[Eleanor]: 668.Amelia.Chapter XV

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2011-08-06 17:48:09

They arrived late at the inn where they were to stay and play the next evening. When accommodations had been arranged earlier, they had not counted on having a woman with them, and there was some concern about sleeping arrangements. “We’ll have to take another room,” said Jason, already counting the extra cost in his head. “Aunt Sarah was right. This is very awkward. We already have Victor and Conrad in one room, Frederick and myself in another.”

Amelia felt guilty and said, “I can sleep on the floor of someone’s room. I don’t mind.”

“I would gladly share my bed with our newest member,” offered Alex, “as long as she doesn’t snore,” he added with a leer.

“Since I am the only one who cannot see Amelia’s feminine charms,” Frederick said quietly, “I offer to inconvenience myself on her behalf so that her modesty is not compromised. She can take the bed, and I will sleep in a chair or on the floor.” 

“It’s up to you, Amelia. What would you like?” asked Jason.

“I hate to put anyone out,” she said, “but if it’s not too much trouble, I’ll bunk with Frederick; and if he doesn’t behave himself, he’ll find himself sleeping with the horses.” This elicited a guffaw from Conrad, but Alex looked sour as he carried his gear up to Jason’s room.

“Frederick, you don’t have to sleep on the floor or a chair. We can share the bed. Just… just be nice,” Amelia said somewhat uncertainly once they were in their assigned quarters.

“I really don’t mind,” the blind man answered. “Believe me, I have slept on much worse.”

“Well I mind!” she said emphatically. “I am no better than anyone here and I don’t want to be treated differently. So, please, no one will be sleeping on the floor on my account.”

Even though she knew that Frederick could not see her, she still felt self conscious as she stripped down to her small clothes. When he undressed she turned her back. They got into opposite sides of the bed, Frederick falling asleep the moment his head hit the pillow. Amelia was exhausted by the day of travel but lay awake and stared into the darkness, thinking of all she had left behind. She could still feel Sarah’s arms around her in the warm embrace they had shared that morning. She thought of the girls in the kitchen and wondered if they had hired another scullery maid yet to take her place. She would miss Bess, who had been like an older sister to her, and Louise, who always kept an eye out for her. Mistress Roach and Elsa would always be warm memories. But most of all, Amelia missed Lorenzo, whom she would never see again. Her heart ached as she remembered the hours they had spent playing together, and his patience with her as she tried to master the techniques he taught her. Her eyes filled with tears, and she eventually cried herself to sleep. 

Amelia dreamed vividly that night. Once more she was riding in the carriage, hearing the sounds of the horses’ hooves on the hard road surface, the creak of the traces. She relived the moment when she took off her mask revealing the face beneath, but this time the gasps of surprise from her fellow travellers were followed by screams of terror. She turned to look at her reflection in the window of the carriage, and saw the face of a monster, deformed, scarred, ravaged by disease—terrifying. She cried out in horror and awoke thrashing. Frederick’s arms were around her. 

“Hush, now,” he soothed. “You had a bad dream.”

“Oh, Frederick,” she sobbed into his chest, “I dreamt I was a monster, that I took off my mask in the carriage and my face was … monstrous!”

“Sh,” he whispered and gently brushed away her tears with his long fingers. He stroked her short hair and murmured, “Go back to sleep. I won’t let anything harm you.” When the morning sun shone in through the window the next morning, he was still holding her.

At breakfast, looks of speculation were exchanged by the four other men in the troupe as the two harpists joined them. Amelia suddenly realized what the others must be thinking and blushed crimson. Only Frederick seemed totally unflustered as he stirred sugar into his tea. 

“Did you have a good night’s sleep, Freddy?” asked Alex. 

“Splendid,” Frederick replied, “and yourself?”

“Probably not as good yours. Did you know Jason snores?”

“As a matter of fact, why do you think I was so quick to offer up my bed for our newest member?” responded Frederick cooly.

Alex leered, “Are you sure that was the only reason?”

Jason broke in, “All right, we have a concert tonight and a rehearsal to get through. I presume everyone here is an adult, yes? Well, then, let’s act like grownups.”

Amelia stuffed the last of her toast and jam into her mouth and quickly washed it down with tea. “I’m sorry,” she started, “I, er…” Conrad and Victor both broke into gales of laughter and thumped Frederick on the back, which caused him to spit out his buttered bread.

“What did I do to deserve this abuse?” he asked petulantly. “Now I’m insulted.” He found the bit of bread, finished eating it, and then rose from his place. “Shall we get started?”

The musicians set up their instruments on the stage area where they were to play that night, a platform at one end of the tavern hall. A large window behind them spilled morning sunlight into the room and caught Amelia’s short hair in a shaft that set it ablaze. “Nice hair,” said Alex. “You should let it grow.” Amelia self consciously touched her hair. She had worn the mask for so long she’d forgotten what it was like to have it off. “Thanks,” she answered.

The troupe rehearsed all morning, broke for a quick lunch, and then split up to follow their own separate diversions. Jason repaired to his room to practise and then nap. The brothers headed out to find some entertainment. Alex started to approach Amelia when Frederick took her by the arm and said, “Would you fancy a walk, my dear?” She asked, “Where to?” and he replied, “There’s a market in this town with the most wonderful smells. Let’s explore.”

With Frederick leading, his willow cane tapping the way, the two harpists wandered the narrow streets until they found the market square. True to his word, spice merchants had stands full of exotic wares and Frederick inhaled deeply as they passed table. There were also braziers with different foods cooking, their aromas wafting toward the passersby, tempting them to buy a tasty snack.

They walked arm in arm through the market . She described the sights to him, the colours of early fall fruits and vegetables, and the different crafts on display. They came to a table where a merchant was selling colourful silk scarves, and Amelia stopped to look. She picked up a length of emerald green shot with gold thread and held it up to her face. The merchant smiled approvingly.

“This is beautiful,” said Amelia, “but I can’t afford it.” She was about to put it back on the table when the merchant said, “This scarf pales next to your own loveliness, miss. I would gladly part with it for half its value so that it might grace your beautiful neck.”

In spite of her light purse, Amelia could not resist. She pulled out some coins and handed them to the man. “Thank you,” she said. The merchant wrapped up the scarf in paper and handed it to her. “It is I who thank you, miss,” he said.

“I wish you could see it, Frederick. It’s so beautiful,” Amelia said as they continued their walk. 

“I will see it with my fingers when you have it on,” he answered. They returned to their room at the inn and Amelia napped while Frederick practised on his harp sotto voce. As they were getting cleaned up and dressed in preparation for that evening’s performance, there was a knock at the door.

“Who’s there,” asked Amelia.

“It’s Jason,” called the fiddler. “I have something for you.”

Amelia opened the door and let him in. He handed her a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with a black velvet ribbon. “Aunt Sarah asked me to give you this before we played again.”

She untied the ribbon and unwrapped a blouse and trousers of soft fabric that shimmered in the light. “Oh,” she gasped, “how lovely!” The blouse had multicoloured vertical strips and wide sleeves; the trousers were a deep burgundy. She closed the door on Jason and quickly changed into the new clothes. They fit perfectly. She would have to write Sarah to thank her. She wrapped her new silk scarf around her short auburn hair and observed the result in the mirror. “Frederick, what do you think?” she asked.

The blind harpist ran his delicate fingers over her head and adjusted the scarf minutely. “Much better,” he said, and then they both laughed.

The audience was sparse when they began their set, but the tavern filled as the night progressed. The crowd became rowdy with drink and at one point a tough-looking labourer leapt onstage and started pawing Amelia during a number when Frederick had the vocal solo. Amelia was terrified and froze. The band stopped playing and Conrad stood up from behind his percussion instruments, beaters in hand and approached the man.

“Sir, I would ask you kindly to get off the stage and stop harassing our band member,” he said, his drumsticks held in full view. Although he was shorter than his brother, he was stockier, and Amelia did not doubt that he could do some real damage when provoked, especially armed as he was. The man looked like he wanted to start a fight, but one of his friends in the crowd dragged him back down and pulled him out of the tavern. Amelia breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Shall we pick that one up again from verse two?” asked Frederick, and they did.

The musicians were shaken by the incident and discussed it after the show as they were putting their things away. Amelia blamed herself.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” admonished Jason. “You are faultless in this. Well, if being overwhelmingly beautiful can be considered a fault, then you are definitely guilty, although I certainly can’t find any fault.” He grinned. “You know what I mean.”

“It’s true, though,” said Victor. “We play in some pretty rough places with some pretty mean customers. There are bound to be more incidents like this.”

“I could put my mask back on,” Amelia offered dubiously.

“No,” said Jason, “that would cause other problems. People will want to know what’s under there out of morbid curiosity, and you could be attacked again. We need to find another solution.”

In Frederick’s arms that night, Amelia wept quietly. She was more trouble than she was worth, she felt. Frederick held her and comforted her until she fell asleep. Her dreams were again fraught with monstrous images. The incident in the tavern haunted her as she was attacked by burly men, all wearing the face she had seen in the window of the carriage in the dream of the night before. The next morning they were on the move again, this time in a farmer’s wagon since they could not afford a carriage. Amelia sat with her back against a bag of potatoes and watched the road they traveled disappear behind them. She had dark circles under her eyes and looked haggard. Jason sat by her and patted her shoulder.

“Amelia, you look awful,” he said.

“I’m sorry. I slept very poorly last night. I kept having bad dreams,” she said.

“What did you dream about?” Jason asked.

“Remember when I took off my mask in the carriage when we were leaving Martha and Gareth’s?” she said. “In my dream, I do it again, but underneath it I really am a monster, an ugly troll. And everyone is screaming, including myself.”

“That’s pretty intense,” said Jason, and shuddered. “But I think I have a solution to our problem.”

“You do? Tell me!”

“I was just looking at you now, thinking that you really do look pretty awful. If there were a way to make you look like this all the time, that would keep the crazy drunkards from attacking you. Well, not all of them; some people just don’t care where a woman is involved. But it’ll cut down on some of the attention,” he said.

Amelia smiled. “When I sang for the master’s dinner guests, Elsa painted a strawberry mark on my face. It was mostly hidden by a tulle veil, but there was just enough showing that no one would wonder why I was hiding it in the first place. I could do something like that, I suppose.”

“It doesn’t have to be that drastic,” said Jason. “Just give yourself dark circles under the eyes, like you have now, maybe a bit of a grey pallor. Just enough that you aren’t really all that attractive anymore.”

Frederick turned from where he was sitting on the other side of Amelia. “Why not an eye patch while we’re at it, and a puckered scar from brow to jaw line?” All three burst out laughing.

At the next town, Amelia shopped for the necessary face paints. She remembered how Elsa had artfully mixed her colours in a palette and wondered if she could do the same. Apart from music, she had never shown any talent for the other arts, and was a bit timorous about achieving the effect she wanted. Victor came to her rescue.

“Here, let me,” he said, as he watched her struggle with the brush and pots and the small plate she was using for a palette. He held the brush at arm’s length and appraised her, as would an artist with his pencil, then got to work. When he was done, she beheld herself in a bit of mirror and gasped. “I look terrible!” she cried. Her normally rosy cheeks were sallow, her lips pale, and there were bruise-like circles under her eyes. 

“Maybe I overdid it,” Victor said thoughtfully. “We don’t want you looking as though you’re about to collapse onstage.”

“It’ll be fine,” Amelia said, and kissed him on the cheek.

“Whoa!” cried Victor. “All right, this is my job from now on. I have exclusive Amelia-uglification rights.” The others came to inspect his work and pronounced it acceptable. Someone would have to be very drunk indeed to find the singer attractive.

Their lives settled into a routine of sorts. They played a concert, moved on to the next town, played another. Occasionally there were a few days in between, but the musicians didn’t like to stay in one place too long, for it cost money for accommodations, and money was one thing they had very little of. When they were forced to stay put, a few of them would busk in the village square and collect coins in their hats or instrument cases. This provided them with enough for food. Shelter was often hay barns along the road as they moved from one town to the next. Amelia began to understand why her fellow musicians were so thin, and noticed that her own cheeks were becoming gaunt and her clothes roomier. Victor didn’t have to “uglify” her as much; the rigours of travel were doing it for her.

When they did stay in inns and doubled up to cut down the number of rooms they had to rent, Amelia continued to share with Frederick. When she awoke from her frequent nightmares, he was there to comfort her and stroke her hair until she dozed off again. He never complained that his own sleep was also interrupted. When slumber did not return right away, they talked, sometimes for hours, and Amelia found that not only had Frederick become her best friend, but she loved him in a way she had never loved anyone else, not her parents, not Nana, nor even Lorenzo. When they became lovers, it seemed as natural as breathing, as playing music, and Amelia’s nightmares stopped coming as frequently afterward.

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