|The Missing Piece
Author: Katherine Brook PM
What happened when Robin came to Lantern Hill to take care of Jane.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Words: 4,945 - Reviews: 2 - Published: 08-19-09 - Status: Complete - id: 5316033
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The telegram arrived at 60 Gay nearly four days after Jane had departed. Robin was at home when it came, and she stared at the words for several moments without comprehending them:
Jane ill with pneumonia STOP Requesting her mother's presence STOP If coming please advise of arrival time and location STOP Andrew.
Robin sank into a chair and held the telegram out in front of her. It had to be serious—Andrew would not be sending for her otherwise. She was still sitting there, paralyzed, when Gertrude came into the room, having returned from a rare outing.
"Robin, what's wrong?" Gertrude crossed the room with such a look of concern on her face that Robin knew she must look absolutely terrified. To solicit such concern from Gertrude required nothing less than terror.
"Here." Robin handed her the telegram and waited.
"Oh dear God," said Gertrude softly. She laid the paper on the end table and watched her half-sister. "Are you going?"
"I have to," Robin replied. "Andrew wouldn't have sent this if it wasn't serious. I have to go."
"Mother won't be happy."
"She'll understand," said Robin. "She has to. Jane Victoria is my daughter."
Gertrude nodded, but looked unconvinced. Gertrude knew well her mother's irrational jealousy, and unlike Robin, had no illusions about what she would or wouldn't do. Still, she agreed with Robin's decision.
"I'll ring the train station and see what I can find out about train times," Gertrude said. "I guess you'll want to leave as soon as possible."
"Yes," Robin answered. "Tonight if I can." She stood and looked blank for a moment and then gained some clarity. "I need to pack."
"Why don't you go get started." Gertrude moved toward the phone and Robin started up the stairs. Now that a decision had been made she felt a little better, but when she thought of Jane calling out for her across the miles she wanted to scream in frustration. She was so far away—if only there were a faster way to get to the Island. Forcing herself to calm down, Robin took a deep breath and opened her wardrobe. The moment she saw her clothes, however, she was paralyzed again. What was she going to take? Nothing she owned was practical, everything was too fluffy or formal. The things she had brought back with her from the Island so many years ago had long ago disappeared.
"Miss Robin?" Mary was going through the hallway, her arms full of fresh linen. "Are you going somewhere?"
"I'm going to Jane," Robin answered. "She's ill—with pneumonia. She's asking for me . . .I have to go."
"Of course." Mary hurried into the room. "The poor darling. Do you need help?"
"I just don't know what to take. Everything seems so impractical."
"Oh, you have a few things that will suit," Mary began digging through the wardrobe. "I know that you have a blue dress that's simple. And you'll wear your grey traveling suit on the train . . ." she trailed off as she began to pull hangers full of garments from the closet.
Robin just watched as Mary folded and sorted; before long there was a medium-sized case full of clothes and a traveling suit laid out on the bed.
"Robin, I have the train schedule," Gertrude came into the room. "You can leave tonight on the International Limited and you'll arrive in Charlottetown on Monday night."
"I wish I could get there sooner," Robin looked into Jane's room from her own, her heart nearly breaking at the sight of Jane's empty bed. It was bad enough that Jane had gone and left only a note, but now . . ..
"I'll wire Andrew and tell him that you'll arrive tomorrow," said Gertrude.
"What is happening in here?" The voice coming from the doorway was cold and unmistakable. All three women stepped back as Victoria Kennedy entered the room.
"Mother," Robin began, "Jane Victoria is very ill. She has pneumonia, and she's asking for me. Andrew wired me. I'm going to the Island . . . tonight."
"You mostly certainly are not," Mrs. Kennedy laughed as if Robin's idea were completely ridiculous. "I've never heard of anything so silly. The nurses and doctors on the Island may not be quite as good as those in Toronto, but they are certainly capable of caring for Victoria."
"I'm not going to be her nurse, Mother," Robin explained. "I'm going because she's my daughter."
"Robin, don't be silly. You'll travel all the way there, Victoria will be well, and then you'll have to come all the way back. This is probably some silly ploy to get you there." Mrs. Kennedy reached into Robin's suitcase and began to remove the top layer of clothing.
"Mother, Andrew would never have wired me if this weren't something serious. I have to go." Robin reached out for her clothes, but Mrs. Kennedy refused to let them go. Gertrude and Mary watched this interplay silently, waiting to see what Robin would do.
"Mother, I'm going." Robin's voice was as cold and hard as diamonds. She looked her mother in the eye and took the clothes from her. Something had come over her, something powerful, something she hadn't felt since that day years ago when she had told her mother she was now Andrew Stuart's wife. "This is ridiculous. Jane is my daughter." The dropping of Jane's middle name was not intentional—Robin did not even realize she had done it—but her mother did. Mrs. Kennedy turned away and stalked from the room. She did not say a word.
"Let me fix that suitcase for you," Mary said after a moment. She began to rearrange the clothing. "I'll get you a supper and then Frank can take you to the station."
Robin nodded. The confrontation with her mother had drained her. She sat down on her bed and watched Mary until the suitcase was latched and then followed Mary down the stairs.
Frank took Robin to the station and waited with her until the train arrived. "Give Miss Victoria our love," he told Robin as he helped her board.
"I will," Robin promised. She found her seat and sank into it. She still felt disturbed by what had happened earlier. Robin hated conflict, especially with her mother. But of course she had to go. Why couldn't her mother understand that?
The train slowly chugged from the station. Robin felt her frustration building again. The train was so slow! Jane needed her. Robin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Getting worked into a state was not going to get her to the Island any faster. She wished she could sleep for the entire trip and wake up when the train pulled in to Charlottetown, but Robin knew there would be no sleep for her until she saw Jane.
All through the night Robin kept vigil at the train window. Mostly her thoughts were prayers for her daughter to get well, to be well when she arrived, but when she wasn't praying for Jane she was thinking about Andrew. She was going to see him for the first time in ten years. Had he changed much? Had she? Jane hadn't known how much it had affected Robin to know that he had written. He had written asking her to come back to him a year after she left. Robin had never received the letter, but Jane had told her about it. Robin had known in the back of her mind that her mother was behind the disappearance of the letter, but Robin hadn't wanted to acknowledge that—until now. She couldn't deny it any longer. Her mother's actions earlier in the afternoon had proven just how irrational the woman could be. Robin and Jane couldn't—wouldn't—live with Victoria Kennedy any longer. Robin knew that they couldn't. But what could they do? Maybe a house on the Island? Robin had always loved it, and Jane belonged to it now in a way that she had never belonged in Toronto. Perhaps if I live on the Island, Robin thought, I can keep Jane from slipping away any further. But how could they possibly support themselves? Robin had no skills to provide a living for herself or her daughter.
Robin sighed. She was impatient to reach her destination, yet she was dreading her arrival. She wondered if Andrew would meet her. What would she say to him? It was going to be awkward.
Stop it, Robin told herself, it doesn't matter. Jane is all that you should be worrying about.
Robin switched to the Maritime Express in Montreal and then took the ferry across to the Island, following the same route her daughter had just days before. But Robin had been unsure of the branch line that she needed to take to reach Lantern Hill, so she was simply going to Charlottetown. Her stomach twisted itself into tighter and tighter knots as the train brought her to her destination. Her emotions were roiling—she was mostly fearful of how she would find Jane, but nervousness unrelated to her daughter's illness was also causing her insides to churn. She hadn't been on the Island since she left Andrew.
Robin alighted from the train, hollow-eyed from lack of sleep, but as awake as she'd ever been. She saw Irene before Irene saw her, and Robin was glad for the chance to compose and prepare herself.
"Robin!" Irene had spotted her and came toward her. Except for a few more lines in her face and a little more gray in her hair, Irene looked exactly the same.
"Hello, Irene," Robin politely gave her cheek to be kissed.
"My goodness, my dear, you look as young as you ever did!" Irene exclaimed. "Some people don't change at all!"
Robin immediately felt herself tense. Apparently Irene hadn't changed at all. The words spoken by someone else would have been a compliment, but coming from Irene they were as patronizing as Robin remembered. Most people would have said Robin hadn't changed at all since she had come back from the Island, but Robin was ten years wiser than she had been when she left—an adult woman, no longer a naïve girl. She'd also had ten years to reflect on what happened and what might have been. So Irene's words did not fluster her.
"Please, Irene, how is Jane?"
Irene's face changed. "She is quite ill. I haven't had word since yesterday, though."
"I need to go to her tonight."
"Robin, that won't be possible. There's no one to take you out there tonight."
"Who will take me in the morning?"
"I have a friend who is going that way tomorrow and will be able to give you a ride."
Robin shook her head. "I need to find a way there tonight. Is there a train?"
"Don't be silly, dear. You can come to my house and get a good night's sleep."
"I've waited long enough, Irene. I need to see Jane—now."
Irene heard the iron in Robin's voice—the same voice that Robin had used with her mother.
"There's no phone down at the house, Robin," Irene stated. "I can't call Andrew. I don't know how you're going to get there."
"Irene!" Both women turned at the same time to see Andrew striding across the station platform. For a moment Robin thought she would faint; she swayed helplessly, but managed to steady herself before she had to grab for Irene's arm.
"I'm not too late." Andrew was out of breath. "Hello, Robin."
His voice was cool, but there was something underneath. Robin took a deep breath.
"Hello, Andrew." They made no move to touch each other, but their eyes locked for a moment, during which Robin couldn't breathe. Irene interrupted.
"What are you doing here, 'Drew?"
"I came to get Robin. I knew she would want to see Jane as soon as she could, but I wasn't sure if I could get away. But Jane is resting as comfortably as can be expected. The doctor came and the nurse is with her."
"Thank you, Andrew," Robin managed.
"Where is your suitcase?" Andrew was businesslike. "We should go."
"Of course," Robin located her case and Andrew took it from her.
"Goodbye, Irene," Robin said politely.
"Goodbye, dear. Send word as soon as you know." Irene looked none too pleased to see Robin leaving with Andrew, but there was little she could do. Unlike Robin's mother, Irene made an effort to disguise her feelings.
Andrew led the way to his car in silence. Robin wanted to speak, but she had no idea what to say. Andrew held the door for her and then got into the car himself. Robin studied his face, thinking that he looked older than when she had seen him last, and she wondered if that was because of Jane's illness or because of the past ten years. Finally Robin made some effort at small talk.
"How far is it to Lantern Hill?"
"About a half-hour," he answered. "Not too far."
"I'm glad. How is Jane?"
"She has double pneumonia. A very high fever—she's hallucinating and rambling. Today was better, but the doctor says the crisis hasn't occurred yet. Once it does we'll know for sure . . .."
He didn't finish his sentence, but Robin could guess that the end would be ". . .if she'll live or not."
The thought of Jane dying was something that Robin had not yet been able to entertain, but now it overwhelmed her and she began to cry. Huge gasping, uncontrollable sobs—nearly hysteria as a result of her long journey and sleepless night.
Andrew immediately pulled the car to the side of the road. He turned and looked at her for a moment and then pulled her into his arms. Robin leaned against him and sobbed, grateful for his solidity—grateful that this was one person who understood completely how she was feeling.
Andrew said nothing, just let her cry until she was spent. When she sat up he handed her his handkerchief and they drove on. Robin mopped at her eyes and nose.
"It must have been a long journey," Andrew said after awhile. "Did you sleep at all?"
"How could I?" Robin asked. "Have you slept since Jane took ill?"
"Only in small spurts," Andrew admitted. They were silent again for some time, and then Andrew spoke.
"Lantern Hill is just around the bend. You won't be able to see much in the dark, but it's a lovely spot. Jane and I knew the moment we saw it that it was made for us."
Robin felt immediately left out, but she fought the rising jealousy and instead turned to look at Lantern Hill. The house was mostly dark, but there was a light downstairs and another in an upstairs window. Andrew pulled the car up to the house, alighted, and then helped Robin out. They went into the house and up the stairs. The nurse was in Jane's room.
"Oh, darling." Robin gasped, startled by Jane's white face—even whiter than the pillowslip behind her. Robin could feel the heat of Jane's fever emanating from the bed.
Jane tossed her russet head and let out a low moan. "No, no, Dad. You can't. You can't," she cried.
"She's delirious," the nurse said by way of explanation.
"What can I do?" Robin wrung her hands helplessly.
"You should try to sleep," said the nurse. "I can manage the sickroom."
"The sickroom, yes, but not my daughter," Robin felt the now familiar defiance come over again. How often she had asserted herself in the last few days! "I shan't be able to sleep, so I'm not going to try."
"You may bathe Jane's brow to help keep her cool," said the nurse. "Try to get her to take water at intervals and keep her covered and calm."
"I will," said Robin. She slipped out of her coat and handed to the nurse, who, rather miffed at being treated like a maid, swept out of the room. Robin didn't even notice.
"Dad, you can't. I won't let you," Jane cried.
"Shh, darling. Mother's here," Robin soothed. She wrung out the cloth in the basin and laid it on Jane's brow, gently stroking her burning cheek. She turned to look at Andrew. He looked pained.
"She's so worried," he said. "I told her . . .."
"Told her what?" Robin asked. "What is she talking about, Andrew?"
"I told her that I wasn't going to divorce you to marry Lilian Morrow," he said. "She came from Toronto to ask me if I was."
"Were you considering it?"
"No, no." Andrew was vehement. "Irene had some ideas along that line. But no, I don't want to marry Lilian. And I told Jane that when she arrived. But she still seems so upset about it."
"She's delirious. You heard what the nurse said."
"I know. I just wish she could rest easily." Andrew rubbed his hands over his face and walked to the window and Robin was startled by her sudden desire to go to him, to comfort him.
"Andrew, you should sleep if you can." Robin managed to contain her feelings and she turned back to the bed.
"We'll take shifts," Andrew offered. "I might not be a mother, but I can bathe a fevered brow as well as that nurse. I'll go lie down for a few hours and then come relieve you."
"I don't know if I can leave her," Robin murmured.
"You won't be any use to Jane if you don't sleep, Robin."
Andrew left the room and Robin felt relieved. The tension between them was tangible. She closed her eyes briefly and reached for the glass of water beside the bed.
"Jane, love, here. Try to take some water."
The next day was like a feverish dream to Robin. She had slept for a few hours the night before when Andrew had come in and told her to go to bed, promising that he wouldn't leave Jane's side and would wake her if there was any change, but other than that she did not leave Jane's side. The doctor came, grey and troubled, and the nurse to administer hypodermics and take Jane's temperature. In the evening Mrs. Jolly sent up dinner, and Andrew brought Robin a tray and sat with her until she had eaten enough to please him. While she ate her head nodded over the plate.
"Robin, you're going to land face first in the potatoes if you don't go to bed," Andrew said. He took the tray and helped her to her feet. His hand burned against the small of her back, yet she shivered. By the time they got to Jane's room she was shaking with cold and fatigue.
"Get changed and right into bed," Andrew commanded. "I'm going to make you some tea and I'll be back to check on you."
Robin was too tired to argue. Andrew shut the door behind him and she slipped out of her dress and into a nightgown. She buried herself under the covers and tried hard to get warm.
Andrew knocked and entered to Robin's weak "come in."
"Here." He brought the tea to her and held it to her lips, helping her drink it as though she were a small child. Finally she began to warm up, the shivering ceased, and Andrew placed the teacup on the nightstand.
"Goodnight," he whispered, and Robin, who was well on her way to sleep, thought she felt a kiss brush across her forehead.
The next day when the doctor came he was even more grave and troubled. Jane had stopped tossing so fitfully and now just lay still and hot beneath her blanket. "Do what you can to keep her comfortable," the doctor said slowly. "I'm afraid the situation is very serious and there's nothing more I can do. I'll return in a few hours to check on her."
He went away and Robin went into the hall and wept wildly, for although the doctor had not said it, Jane's parents understood what he meant. Andrew wrapped his arms around her. "There is still hope, dearest, there is still a little hope," he whispered, and Robin heard the endearment and clung to him. She cried against him, soaking his shirt with her tears, and she felt his own tears dampen her hair.
"If anything happens to Jane . …" she whispered, but could not finish the thought. "She's all I have."
"She's all I have," Andrew said.
Robin cringed, thinking about how lonely they both were. "I'm your wife," she said, surprised at her own boldness. "You have me."
Andrew's eyes darkened. "Do I, Robin?"
The intensity in his voice made Robin tremble. "I can't talk about this now," she said quickly.
"You can't say something like that and not want to talk about it."
"I don't want you to be alone, Andrew. I don't want to be alone. And I want Jane to get well."
"Well, when she gets well we'll talk." Andrew bent to kiss her cheek and was gone.
The doctor came back in the late afternoon. "There will be a change, one way or another, tonight," he said, as he bent over the bed.
"And then," said Jane, clearly and distinctly, "I shall find my lost word."
The doctor, nurse, Andrew and Robin were startled. Jane had not moved, or even cried out for twenty-four hours.
There was no sleep for anyone that night. Robin and Andrew sat next to Jane's bed, the nurse came in and out and the doctor stayed to minister to the patient, trying to keep her cool and still. Jane's fever spiked and her breathing rasped and grew slow, frightening Robin and Andrew, who clung to each other. The night grew old and turned into morning. Rain lashed against the windowpanes. Robin dozed a bit in the gray morning light, and was awakened by an exclamation from Andrew.
The nurse was sponging Jane's brow, a sight that comforted Robin. Her daughter was still alive. She was also sweating, profusely, and the doctor was leaning back with relief.
"Her fever's broken," he said. "She's still very weak, but I think the crisis is passed. Jane will survive."
The words were the sweetest Robin had ever heard. Nights of sleeplessness and worry caught up with her, and she broke into what could only be called a fit of hysterics, weeping and laughing together uncontrollably.
The nurse stepped toward her, but Andrew turned his back to the nurse and sheltered Robin, wrapping his arms around her.
"Come on," he said gently. He helped her to her feet and guided her toward her to the spare room. He shut the door and then helped her out of her dress and into her nightgown. He stroked her hair and she began to calm down. She was not even embarrassed. He pulled back the covers and helped her into bed. He made a move to go, but she held out her arms to him.
"Please, Andrew," she said. "I need you to hold me."
"Robin," he began.
"Please," she repeated. Andrew sat down on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes and then climbed into the bed next to her. He lay on his back, and she snuggled up into his side, one of his arms around her, and the other smoothing her hair slowly.
"I love you, Robin," she heard him whisper. "I've never stopped."
She could not answer, but she clung to him and her tears dampened his shirt.
Robin slept the whole day and the next night, and when she woke it was morning and she felt as though she must have dreamed Andrew's words, and even his presence. There was a dent in the pillow where his head had been, but nothing else to indicate he had been there.
She got up and dressed, blushing slightly when she remembered the way he'd undressed her and put on her nightgown. She took extra time with her hair, and knew she was looking her best now, rested and happy.
Robin went to Jane's room and looked in on her daughter, who was asleep but cool to the touch, and the nurse said she had even roused to take a little broth. Robin kissed her daughter's forehead and gave her some water when she stirred.
When Andrew came in, Robin felt her heart beat faster and her cheeks grow hot. He smiled at her, and she blushed even more.
"How's the patient?" he asked.
"Much better," Robin managed to get her tongue to work after a moment. "She's eaten a little, and taken some water."
"Good," Andrew smiled down at his daughter. "Mrs. Jolly sent a bag of doughnuts, but I told her that you and I might eat them all before Jane's well enough for doughnuts."
"Did you see her today?"
"Oh, yes. I slept most of yesterday away and then wrote through the evening—the first time I've been able to for days. And then this morning I went out to take word to Jane's friends and acquaintances, but most had heard already—half of them have been haunting the place."
Robin had seen the children lurking around Lantern Hill, and she was glad that her daughter had so many friends. Life had seemed so hard for Jane in Toronto, and Robin was beginning to see what drew her daughter to the Island.
"I'm sorry, Andrew," she said. "I'm sorry I kept Jane from you for so long. I should have seen to it that she came here, but I couldn't . . .."
"It's in the past, Robin," he answered. "I'm glad that you sent her to me when you did."
They were both aware that the nurse was in the room, and so they stopped talking, but Robin's heart still pounded with anticipation. The conversation wasn't over.
Later in the evening, Robin sat on the steps outside Jane's room. She was feeling pleasantly tired after her day of housekeeping and nursing, but it was different than the tired she'd felt in Toronto. It felt healthy. She felt useful. She'd made both dinner and supper for Andrew, cleaned up afterward, and tidied up the house a bit. She wasn't used to physical work, but she was more content than she remembered being in years.
Andrew found her on the stairs and joined her. He reached for her hand, turning it palm up and stroking the palm of her hand with his thumb, sending chills through her.
"It's been a good day," Robin said with a smile. She leaned her head against the wall and turned to look at him.
"Has it? Do you like all this domesticity?"
"I do," Robin answered. "I've always liked it."
"But you left." Andrew's voice was flat, and he let her hand drop. "You left it all and went back to Toronto, and I . . .." He trailed off, unable to finish, and looked away from her.
"I know, Andrew, and I'm sorry. I've been sorry about that since I went."
He turned to look at her then. "Darling, I didn't mean a word of those dreadful things I said . . . when we were last together."
"Andrew, if I had gotten your letter . . . you know I didn't? I would have come back without a second thought. Oh, how I've hated Toronto!"
"Oh, Robin, my poor little love." He reached out to embrace her and she leaned her head against his shoulder.
"Have you ever thought of me in all these years?" she asked.
He chuckled. "Have I thought of anything else? You don't know how I've missed you."
"When your wire came, mother said I mustn't come. She was terrible . . . as if anything could keep me from Jane. Oh, Andrew, what a fool I've been!"
"We were just two very foolish people. Is it too late to be wise, Robin?"
Robin opened her mouth to answer and a wind came in through the window and blew Jane's door shut with a bang and they laughed. The nurse was coming up the stairs, so Andrew grabbed Robin's hand and they went down and outside into the cool blue evening.
"Now, what were you going to say?" Andrew grinned. "I think that I very much wanted to hear your answer."
Robin's heart was so full she could hardly speak, but she turned her face up toward him. "It's not too late, Andrew," she said. "I love you."
"I love you."
His lips found hers, and it was as if she'd come home.