February 29, 2010

Artwork by Denver Robbins

Elizabeth knew her chances of returning to university this year were slim but with summer nearing an end and fall fast approaching, she thought it at least worth posing the question. She leaned forward in the car and hoped that her father was feeling receptive.

"Absolutely not," her father, Arthur Greiling, grumbled. "I sent you to school to find a husband, preferably one worth the expense of it, not to fill your head with things you're not capable of understanding. The female brain is too simple a thing to warrant paying for an education."

"I never went to college." Mrs. Greiling, her mother, chimed in proudly.

"But I'm sure things will be different this year." Elizabeth pleaded. "I promise I'll try harder."

"No!" Arthur grunted. "My decision has been made." He pulled the car to a stop in front of his favorite restaurant. "Next she'll be wanting to cut her hair." Arthur grumbled to his wife.

"No she will not!" Mrs. Greiling turned to scowl at her daughter over her shoulder. "Don't argue with your father Lizzie. He's given you everything you have. You should be grateful."

"Yes of course, mother."

"Perhaps she's just tired." Mrs. Greiling offered as they made their way to the restaurant. "Caught the same thing that's been making poor Iona ill lately."

"Don't be daft woman." Arthur grumbled. He took off his hat and smoothed the wispy tuft of white hair on the top of his head.

"Posture Lizzie, straight as a board." Mrs. Greiling scolded again. "And put a smile on girl. I won't have people thinking you're bored by your parent's company."

"Yes mother." Lizzie smiled broadly then sighed as soon as their backs were turned.

"I'd like a table away from the windows," Arthur grumbled to the maitre d'. "I don't like be gawked at while I eat."

The maitre d' smiled curtly. "Right this way, sir."

Elizabeth's stomach grumbled with hunger. "Pardon me," she sipped her water as she sat patiently, rigidly upright, casually perusing the plates of other diners while her parents read over their menus.

"Have you tried the salmon dear?" her mother asked.

Her father grunted.

She wasn't sure why her mother had taken to reading the menus; in all her years she couldn't recall a single occasion where either of them had been allowed to order for themselves.

"Could I have the chicken?" Elizabeth asked as she found herself eyeing a particularly scrumptious looking breast of chicken nestled in a plate of garden greens.

Arthur lowered his menu and glared at her. Mrs. Greiling lowered hers as well, her eyes wide and her mouth pursed.

"Manners, Elizabeth," her mother scolded.

Arthur snapped his fingers in the air. "I'll have the Porterhouse, rare. My wife and daughter will have the chicken," he told the waiter. "You're lucky I'm feeling generous today," he said to Elizabeth.

"Thank you." Elizabeth said.

Arthur pulled a box from his coat pocket and placed it on the corner of the table next to her.

"What's this?" Elizabeth asked.

"Open it." Arthur instructed.

"Oh my," Elizabeth gasped at the large and gaudy cross, nestled in the box. "It's...lovely," she lied.

"Put it on," her father instructed. "I think it will serve you well to remember your duty to God, and to your parents."

"It's heavy." Elizabeth remarked, as the garish ornament settled around her neck.

"Good." Her father said. "For as long as you are my burden it shall be yours. You will wear it at all times, and you will remember the sacrifices made for you and your less than deserving soul. Your husband will decide if you should continue to wear it under his charge. Am I understood?"

"Yes father." Elizabeth said quietly. "Thank you."

"Keep it next to your heart." Mrs. Greiling said, instructing Elizabeth to place the cross beneath her blouse. "You're not becoming a nun and the reminder of your insolence is meant for you. No need to announce it to the world. Best face forward Darling."

"Yes mother." Elizabeth forced a smile. "I hope you will forgive me Father. I guess sometimes my simple mind forgets how fortunate I am to have such kind and caring parents." Her stomach turned and suddenly she found her appetite had been lost.

She sat quietly throughout the better part of dinner trying to think of a way to broach the subject of visiting her best friend Iona, who had been feeling ill for well over a month now, and Elizabeth had been given few opportunities to see her.

Arthur Greiling had never liked Iona, first for her family's lower social standing, and then later for Iona's tendency toward modern thought.

"I spoke to Mr. Dearing about Iona, the other day." He said quite unexpectedly.

Elizabeth shifted her focus from the last bits of chicken she had been pushing around the plate with her fork and looked to her father.

"It's been quite a hardship for them to care for her," he said then took a sip of his brandy.

"I was thinking-." Elizabeth started.

"Do not interrupt me!" Arthur grunted.

Elizabeth set her hands on her lap and waited for her father to continue.

"The Dearings have been very good to you over the years..."

Elizabeth couldn't believe what she was hearing. Her father must have been feeling very generous to offer up something akin to praise for the Dearings when only a few short months ago he'd gone off on a tirade about the indecency of Iona's bobbed hair.

"I told Mr. Dearing you would be more than happy to come and assist them in their time of need."

It was about as likely for Arthur Greiling to be charitable as it was for her to suddenly sprout wings and be able to fly. But she'd be a fool to question it, whatever his reasons.

"Of course, father," she nodded. "I am happy to be of service," she suppressed her smile.

Arthur grunted.

Lizzie caught sight of her mother, who had an odd look on her face... distress almost. Lizzie leaned and put her hand on her mothers arm as if to silently ask if she were well.

The touch startled Mrs. Greiling. She kept her eyes averted but she smiled, and patted the back of Elizabeth's hand twice before brushing it away then said, "Do as your father says."

 

Chapter 9 - Gifts & Obligations

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart