Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 25

Chapter 25

For the first time, Jasper was awake before me. He shook me gently, as if afraid he could break me with his touch, and then I opened my eyes and the world came to me in a burst of comfort and pain. For just a moment, before my mind was in sorts, last night had been a normal night as any other, and everything was calm and peaceful as it had been a year ago.

Then it came to me, all at once. In this early stroke of morning, I couldn’t comprehend it all. I laid there for a moment, hoping desperately to bring back the blissful ignorance and yet knowing it was useless. We were here, and Jasper looked as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with me, and my eyes were puffy from a night of frantic tears.

Since Jasper had booted all the loyalists out last night, we had only a small handful of guests this morning. Normally this would irk him, but under the circumstances he didn’t seem bothered. He was focused on me, and not just because he was curious whether I’d be collected enough to work today. There was curiosity in his eyes, and pain. He wanted to know how to help me.

I didn’t need help. “I suppose breakfast will be light this morning,” I said, rising with a groan to dig in my trunk for a day dress. “Looks like the sun has long since risen, so we should hurry before everyone gets too hungry.”

Jasper continued to stare at me. “Lucy,” he said dumbly.

I wasn’t going to play stupid; however, I didn’t want to talk about it. “It was my fault, Jasper.”

He didn’t argue.

I had spread my faded crimson dress over the bed, and I stared down at it as I spoke. “The reason he attacked me -” I paused to collect myself. “I was listening. All those late-night meetings, they were planning how to smuggle supplies to the British army through the harbor. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard everything, and once I realized what they were doing -” I cleared my throat, “and once he attacked me the first time, I couldn’t help it. I told my brother everything I heard.”

“The first time?” he echoed.

“The first time.” It was real now. Jasper knew. “When I was gathering firewood, he snuck behind me in the dark. Put a knife to my throat, and -”

Jasper stopped me, either because he knew I was close to tears or because he didn’t want to listen. Likely both. He rose from the bed and pulled a vest from his trunk, buttoning it slowly as he struggled for words. He wanted to distance himself from my words - from me. Finally, without looking up from the buttons, he sputtered, “Why didn’t you tell me?” He would probably have shot Charles point-blank, I realized: he would’ve put a gun right up to the man’s forehead and welcomed the punishment he might incur.

“I don’t know.” I looked down at my hands. “I was - ashamed, I suppose.”

I could not stay still. I pulled the dress over my head, wishing that the brief moment of darkness as the fabric covered my vision would last much longer.

While rummaging for an apron to tie at my waist, I asked, “Are you angry with me?”

“With you?” he echoed, as if it were a ridiculous notion, but that lasted only a moment. I had spied on his customers; I had put us in danger. If Jasper hadn’t come at just the right moment, Charles might have gathered his men to loot the tavern, to destroy our flour and potatoes and spill the drinks all over the kitchen, without Jasper even knowing what wrong he had done. His only wrong had been to have a rebellious wife. “I could have protected you if you’d told me,” he replied, which was not an answer to my question, but close enough, I figured. “He would not have stayed under this roof if I had known.”

There had been reasons for my silence, reasons besides cowardice. The way Jasper had clapped Charles on the back like an old friend; the fact that men spat vile words at me nearly every day without any protest from Jasper. The fact that I warned him, over and over, that these men brought danger to our home, and he had not shown concern. Still, he was probably right. Jasper would have booted Charles out months ago if he’d known.

The realization struck me like a knife in the gut. Could all this have been avoided? Could we have lived in peace all these months if I had just admitted the truth my husband?

Yet, if the Tories had been kicked out, none of those shipments would have been intercepted. Far fewer, at least. All the munitions supplied to the army by my hand indirectly, none of that would have happened. Was it worth it? Had it all been worth it?

We were both dressed now, and we approached the door to trudge downstairs and begin the day. Before Jasper grabbed the knob, though, I asked, “Do you forgive me?”

He was still. I stared at his boots, not trusting that I could bear his expression. He pulled my chin up, bringing me back to him, but in his eyes were not forgiveness. Only uncertainty. It was a lot for him to comprehend, I realized. Anger and hurt were immediate, but understanding and forgiveness took time.

We had time.

He pulled me to his chest, just as he had last night, but it was different. Last night he had sought only to comfort me, to keep me on this earth while I was panicked and terrified. Now, it was a different matter altogether.

His cheek rested atop my head, and his jaw moved against the crown of it as he took a long breath and said, “I don’t know. But we’re here.”

We’re here. As I prepared bread and cheese for the morning, the words danced in my mind. We’re here. It was a strange sort of promise.