Chapter Seventeen: Waiting

Truth be told, I could not just rush out, find Mr. Aspern, and demand to know about the inscription. Instead, I penned a brief letter to him.

Mr. Aspern,
I am most grateful for your attention to my mother during her party and for the gift of poetry, particularly given the interesting reputation of Mr. Burns. I look forward to discussing the poetry and your inscription in the near future.
Ms. Evelyn Douglas

Now, I would have to wait until he felt a decent amount of time had passed to allow for complete recovery from my illness.

Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more anxious as each day passed. Not because I was waiting for Mr. Aspern. More because I was waiting for my menses. I was never one to chart it faithfully, and I was left wondering exactly when it was due and if it did not come, how I would be able to weather the storm. I began pouring over the Mariceau book again, looking for some clue but found nothing new. Ordering the pills was out of the question.

When my first period had come almost two years ago, I had no idea what was happening to my body. My mother had chosen to protect me from any inkling, lest I should be driven mad by the knowledge. In her defense, this has been advised by the family physician, as I discovered later. But why she thought watching parturition would be fine but knowing about my own menstruation was not, I will never comprehend. Granted, many physicians believed that the menstrual flow was tied to a woman’s psyche and any disruption during that time could result in psychosis. In fact, bathing was discouraged lest the young woman take cold and end up insane.

When I began bleeding, it started with uncomfortable cramping and then I noticed the dark stains on my drawers. At first I was worried that I was pregnant. But I did not have a belly. How could that be possible?

I realized then that I was dying. The icy grip of death was on my shoulder. It would be a beautiful death, I decided. I began fantasizing about the poignant moments I would share with my mother and father as the life ebbed from my poor body and I eagerly waited for further signs that the end was nigh. Those signs did not come.

Afraid to tell anyone quite yet, in case I was wrong, I began staunching the flow with rags I stole from the laundry. I took the soiled cloths to the field and hid them beneath rocks. Things went on like this for several days until one morning I awoke to realize that I had stained my nightgown and bed sheets. Those would be impossible to hide.

I sought out the laundress, a broad, red faced but kind hearted old woman and begged her to help me. She gasped, a hand coming up to her mouth. With fear in her eyes, she dashed off without even uttering a word.

Shortly, I was summoned to an audience with my mother. The laundress, her large nose even redder than usual, had been crying when she appeared to retrieve me. “Your mother would like a few words with you, Miss Evie.” I followed her with trepidation.

As I entered the drawing room, I observed my mother perched on the edge of the sofa, ensconced in the opulent room surrounded with velvet cushions and silk drapery. The bright patterns of the fabrics clashed with the scrolled wallpaper, the effect was always dizzying and disorienting. She was visibly shaken, dabbing at her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. When she caught sight of me, she quickly tried to compose herself, hiding the delicate square beneath the folds of her skirt.

As I approached my mother the laundress let out a small sob behind me. After a stern look from my mother, she whispered an apology, then she softly slid the pocket doors closed.

I hesitated.

“Come here, dear!” My mother beckoned to me, sadly. It was then that I realized that I did not want to die. I wanted to live. When I did not move, she stood, and drew me to her heaving bosom. I stood there awkwardly in her embrace as she cried, not sure what I should do. Console her? I am so sorry, Mother! I am sure I will not suffer long… Make a run for it? Her grip on me would prevent that.

At long last, she relaxed and held me out at arms length by my shoulders. Her tear stained face was contorted and dread filled my soul as I awaited the pronouncement of my fate.

“My little girl is growing up…”

I stood there in shock. At first relieved, then embarrassed, then angry that I had wasted so much time convinced of my demise…I wanted to cry, but if this was a rite of passage to womanhood, I did not feel I was allowed tears like that any longer. I wanted to ask questions, but I was not sure that was allowed either. So I just stood there. Waiting.

“Lavinia will help you with the proper accoutrement…” she said once she had composed herself. She gave me one more brief hug, then patted me on the shoulder. And with that, I was dismissed.

I ran up to my room and sobbed into the pillow for a good ten minutes before Lavinia knocked softly on the door.

She was a tall beanpole of a young lady with blond hair, freckles and an easy smile. She served as lady’s maid to my mother. She showed me the pads that she made for my mother, showed me how to pin them into my drawers, warning me to take care last I move in such a way that I stuck myself. She told me stories of what her own mother had used…pieces of sheepskin, greased with lard on the smooth side to prevent leakage. It sounded ingenious but she assured me that the smell was less than desirable. She let me ask questions, without passing judgement.

And now, here I was, with more anxiety about not having the flow than I ever had at having it, even that first time. But now I did not have Lavinia, or anyone else, to shoulder the burden with me.

So, I waited.

Chapter Sixteen: The Other Man

Somehow, my escapades at the hospital became known in society. Apparently, a lady attending the deathbed of a servant at a charity hospital was to be frowned upon, particularly if she were pregnant and unmarried. Invitations began to dwindle. My mother decided to combat this by holding a dinner party.

Handwritten invitations went out to a dozen key individuals, one of whom was Mr. William Aspern, my mother’s darling. Seven individuals accepted, leaving an eighth gentleman that had to be found at the last minute in order to round out the dinner. Mr. Aspern was prevailed upon to bring a male guest and the day was saved. Our cook had been instructed on the menu: Cucumber soup, Angels on Horseback, filet of sole, roast capon, croquets of fowl with piquant sauce, carrots in dilled cream sauce, and a dessert of nesselrode pudding…not necessarily in that order. The seating was arranged, everyone perfectly paired. Dinner would be served a la Russe, or rather served at the table by temporary wait staff, hired for the event, who would present each course sequentially as the previous one was cleared. An a la Francaise service, where dinner was served all at once on the table was the traditional dinner service dating from Medieval times, but a la Russe was more modern and more practical as courses would not get too cold while waiting to be served. I was to play the piano after dinner for entertainment, to showcase my skills. If there was one thing that my mother took pride in, it was her skill at executing the perfect dinner party back home, but this was her first attempt in Edinburgh and as such she was a tyrant during the preparations.

The evening of the party, I suddenly took ill thanks to a surreptitious dosing of syrup of ipecac… nasty, horrible stuff that induces the most violent vomiting imaginable. We kept it on hand as it was used in small amounts to make elixirs for coughs and colds when mixed with opium, wine, or other ingredients. Still, it was preferable to having to make nice to my enemies in intimate company and I was convinced that the mere lie of illness by itself would not be believed given recent circumstances. My mother was left to make the decision to cancel the gathering or to carry on by herself. In the end, rather than admit defeat, she shouldered the social responsibility herself and I could hear the hum of polite discourse and the ring of silver on china below between my own retches.

Agnes, the new maid, was suspicious. I caught her sniffing the spoon I had laid out on the dresser with the tea things. However, she said nothing. I had not known her long enough to understand her. She rarely spoke or looked anyone in the eye. She was efficient but there was no smiling, friendliness, or ease of manner. I felt on edge at home most days.

At one point, Agnes crept into my room with a marbled paper wrapped box. She held it out, just beyond my reach. I was afraid to move, in case it would trigger another wave of nausea. “From Mr. Aspern,” she whispered, holding it out a bit closer but still not close enough. “He was most insistent that you receive it even in your indisposed state.” The realization that I could not sit up to receive the gift slowly dawned on her. She put it on the pillow beside my head next to the currently empty vomit basin and retreated. The nausea kept my curiosity at bay and the package sat unopened all night even though I gazed at it periodically in the moonlight as I dozed fitfully.

By morning I was feeling much better. My entrails no longer felt the need to try to see the light of day. It had still been worth it in the end, I decided. My abdominal muscles were sore from the heaving and I winced as I pulled myself up to sitting on the pillows. I sat the basin on the floor and decided to have a look at the gift. I could tell now that it was a book. I tore the paper off. It was a copy of poems by Robert Burns. The frontispiece was inscribed with the words, Chan ann leis a’chiad bhuille thuiteas a’chraobh. Whatever did that mean? He had marked the poem, “John Anderson My Jo”.

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent;
But now your brow is bled, John,
Your locks are like the straw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my jo!
John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson my jo!

Hardly a romantic love poem. Or was it? I smiled. Clever, I would give him that. It would be certain to stand out, as it implied that I should marry him, grow old with him, and then I would hopefully still regard him affectionately as we tottered down the hill together to our graves.

I was not sure who to ask to translate the Gaelic inscription, however. Should I ask Agnes, in case she could read? Not my mother. None of the young ladies that I had made acquaintance with or it would be spoken to everyone in a matter of hours…risky prospect when I did not really know what it said in the first place. Perhaps he knew that I would burn with curiosity and that the only option for having that curiosity sated was to ask him? I groaned and fell back on the pillows, closing my eyes. What to do? Fine. I would play his game.

Chapter Fifteen: The Ressurection

It had taken several hours for Emma to pass. Her breath had become more shallow and irregular, her fingers grew a deep purple and were cold despite the fact that the rest of her body burned with fever.

Once she was gone, two orderlies had come to remove her body, transporting it to the morgue. She was unceremoniously rolled up in her bed linens and then rolled off of the bed onto a wooden gurney with a hollow thump. The wheels squeaked with each turn under the weight of her small body as it made its way out of the ward. Her path was traced by fearful eyes from each bed as it passed. You will be next, the wheels seemed to say.

I was not sure what to do beyond this point. When I asked the nursing staff, they stared at me, incredulously and shrugged. Coffin? Burial? Funeral? How would we collect the body? Being a servant in our household and not a family member, we would not be required to observe mourning rituals, but that seemed wrong somehow.

Placental presentation, or previa, meant that if she had gone through with the abortion it would have ended her life almost immediately. To bleed to death this early in the pregnancy was highly unusual, but perhaps it was more merciful in the end than what was to come? I tried to console myself with this thought as I tried to swallow the rock that seemed to be creeping up my throat. I knew that if it reached a certain point, I would not be able to hold back the tears. I was not yet ready to cry.

John had been waiting for me by the carriage all this time. The streets were crowded, everyone hurrying to some engagement, no one looking at the gray stone building. They were all oblivious to the fact that someone had just died within those walls. Or maybe they understood, but the dozens of other deaths that occurred every day in this city muted the poignancy of this one.

John opened his mouth to ask, but I shook my head and he remained silent. His jaw was clenched tight and I could see the sadness in his eyes. Emma had been a gentle soul. It would have been difficult for anyone to have disliked her. I took his hand as he helped me step into the carriage.

He leaned over and quietly whispered, “Thank you.” I turned to him, surprised.

“For what?” I felt in reality that much of this had been my fault, that somehow I should have been able to do more.

“For not letting her die alone.” With that, he closed the door of the coach firmly and climbed up himself to take the horse’s reigns.

When I arrived home, I found that my mother had collected herself. She was dressed in a lovely dark blue day dress and had been waiting on John to return home so that she could leave to attend a previously scheduled luncheon.

“Ah, Evelyn. You are back! You have just enough time to wash up and dress. Come along.” She appeared relieved. “I have hired a new ladies maid, she will attend to you.” There was a slight woman of about forty who appeared in the doorway. She kept her eyes focused on the floor, waiting.

“Mother, I am not going!” I almost yelled. She winced.

“What will I tell everyone?” She seemed shocked.

“You can tell them that I am indisposed. Tell the ladies that I am menstruating for all I care. But I am not going.”

I turned to retreat upstairs, expecting a battle. After two steps, I paused. “Who will take care of her body and where will she be buried?” I asked. I needed to know. I expected she would be given a pauper’s burial. A nameless, twisted, decomposing body entwined with the limbs of a dozen others in a trench somewhere. A nervous laugh escaped my mother’s lips.

“She will go to the anatomists!” There was satisfaction in her voice.


“The only way they would take a dying servant who was pregnant out of wedlock was if I would agree to have her body released to the anatomy department. I was not paying for a funeral for that harlot! And I did not want the stigma of her dying in this house. The Royal Infirmary is a teaching hospital for the University of Edinburgh. They were very grateful to have the opportunity of such a fresh body.” She met my gaze, daring me to challenge her.

There was nothing further I could do.

I suspect that there is the point in every child’s life when they realize their mothers are not the saints that they are held up to be. That one point when you see that their hearts are as human and as imperfect as everyone else’s…as imperfect as your own. This was that moment for me, and it left me feeling utterly alone. My respect for her had been eroding, to be sure, but here at this moment, she was at last merely mortal. I returned her gaze, telling her silently that she no longer held any power over me, that I knew her now. I stared until her own eyes faltered and she turned to cover her shoulders with the shawl she had carried in her hands. Then she was gone.

I imagined that she had already penned a letter to my father, taking great delight in relating all of the bloody details. I wondered if my father would feel any remorse. Fear perhaps, wondering what we knew? Or had my mother accused him? Maybe she had left him to the torture of his own imagination.

I resolved at that point to make myself my own woman. I would work tirelessly to ensure that I had control over my own life, so much as could be afforded to a woman in this age. Whatever lies or intrigue, whatever actions that I must take, I would do them to save myself.

But what was salvation?

Nathaniel had told me of the Anatomy Act of 1832, how it had stopped the grave robbers or resurrectionists. Prior to the Act, only condemned criminals were allowed to be dissected legally by the anatomists. There was an extreme shortage of suitable bodies. So to fill the void, bodies were stolen from graveyards or worse, sold after they were murdered. Watchmen would be paid to stand guard for days or weeks after a burial. Steel coffins, or mortsafes (cages that covered a freshly buried coffin) would be employed. Now, none of that was necessary since the Anatomy Act allowed for the selling of unclaimed bodies from hospitals and poorhouses. Emma had no family. No one to object. I imagined her body, dismembered on a wooden table in the anatomy theater. She would be highly prized, being pregnant. Dozens of greedy eyes would pour over her naked body, more exposed than she ever would have thought possible, as they took in all there was to learn about her most intimate parts.

Perhaps that was all we could hope for…any of us…to be useful somehow, even in death? If she must suffer a senseless death, at least there was some use to it in the end?

Chapter Fourteen: Hospital

The next morning, I found my mother sitting alone in the dining room.  She had changed clothes.  She looked tired and much, much older than she had appeared last night.  The table was bare.  No food had been prepared.  I asked her how Emma had faired.

“She is as good as dead,” she said flatly.

I sank into a chair.

“The baby?” I asked.

She looked up at me, surprised.  “You knew?”

“Yes.”  She asked for no further explanation and I did not offer any.

“Where is she?”

“She is at the Royal Infirmary.”  She had a vacant stare.  I was not sure what that meant.  Did she now know the truth, or was it simply from exhaustion?  “They did not want to take her, saying servants should be cared for in the home of their employer.  But money…I had to pay money.  Then they said that she was with child…that she tried to kill the child.”

“Mother, that is not true!”  She turned tired eyes to me.  She knew. Even if she had not been told, she knew.

No more words passed between us that morning.  We sat in silence for maybe a quarter of an hour until I finally stood and took leave.  I dressed and asked John to take me to the infirmary.  The early morning chill caused me to shiver despite the cloak.  We took the carriage.  It had not yet been cleaned, there was blood on the cushion and a large spot on the floor.

This was my first experience at a hospital.  Generally, admissions only occurred on one day of the week.  However this being an emergency, Emma had been accepted once payment had been guaranteed. 

I was met with an unpleasant odor at the door of the imposing stone edifice.  I had smelled it once before in the anatomy theater, the smell of rotting flesh.  I could hear moans and screams.  Suffering.  I shuddered.  There were many, many wards and I was not sure how to find Emma.  I stopped a dour faced, dark haired woman in her 40’s dressed in a white apron with a starched white cap who seemed to be in charge and asked her where I could find Emma.  When she stared at me blankly, I told her that she had been brought in the night before with bleeding.  Awareness rose on her face, followed by disdain. 

“Come with me,” she said curtly, followed by “Quickly!” over her shoulder when I did not immediately follow her. 

I sprung into action and followed her up a set of stairs and around a corner.  She walked quickly.  I was out of breath by the time she stopped.  It opened upon a large ward full of women.  Four rows of beds.  The room was dark, the windows small.  Some women appeared almost dead.  Some were writhing in pain.  In the shadows of the far corner, I could see Emma.  When I arrived at her bedside, I could see that she, too, suffered.  She did not recognize me.  She was in pain, writhing, feverish.  I lifted the sheets (at least they were clean) and saw that she was still bleeding.  Fresh rags had been placed between her legs but they had been soaked through with bright red blood. 

“Can you give her something for the pain?” I asked the nurse.

“Whatever for?” She replied, dubious.

“For the pain!”  I did not like this woman.

“Madame, I do not know how you have made the acquaintance of this girl, but she has tried to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy by artificial means and must therefore suffer the consequences to their fullest.  No laudanum, doctor’s orders.” 

I stood dumfounded.

“But she did no such thing!”

“She was bleeding profusely.  There is little doubt.  She is unmarried and young.  She is a servant and probably realized that she would be destitute.  She is sentenced to death by law, but God will exact the price before man.”  She seemed to relish this fact.

The woman in the next bed retched.  I grabbed the footboard to steady myself as I could feel bile rising into my own throat.  Recognizing that I may soon join in the vomiting, the woman hurriedly excused herself.  I took deep breaths, attempting to calm myself and looked around for a chair.  I found an unoccupied worn stool a few beds down and maneuvered it so that I could sit with Emma. 

A short, wiry man of about forty with black hair and a dark angry cloud that hung over him appeared at the entrance of the ward with an entourage of half a dozen nurses and orderlies and began making the rounds.  Sometimes he would percuss.  Sometimes he would use a foot long wooden tube at one ear, pressed to the chest or abdomen to listen to the heart or lungs.  Often, he raised his voice with profanity and one of the nurses would scurry off with a frightened look in her eye, returning a few moments later with an ointment or tincture.  I had not planned to stay long, but now resolved to wait until he had made his way to Emma.  She let out another agonizing groan and shifted in the bed, her eyes open but unseeing.

Forty-five minutes later, the doctor was at the retching woman’s bed.  Another round of profanity.  Another scurry.  After the appropriate medication had been administered, he turned and began to leave the ward.  The entourage followed.

Confused, I called out, “Excuse me!”  He stopped, paused as if considering, then slowly turned back to me.  Half a dozen frightened pairs of eyes turned to him.


“I…I beg your pardon.  Were you going to see her?”  I indicated Emma’s body.

“Certainly not!” He exclaimed indignantly.  The entourage winced.

I stood, dumbfounded.  Then realization dawned upon me.  “There is someone else that will be seeing her, then?”

“Absolutely not.”  He turned to go.

I felt the anger well up again.  I stood.  “And why not, sir?”

Without even turning to look me in the eye, he replied, “She should never have been admitted.  We only take treatable, lawful cases here.  She is not salvageable.”  He took a step.

“Has anyone examined her?  Or is everyone simply making assumptions of her clinical status based on suppositions about her private life?”

At that, he turned back to me, bristling.  “She did not have an abortion?  Who are you to turn her into a saint?  She is pregnant.  There is no father.  She is bleeding.  There is no more to be said on the matter.”

“She is employed by me!” 

He laughed at me, then.  Not a laugh of mirth, but rather a laugh of ridicule. “You are not but a few years older than she.  I highly doubt that you are solely responsible for her income.”

My father did this to her, sir.”  A look of shock crossed his face and then washed over the faces of the entourage.  My desire to be right, to win the argument, had clouded my judgment and it had just slipped out.  I clasped a hand to my mouth and cringed.  I could not undo it so I decided to drive the point home.  “She refused to get the abortion.”  No mention of who arranged it or why I would know.  “So, examine her for the love of God or I can assure you that YOU will be the one damned for eternity, not her!”  I wished the flames of hell to bore into him from my eyes and turn his worthless, tiny body into ash.

For whatever reason…perhaps it was my calling down divine condemnation upon his head…his face softened a bit.  He walked over to me, standing close enough that I could smell his unpleasant, fetid breath. 

“Fine,” he sighed. “I will examine her.” 

He began rolling up his sleeves and called for a fresh washbasin.  There was a scurry and one appeared.  He sat down on the stool I had vacated and lifted the bedsheet, placing his hands between Emma’s legs.  Without actually looking, he moved his hand and arm further up, exploring the area.  Her eyes registered her pain, but nothing more.  No embarrassment.  Nothing.  The doctor’s hand paused and the color drained from his face.  He withdrew, covered in blood, and stood to wash in the basin. 

“Well?” I demanded.

“She has a placenta previa.”  I knew what this meant.  I had watched another woman die while attending births with my mother.  The placenta grows over the lower portion of the uterus, covering the cervical opening and birth canal.  The only way to give birth with a complete previa is to tear through the placenta and most likely bleed to death.  There had been rare occasions that I had heard from the midwives of the placenta being delivered intact with the baby, but generally the medical attendant would try to push aside the placenta and turn the baby to put pressure on the placenta to prevent bleeding.  But Emma was far from term.  There would be no baby.  How Then could her life be saved?  “We could attempt a Cesarean, to remove the products of conception but the pain would be great and she would still likely not survive, particularly given the tremendous amount of blood loss she has already suffered.  A dilation and curettage would be impossible due to the position of the placenta.  And the fever…”  He toweled off and rolled down his sleeves.  “In short, there is nothing to be done but to make her comfortable.”

He took his leave more humbly this time, not that I could enjoy any satisfaction in that fact at this point.  At the very least, however, orders were given for treatment of her pain and it would now merely be a matter of time.  I stayed with her, holding her hand until it was over so she would not die alone in this place.

Chapter Thirteen: Blood

Several days passed.  Emma and I avoided eye contact, communicating only on the barest necessities.  Neither of us could request to be without the other’s presence without explaining why and that was impossible.  Finally, tired of feeling such anger and fear in my own home, I decided to broach the subject.  She had come to assist me in a bath and was pouring a large pot of burning hot water into the tub, steam billowing up toward the ceiling.  There would be another ball that evening. 

“Emma, why did you leave.”  She froze.

There was silence for several minutes.  I had almost given up on an answer.

“I was frightened.”  She stood and turned toward me.

“Of what, specifically?”  Stupid question.  She is fourteen.  Of course she was scared.  There were any number of things I was scared of myself.  I could not imagine facing what she was facing at age fourteen.

“I talk to him, sometimes…the baby…I…I know it is a boy.  I was afraid it would hurt him…those instruments.  I can feel him moving, Ms. Evelyn.  I realized that I wanted to protect him.”  Even if it hurt me.  She seemed as relieved as I was to get it out.

“Then you have my blessing, for what it is worth.”

“I don’t know what I will do.  Haven’t decided yet, beyond knowing that I just could not imagine being without him.”  She seemed calm and determined.  She, too, had found her strength.  Coming face to face with the devil will do that.  We grew silent again.  I was not sure that I wanted to offer assistance of any kind again.  I had paid my debt.

I undressed and climbed into the tub.  It was a small, metal tub with a high back that one would sit in almost like a chair.  Emma left.  I soaked for a good long while until the water turned cold, then scrubbed down with a bar of lavender scented soap.  I washed my hair with vinegar, then finished with a rosemary tea rinse to add shine and mask the acidic scent of the vinegar.  It would take the whole afternoon for my long hair to dry.  I toweled off as best I could and put on a lace dressing gown while I worked out the tangles with the heavy, engraved hairbrush.

The afternoon was spent reading in my room.  I had found a book in the library downstairs entitled The Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion by Dr. A. M. Mauriceau.  A relatively small, black fabric bound, unobtrusive little manual but I had found it to be chock full of juicy tidbits on prevention of pregnancy, abortion, and treatment of menstruation. Someone who had let this house earlier this year
had hidden it at the end of a row of books where it seemed to be almost buried into
the end wooden shelf.  I did not know who this Dr. Mauriceau was, but I wished I had come across this book weeks ago.  Why, there was even an ad for pills that would take care of the whole “problem” for you with no side effect!  Or, there was something called the baudruche (the French Secret) that I could order by mail for $5 a dozen which piqued my curiosity.  I wondered what exactly that was, wishing there was some way I could get that sent to me without my mother or anyone else getting to it first. 

A tea tray was brought up at dinner time.  I ate a scone with clotted cream with my right hand, as I read on with my left.  I needed to eat enough that I would not pass out while dancing but not so much that I could not lace up my corset. 

This evening, I would be wearing a light blue gown with lace trimming across the neckline, sloping shoulders, narrow sleeves, and the customary petticoats and underclothes.  The bloomers, as usual, had a slit in the crotch.  Using the toilet (or rather chamber pot) was a difficult task in a ball gown, or any gown for that matter.  This way, one could squat down over the porcelain and do one’s business through the opening.  The hairdresser had again been engaged and would arrive in a few short hours to arrange my coiffure.  I would wear a simple, unfussy pair of pearl drop earrings, a gift from my father on my twelfth birthday when I was deemed “old enough to now own and care for real jewels”.  No other jewelry would be necessary.

The preparations went well.  My mother was quite pleased in the end but I was terribly uncomfortable.  My scalp hurt.  It was difficult to breath.  And there was this itch on the ride side of my mid back that no amount of scratching could manage reach through the reinforced whale bone corset, my chemise, and the gown itself.  That was going to drive me crazy unless I could find a knitting needle to slide down there….

We took the coach at the appointed hour of 8 o’clock.  I had few hopes for this dance.  My heart was still grieving the loss of Nathanial Brierly and consenting to engage further in this little charade was requiring a tremendous amount of self control.  Truthfully, I looked for him in the arriving crowd, but he was nowhere to be found.

After turning in our cloaks and other belongings, mother firmly steered me to the ballroom.  William Aspern was almost immediately at my side.  My mother poured out effusive greetings and praise, spilling it all over me and Mr. Aspern.  I felt dirty.

“Ms. Douglas, would you honor me with a dance?”  He looked terribly hopeful.  I gave him the first so that I could get it over with.  But then he wanted another. 

I put him down for the last, to make him wait.  A waltz.  That should help his standing with my mother.  I almost giggled out loud.

Periodically I could catch a glimpse of my reflection in the candlelit mirrors that stretched across the surface of the walls.  I have spent much of my life knowing that there were many women much more beautiful than I.  In fact, I felt downright ugly most of the time. But tonight, I felt beautiful and graceful.  It was magical.  But I stood there alone.  No other men came to request dances.  Women that passed me nodded sympathetically or whispered conspiratorially to their companions as they walked by.  I knew why.  Mr. Brierly was haunting me.  It had not gone unnoticed that we had been close.  Perhaps too close.  My mother had been livid on more than one occasion.  It was difficult to say no to him.  Now he was gone.  And I was not.

Awkwardly, I stood there alone as my mother began to make the rounds of the room, renewing acquaintances and attempting to stir up interest.

Through the evening, however, men started to show up, asking me to dance.  I recognized several as friends of Mr. Aspern and realized that he was sending them.  Part of me wanted to be indignant.  Instead, I was grateful.

At midnight, Mr. Aspern collected me for dinner.  This was a smaller ball and as such, a large meal was planned as a break.  There was turtle soup and pigeon pie.  Roast duck and pork with vegetables.  It went on and on.  My mother sat on my left.  Mr. Aspern was on my right and attempted to monopolize my attention.  Conversation was awkward at best as I had great difficulty finding any mutual topics of interest.  We did, however, discuss the weather at great length.

The remainder of the evening passed uneventfully.  I danced several more dances, including the final one with Mr. Aspern.  Notably my mother decidedly chose to ignore the fact that it was a waltz.  I could see that she was in love with the prospect of him as a son in law already.  I winced.  Evelyn Aspern?  Meh.  Still, he had shown me great kindness tonight and I felt that I owed him some consideration.  We would see.

Mother had much to discuss on the carriage ride home, mainly about how this woman or that was dressed.  Wasn’t the hot punch lovely?  Ms. Elizabeth someone or other was to be engaged to a Mr. Robert someone or other, had I heard?  No, I had not, but I was too tired to even care.  The carriage lamps did little to pierce the dense Scottish fog that had settled over Edinburgh.

When we arrived home at about 3 o’clock in the morning, mother and I went to the kitchen for our customary cup of tea before bed.  It was a tradition, despite the fact that I was always much more interested in sleep.  Emma always waited up for us and had a kettle steaming on the stove when we arrived.  However, this time there was no tea.  And no Emma.  My mother glanced at me, puzzled.

“I will look in on her,” I said.  “Perhaps she is not feeling well?”  Since I knew her condition, I wanted to shield her from the experienced, prying eyes of my mother for as long as I could.

I dragged myself upstairs to Emma’s room, quite the chore on legs that had danced all night in uncomfortable shoes.  I knocked on her door, gently, but there was no answer.  I cracked the door a bit, lamp light filtered into the hallway.  I could hear my mother’s steps on the landing.

Emma!” I whispered.  Still no answer.  I resolved to enter, pushing the door open further. 

There in the corner was Emma, lying unconscious, with more blood than I had ever seen in one place soiling her skirts and the floor around her.  I screamed for my mother, which also brought John in his night clothes.  He took one look at her in the floor and then ran back to his room to throw on some clothes.  My mother checked to see that she was still breathing and began to give orders.  I was commanded to stand back so as not to soil my gown.  Still unsure if I should divulge Emma’s secret, I remained silent even as she was lifted up and taken by carriage to the Royal Infirmary.

Chapter Twelve: Dissociation

Frantic, I spun around the room.  Where was she? 

I turned to him.  “What did you do?  Where did she go?” I demanded.  I wanted to choke him, but that would require touching him and I never wanted to have my skin on his in any way ever again.  An open mouthed shrug was his only response.  He seemed to be rather surprised himself.  Bastard.  I snatched up my cloak and other belongings, and flew out of the door, down the steps, onto the deserted street.  I paused for a few moments once I reached the sidewalk, searching for Emma’s shadowy figure.  It was nowhere to be found.

Where should I go?  Where would she go?  Would she head home or wander the streets or jump from a bridge or something else as dramatic and final?

I made my way back through the streets to our house, praying that she was safe but at the same time wishing death upon her for squandering what I had just endured.  I knew that I would be feeling the physical pain for days but the emotional and spiritual pain would endure much longer. 

I snuck quietly up to Emma’s room.  I cracked the door. I could see her huddled into a ball on the floor by the window.  She looked up.  I could see wet tears glisten on her face in the dim moonlight.  But I did not want to speak to her or try to comfort her.  I closed the door softly but firmly.  I did not know if she had any inkling of what had occurred behind that door in those rooms but we would not speak of it.  Ever.  She could explain herself in the morning.

There was no sleep for me that night.  No tears, either…I stayed true to my promise to myself on that point.  I washed myself over and over again in the wash basin, the soap burning, amplifying the rawness I felt in my heart.  I finally gave up, accepting that I would probably never feel clean again.  Somehow the white night gown I slipped over my head now seemed a lie.

I was no longer a virgin but I did not know what that meant for me now.  A wedding night charade?  Many a woman had faked virginity but secretly cutting themselves or other more elaborate deceptions.  This did not concern me.  But what did this mean from a purely religious standpoint?  If virginity was required of me by God until my wedding night, what was I now?  A harlot?  I had a hard time believing that.  Was this a sin?  And if so, how damning? 

My thoughts continued swimming through my brain as the dark wrapped itself around me.  I thought of the cadaver’s brain on the table in the auditorium.  I wish I had mustered the courage to touch that as I had touched her skin.  It is easy to assume the mystical, magical part of spirits and souls until you see the reality.  We are all just flesh and blood.  Where is the hope in that?  I was here, on the brink of something.  A fall into the abyss?  Or would I find strength, the will to survive this and everything else? 

A chink of sunlight peered through a crack in the drapery. 

I rose from the bed and threw open the curtains, catching the warm sunlight on my face.  There were people on the street below already.  I dressed for the morning by myself, wanting to complete the task before Emma arrived to assist me.  I was not yet ready to speak to her. 

Chapter Eleven: Paying the Devil

On the appointed evening, after the household had retired, I wrapped myself in a cloak and met Emma on the stairs.  We silently left out of the back of the house, and snuck into the dark alleyway. I had traced the steps several times the day before and hoped that I would not become lost in the dark.

In short order we arrived.  He was located in a business district nearby.  All of the shops were closed.  There was a small gate between two shops that lead to a darkened stairwell. I closed the grate quietly behind us and climbed the stairs, Emma following close behind me.  I knew she was frightened.  We both knew very little of this procedure, but there was no doubt that pain would be involved.  I rapped on the door softly.  No answer.  My heart was in my throat.  I tried again, this time louder.  I could hear rustling and footsteps and breathed a sigh of relief.  The bolt slid free and the door cracked open.  When Mr. Jenkins saw that it was me, he opened the door further and ushered us inside. 

The apartment was lit by a number of oil lamps.  There was a table at the center of the room that was covered with an oil cloth.  Several instruments were laid out.  A tenaculum, a dilation probe, a curette.  At least there was not a knitting needle.  Somehow, the clinical appearance of these instruments was reassuring.   

“Mr. Jenkins, this is Emma.”  He had seemed surprised to see her, as if he had still not believed that I was not the actual patient.  I shrugged out of my cloak.  Emma pulled hers tighter.

He turned to Emma.  “Please have a seat and make yourself comfortable.  Ms. Douglas and I have some business to attend to.”  He indicated a large, overstuffed chair that appeared a bit worn but was still in fair condition.  She sat, silently, hands clasped in her lap.  She stared fixedly ahead.  He nodded to her, then took my elbow and led me with a firm grip to a doorway.  He paused to allow me to pass through first, then entered and closed the door.  There was a lock.  He turned it.

“Is that really necessary, Mr. Jenkins?”  I turned to him. 

“So we are not interrupted, Ms. Douglas.”

The room was clearly a bedroom, though it was tiny and dimly lit by a single candle that resided next to a washbowl and pitcher on the dressing table by the door.  There was a small bed in one corner with a worn yellow coverlet, a bare chair in the other corner.  The floor was bare.

I began by digging out the dozens of pound notes that I had pulled from my stocking drawer.  Those notes represented years of savings, my safety net.  I had not had any idea why I was doing it or what I would need them for, but here I was, grateful that I had had the forethought to bring the collection on the voyage.

“I am not looking for money, Ms. Douglas.  Let me be clear.  You cannot pay me the amount of money that I require.  I have, however, found your figure most pleasing for some time and have had quite the many carnal thoughts about you.  To be quite plain, for me to perform the operation on your maid, I require the use of your body for ten minutes.”  I reeled.  What? “Do I have your consent?”  He waited expectantly.

“You want me to do what?” I hissed.

“You heard me.”

I stood for a moment in shock.  Fortunately, I was near the dressing table.  I placed my hand on the cool surface to steady myself.  I needed time to think. 

“Do I have your consent?” He demanded, more firmly.

Emma.  Her plight was in some way my fault, I knew.  As the Bible said, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation…”  Was this my penance?  Would this pay my father’s debt? 

I slowly nodded my assent.  I could not speak the words. 

He did not leave me time to even blink.  He was on me in a flash.  He forced me face down on the bed, hiked up my skirts as he deftly removed his belt, parted my legs, and then searing pain flew into my mind as tears poured down my face. 

While it seemed an eternity, he was in actuality through in a matter of seconds.  When he withdrew himself from me, he turned me over.

“Look at my face.”  I refused to comply, silent sobs wracking my body. “Look at my face!”  He grabbed my chin with his left hand and forced me to look at him.  “I am your first apparently but I will not be your last.  There is a solution of alum with sulfate of zinc in a syringe in the top drawer of the dresser.  Clean yourself out with it.  I do not need any bastard children.”  With that, he stood and buttoned his trousers.  I seethed with anger and humiliation.  Someday, he would pay.  But tonight, for now, I would get what I had come here for…freedom for Emma.  I lost myself to the silent sobs again, rocking back and forth on the edge of the bed.  I do not know how much time passed before I realized that he was sitting in the chair in the corner, watching me.

I resolved at last to cry my last tears. I used the syringe as instructed as he looked on.  To be certain I did not want him to have any bastard children either.  I prayed that it would work.  Once my skirts were situated and I had washed my face with cold water from the pitcher, I moved to the door.  He followed.

I stopped dead in the center of the room.  Emma was gone!

Chapter Nine: The Pursuit

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. 

Chapter Eight: A Father’s Love

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.

“Miss Evelyn!” 

“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. 

Hours passed.

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.

Chapter Seven: The Parting

The body was shrouded in white linen, lying in state on the wooden table at the center of the lecture theater.  Rows and rows of seats rose up into the darkness over our heads.  As we circled the table, floorboards popped or groaned softly beneath our feet with each step.  He drew the cloth back slowly across the form and eyed me intently, watching for any sign of the squeamishness for which my sex was so notorious.  My nostrils filled with the acrid smell of mysterious chemicals and decaying flesh.  I nodded somberly to him.  By the dim light of the single candle he had lit, he began to unravel the mysteries of the sinews and muscles and organs, the excitement rising in his voice as he spoke.  I pulled off my gloves.  My hand was drawn almost unconsciously to the pale, silky skin that was still intact over the body’s left shoulder.  It felt cold and waxy beneath my fingertips.  So this was what death felt like.  The chest cavity lay open, the entire anterior portion removed, no doubt to a furnace somewhere. 

“Here is the heart and here, the lungs,” he was saying, demonstrating for me the springy, spongy nature of the lung tissue itself.  The top of the skull had been removed, exposing the two hemispheres of the brain.  The face had been completely dissected, rendering the body something less than human.

“Was it once a man or a woman?”  He paused and looked up at me again.

“A woman,” he replied simply.

“Who was she?”  He searched my eyes carefully, a look of warning on his face, as if to say don’t make her into a person again, not after all of this.

“She was one of the nameless poor.  Her family, no doubt, could not afford a burial.”

“One of the nameless, faceless poor, then?”  I winced at my sad attempt at humor, but he seemed to understand. 

“Yes.”  He grinned.  I wanted to ask if she had any children, a husband, where she had grown up and how had she died, but I did not dare.  He would not know the answers anyway.

“What will happen to her after this?”

“The law requires that her parts be saved and that she be buried in a common grave somewhere.”

“Do they really do that?”

“I would have no way of knowing for sure.”

“What do you think about the resurrection of her body on Judgment Day?  Do you believe she will be whole again?”

“I do not know.”  He was as aware as I that the general public feeling was that her body would not be whole, whether it was well founded on sound theology or not was irrelevant on the stage of public opinion.  It was one of many reasons why this whole subject was dreadful to anyone, but especially to the poor as they essentially supplied these rooms.  It was not that very long ago, either, that Burke and Hare had murdered dozens of victims and sold them for dissection on this very table.  After a few moments, he added, “I am not sure that I believe in a Judgment Day.”  No judgment day?  Did that mean that he did not believe in God?  How could he not believe in God?  This was not the time or the place for such a discussion, but I made a mental note to bring it up on one of our walks.

He drew the shroud back over what remained of her upper body, then blew out the candle and slipped it into his pocket.   He cleaned his hands on an old handkerchief.  I could not see what he did with it after.  In the dark, his hand rested at the small of my back and guided me firmly to the door where he then used the key to turn the lock.  I pulled Emma’s borrowed cloak tighter around me, attempting to hide my own face.  The hope had been that her coarser cloak would be less likely to raise eyebrows if seen on the streets at this late hour.  As we stepped out into the damp night of the alleyway, he removed his hand.  His touch, however, burned there still so intensely that I felt all of my blood flow reverse and rush to that single point, leaving me suddenly lightheaded.  Sensing my faltering step, he steadied my arm and pulled me against his chest.  Surely he thought I was finally overcome from the experience.  But don’t you worry, Mr. Brierly, I am quite callous when it is required of me.  I could feel his heart pounding.  I tried instantly to imagine what that heart inside looked like as it moved inside of his own chest. 

“Wait here for a moment,” he whispered.  We stood there together, cloaked and safe in the cool night air.  Finally, he spoke.

“What I have to say I could not do in there and I fear I will have no further opportunities in the near future.  I have examined this problem in a million different ways and from all possible angles, but the conclusion that I must reach never changes.”

I waited, an unknown source of dread welling up from within.

“I cannot give you what you deserve in life.”

There it was.  The truth of the moment.

“I will never be approved by your father as I am.  My life’s work is science, not industry.  I will someday have a modest living but not to the degree to which you are accustomed.  I do not have the inheritance and income that everyone has been led to believe.  I am guilty of that fabrication.  Any choice that you make with me will guarantee your family’s wrath and society’s scorn.  You have my life, its body and soul, Ms. Douglas, but I can give you nothing aside from that and perhaps knowledge, like this.”  Here he gestured toward the lecture hall.  “But these few things, while they seem enough now, will not content you for long.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but his raised hand stopped me.

“They will not content me for you, then.  I am not selfish enough to presume that your hurt will not be my hurt.  I lie awake at night and ache for you in ways that a man should not speak of to a woman.  Before I do something that will curse you forever, I must leave while I still have control enough over my faculties to do so.”  He paused here for a moment.  I could feel his breath at my ear, strong and deliberate.  I turned to face him.

“You do not understand.  I spent the entire voyage here knowing what was expected of me, but not knowing how I would ever be able to consciously choose to marry, realizing that marriage means intercourse and intercourse mean pregnancy and pregnancy means childbirth.  I cannot put into words the suffering I have witnessed.  How could any man be worthy of that?

“Therefore, you must understand that when I choose to say the word ‘love’ to a man, I am not simply speaking of some young girl’s trifling.  For me, love is the realization that I am willing to suffer, to die if need be, in order to be touched by you.  Scorn does not scare me in the slightest because quite honestly, I love you Mr. Brierly.”  His grip on my arm tightened.  I wished I could see his face.

“Evelyn, I do not wish you to believe that I belittle your sentiments, but there will be others for whom you will feel the same.”

“What if there is not?”  I whispered harshly.  “Are you prepared to leave me tonight to face the rest of my life alone, without love?”

“Do you understand that I have no choice?” He said it slowly, deliberately. I left him with the sound of the rustling of unseen leaves for a moment before I replied.

“Yes.”  And with that, there was nothing more left to say.  I did not want to understand it, but I did.  He believed he was doing his best by me and I would be unable to convince him otherwise now that he had made up his mind.  He must have believed it was his penance in some way, perhaps for lying about his wealth?

“Thank you,” he said.  He pulled me tighter, pressing me against his chest again.  He held me there for some time.  At last, he kissed the hair that lay on my forehead, then quickly and silently turned to lead me back to my mother.

After winding through dark alleyways and vacant streets, he stopped at the back gate of the garden.  Crazy thoughts were crashing through my mind.  I could not let him go without some sort of fight.

“Some day you will regret this, Mr. Brierly.”

“I already do,” he replied.

“Please…” I began, but his lips on mine both silenced me and sealed our fate.  I could feel his longing and desire and willed with every fiber of my being that he could feel mine, that he would remember it somehow and carry it with him, a stake through his heart. 

He pulled away suddenly and motioned with his head toward the door of the house. 

“Go,” he insisted, the word forceful and sharp, a harsh whisper emanating from his shadowy form.  Anger welled up within me and boiled over, red hot and dangerous.  I wanted to hurt him as he was hurting me.  I had no conscious control of my arm as it lifted, the palm of my hand connecting with his cheek with a force that staggered even me.  The noise caused me to recoil and I heard his breath suck in sharply.  There was the strange sensation of having no feeling aside from the hundreds of needles that spread along my fingers in the seconds after the impact.  I regretted it instantly but did not know how to take it back.  I could see the dim outline of his hand moving along the place at his face that my hand had just left.

“Go,” he rasped through clenched teeth.  “Go.”  I could hear the anger in his voice.

I turned and obeyed.