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‘Can you imagine it? Every day the same for the rest of our lives?’ Maria put down her tapestry and addressed Celine. Like every other morning that week they were sitting quietly in the morning room.
‘Well, it won’t be, will it?’ Celine pointed out. ‘You will have the baby in a few months. I hope that Daniel will find us our own home soon and so I will have my own household to arrange.’
‘Your own household,’ Maria repeated, watching Celine carefully. Where did the girl imagine the money was coming from for her new house, her new employees? ‘Has Daniel had any luck with his search?’
Celine shook her head. ‘No, he needed to collect the money for this engagement in Liverpool first. It should pay well enough that we can look at a proper house, not just lodgings.’
‘A good plan. You don’t want to feel that a place is not your own. There is nothing worse!’ Too late Maria realised that her words must sound to Celine as though she were no longer welcome. ‘I mean to say, living with strangers of course.’
‘Of course.’ Celine nodded. ‘And once we are settled I thought it an idea to become involved in a charity. Mrs Harper was on the committees of several and it always seemed such a social enterprise as well as doing good.’
‘Charity,’ Maria mused. ‘Yes, what a good idea! Why do we not get started immediately?’
‘Now?’ Celine looked at the clock. It was five to eleven, almost time for morning tea.
‘What about post luncheon? I have a place which may be happy to see even such outcasts as us.’
And so it was that the intrepid two women arrived at an address in St George’s Fields at three o’clock that very afternoon, not very far from the Olympia theatre.
‘What is this place?’ Celine asked.
‘Forgive my strange sense of humour, but since we are seen as little better than fallen women, I thought that we should perhaps aim to help those who are genuinely in that position.’ Maria saw that Celine looked confused. ‘This is the Magdalen Hospital. They aim to save unfortunate women from prostitution and set them on the right path.’
‘Oh.’ Celine was taken aback. ‘These women, are they…they are safe to be around?’
‘My dear, these are poor women driven into a wretched profession through poverty. They are glad to be here rather than on the streets and shall not harm you.’ Maria took her friend’s arm and walked her up to the front door, pulling on the bell.
A young woman answered, dressed smartly in a black uniform. ‘Good afternoon, can I help you?’
‘Hello there. My name is Mrs Maria McCarthy, this is Mrs Celine Johnson, and we wish to speak with whomever is in charge here.’
‘That would be Doctor Marsden,’ the girl replied, looking the pair up and down in suspicion.
‘And is he available to speak with?’
Wordlessly the girl stepped back to allow the visitors to enter, gesturing for them to take a seat on the ancient sofa which had been placed in the dark hallway. ‘The doctor is very busy but I shall see if he can meet with you.’
‘Well, she doesn’t seem very grateful,’ Maria huffed once they were alone.
‘You think she is one of…them?’ Celine asked in a hushed voice.
‘A former prostitute? Almost definitely. They take the women in and nurse them back to health, teach them skills for the workplace. The more regular workplace I mean, rather than their former profession. The idea is that these women will find work and be able to leave here once they are reformed,’ Maria explained.
‘Ah. It seems a sensible endeavour, ‘Celine agreed. ‘But what is our purpose then? Are we here to offer money?’
‘Actually, I was thinking that this would be the perfect place to acquire you a cook for your new abode. You worry that you know nothing about running a household, Celine. Why not take advantage of this place, full of women who are eager to start afresh, have been trained for service, and who cannot possible judge you?’
Perhaps because these women scared her a little, Celine thought, though she kept her silence, and when the girl returned to escort them to Doctor Marsden’s office she dutifully followed Maria into his office.