As a means of distracting myself from things I’d rather not think about, I’ve written a (rather longish) scene between two of the characters from H(A)UNTED, and seeing as that happens very rarely for these two characters, I’m here to share it. This is set one hundred years before Darcy’s story, aka the one in the novel, takes place, in July 1914. So… meet Jack and Eliza.
Some men might have been jealous about the fact that their married lover’s husband was better off than he was. Actually, scratch that: Most men, upon hearing a woman they wished to court was married, would have left it at that, not become complicit in an affair—particularly when said lover’s husband was one of the more influential figures in the small town in which one resided. Certainly Jack Breault had never seen himself as a man who might engage in an affair, whether he were the one straying or the one enabling someone else to stray. He was coming to understand, however, that very few people thought of themselves as the “type” to do certain things, be it adultery, murder, or accounting.
Seeing as he was complicit in an affair, he could only be grateful for the business trip that had taken Charles Lawson out of the province for the better part of a week. His room in Mrs Leahy’s boarding house, situated on the top floor, might have been small and stuffy in the late July heat, but he had absolutely no desire to leave it, not with Eliza next to him on his narrow bed, her head on his chest and hand over his heart. Her husband’s absence, combined with his landlady having gone to visit her ailing sister three towns over, had lent a feeling of peace to the day that they normally didn’t get to enjoy, always aware of the risks they were taking, the consequences they would face if caught. For once, instead of a rushed, frantic coupling, there had been the time for patience, for tenderness, for lying together afterwards and settling back into their separate selves instead of scrambling back into clothing made uncomfortable by sweat-moistened skin and leaving each other alone.
His arm rested around Eliza’s shoulders, his hand playing idly with her hair. Jack turned his head to press a kiss to her temple, a sweetly intimate gesture he hadn’t made before. He felt the movement of Eliza’s lips against his skin, curving into a smile, but she didn’t make any other move.
“What are you thinking?” He was almost afraid of the answer, but their situation was not secure enough to allow such questions to go unasked.
She was long enough in answering to make his muscles begin to tighten, tensing in anticipation for an argument, or at the very least an unpleasant conversation about things he did not want to think about, even if it was for one day only.
“I’m thinking,” she said at last, slowly, as though she too was reluctant, “that… it’s been far too long since you watered that plant.”
He was momentarily baffled before looking to the window sill at the small, potted plant resting there in full reach of the sun; she had given it to him, the first time she’d come here in her role as the welcoming committee, so to speak, looking to make sure that he, a newcomer here for work, was as comfortable in their small town as possible. Now that he looked, he noticed a few leaves had yellowed and shrivelled, one or two having even fallen off.
At the look Eliza gave him, he managed only a shrug, trying hard to quell the smile he could feel pulling at his mouth. “I warned you,” he reminded her, “that if I’d had any skill with plants, I’d have become a farmer like my father.”
“And I warned you,” she retorted with little heat as she pulled away from him and stood up to cross to the plant, “that it only required watering every few days.” She reached the plant, fingered the leaves, and tossed an accusing glance over her shoulder at him. “You’ve nearly killed it.”
He could only raise his hands, both palms up, in surrender, far too enamoured by the sight of her moving about his bedroom with not a stitch of clothing and her hair tumbling down her back to defend himself. “I’m sorry?” he managed after a moment, trying a winning smile.
She flicked him an unconvinced look from beneath her eyelashes, already installing herself at the small table in one corner of his room to fuss over the plant in much the same way he’d seen her fuss over her daughter. She pinched off withered leaves, patted the soil in the pot as though checking it for something, and went to his washstand, peering into the jug of water before giving it a small nod and carrying it over to the plant. After carefully pouring some of the water into the pot, she carried it back to its place on the window sill and turned to arch her eyebrows at him. “You’re to care for it from here on out, is that clear?”
“As crystal. With God as my witness, I shall commit no further harm against this plant, lest I be condemned forever to the circle of hell reserved for those who engage in such botanical atrocities.”
“Eliza,” he mimicked in the same tone, and grinned when she giggled. He stood up and took the few short steps required to reach her, wrapping his arms around her. “I’ll care for the plant,” he said, more solemnly this time. “Even if I don’t fully grasp the importance of it. I promise.”
“All right,” she sighed, settling into the embrace in a way that told him she wouldn’t have been able to voice the importance of caring for the plant anymore than he could have.
They stood like that, merely holding each other, for several minutes, until Eliza made a small noise against his shoulder. He made an inquisitive sound in return, dreading the moment when she would say she had to go, her husband was waiting—until he remembered that for once, no, her husband wasn’t waiting, and relaxed.
“The paper,” she said instead, pointing at the folded newspaper on his washstand. “Is that today’s?”
Amused, he drew back just far enough to look at her, to see the excitement lighting her eyes. “Yes…”
Her eyes darted to the newspaper and back to him again. Chuckling, Jack released her and went to pick up the newspaper, settling himself on the bed once more with Eliza next to him, reading eagerly over his shoulder. They discussed everything they read, from old Mister Donaldson’s leg injury to the brewing difficulties in Europe. He enjoyed telling her what he knew about the rising tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the threat of mobilization made a very real thing by the ultimatum the former had issued to the latter, and listening to her thoughts and theories. There was no topic she wanted to ignore, so when a tiny article hidden in one of the last pages of the newspaper mentioned Ireland and Home Rule, he explained that as well, how some among the Irish wanted to govern themselves independently from Britain, and how the nationalists—as such people were known—were even citing Canada as an example that it could be done.
“We’re not fully independent, though,” she remarked. “Do they realize that?”
“I think they must,” he mused. “If nothing else, it’s a stepping stone.”
She nodded, appearing to accept the answer, and then, after a few long moments of silence, asked quietly, “Do you think there will be a war?”
“I don’t know. I hope not. But if there is, we’ll surely be pulled into it.”
An odd expression crossed her features; not quite sadness, and not quite wistfulness. “I wish we could stay like this,” she murmured, pressing close to his side, and he could hear the words neither of them wanted her to say, could all but feel the obligations of her daughter at home, her role in her household, pressing on them.
“So do I,” he replied, softly, setting the newspaper aside in favour of holding her instead.