Chloe Helton | Historical Fiction

The Red Pearl: Chapter 8

Chapter 8

 

I did not know what it would take to make me look normal, but after a few moments of staring into the tiny mirror on my wardrobe I gave up on the idea. My hair was ratty and untamed, dark circles lingered beneath my eyes, and I was pale, pale like a ghost, pale like someone who had never seen the sun.

Betty noticed immediately. “Long night?”

Words curled up in my throat. If I spoke, I would probably burst into tears. So I stared at the ground, clutching my notebook close, all the bravery from when I’d scribbled in its pages long gone.

Betty had been bouncing the baby on her hip, but she stilled. “Lucy?”

“I was attacked,” I mumbled, too quiet for her to hear. So I repeated it, the words coarse like rocks over my skin, unable to bear looking up.

Without a word, she sat us down. We sank onto a pair of stools near the fireplace, and I stared into the crackling flames and searched for the right words.

I did not think it would be so hard to tell her. Since I could remember, I had let Betty see every part of me, even the most pathetic and vulnerable parts. But there was nothing quite so pathetic and vulnerable as this, nothing that so deeply made me want to run from the person I trusted most.

I explained it all slowly, shivering as I imagined those cruel hands, that wicked voice, and the loneliness of the black night. That was the worst part: it had been lonely.

When I was done, Betty was close to tears. At least one of us could cry.

“Fuck,” she sputtered, the word crisp and soothing and unfamiliar. “Fuck.”

Jasper would smack my mouth if I said such a word, and hearing it from Betty’s lips was almost humorous. With the baby still in her arms, she embraced me tightly, and the little girl squealed a laugh. My chest seized with affection; all this terror, and little Sally knew none of it. She only knew her mother’s embrace, the lull of sleep, and the desperate claw of hunger.

Sometimes Betty and I were one mind, so she seamlessly handed me the baby, and I pressed the sleepy girl close to my chest, reveling in her warm breath against my shoulder.

“Who is he?” Betty said. “I’ll send Henry after him.”

I thought she was joking, which grated on me, but she wasn’t. In fact, knowing Betty, she might go after him herself. “A redcoat,” I said. “I’d seen him once before. Jasper knows him.”

Another curse, this time not so loud. “Lucy, I can’t believe this.”

I couldn’t stand a lecture about my choice to marry Jasper. I just couldn’t stand it. But I hadn’t given Betty enough credit; she didn’t say a word about it.

Sally whimpered, and I stood up to rock her back and forth. Perhaps it was not the worst thing; Betty was shocked, sure, but she wouldn’t look at me any different. Even though the streets now felt abrasive and unfamiliar, people passing by did not know what had happened to me. They could not look at me and know I had been made unclean. Could they? Was it obvious by my downcast eyes and the way I doubted every step of my own feet that I was a stained woman?

“Lucy, don’t be hard on yourself,” Betty said, and it was that fierce voice of hers that did not invite argument. “We’ll take care of it.”

At first it was unclear what she meant, but as she began to explain I realized: that man may have given me the one thing Jasper could not.

I wanted to be sick.

“My mother swears by this woman,” she was saying, as my head spun and nausea swirled at my throat and my temples. I indicated to Betty that she should take her daughter back, her daughter who was now asleep, her daughter who was borne of love and care and not -

Betty settled the baby onto her shoulder and continued, “She can make what you need. I’ll have it next time you come.”

My eyes fluttered closed a moment, and I wondered, if there were something growing inside me, if I would feel it. Would I feel a speck of evil festering inside of my body? If life had been created from the most vile act, from the most vile of men, would I know?

My notebook had been absentmindedly placed on the floor next to my stool. I reached for it, knowing it might carry my only respite. “There’s something else.”

I explained what I’d heard about the shipment, the words I had casually written down in the notebook, at the time not foreseeing how crucial they would be. Still, an image of sweet revenge tickled at my chest, an idea of how I would drip with pride to make that shipment halt at the harbor.

“If I spoke to my brother Jonathan, perhaps he could get the word to his captain,” I explained, and although doubt ticked my throat, it didn’t matter. I saw it so clearly.

And that was when I looked into Betty’s eyes and saw a rare thing: pity. I was scheming and planning, and she pitied me?

“Yes, that might work,” Betty said, the lingering pity still stinging me. “You could do it.”

Perhaps my worst enemy now was not judgement, not the disgust of someone who realized I was unclean, but the soft sympathy of those I loved most. Even though I was pushing through it, even though I was carving out a plan for revenge, I was a victim, and Betty would always see me that way now.

On my way out, I paused and gave her a straight look. “You’ll tell nobody what happened to me?”

My friend, the most loyal woman I had ever known, said, “Of course not.”

And there it was again, the pity. I scurried away into the street.

 
 

It all started when…

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