|Skeletons, Part XVII: The letter|
|December 02, 2016 Nina Betz|
“Them girls just as well come down to the parlor, makes no sense all of us crowded together in a bedroom,” Clem said.
“I’ll wait here while you go up and talk to the girls,” Clementina said.
Clem considered how much to tell his daughters about the past while he climbed the stairs.
Just as well say it all, Gertrude will pester me ‘til she knows everythin’ that happened, but he didn’t get a chance to speak. Gertrude heard his footsteps in the hall and waited for him to open the door and step inside.
`You lied to us,” Gertrude said angrily.
Clem ignored her words and walked over to the bed, and then sat down beside Molly and the babies held in her arms.
“Are you alright sweetheart?”
“I am Pa, and the babies are healthy too,” she said.
“By jigger, can’t tell ‘em apart,” he laughed.
“Robert has red hair and Priscilla doesn’t have a hair on her head. That’s the way Jane was; hair was there alright, just couldn’t see it,” he said.
“Pa, I asked you a question and you ignored me,” Gertrude said, and glared at him.
“Nope, you didn’t, you accused me of being a liar and I don’t cotton to that,” he said.
“I shouldn’t have said it that way.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Clem said.
“Pa do you remember what you said when I asked you why we didn’t have family like other kids?”
“Can’t say I do, been a long time since you were little.”
“You said we didn’t have family when in truth you had a twin sister. Why did you say that?”
“Clementina is downstairs in the parlor and we can explain it together,” he said.
“I’m coming too,” Molly said, handing the babies off to Gertrude and Hazel.
“No you’re staying in bed,” Stephen said.
“No, I’m not. Women gave birth then got up to tend the other children, and who knows what else after they birthed their babies, and I can too.”
“Let her get up, Pearl got up the same day and did chores after she birthed the girls,” Clem said.
“Thank you, now fetch my dressing gown. Should fit quite nicely now.” she laughed.
“Downstairs in the parlor with her nieces seated around her, Clementina felt like a mouse corned by alley cats swishing their tails in anticipation. While Clem felt like a criminal about to be cross examined by his daughters.
Determined, despite the uncomfortable silence, they waited for Clem and his sister to explain how it happened.
“I suppose you want to know why your father kept me a secret all these years.”
“That is a curiosity, and something we have a right to know,” Molly said.
“It’s nothing unusual or shocking. I eloped when I was eighteen and Clem felt that I left him to take care of our mother, Violet. My husband and I moved around a lot so I didn’t write very often and when I did, he didn’t write back so I decided to come for a visit. Now I find that he didn’t open the letters,” Clementina said.
“Our father died and our mother married a man who was a drinker and mean. Me and Clementina always counted on each other and when she left me to handle everything I was hurt and bitter. I was old enough to run the ranch after our stepfather was killed in a brawl. It was hard but I managed to pay the debts and hold on to the land. Did my best to forget I had a twin sister and succeeded until one of them letters came in the mail. Five years later I met Pearl in Chicago and married her a week later. That’s all there is to tell,” he said.
“You probably expected a tragic explanation and are a bit disappointed,” Clementina said.
“No; though it’s quite a shock to find out that our father is a twin and now I have twins; a boy and a girl,” Molly said.
“I would have enjoyed knowing you girls these past years, but it just didn’t work out that way.”
“I’m sure you got questions but can’t answer ‘em until Clementina and I get back from a trip to Evanston to see Jane,” he said.
“I’d be interested in going along to make sure she’s being properly cared for,” Stephen said.
“I’m going along, too,” Gertrude said.
“Nope, neither of you are going. Clementina and I have a lot of catching up to do. Molly has her hands full with the babies, and needs you and Hazel to help her,” Clem said.
Clem thought for a minute, and decided there was no reason to wait another day and turned to Clementina.
“What do you say, we go now? Your things are still packed and it won’t take me long to pack some duds and my shaving gear, then we head out for Cheyenne and catch the train to Evanston.”
“Well, no reason we can’t go now that I can think of.”
“Pa, surely you don’t mean to go right now. We’ve just met Clementina and would like to get acquainted with her. Stephen have you received any news from the hospital?” Gertrude asked.
“No, not a telegram or a letter since we admitted her, which is rather odd,” he said.
“I have to agree with Gertrude. It makes no sense to rush off today when we don’t know whether Jane survived the infection or not. Most likely she did or we would have heard. No doubt she’s being well taken care of,” Molly said.
Gertrude became increasingly furious over the concern for Jane.
“Pa, you’re being ridiculous, all this concern over a woman who murdered your wife and our mother. I hope she died, and if she didn’t I certainly don’t care what kind of treatment she receives and neither should you,” Gertrude said.
Clem was silent so long the others wondered if he would reply.
“Don’t matter what she did. Jane is my daughter and I love her just the same as you girls. It pains me but it can’t be undone. I have to see to her welfare, then I never want to see her again,” he said.
Gertrude glanced at her sisters for tacit permission.
“I think we understand; I’m sorry I criticized you. It seemed to us that you didn’t care that Jane essentially killed our mother.
“We’ll git along,” he said.
“We’ll be here when you get back,” Hazel said.
Later, when they were finally on the road leading to Cheyenne, Clementina asked a question.
“You’re not sure what we‘ll find when we get to the hospital, are you?”
“Nope. It may be that she died, maybe not.”
He hasn’t change much, Clementina thought and concentrated on her driving.
Toward evening there was a knock on the door.
“Letter for you,” Elgy said.
“Thank you,” Hazel said and carried it into the kitchen.
“Who was it? Gertrude asked.
“Elgy, with a letter marked urgent from the hospital in Evanston.”
Gertrude held the letter in her hand, then laid it on the window sill.
“You should open it,” Hazel said.
“I don’t want to know.”