Chapter Eighty-Five: Retribution

 Antique hospital bed reflected in an apothecary's window. 

Where was he?

I waited at the window for hours with Anne playing in the floor beside me. 

“Don’t pull on the drapery, darling…” I tugged gently at the dark silk but she did not turn loose. Instead she giggled and yanked hard back. “This is not a game!” Edginess showed in my voice.

She smiled up at me but did not release her grip, pulling hard again.

I knelt and unfurled the fingers of her good hand from the fabric. She was strong when she wanted to be. The curtain was quickly draped carefully over the chair back out of her reach. 

Anne pulled herself up on the chair, still smiling. Reaching. Standing on bare tip toes she balanced with the one arm, reaching with the other. Unsuccessful, she switched hands. Realizing she could not reach it, I was quickly met with wails of frustration. 

Still, he had not come.

Darkness descended, empty and foreign.

What did it mean?

My mind explored all possible scenarios: A carriage accident? He had finally come to his senses about me? He was ill? Someone else was ill? The diocese had called a meeting about his suspect activities on these Sunday afternoons? 

Sleep was fitful, punctuated by fear filled dreams of blood and fever.

Monday passed without word from him as did Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. Hurt. Desperation. Anger. Relief. My emotions ran the gamut. 

There was no one I could ask and pride prevented me from sending a letter of inquiry directly to him. I was not sure I wanted to know the answer, quite frankly. As long as it was possible that there had been an accident, I was spared the inevitable rejection.

Another Sunday passed at the window, alone. 

Finally, I was done with it. I would not care. I settled in the flickering shadows after putting Anne down for the night and burned his letters in the fire one by one. 

All except one. My favorite. 

“I hold you in the highest regard and pray for your wellbeing nightly…”

I would keep it as a token, a reminder of my folly. The dangers of hope. The flattery of attention, being led astray…

I traced the letters over and over again, then refolded the paper, returning it to the envelope.

Great wracking sobs came. I mourned. For myself, the loneliness. For Anne. For Nathaniel. For hoping for something better than what I had, better than this miserable existance in its perpetual state of uncertainty…

Mid morning on Wednesday, still with no word, I swung Anne up onto my hip and set out, intending to get bread but instead walking past the bakery. 

We walked on and on, the dappled sunlight filtering through the occasional trees.

There was the beginning of a strange, dull ache and I shifted Anne to the other hip. She rested her head on my shoulder and dozed off a bit, lulled by the movement.

I did not stop.

People crossed to the other side of the street as we approached, fear recognizable in their eyes even from that distance. I was used to anger and loathing. Fear was new and puzzling.

There it was. 

The modest gray stone building in traditional Georgian construct, the rectory. 

I halted at the bottom of the front steps.

There on the heavy wooden door hung my answer. Acid crept up the back of my throat as understanding set in.

Small pox.

A sharp pain suddenly broke through the dull ache in the base of my pelvis. Severe. Crippling. 

Oh, God.

Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Chapter Eighty-Four: Shadowed


Make love to me first with words.

He had done that, and then some. I had stacks of his letters in my dresser drawer, written since I had asked him to give me words. I would take them out and reread them each night by lamplight. 

Sometimes certain phrases or even the simple curve of a letter would send my fingertips tingling. 

I looked down at the hand holding mine, the fingers that had written those powerful words of apology and devotion. There was a charge there that raced from his hand to my fingerstips to my lower spine. I had almost forgotten how intoxicating that sensation was.

He leaned forward tentatively. 

I closed my eyes in anticipation, awaiting the feel of his rough beard against my face. I could smell his soap.

Just as his lips touched mine for the first time, there was a cry from Anne in the other room. Not her sleepy whimpering wake up cry. It was a full on, angry sob as if she knew that I was betraying her father’s memory at that very instant. He kissed in earnest until it was clear that she would not settle down.

He moved away, amusement playing on his lips. A half smile hung suspended there.

“I will get her,” I sighed. 

“No, I will go.” He applied gentle pressure to my shoulder indicating I was to sit down and wait for his return. 

I eased myself down onto the sofa and folded my hands onto my lap to wait.

He knew nothing of changing diapers or feeding or soothing a child. It would not be long.

As expected. Anne would have nothing of it, of this man. The wailing creacendoed as she refused to calm down. 

Two minutes later he returned with a red faced, tear stained Anne who turned silent as soon as she saw me. 

He placed her on my lap, apologetically.

“It’s alright. Shhhhh,” I murmured.

I held her close. She rested her warm, damp head on my shoulder, fuzzy hair tickling my chin. A quiet hiccup, then a contented sigh as she drifted off to sleep again.

“I will go,” he whispered. He bent down and kissed my forehead, then the top of Anne’s head. “Until next week…”

I watched him grab his hat and let himself out.

Tonight I would not need his words. My lips felt raw from his earlier kiss. Love lingered there.

Chapter Eighty-Three: Pudding


Such joyful sounds…. giggles and coos.

A man’s laugh.

I peeked around the corner, wiping my hands on the apron tied around my waist.

He was in the floor playing with Anne. She looked up at the Reverend with adoring eyes as she waited for the wooden ball to roll back to her. 

“Are you ready? Here it comes!”

He rolled again gently and she caught it between her good hand and the bad one.

She used the damaged hand as if she did not need for it to work like the other, as if she did not recognize that the hand was not normal. She did not need for it be normal, as it did what she wanted regardless. She knew nothing else.

Still, it hurt to watch. Joy and pain and sadness intermingled. Life. It was relentlessly bittersweet.

I went back to the formidable black oven. 

Cooking for myself was easy. Subsistence did not require anything fancy. Cooking for him was another matter. I would practice during the week, trying something new, then whip it out for his visits. 

Why was I trying so hard?

Truth be told, I had started looking forward to his visits, the gifts he brought. Sometimes they were for me. An ornately carved tortoise shell hair comb. Oranges and dates. Heavy stationary paper and ink. Sometimes the gifts were for Anne. A doll that was much too old for her. Or the ball today.

Each Sunday I would stand at the window and watch for him.

At times I worried that loneliness clouded my judgement. There were whispers about him around the town. Attendance at his church fell. Out and about I found the animosity toward me enhanced and magnified.

And then there was the question of where friendship ended and romance began. What did he want from me ultimately? Penance? Or a wife?

There was an easy familiarity developing between us, dangerous in its potential.

I cracked open the oven and tapped a towel wrapped hand on the dish resting in the water bath. 

Not yet set.

I closed the heavy door again. 

Why did I decide on baking an orange custard pudding? Granted it was with the oranges he had given me but it was taking much longer than I had anticipated. It would still have to cool before it would be edible. 

A throat cleared from behind, causing me to jump. It was then that I realized I was standing in the middle of the kitchen with my right hand still wrapped in the towel, unmoving, lost in thought. I must have been an odd sight.

“I am sorry! I did not intend to startle you,” he said.

The Reverend was now standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Anne perched primly on the crook of his elbow. When she saw me she opened her arms, indicating that her loyalty still lay with me, at least in so far as carrying duties went. He stepped forward and handed her off to me.

“Come to mama, baby girl…” I kissed her fat cheek. It felt cool against my lips. 

She hugged my neck tightly enough to squeeze my heart.

The room was warm and I could sense strands of hair stuck to my forehead by beads of sweat. I brushed them away with the back of my hand, suddenly self conscious.

He stared at me for a long moment. 

He was close enough to touch. In fact he reached out his hand toward my waist as if he would, but thought better of it, instead shoving the offending hand quickly into a pocket.

My heart beat harder in my chest. 

He had almost crossed into territory from which there would be no return. 

I realized that I could not decide if I wanted him to cross that point or not.

I stared back.

Edinburgh felt as if it was shrinking up, fading into the distance.

“I think I should go.” His voice sounded thick and deliberate.

I nodded.