Step Aside

By Laura Schiller

Based on: Jane of Lantern Hill

Copyright: L. M. Montgomery

Robin Kennedy Stuart stared at the telegram in her hands with burning eyes as Mary, the maid, quietly closed the door. A telegram from Prince Edward Island...from him. So this was where Jane had disappeared to...without saying a word. And now Jane was ill, dying perhaps, and miles away...and there was no choice for Robin about what she must do.

Even if the very thought of it made her feel sick and cold.

She got up from her big silk-covered bed and walked over to her closet, half expecting her knees to give way. They did not. She took out her largest, plain black suitcase and began piling things into them: clothes, hygiene articles, whatever she might need for a longer trip. Her hands were shaking.

Perhaps if she slipped away quickly enough, her mother would not notice.

"What is the meaning of this, Robin?"

A slight, elderly lady with a steel helmet of hair and eyes like blue daggers stood at the door, with one hand on her hip and the other leaning on the frame. Robin shuddered and turned around.

"I just had a telegram – "

"Yes, I know." Victoria Kennedy waved a dismissive hand sparkling with diamonds. "Mary told me. But why, if I may ask, are you packing your bags?"

Robin took a deep breath and pushed back her hair. "I – I'm going to P.E.I., of course, Mother. To take care of...Jane."

Her voice faltered at the end, seeing the look of icy outrage freeze her mother's features.

"I am not accustomed," said Victoria, "To people coming and going in my house, at all hours of the day or night, without even asking permission. Rephrase that, Robin, if you please."

"I'm sorry, Mother." Robin ducked her head; the golden curls she had swept back fell over her eyes again. "May I go to the Island?"

"You may not."

Triumph shone in Victoria's eyes as she turned away, obviously considering the matter closed.

Robin held out a hand as if to restrain her. "Please, Mother! Can't you see – I must!"

Victoria whirled around and took a step forward, every line in her face as sharp as a knife slash. "Why? To see the man who ruined your life and poisoned your daughter against you? Jane has betrayed you, you foolish child – she does not love you. That is why she so ungratefully ran away."

Robin reeled back to steady herself against the bed; the words hit her like a slap in the face. For a moment, she almost believed them – almost crumpled like a dead flower and shrank from Mrs. Stuart to little Robin Kennedy again. However, when her eye fell upon her mahagony nightstand with its secret cache of letters from Jane, she pulled herself upright and met her mother's glare with one of her own.

"You may say whatever you wish about me, Mother, but," a hard edge crept into her soft voice, "You will not insult my daughter any longer. I have listened to your abuse of her for thirteen years, but no more. Step. Aside. Now!"

Victoria surveyed her flushed, trembling daughter with a look of wide-eyed disbelief and piteous hurt.

"Robin...dear that any way to speak to your old mother? I forgave you, remember, even after you scorned me by eloping with the writer. I took you in when you had nowhere else to go. And this is how you repay me, daughter? By abandoning me again? Robin, darling could you? You're all I have left."

A tear left its glittering trail on Victoria's face. Robin dug her nails into her palms until they bled. She could not stand this – could she?

I must do it for Jane. And... to see Andrew.

"Step aside, Mother. Let me go."

Robin's voice was quiet, but firm. She was like a candle flame burned down to its blue-white heart; under all her sweetness and timidity, the Kennedy steel core was finally shining through.

Victoria's face twisted into a look of such venomous hate that it took her daughter's breath away.

"Ungrateful hussy," she hissed. "I wash my hands of you. Go...go to him. Ruin yourself again if that is what you wish. But you can never come back! Do you hear me, miss? Never!"

Robin picked up her suitcase and strode past Victoria without a word.

It was not until she was out of the house, huddled up in her fur coat in the back of Frank's limo, that her steel backbone collapsed and she burst into loud, shuddering sobs. The old chauffeur discreetly ignored her, except for passing a handkerchief over the seat.

Oh, Mother. What have I done?

She lookd down at her fur coat, her expensive kid gloves, and around at the expensive limousine and shuddered. She felt every inch the ungrateful hussy Victoria had just called her. Part of her longed to tell Frank to turn around, to hurl herself into her mother's arms and beg for forgiveness.

No! That blue fire blazed up in her heart again: her long-dormant will. She could not back down. Not when Jane needed her.

As the old crumbling façades of Gay Street disappeared into the evening fog, Robin blew her nose and wiped away her tears. She felt like dog whose leash has snapped, running free for the first time in her life.