Though no one stopped to talk to them, Jessamine seemed to know who everyone was—who was getting married, who was seeking a husband, who was having an affair with so-and-so’s wife and everyone knew all about it. It was a bit dizzying, and Tessa was glad when they stepped off the row and onto a narrower path leading into the park.
Jessamine slid her arm through Tessa’s and gave her hand a companionable squeeze. “You don’t know what a relief it is to finally have another girl around,” she said cheerfully. “I mean, Charlotte’s all right, but she’s boring and married.”
Jessamine snorted. “Sophie’s a servant.”
“I’ve known girls who were quite companionable with their ladies’ maids,” Tessa protested. This was not precisely true. She had read about such girls, though she had never known one. Still, according to novels, the main function of a ladies’ maid was to listen to you as you poured your heart out about your tragic love life, and occasionally to dress in your clothes and pretend to be you so you could avoid being captured by a villain. Not that Tessa could picture Sophie participating in anything like that on Jessamine’s behalf.
“You’ve seen what her face looks like. Being hideous has made her bitter. A ladies’ maid is meant to be pretty, and speak French, and Sophie can’t manage either. I told Charlotte as much when she brought the girl home. Charlotte didn’t listen to me. She never does.”
“I can’t imagine why,” said Tessa. They had turned onto a narrow path that wound between trees. The glint of the river was visible through them, and the branches above knotted together into a canopy, blocking the brightness of the sun.
“I know! Neither can I!” Jessamine raised her face, letting what sun broke through the canopy dance across her skin. “Charlotte never listens to anyone. She’s always henpecking poor Henry. I don’t know why he married her at all.”
“I assume because he loved her?”
Jessamine snorted. “No one thinks that. Henry wanted access to the Institute so he could work on his little experiments in the cellar and not have to fight. And I don’t think he minded marrying Charlotte—I don’t think there was anyone else he wanted to marry—but if someone else had been running the Institute, he would have married them instead.” She sniffed. “And then there’s the boys—Will and Jem. Jem’s pleasant enough, but you know how foreigners are. Not really trustworthy and basically selfish and lazy. He’s always in his room, pretending to be ill, refusing to do anything to help out,” Jessamine went on blithely, apparently forgetting the fact that Jem and Will were off searching the Dark House right now, while she promenaded in the park with Tessa. “And Will. Handsome enough, but behaves like a lunatic half the time; it’s as if he were brought up by savages. He has no respect for anyone or anything, no concept of the way a gentleman is supposed to behave. I suppose it’s because he’s Welsh.”
Tessa was baffled. “Welsh?” Is that a bad thing to be? she was about to add, but Jessamine, thinking that Tessa was doubting Will’s origins, went on with relish.
“Oh, yes. With that black hair of his, you can absolutely tell. His mother was a Welshwoman. His father fell in love with her, and that was that. He left the Nephilim. Maybe she cast a spell on him.” Jessamine laughed. “They have all kinds of odd magic and things in Wales, you know.”
Tessa did not know. “Do you know what happened to Will’s parents? Are they dead?”
“I suppose they must be, mustn’t they, or they would have come looking for him?” Jessamine furrowed her brow. “Ugh. Anyway. I don’t want to talk about the Institute anymore.” She swung around to look at Tessa. “You must be wondering why I’ve been being so nice to you.”
“Er …” Tessa had been wondering, rather. In novels girls like herself, girls whose families had once had money but who had fallen on hard times, were often taken in by kindly wealthy protectors and were furnished with new clothes and a good education. (Not, Tessa thought, that there had been anything wrong with her education. Aunt Harriet had been as learned as any governess.) Of course, Jessamine did not in any way resemble the saintly older ladies of such tales, whose acts of generosity were totally selfless. “Jessamine, have you ever read The Lamplighter?”
“Certainly not. Girls shouldn’t read novels,” said Jessamine, in the tone of someone reciting something she’d heard somewhere else. “Regardless, Miss Gray, I have a proposition to put to you.”
“Tessa,” Tessa corrected automatically.
“Of course, for we are already the best of friends,” Jessamine said, “and shall soon be even more so.”
Tessa regarded the other girl with bafflement. “What do you mean?”
“As I am sure horrid Will has told you, my parents, my dear papa and mama, are dead. But they left me a not inconsiderable sum of money. It was put aside in trust for me until my eighteenth birthday, which is only in a matter of months. You see the problem, of course.”
Tessa, who did not see the problem, said, “I do?”
“I am not a Shadowhunter, Tessa. I despise everything about the Nephilim. I have never wanted to be one, and my dearest wish is to leave the Institute and never speak to a single soul who resides there ever again.”
“But I thought that your parents were Shadowhunters… .”
“One does not have to be a Shadowhunter if one does not wish to,” Jessamine snapped. “My parents did not. They left the Clave when they were young. Mama was always perfectly clear. She never wanted the Shadowhunters near me. She said she would never wish that life on a girl. She wanted other things for me. That I would make my debut, meet the Queen, find a good husband, and have darling little babies. An ordinary life.” She said the words with a savage sort of hunger. “There are other girls in this city right now, Tessa, other girls my age, who aren’t as pretty as me, who are dancing and flirting and laughing and catching husbands. They get lessons in French. I get lessons in horrid demon languages. It’s not fair.”
“You can still get married.” Tessa was puzzled. “Any man would—”
“I could marry a Shadowhunter.” Jessamine spat out the word. “And live like Charlotte, having to dress like a man and fight like a man. It’s disgusting. Women aren’t meant to behave like that. We are meant to graciously preside over lovely homes. To decorate them in a manner that is pleasing to our husbands. To uplift and comfort them with our gentle and angelic presence.”