I ran out of the house and through the field at the back until I reached the willow tree. I was shaking uncontrollably. All that I had feared was coming to pass. I breathed slowly and deeply. How Rose was acting and what she had said now made sense to me. Jasper had obviously had started making advances, and she was powerless to stop him. The irony of it was that I was the one who was in love with him, and I would’ve changed places with her in a heartbeat.
To witness him making love to her was so painful I didn’t know whether I could bear to face either of them again. Not for the first time, I felt myself to be cursed with this face that drove men away.
What earthly advantage could it possibly be to have looks that caused pity rather than desire? Rose didn’t know what she was talking about. I stayed outside under the willow until dusk fell. With a sigh, I trudged back to the house and prepared myself to face the worst,that Jasper and Rose were now in love.
In the kitchen, Maggie was preparing supper, a juicy rabbit stew by the looks of it. There was no sign of Rose. “Mercy, there you are love, I was wondering where you’d got to. Can you fetch Rose for me and get her to come and set the dining room table? She’s upstairs.”
With a sigh, I trudged upstairs to my chamber. Rose was lying facedown on the bed in her shift, unmoving. She’d changed out of her maids dress and it was discarded on the floor in a heap.
“Rose? Maggie needs you to set the table.” Rose didn’t reply, so I went over to her and touched her on the shoulder. “Are you asleep?” Her head moved from side to side almost imperceptibly. “What’s wrong then, are you ill?” I have to say I didn’t have much sympathy in me at that moment. Not until she turned her face around and I saw a giant red welt on the side of it. I gasped.
“Did Jasper do that?!” She nodded and tears started pouring down her cheeks following the course of those that had gone before.
“But why?” I asked, naively still not believing that anything but true love could possibly come out of the encounter I had witnessed.
“Because I wouldn’t put out, that’s why,” she gulped and sniffed, looking around for something to blow her nose on. I silently handed her my kerchief.
“I saw your face and the disappointment in your eyes and I just couldn’t let him use me like all the others had,” she said, “So I pushed him off and he slapped me hard to teach me a lesson”.
I sucked in my breath. I knew Jasper had a temper but up until now I didn’t think he would physically hurt anyone.
“I can’t believe it,” I said.
“Believe it,” said Rose in a harsh voice, “men like him only want one thing and when they can’t get it they turn ugly. I’ve met his type before, now do you know why I wish I looked like you? There’s no way he would’ve laid a finger on me if I looked like you. That’s probably why Sebastian hired you, because you’d had the pox and he knew Jasper wouldn’t look at you twice, I bet he’s got into trouble before.”
A sharp knife twisted into my heart. It was true, I knew it, but it still hurt.
“I would give anything to even have one murmur of appreciation from his lips on seeing me,” I said softly, looking down. “I can’t help but wish that I was you and not me at this moment.”
Rose looked at me, suddenly understanding. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you? Him! Oh Mercy, no.” I didn’t deny it, just looked down, ashamed.
“I can’t help it,” I whispered. “I know it’s hopeless.”
“It’s worse than hopeless, it’s ludicrous. Him? He’s a…a…”
Whatever Jasper was remained unsaid as Maggie came up banging at the door wanting to know whether we were coming down. I managed to make some excuse on Rose’s behalf about her being ill and served dinner myself to Jasper and Sebastian.
My feelings about what he had done to Rose were barely contained, though, and I couldn’t help banging Jasper’s plate down on the table so some of the rabbit stew splashed on his silk breeches. He cursed loudly, dabbing frantically at the material.
"They were clean Mercy, just on this morning!” he exclaimed. I just shrugged.“Well, aren’t you going to apologise?” he demanded, looking outraged. I shrugged again.
Somehow seeing the red welt on Rose’s face had hardened my heart, and I didn’t care about his suit. I was so angry I felt like tipping the whole bowl of rabbit stew into his lap. Breeches be damned.
“Sebastian, this is unacceptable behaviour from a servant!” His voice was growing high-pitched.
“And striking one across the face because she won’t make love to you is acceptable?” I interjected hotly. I was sick of staying quiet, even if it meant getting myself fired.
Sebastian stared at Jasper, who had quietened down remarkably quickly. He even looked slightly remorseful.
“Jasper, is there anything you want to tell me?” asked Sebastian.
“Not with her in the room,” said Jasper grumpily, nodding in my direction. So with that I thankfully took my leave.