She replaced the fireplace poker and, using the ruin of Abby's robe, wiped up the splatters of blood. She did it all efficiently, turning her mind away from what had caused the damage to the room, keeping it firmly fixed on what needed to be done to save her son.
When she was certain all was as it should be, she unlocked the door again, left her now-sleeping grandchild alone.
In the morning, she would fire the nursemaid for dereliction of duty. She would have her out of Manet Hall before Lucian returned to find his wife missing.
The girl had brought it on herself, Josephine thought. No good ever came from trying to rise above your station in life. There was an order to things, and a reason for that order. If the girl hadn't bewitched Lucian-for surely there was some local witchery involved-she would still be alive.
The family had suffered enough scandal. The elopement. Oh, the embarrassment of it! Of having to hold your head high when your firstborn son ran off with a penniless, barefoot female who'd grown up in a shack in the swamp.
Then the sour taste of the pretense that followed. It was essential to save face, even after such a blow. And hadn't she done all that could be done to see that creature was dressed as befitted the family Manet?
Silk purses, sow's ears, she thought. What good were Paris fashions when the girl had only to open her mouth and sound of the swamp? For pity's sake, she'd been a servant.
Josephine stepped into the bedroom, shut the door at her back, and stared at the bed where her son's dead wife lay staring up at the blue silk canopy.
Now, she thought, Abigail Rouse was simply a problem to be solved.
Julian huddled in a chair, his head in his hands. "Stop screaming," he muttered. "Stop the screaming."
Josephine marched to him, clamped her hands on his shoulders. "Do you want them to come for you?" she demanded. "Do you want to drag the family through disgrace? To be hanged like a common thief?"
"It wasn't my fault. She enticed me. Then she attacked me. Look. Look." He turned his head. "See how she clawed my face?"
"Yes." For a moment, just for a moment, Josephine wavered. The heart inside the symbol she'd become reared up in protest against the horror of the act all women fear.
Whatever she was, she'd loved Lucian. Whatever she was, she'd been raped and murdered within feet of her own child's crib.
Julian forced her, struck her, defiled her. Killed her.
Drunk and mad, he'd killed his brother's wife. God's pity.
Then she shoved it viciously aside.
The girl was dead. Her son was not.
"You bought a prostitute tonight. Don't turn away from me," she snapped. "I'm not ignorant of the things men do. Did you buy a woman?"
She nodded briskly. "Then it was the whore who scratched you, should anyone have the temerity to ask. You were never in the nursery tonight." She cupped his face in her hands to keep his eyes level with hers. And her fingers dug into his cheeks as she spoke in low, clear tones. "What reason would you have to go there? You went out, for drink and women and, having your fill of both, came home and went to bed. Is that clear?"
"But, how will we explain-"
"We'll have nothing to explain. I've told you what you did tonight. Repeat it."
"I-I went into town." He licked his lips. Swallowed. "I drank, then I went to a brothel. I came home and went to bed."
"That's right. That's right." She stroked his scored cheek. "Now we're going to pack some of her things-some clothes, some jewelry. We'll do it quickly, as she did it quickly when she decided to run off with a man she'd been seeing in secret. A man who might very well be the father of that child upstairs."
Josephine let out a long sigh. He was the child of her heart, but she often despaired of his brain. "Never mind, Julian. You know nothing of it. Here." She went to the chifforobe, chose a long black velvet cloak. "Wrap her in this. Hurry. Do it!" she said in a tone that had him getting to his feet.
From Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts, Copyright (c) October 2001, Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, used by permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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