How could such a small thing create so much distress? A mere three weeks since she buried her husband, this is what remained of her marriage, Mary thought, holding the slender envelope in her hand.
Mrs. James Doran, written in a flowing script; the black ink elegantly inscribed the letters on the neatly folded paper. The postman had delivered the note earlier that morrning, and now she held the letter tentatively in her hand; its texture, smooth and cool. Sitting
alone at her writing desk, Mary’s eyes glanced at her collection of portraits. Jimmy was none too happy to bother with such things. To prepare all five little ones ready and keep them still had drawn all her energy, but she had insisted – thankfully. The photograph was one of the few the family had taken together. Mary slid the drawer towards her and retrieved her letter opener.
Her hands trembled as she slid the implement into the gap and ripped the envelope open. She read the note, and was reminded of her expanded obligations. The words revealed a polite message, as expected, but looking at the plainly stated request caused Mary to shiver, shedding her cocoon of safety. Soon her precise circumstance would be clear.
Dear Mrs. Doran
We offer our sincere condolences on the death of your husband, James Joseph Doran. A dutiful servant to her Majesty, Queen Victoria, our government is indebted to his service.
I would be pleased to meet with you this afternoon at 3:00 to discuss the concerns you have about the ongoing pension entitlement and any other matters you may wish to review.
Yours very truly,
Mary folded the note and gazed up from the desk. Over the last few weeks she had occupied her days tending to the emotions of her children. Kathleen, her eldest, would be eighteen in just a few months. Mary thought back to when she was just that age. She remembered the thrill of her pending independence as she had prepared to marry Jimmy. She grimaced slightly as she thought back to how quickly reality set in and her entire world turned on end.
Kathie now looked out upon the landscape of her own future with determination to embrace all possibilities. Mary relied on Kathie for her calm resolve. She was a good student, and would soon complete her studies to become a teacher.
Maggie was also home. She returned early from her school term when news of her father’s decline reached her. His death affected her deeply. She felt a deep attachment to her father, and tried throughout her life to please him. Towards the end of his life, she was one of the few who could still elicit that wonderful grin from behind his mask of repentance. Maggie’s moods demonstrated a deep contemplative and serious style. Her fifteen years could not shield her from the impact of such a profound event, and a protective armour rose around her like the layering of bricks and mortar to build a well-fortified wall. She had matured so much in these last few weeks. She had to.
May, barely twelve, was fully angry, and protested her father abandoned her. She didn’t like that her sisters had so much more time with him. She lashed out at her younger siblings, scolding them for their propensity to simply carry on with their play.
Mary worried the most about her son, Jimmy. Eight years old is no time for a boy to lose his father. Boys need structure and discipline in life to learn how to conduct themselves and get on in the world. Her son, a sensitive lad, withdrew into his own world, feeling alone and ill-prepared to be the man of the house. Once again, he seemed to be letting his father down. Of course, Mary had no expectation her son would be the man of the house, but the words a father shares for the last time echo in one’s soul for eternity. Mary tried to help her son, but she too could not fully understand why God had decided her husband’s life was complete at such a young age.
Norah, the youngest, seemed unaffected, at least for the moment. She went about her day with childlike delight desperately annoying her siblings as she begged them to play with her. The ayah became her closest companion. She ensured Norah was well fed, and wrapped her in loving arms as the others behaved so strangely around her.
Mary heard the soft knock behind her. “Ma, may we speak with you?” Kathie spoke, her sister Maggie tucked in behind her shoulder.
“Of course,” replied Mary. “What is it?”
The girls knew their mother was still saddened and somewhat overwhelmed. “We’ve come to ask if you have decided what we are to do.” Maggie said.
“No decisions yet, girls,” said their mother. “I will consider our options once I have met with the camp commander. He invited me to meet with him,” Mary waved the note, stirring the air around her face.
Kathie added, “I am ever so glad we stayed here in Poona, Mama. I like it so much. My training is almost complete. I shall soon have a teaching position. The income won’t be much in the beginning, but you could have whatever I do earn.”
“I would like to help too,” Maggie said, hopefully, looking at her mother.
“Maggie, you will do no such thing. Your full-time occupation is to complete your schooling, and do a first-rate job at that.” Mary said. “There are still many things to consider. Let’s leave it at that for the moment.”
Changing her tone, Mary said, “while I am out, why don’t you girls take the children to the market to get some small things for our Christmas celebration?”
Maggie perked up at the thought of an outing, and Kathie responded, “perhaps that would cheer them.”
After the girls left, Mary set about writing a quick note to the camp commander. She decided she would make a stop to visit Father Belez on her way home. Mary needed to consider all her options. She fully anticipated the commander would confirm her fears, and she may have to find some way to augment her family income. In the past she had often used her nursing experience and midwifery skills to tend to the care of others. Perhaps there would be some way they could make ends meet. She made up her mind to enquire about that possibility. Perhaps they would have ideas on how she could do just that.