“What’s wrong?” Sir Amos was slicing onion. “You look ill.”
“My sister needs me.” She shoved the letter into her skirt pocket. “I have to go.”
She raced into her small bedroom and threw a few things into her shoulder bag. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Go tomorrow. ” Sir Amos blocked her way. “I need you here.”
“Jane needs me more, and you have people around.”
“I could dismiss you!”
“Go ahead! That would give me excuse I need to go elsewhere! Now, get out of my way!”
He caught her by the shoulders when she tried to push past him. ” It won’t be the last time your sister needs you. When your mother is gone, you’ll be the one she leans on…..”
“I have to go.”
With a sigh, Sir Amos released her.
Sapphire raced up the stairs and out of the hotel, boarding a bus home.
After asking directions, she found her way to the huge chalet at the end of a street on the edge of town. A man trimming flowers in the front garden straightened as she approached. “Can I help you, Sapphire?”
“I’ve come to see my sister, Jane.”
“Go around back to the kitchen. Alex will help you.
An old woman with a crown of white braids answered the door. Sapphire quickly introduced herself and stated her business. The woman looked relieved. ” Come in, Sapphire. I’ll fetch Jane for you.”
The kitchen smelled of baked cake. Oranges, apples, banana and oats had been set out on the worktable. The floors looked freshly washed, the copper pots polished, the counter surfaces clean. Sapphire paced, agitated.
Jane flew through the kitchen door, “Sapphire!” She threw herself into Sapphire’s startled embrace and burst into tears. “You came. I was so afraid you wouldn’t……”
Sapphire could feel how thin she was. “Don’t they feed you?”
“She’s been too upset to eat.” The cook closed the door behind her and went to the worktable.
Sapphire saw a red bruise on her sister’s cheek. Heat surged through her body. “Who struck you?”
Jane gulped sobs, leaving Alex to answer grimly.
“Mrs Okekes.” The cook picked up another apple and munched it. “And she’s not the only one in this family who’s done harm to your poor sister.”
Sapphire’s body went cold. She pressed Jane away, holding her by the arms. “Tell me what’s been going on, Jane.” She spoke gently, but her sister cried harder, her mouth opening and closing like a dying fish. She seemed incapable of uttering even a single distinguishable word.
Alex cut an apple into four pieces and began removing the core from each section with quick gouges. “A father has no business putting a pretty young girl like Jane in this house. Not with the young man and his father. I could’ve told him!”
Sapphire stared at her, stomach turning over.
Alex sliced apple into the bowl. “I risk losing my job if I say more.” She gave Jane a pitying glance before returning to her work. “But you should get her out of this house now if you don’t want more harm to come to her.”
Sapphire tipped Jane’s chin. “We’ll go as soon as we collect your things and what salary is owed you.”
“Well, good luck trying, Sapphire.” Alex snorted.
“The mistress hasn’t paid anyone since the beginning of the year. She never does until the last day, and seldom the full amount.”
Tears streamed down Jane’s cheeks, making the red bruise stand out even more. “Can’t we go now, Sapphire?” Her body trembled violently. “Please.”
Alex tossed the paring knife into the bowl and grabbed a towel. “I’ll get your sister’s things. You two wait here.”
Sapphire tried to calm Jane. “Tell me what happened, Jane.”
“I want to die.” Jane covered her face, shoulders shaking. When she swayed, Sapphire made her sit. Sobbing, Jane pulled her apron up over her head and rocked back and forth. Sapphire held her tightly, her cheek against the top of her sister’s head. Anger grew inside her until she didn’t know who shook more. “We’ll leave soon, Jane. Here’s Alex now.”
“I got everything.”
Everything but Jane’s wages. “Where’s Mrs Okeke?”
“In the parlor, but she won’t speak to you.”
“You sit right here.” She stood.
“Where are you going?” Jane grabbed Sapphire’s skirt. “Don’t leave me!”
She cupped Jane’s face. “Stay here in the kitchen with Alex. I’ll be back in few minutes and we’ll go home. Now, let go so I can get your wages.”
“I wouldn’t go, Sapphire.”
“They’re not getting away with it!” Sapphire banged the kitchen door open, strode through the dinning room and across the hall. As she entered the parlor, she saw a heavyset woman in a green day dress half-reclined on a settee near the windows overlooking the garden. Startled, the woman dropped her , fancy delicate cup, shattering it on the floor. Tea splashed down the front of her. Grasping, she rose and brushed frantically at the stain. “I don’t know you! What are you doing in my house?”
I’m Jane’s older sister, Sapphire. ” She didn’t stop in the door. “And I’ve come to collect her wages.”
“Security!” Mrs Okeke cried out angrily. I’ll have you thrown out! How dare you come in here demanding anything!” When Sapphire kept coming, the woman’s pale eyes grew widened, and she moved quickly behind a wide table strewn with books. “Security!” She screamed shrilly, then glared at Sapphire. “I’ll have you arrested.”
“Call the constable! I’d like to tell him how you cheat your staff! I wonder how many shop owners are waiting to be paid? ”
Paling, Mrs Okeke pointed. “Stand over there by the door and I’ll get her wages!”
“I’ll stand right here!”
Mrs Okeke stepped cautiously around the table and hurried to a desk on the other side of the room. Fuming as she sorted through keys she had taken from her pocket, she finally managed to find the one to unlock the desk drawer before holding them out. “Take them!” She threw the money on the desk. ” Take them and get that worthless girl out of my house!”
Sapphire gathered the money and counted them. Raising her head, she glared. “Jane has been here three months. This barely covers two.”
Mrs Okeke’s face turned red. She unlocked the drawer, yanked it open, and removed more money, locking the drawer again. “Here’s the money! Now, get out! She threw the cash in Sapphire’s direction.
Pride made Sapphire want to storm out without the money, but fury over the abuse Jane had suffered kept her in the room, collecting each cash, and counting them. Mrs Okeke shouted for security again. Sapphire straightened and sneered. ” Perhaps your Security doesn’t come because you haven’t paid him either.”
Stiffening, Mrs Okeke lifted her chin, eyes flashing. ” Your sister is a worthless slut.”
Sapphire dropped the money into the pocket of her skirt and came around the desk. “One more thing I need before we leave, Mrs Okeke.” Sapphire slapped the woman hard across the face. ” That’s for the mark you left on my sister. ” Grasping, Mrs Okeke backed into the drapes. Sapphire slapped her across the other cheek. “And that’s for insulting her.” When she raised her fist, Mrs Okeke shrank from her.”One more word against my sister, and I’ll let every father know what your son and husband have done to my sister. What I just did to you is nothing compared to what will happen to them!”