The thick curtains that covered the window in Cordelia Whittemore’s bedroom made it almost
impossible for any light to get through, and that suited her just fine. She didn’t want anyone to see her crying, especially a passing servant. She looked up, clutching her handkerchief, and the image of what she’d just seen came back into her head and started a fresh wave of tears.
She’d trusted him, and he’d gone and done something like this. They’d hardly been married a month and now she had no idea what was she supposed to do with the rest of her life. Cordelia put her face in her hands. It felt as if she’d never stop crying.
“Cordelia!” Her door burst open and Arthur came hurrying through, tucking his neatly pressed white shirt into his pants. “I’m so sorry, my dear, I didn’t intend for you to see that.” She looked away from him, hiding most of her face in shadow. She didn’t want him to see how upset she was, but the tears in her voice couldn’t be hidden.
“How long has this been going on?
“Since long before we were married. I didn’t want you to find out this way.” Arthur took a step toward her and she stood up and moved further away. “I’m truly sorry.” Of this Cordelia had no doubt but she didn’t know how to forgive him for infidelity, much less infidelity of this sort.
“I’m sure you are,” she said, recovering enough to put a note of ice in her voice. “What am I supposed to do now?”
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said, his voice almost pleading. “Please. It would kill my father.”
“You know I could divorce you for this,” Cordelia said, turning her back on him. “And the Court would allow it, as would the Church. It’s a mortal sin, Arthur.”
“I know, and I’m begging you not to. I never wanted to get married in the first place,” he said. “Father said that if I didn’t marry and give him an heir he would disown me. Once he dies, I’ll be Lord Whittemore and we won’t have to worry about him. You can divorce me then if you want.”
“And if he doesn’t die soon? What then?” Cordelia shook her head. “I can’t believe you would ask something like this of me.”
“I know,” Arthur said. “It’s not fair to you. There’s nothing else for it, though. If you want to ruin me, then by all means petition for a divorce. You’re right, no one would deny it to you and if that’s what you wish to do I won’t deny you.” He came around to where she was facing the wall, forcing Cordelia to look at him. She turned her face toward him, her jaw set in a way that she knew her own father would be proud of.
“All right,” she said finally. “I’ll keep your secret, but at least keep your affairs out of the house. Find somewhere else to do it or I really will tell your father about it.”
“Yes, of course. Whatever you want.” Arthur leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek and she shrank away from him. She couldn’t bring herself to let him kiss her after seeing him with another man. Cheating aside, she’d brought up to believe that it was unnatural and she didn’t know how she’d be able to look at him after this. He didn’t try to kiss her again and she looked away, unable to believe she was agreeing to this. “Thank you, my darling. You won’t regret this. I’ll make sure you have everything you could ever desire.”
“Mm.” Cordelia kept her face turned away from his and he finally stepped away from her.
“Well, I suppose I should go visit my father. He’ll be expecting me later but there’s nothing wrong with showing up earlier.”
Of course not, thought Cordelia. Unless you come home early and find your husband with another man.
“Be careful,” Cordelia said, trying not to sound irritable. Arthur paused for a moment, then
walked out of the room quickly, as if he was running away from her.
Once he was gone and the door was closed, Cordelia went behind him and locked it. Then she went back to her place by the window where there was a handsome wooden rocker. She sat down and began to rock back and forth slowly. Her anger was dissipating, being replaced by a deep sadness.
She’d brought the chair with her at her mother’s urging, and had been dreaming since she was a girl of sitting in the rocker and rocking her baby to sleep. Now that dream looked to have been shattered. If he wasn’t interested in her, then she didn’t know how they were going to have a baby. The only time they’d come close to making love was on their wedding night and it had taken quite a lot of effort. She’d attributed it to his being nervous and having had a lot to drink but now she knew better.
Cordelia started to rock faster, focusing on the sliver of light that was coming through the crack in the curtains and not the image of her husband with another man on his knees in front of him. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to get it out of her head. More tears threatened to fall and she tried to will them away. She’d have to deal with the staff before too long and she didn’t want it to look like she’d been crying. They were all so kind, they’d want to know what was going on and she didn’t want to have to lie to them.
It suddenly occurred to her that they may have known about this all along. Feeling betrayed by both her staff and her husband, Cordelia sighed heavily and leaned her head back against the chair. She was really stuck now. The longer she stayed in her marriage, the less likely it would be for her to be able to get a divorce. All she could do was hope for her father-in-law to die soon so she could get out of her marriage, and that made her feel even worse.
I’m well and truly trapped now, she thought. I wish Father had never made this arrangement.
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