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.
“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?”
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.”
“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.