Georgia impatiently paced across the parlor, pausing at the window to pull back the white lace panel. Anticipation sparked in her green eyes and splashed color across her high cheekbones. A tendril of her brunette hair coiled on her forehead in subtle defiance. She stepped away from the pane, her fingers adjusting the pleat of her lavender gown with nervous energy. She scrutinized the room for the hundredth time, seeking perfection in every detail. Carefully, she lifted a vase of fresh flowers from the center of a table and moved it to a sideboard. Her jewelry box rested on the table alone, showing off its delicate work. She wanted to impress her younger sisters with the treasures her husband showered upon her. She wanted them to envy her for her position as Bruce’s wife.
At the sound of the bell, Georgia skipped to the settee and arranged her skirt to show off the sheen of the expensive silk. Her lips parted in a genuine smile as she listened to Gwyn’s soft voice ask the butler a question, as she recognized May’s deeper throaty laugh.
“Georgia!” her sisters chimed in unison as the butler opened the door. In a whirl of cream and rose satin, they swept into the room and hauled Georgia off of the couch, ruining her carefully planned pose by hugging her tightly into their arms.
“You look so lovely!”
“Your house is beautiful!”
“And lavender! Georgia, it’s such a perfect color for you!”
Unexpected tears smarted Georgia eyes and spilled down her cheeks as she returned her sisters’ enthusiastic embrace. “Oh, May and Gwyn, I’m so glad you’ve finally come!” She swiped at her tears and looked at her wet fingertips with bemusement. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” she began.
“Oh, you’re just happy to see us!” May exclaimed. “We’ve missed you so much, too. I don’t know why Mother and Father resisted allowing us to visit you in London.”
“But you are here—now!” Georgia kissed May’s cheek with affection. “Perhaps they will let you visit more.”
Gwyn smiled as she sat in a chair, “I believe they didn’t want us annoying Bruce. Honestly, they only agreed to our visit here because you said you were lonely.”
“Bruce spends most of his time in our London house,” Georgia admitted. “Why don’t I take you to your rooms, and then we can have tea and spend the entire evening catching up?”
Georgia worried her lower lip, a remnant of her annoying childhood habit. She straightened the shoulders on her gown one more time as she waited for her sisters to return. A trolley with her finest silver service sat near the loveseat. Cook’s renowned cakes and biscuits sat in decadent temptation. She knew Gwyn wouldn’t resist the sweet treats. She knew May couldn’t refuse accompanying their tea with tidbits of gossip. She wagered with herself that May wouldn’t make it through her first dessert before revealing Bruce’s indiscretions to her older sister.
With determination, Georgia decided she would open the topic of her husband’s infidelities first. After all, she invited her sisters to her home for two reasons. She wanted to assure her family that she accepted all aspects of her marriage to her older husband. She also needed to know that they would stand by her decision to live with Bruce’s “short-comings.”
When May and Gwyn appeared in the doorway, Georgia felt relief. As embarrassing as this conversation would prove, at least she would finally have someone to whom she could confide her feelings.
“May, would you mind pouring?” Georgia moved to a nearby chair. “I want to talk to the two of you. It’s the reason I invited you here.” She paused while May filled the cups. “Mother and Father know, of course, what I’m going to tell you. I wrote them last month.” She sipped the hot tea, buying herself a moment for composure. Then she continued, “I have learned that Bruce engages in affairs with other people.”
May’s hand fluttered a little, splashing tea onto the saucer she held. Gwyn’s cheeks flamed red as she inhaled deeply, and then held her breath. Neither of her sisters spoke.
Georgia cocked her head, and narrowing her eyes, asked, “You know? Did Mother tell you?”
“No,” Gwyn began cautiously, “No one’s told us anything. It’s—,” she shot a desperate look at May. “Well, Bruce did something . . . inappropriate . . .” she floundered to a stop.
“To you?” Georgia gasped.
“To both of us,” May carefully set her cup and saucer upon the table. “Remember how I kept trying to talk you out of this marriage?”
Georgia’s face paled as she leaned forward in her seat. “I thought you were just jealous because of Bruce’s wealth and social standing. I was so hurt.” Her hand rested over her heart. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried, but you got so upset. And you insisted that Bruce was absolutely perfect for you.” May faltered. “I didn’t have the heart to tell you.” She looked down to find her hands nervously clenching the fabric of her dress. “I never told anyone. Then when you invited us here, I didn’t even want to come because I feared seeing your husband again.”
“And I kept bothering her until she told me why,” Gwyn continued. “When she told me, well—he’d done something similar to me. I was so ashamed.” Gwyn’s voice shook. “Oh, Georgia, you cannot stay married to this man!”
“Yes, I can.” Georgia stood and walked to her jewelry box. “I made a promise, and my vow must be kept.” She sat in a chair by the table, leaning forward to open the box. “Come, look.” She opened to container and began pulling out the pieces her husband gifted to her, probably after each of his escapades. “Come look,” she repeated, “at what a man believes clears his conscience.”
With her sisters seated at the table, she pulled out a diamond and ruby broach, a glittering flower. She fingered a delicately woven gold chain and toyed with a bracelet of emeralds. “Bruce believes these lovely pieces will buy my submission and my silence.”
She carefully withdrew a strand of pearls. Their smooth perfection cooled her flushed skin. “My husband brought me these pearls last week,” she draped them over her extended arm. “They have a particularly beautiful luster, don’t you think.” Gwyn leaned against the back of Georgia’s chair to get a closer look as May shifted forward in her seat. A small smile tugged at Georgia’s lips as she tilted her head to appreciate the glow of the pearls against her skin.
Sighing deeply, she gazed at her prizes. “With all of these other gifts, I didn’t know the truth about Bruce. I didn’t know the guilt he disguised. But these pearls,” she raised the strand and looked first at May and then at Gwyn, “These are pearls of wisdom.”
Copyright 2012 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman