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White Roses

by Cindy Calder 6 months ago in Short Story · updated 4 months ago
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Unexpected Joy

Poppy stood in the moonlight, her slender frame shivering at the unexpected cold of the late summer weather. Pulling her shawl a bit more tightly around her shoulders, she stared at the stone cottage before her, hidden from view where she stood behind the massive oak tree, its heavy branches masking her image. Her eyes filled with tears. How she longed to enter the cottage and see the people who resided therein, and how much she missed them. It had been nearly two years since she had seen her family. Still, she knew she could not go inside the cottage. No, she could never return home even though she longed to do so. Despite the fact that things were different for her now, and she had a home and a family who loved her, she could never return to her original homestead. If her mum and siblings knew the truth, for the rest of her life she would wear the shame of what she had done and the shame would carry over to her family. Poppy had done the forbidden: she had had a baby out of wedlock. It was best for her to keep her distance and that her family was none the wiser, no matter how much she missed them.

********

Poppy had left her home once her stomach had begun to swell, fearing others would notice her condition. She did not want to bring shame and embarrassment to her widowed mum, who was already struggling and working so hard as a laundry woman to secure a roof over the heads of her many children. No, it would not do for her to have stayed and broken her dear mum’s heart with the news of her pregnancy. Therefore, she had instead struck out on her own even though at the time, she did not know where she would go or to whom she would turn for help. Indeed, she had not known how or where she would live.

The year was 1884, and Poppy was only sixteen years old when she learned of her pregnancy. She knew she was not ready to be a mother, but that was not going to stop her from becoming one. She had loved a local farmer’s boy by the name of Jamie and foolishly believed all the lies he had spoken before she had lain with him. In her naiveté, she had assumed Jamie would be eager to marry her and excited about the wee one, but foolishness and shame had been hers and hers alone to claim. Jamie had scoffed, refusing to acknowledge that the baby was his. Instead, he had cruelly accused her of sleeping with many men and called her names that to this day, she would not repeat even to herself. She had wept for days and cried herself to sleep many nights before she had packed her meager belongings and left home, unsure what path lay before her. The only note that she had left her sweet mum had been, “Please don’t worry. I have a housemaid’s job in Cornwall. I will return when I able. I love you.” Of course, none of it was true beyond the fact that she did love her mum. She had no job and no place to go. The only money she had to her name were the few coins she had earned during the last two years from sewing handkerchiefs for young girls who were to be married. If she were frugal, the coins would cover about a month’s lodging and food.

It was when she’d run out of money even for the worst of lodging and the least amount of food, that she’d sat in the streets with her hand out, begging for help. It was the fourth day that she had not eaten, and she had become far too weak to ask for help from anyone who passed. Most ignored her unless they chose to stare and whisper about her to their companions. Weary and hungry, as she leaned against a building, an older woman had stopped to inquire as to her well-being. The woman had just exited the butcher’s shop and carried a small package in a basket on her arm.

“Are you unwell? Do you need help, my child?” she had asked Poppy, her voice laced with concern.

Knowing it was all too obvious that she was with child despite her thinness, Poppy had looked at the older woman, immediately thinking of her own mum, and tears had sprung unbidden, falling from her large blue eyes. She had been so strong for so long. She tried to stop, but all she could think of was her unborn child. She knew the lack of food was harming the babe she carried.

“Ah, sweet child, please don’t cry,” the woman had implored, concern clearly etched across her wrinkled face and deep within warm, green orbs. “Can you stand, dear? Here, allow me to help you.” The old woman reached out an arm in hopes of helping Poppy rise to her feet.

Slowly and painstakingly, Poppy was able to stand, cradling her small baby as she did so as she clutched the woman’s arm for support. The tears came full force as she did so and rolled down her reddened, dirty cheeks as if they had a will of their own.

“Sweet child, you mustn’t cry or it will make you sick,” she said to Poppy. “Come along, and we will get some hot food inside you. It will help you feel much better. Can you walk for a bit?”

Poppy had nodded and hobbled along beside the older woman. She still remembered that there was no judgement in the old woman’s eyes, only concern and something more that she had not been able to lay a name to at that moment. Slowly, the two had made their way on a path that led out of town and to a small cottage situated on the outskirts of the village. Poppy remembered thinking it was the most beautiful home she had ever seen, with the exception of her own, which seemed a lifetime away.

Once inside, the woman had Poppy sit down at the table while she pulled together a plate of cheese, bread, and fruit from the cupboard and then poured a very large glass of milk from a pewter pitcher.

“Daisy, my cow, gave me this fresh milk just this morning, dear. It will be good for both you and the wee one. Eat this, child, and in just a little while, I’ve have someone much better and warmer to fill your stomach.”

“I don’t know how to thank you, missus,” Poppy had murmured, shame flaming her cheeks a bright red at the realization that the woman knew she was with child as well as also hungry and homeless.

The older woman had patted Poppy’s hand. “Hush now. There is no thanks needed. The good Lord says we are here to help one another, and that is exactly what I am doing, because my dear, sweet child, you look as though you and your unborn babe are in much need of help.”

She smiled at Poppy as she spoke and patted her hand, and Poppy remembered thinking that it was the most beautiful smile she had ever witnessed despite the fact it was quite crooked. The woman’s green eyes were aglow with a light that Poppy had seen in very few people’s eyes in her short lifetime, but most especially, not very recently.

“I am simply Abigail, my dear,” the woman said. “What do they call you?”

“I am Poppy. Thank you for your kindness, Abigail.”

Poppy had been six months pregnant at the time, and Abigail was insistent that she remain with her, residing at the cozy cottage where shelter and food would not be a problem for her or her unborn child. Poppy thought there was no doubt Abigail was an angel, and she was immensely thankful the woman had offered her help when no other would. Poppy thought Abigail to be one of the kindest and sweetest souls she had ever encountered.

Abigail did not talk much about herself or ask many questions of Poppy, but while staying with her, Poppy had learned that Abigail had lost a daughter, Lucy, many years ago at the tender age of nine. She also knew that Abigail had a son, Angus, but Angus was out to sea and not expected to return home for a long while. Poppy had visions of Angus as a weathered, older gentleman since she thought Abigail must be in her late sixties.

Three months later, a sweet little squalling girl was born, and with Abigail’s permission and the greatest of respect, Poppy had named the child Lucy or Lucille Abigail. Abigail had cried as she held the precious baby the first time, remembering her own sweet child that had long since departed the earth. It had filled Poppy with so much happiness to give something back to the woman who had saved her life as well as the life of her unborn child.

Once delivered of the baby, Poppy was able to help Abigail with a great deal more, including chores and yardwork. The two women lived isolated lives since Poppy was afraid to go into the village for fear she would be ostracized or that her condition would affect the way the villagers treated Abigail. Abigail had made a point of telling everyone in the village that her widowed and expectant niece had come to live with her all the way from Scotland, but Poppy still worried that the villagers would recognize her from the earlier days when she had lived briefly at the Bawdy Bear Inn before seeking refuge on the streets.

Abigail had a fabulous garden that would soon need tending since spring was just around the corner, and Poppy could not wait to stick her hands into the warmth of the garden’s soil. She loved gardening and had often helped her mum with the garden. She was anxious to help Abigail in more ways than she had been able while she was still pregnant. Although thoughts of home would sometimes invade Poppy’s thoughts, she did not miss home nearly so much because of Lucy and Abigail. Abigail was very much a mother and a grandmother in every possible way.

One night, as Lucy lay sleeping in her cradle, the two women sat before the blazing warmth of the fire, knitting quietly. Abigail was humming contentedly as her arthritic fingers weaved the wool into a delicate pattern. Poppy was most content on evenings like this with a full stomach, the warmth of a cozy fire, and Lucy and Abigail beside her. She had never though that life would offer her so much happiness.

Abigail abruptly stopped her humming and looked up from her knitting. “You know that heaven sent you and Lucy to me, don’t you, Poppy?” she asked. “The two of you have given me so much joy.”

Poppy had stopped her knitting as well, and tears misted in her eyes with Abigail’s words. She reached out a hand and lovingly placed it atop Abigail’s’ frail, wrinkled one. “Oh, Abigail, I know that heaven sent you to me and to Lucy. Who knows where we would be without you and your kindness,” she said and smiled through her tears. “I am sure that without you, Lucy and I wouldn’t be here on this lovely night.”

Abigail’s crooked smile grew. “We are a family, my dear child, and we shall always be a family. Soon enough, Angus will return, to meet you and our precious Lucy and our little family will be complete.”

Poppy’s smile faded ever so slightly at Abigail's words. She had to wonder what Abigail’s son would think of an unwed mother and her child living with his mum. Would he throw her and her daughter out on the street again or would he be kind like his mother? She did not know, but a fear lodged deep within her heart at the question. Her experiences with men, including her own father, had not been the best from which to form an opinion about any man, so time would tell soon enough.

********

It was late June and Poppy was tending the garden as she kneeled on the ground, her face streaked with dirt and reddened from the sun despite Abigail’s straw hat that she wore. She was determined to have carrots and cabbage to go with the stew on the stove and was pulling them up from the earth when she heard a gentleman clear his voice directly behind her. Surprised, she stopped what she was doing wondering who could have approached the house so quietly.

With a bit of wariness, Poppy straightened and stood, adjusting her hat and wiping her hands on her skirt before turning around to greet the visitor. As she did so, surprise lit his face. It was obvious he had mistaken her for Abigail. The mistake was an easy one in view of the fact Poppy wore Abigail’s old dress as well as her hat.

“May I help you, sir?” Poppy asked.

“Who are you?” Concern was evident in both his voice and eyes. “Where is Abigail? Where is my mum? Is she all right?” However, the man was already heading toward the cottage and not waiting for Poppy to venture forth with an answer.

“She’s fine. Abigail is fine,” she whispered behind him as he disappeared quickly into the cottage. Evidently, Angus had finally returned. Poppy was amazed. Angus was no weathered, old man. Indeed, he could not have been more twenty-five years of age. Perhaps Abigail was not quite as old as Poppy had originally thought. She could not help but wonder if Angus would think poorly of her and want her gone now that he was home.

Steeling herself and trepidation filling her heart, Poppy slowly removed her hat and gloves before heading toward the house. As she entered through the front door, she came upon the touching scene of Angus and his mother still embracing, tears streaming down the older woman’s face as she beamed with happiness. Her son was home at last, and Poppy could see that little could have made Abigail happier.

Quietly and anxiously, Poppy waited. Eventually, Abigail and Angus parted, smiles on each other’s faces as Abigail’s hands lovingly stroked her son’s bearded face. Poppy looked down at her feet, feeling as though she was intruding on a very private moment.

From the corner of the room, nine-month old Lucy gave a squeal, demanding attention. Angus’ eyes flew wide, a new awareness in them, as his head spun in the direction of the squealing babe.

Abigail laughed and quickly headed to the cradle to pick up the child. “Angus, dear, please meet the newest addition to our family. This is Lucy,” Abigail said with as much pride as Poppy herself felt for the child.

Amazement on his face, Angus reached a large, sun-tanned hand out to touch Lucy’s little hand. He squeezed it lightly and smiled at the cooing child. Lucy giggled and broke into a large smile in response. Poppy's heart warmed at the sight.

“It’s as if she knows you, son,” Abigail said with pride. “Oh, but she’s a bright one, she is. She’ll be walking before you know it,” Abigail said.

From the doorway, Poppy uncomfortably shifted her position, and Abigail immediately turned to face her. “Oh my goodness, Angus. You have not met Lucy’s mother. This is our dear sweet, Poppy. Poppy and Lucy our family now, Angus. They have been a great help and comfort to your lonely, old mum while you have been away for so long.”

Poppy smiled timidly and nodded at Angus before she shifted her gaze to her feet again. Her heart beat so strongly in her chest that Poppy was sure everyone in the room could hear it.

Angus stared at Poppy for a long moment, and then he asked, "May I?" Poppy looked up and nodded hesitantly, unsure as to what he was asking. Angus then turned to his mother and reached to take Lucy into his arms. He walked toward Poppy until he stood before her with the cooing babe. Hesitantly, Poppy watched, surprised at the smile Angus wore as Lucy tugged on his beard.

“Thank you for helping my mum while I was away at sea,” Angus said quietly. His green eyes held a kindness that vividly reminded Poppy of Abigail’s eyes of the same hue. “I do believe your sweet little Lucy is heaven sent. Welcome to you and Lucy. Our family may be little, but we have a great deal of love to share.”

Without a doubt, Poppy realized very soon that Angus was as kind-hearted and loving as his mother. Moreover, it was only four months after his return from sea that the two of them were married in a small ceremony at the local church. It had taken very little time for the two of them to fall in love. In fact, Poppy often wondered as to whether it had truly been love at first sight for she knew she had fallen hopelessly in love with Angus’ kind heart the moment he had picked up Lucy and welcomed them to his family. Now she and Lucy were finally a part of his and Abigail’s family. Poppy wished never to leave, even though now and then, she did often think of taking the baby and heading home to see her mum. Nevertheless, she feared the risk was too great, and that she would see Jamie. If that happened too soon. Poppy’s disappearance and Lucy’s age would be too much of a coincidence and people would talk. No, she could not do that do her family. Maybe one day, much further down the road, she would be able to return home. Until then, she would write her mum to let her know she was well.

Still, despite everything, Poppy was at peace and happier than she had ever been in her short lifetime. She fully understood the importance and the gift of true love, kindness, and family. Yes, there was no doubt the sweet Lord had sent her precisely to where she was supposed to be, and she gave thanks every single morning and night for the good fortune that had come from something so unexpected and something that many would have considered unfortunate.

********

It was a fine summer evening many months later. Poppy contentedly rocked her sweet Lucy to sleep as her husband, Angus, sat before the fire and across from her, smoking his pipe as he read. His mother, Abigail, hummed as she knitted, quietly working on a sweater for Lucy. Poppy turned her gaze to the tabletop and studied the vase of lovely white summer roses in its center. They were lovely flowers and seemingly flawless. In the quiet of the evening, she could not help but think upon the path life had taken since her unexpected pregnancy with Lucy. She was suddenly keenly aware and filled with the knowledge that blessings, much like the pure, white roses, surfaced in one’s life when needed, and sometimes when least expected. Moreover, blessings came from all types of people and in all kinds of surprising ways, shapes, and forms. She would never, ever stop being thankful for all the blessings that had unexpectedly filled her heart and home, much like an overflowing abundance of pure, white roses. Indeed, Poppy knew her life now to be akin to the perfection found in the beautiful white flower, and she felt she could easily weep tears of joy for all eternity so profound was her contentment.

Short Story

About the author

Cindy Calder

From Charleston SC

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