JACQUELINE. I spent the day preparing a feast of flat-fish, eels and herrings, with an egg desert of almonds and sugar. But my heart was not in it, for my mind was too upset by the previous night, and in the heat of my resentment, I almost abandoned the kitchen. Maugis had confessed his love, but he was a ruthless villein, and I felt a fool for having been credulous enough to marry him. I thought to poison him with nightshade – but that was too mild a death for such cruel offences. I stirred the sauce and fried the fish, yet all the while plotted to revenge myself by his ruin. He didn’t love me. He was only concerned with my submission, obedience, and loving attention. Through his corruption, I had become thoroughly aware of my own worthlessness. I would never give him dominion of my body again.
The candle-clock burned slow, and as I watched the flame, I recalled the altar of Belloc, now buried under heaps of rubble. How free was the cloister, compared to married life!
At the appointed hour, I prepared myself for business as usual. After plucking my moustache, I donned my favourite gown of yellow silk, my waist girdled by a silver bodice laced with golden thread. Surely, the beauteous rays of my blooming body would melt every heart in the room.
Maugis had spent the day hawking with his friends, who were now awaiting my arrival in the hall. What was I expected to do? Amuse them all at cards or other games of pleasure? Sing songs, tell fables and wagers? I was not in the mood for frivolities. I knew Maugis was anxious that I should shine for him. But how could I hide my sorrow? My neck was bruised and my voice still hoarse from strangulation. Like a dog, I was expected to lick the hand that smote me…
Jacqueline is telling it…
When I enter the hall, I am surprised to find Maugis alone:
‘Where are your illustrious friends?’
‘They left early. The air was full of mosquitos.’
‘But what of the feast?’
‘Forget the feast. Come in Jacqueline. There is someone I want you to meet…’
‘Who? There is no one here.’
Just then a tall dark woman steps out from behind the curtain. She has the vestments of a gypsy, with a rainbow banded skirt and ringlets in her hair.
‘Enough of this charade. Maugis, who is this woman?’
‘Her name is Rada – a gypsy form the East. I have known her since a boy. Rada is a seer.’
The woman is old but comely, with a svelte lithesome figure. She makes me nervous.
‘A gypsy? And how did you meet exactly?’
‘’Twas many years ago, on the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. I was with some shepherds in the hills when we came across a band of comb-makers. They were sacrificing lambs and making candles from their fat to fasten to their horns. I spent the whole day with them, eating, drinking and singing. At dusk we gathered round the fire and Rada read our palms. She is skilled in telling the future. She has foretold many important events in my life; she has advised me in business and saved me from the snares of many evil men. Like the witch of Endor, she communes with the dead. She has even conjured ghosts.’
‘Maugis! I cannot believe my ears! And you a faithful Christian. Did you not know that such things open the doors to seducing spirits?’
‘Fear not. Rada is a holy woman. In my twentieth year I was taken with fever. My limbs were like lead and my will could not stir them. For nine days I lay paralysed on the brink of death. But Rada saved my life.’
‘And how did she do that? With herbs?’
‘A spell,’ replies Rada. ‘To cast the evil out of his blood. Go and hide where black cocks never crow, where men never go, where no beast roars. Hide yourself there, stop there, and never show yourself more! May Maugis remain pure and glad, as he was made by God, and was fated by the Virgin… Yes, I cast the evil out. The spell is mine—the cure is God’s.’
‘Maugis, I don’t understand. Why did you call me here?’
‘Jacqueline, ’twas not I who called you here this night. In fact, I was dead against it. No, you were summoned by Rada. She has a message for you.’
‘A message from Lilith, the Hebrew mother of all devils and goblins.
‘My god, Maugis! I don’t want to hear it!’
Maugis beats his heart in earnest:
‘Jacqueline! In the name of heaven, I implore you, I beg you, heed what she says!’
‘Yes, heed what I say,’ bids Rada.
With great affront, she sits by the fire as if it were her own hearth. Then she smiles and taps the chair:
‘Come. Sit beside me. Let us scry the crystal globe.’
All gypsy women pretend occult powers. Surely she was fake. Or perhaps she had acquired the art of reading character and thought. But the story of my life was beyond her wildest dreams. I had summoned powers she could not possibly comprehend. A message from Lilith? That gypsy knew nothing of my distaff side! I deemed all her charms and amulets as naught but childish toys. Did she not hail from a long line of thieves, who were raised in darkest ignorance? Clearly, Maugis was bewitched. How had this dark-eyed creature, with her Indian eyes and elfin face, needled her way into his heart? How much had she swindled from his purse? In the midst of fools, ’tis wise to play the ignoramus:
‘I have no desire to scry your crystal globe. I prefer to confine myself to the sphere of this present existence.’
‘But what of your destiny?’ asks she. ‘Shall you neglect the chief aim of your life?’
‘And what might that be?’ ask I.
‘That is for you to know alone. Look into the crystal.’
‘I will not. Methinks you are dunces, dabbling in powers you do not understand. ’Tis foolish to think we can escape our destiny. Our lives are writ by God, and He alone decides our fate. He has already plotted the course of every soul born of woman. ’Tis a vain endeavour change what has been decreed by heaven; to even try is to be doomed to destruction.’
‘Alas, you sound like a priest, who makes a profession of piety. I fear you are hopelessly chained in error.’
‘Tell her Rada,’ urges Maugis. ‘Tell her the truth.’
‘What truth?’ ask I.
‘The truth is Jacqueline, we have met before.’
Now she has my attention.
‘Where did we meet?’
‘’Tis not so much a question of where but when. Come closer. I have many wonders to show you.’
Anxiously, I draw near the hearth and sit beside her. She smells of lavender.
‘Wonders?’ ask I.
‘Look into the globe child,’ she bids. ‘Relax and empty your mind…’
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2020