The Good Missionary´s Wife

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Chapter 4

“Judith. What are you doing?”

It wasn’t so much the words, as the way Dr. Purefoy said it. I jumped and my hands flew away from the piano keys as if they had been scalded.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” I got to my feet and adopted what I had quickly learned was the correct way to speak when Dr. Purefoy was annoyed with me. Hands clasped in front of my apron, and head down. “I wasn’t doing any harm, honest.”

“I’ll take your word for that. Where on earth did you learn to play the piano?”

Learn? I had never learned. Where the hell did he think I would have found a piano in St. Giles in the first place, never mind about learn to play one! But I didn’t say that, of course.

“I’m sorry, Sir.” I repeated. “I’ve never learned to play. I just thought that it would be nice to have a go.”

The truth was, I had always itched to “have a go”. When the German bands had come around St. Giles, with their fiddles and trumpets and little organs, I had always been first in the crowd, tapping my feet and humming along to the tunes. I had watched the fiddler scraping away, and it had always seemed marvelous to me that somebody’s fingers and a bit of catgut could make a noise like that. Marvelous, and at the same time just … natural.

The first time Dr. Purefoy had locked me in the parlour to consider my sins, I had looked longingly at the upright piano in the corner. It had called to me, whispering that it needed somebody to lift its lid, to touch its keys. To let is sing. Eventually, I had given way. Surely, there could be no harm in just lifting the lid? In just touching the keys? And of course, once I had got that far, I had to make the keys talk. I plinked a few, greatly daring, and then – when nobody came in and shouted at me to stop – I tried my hand (literally) at picking out a tune. One finger at a time, at first. One of the popular tunes I had heard the German band play many a time, I think it was called “My Pretty Jenny.” In any event, it had a nice rhythm to it, and in no time my fingers were finding the keys quite nicely, and I was humming along with myself. I had no idea at all how I did it, it just seemed the most natural thing in the world. In fact, it was the nicest thing I had done since walking through Dr. Purefoy´s door, months ago.

I hadn´t slept at all the night before I had left the Lestrades. And in spite of the fact that I was just about ready to drop, I didn´t get a wink of sleep on the train, either. This train was nothing like the comfortable, cozy carriage Reverend – I mean, Mr. Smallbone and I had had to ourselves. The carriage was much bigger, and crowded and noisy. And apart from that, all there was to sit on was hard, wooden benches, with backs that were back-achingly stiff and high.

Mrs. Lestrade had hugged me before I climbed on board.

“Don ´t worry, Judith.” She said kindly. “You just stay on the train until you get to Dover – it doesn´t go any further, so you can´t go wrong. And somebody will be in the station to meet you.”

She waved until the train went round a corner and I couldn´t see her any longer. I could barely see out of the tiny, dirty window but I waved back anyway. I spent the rest of the journey hanging on to the edge of my seat to stop myself being bounced off, and worrying. Who was going to meet me? How would they know me? What sort of place was this I was going to? Round and round and round. Finally, I decided that if I really hated it, I would run away. Find my way back to London, somehow. If Mrs. Lestrade wouldn´t have me back, then I would go back to St. Giles. Find Polly, and get a living somehow. I had barely heard of this Dover place, but it was obviously miles and miles and miles away from London. Why, they might not even speak English, so far away!

By the time the train panted into Dover station – and I knew it was Dover, as the name was bellowed loudly as the train slowed down – I was nearly sick with worry. But at least there was one thing I hadn´t needed to bother about. I was met, alright. Not just met, but collected.

I slung my bundle down onto the platform, and jumped down after it. The station was heaving, people bustling past at a great rate. That reminded me of London, and immediately I was home sick. Would anybody notice, I wondered, if I sneaked back onto the train and hid under a seat until it moved? It would, I suppose, just turn round and go back again. I had turned to glance back at the door I had just climbed out of when a hand clutched my shoulder, making me shriek with surprise.

“Judith?”

“Aye.” I gasped the word, so shocked it was all I could say.

“Your manners are sadly lacking, girl. Nonetheless, I have said I will take you, so take you I shall. Pick up your luggage and follow me.”

I did, of course. What else could I do? I scuttled to keep up with the long-legged man who had spoken to me. I was tall, but he towered over me. It was only when we were seated in a brougham, and he had rapped out an order to the coachman, that he actually said anything else. And then, he spoke in such a strange manner, as if he was talking to a crowd of people, not just to me, I was bewildered.

“Judith will be the first female child to seek refuge with us. Up to this point, Dr. Purefoy´s Refuge for Respectable Indigenous Children has taken only boys. Indeed, if it was not for Her Grace the Duchess of Medway´s interest in the case of the girl Judith, she would not be with us today.”

And that was it. He said his piece, and shut up. I sat beside him, my mouth moving but no words coming out as the brougham rattled down a main road that gradually narrowed and became bumpier and rougher until it was no more than a cart track. Eventually, we turned through a wide gate, and drove down a long drive to pull up in front of the grandest house I had ever seen.

“This is the way.” The tall gentleman jumped down briskly, and snapped his head, obviously expecting to find me following. But a certain stubbornness had taken the place of fear and bewilderment, and I simply stood still. He had taken perhaps ten paces before it dawned on him that I wasn´t behind him, and his face was like thunder as he walked back to me.

“What is it, child? Don´t you understand simple English? Are you deaf, or just stupid? Or both?”

Memories of poor Algie made me want to cry.

“Neither, Sir.” I managed. “But I don´t understand where I am, or what I´m doing here.”

I tried a smile, but it did no good. He was standing with his back to the sun, and his face was as dark as his shadow. And his shadow was longer and leaner even than his body.

“You are in Dover. This is my life´s work; the Refuge for Respectable Indigenous Children.” He spoke slowly, almost spelling out each word. And yet there was no patience in his voice, just annoyance. “You are here because of the publicity your case aroused. You are a lucky girl. Had the wonderful English police not captured your abductors, by this time you would have been in a brothel on the Continent, deflowered and defiled by anybody who had the money in their pocket to pay for you. Instead, you are here. Think yourself fortunate.”

And with that, he turned and walked away. I followed; what else could I do?

“Madeline, dearest. I am home.”

There it was again; it was as if I was invisible. The man I thought must be Doctor Purefoy himself held the door open long enough for me to scuttle through, but didn´t bother waiting to see if it had swung against my face. I stood awkwardly in a long, narrow, shadowy hall and waited. For what, I had no idea at all.

“Edward! You have been ages. Was the train late?”

A breathless voice, very young and very high pitched. I glanced around nervously, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the gloom and was almost brushed aside by a woman who rushed out of a side door with a rustle of silk skirts. She drew to an abrupt halt in front of Dr. Purefoy, and stood on tiptoe to slide a kiss against his cheek. I though the doctor was about to embrace her, but at the moment he leaned forward she twirled around and was almost skipping towards me.

“Well! Is this our celebrity, then? My, but isn´t she lovely!” She was peering into my face, so close I could feel her breathe on my cheek. Her head rocked from side to side, as if she was trying to look at me from all angles at once. “Just look at that hair! So fair! So pretty! And those black brows and lashes! My goodness. Cat got your tongue, has it?”

She bit her lip in obvious amusement. Her hand reached up and traced the angle of my cheekbone, returning to pat my nose. I jerked my head around to track her as she pranced behind me; she shot her head forward and said “Booh!” and then giggled happily.

“What are you called, dear?”

“Jude, Miss.” I smiled, her antics were so childish, so carefree, I forgot some of my fear. For a second, at least.

“Madeline. Don´t encourage her. I don´t doubt the child´s head has already been turned by all the ridiculous attention she has received.” She pulled a face and winked, deliberately. “And your name is not Jude, girl. It is Judith. And when you speak to my wife, you will address her as “Mrs. Purefoy” or “Ma´am.”

I rocked on my feet. This … this child was his wife? I stared at her fascinated, and realized that she was older than I had first thought, but surely not by a great deal. Very early twenties, perhaps, and the doctor was – what? Fifty if he was a day. I shuddered involuntarily as I thought of his hands caressing this sweet creature. Of him kissing her.

My gaze met Mrs. Purefoy´s, and I knew she had read every thought that had passed through my mind. She smiled, but there was nothing nice in that smile, not at all.

Oh, shit. As if it wasn´t bad enough having this strange man in charge of me, I had managed to offend his wife as well. All in the space of less than a minute. And come to that, what was he talking about? What attention had I ever received?

“I will take you to your room, Judith. Pick up that bundle.”

I did as I was told, and followed him up the stairs. Unlike the Smallbone´s stairs, these were bare wood. At least they had put their ill-gotten gains to good use, I though wearily.

“The girl will not assume airs and graces because she is living in the main house with the family.” There he was again, talking to me as if I wasn´t there. I learned, very quickly, that Dr. Purefoy spoke in that peculiar way when he was uncomfortable, but at the time I was simply confused. “It would not be correct for the girl to sleep in the dormitory with the boys, and Her Grace has indicated that she does not wish her to be treated as a domestic, so she shall have her own room. I trust that she will be suitably grateful for the honour that has been bestowed upon her. Cook will bring you some food in a few minutes.” The abrupt return to normal speech left me reeling. I was about to thank him when he turned heel and walked out of the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

He didn´t lock it, though. I know that, because the first thing I did was to try it.

And so that was that. Somebody important had, it seemed, taken an interest in me. Why, I had no real idea. I never did find out, exactly. But I was, it seemed, extremely lucky. And Dr. Purefoy made sure that I understood that, every waking minute of every day.

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