Mistakes have consequences, and they shouldn’t. If making a mistake is detrimental to one’s fortunes, then nature should have eradicated the wretched trait from man’s complexities. But, simple observation informs us that mistakes do in fact have consequences, dire ones at that. And when all you have to lose is your footing in an unapologetically extravagant society that places more value in vanity, any small display of weakness is a mistake. I sat in the parlor among guests of exalted ranks and stations, visibly strained with obstreperous tremors emanating from my hands holding a measly cup of tea. My eyes were darting from one end of the parlor to the other, aided by ungovernable perspiration that soaked my forehead. I could sense some of the ladies whispering into the ears of their companions as their pupils scaled me from the corner of their eyes - judgement.
Judgement was no alien concept to me. After all, I am of the female kind. But the sting of unknown conclusions being reached about me without my permission was unsettling. I can hear their unrevealed voices laughing sheepishly behind their pristine white gloves. Their bonnets hiding their eyes as they peer at me through the silk weave like a sly fox concealing itself behind a bush as the lion feasts upon its catch. While I admit I am no lioness, my embarrassment was truly their catch. There was nothing I could do. If my frame truly obeyed my commands, I would perhaps have succeeded in convincing that gentry of my being a true urbane woman. Yet, there I sat with my eyes glued to the window sill looking out of the parlor in Lady Coulthard’s manor.
I heard her loud tip-taps approach the parlor. She was a woman of considerable respect, and demanded what was owed to her by virtue of her economical stature. Perhaps in an another scenario, she would have expressed her chagrin with no restraint. Not that day. Knowing her like I did, I expected her to be sympathetic to my cause, and she was. She bent down to my ear, and gently reminded me. “Your husband is busy speaking to Mr.Gobbard and is refusing to leave. Are you sure you are fine dear?”
I responded quickly. Perhaps, too quickly. She walked away with a unsatisfied grin on her face. She surely must have thought me an ungrateful imp for giving her the cold shoulder. I closed my eyes. Had my hands not been busy holding a fine china cup, I would have closed my ears with them as well. The gentle summer breeze was soothing that day, and it proved effective enough to temper my wandering inhibitions. I feel a hand gently tap my shoulder prompting me to open my eyes and reluctantly turn around. “Here, take this” Jane said as she lent me her handkerchief under the tea table. It was pink, and smelt of exotic sandalwood. I thanked her and very naturally tapped my forehead without making it look like a desperate attempt to glamorize myself again.
I excused myself from the parlor. One can only partake in hearsay malicious gossip for so long before feeling the urge to decimate their own visage. I climbed down the twisted stairs to the quaint garden the Coulthard’s maintained. The precision and beauteous arrangement of the flowers would make someone believe that it is a woman who tended to them, while the truth is that no one but Mr.Coulthard could have claimed credit for this paragon of exquisiteness. Unlike his wife, he was a gentleman and a gentle man. My own father often took his name as an example of humility and honesty.
As I stepped forward to examine the fragrance of the lavenders, I noticed a shadow beyond the corner of the wall. The shadow swung back and forth, growing and shrinking in length as it did. I knew who it was immediately. “Don’t your knees hurt when you sit down?” I said as I peered past the wall expecting only Mr.Coulthard to be present. But much to my mental misfortune, I saw him standing next to the old man.
He was just as handsome as the day I left him. His blue coat glowing under the yellow light of the sun, he looked like a divine being descended onto the Earth to execute the commands of a higher power. I had always found him to be a desirable specie. Since our first encounter a decade prior, to the day I left him perplexed on one knee with a ring held in his fingers, I loved him truly. That day, as I gazed at him with obvious surprise and reverence, I still loved him.
“I can tell you two have a lot to discuss. So, uh, excuse me John,” said Mr.Coulthard as he trodded past me leaning heavily on his wooden cane. His eyes, dark in all their glory like the deep expanse of an unexplored cavern, were conjuring old memories in my mind albeit stained with the stench of regret. Moments passed yet no words were uttered. The smell of betrayal exuded from him as strong as the monsoon petrichor without the pleasant sweetness.
My gaze fell to the ground. Yet, he greeted me with the same courteousness that made me fall in love with him all those years ago. “I assume the chatter inside was not of your liking? How are you anyway?” He asked as he stepped a little closer to me. My eyes befallen still, his hand lifted up my chin breaking the invisible shackles that made me dumb in his presence. “I asked you a question,” he reminded me.
I nodded. Despite my most fervent effort to say something, I couldn’t. What can you say to the man you denied your hand in marriage despite loving him so deeply? But, he could read my mind, and he did that day as well. “If you are ashamed by your decision to not marry me, please don’t.” My eyes finally met his. His words told me that the wounds I left on his heart fostered no hatred in him when it would have been justified for him to do so. Kindness radiating from his voice, I asked him “How could you still be happy to see me?”
I wish I could burn all the gospels in the world for his answer made me realize just how unfortunate I am to have missed out on him. “We don’t love someone with the intention of marrying them. We love them for who they are. I loved you for who you are, and me being denied the chance to spend the rest of my life with you will not stop me from caring for you. I hope you didn’t spend the last few years worrying over my thoughts of you.”
The truth is that I did. I lamented my fate everyday after he left. Had my father been a responsible man I wouldn’t have been forced to marry my husband. I would have been granted the freedom to marry a man I love, and not be sold for a sizable dowry that could settle my fathers debts. I wailed within me every time that weasel laid his hands on me. I even plotted to run away several times but thwarted my thoughts of rebellion and escape for the fear of bringing shame to my fathers name.
The prison that I barricaded myself into was of the brutal kind, inflicting pain perpetually with no regard to the effect it has on my heart. Yet, after hearing his words, I was willing to accept my new reality as the price I pay for being my father’s daughter. That was until she entered my view. To afford her more than a few words would be a sin on my part. His lips made no effort to restrain themselves as soon as she made herself present. A gold necklace decorated her neck that his name etched on it.
I understood my place in this world but that didn’t stop my mind from encouraging me steal him from her. I realized then that even though I left him that day, I never accepted that he wasn’t going to be mine thereon. Tears flooded down my cheeks as my heart refused to consent to the temerity with which she handled him. He was to be mine, but he is hers now. My despair morphed into rage as he walked away from me with her hand wrapped around his arm. He forgot that I was standing in front of him. He forgot about me.
As I walked back into the parlor, I felt my legs being bound. As I looked down, I realized it was a boy. It was my boy. The body that I managed to expel out of my frame. My heart was cold and my lungs steel. I felt no warmth for that being anymore. He may have come out of me but he bears his fathers tainted blood. I see him only as another tether that has chained me to a prison constricting every passing minute and prevents me from pursing what I want. What I love. Whom, I love.