Cut Scene from Hope In Oakland

Matt watched the Bennett carriage pull away with Priscilla safely tucked inside. He put his horses in the livery stable and dragged his feet on all the way to Glenwood Street. With Min’s emotional state growing increasingly unstable, Matt was glad he had put those locks on Mother’s door and window. He couldn’t stop working to babysit his sister.

Matt heard whimpering coming from behind the tool shed as he opened the gate. His heart stopped when he saw his mother hiding from Min. He ran to her and dropped to the ground beside her.

“Mother. It’s alright. I’m home mother, it’s alright.” Matt reached out and took her into his arms so that she wept into his chest. Matt wished for the billionth time that she would speak. Once she quieted down, Matt stood up and squared his shoulders.

“Stay here, please.” Min wailed on the settee; he could hear her from the verandah. As he pulled open the screen door he saw that every plate, glass, and cup they owned had been thrown at the wall. He picked his way through the rubble. The letter from the University of Manitoba was shredded on the settee beside her.

“Minerva Hartwell, what is the meaning of this?” Matt lost his patience. His fists clenched at his sides. He wanted to pick her up and throw her against the wall.

Pull it together, Matt. She’s a woman. You are three times her size. What is wrong with this woman?

“You’re going to leave us. You’re going to get your degree, and you’re going to run away with that woman,” Min screamed into the pillow. “I hate you! Don’t leave me! I hate you, Matt, but don’t you dare leave me!”

Matt turned away from her and scrubbed his hands over his face. He tried to recapture the feeling of bliss he’d experienced on the buckboard only eight hours ago. He recalled Priscilla’s beautiful face tilted up to the sun and took a deep breath. I have a life, a job, and an upcoming career. Min has nothing. She is not functioning as an adult. She will never function as an adult. She is to be pitied.

“Min, I will not be running away with that woman. She is married.” The words caused him actual physical pain as they left his mouth.

How would he continue without her?

Already, she was like sun shining in through windows that had been covered in darkness for ten years.

Min sat up; she put the pillow down on the settee as more tears pooled in her eyes. “But school. You’re leaving us to go to school.”

“I am taking a week to go to Winnipeg and sit the final exams. Yes, I will be doing that. I had planned to ask Mrs. Bennett if she could take Mom while I am away, and then you could have your own space. It would be like a sort of vacation for you.”

“Oh.” Min’s face went from weeping and anguished to calm.

“Min, you have nothing to worry about. I am not going anywhere.” Matt’s heart dragged to his toes as he said those words. “Once the exams are written and I’ve passed or failed, I can work here in Oakland. Mom is too fragile to move anywhere else. You have to believe this. We cannot have these scenes any longer.”

“What scene?” Min blinked. Matt’s eyes narrowed. Her face was completely composed as if she hadn’t destroyed every glass and dish in the house.

“Our mother is weeping in the garden. You have broken every dish in this house. What do you mean, what scene?” Fury crawled up his throat. All the years of diffusing, fixing, and settling choked him. More and more his frustration left him shaking from the effort of restraining himself from violence. Anger was his constant companion. “Are you trying to make everyone miserable because you are? What’s the truth about you, Min? What makes you do this? I want to understand.” Matt stopped himself from taking her by the shoulders and shaking an answer out of her.

“When the rage comes, it consumes me,” she said like a little child. “I can’t stop it. It’s like a prairie fire. It seems to come up out of nowhere, and it roars through me until I destroy everything that bothers me. Then I feel empty. So, I cry because when there is no rage, I don’t feel anything.”

Matt took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’ll have to clean this up. Every speck, every shard of glass.”

“I just feel so tired. When the rage goes away, I feel nothing and sleepy.” Min went to settle back down on the settee. Matt knew, she craved dark, silence, and nothing but her own thoughts and feelings. She shrugged, completely oblivious to the weight that wore on Matt. When Min felt bad, when Min was having a spell, she went to bed. For days. Whatever small contribution she added to the home was left to Matt. The selfishness of an incurable pushed Matt to the brink of breaking down himself. There was never a ‘sorry I’m not well.’ Never a ‘when I feel a little better I’ll do your share to give you a rest.’ No, there was an arrogance to Min. The world, Matt in particular, was there to pick up the pieces, and she felt no responsibility to pick up the pieces for him. They tiptoed around her. She demanded it. She went to bed as if she had no idea their lives required her to actively participate. Matt’s heart hardened as he watched her pull a blanket over herself. There was no greater selfishness than the selfishness of Min.

“I don’t care if you are tired. I will bring Mother in here, and you will clean up. Everything.”

“But I can hardly keep my eyes open.” Min rubbed her eyes.

“Minerva, I have worked all day. I am tired, too. You made this mess, you will clean it up. Are you listening to me?” Matt spoke in a low and controlled voice. He had never spoken to her this harshly before. She had to be dealt with. “Stand up,” Matt said.

Min rolled her eyes.

“I said stand up,” Matt repeated. Like a four-year-old who wants to defy a parent, Min finally stood up and slouched in front of him. “If you hurt our mother, if you lay one hand on her, Min, if I come home from work and I find her terrified in the garden again, I will have you arrested for assault and battery. It will be a simple thing to have you locked up, if not in jail, a sanatorium. One word from me, and they will take you away put you in a straight jacket, and I will personally throw away the key. Are we clear?”

Min’s eyes flashed with fury. “Come on, Min, let’s see what you do with that in your exhausted state.” Matt went to the corner of the kitchen and found a broom and a dust pan. He handed both to Min. His eyes locked with hers. Her eyes were the same colour, but held no conscience. No remorse. No soul. May twenty-ninth was fast approaching, and he shivered with fear for his mother. If there was an option, he would take it. There were no options. He raced through all the scenarios in his head every night, and nothing presented itself. All he could do was hope Min didn’t hurt her. What will Min do? Weary of that question, Matt was overcome with defeat and exhaustion. The constant wear and tear of dealing with Min’s moods left him not only weary but furious. Her moods dipped lower and stayed down longer. Her actions were increasingly damaging.

The family member who is the sickest rules the house.

Matt’s mouth hardened as that thought settled in his mind. Min ruled his world, and he needed that to stop. Short of killing her or institutionalizing her, he just wasn’t sure how.

Woman in Disgrace- scene cut from Hope in Oakland

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Scene at Hillcrest, Lady Harper’s drawing room. Cut from section two.

Lilac and apple blossom scent melded together and wafted through Lady Harper’s drawing room. The entire Women’s Christian Temperance Union had come together for their annual meeting. Once all the ladies were served tea; Mrs. Bennett stood up to address the Union.

“We are very excited to inform you that we have received a new pledge. Mrs. Priscilla Markus requests to join the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Priscilla if you would step out so we can take a vote. I’m certain you will be right back with us in minutes.” Mrs. Bennett’s warm smile made joy well up in Priscilla’s heart. The union had done so much for her she was excited to join and assist them where she could. She was under no illusions, without the generosity of their charity; she shuddered to think of where she would have ended up.

Priscilla slipped out of the drawing room and into the hallway. Sitting down by the closed door, she studied the pattern of cream and caramel on the wallpaper. Smoothing her skirt, she waited and tried not to overhear the conversation in the drawing room.

“She’s a married woman who is on the run from her husband,” Mrs. Carr’s voice carried out into the hallway. “Until we know more about this situation, I think this is unacceptable.”

Priscilla gasped at the venomous statement from Mrs. Carr. Hot with shame, her eyes filled with tears.

“We need to draw a hard line here, if we allow her to pledge, would that not encourage other young women to run from husbands at the first sign of trouble,” Mrs. Daindridge’s added her voice to Mrs. Carr.

Does every woman in Oakland feel the same way?

“Wouldn’t you agree, Mrs. Daindridge and Mrs. Carr, that sometimes we do not know the whole story?” Mrs. Bennett’s voice hardened to iron. “Isn’t it a virtue we are told to cultivate- to believe the best in people…”

“What is the whole story?” Mrs. Carr demanded as she interrupted Mrs. Bennett.

Priscilla wished the floor would open up and swallow her on the spot. Tears gathered in her eyes as she stood up and paced in the hallway. Trying not to hear them but not able to stop listening either.

“Mrs. Rood, Mrs. Holt, Lady Harper and I interviewed Mrs. Markus before allowing her to pledge.” Mrs. Bennett’s voice shook with emotion. “I assure you, we are fully apprised of the situation. You can trust us when we say that Priscilla Markus is an upstanding woman.”

Priscilla hung her head in shame.

Am I?

“I will remind you, we are within our rights to decide on who should be allowed to pledge without the entire community knowing all the ins and outs.” An edge of anger laced Mrs. Bennett’s voice. “Trust me, Mrs. Carr, when I tell you Priscilla’s reputation is flawless.”

A tear slid down Priscilla’s face.

“We saw her flirting with Matt in a brazen manner. We were shocked. This is not the behavior of a woman who is here in disgrace.” Mrs. Daindridge huffed. “What’s next I ask you?”

I wasn’t flirting! Why do they think I should be in disgrace?

“Is Matt Hartwell in love with her?” Priscilla tried to place who that voice belonged to, she wasn’t sure, nonetheless, the question sliced straight through her  heart.

“We are not a gossip mill.” Mrs. Bennett’s voice hardened to ice. “We are here to decide if Priscilla Markus can join this Union, we are not here to sit in judgment of her.” Mrs. Bennett’s voice rang out into the hall.

Anger burned through the shame.

Matt Hartwell’s flawless reputation is being destroyed- because of me.

She wouldn’t stand for it. Priscilla’s hand trembled on the door knob before she threw caution to the wind, swung open the door and faced her accusers.

“Unless we hear the whole story, there is no way we can vote on such a…”Mrs. Daindridge’s voice trailed off as Priscilla stepped into the drawing room.

Priscilla dashed tears away as every eye clamped on her. She marched to the front of the room. She faced the women who had assembled and judged her so viciously. Taking a deep breath, Priscilla snatched the pledge from the table and crumpled it in front of them.

“Vote on such a what, Mrs. Daindridge? Tart, strumpet, a fallen woman? Is that what you think of me?” Priscilla tossed her pledge into the garbage.

Mrs. Bennett put her hand on Priscilla’s arm. The women of the Union gasped at the language that spilled from Priscilla’s lips. Their eyes widened from the scandal.

“It’s not true!” Priscilla dashed tears from her eyes as she stood tall. “I am none of those things.”

“Well, I never!” Mrs. Carr whispered to Mrs. Daindridge. “She’s so crude!”

“Yes, Mrs. Carr. I am very crude.” Priscilla’s voice caught with emotion. “Please, forget that I ever asked to join. I want nothing to do with a group of women who would so easily believe the worst in me. You don’t even know me.”

The eyes looking back at Priscilla were hard with judgment.

“You want to judge me? You don’t know what I’ve endured.” Priscilla swallowed down her tears she gathered her thoughts to speak.

“Priscilla, you do not owe anyone any explanation,” Mrs. Bennett interrupted.

“Look at them. Look at their faces, their eyes. They think I’m a terrible woman, here to corrupt Matt Hartwell! ”

“You do not need to defend yourself to this group, Priscilla. That has nothing to do with us… it is no one’s business.” Mrs. Bennett put her arm around her.

Priscilla couldn’t stop the words from tearing out of her. “Mrs. Bennett, I didn’t know I was considered a woman in disgrace. Is that the wording you used?” Priscilla looked pointedly at Mrs. Daindridge. “I have nowhere else to go. If you paint me as a fallen woman I will be reduced to living on charity.” Priscilla wiped tears off her cheeks.

Silence filled the room as the women shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

I should tell them the whole sordid story.

“I remove my pledge.” Priscilla addressed Lady Harper and Mrs. Bennett. “Please, proceed with your meeting. I’ll see myself out.”

Priscilla slunk out of the room with Mrs. Bennett close on her heels.

“Priscilla…” Mrs. Bennett stopped her on the front verandah of Hillcrest.

Priscilla turned to Mrs. Bennett as she tried to wipe the tears from her face.

“Oh, Priscilla I am so sorry.” Mrs. Bennett tried to reach out to her. Priscilla sidestepped her.

“It’s alright. Please, I just need to calm down.” Priscilla turned on her heel to flee from the entire situation.

“I’ll speak to them,” Mrs. Bennett promised.

Priscilla turned, nodded and then kept walking.

“Where are you going now?” Mrs. Bennett called to Priscilla’s retreating back.

“I just need to have quiet moment. I’m going to the park.”

“Priscilla.” Mrs. Bennett’s voice stopped her in her tracks.

Priscilla turned to listen.

“You are an upstanding woman. You have nothing to be ashamed of and we will resolve this. Don’t listen to the two old gossips in there. I mean it. You are a good woman, Priscilla.”

Dashing more tears from her eyes, Priscilla nodded to Mrs. Bennett, turned from her, and fled to Victoria Park.

 

 

***

When Matt Hartwell needed a break from life and study, the walking trails at the top of Victoria Park were his favorite place to go. It was easy to forget about his troubles and simply focus on the beauty of the day. Taking a moment to stop walking so he could look up through the leaves of an oak tree, he marveled at the beauty of the sun filtering through them. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The tension in his shoulders dissipated as his eyes slid over the green grass surrounding him. In the distance he could hear plum creek splashing over rocks.  His eyes lit up as he saw fruit trees with blossoms in full bloom on the bank. A smile played on his lips as he kept walking towards the giant Oak tree that graced the north side of the hill.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a screaming woman shattered the peace that surrounded him. Muscles tensed, ready to defend whoever was screaming- Matt broke into a run in the direction of the scream.

As he turned the corner towards the sound of shrieking, he saw Priscilla Markus standing on a park bench, hands over her eyes, screaming at the top of her lungs.

“Priscilla?” Matt gasped as he looked around. Worry coursing through him at the thought that she had been attacked.

“Matt, is that you?”She didn’t take her hands away from her eyes.

“Yes. What happened?” Matt was confused and concerned. His hands clenched into fists thinking the attacker had bolted. He was torn between staying to comfort Priscilla and finding the attacker all at the same time.

“Matt are you terrified of snakes?” Priscilla cried out. “I saw two right here! Oh, I don’t think they are gone!”

Matt’s hands unclenched as he let out a sigh of relief.

Snakes! Snakes are behind all this screaming?

“I’ll check.” Matt kept his tone of voice gentle.

Priscilla stayed on the bench, hands over her eyes as she trembled with fear.

“You are safe now. The snakes are gone.” Matt confirmed as he squinted up at her.

“Oh, thank goodness you came by.” Priscilla took her hands off her eyes. “I’d be stuck on this bench for the rest of my life.”

Matt smiled and held his hands out to help her down off the bench.

“You’ll think I’m ridiculous,” she said as she held her hands up declining his assistance. “Could you look once more? I just need you to be sure there are no snakes left on this trail.”

“You know snakes can’t hurt you.” Matt tried to reason with Priscilla.

“I don’t care; I hate the way they move. Please be sure!” Priscilla’s voice escalated in fear.

“I’ll triple check.” Matt turned away from her and stifled a chuckle. He dared not laugh at her. The last thing Matt wanted to do was hurt Priscilla’s feelings.

Matt looked around and sure enough, there was a snake near the old oak tree. A rather large one. He pretended it wasn’t there as he nudged it to move along with his foot.

“Is there something there?” Priscilla shreiked at him.

“Just a stick,” Matt lied through his teeth as the snake innocently slithered away from them. “All clear.”

Priscilla let out a sigh. “Alright.”

“Wait; let me help you off that bench. The last thing we need is you falling.” Matt stood in front of her on the bench, he held his hands out. His heart galloped with desire as he put his hands at her waist and lifted her down.

Marshalling every speck of self control he possessed, he let go of her waist.

She is married- take a step back.

“You are safe now.” Matt reached into his breast pocket and found a clean handkerchief. He gently wiped tears from Priscilla’s cheeks. “You scared me to death, I thought you were being attacked, it took years off my life.” Matt looked at her helplessly as more tears welled up in her eyes. “The snakes are gone, Priscilla.” Matt looked around on the trail in case someone really had frightened her.

Priscilla sat back down on the bench and wept.

Confusion played on Matt’s face. “Do you want me to carry you out of here?” Matt offered. He could see no need for hysterics. However, one of the few things Matt knew about women was, they despised being told they were in hysterics. Wisely, he said nothing and waited for Priscilla to speak.

“You don’t have to carry me out of here, gracious, that would be ridiculous!” Priscilla wiped her face on his handkerchief and Matt noticed she made a valiant effort to calm down. “You walk ahead of me and make sure there are no snakes.”

“Alright,” Matt agreed. “What are you doing up here?”

Priscilla choked on a sob, Matt’s eyebrows knit together.

“What happened, Priscilla?” Matt asked helplessly.

“I left the union meeting.” Priscilla wept.

“Why?” he asked gently. Her distress worried him. She was not the sort to weep for no reason.

“I left in disgrace.” She covered her face with her hands again.

“What do you mean in disgrace?” Matt’s jaw tightened.

“They don’t want me to join.” Priscilla’s hands shook as she dug around in her pocket and found a handkerchief. She wiped tears from her eyes with laciest, frilliest handkerchief Matt had ever laid eyes on. “I handed in my pledge and some of the women think I…” Priscilla’s voice caught as she turned away from Matt.

“Who doesn’t want you to join?” Matt’s voice hardened with fury as he cut to the point.

“I don’t want to involve you, it’s so terrible. Oh, Matt. I am so ashamed.” Priscilla hung her head, her shoulders slumped. “I had no idea they thought such things of me. I am humiliated. I should have known better.”

“Priscilla.” Matt patted her on the shoulder. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“They think I flirted with you and that if I am here in disgrace.” Even though they were alone, she spoke in a whisper in case someone could over hear and judge her further.

A slow burn of fury washed through Matt at her words. “Then what happened.” Matt’s jaw felt like it would break as he spoke. He kept his voice gentle as he leaned into her. Priscilla took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“While they were deliberating, I sat in the hall, but I could hear them. Finally, I had heard enough, I went into the meeting, withdrew my pledge and said I didn’t want to join. I stormed out.” Priscilla hung her head in shame. “I lost my temper, Matt.” Priscilla dropped her hands and then spoke to Matt in a voice barely above a whisper. “I did not act like a lady at all. Mrs. Bennett had to stop me, the words I used scandalized the entire union.”

“I see.” Matt’s eyes softened with sympathy. “You know that you are not a woman in disgrace. Right?” Matt reached out and brushed a piece of hair out of her eyes.

Priscilla looked up at him through wet eye lashes and bit her lip.

“Priscilla. Please, tell me you know that you are…”

“What if they are right? What if I could have done something differently?” She cried.

“Hang on a minute, who knows the whole story?” Matt reasoned with Priscilla.

“My heart is broken and you are trying to use logic?” Priscilla threw her hands up in the air.

“It’s a crime, I know.” Matt said dryly. “Let’s try it.”

Priscilla sighed. “You and Mrs. Bennett know the worst of it.”

“Does Mrs. Bennett think you are a woman in disgrace?” Matt prodded gently.

Priscilla looked up into the canopy of leaves that arched over them and thought about that question.

“No.” Priscilla blinked tears away.

“Well, there you go. Mrs. Bennett would be the first one to set you straight. You have nothing to worry about.” Matt reasoned with Priscilla.

“The worst thing is, Matt, they dragged you into it.” Her dark eyes flicked from the beauty of the sun streaming through the coin shaped poplar leaves to Matt.

Matt shrugged. “I don’t care what a bunch of old gossips say, Priscilla. It’s of no consequence to me.”

“They are worried about your virtue. As if I’m here to somehow lead you astray.”

Please, please, please lead me astray… I beg you.

Instead of saying the thought in his head, Matt chuckled. “Let me guess, Mrs. Carr?”

“How did you know?” Priscilla’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Mrs. Carr has some sort of deranged notion that I am going to fall in love with Cissy Carr. I hadn’t noticed but Cole pointed out that Cissy is parading by the livery stable every day at 4:15. Most unsettling.”

“Oh.” Priscilla’s eyebrows raised.

“It won’t work. Cissy Carr is a nice girl, but not for me. Let’s go.” Matt spoke firmly.

“Where?” Priscilla’s eyebrow raised in worry.

“We’re going to talk to Mrs. Daindridge and Mrs. Carr. We’re going to settle this right now.” Matt stood up.

“Oh! No. Absolutely not. I couldn’t.” Priscilla gasped in horror.

“They owe you an apology. There is no way; under any circumstance I will allow them to bully you. They are likely still at Harpers. We’ll stop by and get this settled right away.”

“Matt, I can’t.” Priscilla shook her head.

“Priscilla, you are going to run a business in this town.” Matt held his hand out to her. “You need the women of this community to be clients. Mrs. Daindridge and Mrs. Carr are slinging unfair accusations at you. They are influencing the women of the community. I’ll stand by you while you address these women. It’s the only way.”

Priscilla bit her lip in fear.

“Listen, you have to come with me, who will protect you from the snakes?” Matt smiled at her.

“Between the snakes, Mrs. Daindridge, and Mrs. Carr, this is the worst day since…” Priscilla cut her sentence short.

“I know. You’ve been through a terrible time so let’s not let a gossip mill compound it. Up you get. Let’s deal with this right now while the group is contained before gossip that destroys your reputation spreads like a prairie fire.”

Grudgingly, she saw the wisdom of his suggestion so she stood up.

Matt held out his arm, he glowed inside as she tucked her hand into his elbow. As they walked toward the entrance of the park and away from the area that had been verified clear of snakes, Priscilla held onto his arm in a death grip.

“Priscilla.” Matt turned to her. “It’s never as bad as you think.”

“Matt, everyone loves you. They have mixed feelings for me at best.” Priscilla groaned.

“Once they know you that will change.” Matt turned her to face him so she wouldn’t see a huge snake soaking up the spring sunshine at the side of the trail nearest to her.

“You’re distracting me from a snake aren’t you?” Her voice was on the verge of shrieking.

“No need to scream.” Matt flashed her a quick smile. “Just look at me, there is no reason to panic. We’ll give this snake some room to get away.”

“Why are there so many snakes on this trail?” Priscilla cried.

“They migrate this time of year. In a couple of weeks there won’t be many,” he assured her.

“Many!” Priscilla covered her face in her hands, Matt turned to be sure the snake had moved along. It hadn’t. He stamped near it so as not to injure it, but to encourage it to slither along.

“If I ever get off this trail, I am never coming back!” Priscilla wailed at him, hands firmly clamped over her eyes.

“That’s a shame.” Matt returned to her and rubbed her upper arm to let her know the trail was clear. “It is a beautiful trail. There are no snakes now, let’s keep going.”

Once off the hill and safe from the snakes, Matt and Priscilla returned to Hillcrest. Matt marched forward and Priscilla dragged her feet.  He squeezed her hand in support as every step brought them closer to a confrontation she was dreading.

Jaffrey opened the front door of Hillcrest, eyebrows raised in surprise. Priscilla bit her lip and followed Matt inside.

“We would like to address the Union, unfortunately, there has been a misunderstanding. Could you make that request on our behalf?” Matt asked Jaffrey.

“Of course, I’ll ask Lady Harper.” Jaffrey raised his hand to knock politely on the closed door to interrupt the union meeting.

“Just a moment, Jaffrey. Excuse me.” Priscilla reached out to stop him. “I’ll address the union.” Priscilla’s chin lifted. “It’s my character being attacked, and it’s my story they need to hear. I will speak for myself.”

Jaffrey spoke to Lady Harper who immediately brought the meeting to a halt and requested Priscilla and Matt join them.

Matt’s heart lodged in his throat as he stood back to let her address the women. He watched and worried about what they might say to her as Priscilla made her way to the front of the room to face her accusers.

“I would like to apologize for losing my temper.”

A murmur passed through the assembled women. Mrs. Carr shot Mrs. Daindridge a look complete with an arched eyebrow of disbelief. Protectiveness for Priscilla made him want to address Mrs. Daindridge and Mrs. Carr on her behalf. He dared not.

“You are right; you do deserve an explanation since I am here on your charity.” Matt winced at that word and the humiliation evident on her face. He yearned to step between her and the hard faces of judgment in the crowd.

“I shudder to think of my life without your generosity. So, as requested, I am going to tell you the whole story.” Priscilla’s voice shook. Matt crossed his arms over his chest and reminded himself to stay rooted to the spot.

Mrs. Bennett quickly came to Priscilla’s side and stood near her in support. Matt Hartwell had always had a deep respect for Ada Bennett, but today, watching her lend her support to Priscilla he wanted to hug her.

“On April 30, 1904…” Priscilla’s voice shook as she began.

Purchase Hope in Oakland to find out what happens to Priscilla

Tea, Tarts and Trouble- Character sketch Mrs. Daindridge and Mrs. Carr

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Every Thursday at Two pm for the past twenty years, Mrs. Daindridge served Mrs. Carr butter tarts and tea.  People believed when you bit into a butter tart made by Mrs. Daindridge if you listened close enough, you could hear angels singing.

Her pastry was that perfect.

Paranoid, Mrs. Daindridge pulled her curtains shut before she cut the lard into her sifted flour. As she rolled out her pastry she made sure she was home alone and no one would see her sprinkle her secret ingredient, baking powder, over the rolled dough. That dusting of baking powder created a pastry so light, it could float if it had to.

Other housewives, she knew, were sloppy. They mixed up the filling and didn’t immediately fill the tart shells.

Women today are distracted. Houses don’t run themselves!

Mrs. Daindridge shook her head at the thought. If the filling was allowed to settle, your tarts would have an odd suspension of hardened sugar in the center. Most unsettling.

Some housewives would skimp, they would add raisins but no walnut. The walnut created a touch of crunch and zing of sour that brought out the sweet of the brown sugar filling. A butter tart, Mrs. Daindridge maintained, was a symphony really. Light and flaky pastry, sweet syrupy center demanded the crunch of a walnut to delight the senses. What the women of Oakland, Manitoba passed off as butter tarts kept Mrs. Daindridge up at night.

Reverently, Mrs. Daindridge placed her tart pan in her cook stove at exactly 1:30 pm. This ensured a tart that was the perfect temperature. Not so hot that the filling would burn the top of your mouth and not so cool that the filling hardened. When Mrs. Daindridge presented a butter tart it was the perfect temperature. Always.

The tart tin was as carefully guarded as her butter tart recipe. Her tin survived emigrating from England and was reserved for butter tarts and popovers only. Mrs. Daindridge was of the opinion that you absolutely could not under any circumstances expect a new pan to deliver the same results as an old pan. Her tart pan dated back to her great grandmother and Mr. Daindridge was under strict instruction; if there was ever a house fire, the pan was to be saved at all costs. If Mr. Daindridge had to sacrifice his life for her tart tin, that was a risk she was willing to take.

As her butter tarts baked in her gleaming cook stove, she spread her best lace tablecloth over her table. She set her shining silver birch china out. She lovingly placed a lace napkin beside Mrs. Carr’s tea cup.

Her heart ached for Mrs. Carr. Between the two of them, their children were grown and gone, all but Cissy.

Cissy Carr refused to settle down and find a husband. Mrs. Carr had, understandably, felt faint at the thought.

Mrs. Daindridge’s lips thinned at the willfulness of this next generation. Mrs. Carr’s eyes were red when she ran into her at the post office yesterday. Mrs. Daindridge knew just looking at her that she needed a double batch of tarts on Thursday. As Mrs. Carr’s best friend, she was happy to comply.

Now that her top secret pastry operation was over, she adjusted the curtains in her kitchen to let in the early spring light.

She watched dear Mrs. Carr slip through her garden. Mrs. Daindridge steeled herself as Mrs. Carr gave her perennials a hard look.

Her perennials were slowly emerging from their winter slumber; Mrs. Daindridge was certain she was failing in some way. Likely not mulched enough or too much, or they were root bound. Mrs. Daindridge was certain she would hear about her list of gardening offenses closer to spring planting.

Mrs. Carr was known in the area as a green thumb. It was rumoured that she could resurrect plants from the dead. There was not a blight, bug, or disease that dared settle on Mrs. Carr’s garden.

Mrs. Daindridge pulled her tarts out of the oven, and filled her tea pot with hot water to let the tea steep. Shoulders slumped, eyes misty, Mrs. Carr was on the verge of tears.

Mrs. Carr knocked politely on the back door.

“Come in!” Mrs. Daindridge opened her door. Her face fell as she looked at her friend. “Oh, my dear is it as bad as all that?” Mrs. Daindridge gasped.

Mrs. Carr’s tortured eyes flicked from Mrs. Daindridge and then to the tea laid out on her table.

“It’s every bit as bad.” She sunk into the chair she sat in every Thursday.

“Here. Have a tart. They are fresh out of the oven.” Mrs. Daindridge placed the plate of tarts in front of her friend.

“I’m not so sure a tart can fix this.” Mrs. Carr moaned.

“Oh, Mrs. Carr. A tart can fix everything.” Mrs. Daindridge knew of no other solution but tea and tarts when one faced trouble.

“Cissy announced that she is no longer courting Shane Lawrence.” Mrs. Carr could barely get the words passed the fist of salty tears in her throat. Thoughts of a late autumn wedding-dashed.

“What?” Mrs. Daindridge gasped.

“Shane Lawrence is a lovely boy, perfect for her.  John and Ada Bennett are planning to help him purchase his own land so he can continue to be their hired man but also build up his own farm. He asked her to marry him.” Tears pooled in Mrs. Carr’s eyes.

Mrs. Daindridge hovered over Mrs. Carr while she composed herself and continued.

“She turned him down.” Mrs. Carr whispered. She pressed the lace napkin to her forehead.

“Did she give a reason?” Mrs. Daindridge sputtered. She poured the perfectly steeped tea into two tea cups.

“She wants to get an education.” Mrs. Carr held her hands out, palms up in supplication. As if asking her friend of twenty years to make sense of it.

“An education!”

Mousy, uninteresting, Cissy Carr is turning down the likes of Shane Lawrence to seek an education? Mrs. Daindridge was careful to think and not say.

“What sort of education?” Mrs. Daindridge asked cautiously.

“She wants to be a teacher.”

“Really.” Mrs. Daindridge shook her head. “She doesn’t have to get educated if she has a man to provide for her!”

“That’s exactly what I said! Repeatedly. Why waste your time getting an education when Shane Lawrence will provide everything she needs.” Mrs. Carr pressed her handkerchief to her mouth. “There’s more.”

Mrs. Daindridge didn’t think she could handle much more disappointment on behalf of her friend.

She waited for Mrs. Carr to elaborate.

“Mr. Carr agrees. He thinks it’s wonderful that she wants to wait on marriage. He is going to send her to school in Brandon in the fall. I will lose her to the city.” Mrs. Carr wailed into her handkerchief.

“Now, now.” Mrs. Daindridge patted her arm. You have until the fall to see if you can get her interested in someone else. What about…uh…” Mrs. Daindridge’s mind whirled for a solution to help her friend. “Matt Hartwell?”

Mrs. Carr looked up and hope gleamed in her eyes.

“Matt Hartwell?” she whispered.

“He’s going to be an architect! Imagine that. She would never have to worry about providing for herself.” Mrs. Daindridge warmed to the idea, and ran with it. “Matt Hartwell is the nicest man on two feet. He’s kind to his mother, and he’s well educated. Point Cissy in that direction!”

“Matt Hartwell is a handsome man.” Mrs. Carr tapped her finger against her lip as she thought. “Imagine if she could catch his eye.”

Mrs. Carr couldn’t resist the butter tarts another minute. She picked up the tart and bit into it.

“Yes!” Mrs. Daindridge exclaimed excitedly. “Mrs. Carr. You mark my words; I bet my tart tin that next year we will be sitting together in this kitchen, planning a wedding.”

“Do you think it’s possible?” Mrs. Carr’s fingertips inched toward the tray of tarts.

“I don’t think it, I know it.” Mrs. Daindridge said triumphantly. She handed the tray to Mrs. Carr and then took a sip of tea as if to seal the deal.

As their hearts warmed to the idea, the ladies leaned forward as they began to scheme.

“It may be advantageous to purchase a few new frocks, Mrs. Carr. Perhaps Cissy could be interested in a colour other than brown?” Mrs. Daindridge suggested gently.

How Cissy in her brown twill caught Shane Lawrence’s eye was a mystery. If Cissy is going to catch Matt Hartwell’s eye, or any eye for that matter, she’s going to need to burn every speck of brown! Mrs. Daindridge thought vehemently.

“I know what I’ll do.” Mrs. Carr rubbed her hands together in anticipation. “I will tell her that we are investing in some new clothes for school. In the mean time, I’ll make sure she has errands to run near the livery stable where Matt Hartwell puts his team away at 4:15 every day. This could work.”

“I do worry about that Min.” Mrs. Daindridge said cautiously.

“Min needs to be dragged off to a lunatic asylum.” Mrs. Carr agreed. “Matt Hartwell is too kind, that sister of his is as crazy as a loon.”

“Never mind that now.” Mrs. Daindridge dragged the conversation back to the matter at hand. Getting Cissy in something other than brown and then parading her in front of the very handsome, make- a- woman’s- heart- flutter, Matt Hartwell. “Once she turns his head, she can make short work of Min. No man would expect his wife to live with her. First things first- new clothes.”

Mrs. Carr nodded as she took another butter tart.” Mrs. Daindridge, you are brilliant.”

“Oh. I’m not so sure about that!” Mrs. Daindridge blushed with pleasure.

“You are. I never would have dreamed Cissy could turn Matt’s head, but now that you mention it, why not?” Mrs. Carr smiled at Mrs. Daindridge warmly.

Mrs. Daindridge’s stomach knotted with worry as she poured more tea and offered more tarts. She hoped with all her heart she hadn’t set her dear friend Mrs. Carr up for even more disappointment.

With each bite of tart, and each sip of tea, Mrs. Carr’s troubles floated away.

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This sketch is from the book Hope in Oakland, the first book in the Oakland series.

Purchase Hope in Oakland here

Oh- Scroll down, another short story follows this one!

Hard Work and Plain Living

river for short storyThis story is adapted from the memoirs of Annie Shanks who married Will Robson. They were my great-great grandparents and I am so fortunate to have a copy of her life story.

This is an adapted true story by : Rebekah Lee Jenkins

We were lost on the bleak Canadian prairie. Surrounded by coyotes howling and grass. Our first two weeks of marriage, we had crawled across this land first by train and now with a team and wagon. Every step forward was through heavy, prairie mud.  This land was brutal; it would take from us before it gave us anything. We came to a fork in the road and the horse pulled left and my new husband said right. He won and he lost. One misstep, one wrong turn and we wandered even further into the unrelenting darkness.  Despair started to settle in my heart.

We aren’t cut out for this. We didn’t have what it takes

My heart galloped with fear as the coyotes sounded closer. My eyes strained in the starlight.

“Will, I see a wee house there.” I grabbed Will’s forearm.

“I told you we would be fine.” I heard relief in his voice.

He didn’t see my frown in the darkness.

Shelter.

After knocking, we realized there was no one home and the door was locked.

No shelter.

The huge straw stack near the house was to be our home for the night. Will unhitched the horse and tied her to the buckboard wheel and made a hole in the straw stack and crawled in.

I crawled in beside him; one wrong turn and you could be homeless, without shelter, just like that. I felt the land was mocking me. Two weeks ago I was dressed in white lace. Now, because I dared to come here with my husband I was in homespun and sleeping in the elements.

As I settled into the straw, my mind raced over the last two weeks. Married on April 17, 1889, two days later, our settler’s effects packed in a train car. Today, May 3rd, 1889, I watched as Will signed for our claim. Once it was ours we looked at the land title like it was a brand new baby.  Section 16 Township 07 Range 23 was all ours. His eyes met mine; I saw a determination there that made my heart glow. It was a determination that matched mine. Just like countless Canadians before us, we were going to start our life together on this piece of land.

Just as our eyes met over the land title, the agent carefully tidied up his papers.

“It is my duty to advise you, Mr. Robson, the Ralley’s are still on the property. They are well aware that they are squatters on the land. According to the assessment, the house and stable is worth one hundred and sixty nine dollars. You do not have to give them a penny. I am just making sure you know what you are walking in on.”

You could have told us that before we signed.

“How do we take the claim if someone is squatting there?”

“Very simple.” The clerk said firmly. “You wait for them to vacate the premises and you enter the house and declare it as yours.”

“That’s legal?” I gasped.

This sounds like lunacy!

“Will’s name is on the title and deed. He owns it and everything on it. Perfectly legal.”

Mr. Ralley, the original owner, had been informed that his claim had been cancelled. He had only broken ten acres; he had however built a house and a sod stable.

With my heart in my throat, together we staked out at the corner of the road and watched as the Ralley’s left for the day. Will drove right up to the house. I stood beside the wagon as my new husband opened an unlocked window.

 Oh my stars!  Are we really doing this?

After Will slithered through the window, he opened the door and smiled at me. A big fearless smile. I was going to join him in the kitchen, but he held his hand up.

“Hang on Annie. Let’s do this properly.”

“Will, they could be back at any minute! I’m scared to death.”

“What can they do? I’m here and it’s my land.”

“Shoot us as intruders.” I answered gravely.

Will Robson ignored my fears and scooped me up into his arms. Even with the possibility of the Ralley’s coming home he carried me into our new home. When he set me down in the kitchen my heart hammered with fear and excitement as he leaned in for a kiss.

“Welcome home, Annie.” He smiled at me.

“Welcome home, Will.” I smiled back.

I swallowed down the fear that made my heart gallop.

Heavens!  Who would believe my husband broke into our own home through a window? Such a crude affair!

At three in the afternoon as Will chopped ice in the rain barrel and I was busy tidying the kitchen, Mr. Ralley, his three sons, his wife and a neighbor Jack Hutch came home.  I saw them pull into our yard. I wrung my hands.

What would Will do?

Will stood there, very tall and slight, with an ax in his hand as the men opened the door and entered his house.

My eyes met Will’s. He didn’t put down the ax as his eyes followed them. I watched my new husband and tried not to shake with fear.

Mrs. Ralley walked into her former home, loosened the veil around her neck, sat down in front of the stove and put her feet in the cook stove. The men looked around and moved to the stove.  I noticed Mr. Ralley’s lips thin with anger as his eyes landed on Will.

“Were you electioneering today?” Will asked politely as if we were all just meeting in the lobby of a hotel. As if he wasn’t about to evict them from this land today.

“No. I was in Brandon.” Mr. Ralley warmed his hands at the stove.

Mr. Ralley looked at Mr. Hutch. “When we left here, we locked the door.” He deliberately ignored my husband. He must have thought if he ignored him he would give up and go away.

You don’t know Will.

Will addressed Mr. Ralley. “You forgot to lock the window.”

Mr. Ralley ignored him and said to Mr. Hutch. “What do you do with a man that breaks into people’s houses?”

“Nothing can be done when a man breaks into his own home.” Will’s voice was like ice over iron.

My breath caught in my throat. Will Robson, standing in our kitchen with an axe declaring this home as his. I pressed my hand to my heart that galloped with respect and admiration instead of fear for the first time since that night we spent in the hay stack. The night that I realized how unforgiving this land was.

“Mr. Ralley, I am a fair man. I will offer you one hundred and sixty nine dollars for your house and your stable. You and I both know that not a court in the land would require me to do so. I offer it now and never again,” Will said for the benefit of Mr. Hutch.

I thought I should take that ax out of his hand and thought twice. He was still one man against two grown men and three sons.

“Not enough to buy a chicken,” grunted Mrs. Ralley. She finally pulled her feet out of the cook stove I was just starting to think of as my own.

“When you walk out the door, I won’t make that offer again.”  Will’s voice sounded as hard as the ground we would break.

That statement suddenly dawned on Mrs. Ralley. She was really being evicted from her home because the claim had been canceled.

Why hadn’t they made other plans? Why had they ignored the fact that they had to leave for a whole year?

Mr. Hutch had heard enough. He opened the front door and stood aside as Mr. Ralley and his three sons shuffled out.  It seems that when the Ralley’s couldn’t scare us off, they left. We shut the door and peeked out the window that Will had crawled through. Mr. Hutch and the Ralley’s talked a long time until finally they crawled into their carriages and drove off our land.

How vulnerable we are! Mr. Ralley hadn’t fulfilled his homestead duties so his family is homeless tonight. Sure, they’ll stay with friends but… what will happen if Will fails to complete the homestead duties… we can’t live in a hay stack in the winter!

We watched them until we couldn’t see them anymore.

I turned to Will. His knuckles were white as he held onto the ax.

Gently, I reached forward and placed my hand on his. Veins stood out on his hands and forearms. I noticed the difference between his hand and mine. His  were huge and hard, ready for work, ready to defend us.

“Do you think you can do it, Will?” I looked from his hands to his eyes. “Can you break the acres? What if we are like the Ralley’s and…”

“Annie.” The hand that didn’t hold an ax carefully brushed hair from my eyes. “I can break those acres with one hand tied behind my back. We can survive anything through hard work and plain living.”

“I don’t want to live in a haystack.” Tears stung my eyes.

“You are going to live right here, with me, for the rest of our lives. I promise.”

I believed him. I tugged the ax out of his hand.

“I wasn’t going to use it.” His eyes met mine. “I sort of forgot I had it actually.”

I moved back to look out the window.

“Will they come back do you think?”

“No.” Will joined me at the window.

I smiled as he pulled me close, reached around me and securely locked the window.

The End