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Hidden Jewel l-4

V. C. Andrews

  Hidden Jewel

  ( Landry - 4 )

  V.C. Andrews


  It always begins the same way. First I hear him singing the lullaby. He is carrying me in his arms, and we are walking over marshland where the grass is so tall that neither he nor I can see his feet, only the tops of his high boots. He is wearing a palmetto hat so the brim puts a mask of shadow over his eyes and nose. I wear my pink and white bonnet.

  Behind us, the metal monsters do their monotonous drumming. They resemble giant bees drawing the black nectar from the earth. When I look back at them, they raise their heads and nod at me and then raise their heads again. It frightens me and I know he realizes it does, because he holds me tighter and sings louder.

  Then we come upon a flock of rice birds. They rise out of the grass with grace and beauty, but they are so abrupt and they come so close that I can feel the breeze stirred up by their wings. He laughs. It's a soft, smooth laugh that glides over me like cool water.

  Before us, the great house looms against the sky.

  The house is so big it looks as if it swallowed up the sky and can block the sun. I see Mommy coming down the stairs from her art studio. She sees us and waves, and he laughs again. Mommy starts toward us, walking quickly at first and then running. With every passing moment she grows younger and younger until . . . she's me!

  I'm standing before a mirror and looking at myself. I am so amazed at the blue in my eyes, the flaxen color of my hair, and the pearlescent luster of my complexion that I smile and reach out to touch my image in the glass, but as soon as I do, I fall backward. I fall and fall until I hear the sound of splashing water and open my eyes to look at a school of fleeing fish. Their absence reveals the twisted roots of an upturned cypress tree. They look like the gnarled fingers of a sleeping giant. They frighten me, and I turn away, only to come face to face with him.

  His eyes are wide, his mouth open with just as much surprise that he is down here. I try to scream, but when I do, the water comes rushing in and I gag.

  And that's when I wake up.

  When I was younger, my gagging would bring either Mommy or Daddy or both of them. But for years I have been able to catch my breath and regain the courage to lower my head to the pillow in the darkness in search of sleep again.

  Tonight Mommy must have anticipated the dream, because she was in my doorway moments after I cried out.

  "Are you all right, Pearl?" she asked.

  "Yes, Mommy."

  "The dream?"

  "Yes, but I'm fine, Mommy," I assure her.

  "Are you sure, honey?" she asks coming closer. Why does it worry her so? I wonder. Is it because I still have the dream?

  "When will it stop, Mommy? Will I have the dream forever?"

  "I don't know, honey. I hope not." She looks at the doorway. "I can try another candle," she whispers.

  "No, thank you, Mommy."

  Once, she was so desperate about my dream that she, tried one of the old voodoo remedies she had learned from Nina Jackson, my grandfather Dumas's cook, and Daddy got angry.

  "I'll be fine, really," I say.

  She wipes some strands of hair from my forehead and kisses me.

  "What's going on in here?" Daddy demands from the doorway in his pretend gruff voice.

  "Just woman talk, Beau."

  "At three in the morning?" he asks amazed.

  "It's a woman's prerogative."

  "To drive a man crazy, you mean. That's a woman's prerogative," he mutters and goes back to bed.

  We laugh. In some ways we are more like two sisters than mother and daughter. Mommy looks so young, hardly thirty-six, even though everyone says caring for twin twelve-year-old boys has to be an age maker.

  "Dream of good things, honey. Dream about tomorrow. Your wonderful party. Dream about going to college and doing all the things you've wanted to do."

  "I will, Mommy. Mommy," I say and quickly grab her hand as she stands.

  "What is it, Pearl dear?"

  "Will you tell me more? Maybe if I know more, the nightmare will stop."

  She nods reluctantly.

  "I know you think it's painful for me to hear and you don't want to do anything to hurt me, but I have to know everything, don't I, Mommy?"

  "Yes," she admits. "You do." She sighs so deeply, I'm afraid her heart will crack.

  "I'm old enough to understand, Mommy. Really I am," I reassure her.

  "I know you are, honey. We'll talk. I promise." She pats my hand.

  I watch her go off, her shoulders slumping a little now. I hate to make her sad, even for a moment, but I am drawn to the dark past almost as strongly as a moth is drawn to a candle flame.

  I hope—no, I pray—that, unlike the moth, I will not be consumed and destroyed as a result.


  The Future Beckons

  I woke to the sound of shouting just outside my window. The extra workers Daddy had hired to spruce up our house and gardens for my graduation party had arrived and were being assigned their jobs. It had rained the night before and the damp, sweet scent of green bamboo, gardenias, and blooming camellias floated all around me. After I ground the sleep from my eyes, I sat up and saw that the sun was nudging aside whatever clouds remained and dropping golden rays over the pool and the tennis courts. It was as if someone had lifted a blanket off precious jewels. Our gardens were dazzling, our blue and mauve Spanish tiles glittering. Could there be a more beautiful beginning to one of the most important days of my life? In seconds all the webs of confusion, shadows of darkness, and childhood fears were washed away.

  I was seventeen and about to graduate from high school. And I was the class valedictorian, too! I sighed deeply and then let my eyes move over my room. Long ago Mommy had returned it to the way it had been when she had first arrived in New Orleans. I slept in her actual dark pine queen-sized canopy bed, the canopy made of fine ivory-colored silk with a fringe border. My pillows were so enormous and fluffy I felt as if I sank a foot whenever I lowered my head to them. The bedspread, pillowcases, and top sheet were made from the softest and whitest muslin. Above my headboard was a painting of a beautiful young woman in a garden feeding a parrot. There was a cute black-and-white puppy tugging at the hem of her full skirt.

  On either side of my bed was a nightstand with a bell-shaped lamp, and in addition to a matching dresser and armoire, my room had a vanity table with an enormous oval mirror in an ivory frame decorated with hand-painted red and yellow roses. Mommy and I had often sat side by side and gazed at ourselves in the mirror while we did our hair and makeup and had our girl-to-girl talks, as she liked to call them. Now, she said, they would be woman to woman; but soon they would be few and far between, for I was about to go to college. I had been so anxious to grow up and so excited about reaching this day, but now that it was finally here, I couldn't help feeling somewhat melancholy too.

  Good-bye to my Huckleberry Finn days, I thought. Good-bye to sleeping late on weekend mornings; good-bye to not worrying about tomorrow. Good-bye to wasting time and cramming for tests at the last moment. Good-bye to sitting outside in the garden for hours, dreaming away the afternoons. With a sweep of its hand, the clock would thrust me and my fellow graduates forward into the real world, the world of work and serious study in college where the only one looking over your shoulder was your own conscience.

  As my eyes retreated from the mirror, I looked at my door and discovered it was partly open. A further investigation revealed my brother Jean on his hands and knees peering in at me and my brother Pierre on Jean's back peering in as well. The two duplicate faces with their cerulean blue eyes under their golden bangs gaped with curiosity and anticipation. What they expected I would do the moment I woke up on my graduation day I did n
ot know, but I knew they were waiting for me to say or do something that they could tease me about later.

  "Jean! Pierre! What are you doing?" I cried. The two stumbled sideways. Laughing and squealing, they scurried back to their room, the room that had once been our great-uncle Jean's room, my mother's father's brother. I heard them slam their door shut and all was quiet for a moment.

  Most of the time the twins were like two puppies sniffing and poking where they didn't belong. Usually it got them into some sort of trouble, and Daddy, despite his apparent reluctance to do so, had to discipline them. He was very fond of his twin sons, very proud or them, and full of expectations for them, too.

  Between the two of them, they did seem to mirror Daddy. Jean had his athletic ability, his love of sports and hunting and fishing. Pierre had his inquisitiveness, his sensitivity and love of the arts, but neither looked down on the other. Rather, my twin brothers were like halves of one brother, a hybrid called Pierre-Jean. What one couldn't do, the other did for him, and what one didn't think, the other thought for him. They were already the Two Musketeers and didn't need a third.

  What was amazing to everyone, even the most skeptical, was the way they both came down with the same childhood diseases at just about the same time. If one got a cold, the other was sure to have it minutes later, and I swear, whenever Jean bumped his head or his knee, Pierre grimaced with just as much pain, and vice versa.

  They liked to eat the same things and almost always ate the same amount, although Jean, who was growing faster, was beginning to eat more.

  "What's going on out here?" I heard Mommy say. She listened for a moment and then came to my door. "Good morning, Pearl honey. Were you able to go back to sleep?"

  "Yes, Mommy."

  "Were your brothers here waking you up?" she asked with a scowl.

  I didn't want to tell on them, but she didn't need me to testify.

  "I swear they're like two muskrats getting under everyone's feet these days. I don't know what to do about them. One will swear the other's innocent and do it with the sweetest, most innocent eyes himself." She shook her head. She was complaining, but I knew how happy she was that they were so close. It had been so different between her and her twin. Whenever she talked about her sister Gisselle, she did so with a deep sigh of regret, still blaming herself for not being able to get Gisselle to become the sister she should have been.

  "I should be getting up anyway, Mommy. There's so much to do, and I want to help."

  "I know," Mommy said, her eyes small and dark. For both of us, but maybe more for Mommy, this was one of those happy-sad days. If she could have kept me a little girl forever, she would have, she said. "It all goes so fast," she had warned me. "Why rush it?"

  Mommy always said she didn't want me to lose a day of my childhood. She claimed she had skipped her childhood completely. She blamed the hard life she had for making her grow up so fast.

  "I want to be sure you don't struggle and suffer like me," she told me often. "If that means you'll be a little spoiled, so be it!"

  But I knew she couldn't keep me a little girl forever, not if I had anything to say about it. Although I'd loved growing up here, now mostly I couldn't wait to leave and explore the world outside.

  "I think I'm more excited today than you are," she said, her eyes beaming. She looked radiant, despite the early hour. Mommy was never one to wear a great deal of makeup or pamper herself the way the mothers of some of my girlfriends did. She hardly ever went to the beauty parlor and was not one to flit from one style to another, although she always looked chic and elegant. But maybe that was because Mommy was one of those special people who set the style. Other women were always interested in what she chose to wear, what colors, what fashions. She was a highly respected artist in New Orleans and her appearance at an art gallery or an exhibition would be noted, photographed, and printed on the society pages.

  Mommy rarely cut her rich ruby hair, her name-sake. She kept it long and when she wore it down, she had it curled or twisted in a French knot. She told me that simplicity was the keynote to being attractive.

  "Women bedecked in expensive jewels and caked with makeup might attract attention, but often they are not attractive, Pearl," she advised. "A pair of earrings, a necklace, should be used to highlight and not overwhelm, and the same is true for makeup. I know that girls your age think it's fashionable and exciting to dab on the eye liner lavishly, but the trick is to emphasize the positive, not smother it."

  "I don't know what's positive about me, Mommy," I said, and she laughed.

  Then she fixed those emerald-green eyes on me and shook her head. "If God had come to me when I was pregnant and said, 'Paint the face you want your child to have,' I couldn't have done better or thought of someone more beautiful than you, Pearl.

  "And you have a wonderful figure, the sort of figure that will make most women green with envy. I don't want your good looks to go to your head. Be modest and grateful, but don't be the insecure little person I once was. That's when people take advantage," she cautioned me, and her eyes grew smaller and darker so I knew she was remembering one of the sadder or uglier events of her life.

  Of course, my brothers and I knew that Mommy had been born and brought up in the bayou. Until she was sixteen, her father, after whom my brother Pierre was named, didn't know she existed. He thought her twin sister, Gisselle, was the only child born out of his love affair with Gabrielle Landry. He was married at the time, but his wife, Daphne, accepted Gisselle and pretended she was her own when my great-grandfather Dumas purchased her from the Landrys and brought her to New Orleans as soon as she was born. My mother's surprise appearance on their doorstep sixteen years later nearly exposed the grand deception, but the family concocted the story that she had been stolen immediately after she was born and had returned when the Cajun couple who stole her were struck with a fit of conscience.

  From time to time, Mommy described how difficult life was living with a twin sister and a stepmother who resented her, but Mommy hated speaking ill of the dead. She had been brought up by her grandmère Catherine, who was a Cajun traiteur, a healer who combined religious, medical, and superstitious methods to treat the sick and injured. She believed in spirits. She told me that her grandmère Catherine and Nina Jackson, the Dumas family's old voodoo-practicing cook, would warn her that if she dragged up the dead with these stories, they could haunt us all.

  Mommy didn't try to get me to believe in these things; she just wanted me to respect people who did and not take any chances. Daddy sometimes reprimanded her and told her, "Pearl is a woman of science. She wants to be a doctor, doesn't she? Don't fill her with those tales."

  But when it came to keeping my twin brothers in line, Daddy wasn't above trying to scare them with Mommy's stories. "If you don't stop running up and down those stairs, you'll wake up the ghost of your evil aunt, and she'll haunt you when you sleep," he warned. Mommy would turn a twinkling eye of reprimand at him, and he would go sputtering off, complaining about a man's home no longer being his castle.

  "I wish you and Daddy hadn't decided on such a big party for me, Mommy," I said as I rose to get washed and dressed for the work ahead. Daddy had hired one of the famous New Orleans jazz bands to play on the patio. He had a pastry chef from one of the finer restaurants to make desserts, and he had employed waiters and waitresses. He had even contracted with a film company to record the affair. He was doing so much for my graduation, I couldn't imagine what he would do for my wedding.

  But then, I couldn't imagine getting married, either. I couldn't envision having my own home and raising my own children. The responsibilities were so enormous. But what I really couldn't imagine was falling so deeply in love with someone that I would want to spend the rest of my life with him, see him every morning at the breakfast table and in the evening at the dinner table, go everywhere with only him, and be so beautiful and so desirable all the time that he would want to be only with me. I had had boyfriends, of course. Right now I was
going steady with Claude Avery, but I couldn't envision spending my life with him, even though he was one of the handsomest boys at school, tall with dark hair and silver blue eyes. Many times Claude had told me he loved me and waited for me to say the same about him, but all I could muster was "I like you very much, too, Claude."

  Surely love had to be something different, something more special, I thought. There were many mysteries in the world, many problems to be solved, but none seemed as impossible as the answer to the question What is love? My girlfriends hated it when I challenged their dramatic declarations of affection for one boy or another, and they were always accusing me of being too inquisitive and looking at things with microscopic eyes.

  "Why do you have to ask so many questions?" they complained, especially my best friend Catherine Didion. Catherine and I were different in so many ways, it was hard to understand why we were so close, but perhaps it was those very differences that attracted us. In a way it was our curiosity about each other that kept us so interested in each other. Neither of us fully understood why the other was the way she was.

  "It's not such a big party," Mommy said. "Besides, we're proud of you, and we want the whole world to know it."

  "Can I see my portrait this morning, Mommy?" I asked. Mommy had painted a picture of me in my graduation gown. She was planning to unveil it tonight at our party, but I had yet to see the finished work.

  "No. You have to wait. It's bad luck to show a portrait before it's completed. I have a little touching up to do today," she said, and I didn't protest. Mommy believed in good and bad gris-gris, and never wanted to tamper with fate. She still wore the good-luck dime that Nina Jackson had given her years ago. It was on a string around her right ankle.

  "Now I'd better go speak to those brothers of yours to be sure they don't make a nuisance of themselves around this house today."

  "Will you help me decide what to wear and do my hair later, Mommy?"

  "Of course, dear," she said just as my phone rang. "Don't spend your morning gossiping with Catherine," Mommy warned before leaving to go to the twins.