A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter III

From the ongoing novel A Daisy for Hannah Jane.

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A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter III

His crude scrawl was fresh on the parchment. Letting go of every feeling within me, I cast my hungry eyes on the page.

Hannah Jane,

This is the first time I’ve had to sit down and write you. I haven’t gotten a single word from you yet, but have faith. The mail system is slow.

Have I ever told you how much I care for you? Yes, that sounds mushy. But it’s somethin real unthinkable out here, and I miss you. I don’t want to tell you about what it’s like in the trenches. This French dirt is awful, Janie, and I’ve got lice in my socks. We eat your cookin every day and wish we could go back home for a real plate of food and dry clothes. Serving my country is nothing you’d ever imagine. It ain’t anythin I ever knew, at least.

I think about you every day. At dawn each morning, I pray God keeps you safe and happy among your grandmother and her minions. But the scariest part? Nobody knows when this war is gonna end. And I need to get back to the States. You need someone protectin.

They’ve got us all tied up in the war out here, and it’s all never gonna be nuff for the greater good. This war is draggin the life out of me. I need you back in my vision, my focus, Janie. I need to come home. And I will. Promise.

Yours,

Raymond Stoldings

Despite his joke about comparing my cooking to what the soldiers were being fed, I wept again. I was ashamed to. I’d cried over the fact that Raymie was across the sea  at least four times this week, and here I was at it again.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d bawled like this. I was just a baby. I wasn’t my parents’ child and I wasn’t my grandmother’s heir. I wasn’t anybody.

“Miss Lewitt?” Three knocks. “Miss Lewitt?”

Was I even worthy to be called a Lewitt?

“Coming, sir,” I hollered, hastily tying an apron around my frighteningly small waist.

The old door creaked as I swung it aside, but nearly hit me it the face when my reflexes got the best of me.

“Mr. Jamison? Wh – uh – what a surprise! Do come in. Please,” I stammered.

His lips stretched into a smile and I noticed the laugh crinkles around his eyes. “Don’t mind if I do.”

He stepped into my home with such a different air than he had a week ago. He wasn’t shuffling behind Sir Henry Dover anymore. In fact, a lady accompanied him. She must be his mother.

Mr. Jamison began to survey the kitchen, his eyes darting all around. The shorter lady trailed behind him, fixing her eyes on the floor. She wore an irresistible frown that made me shiver. Twice.

I didn’t know why my hands trembled when I shut the door. “What brings you here, sir?”

He rolled his eyes dramatically. “I promised I’d come back, didn’t I?”

“A man of his word. What did you plan to do, say hello and walk out?” I sighed when he picked up my empty cookie jar. “I had no money for scones, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

“No money?” The lady raised an eyebrow. “I’d thought you were better off than being completely poor.”

I crossed my arms, looking to Mr. Jamison instead of his mother. “Remember what you said last time you were here? That I’m rich.” I leveled my ground, though he was much taller than me. “I still believe it.”

He smiled, still looking around. “I see a pan has been dented since I was here last.” He nodded to the pan on the wall, sustained by just a tint nail. “How is that possible? I would’ve thought it was cast iron.”

The lady gawked. I stared at the floor, even more shame building itself a castle within me. “I was angry,” I whispered. “Please don’t judge me for it. I only tell the truth, Mr. Jamison. But I want no rumors of a bad temper.”

I didn’t dare to bring my gaze near his. I felt his eyes on me.

“Miss Lewitt?”

“Yes, sir?” Reluctant as a turtle trying to run, I lifted my head at the summon. His expression was unreadable.

“My integrity is not something to be questioned.”

“Oh, yes, sir, I’m sorry if I was being –”

He reached forward and took my hand gingerly. “You have nothing to apologize for, miss. I won’t tell a soul.”

He wasn’t being forward. “Thank you, sir.” I gave a weak smile.

Mr. Jamison made his way to the settee and sat down slowly. “Enough with this ‘sir’ business. Please, Miss Lewitt, you may call me Jamison.”

“As you wish, s – Jamison.” Then I turned to the woman. “May I make your acquaintance?” I put on my best smile and gave her an outstretched hand. “I am Miss Lewitt. Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise, I’m sure. I am Mrs. Charles Jamison.” She didn’t bother to shake my hand. Maybe I should’ve curtsied instead. “I see you’ve already met my one and only son, Charles David Jamison Junior?”

“Yes, ma’am. I have.”

“Unaccompanied?”

“His master was here with us.”

Mrs. Jamison’s frown deepened. “I think I need some air.” She fanned herself with her gloved hand. “Why don’t we take this conversation outside?”

I cringed inwardly and Mr. Jamison flushed. “Of course.”

I led them on the silent path to my backyard. I’d fixed it up myself. Raymie still didn’t have a clue about it, and I knew that was where we were to be married. The flower beds and the lovely bushes were covered in a thick blanket of white now. But the sproutlings would be up again when spring rolled around.

“This place must look real nice in the summer,” Jamison piped up from behind me. I’d almost forgotten he was there.

“Yes.” I turned quickly. “It’s a secret, though. When Mr. Stoldings returns from the trenches, it is imperative that he doesn’t find out it’s here.”

“And what is this, exactly? A big garden?” He looked around some more, an apparent habit of his. I nodded in response.

He clasped his hands behind his back and finally gave me some eye contact. “Who is Stoldings, exactly?”

“Mr. Stoldings is my beau, sir. Raymond.”

“I see.” He shoved his hands in his pockets all of a sudden, pressing his lips together. “And please don’t call me ‘sir’ again, Miss Lewitt. I’m just Jamison. Didn’t we go over that already?” He sounded much angrier than he looked.

“Yes, Jamison.” I forced the words out. “So what did you come here for, Jamison?”

“Why’d you lead me out here?” he retorted. He sat on an old stump after sweeping it free of snow, and his glowering mother followed suit.

“I… I don’t know. It’s my safe place.” He looked up at me, and I sank onto a big rock near the frozen hydrangeas. “I apologize, sir – I mean Jamison. That was childish.”

“The best faith is the kind coming from a child. Steadfast, unwavering, beautiful.” He didn’t bother to look up when he talked to me. Again. “It’s fine. I understand.”

“So.” I dropped my hands into my lap. “Why did you come calling, Jamison?”

His mother set her jaw, remaining silent. Then she started to become invisible to me.

“I came to see if I could help you with anything,” Jamison said. “Maybe fix your stove?”

“There is nothing wrong with my stove,” I lied.

He shook his head playfully. “Miss Lewitt, you know as well as I do that you simply can’t manage on your own. The hinges on the door of your stove are extremely rusty, and that can be dangerous. What if you can’t open the door when you need to?

“And that pan. What are you so angry about that you dent metal? Last I checked, you had trouble opening that back door because it was stuck a little. So how are you strong enough to dent a pan? I fear for you, Miss Hannah Jane.” His eyes told me he wasn’t being sympathetic. “I’m sorry to be blunt, but like it or not, you need to move in with your grandmother.”

“No!” I exclaimed. Then I clamped my hand over my mouth, blinking away tears. “I’m sorry, Mr. Jamison. I am such a child.” I wiped my eyes harshly. “I was angry about how far I’ve come. I survived a house fire, social condemnation, my grandmother’s judgment, and even standing up for not being ashamed of loving Raym – Mr. Stoldings.” I took a deep breath.

“This house isn’t mine. It’s his, and still lives in the apartment where his master works. He’s an apprentice, you see. It’s a long story. Anyhow, he’d bought this house in hopes to propose to me. Regardless of the Chauldings name. But that was right before he was drafted. Jamison, I… I said yes.”

“But you are the only person in this world who knows besides Raymond.” I gave his mother a fierce look. I was already risking enough as it was. “When he left, he allowed me to live here. There were complications, of course, but we made it through. We will be married when he returns.”

Mrs. Jamison intervened. “So he had not asked your grandmother first, knowing you have no living father or grandfather? A little out of tradition.”

“Someone like him proposing to someone like me is very out of tradition, too, isn’t it?”

That silenced her.

“Well,” her son said, “that’s different. You lost everything, especially your social status. But why didn’t Mrs. Chauldings come to your aid then? Did she take you in?”

“She did, but only because I was a child. She’s always loved and disliked something about me at the same time. I’ve no idea why. She always got along so well with my parents, but whenever she looked my way, she’d mutter something about how children should not be heard. Even though I was terrified to speak to her in the first place, unless I was spoken to.”

He toyed with an icy twig. His gaze melted all the tension between the three of us, and I was hooked. His eyes were the bait. Round shells of chocolate, reflecting the sunlight that sifted through the tree branches.

“Where were you living before Raymond bought this house?” he asked.

Just like that, the trance was broken.

An anvil was dropped onto my shoulders. I struggled to breathe amidst my snowy sanctuary. I looked away, seething. I was so stupid. “With all due respect, Mr. Jamison, you wouldn’t want to know.”

He practically jumped off his stump. “I do. I want to help you. After you showed Sir Henry Dover what’s what, I knew you were someone fearful who was putting on a brave face. And you did it well,” he added, “but you need to live among people. I am fearful that you’ll hurt yourself, Miss Lewitt.”

“I don’t know what to think. Are you competing for my hand, too?” I stood in one fluent movement. “Tell me the truth, Jamison. I cannot bear lies.”

He looked from me to his mother to me, then back again. She rose as well, placing a hand on his arm. His coat stiffened over his frame.

Her hand fell to her side. For the first time since I met her, Mrs. Jamison looked concerned. “Charlie?”

A glistening tear slid over his cheek. Surprisingly, he didn’t bother to wipe it off. “Miss, I…” His mouth stopped.

And with that, he darted away.

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