LONG ISLAND STAYLACE ASSOCIATION
A special “thanks” to the Busk, whose inspiration and writing of The Factory made this new story possible. This is a sequel to his story. Also, a special word of appreciation goes to Tes Staylace for her editing skills and help that made this story a publishing success.
Charles was busy contemplating his life as a virtual prisoner in his aunt’s house. It seemed as if every contingency to prevent escape was in use: locked bedroom doors, beefy maids, locks and chains, even crushingly tight corsets. He quietly wept to himself as he thought about the next decade of his life, learning a trade he didn’t care about, under Mr. Ellis’s vindictive eye.
“Charles, come with me. Time for your bath.” The burly maid grabbed his neck and forcibly escorted him upstairs. The hated corset was removed. First, laces were unknotted. Then the strings were loosened. Finally, the closely-spaced busks were unhooked. A warm, inviting bath awaited him. This was the most pleasant part of the day, mused Charles. After about ten minutes elasped, “Time to dry off and get to bed.” mouthed the woman, who was built like a horse. Charles hesitantly replied, “ Please, just a minute longer?”
A resounding “No!” was heard. “Now, move it!” she yelled as she grabbed for Charles’s left arm. In a wink of an eye, Charles recoiled back into the tub, pulling the maid on top of him. Infuriated and sopping wet, the maid lunged for him as he easily side-stepped her thrust. Charles struck her viciously as she cascaded to the wet floor.
The noisy commotion upstairs caused several maids and Aunt Elizabeth to rush into the bathroom. Charles was quickly restrained by very strong hands that closed as steel vises on his flailing arms. The embarrassed maid stood to one side with a definite “bump” on her forehead where she’d made contact with the slippery floor.
“That’s enough of that, Charles!” A staccato “slap” resounded off the wall as Charles stumbled to the deck in dire pain. Focusing his eyes on his livid aunt, her eyes mere slits by now. “What have you done, Charles?”
He replied with a measured temerity, “I don’t want to be here, Aunt Elizabeth. I thought I would only be here for three months - not a lifetime! You keep me imprisoned in these horrible corsets all day and all night. I’m not going to allow you to do this to me! I want to return to my mother. I hate you! I HATE you!” screamed Charles, thrusting his tongue out at his aunt.
After another biting “slap”, she retorted, “You will do as you are told. I have full custody of you and you will behave.”
“See to it he is laced to 13 inches in his punishment corset. He will remain so until I get a promise of cooperation from him. As further punishment for this outburst, I have a surprise for you Charles,” sneered Aunt Elizabeth.
Next day dawned and Charles was removed from his bedroom to a nearby lacing room. Feet and hands cuffed, he was “stretched out” for more than an hour until released by his aunt.
“How long is this going to be?” groaned Charles, in serious pain.
“ For two more weeks.” replied his aunt. “And an apology for striking Maxine, and a promise to behave in the future.” “I promise to behave.” cried a tearful Charles.
After two weeks of excruciating daily pain “stretching” at the lacing bar, and a month of wearing his punishment corsets, Aunt Elizabeth relented. Charles appeared very docile, demure and cooperative, saying “Yes M’am, no M’am” as was expected for a penitent boy.
While working in the basement, sorting boning for Mr. Ellis, Charles spied several pairs of very sharp scissors on the corsetiere’s workbench. They were used to cut leather and twill cloth that went into the manufacture of each corset.
Charles got an idea. These were very sharp sewing shears that could not only cut twill, they could be used to cut laces of a corset, too. Several different sizes of scissors lay in clear view of Charles as he brought over an armful of sorted bones to the man’s workbench.
While Mr. Ellis was momentarily distracted sewing on a twill corset, Charles surreptitiously stashed a pair of the smallest scissors between his sweaty body and his tight corset. While they were very uncomfortable squeezed next to his body, the boy’s mind was focused on whether the man would notice the missing tool or not.
His gamble paid off - Mr. Ellis didn’t notice the missing scissors. Near the end of the day, Charles was released from his padlock and chain and walked upstairs to his room to be prepared for his daily bath.
While his maid was engaged in filling the tub with warm water, the youth managed to “stash” the scissors under the bed’s mattress. His heart raced when he realized how dangerous the consequences would be had he been caught with them by Maxine.
“Charles, step into this bath,” chirped the wily maid, remembering last month’s “test of wills.” Obediently, Charles complied and put up no resistance whatsoever. Everyone, except Charles, was lulled into believing that “normalcy” had returned to this situation, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Nighttime came, and once laced into his night corset and gloves buckled tightly on his hands, Charles felt a sense of happiness, even GLOATING, over the fact that he might have a chance to escape this hell in corsets. Grateful that he wasn’t chained to his bed, he emerged from his sleeping place to peer out his second-story window to search for a “way out” of this place.
The half-moonlit night revealed a drainpipe going from the roof to the ground not far from his window.
A small wooden ledge stretched from under his window all along the house’s facade. He felt confident that he could stand on it and slip away towards the pipe. Hopefully, the pipe was well-anchored and would take his full one hundred-five pound weight!
Charles noticed something different about his double-hung window. There were wooden “stops” nailed inside the tracks which allowed it to be raised only about six inches - not enough for a boy to squeeze through. Charles pondered this and concluded that the nails could be levered up if he were extra careful not to break the brittle scissors that would ensure his escape.
Charles’ routine was unbroken for the next several days as he fine-tuned a plan for getting away from his upstairs prison cell. He located a small closet in his room with a shirt and a single pair of pants. Ah, clothes! A must for the outside world!
After being bathed, dried, re-corseted, and gloved, Charles was left alone by the maid. He heard a loud “click” and the key being inserted to secure the door to his room.
Stealthily, Charles emerged from his bed, reached under the mattress and produced the small pair of sharp scissors. Repeatedly raking the sharp point of the tool held in his teeth, he sliced through the leather of his left glove. He succeeded in cutting clear through so his hand was free of this hated restraint. He quickly used his free hand to unbuckle his other gloved hand. Soon, both leather gloves were dropped to the floor. Charles smiled to himself as he hadn’t experienced such happiness in many months. Reaching awkwardly behind himself, he poked the scissors’ edge toward the top of his stays. One, two, three laces were severed in succession. He managed to unhook the top two busk enclosures. Reaching again, Charles cut a few more of the topmost laces and squirmed free of a few more busk studs. Systematically, Charles freed himself from the hated garment.
Rushing over to the closet, Charles donned the shirt and pants found there. Next, he tested the rigidity of the “stops” nailed into each window track. Carefully prying each block to the point where he could wrench them away, he was cautious not to break his only escape tool.
Easing the window up noiselessly, he climbed through the opening onto the ledge. The night was freezing cold, with snow on the ground. He knew in his heart that he could not wait for warmer weather under the circumstances. In another month, it would be spring, and warmer, but who could wait? Charles shivered uncontrollably but with a firm resolve, edged closer and closer toward the long drainpipe.
Taking a firm grip on the metal pipe, he lowered himself at small intervals until he reached the ground. Once there, he scurried to some nearby birch trees for cover. Heart pounding furiously, he reconnoitered where he could go to be as far away from here as possible.
Charles ran as quickly as he could to put distance between himself and Aunt Elizabeth’s prison. By dawn, he knew he was several miles from the stone house. He concealed himself near the road, hoping to be able to get transport other than his legs to get far away.
Next day, at first light, Charles was resting behind some large cottonwoods. “Clomp, clomp, clomp” echoed from the road not far from his position. A slow-moving hay wagon pulled by a pair of fine bay horses was rolling his way. The driver, slumped over, appeared to be snoozing. Realizing a great opportunity, Charles matched his speed to that of the plodding horses, and dived under the closest hay, concealing himself from the outside world completely. The sleeping driver was oblivious and Charles was soon on his way to parts unknown. Anyplace far from the stone prison was paradise for Charles.
By now, he realized, he would have been discovered missing and would have to be particularly cautious to avoid his aunt’s dragnet. Stark images of an enraged aunt paraded through his mind and the consequences if he were ever captured.
Three or four hours drifted by and the boy was weary of his dusty place of concealment. He dropped from the wagon to the hard-packed earth of the unpaved road and sought refuge under anything that would keep him hidden from view.
The Spring of Freedom
Almost paranoid about being caught, Charles was beginning to savor his new-found freedom. Birds chirped overhead, flowers and trees blossomed, and warm weather returned to Johnson County. He was almost smug about being in control of his new life.
Even though he had no money, food-getting was not a major problem. He eagerly helped out on local farms, doing menial chores like feeding horses, mucking out stalls, repairing roofs, etc. He was well-fed most of the time and felt exhilarated about his new existence.
Sleeping in barns, near haystacks, and in sundry hollows about the county didn’t bother him now that temperatures were on the increase. However, one nagging, bothersome thought in the dark recesses of his mind was the fact that he couldn’t have been more than 25 miles from his aunt’s residence. Proximity equaled danger.
Charles mused about getting a train ticket out West. Perhaps he could earn enough money? Maybe ride out to California? Certainly nobody would be looking for him there? He had to get to a train station to price tickets to this paradise. No harm in this, he thought. Stantonville wasn’t that far away, and his questions would be answered there.
The Apple Orchard
A new day shone forth and Charles contemplated his distance of travel. He pondered that he might be only 25 miles from his upstairs bedroom—not nearly enough distance!
A growling sound emanating from his stomach indicated a deep hunger that needed satisfaction. Surrounded by apple trees, he acknowledged that he was in the midst of an orchard and it was the height of “fruiting season.” It was the beginning of June, but nights were still “brisk” in the out-of-doors. He grabbed for a ripe Macintosh apple, savoring it as he crunched his way to contentment. He thought to himself, I wonder how many I have eaten? How lucky I am to be standing here!
As nightfall approached, Charles understood his dilemma. How do you keep warm on a freezing night? In the distance, Charles noticed a dilapidated farmhouse that appeared to be occupied due to candlelight piercing the darkness through two side windows.
He wondered, do I take a chance and go knocking at the door begging for a place to stay? What if they know my aunt is searching me out? Would I be safe from discovery here? Judiciously, Charles nixed both questions and opted to sneak into the barn close by to spend the night. Better to “freeze” in freedom than be warm, but encumbered, with a very tight punishment corset! The choice was obvious.
Uncle Frank’s Place
By the direction in which he was headed, Charles knew that his Uncle Frank’s house could not be far away. It had to be “on his way.” He didn’t know his uncle well, but knew he lived close to Stantonville, PA. He had only visited this relative twice in his short lifetime but thought, no demanded, he be shown mercy if he related the full story to him. Perhaps he could “work for his keep” and at the same time, keep out of harm’s way.
Fussing with his clothes, and brushing the hay stubble from his body, Charles ambled out of the sorry-looking barn where he slept and headed in a pathway parallel to the well-traveled road.
He scanned the erstwhile highway and from the north, saw a slow-moving coach of some familiarity moving in his direction! His blood froze, realizing the coach’s origin was his Aunt Elizabeth’s house. He dropped to the ground immediately and kept as still as a deer facing a predator in the neighborhood.
The coach continued on beyond him at the slower-than-normal pace. He was immensely relieved that he wasn’t spotted. From here on out, he posited that this was a VERY DANGEROUS GAME. His freedom, no HAPPINESS, was at stake. He thought to himself, I would rather have a mature black widow spider march across my stomach than be captured by this mean-spirited person!
“Rap! Rap!” went the door. Uncle Frank hurried over to the door of his rustic cottage to gaze at a sorry-looking, disheveled 13-year-old in tattered clothing. The stench from not bathing regularly filled his nostrils.
“Who are you? What do you want?” queried his uncle. After an explanation about who he was and why he was there, Uncle Frank appeared to mellow.
Invited in, Charles started to feel safe, almost euphoric in his new circumstances. He would not have to sleep outdoors anymore. A warm bath was drawn, and Charles luxuriated in the warm water thinking about how good life could be. His uncle lived alone following his wife’s death two years previously. He appeared lonely, but grateful for his new guest’s unexpected arrival.
Several pleasant weeks ensued as Charles acclimated to his uncle’s routine of life. He was assigned to manage the vegetable garden, weeding and watering where necessary, and doing laundry. He and his uncle got along fine and the youth felt he could do no wrong here. This was a safe haven.
A corrosive thought invaded his mind one Sunday, as he considered his physical closeness to where he once resided. Since this was the reality of his situation, Charles thought it not rude to discuss with his uncle the desire to put more distance between his aunt and himself.
“Certainly you can stay here for as long as you want!” replied Uncle Frank. “You are good company and you are most helpful around the house. I doubt if your nemesis (read aunt) even knows you are in the neighborhood.” True, the place was isolated from most of the world. It appeared to be in a secluded area. “Charles, you’re okay here” stated his uncle.
“Uncle Frank, can you spare the $50.00 cost of a one-way train ticket to San Francisco, California?” asked Charles. Surprised and nonplussed, Uncle Frank replied that he had little money available because he was retired from his post-office job in Stantonville and was only getting $30.00 monthly from his pension. Living costs, low as they were, would consume most of the pension money each month.
Further discussion about the need for traveling money led to an admission by his uncle that he knew a Mr. Thomas in town who might employ him as an errand-runner. Mr. Thomas ran the mercantile store in Stantonville and was well-known and well-liked by many people. His uncle knew that Charles would be well-received and put to work if he would just show up at the store. He even wrote a letter of introduction for his nephew.
Buoyed by this discussion, Charles resolved to visit the store the following day. Uncle Frank’s buckboard was made available for the five mile journey to town. Charles was so enthused he could hardly contain himself.
“Yes, I would like to hire you!” exclaimed Mr. Thomas in no uncertain terms. “ I know your uncle. He is a good friend of mine. We often play cards on Saturday nights.”
The boy proceeded to ingratiate himself with the man. He was promised fifty cents per day if he were found to be useful. He was! That’s almost three dollars a week beamed the youth, as he thought about his $50.00 financial goal. Doing the math, he calculated that he would only need to work here for about four months to earn the money to purchase the train ticket. Yes, life was looking up for the nephew. Mr. Thomas even offered a room in the rear of the shop at no cost so that a daily five-mile trip by buckboard was unnecessary.
A Girlfriend for Charles
Running errands for the mercantile owner was a breeze for Charles. He was offered the use of a rusty Ramsey bicycle to get around and this expedited the many things that had to be accomplished each day for the business owner.
One Tuesday, riding to the post office with a satchel full of letters to post, Charles accidentally scraped the edge of the wooden sidewalk near a cross-street. Charles collapsed on the dirt and the flesh on his right side was badly lacerated. Moaning in pain, a pretty and vivacious girl named Becky happened along and offered to treat his injuries. She was about the same age and physical stature of the injured boy.
“Come into the sundry shop near where you hurt yourself. I can clean you up there.”
Becky was a good care-giver and her helpful attitude resonated with the nephew. “Where does it hurt?”
“All over” groaned an injured Charles. He was soon bandaged and on his way back to the mercantile store. Before taking his leave, he said, “Thank you very much for your help, Becky.” Charles smiled at the pretty miss.
“My father runs the sundry shop. My house is two streets away from Main Street. The address is 526 Oak Avenue. I would certainly like to see you again.”
Beaming, Charles replied, “You certainly will!” Not long afterwards, the boy became well-acquainted with Becky’s family. Many nights, he was invited over for dinner at the Oak Avenue address. Charles’ self-esteem was elevated each time he visited her. He was never so happy in his life as this.
Two months later, at Uncle Frank’s place, Charles was counting silver dollars. I have twenty-four dollars to date, he mused. Another couple of months and I will be out of here.
Charles regressed to thoughts about how happy he was in Stantonville. Becky became his regular girlfriend and he was her beau. How could he possibly leave his wonderful uncle, Mr. Thomas, and Becky to go to a world he was not even acquainted with? It would be ludicrous to leave – but then?
Time rolled on, and even considering a small amount of money spent on items (gifts) for his girlfriend, Charles counted forty-six dollars and change. He was within a few dollars of his financial goal – that train ticket!
He couldn’t sleep a wink the following two weeks. Thoughts of heartbreak and misgivings churned inside his skull. What should he do? Chance staying put and keeping a low profile, or high-tailing it out of town?
After much soul-searching, Charles arrived at a final decision. It pained him considerably to have to leave his friends behind, however, freedom and safety were foremost in his mind. It was mid-September when Charles visited the Stantonville platform. Nervously, he extracted the money from his pocket to purchase his one-way ticket to freedom and with utmost care, folded the valuable document into his wallet for safekeeping.
THERE! The decision was made — irretrievable. The die was cast. He would be leaving Stantonville tomorrow morning at 8:00 am.
Charles was torn about his decision but overall, understood the necessity of it. He felt sad, but relieved that his ordeal was over. No more would he have to look over his shoulder to see if a coach with Aunt Elizabeth was coming. He laughed to himself when he thought about Aunt Elizabeth having to explain herself to his mother about his recent disappearance. What could she say? He ran away and we don’t know what became of him? Who was responsible?
The wily 13-year-old patted himself on the back for a job well-done. A clean get-away to a new place to live. A refuge in a land far away. Bubbling with joy, Charles returned to Uncle Frank’s place to retrieve his things and pack for the trip. Could things be better? This was as good as it gets, exulted the boy!
Preparation for Departure
Sunset approached as Charles jockeyed the buckboard past the pond, forest and pastures on his return trip to Uncle Frank’s cottage. The trip was leisurely in pace.
Visions of adventure overwhelmed the youth as he considered how far away his journey would take him. Almost 3,000 miles, he thought to himself. He couldn’t even conceive of that distance.
His mind raced as he thought about what jobs might be available in 1896 San Francisco. He could work in a livery stable, at a dance hall, even be a messenger as he was for Mr. Thomas! Gosh, a whole new world was opening for him. He patted his wallet with the folded train ticket and grinned to himself. This was definitely the right decision!
The staccato “clop, clop, clop” of his horses filled the yard as Charles pulled up to the gingerbread-encrusted front porch of his uncle’s house. He was a bit weary from the dusty five-mile trip from town and looked forward to a short nap prior to supper. Charles’ inner glow of happiness would be infectious to his uncle even though his uncle was somewhat unhappy about his departure. This was the way it was going to be, he affirmed.
Not thirty feet away from the front porch was a small carriage that Charles had never seen. It was a “rack”, a two-door affair that would accommodate two persons inside, with a footman riding behind, and a driver up front exposed to the weather. Hmm. Must be friends of Uncle Frank.
Charles dismounted and opened the front door. Ensconced in the parlor in a comfortable loveseat sat his aunt!
“Hello, Charles, it’s been awhile since I’ve last seen you. Taking good care of yourself?”
Panicked, Charles scrambled for the front door at full speed. He stumbled and his Aunt Elizabeth was on him like a duck on a June bug. Secured in a painful hammerlock, his aunt pushed him to a nearby chair.
Uncle Frank exclaimed, “I’m sorry, Charles, she came to me with an official paper that indicates she has full legal custody over you. Since you’re not 21 years of age, she has the legal right to take you. I can’t help you at all!”
With the evil Mr. Ellis’s assistance, who happened to accompany her on the journey, the threesome mounted the rack for a very long trip home. At least, that’s how it appeared to Charles! His new life had evaporated and a horrific punishment awaited him!
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