Fisherman Mendleson Moony lost his family in a fire. Four years later, he still mourns and has given up the sea to farm his land.
Henrietta Swooth, the Seer that has lived across the road from him for the last three years, has a secret. She knows the time and place of her death, and she must soon leave to meet it.
A vision sends her to the summer festival, where she and Mendleson talk for the first time, When he touches her hand, everything changes, and not for the better.
Mendleson comes away with a desire to save her. She comes away knowing that his attempts to save her will see him dead at her side.
Can Mendleson overcome his loss to find love again? Is it already too late?
In the mind of Mendleson Moony, the mid-summer festival was an utter waste of time. He ought to be home, working his small farm, or down on the waterfront trading his services with the fishermen who had a need for someone who could help mend boats or nets. Anything other than frolicking and celebrating for an entire day.
Around him, the town-folk cavorted and competed, heedless of his distaste for the entire affair. Contests abounded. Archery, races, tests of strength. Merchants had their wagons and carts set up to sell their wares. A dozen boars roasted over an enormous fire pit. Children raced in and out among the adults’ legs with orders to slow down going unheeded.
A large, flat area remained clear. Musicians were setting up near it. The dancing would start as soon as the roasted pork had all been eaten. Mendleson looked forward to the dancing the least.
“Mendleson,” a man’s voice called out to him. “I didn’t think you’d come.”
Mendleson turned around and found his friend Paulus approaching him from the thick of the crowd. Paulus wasn’t very tall, but his thick body contained more power in its muscles than most other men. He liked to show off his muscles, preferring to go without shirts whenever he could get away with it. He wore a shirt to the festival, though, surprising Mendleson.
“I almost didn’t,” Mendleson said. “Only the promise of a free meal brought me out.”
“That and the girls, right?”
Mendleson shook his head. “You know…”
“I know. I’m sorry.” Paulus reached up and put a hand on Mendleson’s shoulder. He looked Mendleson straight in the eye. “But you’re my friend, and I worry about you wasting away out there on your farm. You need company, my friend. You grow more and more into a ghost.”
“It’s only been…”
Paulus interrupted him. “It’s been four years, Mendleson. You need to move on. You need to find another wife.”
Four years? Has it really been that long? It seems like yesterday.
“There are plenty of women here that would be happy to have you, too,” Paulus continued, while sweeping his arm out to cover the festival goers.
Mendleson looked around, and for a moment, he entertained the idea, but could not see one woman who he thought would be interested. “Point some out. I don’t see any,” he said.
Paulus laughed. “Fine. I’ll point them out, but first, let’s go find the ale. I can’t be doing this without something to wet my throat.”
Paulus led him off across the field toward the carts bearing large kegs. While they walked, Mendleson worked back through the years and discovered that indeed, it had been four years since he’d come home from fishing one day to find his home burned to the ground, his wife and young son burned with it.
He could remember every detail like it happened yesterday. He’d seen the smoke on the horizon as the boat landed, and he didn’t think much of it until he started making his way home. About halfway there, he realized it was near his land and began to worry. When he arrived, he found his neighbors working hard to quench the flames, but there weren’t enough of them.
He looked around and didn’t see his wife, Mirrielle. Upon realizing she wasn’t there, he tried to run in to find her, but his neighbors held him back. The house collapsed into rubble only minutes later while he cried out for her, again and again.
After the rubble cooled, they found Mirrielle and his son Josua, huddled together. He’d resolved right then to never put to sea again.
He rebuilt his home and started to farm his land in earnest. He gave up fishing.
And Paulus is right. That was four years ago.
They reached the ale carts. Paulus paid for mugs for the both of them, then lead Mendleson to a bench where the two of them sat and sipped their ale.
“There,” Paulus said, pointing at a woman in a burgundy colored dress. She kept her dark brown hair up, and her hands close to her body. She was talking with two other women. One of the women said something, and the three of them tittered.
“Melissa Stander?” Mendleson asked.
“Right,” Paulus said. “She’s a widow, and I hear he did not leave her a pauper.”
“Not her. She was friends with…” Mendleson didn’t want to say Mirrielle’s name aloud. Just seeing Melissa brought back memories. “I didn’t like Melissa then. She’s far too vapid.”
“Fine, not her, then. How about Jessica Breach?”
Mendleson took a sip of his ale before answering. “Who’s that?”
“Over there by the pork roasters.” Paulus said. “I hear she’s nice. Her father was a merchant, but not a good one. He tried to marry her off to a Lord from Isundry, but couldn’t afford the dowry.”
“The short one?”
“In the green dress and blonde hair.”
Mendleson thought she was pretty. Petite, thin boned, and delicate. For a moment, he entertained the thought, but couldn’t imagine her helping with the farm.
“You must be kidding,” Mendleson said. “Her father raised her with the idea of gaining a position at court. She wouldn’t last a day on the farm.”
Paulus nodded. “True. How about her?”
Mendleson looked where Paulus pointed and found himself looking at Fredetta Jointer. Mendleson punched Paulus in the shoulder, causing Paulus to nearly spill his ale.
“What’s that for?” Paulus asked. He couldn’t keep the hint of laughter out of his voice.
Mendleson laughed for the first time. It felt good. “Everyone knows she’s a shrew. Her father couldn’t give her away to slavers. I wouldn’t even want to live in my own house!”
“It would get you back out fishing with me where you belong.”
“That it would,” Mendleson said, his mirth fading.
“It’s not your fault.”
“I still should have thought… Look, forget about her. There’s got to be someone here who can satisfy you.”
Mendleson stood up and drank the last of his ale. “Thanks for your help, Paulus. I know you’re right. I do need to find someone. I just can’t forget what happened. I can’t forgive myself for failing her.”
Paulus stood, and pulled Mendleson around so they were face to face. “Mendleson, my friend, you have to forgive yourself. It wasn’t your fault. There was nothing you could do. It was an accident of fate.”
“Fate? How could it have been fate? What good has come out of it?”
Paulus didn’t answer, and Mendleson knew why. Nothing good had come out of it.
“Thanks for trying to help,” Mendleson said. “I know you’re right. I do need to put it behind me, but maybe I’m not ready yet.”
Paulus nodded. “Look, they’re taking the boars off the spits. Let’s go eat. I promise I won’t point out any more shrews.”
Mendleson chuckled, and motioned for his friend to lead them forth. Maybe he’d feel better with food in his belly.
* * *
Henrietta Swooth muttered to herself as she walked the road to the mid-summer festival. She had no real desire to go. In her three years living in the little cottage that looked out over the cliffs and onto the town below, she had not attended the festival.
But she had seen herself there. Something important would happen, and so she went. She’d learned long ago that events would conspire to put her in the places she saw herself if she tried to avoid what her visions showed her. What made it all hard to deal with is that she rarely knew why she had to go. The meaning behind her visions of herself remained a mystery.
This wasn’t the case when trying to see things for the women that came to visit. She could almost always determine their fate and the reasons behind it. Sometimes, she could even see how they could do things differently to avoid the fate given to them.
But for herself, her options remained opaque.
So she found herself walking the mile and a half between her home and the festival grounds, dreading what was to come. She tried to prepare herself, as she walked, for the overwhelming number of visions that would assault her as she touched people, as she brushed them, or they her.
She looked to her right, where she could see the Western Sea, and the orange-red sun that hung low on the horizon. She’d waited until just about the right moment to leave. Her vision had her at the gathering at twilight. She didn’t want to spend any more time there than necessary.
She heard the music, first. Horns, drums, and a great deal of singing, much of it out of key. It made her long for her home near the mountains.
“Put that out of your head, Henrietta,” she said to herself. “You left home for good reason.”
She topped a rise in the road and saw the festival ground laid out below her. Oil lamps were already lit and waiting for the sun to set. It appeared to her that most of the town had turned out.
She took a deep breath. “It’s only for a short time, Henrietta,” she said. Then she worked her way down the hill to join the festival.
When she first entered the grounds, she thought she might go unnoticed. Most everyone concentrated on the singing and dancing. She wandered the perimeter, looking for the place where she’d seen herself. She had time, so didn’t hurry.
Which was a mistake. Three young women noticed her before she even walked twenty paces. Of course, it was always the women. The men never acknowledged that they noticed her. In her experience, men had a healthy fear of her visions. Henrietta had always thought that their reluctance was because men needed the fiction that they were in control. Surrendering to fate seemed difficult to impossible.
The women here accepted her, though. They sought her out, once it was discovered what she could do. They seemed more willing to want to work with fate, instead of against it.
Well, most of them. The women approaching her, though, had other ideas.
“Henrietta, I must ask you something.”
Of course, it would be that vapid girl Melissa who wanted to know her future. I wonder what she’ll ask me this time.
“Melissa, it is good to see you,” Henrietta lied. The men suffered her here because the women liked her. She couldn’t afford to upset any of them, lest the men drive her out. “What must you ask?”
“You said you saw a man coming for me, that he would be here by the end of the summer.”
“It is not summer’s end, yet,” Henrietta said.
“I know, I know. I just wondered, with the festival and all, there are quite a few merchants from out of town. Would any of them be the one you saw?”
Well, that is a change, at least. She’s given thought to accepting less than a Lord for a husband.
Henrietta looked for the merchant carts and found them, but she couldn’t see through the crowd to find who manned them.
She sighed, then held out her hands. “Take hold of my hands.”
Melissa smiled and reached for Henriatta’s hands.
Henrietta closed her eyes, which wasn’t strictly necessary. She just didn’t want to watch Melissa while lying to her. She made a show of seeing the future, but as always, the girl’s future was as empty as her mind.
It scared Henrietta, too. More and more often, she could see nothing in the future for the women that came to see her. She broke her contact with Melissa, not wanting to think about what it meant.
“I still see the man you hope for coming by the end of summer,” she lied, “but he is not here.”
Melissa’s shoulders slumped in disappointment.
Henrietta understood how Melissa felt. She secretly wished for her own man to come calling, to help her give a child to the world, like her grandmother had done. But it would never be.
She looked around the festival, hoping to find some way to escape these three girls. Her gaze passed over a man she knew only from a distance. A neighbor that lived within sight of her home. She had never talked with him before, but she’d seen him working his fields, his muscles running with sweat and a permanent air of seriousness set upon his face.
Of course, she’d heard the story of what had happened to him. The women that came to her told her everything. She had locked eyes with him once, across the road, and she’d thought for a moment he might have an interest in her, but he looked away just as quick. The pain in his eyes had been near palpable.
And he was sitting right near where her vision had told her she had to be.
“Excuse me,” she said, making a hasty decision. “I must go talk with someone.”
Melissa ignored her, but Melissa’s friends seemed to be a little put off. Henrietta didn’t care. Now that she’d made her decision, she would walk over to Mendleson Moony and see what happened. Likely nothing at all.
* * *
“Hey, look,” Paulus said. “Here comes your neighbor.”
Mendleson looked to where Paulus pointed. Indeed, it was his neighbor, the Seer, Henrietta Swooth. As always, she looked resplendent. Her blonde hair was bound back, but allowed to cascade onto her shoulders. The gown she wore, black with a purple trim along its arms, fit her slight frame perfectly.
When she’d arrived in town only a year after his wife died, all the single men he’d known had talked about her, wondered how she’d bought the cottage that looked over the town and the sea.
Of course, the wondering stopped as soon as wives and girlfriends started to talk of their meetings with the Seer.
Mendleson often wondered how that day would have changed if the Seer had lived across the street when his home, his life, burned. He’d thought about visiting her more than once, but in the time they’d lived across the road from each other, he’d never managed to speak a word to her.
Then Paulus hit him. “What about her? I bet she’d make a good wife for you. You’d always know what’s about to happen.”
“I don’t think it works that way, Paulus.”
“How do you know? Have you ever asked?”
Mendleson shook his head, and looked up. The Seer was almost upon them.
“Well, ask her. I need another ale.” he said, then laughed and left Mendleson to stand there.
Mendleson turned to follow him. He did not want to be alone with her.
“Mendleson,” she said to his back.
Just the one word, his name, stopped him. He couldn’t move any further. He’d never heard her speak before. Her voice was arresting, almost magical.
He turned to face her, but couldn’t open his mouth to speak. This close, she was as beautiful as he’d thought, and younger. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-four or twenty-five. Of an age with his wife, had she lived.
He shook his head. I don’t want to think of that. He made to turn and leave.
“Don’t leave,” she said.
“We’ve lived as neighbors for three years,” she said. “I think it’s time we at least said hello.”
Mendleson couldn’t argue with that. “You’re right, of course. I’ve been remiss in welcoming a neighbor. I’ve had a difficult time of it lately.”
“I know,” she said.
Mendleson wasn’t sure she meant to say it aloud. Her thoughts seemed to turn inward for a moment, almost as if she nursed some kind of hurt within her, too. “Here,” he said “Let’s at least sit on the bench.”
She nodded. “Yes, let’s sit.”
Mendleson put his hand out to help guide her to the bench. He didn’t even know why he did it. It was something he would have done for a lady he was trying to court. But he wasn’t trying to court her. The gesture felt right, though.
Henrietta avoided it deftly, though, sitting on her own.
He withdrew it and sat next to her. I wonder why she did that?
For a while, they sat next to each other and said nothing. Mendleson let his gaze wander among the sights of the festival. The sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon. The bonfires lit the dancers in a flickering light that seemed almost unearthly.
He stole a glance at her and found her looking at him. Staring. In the low light, it was difficult to tell what color her eyes were.
“Why did you really come over here,” he asked.
“I don’t want to tell fortunes tonight,” she said. “If I wander around by myself, the women will come up to me, one by one. Each will ask me to tell them their future, and I can’t refuse.”
Mendleson was puzzled. “Why can’t you refuse?”
“How long do you think they would let me stay if I refused them? They suffer me because I indulge them.”
“Is that why you’re here? Did another town run you out?”
She laughed, but the laugh held little joy. It made him feel warm inside, nonetheless. “No,” she said. “I’m here for—other reasons.”
“What other reasons?” he asked, and regretted it immediately. The smile she’d had on her lips faded.
“I’d rather not talk about them,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no. I understand.” Just like I don’t want to talk about that day.
They sat in silence for a couple minutes, listening to the music, watching the dancers. He stole glances at her, and he caught her stealing glances at him.
She intrigued him. He could tell there was pain in her past, or something akin to it. It’s probably related to her being a Seer. Not every town accepts them.
“It must be lonely,” he said.
“Sometimes. Though, at times, I find myself wishing everyone would leave me alone.”
“The women, they come to me, all of them wanting good news. Wanting to know of long lives for their children, or wealth for themselves, or any number of silly things. They think I can give it to them, but I can only tell what I see. I don’t decide their fate. It’s—difficult when I have to give someone ill news.”
“Does everything you see happen? Does it come true?”
She shook her head. “Things don’t always come true the exact way I see them. Fates can be changed, visions misunderstood.”
Fates can be changed? “Tell me,” he said. “If you had been here, could you have warned me of the fire, of…”
Henrietta stood up, and Mendleson thought he’d angered her somehow. He reached out and grabbed her hand. “Please, don’t go. I didn’t mean…”
A flash, a spark, something, raced between them at that moment. His heart seemed to open up. At the same time, her eyes grew wide, and terror crossed her face.
She pulled away from him, stumbled backward, then fell to the ground.
Mendleson stood up and went to her. What did I do? What did I say? What happened?
“Here,” he said, “let me help you up.”
“No,” she said. “Stay away from me. Stay away.”
From the moment Henrietta began to talk to Mendleson, she knew she could grow to like him, perhaps more. The incident with his wife was a barrier, of course. He obviously hadn’t recovered from it and blamed himself. Her heart thumped in her chest, even when he asked questions that strayed too close to subjects she’d rather not think about.
But he owned a warmth and a protectiveness that appealed to her.
If only she didn’t know how her life would end. If only she hadn’t learned it the day she had come into her Sight. If only I could live with the ignorance of the unsighted.
When he asked the question of her, asked if it would have been possible to save his wife, she’d pulled away. She knew then that he still held tight to the memory of that tragedy. She knew nothing good could come of continuing the conversation.
But he reached up and touched her hand, like she’d longed for him to do, but had refused to allow.
Her normal vision clouded, and her Sight took over at his touch. What she saw horrified her.
The monolith stands, stark and black, blotting out the night sky. The wraiths are on the plateau, coming for her. Coming to take her Sight. Coming to take her life.
A man appears and shouts something she can’t hear. A man that looks strangely like Mendleson. The wraiths turn and converge on him. Circling.
They pounce. She thinks she should hear him screaming, but hears only silence. They come away from him, and turn back to her.
He is laying on the ground, not moving.
The contact with Mendleson’s hand broke, ending the vision, but she had seen enough. The vision had begun like the one she saw when she gained her Sight. But now, it was different.
“Here,” he said. “let me help you up.”
The horror of what she’d just seen washed over her. “No,” she said. “Stay away from me.” She couldn’t let him die, not for her. “Stay away.”
She scrambled to her feet and ran. People were looking, but she didn’t care.
“Henrietta,” she heard him yell. “Stop, I’m sorry!”
She ignored him. She couldn’t let her vision happen. It was the wrong vision. It couldn’t be true. She didn’t want to be responsible.
I should never have come here.
She ran all the way home in the darkness.
When she shut the door behind her, she locked it, then lit a candle. She pulled her shades, then sat down at her table to think.
“How could this happen,” she asked herself. “How could he insert himself into my vision. It was my vision!”
She could only come up with one answer—she’d done it herself by coming to this town. “I should not have tried to avoid my fate.”
She looked around the small home that had been hers for the last three years. Nicknacks, pots, and books lined her walls, overseen by a portrait of her grandmother. She put her head in her hands and tried to focus on what she should do. Tried to evoke another vision.
Her sight left her empty.
“Fine,” she said. “I know what I should do, now. I know what I did wrong. I’ll correct it. He doesn’t deserve that fate.”
She wrote a note for the grocery boy to take with him when he came. She knew what the vision meant and knew what her lack of visions for others meant. Her time was near. She couldn’t see beyond her death. The end of the summer or early autumn.
She got up from the table and started sifting through her things, noting what she’d have to take and what she’d have to leave behind. She wouldn’t be able to take everything.
After a moment, she grimaced. Do I really need to take anything?
But she couldn’t make herself leave it all. Like she’d told Mendleson. Fates could be changed. Even mine?
* * *
Mendleson lay in bed thinking about his encounter with Henrietta, and no matter how he turned it over in his head, he couldn’t figure out what he’d done wrong. He’d only touched her hand, and she had pulled away violently. It was an innocent gesture, and she had reacted all out of proportion to it.
So why do I feel like I wronged her?
He couldn’t come up with any answers.
And the look on her face. It was like I’d suddenly turned into a monster.
It puzzled him until he finally fell asleep.
When he woke, he remembered dreams of Henrietta Swooth. Dreams that he didn’t understand. Dreams of her in trouble, running from something dark and foreboding. He remembered chasing after her, but she ran from him, too.
He climbed out of bed, ate a breakfast of bread and bacon, then went out to work his fields. He resolved, while eating, to put Henrietta out of his head. She was a strange woman. He’d thought there might be possibilities with her, but after her reaction to his touch, after she ran away, well maybe he’d been wrong.
He stepped out his front door, but couldn’t help glancing across the lane toward Henrietta’s home. The shades were drawn, and he didn’t see any movement. Don’t be a fool, Mendleson. It’s still early morning.
He went to his barn to get his horse into its harness. As he opened the door, he realized that Henrietta had given him one thing without trying. She’d given him a night free from nightmares of Mirrielle.
The day’s work proved hot and draining. The sun bore down on him, its heat a relentless opponent. He looked up occasionally from his work and didn’t see a sign of her, which was unusual. He often saw her outside in her garden.
But her shades remained shut throughout the day. Even the grocery boy came and delivered sacks of groceries, but he left them on the porch to bake in the sun.
When he finished for the day, he went inside and cleaned himself up. He didn’t know when it happened, but sometime during the day, he’d decided he should go and check on her and apologize for upsetting her. He couldn’t get her out of his head. He hoped an apology would do the trick.
He found himself standing on her doorstep only a little while later. His stomach buzzed with butterflies and his heart thumped in his chest. The woman did something to me. She must have. Yesterday, all he could think of was his wife. Since he’d talked with Henrietta, all he could think of was her.
The groceries still sat on the porch, ensconced in a burlap sacks. Maybe I’ll help carry them in.
He knocked on the door and waited.
A minute passed. Two. He knocked again. More minutes passed.
“Henrietta,” he called out. “Your groceries are out here in the sun.”
He knocked on the door again, then put his ear to it. He heard nothing.
Mendleson gave up after a few minutes more, after it became obvious there was no one home. He told himself not to worry. She just had a call to make in town, or something. It’s not because of you.
He descended the steps from her porch to the stone path that led through her garden to the lane. He turned back to look, and for a moment, he thought he saw one of the shades in the window move slightly. He watched for a bit. When it didn’t move again, he turned back to his own house.
That night passed even slower. He couldn’t get the dream from the night before out of his head. It left him with a feeling that she was in danger. He thought that’s what his dream was telling him.
He tossed and turned until he decided, late in the night, that he would skip his work in the field to try to figure out what happened to Henrietta. She could be safe and hiding from him, or something could have happened. He wouldn’t let the opportunity to protect her pass him by. He wouldn’t let it happen again.
When the morning came, he was up soon after dawn. He ate, then went back to Henrietta’s where he repeated the performance from the previous evening.
He decided to make the journey down to the town and find out if anyone knew of her whereabouts. She could be staying with someone down there just to avoid him.
He saddled his horse and began his ride. A half hour later, he hitched it to a railing outside of the grocer. The smells of the waterfront overwhelmed him, like they always did these days. The fresh salt air, tainted with the strong odor of fish, reminded him of what he’d given up.
The men working the docks cursed loud and incessantly. Mendleson found himself missing the companionship of those men. Of course, the men still working the docks and boats at this time of day were the lazy ones. The better fishermen had already put out to sea for the day. Paulus would be among them.
Mendleson stepped out of the cacophony and into the grocer, who had just opened for the day. The door, when it shut behind him, blocked out most of the noise.
“Mendleson,” said a rotund man who stood behind the counter. “I don’t see you much these days.”
“How are you, Hugh? I don’t have much need to come by.”
“The farming must be treating you well.”
“I’m not hurting for food, though I could use help harvesting it.”
Hugh laughed. “What brings you here?”
Mendleson stepped up to the counter. “What can you tell me about Henrietta Swooth?”
“Why would I know more than you? You live across the way from her.”
“She buys her groceries from you, Hugh.”
Hugh nodded, causing his jowls to shake. “She does buy groceries from me. My boy delivered her order yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
“I saw. They sat on her front porch, and were still there when I woke this morning. She doesn’t answer her door.”
“Well, now. That’s odd.”
“Why is that odd?”
“She sent a note with my boy, asking for me to send for a coach.”
“A coach? Did she leave already?”
Hugh squinted. “Why the sudden interest?”
“We talked the other night at the festival.”
Hugh smiled. “Finally, though I’m not sure why you’d pick her.”
“No, it’s not what you think. I said something. I’m not sure what, and she left, offended. I only want to apologize.”
“That woman is a bit odd. My wife swears by her viewings, though, and she pays on time.”
Mendleson wanted to reach out and slap the grocer. “Did she leave already?”
“What? Oh, why, no. There’s not a coach due for another two days.”
Mendleson slapped the counter.
“Why are you so upset?”
Mendleson couldn’t tell Hugh about the dream. It hardly made sense to Mendleson. “I just want to make sure she’s all right. I just want to apologize. Look, thanks for your help, Hugh. Tell your wife I said hello.”
“It was good to see you down here. I’m sure everything is all right.”
Mendleson left and went in search of the Justice. He’d want the man with him when he entered Henrietta’s home. He couldn’t keep the thought that she was in trouble out of his head.
* * *
“When will that man get the hint and leave me alone?” Henrietta asked her empty room when she saw Mendleson approach her house through the crack in the shades. This time, he had the Justice with him.
For a moment, her heart warmed. It seemed obvious he was worried about her, but when she thought about her vision it only made her more frustrated. How can I get rid of him? His concern would result in his death. She couldn’t allow that.
Whatever she wanted, she couldn’t let him find her now. Time to hide.
She went to the rear of her little home and pulled up the cellar door. She climbed down into the hole, the darkness of her cellar swallowing her up. She could only hope they wouldn’t be too thorough in their search.
She worked herself into a corner, out of the way of the light that would poor through the cellar door when they eventually opened it. I hope there aren’t too many spiders down here.
She heard the door above open, and then the shades. She could tell light flooded the room above as little rays poked down through the floorboards, illuminating the dust that came free with every step the two men made.
A thump landed on the table. Maybe they brought the groceries in.
“Well, it looks like you’re right, Mendleson. Something certainly happened to her. Are you sure she didn’t just go to visit someone?”
“I’m pretty sure,” said Mendleson. “Hugh said his delivery boy brought a message from her. How could he have done that if she wasn’t here? Why wouldn’t she bring in her groceries?”
“What did the message say again?”
“She asked for him to send for a coach.”
“Maybe the coach arrived already,” said the Justice.
“It didn’t. Hugh said there wouldn’t be another coach for two days.”
Two days? I have to pretend to be somewhere else for another two days? She wanted to curse, but held her breath instead. I can wait two days.
“Curious. You didn’t have anything to do with her disappearance, did you?”
“Why would I?” Mendleson said. His voice sounded indignant to Henrietta’s ears. “Why would I come and get you to search for her if I had something to do with it?”
“I just have to ask.”
The Justice walked to the rear of her home where the cellar door was. The door opened, and Henrietta crouched down, trying to make herself as small as possible. She hid her face in her dress.
“Is there a lamp in here?” the Justice asked.
She heard Mendleson moving around in an apparent search for something. He stopped. “How about a candle?”
“That will work.”
Mendleson moved to the cellar door with the Justice. The Justice lowered his hand into the room, followed by his head. He apparently didn’t want to climb down. Henrietta prayed he wouldn’t change his mind and kept herself as still as she could. She also prayed he would hurry. Her legs were starting to cramp.
After a few moments, the Justice withdrew, taking the candle with him. The door shut. “She’s not down there.”
“Then where is she?” Mendleson asked. She could hear the confusion in his voice. It was mixed with something else. Anguish?
It didn’t matter so much, as long as he remained safe and ignorant of where she was.
The two men milled around a bit longer before eventually leaving.
Henrietta stood, rubbing cramps out of her legs. “Two days,” she said softly.
She climbed out of the cellar and shut the door behind her. She brushed herself off, then looked at the table. On it, her groceries waited.
“I can do it,” she said. “I can wait two days.”