Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 7), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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.

*     *     *     *     *

The next day, I waited in the parlor with the door open a crack until I heard Stephanie creep down the stairs and rustle around in the vestibule. I went in through the kitchen, and up the back stairs.

“Jessie, dear.” I knocked on door of the room my three younger daughters shared and opened it. Beryl and Sylvia were away at school. “Stephanie is leaving.”

Jessica Treffry Dean (1898-1990), my great-aunt Jess at the age of around 14.

Jessie quickly put on her hat and coat that were lying on her bed in readiness.

“Don’t let her out of your sight.”

She nodded, waved and disappear in Stephanie’s wake.

I went into the parlor and smiled, it seemed for the first time in a long time. Dear, dear Jessie, she was such a contrast to Stephanie. Jessica had been sensible and level-headed even when she was a tiny child. She was utterly reliable, and I knew she would tell me the truth. More to the point, I knew that Spencer would find it very hard to ignore her.

The hours ticked past and eventually darkness crept over the quiet garden. Just as the evening mists were beginning to rise, the front door opened and Jessie appeared, out of breath and crying. My heart curled into a ball and began its drubbing as I rushed towards her.

She couldn’t speak, so I went into the kitchen and made her a hot lemon and honey drink to which I added the smallest dash of brandy. I made her sit in my chair while I poked at the fire.

“She was so angry.” Jessie gulped for air. “She shouted at me, accusing me of being your spy.”

My heart clenched in my throat. Poor Jessie. Indeed I had used her as a spy. I’d been so desperate about Stephanie it had never occurred to me that I might be harming Jessie.

“I’m sorry, darling.” I sat down next to her. “I shouldn’t have made you do it.”

“It’s all right, Mother.” Jessie sipped her drink. Even when she was upset and out of breath, she still behaved like a lady.

Gradually, it all came out, about how Jessie had followed her sister all the way to Lucy Alvanley’s, where she met a handsome young man named Will. Jessie didn’t know his surname, or how old he was, except that she thought he was a little bit older than Stephanie.

After a couple of hours of waiting in the cold outside, the door to the Alvanley’s home opened, and Stephanie and Will appeared. Jessie followed them all the way to the bus-stop and got on the bus with them. She said they didn’t see her because they were kissing. Stephanie and Will were in back of the bus, which has a platform where one can get on and off, while Jessie was further down in the middle wedged amongst a crowd of shoppers.

Expecting Stephanie and Will to jump off the bus between bus-stops, she gradually edged her way down the bus and that is when Stephanie noticed her. When Jessie tried to follow them as they jumped off the bus, Stephanie shouted at her, embarrassing her so much that she stayed on that bus. The last she saw of them, they were weaving through traffic, making for the sidewalk, talking loudly about going to a dance-hall.

I rose, folding my arms tightly across my bosom. “Oh no,” I moaned.

“I’m sorry, Mother.”

I turned to her. “Jessie, dear, you did what you could. Now, I think you should go upstairs, change your clothes and try to get warm. We’ll be having supper presently.”

I stared at the fire after she left. I needed to speak to Spencer about this, but he was away, on some business to do with his bank. I didn’t expect him back for a week. [To be continued.]