Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 20

Chapter 20

There were always a few moments, when I woke up, where I stumbled around the room quietly before waking my husband. Digging my apron from my trunk, sliding on my day shoes, and so on. This morning, I watched Jasper, the steady rise and fall of his form, the peace.

“Morning,” I said, loudly enough to stir him. He only grumbled. I climbed over him, pressing my body against his and whispering in his ear. Predictably, I felt the heat of him, and in one movement he shot up and pushed me down onto the bed, his lips pressing firmly against mine.

I couldn’t breathe. It was my fault for starting it, really, because it always happened like this, but I felt myself struggling, gasping, begging. At first it didn’t shake him, but when he realized that I was desperate to be free of his clutches he released me. I retreated to the other end of the room without a word, sinking to my knees before my trunk, haphazardly pulling out clothes that I didn’t even need to distract myself from the heaviness of him.

I thought he might throw accusations, or demand answers. Instead, he quickly slipped on a vest and a pair of shoes and left without a word, slamming the door behind him.

It was nothing, I thought. These things happen. Someone gets hurt, a door slams, and then life goes on. But this was different. Was I really unable to let Jasper, my husband, touch me? How could we go on like this?

Still on my knees, I stared down at the fabrics strewn around my lap, and salty tears dripped onto the white linens. Forgive me, I thought, and I wasn’t sure if it was intended for God or for my husband, but I repeated it a few times. Forgive me, forgive me.

I brushed myself off and went downstairs to start the day’s work.


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Before the night’s meeting, I stopped at Betty’s house to pick her up. “Sally’s coming tonight?” I asked, noting that she had the girl on her hip while she clinked jars of cream to the back, where they would be put on ice to keep another day. Oftentimes, as Betty told me, the cream spoiled even when it was over the ice, but usually at least some of them could be salvaged.

“No, I think my mother will take her. God bless that woman.”

“Indeed,” I echoed. When I had a child, if ever I would, my mother - caring as she was - would not be at my beck and call to watch her. Betty’s mother, however, was much younger than mine - forty-five years or thereabouts - and had much more life in her. “I’m sure she loves the girl more than anything.”

Betty nodded. “I can’t pry these two away from each other. It’s lucky the Daughters meetings are during the day, though - I would never leave these two alone at night.”

“Of course not.” From my experience with Maria, though, the woman could defend herself well enough. She carried a pistol on her hip and I didn’t dare to guess what would happen if she were compelled to use it.

In a few moments, Maria came down to take the baby, grinning and cooing as she scooped the girl into her arms.

“We’ll be back soon, Mama,” Betty said, kissing her cheek, and Maria brushed off the thought.

“Take your time,” she said.

Almost as soon as my friend and I plunged ourselves into the warm, putrid air of the city, I began to speak. We  narrowly dodged a cart full of firewood, and Betty loudly cursed the driver for his recklessness. He made an obscene gesture and carried on. “A cad he was,” Betty grumbled.

Once she’d had a moment to cool down, I said, “Something strange happened with Jasper.” She perked up, and I explained the identity of our new tenants, last night’s terrible nightmare, and the tense incident this morning, when Jasper had tried to have me and I’d panicked and squirmed.

She blinked. “How terrible. He hasn’t touched you since the incident?”

“Well, that’s the strange thing,” I said, lifting my skirt as we stepped around a suspicious puddle. “There have been a few times since the incident, and it was somewhat difficult, but never such a problem as this morning.”

“Perhaps it’s the fact that Charles is now just a few doors down.” She sounded disgusted to hear of it.

“Could it be that?”

“I would guess that’s the reason for your nightmare,” she surmised wisely. “Don’t you think?”

All at once, I was overcome with gratitude for her, she who listened and helped me understand. “I suppose it must be.”

As we neared the shoemaker’s shop, she stopped me with a light grip on my arm. “I know you won’t welcome the thought,” she said, “but don’t you think it’s time you tell Jasper?”

My initial pang of annoyance settled quickly. Whereas in the past her insistence had been nauseating, now that Charles was just a few rooms away, I sensed she might be right. If Jasper knew what he had done, Charles wouldn’t stay in The Red Pearl. In fact, he might be dead.

Yet, the thought of telling Jasper, of revealing how another man’s hands had roamed over his territory, squeezing and biting and threatening, of how I had been made impure, of how against my will I had betrayed him - I could not do it. I could not let him see the worst of me.

“It would be unpleasant,” I said, and it wasn’t a proper excuse but, Lord, it was all I could say.

Betty sighed, not out of exasperation, necessarily: it sounded more like pity. Then, we entered the shoemaker’s shop.

We curtsied to Mr. Cummings, as usual, and he tipped his hat as he traced his knife over the leather. Jasper had gotten his current shoes from him, and they were impeccably made: he’d been wearing them about a year now without issue, whereas on his previous pair, which he’d bought across town, the heel had quickly broken down. Quality is important, my husband had informed me upon purchasing the new pair. Nothing wrong with spending a little more if it’ll last years longer.

The meeting room was crowded as usual, and Betty and I squeezed into chairs next to the door. Angelina Beretti was showing off newly-woven wool to the women next to her, and a few women were sitting at the table sharing an inkwell as they scribbled into notebooks. I had brought mine today, although it had little new material; the article about the Roman republic had been my most revolutionary idea, and perhaps the only significant thing I had to say. A thousand men had already penned their thoughts on British tyranny, so I had nothing new on that, or anything else.

Once everyone had piled in, Sarah Milton patted the table, a sign that the meeting was about to begin. “Today, we discuss the importance of truth,” she said. “In times of tyranny or liberty, wealth or poverty, hope or desolation, truth reigns supreme in all cases. The Lord forgives sins - greed, anger, gluttony, and all the rest - but a one who does not live truth lives a miserable, unfulfilled life. God is truth, and a life that strives to obey Him is also truth.”

She continued to lecture, and I glared at Betty. Was this a trick? Just after Betty urged me to speak the truth, we walked right into a quasi-sermon about it.

I folded my hands into my lap uncomfortably as the discussion continued. Truth led us to resist the Intolerable Acts, truth called every man in Massachusetts to raise arms in protection of his county, and so on. I did not mention that what had initially scared the wits out of the Crown had been an enormous misunderstanding: after the harbor was closed in the wake of the Tea Party, a report had trickled down the colonies that the British had destroyed our city, and thousands of men had grabbed their guns and begun to march toward us for a battle, before retreating in shame once they realized the rumor had been farcical. However, nobody - not the British, nor even the colonies ourselves - had realized the speed and eagerness with which our men would take up arms, if the time should come.

Eventually the discussion turned. “Whose husbands were involved in the raid a few days ago?” someone asked. “Almost burned down the tanner’s shop, from what I hear.”

I had thought the question was posed as an accusation, but several women interjected proudly. Yes, their husbands had done it, they had marched on the tanner, who was a Tory, and taken all the hide for themselves, torching the kitchen and but tamping down the fire before it spread. Just a warning, they claimed, although now the tanner had nothing left.

“The same fate should befall every Tory in this city,” Sarah said. “My husband and I have begun a list. Some of these traitors think their leanings are well-hidden, but they are not difficult to spot. We must, to say it this way, drain the poison in our water.”

I shivered. “Should we not focus on unity? When this war ends, we will all have to live together, and this smattering of Tories will not be convinced to join us in shaping our new nation if we burn their businesses.”

“They are beyond help,” the woman next to me hissed. “If the enroachments on our freedom that we’ve faced the past decade haven’t convinced them, nothing will.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Betty and I exited the room and pulled up our hoods as we stepped into the street, where rain sprinkled lightly onto the cobblestones. Pushing the hood out of my eyes, I turned to her and asked, “Doesn’t it concern you a bit, the raids on Tories?”

Betty shrugged. “The way I see it, if they’re not actively fighting for our freedom, they’re hindering it. And you know, there are plenty of people who only participated in the boycotts years ago because their friends would shun them if they didn’t - perhaps some people need to be convinced a little more forcefully, is all.”

I walked her to her house, and then shed my cloak as I walked into the Red Pearl and greeted my husband, who could not be convinced of something by any show of force. In the tense silence that loomed between Jasper and me, I picked up a mop and began to scrub away invisible stains.