Et In Arcadia Ego (1.1)

The little property on Granary Street had been built just for them, something that Jessamine felt awed by every day. Just for them, members of their faith had put in hours of work and created a home for their family to move into. One that she was lucky enough to live in.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely for them. As Leader Jacob had told her, it was an investment into the future, both her own and that of the group as a whole.

She could still remember what he’d told her.

“Back before you were born, Jessamine, none of this belonged to us. Like pioneers, we had to try and settle it in an age of modernity, fighting against more odds than you might believe.” He’d smiled. “But we bought two plots of land, one for the church and one for our housing, and then slowly, when things became available, we provided for ourselves. We bought the houses, we combined our land, and prospered.”

It was strange to think of Haven as an outsider’s town, but then it had been, at some point in time, before they had settled it.

Jessamine Vale had been born to middle-ranking parents within the faith. Her family was considered respectable, and she was one of several children. The second eldest, Elizabeth, had married one of Leader Oswald’s sons, Gordon, and become Mrs Elizabeth Grace.

Jessie, as her parents called her, had been surprised to learn that she, Elizabeth, Gordon, and their two children, had all been selected for a mission. That mission was to slowly lay the groundwork to settle the town for the faith, and, as Leader Oswald had firmly told them, to ‘prepare Jessamine for her own marriage’.

Preparation. One word, with a heavy meaning behind it.

‘Prep’, as the girls called it jokingly in the time before they went through it, was a period of time where a girl would stay with a member of the faith, shadowing the wife and helping her out with chores. It eased the burden of the wife, while teaching the younger girl about the duties of running a household. It started once the leaders had picked out a husband for the young woman.

Jessamine had never imagined she would be going through preparation under her sister’s guidance, and she had the feeling that her sister wasn’t best pleased about it. She had prayed for forgiveness for her doubts the first time she had thought that, but now, she was unsure again.

Still, as she tended to the cow, she couldn’t help but be lifted by the idea that the leaders had picked out a husband for her. She hadn’t even known that her parents had approached them yet, but the idea of a courtship in the near future made her feel slightly giddy.

“Besides, it isn’t as if I’ll say no,” she told the cow. “I’m sure that the leaders will pick out the best person for me.”

“So, this house is…large.” Elizabeth said, in a tone she thought was neutral, and her husband knew was not.

“For a reason. The leaders said we’re to call this place Arcadia, Elizabeth, and they want me to lead us in prayer until we can secure a church. They say as Leader Oswald’s son, I should be qualified…” He stopped short. “You want to say something.”

“So our house is also a church now.”

“Until the actual church can be found. Elizabeth, this is a great opportunity. You, me, and even Jessie, we’re doing the right thing here. This house is twice the size of the one we had, and the children deserve all the chances we can give them.”

“And how long until we can find a church?”

“Elizabeth! You learned the faith in your own house, why is it so wrong for the children to do so?”

“Because we’re isolated from our community, Gordon.” She ground out the words. “We are alone here–“

“Ah, Elizabeth. You don’t have to worry about that. We’re an outpost for the community, and you have your sister here. She’ll keep you company.”

Elizabeth felt her teeth grit. Gordon was an expert in taking apart her arguments, and after the stress of moving, she simply wanted to scream.

“There you go, my dear. It’ll all be fine. Besides, with everything we have to do, you’ll be grateful for Jessie’s help. She’s already helping out with the animals and the children.”

Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face. Her sister was no replacement for the community they’d had around them back in Haven, and Gordon had accepted this post without talking to her. He refused to discuss that with her, too.

“Think of their future,” Gordon said, quietly. “Solomon and Hannah will be happy here.”

In the yard, Hannah was laughing at a little rabbit that had burrowed its way into the chicken’s yard, who was looking from side to side in confusion.

“Auntie Jess, Auntie Jess!” she called. “Look at this!”

The rabbit took fright and began running towards Jessamine at high speed, its little tail flashing up and down. Jessamine found herself laughing too as the rabbit sped away.

“Aw…”

“The chickens must have been surprised!” Jessamine said, smiling at her niece.

“Yeah! I heard the chicks peeping and there he was! Bunnies are so cute…”

“They’re not farm animals, Hannah.” Jessamine said it gently. “You can ask your father, but I don’t think he would want you to have a rabbit as a pet.”

“But they’re so cute!” Hannah sounded disappointed, but even so, she turned her attention towards the chickens, starting to shoo them inside their little coop. “Come on, ladies, it’s time to go inside!”

Jessamine watched fondly as her niece dealt with the chickens. Hannah was so good at helping out with the chores. She was such a helpful little girl, and Jessamine felt reassured by her every time. She had been a quiet baby as well.

She wondered if one day, she would have a daughter like Hannah, who was so helpful and obeyed her parents at every turn. If someday it would be her daughter helping with the chores, smiling up at her, and laughing over the animals.

She felt a fond smile creep onto her face at the thought.

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