I will be updating weekly. Nothing faster, nothing later. Thanks to: Sheila Chiaroscura (I haven't given up, in fact, it is approaching its close!), obsessivelyfanaticgw09 (I find it hard to believe myself, and I will update WEEKLY), Maxine the unknowingly admried (I tried to make this chapter longer!), Lamia of the Dark (Apologies, and yes, I realised just then - sorry!), MireiLovett1846 (thanks for your beautiful reviews, as always, eloquent and uplifting. I feel very rusty writing fanfic, so thank you), ImmortalDarkPassion (your review really rocked. I couldn't believe you'd hung in this long for another chapter, and it is going to change soon. Thanks for the inspiration! =)), the-sadisticalovett-nutcase (Sorry I haven't checked out your writing in ages, yes I am still alive! Yeah pretty much teaching has been eating up my life, I miss you guys lots and yes I will be also updating the Promise Price!)
~The Torture Chamber Part 2~
"Things will work out for the best."
It was the second time he'd said it, and if Nellie weren't half-hallucinating and strapped down, she'd have slapped him.
No one who lived a poor life in London believed things ever worked out for the best. That's how Nellie knew the surgeon was lying.
The flicker of steel, shaded blue in the light of the blue room, forced her eyes on the floor. Dark floorboards – ebony, the name of the wood – her father had told her that when she was a child. "Only the rich men can afford ebony floorboards," he'd said once, as they'd stood in the doorway of a lord's house, a rich tapestry snaking over black boards the colour of dried, congealed blood. "So rich, these people are," he told the child Nellie, small enough not to know the ways of the world back then, "they've got enough money to swim in. They demand lovely slick black boards cut from ebony wood in the deepest, darkest forests across the ocean. We're lucky, Nell Bell. It'd make me soul shudder, to know I was walkin' across dead forest trees."
Nellie returned to the floorboards, reminded of all the things she endured so far.
Her father, going down into the mines when the sun had not even risen, and returning well into the dark, his eyes sunken under the layers of black grime, his face demon-dark under the lit candle she and her mother huddled around, waiting. Until one day he failed to walk out of the mine. It might have been a Tuesday.
Waiting. Nearly a grown woman, straining her eyes blind and turning her back and neck into a tired ache, bent over a tiny table with piles of brocade material, waiting to be sewn into dresses for ladies. Proper ladies, waiting to attend balls and dances. Nellie, spending many summers tied up in the sweaty work room with the other girls, watching their fingers line and toughen, and sometimes, when they had a break from routine, the people on the streets below, especially the ladies, lifting their beautiful dresses above the mud.
One summer, she spotted Benjamin, and the waiting began all over again.
She married, worked, ate, cooked, slept, worked, ate, cooked, and dreamed of the man she'd seen on the street, never knowing that he would show up at her shop one day, asking if the room upstairs was for lease. His face was lovely and fresh – almost like a girl's – unlined, his bottom lip pink and full. Nellie remembers the face, watches it age inside her mind.
Sweeney's face, full of fury, permanently furrowed and frowned. His presence in her house both warmed and unsettled her. And so began the waiting, waiting for the certainty that one person cannot spend the rest of their life trapped inside the prison of their own demons. She wasn't certain. No one could be, not with a broken man. Still, she waited.
And now, torture in the blue room. Again, betrayed by a man. First by Sweeney, now by Septimus.
Nellie had forgotten her own body, forgotten her fear. She wondered if all tired people felt like this before they met death – so tired, they couldn't feel their own body.
She shut her eyes, so she couldn't see the blink of the surgeon's knives.
Something began singing in her brain. It was off at first, out of tune, like an instrument under water. As the surgeon pottered closer around her chair, the sound rose. A whistle, like a child walking through an apple orchard. At first she thought it was the surgeon, but the sound echoed off, too far away. Somewhere inside the house. She had heard someone whistle like that, once before, but her mind was too much of a frazzled haze to remember who.
The clean steel sung, tapped against the metal bench, and Nellie's eyes flew open.
The surgeon was nowhere near her – his head was hung over the sink opposite her, the knife still clutched in his hands. "I should do it," he said to her. "I know I should do it. It's my profession, my art. My entire career is at stake, if I fail to go through with this simple "operation." I am no gentle person," he added, turning around to contemplate her bewildered face, "but you don't have the heart of a criminal – I believe. I think it is pointless to scar you, and I would not be able to enjoy it."
Enjoy it? Nellie shuddered, avoided the clear blue eyes that reflected nothing.
He unbound her straps and retreated to the shadows in the dull room, placing his knives under a red cloth.
She looked at him, not wanting to speak, not wanting to ask him anything. She didn't know why.
"You're thinking, how will he deal with Judge Turpin, when he discovers her missing?You should not feel concern for me, and in a few hours you won't. You'll remember I am the person who nearly ruined your life, and think no more about me. As for the Judge, I will tell him the truth, and he will be angry. But this will pass. He'll be suffering too much. He'll be dwelling on what he has lost."
At this, the man opened the door. He watched her rise with the eyes that shone with nothing – no real emotion, just honesty.
Nellie walked slowly, steadily at first, then stirred into a panicked run. The whistle echoed through the whole house – she couldn't place it – all she could do was stick to the shadows, keep as quiet as she could. Find the door, head for freedom. Find the sun.
The Judge whistled, opening one door, and then another, half-smiling as he caught the reflection of a clean and shaven gentleman in the glass cabinet. All for her.
She would be pleased, grateful – tearful – when she saw the Judge standing there, smiling, arms wide - there to prevent a tragedy, just when the surgeon had raised his knife, ready to perform the deed.
And she would love him, repentant, all sins forgiven, newly redeemed. Back in the arms of the father.
His smile faded, when he saw the empty chair.
Nellie stepped out into the light, and the whistling faded back into the darkness.
London was a cruel city – now she was determined to throw herself back into it – it didn't matter any longer, if it swallowed her up.