It was a bright sunshiny day, and Mary Ann could not be happier. Today she was getting married. Oh, not just married, but united in the sacrament with the man she most adored and loved. James Bartle was tall, elegant, suave, and so deeply romantic. Whenever she looked into his blue eyes- blue like the ocean during a storm- she felt her heart flutter. Then he usually kissed her.
Mary Ann was a sweet, delicate young maid of a not so well-to-do family with no harshness in her, while her new-wedded husband came from a very wealthy and respectable family- but had been disowned for his little bride. This made Mary Ann adore him ever so much more. So they were married. And so they lived happily until their small store of funds was depleted- which was quite soon. James was a heavy drinker and a gambler. Before the marriage, he had hidden these from Mary Ann, and when she learned of them, she was quite distressed. They were forced to leave the elegant city house, and settle in a small country cottage. MaryAnn was charmed- more romantic, she thought. But James was furious at losing his easy access to his diabolic habits. That first night in the country, he beat Mary Ann. Just to teach her, he said. But he never said what he was trying to teach her.
Soon a child was to be born. Mary Ann was overjoyed, but James seemed indifferent. She had the child with only the midwife for company on a dark stormy day. The thunder was violently loud, drowning out the screams of the poor woman in labor. When the lightning flashed, the room erupted with sights of pain; but within an instance, darkness flowed in. A short time later, the candle’s minute flame danced into sight, spreading its soft glow until all was visible again. It was near three in the afternoon that the child entered the world. Mary Ann held the darling infant in her arms- her first pure joy since her marriage day.
Then James came home. He was drunk. Very afraid, Mary Ann told him about his newborn little girl. He grunted, and sat down near the vacant fireplace. Mary Ann wondered how she was going to ask him what she wanted to ask. Her heart was fluttering. “James, my darling,” she quavered, “Is there any particular name you prefer? I rather like Anastasia. But-”
“Nastasia! Woman, you out a mind?! Giv’n such rid-clus names… hmm… Stasia… Mightn’t be so bad aft-all… Alright. Stasia, Stansia, Stalata… what you said.”
So Anastasia it was. Not long after her, Jemima came along, followed by Thomas. The two latter both had black hair like their mother and blue eyes like their father. But Anastasia was different. Her hair was brown like strong coffee or tea and her eyes… how to describe such intense peepholes into the soul? Near the pupil there was a golden brown which slowly mutated into a pale green, so that to look directly into her eyes one was given a haunting glimpse. And whereas her two siblings had impeccable complexions, Anastasia had not. One side of her face seemed to have been attached wrong, for her left eye was slightly too large and her lower jaw on the same side was more pronounced. But she was pretty still, although with a beauty not pristine like her younger sister, and for this she was neglected and considered less dear by her father.
Growing up was difficult too. Thomas and Jemima would not let her play with them; and if they did, it was only to make fun of or humiliate her. In schooling, she was slower than her younger siblings- at least so she was told. Really, Anastasia was adept at understanding literature, and with a little more help she would have excelled in the sciences too, for she was a deep thinker and natural philosopher. But her little brother and sister soon passed her, due to their more pampered education by their mother. It is not that Mary Ann favored the other two over her eldest, it is just that James did so much enjoy them that too neglect them in any way might mean her own punishment.
Needless to say, James was a horrible father. If he brought any bonbon or trinket home, there was never one for Anastasia, or if there was, it was the poorest and smallest. Each night when he returned from the tavern after work, he would ask the three children if their mother had done anything out of line. Jemima and Thomas were always ready to give information, hoping for a bonbon as reward. Thus, they were wild children, and James knew there was nothing Mary Ann could do to stop them or the beating that night. Once Anastasia had tried to say something only thinking of the sweet, but instead she had been spanked and told to mind her place. In dazed confusion, although without tears, she had looked at Mary Ann, who had tears in her eyes. It was obvious her maternal heart was breaking.
Once, late at night, when Anastasia was about eight, she had wakened thirsty. As she had been going down the stairs, father had come home with a strange lady. They were both drunk. She didn’t understand what it meant, but she knew mother was very upset. Mary Ann just sat down and cried. Then James had hit her and told her to, “Stop bawlin’ over nutin.” Neither parent had seen her, so she crept back up the stairs to bed. But she did not sleep. She had kept thinking what it must have meant, wondering why mother had cried, and why father had hit her; she decided that mother was sad because father didn’t love her any more, and father had hit her because she was crying. Well, Anastasia would never cry, not if it meant a beating. And she would never love if it meant that someday she would not be loved.
Then, one dreary day, near Anastasia’s twelfth birthday, a little after noon, father had come home very drunk and irate, more so than usual. Jemima and Thomas slipped upstairs; Anastasia had dashed behind the settee. All she could see was his mudded boots framed in the grey sky and verdure of outside through the open door.
“Mary Ann! Come here, gaddam you!” Although she couldn’t see, Anastasia was certain his face turned purple. “Woman, get in here!”
Luckily, Mary Ann was out buying groceries, and thus avoided his deathly wrath. But this did not cease the inappropriate names and angered bellowing of James. He stood in the middle of the living room howling as loud as he could. Then suddenly, he stopped. He coughed a little. Moaning, he sank to his knees; then, fell on his face. With glassed over eyes he stared into Anastasia’s eyes. The poor child gave a terrified shriek and bolted towards the door. She ran as far and as fast as she could, unaware of where she was going. The light drizzle of rain dampened her hair and dress, adding weight to her frantic flight. Then, she tripped and fell, tearing her skirt and bruising her hands. Looking up, exhausted and breathless, she recognized the little country church were each Sunday her mother took her to pray. Beginning to sob, Anastasia clambered up the three stone steps on her knees. She tugged on the handle, but it was locked. So she curled up on the stoop, wet and terrified.
Yet somehow she felt safe. She was not certain how to address God, but she knew He was there and somehow looking over her. Thoughts of her last visit to this simple building came to mind: how Rev. Doubleday had taught of God’s mercy and grace, how the sweet melodies had seemed to her to dance with the stone walls as in a ballroom, how she had not wanted to leave. It was her haven of peace then as it was now. Or was God really her protection? Oh, it didn’t matter. She was safe, and so sleepy…
That was all she remembered until a hand shook her awake. She awoke in an awful fright, thinking it was father coming after her. She scrambled to her feet and began to flee down the lane, when a voice called after her, “Child! Child, there’s nothing to fear!” Uncertain, she stopped. She could see the man who had called, but did not recognize him because of the strange light of dusk. However, his voice was kind and gentle. Then he knelt in the muddy road, saying, “Please, my dear little one, please don’t go away. I’m Rev. Doubleday.”
Sobbing once again, the poor distraught girl ran to him and hugged him. He let her cry as long as she had tears to shed- which was a good deal. Every now and again, he would gently tap her shoulder and whisper, “It’s alright. Give it to God your Father.” Eventually, Anastasia’s wail became a stifled sniffling. “Alright then, let’s go inside and dry you off. How does a spot of tea and a bite of crumpet sound to you? Good, eh?” And he smiled down at her. Then taking her hand, they walked toward the rectory.
Inside, the young and newly wedded Mrs. Doubleday had Anastasia change into one of her dresses saved from her own childhood and hopefully destined someday for one of her daughters. Then, in front of the roaring fire with the lightning and thunder safely shut outside, the Doubledays entertained little Anastasia with funny stories from their childhood and young adult years. Anastasia laughed and laughed. She felt safe and secure like never before. The couple was opening a door she never knew existed: the door of hope and joy and peace.
Suddenly, the little maid burst into tears. Worried and afraid, the man and wife tried to comfort her and learn what had upset her. What had they said? What had they done? Finally, Anastasia sobbed, “You’re too good! You’re happy and love each other. My parents are miserable. I’m miserable. No one will ever love me like you love each other.”
“My dear child!” Mrs. Doubleday exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around her little guest. “You don’t have to be miserable. No one does. God makes us happy. He loves you more than you realize. Love Him back. Give Him your tears and sorrows and He will turn them into joy. He did for me.”
Anastasia wept less loudly. A glimmer of hope had glistened down the dark vista of the future. Maybe things could be better, maybe she would be loved, maybe… But no. Love was dangerous. Mrs. Doubleday was young and inexperienced. It was too simple to be really true. She snuffed out the glimmer so all was black within.