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A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter V

Rachel St. Louis, Reporter

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A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter V

The postman bore me fresh news. I thanked him and snatched the envelope greedily, but smiling all the way. The letter was finally here. The postman grinned back at me before tipping his hat and moving on.

Shutting the old wooden door, I flopped onto the settee and ripped the envelope open. It had been sent from a post office, which I found a little strange. But I thought nothing else of it, relishing Raymie’s rough penmanship.

Hannah Jane Lewitt,

I have a terrble confession. You see, I haven’t exactly been the U. S. soldier I should be. I’ve been YOUR soldier. Yes, I exscaped. I felt your call from across the pond that somethin ain’t right where you are. Must be your grandmother trying to stir up a new family wealth back into your stew, right? I feel it in my bones.

Don’t know how I exscaped, to be hanest. I jest felt my heart callin to you and I answered it. Did you feel the conversashun too?

Alrighty, guess I’ll have to tell you my bad news now. When I exscaped the war, I had to git through some of what awful barbed wire. It hurt so bad the first thing I did when I got into the French city was drink. My worst mistake, Janie, I had NEVER tasted a sip of that awful stuff in my whole life. But I didn’t have enough money for no doctor then.

That’s when it happened. Somehow, the liquor boys got me to marry their poor sisters while I was drunk. But I couldn’t back down when I was in my right mind again. Poor girl was hurt as much as I was. It was all because she’d been en-trusted to her brothers when their mother passed away, already after their daddy. They wanted to git rid of her, the feeble French lass had no choice and neither did I, cause apparently they made me swear over a Bible while I was still hazy. I couldn’t leave this cold, sickningly thin nineteen-year-old girl to the streets, Janie, and they threatened me if I didn’t go through with a ceremony. They were crazy. I pleaded with the girl – name’s Lisa – to see the athorities, so they’ll believe I wasn’t sober then and none of it counted. Maybe even get her brothers in trouble too. But she told me the fellers in her family had always been dangrous and violent. Spent a long time discussin until she started cryin. And I mean really cryin.

So I married her the next day privately. I do care bout her, Janie, but you are the love I have never known other’wise. You’re the apple of my eye. I never ment to betray you, I promise with all of my heart, soul, mind, and body.

Was a month with Lisa before she convinced me to go home to you. She knew I cared for her, but that I was obliged to you so much more. She cares, Janie, and she’s ever so fond of you. She’d be a good frend to you.

So I decided to take her advice. Scrounged up the dough, and now I’m here, writin to you in the postal office. But there’s more. Even though I have to go back to Lisa, to France (we told people I’m on a vacation for my new job), I want to see you again. But her brothers are after me. I feel it. Anyway think about Lisa can come over here. Once she gets her freedom and is stable by her ownsome, I can annul her (once it’s more common, so we may all have to wait) and then we will finally marry. May be a few years to hide suspicion, but it’ll be worth it to be your husband. I hope you forgive me. Lisa understands and has nothin against you. And Lisa and I ain’t havin no kids. Promise. I love you Janie, more than life. I’m comin to the house we’ll share one day. I jest want you safe. Please, no matter how much we both know you don’t want to, go to your grandmother and show her this letter if you have to. And again, I’m so sorry. But please don’t be angry with Lisa. If anyone, lassie, be angry with me.

Raymie

I sniffled, being held together by one dwindling thread. At least this Lisa was understanding, it seemed, and humble. Surprisingly, I found myself not having anything against her. In fact, maybe Lisa and I could be a help to each other one day. I hoped she was safe in France.

I still wondered how on earth Raymie “exscaped” in the first place, though. It was impossible. Until now.

After a few moments of rereading the letter and then staring off into space, I realized I’d have to visit the Chaulding residence sooner or later to sort everything out. The funds Raymie had mysteriously left me under the master bedroom’s mattress wouldn’t sustain me for more than one month. I still couldn’t believe any of this. But maybe I could wait until April was finally over, trying to make sense of the letter more. Raymie had left me with a lot to think about.

  • • •

Casseroles, pies, baked potatoes, peas, fruitcakes, corn, ham, rolls, the works. All were being dumped at my house.

I didn’t understand the apparent notion that giving people “comfort” food during their time of grief makes them feel any better. Who wants to eat at all? Not me. Especially when I realized there was no way to find Lisa. he hadn’t even given the town she lived in. I wished her well, but sooner or later she’d find out her husband (Her husband! How I cringed and moaned at those words.) was dead.

Putting the letter and the Lisa situation out of my mind for now, my stomach twisted at the sight of my mourning veil, eyeing me from the hall tree. Suddenly I wished I hadn’t eaten those generous bites of the shepherd’s pie Mrs. Mocoult dropped off last night.

Deep down, though, I had an unquenching fear that there actually was something wrong with me. Sure, I was still exhausted from visitors and my grief was overwhelming, but there was something physical about it, too. I feared I was becoming desperately ill.

My bones were sticking out, my stomach was gone, and my cheeks were peaked. Their glow and fullness of the last year were history.

If Raymie were here, he would’ve rallied all of the town together to make me some healing soup. Because I needed it. Could I look out for myself now? I had barely survived while Raymie was overseas.

I was waiting for my grandmother to come. Would she even acknowledge the meager letter I’d sent her? Probably should have gone there myself instead. I knew that’s what everyone would’ve wanted me to do: reconcile. But how could I, when my fiance just died?

Three or four more men had rapped on my door since the funeral, as promised by my grandmother weeks ago. I had had a few weeks’ interval between Sir Henry and Jamison, but now… Now it was plain cruel.

I didn’t care about the war anymore. I prayed for our troops and the wives of the soldiers, and their children. I prayed for Jamison to come by and forgive me for insisting so much last time we spoke. I prayed for my grandmother to love me. I stopped praying altogether when God didn’t answer my most-said prayer: “God, please bring Raymie home from the trenches, safe and sound.”

I was so done.

Running down the hall, I felt the urge to lose that shepherd’s pie when my eye caught a flicker of light from the vacant master bedroom. I stood from stooping over the toilet. Nausea was gone. Curious, I let myself into the room for the first time in a long time.

Everything was coated in a thick layer of dust. I sneezed involuntarily, trying to find where that light had come from.

The golden knob on the secret dresser drawer. The only expensive metal Raymond Stoldings had owned.

When Raymie had moved me into this house before being sent away, he’d told me that this would be our master bedroom when we were married one day, and never to open this specific drawer.

I actually smiled.

Maybe Raymie had something waiting for me, regardless of his fate. One of those riddles he’d always tickle me with, a little knick-knack to keep me going, an endearing poem etched in his crude scrawl… It was hope, whatever it was. I could feel it.

I started to touch the shiny knob with an excited hand, but then I stopped. This may be the last hopeful time I can reminisce in his love for me. What if the thing in the drawer made me even more depressed? What if I couldn’t handle it?

You can, Janie, Raymie’s voice whispered in my conscience. I could almost hear him chuckle, Stop being so indecisive!

And what lay in that drawer drew breath from my very lungs.

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A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter V