A Daisy for Hannah Jane Chapter VIII

From the ongoing novel A Daisy for Hannah Jane.

Rachel St. Louis, Copy Chief

A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter VIII


Harriet’s testimony left me deterred. I was undone.

I caused Harriet, my beloved maid – my second mother, so to speak – more grief and heartache than I could imagine, even more sorrow than what was being felt on the trenches. Every war is a battle, inside and out. And I’ve raged a war inside Harriet. God, what happened to me? What happened to Harriet? She is the sweetest person I have ever known.

Harriet sniffed, looking away quickly. “This war started with a gunshot,” she began. “The duke-man in Austria-Hungary was killed by a bullet and now everyone’s fightin’ over an alliance or some other thing. Black Hand is a-gettin’ what they wanted. An’ whatever went on inside of your teenage li’l head five years back didn’t know what you were a-wantin’.

“Life ain’t the pretty sashes the mistress ties on them feathered hats of hers. It ain’t the shiny trays o’ delectables or the glossy pianer in the sittin’ room. War’s war. It’s just bein’ fought in different places.” She put a hand over my heart. “And in different vessels of pumpin’ blood.”

I know, Harriet, I know. I felt as if I still had to be a rebel. “You don’t understand,” I exclaimed. “I was awful. I shouldn’t – ”

“Now hush there, you!” She poked me, eyes aflame. “I shore do unnerstand. You just gotta get back to livin’ where you are wanted.”

I’m wanted here? Why didn’t Harriet reach out to me before? It was all so confusing. “I was wanted in the house my fiancé bought.”

“Well I – wait, what you say, lassie? You have a fee-on-say? Since when’ve you been a lover?”

I couldn’t help smiling sheepishly as she rambled on, but my conscience was screaming at me to tell her my fiancé was… gone.

“Why,” she laughed, “I ‘member when you were just a child. Sassy little one, that is. When the mistress took you in after your folks were gone, you were sadder than a pickle put in a bottle of vinegar. But you grew to like me, and I liked you. So whenever Caleb was around – and mind you, we’re still courtin’ – you’d stick out that flamin’ tongue of yours and say, ‘I’m never getting married, Miss Harriet. I can handle things on my own.’

“And look at you now! You have a fee-on-say? A real partner? Let me see ‘im. Did you come here to plan the weddin’ with your granny? Did she give you a blessing? Is he wealthier than this here whole Chauldin’ shindig? Oh my, that was rude. I’m sorry, lassie, I just cannot believe this.” Her teeth sparkled when she revealed them in a grin.

I missed her so much. Every time she smiles or makes a face at me, I remember when I was younger and now I realize I wasted my life during those last five years, basically living in a pigsty.

But I had to say it. If there’s anyone I trust, it’s Harriet. “Mrs. Chauldings disapproved, but she didn’t stop it. Raymond was as wealthy as the woman who birthed him.” My stomach twisted involuntarily. “He grew up on a farm.”

Harriet found the floorboards very interesting and didn’t say a word.

“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I whispered. “I came here for help. Not for money or names or society. I came here because… Because Raymond, my fiancé, is no longer with us.”

Her head snapped up and she enveloped me in yet another one of her Harriet hugs. “Oh, land of mercy,” she gasped. “I am ever so sorry, my lassie. I hope I didn’t say somethin’ that made you upset.”

I let go and smiled at her. I was finally loved in a place that could actually be my home. “No, you didn’t say anything that upset me. I like hearing your little speeches. But Harriet, please don’t ever worry about that. Your words are wise and as good as gold.”

“Gold,” she repeated, chuckling. “Seems like you been through a lot, lassie, but here’s one thing you’d better learn quick: Wise words are better than gold.”

• • •

Ominous gray clouds swirled overhead and the morning doves started to sound like mourning doves. It reminded me of a question where I couldn’t decide which was worse: Fate or destiny?

I was walking to the post office when a band of men advanced toward me on the foggy street that morning.

Quickening my pace, I surveyed the suspicious huddle of strangers and avoided direct eye contact. Three of them were burly and wore grime-covered overcoats, with small hats stuffed into their beady heads.

Mud, sweat, or both covered their cheeks, making their eyes look sunken into their heavy skulls and their noses a bulge between two dunes of smeared skin. Those eyes, those bulging eyes from fifty yards away, were hungry for something. Something that made my blood race and my mind howl, “Run!”

Bad news.

And I had to walk past them. If only Jamison were here to scare them off with that menacing jaw he can put on. God, help me. I feel their hunger is after my own blood.

“Stoop thar!” One dirty hand, much more the paw of a bear, stuck out. My feet grew numb and I wished I could melt into the road. Only these men and I were within seeing distance. I couldn’t cry out for help.

“Who are ye?” The biggest man was in front of me before I realized it and my mental escape plans came to a screeching halt.

Why am I here alone? God, will you ever help me? Have you ever heard my prayers? I give up. I was so foolish to come here on my own, unaccompanied, in the fog. I should’ve brought Harriet with me or something. Why is it that I just can’t do anything right? Even my fiery spirit has dampened.

“Who are ye!” he bellowed again, causing some crows to flap away.

“Whatdoyouwantwithme?” My voice shook rhythmically with my legs and I hoped my knees wouldn’t buckle.

He grunted and looked over his shoulder, which was about the size of a mailbox. “Boss?”

One snotty, dignified, middle-aged man stepped forward. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed him among the throng of henchmen. Sir Henry. I bet he isn’t even a sir, or a Henry. And his last name definitely isn’t Dover or a Denver. Who is this man?

No words escaped his large mouth, as he stood in front of me, practically breathing down my neck. His scowl tantalized me to the bones. His hair was combed back, but some stood up straight like gravestones resting on dark ground.

“What I want with you?” he finally chuckled, maniacal in the flesh. “I want you dead, my little princess.”

He sneered at me and watched the horror being written onto my sallow face. “You do know you are royalty,” he thrust a finger out and tipped my chin up, “don’t you, my little princess?”

I turned my head away, jaw clenched and chin raised. “I am not your little princess, so cease to call me so.” Whatever else he said about me are lies. Lies for publicity and something else I couldn’t detect.

“I see,” he snickered, circling me. “You probably want to know why I wish you dead.” Well, duh! I know I should be respectful of men, but seriously. Duh!

One of the men behind him let out either a gurgle or a low growl. That sickening simper appeared on Henry’s face again. “You see, princess, you may not know it, but your father? He is a descendant of the throne of England.”

“That is impossible.”

“It’s not. His great-grandfather was the ambassador.”

I covered my mouth with my hand, flabbergasted. How can this be? Could this man really be telling the truth, or is it a bluff? What if he wants me for a different reason? And does he really want to end my life? Then it hit me: Sir Henry was not a man to fool around. If the ambassador thing really was a lie, he must’ve had a good reason to spy on me like this. So why am I so important?

I held my head higher, letting him see the white of my neck below my jawline. It was a good taunting exercise. Henry snapped his plump fingers, but his men did nothing.

I stormed on, naive little Hannah Jane that I was. “And how am I to believe you, sir?” I retorted. “For all I know, you – ”

The men jumped out at me when I spoke, quicker than snakes and scarier than a collection of leviathans rising from a stormy sea. My reflexes told me to kick them when they grasped my arms, their dirty nails cutting into my flesh, their hands squeezing the pale skin. They were silent witnesses to my screaming, my sleeves torn from their tight grips and my bonnet lost in the flurry.

“Let me go! Let me go!” I wrenched myself out of the smallest one’s grip. I looked down to see an awful pink line indicating four fingers and a thumb spelling itself across my forearm. My eyes were appalled when blood burst from the darkening bruise.

“I’ll get Mr. Jamison to come back at you for this, mark my words.” One of them began to tuck my hands behind my back.

I wanted to do something. Anything. But I was helpless. “How dare you touch a young woman? How dare you try to hurt me? Everyone will hear of this if you don’t kill me first!” I shrieked, pretending to be fearful. But the truth was, I couldn’t fight back. “Make your henchmen let me go, you evil man!”

The tallest one slapped me across the face. “Don’t call him evil,” he rumbled. Then I was actually afraid. It stung like nothing else.

“It’s too bad, really,” Henry scoffed. “I thought you would marry me in the end. And now I see you fell for my paperboy.”

“Mr. Jamison is not just a paperboy, or a paperboy at all,” I hissed at him. “He is a tall, lean gentleman, unlike yourself, who is kindhearted and intelligent. But he would knock you upside the head this minute if he could.”

He crossed his arms over his chest as the burliest of the men drew something long from behind him. “You are so easily deceived, little princess.”

I thought I heard a loud noise, but everything went black.