Claire Wallace grumbled as she struggled with another waist-length black strand of hair that kept finding its way out of the bonnet her mother had insisted on her wearing to keep her looking ‘presentable’ in public. She just shook her head as she then moved to lean against a nearby fence, staring blankly at the other townspeople perusing the marketplace her mother had dragged her to that afternoon. She would never understand her mother’s ways: The woman was determined to marry Claire off as soon as possible, despite her only being fifteen, while insisting that anytime Claire was anywhere near the boys in town, she hide herself in bonnets and unbecoming dresses. Though, as she looked around the crowd, she realized it was obvious that she was not the only young girl whose mother had made them dress as though they were in a convent. Dressing like a nun to get a husband, yes that really made sense, Claire thought with a sigh and another shake of her head.
As her eyes took note of her mother still speaking with a woman she knew from church, still several feet away from her, Claire sighed once more and turned her eyes back in the other direction. It was then that she noted one young girl who looked to be about her age, but, more importantly, her dress was ornately designed and her hair was free, while she even wore a smile while looking over herbs, spices and vegetables that were being sold at a nearby stand.
Claire narrowed her eyes slightly, having some idea of who the girl was. She lived only a few miles from Claire’s family, supposedly in the employ of the extremely wealthy recluse, Mr. Torrence, who Claire honestly could never remember even having laid eyes upon once. She just knew, as everyone in town did, that he was very wealthy, and that young girl who had drawn her attention, as well as the young girl’s mother, were in his employ, and had been for quite some time. Of course, there were other rumors about the mysterious Mr. Torrence, as well as the two women working for him, which is what piqued Claire’s curiosity enough to move her towards the girl.
“You actually know what most of this stuff is used for?” Claire greeted the other young girl as she reached her side, referring to the herbs the petite redhead had been thoroughly inspecting.
The other girl, who looked to be only about sixteen herself, turned slightly towards Claire, smiling at the greeting, though also seeming surprised by it, in some odd way, “Well, most folks would use it for cooking.” she replied, though spoke in an oddly furtive manner as the man behind the stand barely hid the disdain on his face that he seemed to hold towards the young redhead.
“I know, I’m terrible. My mother says I’m hopeless in the kitchen, which apparently is a grave flaw.” Claire teased, trying to hide her uneasiness that the vendor seemed to somehow disapprove of the other girl. Though, having heard bits of the rumors about the girl, herself, Claire wasn’t completely surprised by it, just curious, really.
“I’ll take all of these.” the redhead returned with brevity to the man as she tossed more than enough money onto his table, and gathered her chosen items, before her features softened as she turned back to Claire, “Want to help me carry?” she asked Claire.
“Uh, sure.” Claire agreed with a slight biting of her lip as the other girl handed her a basket and filled it with half of her purchases. Claire knew that her mother was one of the many who seemed to have suspicions about Mr. Torrence and his servants, but at the moment, her mother still seemed busy chatting, so Claire continued her attempt at making a new friend, nonetheless.
“So, I’m Chantarell, in case you didn’t know already.” the other girl stated as she began leading Claire off towards her waiting horse.
“Claire.” she returned her own introduction as she followed her.
“So, you’re being nice to me. That’s different.” Chantarell continued.
“Pardon?” Claire replied with an uneasy smile.
“I’m sure you’ve heard that I’m not highly liked by most folks.”
“I don’t really talk to that many people, really.” Claire offered quietly.
“Yet, you don’t seem surprised.” Chantarell returned with a slight smirk.
“I’ve just heard speculations, I guess, since no one ever really sees your, employer, and he’s so wealthy.” Claire admitted softly, “I don’t like really putting a lot of faith in rumors though, without any proof, anyway.” Claire added even more quietly.
“So, you do know who I am then.” Chantarell called her on it.
“Not really.” Claire smiled uneasily again as they neared the horse, “I just know you work for Mr. Torrence, really.” she repeated.
“And that there are rumors.” Chantarell smiled again as they reached the horse, where she began tying her own basket in place, “I can only imagine what they are this year.” she stated, more to herself, as she shook her head and continued her task.
“This year?” Claire repeated, and then continued, “You look pretty young to have been working for him for too long.”
Chantarell just smiled again before answering, “I don’t know if I'd really say I work for him. Though, I was born in the house. My father was a servant of his too, I think.” she added more quietly.
“Oh, did he pass away while you were still young?” Claire asked with concern.
“Maybe.” Chantarell shrugged with a lack of concern as she finished tying her basket onto the horse, before reaching for the one Claire still held.
“Maybe?” Claire repeated, obviously confused by the answer.
“So where’s your father?” Chantarell returned, switching gears.
“Home, tending our farm.” Claire answered slowly, seeming a little thrown by Chantarell’s sudden question.
“Let me guess, he and your mother married, what, sixteen years ago? Or do you have older siblings?” Chantarell asked her in an oddly cynical manner.
“No, it’s just me.” Claire returned, “I had a difficult birth. Mother couldn’t have anymore children.” Claire responded, easily sharing the information, despite the oddness of such questions coming from a virtual stranger, “She claims I’ve gotten even more difficult since then.” Claire added with a wry humor managing to peek through.
“Better not be too difficult. They’ll start talking about you the way they do about me and my mother.” Chantarell smiled insincerely, “They’re already giving you those pathetically disapproving looks, just because you’re standing here, talking to me. I’m bad news, don’t you know?” Chantarell returned with the same cynicism that made her seem to have a maturity beyond her years.
“I think I’ll decide that for myself.” Claire returned bravely.
Chantarell’s smile then turned immediately sincere, “I like you already, Claire.” she chuckled before hoisting herself up onto the horse, despite the long dress, and even refusing to ride side-saddle as was expected of all young women, “See you around.” she winked down at Claire before leaning down to untie the horse and starting away from the market and the sea of disapproving faces.
Claire smiled after the slightly older girl as she rode off, though her smile was interrupted by her arm being roughly grasped by her mother, who looked less than happy, to put it mildly.
“What do you think you’re doing?” her mother asked her in a loud whisper, through clenched teeth.
“Waiting for you to get done shopping?” Claire asked with a confused shrug.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” she returned in the same disapproving tone, looking around nervously, trying to gauge how many townspeople were still looking their way.
“No?” Claire responded as more of a question.
“Let’s get to the carriage, now.” her mother growled as she began dragging her after her, “Honestly Claire, why do you do this to me?”
“What did I do?” Claire asked with creased brow as her mother dragged her from the crowded marketplace.
“You know exactly what you did.” her mother grumbled angrily.
“What? I was trying to make one friend in this horrible town.” Claire returned, causing her mother to stop and center one more angry look on her as they reached the carriage.
“And you pick that, that…” her mother shook her head, forcing back whatever words at first came to her mind, “girl, out of every other one in town?” another shake of her head as she roughly nudged Claire toward the carriage, “I know you’re more intelligent than that.”
“I thought the whole point in dragging me to town with you is so I could pretend I didn’t have a brain in my head so some nice man will want to marry me. Cause, lord knows, a woman with a brain can’t possibly make a good wife.” Claire scoffed with her own bit of anger showing thru, as it so easily did when her buttons were pressed.
Her mother’s jaw simply dropped in response to that comment, her face reddening at the statement, only thankful that no one else was now near enough to have heard it as well, “If we weren’t out here, with all these people already looking at you, like they are, I would….” her mother didn’t even finish the sentence as she shook her head and angrily got up into the carriage, almost immediately reining the horses into action while Claire refused to look at her mother, simply crossing her arms over her chest with a shake of her own head as they pulled away.
The next morning, Claire received the punishment of barn-cleaning while her parents went to town once more. Though, she hardly thought of it as that daunting of a punishment, considering how much she hated the play-acting that was expected of her any time she went to town, herself. Besides that fact, at least the horses didn’t give her all the disapproving looks her mother did, while her father mostly didn’t even seem to notice her existence at all. After all, she was an only child, and a female, which hardly would have made her very important to any father in that day and age, or so it seemed to her, more often than not.
She sighed as she wiped some sweat away from her brow on that humid Massachusetts summer morning. She was then easily distracted from her tidying of the stalls as she heard hoof beats approaching from further up the dirt road, on the side of her home opposite the direction of town, which was a few miles off from the Wallace homestead.
Claire peered around the open doorway of the barn to see who might be approaching. It was not really that she had the urge to be social, as much as she was just bored with her current task and wanted some form of distraction. A moment later, the jet black horse came into view, being ridden by none other than the infamous redhead, Chantarell.
Claire somehow found it surprising to see the girl, even though she had always known that Mr. Torrence’s home was not far off, it just somehow seemed strange that the girl would just then be passing by. Though it was likely that she passed by Claire’s home often, since it was between the Torrence home and town. Perhaps it was just that Claire never bothered paying much attention to who might have been passing by their home as, in fifteen years, she had never managed to find anyone in that town who had piqued her interest. That was, before her ever so brief chat with Chantarell had done just that the day before.
“Hey there.” Claire called to the other teen with a smile, made even more sincere by the simple fact of knowing that talking to this girl at all would go against her mother’s wishes, which she bristled at just about every one of.
Chantarell returned the smile, though with a slier tinge to her own as she stopped the horse at the bottom of the lane that lead to the Wallace home. The house and barn themselves were set off a few hundred feet from the dirt road and backed by what seemed like endless acres of woodland on all sides but one, where a large field grew a variety of vegetables, and a smaller fenced in area between it and the barn housed several chickens and pigs.
“Well, hello again.” Chantarell responded as she guided the horse to take a few slow steps up the lane, “Is your mother going to come running out and try to chase me off with a stick if I tell Storm here to come on up the lane?” Chantarell teased.
Claire just shook her head, though couldn’t help her smirk at Chantarell’s question, “They’re gone for the day.” she offered as she carelessly dropped the manure stained shovel against a nearby hay-bale, obviously deeming her cleaning to be done for the day, despite the few still dirty stalls behind her.
When Chantarell’s mount finished the approach, Chantarell slid down from the large stallion to tie him to the fence-post outside the barn that Claire now stood near, not able to stop her eyes from moving over yet another beautiful dress that Chantarell wore, which was quite colorful, and looked way too expensive to have been worn by most anyone who was just out riding for the day. Claire nervously bit her lip as she self-consciously glanced down at her own very plain, brown, and not exactly tidy, dress that she wore that day.
“So you get along with your mother better than I get along with mine, I assume?” Claire smiled nervously as she moved her gaze back to Chantarell’s pretty face.
Chantarell just chuckled at the question, “We get along well enough. We seem to have a lot more in common than most mothers and daughters, anyway.” she offered, “After all, it’s both of us who the town talks about. They were talkin about mom way before me, after all. Especially when I came along.” Chantarell grinned, obviously more amused than offended by the opinions whispered by the rest of the townspeople.
“Yeah, your mom and dad weren’t married when you were born, right?” Claire returned.
“Wow, if that’s the worst thing they’re saying these days, things have definitely improved.” Chantarell returned with a still amused smirk.
“So, it doesn’t bother you that people do talk?” Claire dared.
“Well, you’re talking, but to me instead of about me, so apparently it can’t be all that bad.”
“Well, I don’t exactly fit in either, so I tend to not immediately agree with what the majority thinks, because it’s usually the opposite of anything I’d ever think.” Claire admitted, trying not to sound proud of that fact, though she was, despite the grief her own opinions on the world in general, had caused her for most of her short, sheltered, stifled life.
“Maybe you were born in the wrong century.” Chantarell responded wryly. Though the statement was obviously one that had no way of being proven to be a truth, as no one could see the future, and the past couldn’t have been much better for someone with Claire’s outlooks on life. Yet still, Chantarell’s tone seemed to somehow imply that she knew it, unequivocally.