Chapter no 31

The Silent Companions

When he finished reading, he remained bent over the desk, staring at the last word. Then he pushed back and leant into his chair, making a hollow sound in his throat. That sound seemed to fall right through her, like a penny in a well, echoing as it hit the edges and landed with a dull thud in the pit of her stomach.

Failure. All that work, ploughing up memories and emotions until they were seeds on top of the soil for the crows to peck at, and still –failure.

Or was it? She watched him minutely, alert for the slightest change in his countenance. His green eyes had not moved, they were trained on the paper. A good three minutes passed. The space between them thickened, heavy with expectation.

She pictured his mind like a great machine, the pistons pumping, assembling her past into . . . what? Did she even want to know?

‘Well,’ he sighed. ‘Well. It must have been Mr Underwood you heard, calling your name. He found you.’

Only a crumb of information but she leant forward, eager to take


‘Although,’ he went on, shifting in his chair, ‘it was considerably

later than you have written here. Full night. He saw the glow from your house on the horizon and raised the alarm.’

No one had told her that. No one had told her anything.

Flashes of aching memory came: not just sepia photographs of people but their voices, their scents, the feelings they inspired. Mr Underwood, Sarah, Jasper. What had happened to them?

She’d regarded the story as her secret. Now she saw it before her on the desk, pages and pages covered in her large, square writing, and realised it was incomplete. The end was not in her power. Dr Shepherd held the last act, locked inside him.

Hesitantly, she picked up his pencil and wrote a word at the bottom of the last page.


‘That is the question. What befell Sarah Bainbridge?’

She tilted her head, trying to see the look in his eyes, but the light was wrong. The lenses of his spectacles were opaque, screening him from view.

‘What you have written . . . I think, perhaps, that I can use it. But possibly not in the way you had hoped. It does not prove your innocence, or indeed anything except a great facility for invention. And if imagination were a malady, Mr Dickens would be a permanent resident here.’

Imagination! At least madness had power. It did not make her sound puerile, a girl dreaming of fairies and unicorns.

Sarah? She underlined the word, scratching through the paper. ‘Yes. She is the only person able to collaborate your story. If what

you write is true, she can confirm your whereabouts at the time of Jolyon Livingstone’s death.’

A tear wet her cheek at the mention of Jolyon’s name.

‘Here we reach our difficulty, Mrs Bainbridge. Since you began to write, I have been scouring records in search of Sarah Bainbridge. Will you hazard a guess as to what I found?’ He held out his hands, showing them empty. ‘Nothing. I cannot trace a census entry, a death – not a thing. I even took out an advertisement appealing for information. Sarah Bainbridge has vanished.’

Another tear, falling to join and speed on the first. Poor Sarah never reached the police. They had not found her body. It could be lying in some ditch, corrupting, flies crawling in and out between her lips. Oh, Sarah. She deserved so much more than that.

Dr Shepherd coughed – not a real cough, but a modest clearing of the throat. A harbinger. It was coming now: his theory.

‘One thing is clear to me from your writing, Mrs Bainbridge. You have a tendency to repress unpleasant emotions. It is your defence, your strategy to cope. The – incidents – with your father, for

instance. Then episodes missing from the story. Elsie – that is to say, the Elsie on these pages – passes out on several occasions. I cannot help but feel each one represents a chunk of the past you refuse to remember.’

Down the corridor, a bell rang.

‘Let us consider, for a moment, that you are actively submerging your harmful memories. Your anger at your parents, the guilt you feel for their deaths – whether qualified or not, I cannot say at this stage. All those dark emotions must go somewhere. I have read of them turning upon the patient’s body and making them unwell. But there are also cases where they splinter off, so to speak, into what we can only call a double consciousness.

‘Would you consider a possibility for me, Mrs Bainbridge? No doubt it will prove alarming, but I want you to open yourself up to the possibility that Sarah Bainbridge did not exist at all. That she was, in fact, an aspect of yourself.’

She grabbed the pencil, tried to keep her hand steady. People saw her. They spoke to her.

‘So you believe.’ His voice was soft, but not kind. Insinuating, tickling inside her ears. ‘But we cannot verify it. The cast of your story are gone. The only people who could attest to the existence of Sarah Bainbridge now lie dead and buried.’

Mr Underwood.

‘Ah.’ He crossed his legs. ‘I am sorry to say Mr Underwood also perished.’

Her fingers moved but all she felt were the vibrations of the pencil. How?

‘By fire. It seems that when the rescue party arrived from Fayford, Mr Underwood sent some villagers to Torbury St Jude for help. But he did not wait for their return. Witnesses say he spoke of other people, trapped inside the building. That does tally with your story –he would not know about the deaths of Mr Livingstone or Mrs Holt, he would imagine them still inside. He ran into The Bridge to try and rescue them, but alas . . . Poor man.’


A relieved smile broke on his face. ‘At least there, I have some good news. The little fellow did not leave you with your injuries. He fairly guarded you. By daybreak, our people had arrived in response

to Mr Livingstone’s telegram. Given your condition, the police were willing to let us take you to our infirmary, and the little cat tried to follow you. One of the orderlies took pity on him, brought him back here. He has been living with our chief superintendent ever since. I’ve seen him. Very fat, he looks, and very happy too.’

Nine, she wrote. ‘I’m sorry?’ Nine lives.

‘Ah! Yes, quite.’ Dr Shepherd uncrossed his legs and leant forward to rest his hands on the desk. He had short, even nails. Blond hairs grew on his knuckles. Beside him, her own burnt hand looked like a monster’s paw. ‘Fortunately, we do not have nine lives to account for. Only two. Mr Livingstone and Mrs Holt.’

At last, his eyes tangled with hers.

‘Mrs Bainbridge, I do not believe that you killed them. I never did. And while I cannot believe all aspects of your story either, I do believe your love for Mr Livingstone. You would not hurt him. It seems to me the fire was an accident, as so many fires are. It consumed the lives of two, and it nearly consumed you, until Providence helped you escape. But you must comprehend, my belief is immaterial. A jury will look at this and see a woman whose father died in suspicious circumstances, whose husband died within a quarter of their marriage, to her considerable advantage. Two servants killed in mysterious accidents. Then, the very day a telegram is despatched to an asylum to say you are unmanageable and in need of restraint . . . You see how it looks.’

Murderess. The name did not match the Elsie in the story, but she had the face for it now: the pink, shining flesh; cropped hair; eyes that looked like they had been screwed into the sockets. A monster, gifted to the crowds. How they would gobble her up, write about her, delight in little affected shrieks as she shambled to and from the dock.

‘I have very few options, Mrs Bainbridge. I must make my report, and soon.’ His fingers twitched. They would write the next words, the words that decided her fate. She regarded them, wary. Could such slim, tapered fingers hold her life safe?

‘As far as I can see, there are only two ways for me to keep you from gaol. The first is that you submit to my theory. Accept you are

a disturbed individual, damaged by a pair of cruel and unfeeling parents. You allow me to say that Sarah is a separate part of your subconscious, that you may have killed but you cannot accept what you have done, so you have invented these phantoms, these companions, to take the guilt for you. The verdict will undoubtedly be guilty, but at least we have a chance of pleading criminal insanity. That means Broadmoor rather than Newgate.’

Let everyone believe she murdered Jolyon? Have her name go down on the record as the destroyer of his life? She shook her head, vehement.

‘You must dwell upon it, Mrs Bainbridge. Promise me you will. It may not be the whole truth but . . . It is our best hope.’

The pencil slipped in her sweating hand. Other option?

His mouth twisted. ‘Well, there is one, but I fear it is not likely.’ Yes.

‘My dear Mrs Bainbridge, your only other option is to pray that Sarah Bainbridge walks through that door, ready to swear to your innocence.’



She dreamt of Sarah that night. Lavender dress, grey cape, swishing in the rain. Branches writhed above her head, reaching out to her with a mute appeal. Her boots scuttled around the puddles that bubbled on the ground.

The landscape stretched ahead of her; ditches, black hillocks and the unruly mass of hedgerows. Behind lay the village of Fayford in shades of silver and grey, a daguerreotype of the place Elsie had known. There was no light.

Sarah stumbled. Mud clagged the hem of her skirt. Her ankles were soaked and her gown was wet, sticking to her legs. She looked utterly lost, utterly alone. Drowning.

A creak; long and low, like a moan of pain in the dark. Two heavy beats – thump, thump. Then the creak again.

Elsie’s eyelids flickered. Was the sound from her dream? Or was it in the room? She could still see Sarah, cowed by the silver needles raining down upon her, but she could not smell damp turf, or the metallic tang of rain; a sweeter, heavier scent filled her nose. Roses.

She jerked awake. Instinctively, she twitched her arms. They were pinioned at her sides, weighed down by the tucked sheets. She tried to look around but saw only black.

The floorboards whined. Elsie heard it up and down her spine.

Little pats, like the footfalls of an animal.


But no; Jasper was not here. She was not at The Bridge. She released her breath, relieved by that one fact: she was not there.

Bang, bang. She jumped. Someone at the door.

She would not answer it, she thought wildly, they could not make her. She tried to hide beneath the covers but they were tight, so tight. The knock came again.

Who could it be? Nurses, attendants, doctors – none of them knocked for admission.

The floorboards by her feet moaned. The sound was coming from within the room.

Fear squeezed her throat. She could not call out, she could not scream; she could only scuffle her legs at the end of the bed as the creak came closer and closer. Still the sheets refused to give way and it was hot; scorching like a breath from hell.

She felt sick. She wanted to cry. Made strong by desperation, she wrenched her arms loose from the sheets and groped under her pillow. Please be there, please be there. But no, that was the past. They did not let her keep matches in here.

Something touched her foot.

It burnt like a brand. Red-hot arrows pierced her skin, travelling up her veins. They sliced through Elsie’s blocked throat and released her scream.

Footsteps pounded outside. Voices, real people, coming to help. She kept her eyes shut and screamed louder. They could not come fast enough.

She heard them jangling the chain, shooting bolts from their cradles. Why did it take so long?

Another brand on her leg. Up to the shin, now.

Bang. The door hit the wall. Gas lamps were on in the corridor; their light bounced into the room.

It was only a glimpse, caught in the snapping shadows, but Elsie saw it: Sarah. Wooden, painted.

She screamed again.

‘Watch yourselves.’ The low voice of an attendant.

Something hissed, then a gash of light tore across her vision. She shut her eyes, blinded. It was the lamp in her room – they had turned it on. Slowly, slowly she managed to open her scrunched eyes. Sarah was gone. In her place stood two burly attendants and a man wearing paper cuffs.


They pounced, seizing the tender flesh of her wrists. Two more attendants took her ankles. The bedsheets fell away easily now, no longer taut and suffocating.

She kicked and thrashed, but their hold did not give. They were insensible to her blows, deaf to her screams. She tried to bite. An acrid, dry taste filled her mouth as they stuffed it with a rag. Gagging, she tried to spit it out, but something covered her face, edging past her eyes; something coarse and stiff and reeking of terror. Pressure squeezed around her ribs. Her clawing hands were plunged into sleeves without end. For a moment she was a ghoulish figure with long, dragging arms and no hands. Then the sleeves were crossed over her chest and secured tight behind her back. A corpse:

she was tied in the position of a corpse.

The man with paper cuffs gave her a horrible grin. His teeth were rotten. ‘Better fetch the doctor. Tell him it’s a bleedin’ miracle. The murderess can speak.’

She tried. The words were all there, queued up in her throat, clamouring for release: runSarahcompanionscoming. But her dry, swollen tongue refused to move.

She made a wheezing sound and that was all. A pathetic echo of the companions’ hiss.

‘Don’t look like she can speak to me,’ an attendant said.

The man eyed her. His grin turned into a leer. ‘Well, at any rate, she can scream.’



The padded room again. It must be. She could smell straw beneath the filthy canvas on the walls. Straw, body odour and fear: a pungent scent not easily forgotten.

Oilskin lined the floor and squeaked as her bare feet paced, back and forth, back and forth. She could hear it; could feel the buckles of the strait waistcoat grinding against her torso. Did they grind against Rupert’s mother, too? No, no, no. All she wanted was to go back to the time when the world was still and safe. Why did she start to write in the first place?

Somewhere inside the hospital, a bell rang. Too loud, too real, even through the straw.

She needed to see Dr Shepherd. If he had woken her up, then perhaps he could send her back to sleep. Then she would not have these horrible nightmares about Sarah, or be forced to endure the next steps of the proceedings. An inquest? A trial? He was going to stand up on a platform and talk about her like she was a rare species of plant, exposing all she had hidden beneath the soil. Men like that potential factory investor Mr Greenleaf – fat, privileged and bristling with facial hair – would sit listening to him and decide her fate between them.

And what fate was that? Dr Shepherd said the best she could hope for was Broadmoor: fortress for the criminally insane. She had a notion it would make St Joseph’s look like Claridge’s hotel.

Maybe if the medicine was strong enough, like it was before, she could bear it. But to survive as she was now – alert, remembering? Impossible.

A lock clunked. Dr Shepherd flew into the room.

Something had happened to him. He wore no jacket or waistcoat, only shirtsleeves with a pair of beige braces on display. His hair was uncombed. She noticed a thumbprint on the lens of his spectacles and smears of ink on his fingertips.

‘Mrs Bainbridge, forgive me. I should have come much earlier when I heard about your little outburst, but events have rather overtaken me.’ He looked her up and down, truly seeing her for the first time. ‘The strait waistcoat? I did not realise they had done that. My apologies, Mrs Bainbridge, I will get them to remove it and put you back in a proper room. Why would they think all this necessary? As I understood it, you only had a bad dream?’

He looked at her. She stared back.

‘Oh, of course, you cannot write – your arms. I beg your pardon.

I am not thinking coherently.’

Almost as an afterthought, he closed the door behind him. His eyes were bloodshot: it did not appear he had slept. But then, she could not be sure of the time in this windowless cell. It could still be the middle of the night.

‘I was writing my report,’ Dr Shepherd told her. Noticing his ink-stained fingers, he distractedly wiped them against the walls. ‘You see the marks of that! I was putting forwards the theory we discussed about your parents and Miss Bainbridge when – Well, I will need to redo it. Or not write it at all, I can hardly say. This is most, most irregular.’

Never had she missed her voice so much. Last night she screamed, but it seemed that was all she could do. She remembered Anne’s diary, the demon holding Hetta’s tongue. That was how it felt: a strait waistcoat on her tongue with no one to loosen the ties.

Dr Shepherd plucked off his spectacles and polished them on his shirt. ‘I must say, it is quite a blow to my pride. I thought I had it figured out, and the report read very well indeed. But in these cases one is glad to be proven wrong. You stare. But of course, I have not even begun to explain.’ He jammed his glasses back on – they were still smeared. ‘I would ask you to sit down, yet it seems my thoughtless colleagues have not provided a chair. No matter. I will just have to ask you, Mrs Bainbridge, to prepare yourself for something wonderfully strange.’

Was he in earnest? Wonderfully strange? Had he read her story? ‘Late last night – or rather, early this morning – I received a

telegram. It was in relation to the advert I placed enquiring for information about Sarah Bainbridge.’

The room seemed to dilate. She held her breath.

‘You would not credit it, after all this time, but it was from Sarah.

She exists, she is alive.’

Alive. So many possibilities in one word – it was a door opening from her cell, opening from the crypt.

She must have gone pale, for he grasped her shoulder tightly. ‘Yes, I can see what you are feeling. It is miraculous. I am so, so pleased for you, Mrs Bainbridge. Congratulations.’

Sarah would swear that Jolyon’s death was an accident. And although she was not there to see Mrs Holt hanged, she could testify

to her state of mind at the time, the anger and dismay she had shown following the loss of her only child.

No one could call Elsie criminally insane after that. She was not a murderess. Or at least, not in that respect. Would Dr Shepherd reveal her strange narrative and the confession about the death of her parents? She did not think so. He was smiling from ear to ear, looking for all the world as if he had personally saved her from the noose.

‘Communication by telegram is naturally rather stunted. I could not ask Sarah too many questions, but I can do that in person. She is coming, the day after tomorrow. The hospital have granted her an interview with us both. I understand that she intends to make herself known to the police, but she wanted to see you first.’

Sarah. No longer just a character in her story but a flesh and blood person who cared for her. The thought choked her with joy.

What had she said before she set out for Torbury St Jude? Something about rebuilding their lives together. Yes, they really could. With Sarah’s evidence, Elsie might be set free. There would be someone to look after her, someone to live for. She would not treat Sarah as Mrs Crabbly had, a mere paid companion. They would start again as equals.

‘Now,’ said Dr Shepherd, ‘I had better make myself presentable before I start my rounds. Sit tight, Mrs Bainbridge, and I will have someone come to untie you. The staff have no excuse now, no excuse at all, to treat you like a criminal.’

She did not mind when he closed the door, plunging her back into gloom. She did not even mind the strait waistcoat restricting the blood flow to her arms. She could endure anything now. This was only temporary.



They had bathed her. Dr Shepherd even persuaded the nurses to change her hospital dress for a newer one, not yet faded by the laundry. A blue kerchief was tied around her neck – respectable-looking, as lunatics went. But Elsie could not contain her cramping anxiety. How would Sarah react when she finally arrived?With its tile floor and aqueous light, the long room reminded Elsie of a mortuary. A metal table had been set in the centre. She and Dr

Shepherd sat on one side; a chair stood ready for Sarah on the other. Elsie had a view of the door in the left corner of the room and, opposite it, a round mirror hanging just below the ceiling. It was angled so that a doctor or attendant entering could see the far corners – could see, in short, if a lunatic were about to pounce on them.

The mirror didn’t show a distinct view of Elsie’s face. It only reflected the colour of the skin, like sausage meat. She looked diminished, a wreck of the woman Sarah had known. A white cap covered her head, hiding the frazzled tufts of her hair.

Had they prepared Sarah for the shock of seeing her?

Dr Shepherd laid a hand on hers. ‘Courage, Mrs Bainbridge. She will be here in a moment.’

Her stomach churned with nerves. She half feared Sarah would take one look at her and scream. But this was Sarah, who cared for old women, who even pitied Hetta. She was kind. She would see past the disfigurement. Once the initial upset was over, they would go on as before – only this time, they would be free of fear.

What had Sarah said, once? Fire makes them more powerful. It hadn’t. The Bridge was burnt and gone, and the evil along with it. No companions were found in the debris, Dr Shepherd confirmed that. Only bones and ashes.

The door joints whined. Dr Shepherd jolted to his feet. Elsie could not trust her legs to stand – she simply gripped the edge of the table.

‘Miss Bainbridge for you, doctor,’ said an attendant.

Elsie was so concerned about her own appearance, she had not stopped to think how Sarah would look. She expected the same poorly dressed, drab girl she had waved away. But the lady who walked into the room wore a silk gown of arsenic green buttoned up to her throat. Its fringed bustle rustled behind her. The mousy hair that had always fallen out of its pins was combed back clean from her face and arranged in a pile of cascading sausage curls. Perching on the side of her head was a black hat with a green feather and a net face veil.

An imposter.

But no – the face was the same. A little plumper, perhaps, and improved with cosmetics, yet the cheekbones were still too high and the mouth, which smiled to greet Dr Shepherd, was still too wide.

‘Oh! Mrs Bainbridge!’ She swept forwards to grip Elsie’s hands in her own. They were soft, encased in tight-fitting kid gloves. ‘Good heavens, I had no idea it was so bad. Your poor face! What you must have been through.’

There was a note to her voice Elsie had not caught before – more girlish now and fluting. But perhaps she did not remember it correctly.

She squeezed Sarah’s hands, trying to convey all her emotion through the pressure. She could not look Sarah full in the face, not yet. She did not want to see the pity and revulsion there.

‘I think perhaps I mentioned to you, Miss Bainbridge, that my patient has experienced difficulty with speech since the incident. I will act as her interpreter, if that is agreeable to you.’

‘Yes, of course.’ Sarah withdrew her hands and took the chair Dr Shepherd pulled out for her. The boning of her gown gave her an upright posture. ‘It is hardly surprising after all that has happened.’

Dr Shepherd walked back round to his own seat. Elsie stole a glance at Sarah’s face, but she was watching the doctor.

‘Indeed, it is common when a patient has endured trauma,’ said Dr Shepherd. ‘But in this case it has proven rather inconvenient. Without being able to question Mrs Bainbridge, the police have been on the back foot somewhat in their investigation. Speculation about what occurred at The Bridge has run out of hand.’

‘That is why I am here. To tell what I know.’ Sarah offered him a smile. It was somehow eerie.

‘And not a moment too soon! The inquest is almost upon us. May I ask, Miss Bainbridge – forgive the impertinence – what it was that kept you from coming forward for so long?’

‘I would have thought that was obvious, doctor. I was afraid.’ ‘Afraid? Whatever of?’

‘Oh, no doubt it will sound foolish to a clever man like you.’ She flicked a curl over her shoulder. ‘But there was so much death at The Bridge! Then Mr Livingstone decided to put his sister in the asylum, and it seemed to me I must get far away from the place.’

The air rearranged around them. What – what had she said?

Dr Shepherd paused, his mouth slightly ajar. ‘You . . . ran away, then? You did not get lost or hurt going to fetch the police?’

‘I know what you must think of me, doctor. I have been a terrible coward. But I am willing to be brave now. After all these years, I have finally found my voice.’

Elsie stared at her. Her outline swam, wavering beneath the tears that filmed Elsie’s eyes.

Sarah had left her? On purpose? She had lied to her face, taken her purse, and run off to leave her for the companions? Of all people, Sarah?

The sense of betrayal brewed so dark and strong that she could taste it. Her own words came back to her. This is what happens to me, Jo. I trust people and they abuse that trust.

Dr Shepherd was rummaging through his notes, flustered. ‘But, you – er – you did not think it your duty to make yourself known after the fire? When the police appealed for information?’

‘It was unclear at that stage whether Mrs Bainbridge was going to pull through or not. I read of the poor thing’s terrible injuries.’

Another blow. She had known. And even though the newspapers would have told her The Bridge was burnt to the ground, forever rid of companions, she had not bothered to visit. Elsie had been fighting for her life and Sarah had not lifted a finger.

This was the girl that just yesterday Elsie had hoped to live with, live for! How could she have got Sarah so wrong?

‘Well yes, but surely that would not . . . I mean, regardless of Mrs Bainbridge’s survival, you had information. Information about Mr Livingstone’s death.’

‘Yes, God help me.’ Sarah drew out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Her dress was so bright that it reflected in her irises, lending a green tinge to the brown. ‘I did not want to say it unless I had to. But now it is my duty, I see that. Other people may be in danger.’

‘In danger from—?’

Sarah looked at Elsie. Her face crumpled. ‘Oh, forgive me! You know that I must tell them!’

Tell them? About the companions, did she mean? She swapped a bewildered glance with Dr Shepherd, whose cheeks were growing redder by the instant.

‘It appears we may be talking at cross-purposes, Miss Bainbridge. I did not set much store by it, but Mrs Bainbridge has told me of a

furnishing you both seemed to fear, something she called a companion. Is this what you allude to?’

‘You poor thing,’ she whispered, ‘you poor thing.’ ‘Miss Bainbridge?’

‘That was why Mr Livingstone wrote to your hospital in the first place, doctor. She kept seeing these companions everywhere, when no one else could.’

Dr Shepherd cocked his head. ‘I thought . . . she wrote that you could?’

‘I may have gone along with it, doctor, to pacify her.’ Sarah twisted her handkerchief. ‘I didn’t know what else to do. I was so afraid that if I crossed her, I would be next.’


‘Those . . . accidents. It was so clear what was really going on, but no one wanted to admit it. The cow, baby Edgar, Helen. Mr Livingstone could not bring himself to face the truth until it was too late for him.’

‘You – you—’ Dr Shepherd began to stutter. Elsie saw her own confusion and dismay written all over him. ‘Are you saying . . .’

‘I saw her. I saw her push him from that window with her own two hands. And I have no doubt she killed poor Mrs Holt too, before starting the fire.’

No. How could they not hear it – how was her tongue not saying it? The word clanged so loud in her head it should be echoing off the walls, bouncing down the corridors. No!

It was not true, she would never hurt Jolyon! She was not a murderess!

But then why did Sarah glare at her like that?

She saw Dr Shepherd’s certainty crumble, his courage slither away. ‘Oh! Oh, I see . . .’

They were still sitting on the same side of the table, but they were not a team now. The space between their shoulders prickled like static. His mind must be racing with the same thoughts as Elsie’s: why did I trust her; how could I be so foolish; why would she betray me like that?

‘You understand, now, why I held back,’ Sarah said. ‘I loved Mrs Bainbridge, I truly did, and I was horrified when . . . I did not want

to speak out against her if I could help it. But now that time has come.’

‘Yes.’ Dr Shepherd removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He would not look at Elsie. ‘Yes, I believe the inquest is due next week. We must consult the police. Would you . . .’

‘I am prepared to testify. I must put my personal feelings aside for justice.’ She let out a little sigh. ‘Even if it means watching my poor cousin’s widow hang.’

‘Hang!’ Dr Shepherd repeated.

Elsie felt it around her neck: hemp squeezing tight. Wood, always wood, beneath her feet until they pulled a lever and the trapdoor clunked open.

‘It is a possibility, is it not, doctor? Four people are dead.’

‘Well . . . yes, in theory the death sentence could be bestowed. But you said she is not in her right mind. Surely a jury would find her not guilty by way of insanity.’

‘That is my dearest wish.’ Sarah glanced down her long nose at Elsie. The look turned her cold. ‘But I suppose it depends upon what is said at the trial.’

None of it was real. These were actors standing and shaking hands, their conversation swirling around her edges. The squeal of the chair legs against the tiles; Sarah’s breathy ‘God save you, dear Mrs Bainbridge!’ – these things could not be taking place. Not here. Not to her.

She gazed up at the mirror in the corner of the room. A mottled-skinned, scrawny woman sat hunched over the table, alone. Her hands resembled cloven hooves. She looked like a murderess.

Jolyon. In the maddest of fits, on the strongest of drugs, she knew she could never harm him. Mrs Holt, Mabel – well, perhaps. In extremis. But never, never Jolyon.

Dr Shepherd and Sarah had moved to the door. They stood there in conversation.

‘I can accompany you to the station after my rounds here. I am sure you will not wish to go alone.’

‘That is most kind of you. I do appreciate your time, Dr Shepherd.’

‘Not at all. And you may wish for some support when they question you. Inspectors can be sticky chaps. They might get a little

rough when they ask where you have been all this time.’

‘It is a valid question. I have only myself to blame.’ Sarah slipped a finger beneath her collar. Something glimmered there.

‘Understandable, considering.’

‘I do hope you will treat her kindly, doctor. For as long as you are able. I know she has done dreadful things but . . . I do not like to think of her suffering unnecessarily.’

Diamonds. There were diamonds at Sarah’s throat.

‘I will do my utmost. I cannot answer for Broadmoor, or Newgate, or wherever they may send her next.’

Sarah turned to call into the room. ‘Goodbye, Mrs Bainbridge. God grant you some rest. I pray that in time you will understand what I have done. I cannot keep my silence forever. I must be free.’ She sighed. ‘Will you not at least wave me goodbye, my dear?’

But Elsie was not looking at Sarah. Her eyes were focused on the mirror and the two figures reflected in the doorway.

Everything was reversed. The arsenic-green dress, the bustle, the hat. Yet the face peering out beneath the brim was not a mirror image of Sarah’s. The nose was shorter, the cheeks fuller.

Red-gold hair replaced the pile of Sarah’s own mousy locks. It did not look like Sarah at all. It looked like—

‘Well, goodbye, Mrs Bainbridge. Thank you for all you have done for me.’

As she turned and closed the door, Elsie remembered where she had seen that face before.


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