The coach ride to Old Town passed in quiet contemplation. The wheels jolted the carriage up and down over the cobbles. It was an overcast afternoon with brooding, dark clouds overhead. It smelled like rain outside. I expected that at any moment the sky would open up and there would be one of the brief downpours that seemed to occur almost daily. I had come prepared with a cloak in case it was needed.
As I reclined on the plush, crimson cushions in the carriage, the dark paneling seem to insulate me and I tried to relax. My mind wandered. It was then that it struck me, like a lightning bolt through the heart and I sat up straight. Emma was carrying my brother or sister. This was not just a matter of ending an unwanted pregnancy, this was fratricide in actuality. Why had this not occurred to me before? And did this change my stance on whether or not to help her? Why did this have to dawn on me now, as I was embarking upon my mission?
Upon arrival at Saint Giles, a formidable dark gray stone edifice, the driver assisted me as I alighted. I managed to catch the edge of my bonnet on the carriage doorframe, which knocked it back off of my head disrupting the braids that I had looped up from the sides of my head to the bun at the base of my neck. Damn. No help for that now. I paused beside the coach using my reflection in the glossy finish of the door to tuck everything back into place as best I could, then retied the bonnet’s silk ribbons under my chin as I glanced around furtively to see if anyone else had taken notice. I was relieved to see that the few stragglers that were making their way into the cathedral were either engaged in conversation with companions or were close enough to the doorway that their backs were turned in my direction.
I navigated the steps and entered through the wooden doors with their ornate hinges. The organist was already warming up as men and women took their seats. I had a note in my hand to pass to Mr. Jenkins. I scanned the aisles for him. There. He was on the far side, midway up, but not near the aisle as I had prayed. Still, there was an open pew behind him. He was sitting with a male companion that I was unfamiliar with. I took my seat just behind him and to his left so that he would be sure to see me out of the corner of his eye. He would be required to address me once I offered my hand with the note hidden in my gloved palm. Given his predilection to lascivious caresses, he would be certain to notice and understand.
There was a brief silence as the organist and other instruments had completed their tuning and warming up. I shifted my skirts, hoping to make enough noise to catch his attention. He turned, almost in slow motion. He nodded politely at me, a look of vague recollection on his face. I offered my hand before he had the opportunity to turn back.
“Mr. Jenkins, lovely to see you here!” I whispered.
He took the proffered hand. Paused. A single eyebrow arched upwards ever so slightly and he palmed the paper skillfully.
“Likewise, Ms. Douglas.” Another nod and then it was over.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata No 5 in D Major began belting from the pipes. The music really was stirring but my mind was not the Allegro. My thoughts sprang from Nathanial to Emma to fratricide to cadavers and back to Nathanial again. Why was this bothering me any more than the laudanum and my friend Jane? Because it was my own flesh and blood? Did that make this more of a sin?
I am in a church for the love of God, contemplating ending another life!
The Ellenborough Act of 1803 had made abortion after quickening punishable by death but it had been amended in 1837 to remove the distinction of quickening. Any abortion was thusly illegal. Granted, I was not really doing the deed. That made me feel somewhat better. I was merely providing the contacts potentially for Emma to do this herself.
Was there some other way to deal with this? If she carried the baby, she would be put out of service. My mother would see to that. This was not the first time my father had been accused of such a thing. The burden of proof was on the mother to establish paternity. Simply swearing it was someone was not enough and certainly not when accusing a wealthy man. There was the possibility of her receiving medical care at a poorhouse but once the baby arrived, she would have to send it to a baby farm and seek out a new post somewhere. Baby farms were a hazardous proposition, as once paid the lump sum to nurse and care for the baby, there were no refunds. It was more profitable for a baby to die, so there was no vested interest in making sure the baby lived or was adequately fed. She did not have relatives that could care for her baby while she was working. Adoption was possible, but once she gave birth, where would she go? Certainly, there were many “fallen women” in service but she would be ruined.
Even if she had the abortion, what was left for her? Her reputation and honor would be intact but she could not go back to working in our Massachusetts household. He had marked her and would be back to claiming his territory once again. Had she thought of this? Should she stay on here in Scotland? Could we find a new post for her? Or would she want to look for a new post in Boston? It was risky. If my father did not want her to leave, he could make it very difficult for her to find work.
And, either way, my brother or sister was doomed. Either doomed by the abortion itself or doomed by living in poverty and the increased mortality rates and the suffering that brought. I was having difficulty reconciling my own admittedly charmed life with their bleak future.
What if I left this to God to sort out? Would God make sure she and the baby were cared for if she made the choice to carry it? How could faith guarantee that when God’s own people were the ones most guilty of the persecution in the first place?
I glanced down at the program and tried to figure out where we were in the music. This was no longer Mendelssohn, I was certain of that, but what exactly it was, I was not sure. Maybe the Bach piece? If that were the case, we were nearing intermission.
The note asked Mr. Jenkins to meet me in the old church during intermission. St. Giles was currently divided into three larger churches and numerous smaller chapels.
The music played on. I watched my hands shake almost imperceptibly as I tucked the program into my reticule. So much was at stake here. If caught, I was sacrificing my reputation and all future prospects for myself and for Emma. I had no guarantees that he would even help me or that he would keep my confidence.
Finally, the recital paused. People stirred in their seats around me, voices rising to a hushed murmur all around. I stood and made my way across the cold, gray floor. I tried to walk softly, so as to attract as little attention as possible but shoes on stone cannot help but reverberate off of the surrounding stone walls. I winced at my staccato footfalls and felt all eyes watching my retreat.