Writing

Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 9), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

“Mary, dear.” Laura Mollington’s voice jolted me from my reverie. “I was wondering if you would mind helping us to settle a dispute. Lucy’s daughter is to marry an American and he says he’s from Boston. I think Boston is in New Hampshire, but Lucy says it’s in Massachusetts.”

“It is in Massachusetts,” I replied automatically. “I was born there.”

“Really? How interesting. Perhaps you could tell us about the city.”

I forced a smile, making my skirling thoughts focus on what she was saying. The truth is, I wasn’t born in Boston, even though I usually said so on official forms. Canaan New Hampshire was the place of my birth, but Boston was the nearest big city. I scarcely knew Boston, having only spent a few days there before boarding the ship that took us to Europe.

“It’s been years since I’ve been there,”I remarked.

“What was your maiden name?” asked Lucy Alvanley.

“Davis.”

“Davis.” She ran that name over her lips. “Isn’t that a Welsh name?”

“It’s Irish.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Letitia Capenhurst make a moue of disapproval. My, oh my, I shouldn’t have been so honest. I told so many half-truths or even outright lies about my past, pretending to a respectability and wealth my family never had. On the rare occasion I told the truth, I was slapped down for it. I turned to Lucy Alvanley.

“My family has been in Massachusetts for a long time. We’re Quakers.” That, at least was true, and something to be proud of.

“How interesting.”

“Was your husband from Boston too?”

“Spencer is from Cornwall,” I replied, trying not to think of Stephanie in a dance hall surrounded by groping laborers.

“Oh, I don’t mean him,” said Letita Capenhurst. “I meant your other husband.”

I started. Somehow, all this business over Stephanie had upset me so much I’d actually forgotten about these rumors. I lifted my head and stared at her. “What other husband? I don’t have one.”

She averted her eyes. “Well, perhaps he’s not around now. Dear me, he must have passed on.”

Lucy Alvanley leaned towards her. “My dear, don’t you remember what Stephanie said? She was quite positive about it.”

“Stephanie?” My voice rose. “You mean my daughter Stephanie?”

“Why, of course I mean Stephanie,” retorted Lucy. “That’s why it’s true isn’t it? After all, your own daughter couldn’t be wrong about a family matter.”

*     *     *     *     *

Somehow I managed to gather myself together, leave quietly and walk back to my home. I unbuttoned my coat, unpinned my hat and hung both in the vestibule. Then I collapsed into my favorite chair in the parlor.

Why?

Why would Stephanie hurt me like that? Why would she tell damaging lies about her own mother? I couldn’t understand it. What had I ever done to deserve this?

You didn’t pay attention to her, a voice murmured.

I grabbed a cushion and held it to my face while I sobbed. I sobbed for our family, for my other daughters, Jessica, Beryl and Sylvia whose reputations would be ruined by Stephanie’s wild behavior. I sobbed for Spencer, having to bear the shame of it all with me. I sobbed for our dead darling boy Philip. I sobbed for myself and lastly I even sobbed for Stephanie, who had not gotten what she needed.

The front door banged open, and suddenly I’d had enough. Spencer wouldn’t be around for the next few days, so now was time to act. In two strides I was in the vestibule. I seized her wrist and pulled Stephanie into the parlor with me. [To be continued.]