Due to the fact that Part 2 of my book series will not be published, every week I will be posting two chapters of the book until its completion. Enjoy! 🙂
The town of Brunner, England was not much to be entertained. Instead, it became a pathetic municipality, one in which Marilyn James rarely partook of, since she spent most time at her family’s estate where Mother wanted her. Although its surrounding mountainous landscapes were breathtaking, it was a deception, a never-ending trap where nightmares grew even scarier by the night.
As a child, she had loved gazing out the window as she held a cold cloth to the latest bruise her father had placed upon her, but studying the stars and the moon. A few times she’d been lucky enough to see the northern lights. Watching God’s creation perform such beautiful art upon the sky had been magnificent to watch. It kept her awake at night sometimes, but if she her parents fought, it couldn’t be helped. Her parents were very wealthy. They lived in a gigantic manor, although not one servant said a word outside the house about the horrors that grew from within.
The nightmares had begun when her mother had been pregnant with Marilyn. One day, tormented with the grief over his mother’s death, which he’d read in a letter that day, Father had gone off into town, only to return enraged and drunk. He’d been loud enough to wake all of the servants—and scared them too as soon as they’d comprehended the depth of his violence, throwing furniture and also scaring his wife and daughter.
Curious, small Marilyn had come out of her room to see what was bothering Father. Father spun from his vomit on the floor toward her tiny footsteps, remembered how he and his wife had never planned for children,
of the difficult time his wife had during childbirth with her and how she’d
almost died. He’d remembered a lot of things about his past, including about
his dear mother and how he missed her so.
Then, he’d twisted toward her and swung a giant fist. Hours later, Marilyn had awaken in her bedroom, a maid by her side, coaxing her to sleep and comforting her with lullabies.
These beatings had happened only a few times. But because of them, whatever relationship her and Mother had had vanished sometime after the first punch, the first curse word beneath his breath, and his first threat of how he’d wished his own daughter had been born dead.
As Marilyn grew up, walking through the front gardens of her parents’ estate, she sometimes wished she had been born dead. Maybe then her life would feel as if it truly mattered. Although her father had stopped drinking sometime around her adolescent years, only because his doctors had warned him about his health, she still could not love him. After every trip into big cities, he came home bearing a gift for his timid daughter who never came downstairs when he was home, no matter how her mother demanded that she join them.
Why should she when being around a family she showed absolute no care for?
After countless educational studies with her governess, Marilyn had daydreamed and planned of one day leaving the estate and never coming back. She’d imagined changing her name and becoming invisible to the world. What kept her back would become the fear of her family’s reaction once they found her missing.
If that happened, what would her father do? Would he beat her until she remained injured for months?
Her mother never cared for her. So how could she ever help her?
As for Marilyn, she preferred reading, such as the Bible, which was first in her list of books. She also enjoyed painting canvases, walking, and finding her own adventures. She went alone, because the servants, her only friends at home, were forbidden to escape the premises unless to do work. She rather enjoyed it. She was her own best friend, and during one of these outings, she found a church, and had learned the truth of the Gospel. She’d gotten baptized for the forgiveness of sins at the rural church of Christ afterward, against her parents’ wishes.
She drew sketches and painted pictures of the land surrounding her and how it benefited her. She respected God’s beauty for its true and welcoming nature, and also slid herself into the exciting pages of her latest book from the estate’s library. The only other thing that made her most afraid, aside from her parents discovering her gone if she ran away from home, was the curious question of Marilyn’s future. Mother planned for her daughter to marry—not by love, of course, which had been her misfortune—but through an arranged marriage. Soon, Marilyn reminded herself with a sigh as she sat beneath the shade of the estate’s gazebo, her favorite place in all the estate, she would be in an arranged marriage she did not want whatsoever.
Among the dinner parties Mother forced her to attend with her, Marilyn either read or stared outside the window in longing, trying to ignore the excited talk her mother had about marrying off her only daughter.
“What about Henry Jackson?” one woman had mentioned one evening in the parlor of one of these parties. “I hear he’s quite the ladies’ man. He comes from a wealthy and respectable family, as well as that he is quite good-looking. What a perfect man to fire up sweet Marilyn’s timidity.”
At hearing this, Marilyn glanced at Mother expectantly, who peered over at her and crooked an eyebrow. “I’ll say, let’s invite him and his family to dinner one night this week.”
“Lovely,” Marilyn whispered, pretending to look impressed in front of the ladies, but once they turned away to their tea, she shot her mother with a glare.
Mother only smiled back. She did not care about her daughter’s opinions. Marilyn would be out of the house within the year and that would be it.
That night, Marilyn cried herself to sleep. She didn’t want to marry a man she didn’t even know. After reading books of lovestruck couples throughout the years, she’d decided she’d only ever marry for love. It had not mattered that Mother had called him a “good Christian man” on the carriage ride home, not that she had read the Bible to know what being a Christian meant. An arranged marriage didn’t include being married for love. Love had nothing to do with an arranged marriage. She didn’t want to live a simple licensed life where she shared a mansion and a bed with someone who cared for her as little as she cared for him.
But her hands were helpless in this situation. No matter how hard she could fight her mother or how hard she prayed to the Lord, in her mother’s eyes, it needed to happen. She had no choice, but to be stuck in this arranged marriage with Henry Jackson.
As tears hit her pillow, Marilyn distinguished this as the first night in a long time where she desired to die more than anything. Her whole life had been a nightmare. Except on her adventurous walks and reads away from the house, along with all of her prayers to God, Marilyn had never known true peace. The maids’ kindness didn’t seem good enough. She needed simple compassion, true love, a committed relationship and bond she’d never known before, where she would be cherished and truly cared for forever. In an arranged marriage, there was a great possibility of her husband being with other women aside from her.
Did she want to live a life of misery?
Marilyn realized she had no choice. Henry Jackson and his parents would be at the dinner the following evening, a meal that only began one of the many arranged events ahead. She had to participate in this dreaded wedding as well. She had no way out. She could beg and plead her mother. She could even run away from home.
But in the end, pain and hurt would always find her, would peer back at her through the mirror. All Marilyn had ever known was pain, and if this arranged marriage ended up as lost as her own parents’ marriage, then she would no doubt be miserable for the rest of her life.
The following evening during dinner, Marilyn picked at her vegetables on her plate, trying to ignore her parents’ casual conversation with Henry Jackson’s parents. She avoided the fact that Henry had been staring at her throughout the meal—the long and tiring meal of appetizers, salads, entrees, and desserts. She couldn’t look him straight in the eye, and she did not want to, either. She didn’t want to see her future husband as a stranger.
Marilyn couldn’t stop looking at her parents, however. She might be rude—in her mother’s opinion—for staring—at them, instead of the guests, where it might be understandable to stare at them. But her mother and father were not being themselves. They never were when they had guests, which was rare. They acted as if they had no family troubles, no quarrels, no anger, and she despised every part of it.
She could remember a day when the family fights and quarrels had been quite enough. Having endured a sleepless night of hearing it, a three-years younger Marilyn sat in her usual spot inside the garden gazebo. Its white canopy enveloped over her in safety, and she felt secure, but yet perplexed upon the horrors at home. Why did Mother and Father have to curse each other and fight so much? What were they even arguing about? It seemed like any small discussion nowadays brought either her mother or her father to give out one cross, unkind word toward the other, and then, a battle erupted.
Confused on this early afternoon of cloudiness and desperate frustration, instead of bringing herself to paint her canvas, Marilyn sank in her seat, mulling over these terrible events in her life. Then, Harriet Milberg, the oldest maid of the estate, came over at the clothesline which sat next to the gazebo, along with Maisie Carter, another house maid who was in her forties. However, Maisie was still beautiful. She’d always been the quietest servant the estate had, never speaking unless spoken to. The other maid, Charlotte Kennedy, Harriet, the cooks, butler, and the rest of the servants were quite outgoing. However, Maisie didn’t said a word to anyone in the estate. If she did, there were few words said.
Harriet and Maisie both heaved down two big baskets of laundry, and greeted poor Marilyn with an understanding smile as Harriet began taking out and hanging up each article of clothing, one by one. Maisie, on the other hand, in charge of washing the rest of the laundry, smiled over at Marilyn before heading back toward the house.
Harriet, the poor old woman, would be dead from a heart attack a year and a half later. But she was a frail, older woman. She had, however, been with the family longer than Marilyn had been alive. She’d been the first help Mother and Father had hired once they’d settled into the estate, however Marilyn did not discover any of this until that day.
They didn’t speak for a long moment—Marilyn, staring at her blank canvas, pondering both her family life and what to paint in general today—and Harriet, gradually slowing down at hanging up the clothes.
“I know you’re sad about last night, my child,” Harriet said then, after a wary glance toward the estate’s huge mansion. She hung up clothes a lot slower this time, as if intending to say quite a few things by doing so, and if she didn’t work, Marilyn’s mother might see from one of the windows and have a fit.
“What makes you say that?” Marilyn smiled, glancing up at Harriet. Her sixteen-year old self had still been stubborn then, now and again playing mischief with the maids and manservants, and then paying for it later. Not like her mother noticed how she sat down at the gazebo anyway. The gazebo sat under a big oak tree in the center of the estate, causing Marilyn to be hidden from the big house’s tormenting view.
“All of us witnessed it as well.” Harriet shook her head with dismay. “It’s an utter shame, I tell you, and such a huge disappointment. I used to tell the girls—the other maids, that is—about how my heart was crushed after all of this first happened when your folks were mere newlyweds.”
“You were there when they were first married?” Marilyn asked, shocked. Of everything she understood about the hired help, she’d never imagined that any of them would even dare to be there in the way beginning.
“Why, of course, my dear.” Harriet paused from her work, and tossed her a wink. “I knew both of them when they were cordial to us hired help. I was the first to be hired before everyone else came along.”
Marilyn raised her eyebrows, set down her paintbrush, and then grinned. “Really! Do tell more.”
Finally, as if unable to hold it back any longer but with a wary look over her shoulder now and then, Harriet told the long version of the story of how she came to live at the estate. The first day Wesley and Zelda James strode through their brand new home, arm in arm, all smiles, Harriet greeted them at the door first. Zelda hurried over to Harriet, grabbed her arms, and hugged her, proclaiming over and over her excitement to have a maid in their first home, to have someone to be there in the big lonely mansion aside from the two of them. This proclamation had caused Wesley to chuckle, waving a hand and saying: “How could it be lonely when there’s so much love in the house?”
Harriet expressed their happy first year of marriage, how they would go on romantic walks together or even picnics. She admitted with a blush how she’d sometimes stop her cleaning, along with the other maids who were new at the time, to watch them. She fell in love with the beauty of their friendship, their love, the way Wesley touched Zelda’s cheek with such gentleness and true love, rarest that could ever be found, and how tenderly he kissed her. How they had gazed at each other had been both rare and true in every aspect except one. Harriet admitted in a ginger voice of how sad this relationship was that it could not carry true love now. If it ever did, both people may have had the strength to endure what occurred next.
A telegram came to the estate one morning. Harriet remembered bringing it to Wesley, and she remembered this moment as the last time she would see Wesley James so happy, at peace, and contrite. If Harriet had known the words within that telegram, she would’ve never given it to him, for it would be the single thing that destroyed him. Harriet remembered walking upstairs as he opened it, but once she’d gotten to the top, a loud, piercing wail echoed over the walls of the estate, and she’d froze.
The “No!” had escaped from Wesley’s lips as he’d crumbled to the floor of his office, and where both Harriet and Zelda found him. Zelda rushed to his side, demanding what happened, but he’d been curled up on the floor like a child, wailing like a baby. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and Harriet’s heart had stopped, her own emotions coming over her. After tugging the wretched telegram from her husband’s grip, Zelda read it and then read it over again, her lips moving without sound.
Wesley’s parents, Cuthbert and Isabella James, had both died in a shipwreck only days before. All of the family’s fortune would now go to their only child, but Wesley had not cared about a single cent. He hadn’t cared for his workaholic father in whom he’d seldom seen growing up. It hadn’t been until his father retired that the man had apprehended how he’d been a terrible father, but Wesley’s dear mother had forgiven her husband the same. Knowing this terrible news, Wesley did not care that his own father’s death. His grief continued on the loss of his mother. His mother had been his dearest friend growing up, his only love before Zelda had come into his life, and his truest companion.
Isabella had been an actress and a storyteller in England growing up, after being an orphan on the streets. The only way she could find herself and create her own life was to act, sing, and tell stories. Her fame rose in London; everyone watching her had loved her, but not as much as Wesley had. He’d even promised her that he and Zelda would visit her every year, or however often they could, as long as he and his mother shared and maintained the same strong bond.
Zelda had not cared for Isabella as much as Wesley. She’d loved her in-laws, but she’d seen Isabella as a mother’s hovering way of trying to protect her one and only baby. Out of jealousy, Zelda had, without Wesley’s notice, shielded him from loving his own mother far more than his own wife. Maybe, Harriet reckoned, Wesley had known about his wife’s jealousy for his and his mother’s relationship, and assumed Zelda didn’t understand. Perhaps these things had caused the horrors at home. But whatever the case, Wesley had locked away any chosen happiness in the deep chambers of darkness that had taken over his heart.
Harriet remembered waking up in the middle of the night mere weeks after Wesley’s parents’ deaths, hearing Zelda going into her husband’s office and pleading with him to come to bed with her. The more he refused, the angrier he became. He became even more livid the more Zelda went into his office every evening and asked him the same question. Soon she would stop coming to ask altogether, and Harriet had pitied her and the rot their marriage had developed. He shouldn’t have let his grief affect him that way, and yet, the loss of a loved one made some people act bizarre.
For months, Wesley sat hidden in his office, appearing only for the evening meals. Zelda would be so overjoyed to see him, she rushed over to him and shower kisses and hugs upon him, but he pushed her away and chastened her for coming near him in the first place. One time he even snapped at the servants for eavesdropping. Zelda would ask Wesley why he was so sad, and remind him the importance of how he needed to move on, and attempted to comfort him, but all to no avail.
Until one night, Harriet and all the other servants awoke to hear loud commotion from inside the master and mistress’s bedroom upstairs. Wesley had decided to return to his and Zelda’s bedroom—but not with happiness. Harriet still cringed at remembering the pleas, the screams coming from Zelda’s lungs, and then Wesley’s furious replies. He beat her a lot that night, so much so that by the time the servants found her the next morning, she was near death, shaking, and terrified of her husband.
Harriet remarked that poor Zelda had fallen out of love with her husband that night. Later, Harriet learned that Zelda had been two months pregnant with Marilyn while enduring this beating.
All the grief Wesley carried had built up into his body so much that he found Zelda as an easy target, a woman who’d been jealous of his and his mother’s relationship. He’d started drinking too, and the more he drank, the angrier he became. No abuse had been as bad as the first night, due in part to Zelda beginning to fight back. Soon the abuse they had toward each other became not only physical, but also verbal and emotional. It turned into a regular event, and it occurred so often that Marilyn’s mind got used to the fighting, and she found sleep with ease anyway.
Harriet stopped then, and said: “My dear, I know why your mother treats you with cruelty,” and after hearing everything she had so far, Marilyn understood now as well.
The night that Zelda went into labor with Marilyn, she begged for the doctor to take Marilyn away and bury her alive once she’d been delivered. These had been very difficult words to hear, however Marilyn had also assumed all of these things. Zelda had wanted to be a mother before the abuse. However, afterward, having a child meant more torture than Zelda wanted to be faced with. She then changed her mind, did not want to have the responsibility being a mother brought, not even of naming her own daughter. She hated her labor pains, and it worsened so much that it took days before Harriet could convince Zelda how she needed to nurse Marilyn, in whom Harriet had named Marilyn Elizabeth James. After knowing all about Wesley’s past and why he’d become such a different person, Harriet still couldn’t stop respecting him. She didn’t like how he treated his wife and daughter or the fact that he drank and had turned his life around. But for who he had once been, she did admire that.
By this time, Harriet finished with hanging up the clothes, and Marilyn couldn’t help but tell her thank you for telling the truth about her parents. Now she understood why her mother despised her so. She also understood why her father had sometimes hit her as a child.
Now, as Marilyn studied her father’s face, cordial with these guests and pretending he was a happily married father, she couldn’t help but pity him after feeling such large resentment toward both him and Mother all of these years. She couldn’t bring herself to feel sorry for her mother, however, no matter how hard she tried.
Sometime after Harriet had passed on, Marilyn found Mother in the kitchen ordering the cooks around. When she’d glanced up to see her daughter standing in the doorway, she didn’t say anything for a long moment.
Then, she’d demanded: “Well?”
“Mother…” Marilyn had sighed. “I wanted to let you know I’m truly sorry that you’re so unhappy. I wish I had been there to make things right for you.”
Her mother had seemed surprised at first. Marilyn had surprised herself for her boldness in saying such words. Courage had never been her strongest suit.
But Mother had closed off any emotion on her face, and had said in a clipped tone: “No. You do not.” Then, she’d left the kitchen, causing Marilyn to wonder what her mother had meant.
Marilyn imagined herself within her mother’s shoes. Here sat Zelda at this dinner table across from her husband and feeling such wrath for the man at the same time. There they were, making pleasant conversation with perfect strangers to get rid of their only daughter to a strange man, and their only child a grown woman in whom Zelda had never loved or ever even wanted to love in the first place.
As Marilyn stared at her half-empty plate in wild shock at all of the torment and terrible things going on around her and from this terrible family, she decided she’d had enough. For the first time in her life, she did not want to stay strong and force her way through another disaster in silence. Despite the fact that she felt Henry’s curious gaze on her, she did not care about being impolite or the fact that she may create the worst scene imaginable.
The tables needed to be turned to try to show her parents the kind of woman she had become.
“….we very much look forward to seeing your son’s cottage some time.” Mother’s voice sounded cheery, and she glanced at her daughter, as if noticing for the first time that her daughter hadn’t been listening for the entire meal. “Aren’t we, Marilyn, dear?”
Marilyn glowered at her mother’s face. Every pair of eyes locked on her in happy curiosity of whatever she might’ve said.
But nobody expected what happened next.
Standing up, she threw her napkin on the table, and beheld her mother’s shocked gaze. “No! No! Absolutely not! Mother, I refuse to marry this man and be a part of an extravaganza that’s wrong, the kind that brought you and Father to such an unhappy state, the one thing tearing apart each and every day! Father ruined all of our lives for good because of his drunkenness and mistaken jealousy his pathetic wife had felt—”
“Marilyn!” Mother exclaimed in surprise, but Marilyn hadn’t finished.
“I refuse to marry a man who doesn’t love me because I do not love him, having just met him, and I no longer want to play a role in the misery you and Father have created within this family! I’m finished! Do you hear me? I no longer want to be under your command!” She coughed an “excuse me” and as she disappeared from the room, Marilyn noted something funny.
All of the servants standing in obedience against the dining room wall wore pleased smiles on their faces as she left.