My name is Virginia Davenport. In 1815 I was seventeen and I thought I understood the world completely. I thought my older sister's problems were all of her own making and if she'd just be honest with herself, she'd resolve all of them and be as happy as we were when we were both children.
She did not esteem my expressed opinion whatsoever. She had stated many times that she felt her most ardent suitor, a Mr. Jebediah Franklin, who was the most wealthy man in town, was a nincompoop. I can't say that I disagree with her on that point, but he was quite nice, always brought her books rather than flowers and had even said he'd allow her to continue teaching. It was the word allow that got to Carolina, I'm pretty sure.
For a week after he'd said that, all in good cheer to get her to agree to marry him, she had glared at me and snapped 'allowed' every time I was about to open my mouth. I can understand the sentiment. Being women both, I can feel the itch of the restrictions placed on us. If anything could be possible, I would like to be a playwright. Some things are just not to be, you see. I’m sure I’d feel dreadfully uncomfortable in smokey, profanity filled taverns.
A young unmarried lady may indeed teach local children and even accept payment for her efforts, but a married lady must attend to her own family. Her husband's honor rests on that. I think Jeb must love Carolina a great deal to put her wishes before his own honor. Carolina is consistently unimpressed with my reasoning.
Be that as it may, some things just are as they are. For instance, it wasn't really anyone's fault that the oven exploded that fine January day in 1816.
I had not been impressed with her adoption of a orange and white barn cat she named Charlie the First either. He was all teeth and claws to me, but to her he was this lap pillow. Perhaps he was a bit of an attack pillow. Jeb turned out to be allergic to him, which Carolina found all the better.
To me, my darling sister had always seemed rational, if difficult, until she declared that she was going to teach Charlie the First how to read, how to communicate his needs. Now it is 1816 and more things become possible all the time, but really.
On the day of the fire, our lovely home, both stories of it, was soon dancing with red and yellow flames. Jeb worked on setting up the bucket brigade and my sister, her golden hair already smeared with soot, ran around the garden area where we all stood around, calling for Charlie.
I was the first to see him, which does not necessarily mean I was the calmest of us, but at least I saw the poor beast. He stood on his hind legs, his front paws higher on the ball room window. His meows were silenced by the roar of the flames. I pointed him out to Caroline, having not a single thought that she'd do what she did next.
I'm not a coward. I expect I could have faced the Terror of the French Revolution with calm resolve, but watching my dear sister run back into a burning house was more resolve than I expect I'd have across the whole of my life!
She was my only family and despite her stubborn selfishness, she was clever and kind and the best sister one could ever wish to have. The flames weren't biased though and silenced my screams just as much as they had poor Charlie's.
I threw myself on Jeb's arm, tugging at his jacket sleeve, tears cutting lines through soot on my face so that I must have looked like the most pathetic of creatures! "She's gone into the house to get Charlie! Jeb!"
He has the most lovely brown eyes, so calm and kind. His smile is a promise that all will be fine. In that moment I wished with all my being that I was my sister and it was me that he wished to marry. Had I known what was to come next, I likely would not have been so bold.
He gave my arms a firm, reassuring squeeze, his smile must surely have been a gift from the heavens above. What happened next, will be a tale that I shall tell until Our Lord returns for us all, and probably even after.
Jeb ran into the house after my dear sister. For just a second I feared I'd lose them both and be utterly alone in the world. My sister often says I should know better. That's probably true, but it's very hard to know better before one does know better.
I stood there in the garden as more rational people handed a bucket of water one to another along a line from the pond to the roaring fire.
I saw Charlie collapse on the window sill and Caroline scoop him up in her arms. I wished her to run, to make it right back out of the house that had been the center of safety in my life, but now might as well have been the roaring fires of Hell.
What I couldn't see at that moment, which she would tell me later, was the doorframe leading into the ballroom had given itself over to the hungry flames. She would later describe Jeb as a great lion who jumped through a ring of fire. I could completely see that in him, a great wise lion with dark brown eyes and constantly wild golden hair.
He would later tell me that it was in that moment, standing just inside the burning ballroom that he understood that Caroline would never marry him and if she did, it would be the most unhappy of marriages. She had attention only for her cat, held ever so lovingly in her arms as she tried to push air into his lungs.
Jeb at least had the sense to understand he wasn't coming in second to a barn cat. To me, Jeb was much better than a barn cat, or any other cat. He grabbed a chair and threw it right through the window where I'd first seen Charlie.
Without even asking, he grabbed hold of Caroline/Charlie and gave them a toss out that window. I shall remember until the day I die the image of woman and cat flying free. Charlie's whiskers glowed red at the tips and his howl was now louder than the flames he'd just departed from. My sister lost her hold on him, her arms grabbing at the empty air as if she were going to fly. That was the most iconic image of my Caroline that could ever be. After all, who said she couldn't fly? She accepted few limits, did my dearest, but gravity wasn't really the asking type.
Once upon a time, she and I had tried digging a moat near our house. Our father, who was still with us at the time, had not been impressed in the least. We had gotten down deep enough to get the uneven trench to fill with water. The buckets of water thrown at the house had added a bit more, enough so that Caroline landed in the muddy water with a splash. Charlie had landed fine, of course. Jeb came down right next to Caroline, splashing her with another baptism of mud. She sputtered and slapped at him, even if she only got mud filled air.
Charlie took this to mean that Jeb had offended his lady in some way and launched himself at a very surprised Jeb. The person closest with the bucket emptied it on all three of them, though Charlie managed to evade the incoming water, so that his fluffiness pranced along the edge of the moat, giving Jeb a warning glare. With so many red marks on Jeb’s face, it looked like Charlie had finally learned to write, but in cuneiform and not in any language I knew.
We did, of course, get the fire out, and Caroline, Charlie, and I spent the next six months at Jeb's estate, in a little cottage behind the main house. He had his solicitor go after the insurance men, which got us the money to repair our house. He even saw to it that the repairmen put in a small little door which Charlie could come in and out of on his own. Caroline was grateful, but Charlie not so much, at least not to anyone other than Caroline. The scars mostly healed up on Jeb's face. One of these days I'm going to get up the nerve to ask him to marry me.
About the author
I write a lot of lgbt+ stuff, lots of sci fi. My big story right now is The Moon's Permission.
I've been writing all my life. Every time I think I should do something else, I come back to words.