The Girl Behind the Gates by Brenda Davies
English | 2020 | Historical Fiction | ePUB | 2.8 MB
- Seventeen-year-old Nora Jennings has spent her life secure in the certainty of a bright, happy future – until one night of passion has more catastrophic consequences than she ever could have anticipated. Labelled a moral defective and sectioned under the Mental Deficiency Act, she is forced to endure years of unspeakable cruelty at the hands of those who are supposed to care for her.
- When psychiatrist Janet Humphreys comes across Nora, heavily institutionalised and still living in the hospital more than forty years after her incarceration, she knows that she must be the one to help Nora rediscover what it is to live. But as she works to help Nora overcome her past, Janet realises she must finally face her own.
With collars upturned, hats pulled down and coats firmly buttoned against the taunting November wind, the congregation of St Francis’s Church trickles steadily into the pool gathering around Father Matthews who, in white cassock and green chasuble, provides an island of hope in the ocean of gloom. For England is at war.
Friends enquire solicitously about sons and husbands who have already been called up, unable to fully mask their relief that their own loved ones have, as yet, escaped the military’s attention. Parents smile and joke with the priest, hiding their fear with the false bonhomie that will help their sons march out with courage, while those men old enough to remember Ypres and the Somme hurry by, avoiding the gaze of fresh-faced youths whose shining eyes speak of their naïve dreams of adventure and honour.
Nora Jennings hangs back a little, trailing behind her parents as she searches the crowd. Her often playful green eyes are uncharacteristically serious, her face pale and troubled. She tucks behind her ear a wayward strand of chestnut hair, usually so tidy but this morning done in a distracted hurry, then returns her hands to her chinchilla muff where they unconsciously fuss with the mantilla hurriedly stuffed there. She glances at the statue of Our Lady and begs for her intercession, making silent bargains she vows to keep. She’ll work for the poor; sing like an angel; praise the Lord every day; live like a nun . . .
Mr and Mrs Jennings, unaware of Nora’s anguish, wait placidly for their turn for the final blessing from Father Matthews. Nora looks on numbly, wishing she could disappear.
‘Thank you, Father. Lovely sermon.’ Her mother smiles, touching her hair to ensure that none has strayed from the chignon that supports her hat, resplendent with its curved feather.
‘Yes indeed,’ her father intones, keen now to shepherd his family home, away from the frosty morning.
‘And beautiful singing,’ says Father Matthews, enveloping Nora in his beaming gaze. ‘You have a daughter with an angel’s voice.’
Nora attempts a faltering smile and drops her eyes until her mother’s elbow reminds her of her manners. ‘Thank you, Father,’ she manages, her eyes shying away from his, desperately hoping that he hasn’t seen the secret sin she’s trying so hard to hide.
Mrs Lampeter, the Jennings’ housekeeper, holds Nora in her gaze, all too aware of the reason that her smile and her eyes tell different stories.