“And I suppose you wouldn’t fancy a cup of tea before you leave?” The woman was looking the banker, who’d taken his hat off and held it to his midsection. She wanted desperately to diffuse the urgency.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, I cannot tarry. I apologize for the news, but I cannot sit with it.”
She nodded her head quietly. “So 10am it is, then… I’ll send the shillings to the office. You’ll have them by then.”
The banker made a quick nod and then turned to walk to the door. He turned around, donning his hat to go out, “I will see you then.” And it seemed as if he’d say something else, maybe another apology, but instead he held in his breath and gave a nod again and walked out into the wind and snow, shutting the door behind him.
“So that’s it, then. What do I do? I don’t have six thousand shillings, much less ten.” She asks her terrier who is nonethewiser and simply looks up at her and pants and wags his tail. “Oh, you’re lucky you’re not human. You’d never understand this that I speak of.” She frowns then leans down to pet him. “You’re a good boy.” He wags his tail faster for just a second, then waddles off to lap at his water bowl.
She watches him, hands on hips and shakes her head. “I wish I could be a terrier; sweetly negligent of all this ‘peopling’ stuff.”
Margerie-Anne was a widowed woman who lived in a small cottage near some hills in the countryside. Her poor husband had not been a very successful man and, when he passed, he left her with very little. Their home immediately became a target for the bank to be put into foreclosure and become repossessed by the city. Margie had tried to make some income selling woven goods and baked goods and candles and dolls, but it had made her not nearly enough to keep the property. And now, after postponing and postponing and living off of the grace and mercies of the human people who worked at the bank, there was no time left to push back, and the ten thousand shillings of debt that had accumulated over the past year and a half were due tomorrow morning and expected at the teller’s desk by ten a.m.
She sank into the bench by the kitchen table that her husband’s brother had made for them as a wedding gift and sat with her chin in her palm until she heard her soup boiling over on the stove.
“Oh sheesh! Oh sheesh, I always forget. What kind of house…woman am I if I could let my house accidentally burn down from soup?!” She snuffed out the flame and pulled the hot pot from the stove, lightly branding the wooden counter when she set it down. The contents in the pot simmered down as a child does when they become sleepy from all their rampage.
After ladling soup into a single bowl and realizing she’d still made too much… all this time later, and she can’t figure out how to cook for only one… she asked the little dog who stared up at her, “Would you like soup, Rucker?”
Once the liquid cooled, she mechanically spooned it into her mouth as she stared off and daydreamed about all the stressful “human things”, and Rucker lapped from the second bowl beside her on the floor.
“It’s lonely out here, Rucker, don’t you think?” She finally said once she’d finished. “I think it’s lonely. A miserable life, really. What doom has been mine.”
She finally took to the sink and washed the bowls in silence, before locking the doors, closing the curtains, and retiring to her bedroom.
“This is one thing I need to replace. This bed; it is too big for me. It’s the size for two adults and a child!… That is one thing that I wish Jonathan had left me; a child. A baby boy to look just like him. I don’t want to forget his face, but sometimes I think I am forgetting it. …And how silly to be so deprived of a partner that I stand here and talk to a dog.” Rucker sits at her feet and wags his tail. “You poor dog, in one way, I think it would be miserable to not understand anything. To not partake would be wonderful, though. Or maybe not. Who am I to know anything at all?”
She crawled into bed after donning a gown and then pulled the quilt and woolen blanket over herself, blew out her candle, and stared at her ceiling until she fell asleep.
At eight o’clock in the morning, a gentle knock sounded at her door. She barely awoke, and then the knock came again, as a more urgent rap. Opening her eyes fully, she realized it was very late already. How had she slept in? Stress really does funny things to a sleep cycle.
Knock, knock, knock.
“One moment! I’m coming.” Margie threw on a shawl and slipped on some stockings and boots. “I sure hope it’s not the debt collector come early to harrass me for the shillings now.” Her brow furrowed.
She briefly pulled the front curtain aside to peer out the window and see who was at the door. “Hmm.”
She opened the door to find that Mistress Shire was on her porch waiting with her arms tucked into her shawl.
“Well, come in, come in! You’ll get frostbite.” She ushered the red haired woman inside.
“You have a warm home here, Miss Edinburg.” She looked around at Margie’s modest log and slat cottage. Jonathan had been very thoughtful in building this home.
“Thank you. Can I ask what has brought you here?” Margerie-Anne asked as she put some water to boil on the stove for tea.
“Have you got peach tea? I’d rather that or coffee.”
“Yes, I’ve got peach.” She took the tin of leaves down from the cupboard.
“I am here with an offer.”
“On the house? I can’t sell, I have nowhere else to go.”
“Not on the house,” Addie smiled, “I want to pay it off for you.”
Margie stopped in her tracks, “Pay my debt? Why?”
Addie began taking her gloves off as her hands thawed. And Margie came over with the steaming mugs of tea and a bowl of sugar.
“Thank you,” she sipped on it and then continued, “Well, I’ve got nothing else to spend it on. As you know my late husband is no more and I’m sitting in wealth, in a large house and alone. One widow to another, I simply understand the misery, and imagine it’s much harder when you’re being run out from under your roof.” She finally met Margie’s eyes. “It’s purely goodwill, you’d not owe it back to me.”
Margie looked in her eyes for a moment. She’d barely ever spoke to this woman, maybe passed her in the market or in the fabric store, but never had they exchanged more than a “hello”.
“I truly don’t require anything back from you.”
“But you’d want something?” Margie tried to keep the eye contact that Addie broke as she stared into her tea and smiled.
“Want is a vague word. And desire is silly and meaningless, it begs pain, doesn’t it? No, I have my wants in my heart, but it’s not your job to fulfill or please them. It’s a gift, Margerie.” She looks at her again.
“You are a woman full of questions and prodding.” Addie started with a smile again, “But I do understand your concern. I simply have taken liking to your humble character and your strength and effort to lift these boulders that wish to crush you. People running after you for your home and you sit here and have made this your creation space to make candles and dolls and whatever you can in effort to save yourself. You’re amazing, and it’s pitiful that it seems a helpless situation no matter the hours of your labor.” She meets Margie’s eyes another time and sips on the fruity herb tea.
“I wouldn’t know what to say. I can’t take that from you. Even if you don’t have a need for it, I’d feel lousy not making it out on my own way.”
“But, I–I’d like to pay you back…. I–I need the help, but I’d like to pay you back. I want to work for it, I don’t want to get out for free on someone else’s work and success.”
“Okay. You have a deal. If you’d like to pay me back, you can. Only, don’t drown yourself for it.”
“Thank you. I won’t. I will do good by your generosity… I wonder though,” her brow furrowed, “how did you know that the bank was.. that I was behind on payments?” They get up to walk to the door again.
“Mister Halloway passed my house yesterday up the hill. I saw him on the street and called to him. He shared it with me with a heavy heart. …I also simply could guess. I’ve figured it for a while.”
“Did he share with you how much it is? I don’t want to burden you with it.”
Addie stifled a chuckle and told her, “Ten thousand shillings will not tear apart my estate, dear.” And then she opened the door and turned to her in the doorway.
Margie felt a bit of humiliation in her chest at having implied that a rich person would be burdened by a poor’s debt. …And humiliated that she was the aforementioned poor.
“Life has been unfair to you, I assure you it’s not your fault. You have not been an idle person.” Addie encourages her, seeing the sting in her reddened cheeks, “I’ve got the shillings in my horse bags, I can help you transfer them to your own.”
“Thank you, yes. I’ll fetch Copper Bramble from the stall.”
She meets Addie by her hefty thoroughbred horse and they transfer the pouches to Margie’s modest Clydesdale. Once they’d finished, Addie told her, “You deserve them.” She smiled at her again, mounting her tall and prestigious horse with much ease and grace and then rode off into the blanketed world.
Margie stared after her for a while, until she couldn’t see Addie’s black horse anymore, still slightly stunned, before mounting her own horse and riding off to the bank to pay off her overdue debts.
She had no idea how she’d ever be able to pay this off to Addie Shire. Maybe her tombstone would be sold, or the plot of land she was supposed to be buried in. Maybe if she finally sold her house and lived in a shack or a teepee. If she sold all her sheep and pigs (which she already had sold most of), and even Copper. Dear Copper Bramble, which was Jonathan’s last gift to her.