Chapter 43 continues
Before the time was up she had been relieved to see Jerome standing in the doorway. “Ready?” he had asked her, holding out his hand, and she had sprung up and put her hand in his and turned to say good-night to the gentleman who had not yet given her his name, although he had identified himself as Celia’s friend. He had struggled to stand up to bid them good-night, introducing himself as Roger Austin; and Jerome, acknowledging him with a nod, had returned his greeting while moving away with Jewel.
He had led her past the tables, on to the veranda and down the stairs without a word. When they reached the walkway Jewel had asked if they weren’t going to say good-night to their hosts, but he had answered shortly that he had already done so on their behalf.
Mr. Valerio’s taxi had shown up at the end of the walkway, the driver jumping out and holding the rear left door open for his passengers. Putting Jewel in and closing the door, Jerome had walked around to the right, got in, and pulled the door shut behind him, retrieving her hand in his as the car moved off and resting them on his knee, all this in silence.
Mr. Valerio had made some small talk with Jerome on the way home, Jewel said, and he had answered pleasantly but in monosyllables, from time to time squeezing her hand absentmindedly, sometimes painfully, but without looking at her.
When they reached home Jerome had alighted from the car, gone around to the driver’s window and paid him an apparently agreed upon fare, and moved on to open the door for her, taking her hand in his as she climbed out, shutting the door and standing back as Mr. Valerio drove off.
Walking hand in hand they had climbed the few steps up to the veranda and crossed it to the front door, at which Jerome had let her go, taken his keys from his pocket, opened it for her to go in and had followed her. Unable to bear the silent treatment any longer she had blurted out as he had closed the door: “You’re vexed with me about something? You haven’t said a single word to me since leaving the party!”
All he had done was study her face for a while then finally suggested quietly that she go upstairs ahead of him and they would talk about it when he joined her after securing the downstairs. He had looked so serious, she said, that she had become apprehensive and had waited anxiously for him, standing near the dresser after setting down her handbag and wrap.
When he had entered the room not long after, she had turned to him expectantly and, closing the door behind him he had walked over to her and asked politely how she managed to end up on the balcony after he had shown her where she should find him if and when she was ready to leave.
She had replied that she had decided to wait for him until eleven-thirty, at which time she had gone to the powder room to get ready; and had given him a brief account of the two incidents that had led to her venturing out on the balcony as a last resort. It was then that he had asked pointedly why she had not done as he had asked her to.
Shocked both by his question and tone of voice, my brave friend had quietly and seriously replied that she had not thought he would give his wife instructions, but had seen his offer as a way out in case she needed one, his having said earlier that they would spend about two hours at the function.
She had not expected his stern rejoinder: “So, I had to come in search of my wife, only to find her in a secluded place sitting in a loveseat with another man!”
Stricken, she had answered: “What a hurtful thing to say to me, Jerome!”
“You’re not the only one who is hurt by this!” had been his sharp retort.
Disoriented by his curtness, she had stammered the trite remark that they had been sitting in a swing, not a love seat, and, besides she had only rested on the edge for less than five minutes; but there had been no change in his manner, and he had continued that whether it was a two-seater swing or loveseat was a minor detail; she should have known such behaviour would be improper in any young woman, more so one with a husband.
Only then appreciating the seriousness of the situation, Jewel had admitted soberly that she had only just realized how it must have appeared to him; that it had indeed been a terrible blunder on her part, for which she was very sorry; that the last thing she would want to do was hurt or offend him, and hoped he could forgive her mistake.
He had relieved her anxiety somewhat by reminding her that she had once told him that he could never do anything she couldn’t forgive, and that the same applied in his case where she was concerned; but that he could not understand why she had not come for him at the first sign of trouble.
She had explained that she had not wanted to hinder him from achieving the purpose for which she had come, and give their host any excuse that she was responsible by pulling him away before he was ready.
“Even after I told you that you could come for me ‘for any reason’ I think is what I said?” he had persisted.
Taking some time to think carefully before answering she had finally unburdened herself about how ill at ease she had been made to feel by their host’s treatment of her. She had realized that he had only included her in the invitation knowing that he would not have attended the party without her, and this had turned her mind against him. Her pride would not allow her to go anywhere near him, although she wished that she had been brave enough, like maybe Sonia or Gertrude might have been, to prick their host’s conscience by letting him know that she did mind being left alone among total strangers!
Jerome’s manner had softened instantly and, reaching for her had embraced and told her that he took the blame for having allowed this to happen. He should have followed his mind and spent the night at home with her as usual, but had accepted the invitation without thinking. He should have had the sense to know that a party was the wrong place to discuss the proposed subject matter anyway, and he had handled the situation badly, exposing her to discourtesy and unnecessary distress, for which he was very sorry and now apologized to her. He would have to chalk the slip-up to experience and, assuring her that nothing like that would ever happen again, hoped that in time she could forget it.
She had protested that she did not hold him responsible for their host’s behaviour. Word had been around the town for some time that he was working hard to get into politics, but she had paid no attention to this before. She could now believe it and, judging from her experience with what her Mam called “that breed,” Absalom Itza having been an example, knew it was best to keep far from the kind of people she said were always “up to something” and willing to dispose of anyone who got in their way.
Releasing her, Jerome had begun to unbutton his shirt, eventually holding out his hand and requesting that she remove his cuff links. She had confided that this was usually a prelude to their lovemaking, when she would follow through with putting the jewellery down and taking and placing his hands around her waist; but he had looked so preoccupied that she had hesitated.
Misinterpreting her slow response, he had observed that she must be tired, and had suggested that she go to bed, where he would join her after spending some time sorting out his thoughts; but, Jewel said, as he had moved towards the door she had not been able to stop herself from remarking: “So you’re sending your little wife to bed while you deal with serious matters, is that it?”
He had turned sharply at this, walked over to her and, taking her hand in his, had led her to the sofa and sat down with her, quietly inviting her to let them clear their minds of whatever was really causing the trouble between them.
In relating the story she had remarked that they had slipped into this method of clarifying any problems that had arisen day-to-day ever since they had spent that memorable Saturday afternoon talking over their situation sitting next to each other on the bench under the almond tree.
“What is bothering me is you keeping things to yourself and not sharing with me what happened in your discussion with Mr. Roberts. You told me your reason for going to this party was to explore opportunities for education and training in the future for high school graduates, but all I see is a heaviness in your face and have no idea of the cause!” had been Jewel’s brave opening.
“And the reason for that is that no progress whatever was made in the matter, for the simple reason that Mr. Roberts had no real interest in the future training of the young people of the district; and that exposing you to an unpleasant evening seems to have been the only result of tonight’s outing!” had been his bitter summing up of the situation.
“You mean he got you there under false pretences and didn’t talk about the subject matter?” Jewel had asked.
He replied, “Oh, he spoke vaguely, and at great length, about education and training for most of the time, until in the end he got around to his real objective, which was further education for his daughter. He claimed being promised a scholarship by the Health Minister for her to do a course in Radiography at an American institution as the department was in urgent need of another radiographer. This was conditional on obtaining my endorsement at the earliest opportunity, hence my invitation to his party!
“So, what I had considered a chance request for passage on the last charter flight home today had probably been carefully planned in advance; and, like a fool, it had not even occurred to me that there must have been some unusual explanation for the seeming carelessness of a businessman missing his flight after having a graduation party already organized for the night!”
When the real reason for the invitation had finally emerged Jerome had informed his host that in such a case they would have to follow a procedure of inviting applications, followed by assessment of candidates before any recommendation could be made to the Minister; and, matters having come to a head, he had been given the opening to propose finding his wife and taking her home as it was getting late.
Mr. Roberts had been able to say positively where she could be found; and, in frustration over Jerome’s offhand treatment of his carefully contrived plan, his parting shot had been that she was probably enjoying the company of his daughter’s admirer out on the balcony, accompanied by the malicious observation that one never knew what young people were up to nowadays, an intentional dig at the age difference between he and Jewel and hopefully adding further fuel to Jerome’s ill-humour over the whole affair.
Despite Desmond Roberts’ efforts, however, Jerome’s temporary lapse of trust and confidence in Jewel had been easily dissipated by her frankness and humility and, with caresses and demonstrations of love she had been able to dispel his feeling of guilt for involving her in the fruitless venture as well as disappointment over its result; and when, after their lovemaking, the baby had kicked for the first time, his mood had mellowed to the point of murmuring in awe and wonder: “Was that my daughter?” And, thus, the focus had shifted from political machinations to the promise of a future of familial pleasures starting with the little girl whose name was already awaiting her appearance.
(Chapter 44 in Tuesday’s issue of the Amandala)