Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 6

Chapter 6


I took the stairs slowly, trying to ignore the searing pain throughout my body, ready to wrap myself in Jasper’s arms and forget the whole thing. These things happened, didn’t they? Not to Betty, as far as I knew, or to my sister, but I’d heard plenty of stories. I never thought it was something that stayed with you like dirt on your skin well after the fact, a dust that settled in every crease and crack of your body and stayed with you for a long time, perhaps forever. That must be why a man never married a woman who had been disgraced in that way; she was not the same. She carried it with her wherever she went.

When I opened the door, I found Jasper already asleep. Clearly he hadn’t lost sleep waiting for me. No, to him there had been no reason to believe that I wouldn’t make it up okay. I fetched the firewood every night most winters, and never a problem before.

I knew I should climb into bed next to him, but my feet were frozen. I watched my husband, who slept peacefully even if the sky was smoky and the air smelled of blood, snoring like a babe and I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stand him wrapping his arms around me, still asleep, holding me close like he could protect me from all the evils surrounding us, like he could keep me safe as he’d promised before we married.

I rubbed the necklace with my thumb. I will keep you safe and fed.

For the first time in six years, I unclasped the chain. I crept to my clothing trunk by my side of the bed and carefully opened the lid. I let the chain dangle over the open trunk, where an old petticoat was haphazardly stuffed, my journal resting neatly on top, and dropped the it. The pearl sank into the cloth, disappearing. Then I closed the lid.

I spent the night downstairs in one of our lounge chairs. Most of the chairs were little more than wooden stools for the guests who drank and ate with us, but we had a few chairs with real cushions for those who spent leisure time here before they retired to bed. In these chairs, people played cards or read books, or sometimes they just talked. Now, armed with a knife I’d grabbed from the kitchen, I sat in that chair all night, not sleeping a moment. I didn’t even light a candle or one of the torches on the wall; I just sat on that chair in front of the fireplace and pointed the meat-carving knife towards the flame, as if the flame would jump out at me any moment and the knife was the only thing to keep it at bay.

The sun began to peek through the back window. Not half an hour later, footsteps coming down the stairs. I gripped the knife tighter.

“What are you doing?” Jasper asked, his eyes puffy. He used to tell me that I rolled out of bed looking like an angel, compared to him who took at least an hour to turn from a reanimated corpse into his normal self. I was sure I didn’t look like an angel now. “You didn’t come to bed.”

I did, you were just asleep, I could have said. But I couldn’t bear the taste of a lie on my tongue, not right now.

“Why do you have a knife?”

I shrugged, and the lie came easy and hollow. “I thought I saw a rat. I was trying to kill it.”

“Well, throwing a carving knife at it is a rather stupid way to do it. Next time, grab a meat tenderizer. If you smash the head, it won’t even have time to scream.”


“Why don’t you go put the knife back,” he said gently. “If it’s slow today, you can rest a bit in the afternoon.”

“Really?” There was always work to do.

“You look beyond exhausted,” he said. “You’ll scare people away.”

Clearly he didn’t consider how he looked in the mornings. I stood to return the knife to the kitchen, and when I passed him he stroked my cheek with the back of his hand. I shivered; his touch, for the first time, made me want to run. “Are you alright, Lucy? Did something happen?” His fingered traveled down my neck, and he rubbed my collar-bone. For a second he looked confused, and I prayed he didn’t notice the necklace missing from my neck.

“No,” I said quickly. “I mean, nothing happened. I just couldn’t sleep is all.”

“Okay,” he said, and it seemed he wanted to say more. If it persists, we can see a physician to make you a draught, he was surely thinking. But he was quiet, and he let me go.



It all started when…

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