-Wild Red Rose-
Her fingers remained adhered together, lying neatly in her lap as she gazed at the view across from her. Vividly clear in the mid-morning sun was a distant stream of deep blue touching the horizon, barely visible in a union of hilly land sprouting with tall grasses and wild flowers.
She sat motionless in the large cushioned chair, her legs swinging slightly as her spirit felt the urge to run all around the gardens, but despite the strong desire, she remained seated, hands still firmly clasped together as her pale face stayed hidden in the shadows while the sun sprayed her bright garden in an aureate coat.
"Jeanine!" The voice echoed from the upper floor of the house and the girl tilted her head up and stared at the ceiling of the veranda before getting up and walking into the house.
"Yes, Papa?" she answered, making her voice loud, but not to the point of shouting.
"Did you prepare the library for your lessons with Miss Burke?" he replied.
Jeanine knocked timidly on the door to her father's office before she received a soft, "Come in." She opened the door and said not a word as she briskly walked to her father, stopping a few feet before him and curtsying.
Mr. Ellison had his back turned to her, obviously too occupied with sifting through the rows and rows of books in his office to greet her properly. He was aware, however, that she was standing there, small, neat and frail and waiting for some order to speak.
Tossing aside a book that did not meet his demands, Mr. Ellison turned his head to the side and glanced at his daughter before turning back to the bookshelf.
"Did you prepare your things for your lessons?" he repeated. The girl bobbed her head and said quietly:
"Very well. That's all I needed to know. You may run along now. Be sure to stay by the house." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her nod again, her light brown tresses bouncing but her steps steady and slow as she walked out of the office—quite the contrary to what was expected of her at ten years old.
When his daughter had disappeared down the hallway and to somewhere else in the house, John Ellison held the last book he had taken out of the shelf and tapped it with his fingers repetitively as his mind wandered into serious thought. He had never understood why his little Jeanie was so solemn, cheerless and obedient. He certainly wasn't like that, and neither was his wife. So how did their eldest daughter come to appear so unrelated to them?
Perhaps he knew the answer to it, but he refused to admit it to himself. Jeanie was not his only daughter. Justine had given birth to another daughter five years later, after a depressing amount of miscarriages, all of them being of male babies. More so, his wife was further saddened when their second daughter was born with a deficiency. The girl produced excessive amounts of mucous that needed to be taken out, and every single member in the Ellison household took part in being there for little Marjorie Lorna Ellison whenever she began to cough uncontrollably.
Poor dear, thought John as he fell into his chair, suddenly feeling exhausted. If only Justine were still here, perhaps both of my children would be happier… healthier.
The notion sent a suppressed pain in his heart and he dropped the book onto his desk clamorously, pushing it away and then pressing his fingertips to the beating temples of his skull.
Justine had passed away soon after Marjorie was born, falling into a fever that she was never able to escape from and he recalled the countless nights in which he stayed in the nursery of their home, with Jeanie weeping as she clung to his leg and infant Marjorie deathly silent in his arms. He remembered the numerous times Jeanie wailed, "Mama! I want Mama!" and the only things he was able to give her were his fatherly words of comfort and a maid who could do nothing but sing Irish lullabies to the English bred and born child.
The last time he had seen his wife was the night before she passed away. The air was still, dry and cold when he entered their familiar bedroom, finding her lying on the bed lifelessly, her beautiful blue eyes hooded from her closing eyelids. He thought she was going to sleep again, for when he brought a chair beside the bed and took her burning, damp hand in his own, she recognized him and had croaked, "John…"
However, sleep was not her intention as she held her husband's hand. Rest was what she wanted, but the only peace offered to her was one that would leave her family in eternal restlessness if she were to accept the serenity she longed for.
She struggled to stay awake and attempted to reposition herself into a more comfortable stance, but in doing so, she only worsened the ache in her limbs and caused John to squeeze her hand so tightly that if he had held on for a few more seconds, her fingertips would have turned purple.
"I'm sorry," she said, pushing the words out through frowning lips. "You'd think…" She paused to take in a breath. "… that a lass like me would be able to endure one more birth, but good things never last."
John would never believe the words she said, and shook his head mournfully, his teeth fighting to bite down his quivering bottom lip, but he swallowed the immense fear and sadness that plagued his mind and kept his eyes on Justine, watching her slowly fade by the second.
"There's a reason why I married you, Justine." John's sincere voice persuaded Justine to smile and the grin lasted for just a moment before she ended up crying.
"I know," she wept, her fingers coming up towards her face as she tried to shield her tears from John. "I know. Take care of our daughters, John. Take care of them."
"I will, Justine. I will." He couldn't bear to look at her anymore and his head sank into his hand as he willed himself to keep from crying, but his wife's sobs were too heartbreaking to allow him that freedom.
She pulled her hand away from his as she covered her face with her long, slender fingers and the wails that racked her lungs only drew both physical and mental pain to her, making her sway to the side, ready to collapse.
She was rescued from the fall as John caught her gently, letting her rest her golden head on his shoulder as he blinked away the saltwater in his eyes, but the flow never seemed to cease for either of them.
"I love you, Justine," whispered John as he kissed the top of her head.
His wife mustered her strength to embrace him one last time, and as she held onto him shakily, she managed to say, "I love you too, John."
The following morning, she was gone.
Another soft tap, tap on his office doors nearly made John jump from his seat as he fell out of his sorrowful memories. Bringing himself back to the present, he got up and returned to the bookshelf he was sifting through and answered, "Come in."
With his back turned to the door, he heard the click of heels on the polished wooden floor, but the sound was doing its best to not be heard at all.
"Yes, Jeanine?" he asked, knowing the manner of his daughter all too well. Always quiet, always cautious, always meek, always dull. Not like the wild red rose her mother was, and definitely not as fidgety as him. But he chided himself for the stupid comparisons. She was her own person, and she was free to be whomever she wanted.
"Miss Burke is not coming to teach me today, Papa," murmured Jeanine. The girl focused on her shiny pumps and tried very hard not to teeter on the balls of her feet to show how antsy she felt.
Mr. Ellison turned around to face her, an eyebrow raised in suspicion.
"Why isn't she coming?" he asked, placing a few books on his desk before approaching his daughter.
"A messenger came with a note that said she had many guests to attend to today."
"But she's a governess! She has no need to fraternize with so large a group as to not be able to teach you or any of her other students!" He frowned and shot a breath out of his nose as he tried to assemble a reply to the blatantly busy Miss Burke.
"Has the messenger left?" he questioned, looking at his daughter.
"Yes, he has, Papa."
Curses, thought John. "Well," he began, leaning down and patting the curly head of his daughter. Jeanine prided him by smiling back with a cheerful light in her mismatched eyes. "I suppose you have the day free. Why don't you and Jorie come with me into town?"
Jeanie's closed smile parted into a broad toothy grin and she curtsied before her father, some color rising to her cheeks at the excitement of going out into town with her dear papa.
"I'd like that very much, Papa," she replied, before rising up and straightening her back. John beamed back at her, although he half expected her to hug him for the jaunt to town. But she was never the sort to lose her decorum. Miss Burke had assured Jeanie's strict obedience to conformity. He knew his wife would have never allowed such rigid rules to be placed on her children, but Miss Burke was the best governess in the area. He had no choice but to employ her.
"Go get ready now, my dear," said John, ushering her out with a friendly wave of his hand.
She bobbed her head and bent her knee for another swift moment before walking briskly out of the room—Not running, observed John. Just walking fast—and down the stairs.
However, Mr. Ellison should have seen his daughter off, for as soon as Jeanie lifted her foot off of the last step on the staircase, she twirled about and laughed before running to little Jorie in the den to get her ready.
The carriage ride into town was bumpy and quiet; Mr. Ellison had tried several times to start a conversation with Jeanie, but all his daughter would do was nod and then resume looking out of the carriage window. Only Marjorie appeared to take interest in whatever he had to say, for she'd look up at him, a wide curious look in her blue eyes, and her pouting mouth slightly open.
"Where are we going, Papa?" asked Jeanie as she narrowed her eyes on the calamity of the townsfolk in the town. Stray dogs, cats, runaway chickens and laughing children without shoes ran around the road as if it were an open field, with no restraint or respect for authority.
"Down to the docks," responded Mr. Ellison. "I thought you and Jorie would like a visit to the shore."
He noticed half of Jeanie's mouth twitch at the place of destination. He had taken Jeanie to the docks three years before to meet her grandfather who was coming to visit, and the girl was so ill-tempered and fussy that she'd whine if she wasn't carried by him and she'd cover her nose and mouth with her hands to block out the strong odor of salt, dirty seawater and fish from invading her lungs.
"One of my ships is coming in today, my dear," explained John, striving to give an acceptable purpose to their trip to the shore in order to make the visit worthwhile for his daughter. "I need to make sure that they carried out their orders fully, and in the meantime both you and your sister can get some fresh air."
Her lip winced again but she turned her head so her father wouldn't see the silent protest. Fresh air, she thought, almost laughing inside. That air isn't fresh at all. It smells like rotting fish and the water is brown, not blue, and—
The carriage took a leap as it ran over a rough part of the road, and Jeanine was lifted off of her seat from the jolt and landed on the floor with a shriek.
"Jeanie!" cried Mr. Ellison, bending over and helping her up. She scooted back to her seat and crossed her arms over her chest, but she kept her irritation hidden by not 'hmph-ing' while doing so. She did not want to disappoint her father, who she understood was only trying to spend some time with both herself and her sister. But there were some things that a father would never be able to understand about his daughters.
"Are you all right?"
Jeanie looked at her father, the light in her eyes dulled by the dim of the carriage interior. Slowly, she nodded and Mr. Ellison was forced to accept her answer, although he doubted the sincerity of the action. However, he was accustomed to her sadness, for he knew very well where it was coming from. The girl missed her mother.
"Suh," rasped the old carriage driver at the front of the coach. "Shall I stop 'ere or go further down to tha docks?"
"You may stop here, Henry," answered Ellison. "We'll be back in an hour or two."
"Aye, suh." The old man rose from his seat and sauntered over to the carriage doors, which he opened to make way for Mr. Ellison and his darling daughters.
Jeanie was the first go, taking the offered hand of the carriage driver as she stepped out. Her eyes met the distant sails and masts of harbored merchant ships and the sun had made a mirror of the still blue waters that neighbored the port. Gulls squawked from above, the white birds swooping down low on occasion to pick up scraps left from the fishermen and sailors or to bother some unfortunate passerby. And at that thought, Jeanine placed her hand on her cap, afraid that a seagull would fly down and peck at the colorful ribbons and feathers on her hat.
"Jeanie," said her father, beckoning her over to where he stood, carrying gleeful Jorie in his arms. "Follow me, dear." His hand was extended to her and she took it readily, glad to have her father leading her around the place. Perhaps the seagulls wouldn't bother her then with her noble father beside her. The warmth and slight dampness of his hand was easy for her to like, for she felt the vaguest sense of protection and care in it. And in such an unfamiliar place, she was appreciative of the comfort.
"A ship, Papa! A ship!" giggled Jorie as she squirmed in her father's arms at the sight of the gleaming wooden vessels. "I want to go on!"
Mr. Ellison laughed merrily at his daughter's enthusiasm and quickened his own feet to get to the ships faster, and consequently, Jeanine had to pick up her own pace although she could have cared less about the big, bulky boats.
Indeed, Jeanine's negative view on the docks had a counter effect on the people who practically lived on the place. Her unhappy face and unwillingness to be one inch away from her father showed her as a frightened, pedantic, misplaced girl. And the commonfolk could not help but snicker amongst themselves about the hilarity of a nobleman and his spoiled little daughters coming down to the reeking harbor.
Nonetheless, if the Ellisons looked like a source of entertainment, they were bound to also look like a source of profit as well, and some vendors nearby began to nonchalantly move towards them with goods to sell in their arms. One in particular thought that flowers would be the best product to catch the uneasy girl's eyes.
"Roses!" cried the seller, pretending to wander about a particular dock which also happened to be the dock leading to one of Mr. Ellison's ship, but it was no coincidence. The boy selling the roses knew his exact target quite well. "Roses for ha' pence!"
Jeanine felt her father jiggle her hand at the call. She was not interested in flowers and shook her head brusquely.
"Come on, dear. You have no roses in your garden," encouraged Mr. Ellison, but Jeanie continued to shake her head.
"No, Papa; I do not want a rose. I am sorry." She looked down as she anticipated her father's disappointed visage.
"No, no. It's all right, darling. It's quite all right." The boy selling roses continued to bellow out, and Jeanine began to loathe his voice as they came closer to the dock he was standing on.
"Watch your step, Jeanine," warned John quickly as they began to walk down a muddy slope in order to get to the dock where his ship was anchored. But the order had been issued too late, and Jeanine, in her mind of fear and disillusionment, stumbled over her own foot and fell forward into the mud, landing on her knees.
She hadn't let go of her father's hand, and he had carelessly taken another step forward, which gently tugged Jeanine forward a bit more, dragging her dress further in the mud. "Papa!" she whimpered, staggering to her feet and wiping the mud off her dress frantically. "Papa!" she cried again.
"I'm sorry, Jeanie," apologized Mr. Ellison, setting Jorie on the ground and then kneeling beside his older daughter to clean off the mud. "Here, it's not that bad. No one will look at it."
She didn't believe him and persisted in dirtying her own hands as she angrily rubbed off the mud.
"It's ruined," she sniffled, her nose itching with snot and her eyes stinging with water.
"You can always get new dresses, my dear," said Mr. Ellison lightly, smiling at her for the sake of being optimistic.
"No," she sniveled. "It won't be the same." The water had streamed out of her eyes and she wiped them away with her hand, forgetting that she had just wiped mud off her dress and therefore smeared the stuff on her face as well. And as soon as she realized what she had done, she only cried more.
"Come now, Jeanine. Stop crying, my dear." John shook his head at himself. Perhaps he shouldn't have brought them here.
"'Scuse me, suh," said a voice behind him as a firm tap landed on his shoulder. John turned his head around and saw the boy selling the roses directly behind him. "Here." In his hand was one of the flowers, and he tilted his head over at the weeping girl with a raise of his eyebrows.
"You may do the honors, lad," said John, as he tried to get Jeanie smiling again by continuing to wipe the mud away. The boys shrugged and moved over to Jeanine.
"Here, Miss," he beamed, shoving the bright red rose in her tear-streaked face. Thrown aback by the interruption, Jeanine stopped crying and looked from the rose to the boy, who could not have been much older than herself.
"Th-thank you," she mumbled, timidly taking the rose from his grimy hand.
"How much do I owe you, lad?" posed Mr. Ellison, already reaching into his pocket for the money.
"Oh, it's nothin', suh," replied the boy with a grin at Mr. Ellison. Then he looked back at Jeanine and gave her a wink. "It's a gift."
Speechless, Jeanine could only gape at him, her eyes averting to her father for answers.
"That's very kind of you," praised John, finding it the best thank you he could provide for the odd occurrence that had just happened.
"It's no problem, suh," responded the boy, still looking at Jeanie. "Anythin' for a lady." He chuckled and walked away, leaving Jeanine clutching the rose he had given her so tightly that she didn't even know that its thorns had already punctured her skin.
"What a nice boy," commented John as he took Jeanine's hand again.
Jeanie didn't say anything. She wasn't even sure what she could say anyway. After all, it wasn't everyday that a complete and utter stranger handed her a free gift. Nevertheless, she had the greatest urge to smile after what had just happened to her.