Ian surveyed the expanse of red fields linked one to the other by the rail fences and the wild blueberry bushes, remembering that day, and Anna’s sturdy figure hurrying away over the crest of the hill, her auburn hair in its neat bun, shining in the sunlight, her back straight in its grey drugget dress.
He strode on. The night air against his skin was as warm as milk. He thought again of the tiny daughter lying beside Anna in the churchyard. We should have had another, and another after that.
He had said as much to her after she had recovered from their daughter’s birth, but she had only smiled at him and nodded. She never conceived again, he thought. …
Old Annie had attended Belle’s delivery, but there was not much she could do except give her wormwood against the pain. The baby was turned, she said. She had tried to turn it but Belle had only screamed in pain and had begged her to stop. Belle had laboured for a day and half and finally died from exhaustion. “The baby was likely dead long before that for the same reason,” said Old Annie.
Old Annie knew things. She had the second sight. She also knew about plants and seeds and weeds. She attended Donald’s birth too, Ian remembered, and the birth of the nameless little one. Anna seemed to take great comfort in Old Annie’s presence after that. She spent many hours visiting her. At least that’s where I thought she was, he thought. They say Old Annie knew how to help a woman get with child. I wonder if she knew how to prevent it too? He shivered at the idea. Would Anna have done such a thing? Old Annie’s senile now so I guess I’ll never know.
His thoughts took him past Murdoch’s ruined house, doorless now in the bright moonlight. Old Annie was right about this, too. Murdoch’s door was smeared with blood, the blood of the just. My Anna’s blood. Though I don’t know anymore how just she was. Oh, Anna.
He followed the path that took him across the field to where Anna had lain so few weeks ago. The little pillow of straw, still dark with her blood, lay a few feet into the field, Ian stopped and stared at it. This is all that’s left of her, he thought. Rage filled him. Why, Anna? He kicked the straw pillow to bits and began to run, a great lumbering run. It felt good to run again. The soft wind blew past his face and whistled across his ears.
Suddenly he was in James’ dooryard. The house was dark and silent now, the windows jagged where Donald had broken them. The rage, which had abated somewhat in his run, returned to a hot boiling fury. “I will burn this house of sin!” he shouted, and ran to the barn to gather some straw. He returned in a few moments with a great armful and stuffed it through the gaping windows, then went back for another. Armload after armload of straw he carried and stuffed through the windows, far more than he needed to start a fire.
“My father helped build this house,” he raged, “and I will destroy it!” He stood and surveyed the dark silent house before lighting the match that would burn it to ashes. His father’s face seemed to hang in the air before his own, its expression sorrowful. He remembered that expression from his childhood, and hesitated before striking the match. The rage drained away. “Oh, Poppa, what am I to do?” He fell to his knees and wailed like a tiny child, the tears finally coming, awkward, hot and wrenching. He buried his face in his hands and wept, the tears dripping between his work-roughened hands onto his grey homespun shirt. At last, his sorrow and his anger spent, he rose and stumbled away across the moonlit fields to his own place, the match still clutched in his fingers.
Anna Gillis, the midwife and neighbour in Mattie’s Story, has been found killed. The close-knit community is deeply shaken by this eruption of violence, and neighbours come together to help one another and to discover the perpetrator. But the answer lies Anna’s secret, long guarded by Old Annie, the last of the original Selkirk Settlers, and the protagonist of An Irregular Marriage. Join the community! Read Anna’s Secret and other novels by Margaret A. Westlie.
Genre – Fiction, mystery, historical
Rating – G
More details about the author