[Eleanor]: 668.Amelia.Chapter XVII

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2011-08-27 14:07:13

One morning as they made ready to depart from the most recent inn they had performed at the night before, Conrad asked Jason, “Where next, chief?” The fiddler named the village where Amelia had been born and from whence she had fled what now seemed an eternity ago. 

“Oh, no! I never wrote my parents!” she cried. “How long will it take us to reach there?”

Jason consulted a map he carried in his pack. “Maybe three days. We’re not scheduled to play there until the day after that, so we can take our time, if we like.”

“If I were to post a letter today, would it get there before us?” she pondered. “I should warn them that I’m coming.”

Jason shrugged. “Go ahead,” he said. “The mails might be faster than we are. No reason why you can’t give them a day’s warning.”

Amelia didn’t know what to write. She was wracked by conflicting emotions. When she finished penning the note, she read it aloud to Frederick.

“Dear Mama and Papa,” she read. “I know it has been a long time since you last saw me and I apologize that I have not written before. After I left you, I found work in the scullery of a great house in a village several days’ journey from ours and I stayed there for over a year, working in the kitchen. Since then I am traveling with a troupe of musicians as a harpist and singer, and we are coming home in a few days’ time to play at George’s Inn. I would like to see you. I hope you are well. Your daughter, Amelia.”

Frederick arched an eyebrow and said, “That’s all?”

“What more can I say?” asked Amelia. “They won’t approve of my choice of profession, nor the company I keep.” She smiled at this, and squeezed Frederick’s hand. “But it’s my life. I still have to know why my harp was in the marketplace.”

“It was there,” mused Frederick. “so that we should meet.” He drew her close and hugged her.

The next few days were an agony of uncertainty for Amelia. So many of the doubts and fears she had tucked away where she wouldn’t think about them surfaced and plagued her. She feared what she would find. She was also ambivalent about seeing the same people who had made her feel so unwelcome in her own home, and yet she was also anxious to know how others were besides her family, mostly elderly townsfolk who had known her as a child and the occasional kind merchant. She became more and more tense and withdrawn as they neared their destination. Frederick massaged her shoulders and neck and tried to ease some of the tension from them. He comforted her when she woke sobbing from troubling dreams. The band members were starting to worry about her and wondered if this was a good idea. But they had a commitment, and Amelia never asked them not to honour it.

When they arrived at Amelia’s village early on the day of their performance, the sky was heavy with rain and the mountain so shrouded in mist that it was invisible. They quickly sought shelter at the inn where they were to play and hung their dripping cloaks by the fire. The innkeeper’s wife bustled up to them and then stopped short.

“Amelia?” she asked, “is that really you?”

“Good day, Mistress George,” Amelia answered. “It is really I. How are you and your husband?”

The older woman just kept staring at the harpist without answering. “Is everything all right, ma’am?” she asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Mistress George shook herself and answered, “I thought I had, at that. You’ve been gone a very long time, child. What brings you back this way?”

“I’m a member of this musical troupe,” answered Amelia. “I play harp and sing. We’re performing here tonight.”

“So I see. You’ll be staying with your mother, though, no doubt?” Mistress George inquired.

“No, ma’am, I’m staying here with my fellow musicians. I shall visit my parents, though. I wrote them several days ago. I don’t know if they got my letter.”

“Parents…,” said the innkeeper. “No, just your mother. Your father…,” she faltered. “Your father passed away the first winter you were gone and your mother has since remarried. You didn’t know any of this?”

Amelia became very pale and swayed on her feet. She grabbed the back of a chair, and then sat down in it. “No,” she said. “I knew nothing. Tell me how it happened.”

“It was quick,” said Mistress George. “He got a fever and it was over in a few days. Your poor mother sold everything, the house, the grocery, everything. I think she lost her mind for a bit. She went to live with her sister-in-law, your aunt Millie. But eventually she came out of mourning and Master Blaine, the farrier, started courting her. They were married last spring.”

“My harp,” whispered Amelia, “that’s why my harp was in the market. She sold everything. All my things. All gone. My father. Gone.”

“I’m sorry dear. No one knew where you were or if you were even alive. And your poor mother was totally distraught when your father passed on.”

“Thank you, Mistress George,” said Amelia, getting up unsteadily from the chair. “If you would give me my mother’s address, I’ll call on her before we leave town. But I need to be by myself just now.” She picked up her cloak from where it was still dripping and put it on, then walked stiffly out the door back into the rain.

In a daze of shock and sorrow, Amelia walked slowly through the village. This was where she had grown up and she knew every street, every alleyway. They were now fairly deserted, everyone taking shelter from the damp; but she kept walking, unseeing, not really thinking of where she was going. She stopped outside a large house with a garden choked with dead weeds and realized she was home, or what used to be home, where she had lived with her parents and her grandmother until that good woman died. She looked up to the second floor, drops of rain falling in her face, and saw her own window, dark now, and remembered sitting there, playing her harp, alone, lonely, weeping tears of loss for the only person who had loved her unconditionally. She sighed and turned away from the house, taking a different road.

Now she was at the churchyard, among the grave stones. There was her grandmother’s, covered with lichens, and there was a new one near it, her father’s. Amelia traced the name and dates with her fingers, and the rain mingled with the tears on her cheeks. If only she had written. If only she had known. If only she had not been so self-involved. Alas. She could not rewind the ball of string that was her life. She could only move forward.

As she made her way back to the inn, Amelia saw Frederick standing at the door under the portico, shivering in the cold. She quickened her pace and threw her arms around him in a tight embrace. “Don’t leave me,” she mumbled into his chest. He stroked her wet cheek and said, “Never,” then kissed her forehead.

They reentered the inn and hung up their sodden cloaks by the fire. Jason looked inquiringly at Amelia. “Well?” he asked. “Have you got that out of your system? We have a rehearsal to run and a concert to play. Let’s get to it!” 

Amelia obediently unpacked her harp and took her place on the stage. Her fingers were cold, and she felt a tightness in her throat, but Jason had put a number of her grandmother’s songs on the evening’s set list and after the first couple the discomfort started to ease and she found herself warmed by the music. When they were wrapping up, Mistress George came over, carrying a tray of hot drinks, the steam curling up from their surfaces.

“Well, Amelia,” she said, “I had no idea you could sing or play like that. You remind me of your grandmother, of blessed memory. She was a brilliant musician.”

“Yes, she was,” agreed Amelia. “I miss her so much. Did you know her well, Mistress George?”

“Not well,” answered the innkeeper. “But she certainly was devoted to you, that I remember. I’m not surprised you miss her still, after all these years.” She produced a slip of paper and handed it to the girl. “Here’s your mother’s new address. You remember Master Blaine, don’t you? He has children about your age. Surely you must have played with them when you were young.”

“Yes, I remember them,” responded Amelia. “What became of Mistress Blaine?”

“She died, poor soul,” said Mistress George. “Drowned in the lake. Out for a Sunday’s boat ride with her eldest and it tipped and she couldn’t swim. Imagine that, living her whole life in this village and not knowing how to swim. The daughter couldn’t save her. Very sad. That was Elizabeth. She’s got two children now, would you believe? Twins!”

Amelia thanked Mistress George for the tea and turned away. She didn’t want to hear about the lives of the people she had left behind. She didn’t want to hear about their deaths either. How could she see her mother on the morrow, married to a new man, her father dead? She mourned her father’s passing, and she thought of her belongings sold in the market like any old stuff: her books, her toys, her clothing. Gone. It was her own fault, Amelia chided herself. She should not have been so stubborn. She should have kept in touch. She shouldn’t have left.

“No!” she cried out loud. Conrad looked up from where he was tuning his drums. “No, what?” he asked.

“I didn’t mean to say that out loud,” admitted Amelia. “Sorry.”

Frederick slung his harp bag over his shoulder and took Amelia’s free arm. “Come, my love, you need some rest.” She leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment with her eyes squeezed shut.

“Yes,” she said. “I really do.”

In their room above the tavern, Frederick asked her, “Why did you cry ‘No!’ downstairs?”

Amelia took a deep breath and said, “I was feeling guilty, that I should have stayed here so that I could have nursed my father when he was ill, kept my mother from going crazy with grief, that I shouldn’t have run away. But then I realized that if I had not done that, I would never have met you. I would not be doing what I love now. I would still be sad and lonely, perhaps sadder and definitely lonelier.”

“Do you have to see your mother?” asked Frederick.

“Yes,” she answered him. “I really do. As you said, I have to stop hiding… and running away.”

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