Writing

Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 1) a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

West Kensington, London

October 1913

I don’t know what to do. People are talking about me, saying I was married before I married Spencer. They say that I left my family, my husband and child, back in New Hampshire, where I was born; that I abandoned my American family to travel to England and marry Spencer Thornton Treffry, a scion of one of the oldest families in England. They imply that my first husband is currently living, and therefore I am a bigamist and a whore, a heartless mother, the sort who would abandon her children to make a better life for herself elsewhere.

I heard this today during a meeting of the gardening committee. We are fortunate, my family and I, to live in one of those London squares which surrounds its own private garden. My actual family, Spencer, my four daughters and son, live on the Eastern side of the square, with a front parlor that gives onto the garden, drinking in the afternoon light. This morning I was seated in Louisa Bretton’s parlor on the North side of the square, with the other ladies, discussing which plants we should put in for the Spring. Louisa had made pencil sketches of the flowers she thought suitable, and was passing them around. I remember looking at a sketch of a lilac that was different from what one usually finds in English gardens, a lighter violet with more open flowers, and shaking my head.

“This reminds me of the kind of lilacs that used to grow in Mamma’s garden in Lisbon, New Hampshire,” I remarked.

“You still miss your country then.” Letitia Capenhurst looked at me over her teacup.

Instinctively, I stiffened, as usual finding her hard to read.  She was soft-spoken, a small, plump, woman, with beautifully turned hands and fingers, tiny and perfect. From the outside, she looked harmless enough. There was nothing outré in her appearance, yet her soft voice had a way of giving words an odd emphasis, suggesting a faultfinding quality that belied her harmless words.

I gave a faint smile. “You must think me very foolish. I’ve been here for over twenty years, yet I miss it still. Not the cold winters of course, or the…” I paused. I didn’t want these London ladies to know how poor we really were. How could I tell them how empty the land was of people, and consequently that we had to do everything ourselves? How could I tell them that we lived in a log cabin shack with a tin roof that leaked every time it rained? How Papa tried his best to wrest a living from the stony soil of New Hampshire, how Mamma would make up all our clothes from cheap leftover material, how she cooked all our food, how we often subsisted on porridge and soup? I certainly couldn’t tell them that the gold my family found lay not in rich relatives or advantageous marriages, but in something far more earthy and ordinary…manure. No, no, no. This was not suitable talk for a London drawing-room. When Papa quit farming and became a manure salesman, my family thrived. It was the secret to our wealth. We were finally able to leave New Hampshire and make a better life for ourselves in Europe. I lifted my eyes to meet their questioning looks. [To be continued.]