not lost her temper, she might have had a chance to get those answers. Instead, she had alienated her daughter, and she was not sure how to change that.
She directed all of her ill feeling, however, toward June Morgan. She was the adult, not Victoria. But what kind of woman stole the affection of another womanâs child? Exactly how had she accomplished that? What kind of woman would have the sheer audacity to come here, into Marthaâs home, and expect Martha to simply hand over her only daughter into the hands of a stranger?
Not a good woman.
Not a God-fearing woman.
Martha rose from her seat and stiffened her spine. No wealthy, spoiled, city-bred woman was going to lure Victoria away from her mother. Not while Martha drew a single breath.
In time, Victoria would learn to accept Marthaâs decision. In time, when Victoria had married and had children of her own, she would understand a motherâs duty. Until then, Martha would simply have to keep a strong hold on her faithâfaith in God and faith in herself.
Resolved, but still numb with disappointment, Martha clearedher supper dishes from the table and pumped water into a basin. She washed and dried the dishes, placed them back into the cupboard, and wiped the table clean. After she banked the fire in the hearth, she doused the oil lamp and wearily mounted the staircase.
The day had begun with great sadness she had shared with Nancy Clifford, and Marthaâs heart ached anew for the young woman. The day was ending, however, with yet more troubles, this time waiting for Martha at home. Her legs felt heavy, like they were made of lead. Heart-weary and physically exhausted, she approached her bedchamber door. Muted light from the hall window guided her steps. Even though all was quiet, Victoria was probably still awake, and Martha was not quite sure what she would be able to say to her daughter to salvage what she could from their disastrous reunion.
She paused, took a deep breath, and reached for the door handle. She heard a door down the hall open and then close; Martha turned, ready to apologize to Fern or Ivy for waking them.
To her surprise, June Morgan approached her. She wore a loosely belted robe over her nightdress and her hair fell in waves on either shoulder. She pressed one finger to her lips. âIâve gotten Victoria to sleep,â she whispered. âCome. Letâs go downstairs. Iâll fix us some tea.â
âVictoriaâs in your chamber?â Martha asked and immediately regretted not softening her voice.
âShe was very upset, as I suppose you are, too. If youâd prefer to talk in the morningÂ .Â .Â .â
Distraught anew, Martha welcomed the opportunity to put this woman in her place. Now. âNo, we should go downstairs and talk.â
She followed June back down the staircase. When they reached the kitchen, Martha went ahead and relit the oil lamp. June filled the teakettle with water and set it to boil on thecookstove while Martha set out two cups. She secured a good measure of chamomile tea leaves she put into a ball and carefully placed in the teapot.
Chamomile tea. Good for settling the nerves. Good for prompting sleep. Sleep would be a blessed release from this nightmare, but Martha knew sleep this night would be impossible. Whatever nerves she had were raw, and perhaps the tea would help ease the sheer animosity toward this woman that had Marthaâs mind a quagmire.
June stoked the fire back to life and set two chairs in front of the hearth. âWhy donât we sit here until the water boils.â
Martha took a seat. She stared at the glowing embers and prayed her anger would subside long enough for her to speak her mind. Coherently. Firmly. And without the bitterness that soured her mouth.
When June sat down beside her, Martha studied the woman out of the corner of her eye. June was the epitome of grace and gentility, and the picture of understated elegance. She was