A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter XV

From the ongoing novel A Daisy for Hannah Jane.


Rachel St. Louis

Art by Rachel St. Louis.

Rachel St. Louis, Copy Chief

 A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter XV

A little girl with abounding russet hair stumbled down the cobbled pathway, laughing without a care in the world. Her big, round eyes glistened with happiness as her mother, donned in a pretty new dress, held her hand. Ma’s wedding rings reflected the light streaming all around them. The mountains in the distance echoed their glee with bright peaks, the sun resting between them comfortably. Birds sang, dragonflies flew, and the luscious grass waved at them in the gentle breeze that touched her cheeks.

A smiling elderly woman she seldom saw greeted them at the big red door. The scent of freshly baked delicacies sent her running past the chatting women and into the kitchen. Spring poured into Grandma’s house, from hydrangeas leaning near the open window to say hello to the azaleas winking at her from the garden. When she reached the room of sights and smells, she immediately saw the platter of tarts and smiled as blissfully as a six-year-old could. But when she heard a graceless beat of footsteps, she darted into the bathroom and munched on the fruit pastry quietly.

Sobs burst into the hallway, along with a thud. Grandma gasped and cried aloud. She peered around the corner, tart vanquished, and saw her mother crouched next to Grandma in the hall, weeping. She had never seen Ma cry before.  

She longed to go to her mother, hug her and whisper happy thoughts softly into her ear, like her mother always did for her. But something held her back.

“Oh, Mamie. You mustn’t cry so. Caroline will hear you.”

“I’m sorry, Ma, I really am. I just cannot… I cannot…”

“I know, darling, I know. But Caroline needs better closure. She needs to be somewhere where she’ll be safe.”

“Safe? Caroline is perfectly safe with me.”

Grandma made a clicking sound with her tongue. “Hush now, you. When was the last time you and Caroline had a real pound of meat? When was the last time she had a tart? We aren’t in England anymore, Mamie,” Grandma sighed heavily. “We’ve been out of P.E.I. for nearly five years. It’s time to put our American pants on.”

More sobbing. “I wish our family had gone on the Mayflower two centuries ago. This never would’ve happened.”

“Miriam! You cannot blame our ancestors for what has happened to you and Caroline. It’s absolutely absurd and has no sense behind it.” Grandma was sighing in frustration. Again.

“Mamie, dear, the only person you could blame is yourself. Now, I want you to go wash up in the outhouse before we have dinner. Poor little Caroline mustn’t see you so teary-eyed.”

Grandma made long, quick strides to the kitchen. Caroline stayed hidden behind the bathroom door, breathing shakily and wondering what “closure” and “American pants” meant. Why had Grandma talked to Ma so angrily while Ma was crying? She was her own mother. And what what did she mean when she said Caroline and her mother weren’t safe where they were living? Just because they didn’t live in a nice house like Grandma’s wasn’t a bad thing, right? And Caroline knew her Ma hadn’t bought meat in a while, but so what? Caroline could never understand grown-up talk. It seemed silly to her.

“What of a place to stay, Ma?”

Caroline heard Grandma stop walking. Grandma gave no answer so Ma kept crying, softer now. Caroline began to feel sick and wished she hadn’t eaten the tart. Children are better seen and not heard. But, Caroline, they must not be seen at all. She could remember her father’s words clearly. He had spoken to her lovingly, not harshly, when he reprimanded her that last time. She had almost forgotten his usual anger and loud voice. Now, though, she remembered.

“Caroline will stay with me,” Grandma answered Ma smoothly. But the meaning behind her words was cruel. Harsh. Cold.

A shock passed through Caroline. She heard Ma utter a dirty word that brought Grandma storming down the hall. A loud slap echoed through the house, seemingly unwelcoming now that everything was frightening. It was a quiet lunch, though Caroline was not hungry anymore and wished she and Ma could go back to the railroad.

Caroline was frightened. Grandma could make people smile and make people scared. Sunlight dimmed when dark clouds passed over the females’ heads. The flowers in the window, once purple and pretty, looked like shadows breaking in to rob Caroline of her mother.

• • •

Mrs. Chauldings circled the table with a disdainful frown on her wrinkled face. She abhorred her age. She despised her life and not having her husband with her, though he had died years before. She hated the emptiness of her vast home without her daughter and son-in-law around. Their liveliness had vanished from the house the day they’d decided to raise Hannah Jane in a regular, modest house.

But their spirits had truly left her presence the minute she’d heard the earsplitting scream, that night when she’d been in the town where the young Lewitt family lived. Her compassion for life itself had died when duty called her to take in a girl who looked much like Caroline did when she was a five-year-old.

She detested the loneliness that her mother had left her with decades ago, and now entered her granddaughter the same way. Caroline had turned into Mrs. Chauldings very fast.

But, most of all, she absolutely loathed Hannah Jane Caroline Lewitt.

She moved the forks closer to the plates and couldn’t help but stare at her gnarled hands. One swift movement, and her wedding ring slipped so the diamonds were upside-down. It used to stay in place on my finger elegantly, dazzling up at me.

Veins were visible, as the skin covering her palms and fingers were varying shades of reddish-pink and white. God, why? Why the one part of my body that was the most useful? Caroline Chauldings used to have beautiful, delicate hands. Many women would look upon them and she could visibly see their jealousy. Hers were like that of porcelain. Had been, that is.

She sniffed, pulling on some embroidered gloves. She didn’t care if it was the peak of summer and she didn’t care if that young man studied her again. He knew something was wrong, while Hannah Jane was more oblivious than a lazy automobile driver during a funeral procession.

When will she ever open her eyes? Hannah Jane had been thoroughly exposed to the evil of what the world could do to people, and what actions led to. She is nothing like me when I was her age, nothing like her wise young father, nothing like her young, lovely mother. Deep down, the Caroline watching everything from the eyes of Mrs. Chauldings knew Hannah Jane was exactly like her and hoped she would never turn out the way Mrs. Chauldings was now. The only difference between them? Caroline was still as innocent as she was over thirty years ago when she and her husband had given the world a baby girl. Mrs. Chauldings, however, was hardened by pride. Without her beloved husband and daughter alongside her, she felt no spark of family when she watched Hannah Jane smile at her.

Nevertheless, she tried to look happier for her sickly granddaughter’s sake. But she was exhausted, so exhausted, especially of cautious Charles Jamison Junior. Both of them tire me, she thought with remorse. Come on, Caroline, get through this one dinner…

• • •

Jamison and Hannah Jane arrived for the evening meal within minutes of each other. Waiting in awkward silence with Jamison had cooled her body, and even her gloved fingertips felt frigid.

Both of the young people looked regretful after looking into her face. She was ashamed. Ashamed of herself and of her life. No one knows my burdens. No one understands. No one —

That smart Jamison derailed her train of self-pity. “Do you wish for me to say grace, Mrs. Chauldings?”

She stiffened as Caroline took charge of Mrs. Chauldings. Make a change. This gentleman doesn’t deserve mental imprisonment in your presence. “You may call me ma’am,” she said softly.

He nodded as if he understood. “Would you like me to say grace, ma’am?”

“Of course,” she answered, aware of Hannah Jane shifting in her seat. Can’t she sit still? I’ve taught her good etiquette. She is not ten years old. Rather, she is double that age.

“…and, Father, bless Mrs. Chauldings. Give her wisdom in all of her decisions. Keep her fruitful in Your hand, and heal her in any mental, physical, or spiritual way according to Your will. In Jesus’ precious Name, amen.”

What bothered her most was the clear belief Jamison had in each word he prayed.

She watched Hannah Jane eat, trying to hide her hunger but spooned her face full of rice. Jamison looked over at her, his face pained. He obviously saw the general negligence in her granddaughter as well.

Mrs. Chauldings was warmed when Jamison smiled at Hannah Jane’s chipmunk cheeks. He both adored and longed for her. Caroline wished to love Hannah Jane as selflessly as the young man did, but Mrs. Chauldings saw a naive girl. A girl in the spitting image of herself a tad more than half a century ago, denying the features of her lost parents, turning away from truth.

So Mrs. Chauldings was wasting away. She’d never meant to be, but she was.

Jamison commented on the chicken Mrs. Chauldings had barely tasted. She gave him a nod, not even bothering to put on a polite smile. What did it matter? It’s not like his impression of her was ever going to change: A woman who used to be like everyone else. A woman who was hollowed out by loss after loss until she became the thin husk of who she was now, no hope of filling the void inside her.

It was simple, really, because her heart and her pride had branched off into two people. Caroline, the core, and Mrs. Chauldings, the broken crust. Never once did anyone call her Madam Caroline, for the beauty of her name perished when the last of her joy did, and no one thought of her as such. While Caroline grieved, Mrs. Chauldings hated.

Caroline saw things, Mrs. Chauldings imagined them.

Caroline yearned, Mrs. Chauldings envied.

Caroline still loved.

Mrs. Chauldings?

Fat chance.