I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I’d put up some of the scenes I love from the four full-length Saint Maggie stories and from Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll.
Early in Saint Maggie, Maggie’s brother Samuel humiliates her in front of the new pastor. This highlights the difficulty Maggie has had trying to hold things together. Fortunately, she now has an advocate: Eli Smith, who finally has declared his interest her. I love the exchange because it foreshadows the type of couple they aspire to be: honest with each other, supportive, caring.
Fighting off a wave of anger, [Maggie] turned and walked rapidly away from the knot of people on the church lawn.
Eli had to hurry to catch up with her. “What’s going on?” he asked.
“It’s of no importance.”
“But you’re acting as if it is of importance. I thought you and your brother were through.”
Maggie sighed. “I doubt that ‘through’ will ever mean ‘completely finished’.”
“What’s the problem, then?”
She sighed again. “Oh, Eli, you know the story. Do you need to ask?”
He did not mince words. “Well, it just seems to me that for people who had just done so much praying and praising, you two ought to be able to attempt a little forgiveness.”
They had reached the road. It hadn’t rained for several days and dust curled up around their feet as they walked. Maggie kept her mouth shut and walked as fast as she could without appearing to hurry. The truth was that Sam still had the power to hurt her. She wondered when she would ever harden herself to his slights. Everything he did, every word he said, still stung sharply, but she had resolved that her personal pain would never be made public. The family break was well-known, of course, but it simply would not do to make a scene. As far as Maggie was concerned, displays of anger never produced anything of value. And, yet – she missed her brother deeply, and the coldness between them stung.
“Look,” Eli pressed, “just because we’re courting doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop being plain with you. Why can’t you and your brother forgive each other?”
“I have forgiven him, Eli. Or at least, I keep trying – over and over and over. It’s just I don’t think he’s forgiven me. In fact, I know he hasn’t forgiven me.”
“Forgiven you for what? For marrying the man you loved twenty years ago?”
“Nineteen years ago,” she corrected as they passed First Street.
“Oh, forgive me, that one year makes all the difference in the world. Maggie!” He took her arm and spun her around to face him.
“Not here!” she protested. “People will –”
“I don’t care about people. I care about you.” He looked her straight in the eyes. “John’s been dead for ten years. Why can’t you and Samuel patch things up?”
Being vulnerable was not easy. The subject of family was too sore, and Maggie was loath to admit that Samuel had hurt her so deeply. Yet she knew that Eli wouldn’t let her tell him anything but the truth. After a brief pause, she muttered, “I have tried. I wrote him five years ago, and then two years after, in an attempt to heal things properly. All I got in reply was a letter saying that I had offended my entire family by eloping with the son of our business rival. It made no difference to Samuel that most of John’s family cut us off, too. In fact, if it hadn’t been for John’s Aunt Letty, we would have been homeless. She permitted us to live with her at Second Street.”
Eli smiled slightly. “Aunt Letty Blaine. I like what I’ve heard about her. She did what she wanted and never mind what the rest of the town thought.”
It had been Aunt Letty’s idea to turn the old Second Street place into a rooming house when John died. Maggie needed a source of income and forever was grateful to the dear old woman. Unfortunately, Aunty Letty did not live to see her generosity come to fruition. She passed on a year after John and willed her house to Maggie. While not wildly successful, the small rooming house provided income and offered a home for those in need. Maggie knew that Aunt Letty would have given her blessing to the eclectic collection of boarders, despite what others in the town thought.
Samuel, of course, was of a different opinion.
Maggie looked down at her hands and saw that she had balled them into fists. “Do you know, Eli, that in his letter Samuel told me he would have considered a reconciliation, had I come crawling back home after John died? He said that because I persisted in my independent ways by running the rooming house, I showed little regard for my own family. He said that a woman of my status degrades herself by entering the world of business and handling money, and by living with un-genteel people – not to mention Nate and Emily. He said that I was an embarrassment to the Beatty family, to my own blood. As far as Samuel is concerned, I am no longer a relation. And yet, on too many occasions, he feels perfectly free to lecture me about my behavior. It’s all so terribly humiliating and hurtful, Eli. He makes me feel unworthy. He makes me feel unclean and unwomanly.”
Eli’s eyes flashed behind his wire spectacles. “Damn him, anyway!”
Maggie gasped. “Elijah Smith! And on a Sunday!”
“Well, then I’ll damn him on a Monday!” He shook his head. “I can’t believe it, treating you the way he does. I can’t believe the complete and utter disrespect. Why, you’re the bravest, most competent, most independent woman I’ve ever met. Don’t ever let him make you think you aren’t worthy of his family. He’s not worthy of you, and that’s the truth!” When she said nothing, he lost some of his certainty. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
Despite her best efforts, Maggie’s eyes began to brim with tears.
“Oh, no,” he said, softly. “Oh, no, Maggie. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry...” He fumbled a handkerchief out of his pocket and held it out.
Maggie gratefully grabbed the crumpled hankie and daubed at her wet eyes.
“I’m sorry I upset you.”
She smiled amid her tears. “You didn’t upset me. It’s just...” An onslaught of sobs caught her by surprised and nearly robbed her of her voice. “It’s just that I’ve worked so hard for ten years, raising the girls, keeping a roof over our heads, food on the table. No one’s ever said nice things like that to me. I’ve always felt as if I were somehow wrong – wicked and wrong. No one’s ever said I was worthy of anything before.”
“I’ve always thought you were worthy of everything, Maggie. Always. Ever since I first met you. You’re strong and smart and talented.” She glanced down, but he wouldn’t have it. “Hey, look at me. Come on, Maggie, look at me.”
She brought her eyes up to meet his.
“I think you’re beautiful.”
“I’m not beautiful,” she demurred. “I’m really quite plain.”
“Wrong, wrong, wrong,” he said. “You’re beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.”
She leaned forward, impulsively kissing him on the cheek. “You’re a dear soul, Elijah Smith. I love you.”
“And I love you, too, Maggie Blaine.” A playful smile spread across his face. “And now the entire town knows it because we’re standing in front of the Widow Greeley’s house and I can see her peeking out the curtains.”
Tomorrow: a favorite scene from Walk by Faith.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder