It was not of my own volition, she wanted to add, but could not. This, the very truth she should have begun with, was what stuck in her throat.
"And now he is back."
"Yes!" Lady Tabitha turned to face her for the first time since the admission. "How did you know?"
"From your nervousness, my dear" the Baroness smiled, patting the girl's shoulder.
She was glad, all of a sudden, that the coach was dark. It concealed her worried frown.
Nan's blue-eyed, doll-like face rode unsteadily upon her body. A child on a spirited mare, the Reverend Belcher thought, watching her attempt to negotiate the hill. She was drunk again, that was clear enough. He checked the urge to help her. In such a state she would only angrily shake him aside. Even from this distance he could hear curses dripping from her lips. She staggered against a building and clutched the wall, feeling it blindly, as if there were some catch or lever that would reveal a secret passageway. Pity overcame prudence and he hurried down the filthy road with its streams of slop on either side to catch her as she swayed precariously back now, her expression confronting with terror the smoky starless sky.
"Where did he go?" she wailed.
"I am right here, my angel."
Her eyes refocused sharply, identified the clergyman and narrowed with contempt.
"You!" As he had predicted, she tried to extricate herself from his protective embrace. "Let go of me."
"Let go of me or I'll scream bloody murder!"
But he did not let go. He helped her up the hill. Her feet, stubbornly clad in the precarious heels of her sad trade, insisted on making circuitous detours around imaginary obstacles. She wore, as always, a long, tight dress with many buttons running its length. These buttons fascinated the Reverend. They were merely sewn on, ornamental, emphasizing curves, suggesting mysterious openings that did not, in fact, exist. Yet this simple trick of fashion stirred the naive man's nature. Her sleeves were long and ended in lace cuffs from which delicate hands pushed and scratched at him all the way up the Seven Dials Road.
"Calls himself a Doctor," she mocked. "Doctor Reverend the Most Holy Belcher. Spends his nights on street corners hunting for WHORES!"
"Really, Nan," he remonstrated, looking around. Luckily, the stifling heat and smell of the night had reduced the residents to apathy. There was hardly a light coming from any of the public houses along the way.
"A man of God," she went on, "should scourge the temple. That's what my mother used to say. Jesus scourged the temple." It was unclear if she even knew what 'scourged' meant, but she tried to enact its general sense by making a flailing motion that the Reverend could only restrain with great force. He was acutely aware--all the more so because trying to ignore it--of her midriff, around which his arm was looped. The hard whalebone and steel eyes of her corset hinted at the mysteries of the feminine form.
"Nan," he said, clearing his throat. "I met someone today. It was the most remarkable thing. A gentleman at the morning service who looked exactly like you. He might have been your brother."
She stopped struggling as if he had slapped her.
"I haven't got a brother," she said.
"Perhaps you have."
"I haven't got no one."
"You have me, Nan. You know that, don't you?"