Neferet's Curse

Page 5

Camille had been stirring her tea quite manically while I'd been unburdening myself of thoughts I'd been longing to share with someone. She dropped her spoon at my exclamation. I'd watched her gaze flick nervously to the closed parlor-room door, and then back to me. "Emily, I do not think it is good that you linger on thoughts of your mother's death. It cannot be healthy."
I understand now, as I record our conversation, that I had begun to say more than Camille could bear to hear and I should have ended the subject and kept my thoughts to myself and to this, my silent, nonjudgmental, journal. But then all I had wanted was someone to talk with-to share my growing fears and frustrations with, so I continued. "My thoughts must linger on her death. Mother herself wished it so. It was she who insisted I be there. She who wanted me to know the truth. I think, maybe, Mother knew her death was near and that she was trying to warn me-trying to show me that I should choose a different path than that of wife and mother."
"A different path? Whatever can you mean? Religious work?"
Camille and I had curled our noses together, our minds completely alike in this aspect.
"Hardly! You should see the spinsters from the church who volunteer at the GFWC. They are so drawn and pathetic, like unfed sparrows pecking at the scraps of life. No, I've been thinking about the lovely little shops that have opened around the Loop. If I can run Wheiler House, certainly I can run a simple hat shop."
"Your father would never allow that!"
"If I could make my own way, I would not need his permission," I'd said firmly.
"Emily," Camille had said, sounding worried and a little frightened. "You cannot be thinking of leaving home. All sorts of terrible things happen to girls with no family and no money." She'd lowered her voice and leaned closer to me. "You know the vampyres just moved into their palace. They bought all of Grant Park for their terrible school!"
I'd shrugged dismissively. "Yes, yes, Father's bank handled the transaction. He's talked endlessly about them and their money. They call the school a House of Night. Father says it's completely walled off from the rest of the city and guarded constantly by their own warriors."
"But they drink blood! They are vampyres!"
I'd been thoroughly irritated that the subject of the miserable state of my life had been overshadowed by one of Father's clients. "Camille, vampyres are rich. Everyone knows that. They have schools in many American cities as well as the capitals of Europe. They even helped to finance the building of the Eiffel Tower for Paris's World's Fair."
"I heard Mother say vampyre women are in charge of their society," Camille had whispered while she glanced at the parlor door again.
"If that is true I say good for them! Were I a vampyre, I could choose not to be trapped by my father into pretending to be my mother."
Camille's eyes had widened. I'd definitely found a way to turn the conversation back to my troubles. "Emily, he couldn't want you to pretend to be your mother. That makes no sense."
"Sense or no, that is how it seems to me."
"You must look at it with different eyes, Emily. Your poor father simply needs your help through this difficult time."
I'd felt as if the inside of me was beginning to boil, and I couldn't stop my words. "I hate it, Camille. I hate trying to take Mother's place."
"Of course you would hate feeling like you must make up for your Mother's absence. I can hardly imagine all that there is for you to do," Camille had said, nodding somberly. "But when you are the great Lady of a house, there are also jewels to buy and dresses to be commissioned and brilliant parties to host." She'd found her smile again as she'd poured more tea into my cup. "As soon as you're out of mourning, all that will be your responsibility, too." She'd giggled and I'd stared at her, realizing she had no understanding at all of what I was trying to tell her. When I didn't speak, she went on, chattering happily, as if both of us were carefree girls. "The Columbian Exposition opens in two weeks, just in time for you to be out of mourning. Think of it! Your father will probably need you to host dinner parties for all sorts of foreign dignitaries."
"Camille, Father won't allow me to bicycle. He cuts short my visits with you. I cannot imagine him allowing me to host dinner parties for foreigners," I'd tried to explain, to make her understand.
"But that is what your mother would do, and as you have said, he has made it clear that you inherited her place in the household."
"He has made it clear that I am trapped to be his slave and his imaginary wife!" I'd shouted. "The only time for myself I can manage are the few minutes I steal with you, and the time I spend in Mother's garden-and then only at night. During the daylight hours he has the servants spy on me and sends them after me if he's displeased by where I'm going or what I'm doing. You know that! Even here they come fetch me as if I am an escaped prisoner. Being the Lady of a great house isn't a fantasy come true-it is a waking nightmare."
"Oh, Emily! I do hate seeing you so distraught. Remember what Mother said all those months ago-the care you're taking of your father will make the man who becomes your husband very happy. I envy you, Emily."
"Don't envy me." I saw that the coldness in my voice hurt her, but I could not help myself. "I have no mother, and I'm trapped with a man whose eyes burn me!" I broke off my words and pressed the back of my hand against my mouth.
I knew the instant her expression changed from concern to shock, and then to disbelief that I had made a dire mistake in speaking the truth.
"Emily, whatever do you mean by that?"
"Nothing," I'd assured her. "I'm tired, that's all. I misspoke. And I shouldn't be taking up all our time together just talking about me. I want to hear about you! So, tell me, has Arthur Simpton made his courtship of you formal yet?"
As I knew it would, mention of Arthur took away all other thoughts from Camille's mind. Though he hadn't spoken to her father yet, Camille had, several times, ridden side by side with him during the Hermes Club's mid-morning lakeshore route. He'd even chatted with her the day before about how intrigued he was about the enormous Ferris wheel everyone could see being erected on the Midway of the exposition grounds.
I was going to tell Camille I was happy for her, and that I wished her well with Arthur, but the words wouldn't form in my mouth. It wasn't that I was being selfish or envious. It was simply that I could not stop thinking of the unalterable fact that should Arthur court Camille it would come to be one day, in the not too distance future, that my friend would find herself in servitude to him, waiting to die alone in a flood of blood …
"Beg pardon, Miss Elcott . Mr. Wheiler's valet is here to collect Miss Wheiler." When Camille's maid had interrupted I realized I hadn't been listening to what Camille had been saying for several minutes.
"Thank you," I said, getting up quickly. "I really must get back."
"Miss Wheiler, the valet asked that I give this note to you, and that you deliver it to Miss Elcott."
"A note? For me? How exciting!" Camille had said. With a stomach filled with dread, I passed it to her eager fingers. She'd opened it quickly, read it, blinked twice, and then a radiant smile transformed her face from pretty to beautiful. "Oh, Emily, it's from your father. Instead of your having to rush here whenever you can find time, he has invited me to call on you at Wheiler House and to visit with you in the formal parlor." She'd squeezed my hands happily. "You won't have to leave the house at all. See, it is just like you're a great Lady! I'll come straightaway next week. Perhaps Elizabeth Ryerson will join me."
"That would be nice," I'd said woodenly before following Carson to the black carriage that waited outside. When he closed the door behind me, I felt as if I couldn't catch my breath. The entire ride back to Wheiler House, I had spent gasping for air, as would a fish held out of the water.
As I finish this, my first journal entry in months, I remind myself that I must never forget Camille's response to my confidence. She reacted with shock and confusion, and then she reverted to our girlish dreams.
If I am mad, I must keep my thoughts to myself for fear no one else can understand them.
If I am not mad, but am truly as much a prisoner as I am coming to believe I am, I must keep my thoughts to myself for fear no one else will understand them.
In either scenario there is one constant-it is only upon myself I can rely and upon my own wits to devise a way to save myself, providing salvation for me exists at all.
No! I will not fall into melancholia. I live in a modern world. Young women can leave home and find new lives-different futures. I must use my wits and my wiles. I will find a way to be the conductor of my own life! I will!
Once again, I find myself recording my innermost thoughts in my journal as I await the rise of the moon and its heralding of the deepest darkness of night so that I may go to my one true escape-the shadows of the garden and the concealing comfort I find there. The night has become my security, my shield, and my comfort-let us hope that it doesn't also become my shroud …
April 19th, 1893
Emily Wheiler's Journal
My hands shake as I write.
I must make them stop! I must record all that has happened with accuracy. If I leave legible record of it, I shall be able to look back upon the events of the past several days when my mind is calmer, more rational, and I may then relive every bit of discovery and wonder, and not because I believe I could be mad! No, not at all! I wish to record my remembrances for a much different, a much more joyous reason. I have discovered the way to a new future! Or rather, he has discovered me! Someday I know I will wish to sift through the web of events that have caught me up, have carried me on a tide of surprise and joy and-yes I will confess it here, perhaps even love! Someday, when my own children are grown-yes, I may indeed embrace the path of wife and mother-I can reread this and tell them the story of my romance with their beloved father and how he saved me from bondage and fear.
My mind and my heart are filled with Arthur Simpton! So filled that even my loathing for my odious father cannot ruin my joy, for I have found my way free of my bondage to him and to Wheiler house!
But I begin too quickly! I must go back and show how the puzzle pieces fit together to create the beautiful scene that culminated this night! Oh, happy, happy, night!
* * *
The afternoon I returned from Camille's home Father awaited me in Mother's parlor. "Emily, I would have a word with you!" he'd bellowed as I'd tried to hurry up the stair to retreat to my third-floor bedchamber.
My hands trembled and I felt as if I might be sick, but I did not balk when he called me to him. I went to the parlor and stood, ramrod straight, hands fisted at my sides, my expression calm, unflinching. I knew one thing beyond all others-Father must not sense the depth of my fear and my loathing for him. He wanted a complacent daughter. I'd been newly determined to allow him to believe he possessed what he wanted. I had meant my first step to freedom to begin at that moment. Father did not want me to socialize with my old friends, and so I would capitulate, wait, and as he became more and more certain of my submissive compliance to all of his demands, his focus would turn away from me. Then I would plan and execute my eventual escape.
"Father, I will not see Camille again." I'd said, mimicking Mother's sweet, soft tone. "Not if it displeases you."
He'd brushed away my words with an abruptly dismissive gesture. "That girl is not of our concern. If you insist, you may see her here, as your mother took social calls here. We have issues of much greater import to discuss." He'd pointed at the divan and ordered, "Sit!" Then he'd bellowed for tea and brandy.
"Brandy at this hour?" I regretted it the moment after I'd spoken. I'd been so foolish! I must learn to always control my words, my expression, my very bearing.
"Do you dare question me?" He'd spoken only after the maid had left the room. He had not raised his voice, but the danger in his quiet anger shivered across my skin.
"No! I only question the hour. It is but three o'clock. Am I wrong, Father? I believed brandy an evening drink."
His shoulders had relaxed and he'd chuckled as he sipped from the wide-mouthed crystal glass. "Ah, I forget you are so young and that you have so much to learn. Emily, brandy is a man's drink, one that true men take when they so will. You should begin to understand that women must behave a certain way, a way in which society dictates. That is because you are the weaker sex, and must be protected by tradition and by those who are wiser, more worldly. As for myself? I am a man who will never be a slave to social convention." He'd taken another long drink from the glass, and refilled it as he continued. "And that brings me to my point. Social convention dictates we spend at least six months in mourning for your mother, and we have practically fulfilled that time. Should anyone question us, well, I say in the face of the World's Columbian Exposition that social convention be damned!"
I'd stared at him, uncomprehending.
Father had laughed aloud. "You look exactly as your mother did after the first time I kissed her. That was the first night we'd met. I'd gone against social convention then, too!"

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