WARNING: We get dark again.

Charlotte goes to Father Brennan for advice.

For past episodes of Victorian Mistress see the Weekly Serial page.

London – 1840

‘You’re supposed to kneel in prayer,’ Father Brennan said and sat down on the pew beside me.

‘I choose to get on my knees, no-one forces me,’ I muttered and tucked the little wooden rosary around my wrist up my sleeve.

‘I think you miss the point,’ he replied.

I looked at him from under my hood. ‘I’ve had the point a little too often, thank you.’

He fixed his gaze on the altar ahead of us. ‘There’s blood on your hands.’

I sighed.

‘I mean actual blood.’

The knuckles of my hands were reddened at split but it was hard to say if the blood was mine or not. I rubbed them against my trousers.

He spared me a glance. ‘You used to pretend to be subtle.’

I’d just come from reminding a few fellas why beating the daylights out of people wasn’t good business practice. They wouldn’t be bothering anyone for a while, perhaps someone would turn up to accost them for rent money.

‘Are you going to give me a telling off?’ I asked and stretched one arm across the back of the pew. ‘Should I be quaking at the wrath of almighty God?’

His jaw flexed but said nothing.

‘I wanted to ask you a question but I’m not sure there’s a point.’

‘Come to try and bargain your sins?’ he asked. ‘It doesn’t work like that.’

‘I wanted to ask if you know someone’s secret do you tell them you know or do you pretend that you don’t?’ I enquired.

He considered me for a moment. ‘What’s the secret?’

I rolled my gaze towards him. ‘Father, for a man of God, you’re not very good with hypotheticals.’

‘It would be within the seal of the confessional.’ He twisted on the pew to look at me. ‘You can trust me, Charlotte.’

I snorted.

His fingers flexed near my shoulder. ‘It’s about that man, isn’t it?’

‘Which man?’

‘Don’t play the fool.’

‘Oh, you never know, you might’ve been berating me for my lack of progress with Norman Ellington.’

‘You’ve been too busy having… sinful relations with that man to help those people.’

‘Unless you’re forgetting, Jimmy, I’m not supposed to do anything immoral. I could’ve killed him and it would’ve been done but that wouldn’t sit well with you, would it?’

He turned back towards the altar. ‘Since when has that ever stopped you?’

‘I might not care about my immortal soul but you care about yours. I’m fairly sure that after you asked me to take him out of the picture any sin I commit counts against you too.’

His fist tightened and slackened but he said nothing.

‘If you’d been paying attention you might’ve noticed that several companies you’ve so kindly purchased with my immoral money all supply Ellington. That land deal abuts his mill. I’m closing in on him but your rules mean it takes time. Take away the rules and…’

He made a disgruntled noise.

I smiled. ‘I thought not.’

We sat in silence for a few minutes as if God himself might appear behind the altar and give Father Brennan the answer he wanted. I wasn’t sure the answer he wanted existed, but that was why he saved the souls and I cracked the skulls.

He sighed. ‘What would Ma and Da think?’

‘I really wouldn’t know.’

‘I thought you remembered everything.’

‘Not that far back,’ I said, rubbing my finger where my wedding ring should be. It was on a chain around my neck because I didn’t want to damage it. ‘Even my memory has limits.’

‘I didn’t realise.’

‘You never asked.’ I clasped my hands in my lap. ‘Too worried about saving my soul but I don’t want saving. I don’t need saving. I live life on my own terms, I spent too long having other people’s forced on me.’

‘You can’t call yourself a Catholic and pick and choose which rules to follow.’

‘Ever read a history book?’ I got to my feet. ‘It was pointless to come. You never have any answers.’

‘I have answers they’re just not the ones you want.’

‘Do this, do that, act this way, act that way,’ I whispered. ‘Those aren’t answers.’

‘It’s what God asks of us.’

‘If we’re getting biblical you should kill the witch.’ I spread my arms. ‘Are you going to?’

He looked at the back of the pew in front of him.

‘The world isn’t that simple. Bad people do bad things and I do bad things to bad people. If I’m going to hell for that then I will.’

‘And two wrongs make a right?’

I put a hand on the back of each pew and leaned forward to look him in the eye. ‘Somethings can’t be made right.’

‘God forgives anyone who seeks it.’

‘Somethings shouldn’t be forgiven.’ And I walked away.

It was funny how most of our conversations ended with me walking away from my brother. I wondered if he thought that was God’s justice.

For more short fiction see the Short Story or Weekly Serial page.


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