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A Hardened Heart

The Weston family had a proud heritage, and Miss Margaret Weston, the head of the family, considered it her duty to guard it!  Back in those wartime days  (Second World War, to be precise), the family photo looked a little different.  Margaret, the eldest, ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  She was known as Aunt Mimi, as Mimi was the name given to her in infancy.  Her sisters were Betsy and Nancy.  Like Mimi, Betsy had never married.  Nancy had been briefly married and suddenly widowed at a  young age.  She'd returned to the Weston family home with her infant daughter Laura Boyd and carried on as if she had never left.  Her late husband was hardly ever mentioned.  There was a distant relative,  Charlie Weston, who lived in a small room in the Weston mansion.    Poor and penniless,  he was dependent on his  cousins for his income.  He made himself useful doing work on their farm in return for bed and board.

Three young children featured in the family picture in those days. they were George, Susan and Jane Chapman, all from London.  It's an interesting story, how they came to be here at all!  The three Weston sisters' mother had been an Englishwoman whom their father had romanced on a trip to London.  He'd carried her off to a life in Alabama which was markedly different from the one she would have otherwise lived in England.   She had always stayed in touch with her brother, writing letters every new year.  Miss Mimi had continued the tradition.  She had inherited her mother's strong devotion to duty and had assumed full charge of family matters even when her father was still alive.

After the outbreak of  war, Mimi had received a letter from her mother's brother asking if the sisters  would not mind taking his  three grandchildren into their home for the duration of the  disturbance.  Miss Mimi was not impressed.  How did he think that the family would be able to cope with three extra mouths to feed,  not to mention their clothes and education?  The old gentleman obviously thought that his sisters family was as rich as it had been in the old days!

The only reason that the family was managing to keep up appearances was because Miss Mimi was astute about renting out and maintaining their various properties.  Nobody dared to mess with her!  Most of their land was rented out except for a small portion which Charlie Weston farmed for the family.   Miss Betsy was an expert in producing and marketing products from the farm like jams, pickles and eggs, which augmented the family income.   Nancy, the sister who had married, maintained the house and garden.  Laura, her daughter, was a book-keeper and maintained the accounts for a number of small businesses in the area.  In Mimi's house, no one was allowed to remain idle.

It was a dull life for Laura.  She worked hard at her job, but needed more recreation.  She was young, after all.  Miss Mimi discouraged socialising, as she felt that the family was of a higher status than the local people.  She discouraged suitors too, as she felt that they simply had their eye on the family property.  When the three Chapman children arrived from London, Laura started to enjoy living in that joyless house for the first time since she was a child!

Once the children arrived, everything changed.  Initially home sick and sad, they had filled the house up with their laughter and energy.  The once solemn and serious atmosphere was converted to a happier and more congenial one.  A local man, Jim McCain, started calling around to see Laura.  Mimi was furious.  She was quite sure she knew what he wanted!  She was often extremely rude to him.  He pretended not to notice, but Laura felt it deeply.  Jim often helped Charlie on the farm.  His family rented some of the Weston's land.  Jim often felt that he should get away from this small town and go to the city, but farming was all he knew.   And now he was fond of Laura.  He came every Sunday, and the children looked forward to his visits as they used to have a lot of fun with him, and fun was something that had been very rare in this joyless house.  Even Charlie Weston, usually seen wearing a serious expression, was happy to see Jim.

One day Laura Boyd accidentally overheard her aunt talking to her mother about Jim.

"That boy has his eye on our property!  Nothing else!" she declared.  Laura was furious.  She walked in and told her aunt to forget about her claim on the property.

"I am a Boyd, not a Weston!" she declared.  "And the best heir for your property is my cousin Charlie Weston!  You work him like a slave!"  From that day, Mimi never spoke to Laura. Jim?  He joined the army.  His visits to the family home became fewer, although he remained in touch with Laura.  The last time he visited before he was sent abroad, he came in uniform.  Laura was so sad that day.  It was good that she had the children to console her.  Charlie Weston insisted that Jim's photograph be taken with the family and called a neighbour in to take the picture.  Mimi's face was a picture!  That was the last time that Jim visited that house for a long time.  Laura never mentioned him, and when anyone enquired about him from her, she would simply say that his parents had informed her that the last time he had contacted them he was fine.  She may have been getting letters from Jim and collected them at the mail office.  But she never told anyone if this was the case.

For the duration of the war, the children remained at Westonville.    They grew to love their American relatives, especially their Aunt Laura, who became a substitute mother for them, while Laura's mother and aunts were like honorary grandmothers.  Even hard hearted Aunt Mimi smiled much more than she used to, and looked happier than she had in years.  But all good things come to an end.  The war ended eventually, much to everyone's relief, but the children then had to return to their beloved parents in London.  Their grandfather had died while they were in the United States and their parents were eagerly awaiting their return.

There was a lot of sadness at the departure of the children and a lot of tears were shed on both sides.  The children promised faithfully that they would come back again in the future.  But would they?  Times were changing, and things were not as they had been.  The children would meet their parents, renew their lives in England, and eventually, their life in the United States would become a distant memory.  With the departure of the young children, the life seemed to depart from the house.  Once it had rocked with the noise and laughter of children.  It became silent and solemn again.

In those black days, Laura nearly went out of her mind with depression.  Jim McCain did not come back to Westonville after he had returned from the war.  Sadly, his parents had passed away in his absence and some relatives had disposed of their belongings.  Ostensibly, there was nothing left for him to do here, and nobody imagined he would want to return.

But Laura knew he would.  And he did!  Having established himself in another state with an interesting and lucrative job, feeling confident to be able to give Laura the life she deserved, he returned to Westonville.   It didn't take Laura and Jim long to discover that they were just as much in love as ever.  Yes, the world was changing, the post war world had a new attitude, a new outlook, but some things never change.  This was comforting.   Laura was ready to leave Westonville and go with Jim wherever he lived.  He wanted to live somewhere where he wouldn't be labelled as Jim McCain, a poor farmer's son.  She wanted a fresh start and a new life, to shake off old memories and move into her future.

They decided to tell Laura's mother and two aunts about their decision on a Sunday evening, when all three sisters were sitting in the garden.  Mimi was reading a letter she had received from Mary Chapman, the mother of the three children who had lived in Westonville for several years.  She closely examined the photograph which Mary had thoughtfully provided.  How they had grown since leaving her home, Mimi thought wistfully....

Jim and Laura's news took Mimi and her sisters by surprise.   Not the news of the engagement, for they had been prepared for that.  But the news that they were going so far away.  Laura was convinced that this was the best decision possible, and the only option possible under the circumstances.  Then it was Mimi's turn to take Jim and Laura by surprise.

"Laura and Jim," she said, speaking to Laura for possibly the first time in several years.  "I realise that you have made a decision.  But think again!  We can give you a house as a wedding gift, and some land to make a farm for yourselves.  Everything that you want is available here.   Don't leave us alone to die.  You are our future."

"Aunt Mimi!  The world has changed.  Things are different now!  People don't want to stay close to their roots anymore, they want to leave the past behind and move on!  You don't need us, you have Charlie here to support you!" said Laura.

"Charlie is always with us, and we will always be with him.  But we need you too, Laura and Jim.  What have I been keeping this family property for if not for you?  If the world has changed, then we will also change, but we would not like to see you go......both of you!"  She then addressed Jim.  "I regret my earlier attitude.  I was hard hearted I know.  Please.....just forget about it now!"  she said.

How could they, any of them, have known the truth?  That many years earlier, Mimi had been in love with Sam McCain, Jim's father?  And had to keep the affair under cover, because of social considerations?   And how could they have known that Sam McCain, sick of the pretence, had suddenly ditched Mimi one fine day, and married Eleanor Stewart, Jim's mother?  And how could they have known that Mimi had been bitter because every time she saw Jim, she felt she was seeing the son she never had?   They couldn't have known.  And they would never know.  Because Mimi was never going to tell them.

So Jim and Laura decided to stay on in Westonville.  And never regretted it either.  Because sometimes, there is more than one right decision!

This post originally appeared on Write Away on WordPress on 11/11/2009

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