Kindness of Strangers

Chapter 26

My Dearest Miss Butler,

I send you my strongest condolences for what loss you surely feel . Your grief must be, without a doubt, most overwhelming for you, so I intend to keep this correspondence short and to the point. No matter how much the loss of your precious Beth plagues your heart, I implore you not to lock yourself away from society. As you most likely know Beau is to marry Margaret in few days time, and I hope to see you there. Although it may not be such a gay occasion for yourself, it is intended to be a happy celebration nonetheless. Many are to attend, and I believe such a gathering will raise your spirits somewhat. Also know, Emmie Butler that if you ever feel completely alone, it isn't true. You may always find a steadfast friend in me.

Yours affectionately,

Austin D. Wyatt

P.S. I feel like I must share with you a curious, sobering piece of script I found within one of my sister, Virginia's, books written by a peculiar woman by the name of Louisa May Alcott.

"There are many Beth's in this world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully, that no one sees the sacrifices till the cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.."

Forgive me greatly if such a somber piece has only brought you more pain, but finding this made me think solely of you and your own sweet Beth. Although I only had few occasions to be in her sweet presence, I miss her most completely. But my heart grieves more for your own. Even though you two were not related, you treated each other with such gentleness and kindness that is only found in the happiest of sisters. Write back when the pain subsides, if not before the wedding. I will anxiously be waiting for your reply. Stay strong my emerald eyed girl.

Dear Mr. Wyatt,

Never in my whole life did I expect to receive such a kind-hearted letter from your own person. Have you been hiding your soft side from me all this time? Mother tells me I mustn't mourn long for the loss of my Beth, and while I wish to mourn forever, I understand her reasoning. I will be attending Beau's wedding, as I can not see how I could ever let down such a devoted friend of the family, who I have known longer than anyone except my loving Mother and Papa. No matter how much I resent Margaret, I wish them the greatest happiness somewhere deep within my aching heart. It is at a time as dark and unsure as this I remember stories about my sister Bonnie, and her own tragic passing. Which I know still burdens my sweet Papa to this day. In my heart, for the longest time ,I have known I could never replace my dearly missed sister who was also nicknamed for her enchanting eyes. It is because of dear Bonnie's passing I have never touched a horse in my entire sixteen years, I intend to never touch one in my whole life if it will allow my dear Mother and Papa to rest more easily.

I remember a time Mother detested my stubborn ways and presence, but as the years have passed I see she has grown quite impartial to me, of which I am glad. It is her love that keeps me from falling down into a dark abyss that has seemed to haunt me since early childhood.

The piece of script you sent me will never leave my mind or soul, as I intend to have it carved into to my Beth's tombstone. For a cricket on the hearth is exactly what my modest darling always was, and along with her sweet sunshiny presence, she took with her also a piece of my passionate heart.

Forgive me for sounding so morbid, I assure you my grief has numbed over the past few weeks, and I so look forward to seeing you

Yours truly,

Scarlett A. Butler

Everyone treated her with utmost gentleness and reserve as she sat in her place at the long dining room table after the ceremony. If guests did engage conversation with the Butler child they were about unimportant things and quickly died off. Scarlett made sure to keep close to Emmie, as no matter how much the child insisted, Scarlett could see she was still extremely scarred and shaken by Beth's passing. After all, for as long as Scarlett could remember Emmie hated to be left behind, and poor Beth was the first person to ever do so although it was out of her control.

Emmie had to keep herself in check when glancing at Margaret, sure her jealously could be seen easily through her eyes. While at some times the jealously seemed unbearable, whenever she saw Austin across the table it dissipated. If she did not have Beau's love, it was clear by correspondence that she had Austin's. How peculiar it was, that she should admire him now when he had been so unkind to her in personable meetings. But Austin held mystery that she longed to discover, where she felt she knew Beau all to well. Austin's natural outspoken and rash manner challenged Emmie's own unmoving personality.

When the formal dinner broke off Austin came to Emmie directly with his happy smirk, "A vision in red. I should have guessed you would wear such a bold color for a such a modest occasion."

Emmie frowned, "Oh dear, perhaps I should only converse with you in letters! You are always so hard on me in person!"

"Forgive me," he laughed taking her gloved hands, "I can say the most dreadful things."

"But you write beautifully." Emmie said with her dimpled smile. "Your letters made these past few days more bearable I must admit."

"Ah, so you have finally grown to like me at last? I knew you would."

"Don't so arrogant now, really." Emmie scolded gently, "Such assumptions are ones I detest. No matter how fond I may be of you Austin Wyatt, you must remember I am not a marrying woman."

Austin frowned in rigid disapproval, "I never heard of anything so absurd in my life. Of course you are marriageable, you just have to find the right man is all."

"And I suppose you think your the proper person!" Emmie giggled, her cheeks reddening at the prospect.

"Now who's being the cruel one?" Austin countered lightly, "To answer your question, yes. I do think I'd be the right person. You will marry- and you'll marry me."

Emmie glared at him and yanked her hand out of his, "How dare you Austin Wyatt! Command me like I belong to you- I belong to no one and I never shall."

Her voice grew louder so Austin acted quickly in pulling her to the side where they could not be easily seen, "What are you afraid of?" he demanded. "Why must you be so stubborn and cold? I thought Beth had changed you-"

"Don't talk about Beth! Don't you dare talk about my friend! You didn't know her! Not like I did! No one knew Beth like me, you have no right! Get out of my sight and leave me be." Emmie cried hysterically.

Such a drastic change in Emmie startled and frightened the young man, who held the girl firmly by the arms and whispered softly, "You aren't well. I should have known it too. Your pale, thin, and lost light in your eyes. This is more than about gentle Beth. What is it Emmie, you must tell me."

Emmie peered up at Austin through tear filled eyes, "I don't know, I don't know! I'm scared and tired and I want to go home. I want my Mother!"

Austin examined her sadly and obediently took her over to Scarlett, who saw Emmie's disheveled composure. "Please forgive me Mrs. Butler, but I do not think Scarlett Anne is well enough to continue the evening here. Perhaps you would like to take her home, and I can give Beau and Margaret your apologies."

Scarlett eyed Emmie with worry, as she had the same empty look she often possessed when shaken awake by the old nightmares. The pale face, the endless vacant stare, "Yes... yes thank you Mr. Wyatt for looking out for my daughter. I was worried this may happen..." Scarlett took Emmie by the arm gently and whispered inaudible things to her gingerly as they made there way to a waiting buggy.

That night, the nightmares returned. Scarlett was not surprised, she had been waiting for them since the passing of Beth, and wondered night after night what kept them from coming until now.

"Mother! Mother!" she wailed tossing and turning, so covered in sweat her long dark hair seemed plastered to her head.

"What is it Emmie darling?" Scarlett asked leaning over Emmie's bed with concern.

"You don't want to send me away do you Mother?" Emmie continued to cry wiping at her tears, "Cause that's what'll happen if I get married, I'll be away from you and Papa."

"Is that what you're scared of darling?" Scarlett questioned gently. "You know we don't want to get rid of you. And you mustn't get married if you don't want to- but don't you think it would be nice to have a companion? I won't always be here you know."

"But you promised!" Emmie sobbed, "You promised you'd never leave me Mother- you promised!"

Scarlett frowned pressing a wet cloth to Emmie's forehead, Oh my poor girl... still haunted after all these years. What terror did she witness to make her so scared of being alone? She must have been close to Isabella... and that's why she turned to me so whole-heartedly. How long was she alone in that house I wonder, did she see their bodies- and that's what haunts her. But she doesn't know why, because she can't remember. Perhaps I have been selfish about keeping her past a secret. I just want her to be happy... and she isn't happy now.

"Don't be frightened Emmie, I'm here now. Try to get some sleep, and you'll feel better in the morning. Rest... just rest." Scarlett whispered misty eyed, neatening up Emmie's tangled hair and getting up to leave the room.