An hour later, Marilyn sat in the sitting room, staring at the fireplace crackling in the hearth. Tears were on her face, and she made no move to wipe them away. Her life was over. One or both of her parents may storm in here at any given moment, screaming at her for the damage she had done. She didn’t care what they said, however. She had a family whose lives were ruined, and had been for some time. Remembering everything Harriet had told her three years before, Marilyn couldn’t bear her mind to focus on anywhere except how to escape this prison for good, without marrying Henry Jackson at all.
But even if she had no choice but to marry Henry, at least it would be the only escape she had.
The door opened, and Marilyn, prepared, jolted up and demanded: “I’d much rather be left alone, thank you!”
But when Henry appeared, Marilyn froze. Embarrassed and seeing he’d come alone, she spun away, swiped at her cheeks with a sniffle, and then muttered, “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you.” She gazed back at the fire, expecting the man to leave after the door closed. Yet he appeared at her side, holding out a clean white handkerchief.
Marilyn took it from him, hating herself for crying in front of a guest. But she also didn’t care. Her dreams and everything she’d ever held dear in her entire life had ended tonight. She didn’t feel loved at all except by some of the servants, and only that. What also didn’t help was not even being allowed to go into town to make friends of her own, no matter how much she longed to. She sighed and clasped her hands onto her dress in front of her, wiping at her wet nose with Henry’s handkerchief every now and then.
Clearing his throat, Henry hesitated, and then slid into the armchair which matched hers right across from her. He didn’t look at her, as if shy, and pretended to find great interest in the flames as well. They stayed like that for many moments, and Marilyn had decided to find a different hiding spot in the mansion when Henry spoke.
“My parents didn’t believe your outburst, by the way.” He cleared his throat, and then sent her an amused smile. “Your mother says that sometimes you become possessed.”
Marilyn shook her head in disgust as she thought of her mother, but set her gaze upon the floor instead of meeting his. “She likes to tell stories about me, false truths.”
“That much is obvious.” To Marilyn’s surprise, Henry sounded like he was defending her, which caused Marilyn to glance at him and study him closely.
He sat straight and tall. He was well dressed for the dinner, and was handsome with combed dark brown hair and a well-kept beard around the curve of his jaw. He had large hands with muscular arms, and sharp blue eyes that were staring straight at her.
Marilyn blushed and tore her eyes away.
“I’m proud of you.”
She glanced at him again. “Pardon me?”
“I’m proud of you,” Henry repeated. “It must have taken a lot of courage, for many years of stomaching all of that emotion, to come forward and stand up to your mother like that.”
Nobody, not even a single servant of the estate, had ever said something in respect to Marilyn. She fought against gaping at him, but her mouth itched at falling open in shock. It brought tears to her eyes as she thought about everything she’d lost, all she couldn’t have and had wanted her entire life.
Instead of letting herself begin to trust him, though, she went back to studying the fire. “You know, you could go off and be with our parents if you’d like. They’re of society like you. You probably have lots of friends who are people like our parents.”
“What, who are selfish and pity-less like yours?” Henry surprised Marilyn by chuckling, and he shook his head. “No, it’s boring out there. Anyway, I have no friends. My friends all have gone.”
Marilyn became interested. He sounded so similar. “No friends at all?” She raised her eyebrows. “That’s certainly surprising. Aren’t you of society?”
“Well, of course I am.” Henry chuckled. “My parents are, too, and they have lots of friends. The only friends I share in common with them are of the church of Christ in Morgantown where we live.” He smiled. “My parents said you go to church too.”
“Yes. It is the Brunner Church of Christ.” Marilyn smiled, although she didn’t know why. They were learning they had more and more in common, but still, why did that make her smile? She didn’t want any part of this.
And yet, the way Henry looked at her, the way his pale blue gaze thirsted for something more, she might still have a difficult time preventing herself from falling in love with him.
“So,” she continued, acting non-interested, because she wasn’t, “what other friends were you talking about in which you don’t have anymore?”
“Societal friends.” He looked at her. “Worldly friends. Basically, people who don’t attend church.”
“Ah.” Understanding, Marilyn nodded.
“I had a few friends for many, many years.” Henry shook his head in pity. “They were always there for me, you know? But soon, it felt like all they wanted to do was to be at the pubs.” He shook his head again, gazing off into space.
Marilyn nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean. They don’t understand how that kind of lifestyle living is wrong.”
“I agree.” Henry grinned over at her. “See, it’s like we’re kindred spirits, Marilyn. You can read me so well and know exactly what I’m speaking of.”
“I do.” Marilyn blushed. She didn’t want to admit, but she felt like this man truly understood her unlike anyone else, and she liked it.
As Marilyn slipped out of her bedroom early the next morning around six a.m., dressed and ready to get a head start on painting, she commanded herself that Henry must stay out of her mind. After all, it didn’t help to worry about it when she wasn’t sure how she even felt about him. He’d been kind and sweet, gentle and humorous, even handsome, but still, an arranged marriage didn’t seem what Marilyn wanted. Did she want to spend the rest of her life with a man who remained what her mother desired for her?
However, as she twisted to head downstairs to sneak some toast from the kitchen, the door of her father’s bedroom swung open, and she stopped, shocked her father had gotten up so early. He usually stayed up drinking most of the night and slept a good part of the day afterward.
But instead of her father, Marilyn got the shock of her life—Maisie the house maid popped out of his room while fastening the lace buttons of her white uniform. Her hair, instead of being pulled back into its usual bun, draped long and dark around her shoulders. Marilyn stared at Maisie, and Maisie stared right back, looking at her in a mixture of shock, fear, and desperation. Then, she disappeared, hurrying down the hallway toward her own bedroom which she shared with the house maid Charlotte.
Marilyn stared at the ajar bedroom doorway for a long moment as a mixture of emotions slammed through her body. Shock, betrayal, hurt, and worst of all, anger, shimmered down her spine as she stood there on the top stair step, frozen in place. Of course, since her parents were no longer sharing a marriage bed, instead of only separate beds in a single room, they were in separate rooms. But never, in a thousand years, would she ever have imagined her father as terrible as this.
Marilyn decided she make this better for all of them. In that instant, she spun around, and instead of going downstairs, went straight to where she came from, past her bedroom to the parlor room. Marilyn knew her mother was in there, sewing, knitting, or reading, since she always woke up early anyway.
She opened the door, and her mother glanced up from her chair by the window.
“Oh,” she said in a tone that showed her dreading her daughter’s presence. “Do you need something?”
“Mother,” Marilyn gasped, hurrying toward her and speaking fast. “Maisie has just come out of Father’s room, looking like she’d finished from…from…” She clasped a hand to her face, unable to say another word. “Mother, I’m so sorry!” She clenched her fist in dismay. “I…They were…they were…”
Mother stared at her for a long moment. Then, with a sigh and a look of pure understanding, she continued her sewing.
Marilyn frowned. “You…y-you knew?”
“Why?” Marilyn demanded. “Why would you possibly let it happen?”
Mother gazed at her. “What’s the use? Would he actually listen to a word I say? He’s a man, Marilyn.” She shook her head. “Besides, we don’t love each other.”
“I know, Mother, but…” She shook her head. “This is nonsense! Why in the world would you let this carry on like so? He’s an absolute piece of rot and so is she, and you’re going to let it slide like…it-it’s nothing?” She’d raised her voice by now, but Marilyn did not care. Her mother needed to realize every word she said.
“I know what he’s doing is wrong.” Mother shook her head. “But I’ve tried far too long and hard for many years. Maisie has a special relationship with your father, so if he’s not going to listen to me, then perhaps Maisie will listen to you and move out.”
“But it won’t solely be Maisie, Mother!” Marilyn pressed on. “He’ll sleep with the other maids, including any outside women he can take!”
“No!” Mother exclaimed. “He will not.”
“And how do you know that?” Marilyn asked. “What makes you believe anything is going to change once Maisie is gone from the estate for good?”
Mother studied her daughter for a long moment, perhaps even longer than necessary. Then, with a resigned sigh that sounded sad, she returned to her sewing. “You may need to speak with Maisie about that.”
Confused, Marilyn shook her head. “You mean Father.”
“No. I mean Maisie.” Mother stood then. “I’ll go and get her. She’ll be dressed by now. I’ll tell her you wish to speak with her. I’ll summon her right away.”
Marilyn held up a hand. “Wait. You don’t have to, Mother.”
“No, Marilyn, dear.” Mother regarded her. “You need to learn the truth.”
Before Marilyn could ask what truth her mother referred to, her mother had disappeared from the parlor.
Marilyn waited in the parlor for what seemed like a lifetime. Then, the door opened and her mother appeared, morose and fatigued. All the same, she gave a curt nod toward the hallway, which Marilyn knew quite well meant she must follow her mother or there would be words later.
She followed her mother down the long hallway, but instead of going toward their bedrooms like usual, she took the sharp corner which led to a hallway that only the staff of the estate walked – Marilyn never, ever took this way. It was such a formality – the antique, older wallpaper wasn’t replaced and re-done as often as the rest of the estate, for the precise reason that only the staff were going to see these walls. Since they did not matter as much as the rest of the house, nothing much else needed to be changed.
Still, Marilyn stayed in awe as they strode past the large, floor-to-ceiling windows, giving a brand new look to the backyard gardens that inspired her. There were other floor-to-ceiling windows in the estate, but this one had the best view of them all. Of course, she had only known all the other views her entire life, so seeing something new was a blessing.
They stopped at the end of the hallway where they ascended the narrow stairs to the fifth and final floor of the house, the part of the house where the staff slept and ate. They had their own separate, small dining room to eat their meals in, and each servant shared a room with another servant of the same gender.
Marilyn’s mother led her to the third door down, and it gaped wide open. There inside it, in front of their bunk beds, stood Maisie, whose hair now sat in her usual tight bun, and also Charlotte, both waiting.
“Charlotte, you may go about your duties,” Mother commanded as they strode inside the room, and then glanced over at Maisie, with a look where there was no mistaking the stark bitterness toward the woman. “Five minutes.”
Maisie nodded. Then, before Marilyn knew what happened, Mother and Charlotte had disappeared, closing the door behind them.
Marilyn sighed. She didn’t want it to come to this. She glanced over at Maisie, who smiled then.
“What is it that I can help you with, my dear?” she asked, as if nothing strange had happened a half hour before.
Marilyn studied the woman – Maisie’s gaze looked bright and honest. She looked as if she wanted to say something too, but some kind of fierce willpower inside of her kept her from doing so.
Deciding that they better get on with this discussion, granted that they had only five minutes, she cleared her throat in preparation. “I would like to know, please, on why you were coming out of my father’s room, looking as if you had…” She drew in a slow breath. “…as if you had finished getting dressed in his room.” She held her head high, observing Maisie straight in the face.
Maisie took a deep breath, her smile fading. “You know the answer to that question, miss.”
Marilyn frowned. “But…why? Why would you…why…” She shook her head, searching the woman’s face for some kind of possible answer.
Maisie stiffened, and then she acted like she was forcing herself to loosen her body. She smiled again, although with sadness. “As you know, my dear, your father can be a violent man. He…” She blinked hard at the floor, and then back up at her face. “If he’d been drunk and if I’d resisted him when he was drunk, miss, he might have harmed me.”
“Was he drunk?” Marilyn asked.
Maisie dropped her gaze, sighing. “No….”
Marilyn shook her head. “Tell me, Maisie, please. Tell me the truth.”
Maisie glanced back at her – and when she did, her eyes had welled up with tears. “He came to me and brought me to his bedroom….with passion.” She did not appear embarrassed. “We meet up together whenever he wishes. When we do, he is never drunk. Lately, it’s not been no more than every few weeks or maybe once a month.” Then, tears falling onto the softness of her weathered cheeks, she smiled. “Marilyn, dear…I am your birth mother.”
Shock came over Marilyn. She stood there, a mixture of confusion and frustration, and then snapped at her: “You’ve got it wrong. My mother bore me – she didn’t want me, of course – but –”
“Harriet told you that, didn’t she?” Maisie nodded, answering her own question. She shook her head. “It’s a shame, it really is. I really do feel for our mistress, being so hated by the master and yet, needing to find a suitable heir for the estate.” She shook her head again.
Marilyn frowned, feeling stuck between two places – whether to run from the room or whether to yell at the woman some more. Instead, however, she decided she may be better off not obeying her mother’s insistence.
“Do you mean to tell me,” she pressed on, “that I am your daughter?”
“Yes,” Maisie whispered, more tears rolling down her cheeks, biting back a smile.
“And my father,” Marilyn continued, “never loved my…’adopted’ mother after all?”
Maisie sat down on the bottom bed of the bunks, clasping her hands on her lap. “They were never in love, ever. It is true your father’s mother had passed away, but it had not hit him that hard.”
“So…Harriet lied to me?” That seemed hard to believe. After all, Harriet had been one of the most trustworthy servants around.
“Harriet had always had a special place in her heart for Zelda.” Maisie glanced over at her then, looking like she might regret the words she said next. “She felt sorry for her, for sometimes being hit by your father, that is, and developed a love toward her which never really disappeared. Your father and I were…are…very much in love. And then…” She sighed, clutching her hands over her uniform. “Then your mother came along, and cast it all away.”
“What do you mean?” There seemed something strange about this story that didn’t make any sense.
“When your mother came to us, she seemed nice at first, wanting a good, hard-working career as a maid. But then—”
“Wait a minute!” Marilyn cut her off. “Are you meaning to tell me my parents were never married?”
Confused, Maisie frowned. “You mean…you never knew…?”
“Never knew what?” she demanded, perhaps more cruel than deemed necessary. But as soon as those words popped out of her mouth, she identified the truth. And the longer she stared into Maisie’s face, the more she realized it, even as Maisie said it.
“Your father and I are married…” Maisie pierced her with her gentle eyes. “Your father and your adopted mother, Zelda…never were. When your father was drunk out of anger and bitter hatred toward your mother, combined with the stark fact that there had to be a ‘normal’ heir, an heir where both parents came from a wealthy background, he soon changed into quite a different man. This was according to the strict commands of Wesley’s parents. Doing otherwise would damage the entire family from wealth, good fortune, not to mention a good name, forever.”
Maisie sighed, and began to speak in a sad voice. “I came from a poor family, so of course the marriage would’ve been highly looked down upon with your father’s parents. We were buried deep with debt from the time we’d married, because your father could barely afford this home.” She swallowed hard. “I’d suggested selling it many a time, but your father’s understanding fear was that his family would notice and be concerned, and also disown all of us. We were madly in love. Your father had done everything for me, taking me on romantic walks, wanting to be with me. The perfect life. I lived every day as if in a brilliant trance. Marrying a poor girl had been forbidden, however your father felt much too in love with me to care. In fear of mentioning my poor background to his parents, we decided he would have to hire a maid with a well-off background, and turn the tables.
“So we did. We hired Zelda as a maid. We hadn’t ever told her our plans, either. Things had only happened. Within a few short months, along with your father’s mother’s death to destroy him even more, Zelda had somehow learned the truth about it all. You were two years old at the time. I had no choice but to let you go, to let the wretched woman – I mean, Zelda, of course – raise you like her own and proclaim throughout the whole world that you were her biological daughter. I remained in the shadows, coming to your father at night only when he needed me. And every time we met together, he never let himself become drunk. But years and years of a mixture of guilt, shame, and resentment had eaten at your poor father’s heart.” Maisie swiped at her nose, and sniffled. “So the times when he drank the most, he found himself in despair, which explained why he hit Zelda sometimes in the beginning. But of course, not anymore. He still gets drunk, but is no longer violent.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “We did it for you, do you understand?” she whispered, speaking more toward herself than Marilyn. “We did it for you, your happiness, and your wealth. We did it so you could have a beautiful future. That is how much your father and I truly do love you.” She looked up. “He’s done plenty of terrible things in the past, including the few times of hitting you as a child when drunk. But I know from the bottom of my heart that he regretted every slap, every curse every time the alcohol wasted out of his poor body.” She shivered, as if she was cold.
Shock coursed through Marilyn in trembling waves. She stared at Maisie, unable to believe and impossible to not think about everything that had happened between them.
Maisie stood, swiping at the tears still on her cheeks. “That is why your father refuses the mistress to fire me. However, I am happy to be here and to be a part of this estate, to be a faithful maid every day in Zelda’s place.”
Footsteps sounded behind them in the hallway, and still Marilyn continued gazing into her birth mother’s face, recognizing herself in the older woman standing before her.
“Now you know the truth.” Maisie nodded, as if going back to her old, obedient maid platform.
The door squeaked open then, and Marilyn turned.
Charlotte stood in the doorway, taken aback, like she couldn’t believe they were still in the room talking.
“Miss,” she said to Marilyn in a voice that donned great respect, “your mother wishes to speak with you in the parlor.”
Marilyn stared at Charlotte, longer than probably necessary, for Charlotte then asked: “Miss? Are you all right?”
“Tell her I would not like to see her at the moment, Charlotte.” Marilyn turned. “And tell her I’ll be in the gardens for a long time.” In a quieter voice, she added: “Have Ben grab me a horse from the stables right away. No telling anyone.”
“Yes, miss,” Charlotte agreed, and then left, hurrying down the hallway.
Marilyn glanced back at her birth mother, Maisie, and she swallowed hard.
“I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of this,” she whispered in a choked voice, and then fled.