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Mr. Edwards, the "whore-master" who managed the prostitutes whom Charles Trask frequented, carried on his business in an unemotional way. He kept up a respectable appearance at home, enjoyed domestic life, and went on business trips to look after the prostitutes under his management. The theory of the day was that prostitution protected decent women and allowed men to release their sexual energies.
Mr. Edwards did not want any smart prostitutes, so the ones who worked for him drifted into the business out of "laziness and stupidity." They usually followed his orders without question; but he carried in his suitcase a quirt that he used to beat the prostitutes who gave him any trouble. If any of his prostitutes became pregnant, he gave them the option of leaving or having an abortion. Most chose abortion, even though the procedure was done brutally and often killed the woman.
One day Cathy Ames came to interview with Mr. Edwards. She introduced herself as Catherine Amesbury and told him her father had died, causing her to need money for the mortgage on her mother’s house. She was not Mr. Edwards’ kind of girl, but he proceeded with the interview. Though he usually was not a man with a strong sexual drive, he suddenly felt a great attraction for Catherine and decided to keep her as his own.
Although Mrs. Edwards did not have deep religious convictions, she worked diligently for the church. She did not object to her husband’s business, for it provided her with all she wanted. He had bought her a brick house and kept it well decorated. Mr. and Mrs. Edwards cared for each other. He hated to leave Boston to work on his business connections because he was jealous of her. In a like manner, she worried about him. When she found him one day crying silently in the bathroom, she was very concerned. She did not know that he was miserably in love with Catherine. In truth, Catherine was driving him to distraction. She had developed the technique of making him feel always uneasy and acted as though she were always dissatisfied with him sexually. He feared she might leave at any moment.
Mr. Edwards did not know that Catherine had been stealing from him since the beginning, mortgaging the house, stealing from his person, and selling his gifts. She hoarded the money in the basement of her house and changed the lock on the door so that Mr. Edwards could not enter unexpectedly. One night when they are together, Mr. Edwards tried to get Catherine drunk so he could get her to open up about her past. She resisted a long time, but started drinking champagne. She began to call him names, such as "fat slug," and told him she knew every way to control him. He became afraid of her. When she broke a wineglass and threatened him with the sharp edge, he ran out the door.
Although he tried, Mr. Edwards could not restore his high opinion of Catherine. He began to set spies on her and seek information about her past. He found out about the suspicious fire in her hometown. One day he gathered his things for a trip, including the quirt he used to whip prostitutes, and went to Catherine’s house to insist that she go with him. He also went to the basement and found her stash of money. Catherine was suddenly afraid of him. She decided she should go on the trip and try to regain the upper hand.
When the train stopped at a small town, Mr. Edwards made Catherine get off with him. He then led her down a country road, where he began to beat her, first with his whip, then with his fists, and finally with a stone. When he saw her bloody face, he panicked, stopped himself, and ran away, leaving his suitcase behind. When he returned home, he was a nervous wreck. His wife nursed him back to health. When Catherine came to consciousness, she crawled to a nearby farmhouse owned by the Trasks.
In this chapter, the rising action of the plot begins in earnest. . The characters have begun to come together. Cathy Ames, posing as Catherine Amesbury, interviewed for a job as a prostitute with Mr. Edwards. Mysteriously attracted to her, he hired her for his own purposes. Before long he was wildly in love with her. When he found out she was stealing from him, had a suspicious past, and thought of him as a "fat slug," he decided that he would beat her. The brutality of Mr. Edwards was chilling. On the surface, he was a respectable man who was simply involved in a shady business. He cared for his wife, who was a pillar of her church community, and provided well for her. But he treated the prostitutes shabbily, controlling their lives and beating them with a quirt when they did not follow his orders.
Never caring for Mr. Edwards, Cathy only used him, stealing and hoarding his money. She went with him on the trip out of fear and in hopes of again gaining the upper hand with him. She was totally unprepared for the beating that she received. When Edwards left her a bloody mess, she crawled to the nearest farmhouse. Ironically, Cathy has arrived at the Trask farm, which can only spell trouble.