I spent the rest of the morning downstairs busy with chores, and in the afternoon, as it was washing day tomorrow, I had to go upstairs to strip and remake the beds with fresh linen. I was hesitant to venture anywhere near Jasper’s chamber after last night’s performance, but I had no choice.
After I had completed my chamber and Sebastian’s, I took a deep breath and pushed open Jasper’s door. His chamber was in an even worse state of disarray than it was the previous time. The bedclothes were mangled, as if a wrestling match had taken place there. I sighed and started to strip the bed. Much to my dismay, in the midst of the bedclothes I found a gold hair clip, a blue lace ribbon, and a silky undergarment.
Shuddering, I threw them on the floor, Jasper could return them to their rightful owner himself. I was just tucking in the top coverlet when footsteps came up the stairs and Jasper appeared in the doorway dressed in a black riding habit and carrying a whip. He looked particularly attractive this morning and my heart skipped a beat. When he saw me making the bed a slow smirk spread over his handsome face.
“Good, Mercy, you’ve righted the wrongs of my chamber. Of course you can’t erase the memory of them, but time heals all wounds.”
“Does it, sir?” I said not looking up from plumping the pillows, “I would’ve thought some wounds can never be healed.”
Silence. What was wrong with me? Why could I not hold my tongue lately? But Jasper didn’t scold me. He shut the door and sat down in the easy chair and flicked his whip idly. “Indeed, Mercy, indeed”. Part of me could hardly believe we were actually in the same room together and having a conversation. I’m afraid to say that his acquiescence made me bold and the knowledge that I had about his past grew thick in my head. I wanted to somehow let him know that I knew, that I understood his pain, that he and I had both been scarred by the pox.
I gestured to the items I had thrown on the floor. “Sir, I wasn’t sure what to do with these, I…I’m guessing they are Miss Arabella’s?”
Jasper yawned, showing a perfect set of snowy white teeth.
“Yes, they are, how very observant of you.”
I stepped closer to him. “Sir, if I may say so, Miss is very beautiful, and you…you make a fine couple.” Jasper just stared at me then suddenly barked with laughter.
“I would like to say that means a lot to me, Mercy, but it doesn’t. Arabella only wants one thing -well, two things if you count money in the equation.” I stepped even closer.
“Sir, then perhaps you should find someone who wants you for who you are?”
Jasper closed his eyes and looked bitter, “And who would that be?”
By this time I was standing so close to him that I could smell the spicy soap he used and the sweat from his recent ride. The urge to kiss him engulfed me, and my feeling of love and compassion for him rose so quickly and strongly I was powerless to quell it.
As if he sensed what I was about to do Jasper looked up and our eyes locked. I read fear in their depths as he saw at close range my pock-marked face and all that it meant to him. But he didn’t tell me to go. I tentatively reached down and touched his left hand lightly. His skin was soft and smooth. He quivered but didn’t pull away.
“Someone who knows you, sir,” I whispered. “Someone who…..knows”.
“Knows what?” he breathed. “What do they know?” He grasped the whip more tightly in his other hand. “Knows what Mercy, what do they know?”
I backed away. “I…forgive me sir, I spoke out of turn. I’ll go now.”
But before I could leave Jasper was out of the chair and rifling through the coats in the wardrobe. There was silence and then he slammed the door. I almost jumped out of my skin. Fury had replaced fear in his eyes and his lip curled in a snarl, “Where is it? I know you have it, pox-witch, I’ve seen you loitering around in here before, remember?” I tried to tell myself his pain was the catalyst to this outburst, but my heart stung. I backed away slowly and he came towards me with his whip in his hand.
“Sir, I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sir, sir, sir,” he mimicked cruelly in a child’s voice. “Always playing the innocent, aren’t you? Well, perhaps it’s time I beat that out of you. Teach you a lesson, not to take things that aren’t yours.”
I gulped. He sounded serious. Without waiting to hear another word, I wheeled about, wrenched open the door and fled. The last thing I heard as I headed for the stairs was Jasper screaming obscenities and the crack of his whip as he mercilessly beat the wall.