Margaret

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Excerpt from High Ground, copyright 2017 by Richard Authier Lee

The door knocker at the carriage entrance cracked twice against its strike plate. A young woman’s voice called from the other side of the heavy wooden door. “Hello? Is anybody home?”

The knock sent Esther’s heart into her throat. She sat motionless, daring not to breathe.

“It’s your neighbor from down the hill. It’s Margaret Haart.”

Esther rose from the table and moved toward the rose-hued stained-glass panel beside the door. She could make out the milky, blurred form of a woman who appeared to be alone. Esther worked the bolt back from the door and opened it an inch. “You do not look like a Haart,” she said. The slender young woman forced a smile from under wind-whipped rust-red hair. She wore a crisp white blouse and a reddish-brown blazer that complemented her coloring. “I’m Robert Haart’s daughter.”

Esther opened the door wider. “Robert?”

“Robert’s daughter,” the woman nodded. Esther opened the door wider and smoothed her own wild, snowy hair with one hand. Margaret took a weary breath. “You knew my father.”

“Yes, dear?”

“I’m sorry to tell you―he―has died.”

Esther put one hand to her mouth and ushered the young woman in out of the wind. She stepped around a heap of green binders that spilled over the stairs and led the young woman down a dim, gritty hallway to a library where red leather chairs sat around a pink marble fireplace. There was no fire, but warmth radiated from the stone. Esther offered one of the chairs and sat near her.

“Oh, poor Robert,” Esther said. “How did this happen?”

“It was sudden. Quite a shock. In his car two nights ago. A heart attack, they think.”

“You and your poor mother, dear. You must be devastated.”

Margaret brushed her hair back from her face and it was then Esther saw Robert Haart, Sweet Robert, the bone structure, prominent forehead and sincere green eyes. Margaret looked vacantly into the fireplace and said, “I can’t believe it.”

Hair askew, clothes rumpled and soiled, this woman still seemed to Margaret to be above her class—a bone china doll grown old. Esther nodded. “You are Robert’s Meggie? You never came here with him, did you dear?”

“No. We went to Rhode Island a lot as children, my mother was from Newport. Father always went to Maine by himself.”

“He treasured his privacy and peace,” Esther nodded.

Margaret looked away. “Yes, well, it was my mother’s choice that we never come here.”

“Why didn’t she want to come, dear?”

“Her concerts, fund-raisers, political committees, I guess. The woman never sleeps.”

“I always thought Robert would marry a Maine girl. Raise his family here.”

“Mother would have divorced him and left him for dead before she’d move to Maine.”

“Yet, you are here now…”

Margaret smiled weakly. “Yes, well…”

“With your own family?”

Margaret’s face stiffened. “No. No children. I’m soon-to-be divorced, myself.”

Esther put her hand to her mouth again. “My poor dear, you have been through a great deal of pain, haven’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“I am alone as well,” Esther nodded.

“You live here by yourself?” Margaret asked, looking around the large, ornate sitting room.

“I’ve lived here very nearly my whole life, dear.”

“Someone must help you care for such a big place, surely.”

A puzzled look came over Esther’s face. “I suppose I should have someone, but the servants have gone on.”

“Quit?”

“Died, dear. Each in their own time.”

“And there’s no one from town to help?”

“You are from away, dear.” Esther said.

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