Sunday, January 29, 2012

Girl with a Pearl Necklace

It wasn’t an accident in spite of what I said, or what people assumed. They never imagine I can do anything deliberately.
Mama always refers to me as “dear Evangeline” but dear does not mean dear, it means “poor” as in “What will we do with her?” She has worried about me since I turned eleven; began seeking suitors before I was fourteen. She thinks I don’t know, but it’s impossible to keep a secret in this town. Mama, of all people, should remember that. Lucky for me that Mr. Beetle turned his eyes on Cousin Lydia. Though it is not lucky for Lydia, now the mother of three.
I’ve learned to play piano (badly), to embroider (painfully), to paint watercolors (muddily), and speak French (unintelligibly). All paid for by Poppa, who considers me an investment, like so many bolts of silk. He and Mama have arranged countless tea parties, dinner parties, opera parties — supposedly in my honor — inviting a never-ending series of young  men who are about to inherit large fortunes. Nothing has come of it all, to my parents’ profound despair. To my enormous relief. 
Mama curses the weather (“Your kind of hair will simply not survive in this heat”) while Poppa rails against the Fates (“Why couldn’t I have had a beautiful daughter?”).  I’ve heard him say that more than once. More than a dozen times.
They don’t credit me at all. So many lessons and tutors: deportment, penmanship, elocution. But they never thought to expose me to dramatics. Yet somehow, I seem to have taken to it all on my own. 
Last summer, with Mr. Peregrine talking about an engagement before year’s end, I asked to be allowed to borrow his new automobile. “I won’t go far,” I promised, “nor fast.” I kept my word, slowly driving that big black Model T of his directly into the elm tree on our front lawn. And that was the last we heard about any engagement.
After that, Poppa made arrangements for me to have a trip to the Continent. There was a certain gentleman aboard ship who took to accompanying me as I strolled the upper deck in the early morning. He was an odious man by the name of Blakely; a distant cousin of Mama’s good friend, Mrs. Altoid. I could imagine those two fine matrons plotting and planning behind my back. So I permitted myself a slight queasiness during one of our walks, followed by a more extreme reaction as the ship swayed in its endless path. Mr. Blakely did not even pretend solicitude. He raced for the safety of his cabin, no doubt fearing for the condition of his shoes and trousers, lest I should be sick all over them. It was all most satisfying. For me.
And now this beautiful strand of pearls. A “friendship” gift from Rupert Fortnoy, who has never, in all the years I’ve known him, been anything remotely like a friend to me. He caught a whiff of Poppa’s desperation and thought he would slip in and scoop me right up. But I will not be scooped up. Certainly not by the likes of Rupert Fortnoy. 

A pity about the pearls, though. They belonged to his Grandmama, I believe. They were very lovely indeed. But now they’ve scattered across the black and white tiles and some will be lost forever. I am certain of this, because I placed three large orbs into my skirt pocket. Rupert Fortnoy would never marry a girl who is careless with jewelry, it implies the possibility of too many other carelessnesses to come. I know him so well.  
I don’t for a single moment think this is the end of it. Mama and Poppa will continue to waltz me into the path of marriageable men, both suitable and less-than-suitable, until they are well into their dotage, with me not far behind. 

For my part, I will hold fast to my campaign for a life of freedom (relatively speaking). If I were a betting woman I would wager these three creamy pearls that I will come out the winner, in the end. 

But whether that will be a true victory or not, it is still too soon to say.