“I’m telling ye, I’ll not have it anymore!” Edmond shouted. “Enough’s enough! Rosette ain’t comin’ back to this house tail tucked between her legs an’ head hangin’ in shame! If we ever want ter see our grandchildren, we’ve got ter make it up ter her, an’ on her terms!”
Cerise narrowed her eyes at him, and Edmond tried not to wince. “The girl’s livin’ in sin. Ye want to encourage that?”
“Livin’ in sin or not, Rosette is our daughter, an’ those boys are our grandchildren. Ye want ter let another day go by without seein’ them?”
“No, I want our girl back, here, where she belongs! Not bein’ all hoity-toity in some fancy whore’s nest–”
“Cerise! Rosette ain’t no whore!”
“She’s livin’ with a man she ain’t married to! She’s takin’ money from him fer — fer ye know right well what! What else would ye call her?”
“I’d call her misguided. I’d call her in trouble, too. But no whore. She ain’t doin’ this fer the money, Cerise; I know our girl better than that.”
“How?” Cerise challenged. “How? Ye seen her? Ye talked ter her — face-ter-face, not in no letters — since she went off ter that hoity-toity university? Wright only knows what ideas they put into her head!”
Edmond rolled his eyes. “The university is run by the Church! If anythin’, they’d have been preachin’ hellfire an’ brimstone ter the poor girl. She didn’t get no unclean ideas from there.”
“Then where did she get those unclean ideas — because Wright knows she didn’t get them from this house!”
Behind Edmond, and thus invisible to him, Pierre and Meg sat at the kitchen table. They exchanged glances and a wince. Leaving the room would be the best option, of course — except that the walls of the house were paper-thin, and moving moreover might bring them to Edmond and Cerise’s attention.
If Edmond had been less heated, he would have considered the awkwardness of their position; but he wasn’t. And in a way, that he wanted, no, needed to see Rosette again was their fault.
Not that it was anything they had said, or done with any sort of purpose; but having a grandchild, especially a grandchild in the same household, changed a man. Not that he didn’t love Katie, Paddy and Nora — he did, he loved them a great deal — but it wasn’t the same with them. He could go see them anytime he wanted, and of course Toinette kept them up-to-date on all of their milestones and major happenings, but it still wasn’t the same.
It wasn’t the same as having a grandchild in the house. It wasn’t the same as being able to wake up and hold the grandbaby, first thing. (Well, maybe not first thing; Meg tended to have first dibs on baby in the morning, since he usually needed a feed or a change.) It wasn’t the same as being there for every cry the same as every smile, every tooth and every bit of nonsense babble.
Since Basil had been born, Edmond had realized — much to his horror — just how much he was missing in Katie, Paddy and Nora’s lives. He could accept that, to an extent, as inevitable. But the amount he was missing in Melehan and Melou’s lives, so say nothing of any further children Rosette might have — that was unacceptable.
The difficulty was getting Cerise to see what he had seen.
He could tell by the look in her eyes that what she was missing with Melehan and Melou just didn’t mean as much to her as it did to him. But how was that possible? Shouldn’t, as a woman, Cerise be missing the contact with their grandchildren even more than he was? Was it because Cerise was closer to Katie, Paddy and Nora and thus didn’t miss all the things with them that Edmond had? But that didn’t make sense, shouldn’t being close to Toinette’s children make Cerise want to be close to Rosette’s?
By the way she was waving her arm at him, Edmond knew that Cerise didn’t see it that way; or if she did, she was doing her damnedest to make it seem like she didn’t. “An’ what,” she demanded, “would Sir Bors say if he heard we were takin’ up with Rosette again?”
Do ye really think he’d care? “I don’t know, but it ain’t like he’s come here an’ commended us fer cuttin’ her off like we have — an’ truly, Cerise, d’ye think he even knows what’s happened to Rosette since Sir Mordred bought out her indenture?”
“The whole kingdom knows! How can he not?”
“No, it doesn’t! Oh, aye, we know, an’ the Brogans know because Toinette’s sure to have told Grady or Lilé, an’ the Pelles know because of Meg, an’ aye, the gossip’s spread from there. But d’ye think the merchant folk — Master Ferreira, Master Wesleyan — d’ye think they know? D’ye think they care? An’ if they don’t know, an’ they don’t care — why should the nobles?”
“Sir Bors would care,” Cerise repeated. “Ye know he’s ever so particular about morals an’ his good name. What we do reflects on him!”
“Reflects on him? Fer Wright’s sake, he an’ the other noblemen put us at jest one short step above the animals! He wouldn’t think no more of Rosette an’ Sir Mordred than he would of …” He stopped, the metaphor becoming too distasteful, even in his anger.
“He would, an’ ye know it! It’d be one thing if Rosette had been a bit free with her favors with some village boy an’ got into trouble over it, it would. Sir Bors would understand that.”
“Or he’d just shrug it off as a peasant girl doin’ what peasant girls do.”
“That ain’t it, Edmond! He’d understand that things — things — happen! But this — what Rosette’s done — that ain’t somethin’ jest happenin’, or Sir Bors won’t see it like that — he’d see it as her reachin’ above her rightful place!”
Rightful place, my behind. But Edmond couldn’t say that, not out loud. It was too close to … to … something like treason, but not against the kingdom. Against their whole way of life, rather. “Cerise, ye think that’s why Rosette’s with him? Jest ter get ahead in this world?”
“That’s how Sir Bors –”
“I ain’t askin’ ye how Sir Bors would see it! Sir Bors ain’t in this room! I’m askin’ how ye see it!”
From the other room, Basil started to wail, and Edmond heard two chairs scrape against the wooden planks as Meg and Pierre hurried to the baby. For once, though, he ignored the infant’s cries; he was too focused on his wife.
Cerise wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I should see to the –”
“Leave the babe,” Edmond said, grabbing Cerise’s arm before she could follow Pierre and Meg. “I want ter know. D’ye really think that Rosette left her home, her family, an’ aye, her good name, fer some pretty dresses an’ a nice house?”
Cerise’s eyes looked around the room — the faded, creaky floorboards, the walls already stained with smoke and grime, the table put together from scrap wood, the larder that was never quite full, the beat-up and worn chairs. She turned back to her husband and tilted her chin up. “Maybe not,” she said. “Maybe not at first. Maybe not even now. But you mark my words — even if it weren’t the dresses an’ the house an’ everything else that brought our girl to Sir Mordred, that’s what will keep her with him. Once her senses come back to her. Which is why,” Cerise continued, her voice rising, “we’ve got ter break her of him now — before too much damage is done!”
Pierre slowly padded behind Meg as she took Basil from his crib, gave his napkin a quick sniff and quickly ascertained the source of the baby’s discomfort. He followed her, even, to the changing table, wincing as his father replied — loudly — to whatever Cerise had said.
“Break her of him? Are ye mad? She loves that man, and she ain’t gonna leave him jest because we want her to!”
“I don’t know,” Pierre remarked as he watched Meg’s deft hands manipulate the baby, “what Pa thinks he’s doin’. Ma ain’t gonna move on this.”
“Mmm,” Meg murmured.
“An’,” he said slowly, leaning against the wall as he surveyed his wife’s face, “I don’t know that she should. Pa can be … nai-eve,” he carefully pronounced, “he don’t see Sir Bors every day … I do. Sir Bors wouldn’t take kindly to hearin’ the mess Rosette’s made of her life.”
“It ain’t a mess yet,” Meg demurred.
“She ain’t never gonna find herself a husband,” Pierre pointed out. “Not with her … past, an’ now two little ones.”
“An’ Sir Bors wouldn’t like it, when he heard of it. I don’t know what he’d do, but …” Pierre sighed. “Well, I know I’d get an earful, at the very least.”
Meg looked at him rather sharply. “D’ye think he’d … do somethin’ to ye?”
“I don’t know.”
“What could he do?”
“What couldn’t he?” Pierre sighed. “Well — he couldn’t turn us off our land, or nothin’ like that. King Arthur would hear of that, fer sure, an’ wouldn’t stand fer it. Besides …” Pierre shrugged. “Except for Simon, we’re the only indentured family he’s got.”
“An’ if Sir Bors tried to kick us off our land, he’d have ter kick Simon off too — I mean, it wouldn’t make no sense otherwise.”
“Aye,” Pierre agreed. “But Sir Bors could cut me pay … raise our taxes … or start demandin’ a share of our crop, not just me labor on his fields …”
“I know. I know.”
“But do ye really think Sir Bors would be that — that — vindictive? I mean, what have we ter do with what Rosette’s been up to?”
“If he thinks we’re benefittin’ from it …”
“When all yer pa wants to do is see his daughter an’ his grandbabies,” Meg muttered, almost low enough to escape Pierre’s notice.
Meg looked up. “Well … yer pa jest wants to see Rosette an’ the babies. Can ye blame him?”
“No, but …”
“But ye’re worried about what Sir Bors will do.”
Meg sighed, finished with Basil, and pulled the baby up for a cuddle. “I don’t know what ter say, Pierre,” she said finally. “I see why ye’re worried … an’ yer ma …” Meg shook her head. “But I see yer pa’s point, too. An’ I feel fer Rosette, I do. Wright only knows what I’d be doin’ right now if my ma an’ da had decided ter cut me off fer bein’ with you.”
Pierre glanced at his feet. While Martin’s visits were just as occasional as they had ever been, Betsy had stopped by almost daily to see Basil and make sure Meg was still doing all right. She was a vital lifeline for all four of them — for, of course, between the baby, the fields, and the jobs all of them held, there was always more to be done than there were hands to do it. If it hadn’t been for Betsy …
For the first time, Pierre thought of Rosette in more sympathetic terms. Yes, she had the nice house, yes, she had the attention of a lord, yes, she could probably afford to go to the market and get whatever she needed. But she was also a young woman, and a new mother, with not one but two babies that needed constant love and attention — and no one, no one, to help her out. Toinette, Pierre knew, dropped by when she could — and Pierre was sure that Simon had, if only for the pleasure of knowing he was doing what Cerise had forbidden. But Toinette had a family of her own and was probably looking forward to visits with Rosette as a break from the daily grind, not an addition, and Simon … Simon would be useless where babies and overworked mothers were concerned.
“Maybe Pa has a point,” Pierre murmured.
“I’d say he does,” Meg said. “An’ I’ve got somethin’ I’d like ter say ter yer ma, aye, an’ Sir Bors if he decided to be upset at us fer not abandonin’ Rosette like he thinks we should.”
“What would that be?”
“‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.'” Meg turned to him with a smile. “Ye remember that, from Father Hugh’s sermon last week? About not drawin’ attention to other’s faults if ye’re not certain-sure that yer stainless, yerself? I think Sir Bors might have a couple of things on his conscience which ought to make him go easier on Rosette, an’ on us … an’ Wright knows yer ma does …”
Pierre froze, but Meg laughed. “Look at ye! Ye’d think I jest told ye that the world was round or somethin’. Heavens, Pierre, I’d think ye’d know yer ma has faults!”
“It ain’t that,” he tried to chuckle, but Meg shook her head.
“Mama’s boy,” she said fondly, kissing his cheek. “Now hold yer son for a bit — keep him from becomin’ as much of a mama’s boy as ye are. I need to get on with the washin’.” Still laughing, Meg left the room.
And Pierre was left holding Basil.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone …
“Oh, Basil,” Pierre murmured, bringing the baby up to his shoulder, “let’s hope neither ye nor yer ma figure out jest how many stones I ain’t got no right ter be castin’ …”