The Elderflowers of Capra

… There was a small study leading from the library; it was a room I had not ventured into before as it had never seemed of any interest. The study was cramped with no windows and featured a large oak writing desk upon which stood a brass lamp with a crimson glass shade. Behind the desk there was a large gilt-framed map of the world. Along one wall stood a low cabinet with ornate engravings. The cabinet seemed to be from some exotic land and he had placed three bottle-green, gold-rimmed picture frames on top of it, each containing a magnificent palm-sized butterfly. The butterflies were beautifully coloured and each had a small brass plaque below: Papilio Polyxenes was glossy black with two rows of small cream dots at the edges and pale blue shading on the bottom wings; Phoebis Sennae was such a delicate golden yellow allover it looked like the petals of a flower; the third butterfly Danaus Chrysippus was deep orange with black edges and small white spots that looked like a lace trim. They were enchanting together and I was amused at the discovery, having had no idea my paramour had a fondness for such fragile things.

I opened the cabinet doors hoping to find more secrets my lover had yet to share with me. I found some leather bound manuscripts with details of the butterflies and what appeared to be medical journals, all in the language of the land that I had no way of understanding. It was a disheartening find though I wondered whether I should discuss the butterflies with my husband or allow it to remain his private study alone. I was sure he would share his hidden passion with me in time.

As I was putting the journals back I found some would not go in as far as the others and thought one must have fallen at the back of the cabinet. I knelt down to reach in and pulled out a black lacquered box with an intricate mother of pearl floral design on its lid. In the centre was the inscription Fluteri. Intrigued, I carefully opened the casket and found, curled up like small creatures slumbering on the burgundy velvet lining, two long locks of hair, each wrapped around a gold ring. I considered what it was I had unearthed; my heart stopped for a millisecond before I dropped the box in disgust. The locks of hair fell to the floor – one was glossy black, the other golden yellow. I looked at the rings and lifted my left hand – all three were identical gold wedding bands with embossed vines. I swallowed a vile taste in my mouth as all manner of wild fancies raced through my mind. I held my breath and urged myself to pick up one of the rings and check the engraving on the inside. I already knew what I would see in an elegant script – Capra – my husband’s name, the one I had taken. I forced myself to check the other ring and indeed, just like on my own, the name was there. My husband had never given any indication he had married before, and I didn’t understand what may have happened to these wives. Why had he failed to mention their existence? Why was there no trace of them left in the house except here in this tiny tomb? I looked again at the vile pieces of hair on the floor, both lying dead to the world, they were almost exactly the same shades as the first two butterfly wings I had just admired. I looked back at the trio of butterflies, the third one sitting so prettily – stunned and stabbed with a pin through its gut – was the russet Danaus Chrysippus. I felt sickened and instinctively placed a protective hand on my rounded stomach. My wedding ring felt heavy on my hand and I started to panic. I thought I had been in the study too long and might be found out. I knew my husband was not at home but I had no idea when he would return. And perhaps the servants would inform him where I was… I didn’t know what this might lead to. I hastily put the monstrous locks of hair back in the rings and then back in the casket, pushing it as far back in the cabinet as possible, stacking the leather books and journals in front once again. I closed the cabinet and hurriedly left the study…

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