The way down from the cliffs was a struggle, the boulders less even than they looked from a distance. The bladder wrack was still wet, slippery under her heels and she had to use one hand to hold her skirts up – she could just imagine how much trouble she’d be in if her only black dress was marked with slime and seawater.
‘Wait for me,’ she called.
Charlie was already a way ahead, striding from rock to rock. His trousers wore twin stripes down the hips, brown and green where he’d carelessly wiped his hands. His patent boots were muddy to the ankle.
Every part of her life felt shackled – working at the big house, the housekeeper with her sharp black eyes, the mistress running pudgy fingers over every mantel and sill. Free time was rare and even then she was not permitted to walk along the Front or go to the music hall or the fair, only to Church or on ‘improving walks’.
How she envied him those boots, those trousers.
She closed her eyes, breathed in the salt tang. Her corset pinched at the waist, on her lower ribs, cut under her arms. Even her breathing wasn’t free.
This was the closest she came, though.
If they sneaked down the beach, out of sight of the Grange, in the shelter of the boulders, there was privacy of a sort. The wind whipped sand in her face, tugged hair from its pins so it caught in her mouth, flicked against her cheeks – she loved it all.
Gulls soared overhead, hovering, wheeling, calling her to join them, mocking when she couldn’t.
Charlie had made it to the mouth of the cove. He sat on the sand, peeling off his boots and socks, turning up his trouser legs. He wriggled his toes in the sand like a little boy.
The closest thing to freedom.
The image is of Seafield House in Westward Ho!, UK. My current obsession.