A/N: I recently stumbled across an article about a literary historian, Rebecca Gowers, and her theory that Dickens based Nancy's murder on the real life killing of prostitute Eliza Grimwood. It's a fascinating read! Gowers' novel The Twisted Heart, which I am hoping to find a copy of, presents a fictionalised account of her research. Here's the URL to the article: .
Fic starts here:
What am I to do? She silently asked herself.
On the cold wooden floor, wrapped in a torn blanket, she lay on her side and stared sadly into the blackened emptiness of the unlit fireplace.
No money and no strength to even move from the floor, let alone find work. All her possessions left behind with him and no possibility of going back for them. Soon Tom and Bet's hospitality would be worn out and then there would be no place to stay, save for the poorhouse. Sore head, sore feet, sore shoulders, sore wrists... sore mind.
Capable of nothing and nothing to be done about it.
Was that a knock at the door?
Nancy had arrived on their doorstep in the dark of the previous night; wide-eyed, breathless and terrified. Bet had let her in anxiously and offered her the one bed that the landlord hadn't sold, but Nancy merely shook her head and dropped to the floor with exhaustion. "Don't tell him I'm here," she had whispered before curling up into a fearful, shaking ball right there on the floorboards.
In the cold grey light of the morning, Bet had caught a glimpse of some fierce looking bruises on Nancy's wrists and was filled with horror. What had happened to her friend this time? She found herself filling with concern and also a firm resolve to help. She decided to do what Nancy had begged her not to do before. She called the doctor.
The doctor she approached at the nearby workhouse initially refused to come. "If she needs to be seen," he said, "she has to be brought here." But Bet was determined.
"Sir," she insisted, "my friend either can't or won't move from my room. The only way I could possibly bring her in here would be to drag her; and I promise you that if I tried that, I would be so exhausted that you would have to treat me as well." She looked firmly into his face with all the conviction she could muster. Eventually, the doctor sighed and wiped his face.
"Very well," He acquiesced. "But official guidelines mean that I cannot treat her there. If she needs additional care, she must be taken back here, to the workhouse. Will you consent to that?" Bet hesitated briefly, then nodded.
When they returned, Nancy was still sleeping on the floor. "Will you wait here by the door for a moment?" Bet asked the doctor.
"If you wish."
"Nancy?" Bet asked softly, approaching the motionless form.
"Yes?" It replied slowly .
"I need you to do something for me."
"There's a doctor here, he's come to examine you. I know what you said before, but –"
"I don't know if that matters now."
"Then you will let him look at you?" The shape paused.
With this permission, the doctor approached them and spoke to Bet. "Would you be so good as to leave us alone for a few minutes, please?" Bet obliged, glancing sadly back at her friend before closing the door behind her.
What had happened to Nancy? She wondered as she stood in hallway. Was it Bill who, once again, had made her so miserable? Had she left him for good now? The thought filled Bet with a kind of guilty relief and she tried to suppress the feeling and distract herself. If Nancy was sick, she thought, they had to look after her. She would stay with them, of course Tom would agree to that. The only problem would be the extra food required, but surely they could work around that –
At this thought, the doctor entered the corridor and motioned for her to approach him.
"She's suffering from hysteria," he muttered, "for which I suggest as much bed rest as possible. Watch her for the next week or so and bring her in -" he emphasised the words " - if she doesn't improve. She also has a number of bruises on her wrists, shoulders and stomach, which are in various states of healing. When I asked her about them, she refused to tell me anything. Do you have any idea where she may have got them?"
Bet may have called a doctor for her, but Nancy's entreaties from the week before still echoed in her ears. "Nowhere I can think of," she lied sadly.
"Nancy, what's wrong?"
"Don't open the door!"
The knock at the door was fast turning into a fierce pounding. "Open up!" Came a voice from behind it. His voice.
"No," Nancy whispered, the blood draining from her face. "Don't let him in."
"I know you're in there!"
"No," she repeated to herself.
"Nancy! Open the damn door!"
She shook her head and put her fingers to her mouth in subconscious fear.
"Let me in!"
Bet tiptoed across the floor and put her arms around her. "Don't let him get in," Nancy whispered tearfully.
"I won't," Bet whispered back. "He'll be gone soon; don't you worry."
After what felt like an eternity, the pounding began to subside. Some indistinct muttering and one final kick on the door, and silence prevailed once again.
"See? It's alright." Bet assured Nancy. "You're going to be alright."
There was no response. Bet looked over to her friend, whose head now lay limply on her shoulder. Nancy had fainted in fear.