Eliza, March 1869
My Children stand in line, polished and gleaming, ready for the Good Friday Service.
They seem to me a set of Stairs, the only one this House affords.
Anne and John, the head and the tail of a single Coin, she with her eager ways and he with his Dreams. They are older now than I was when I bore them.
Elizabeth, elegant in her Easter Ribbons, smiling down the row of little ones.
Janie, Book in hand. I see the thought of Church less Thrilling in her eyes.
George, care-less and care-free.
Sensible, sensitive Rebecca.
Here, the missing Step. My little Frances, taken by the cold Winter of ten years past, fading further from my View as season follows season.
Eddie, like Janie, with his little Book.
Bright-eyed Bob, endless Questions stilled for once.
Willie, my dear Toddler.
It is a rare moment of happy Order. I permit myself a prideful Thought.
The moment is broken by Edward’s call from the pair of Traps outside. The death of our Lord will not delay for the Journey into Pettigoe, no matter that we dozen are the largest part of our small Meeting.
The children scramble to their customary places. John is proud, the Whip in his hand. There is a festive spirit, repressed in part, in recognition of this day’s Solemnity, but bubbling up nevertheless. A Friday evening trip to Town is a rare treat. We will sing about the Saviour’s blood, but to a tune that’s bold and rousing. We will bow our heads to consider Calvary, but the children will peep between their Fingers while Edward remains rapt. Anne and Elizabeth will ignore, yet covertly watch, the handsome Rowe sons. Perhaps we will linger after the Service and enjoy the soft spring Dusk.
I move, awkward as a duck in a sheugh, toward the second Trap. At once I feel a sharp Tug, fierce and low. I bite my tongue to save from crying out.
Edward sees, and I see him torn. His duty to our Lord. His duty to his Wife, to be confin’d again. Propriety and passion, and the question of to whom those Things belong. A constant Challenge.
We know each other all too well by now. A Semaphore of eyebrows, part intercep’t, I fear, by Anne, and I step back into the Porch. The Traps rumble off down the road.
I’m thirty-three years old and I can count on the fingers of my two laundry-worn hands the number of times I’ve sat alone in this house, the house where I was born, brought up, bereaved, married, orphaned, and confined ten times. I know its nooks, its uneven stones, the angles of its light, the courses of its draughts. But the knowing is an underground stream, paved over with the doing of every day and every moment. It’s a thoughtless thing, never much inspected.
Now I sag on the settle, pleased to cast off any thought of proper posture, and close my eyes. Round me, the house exhales too. I’m suddenly aware of the sunbeam warm across my feet and the wood sanded smooth at my elbow. The front door creaks a little on its hinges. I can hear the distant fuss of Mary Brandon’s chickens. And, a careless once, I feel no pull to up and fluster, mop or gather or boil. I’m myself alone. My house will wait with me.
The child has stilled. It is not due another month yet, but I’ve sensed in its constant stirring an eagerness to emerge into this gentle springtime.
It….. She. Edward would not approve or believe, but I’ve carried too many babies not to know by now. She’ll be my sixth girl, my last girl, the girl who’ll heal the hole in my heart that Frances tore. I rest my hope.
I miss my own mother. The big girls are truly my support now, but the years of their infant mewling were hard and vexing without the presence of anyone more competent than my frightened self and my practical, well-meaning husband, for whom every fear and phantasm might be fixed by logical principles, or not at all.
Mother's patience would have strengthened my failing supply, amidst the baby scares and messes that drove me to the edge of my resources, as each after the previous found novel ways to cause alarm. And in this moment’s evening sunlight, I picture her lifting a sleepy child onto her lap the way she used to lift me, here on this settle, for too few years.
My thoughts creep out like pea-vines, feeling their way in the unaccustomed space. My eyes stay shut.
There’s a fluttering at the open door. I lift my lids a little. A tiny bird hovers where inside joins outside. My daily doing self would shoo it onwards, seeing dirt and disaster ahead. Now, I simply breathe and watch. A moment, and it’s in, circling the living room like a wind-up toy. It’s soft and mottled brown. Not frantic, more curious, as though it’s searching for somewhere to land.
It finds its place on my outstretched boot. It observes me, head cocked, eyes bright, silent. I smile.
It flutters up and flies back out into the dusk. A little brown feather falls past the lintel. I feel another tug, stronger and sharper.
The Night has been long and testing.
Anne and Elizabeth, my best Helps.
Edward, on his Knees beyond the door.
John, fast to fetch the Doctor.
Myself, torn again.
Frances, more serene in her Cradle than any babe of such a night has right to be.
An Easter gift, a heart-binding, a hope made whole.