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And Witches' Children
There are times when the midsummer sun strikes cold, and when the leaping flames of a hearthfire give no heat. Times when the chill within us comes not from fears we know, but from fears unknown—and forever unknowable.
But on that sunny June afternoon when Jane and I first arrived at her grandmother's house in Lynn, my greatest fear was that I should be overcome by loneliness and boredom before the summer was done. The year was 1912, I was just eighteen, and the thought of leaving Martin Driscoll and being cooped up for the shining vacation months with elderly and quite awe-inspiring Mrs. Canfield, with the almost equally elderly, if more friendly, maid, Katie, and with my niece, nine-year-old Jane Canfield, was less than appealing.
Jane had been orphaned the year before when her mother, my elder sister Charlotte, and her father, Mrs. Canfield's son John, were killed. They had been driving their quiet old horse hitched to the buggy, for even though many people have automobiles now, Charlotte still liked the gentle pace of horse travel better than the dust and noise of motor cars. No one has ever been able to understand what the horse shied at, what frightened him so that he must have reared and turned, tipping the buggy and throwing Charlotte so hard against a great tree trunk that she died instantly. John, grasping the reins and striving to control the animal, was dragged quite horribly for some distance. No one saw it happen, and John never regained consciousness, so the cause of the accident has always been a mystery.
My mother and father, Martha and Charles Amory, tookJane, and gave her warmth and love and security, but Jane was still unnaturally withdrawn. She was bright and well-mannered and sweet, but she rarely laughed and I never saw her really play. She read, or sketched—she was quite gifted with her pencil—or just sat dreaming into space. I was very fond of Jane, and I tried to interest her in other things, such as the dolls Charlotte and I used to play with, or my bicycle, or any of the other oddments that remained around the house, but nothing roused more than a polite interest.
When Lydia Canfield wrote Mother, suggesting that Jane spend the summer with her, it was felt the change might do her good—take her out of herself a bit. I backed the idea enthusiastically until I learned that Mrs. Canfield seemed reluctant to assume the care of the child, even with Katie's help, and had suggested that I accompany her.
"But why me?" I wailed to Mother. "Jane's not a baby. She can look out for herself."
"Yes, I'm sure she can," Mother agreed. "But Lydia Canfield isn't used to young children and I certainly don't want her to spend the summer fretting. You could do a great many things for Jane that her grandmother might not know how to do."
"But Mother! Martin and I have a million plans for this summer! He's going to read Shakespeare out loud to me, and I'm going to teach him to play tennis. Besides, what could I do for Jane?"
"Braid her hair, and—"
"I don't see why I should give up a whole summer with Martin just to braid Jane's hair! He'll be going to college in September and I won't have seen him at all!"
"Louisa, you have seen enough of Martin Driscoll during the past six months to last for the next six years!"
"You don't like Martin. I know you don't."
"I don't dislike him. He's a perfectly nice boy. But it wouldn't do you any harm to meet some other young men."
"I'm not very likely to meet anyone locked up in that gloomy old cave in Lynn!"
But I knew it was a losing battle. Charlotte and I were raised in the school of strict obedience and when we were told, or even asked, to do something, we did it.
"It's going to be absolutely awful!" I muttered, "Martin will forget all about me and I won't meet another living soul and I'll probably end up an old maid!"
Mother laughed and hugged me. "That's extremely unlikely," she said. "And just remember, darling, if you and Jane are both miserable we can always cut the visit short."
How many times later I looked back, remembering those words. If I had forced myself to leave, if I had gone home and taken Jane with me, if we had "cut the visit short," would things have been different? Or would that last rainy night always have been waiting somewhere to happen? But at the time all I knew was that we were thirty miles from home, embarked on a summer which, while it might not be truly dismal, certainly promised no great diversion.
However, it always seems to me easier to be happy than unhappy, and since there I was, and there I was going to stay, it was only intelligent to find whatever pleasant aspects there might be in the months ahead. There would, for example, be letters from Martin, and these I looked forward to eagerly. The last evening, when he had come to say good-bye, we had sat in the porch hammock, his arm around my waist and my head on his shoulder, and he had promised to write every day.
"And you must only read the letters when you are alone, Louisa. When you can't be interrupted. Because I shall be writing my deepest thoughts, and you must read them just as you listen to me now. With your whole attention."
My eyes had misted as I promised. Martin's deepest thoughts were very beautiful.
"And you will write to me every day, Louisa?"
"Well, I'll try, Martin. But I may be busy sometimes—looking out for Jane, and everything. I may not be able to write every day." Somehow I could not bring myself to admit that I detested writing letters, and that they always came out sounding stiff and stupid.Jane-Emily
And Witches' Children. Copyright � by Patricia Clapp. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.