The Good Missionary´s Wife

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 3

“And what do you think you are doing, Judith?”

I just goggled at him. Well, what could I say? It was obvious what I was doing; I was playing the bloody piano. Tinkling the ivories. But of course, I shouldn’t have been. I had been sent into the parlour to sit quietly and reflect upon my sins, which were many. And instead, here I was amusing myself.

I hung my head and tried to look suitably ashamed. It wasn’t difficult. I had had plenty of practice in the year or so I had lodged with Dr. Purefoy.

Ironic, really. The Reverend had told Sergeant Lestrade that he was taking me to the Doctor’s, and here I was. Part of the furniture, as you might say. It did make me wonder if God had a sense of humour, but I doubted it.

When I had been bundled out of the carriage, back in the lovely, foggy, London air, I had thought that the rozzers would just let me go. I was beginning to wake up a bit by then, but I kept quiet and just kept an eye open to see the lay of the land. Sergeant Lestrade went on at me for hours, asking how where the Reverend had found me, and how long I had been with him. I answered as best I could, but it was difficult.

I tried to explain that I just didn´t know. I could have been with the Reverend for weeks or months for all I knew. Every time I felt myself surfacing, I was given something to eat or drink and off I went to dreamtime again. The Sergeant asked me when I last remembered being in London, and nodded when I told him it was about September time.

“You were with Smallbone longer than you thought, then.” He said grimly. “He must have known we were on to him, and kept his head down. He obviously couldn’t resist you, though.”

“Not surprised.” One of the coppers who was taking notes muttered, and Lestrade glared at him.

“Well, Judith. I have to tell you, you missed Christmas this year. He kept you hidden for over three months.”

My mouth opened and closed in disbelief. That was rubbish, if ever I heard it. How could I have just … lost three months? But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered. I had put on weight. I still wasn’t fat, nor anything like it. But you could have played the spoons on my ribs before my stay with the Reverend, and my hip bones had jutted out. Now, I had something like a waist. And my belly was flat, whereas before it went in, like an upturned bowl.

And there was something else, as well. Something that worried me a lot.

I had needs. Cravings, you might say. I had no idea what it was I wanted. It wasn’t food, nor drink. But at odd times of the day, I would find myself restless, unable to settle. My mouth felt dry and I would start pacing about. My skin itched, so badly that I drew blood scratching. I got terrible headaches, and more and more often felt sick to my stomach. And no matter how warm it was, I shivered. Shivered fit to knock myself off the chair. Nasty it was.

Worse than anything, I didn’t feel like me. Not at all. Sometimes I got the idea that I was somebody else, watching me. The real me, that was. When that happened, I felt like getting up and hiding behind a chair until I came back. Brrrr!

I asked when I could go back home, back to St. Giles, but Sergeant Lestrade said I couldn´t. I wasn’t in the clink, not at all. It was just that I had to stay somewhere where the powers that be could talk to me if they needed to. Just until Reverend Smallbone and his wife were sorted out, like. Sergeant Lestrade took me home with him, and his wife was proper kind to me. She hadn’t got any kids, and she liked having me about the house. It wasn´t a very big house, but she only had the one maid of all work so a lot fell to her. I hadn´t a clue about cleaning or cooking, but I watched what Mrs. Lestrade and the maid did, and copied them as best I could. The first time I tried my hand at making bread, it didn´t rise at all and when Mrs. Lestrade tried to cut it, she nearly broke the knife. I was almost in tears, I was that upset, but she started laughing and after a minute I joined in until we were both crying with laughter at my poor attempts. She vowed she would serve it to Sergeant Lestrade, but she didn´t.

In fact, I got really comfortable with Mrs. Lestrade. She was a lovely woman; so nice she didn´t even mind me pulling all my bedclothes off the bed and sort of making a bundle of them on the floor to sleep on. I explained to her I had never slept in a proper bed until the Smallbones had got hold of me – and I slept like a stone, there! – and it just didn´t seem right to me, sleeping raised up off the floor. I swear there were tears in her eyes as she patted my arm and told me not to worry, I must just do whatever was right for me. She was so kind, I almost asked her if it would be alright to take my shoes off, as they pinched something terrible, but as they were an old pair of her own – barely worn – I didn´t like to say anything and suffered in silence.

And the other thing was, Mrs. Lestrade seemed to understand what I was going through. I didn´t even have to say anything; when she could see I was at the end of my tether with the shakes and all, she used to give me half a wine glass of paregoric elixir. She said it was fit to give to babies and invalids, and it certainly did the trick for me. It cured the shivers and shakes a treat. Sergeant Lestrade didn’t approve, I could tell, but his wife didn’t mince her words.

“Get away with you, Charley. Hasn’t the poor lass suffered enough as it is? What do you expect her to do? Recover all on her own, without so much as a bit of help?”

I had no idea what I was recovering from, but I was grateful all the same. Truth to tell, I was beginning to look on Mrs. Lestrade not so much as a friend, but more of a Mum than anything. In fact, I had started to feel … cozy. I could cope with this, I thought. Oh, I missed Polly and June, but I was beginning to think that in time I might be allowed to go back and visit them. That would be nice.

All of which just goes to show that you should never, ever take anything for granted.

I knew something was amiss when Sergeant Lestrade came home and asked his wife to talk to him in the parlour. He nodded me into the kitchen, kindly enough, but a nod´s as good as a wink to a blind donkey, as they say, and I stepped out briskly. Didn´t even listen at the door, but sat at the table until the Sergeant called me through. I could see Mrs. Lestrade had been crying, straight off, and my heart sank into my boots. I guessed he was going to say it was time for me to go back to St. Giles. Funny, that. If he had said that to me a month or two ago, I would have jumped for joy. But it´s surprising how soon you can get used to being warm and fed and, yes! Cared about.

He cleared his throat and stood, with his hands behind his back.

“Now then, Judith. Feeling better, are you?”

I would have liked to have taken the chance to explain how grateful I was to the Sergeant and his Missus for looking after me all this time, but I hadn´t got the words. So I just nodded.

“Good. Well, I´ve got some news for you. I don´t suppose you knew what was going on at the time, but the Smallbones have been in business for years, grabbing kids off the street – or sometimes buying them for a quid or two from their mothers – and taking them off to children´s brothels in France and Belgium.”

He paused, and I worked my toe in the rug. I had gathered from things Mrs. Lestrade had let drop that was what had been intended for me, but it all seemed unreal, somehow. As if it had been nothing to do with me, really. Mrs. Lestrade had explained that Smallbone – who wasn´t a reverend at all! – had kept giving me something to keep me quiet, that was why I was suffering now. So I nodded again.

“Right. Well, they´ve both got their comeuppance, at long last. I was present at the Old Bailey yesterday when they were found guilty of enticing dozens of youngsters into slavery, and they were both sentenced to transportation for life.”

I thought about this. Sergeant Lestrade was obviously waiting for me to say something, but I was numb. I had been lucky, I supposed.

“Thank you.” It was a silly thing to say, but the words popped out on their own. The sergeant seemed happy enough, as he nodded. I thought I heard Mrs. Lestrade whisper “Poor thing!” under her breath, but I wasn´t sure.

“So that means you have no reason to stay here any longer.”

I caught my breath. This was it, then. Back to St. Giles for me. I bit my lip and tried not to cry. I heard Mrs. Lestrade sniff, and guessed she was feeling the same way.

“Couldn´t I stay here, Sir?” I blurted. “I´m learning to cook, and I can clean. And I know how to sew,” I did, too. June had taught me a nice, neat backstitch, and I had helped her sometimes when the Season was underway and she was mown out with work for the gentry. “I don´t eat much, and I could help. I really could.”

“I´m sorry, Judith. If it was up to me, you could stay with us and welcome. But I´m afraid the authorities feel that in view of the publicity this case has received, that wouldn´t be appropriate.”

I heard what he said, but I barely understood it. The Sergeant was speaking as if he was addressing a public meeting. His back was rigid as well, and he was staring over both our heads. I looked from him to Mrs. Lestrade and back again.

“Judith, dear.” Mrs. Lestrade, trying to smile. “What Charley means is, because a lot of people have been interested in what the Smallbones have been up to, you’ve attracted a lot of attention. You’re almost a heroine, now.” Heroine? Me? I stared at her, bewildered. “And that means that people have to see that you’re being looked after properly. You can’t stay with us, love, because that’s not seen to be proper. And you certainly can’t go back to St. Giles again.”

My spirits rose for a second, and then I began to worry. If I couldn’t go back to what I still thought of as home, and I couldn’t stay with Mrs. Lestrade, then what was going to happen to me?

“Do you remember where Smallbone said he was taking you, when Charley rescued you?”

I tried to remember, but I could hardly recall anything at all about that strange day. Other than the train; that had been unforgettable. I shook my head; I wanted to help, I really did. But I just couldn’t remember.

“Well, he said he was taking you to Dr. Purefoy’s refuge, in Dover.” I smiled uncertainly; the name meant nothing to me at all. “And that’s where you’re going now, after all. You’ll like it there, dear. You really will.” Was Mrs. Lestrade trying to convince me, or herself? “Dr. Purefoy has made it his business as a good Christian to rescue children who have nowhere to go. Children who live on the streets, just like you used to.”

But I didn’t live on the streets, I wanted to protest. I lived with Biddy and Jed, and me and Polly looked after each other. I nearly said as much, and then thought about being hungry and cold and wondering not so much where the next meal was coming from, as more if there was going to be a next meal. I was torn, I really was. St. Giles wasn’t home anymore, but I had nowhere else, if I couldn’t stay here.

I think Mrs. Lestrade read my thoughts. She jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around me, and we blubbed into each other’s neck. Sergeant Lestrade looked away and made throat clearing noises, and I rather thought he wasn’t too happy about me going, either.

But it was no good.

The next day, Mrs. Lestrade wrapped my few bits and pieces up – I say few, but truth to tell they were more than I had ever had in my entire life - in a bundle for me and added a packet of sandwiches. Both she and the Sergeant waved me off from the station and there I was, starting on yet another new life.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.