Neferet's Curse

Page 13

But I could not enlighten him with such shocking information. All I could do was to be certain that Arthur Simpton was eager to marry me as quickly as possible.
So, I'd untangled myself from his embrace and stood with my back to him, my face in my hands, and sobbed softly.
"My Emily! My darling! What is it?"
I'd turned to face him, being sure that my movement caused my loosened dressing gown to open and expose the sheer chemise underneath. "Arthur, you are so good and so kind, I do not know how to make you understand."
"Simply tell me! You know we were friends before we were aught else."
I'd swept back my hair and wiped my cheeks, all the while watching how his honest gaze couldn't seem to help flickering downward to take in the curves of my body.
"I realize that your parents know what is best, and I want to do the right thing. I am just so afraid. And, Arthur, I must admit to you another secret."
"You may admit anything to me!"
"Each moment I spend away from you is an agony for me. It is forward and improper for me to admit it, but it is the truth."
"Come here, Emily. Sit beside me." I'd sat close to him and leaned against him. He'd encircled me with his arm. "It is not improper for you to admit your feelings for me. We are practically engaged. And I have already admitted that I spend every moment thinking of you. Would it ease your mind if I spoke to my parents and asked them to try to find an excuse to shorten our courtship period?"
"Oh, Arthur, yes! That would soothe my nerves ever so much!"
"Then consider it done. We will work this out together and someday soon you will know you have nothing more to fear from life except that your husband overindulges your every whim."
I'd rested my head on his shoulder and felt such a wonderful sense of well-being that the foreboding that had been shadowing me suddenly lifted, and I was finally, finally warm again.
I give my oath that I do not embellish, nor do I fantasize about what happened next. As we sat there together, within the shelter of my willow, the moon lifted high enough to send silver, illuminating light down on the fountain, lending the white bull and his maiden an otherworldly luster. The statues appeared to glow, almost as if the moonlight had breathed life into them.
"Isn't it beautiful?" I'd whispered reverently, feeling as if I was somehow in the presence of the divine.
"The moonlight is lovely," he'd said hesitantly. "But I must admit to you that your fountain is rather disturbing."
I'd been surprised. Still under the spell of the shining moon, I'd lifted my head so that I could look into his eyes. "Disturbing?" I'd shaken my head, not understanding. "But it is Zeus and Europa-and it isn't my fountain. It was Mother's fountain. Father gifted her with it as a wedding present."
"I don't mean to criticize your father, but that seems an inappropriate gift for a young wife." Arthur's gaze had gone back to the moon-bathed fountain. "Emily, I know you are an innocent, and this is a subject better not discussed, but do you not realize Zeus rapes the maiden Europa after he, in bull form, steals her away?"
I'd tried to view the fountain with his eyes, but still all I saw was the strength and majesty of the bull, and the nubile beauty of the maiden. Then, for some reason, my voice spoke words that until then I had only considered silently.
"What if Europa went with Zeus willingly? What if she really loved him and he her, and it was only those who did not want them to be together-did not want them to have a happy ending-who called it rape?"
Arthur had chuckled and patted my arm patronizingly. "What a sweet romantic you are! I find I like your version of the myth better than the lewd one I know."
"Lewd? I have never considered it such." I'd stared at the fountain-Mother's fountain-now my fountain, and the warmth Arthur had made me feel began to cool.
"Of course you wouldn't. You know nothing of lewdness, my sweet Emily."
When he'd patted my shoulder again I'd had to force myself not to shrug away from his condescending touch.
"But speaking of fountains and gardens and such reminds me, my mother has begun supervising plans for extensive gardens on the grounds of Simpton House. She shared with me that she will be excited to have your input, especially as Simpton House will someday be your home."
I'd felt a jolt of unease then, though in retrospect it was foolish of me. In all the fantasizing and planning I'd done about my future and my escape, I'd not considered that I might be moving from one gilded cage to another.
"So, we will live with your parents, here in Chicago, after we are married?" I'd asked.
"Of course! Where else? I am sure we could not reside comfortably at Wheiler House, not with your father in such a disagreeable temperament."
"No, I would not want to live here," I'd assured him. "I suppose I thought you might consider returning to New York. Your father still has business interests there that need to be looked after, does he not?"
"Indeed he does, but my sisters' husbands are more than competent in that respect. No, Emily, I have no desire to leave Chicago. This city has my heart. It's ever changing. There is always something new happening here-always another excitement, a new discovery, rising with the dawn."
"I'm afraid I know little about that." I'd tried not to sound as cold and bitter as I felt. "For me, Chicago has shrunk to Wheiler House."
"There is nothing wrong with being an innocent, Emily. That is an intriguing form of excitement and discovery of its own."
He'd shocked me then by pulling me rather roughly into his arms and kissing me thoroughly. I'd allowed him the kiss, and a long, hot caress of my back when he slid his hand inside my loosened dressing gown. His touch had not repulsed me, but as I consider back I must admit, if only here in my silent journal, that I enjoyed his attentions much more when I initiated them. The urgency of his mouth had felt awkward and almost invasive.
I'd been the first to break the embrace, pulling away from him and modestly closing my dressing gown.
Arthur had cleared his throat and passed a shaking hand across his face before gently taking my hand in his again. "I did not mean to take advantage of our solitude and to press my attentions improperly."
I'd softened my voice and glanced shyly up at him from under my lashes. "Your passion did surprise me, Arthur."
"Of course it did. I'll show more care for your innocence in the future," he'd assured me. "You cannot know how very beautiful and desirable you are, though. Especially the way you are dressed."
I'd gasped and pressed my hands to my cheeks, though in the concealing darkness he could not see that his words had not made me blush. "I did not mean to be inappropriate! I didn't even consider my state of undress . I had to excuse my maid so that I could be sure not even the servants discovered that I was waiting for you."
"I don't blame you-not at all," he'd assured me.
"Thank you, Arthur. You are so good and kind," I'd said, though the words almost lodged in my throat. I'd made a show of yawning then, covering my mouth delicately with my hand.
"I forget how late it is. You must be exhausted. I should go, especially as it would not do to cross paths with your father-or at least not yet. Remember, I will ride by the garden gate each night between now and Monday, hoping to see a plucked lily."
"Arthur, please do not be angry with me if I cannot slip away. I will try my best, but I must be safe. You know how unpredictable Father has become."
"I could not be angry at you, my sweet Emily. But I will be hopeful. If it is at all possible, I pray I see you before Monday night."
I'd nodded and agreed heartily with him, and walked hand and hand with him to the edge of the willow curtain, where he'd kissed me softly and left, whistling to himself and stepping lightly, as if he hadn't a care in the world.
When I was sure he'd gone, I'd left my concealing willow and walked within the soothing shadows of the dark path to the house. No one stirred as I hurried to my bedchamber. There I pushed the chest of drawers before the door, and retrieved my journal from its hiding place.
Now, as I reread my words I do not believe I am doing Arthur or his family an injustice by encouraging his suit. I do care for him, and I will be a good and dutiful wife, but between now and Monday I will not pick a lily and place it on the garden gate. I will not tempt fate any more than I already must. Arthur will pledge himself to me on Monday night, in front of my father, his family, and our social peers. Father will not disgrace himself by refusing such a grand and glorious union of families. Then I only need to continue to prod Arthur into a hasty marriage, and all will be well.
It is Father and the abomination of his unnatural desires that make me cold. When I am free of Father, I will be free to love and live again.
I will not allow myself to believe anything else.
May 1st, 1893
Emily Wheiler's Journal
Tonight, Monday, May first, in the year 1893, my life has irrevocably changed. No, not simply my life, but my world. It seems to me as if I have died and been resurrected anew. Truly that analogy could not be more apt. Tonight my innocence was murdered, and my body, my past, my life, did die. Yet, like a phoenix, I have risen from the ashes of pain and despair and heartbreak. I soar!
I shall record the terrible, wonderful events in their entirety, even though I believe that I must end this recording and destroy this journal. I must leave no evidence. I must show no weakness. I must be in complete control of this new life of mine.
But for now the retelling of my story soothes me, almost as much as the concealing shadows of my garden, beneath my willow, once soothed me.
I already miss them, though. I cannot ever return to my garden and my faithful shadows, so this journal is all that is left to comfort me. And, comfort me it does. Though I have walked through the fires of Hell and looked its demons in the eyes, my hands do not shake. My words do not falter.
Let me begin when I awoke mid-morning on this fateful day. It was a wrenching cough that had me sitting up in bed, gasping for air. Mary came to me quickly, clucking with worry.
"Lass! I knew the look of ye yesterday boded ill. I can foretell a fever better than most. Let me summon the doctor," she'd said, plumping the pillows around me.
"No!" I'd coughed again, but tried to stifle it with my hand. "I cannot disappoint Father. If he believes I am truly ill, that I will not be able to accompany him tonight, he will be angry."
"But lass, ye cannot-"
"If I do not go with him he will attend the Exposition opening alone, as well as the dinner at the University Club. He will return home drunk and angry. You must know how terrible he can be. Don't make me say more, Mary."
Mary had bowed her head and sighed. "Aye, lass. I know he isn't himself when he's in his cups. And he has been countin' on your support today."
"The great Ladies of Chicago have demanded it," I'd reminded her.
She'd nodded somberly. "That they have. Well, then, there is only one thing to do. I'll make ye my grandma's herbal tea with lemon, honey, and a spoonful of Irish whiskey. As she used to say, if it doesna fix ye up, it will get ye through."
I'd smiled at her purposefully thickened accent and managed not to cough again until she'd left my bedchamber. I'd told myself her tea would help. After all, I couldn't be ill-I was never ill. I'd wondered if I had, over the past three days, spent too much time resting-and thereby avoiding Father as well as Arthur-and from feigning illness brought illness upon me.
No. That was a fantastical assumption. I was a bit unwell, probably from my frazzled nerves. The pressure of waiting and hiding and wondering could not be good for my constitution.
Mary had returned with her tea, and I drank liberally of it, allowing the whiskey to warm and soothe me. I believe it was then that time began to shift. Hours ran together. It had seemed I had only just opened my eyes when Mary was coaxing me into my green silk gown.
I remember sitting before the small mirror on my vanity and watching Mary dress my hair. I'd been mesmerized by the long strokes of her brush, and as she began to lift it into an elaborate chignon, I'd stopped her.
"No," I'd said. "Just pull it back from my face. Weave one of Mother's velvet ribbons through it, but leave my hair free."
"But, dove, that's a child's hairstyle, and not fit for a great Lady of society."
"I'm not a great Lady. I'm sixteen years old. I'm not a wife, or a mother. In this one respect, I would look my age."
"Very well, Miss Wheiler," she'd replied respectfully.
When she'd finished my simple coiffure, I'd stood and stepped before the full-length looking glass.
Regardless of what happened later that night, I will always remember Mary and the sadness that had filled her expression when she had stood behind me and the both of us took in my reflection. The emerald silk dress fitted me as if it had been poured over my body. It was perfectly unadorned by anything except the mounds of my br**sts and the curves of my body. Almost none of my bare skin was revealed-the bodice was modest and the sleeves three quarters length-but the simplicity of the gown intensified the lushness of my figure. The only real concealment I had was my hair, though the thick fall of it was as sensual as the gown.

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