Chapter Eighty-Two: Trappings


The birds fell silent in the trees overhead. Our eyes met.

“Why do you keep coming back? Go on and tell my secrets to everyone who will listen. I will not be held prisoner in my own home any longer!” My eyes flashed with the anger I had been holding inside.

“May I come in?” He removed the hat from his head, holding it in his hands in front of him.

In supplication?

“No.” I said it firmly, without raising my voice.

“Please.” He spoke softly, almost tenderly, then took a few steps forward. The tone of his voice made me feel off balance for a moment and I put my hand on the door frame for support.

He is not going to stop coming until I give him what he wants. 

What did he want, exactly? Power? Control?

“Why? Just tell me why. Why can’t you leave me alone….sir?” I stopped before I said “Reverend”. That word, the implication that he was a man of God, stuck in my throat.

“I… I realized that there was much more to your story after Mrs. Brierly turned up looking for you. I want to know your story.” He stood silently for a moment. “Not so that I can use it against you. I want…” He looked up at the sky overhead, the gaze upward wrinkled his forehead, then he looked back at me. “So that I might understand.”

I considered this for a moment. My story. I was not sure my story was anything this man would approve of. There was nothing to lose though, really. Nothing could get worse than it already was, could it?

“Come.” I stepped back from the door and motioned him inside.

As he stepped across the threshold, he pulled a package out from his coat pocket and handed it to me. It was small, soft, and wrapped in brown paper.

“What is this?”

“Open it.” 

I motioned him into the parlor and indicated he was to sit in a plain wooden chair by the window. I settled myself on the cushioned sofa, careful to arrange my skirt and crinoline properly. 

“It is a peace offering of sorts,” he said. He picked up the chair and moved it closer to me before he sat.

I placed the package on my lap and untied the string, folding back the paper. It was a summer dress for a baby girl, pale yellow, lace trim. 


Suddenly, I wanted to cry. I didn’t. I was not going to give him that satisfaction, but my heart, wounded and bruised as it was, felt overwhelmed by this simple act of kindness even though it was admittedly suspect.

Having vast amounts of money is meaningless without respect, human interaction/support, dignity. Ostracized for so many months I only went out for the bare necessities, making my trips as short as possible. I could hear the whisperings. I saw the looks, felt the glares. I knew when I asked for bread that I was given the stale loaves, a message not to come back. All of my money could not buy what I needed most: Love and kindness. 

I had not bought Anne anything like this but she deserved it and so much more. Every day I promised myself that I would make it up to her once everything was set right, when she could meet her father.

“Thank you,” I whispered as I fingered the lace. I did not want to feel guilty for not offering him tea, but there it was, guilt. “This does not make everything better, you know.”

“I understand.”

“It is beautiful, though.”

He smiled. “It is beautiful like her.” 

“Yes,” I replied. The man was devious. He knew the way to a mother’s heart was through her child. I could feel my own heart softening against my will.

“Tell me about her. About you.”

And so I did.

Chapter Eighty: Into the Darkness Again


The week passed slowly. I awoke in the wee hours each morning to Anne’s cries and then spent the days vacillating between delighting in her giggles and a building of anxious dread over what Sunday would bring.


The broach came out of hiding. It was an irrisistable plaything for little fingers whenever I wore it. It had been too precious to risk breaking so I had left it buried in the corner of a drawer. Now I took to wearing it again, pinning it each morning to my dress. Perhaps it would offer protection?

I had no intention of ever attending church services or allowing the Reverend Drummond back into my home but the threat of both loomed ahead in the dark unknown of my future.

What I really needed to do, I realized, was to move away. Far away.

And yet…

If I left, would this woman in red find me again? 

Mrs. Brierly. 

Hate and pity and satisfaction mingled together as I repeated all of the permutations of her name over and over again. Mrs. Nathaniel Brierly. Anne Brierly. Mrs. Anne Brierly. 

And now perhaps Evelyn Brierly? I repeated the words until they became a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth. Then I realized the taste was not the proverbial fearful bile. It was blood. My nervous habit of chewing the inside of a cheek had drawn blood… The pain hit, reminding me of my own frailty.

I could not send her a letter myself, could I? No. And if I packed up and left town, leaving word here where I had gone, then the Reverend would follow me, wouldn’t he? Escape was not possible. 

Could I even trust this woman? 

I still had my doubts and yet desire, or was it love, clouded my judgement. 

So then I must remain for the next year in this place. 

How to survive?

The days ticked by. The fear kept my mind buzzing, unable to settle on a coherent plan.

Sunday dawned dark and overcast. The doors and windows were locked tight. I double checked them, triple checked them, drawing all of the curtains closed.

The bells rang summoning for services, their joyful sound standing in stark contrast against my fear. Soon he would see that I was not in the pews.

And then what?

Dark storm clouds rolled in bringing along thunder in the distance. Raindrops pattered down in a soothing staccato on the roof and lulled Anne to sleep in her bed. I had planned an early afternoon nap, not wanting her to bear witness to what might come next. I kissed her gently on the forehead and then closed the door quietly behind me.

I settled down in the dark parlor to wait.

Then it came, the knocking.

Go away.

It came again.

Go away!

Then again. Jiggling of the door knob.

Oh, God!

Then banging. Was he kicking the door?

I tiptoed to the window and stole a glance.

There he was, dressed in dark gray clothing that matched the dark skies overhead. He was standing in the rain, water pouring from the brim of his hat. He did not move but his eyes flicked to the window, searching it from top to bottom. 

Surely he could not see me?

My heart pounded until it felt as if it might burst, but then it was not my heart at all, I realized. I was holding my breath, afraid that he might hear even the intake of air as I stood frozen to the spot.

Please don’t wake, dear Anne! Stay quiet as a little mouse…

He stood there for what seemed like hours. 

So did I.

Anne woke. I could hear her stirring. Could he? 

I stepped slowly away from the window, wincing at the creak of a floorboard as I moved. I must reach her before she began wailing.

I did my best to keep her quiet in the back of the cottage, not lighting any lamps. I snuck into the kitchen to silently prepare her pap mixed with water. No milk today since I had not left the house.

The hours passed. Some sunlight appeared through the clouds as the rain stopped temporarily.

Eventually Anne fell asleep in my arms cradled among the long twilight shadows that creeped and crawled and grew across the room. I nestled her among the blankets and in the dark stillness snuck to the parlor to the front window. I pulled back the heavy drapes a crack to peer through the lace veil and my eyes searched the darkness.

Lightening flashed across the sky.

He was gone. 

I checked through the house and looked out of every window to make sure he was not lurking about and then decided to retire, to attempt sleep myself. I did not undress, however, wanting to remain at the ready. 

I stood over my baby, my precious daughter, my only tie to another life. Her gentle breathing helped me to relax some. I picked her up, carrying her to my bed and watched her peaceful slumbering with envy until my own eyelids felt heavy as lead.

This was only the beginning of the unpleasantness, I knew. I could not hide forever.

Chapter Seventy-Nine: Sundays


We eyed each other across the room.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

He smiled uncomfortably.

“I am here to bring you back into the fold…”

“Get out.”

He had startled me terribly when I found him standing in the parlor holding his hat, his back to me, a figure in black who was turning the pages of the heavy Bible that sat on the table in the corner by the window. A dark stranger it had appeared at first until he turned around.

Reverend Drummond.

“Madame. I… I am afraid I owe you an apology.”

“I said get out.” Coming into my house unbidden was a terrible affront, an insult. “You are trespassing, sir.”

He spoke quickly. “I am most sorry for causing you grief, for accusing you of witchcraft. I did not understand what you had done. If it had been witchcraft, surely the girl’s arm would not still be crippled.”

“Surely.” I responded dryly. “Get out.” I kept my voice low and even but firm. Anne had just gone down for an afternoon nap. I did not want to wake her.

He took a step toward me.

“Mrs. Aspern.” He knew my real name. 

That woman! She had told him.

“I don’t know who you are talking about,” I whispered.

“Yes you do.” He held out his hand as he took another step toward me. I stepped back only to feel my crinoline hit the wall behind me. The door was to my right if I needed it. Surely I could get there before him. But Anne! There was an oil lamp on a table to my left that I could throw at him if needed. My mind raced, eyes rapidly scanning the room for potential weapons.

What if I killed him? 

A single eyebrow cocked up as he waited. Finally he spoke. “There is no need.”

“No need?” I could not hide the confusion in my voice.

“To kill me.” He laughed. “There is no need to kill me.” He took another step. “Your secret is safe.”

“What secret?”

“Don’t play coy, Mrs Aspern.” He cleared the distance between us until he was standing close enough that I could smell his shave soap. He took my own mangled right hand in his. “I have a price, though,” he said softly.

I stared at him, waiting. Saying anything seemed an admission of guilt so I remained silent.

What price?

“I will come for dinner once a week after Sunday service.” He paused for a moment. “And you will attend those services again, every Sunday.” He raised my hand to his lips and kissed the fingers, his eyes locked on mine.

“Get out!” I said through gritted teeth.

“Until Sunday, then…” He smiled, then bowed with a flourish.

Then he was gone.