Origins (Page 14)

Father stood behind me, appraising my reflection. "Y ou’ll pull yourself together. Today is Rosalyn’s funeral, and it’s important to me and the Cartwrights that we are there. We want to show everyone that we must band together against the evil that’s scourging our town."

While Father prattled on about demons, I thought about facing the Cartwrights for the first time. I still felt horribly guilty. I couldn’t help thinking that the attack wouldn’t have happened if I’d been waiting for Rosalyn on the porch, instead of lingering in the study with Katherine. If I’d been outside, waiting for Rosalyn, I would have seen her walking from the fields in her pink dress. Maybe I could have faced death with her, too, and she wouldn’t have had to confront that nightmarish animal alone. I may not have loved Rosalyn, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not being there to save her.

"Well, come on," Father said impatiently as Alfred walked in, holding a white linen shirt and a double-breasted black suit. I blanched. It was the suit I’d have worn at my wedding–and the church where we were mourning Rosalyn was to have been the site of the ceremony establishing our union. Still, I managed to change into the suit, allowed Alfred to help me shave, since my hands allowed Alfred to help me shave, since my hands were so shaky, and emerged an hour later ready to do what I had to do.

I kept my eyes down as I followed Father and Damon to the carriage. Father sat up front, next to Alfred, while Damon sat in the back with me.

"How are you, brother?" Damon asked above the familiar clip-clop of Duke’s and Jake’s hooves down Willow Creek Road.

"Not very well," I said formally, a stiff lump in my throat.

Damon put a hand on my shoulder. The magpies chattered, the bees buzzed, and the sun cast a golden glow on the trees. The entire coach smelled like ginger, and I felt my stomach heave. It was the smell of guilt over lusting after a woman who was never to be–could never be–my wife.

"Your first death, the first one you witness, changes you," Damon said finally, as the coach pulled up to the white clapboard church. The church bells were ringing, and every business in town was closed for the day. "But perhaps it can change you for the better."

"Maybe," I said as I descended from the coach. But I didn’t see how.

We reached the door as Dr. Janes hobbled into the church, his cane in one hand and a flask of whiskey in another. Pearl and Anna were sitting together, and Jonathan Gilbert sat behind them, his elbows perched on the edge of Pearl’s pew, just inches from her shoulder.

Sheriff Forbes was in his usual place in the second pew, glaring at the cluster of rouged women from the tavern who had come to pay their respects. At the edge of their circle was Alice, the barmaid, cooling herself with a silk fan.

Calvin Bailey, the organist, was playing an adaptation of Mozart’s Requiem, but he seemed to hit a sour note every few chords. In the front pew, Mr. Cartwright stared straight ahead, while Mrs. Cartwright sobbed and occasionally blew her nose into a lace handkerchief. At the front of the church, a closed oak casket was covered with flowers. Wordlessly, I walked to the casket and knelt down in front of it.

"I’m so sorry," I whispered, touching the casket, which felt cold and hard. Unbidden, images of my betrothed popped up in my mind: Rosalyn giggling over her new puppy, giddily discussing flower combinations for our wedding, risking the wrath of her maid by planting a covert kiss on my cheek at the end of one visit. I moved my hands off the casket and put them together, as if in prayer. "I hope that you and Penny have found each other in Heaven." I leaned down, letting my lips graze the casket. I wanted her to know, wherever she was, that I would have learned to love her. "Good-bye."

I turned to take my seat and stopped short. Right behind me was Katherine. She was wearing a dark-blue cotton dress that stood out in the sea a dark-blue cotton dress that stood out in the sea of black crepe that filled the pews.

"I’m so sorry for your loss," Katherine said, touching my arm. I flinched and drew my arm back. How dare she touch me so familiarly in public? Didn’t she realize that if we hadn’t been carrying on at the barbecue in the first place, the tragedy might never have happened?

Concern registered in her dark eyes. "I know how hard this must be for you," she said. "Please let me know if you need anything."

I immediately felt a wave of guilt for assuming she was doing anything other than showing sympathy. After all, her parents had died. She was just a young girl, reaching out to offer her support. She looked so sad that for one wild second, I was tempted to cross the aisle and comfort her.

"Thank you," I said instead, sucking in my stale breath and walking back to the pew. I slid next to Damon, who had his hands crossed piously over a Bible. I noticed his eyes flick up as Katherine briefly knelt down by the coffin. I followed his gaze, noticing the way several curls had escaped from beneath her hat and were curling around the ornate clasp on her blue necklace.

A few minutes later, the Requiem ended, and Pastor Collins strode up to the pulpit. "We’re here to celebrate a life cut far too short. There is evil among us, and we will mourn this death, but we will also draw strength from this death …," he intoned.

I covertly glanced across the aisle at Katherine. Her servant, Emily, was sitting next to her on one side and Pearl on the other. Katherine’s hands were folded as if in prayer. She turned slightly, as if to look at me. I forced myself to look away before our eyes could meet. I would not dishonor Rosalyn by thinking of Katherine.

I gazed up at the unfinished, steepled beams of the church. I’m sorry, I thought, sending the message upward and hoping that Rosalyn, wherever she was, heard it.