A Daisy for Hannah Jane : Chapter VII

From the ongoing novel A Daisy for Hannah Jane.

Rachel St. Louis, Copy Chief

A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter VII

Jamison gradually became more comfortable around me. I was a much happier Hannah Jane. Healthier, too.

He decided to visit more than not, often bringing me a meager coin to buy more bread, a trip to the market that lasted all day, a brisk walk on another hidden trail he knew. Rarely it was a nice dinner at a homestyle diner.

Sometimes, though, the memento would be a lovely bouquet of lilacs he’d taken time to pick or a new bar of soap (How expensive!) to tie me over. He was so kind to me. How on earth do I deserve that?

Of course, he wasn’t one of those extravagant spenders who took their girl out for show; he cared for me. Jamison, by far, was a simply good man. Always logical (ever since the funeral), never being complicated or ruining a happy mood.

He gave me a little bit of this and a little bit of that, along with his shy affection and humorous company. In my mind, I perceived his plan: Endear me first with the visits and gifts, surprise me with something big later on, and then rope me in. After that, I was sure I’d love him, and maybe even be content with my feeling about Raymie.

Raymie. Raymond Stoldings. A mouthful of letters I used to embrace easily.

To my surprise, I was moving through the stages of grief quicker than a dolphin in the water. I still had a bit to go, but I was almost at peace with what had happened. Can’t explain it. Maybe the presence of another godly man made me a more righteous young woman. Was that a twisted philosophy?

Of course, I still missed Raymie like everything. I wanted the men who murdered him gone forever, but I was sure I would find them one day. I would walk around the house alone, stopping every once in a while to look at some random object and get hit with nostalgia. It always made me cry, but I relished the memories afterwards. I was glad I’d tasted “true love” in my life. I was beginning to live a bit more like Raymie in all of it.

Therefore, I reasoned with myself to pay a visit to my grandmother.

Wearing my bonnet and bravely going out of my house without the black mourning veil, I knocked on Mrs. Chauldings’ massive double doors. Immediately, a familiar maid beckoned me in. She was the one who had the duster in hand, uttering a quick “Are you here to see the mistress?” before looking me over.

I realized she was the same maid I’d see at the door, and I hadn’t seen her personally since I was a child. That same scent of wood and honey clung around her like it had when I was half her height.

Now, though, her apron was stretched around a thin stomach and her face was paler. Her cheekbones were different and her eyes dull.

Those eyes, though — those deep gray eyes with a question written behind them — sparked alive when we recognized each other.

“Miss Harriet?”

“Janie? Land of mercy, where’ve you been fer the last five years?”

She drew me into one of her tight hugs. Though the embrace made me feel warm inside, I couldn’t remember the last time someone had hugged me. Not even Jamison. Was it when Mrs. Jamison brought me feel-better pies last week? Wow, what a long seven days it’s been. Good thing Jamison has been around to get me through it.

“Good golly, have you grown into a fine gal since you were only fifteen! But you’ll be an old maid soon with them dark clothes of yours, Hannah Jane Lulu.” Harriet clicked her tongue to the roof of her mouth, a long-forgotten sound. I relished her mountaineer dialect.

“I go by Hannah Jane Lewitt now, Harriet.” I couldn’t contain my joy. It had me bubbling over.

“Mercy, takes a long conversation to get your giggling out nowadays? Boy have I missed out on a lot, Lulu.” She still wouldn’t drop the occasional “Lulu.” The creases around her sharp eyes crinkled. The short, tender movement felt like home. Could it be that I really do belong somewhere?

I blinked against the sun, still studying Harriet while she was shadowed by the house. I wouldn’t doubt if her maid’s uniform was the same one she’d worn while I lived here.

“So,” she prompted, bouncing on her heels. “What happened after the incident?”

My stomach flew to my throat. “Incident? What incident? Harriet, it’s getting hot out here.” Knowing Harriet, I could stall for only a few moments. I was toast after that.

“Oh!” She took me by the wrist and swept me into the house, the house I’d once been so accustomed to. “Sorry about that.” She locked the tall doors behind us and rushed me to the servants’ quarters, twisting her neck around the halls every step of the way. When she decided we hadn’t been spotted by “the mistress,” Harriet shut us into her room.

It hadn’t changed in a half-decade, adorned with her cot, reading chair, and a bucket for washing. A small dresser drawer hung open by her cot, supplying a short stack of perfectly folded frocks. It was sad, really. I’ll have to speak to Grandmother about this later.

I still had much to learn from Harriet. I missed her without knowing.

“What brought you here?” She took my bonnet and sat on the cot with me. “Lassie girl, I haven’t seen you in a long while.”

“I know.” A wave surpassed me. Looking at the hard floorboards, I remembered everything I’d told myself to forget. It was awful.

Harriet’s gray eyes were concerned, turning a faint shade of green in the light, but not a touch of anxiety could be traced in them. They surveyed me over and over. She was so fascinating. “You want to talk?” Her tone was so smooth. It would be creamy milk if I bottled it up.

“I suppose we should,” I sighed. “I made myself forget about everything that happened five years ago.”

Harriet was calm, as usual. “How did you make yourself forget?”

The question stripped me of my confidence. The innocence of it would haunt me for the rest of my life.

“You wouldn’t want to know, Harriet. Trust me. You’re better off not knowing.”

Her jaw tightened and she looked as if she would strangle me. “Janie, you do not know what I have been through.” Her voice was stone now. “Nothing you say will sway me.”

“Then let’s leave it at that.” I stood, indignant. I should be able to confide in this woman, my light in the darkness of my childhood years. But I was too ashamed to admit anything. Let the world do everything but get the truth out.

“No. I am not letting you leave this room until you tell me the truth of what happened to you during those years.” Why is she so good at reading my mind?

Harriet stood, leaving me on the cot and staring through her tiny window. She brushed the curtains aside to get a better view of her labored domain. “Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me here at the Chauldin’ place. When you dis’peared, I searched all over for you. I even got a party of men to help.”

She licked her pale lips, her eyes glazed with memory. “The idea was to ring the church bell if you were found. Nobody wanted a Chauldin’ heir dead. N-not more, anyways.” She avoided eye contact and fell into her nervous lisp of pure, folky dialect. It made her sound uneducated, but she was the smartest woman I ever knew.

“I ain’t one to go traipsin’ around ’less it was a youngun I know. And I was head o’er heels to search for you, little miss. I wanted to put the Chauldin’ mistress down in that there pit yonder.” She pointed to a ditch not far from the window. I got up to look at it and remembered falling in once. It was Harriet who helped me that day.

“But I didn’t say no word to nobody. Not even the mistress. I doubted her feelings, and I knew deep down I shouldn’t’ve. Yet no matter how many a time she’d call me by the bell to git ‘er a chamomile tea or some old novel I would seek out her real emotions by her lookin’ at her eyes. Always complainin’ of a headache, lassie, blamin’ you for her problems and her ‘ailing’ health. But there wasn’t a trace o’ pain in those speary pupils. Scared me plenty, knowin’ she was all for show. But I shoulda known. I shoulda known…”  

Placing my hands on her quaking shoulders, I told her softly, “I shoulda known I was loved by someone. I’m sorry I ran away and never said a word to you. I was selfish and blind then, Harriet, and I love you.” Choking out those words summoned tears. “I have many regrets of my past. One of them is leaving you.”

She nodded and managed a “thank you, lassie girl” through her thick emotion. I had never seen Harriet shed a single tear. Oh, God, what have I done? Why did you let me leave so stubbornly all those seasons ago? Did you take out Your anger against me on Harriet, too?

“Never found you,” she whispered. “So I prayed and I prayed. Lord gave me my patient grace today. I thank Him deeply yo finally arrived on the doorstep. Of course you came to see your matchmakin’ granny, but I…” She trailed off again. My hands grew cold and limp on her bony shoulders.

Harriet looked away from the window. She stared blankly at the wall now. It gave me shivers to be a part of the moment. “Glad you ain’t a true forlornin’ goner. ’Twas depressed until the fourth year of you bein’ away. But I became a real Christian, a Christ-follower, while I was sad and doin’ my work to the Chauldin’ home. I got hope and knew in my heart of the Lord you would return someday. Good thing to share it all with you now. You’re such a growned-up, but you’re still a child, too, barely twenny now.”

She blinked back tears and smiled weakly at me. I let my hands fall to my sides, speechless.

“In that fourth year,” she said, “I took to healin’ when I found the Lord.”

It pained me. I clasped her cold hands and tried to read her gray eyes. “Harriet, my leaving made you ill?”

“So very, very ill.”