I spent the rest of that day in a haze of befuddled thoughts and emotions. I couldn't concentrate on anything. Maggie had to tell me three times to take the pot of butter off the stove before it burnt when we were making teacakes that afternoon. I retired to my chamber soon after, pleading a headache.
The cool quiet of my chamber soothed my frazzled nerves somewhat, but there was something very wrong with me. “Is this love?” I thought, bewildered. I concluded that it must be but I didn’t know for sure, being only fifteen-years-old, about to enter my sixteenth year, and with no similar feeling to compare this one against. I loved my family, but it was a love that was quiet and steady, a slow moving stream that trickled over pebbles, making its way out to sea. Nothing like this fire that had torched alight my whole being. Every time I thought of those liquid brown eyes and that perfectly formed mouth, I felt like crying.
Jasper was not only exceedingly handsome, but I had also learnt from Maggie that he was well-educated, well-travelled and about to be very rich. He and Sebastian had met in Venice on one of Jasper's Grand Tours of Europe when Sebastian was taking sabbatical leave.
“Most young men them's have one Grand Tour,” sniffed Maggie, “But not Mr Donne, he's had five or six and him not yet nineteen-years-old! His grandfather was a lord and once he turns one-and-twenty he'll be rich enough, so they say.”
That evening as Maggie and I were finishing a light supper of cold duck and watercress soup, the drawing room bell rang. Maggie got up, sighing, her joints creaking. She was soon back saying that Father Fannon wanted to see me.
I was surprised to be summoned at such a late hour, we never usually communed in the evenings. Nervously, I went into the drawing room, and when I saw that both Sebastian and Jasper were there my heart started pounding. I kept my eyes firmly on Sebastian who was seated on the sofa, and I ignored Jasper, who was slouched in the armchair opposite engrossed in a book.
Sebastian, ever the cordial host and who always seemed oblivious of any kind of tension in a room, patted the sofa next to him.
“Come in and sit down, Mercy. I'm sorry that we missed our lesson this afternoon, but Maggie tells me that you weren't feeling well?”
“No, sir,” I replied, sitting on the sofa, “I had a slight headache, but I am quite well now.”
I stared at Sebastian, terrified that my eyes would stray to those slender, well-formed ankles that were just right there at the edge of my vision.
Sebastian grinned and bounced up from the sofa. He disappeared into his study. Jasper still hadn't said so much as even a 'good evening', but I could feel his presence was irritated by me. I could hear pages being turned sharply and I didn’t need to see his face to know it expressed a withering look. Sebastian returned with the book that I had noticed most amongst all the others, the midnight blue one with the silver stars.
“Now!” he proclaimed, “I think you're ready for this, some words may be difficult but just sound them out like I taught you. Lord Alby's Venetian secrets will not be secrets for much longer!”As soon as he finished speaking, Jasper drawled sarcastically from his chair,
“Do you really think that book is suitable, Seb? If the girl must read, surely it should be something a little more....maidish.”
I looked at him and immediately wished I hadn't. He’d lowered his book and was sitting there watching us, his dark eyes glinting, an amused smiled curled on his lips.
“Oh phtish,” said Sebastian, waving his hand dismissively. “Don't listen to him, Mercy, Jasper thinks all women are an affront to mankind and don't have a brain to toss between them, but I disagree. God made men and women to be equal after all.”
Jasper arched an eyebrow and looked me up and down as if to say there was no way on earth he would ever believe that I was his equal. And I knew that what I was doing was wrong and someone of my position should not try to rise above it, but I wanted so much more. So I firmly grasped the book that Sebastian was holding out to me.
“Thank you, Father, I will take it to my chamber and read it before I go to sleep. I will let you know what I think. Goodnight.” I didn't acknowledge Jasper but took my leave directly. As I shut the door, I heard Sebastian laughing,
“That put you in your place, old chap, she's more than meets the eye, that one!”
I heard a gruff reply but luckily didn't catch what was said, no doubt it would have been something my heart couldn't have borne.