Birdie was that way. Despondent, then volatile. Hitting the walls, tearing holes in her clothes and pulling out strands of her brittle hair. It was hard to be there, witnessing these acts of self-destruction.
But what could I do? That's what I was paid to do: nurse, guard and bring her to her senses. Calm her by putting my arms around her and stroking her thinning hair. She was always a fragile child and entering womanhood made her more so, but as a child she'd been less tucked away. She could run, she could play, before a hasty marriage and madness claimed her. Property that's what women are.
Birdie was my pet name for her, although I never thought her wings would be clipped and she'd never be free, or I'd be her keeper. In the days before she was caged she was impetuous, but oh, she could sing like a nightingale! Then her uncle, her mother's brother, arranged her marriage. A most unsuitable match I must say. He was a good fifteen years older and so staid; his first wife eloped with his cousin and drowned at sea before he could divorce her for adultery. What a blessing! Some said. No man wants to have his name dragged through the courts and the broadsheets, and now he was free again to wed.
I ask you: What does a young girl of seventeen want with a man of thirty-two? Her sweet soul got sold and that callous man bought it! Her uncle made a business trade: Eighty acres, one eighth of a square mile, in exchange for a pretty wife. A very good price for an unwanted niece. And that bad man knew it.
Barely had they been introduced, they were married. Birdie in a trailing white dress with a sheer veil and her head filled with wild romantic notions; him looking severe in a top hat and tails. Her nightingale voice shrilling the consecrated vows while his remained grave and toneless. The rice confetti feebly thrown outside the church and the groom's gruff rebuke to his bride's childish joy. He refused to whisk her away on a honeymoon, instead they left in haste for his estate on the Dorset coast. Engaged as her trusted maid, I travelled with the driver, but occasionally when we slowed I heard him scolding her. He disliked the way she bit her lip or her shrill exclaims over passing scenery. My poor little bird was trapped in that carriage!
But oh, I did not know the worst was yet to come... Captured by a married life that had only just begun.
On arrival, she was imprisoned in a neglected wing of the house and I with her, and apart from me, she was allowed no other servants. The Master, as I had to call him now, visited erratically, but when he did he wore her down with his manipulative behaviour. Day was night and night was day; by day the moon was the light in the sky and at night it was the sun. He told her if she was hungry and what she was eating: chicken was pork and pork was chicken and her drinks were laced with opium. He broke her spirit, but not the wildness in it.
She may have lost interest in life, but opium did not reward him with a biddable wife. She flew into rages and her nightingale voice was stripped away to grunts and wailing. I chuckled when one day she rushed at him and clawed his frightened face, (you deserved that you scoundrel!), until I grabbed her in a firm embrace. I turned my beautiful Birdie towards the open window, which Master had unfastened, and released her. Dazed, she paused and then propelled herself forward with outstretched arms and streaming hair.
*Sparked by Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea