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Since the Lovely are Sleeping
Jasper Blackmore had always been a curious child. As a very young boy, rather than join the other children in their monotonous games, he preferred to escape to a quiet place, a barren place. There, he would pull out a book or perhaps a notepad and sketch. He didn’t much care for the company of others, even his mother and sister, who adored him endlessly.
He did however have one friend as a small child, and that was his extremely droopy bloodhound whom his father had named Bernice after his mother. Jasper hated the name, and the woman who had originally owned it, far too much to call his beloved friend, so he insisted on calling the dog Bessie. Much to his father’s dismay, the fortunate nickname stuck, and Bernice--or Bessie-- was the happiest dog in all of London.
Bessie was the one thing Jasper could feel love for, although he wasn’t truly sure what he felt was love. He simply didn’t understand the word, or the emotion for that matter. He would often sit in the quiet place in the schoolyard and observe the other children; how one student reacted when another shared his jump rope, how a group acted when they found a dead bird once, what one boy did when another took his ball and pushed him down. Jasper didn’t entirely understand how he should feel, were the sort of thing to be done to him. But by watching the other children, he felt he got an idea.
He also learned to mimic affection. Genevieve, his sister, doted on him so often he almost felt he didn’t have to fake it with her. She was enamoured with the charm of her little brother, and how he was always seeking to please. And it was true, Jasper Blackmore would break his back to please his sister, of course he didn’t need to because he could tell the exact perfect thing she wanted to hear.
When Jasper was eight years old, and he’d sat alone in the schoolyard for two years already, he took to the crowd, deciding he was finished with being shy. At first the other boys were weary, as they’d only heard Jasper speak a few times in class, and he’d always been so clever. But it did not take long for them to warm up to him, however, and they soon became completely enchanted by his sheer charisma and thoughtful speech.
It was when Jasper was eleven years old that the bizarre ideas began to burrow into his psyche. He found himself thinking and saying things that would have shocked his sweet soft sister to death. But he thought them all the same, and once made the mistake of letting one of his rambling thoughts slip when he was with her.
The two were walking together along with their nanny along the busy streets of London, on a surprisingly sunny day in early May. Genevieve, who was twelve at the time, had been in a delighted mood all day because Rufina had allowed her to purchase a new hair ribbon and she now wore it in her golden hair. The Blackmore children were both elegant, not just in their manners but in their looks, their gait, and their charm. They’d never needed, nor wanted, once in their lives because of their father’s great wealth, but even if they were poor, the Blackmore children were so lovely that they would have never gone hungry. Even now, as they walked through the streets in their fine clothes and polished shoes, they were offered pieces of candy and a little urchin girl gave Genevieve a flower.
It was upon this small event of a red carnation being passed from a tiny dirty hand to a refined graceful one, that Jasper first let his twisted thought escape. Once out of earshot of the filthy little girl, he murmured, “Ugh, Genny, I simply can’t understand why they are allowed to live in our city. They make London feel ugly.”
“Who?” Genevieve asked, astonished. “You mean poor people?’
Jasper nodded. “Filthy people. For God’s sake, it’s always raining here. You’d think they could at least afford to wash themselves in the daily downpour.”
Jasper could hear the nanny’s disapproval from behind them, but he paid no attention to her. He didn’t much like her anyway, because she always told him what he could and could not do. She was always pulling him back from “dangerous” things, but Jasper knew she just didn’t want him to have any fun. That’s what all adults wanted: for fun to disappear from the world.
“You don’t pity them even a little?” Genevieve asked, tucking the carnation in her hair, weaving it into the ribbon.
“No,” Jasper replied. “I want London to be the beautiful city I know it can be, and that can’t happen if we have so many dirty poor people scurrying about.”
Genevieve puzzled for a moment, then nodded. “I suppose you’re right in a way, Jazz. Perhaps when we are all grown up we will make the poor clean and wealthy. I think I should like to do that. I could open an orphanage! Or a warehouse where they could bathe and work and go home to warm houses and happy families. That would be very fine indeed.” She laughed. “And you could open a bathhouse run by charity for the poor to wash up!’
Jasper laughed too, but he did not agree with her. He kept that to himself though and continued with his sister’s silly vision. “Yes and maybe there I’ll have a place to wash tramps as well and Bessie will find a dog husband!”
“That would be darling!” Genevieve giggled. Jasper turned his head and slyly looked back at the nanny. Her withered face was pinched, her old eyes narrow, but she pulled her lips into a smile all the same. Red hot anger flickered inside Jasper at the woman’s obvious distaste for him. He smiled back at her, but the anger did not dissolve, and he has a moment of envisioning the kinds of things he could do to her to get her back.
But Genevieve, as usual and without even meaning to, pulled him back to the sunny day in May, and the two chatted animatedly as they strolled down the streets and into the park.
Although Jasper Blackmore’s thoughts did not become any lighter as the years passed, he did become much better at hiding them. He found other ways to share with people. He shared his ideas, and influenced a large group of London’s youth whom he called friends. As he was nearing the age of twenty, he quickly became the most admired young man in town. The papers referred to him as “Jasper Blackmore, London’s Gem.” And since he did not need to work, he fancied himself by using his extremely high intelligence to learn many things. He played three different instruments (harpsichord and piano, violin, and flute) as well as had a lovely singing voice. At eighteen he wrote a short satire about what would have happened were a beggar man and his dog to have become, by chance, the rulers of France, and once that was published, contentedly charmed many young women with his delicately written sonnets.
On the morning of his nineteenth birthday, Jasper dressed himself in a fine tailored suit and went downstairs, Bessie the bloodhound trotting behind him. Genevieve, who’d grown into a beautiful girl and was the muse of many an artist in London’s streets, threw her arms around her little brother and kissed him on the cheek.
“What a grand gentleman you’ve become!” she exclaimed. She pulled back, and Jasper recalled when he had to look up at her, where as now he towered over her.
The two had grown up to look almost like twins, with their honey-blond hair that flowed around their creamy faces, and their saphire blue eyes. Both were slender and smooth, exquisite in their refinery. The Blackmores were the golden children of London, in every sense of the words.
“And what have you gotten me for my gift, hm?” Jasper chortled.
Genevieve grinned, and turned to the breakfast table, where there was a neatly wrapped present. She handed it to him, a twinkle in her eye.
Beneath the brown paper wrapping was a book, bound in black leather, with golden pages. It had no title nor author, which Jasper thought rather odd. He was about to open it, but his sister stopped him. “Tonight. Open it tonight in your room,” she said. “I had it hand-bound especially for you.”
“You’ve peaked my curiosity, Genny,” Jasper remarked. “But I shall do as you’ve asked. Give me a hint though, so that I may keep my sanity for the rest of the day.”
“Not a chance!” Genevieve delighted. “You will see, don’t worry.”
Over breakfast, Jasper’s parents congratulated him. His father, a thin, hunchbacked man with a horrid cough, gifted his only son with a pocket watch that had been in the Blackmore family for generations, and his mother gave him a horse, a black stallion meant for riding as fast as it could.
“Your uncle Victor is visiting this afternoon with your cousin Ezra,” his mother informed him. “He wanted to wish his favorite nephew a happy birthday.”
“Excellent,” Jasper said. Ezra, who was three years younger, was very shallow and impressionable. Jasper always had fun when he was with his cousin. “What time will they be visiting?”
“Four o’clock,” his father said, before erupting into a fit of coughing. “You are free to do as you please until then. Perhaps meet with those good boys from your school years.”
Jasper shrugged. “Perhaps, but Lucas and Walter James are so boring now. One’s a politician and the other is married!” He turned to look at his sister. “I think I shall spend the morning with Genny and go riding? Then I will perhaps dine with a James boy around two.” It was a lie, he had no intention of seeing one of the dull brothers, but he let his family believe it with a smile.
Genevieve nodded. “Perfect.”
The stablehand of the Blackmores was a good looking lad, about twenty-one years of age. He prepared the horses for the young adults, smiling a little too warmly at Genevieve, who returned the blazingly bright smile. Jasper remained ignorant to this exchange though, too enchanted by the beauty of his new black stallion, with only a single stripe of white in its mane.
“How handsome he is!” Jasper cried, petting the horse. “He must have a good name, something that suits him!”
“He could be a gem like you,” Genevieve offered, mounting her white and gray speckled mare. “Onyx perhaps? Or Ebony?”
“Noir,” Jasper said after a moment, without giving an explanation.
Genevieve laughed. “Black. Like your soul!”
Jasper smiled at her as he mounted Noir, his beautiful stallion. “If a horse reflects a man’s soul, than yours must be awfully dull, sweet sister.”
Genny patted her mare’s neck. “There’s not a dull thing about Rain, don’t be so harsh.”
“Except her name and age,” Jasper laughed. “Oh don’t be sad, Gen. Come now, let’s ride. Before this wretched rain begins to fall.”
“Race you to the pond!” Genevieve giggled.
They started with a trot, and gradually moved into a full gallop. This horse really could fly, his black legs beating the Earth with such a ferocity that Jasper’s spirits soared. Genevieve was far behind by the time Jasper reached the little pond.
Noir trotted to a stop, snorting happily. Genevieve came minutes later, and Jasper laughed. “I won,” he rejoiced.
“I let you win.”
“You did not.” He looked out at the clear water reflecting the gray sky. “Do you suppose I would die if I leapt into the water at this moment? Freeze to death and whatnot?”
“Freeze?” Genevieve mused, coming up beside him. “March is awfully cold, but no… I don’t think you’d freeze. I’d say you’d drown, but you’re such a marvelous swimmer.”
Jasper sighed. “Life is so boring when one doesn’t have the option of dying.”
“I’m sure Father would disagree with you,” she whispered. “His cough is so dreadful. I always fear he’ll hack his lungs to death at any moment.”
“I reckon he will,” Jasper said. “But at least there’s that thrill. You and I, Genny, we have the world at our fingertips. London adores us, our family adores us, young girls and handsome men alike adore us. There’s no threat to make life more interesting.”
“Admiration makes life interesting,” Genevieve disagreed. “I’d rather be loved than feared or hated.”
Jasper shrugged. “Not hated… but loved and feared. Now that would be enjoyable.”
“I don’t believe you have it in you to be terrifying,” Genny said. “You’re too kind, Jazz. You’re too thoughtful and intelligent.”
“You don’t think I could be cruel?” he smirked.
“Never,” she assured him.
“That,” Jasper remarked, “Is a projection, Miss Blackmore. A projection of you, the sweetest thing in all of London. And you could never be cruel.”
“And if you’re related to me, than you couldn’t either, my brother,” she said.
“Alright, I give. You’re right,” he laughed. “Now, after a run around the pond, we shall race again back, and I will beat you again, perfectly fairley.Then I’m going to have lunch with a friend.”
“And who might this friend be?’ Genevieve inquired. “It can’t possibly be one of the Jameses. You’re right, they are dreadfully boring. So who is it?”
“Some uninteresting little thing, a friend of a friend from my school years,” Jasper said, shrugging his strong shoulders and nudging Noir with his heel. “A nobody.”
From behind him, he heard Genny’s quiet voice murmur, “Ah, so much of a nobody she is
actually a somebody.”
Jasper rolled onto his back, gasping. The sheets, white as Heaven’s sun, fluttered and fell slowly back to Earth, settling around his body. The girl’s bubbling giggles burst from underneath the sheets and she crawled back up so that her head was on the pillow. She rolled to her side, a hand on Jasper’s shoulder, her ripe cheeks flushed with color.
“Happy birthday, Mister Blackmore,” the girl murmured contently. “I hope you liked my gift.”
Jasper laughed, running a hand through his golden locks. “Oh indeed I did. I would even go so far as to ask you to give it again…” Jasper paused, trying to recall the girl’s name. He knew he should remember it, as he’d dined with her three times in the last two weeks, but it had just escaped his mind. Something with an S… Sarah? Sybil? Sam...antha! Samantha, that was it. “You are such a joy, Samantha.”
Samantha smiled, her hand tracing the top of Jasper’s thigh beneath the covers. She sighed deeply. “You sound like you love me, Mister Blackmore, and I know that can’t be true.”
Jasper bit his lip, grinning. “I certainly love parts of you.” He rolled onto his side so that he was looking at her. She really was a very pretty girl, with perfect auburn ringlets, a freckled face, and slender, soft legs.
“Have you ever been in love?” Samantha asked after a moment. “Rather, have you ever even loved?’
Jasper scoffed. “Of course I have, don’t be an idiot.”
“Oh really? And who is this lucky girl?”
Jasper closed his eyes to hide the humour burning in his sapphire irises. “Her name’s Bessie. She will always have my heart.”
Samantha sighed deeply and shifted onto her back. Jasper opened his eyes again to see the girl staring up and the ceiling. “That’s terribly romantic. But this Bessie must not like you spending so much time with me, then.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t mind,” Jasper said, rolling his eyes. “This topic is much too serious for my taste. Let’s not speak of love, it is my birthday, after all.”
“You’re such a curious boy,” Samantha mused. “But all right, since it is your birthday. What is it you want to talk about?”
“Mmm… nothing,” Jasper said. “Let us not speak of anything. Words only get in the way of our lips doing better things.”
“Says the man who speaks in poetry!” Samantha cried. She shook her head, then murmured, “Words have their own power, don’t just assume that may be forgotten.”
Jasper’s left eyebrow lifted mockingly. “Words may have power out on the streets of London, but they have no place in a bedroom. Now gift me with your kisses and I will forget your silly questions.”
Samantha leaned slowly forward and pressed her rose petal lips to his sweet carnation of a mouth. Suddenly the loud bong of the clock striking the hour disrupted the quiet room, and Jasper’s eyes flew open. “Egad! Is it three already?!” He leapt out of the bed, and began to dress himself.
“Why, do you have a train to catch?” Samantha joked. She pressed her face into the pillows again. “Forget the train. Stay here. What could possibly be calling you so suddenly?”
“A meal,” Jasper said, pulling on his shoes. “With my favorite relatives.”
“But you’ve just eaten with me,” Samantha argued. “I highly doubt you could hunger for more food at all until this evening.”
“Not food, just better company.” He smoothed his hair in a mirror standing on the wall.
“Your words smart, Mister Blackmore,” whispered the girl.
“You know I delight in your presence, Samantha,” Jasper amended. “Now shall I pay the innkeeper now? Remember that if anyone asks the name of the boy in your room, you give them--”
“Lucas James, yes I know. Isn’t that the name of some young politician?”
“Only his brother,” Jasper said, putting on his coat and dropping payment on the foot of the bed. “Now are you leaving soon or not?”
Samantha shook her head, her eyes closing. “I’ll stay for a while longer. Goodbye, Jasper.” He let the door slam behind him, leaving the naked girl sleeping between the white sheets.
This was a moment when one of his mangled thoughts writhed and contorted inside his brain, taking dark shape after dark shape. He imagined what he could do to Samantha, to make her shut up, and relieve him of all her stupid little questions. Perhaps cut her tongue out, as that would still keep her pretty face in tact. Although he did not actually intend to do this, he felt no remorse about the idea of mutilating this girl. He knew Genevieve would have struck him down, but Genny didn’t know half the terrible things that swam across his mind, and him powerless to stop them. Why should he? Thoughts never hurt anyone, only actions. And Jasper Blackmore was most definitely a man of actions.
Jasper caught the next hansom to his home, the Blackmore Manor, which was a truly lovely estate with high windows and green land, just a half hour’s ride out of London. Jasper noticed the white and blue of his sister’s dress, stained with mud at the hem, disappearing through the kitchen door as he neared his own front doors. He then followed with his eyes a short ways to find the young man who worked in the stable turning back to tend to Genevieve’s horse.
He looked only a moment, noting to ask her later, and then paid the driver. Jasper then entered the house, and Bessie barked her hello. He knelt to pet her, and she licked the side of his face, yipping happily.
“Ah, my dear,” his mother cried, coming into the room with one of the servants, an old fat man named George. “Your uncle Victor arrived early. We were just about to send George to find you. Where were you?”
“I was with Walter James, after all,” he lied. “Lost track of time, I’m afraid. Now. Where can I find my dear uncle and cousin?”
“They’re in the library. Ezra has quite a fondness for books,” his mother said as she ushered him down the hall and into the enormous room, Bessie close behind. Jasper’s mother announced her son’s arrival, then shut the door behind him and left to find her other child and leave the men alone.
Inside sat Uncle Victor, a tall thin man who in fact resembled Jasper in approximately thirty or so years. His hair, though gray now, used to be a luscious golden like his nephew’s and he still somewhat had that notorious sapphire gleam in his eyes.
“Jasper!” Victor exclaimed, leaping up to embrace him. “My God, boy, I haven’t seen you in only a year and it looks as though you’ve grown a foot!”
“Nearly five inches,” Jasper agreed happily and clapping Victor on the back. “But Ezra looks as though he has quite literally grown a foot!” Jasper turned to his cousin, who was tall and slim like his father, with his same high forehead and old eyes. He had pasty pale skin and black hair, and thin pink lips. Youth did not gift Ezra in the least bit as it had Jasper, but the boy smiled bashfully when his older cousin turned the attention on him.
“Happy birthday, Jazz,” Ezra mumbled, shaking his hand. He then looked animatedly about the room. “You have so many books. How do you find the time to read them all?”
Jasper chuckled. “Genny is much more entranced by literature than I. I prefer to spend my precious time on other things. However, a good book on a slow summer day is one of life’s simple joys.”
“I would read in here all day if I could,” mused the boy.
“Nonsense! You ought to be out seeking adventure, pleasure!” Jasper said. He looked at Victor. “You must let him stay here awhile. I would be a delightful mentor, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps in a month or two,” Uncle Victor agreed, smiling. He fell back onto the devon and pulled out a pipe, which he stuffed with tobacco and lit. “Speaking of pleasure, how is it you haven’t found a match yet, my dear boy?”
“Uncle Victor, I am still so young!” Jasper laughed. “I don’t intend to find a girl for at least half a decade.”
Victor puffed the smoke out of his mouth in one solid cloud. “With your looks, you could have the pick of the litter! What of that Lord Watson’s youngest girl? She’d be a fine wife.”
“She’s barely fourteen!” Countered Jasper. “I don’t want a child for a wife, however lovely she may be.”
Victor shrugged casually. “As I tell my son: rose buds are every bit as pretty, if not prettier in their freshness, than the full blooming flower. Nipping the bud before it’s blossomed is certainly not a pleasure to be brushed aside.”
“The Lord’s daughter would be a better match for Ezra, I would think,” Jasper said, bitterness leaking into his voice at Victor’s words. Jasper felt a strange twinge of disgust at the thought of his uncle thinking of a little girl in a sexual manner. “She and Ezra are much closer in age.”
“Poppycock,” Victor said. “In any case, why don’t we move to the drawing room. Your mother has had tea set out, and I’m feeling awfully drowsy. Being surrounded by these books isn’t helping me wake at all. And I can’t wait to have a chat with my brother.”
“He’s not doing so well,” Jasper murmured as they left the library. “His lungs have only gotten worse.”
“A true shame,” Victor remarked. “Matthew is my favorite brother, I pray that I won’t see him go. It seems as though everyone I love will die around me sooner or later.”
“Everyone dies, Father,” Ezra said under his breath.
Jasper watched the boy for a moment, seeing his deep remorse. He knew that Ezra would do anything he asked, and so he smiled sadly at him, putting a hand on his shoulder comfortingly. “You must miss her terribly.”
“Please,” Victor snapped. “It is your birthday, boy. Let’s not talk of my wife any longer. She is quite dead to me.” He then forced a laugh, and Jasper joined in.
In the drawing room, sat the three other Blackmores, and George who was hovering about them dusting the tables and vases. The room had several tables, chairs, and sofas, large windows showing the splendid garden outside, and a large black piano. Mrs. Blackmore sat on a sofa and conversed with her daughter in a low voice. Genevieve, who’d changed into a new dress, met eyes with her brother and smiled warmly, but he could see she was hiding something. No matter, he’d extract it from her later.
“Have you given him his gift yet?” Jasper’s father asked his brother.
“Not yet, Matty,” Victor chortled. “I was in need of a nice cup of tea first. And I wanted to ask Jasper’s plan for his future. He has told me he is not seeking a marriage anytime soon. He must have other ideas.”
“Oh, I intend to rule the world,” Jasper offered, with a grin. “World domination is such a delicious concept.”
“My brother is quite the joker,” Genevieve laughed, along with the rest of the family. “Come now, let’s drink our tea and not talk of the nightmare the world would know if Jasper Blackmore were the unquestionable monarch.”
“But what a delightful topic it is!” Jasper cried. “And now all we have to discuss are stupid politics or worldly affairs. I don’t care much for either.”
“That’s my son,” Mr. Blackmore said, sighing. “Wants all the power in the world, but couldn’t care less about what actually goes on in it.”
“It’s all much the same to me,” Jasper remarked. “Now, for God’s sake, Uncle. My present! I must see it!”
“Ah, yes.” Victor stood and retrieved a closed wooden box from where it had been sitting on a table against the wall. “March is such a dull month to be born… but both you and Matt’s and my father was born in March as well. And so I see it only fitting to gift you with his favorite weapon as a young man.”
Jasper excitedly opened the brown box. Inside, nestled in a bed of velvet, sat a dagger, about as long as his forearm from handle to tip. With a golden hilt encrusted with sapphires and a steel blade, the dagger gleamed in London’s dull gray light. Unaware of his cousin, who gazed enviously at the beautiful instrument, Jasper sang, “Oh it’s absolutely perfect, Uncle! I’ve never seen a more magnificent weapon. You must teach me to use it!”
“Use it, my dear boy! I should certainly hope you won’t,” Victor exclaimed. “It is merely decoration. I believe your grandfather only used it once, to skin an animal for your grandmother. But it is meant to be admired, not used.”
“Everything can be used to one’s advantage if one simply learns how to manipulate it,” Jasper murmured. “I do not believe in leaving things unused. I shall have to teach myself, I suppose.”
“I’m sure you will be able to. There’s nothing you can’t do, darling,” Jasper’s mother said.
“Yes, I know,” Jasper remarked, brushing away her compliment. He looked animatedly up at Victor. “Thank you, Uncle. I am simply in love with it already. It is a marvelous gift.”
“It warms my heart to hear you say that,” Victor said.
“Yes, as it does mine,” Jasper agreed. He regretfully closed the box and handed it to the servant George. “Put this in my room, on my bed, George.”
“Yes, sir,” the fat man obeyed, and hurried off.
Uncle Victor leaned back in his chair and refilled his pipe. “My three favorite things in life are tea, a good smoke, and beautiful music,” he mused.
“Jasper is quite extraordinary at the piano,” Genevieve offered.
“I’ve heard!” Victor answered. “You must play for me.”
“Yes, please!” His mother insisted. “Your music is so lovely.”
Jasper agreed, standing. “But only if Genny sings with me. And perhaps even Ezra, if he knows the song.”
“Play Bach! Or… no, the Irish poet’s song. Thomas Moore!” Genevieve requested. “The Last Rose of Summer is my favorite.”
So, Jasper sat down at the grand piano and began to play, and Genevieve sang in her bright, clear voice:
'Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone ;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone ;
No flower of her kindred,
No rose-bud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.
The two were such a beautiful picture it brought their mother to tears. Ezra, in his voice like a rusty doorknob, even joined in at parts, as did Jasper in his honey-soft voice.
I'll not leave thee, thou lone one !
To pine on the stem ;
Since the lovely are sleeping,
Go sleep thou with them.
Thus kindly I scatter
Thy leaves o'er the bed,
Where thy mates of the garden
Lie scentless and dead.
The piano’s soft notes tangled with the delicate lyrics of the song, painting the room pink and gold, and the three Blackmore children smiled triumphantly at each other as they sang the last words of the song.
So soon may I follow,
When friendships decay,
And from Love's shining circle
The gems drop away.
When true hearts lie wither'd,
And fond ones are flown,
Oh ! who would inhabit
This bleak world alone ?
That night, after Jasper had bid his favorite relatives goodbye, and made Victor promise to send Ezra to stay with him soon (when they could have real fun), he sent his personal servant Edwin away, and climbed into bed. Beside him, sprawled on the covers, were his pocket watch, the box with the exquisite dagger, and Genny’s mysterious book.
Pursing his lush lips, he brushed his hand across the book, and slowly opened the cover. Oh, but how curious! The pages were completely blank. It was not a book at all, but a beautiful leather-bound journal with golden pages. Hand-written at the very top of the first page in fragile cursive, his sister had scrawled:
To my brother, the man with the glorious ideas, I give you this notebook. Fill each page with your splendid imaginings and wonderful writings. Every conversation you deem important, every sonnet that comes to mind, every lyric a girl inspires, every throb of feeling you may experience. This notebook is where you may bury your heart, my dear brother. I love you.
Jasper shut the book with satisfaction. Yes, perhaps he would record his deepest desires in the pretty little book. Or perhaps he would let it collect dust on his nightstand or in the library. Bessie, who’d been lounging underneath the bed, yelped and jumped onto his bed beside him. She curled into his side, licking his face, and he pet her soft fur until he nodded off to sleep.
The next few days, Jasper spent his time indoors, alone, as he really liked it. He read, he played music, he wrote. Mostly he toyed with his dagger, which was the perfect weight in his hand. He played with it like a child with a wooden sword, piercing the air, and leaping gleefully from his bed to the devon to his bed again.
“Avast!” He shouted. “I am Sir Jasper Blackmore, the pirate slayer of England!” Then he would collapse into a fit laughter at his own stupidity while Bessie sat beside him, a look of utter bemusement on her droopy face.
Jasper knew that this play was not actually using the dagger to the full of its ability, but he would soon find a way to use it. In the meantime, he kept it tucked in his coat, as the entire length of the thing was less than a foot.
It was early on a Thursday morning, and he’d taken Noir out for a ride through the forest. He’d stopped, not too far from the estate, as he could still see the stable, and tied up his stallion to a branch. He then took the dagger out of his coat, and dug the tip into the bark of a tree, loving how easy the soggy bark gave way under the blade.
Around him, he could hear the lush sounds of the forest; the chirping of birds, the rustle of the tree branches, the bubble of a nearby stream, the heavy breath of his horse as he nibbled on a weed growing around the roots of the tree. It was cloudy, but not raining yet. Jasper wouldn’t have minded, anyhow. He enjoyed the chill of the rain on his skin. His mother and former nanny and even his sister would scold him, telling him he would catch his death. He didn’t care, he just wanted to sit in the rain and let the freezing water drip down his face and through his golden hair.
He absently began carving the words to The Last Rose of Summer into the tree, when he heard the familiar giggle of his sister from a distance away. He expected her to be laughing at his obsession with the dagger, but when he turned, he saw that she hadn’t been laughing at him. In fact she hadn’t noticed him at all. She was strolling through the trees on foot, and was laughing with someone else.
Jasper craned his neck, trying to see who Genny was with, and when he finally caught sight of the face, anger ignited in his blood. It was that blasted stable hand!
The lad, who was young and handsome, had his hand on the small of Genevieve’s back, and was leading her through the trees. They were just far enough away that Jasper couldn’t tell the words that were spoken, only the delight in his sister’s voice.
Once, they were close enough for Jasper to make out the word, “Marriage,” from his sister, and heat rose to his cheeks. They walked together on the path from the trees to the stables, and just before entering the stable, hidden from the house by the large architecture, the lad leaned in and kissed Genevieve.
A low curse escaped from Jasper’s lips, his teeth grinding. Why in the world would his perfect sister even consider that lowlife stable hand? How could he possibly think he was worthy of a Blackmore child? He waited until the couple parted, and Genevieve had returned to the house and the lad into the stable. Then, he mounted his horse and rode back. The stable door, which was old and heavy and slowly decaying, creaked as he opened it and led Noir in.
The stable hand looked up, a smile on his chiseled face. “Good afternoon, sir,” he called cheerily. “Did you have a good ride?”
“Splendid,” Jasper murmured. He handed the reigns to the boy, a cold smile smeared on his lips. “And you? Did you have a lovely walk… this afternoon?”
The stable hand’s eyes widened for a moment, his face paling. “Oh. Oh, um, yes, sir. I suppose you… you… saw…”
“Of course. You were rather careless, kissing my sister out in the open like you did.” Jasper stared into his eyes, unblinking. The stable hand dropped his gaze, pursing his lips.
“Please forgive me, sir. I… I love--”
“No,” Jasper interrupted him. “No, you don’t.”
“I do!” The lad cried. “I do, sir. Genevieve is a wonderful young woman, she’s an exquisite girl. Please have mercy on me, sir. I--”
Jasper lifted his hand, and the boy stopped. He bit his lower lip, thinking, then looked up at the stable hand and smiled. His blushing lips made the smile seem sincere, but his blue eyes created a biting chill. “Mercy?” he repeated. “There’s no need for mercy, my good man. Please, carry on your secret affair. It will run itself through soon, I’m sure. But I warn you. If one word of this leaks out, and my sister is unmasked…” he leaned in, baring his teeth in a gritted smile. “I will wreck you, boy.”
The stable hand gulped, nodding quickly. “Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Not a word.”
“Excellent.” Jasper stood up straight, fixing his coat. “And you will not mention our little chat to my sister, either. I’m sure she will become bored of you soon enough. If word of this gets out, though, I shall most certainly have you driven away, and you will never see her again. So I hope for your sake that you actually love her.”
He then turned, and left the frightened young man in the stable alone with the horses.
“We have a new maid,” Mrs. Blackmore said the next morning, over breakfast.
Jasper looked up from his jam-smeared toast, a sparkle of interest glinting in his eyes. “Is she to take care of the house now that that old hag has retired?”
“Yes,” his father said, ignoring Jasper’s insult. “Her name is Esther Thomas. Just don’t start if you see a new face dusting the library.”
“I don’t intend to,” Jasper muttered, sipping his tea. He smirked at Genny, who rolled her eyes as if to say, Don’t excite yourself too much, Jasper.
He first caught a glimpse of the maid, Esther, after breakfast. He was sitting in the library, delighting himself by reading Shakespeare’s works. While lounging across the library’s devon, looking like a perfect painting made by Botticelli or perhaps one of Donatello’s graceful sculptures, Esther came in, dusting as she went. She was a tiny thing, and couldn’t be older than eightteen. She wasn’t particularly beautiful, rather plain and ordinary looking, except that she had the most startlingly green eyes he’d ever seen. They looked like perfect emeralds, encrusted in her large eyes that were shaded in long jet black lashes.
“Morning,” he greeted her, and she looked up, startled.
“Mornin’, m’lord,” she replied shyly.
“You do know that I am not a Lord, don’t you?” Jasper asked, laughing warmly. “Although it sounded so delightful in your little voice, I surely wish I was!”
The girl blushed. “Oh, please forgive me, sir. That was habit, I swear it!”
“Don’t fret,” Jasper said, closing his book loudly. “We are not bad people. A simple mistake such as a title can be easily overlooked.”
“Thank you kindly, sir.”
“But of course.” He picked his book up again, then paused and turned to the maid. “Oh, and if possible, I am always fond of a bouquet of flowers in my room. It brightens up the place.”
“Yes, sir,” Esther murmured. Then she sheepishly left the library, but not before glancing back at Jasper, her cheeks pink.
That afternoon, Jasper left for London, and met again with Samantha Stirling, in a barren hotel room, and she pressed her pretty lips to his, and his strong arms snaked around her slender waist. When she yanked off his coat and it dropped to the ground, there was the dull thud of the beautiful dagger on the wooden floor. The image of the dagger flashed across Jasper’s mind, and he considered briefly bringing it out, letting it add to the fun. He may be fond of Samantha, but she could get rather dull at times. Of course, he left the blade on the floor, and proceeded to push the girl onto the creaky mattress.
After, when they were lying side by side in the bed beneath the white sheets, Samantha once again began her long list of pesky questions. She rolled onto her side, gazing at him inquisitively. “Why is it,” she began, “that you fancy me? You could have anyone in town. Why me?”
He sighed heavily. “Because you are lovely, for a third-class girl… And when I met you in that bookstore and saw you reading my satire, you were the only girl I’d ever met who told me that you honestly didn’t care for it.”
“And you liked that?”
“It was intriguing,” he admitted. The raw honesty made him uncomfortable, so he turned his eyes to hers with an intensity he knew would make her shy away. But she didn’t. She lifted her eyebrow at him, her eyes harder than usual, a smirk on her lips.
“It was true, though,” she said. “That satire was balderdash. I’ve never read a more ridiculous story.”
“Ah, but I had you salivating over my poetry, don’t you remember?”
She nodded. “That you did. I especially enjoyed the one about the winter. That drove me senseless with envy, that you could write something beautiful like that, and I could not.”
“One of my finer works,” Jasper agreed. “Short and simple, but certainly poetic.”
“Recite it for me,” Samantha requested. “Please. I haven’t heard it in ages.”
“I don’t recall it.”
“That’s a lie,” Samantha accused. “You know every word.”
“I do not.”
“Try, at the very least,” she begged.
Jasper bit his lip for a moment. “Fine,” he said at last. “But you mustn’t mock me if I get it wrong.”
“Right then, let’s see…” He breathed in. “I believe I called it ‘Winter’s Call’, did I not? All right, well here goes. Winter’s Call.” The words curved on his tongue, dancing slowly through the chilled air. He recited the poem with all the convincingness of a great actor, and let the lull of his voice caress each word as it slipped out of his lips.
I see the pale snow of her complexion
Her eyes cast on the fleeing fall
Her cold, crisp fingers tighten around my city
And I hear the howl of Winter’s call
Her empty eyes are in the the frozen water
Her skin the delicate white of a porcelain doll
And beneath the ice-covered surface
I hear the soft wail of Winter’s call
She steals the daylight, the nights grow longer
Up my throat scrapes an echoing caterwaul
I am in the darkness, I am in the black
I hear only the whimper of Winter’s call
My hands are in the freezing water
Dragging her out like a fisher’s trawl
And then I am kneeled, weeping, across her cadaver
Never again to hear Winter’s call.
It was silent in the hotel room for a moment. Jasper looked at Samantha to see a tear slide down her cheek. She sniffled, trying to be inconspicuous about it, and wiped the tear away. Jasper ignored her crying, as he had no clue how to react. He instead turned his eyes back up to the ceiling and waited for her to speak.
“I’d forgotten how sad it was,” she whispered finally. “When I first heard it, I’d read it ten times through, but until now I’d only recalled the words, not the feeling. Surely it was written after somebody?”
A sharp laugh escaped from his lips, startling Samantha. “A writer does not need to feel what he writes about. I was merely mimicking a sorrow I’d seen in an old man once, as he fished his daughter from her watery grave. I needn’t know the actual emotion to write about it. I felt nothing when I saw the girl, although it was a shame.”
“Well…” She said, stronger now. “You certainly impersonated the feeling brilliantly.”
“I know,” he agreed. “That is why it was so successful. People find beauty in pain. It is a major flaw in the human existence. I simply know how to manipulate the flaw to my advantage.”
“And are you, right now, manipulating me? Manipulating my… major flaw?” Samantha questioned.
This brought a smile of amusement to Jasper’s lips. “You mean take advantage of your adulation of beauty and your heart that somehow understands desolation? To make you lust after me, and cry on my demand? Manipulate you? I would never.”
“You’re terrible!” she cried. “You have no heart!”
“Perhaps not my own. But I believe I am still in possession of your heart.”
Samantha scoffed. “You think I love you. You are wrong, Mister Blackmore. I can see you. I can see who you really are.”
“Yes,” Jasper allowed. “But just because you can see how perfectly awful I am, doesn’t mean you do not love me.”
“You flatter yourself too much,” Samantha argued. “I could never give my heart to a man without one.”
“But you could give your body?” he challenged.
“Well, you’ve got one of those,” she laughed. Then she breathed in a sigh, and rolled onto her back. “You are my secret lover without even a hint of love, Jasper Blackmore.”
“Almost poetic, isn’t it?” he said.
“Perhaps I will take my heart elsewhere, give it to someone who has a heart to return,” she murmured.
Jasper looked at her sharply. “Never,” he said. “You are mine. All mine.”
“I am yours, but you don’t love me? Is that it?” This conversation was beginning to feel less like play to Samantha and more like a dangerous game. She looked over at Jasper who was still staring at her intently.
“I may not understand love at all, but I do understand beauty. And you, Samantha, are quite beautiful.”
“Is that all you have to say about me? My one quality worth noting is my pretty face?” she finally snapped. She sat up, her back to him.
Jasper, unphased by her sudden outburst, casually reached out and let the backs of his fingers trail down her spine. “You think that because of your beauty you are being used by men… you don’t understand the world, Samantha. You can use your beauty to use men. Don’t you see? All humans are purposeful when put to the correct task. Use your pretty face to figure out which ones you can work to your advantage. For example, you’ve already seduced me, and you know many things about me my family does not even know. You could use me at any given time. You could force me to give you large sums of money, you could blackmail me into doing anything you wanted. But why don’t you? Honestly, I am curious.”
“Because you terrify me,” she muttered, her back still to him. She slowly turned around, but still remained sitting up. “In truth, I suppose it is because I do not believe in manipulating people. Seems like something the devil does. I don’t want to be the devil. I want to be good.”
“You seem to enjoy sinning with me rather more than you should, if that is the case,” Jasper chuckled.
“Do you take nothing seriously?” she exclaimed.
“Why should one be serious, when life could simply be one jolly laugh after the next?” he asked, then pulled Samantha, angry as she was, back down next to him.