Holding the baby, Scot let the infant’s eyes harden his. Be young, though all three of them had been, he not be a man seen to cry by those brothers who paraded and swore as men and called him but a baby in disguise, a girl under his kite, a dandy with looks too good even for a Scotsman.
The young man thrust his hands out to the young girl as she walked in the woods. “Take her. I must grieve. I dinno how to care for a child.”
Joyce looked up at her tall brother-in-law, dead Lorna’s wife. She who had died in childbirth. “Your sisters….”
“YOUR sister.” He could say no more. He turned. Joyce knew from his stride that he was going hunting for a long season this time, like the long ones he took before he found Lorna.
They married when he returned. In their wedding bed, Scot reincarnated his dead wife’s features, gestures, voice within Joyce. He traced his long fingers down the slight girl’s body. Then his large hand covered her womb. “Your hips are too small. If I give thee a babe, you too shall die, and then I will have two motherless babes.”
Joyce had idiolized her sister, but with her sister’s death, she had grown. She raised herself onto her elbows, “You be saying you will not be a husband to me! What right have you to take me in name and bed, and not give me the love – or at least the manliness – my sister talked of with such devotion!”
Then it was that Scot’s eyes hardened for the rest of his life. The tart was a willing animal, and here he was trying to save her life! He abandoned the marriage bed and sought solace in town, although the nearest town was a day’s ride away.
His horse rode up to the moated castle, its bridge down. She sat next to one of her own brothers, while two of his brothers sat on horses beside the wagon.
“And where do you think you be off to, Wife!” he cursed.
Only her widened eyes flashing answered him.
“Down!” he yelled, riding alongside the carriage. But his baby Catherine was not to be seen in her arms, nor anywhere near the wagon.
“Again, I ask thee,” his voice softened, “where be you going?”
Her brother answered, “Since you are unwilling to be a husband in more than name, she will not be thou wife, nor the mother of your child.”
Scot’s eyes desperately sought Joyce’s, “But she be the darling of your sister, as thee were the darling of her?”
“Lorna is dead, mi lord,” said Joyce, standing on the wooden plank of the wagon. “I am Joyce, although my face, my features, even the movement of my fingers, remind you of her. If I cannot be loved in my own right, I cannot be a wife. It is the law.”
Scot watched her eyes harden. He felt his own spine stiffen and a knife with its ragged edge of pain shoot through his entrails up to his throat.
“Where do you go?”
“The Colonies. I go not alone, but with my brother who has sworn to protect me as you, my lord, refuses.”
Five elder brothers and a young, abandoned wife…..Scot jumped from his horse. “It is I who must accept the shame of having dishonored my wife. If she be so kind, as to humbly accept my apologies, and let me sit beside her, I too will off with her to the Colonies, should she accept my child as her own.”
Hell is a burning desire to hate, to squash what is gentle as one has been squashed. Reason told her a husband, even if in name only, is far better than a brother. Her whitened knuckles tightened. Her breathing increased as anger mounted her, demanding to explode, but it was this that Lorna had told her, would always keep her from a husband. She wasn’t going to bow, even to a “milord” husband. She nodded her head “yes”. Scot demanded words. She raised her hand, and gestured to one of his sisters, to get the child Catherine. The child in her hands, Joyce slowly sat.
“Husband, you may come with us now, if it pleases you. We will leave this accursed family home of yours that is no longer a home for goodness, and picnic by the glen near the high road. There, should you wish, you may join us. If you have not joined us by the noonday “Angelus,” we shall proceed without you. Our boat sets sail for the Americas Wednesday.”
This is short because it was originally Lorna’s short life story. It then morphed into her sister’s story.
It was inspired by a black and white wood carving in a book I once read, of a woman holding a baby in her arms, standing in an old fashioned wood cart without a roof. Also, my childhood fear of dying in childbirth – no matter how often my five older sisters repeated, “That never happens nowadays” in the 50s. It also became a ‘dictated story’.