The Trial of Marie Montrecourt

BOOK: The Trial of Marie Montrecourt
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The Trial Of Marie Montrecourt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kay Patrick

Copyright © 2016 Kay Patrick

 

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, this publication may only be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form or by any means, with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Matador

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ISBN 978 178589 5517

 

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

 

Matador is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd

To June, Maisie and Wendy

About the Author

Kay Patrick won a scholarship to RADA at sixteen. She acted in Theatre and Television, most notably in
Dr Who
alongside William Hartnell. She later switched to behind the camera, script editing, directing and producing in radio, theatre and television. Over a period of twenty years she has directed Coronation Street. She wrote an historical documentary -“A Strange and Fearful Thing” – for BBC Radio 4, but
The Trial of Marie Montrecourt
is her first novel.

OCTOBER 1905
Armley Gaol – Leeds

It was so dark in the cell. One of the wardresses had taken pity on her and allowed her a candle, a pen and paper. Marie could only hope that the woman knew how much the gesture had meant. She’d been so taken aback by this unexpected act of kindness that she hadn’t been able to find the words to say thank you. During the trial, she’d faced nothing but hostility.

She glanced up at the small window that was set close to the ceiling. A thin shaft of moonlight struggled to make its presence felt. It barely illuminated the low wooden bench and the small bed with its one blanket, which she now pulled around her for warmth. A distant clock struck one. In a few hours she might know the verdict. She might know what the future held for her – or if she even had a future. She couldn’t bear this waiting. She wanted it to be over, one way or the other. She struggled to her feet, her legs stiff with cold, and began to pace the cell. She must try to focus on something. The letter; she must write the letter.

The candle on the bench flickered, threatened by the many draughts that entered crevasses that were invisible to her. When the flame was finally still again, it created a tiny circle of light that was just bright enough to enable her to see. She sat back on the bed and stared at the blank paper in front of her.

If she did write, should it be to Daphne or Evelyn? What would she say to them? What
could
she say to them? After a moment, she pushed the paper aside. Their faith in her was so strong that even if the jury found her guilty, she knew they would never accept the verdict. Others might say: “Let her hang, it’s all she deserves.” She realised she had spoken the words aloud.

Marie lay back on the bed wearily and closed her eyes. Some of the newspapers had accused her of being degenerate, printing headlines that said she was a monster. Was it true? Is that what she had become, and is that how she would be remembered?

The distant clock struck again. Perhaps none of that would matter soon. There might not even be a future to worry about. Even if she did survive, would she be able to live with the past?

CHAPTER ONE
November – 1899
Harrogate

Marie perched nervously on the edge of her bed, waiting for him. Was it fear or excitement that made her shiver? A nearby church clock struck ten. Mr Pickard would be arriving soon, so she must get ready.

There was no difficulty in choosing what to wear. It would have to be the hated grey serge skirt and white blouse that she’d arrived in, because those were the only clothes she had. Both were too big for her. She must pin up her hair, too. With practiced ease she coiled it on top of her head, jabbing pins in to hold it in place. She was quite proud of her hair. It was probably her best feature. One of the nuns had once described it as being the colour of burnt sugar. She’d never seen burnt sugar, so she didn’t know if that was true.

What had Mr John Pickard made of her when he had first seen her? Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to please him. Perhaps he hadn’t been expecting to escort a young woman who looked little more than a child from Chartres. If that was the case, he didn’t mention it. He didn’t mention anything really. They travelled mainly in silence.

There was a knock at the door and her stomach leapt.

“Come in.” She tried to keep her voice steady as she stood up to receive Mr Pickard.

She’d forgotten what a large man he was – rotund, perhaps, rather than large. She gave a small curtsy and, after a polite exchange of greetings, he settled his huge frame with some difficulty onto the narrow seat of the only armchair in the room. Marie perched on the window seat facing him, impatient to hear what he had to say.

“It was a relief to find you spoke such perfect English,” he said, which wasn’t exactly the information she was longing to hear.

“I speak both French and English fluently.” She couldn’t help boasting a little, although Reverend Mother didn’t approve of pride. “The convent of Our Lady is called the English convent, because it takes in a great many pupils from England. Why am I here?” If it sounded rude, she hadn’t meant it to. She’d accepted the decision to go to England unquestioningly, but surely now she deserved some answers. “Have I family here in Harrogate? Someone has discovered a relative – a distant relative?”

He raised a hand to silence her and took a handkerchief out of his pocket to mop his brow. “I must say, I was startled by the suddenness of your departure from the convent.”

“Yes, well…” She hesitated for a moment. He would never understand her true reasons, so she concentrated on the practical. “On my eighteenth birthday, Reverend Mother told me that the money left for my keep had come to an end. There was nothing remaining. I’m not sure why
you
were approached though. ”

“I am a solicitor.” John Pickard appeared to believe that would suffice as an answer. “What do you imagine your future will be now?”

“I don’t know.”

She’d always assumed she would just go on helping Sister Grace in the infirmary when she had finished her education. A thought struck her. “Is it Sister Grace who got in touch with you? Reverend Mother said I had no living relatives, but Sister Grace has. She was born in England. Are they offering me a home?”

He observed her for a moment in silence. “Trying to starve yourself was a very foolish thing to do, you know.”

So, he’d been told. He would never understand what had driven her to do it, but Sister Grace did. Marie had heard an argument between her and Reverend Mother about it.

“Is it Sister Grace who arranged for me to come here?” She repeated her question. “Please tell me.”

“I’m in no position to answer anything, Miss Montrecourt. I simply follow orders.”

She was astonished. “You mean I’m not to be told anything?”

“All I
can
tell you is that provision has been made for you to stay here in England until your future has been decided. A small allowance has been arranged – by whom I am not at liberty to say – I have been appointed as your guardian to administer it. It will be paid until your future is settled. And because Harrogate is where I live, and I have been made legally responsible for you, Harrogate will be your new home. Reverend Mother has made her enquiries about my standing and has accepted that I am in a position to deal fairly with you. Have you any objections?”

She was at a loss how to respond.

“I know it must seem strange,” said John Pickard, with unexpected sympathy, “but if you accept this allowance then I’m afraid you have to accept the terms that come with it. You must not question the source and you must obey my instructions. Do you accept these terms?”

A thought occurred to her. If Sister Grace
was
involved in making these arrangements, she wouldn’t want Reverend Mother to know about it. That had to be the reason for this secrecy. She realised John Pickard was waiting impatiently for her reply.

“Have you any objections? If you’re not happy with the arrangement, then I will have to return you to the convent.”

She could never go back there. “I accept,” she replied quickly.

He looked relieved. “I want your word that you will not do anything impetuous or rash, nor involve yourself with anything or anyone without first discussing it with me. Will you agree to that?”

“Yes.” Marie looked out of the window. It had begun to snow. There was a piece of waste ground on the opposite side of the road and its grass was already hidden by a layer of white. She could see trees on the horizon, and in the foreground people were hurrying home to escape the weather. Carriages were driving past. It was a strange and beautiful world that she was about to enter. “I will place myself entirely in your hands, Mr Pickard. I will do as you wish. Where will I live?”

“Here, in this lodging house. It is run by Isabelle and Geoffrey Minton.”

So she wouldn’t be staying with the family of Sister Grace! When they’d arrived last night she’d been greeted by a woman with a kind face, but she’d been too tired to take much notice of her. The woman must have been Isabelle Minton.

“Geoffrey is a client of mine, and they are both very reliable and honest people. Please turn to Isabelle if you want to ask anything. She will advise you.” He regarded her with a critical eye. “The first thing we must do is to send you to Leyland’s department store to buy some new clothes. Isabelle Minton tells me the only garments you have with you are those you arrived in, which are most unsuitable. Isabelle will go with you. The bill will come directly to me. She has instructions not to spend beyond the limit I’ve set.”

As he made a move to pick up his hat, Marie impetuously caught hold of his arm. “Will you promise to tell my benefactor how grateful I am?” She hoped he could at least do that.

He patted her hand awkwardly. “The only people who are now concerned in this matter are the two of us. I will be in touch, Miss Montrecourt, to further discuss your future when you’ve had time to settle in.”

After John Pickard had left, Isabelle Minton called on Marie to make sure she was comfortable with the room. After sharing a dormitory with eleven other girls, having a room of her own was a luxury. She was to eat her meals downstairs in the dining room with the other guests. “And I would also ask you not to wander around Harrogate by yourself. We can walk out together, but it isn’t acceptable for a young woman to go around unescorted.”

Marie said she understood.

“Tomorrow I will take you to Leylands.”

Marie found it impossible to sleep that night. So many questions and so few answers.

The next morning, excitement took over from anxiety as Marie and Isabelle walked to the department store.

“It isn’t far,” said Isabelle, finding it difficult to keep pace, “but slow down a little or I’ll run out of breath before we get there!” She laughed.

Not knowing what to expect, having never been to a department store before, Marie was astonished by the palatial building. The entrance doors, guarded by a man in green and silver livery, opened out onto a richly carpeted salon that was lit by chandeliers. Glass cases displaying gloves, fans, hats, capes and muffs were placed on counters that overflowed with vases of flowers. A staircase led to the floor above, where fashionable gowns were on show. The floor above that was the furnishing and carpet department, but Marie had little interest in it.

She had never had new clothes before – just second-hand cast-offs from pupils who had outgrown them – and she was overwhelmed by the choice before her. Even when Isabelle made it clear that their budget was limited, she was still at a loss where to begin.

When she finally found her voice, she drove the shop assistants demented by darting around the store and trying on everything that was presented to her. Isabelle trailed behind, unsuccessfully attempting to curb her excitement. Eventually, however, Isabelle’s calm guidance prevailed and, with her help, Marie became the proud owner of four dresses, a coat, a hat with feathers, boots, gloves, a chemise, corsets, nightdresses – in fact, everything that a young woman might need. She was frustrated when she learnt that the dresses and coat would have to be altered to fit, as she was small for her age. There would be a delay of a few days before they were delivered.

“Just a few days,” Isabelle said, patting her hand. “Not so very long to wait.”

Back in her room at Devonshire Place, Marie decided to occupy her time by finally unpacking the few possessions she’d brought with her. The most treasured of these was a notebook that Sister Grace had given her for helping in the infirmary. It contained recipes of herbal remedies. Sister Grace had also given her bottles of rare herbs and oils, and a Bunsen burner for heating up the ingredients if needed. There was also a battered tin box that had once belonged to her mother. She ran her fingers over its worn surface. All she knew about her mother was her name – Hortense Montrecourt – and that she’d arrived at the convent unexpectedly, giving birth to Marie within a week. She’d died without ever holding her baby.

Marie opened the lid, savouring the faint perfume of patchouli and lavender that it still released after all these years. Inside was Marie’s only inheritance: a small piece of rock; a tarnished silver button, which had an engraved design that was far too worn to register anymore; and some scribbled words on a scrap of paper that had been found beside her mother after she died.

I cannot forget what I have done, what I have been made to do
, it read.
May God forgive me, and forgive him too for making me do it. Protect my child.
Writing these words must have been her mother’s last act, but Marie had never understood their meaning. She returned everything to the box and closed the lid.

*

Marie sat on the window seat and gazed out at the snow, which was now laying thickly over everything. Her clothes had arrived and she longed to show them off, but Isabelle was busy with her new baby and wanted to wait until the weather was more clement before going out.

“If you want to go to mass, Saint Peter’s is just around the corner. Mr Pickard said he would be quite happy for you to go there unaccompanied. As long as you go straight there and come straight back again. We’re chapel, I’m afraid.”

Marie could see the church tower from her window, with its grey, stone spire pointing up to the sky. It was a reminder of the life she’d just escaped and brought back memories she’d rather forget. She told Isabelle she had no need for mass.

Still, she was very eager to explore her new surroundings. Being shut away in her room made her feel as if she was back behind the grey stone walls of the convent. She felt she would die if she didn’t breathe fresh air soon. She could remember the route she and Isabelle had taken to the department store, which was in the middle of Harrogate. It wasn’t far, and she’d seen one or two young women walking alone across The Stray unaccompanied. Surely there could be no harm in venturing out by herself. No one need know and, anyway, she wouldn’t be away long. She slipped out unnoticed, her promise to Isabelle forgotten.

Despite the snow, Harrogate was crammed with visitors. Isabelle Minton had told her that the spa was a popular destination for the wealthy and fashionable, with its curative waters and brisk climate. She was excited by the energy of the place – the colour, the noise, the swirl of people pushing past her.

She suddenly caught sight of her reflection in a shop window. Gone was the child in the grey serge skirt and white blouse. Now, looking back at her, was an elegant and fashionable young woman – from the top of her hat, with its feathered brim set at a jaunty angle on her piled-up hair, to the tip of the brown leather boots that were peeping out from underneath the swirling skirts of her checked coat.

She glanced up and saw a man on a ladder. He was draping a gold banner over his shop front with the words:
HAPPY YULETIDE – WELCOME TO 1900 – THE NEW CENTURY
picked out in red. He saw Marie staring up at him and shouted “Happy Christmas” to her. She waved in reply and was so distracted that she was nearly mown down by one of the new automobiles, its approach having been muffled by the thick layer of snow covering the road. It was the sudden blare of the klaxon that finally drew her attention to it, making her leap for the safety of the pavement.

The sky now clouded over and it started to snow again. Marie took shelter in the doorway of a large shop, Ogden’s the Silversmiths, just as a young man emerged from it with his arms full of parcels. He somehow managed to raise his hat to her.

“Hiding from the snow or waiting for me?”

She just had time to notice the lock of blond hair falling over his forehead and a pair of smiling blue eyes, before she lowered her gaze and quickly left the protective shelter of the doorway to avoid having to reply. Isabelle had warned her to beware of young men who tried to engage her in conversation.

The snow had started to fall faster now, turning the fur of her collar into a sparkling white. She was beginning to tire. Surely this was the second time she’d passed by the Royal Baths? She struggled to get her bearings. The gilded cupolas of the Grand Hotel were to her left, and dominating the skyline to the right was the Hotel Majestic. However, this was of very little help seeing as she had no clear idea of where she was heading. She began to think that she had been foolish to go out on her own.

BOOK: The Trial of Marie Montrecourt
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