A Mysterious Visitor (Third Stave): Our story continues…by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Two years have now passed since that sad Christmas Eve when poor Mr. Wilmer succumbed to the shock of that unexpected letter that no one—save his wife (now his widow)—even knew he received or read. The bereaved woman had simply told the undertaker that her husband passed away peacefully in his sleep, and when the undertaker found the deceased Wilmer fully clothed and slumped over on the kitchen table, if he thought it odd that such was the manner in which Mr. Wilmer usually took his nightly repose, he nevertheless noted nothing out of the ordinary in his official report.

And then, just one day after Mr. Wilmer’s sudden departure from this earthly realm—on Christmas Eve, no less!—the twins were born. Despite her grief, his widow bestowed them with names appropriate to the season: Christian for the boy and Holiday for the girl. Their safe arrival, albeit a bit unexpected (both as to date and duplication), added a footnote of happiness to what might have been an otherwise utterly miserable tale. But they were hale and healthy babes and their mother, despite the shock of her husband’s unexpected demise, had come through the delivery with colors flying. Now we see the twins on another Christmas morning— their second birthday—happily surveying the small mountain of presents under the tree while their mother sits contentedly in her Windsor chair next to a cheerful fire, watching their innocent joy with unmistakeable maternal pride.

Oddly, Christian appears to take after his comely mother while Holiday bears an unmistakeable likeness to her affable but late father. Perhaps they are too young to notice that theirs is a family sans pere. They live comfortably enough and their mother—now a year removed from wearing black—has a large coterie of friends who still regularly come to call: hardly a day goes by without a visit from Mrs. Ricaud, or the Widow Brice, or Captain and Mrs. Gale, or old Miss Hynson and her even older friend, Mistress Ringgold. Or the Comegys, or the Langfords, or the Wings, or the Hubbards…an almost endless procession of kindly pilgrims come to the cozy Wilmer home on the Water Street to keep both Mama and the twins entertained.

But as the good widow watches her children’s excitement on that bright Christmas morning, she keeps a secret. Just two weeks earlier on an unseasonably warm December day—the very day that a British frigate had arrived at the wharf with a passenger or two and a cargo of fine English teas—she had undertaken to pay a visit the cemetery behind the little church in St. Paul’s Parish where her good husband lay beneath the ground. There were no other carriages at the cemetery gate so as she approached the grave that morning, she was surprised to see a middle-aged gentleman—tall, thin as a walking sticking, and dressed a l’anglaise—stooping by her husband’s tombstone. She had never seen the man before. He had a care-worn but friendly enough face, and not wishing to disturb his moment of quiet remembrance; she observed at a remove as he laid a small wreath in the leaves beside Mr. Wilmer’s grave. And something else: she watched him place what appeared to be a small envelope within the boughs of the wreath. Finished, he stood, patted the stone, and turned to leave. That was when he noticed the attractive woman watching him. He gave no sign of recognition, only pausing briefly to politely touch the brim of his tall beaver hat before disappearing back down the path.

No one else was in the graveyard. A few brittle leaves drifted down on a suddenly chill breeze. The widow sat on one of the benches in the churchyard to gather herself, and when her curiosity overcame her sense of decorum, she went over to where her husband eternally reposed and took what was indeed an envelope from the wreath. Oddly, it was addressed to someone named “Marley.” The hand was vaguely familiar; she was sure she had seen it somewhere before, but where and when she could not say. She put the unopened letter in the folds of her shawl to read later at home. Mr. Wilmer would certainly not miss it.

That evening, while Christian and little Holiday slept soundly in the nursery, the Widow Wilmer lit a taper and opened the letter. Then it was she realized where she had seen the hand before, but now, as then, she was perplexed by the brevity and import of the words she read: a single sentence, “It is better to forgive than to deceive.”

The letter—if one could call it that—was simply signed with a single initial: “S.”

I’ll be right back.

 

Jamie Kirkpatrick

 

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