Affinity, p.1
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       Affinity, p.1

           Sarah Waters

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Part One

  24 September 1874

  2 September 1872

  30 September 1874

  30 September 1872

  4 October 1872

  2 October 1874

  6 October 1874

  12 October 1872

  15 October 1874

  16 October 1874

  3 November 1872

  6 November 1872

  13 November 1872

  17 November 1872

  17 October 1874

  25 November 1872

  21 October 1874

  26 November 1872

  Part Two

  23 October 1874

  9 December 1872

  28 October 1874

  17 December 1872

  19 December 1872

  8 January 1873

  2 November 1874

  25 January 1873

  26 January 1873

  Part Three

  5 November 1874

  10 November 1874

  14 November 1874

  20 November 1874

  10 March 1873

  21 November 1874

  23 November 1874

  24 November 1874

  2 April 1873

  28 November 1874

  2 December 1874

  26 May 1873

  11 December 1874

  30 May 1873

  Part Four

  21 December 1874

  23 December 1874

  24 December 1874

  6 January 1875

  14 June 1873

  21 June 1873

  25 June 1873

  3 July 1873

  15 January 1875

  16 January 1875

  19 January 1875

  20 January 1875

  Part Five

  21 January 1875

  18 July 1873

  1 August 1873


  Also by Sarah Waters

  Tipping the Velvet

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  a member of

  Penguin Putnam Inc.

  375 Hudson Street

  New York, NY 10014

  Copyright © 1999 by Sarah Waters.

  All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not

  be reproduced in any form without permission.

  Published simultaneously in Canada

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Waters, Sarah, date.

  Affinity / by Sarah Waters.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 9781101053119

  1. Millbank Penitentiary (London, England)—History—19th

  century—Fiction. 2. Women prisoners—England—London—

  Fiction. 3. London (England)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6073.A828 A-087554


  This book is printed on acid-free paper.


  To Caroline Halliday

  3 August 1873

  I was never so frightened as I am now. They have left me sitting in the dark, with only the light from the window to write by. They have put me in my own room, they have locked the door on me. They wanted Ruth to do it, but she would not. She said ‘What, do you want me to lock up my own mistress, who has done nothing?’ In the end the doctor took the key from her & locked the door himself, then made her leave me. Now the house is full of voices, all saying my name. If I close my eyes & listen it might be any ordinary night. I might be waiting for Mrs Brink to come & take me down to a dark circle, & Madeleine or any girl might be there, blushing, thinking of Peter, of Peter’s great dark whiskers & shining hands.

  But Mrs Brink is lying quite alone in her own cold bed, & Madeleine Silvester is downstairs weeping in a fit. And Peter Quick is gone, I think for ever.

  He was too rough, & Madeleine too nervous. When I told her I could feel him near she only shook & kept her eyes shut. I said ‘It is only Peter. You are not frightened are you, of him? Look, here he is, look at him, open your eyes.’ But she would not do that, she only said ‘O, I am terribly afraid! O Miss Dawes, please don’t have him come any closer!’

  Well, many ladies have said that, having Peter come near them for the first time, alone. When he heard her he gave a great laugh. ‘What’s this?’ he said. ‘Am I to come all this way, only to be sent back again? Do you know how hard my journey is & how much I have suffered, & all for your sake?’ Then Madeleine began to cry - of course, some do cry. I said ‘Peter, you must be kinder, Madeleine is only afraid. Be a little gentler & she will let you come close to her, I am sure.’ But when he did step gently to put his hand on her, she gave a scream & grew at once very stiff & white. Then Peter said ‘What’s this, you silly girl? You are spoiling it all. Do you want to be made better or not?’ But she only screamed again, & then she fell, she fell upon the floor & began to kick. I never saw a lady do that. I said ‘My God, Peter!’ & he looked once at me then said ‘Now you little bitch’, & he caught her legs & I put my hands across her mouth. I did it only to make her be quiet & stop jerking, but when I took my hands away there was blood upon them, I think she must have bitten her own tongue or made her nose bleed. I did not even know it for blood at first, it looked so black, & seemed so warm & thick, like sealing-wax.

  And even with the blood in her mouth she shrieked, until finally the row brought Mrs Brink, I heard her footsteps in the hall & then her voice, that was frightened. She called ‘Miss Dawes, what is it, are you injured, are you hurt?’ & when Madeleine heard that she gave a twist, then cried out clear as anything ‘Mrs Brink, Mrs Brink, they are trying to murder me!’

  Then Peter leaned & hit her on her cheek, & after that she lay very quiet & still. Then I thought we really might have killed her. I said ‘Peter, what have you done? Go back! You must go back.’ But as he stepped to the cabinet there came a rattling at the handle of the door & Mrs Brink was there, she had brought her own key with her & had opened the door with that. She was holding a lamp. I said ‘Close the door, here is Peter look & the light is hurting him!’ But she said only ‘What has happened? What have you done?’ She looked at Madeleine lying stiff upon the parlour floor with all her red hair about her, & then at me in my torn petticoat, & then at the blood upon my hands, which was not black now but scarlet. Then she looked at Peter. He had his hands before his face & was crying ‘Take the light away!’ But his gown was open & his white legs showed, & Mrs Brink would not take the lamp away until at last it began to shake. Then she cried ‘O!’ & she looked at me again, & at Madeleine again, & she put her hand upon her heart. She said ‘Not her, too?’ & then ‘O Mamma, Mamma!’ Then she laid the lamp aside & turned her face against the wall, & when I went to her she put her fingers upon my bosom & pushed me from her.

  I looked once for Peter then, but he had gone. There was only the curtain, dark & shivering, & marked with a mark of silver from his hand.

  And after all, it is Mrs Brink that has died, not Madeleine. Madeleine had only fainted, & when her maid got her dressed she took her to another room & I heard her walking about & crying there. But Mrs Brink grew weaker & weaker, until finally she could not stand at all. Then Ruth came running, calling ‘What is the matter?’, & she made her lie upon the parlour sofa, all the time pressing her hand & saying ‘You will soon be well, I am sure of it. Look, here am I, & here is Miss Dawes, that love you.’ I thought that Mrs Brink looked then as if
she longed to speak but could not, & when Ruth saw that she said we must send out for a doctor. Then she stayed holding tight to Mrs Brink’s hand while he examined her, weeping & saying she would not let it go. Mrs Brink died soon after. She never said another word, Ruth said, except to call again for her mamma. The doctor said that dying ladies very often do become like children. He said her heart was very swollen & must always have been weak, he thought it a wonder she had lived so long as this.

  He might have gone then, & not thought to ask what startled her, but Mrs Silvester came while he was here & she made him go & look at Madeleine. Madeleine has marks upon her, & when the doctor saw those his voice grew quiet & he said this was a queerer business than he thought. Mrs Silvester said then, ‘Queer? I should say it is criminal!’ She has made a policeman come, it is for that reason they have locked me in my room, the policeman is asking Madeleine who hurt her. She is saying Peter Quick did it, & the gentlemen are answering ‘Peter Quick? Peter Quick? What are you thinking of?’

  There isn’t a fire lit in all this great house, & though it is August I am awfully cold. I think I shall never be warm again! I think I shall never be calm again. I think I shall never be myself, I look about me at my own room & see nothing in it that is mine. There is the smell of the flowers in Mrs Brink’s garden, & the perfumes on her mother’s table, & the polish on the wood, the colours of the carpet, the cigarettes I rolled for Peter, the shine on the jewels in the jewel-box, the sight of my own white face in the glass, but it all seems strange to me. I wish I might close my eyes & open them & be at Bethnal Green again, with my own aunty in her own wooden chair. I would rather even be in my room at Mr Vincy’s hotel, with the plain brick wall outside my window. I would rather be there a 100 times than be here where I am now.

  It is so late, they have put out the lamps at the Crystal Palace. I can see only the great black shape of it against the sky.

  Now I can hear the sound of the policeman’s voice, & Mrs Silvester is shouting & making Madeleine cry. Mrs Brink’s bedroom is the only quiet place in all the house, & I know that she is lying in it, quite alone in the darkness. I know that she is lying very still & straight with her hair let down & a blanket about her. She might be listening to the shouts & weepings, she might still be wishing she could open her mouth & speak. I know what she would say, if she could do that. I know it so well, I think I can hear it.

  Her quiet voice, that only I can hear, is the most frightening voice of them all.

  Part One

  24 September 1874

  Pa used to say that any piece of history might be made into a tale: it was only a question of deciding where the tale began, and where it ended. That, he said, was all his skill. And perhaps, after all, the histories he dealt with were rather easy to sift like that, to divide up and classify—the great lives, the great works, each one of them neat and gleaming and complete, like metal letters in a box of type.

  I wish that Pa was with me now. I would ask him how he would start to write the story I have embarked upon to-day. I would ask him how he would neatly tell the story of a prison—of Millbank Prison—which has so many separate lives in it, and is so curious a shape, and must be approached, so darkly, through so many gates and twisting passages. Would he start it with the building of the gaols themselves? I cannot do that, for though I was told the date of it this morning I have forgotten it now; besides which, Millbank is so solid and so antique, I can’t believe that there was ever a time when it did not sit upon that dreary spot beside the Thames, casting its shadow on the black earth there. He might begin it, then, with Mr Shillitoe’s visit to this house, three weeks ago; or, he might begin it at seven this morning, when Ellis first brought me my grey suit and my coat—no, of course he would not start the story there, with a lady and her servant, and petticoats and loose hair.

  He would start it, I think, at the gate of Millbank, the point that every visitor must pass when they arrive to make their tour of the gaols. Let me begin my record there, then: I am being greeted by the prison porter, who is marking my name off in some great ledger; now a warder is leading me through a narrow arch, and I am about to step across the grounds towards the prison proper—

  Before I can do that, however, I am obliged to pause a little to fuss with my skirts, which are plain, but wide, and have caught upon some piece of jutting iron or brick. I daresay Pa would not have bothered with the detail of the skirts; I will, however, for it is in lifting my eyes from my sweeping hem that I first see the pentagons of Millbank—and the nearness of them, and the suddenness of that gaze, makes them seem terrible. I look at them, and feel my heart beat hard, and I am afraid.

  I had a plan of Millbank’s buildings from Mr Shillitoe a week ago, and have had it pinned, since then, on the wall beside this desk. The prison, drawn in outline, has a curious kind of charm to it, the pentagons appearing as petals on a geometric flower—or, as I have sometimes thought, they are like the coloured zones on the chequer-boards we used to paint when we were children. Seen close, of course, Millbank is not charming. Its scale is vast, and its lines and angles, when realised in walls and towers of yellow brick and shuttered windows, seem only wrong or perverse. It is as if the prison had been designed by a man in the grip of a nightmare or a madness—or had been made expressly to drive its inmates mad. I think it would certainly drive me mad, if I had to work as a warder there. As it was, I walked flinchingly beside the man who led me, and paused once to glance behind me, then to gaze at the wedge of sky that showed above. The inner gate at Millbank is set at the junction of two of the pentagons and so, to reach it, one must walk along a narrowing slip of gravel, and feel the walls on either side of one advancing, like the clashing rocks of the Bosporous. The shadows there, flung from the jaundiced bricks, are the colour of bruises. The soil in which the walls are set is damp and dark as tobacco.

  This soil makes the air there very sour; it grew sourer still, as I was shown into the gaol and had the gate made fast behind me. My heart beat even harder then, and continued to thump while I was made to sit in a plain little room, watching warders cross the open door, seeing them frown and murmur. When Mr Shillitoe came to me at last, I took his hand. I said, ‘I am glad to see you! I had begun to worry that the men might take me for a convict just arrived, and lead me to a cell, and leave me there!’ He laughed. There were never confusions like that, he said, at Millbank.

  We walked together then, into the prison buildings: for he thought it best to take me straight to the female gaol, to the office of the governess or principal matron there, Miss Haxby. We walked, and he explained our route to me, and I tried to match it with my memory of my paper plan; but the organisation of the prison, of course, is so peculiar, I soon grew lost. The pentagons that hold the men, I know we did not enter. We only passed the gates that lead to those gaols from the hexagon-shaped building at the prison’s middle, the building in which they have their store-rooms, and the surgeon’s house, and Mr Shillitoe’s own offices, and the offices of all his clerks, and the infirmaries and chapel. ‘For you see,’ he said to me once, nodding through a window at a set of yellow smoking chimneys he said were fed by the fires of the prison laundry, ‘you see, we are quite a little city here! Quite self-sustaining. We should do very well, I always think, under a siege.’

  He spoke rather proudly, but smiled at his own pride; and I smiled when he did. But if I had grown fearful, having the light and air shut out behind me at the inner gate, then now, as we passed further into the gaol, and that gate was put behind us at the end of a dim and complicated path I should never be able to retrace alone—now, I grew nervous again. Last week, sorting through the papers in Pa’s study, I came across a volume of the prison drawings of Piranesi, and spent an anxious hour, studying them, thinking of all the dark and terrible scenes I might be confronted with to-day. Of course, there was nothing to match the things I had imagined. We passed only along a succession of neat, whitewashed corridors, and were greeted at the junction of these by warders, in dar
k prison coats. But, the very neatness and the sameness of the corridors and the men made them troubling: I might have been taken on the same plain route ten times over, I should never have known it. Unnerving, too, is the dreadful clamour of the place. Where the warders stand there are gates, that must be unfastened, and swung on grinding hinges, and slammed and bolted; and the empty passages, of course, echo with the sounds of other gates, and other locks and bolts, distant and near. The prison seems caught, in consequence, at the heart of some perpetual private storm, that left my ears ringing.

  We walked until we reached an antique, studded door that had a wicket in it, which proved to be the entrance to the female gaol. Here we were greeted by a matron, who made Mr Shillitoe a curtsey; and, she being the first woman I had encountered there, I made sure to study her carefully. She was youngish, pale, and quite unsmiling, and dressed in what I was soon to see was the uniform of the place: a grey wool dress, a mantle of black, a grey straw bonnet trimmed with blue, and stout black flat-heeled boots. When she saw me gazing at her she curtseyed again—Mr Shillitoe saying, ‘This is Miss Ridley, our chief matron here’, and then, to her: ‘This is Miss Prior, our new Visitor.’

  She walked before us, and there came a steady chink, chink of metal; and I saw then that, like the warders, she wore a wide belt of leather with a buckle of brass and, suspended from the buckle, a chain of polished prison keys.

  She took us, via more featureless corridors, to a spiral staircase that wound upwards through a tower; it is at the top of the tower, in a bright, white, circular room, filled with windows, that Miss Haxby has her office. ‘You will see the logic of the design of this,’ said Mr Shillitoe as we climbed, growing red and breathless; and of course, I saw it at once, for the tower is set at the centre of the pentagon yards, so that the view from it is all of the walls and barred windows that make up the interior face of the women’s building. The room is very plain. Its floor is bare. There is a rope hung out between two posts, where prisoners, when they are taken there, are obliged to stand, and beyond the rope is a desk. Here, sitting writing in a great black book, we found Miss Haxby herself—‘the Argus of the gaol’, as Mr Shillitoe called her, smiling. When she saw us she rose, took off her spectacles and, like Miss Ridley, made a curtsey.

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