Marie de Mabillon was not at all sure that anyone would be looking for her. She had made a tactical error, really, in telling Mme Crecy at Sadlers Wells that she was leaving. But then, how could she have known that James’ new wife was actually and determinedly insane? Because surely it had to be a question of insanity? You didn’t keep someone prisoner otherwise.
This was a real problem. At first it had been alarming, but Marie had assumed that she would be able to sort it all out without too much in the way of trouble. But she had been locked in this room for a three days now, and she was starting to realise that she might not be able to get out by herself.
It would be OK. It’s not like she was alone in the world – far from it. Her family was large and sprawling and, in parts, influential. It was just… well, they might not realise there was a problem. She didn’t see any of them regularly, not anymore. The older Maynard children were adults now with their own lives; she exchanged sporadic letters with them, but that was all, unless she knew the ballet would be touring near one of her brothers or sisters. Cecil was too far away, and too disinterested to be any good. Phil… oh, if only Phil wasn’t in America! They wrote regularly, but how long would it take Phil to realise that she wasn’t getting any reply? Too long. And Erica, likewise: she was spending the summer in India, and wouldn’t be back for at least a month. They had exchanged a few letters, but though Erica might notice that Marie had stopped writing, she was unlikely to do anything about it until she returned to England.
And Mamma – well, that was a slightly different situation. At the thought of the scene she had been a part of in Switzerland, Marie shuddered. Joey Maynard had been incensed at her behaviour with an apparently married man, had been so harsh that Marie had scarcely recognised her. In retrospect, she remembered her sisters’ hints, in letters earlier in the year, that Mamma was finding things a little difficult at the moment. She probably hadn’t meant it, Marie comforted herself. That just wasn’t the sort of woman she was. Still, that hadn’t made her accusations any more pleasant to hear. Joey Maynard couldn’t be relied upon at the moment to notice her youngest daughter’s sudden silence.
But there would be a way. Marie was determinedly optimistic. After all, this sort of thing couldn’t really happen. Not in this day and age! Seriously, how long could Sylvia Shawcross keep her locked up here? It was ridiculous! And if no-one came looking for her right away, what did it matter? She was perfectly capable of finding a way out for herself; she just had to seize the right moment. There was bound to be an opportunity to escape any day now, and then Sylvia could watch out! Marie’s eldest brother was a detective with Scotland Yard – he’d make sure that Sylvia spent plenty of time atoning for her sins.
Marie nodded defiantly. It was only a matter of time, and all this would be sorted out. She sat up in the little wooden chair, spine straight. No spineless jellyfish was she, meekly awaiting her fate! Sylvia would be surprised!
It was nearly November, and the little room was dark and chilly. Marie sat huddled on the bed, her arms round her knees as far as she could manage. She was thinner and paler than she had been; barely recognisable. The sound of footsteps echoed in the corridor outside, and she cringed into the corner, allowing her hair to fall in front of her face, but though the steps halted outside the room, no-one came in, and eventually whoever it was moved away again. Marie panted slightly with relief, and pushed back her hair with a shaky hand, absently noticing that it was heavy with grease and dirt again. She was allowed to wash it once a week; that was all, and what bliss it was, even with Mrs Shawcross’s sharp fingers digging into her scalp, pulling cruelly at the long dark hair. She should probably be grateful that Mrs Shawcross hadn’t just cut it all off to save herself the trouble, Marie thought to herself darkly.
She brushed her fingers against the marks scratched in the wall. Such a cliché, marking off the days! They weren’t very accurate, anyway. She hadn’t started at the beginning – why would she have done? It wasn’t like she’d believed this would actually last. But now, here she was, and by Marie’s best estimation she had been here for nearly four months. Four months! Locked in a damp room in a basement somewhere. It was inconceivable!
She had become a spineless jellyfish. She was terrified of Mrs Shawcross, terrified about what she might do to her baby if Marie wasn’t perfectly good and did as she was told. She was at her mercy, and that realisation, when it had come, had chilled her to the core.
There was another clenching pain across her bump, and Marie knew the time was coming. As scared as she was, she hoped Mrs Shawcross would come back down soon. She didn’t want to give birth by herself, all by herself, with no-one’s presence to trick her into thinking it would all be OK, just for a while.
But as even as she clenched her fists, remembering, even then, that she wasn’t allowed to make a noise, Marie felt the first twinge of hope in a long time. Because once the baby was there, once she was all right, Marie could leave. Mrs Shawcross wanted her to give the baby to someone else, and she would – to start with. She had to. But then they would let her go, and Marie knew – she knew – that she would not rest until she had her baby back, and Mrs Shawcross was punished for what she had done. She had been clever, Mrs Shawcross, she had tried to make Marie believe that no-one would help her; no-one would believe her. And Marie had pretended to believe that, because it meant Mrs Shawcross would let her go. But it wasn’t true, and Marie held that knowledge close to her. Mrs Shawcross had never met her family, because if she had, she would never have thought that they would abandon Marie.
She would be let free, and she would see her family, and she would get her baby back, and she could start her life again.
There was more pain, and then, at the back of her senses, she heard footsteps and the door opened.
Marie had started a new calendar, and she added the fourth stroke. Her little girl was four days old today.
When were they going to let her out? The other woman had come and taken her daughter, and then she had been left on her own. Why, why weren’t they letting her go? They had to let her go! She had a plan; she had to start her plan. She picked nervously at the hem of her dress, and shifted restlessly. She had exercised a little, because she thought it was probably important that she be strong again. When were they coming?
Footsteps. The key in the lock. The door opened, and there was Mrs Shawcross, the same as ever, standing stonily in the doorway. Marie lowered her eyes. Mrs Shawcross didn’t like it when she looked at her.
“We’re going for a walk,” said Mrs Shawcross eventually. “Come along.” She took Marie by the arm, holding the smaller woman tightly, and pulled her along. Marie stumbled up a narrow staircase, and then there was a door, a blessed front door! Mrs Shawcross opened it, still holding onto Marie, and they stepped out. Marie shielded her eyes, expecting to be blinded by the light, but her sense of time had been skewed, and it was dark. It was cold as well, and Marie shivered, and tried to pull her cardigan more closely around her. She was suddenly aware, as she hadn’t been for a while, that her clothes were unwashed, and that she must look shabby and unkempt next to the fiercely coiffed Mrs Shawcross.
“This way,” that lady said, and they headed down a quiet road. Marie struggled to keep up; her legs felt shaky with the unaccustomed exercise. They walked further, and still further, and Marie wondered desperately when they would stop. She slipped a couple of times, but Mrs Shawcross’s iron grasp never faltered, and the chance to free herself never came.
Eventually they came out onto a wide road that ran alongside a river – the Thames, it must be, thought Marie – and Mrs Shawcross miraculously loosened her hold and stepped away. Marie stepped back once; twice. Mrs Shawcross didn’t move.
“I can go?” The words were quietly spoken, her voice tremulous. Marie felt as if she hadn’t spoken for months. Mrs Shawcross smiled, but didn’t move, and Marie stepped back again. A sense of hope blossomed in her chest, and she almost smiled. She breathed, deeply, and smelt the fresh coolness of the autumn evening. Freedom. This was what freedom smelt like.
She looked into Mrs Shawcross’s eyes, and almost-smiled. “I’m leaving now,” she said, more strongly this time, and she turned away, stumbling a little with fatigue, walking away alongside the river. She would go home. She would find her daughter. She would…
The police cordoned off the area, trying to keep the dead body from the prying eyes of the public. Mrs Shawcross scorned such voyeuristic tendencies in the masses, and steered her husband away from the crowd as the walked briskly to the morning church service. The body didn’t interest her.