Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 15

Chapter 15


Betty lifted her skirt as she stepped over a puddle, and I followed suit. It was one of those windy days where the sea’s winds swept through the city, leaving trees shuddering and men shivering. There was always some breeze drifting through our streets, but it was heavier today.

“Does Jasper know you come to these meetings?” Betty asked.

I shrugged. If he asked, I’d probably tell him, but he never did. Since the pub was closed on Sundays, we had a sort of agreement: I could have the mornings after church, and he took the afternoon into the night, so there was always one of us watching over The Red Pearl. He probably assumed I went to Sunday tea, just as I assumed he went to coffee houses with old fellows, but we didn’t discuss it much. Occasionally he’d bring up something one of his friends talked about, but little more than that. “He’s never asked about it.”

She hummed in thought, a sweet note like a bird’s chirp. “Perhaps you should tell him.”

“I don’t see why,” I replied. “He has private matters, and so do I.”

“Henry and I don’t keep anything from each other.” It wasn’t meant to be a jab, but it stung like one. Well, how quaint, I thought sardonically, you and Henry, two bodies and a single mind split between them. Did I wish Jasper and I were the same way? I’d never even considered it as a possibility.

“Well, not every marriage is the same,” I remarked wryly, hoping she would understand that there wouldn’t be more to this discussion.

She did, almost. “How are you?” she said, scanning the street for oncoming carts before we crossed. We stepped carefully around a pile of horse droppings to reach the cobblestones on the other side of the street, where we would find the little room above the tailor’s shop where the Daughters met. Sometimes the location varied, but usually the meetings were here, in the home of Sarah Cummings, whose husband apparently didn’t mind a gaggle of loud women on the floor above him while he stitched leather shoes.

“Fine,” I said evenly. I don’t sleep anymore and I am terrified to go anywhere alone, even just into another room, is what I didn’t say. If I revealed the depth of my discomfort, she’d probably insist on visiting me every day. Not that I didn’t appreciate her concern, but she had the baby and her mother to worry about, and that was enough without the burden of my troubles, too.

“And Jasper still doesn’t know anything?”

“No,” I replied, perhaps a little harshly, and thankfully we had reached the tailor’s shop. Betty opened the door, and we curtsied hello to Mr. Cummings, who was sliding a shoe buckle onto a strip of leather and paused to tip his hat to us as we passed.

We ascended the staircase, and already the sounds of our chattering peers echoed through the hall.

“Lucy!” one of the women squealed as we stepped inside the room. It was crowded, as usual, but there was a place for everyone to sit, and Betty and I settled onto stools near the back. A pile of pamphlets were scattered across the table, and I looked upon them fondly. The last time I’d read a pamphlet had been years ago, when Common Sense made its first circulation, and it was so popular that my father wasn’t even angry to see it in my hands. Everyone had been reading it; I had even caught him flipping through it, though he would deny it if asked.

“Lucy, look!” Peggy, one of the younger women, exclaimed, shaking a pamphlet in my direction. “Your article is on the second page!”

My eyes went wide. Antonia Green had told me of submitting it to her husband, but hadn’t confirmed whether he planned put it into the pamphlet, so I was just now learning of it. “You mean it was printed?”

Antonia, who was across the room, nodded. “He loved it,” she said. “Thinks your name is Nathaniel Robinson, but I call that a minor detail.”

I grinned. I was so thrilled, I didn’t care what I was called. Betty grabbed a copy from the table and flipped to the second page, and there it was, under the name Nathaniel Robinson.

“I can’t believe this,” I mumbled. “I didn’t think -”

The discussion began, with a few other women presenting articles of their own for Antonia to consider, and suggestions were thrown out for the afternoon discussion.

As one of the women explained her process of making homemade tea, which I had to assume tasted like dirt, Betty slid her pamphlet over to me. She grinned and whispered, “Keep it.”

The pamphlet was in my hand when I returned home. Jasper was sitting by the fireplace poring through a stack of newspapers, and he put his reading glasses down and rose to greet me. He noticed the pamphlet and pointed to my hand. “What’s that?”

I shrugged. “Something Betty gave me.” It wasn’t a lie.

He gestured for it, likely noticing immediately the bold letters proclaiming the title: THE PATRIOT’S GAZETTE.

“Looks like nonsense,” he said, hardly glancing at me before handing it back. “But she was always radical, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling a small sting in my side that I didn’t understand. “Yes, she was always a little radical.”

Jasper gathered a few things and kissed me goodbye, muttering about being late, and I shivered as I watched him go.