The Good Missionary´s Wife

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Chapter 6

I would have loved to have thanked Mrs. Purefoy for the cake, but I didn´t dare. What if I had got it all wrong, and one of the maids had taken pity on me?

But I was sure it had been her. And even more sure that she was smiling at me, but only when she was perfectly sure that Dr. Purefoy couldn´t see her.

Not that it mattered. Little enough changed after the night of the dinner party.

Dr. Purefoy had obviously decided that I had learned all I was going to. Suddenly, instead of taking me for lessons, whenever he went out to visit his patrons, I went with him. I hated it the first time I went, and I hated it every time after that.

The doctor never told me where we were going, simply gestured with his head for me to follow him. The first time, I jerked to my feet and trotted after him without a moment´s thought and he had to send me upstairs for my shawl. We sat in the brougham in total silence, me becoming more nervous and more uncomfortable with every passing minute. I did try speaking, once, making some comment about the weather, but the doctor simply ignored me and I didn´t try again. By the time we arrived at our destination, my stomach was knotted with nerves and my mouth was so dry I couldn´t have spoken again, even if I had dared.

Each journey was exactly the same. The brougham would draw up at some fine house, and we would dismount. Once inside, the doctor would chat away to the lady of the house – and it always was the lady, never the master. I was astonished at first to find that the doctor, who to me was an ogre, something to be terrified of, could be charming when he wanted to be. Always, I would be left standing awkwardly; close enough to be some sort of appendage to the doctor, but far enough away to mark me as being outside the conversation. I was neither spoken to, nor invited to speak.

After perhaps half an hour, the doctor would rub his hands together and smile pleasantly.

“I thought you would perhaps like to see what can be done with the basest clay, given time and perseverance.”

The lady would nod, smile, and make some comment about how nice it was to see that hers was money well spent. And Her Grace was still taking an interest in the girl, was she? The Doctor always nodded and looked knowing at that point.

And then the doctor would nod towards the piano – there was always a piano in the parlour in those days – and I would take this as my signal to cross the room and tinkle the ivories. Generally, I stuck to hymn tunes. Apart from them, “Greensleeves” always went down well, as did “Für Elise”.

Never, ever, did I get a direct compliment for my playing. Rather, Dr. Purefoy was heaped with praise for being clever enough to teach me. Still, it was a lot better than getting the ruler for making a mistake in my times tables.

And so the days crawled past. Most mornings, I was exhibited. Each afternoon, I sewed clothes for the ragged boys. I began to be smothered by the routine. My past life in St. Giles seemed to take on a dream like quality. I could remember Polly and June and Algie, but it was as if I was some stranger who had seen them, watched them for a while and wondered vaguely about their lives. They no longer meant anything to me. I no longer had tears for them. Still less for myself.

Even worse, I stopped thinking about escaping. Whether I had realized that there was no escape for me, or if I had just had all the rebellion squeezed out of me, I don´t know. I just did what I was told. Dutifully. And was pleased to eat what I was given, when I was given it. Play to order. Sew endless shirts and trousers.

I thought at the time, and still think it now, that most of what happened was the fault of the moon. June had been a very hot month. Not a spot of rain, just day after day of bright, shining sun. And night after night of heat, when it was impossible to sleep under the sheets in comfort. The old house – solidly built to keep the cold out – suffocated us all. Even Dr. Purefoy seemed to wilt; his bark became quieter, and he lifted his head to welcome the breeze that tickled us when we went out on our calls in the brougham.

But that moon.

It was full that night, and high in the sky. When I went to bed, it was its normal, silver self, the light bright enough to cast shadows. I lay for a while, just looking out of the window, too listless and hot to sleep.

I think it must have been past midnight when I did sleep, and it was the moon that awoke me. In the couple of hours that I had slept, the moon had changed its face. From silver and quite beautiful, it was now blood red and terrifying. Roused suddenly, I lay, blinking, unable to understand the weird light that was all around me. Had I died in my sleep, and gone to hell, as the doctor had predicted so very often? I gasped, and then nearly screamed out loud as a hand was laid, very lightly, across my mouth.

It was the doctor, of course. I should have known that this moment would happen, eventually. How often had I seen the pleasure in his face, when he smacked me? Some men were like that, I knew. They enjoyed inflicting pain, and the weaker and more helpless their target, the more they loved it. A flash of spirit came back to me; I wasn´t going to go down without fighting! I bit the hand across my mouth, hard, and grinned as it was snatched away.

“Shush! Judith, be quiet. It´s me. Madeline. His wife.”

I felt my mouth opening and closing foolishly, but no words came out. I had no words. Madeline – Mrs. Purefoy – slid into the narrow bed beside me, and automatically I moved over to give her room. I was surprised, but oddly not as shocked as I should have been. Perhaps I had been expecting this, ever since the present of the cake. In any event, I was so relieved my visitor wasn´t Dr. Purefoy I would have welcomed the devil himself. Instead, I welcomed his wife.

“I´m sorry.” In spite of the heat, Madeline was shivering. She snuggled up to me and I smelled her scent again; roses. She was as soft and sweet and young as her perfume. She filled my senses and left them reeling. “I´m sorry I startled you. Are you alright?”

I nodded. There were so many questions going around in my head, all the thoughts collided together and I couldn´t disentangle them into words. Madeline seemed to understand, anyway.

“You hate him, don´t you?” I nodded. Even if it got straight back to the doctor, what was the point of denying it? “So do I. I hate every moment I have to spend in his company. You think that it´s bad for you. Well, spare a thought for me! I´m married to him. For ever and ever and ever. No escape, until the day he dies.”

Her voice broke, and I realized that she was crying. I put my arms around her, and we hugged silently, two women thrown aside by the world.

“Why did you marry him?” At any other second, I would never have dreamed of asking. But this was a moment out of time; there was just the two of us, giving and taking comfort. I sensed that nothing was out of bounds, and the question came out naturally.

“I had no choice.” Her voice was hoarse with tears and bitterness. “He was – is – a friend of my Papa´s. All my life, I have done what my Papa thought best for me; that was just the way it was and I accepted it. He kept telling me; Dr. Purefoy has money, he comes from a fine, old family. He is a good, upstanding man. Papa didn´t force me to marry him, not exactly, but he just kept on at me, telling me what a great marriage it would be. How I would have everything I wanted. How he was a wonderful man and that I would never find a better match. I believed him, in the end, and gave in.”

I looked at her in the red moonlight. Tears were rolling down her cheeks; her face looked like a woebegone child´s. Suddenly, although she was perhaps nine or ten years older than I was, it was me who was the adult. Me, who put my arms around her and rocked her back and forth, murmuring soothing nonsense. Me, who forgot I was also a prisoner. Me, who realized at that moment that whilst I stood at least a slender chance of escape, poor Madeline was wed to him and had no option but to be the doctor´s wife forever.

The real question flickered on the end of my tongue, but I hid it behind my lips and waited for her to speak again.

“I left you the cake. Did you know it was from me?”

“I guessed.”

“I waited and waited for you to say something, but you never did. Then tonight, he had too much wine with dinner and he´s snoring like a pig, so I took my chance. Did I do wrong?”

“You know you didn´t.” It was both natural, this intimacy between us, and at the same time shocking in that it aroused instincts that I had forgotten. Suddenly, I was me again. Not Dr. Purefoy´s tame zoo animal, to be exhibited and shown off, but me – Jude from St. Giles, as lively and knowing as they came.

Hungry and cold, perhaps. But free.

I could feel my skin tingling, and I think Madeline must have sensed something, as she drew back and stared at me.

“Kiss me, please.” She whispered. “I´ve never been kissed properly by anybody but him, and I cringe whenever he touches me. I think he knows how much I hate it. The colder I am, the more he wants from me.”

She drew her knees up to her ribs, and put her arms around herself as if she was cold in the heat of the night. Her whisper sank to such a low level, I had to lean towards her to hear what she was saying.

“I hate him. He´s thirty years older than me. More than twice my age. He´s old and wrinkled and dried up. When he touches me, he makes me feel old as well. I´ll be happy when he´s dead. I will, I really will.”

What could I do? I felt her misery in my bones. I slid my hand into hers, and kissed her gently, on her cheek. She laid her head on my breasts, and we sat together, not speaking, for an endless, comfortable time.

“I must go. If he wakes up and finds I´m not there, he´ll raise hell. Can I come back to you? Please?”

Madeline was asking me if she could come back? I took a deep breath.

“Yes. Oh, yes. Please.”

She blew me a kiss as she tip-toed out, easing the door shut behind her.

I would have thought I had been dreaming next morning, if it hadn´t been for the lingering perfume of rose on my sheets. I shook them out and opened the window so the maid didn´t notice anything. If she had, I´m sure she would have peached on me – on us – to the doctor.

After that first night, I lay awake for weeks, hoping and praying that Madeline would come back to me. I thought about her endlessly, remembered the silk of her skin in my fingertips, heard the sweetness of her voice in the breeze. But she didn´t visit me again, and I decided that she had been amusing herself, that it would not happen again. I became quite bitter in my thoughts of her.

And then, she was back. She was waiting for me, when I opened my door.

It had been a particularly bad day. The worst I could remember since I had been in Dover. Nothing I could do pleased the doctor. He picked fault with my piano playing; was absolutely furious with me for telling lies about one of his patrons. I had not. For once, the master of the house had been present when we visited. The man had listened to my piano recital and applauded me, but when the doctor dismissed me so he could discuss a donation with the man´s wife, I found him lurking outside the front door. He beamed at me, taking a long pull on a cigar.

“Ah. Judith, isn´t it?” He waved the cigar so that the smoke trailed on the still air. “Banished from my own home to have a smoke. Ah, you ladies have a lot to answer for!”

I thought of his horse-faced wife, and almost giggled. I would have done what she told me, as well. But the master obviously misread my expression. In a second, he was at the side of me, the cigar thrown away as his hand tried to slide up my skirt. I was so surprised, I forgot my manners and gave him a clout around his ears that made his eyes water. But it did nothing to stop him.

“Feisty little thing, ain´t you? Tell you what, you come round to the summer house with me and let´s see if you can earn yourself a little present, eh?”

As he spoke, he grabbed my hand and rubbed it against the front of his trousers. I remembered Polly and her tales of her punters´ and without thinking I screamed. Loudly. He put his hand over my mouth, so I sank my teeth into his palm.

Next second, all hell was let loose.

The front door jerked open so suddenly that I nearly fell through the doorway. The master jumped back just as quickly, shaking his injured hand. But not quickly enough, I thought, that his wife hadn´t seen him cuddled up to me. But of course, it was me who got it in the neck, not that lecherous bastard.

The doctor caught me by the shoulders, and shook me hard enough to rattle my teeth. Just as well he had a good grip on me, as the mood I was in I would have bitten him as well. The mistress was shouting at her husband, using words I was amazed she knew. My heart sank as Dr. Purefoy joined in.

“You nasty little ingrate! How dare you turn on this good man, how dare you!”

He knew what was what, I just knew that he did. But I also knew that he would never, ever try to blame a patron for any misdeed, no matter how obvious it was. As it was, he shook me again for good measure.

“She bit me!” The master whined, holding his injured hand up for inspection. I was delighted to see that his palm was dripping blood. “I just patted her on the head and told her she was a good girl, and she turned on me.”

Man and wife both were suddenly united as they glared at me. I should have stayed quiet. I might have got away with it if I had, but the old Jude was beginning to resurface, and she wasn´t going to stand for this.

“He groped me.” I shouted. “He put his hand up my skirt and tried to make me give him a feel.”

I would have said more, but Dr. Purefoy slapped me so hard I banged back against the door frame. The only thing that stopped me falling was him getting hold of my arm hard enough to leave bruises.

“Lady Shaw. What can I say?” His voice was cringing. “I can assure you that this lying hellion will be punished. Punished severely. I do hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for bringing her here. It will not happen again.”

Lady Shaw inclined her head graciously, and Dr. Purefoy dragged me off, shaking me at intervals like a cat might treat a captured rat. The only thing that gave me any happiness at all was the last sight I had of Lady Shaw, facing her husband. She hadn´t believed a word of it, and I could see from her expression that - once alone – she was going to give the old bugger hell.

The doctor said not a word to me on the way home, but I could I feel his simmering fury. As soon as we got to the Refuge, I was expecting at least the ruler, but I was mistaken. He shoved me into the parlour in front of him, and closed the door behind us.

“How dare you?” He demanded. “How dare you disgrace me like that?”

“But it wasn´t me!” I protested. In for a penny, in for a pound. “He touched me up, and tried to make me go to the summer house with him.”

“I don´t care.” I goggled at him. “I wouldn´t have cared if he had taken you on the doorstep, as long as his wife hadn´t seen. You are nothing. Nothing at all. You dance to my tune, and do as I say. Do you realize how much money you could have cost me with your stupidity? As it is, I will have to dance attendance on that old bitch for weeks, before I can get her primed again.”

He was pacing up and down, as if he needed to move to control his fury. I shrank back, instinctively trying to make myself as small a target as I could. His hands clenched, and then – quicker than I would have thought possible for a man of his age – his fist shot out and struck me at the side of my head. I toppled to the floor, crumpled up like a piece of discarded paper. The doctor´s foot hit me hard in the ribs; I would have yelled but I had no breath left.

“On your knees, you little cunt.”

He was looming over me. Spittle had gathered at each side of his mouth, and a drop of it sprayed on to my forehead. When I couldn´t move, he reached down and dragged me up by my hair, then shoved me down so that I was on my knees, facing the wall. I swayed, as much from shock as pain.

“Keep still. If you have any sense at all in that beautiful head, keep still.”

By a huge effort of will, I stopped myself swaying. I couldn´t do anything about the shakes, but I hoped he would take them for terror and it might appease him a bit.

“You will stay there. You will not move so much as an inch. Do you hear me?”

I nodded, and he cuffed me again around the head.

“Didn´t I tell you not to move?”

“Yes, sir.” I whispered. I had learned my lesson.

He stared at me, and then appeared satisfied. I was facing the wall, but I could hear his footsteps whispering over the silk rug, and then the sound of his chair being pulled away from his desk as he sat down.

He stayed there for the rest of the morning, silent. At lunchtime, he rang for the maid and told her to serve his lunch there. If she was surprised to see me kneeling in the corner, she said nothing. I couldn´t see what the doctor had to eat, but my nose told me it was a savoury stew. Lamb, probably. Later, he took tea and toast at his desk.

When it grew dark, he told me was leaving me whilst he ate his dinner. Threatened me with tying me up and leaving me there all night, if I so much as moved. I had been in agonies of pins and needles in my feet for hours, but by then I couldn´t feel them at all, so that was better. But my knees! They felt as if nails had been hammered into them. As soon as the door closed behind him, I tried shuffling a bit, but it was so painful I almost screamed so I took the lesser of two evils, and stayed still.

The doctor was gone for so long, I thought he had forgotten all about me. But I was wrong. I´m sure he lingered as long as he could over his dinner, as it had been dark for what felt like ages when he came back in. I could smell the food on him, and I felt sick with hunger. He said nothing for a while, just inspected me. Finally satisfied that I hadn´t moved, he spoke.

“Have you learned your lesson, Judith?”

“Yes, sir.” What else could I say?

“Very well. You may get up and go to your room.”

He stood back and watched as I tried to get to my feet. My knees were on fire, burning with pain, but my feet were numb. I rose a couple of inches, and then fell back. And again. Finally, I managed to climb to my feet by means of hanging on to the wall, and sort of pushing myself up. The doctor inspected the wall where I had clutched it, and I knew he was disappointed that he could find no marks, that he could punish me for making.

I lay in bed quietly.

Madeline would have known what had happened. She would come to me, I knew.

And she did. Quiet as a ghost, in the early hours. A ghost that bought with it a pot of arnica salve to dab on my bruises. A ghost that carried a breast of chicken, wrapped in a napkin. I gulped the chicken as she smoothed the salve on my poor knees.

“The bastard.” She whispered over and over. “The bastard. I´ll kill him for this, just you see if I don´t.”

I managed a tiny smile. Madeline – who was as small and delicate as a doll – was going to kill her tall, sinewy husband?

“And what do you think would happen to you, if you managed it?” She paused, her head on one side. “You´d dance at the end of a rope, and a lot of good that would do for either of us.”

She put her hands around her neck, as if she could feel the hemp, and shuddered.

“I hate him. I wanted to come to you before, but I swear he knew. He´s been coming to bed later and later, and hardly drinking at all. I´ve had to put up with him all night. Every night. It´s been terrible. You have no idea.”

“Does he hit you?” I asked curiously.

“No. No, never. But he´s there. He puts those old hands on me, and touches me. He makes me touch him. I cringe every time he gets near me.”

I thought of dear Polly, putting up with total strangers groping her, just so that she and June and Algie could have food and a roof over their heads, and – much as I already loved Madeline – I found it difficult to raise much sympathy.

“But he doesn´t hurt you.” I persisted. Madeline raised her head, and in the dim light I thought she looked haunted.

“You don´t understand.” She moaned. “He wants us to have children. Oh, it´s not that I don´t. I would love a baby of my own. A child I could have for myself. But he says it´s all my fault that we haven´t managed it. He say it´s because I don´t spend. As if I could, with him.”

Tears ran down her cheek and I wiped them away with my thumb. As if it was the most natural thing in the world, she snuggled against me, her head on my breasts. I stroked her hair and tried to be gentle, although thinking about what she had said made me want to clench my fists with anger.

Polly and me had often talked about it. If a woman couldn´t conceive, it was always her fault. It was well known that a baby could only be made if the woman enjoyed sex. If she didn´t, then it just wouldn´t happen. No matter if her husband was clumsy or too quick or just not interested in making his wife happy, it was still her fault. It was common even, for the worst rapist to get away with it; if a babe was conceived out of the act of rape, why then! It was not rape. How could it have been, as the woman had obviously enjoyed it?

But there was worse to come.

Madeline´s sobs had subsided into hiccups. She rubbed her face against me gently, and spoke softly.

“He made me see a doctor about it.” I was puzzled and almost laughed. This was nonsense, surely?

“But he is a doctor.” I pointed out.

“I know, but he said I was such a hopeless case, I had to see a specialist. A doctor who only deals with women´s problems.” I itched to tell her it wasn´t her who had the problem, but it was so obvious she needed to pour her heart out to me that I kept silent, for fear of distracting her. “We went up to London. He spoke to the doctor, and then left me with him without a word to me. I thought it was going to be alright at first. He was quite a young man, and very pleasant. He didn´t aks me any embarrassing questions at all, just suggested that I try sleeping in what he called his “Magnetic Bed.” ”

I couldn´t help it, I giggled out loud at the silliness of it. Madeline laughed with me, and we snuggled down under the blankets. The night had grown chilly after the heat of the day, and we were both beginning to shiver.

“What happened?”

“Not a thing. It was a great, big, four poster bed. The doctor said it was magnetized and I might feel a current running through the mattress, but I didn´t. Not a thing. And it didn´t work, either. Edward was waiting for me with open arms when I got home, but I was just as repulsed by him as ever. I try not to show it, I really do, but he knows. It doesn´t stop him, though. Anyway, he took me back to the doctor and they talked about me as if I wasn´t there.” Tell me about it, I thought. “Edward said he was going to leave me for a consultation, and would be back to collect me in a couple of hours.”

She was quiet, and I waited. Eventually, I ran out of patience.

“And? What happened?”

“You will believe me, won´t you Judith?” She was staring at me. I could feel her gaze on my face. Curiosity turned into fascination; what on earth had happened to her? I nodded.

“Of course I will.”

“I´ve never spoken about it to anybody. Even when Papa asked me if I was quite alright, I couldn´t tell him. I couldn´t talk to a man about it.” She paused and then took a deep breath. Spoke in a rush. “The young doctor made me lie down on a sofa. He undressed me. Unbuttoned my blouse and then loosed my stays. He got hold of my breasts and … and he fondled them, Judith. It wasn´t at all like being examined. He was enjoying it, I could tell. After a while, he asked me if I was alright. I said I didn´t know and he bent down and kissed my nipples. Then he looked at me, and said;

“Well, Mrs. Purefoy. I see what your husband means. You are an intransigent case, aren´t you? Well, I´m afraid this calls for drastic action. Now, just relax please, and remember that I am a doctor, and that this is all for your own good.”

“What did he do?” I breathed, although to be honest, I had already guessed.

“He pushed my skirts and petticoats up around my waist. I tried to pull them down again. Judith, I was so embarrassed, I just wanted to die. Then he … he touched me. Touched my private parts. Rubbed at them. Put his fingers inside me and stroked me. Edward did that, all the time, but not like he did. He was gentle. His hands were soft, and supple. He was young, not old and wrinkled and horrible like Edward. Judith, it was awful. I enjoyed it. I had no idea that being with a man could be like that. I must have made a noise, and he stopped. I was disappointed. Isn’t that awful? I wanted him to carry on. I liked what he was doing.”

“Yes, Mrs. Purefoy?” He said. “Is that pleasurable? Do you like that?”

“I managed to nod. I had my eyes closed tightly, but I heard him stand up. I peeped from under my eyelashes, and saw he was taking his coat off, undoing his trousers. I knew what he was going to do, and I wanted him to. I wanted him inside me. Isn’t that dreadful?”

I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing.

“He lay down beside me, and started kissing me. He grabbed my hand, and put it on his thing. He was much bigger than Edward, and I started to worry that if he put it inside me, it would hurt. But he did, and it didn’t hurt at all. It was lovely. I’ve never felt like that before. Never. He made me feel things that I had no idea existed. Have you ever been with a man, Judith?”

The sudden question caught me off balance. I had had kisses and cuddles, of course. A bit more, truth to be known; there was no privacy in St. Giles. Boys and girls grew up together, and we had all been curious about the differences between us. Nobody had thought it wrong to touch each other, and we girls had howled with laughter when the boys’ cocks had taken on a life of their own. But no, I had never actually had one of those cocks inside of me, although I could well remember the sensations that came with exploring fingers, male and female alike. That had been nice. Very nice.

“No.” I said simply.

“I didn’t know it could be like that, until the doctor did it with me. Afterwards, he smiled at me and asked if I was happy. I said I was, and he assured me that there was nothing wrong with me, and that in future I would have no problems. But he was wrong. It was just the same as ever when Edward touched me. In fact, it was worse. I feel sick every time he comes near me.”

Of course you do, I thought. He’s more than twice your age. He’s an old man. You don’t love him; you don’t even like him. How are you supposed to be able to respond to his touch, his kisses? And how dare he treat you like that? Blame you for something that´s not your fault, not at all? Madeline was shaking, I could feel her.

“Madeline, he had no right to do that to you.”

“Of course he did. He’s my husband.”

She sounded puzzled and I shook my head.

“I don’t care. He had no right to do that to you. It happens a lot, you know.” I said gently. “Wives just don’t fancy their husbands, and the stupid men think it´s all their wives fault, and if somebody else can arouse them, then everything will be fine. And if it’s a doctor, well then! That must be alright. But it isn’t alright. Not at all. It hasn’t made a scrap of difference to you, has it?”

“No. I hate him. I hate him touching me. I can’t bear it.”

She was crying again, and I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her close. She raised her face to me and kissed me, full on my mouth. I was torn between sheer pleasure and pity. Madeline was a married woman, and I was still a virgin – if not exactly an innocent one – yet of the two of us, I was the experienced one. The one who knew, as Madeline did not, what was happening. What was going to happen.

I returned her kiss. What else could I do? She sighed happily and snuggled down against me. I said nothing for a long time, simply relishing her warmth and the slight weight leaning against me.

“Madeline, you must go.” It was a huge effort, but I said it. “If he wakes, and finds you’re not there, it will be bad for both of us.”

She nodded and climbed out of my bed, obedient as a child. At the door, she paused and blew me a kiss. When she had gone, I looked at my hands – the hands that had collected dog shit, and been pleased to do it. I got out of bed and went to the washstand. Poured water into the bowl and scrubbed my hands and fingers with coarse soap until they were red and chapped. And then washed them some more.

It was a long time before I went to sleep.

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