Corinne switched on a tiny rose nightlamp, and while she made a great show of maternal care, crooning God knew what into the ears of her trusting young ones, adjuring them to be patient, I waited. I was nearly perishing with fatigue, though my journey-unlike theirs-had not required physical travel. No, my journey, one requiring the surrender of my doubts to faith and unassailable moral principle, was barely beginning. Yet, I longed to lean against the doorframe, or to collapse into the rocking chair, or simply to leave this uninviting room and its new occupants, and call it a night.
And what a night it had been-long, exhausting, one I faced with dread, following an equally exhausting day of evading Malcolm's questions, and trying to temper his eagerness for the homecoming of his precious daughter.
It was a doomed homecoming, and Corinne herself knew that. She was being helped, not because she was loved, but because she was helpless.
I had tried to prevent her return, though at heart, my curiosity had made me ambivalent. But hadn't I done my best, trying to keep Corinne away? I deluded myself, for a while, into believing that she would cease writing, if no answer was forthcoming. So I ignored many a letter from Gladstone Pennsylvania, before I realized I must reply, lest Malcolm, one day, discover one of his daughter's imploring missives among the mail.
I hadn't needed to wait for Corinne's knock to alert me to their approach at the entrance to the east wing, for I heard the high-pitched complaints of the little ones in advance of their arrival, and had quickly ushered the five of them inside, for fear someone else would hear their fretful voices.
Had anyone heard them walking along from the train depot to the house?
As I'd waited through the hours preceding their arrival, the lonesome ticking of the grandfather clock echoed through the foyer; the sighing wind and cricket sounds of the peaceful night beyond the screened windows were immutably disturbed by human movement. In that instant before I beheld my wayward fallen daughter and her offspring, I suffered a visceral longing for, and remembrance of times past, and with it doubt, and an impulse to lock the doors against them, if I could not welcome them with kindness.
Silently, they followed me upstairs. Corinne's capitulation affirmed her acceptance of her new role and mine, establishing the course for the foreseeable future, in which for us all, self-interest, pride and vanity must be eradicated.
Lean not on thine own understanding...
This was a command with which I still struggled, but eventually, I yielded to John's guidance, to aid me in decision-making, and such an important decision it was!
"That was quite a speech." I tersely reprimanded Corinne, pocketing the brass key as I led her away from the room where her children slept. "Your farewell suggests a long parting. You will see them tomorrow. I told you, Corinne, the children must understand that they are expected to remain obedient, behaved. Calm. Quiet."
Already, she was beseeching me to change the rules, challenging my authority, figuring ways to circumvent my instructions!
Oh, it was pure madness, this plan of John's, counting on his belief that we could sequester and successfully hide so many children! But hide them we undoubtedly must, for this was the Lord's design, and they were, as John Amos counseled, hell-deserving sinners.
"Surely, there is more than one way to carry out God's plans."
Only days before, I had posed the same statement to John Amos, even after hours of his vociferous preaching, and had been met with indefatigable denial.
"After the progress you have made, you would dare risk losing the opportunity of securing redemption for yourself, and for Malcolm?" he asked, astounded, his disfavor evident. He turned away abruptly. It was as if God himself would withdraw His approbation.
My initial recoil from John Amos's censorious judgment of Corinne had been worn away, overshadowed by gratitude for the comfort he had given us throughout the years. I should not doubt the man's inspired wisdom. Indeed, there was some frightening power, larger than my own will, at work, permeating Foxworth Hall.
"You are here, but you don't really exist."
That such an extemporized, definite statement could issue forth from my lips was a great shock-from where had it come? My shock was mirrored, with every decree, in the ashen faces of the eldest children. This was all the assurance necessary to reveal that I would be strengthened, and power was mine, as God's instrument.