on,” murmured the doctor in a low voice. “Look at her, she hardly has the strength to hold her head up.”

Mrs. Clayton was propped up in bed, her face matching the color of her fine linen.

Mr. Clayton turned down his mouth. “She is my wife.”

The doctor gave him a sharp look. “More babies will kill her.”

Mr. Clayton nodded briefly, but his blue eyes hardened as he stared at his wife. Suddenly, he caught sight of me. There was something about his smile I did not care for. Nevertheless, I felt duty bound to put on my best smile for Mr. Clayton. As the only surviving child of John Lee, Master Shipwright of the King’s Navy, I was expected to behave well towards the gentleman who had bestowed his charity by taking me, the best friend of his daughter Maria, into his home. Papa had taken me there, saying that it was a great honor to be brought up with the Landed Gentry, with a family such as the Claytons who could trace their lineage all the way back to William the Conqueror. [To be continued.}