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…”
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.
“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.”
“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.
“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.