A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter XXI

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A Daisy for Hannah Jane: Chapter XXI

Art by Rachel St. Louis.

Art by Rachel St. Louis.

Rachel St. Louis

Art by Rachel St. Louis.

Rachel St. Louis

Rachel St. Louis

Art by Rachel St. Louis.

Rachel St. Louis, Executive College & Career / Creative Writing

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 A Daisy for Hannah Jane

Chapter XXI

It was just a normal Thursday morning when Jamison gave us his announcement. The newlyweds were back, and I insisted they join us as we ate a quiet, hearty breakfast. I couldn’t have been less prepared.

“I’m going to find those men.”

Grandmother all but flung her fork at Jamison, tying my stomach into a knot. Tension thickened the air and I suddenly felt the urge to get some air out-of-doors, fresh from Caleb’s garden. But at the same time, my heart was thumping like crazy because Jamison was proving his devotion. Like Raymie would have. And that’s the reason why Jamison is here.

“What on earth?” Grandmother finally spoke. Her voice quivered. “Which ‘men’ are you referring to?”

Jamison almost bristled in his chair. “To be honest and perhaps abrupt, ma’am,” he began, but was crudely interrupted.

“You, sir, have been abrupt if I ever knew the definition of the word.” Grandmother raised her glass to her lips, but the orange juice hardly passed through the barriers of her bitter mouth before she slammed the glass down, as if it were a gavel. She started talking a mile a minute, using the dialect she had spoken with when I was a bit younger. The one I was always curious about. But this time, I was more frightened than anything else.

“You ain’t nothing but a horrid little weasel who gits stuck into ev’ry nook and cranny known to man, and if I were you, I would treat my elders with a little more r’spect, don’t you know? There ain’t nothing keeping you from being the young man you’re supposed to be. Now, I know y’all must think I’m an ol’ wretch, and mebbe I know that I am, but all I want is to have a normal fam’ly and a normal life when in re’lity, nothin’ I want is ever normal and Janie is turning into someone I never knew! She should be her mama, is what I tell mesself, but it won’t ever happen and I have let down the fam’ly name. I shouldn’t’ve shut ‘er out and I should’ve raised her the way I was s’posed to!”

Two symmetrical tears ran down her face, one from each of her icy cobalt eyes, and I thought it was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. She had emotions other than raw fury, and those tears, proof of her humanity, framed her face. The glistening of water in her eyes made them bluer than the sky in autumn. Though she was distressed, I’d never seen her look so… Real.

“Ma’am, if you don’t mind my askin’, would it be all right if I took you into the parlor for a few minutes?” Harriet asked gently, as if Mrs. Chauldings had morphed into a toddler.

“No. Thank you.” She wiped her tears viciously, as if her face was contaminated. “I’ve been waiting to settle this since,” she sniffed, “since ‘er mother passed. I’ve had a heart of stone e’er since.”

Jamison’s jaw dropped open and I fought the impulse to reach up and close it.

Mrs. Chauldings looked at the four of us, sweeping her bleary gaze over our changed expressions. No one knew what to do or what to say until she whispered, “I was ’specting her mother in her and all I saw was Caroline.”

Harriet picked up her dishes and left for the kitchen without a word. Caleb watched her go with a discouraged perusal.

“Caroline?” Jamison piped up.

“Christian name.”

“Caroline Chauldings.”

“Yes, that is my whole name. Caroline M. Chauldings.” She said it with the implication of, So what? and everyone seemed to hear it.

“It’s a very pretty name.”

Instead of saying a meaningless “thank you,” my grandmother looked surprised. “You think so, young man?”

“Yes.”

“Well, thank you very much.”

“Pardon my boldness, ma’am, but do you really consider me a “horrid little weasel’?”

She sighed. “Of course not. I haven’t had a good rant in years. After my husband died, no one cared to listen to me and my little old problematic self.”

“That’s not true.” My quiet voice was as imperative as a shout. Steadying myself, I added, “If you had been willing to be closer with me, your only family left, I would’ve been much obliged. Especially when your stress came from my… existence.”

She wasn’t angry, which was strange. “I treated you horribly. I don’t apologize often, but I am sorry. I saw your return as a second chance, since you were a young adult. I didn’t see the wayward child in you, who dealt with even more loss. I was blind to your Raymond’s goodness and to your own concerns. All I wanted was a pawn to win my chess game, that maybe one day the queen wouldn’t be conquered after the king.”

Sadly, I knew exactly what she was saying. “I have disappointed you with my stubbornness.”

“No, I disappointed myself. I wanted you to grow into who your mother was, and that isn’t right.”

Caleb finally uttered a sound. “This is good ‘n’all, but I wish to know what Mr. Jamison here was talkin’ about. The men.”

Harriet returned from the kitchen with pastry, taking brisk strides. I desperately wanted to know what had set her off.

“Just one moment, please. You see, I have to tell y’all something I should’ve a long time ago,” Grandmother exclaimed, making Jamison drop his fork onto the table in surprise.

Caleb leaned back in his chair and took a scone, rolling his eyes at Harriet teasingly. She made a face and sat next to him, intent on Mrs. Chauldings.

Grandmother folded her hands in her lap, on top of her napkin, something she never did. “I have decided to sell my land.”

Caleb spit out part of his scone and quickly wiped up the mess with his napkin. “Ma’am! All of it?”

“Yes, Caleb, all of it.”

“Praytell!”

“It’s about time.”

“About time? Which rich investor got you to believe it was ‘about time’? I’ve pruned and built that garden o’ mine fer the past thirty-or-more years, an’ I ain’t givin’ up on it now, no siree!”

“Caleb Graham,” Harriet snapped at her husband, practically slapping her hand onto his. “Don’t you go on like that! It’s the lady of the house you’re a-talkin’ to.”

He lowered his gaze, face turning beet red. “My apologies, ma’am.”

Grandmother gave no reaction but replied, “I am not selling the land to anyone I do not trust, Mr. Graham. I respect the years of your dedication and hard work. I know you adore that garden you’ve planted.”

She never called any of her employees by their proper last name. Is she getting out of custom now, too?

“To whom are you selling the Chauldings’ territory?” Harriet asked, her voice faint.

“It all depends on one factor.”

Jamison raised an eyebrow. “Which is?”

“If you find ‘the men’ or not.”

Jamison’s forehead wrinkled. “Excuse me, ma’am, don’t understand.”

“To be quite blunt, if you had been referring to the group of men who had captured Janie without cause, and the two of you young people really think they also murdered her fiancé, I give Jamison permission to track them down. We’ve gone for a few months without any courses of action. If they were after Janie’s life, they will return.”

He leveled his gaze with Grandmother’s. “Yes, ma’am. I will leave at once.” He put his napkin on the table, pushed his chair out and rose from it, but I caught him by his sleeve.

“Where are you going?”

He frowned. “I know you are quite concerned in this matter,” he said formally, “but your grandmother did not permit you to join in this investigation.”

“That doesn’t matter. I have faith you will find them.”

“Then why do you cling to me?” he asked, a friendly laugh in his words.

I stood but I didn’t let go of his sleeve, ignorant to the older people watching our conversation. “Because I’d be less worried if I knew where you were going.”

“You are worried?”

I couldn’t help rolling my eyes. “Why wouldn’t I be? Take a servant with you or something. It wouldn’t be good for you to be out, alone, like I was when those men kidnapped me.”

“I understand. I’ll take Charlie with me.” He turned to leave.

I tugged harder. “No, don’t take Charlie. I meant someone strong and quicker, like a stable hand. Ask Timothy to go with you.”

He refused a smile. “Your mind is like an automobile.”

“I’m serious, Jamison. How are you going to find them? How? And how can you explain the fact that Raymond escaped from the trenches? It’s impossible, but he did. Then he is forced to be married under the influence. Next thing you know, he’s here in America, in our town, dead. A few weeks later, some men follow me and fight me, bringing me into the dank cellar of who-knows-where. How does any of it make sense? It doesn’t sound like a real situation.”

“But it is.” He pried my hand from his arm after patiently listening to my lecture. His eyes told me he felt the same way, but he had more determination than I.

I stood there like a Roman pillar before I realized he was leaving. He barely made it down the hall when I caught up with him, grasping his arm again. I didn’t care if I was being unladylike and original. “Where are you going?” I demanded.

“To the post office. To trace some letters.”

I relaxed. “That might be a good start.”

His face was grim. “I hope so. I feel awful for letting those men get away with crimes. I am so…”

“Stop,” I urged him quietly. “I’ll pray for your safety. Don’t forget Timothy.”

A lopsided grin toyed at his mouth. “I won’t, miss.” With that, with no goodbye hug or anything, he took his coat and went out the door. Like Raymie had that one night, while I was still crying over the draft…

My ears picked up an anxious voice coming from the dining room. It was Grandmother… the real Grandmother now. I’ll have to sit down and talk with her. It’s as if she has two personalities. I tiptoed to the doorway to hear more, feeling like a little child eavesdropping.

Grandmother and Caleb’s voice were drowned by my grandmother crying out, “I don’t understand. Life isn’t easy.”

Harriet laughed softly. “Who told you it was?”

 

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