Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 26

Chapter 26

“I’m going out for cream,” I said, and Jasper nodded easily. Although Robbie was quickly becoming capable enough to go to the butcher and the baker by himself, and I kept careful watch over him to make sure he wasn’t pocketing money, I still always went to get the dairy, and Jasper understood.

Normally Jasper would give me his key to the money drawer, if not retrieve the coin himself, but he had sent to the locksmith for a second key, one for my own use. These days, I didn’t ask so much as inform him that I was taking money for the market. He was slowly and patiently teaching me how to manage the accounts, so whenever I came back from an outing I would carefully ink into the books what I had spent, and sometimes he would lean over my shoulder to make necessary corrections. I had begun to accumulate a small bag of money for myself from the extra money I brought back from the market, which I collected in a small bag in my trunk. Jasper knew of this, and it wasn’t a large sum, but enough that after long enough I would have enough to buy a new book to read, or some cloth for a new dress. Something small that would bring me joy.

The walk was short, but there was a spark in the air this morning. Shouts of excitement, and more people in the street than usual at such an early hour. Children banging wooden spoons against pots and pans. Paper boys shouting unintelligibly. I wasn’t sure what it was, and I didn’t stop to decipher all the commotion, but I had a guess.

As soon as I reached Betty’s shop, and she looked up at the ring of entry bell to see me, she squealed and tangled me into a rough, excited hug. “The news just broke this morning,” she said, gasping with excitement. “The British surrendered at Yorktown.”

My heart swelled with a soft yellow warmth. I had been planning to tell Betty what had happened a few nights ago, but I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I might not even get the chance. “We won,” I replied, dumb with amazement. “I suppose Henry’s on his way home?”

“I received a letter today. To think, the same day that the news reaches us, I find out he’s coming home.” I could not remember if he’d seen his daughter yet, but if he had she would have been newly born. She was almost a year old now, walking and babbling and giggling. At the moment, she was behind the counter slapping her hand against a wooden toy and laughing uproariously. Betty knelt down and pinched her nose.

My friend reached behind her daughter for the cream and milk, setting it onto the counter a handful at a time as she said, “Sarah Thompson is hosting a dance tonight to celebrate. Her brother owns a farm just outside the city; it’ll be his event, actually, in the barn. She says everyone in the city is coming.”

Most likely there would be a handful of events, and everyone in the city would turn out to one or another. In our youth, Betty and I were the sort to coast between as many as we could, but oftentimes such events were reserved for a small circle. At most of tonight’s events, however, everyone would be welcome for the celebration.

However, The Red Pearl was sure to be roaring busy, such that neither Jasper or I could manage to sneak out for a bit of our own fun. “Well, I’ll be busy at home, but you’re welcome to stop by. I’ll give you a good drink for the price of dirt.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You know I’d pay full price.” Sally started poking at her leg, and she scooped her up.

I laughed her off. We had never spoken of it aloud, but I knew how much milk and cream cost, and she gave me a considerable discount since we had been such close friends for so long.

While I pulled out my coin to pay for the goods, Betty mused, “Those loyalists will be out before the afternoon, I swear to it. They won’t be caught in the middle of patriots pouring in to celebrate our victory.”

I cleared my throat while I counted the coins. “Actually, they’re all gone already. Jasper, ah, kicked them out.”

“Finally came to his senses?” She looked pleasantly surprised.

“In a way,” I said, and then told the whole story, from the attack to Jasper’s primal rage to the simmering ruin at the end of it, our strange recovery in the wake of a terrible thing. At the end of the story, Betty was hardly breathing.

Sally wiggled her way out of her mother’s grasp, and Betty crossed her arms. “I can’t believe it.”

“I should have told him the first time. I really should’ve.”

“Perhaps.” That wasn’t what I expected her to say. “But if I were you, I wouldn’t take any of it back.”

She helped me clink the jars into my basket, and I shrugged as I picked it up with both arms, swaying a little from its weight. “I suppose.”

“Well, it’s over now,” she smiled. “If my mother wants to watch Sally tonight, I’ll be certain to stop by.”

Sally scurried after me to wave good-bye, a gesture she’d just learned, and I called out an affectionate farewell to the pair of them. The door’s bell chimed on my way out.