Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 10), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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.

“Ow! You’re hurting me!”

“You snake!” I spat at her. “How could you do it? How could you tell such lies about your own mother and bring disgrace on your family?”

Stephanie stared at me, her large eyes hard. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I recoil, shocked that she isn’t ashamed, even more shocked that she isn’t sorry for the damage she’s done.

“Didn’t you tell Mrs. Alvanley that I abandoned a husband and family back in the States to marry your father?”

“Oh, that.” Stephanie languidly brushed away my question with her hand. “That was just a joke.” She made for the door.

“Oh no you don’t.” I gripped her wrist again.

“Stop it, you’re hurting me.”

“You listen to me, Stephanie.” Something about my voice made her go still. “You have made it very evident that you don’t want to obey my rules while you live under my roof, so from this day forward, I think you should find somewhere else to live.” I picked up my purse and fished around, counting out the coins. All I could find was forty shillings and I could ill afford to part with it, but it was a sop to my conscience. “Here, take this.”

She stared at me, her face white. “But where will I go?” She sounded just like a child.

“I’m sure a girl like you can figure that out. What about all those friends you’ve been telling us about? I’m sure the Alvanleys could put you up. They believe your joke, you know.”

She turned the corners of her mouth down.

Ordinarily, I would have softened, but I’d had it. Taking her arm, I marched her up to her room and helped her pack, my heart throbbing in my chest as I folded her dresses, blouses, skirts, underwear. Was I actually doing this? My head pounded and I could scarcely believe I could be so cruel to my own daughter. When it came time to see her off, I almost couldn’t bear it. I nearly threw my arms around her neck and begged her to stay. Bitter experience prevented me from doing so.

I spent the rest of the day turning Stephanie’s bedroom into a nest for dear Jessie. At least I had one daughter I could be proud of. As I scrubbed and dusted I reflected that Spencer and I were luckier than most. Yes, we had lost two children. But our four remaining children, Jessica, Beryl, Sylvia and our young son Bevil were good people. Somehow, we would all survive this loss.

I never saw my daughter again. As I’d feared, she showed bad judgment, squandering her reputation on a series of men. Eventually, she became the common-law wife of a man old enough to be her father. Upon his sudden death, facing a lonely pregnancy and disgrace, she managed to cozen someone else into marrying her. I did not attend the wedding.

I never prevented the children from visiting her once they were grown. I never prevented Spencer from visiting his eldest daughter, or from attending her wedding. I never confronted Spencer about the fact that when he visited her, he would give her money, even though we could not spare it. He never told me about it, but I kept the accounts and I figured out where the money was going. It was a matter I chose not to discuss.

Perhaps I did all this so that I could, in some tenuous way, keep Stephanie in my life.

But I never forgave her.


This story is unpublished. If you would care to publish it, please contact me at “cynthia [at] spunstories [dot] com.”