The remaining part of the night, I sat at my window and watched the stars until the sun came up over the horizon mixing pinks and blues and purples with its own salmon hues. Time would not stop for my grief, it seemed. I had cried all night, silent sobs of loss that wracked the body until no more tears could come. I realized that I had no memento of him: no love letters, no picture, no gifts. Nothing but my own memories. My eyes burned in the cool morning breeze as it blew through the casement.
He had lied. Lied about his income/inheritance. Lied and led me on. Or did he? Maybe he used society’s incorrect perception to his advantage. He had never actually made claims as to his income. Everyone else had done that for him.
I wanted to write something. I was afraid that if I did not pin my memories down onto paper with words, they would float away and I would lose them forever.
I finally crawled into the mahogany bed, laid my head on the pillow, and closed my eyes, allowing my aching heart to rest for a few moments. I have no idea how long I had slept when I was awakened by a gentle but insistent shaking of my shoulder.
“Miss! Miss!” came the whisper. It was Emma.
“Yes?” I answered hoarsely. My uvula had pasted itself to the back of my tongue. I winced as I tried to generate enough saliva to work it free.
“Yes!” I sat up in the bed and turned to see the frightened face of the girl. “What is wrong, Emma?”
“Please help me,” she pleaded. Her face was twisted up in anguish.
“Yes, yes, I will, but you have to tell me what is going on!”
She burst into tears. Between her own tears, she told me that she was afraid she was with child. She had not bled for several months and had recently felt a fluttering. Her breasts were tender and she was feeling ill in the mornings. Examining her belly, it was clear that she was indeed pregnant.
“What will I do?” Scenes of my mother silently, determinedly packing Emma’s belongings, placing them in the street, passed through my mind.
“Emma, who is responsible for this?” I demanded.
“Please, miss, I cannot say.” She recoiled, suddenly wide eyed with fear, her red hair wild around her head, her tears flowing with a fury again.
“Tell me, now. I will tell no one.” I tried for some time to reassure her.
“I cannot tell you!” she continually replied.
There are times that I am more or less dim witted. It was then that it dawned on me, the realization sinking like a boulder into the pit of my stomach. I grabbed Emma by the shoulders and forced her to look me in the eye.
“Did my father do this to you?” The stricken look that crossed her face said everything that she did not. “How?” I demanded.
She sobbed even more, tears staining her face further.
The story poured out of her after that. He had come into her room in the middle of the night within a month of her arrival at our house in Cambridge. She had told him to leave, but he would not hear of it. He had told her how beautiful she was as he had held his hand over her mouth and pulled up her nightgown. While he forced himself into her and fondled her breasts, he had whispered into her ear that if she ever said anything or ever refused him, he would turn her out into the streets. He had made weekly visits thereafter, always in the middle of the night. Knowing that there was nothing left for her aside from prostitution at this point, she had complied.
“I did not know what else to do Miss Evelyn. I know I am damned to hell for this. Please help me.”
I wrapped my arms around her and rocked with her as she sobbed. I had no idea how to help her. I had heard rumors of abortions but how and where? This was the question. Who could I even ask?
“It is not your fault, Emma,” I had said. “I am sorry that this has happened to you.” There was nothing else I could say.
Finally, as she pulled herself together, Emma pulled away.
“I have tried everything miss! I…I have jumped up and down for hours. I have drunk every potion I can get my hands on…even the ones that leave you vomiting so violently that you pray for death. Nothing has worked.”
“Don’t worry, I will figure out something.” I tried to sound as confident as possible. I was not sure I was very convincing.
“Thank you,” she sniffed.
“Here, wash your face.” I handed her a face cloth, and poured water from the pitcher on the dresser into the basin. When we had her blotchy face somewhat cleared up and her hair tucked back into place, Emma left with the promise again that I would help her somehow. What choice did I have after all? It was my own father who had done this and therefore by some degree my responsibility, was it not?
As the shame over my father’s misdeeds continued to whirl around in my head, I realized at the same time that I was increasingly angry with my mother. If she had not removed him from her bed, he would not have had to go elsewhere.
I collapsed back into the bed after Emma had left and mulled over what I had just learned. Mr. Brierly would have known what to do…if I could have asked him. As it was, I had no idea where to even start asking questions discretely about such things. I did not dare to ask my mother. I had no female friends whom I trusted here.
There was only one individual that could offer me any hope of knowledge of such things. It was an acquaintance of Mr. Brierly’s that I had met some months ago. I frantically searched my memory for his name. Who was he? Who was he? He, too, had been studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh. He was an Englishman and a good deal shorter than Nathaniel. He had jet black hair to his shoulders, dark eyes, and wore a beard and mustache. I remembered an off handed comment I had overheard him make during a conversation at an intermission at the Assembly House. Something about the Royal Infirmary and a cure for interrupted menses. He had said it with a wink to his comrades and his look had left me with the distinct feeling that he knew something of this first hand. Later, when he had been introduced to me, his manner of taking my hand while bowing seemed innocent enough on the surface, but his fingers had covertly traced the underside of my palm in the most salacious way and said, “I hope that I may be of service to you in the future, Ms. Douglas.” I had made it my business to steer far clear of him in the future.
Mr. Stuart Jenkins! That was his name.
I had caught glimpses of Mr. Jenkins at several orchestral presentations since then. It would seem that the gentleman liked music. I would have to seek him out. There would be a performance of John Stanley’s organ concertos Sunday afternoon, just two days hence, at St. Giles’ Cathedral. He was certain to be present.
There was a peace that developed out of having a mission, a plan. I did not have as much time to mourn my loss of Nathaniel while my mind was occupied with helping Emma.
Nathanial. I realized that I had started using his Christian name. Being in the presence of a dissected human body does tend to take your relationship to a new level of intimacy.
I went through the motions of the next two days in preparation for my chance encounter with Mr. Jenkins, pausing now and then to acknowledge the gaping wound in my chest, as it could not be completely ignored. On Sunday, I had Emma lace me into my corset tighter than usual. I had carefully selected the dress: a pale, blue muslin that I felt complemented my complexion and caused my eyes to stand out. Gloves, hat, stockings, dainty little shoes. Well. Not dainty little shoes. If there was one thing that I wished to change about me, it was the size of my feet. Fortunately, they were generally hidden beneath the long skirts and petticoats that were the fashion.
I attended services at St. George’s as usual, pretending to listen attentively to the sermon whilst sitting next to my mother. I cannot say what the clergyman spoke on, aside from the fact that I am certain it pertained to some moral shortcoming that was perceived to be rife throughout the congregation.
During our light luncheon on curried chicken, I informed my mother of my intention to attend the organ concert that afternoon. Mother insisted between bites that she wished to accompany me, despite my protests, but thankfully she retired to her bedchamber with a headache just prior to the time for our departure. Strictly speaking, young women were not permitted to attend functions without the presence of a chaperone, preferably an older, married woman. However, as I was attending church in the afternoon, protocol dictated that it was acceptable for me to attend without such a chaperone provided I did not compromise myself by discoursing with a gentleman in a nonpublic place. I had planned in great detail how I would communicate such a delicate matter to Mr. Jenkins in public.
I took the carriage.