The Reverend Isaiah Wilberforce saw the very man he wished to speak to walking briskly along Main Street. That the man was the town’s richest didn’t faze him in the slightest and he would never show him undue deference. His role as pastor to Flowerville required him to remind the man of his duty and remind him he would.
“Jack, good day to you.”
“Pastor, good to see you, as always. Did you want a word?”
“I do. Never easy to say this sort of thing so I’ll not procrastinate. You’re not doing your duty as a husband. I know you’ve not been married long but now is the time to…”
“Just a minute, Pastor. I fail to understand. What has prompted this?”
“Discipline, Jack, discipline. You’re not taking her in hand. I know she is a formidable if beautiful woman but she is a woman and needs discipline, Jack. We are not yet so settled in Flowerville that it is safe to allow a woman free rein. That is especially true now there is a child to consider. That girl needs to be set a good example of womanhood.”
“Pastor, I’ll be blunt: I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is it that my wife has done, or failed to do, that has prompted this?”
The Reverend Isaiah Wilberforce looked startled. “I beg your pardon. I thought you knew. You’re normally very alert to town business. I was at my mission work at the miners’ camp when your wife appeared.”
“What! She had no business being there!”
“No indeed; why, only two weeks gone I warned the ladies of town in church that the camp is no suitable place for a respectable woman. It’s a rough place and many of the women there are unmarried despite having several children…”
Jack hastily interrupted to stop a lecture on the iniquities of the camp. “I am well aware of what goes on in the camp but do you know why she was there?”
“Her motive was good, Jack, that I will say. She is concerned about Callum Rafferty’s brood and she’s in the right of that. He beats them and they are not well fed or clothed because he spends his money on drink. Since his woman, I’ll not call her wife as they were never married, died of fever, matters have gone from bad to worse. Your wife was upbraiding him in no uncertain terms. Rafferty was not taking it well and I was shocked at the language your wife used.”
“I see. Did that wretch Rafferty lay hands on her?”
“No, he wasn’t best pleased and shouted a lot but kept his hands to himself. He saw me looking and although I’m no match for him he would not assault me. But Jack, she should not have been there at all, much less have taken on Rafferty.”
“No, she should not.”
“Then there is the language, Jack. Where did she learn such words? I hope you’ve not…”
“No, I have not taught her them. I’ve spoken to her about that very matter. Well, thank you, Pastor. I know my duty right enough.”
“You’ll chastise her, not just warn her?”
“You can count on it. She’ll not be sitting down at all when I’m done with her. You’re right, I have been failing in my duty. She has a good heart but time she learned the right ways of doing good. Thank you, Pastor. I’ll get straight to it.”
On a good day, Elicia didn’t feel bitter and angry about her disabilities or the consequences for daily life. On a bad day, and today was most definitely a bad day, she was irritable and bad tempered the whole time.
Some would say she didn’t have it that bad. The accident that had wiped out her parents and left her a shattered wreck had, at least, resulted in a colossal insurance payout. She had been six years old when the drunken truck driver, an employee of a huge multinational corporation, had totaled her parents’ car, leaving them dead and her badly injured. She had lost the use of her legs and had been burned all down her left side. Her left eye was damaged and its vision was now poor. The hearing in her left ear was permanently destroyed. Scars ran down all the left side of her body to the very tips of her fingers. Her face, attractive on the right side, was horribly scarred on the left.
The insurance enabled Elicia to live in a specially adapted bungalow, have a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, and run an advisory service for people with disabilities. On a good day, Elicia, when not patronized by someone who assumed a disability equaled stupidity or complete helplessness, could be cheerful and appreciative. In a park on one occasion, a man with two Nordic walking canes had sat down on a bench next to her wheelchair and begun to talk. He assumed she was as happy with the glorious day as he was and bubbled with love and compassion for everyone. He did not ask her how it happened, nor enquire about how she coped, simply shared with her his joy at life. When he walked off slowly and painfully, she felt a great deal happier than before.
This day had not been such a day. Her work with the disabilities organization had taken her to the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse on West Colfax Avenue in Denver. She had been patronized by officialdom and bizarrely considered a security risk by the security people. Her mission had been a failure. She had not responded well to her day, was angry as she left and anxious to get home so she could vent on the Internet in comfort. Before returning to her car she wheeled herself down to the sidewalk, wondering if there was a diner or coffee shop she could visit. She was just debating the frustrations of finding somewhere suitable against her need for coffee when it happened.
The white van may have been going too fast but the driver, fifty-nine-year-old James Anfenger, had had a massive heart attack and lost control of his vehicle. The van mounted the sidewalk, scattering pedestrians in every direction but not Elicia, who simply couldn’t move fast enough. The van hit her sideways on and pushed her as far as a fancy lamppost where it crushed her.
Elicia had known she was going to die as the van hurtled toward her. The pain of the impact was terrible and for a brief while grew worse before a blissful nothing took it all away. She was surprised therefore to open her eyes and find consciousness returning. Confused and surprised, as nothing hurt but with none of the usual sensations of having taken a heavy dose of opiates. There was shock, however, when she found her face was lying in meadow grass and not some intensive care bed. Her back felt hot and was growing hotter so she looked up and saw not far away a tree with blissful shade.
Elicia used her arms to pull herself toward the tree and when she reached it, used low offshoots to pull herself up into a sitting position with her back to the tree. The effort tired her and it was only as she began to recover that she realized two important things: one was that she was wearing very old-fashioned clothes and the second was that she was soaking wet. She was just muttering, “What the hell…” when along a nearby track came a small wagon drawn by a single horse. The man with the reins was dressed in the oddest old-fashioned clothes. “How strange,” she muttered. “I didn’t know there were Amish in Colorado.” The man pulled up and Elicia could see that he didn’t like her. The expression on his face was distaste and reluctance. Both very odd, as she didn’t know him at all.
“Miss Leyton, are you in need of assistance?”
Elicia was puzzled. Was there someone else present? She didn’t answer and the man got down and walked over to her. “Miss Leyton, did you hear me?”
Elicia’s response confused even her. “I’m Miss Leyton?”
He was about to reply when Elicia caught sight of her left hand. There were no scars on it! In sheer astonishment she held it close to her face but there were still no scars, just beautiful unblemished skin. Her hand shot up to her face, which too was smooth and unscarred. She pulled up the sleeve on her left arm and found that too had no scars. In a frenzy to see she hauled her skirts up to look at her left leg.
“Miss Leyton! Really!”
Elicia looked up at him. “What the hell’s wrong? Have you never seen a woman’s leg before?”
Whatever his reply Elicia didn’t hear it, because her left leg was not merely unscarred but also not wasted from lack of use. Both legs were healthy, strong even, used to walking at the very least. She heard his voice again.
“Ah, I see what has happened. You were crossing that narrow bridge over the river and part of it has given way.”
Elicia looked up and in the direction of his gaze. It was then she realized she could see clearly. She slapped a hand over her right eye and stared. Perfect vision from her damaged left eye. The narrow bridge she could see was indeed partially collapsed in the middle. Anyone walking across would without doubt have ended in the river. At that point it dawned on her she was also hearing very well indeed. She stuck a finger in her right ear but there was no doubt… her left ear was hearing perfectly.
“What the fuck…” she muttered.
The man’s voice intruded on her wonderment. “Miss Leyton, I can see you’ve had an unfortunate accident. If you stand up I’ll take you to your house.”
Elicia panicked. Stand! She hadn’t been able to stand since she was six years old. Nineteen years of not being able to do it and now she couldn’t remember how. The skirts of her dress were still pulled up and looking at the legs, it was clear that they were capable but how to do it? “I can’t remember how to stand.”
The man looked puzzled but also suspicious. Nevertheless, he walked over and, holding her under each arm, hauled her easily to her feet. She felt her legs take the weight of her body and hold. She stuck out her arms on either side for balance and snapped, “Let go!”
He let go although didn’t look pleased at her tone but in the next second that changed. Elicia stood wobbling like a toddler and a wonderful smile broke out on her face. “I’m standing! I’m really standing! On my own!” He looked at the sheer joy on her face at doing something so simple and acknowledged that she was. “If you walk across to my wagon I’ll take you to your house.”
Worry and fear clouded out the joy. “Oh, I don’t know how. I mean I’ve seen it done but how…” She looked at his incomprehension and had to ask. “Please, will you help me?”
“May I put an arm around your waist?”
“Sure.” He did and she also put an arm around his middle, noticing under the shirt the feel of firm muscle.
“Take a step.” She tried and although it was wobbly she found herself tottering toddler-like across the meadow grass. “I’m walking! I’m really walking!” He looked at the delight on her face and spoke to her as if she was a child. “You certainly are. Good feeling isn’t it. Now I’ll get you back to your house and your servants will care for you.”
She stopped and stared at him. “I have a house and servants?” Elicia was bewildered by what was happening to her.
“Yes, of course.”
“This can’t be a dream,” she mused, “it’s too real. I can smell the sweat coming off you. I can smell your horse. There is a scent from those bushes over there. I can smell the river on me. The air is so fresh. This is real. I’m not fucking dreaming.”
He looked at her hard. “Miss Leyton! Such foul language. What would your father say?”
“My father’s dead.”
“I know he is, Miss Leyton, but what would the judge say about such vulgar language? From what I know he’d have cut a switch and taken it to you.”
Elicia stared at him and then kept on walking. When she arrived at the wagon, it looked high and she couldn’t think how to use her limbs to climb up. “How do I do this?”
Again, the suspicious look crossed his face but then he simply put one arm behind her knees and the other around her upper body and lifted her up, standing her on the wagon.
“Fucking hell, you’re strong.”
This time the man didn’t exclaim or protest. Instead he took hold of her hand and smacked the back of it hard three times. Her hand was stinging madly but Elicia was so bemused by the whole situation, she neither protested nor pulled away. Instead she asked, “Who are you?”
“Me? I’m Jack Phillips. You know what, I think you must have cracked your head on the way into the river. When I drop you back, I’ll go and get the doctor for you.”
She looked at him. She had the feeling he disliked her but he was still going out of his way to help her. She didn’t like having to be helped, but in this situation, it was hard to resent it. Everything was so weird. “Thank you, Jack. I really appreciate all the help you’re giving me.”
Being thanked seemed to startle him more than anything else. He stared open-mouthed at her for a moment or two before saying, “Well, I could never leave a lady in distress.”
Elicia enjoyed the ride on the wagon. “This is great,” she enthused. “I’ve never been on a horse and cart before.” Jack turned and looked at her in astonishment. It made her think harder about just what was happening. He thought she was this Leyton woman. She had an undamaged body. “Who am I?” she asked.
“You’re Miss Leyton, daughter of the late Judge Henry T. Leyton. I’ll tell the doc it’s urgent.”
“No, not just that… what’s my first name?”
“I only know your first Christian name and that is Ruth. I believe there are others but not what they are.”
He stared at her again. “No, but maybe it’s one of your other names.”
Jack Phillips just couldn’t understand his reluctance to leave Miss Leyton with her servants. Mrs. McConnell, the housekeeper, was a capable woman right enough, and the maid, Lavender, seemed to know what she was about. They’d look after her without doubt but he could see their dislike of the town’s richest woman. The good Lord knew right enough that he disliked her too. Instead of using her wealth and position for good, she caused endless trouble and managed to veto every development that would make this town better for all the folks in it, not just the wealthy.
Now Jack’s head was in a whirl. The Miss Leyton he’d stopped to assist had been… different somehow. That look of joy when she found herself walking across the meadow to the wagon. It had lit up her face and moved him. Then there was the fact she’d thanked him. Miss Leyton never thanked anyone for anything! He remembered her foul language. The late Judge Leyton, her father, was a zealot about any language he considered to be foul. Where could she have heard such words, never mind utter them?
Judge Leyton would have worn out half a dozen switches on her if he’d heard the way she spoke. If she’d not been so dazed and soaking wet, he might have done so himself. Instead he’d smacked her hand! Yet she hadn’t complained. Usually Miss Leyton would react angrily to such a personal assault.
Jack’s bewilderment grew all the greater when he realized that what he wanted to do was hold and comfort her. Hold and comfort that poisonous snake of a woman! But today she had not been a poisonous snake; no, she had been vulnerable and appreciative of his help. It was with relief that he arrived at Dr. Llewellyn’s house.
“Doc, Miss Leyton’s had an accident. The little bridge collapsed with her on it. Apart from her soaking I think she banged her head because she seemed unable to walk or do anything without help.”
Doctor Llewellyn pulled a face. “I’d better go and see to her but she hasn’t yet paid my last three bills. She’ll be arrogant, rude, and overbearing, but demand my personal attention for a lot longer than needed, then take months to pay me.”
“I’m not sure she’ll be like that today. She was… well, like a different person and she actually thanked me for helping her.”
The doctor stared at him unbelievingly.
“Oh, and one more thing, she let rip with some very foul language.”
The doctor’s face made Jack laugh and he left to get back to his own life, his good deed for the day done. His mind was much occupied with seeking a wife. There seemed to be a constant shortage of eligible women in Flowerville so he had sought a bride through a matrimonial agency in New York. Thus far he had been bitterly disappointed as not one of the women put forward seemed to him in the least bit worthy. Perhaps the great age of mail-order brides was over.
Elicia’s bewilderment had continued as she was undressed, bathed, and had her hair washed. She could not complain about the care but sensed that the two women looking after her simply did not like her. She was used to being nursed and having others attend to her personal needs, but had always gotten along just fine with all types of medical personnel. She was also bewildered by the bathroom. They had run cold water into the bath but then brought buckets of steaming water up to make it hot.
She was sitting, in a clean nightdress, by a hastily lit fire, having her hair thoroughly dried by Mrs. McConnell when the doctor arrived. It was the entrance of the doctor that really opened her mind that the people around her weren’t part of some weird Amish-type cult. He was dressed in a long jacket with the most amazing tie, had long hair, and sported magnificent side whiskers.
“Miss Leyton, I was very sorry to discover you’d had an accident. How are you feeling?”
“Thanks for coming, Doc. I’m fine, I think. That is, I feel okay but weird like I’m in a fog. I’d just like to know if physically I’m in good shape. You know, not damaged in any way.”
Elicia could tell that the doctor thought her speech was odd but he made no comment and instead gave her a thorough examination. At the end of it he pronounced her physically very fit with no sign of a head injury at all. “I understand your memory is somewhat impaired but that may be due to the shock. It will return in time.”
“Thank you, Doctor… what did you say your name was?”
“Doctor Llewellyn, just humor me a moment. What year is this?”
Elicia gaped at him. This was too real to be any kind of dream. Somehow, in some way, she was no longer in the damaged body of Elicia Warren but in this body belonging to Miss Ruth Leyton and she was no longer in the twenty-first century.
“Why, thanks, Doc. I must sound a bit weird but I guess it’ll sort itself. Thank you for your time.”
“I’m pleased to find you uninjured, Miss Leyton. I’ll drop by with my bill in the morning.”
Elicia stared at him. He was giving her some sort of message but she couldn’t divine what it was. As Lavender patiently dried her hair, Elicia thought through what had happened. She had, without doubt, been killed by that white van but now was in this woman’s body in a different age. How? Not sure, she thought, so was it going to change? Elicia felt a strong certainty that it wasn’t. This was a new life for her although she worried about this Miss Leyton. Did she too have a new life?
Elicia’s own life so far had taught her that you get nowhere by simply sitting around. ‘Wishbone never replaces backbone,’ so now she needed to get to grips with the life she was in.
“Lavender, I am having a few problems with balance and so on. Would you mind helping me to dress again?”
“Ma’am, I always help you to dress but shouldn’t you go to bed and rest?”
Elicia was astonished that Miss Leyton had not dressed herself. Why, even in a wheelchair she’d managed striving for as much independence as possible. “Thank you for your kindly thought,” she ignored the surprise on Lavender’s face and went on, “but I’ll recover quicker if I just get on with life.”
To Elicia, Miss Leyton seemed to wear an enormous number of clothes with many layers but she balked at the corset. “No! I’m not wearing that damned thing. When you took off that other one it was like being taken out of a straitjacket.”
“But ma’am, no respectable lady goes without a corset. You’ve told me so yourself many times.”
“Have I? Well, I guess I’m going to have to be disreputable from now on. Either burn my corsets, keep them, or give them away. I mean it, Lavender. I never want to see one ever again.”
She could see that she had shocked Lavender but the girl was servant enough to know not to criticize any further. Elicia needed a little help from Lavender to negotiate the stairs back down to the ground floor. Mrs. McConnell and Lavender had a hard job getting Elicia up the stairs but with her usual determination and Lavender’s help, she managed the down route quite well, especially for someone who had not done it in nineteen years.
Miss Leyton had a private study and Elicia now began exploring. The woman was clearly well organized and methodical. The key to a very large iron safe was hidden in a drawer and, once opened, the safe revealed a cash box and account books. It took her some while to adjust to the apparently small sums entered. The value of money in 1890 was very different, she told herself, and began to realize that Miss Leyton was an extremely wealthy woman by the standards of the age.
Having absorbed that information, she then discovered that the body she was inhabiting was also a very mean one. The woman simply delayed paying bills for months. Doctor Llewellyn, Jack Phillips, Clifford’s Emporium, and many others were all owed money, but the cash box revealed that the sums to pay them had already been set aside. Miss Leyton was just deliberately hanging on to the money.
Worse still, as far as Elicia was concerned, was that Miss Leyton was holding back on the wages for her servants. She had five: Mrs. McConnell, Lavender, Mrs. Bridges the cook, Matthew Carrick who looked after the stables, and Annabelle, another maid. Other services such as laundry and gardening were undertaken by other townsfolk who came in either daily or weekly. Why one woman needed so many to take care of her was beyond Elicia but if she needed them she ought to pay them promptly. As it was they were eight weeks in arrears. The damned woman needed a good spanking, she thought, and then wondered where that idea had sprung from.
Elicia guessed the purpose of the bell on the desk and rang it, summoning Mrs. McConnell. The housekeeper looked wary and Elicia realized the body she was occupying was also probably a quite unreasonable woman.
“Mrs. McConnell, I must apologize, you have not been paid for eight weeks. That is a disgrace. It will be weekly from now on. Here are your wages in full and would you be so good as to send in the others. I shall visit town tomorrow and pay all the other bills.”
Mrs. McConnell’s face looked so dumbfounded, Elicia felt a bad attack of giggles forming inside her. As she struggled to control them, the housekeeper struggled to compose her own face, give a little bob, and thank her profusely. Elicia had not met all the other servants. Mrs. Bridges was a plump woman of middle years, Annabelle a rather vacant-looking girl of about seventeen, and Matthew Carrick a dour-looking man of around sixty. From Mr. Carrick Elicia discovered that she owned several horses, a gig, and a wagonette, but it dawned on her that she could neither ride a horse nor drive the gig.
By late evening Elicia had familiarized herself with Miss Leyton’s financial affairs. She noticed that although she was in the body belonging to Miss Ruth Leyton, the handwriting was her own and contrasted strongly with Miss Leyton’s neat, flowing script. She had also toured the house, grounds, and stables and, most important, had come to terms with the fact that she was living in what to her was the past. But she had not yet come to terms with the fact that the body she was in was healthy and fully functioning or what that could mean for her.
For Elicia the day had had been long and eventful, especially as she had been killed in later afternoon and her awakening in 1890 was in the morning. The body she must think of as her own now was weary and felt the need for bed. Lavender came to assist her with her undressing; Elicia looked at the young woman’s face. There were dark smudges under her eyes and her face looked white and strained. Elicia had suffered too much to be indifferent to how others felt.
“Lavender, go to bed right now. I’ll see to myself. You look tired, girl. Go on, clear off to your bed.”
The look of sheer astonishment on Lavender’s face was a joy to see but Elicia was firm with her. Ignoring polite protests, she turned her around, gave her a light swat to her rear, and sent her on her way. The one place she had not explored was Miss Leyton’s private suite. It was a large room with a fireplace, a balcony, beautiful furniture, a door that led into a large walk-in closet for her dresses and outdoor clothes, and another door that led to the bathroom.
The bath, an ornate creation, had facility for cold running water and a drain but no hot water supply. There was also a similarly equipped basin with a large jug that was filled with hot water. Elicia hadn’t noticed a servant bringing that in. Best of all from her point of view was the flushing toilet. She had no idea where it flushed to since the town certainly couldn’t have a sewage system but at least she could use that. Instead of toilet paper there were small squares of cheap cotton cloth. Elicia was just so pleased she didn’t have to stagger out to an outdoor privy that stank all year round.
Elicia began to search for a nightdress. Lavender would have gotten one for her but she’d sent her away. Her search uncovered, in a bedside cabinet, a beautifully made wooden box. It was locked but a search of another drawer produced a key. When Elicia opened the box, her heart began to beat very quickly for inside, nestling in a velvet lining, were three dildos. Two were of ivory and penis-shaped but one larger than the other. The third was also penis-shaped but with an ivory head while the main shaft was made of something dark. The shaft was rippled… for an extra thrill, she thought.
Where on earth had Miss Leyton bought this? It was a sure bet the general store didn’t carry this line. Elicia’s accident had left her unable to have children, even if her shattered body had attracted a lover, but it had not left her without sexual desire. Her desire had taken what she thought to be an odd turn for she had filled her e-reader with books about domestic discipline. Her favorites were westerns; in the secret dark of her bedroom, she became the heroine of her latest novel whose strong, silent husband not only disciplined but also made love to her. Her own dildo had been made of silicone and she had the alternative of a vibrator. Fastidiously she scrubbed the dildos with soap and water even though they had been used on this very body. As she did she wondered just what Miss Leyton’s nighttime fantasies had been.