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Mr. Wroe's Virgins

March 1830 - 31 

'Leah The Lord has instructed me to take of your number, seven virgins for comfort and succour.’ 

Seven? They say his wife is sickly, but seven? Judith touches my elbow, I know, I am trying not to giggle. It is so quiet, it seems no one breathes in the whole of Sanctuary. I must not laugh. I must not. Will he really? Will they let him? Who? 

Once Abigail Whitehead said to me, ‘Can you imagine doing it with the Prophet?’ We laughed with our heads beneath our quilt work, for fear God might have overheard. He is staring us out, everyone looks down. They are still and reverent; they take it for God’s will. When Abigail said it I imagined his strange back, which is like the thick shoulders of a bull. He is the ugliest man I have ever seen, but he is powerful. 

Would I? People begin to clear their throats, to glance at one another. My sister Anne is looking at me. She widens her eyes. Me? I smile at her and pull a face. But she is serious; she mouths a word. ‘Thomas.’ Thomas. When her own child is born, she will have no time for mine. I must remove him. I have promised. 

But what is she thinking? To the Prophet’s house? Does she think he will take kindly to a virgin with a bastard child? Perhaps she thinks that I could hide him there, keep him secretly. It may be possible. They say the Prophet’s house is vast. I watch him now. His eyes continue to move slowly over the congregation, the silence goes on and on. He sees me. I can feel the blush rising up my cheeks. He is looking at me. The congregation shifts and sighs. 

There are girls they would be glad to give. I know some as eager to be rid of daughters as any farmer his vicious cow on market day. 

You can see what he wants, how he stared at my blushing. If I did . . . If I went . . . I would be the prettiest there. They will hardly hand over the marriageable ones. 

Is this what Anne means? What if he did not like me? He sits himself down, now, and we are on with the hymn singing. Thank heavens it is not now. There is till this afternoon to decide. 

Is he looking? Glance quickly. Yes. He is looking at me again, now all eyes are on their hymn books. If he wanted me, I could make him do anything. Could I live that life? Surely they would not make us pray all the day. We should have fine rooms, and servants at our beck and call. The church has money. ‘Comfort and succour.’ Pray, how must we comfort him? I cough to save myself from laughing. We would not be prisoners. If it is anything tolerable, then I should be able to bear it. Will Judith? And the Elders and church close by: he could not maltreat us. 

If I could win his favour . . . I should be in a fine position. The favour of a man who talks to God, and whom the entire church fall over themselves to obey. But I should like to know what he has done with his wife. 

If I stay at home, I make my daily visit to my sister’s, to see poor hidden Thomas. I am locked into my room at night and guarded, ever since my father caught me creeping in at dawn. Allowed to walk out only with my saintly insipid cousin, who would faint away at mention of my child (although his thoughts are so fixed upon matters spiritual that I doubt he has any notion of how a child is conceived). What other escape will I ever be offered? The Prophet will never guard seven as closely as my father guards one. 

He is still looking at me. Has he noticed me before this day? I never thought of him but that once, with Abigail. If I did . . . he would be obliged to agree to Thomas. For his own preservation. 

It is as neat as a row of my good plain sewing. The answer to my prayers. That makes me laugh. Judith pats my back, I cannot catch my breath. Hush, I must be calm. 

How it would please my father! To so far exceed his neighbours in virtue, as to give the Prophet a pretty daughter! 

Excerpted from Mr. Wroe's Virgins © Copyright 2012 by Jane Rogers. Reprinted with permission by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.

Mr. Wroe's Virgins
by by Jane Rogers

  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0618066136
  • ISBN-13: 9780618066131