Every week in Friday Free Web Fiction I post a first draft scene from my work in progress (WIP), or a short story, or an excerpt from one of my books. Today’s offering is from my Prunella Smith WIP, Past Worlds, The Lock Smith’s Secret. Click on the link above to read the previous parts of this story.
Bert burst into Nell’s office. ‘Have you got the copy for your column yet?’
Nell screwed up her face. ‘I’m working on it.’
Bert’s eyebrows rose. ‘How many words have you got so far?’
Nell shrugged and hoped he wouldn’t walk around her desk and look over her shoulder at the blank sheet in her typewriter.
He looked at her overflowing wastepaper basket and frowned. ‘Hmm … I want it by five. We need to hit him back straight away.’
‘My mother told me I shouldn’t inflame people, particularly not men, and especially not Lords of the realm,’ Nell said.
‘So I should hire a man in your place?’
Nell rolled her eyes. ‘I’ll do it. It just hasn’t come together yet.’
‘Perhaps a woman of less breeding would be better for the job.’
Nell narrowed her eyes at her boss. She knew he was kidding, but the barb wasn’t without a point. ‘Middle class woman don’t have the same level of education.’
‘Indeed they do not, though I expect you’d like to change that too.’
She grinned and nodded, then her eyes lit up. ‘That’s it, that’s the angle I’ll take. I’ll show his petty attack to have the sensibilities of the lower classes—crass and uneducated. He’ll hate being compared to the ignorant masses.’
Bert nodded. ‘That’s my girl.’ He left with a satisfied grin.
And at the end, I’ll make it clear that education is the key to raising the awareness of both Lord Burnett and the masses. Perfect.
Words flowed effortlessly in Nell’s mind, and her fingers danced over her typewriter’s keyboard with a satisfying clack. She worked without distraction, completely focused on expressing her key concerns—the treatment of woman as second class citizens and the need for education for all.
A knock sounded on the door just as she pulled the completed draft from the typewriter. She glanced up. Richard smiled at her through the glass divide. She held up her index finger indicating that he should wait one minute. He nodded and waved his hand in a circle indicating that he would return.
Nell read her column and marked a few edits, then sat back in her chair and smiled with satisfaction. That was why Bert had hired her. The piece elegantly countered Burnett’s vilification without being an outright attack on the man; instead, she had shown him to be ignorant by association.
Richard tapped again on the door and she waved him in.
‘How about lunch?’ he asked as he strode across the room with a charming smile.
Nell stood and handed him the sheet of paper, which he took and read while she stared out the window. Would he see what she’d done, or would he think it too soft an approach or miss the point entirely. Whatever his reaction, it would likely match Bert’s—his father—but his rejection, if he thought it due, would come couched in softer language than Bert’s. For that reason, she often ran her work by Richard before handing it to his father.
He chuckled, and she turned with eyebrows raised. ‘I didn’t realise it was funny.’
‘Not funny funny, clever funny,’ he said, looking up. His eyes glistened with admiration, and Nell’s heart softened with humility and fondness for this man who had supported her in her career. ‘The humour is in your light touch and in how well you’ve countered Burnett’s criticisms. You’ve shown your mettle by not lowering yourself to the name calling he used on you, but offering an intelligent appraisal of the situation and showing him for the idiot he is by associating him with the uneducated. It’s so well written that no one could possibly consider you a hack given a job just so Father could have a pretty face to brighten the office.’
‘You think Bert will like it.’
‘Without a doubt. He didn’t like Burnett’s insinuation that he’d hired you as a token gesture, or that he was only interested in a pretty face and …’ He shrugged.
Nell looked at her buttoned boots. Had there been some truth in Burnett’s insinuation that she’d also been given the job so his son might marry into money?
Richard cleared his throat. She looked up, keeping her expression neutral. ‘Would you like some lunch?’ he asked.
‘Love to,’ she replied before she’d thought it through.
He held up the sheet of paper. ‘We can drop this in to Father on the way past.’
She nodded, walked around her desk and took it from him. She felt his eyes lingering on her as she took her coat from the coat stand and draped it over her arm. He opened the door and gestured her through. She would have to find some new excuses for not having lunch with him.
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