Slowly Colleen recovered from the shock of Robbie’s capture and loss of her child. She returned to helping the old lady and took over field work Robbie had been doing. The hard work helped cleanse her soul of her losses. Each day she’d look hopefully toward the trail leading to the mountains and their nearest neighbour village where the trail was replaced by a proper road. What had happened to her Robbie and where was he now? After two months she quit looking at that trail hoping he’d return. Obviously, something had happened to him or he’d have returned by now. She knew his love would never be shaken. Now and then in dream speculation she’d see him arriving home and turned over to Michael instead of his father Angus. She knew her father would have been out looking for her. She shuddered in her sleep imagining Robbie being tortured by her father. Perhaps killed?
And about that same time Colleen rose early for her daily chores one day and was surprised to find the old lady not in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the day. Colleen was amazed at the ability of this woman to make tasty meals with the limited foods she had at her disposal and every day the old lady taught her all she knew about cooking and showed her how to prepare plants that had medicinal value and what to do for various medical ailments not requiring surgery. Her skills in this area far exceeded what she’d learned from her own mother.
She went to the old woman’s room and called softly. Then when there was no answer she went to the bed to wake her. But the old woman didn’t respond to word or touch and a terrible fear came over Colleen. She’d cut off fellowship with her family, she’d lost Robbie and the baby. Surely she’d not be deprived this last pleasure in life!
But the old woman was dead. Slowly Colleen dressed her in her best clothes and went outside to dig a grave and prepare a cross to mark the spot. By lunchtime she was feeling faint from lack of food so returned to the kitchen and grazed on leftovers from the day before. Then feeling unclean she bathed herself. When she’d made herself presentable in respect for this woman who she now claimed as her mother she struggled with her to the grave site and paused to figure out her next move. She remembered attending funerals in her village as a child and tried to remember the sequence to be followed. A Priest would intone a committal speech then villagers would bury the dead as the whole village mourned. But there was no one to do that so Colleen faced the sky and poured out her heart’s emotions, then as there was no one else to bury she lovingly settled this adopted mother of hers into the grave and hastily covered her mounting a hastily constructed cross on the heap as a reminder this person belonged. She wept for the rest of the afternoon, then drying her eyes she stood up straight and determined to survive in her adopted home never to return to her real parents.
All these thoughts were going through Colleen’s mind as she watched those birds circling in the sky. It seems like a dream that she and Robbie had been together for what she recalled was a short period of their life. She’d almost given up on seeing him again. If he’d been killed by Michael then she was on her own and she’d survive. If the old woman had spent so long by herself then so could she. The old woman had taught her skills to be able to do that.
It was in the third month she noticed the animals outside her window look up from their grazing to stare intently at the trail leading to the mountains. She ran to a concealed vantage point and peered through cracks in the wash house at the trail. Her heart stopped, and fear gripped her. Had her father discovered where she was. Had Robbie disclosed this safe place under torture before being disposed of? What would he do to her? She’d run to the cliff and jump off rather than go back to his ill treatment.
But she saw only one person in the distance and focused her eyes to determine whether she should run and hide. But as the figure moved rapidly toward the home she noticed it was a walk and mannerism she’d been familiar with since childhood.
“Robbie?” Her heart raced, and her voice cracked. Then she was off with all the strength she could muster running toward her love until breathless she fell into his arms.
She beat him with her fists screaming. “Why did ya leave me, why did ya take so long to come back to me?”
Then she fell to the ground crying hysterically while Robbie tried to pick her up anxiously. She finally stopped crying her chest heaving.
“Are ya alright Colleen? I’m so sorry. I didn’t know anyone was on the beach and they hit me from behind. I only woke up when we were at sea and my hands were tied behind my back. It has been so hard for me to get away from our village. Both Angus and Michael had offered money to anyone who saw me in the village and my brothers had been told to watch my every move. At first it was to prevent me escaping again, but slowly Angus realized it was for my protection. The villagers knew they’d be paid handsomely by either parent to get me under their control, so they had people posted at night and you know the only way out is through the village. I tried it once and the villagers bid Michael and Angus against each other until Michael reached his financial limit and Angus won. It could have cost me my life but it cost me dearly in labour to get that money back again. Finally, my brother took pity on me tired of my daily pleadings and helped me escape by pretending it was me at night and then taking off in a different direction pursued by those on watch. I then rushed through the village in the darkness while they were chasing my brother back home. I don’t think anyone will ever try to find us now that’s over.”
Robbie looked around hopefully. “Did we have a boy or a girl?”
Colleen was too exhausted to reply. She straightened, dusted her clothes and turned to walk back to the house with Robbie behind her shaking his head in disbelief. This was not the enthusiastic welcome he’d imagined as he took several days walking at night with practically no food except what he was able to glean in the fields on the way. He was exhausted and hungry and followed sullenly behind.
When they reached the house she stepped inside and turned to face him not knowing how to reply to the question. Finally, she spoke. “There is no child Robbie. I was so traumatized by your capture the child aborted, and there is no old woman to love and nurture me now. I buried her outside.”
She moved to the table to prepare food for him not willing to look him in the eye. She now felt responsible for his aborted child even though it really was not her fault.
She felt that familiar touch again and turned toward him with eyes averted. Robbie scooped her up in his arms and rocked her gently. She sighed and luxuriated in that touch. It had been so long! Then she realized how Robbie must have felt at her strange reception. She had beaten him instead of embracing him. She looked up sorrowfully.
“I’m sorry for losing our baby Robby, and I’m sorry for beating you when you arrived after such a horrible journey to get here. Please forgive me, but I’ll understand if you won’t. I’ll work hard to get you to love me again.”
Robbie hugged her tightly and began to sob.” How could ya ever think I’d blame ya for losing the baby Colleen? I’m not like that at all and its sad you think that. My love for you is so strong even a beating on arrival could never erase that.” The thought of that beating suddenly seemed humorous and he blinked the tears away and began to chuckle.
Colleen looked up at that hopefully. She realized how foolish it was for her to greet him that way, but she really had been happy to see him and it was a strange way to show it. She smiled tentatively.
Robbie released her. “Colleen I really feel faint from lack of food and rest the past few days, could I have some food and I need to wash up and sleep?
Colleen raced to the table and grabbed whatever food she could find putting it on a plate and seating him. “There’s more when ya finished that.”
All the pent-up feelings gave utterance she kissed him repeatedly while he ate and a torrent of words describing her ordeals, challenges and discoveries fell on him like rain while he ate. Then he rose mechanically and headed for the wash room. Colleen raced to the well and drew buckets of water, she soaped him and poured bucket after bucket over him while he sat. Then she led him to the bed and wrapped him as he fell into that bed soon snoring contentedly while she sat watching him and singing lullabies her mother sang to her as a child. Her Robbie was back home, and everything would be alright now. He’d give her many children and she’d be such a good mother they’d never want to leave home.
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