Mary-Jane was already out of the yard and three houses down the gap when Mother called her back, shouting to her from the gate. She was annoyed at the additional delay. Mother knew she was late for practice, what could be so important now?! But she knew better than to question Mother. Obediently, she returned to the yard, almost jogging to minimize her tardiness. When she got to Mother no words were spoken; the elder simply held out the younger’s shawl, the younger took it, understanding, gave an almost imperceptible curtsey in thanks and resumed her journey, jog-walking to regain lost time.
On a good day it would have easily taken her fifteen minutes to walk to church if she cut across the back part of Sir William Mosley’s backyard, the unfenced portion the good sir was less strict about keeping well landscaped so that, from time to time, it looked more like a mini-jungle than the unconfined continuation of the Mosley property. When the land was cut low, Mary-Jane made easy work of the walk to church, cutting the journey in half. Failing that, she’d have to walk out of the village, on to Wiggins Main Road, cut across St. Barnabas Anglican church yard and cemetery, through the alley connecting Church and Bennett Streets, walk along Bennett Street until just after the Police Station and then onto the no-name, almost-road that would take her to Cedar Street and New Pond Site Moravian Church.
Today wasn’t a good day. She knew from uncle Joe that the short-cut was much too mucky from the heavy rains last Wednesday to make it worthwhile trying to beat time. She had to go the long way. If she pushed herself she could make it in time to have, maybe, a good 10 minutes of practice at the organ before the Senior Choir members started arriving. Thankfully the day wasn’t too hot, the worst of the April heat seemed to have already come and settled down. The trade-winds blew a comfortable breeze that eased the sun’s intensity. Even so she scolded herself for not thinking to bring the umbrella with her to give a little added shade. She hated walking into the Lord’s house sweaty and hot and even though she had her ‘kerchief to dab the beads of sweat on her forehead, cheeks and neck, she knew a ladies’ hanky could only do so much.
As she walked along Wiggins Main Road the sun’s strength insisted on her attention. With no houses or trees in sight and the trade-winds suddenly still there was nothing to shelter her from its resilience and, halfway down the road, she gave up on her hanky and held the books in her hand, the hymnal, bible and her music notebook, up over her head to give a few inches of shade. By the time she reached the churchyard cemetery her right arm protested its “beast of burden” role too loudly for her to ignore. Mary-Jane eased its load, shifting the books to her comparatively pampered left arm, which had been swinging freely, mindful only of the bag hanging on its shoulder.
The churchyard cemetery was full of sprawling trees with sturdy trunks not even trying to hide their age and branches rising, spreading, graceful and defiant, wherever they will. So expansive were the branches that the sun’s blaze could hardly be felt. Humph, Mr. Sun, you meet you match now, eh?, Mary-Jane thought to herself as her legs, instinctively slowed their pace, just a little, so the rest of her could appreciate the noticeable coolness. She breathed deeply and slowly as she approached the churchyard’s west gate, the small alley and a sun refusing defeat. She thought to use her shawl for shade this time but quickly set that thought aside. The shawl would only flatten her hair, neatly curled and styled just as she licked it, with a two inch part on the left and her cottony soft hair forming a ripple of Os in the appointed direction. The only thing worse than a lady going to the Lord’s house sweaty and hot was a lady going into the Lord’s house unkempt. No, she’d brave the heat, soak her hanky through if it came to that, and at least walk into church looking well put together.
She turned onto Bennett Street, now less focused on the sun and more on the difficult hymn she needed to practice before the choir arrived. She had been trying to learn it for the last three weeks and had made good progress but that descant kept tripping her up. She was determined to master it! She had to. The Easter programme was in two weeks and the choir would sing the hymn, descant and all, whether she was ready or not. She walked along Bennett Street with the hymn playing in her head as she imagined the dance between her fingers, feet, the organ’s pedals and keys that would create the heady melody. “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty trium…”. Her feet halted as if on cue from her eyes, which rested, frozen, on their subject.
There he was! Further along the street and completely focused, it seemed, on his task (sweeping the Police Station steps). She didn’t know why her feet stopped. Fooly feet! Or why she even noticed this arrogant man. Stupid girl! She wasn’t the least bit concerned about him – what did he say his name was? Last week when she walked pass the station on her way to church he was there, pretending to be cleaning the windows… he always found an excuse to be outside whenever she walked past, and always had something to say. For months now! At first it was just a “good morning” or “good afternoon”, which she politely returned (she was a well brought up young lady after all) but then he became altogether too fresh, taking liberties and asking questions no well brought up young lady should be asked – “what’s your name, darling?”, “nice day for a walk at St. Barnabas, care to join me?”, “I don’t see any ring on your finger so I hope I can get a chance”. The nerve of him! Mother had already warned her about his type and she had no intention of saying a word more than “good day” to him. If his supposed interest was sincere, she reasoned, he would do the respectable thing and call at the house to meet papa first. What did he say his name was again?… oh never mind!
Her legs continued to walk and she allowed Up from the Grave to pick up where she left off. Her eyes, narrow and looking downwards a little because her head (now raised higher than before) required their position to allow her to see what was in front of her clearly, fixed on him as the gap between them shrank.
Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes, “what was his name again though?” her thought interrupted. Mary-Jane didn’t like not being able to recall information she knew her mind had received. He arose the victor from the dark domain.., “Archer?… no, that wasn’t it. Something with an “A” though”. And he lives forever with the saints to reign…”. “Alfred?” No, no, not Alfred either. She would have remembered an Alfred for that was papa’s name.
A good 20 feet from the station, as if sensing her nearness, he slowed the left-right motion of the broomstick and raised his head to connect their eyes, a broad smile spreading across his face. “ALBERT! That’s it! The old fool is called Albert!” Mary-Jane almost smiled at her victory over forgetfulness but restrained herself, aware of his brazen gaze on her.
“Well hello again my dear” he said with a semi dramatic bow. She ignored him and continued walking.
“You know you’re lucky! I almost went inside and we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of meeting today”, his gaze grew naughty. She ignored him and continued walking.
“You know what Captain Smith said today? He said ‘Albert, do you know every available maiden in St Chris would give anything to be on your arm?’ I said, ‘is true, Cap?’ You can believe that sweetheart? EVERY maiden in St Chris? Want my arm?” His face wore a smirk that told her he was enjoying this. By now he had amassed a small audience of fellow police officers whose presence pumped his confidence and gave his ego a boost it did not earn.
Abruptly Mary-Jane stopped walking, turned her head towards her apparent suitor, now grinning at perceived victory (in front of his boys, no less), tilted her head ever so slightly to the right, eyes still narrow and downcast in direct proportion to the uptilt of her chin, giving her an air of complete aloofness, and with a face void of humour or warmth said “not THIS maiden! Good-day Mr…. Albert, is it?” Not waiting for his response she turned her head and briskly turned off Bennett Street to the no-name, almost-road that would take her to her destination, the descant for Up from the Grave resounding from her internal radio.
© September 9, 2016