Everything Wrong

February 13, 1897
Sarah Waters

Mr. Stark raised his arm high in the air and held it there for a moment. I think he was admiring the view and he was not alone in it. I held my breath almost without knowing and waited for the inevitable fall of his arm and the loud crack of leather on naked flesh which would accompany it. No one made a sound.

Then it happened. Over and over, the strap rose and fell leaving behind a neat series of blazing, red stripes, pulsating with stinging pain. Ten I counted in all, but it was only a meager justice if the truth be told. Had the choice been mine it would have been double that at the least. Fortunately for Miss Ferguson, I was only a spectator in the crowd with no influence to call upon.

Gossiping was her crime. Stupid, gossiping in the middle of class had her marched to the front of the room, dress and undergarments removed for a proper striping and shaming of the silly girl. Still, it felt a little like justice for me. She is after all, the girl who has been doing her best to undermine my reputation with twisted tales of last May. If she had any concept of how much she hurt me by dragging that past into the present, she gave no sign of remorse. She seems almost proud of herself.

Justice is not always easy to find, but I will take what I can get and be happy it is more than nothing.

At the end of the day, I descended the steps to the street watching Miss Ferguson wincing as she did the same. She cried to her friends about the injustice and for a change, I was smart enough to keep my thoughts to myself. Besides, Mr. Goulding was waiting at the street along with another young man I recognized as Miss Sumter’s brother, Wilbur.

“Are you looking for Penelope?” I asked.

Mr. Sumter looked confused for a moment before replying.

“No. Have you seen Miss Bassett?” Mr. Sumter asked.

“Not since breakfast. I am sure she will be back at the manor within the hour though.” I replied.

Mr. Sumter nodded and gave a quick smile of thanks.

“Miss Waters, might I have a word?” Mr. Goulding asked.

“I’m in such a good mood, I’ll even let you have two.” I replied.

Mr. Sumter fell into a coughing fit, no doubt brought about by the cold February air. Mr. Goulding offered me his arm and I took it without a thought. We walked down the sidewalk until we were far enough away that no one would hear us.

“What do you know?” Mr. Goulding asked.

His words had the sound of accusation in them.

“More than some, less than others.” I replied.

“Elizabeth Bassett is missing and somehow I doubt you are ignorant of it.”


The shock on my face must have convinced him he was wrong, because immediately his tone changed.

“You really don’t know. I’m sorry.”

“You can’t just leave it at that. What is going on?” I asked.

“Miss Bassett left for school as usual this morning but all indications are she never arrived. She missed all her classes. Her room looks like she packed all her things and left, but if she did, she seems to have told no one.”

“Have you talked to Miss Sumter?”

“Of course, she swears nothing was out of place this morning when she left.”

“The man I shot, he told me there was someone still after her.” I said.

“You spoke to him? When?”

“A few days ago. He was trying to scare me out of town and I think he wanted me to take Elizabeth with me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Who are you that I should tell?”

“I’m trying to help.”

“Maybe, but you have too many secrets and you often do as you just did.”

“What did I do?”

“You avoid my questions and try to distract me from noticing.”

“You need to trust me. I can help.”

“If it is my trust you want, you will have to earn it first. I’ve told you what I know in any case.”

Mr. Goulding nodded. He looked at me as if he was going to tell me something, but then he changed his mind. I could see it in his eyes, the trust he wanted from me was also lacking from him. I almost followed him when he turned and walked away, but whatever it is between the two of us will have to wait for another time.