Swirling mist brought the darkness close. The cold wrought-iron fence told me that I had reached the grave yard. Do it quickly. I told myself.
Sliding to my knees before a grave stone, my fingers traced over my husband's name. I slipped the knife from the hem of my skirt, and withdrew my tiny son from my coat. His skin was still warm from the heat of my body. I stroked his cheek before laying his lifeless form on the grave.
With the knife I sliced through the sod, scraping away the soil with a ladle.
Holding my babe for the last time, I longed for tears, but they had been utterly spent over the past weeks and months. How long had I known this day would come? I had watched him fade. One after another, my children would starve.
As I tamped down the soil over my precious baby, I knew that I would sell my soul.
Shuddering, I remembered how Mr. Cline had approached me after the funeral. “Elinor, Your husband owed me a great deal of money, and it is in my power to take everything you own. I will forgive the debt and provide you a living—if you become my mistress.”
For a year, I had lived in fear that he would make good on his promise to take the roof from over our heads, but now I was going to him.
The following months were a horror that I had somehow reconciled myself to. I cannot describe the revulsion that came over me when I learned that Mr. Cline had intentionally ruined my husband.
“I knew I'd have you from the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said with a cold laugh. “I took a special interest in Robert. I took him out drinking, gambling, anything to take his mind off of his pretty little wife at home. I gave him more and more until I owned his soul. I knew you would come to me. I'm a patient man.”
Months passed while I stored up my hatred like a miser.
I never told him that I was pregnant, but he knew. “You did this on purpose,” he snarled. It gave me a tiny flicker of pleasure to know that I had thwarted his plans.
I didn't see him again after that. It was even harder to get work now that I was pregnant out of wedlock. People crossed the street, so they wouldn't have to touch my skirts. We were starving.
Amazingly, the baby grew inside of me. I didn't call the doctor when labour started. I laboured alone, bringing forth a tiny pink girl. I wasn't prepared for the surge of love that caught in my throat. I clutched her to my chest and cried because of the hope that sprang up in me and the fear that came with it.
I mailed a note: “You have a daughter.”
The next day, I staggered towards the door. A stranger lady with a little rosebud of a mouth stood there. “Are you...” Her voice sounded far off as I sunk to the floor in a faint.
When I awoke I could smell fresh bread. “You must think that I'm a terrible woman to have this baby with no husband,” I said, but her eyes were kind and I poured out my tale to her; she just sat there stroking my hand. I was startled by the splash of a tear.
“Who are you?” I asked with wonder.
“I am Maria Cline.” I snatched my hand away with horror. “Don't be afraid. I'm a widow now too. It was me that received your letter. I had to see you and the baby.”
I could feel my throat thumping with each heartbeat.
“My husband wasn't always the cruel man that you knew. I have loved him since we were children. Greed and dark ambition had corrupted him.” Maria's words trailed off as she got caught in her own grief.
“I am forgiving the debt that you owed my husband, and I will make sure that you have work.”
“But why?” I sat up and squeezed her hand between both of my own. “Why are you doing all of this?”
“Through these painful years, God has carried me. God is love, Elinor.”
I was stunned that there could be such love in a world ruled by hate. Maybe there is a God who loves me.
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