JESSAMINE - an excerpt
Malinda shrugged and looked me over. “These things happen,” she repeated, watching my stomach.Self-conscious, I smoothed my skirt. Despite my diet, I had gained some weight in the last few weeks. I would either have to lose it or devote some of my hard-earned money to buying cloth for new dresses.“She in the drawing room.” Malinda led the way downstairs.I pushed open the doors and went in. Mrs. Threlfall sat by one of the windows, Jocelyn in her lap, and Victoria and Theodore at her feet. She said nothing as I walked toward her, just stared at me with what looked like sharp surprise. The children regarded me silently.“Malinda said you wanted to see me?” I prompted.“Yes.” She seemed to shake herself. “I did. Children, please leave.”“Mother, we won’t listen,” Victoria argued.“You can come back in a little while.”“Do you promise?”Mrs. Threlfall permitted the ghost of a smile. “I do.”The children filed out.“Come,” she said, waving me forward after they had closed the door. “Come closer.”I closed the gap between us, wondering what was the matter. I had thought she was going to berate me for allowing Theodore to be stung, and I was prepared with my response. Instead, she stared at me without speaking for what seemed like hours.“Is something the matter, Mrs. Threlfall?” I shifted restlessly.“Are you with child, Miss Adams?”With child. It had never occurred to me but suddenly I realized it was true. Sally Ann, Aunt Bell’s youngest daughter, was the apple of her eye and Aunt Bell had once explained to me that this was because of how difficult her pregnancy with her had been. She’d said that for the first few months she’d hardly been able to do anything but lie abed as every task wearied her and every smell, particularly those of meats and soap, threatened to upset her stomach.“Who…. Who?” She watched me with big, frightened eyes, unable to finish her sentence.I understood immediately. “I do not believe you know him, Ma’am,” I answered, feeling sorry for her.Relief eased her features. “Are you certain? You do not spare my feelings?” she asked, wanting to be sure.“No, Ma’am. I mean, I am quite certain you do not know him. He is a businessman.”She stared at me, wide-eyed. “But how did you meet him? Does he come to church?”“No, Ma’am. I…I met him on the street that day I was in Wolverton by myself.” I was going to mention that he was a friend of Father Watson’s but thought better of it.“On the street.” Her hand was at her throat. She watched me with equal parts horror and fascination. “Do you plan to get married? You know you cannot continue here.”“Of course. I will leave.” I wanted one of those storm winds that they say sweeps across the island every few years to suddenly come and spirit me away. My legs felt weak. Seeing I was about to fall, Mrs. Threlfall jumped up and guided me to the sofa.“How could you do this, child? How could you? Alone in a strange land. Have you no sense at all?” There was pity in her voice.“It flies from me when he is around. I love him, Ma’am.”“And does he love you?”“Yes, he does.”“You’ll get married, then?” She nodded as though answering her own question. My queasiness began to pass.“You say he’s a businessman?”“He owns buildings in Wolverton and has them rented out.” Leando had also told me of his plans to buy a trading ship but I didn’t tell her this. He wanted to own a fleet of them because he said he foresaw the day when St. Crescens would no longer be able to feed itself; it was scarcely doing so now. Many of the trading ships putting in at the island belonged to companies in England which charged high prices. He thought there was an opportunity in it for him. His ambition was one of the things I loved about him.“Will you not tell me who he is? Is it Charles Skerrit? That would be a wonderful match for you, dear.” She peered questioningly at me but I shook my head.She frowned, puzzled. “I can’t think…oh, don’t tell me it’s that Osgood boy. What’s his name? Henry. Is it him?” I shook my head again wishing she would give up this game.“That’s a blessing, at least. The men of that family are wastrels. As long as you’re satisfied, he must be of good quality. You have never struck me as overly flighty.”“He’s a good man, Ma’am.”“Perhaps…but a bit impetuous, certainly.” She glanced at my stomach, and I colored, spreading my hands over the small mound. A new life, a life we had made together. I wondered if Leando would be happy. I thought, I hoped, he would.
“My dear, the sooner you are married the better. Mary Byde had quite the big belly when she married Francois. You will find that we, here, do not frown on such happenings quite as people do in England. In time, you will be invited to tea and people will make calls on you. I will certainly call to see the latest addition to St. Crescens society.”I choked on my laughter but, when she looked at me, puzzled, I could not bring myself to tell her who the father of my child was. I had neither the strength nor the courage to be plain about my lover.“Where can you go until your wedding day?” She said this more to herself than to me. “Oh, I know.” She snapped her fingers. “I will ask Aunt Bridget if she would allow you to stay with her until the arrangements for your wedding are complete. She’s a spinster and fairly free in her thinking. She travels to London all the time and is the greatest friends with artists and writers and people of that stripe. That’s the perfect solution. I’ll have Dodger take you. She lives in Wolverton. You’ll be close to your friend, and he can visit you there without reproach.”I didn’t know what to say, she was being so kind. For the first time since our conversation began I felt my eyes tear. Perhaps if the circumstances had been different we could have been friends, this Creole woman and I. Then I thought of Leando. I was behaving as though I were ashamed of him and of the love we shared.