We’ve had a glance into the private lives of several of Amberleigh’s residents over the past few weeks. This week we conclude with part three which is Old Mary’s poignant story.
Earlier this year Old Mary was called to London to make her good-byes to her Aunt Olympia, sister to her dear Mama. Aunt Olympia was instrumental in helping a very young Mary to enter into medical school passing for a boy, so eager was she to be a doctor. Her father, a physician himself, would have been scandalized to know his daughter was dressing as a boy but at the same time would have been proud of her hard work and determination in being the best at all she studied. In everything, Mary was the son he had always wished for.
To say good-bye to Aunt Olympia, Aunt Olly as she was affectionately known, was also to say good-bye to the last link to her mother. All the medical training in the world cannot cure old age and so it was with most dear and tender feelings for this woman she said her last farewell.
For Mary, London was a place she thought she should never again return. She had not yet made peace with her former life, nor the loss that accompanied it. Oh, there are many tales of lost love, but perhaps this one differs from those. Old Mary has lived in Amberleigh so long, no one knows she was once the very lovely Miss Pearce or that she was betrothed to a man she adored. Young Mr. Denbigh was as besotted with Mary as she with him and begged her to marry and journey with him to India, where they would make their fortune. But Mary knew she would be a hindrance and that their life together would begin sooner if he went alone. So devoted to one another, the only thing they could give each other before he left was one innocent night of love. Letters to and from India were much delayed in travel, it being a six month journey by ship, and so there was a long silence between the two. After a time, Mary realized she was pregnant; not wanting to bring scandal to her family, Mary wrote to her dear friend Jerusha Penrhose of Wyndham House in Bexford.
Jerusha arranged for Mary to stay in a small cottage in Ead, a nearby village, for her confinement. All the while her family believed she was caring for her sick friend. Mary gave birth to a son, who was the greatest joy of her life; she delighted in being a mother and doted upon this most adored child. A letter arrived one day for Mary urging her to make haste in returning home for her mother was gravely ill. Once again, dear Jerusha had a plan to place the child in a foster home until such time as Mary could return. Jerusha had three children of her own and the addition of Mary’s son would cause talk, something they agreed was not wise so Mary reluctantly left her son in Jerusha’s capable hands and returned home.
Her mother was ill for quite some time but did finally make a recovery. This was a most happy occasion which was interrupted by a letter from India informing Mary that her best beloved had succumbed to malaria. The world stopped that day for Mary. All she had left now was her precious son. Jerusha had been keeping her informed of the baby’s progress but there had been no word for a time. Mary sent yet another letter to Jerusha only to have a reply from her husband informing Mary that Jerusha had been thrown from her horse and killed instantly. Their plans for Mary’s baby were their own and only Jerusha knew the name of the foster parents which left Mary with no means to find her son. Shock, grief and utter disbelief were all she had.
Mrs. Pearce fell ill once again and this time did not recover. It was then Mary made the decision to go to Bexford and try to find her son. Armed with no information and little help from Jerusha’s grief stricken husband who knew very little of his wife’s friends and acquaintances Mary settled at Thistledown Cottage in Amberleigh. Even if she could not be with her son, she could be near him in this small way while she searched.
After so many years, the memories of her own true love still reside in Old Mary’s heart as do those tender emotions for her infant son. How does Old Mary cope with such loss? Will she ever come to terms with life’s perfunctory assignations? Who among us knows what life has in store?