Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 6), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

“Well then.” Spencer smiled at me. “They’re nice people, perfectly respectable.”

I turned to her. “Have you been going out with any young men?”

A faint flush crawled up her neck as she turned slightly in her seat away from me and continued to smile at her father.

I clenched my hands under my skirts and tried to calm down, but she annoyed me so much.

“That is completely unacceptable,” I shouted. “What are you trying to do? Ruin your reputation? I’ve told you over and over again that if you want to meet a young man, you must take a chaperone.”

Finally, she managed to turn her head just enough to flick a look at me.

“You, I suppose.” Her words were as bright and sharp as a knife’s blade.

There was a pause. I opened my mouth to say something, but Spencer forestalled me.

“Stephanie, my dear, your mother is quite right about this. We both want you to be happy, but there are certain things you must at least pay lip service to.”

“But I do, Daddy,” exclaimed Stephanie. “I never see these young men alone, I’ve always got company.”

“All right, all right.” Spencer planted a kiss on her forehead. “Just be careful my dear, and don’t hesitate to come to me if you need anything.”

“I won’t, Daddy.” Stephanie favored her father with a charming smile, before blowing him an air-kiss and leaving the room.

He chuckled. “Well then,” he remarked turned to me.

“We haven’t solved anything,” I pointed out. “Stephanie still thinks she can do as she pleases.”

“Mary, my dear, I think you just have to trust her more. She’s a young lady now and old enough to know what she’s doing. I think you need to pay her the compliment of trusting her judgement.”

He opened the door.

“But how can I do that when she consistently shows that she lacks judgement?”

But he’d gone. I sat there in my chair, feeling like a pot of thick soup on the simmer. I got up and paced around.

If only I could prove to Spencer that I was right about Stephanie, perhaps he would take a sterner line. I stood with one elbow on the mantlepiece gazing into the mirror as a sudden thought struck me, something I should have told Stephanie in front of Spencer. I should have told her that if she continued visiting young men without a chaperone, not only would she ruin her reputation, she’d ruin her sisters’ as well.

I sank into my chair and put my head in my hands. No respectable gentleman would marry my girls if they believed them to be fast. And I didn’t believe for a moment that Stephanie would show good judgement in the way she conducted herself amongst her friends. She’d always been a mischievous girl, always defiant, always disruptive, the bane of governesses and the various teachers I employed at one time or another. I remember once when Sylvia was having a piano lesson, how Stephanie dangled a puppet on a string from her bedroom, which was just above the parlor. She jerked it up and down, making Sylvia laugh so hard she couldn’t continue. That was the end of piano lessons, as Miss Richardson informed me she was not going to continue trying to teach a band of unruly girls. Spencer, amused, had said that Stephanie was just naturally mischievous. Yes, it was a pity about the piano lessons, but we couldn’t afford them any way.

I got up. I was going to have to deal with Stephanie myself. [To be continued.]