Author's note: "An Unexpected Kindness" is a revised and expanded version of my earlier story "Blind Love." The basic plot is the same, but this edition contains much new material.
The restaurant's private dining room was luxuriously appointed, and the staff knew when to answer a call and when to withdraw discreetly. Odette lay on the velvet chaise longue, sobbing helplessly. A little while ago she had tried to scream. But her voice had been muffled, her breath almost stopped, by her skirts flung up and held over her face, while unspeakable things happened to her body. It was too late now.
She heard his footsteps moving to the door. "Stop snivelling," he snapped. "I've paid for the dinner, and there's money on the table for your cab fare home. What else did you expect, coming here with me? Stupid girl." Then he was gone.
What had she expected? She loved… she had thought she loved him. He had said that he loved her. Her parents had told her that young ladies did not go out without a chaperone. A silly rule, she had thought, and there were ways around it. She had friends, they exchanged visits… no one kept track of her every move. She was in love. It was exciting to trick her parents, to sneak away from time to time for secret meetings. Then tonight's candlelit dinner, soft words, delicate kisses on her hand, on her cheek… and suddenly she was helpless in the grip of a lustful fiend, scarcely understanding the cause of this obscene pain.
Eventually she made her way home, much later than she should have been. Her parents knew at a glance what had happened. They shouted and lectured, and swore that she would never be let out of the house again. Her father was a prosperous merchant, looking to make a place for himself in local politics. Her mother was keenly aware of her rising position in society. How dared Odette disgrace them this way? Odette accepted the penalty, knowing that she had brought it on herself, but inwardly resentful, for if she had been taught more of the ways of the world and of men, she might have known better than to place herself in danger. The man was gone, moved away, no one knew where.
The recriminations had scarcely begun to die away when they were fanned to new heat. Odette was with child. Plans were made. The neighbours would be told that she was ill, and had to go to a sanatorium for a while. Some distant place would be found for her to stay until her lying-in. Once she had recovered, and the baby was placed in an orphanage –
That was when Odette rebelled. She would never allow the child to be taken from her. The baby was not responsible for the manner of its conception, and Odette would not have it punished. She would raise it and care for it. "God send it be a boy. But if it is a girl, I shall make sure to educate her better than you educated me. Ignorance was my downfall. She shall know all there is to know about worldly matters. Consider this; I'll go away for a year. I'll come home wearing black, and call myself a widow."
"Little slut, you don't think we'll receive a bastard in this house?"
"Then throw me into the street. I'll starve on your doorstep, and tell everyone why."
A compromise was reached. Odette was to go away and change her name. If she wanted to call herself Madame instead of Mademoiselle, that was her business. The family would pay her an allowance for her lifetime, provided she never came near them or shamed them again. But the bastard would never have a penny from them.
Odette agreed to the terms, knowing that it might have been much harsher, that she might have been locked up in a lunatic asylum if her parents had insisted. She found an apartment, and told the neighbours a sad tale of how her husband had died in an accident, leaving her widowed and alone in the world. Though the story was false, her sadness was real, and earned her even more sympathy when her pregnancy began to show. When she tentatively asked advice, she was recommended to consult a nearby doctor, highly qualified and, so people said, highly regarded. Unsure if her allowance would cover his costs, but wanting the best for her unborn child, Odette sold the last of her jewellery to pay the doctor's fees.
But soon she regretted her choice. She wanted him to explain what was happening to her body, such a mystery to her. Initially his responses were soothing but unhelpful; "Don't bother your little head about such things." But his patience soon ran out – at the same time as her money ran short, she suspected. Then it was, "Don't ask questions, just do as I tell you." When her time came and the pain had her screaming, he snapped that it was natural for birth to hurt, and she just had to endure it.
When her child was born a girl, and blind, she hardly knew which was the worse misfortune. A thought crossed her mind that she should hate this baby who had cost her so much, and yet when she held her daughter in her arms, she felt only love for her, a treasure bought with great pain. Odette vowed to cherish her and teach her, to give her all the skills and knowledge that she would need to survive. Money was tight, and as soon as the child was old enough to be left with someone else, Odette went out to work, so that they could afford a few little luxuries. They managed, and her daughter grew up knowing she was loved.
Until Odette died, and everything changed.