Ever since I was a child, I used to gaze at my reflection in the pond or in the looking glass and wonder what was wrong with me–why my father didn’t love me. He has never shown me any affection. How I longed for a kind word, a tenderness in his manner toward me but none was forthcoming. There were times when I feared that he hated me and I could not comprehend why.
After my mother died I thought that things would improve between us but unfortunately they did not. I hardly saw him. When he wasn’t at the office, he was locked away in his study, permitting no one to enter unless summoned. He never summoned me.
We had our meals separately. And when he roused himself from his solitude to go on a trip, he never asked me to accompany him. He would be gone for days or weeks and never wrote nor inquired after me. And upon his return, he never sought me out and I was afraid to seek him out for fear of his temper.
The affection I failed to receive from my father, I secured from Susan, my personal maid, Mrs. Lewis, the housekeeper and my half-brother, Robert. Perhaps, Robert’s affection for me was on account that Father no longer looked upon him with favor. It had to do with Robert’s choice of profession. Instead of taking over the family business as Father expected, my brother wanted to be a solicitor. Enraged, Father threw him out of the house. Robert found lodgings near to the law office where the kind Mr. Watson employed him.
I have visited my brother at his lodgings frequently. The room is quite small and the street which it overlooks is rather noisy but he seems to be managing well. I hold my peace regarding how things are between Father and me but Robert could see from my countenance that all is not well. On more than one occasion he offered to appeal to Father on my behalf but, mortified, I beg him not to. It will only made matters worse, I tell him and reluctantly, he would respect my wishes. And we would talk no more about the matter.
Things between Father and me have gotten worse and they came to a head when one afternoon, upon my return from a walk in the park, Robert came striding out of the study, his expression thunderous. I inquired as to the cause of his fury, but he brushed past me and out of the house. Without thinking, I rushed into the study where Father was pacing, his face red with anger. He fixed upon me a gaze that should have warned me not to interfere but I dared to venture further into the room, my expression earnest. “Father, what ever the matter is, please do not let it vex you so. Why don’t you have a seat while I ring for Nellie to bring you some tea.”
He brushed my suggestion aside. “Don’t be foolish, Girl. What good would tea do me?”
“I’m sorry, Father.”
He ignored my apology. “What a bloody fool your brother is. He came here expecting me to give him his inheritance so that he could marry Miss Price–Miss Price, a banker’s daughter. Well, I informed him that if he persists in this unsuitable match, he will have no inheritance.”
“Oh, Father. I’ve met Miss Price and her father. They are good people–”
“Their goodness doesn’t make her a suitable match for your brother.”
“Father, please don’t disinherit Robert.”
“This is the second time he has thwarted my plans. First he has turned his back on the family business and now he’s marrying the penniless daughter of a bankrupt father instead of Miss Wright who is a lady of good breeding, constitution and means. Whatever happens to your brother is of his own doing.”
Overcome with deep concern for my brother’s situation, I took hold of the sleeve of my father’s coat, my eyes beseeching him. “Father, please, have pity on Robert–”
He shoved me roughly aside and I fell onto the floor, hurting my hand as I tried to break the fall. “If you’re so concerned about your foolish brother, why don’t you go to him and leave me alone?” With that, he turned on his heel and quitted the room.
For several minutes, I sat there, dazed, my wrist throbbing. Tears sprang to my eyes. I shuddered when I recalled the fury in his eyes as he looked at me. Why did he hate me so? What had I done to arouse such malignant feelings in my own father? Brushing the tears from my pale cheeks, I slowly rose to my knees and then with the aid of a close by chair, I stood.
I quickly left the room and the house. I ran all the way to Mrs. Turner, my mother’s former lady’s maid who had been like a mother to me. As soon as she opened the door, I dissolved into tears. She took me in her arms and exclaimed, “Oh, Dear Child, whatever is the matter?” She drew me inside the warm, welcoming home she once shared with her daughters and son.
Over hot tea and scones, I explained what had happened and she shook her head. “I never understood why your father treated you the way he did. It grieved your mother. God rest her soul. Well, you’re welcome to stay here for as long as you like but we should let someone at the house know that you are safe and sound. I will send one of my neighbors’ son with a note.”
“I don’t think that Father would care.”
“All the same, it would be best for him to know where you have run off to.”
“I suppose you are right, Mrs. Turner.”
I ended up spending a fortnight with Mrs. Turner and then was summoned home. Upon my arrival, I learned that Father was gravely ill and was not expected to last the week. Horrified, I rushed to his room. I froze in the doorway. I yearned to go to his side but was afraid of distressing him. Doctor King beckoned to me. “Come, Miss Adelia. He has been asking for you.”
Heart pounding, tears running down my cheeks, I hastened to his bedside. Horror and shock gripped my heart when I saw how ghastly my strong, proud father looked. His eyes shifted to me as I stood there gazing down at him. He mumbled something and stretched out his hand. I took the thin, bony fingers and knelt beside him. I leaned over so that I could hear what he was trying to impart to me. I barely made out the words, “Forgive me…”
“Oh, Father, all is forgotten.”
“My Dear, dear Girl…”
Unable to speak for the lump in my throat, I rested my wet cheek on our entwined hands. At last, my father had shown me some affection.
The doctor was right. My father didn’t last the week. It was a cold, grey morning on which he was laid to rest. Many people came to pay their respects. Robert was there with Miss Price and so was Mrs. Turner. I suspect that they were there for my sake. Upon the reading of the will, I was shocked to learn that my father had left the house to me. He had turned the business over to his trusted assistant, Mr. Shaw. And he had left Robert’s inheritance intact. Robert was free to use the money as he saw fit.
My father left a letter for me in which he explained why he was so unkind to me. For years he had believed that I wasn’t his daughter because just before I was born, my mother had been having an affair with an acquaintance of Father’s. Father found out about the affair and threatened to turn Mother out. She begged him not to because she was in a family way. My father relented and allowed her to stay but he never had conjugal relations with her again.
It wasn’t until recently that he discovered that the gentleman whom he believed was my father was unable to have any. That was when he realized that I was his. The shock is what had brought on the illness. I felt no bitterness toward my mother. She had made a terrible mistake and paid for it for the rest of her life when she witnessed my father’s disdain and treatment of me. She died an unhappy woman who had married a man twenty years her senior. And I pitied my father because he had raised a child whom he believed was another man’s despite her mother’s protestations that such a belief was contrary to fact.
As I walk on the grounds of the estate which now belongs to me, I am thankful that the truth of my parentage was made known to my father and we enjoyed a renewed, albeit brief relationship before he passed away. Every week I visit his grave and spend hours, sitting there and although, I know that he cannot hear me, I talk to him as I used to long to when he was alive.
For as long as I live, I shall never forget when my father called me, “My Dear, dear Girl…”
This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompts for today’s word, Reflection. If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.
Source: Modern Monastery