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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Week(s) (02/10/11)

TITLE: The Half-penny Secret
By Ann Grover


The heavy pewter clouds weighed against old Dolly’s shoulders. Her drenched hem dragged in the mud, slowing her down.

Second Sunday. Second Sunday. Her head pounded, a monotonous throbbing keeping time with her trudging boots. Today, speak today.

The gate to the churchyard moaned as Dolly pushed it open. Everything was sodden, the moss-shrouded headstones, the rain-beaten flowers limply adorning the graves, a despondent pigeon hunched miserably in the dripping branches of the hazel tree.

Even the atmosphere in the church was bleak and forbidding; the congregation was silent and grim, droplets beading hat brims and collars. The opening hymn was tuneless, a slow and dismal psalm.

When Dolly was summoned in the middle of the night, it was raining. She wrapped her shawl tightly around her head and snatched up her small bag. She rode in the cart, the man silent beside her; the pony plodded through slick mud, water streaming from its steamy hide.

The vicar’s voice droned through the homily, until he came to the moment Dolly had been dreading. His words were light, jubilant.

“I publish the banns of marriage between Jonathan Kindersley and Sarah Boggs. This is the second time of asking. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it.”

Now, say it now, exploded Dolly’s heart. The congregation cast about tentative smiles of gladness and curiosity. A marriage was a joyous occasion, but not to be taken lightly.

The moment passed. Dolly slumped. She was a coward.

She escaped without shaking the vicar’s hand, without exclaiming over tiny Mary Burton’s new tooth, without admiring Hiram Smith’s new buggy. Back she went through the village, along the hedgerow to the muddy path leading to her cottage. She stirred up cold ashes on her hearth, but there was no spark, no welcoming wisp of smoke.

“Serves me right,” Dolly murmured. “Not deserving of comforts. No fire or drop of tea for me.”

She sat in the cold, motionless, still as death.

Through the downpour, to a lonely cottage in the forest. A single candle burned, and the damp air smelled sourly of blood and fear and shame. Dolly laid out soft cloths, requested hot water.

By morning, the countryside glistened in dazzling sunlight, diamonds studding every leaf and blade, even rough stones lustrous. Dolly poked at the fire again, adding twigs and sticks until the kettle sputtered merrily.

“One more week for the banns to be read.”

She set to scouring her table, sand and lye soap blistering her hands. Churning with a stick until her arms ached, she boiled sheets in the wash tub, then hung them over shrubs to dry. Deliberately, methodically, she kept busy, exhausting herself.

The baby girl glistened in the candlelight. Thrust from the womb, to be thrust away again. 

The man gave Dolly a rough, dirty shawl for the baby, and then they were in the buggy again slipping in the muck, soaked with icy rain, Dolly clutching the mewling child.

The week passed quickly as Dolly cleaned and scrubbed and polished. Nothing in the cottage escaped her calloused hands. Hands that had always brought life.

Now she’d cause pain, grievous pain that would be a sword run through the heart, two hearts. Only Dolly knew.

The baby cried weakly as Dolly laid her on the vicar’s doorstep. She knocked once, then slipped away into the inky rain. The man in the buggy had left her at the vicarage after a few curt words and a half-penny tumbled into Dolly’s numb fingers.

Then, another half-penny for silence.

Dolly trembled through the hymn, the prayer, the brief homily. Again the moment arrived, swiftly, after an eternity.

“I publish the banns of marriage between Jonathan Kindersley and Sarah Boggs. This is the third time of asking. If any of you know . . . ye are to declare it.”

I do know, dear God, I do know. Sarah is Jonathan’s sister. Got on a young girl by Jonathan’s own father, and now them both long cold in the ground.

Dolly made to rise, but she collapsed back into the pew, darkness enfolding her. Concerned hands clutched at her skirt, her shawl. Vicar Boggs peered into her face.

“Dolly,” he whispered.

“Sarah, Sarah.” Dolly’s words were slurred, garbled, and she tried to lift her heavy, useless hands.

But, it was too late. A week, a day, a breath too late.

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This article has been read 1265 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Anita van der Elst02/17/11
A stunning story. Well-done.
Henry Clemmons02/17/11
This is very, very good. Like a golden author come to pay us a visit and allow us to read what it is to write masterfully. I enjoyed every word. A sad tale, truly told, but you sunk me right in the middle of it. And there I sat, in your rain, at your mercy. Thank you very much. I exprienced greatness, tempered with the humility of anointed talent.
Joanne Sher 02/18/11
You swept me away completely. I don't think I breathed until I got to the end. Incredibly powerful.
Yvonne Blake 02/19/11
Oh Wow! This has to be made into a full length novel.
Glynis Becker02/20/11
Wonderfully written. The movement between the scenes was seamless and I could see all of it happening. Now we have to know what happens next! Great job.
Catrina Bradley 02/21/11
I want to write like this when I grow up!
Rachel Phelps02/21/11
Your writing is pure joy to read. Fabulous!
Margaret Kearley 02/22/11
This is amazing. As others have said, it needs to be a full novel. Wonderful writing.
Lollie Hofer02/22/11
Oh my! I agree with Catrina...but when I grow up if I can write only half this good, I'd be happy This was remarkable, intense, intriguing, chilling. Wowzers.
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/22/11
Wonderful writing--a story to remember!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/22/11
This is A spectacular example of a well-written puce. The characters were exquisite and so believable.
Lillian Rhoades 02/23/11
Everything wonderful and grand has been said, but I'll try to be original:-)
An authentic Out-of-the-box story. Grand slammer...five stars and.....
Margaret Kearley 02/24/11
Congratulations on yur well deserved win with this amazing story.
Michael Throne02/24/11
Wonderful. You pulled us in with your strong descriptions and maintained the tension throughout. Well done. Congratulations on your win! This is an exceptional work.
Carol Penhorwood 02/24/11
What can I say that hasn't already been said? This one was out of the ball park! I stand in awe!
Melanie Kerr 02/24/11
Amazing what the right words in the right places can create! Superb.
Rachel Phelps02/24/11
Once again, excellent work. Glad to see it recognized! Congrats on the EC!
Henry Clemmons02/24/11
A sincere WELL DONE, Ann. I loved this piece from the start. A no-doubt deserved first place and bob contender.
Sara Harricharan 02/24/11
Ah. Mystery, suspense and an awesome story rolled into one. I really liked it--especially the way the title played into the ending. It was rather haunting. Nicely done and congrats on your win! ^_^
Verna Cole Mitchell 02/24/11
Congratulations, Ann. Your writing is absolutely outstanding.
Jody Day 02/24/11
Congratulations! This is wonderful.
Loren T. Lowery02/25/11
When I first read this last week, I had it pegged as your work, Ann; and I also thought now this is a winner. Glad to see my instincts were spot on. Congratulations!