Shringking in a corner, Pressing into a wall, Do they know I'm present, Am I here at all. ~ Lang Leav
My right hand unconciously reached up to fiddle with the strands of my right braid. I was afraid of this woman who turned out to be none other than my mother's elder sister, Helen Jane Greensten.
"Come here, child," she said in a cold voice. Still staring at the ground and playing with my hair I took a few steps closer to her. My uncle had sat down in a chair beside her.
"Well, one thing is certain, she is the spitting image of Evelyn," Aunt Helen said at last. "Stop examining at your feet and look at me, child. Yes, Evelyn through and through. Except for those eyes. Evelyn's eyes were sky blue, hers are a steel grey. Well, child, I am sure you know what a surprise you are to us. Your mother disappeared ten years ago and suddenly we are told we have to take her orphaned daughter in."
"I'm sorry." I forced myself to speak. How intimidating she was. "We probably went about it all wrong. You see, Father Joseph though perhaps to start with just a letter informing how you had a niece, but Mrs. Maguire thought it would be best to send a letter stating the date of my arrival. That way, she said, it would be harder for you to refuse."
It was not an answer pleasing to my aunt, I could tell by the way she set her lips in a thin, angry line and raised her eyebrows just a little. "Well, I never..." she muttered before her voice trailed off.
"You are a surprise to me too," I found myself continuing, my fingers still relentlessly tugging the strands of my hair. "I never knew I had an aunt and uncle until a few days before Mama - before Mama - before Mama died." I bit my lip, I couldn't cry in front of them! What would they think of me?
"Who is Mrs. Maguire?" Uncle Andrew asked. Unlike Aunt Helen, he seemed very calm and cool about the whole 'niece from nowhere' issue.
"Mrs. Maguire is the wife of my landlord a." I answered. "She also has a son named Robert. They were my mama's only real friends."
"For mercy's sake, child," Aunt Helen suddenly burst out. "Stop fidgiting like that. Cannot you stand still?"
My hand jerked down from my hair and a hid it behind my back, while my feet shuffled together and I straighted out my back. She certainly was unhappy, there was no mistaking that. Uncle Andrew reached out to put his hand over hers, but she snatched it away before he was able to.
"How did your mother die?" She kept on with the interrogation.
"Mama?" I placed my left hand behind my back to hold down my right one from going up to the braid again. "She came down with a bad fever that got the end of her in the end. Mrs. Maguire said she was too weak to fight it."
"And your father?"
I caught my breath, my eyes locking with her. I had been waiting for that question, and dreading it. I stood silently, not knowing what to say, or how to say it.
"Child, I asked you a question, what of your father? Who is he? Is he also dead?"
I gulped down the lump of fear stuck in my throat. "Oh, him." My voice could barely be heard. "You see, ma'am, well, I don't have a father." I took a deep breath. "My mother never married."
Aunt Helen let out a gasp. "You are illegitimant!"
Stunned silence ensued after this terrible sentence was passed. I could see horror filling her eyes as her breathing became quick and irregular.
They hadn't known.
Why hadn't Father Joseph told them the full truth? I was sure he had. He was a priest after all. What would happen to me now?
"Do you know at least know who your father was?" Aunt Helen asked at last.
"No. Mama never spoke of him. I heard Mrs. Maguire speculate to Father Joseph once that she thought it was a summer romance that ended badly with him leaving her alone and with child. But that was only a guess. Mama took the secret of him to the grave and known but her will ever know who he really was."
Aunt Helen let out a sigh. "Oh Evelyn," she breathed out. "Wretched girl, how could you do this to me? To Father? What did Evelyn do for a living?" She directed the question to me.
"She worked in a factory. Mrs. Maguire said it was the factory that killed her. Hard work and poor conditions didn't go well with her health. She got weaker and weaker and then she died." I bit my lip again. A tear escaped but I wiped it with the back of my hand.
"How old are you, Sarah?" My uncle spoke up again. He didn't seem in the least concerned about my parentage.
"I turned eight on April fifteenth." I replied.
"Eight?" He pulled his eyebrows together. "I would never have given you more than six."
My thin shoulders gave a small shrug. "I suppose I am small for my age. I am sorry you didn't know about my father, I was sure Father Joseph had explain the whole situation. Please, don't send me back, I don't want to end up in an orphanage."
"My dearest child!" He exclaimed. "Whatever made you think we would send you back?"
I wiped the tear with the back of my hand and shrugged again.
"What is your last name?" Aunt Helen spoke up.
"Beverly, Sarah Beverly."
The frown on her face deepened and she shook her head again.
"You are tired and upset after your long journey." Uncle Andrew stood up. "What you need is to rest. I'll have Elsie draw a bath for you. You can wash and change. Have you another dress?"
"Yes sir, I have one more dress."
"I see." Uncle Andrew was thoughtful for a moment. "Well, we'll have to look into getting you some clothing. You'll need a proper mourning frock to start with, and then we'll get something more colorful and pretty."
He stood up and walking up to the wall pulled on a string that hung from there. In a few moments the door opened and a girl came walking in. She was black too! Just as black as the butler had been. She wore a black dress and a stiff, starched white apron. Her hair was gathered up and she wore a white cape on it. I guessed she must be a maid of some sort. But why was she so dark skinned?
"Elsie, draw a bath for Miss Sarah," Uncle Andrew said in a voice filled with authority. "She is upset and tired and needs help settling down. See to all her needs."
"Yes, Massa." The girl replied in a rather deep voice. Deeper than I had expected at any rate. "Come, Miss," she motioned for me to follow her. I slowly walked after her, but halted when I reached the door. I had forgotten the most important part of the whole trip. Trembling, I walked back to my aunt pulled out a folded paper, sealed on one end with candle wax, from my pocket.
"Mama asked me to give you this." I told whispered. "I'm sorry it's wrinkled. I was afraid to lose it and put it in my dress pocked, but it got crumpled there."
Aunt Helen took the letter without a word. I turned and followed the girl out of the room. Uncle Andrew closed the door behind us.
"Beverly, Andrew," I heard her say. "She's a Beverly."
"I heard, Helen," was his reply. The rest of the conversation was lost to me as I went up the staircase. Fear plagued me as I climbed those marble stairs and soon I found myself on the second floor of the house. It was as fancy and richly decorated as the first floor. Shabby me felt so out of place among the finery and grandure.
Together with Elsie I walked down a hall with paintings on both walls and at last we stopped at a door.
"This is your room, Miss Sarah," I was informed as the door was opened.
It was a beautiful room. In the corner stood a large bed with an over-stuffed mattress and far too many pillows. There was dressing table with a mirror, and a large wardrobe in the corner. Paintings on the walls of horses and flowers and beautiful meadows. A writing table stood by the window upon which was a china vase filled with freshly cut roses. The whole place was done up in shades of lilac purple, as well as a little bit of deep red to give it warmth. I stared at the whole place in awe. This was my room? MY room?
"Are you sure?" I turned to her. "There ought to be some mistake!"
She laughed. "Of course there ain't, Miss Sarah. The Massa was very particular about you being placed in this room. Once it belonged to your mama."
"To my mother?" I backed away a bit in disbelief. "My mother lived here once?"
Elsie tilted her head a bit to the side, a strange expression coming to her face. "Of course she did. Didn't you know? This here is your mama's home; she was born here and grew up. Now, I's got to get your bath filled. You need to freshen up and then get some food and rest. If you'll wait here, I'll only be a moment."
With a quick smile Elsie turned and left, leaving me alone. I slowly walked around it and let my fingers brushing against every piece of furniture. Mama had lived here? Why had she left? I had never known her to have once been rich and living a life filled with comfort and ease. The only mama I had known was the poor, thin, and pale woman who rose early every morning and would leave for the factory till the evening. The dear soul who dressed in rags and always had tear stains on her cheeks. That was my mother, my poor, wretched, unhappy mother. I couldn't imagine her as a young fine lady in fashionable clothes, sitting leisurely in a room with needlework in her hands.
Lost in my confusion I didn't hear Elsie come back and jumped at the sound of her voice.
"Your bath is ready, Miss Sarah," she told me. "Come, I'll help you wash and then we can unpack."
"I can wash myself, thank you." I said. "I'm big enough to know how to do that."
"As you's wish, Miss Sarah," Elsie replied with a shrug. "I'll just show you where the bath is."
She led me to a door that was adjacent to my room. It was small with was a fancy tub and a wash basin and table with soap and a few bottles with oils.
The hot water felt nice to my skin. I had never washed in such warm water before. My baths had always been cold, unpleasant affairs. Once I was clean I donned my only other dress, which had been laid out for me by Elsie, and stepped back into the room. Elsie was nowhere in sight. Taking my bag, I walked up to the huge bed. How was I ever going to get into it to sleep? Mountain climbing seemed easier.
Givng up on the idea of ever making it to the top, I sank to the floor and opened my bag, staring at my few earthly possessions. Loneliness and homesickness swept over me and I couldn't hold back the tears anymore.
Buring my head in the silk beadspread, I broke down into sobs.