Beth rode the old horse slowly up the road towards Calkington. She tried to get the nag to speed up. This proved to be impossible. The poor old creature was just bones and skin. Beth finally took pity on him. They just plodded along. At one point where the road was steep she got off the horse. Carefully she pulled him after her. Beth was cruel, and manipulative towards humans. The best of her nature she gave to animals. Instead of whipping the old horse, or coaxing him beyond his strength she spoke to him softly, patting his gray muzzle.
As they walked along in the earliest, dark, hours of morning Beth found comfort talking to the creature. “When I first got home from Switzerland I thought that everybody would be the same. Somehow I thought that I was the only one who would change in those three years. So I was REALLY surprised to find that Mother and Papa looked older, and Bertie, and Alexa didn’t let me boss them around any more.”
With nothing but time on her hands Beth remembered out loud the whole situation. “Bertie, we need to hold an emergency meeting in the parlor please go get Alexa.” “Queen Bee’s fly again,” Beth said. “Queen Bee’s,” Beth murmured to herself as she picked up a pad of paper, and a pencil. “I haven’t heard that name for three years. I feel a little silly using it, now. Still, it can be very useful.” Beth thoughtfully walked down the stairs.
Bertie, and Alexa, were expectantly waiting for Beth in the parlor. “We want you to know that we have proudly kept the Queen Bee tradition alive since you’ve been away at school.” Alexa smiled brightly. Beth spoke up, “That’s good, but I think it’s time to change the name. We’re getting older now. I think it’s time we make the name more mature, like the Sisters Club, or something like that.” Both girls protested loudly at once. “It just wouldn’t be the same,” Bertie cried. “We like the name. That makes the vote two to one,” Alexa chorused.
Beth nodded in a way that she hoped made her look more adult. “Remember I have the power of veto, which I only use when I think it’s important.” “Not anymore,” Bertie protested. “You’ve been gone for three years. The power of veto has been passed to the next officer, that’s me. If I go away to school next year, it will be Alexa’s turn.” Beth spoke sharply, “My veto power is absolute. I don’t know how you think that has changed.”
Alexa said, “I remember that it was your idea to cut Angela Butler’s braid off. Bertie, and I both got in trouble and you didn’t. Strange since it was your idea!” “Alexandra Bond that was a long time ago.” Beth sniffed most unattractively, “Besides, I know that Mother wouldn’t care anymore.” “Maybe not, but Papa would.” Beth sniffed again but she didn’t feel as confident as she was trying to act.
“Papa wouldn’t do anything. You both know that Papa doesn’t do anything about the family or the home. He always says that he and Mother are a team. He takes care of the bank. Mother runs the home, and family.” “He would be upset, nonetheless. After all, Blake Calkin, her guardian, is the biggest investor in the bank. If he withdrew his money because of what you did….well I really don’t think you want Papa to know anything about it. Do you remember his reaction when you and Mama vetoed Celeste Calkin from joining the Calkington Lady’s Society?”
Beth recalled quite vividly that unpleasant experience. Her Papa had been LIVID with anger. She had never seen his face turn bright red, and he shook all over. He was quite honest in explaining that they would lose everything if Blake Calkin withdrew his substantial funds in the bank.
Taking a deep breath Beth said, “I guess you two were pretty busy while I was away, weren’t you? You took over our little organization!” Anger brought a red blush to Beth’s porcelain fair cheeks. “Fine, Bertie, you have the veto, for now. This isn’t the last time we’ll discuss this. I’m only putting it aside for now because we have much more important things to talk about.”
“The emergency that I called you here for is my marriage. You both know that I told Angela about the effect her unfortunate choice to marry Eric Calkin would have on his future.” Beth smiled a malicious, grim, little smile. It hardened her features very unattractively. “Her leaving town was the best decision she has made since she was twelve.” “You mean it was the best decision for you, so that you could marry Eric. Too bad he left the next day and hasn’t come home since.” Bertie spoke quietly. Beth turned swiftly, “You remember the oath of loyalty that we all took, don’t you Bertie?”
“Blood to blood, under the full moon, I’m not liable to forget that, or the trouble that I got in with Mother when I was being loyal to you. Alexa, and I think that it’s interesting that the oath of loyalty, always somehow meant that WE got in trouble. Especially since you are the one that planned the ideas. Then you would make us help you carry them out. An oath of loyalty SHOULD mean loyal to EACH OTHER, not just you. It doesn’t just mean that everything is all for you, and none for us.”
“Well, well, you two have certainly forgotten some important details since I’ve been gone. I can see that I shall have to remind you.” “It won’t work anymore Beth.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Bertie shook her fist at Beth. “Oh yes you do. You know very well that you used to break things, or steal something from Mama. Then you would blame us for those things that YOU did. We’re not going to let you do that anymore.” “You never could prove that I did any of those things.” “The very fact that all of ‘those things’ as you call them quit happening as soon as you went away to school, speaks for itself.”
Beth’s tone changed. Beth was the mistress of manipulation. She changed her tact. “You’re right. That was very childish of me to behave in that manner. I know that we’ve all grown up a lot in the last three years.” Bertie and Alexa were both dizzy from Beth’s rapid-fire change. “Wait just a minute, Miss Beth,” Alexa said, “Being chummy sweet isn’t going to work either.”
Bertie spoke up, “As the current Queen of the Queen Bee’s, I will explain to you the way this will work. You will tell Alexa, and I in simple terms what new idea you have cooked up. Then Alexa, and I will decide whether or not we want to be involved. You will have NO vote in the matter. IF we agree to your idea, we will decide how to plan the matter. Under no circumstances will we EVER take responsibility for it. Now that you understand, tell us what you are thinking.”
“Well, my goodness. If I weren’t so proud of the way you two have matured, I would be angry. How can I possibly be angry when you have become almost as sneaky and bossy as I am? I did, after all, teach you everything that you know.”
Without waiting for an answer Beth continued. “I doubt that I will be able to marry Eric. He is ridiculously attached to that white trash, Angela.” Beth’s face was as pale as snow. She seemed so cold that Bertie thought she looked as though she were encased in ice.
“Instead I WILL have revenge. Since I can’t have Eric vengeance will have to console me over his loss. Jamie WILL succumb to my womanly wiles. He will grow to love me. Then I’ll leave him. I will break his heart. The entire family will be heartbroken by Jamie’s sorrow. I will now take suggestions on creative ways that I can accomplish this goal.”
Bertie, and Alexa were silent for one full minute. Then at the exact same moment they began to speak. “That’s rotten even for….” Beth smiled smugly. “You have to work hard to get what you want in this world.”
Bertie spoke up, “This idea of yours is too horrible for the Queen Bees. While you have been gone we have changed the mission of the Queen Bee’s. We now work together to do good anonymously. We have taken food to the Shelton’s when their Mama died. We have cleaned houses when someone was sick. Sometimes we volunteer at the clinic with Dr. Cloyd.”
“We work to do our deeds anonymously as much as possible. After all, the Bible says that it’s best to do your ‘alms’ in secret. Alexa, how do you feel about helping Willy get revenge on the Calkin’s?”
Alexa smiled slowly. “Beth did you just see what happened? Bertie asked MY opinion. You NEVER did that. You rarely even asked Bertie’s opinion. You just commanded us to do what you wanted. Well that’s over Willy….I mean Beth. Bertie, and I have changed the nature of our organization. It’s not going back to what it was when you were President. You should try serving sometime. You’d be surprised by how good it feels!”
Lucille called out, “Come and get it!” Beth’s face was blush red with frustration. “This isn’t the last of this. I can’t believe my very own sisters would turn on me!” Alexa said, “Believe it Beth. We won’t do your dirty work anymore! We love you but it’s time for you to grow up!”
Bertie, and Alexa left to have dinner. Beth stayed behind a moment. She suddenly had the direst feeling that her life had ended. She had no idea what she would do with her future. She started to cry but she wiped the bitter tears away with the back of her sleeve.
Beth had made good on her idea of revenge. She had used her considerable talent to convince Jamie that she was in love with him. During their courtship she had always enjoyed his kisses, and his caresses. Jamie was a romantic man, tender, and loving.
Shaking her head Beth came back to the present. Sometimes she cried on the old horse’s brown, rough, coat. Other times she would be very quiet, convinced that she had heard a wild animal of prey coming to attack. It was a very, VERY, long trip back to Calkington.
When she arrived at home she found her family seated at the breakfast table. Her parents jumped up in surprise. They ran towards her. Her Mother reached her first. “Bethie, darling, are you all right? Where is Jamie?” Beth hugged her Mother hard. She said, “Mother, I will go put the horse I rented, Old Jacob, in the barn then I’ll come visit.”
Willard was dressed for work in a beautiful pinstriped suit. “I’ll come help you Beth.” “No Papa, you are dressed too nicely. You may spoil your suit or shoes!” Willard just smiled, “All of those things are washable. Besides, I’ll cover up. No excuses, I’m coming with you.” At the doorway, Willard changed into his work shoes. He put an old pair of overalls over his suit.
Silently they walked together towards the barn. Beth was so tired she felt like she was going to faint. When they walked in the barn Willard closed the door. He got a feedbag. Next he filled it with grains. Beth got the brush and began to brush Jacob, long, soothing strokes. When Beth was through Willard lifted a blanket onto the old horse. Beth thought she heard the old creature sigh audibly with relief. Comfort filled Beth as she performed chores that were familiar.
After the duties were finished Willard said, “Beth, before you go in to your Mother, and sisters I want to know what is going on. Just tell me the basic facts, don’t use lots of emotions or flowery words.” “What do you mean, what is going on? I just came to visit my family.”
Willard took out his handkerchief and wiped his face with it. “Beth, I mean it, don’t waste my time or yours with machinations.” Beth broke down in tears. She twisted her hands nervously. “Papa, I can’t be married. I need to get an annulment.” “Beth there is a very private question I must ask. Did you have sexual intercourse with Jamie?” Beth was shocked at her Father’s frankness. “Beth, this is no time for maidenly modesty, I need to know the truth here.” “Yeeess Papa, I did.”
Willard took Beth by the arm. He led her to an old chair. “Beth you cannot get an annulment once you have consummated your union with Jamie.” Beth wailed in little girl voice, “Papa, I can’t be married to Jamie.” “Beth, it seems that yesterday would have been a better time for this realization.”
Beth whined, “Oh Papa, I can’t be married to Jamie, I waaaannntt Eric.” Willard stopped her. “Please do NOT tell me that you actually married Jamie Calkin to hurt Angela or Eric!” Beth continued crying, “I thought I looooovvved him but IIIII…..”
Willard scratched his head. “No Beth, you didn’t love him. If you loved him you would have cared about his wishes and feelings more than your own. All that you thought about was your own feelings. Well my darling, you have made your bed, and you will lie in it.” “Papa, what do you mean? I can’t live with Jamie. I WON’T live with Jamie. If I can’t get an annulment, I’ll get a divorce.”
Willard pulled Beth up from the chair. “Oh my little girl, you will NOT get a divorce. Listen very carefully to me. Your Mother and I have established a trust fund for you. I was afraid that you would do something foolish of this nature. If you do not stay married to Jamie for one entire year you will never receive a penny of your inheritance.”
“What? Papa how could you?” Beth’s face was contorted with anger. “Beth, how could you marry a man to hurt his brother, his family?” Beth started to splutter, “You’re my Papa you can’t do this to me.” Willard stopped her; “I should have been regularly paddling your backside for the last twenty-one years. Then maybe just maybe you wouldn’t have gotten yourself in this mess.”
“Understand Beth, there is nothing that you can do. You WILL live with Jamie Calkin in the house he provides you for one year. If I hear of you living elsewhere, or being unfaithful in any way, you will be cut off from your inheritance. That means you will not come back and move into our home. You would have to find a job. Like most of the rest of the human race you’d have to support yourself.”
Willard pulled Beth into his arms. “Maybe someday my sweet you will realize that I’m doing this because I love you. I can’t let you go on hurting others, and yourself. I will always love you no matter what. Still I must do something to help you learn a better way to live.”
“Beth, does it occur to you that you might be carrying Jamie’s child?” “Yes, and I’m sickened at the thought. I can’t carry a child that has Indian blood. I simply couldn’t allow it to happen!” Willard spoke grimly, “Again, Beth that would have been a very important point to consider before yesterday not after!”
Willard pulled Beth up so that they were face to face. “Did he beat you? Did he force himself upon you?” Beth’s face lightened, “Yeeesss,” There was a long drawn out awkward pause. She sighed raggedly, “No, no he didn’t. I can’t lie about that.” Willard shook his head, “Thank the good Lord. I would hope that you can’t lie about ANYTHING, but I guess I’ll take what I can get.”
Beth began crying again, “Papa, he didn’t hurt me. The worst part is that I liked it.” Willard put his head close to Beth’s head, her words muffled by her crying. “What did you say, Beth?” “I LIKED IT!” Beth was mortified, realizing that she had shouted the words.
Willard smiled. “Beth, honey, that’s good news not bad news!” Beth cried harder, “Mother said, that it’s a duty, good women don’t like it!” Willard shook his head again, “Beth, your Mother is a good woman. She’s a dear wife, but she told you wrong. It’s something that both husband and wife should enjoy. It’s a God given gift.” “What?” Beth looked confused.
Willard took Beth by the hand, “I know I’ve given you a lot to think about my sweet. Just one more thing, intimacy is reserved for after marriage. In marriage it’s a joyous celebration of your love. I pray that sometime you WILL understand that.”
“Come along dear, let’s go in the house. You look exhausted. I know your Mother will want to feed you, and ask a million questions. I’m surprised that she hasn’t come out to the barn by now.”
“Just remember Beth, you WILL live with Jamie for one year as man and wife. Don’t try to get around me on this with your mother. We made this decision together. I think you have finally met your match my Beth. You are not going to squirm out of this marriage. The best thing for you to do would be to honestly strive to love Jamie. Any two people can make a marriage work if they both think more about each other than themselves.”
Beth was relieved when she got inside to see that her sisters were gone. She had no desire to discuss this mess with them. Her mother had cleared away all of the dishes on the table but one. She had carefully made a place setting that looked inviting. “Come sit my darling. I made Swedish pancakes. Here are bacon, and eggs. You look like you’re starved. Eat and then we’ll talk.” Beth was happy to dig in to her mother’s excellent cooking.
When she was done Lucille sat down by her. “Tell your Mother, Beth. What is going on?” Beth started sobbing. Lucille pulled Beth’s head onto her ample bosom. “Oh now, shh, shh, it can’t be that bad. At least I hope it can’t! Did Jamie force you? Did he beat you? Oh not that, he seems like such a nice boy!”
Finally Beth managed to say, “Oh Mother, he didn’t beat me or mo…mo…molest me.” Beth put her head down and said in a tiny voice, “Mother, I like IT!” Lucille looked confused at the “IT” to which Beth was referring. “You liked what?” “I like IT! I liked the whole intimacy thing between Jamie and I. He was thoughtful, considerate, and it was amazing. I knew when I woke up a little later that I can’t possibly stay married to him!”
Lucille now looked totally confused. “You liked sexual contact but you don’t want to be married to him? What?” “Oh Mother, you said that intimacy was a woman’s duty. You said that I wasn’t supposed to like it. Decent women don’t like it.” Lucille’s eyes widened. “Oh, I did say that, didn’t I? I’m sorry Beth, I didn’t mean that YOU wouldn’t, or that I don’t, well I did a pretty bad job! Oh my sweet, come here.”
Lucille led the way to a white rocker in the corner. This was the family rocker. Many of life’s challenges, and confusions had been solved in this chair. Beth followed her mother. She sat in Lucille’s lap. It didn’t feel odd. Even though Beth was much taller than her Mother Lucille would ALWAYS be Beth’s Mother.
“Beth, my beloved daughter, I guess I just said to you what I was told on the eve of our wedding. I was given that talk by a stiff, unloving, bitter, Aunt. She had never been married. There was nobody else to give me the talk. Considering it her duty she wasn’t one to shirk responsibility. I should have had the wisdom to revise that talk.”
“The truth is my first married daughter, that intimacy can be a genuinely, pleasurable, experience. Your father and I, well, let’s just say that we enjoy each other in many ways.” “Mother!” Beth sat up in surprise, and embarrassment. Lucille just pulled Beth’s head down against her heart. They rocked silently for a few moments.
“Mother.” Lucille muttered, “Hmmm,” “Mother, Papa says that I have to stay married to Jamie.” Lucille sat up with a jerk. “Is that what you are trying to do?” Lucille stood up. Beth fell to the floor. “You’re trying to get around your Father through me aren’t you?”
Beth stood up wiping off her bottom. “No, I wouldn’t, why Mother!” “It’s no good Beth. Papa and I have talked a lot about this subject. As I raised all of you I totally lost perspective. I was spoiling all of you. You were becoming the kind of people that I hate. Willful, manipulative, deceitful, you were becoming that type of woman. The worst part is that you were learning from my example. I had to do some pretty serious introspection. I didn’t like a lot of what I saw. The good news is that I’m still young enough to change. You’re still young enough to change.”
“You’re also old enough to know what a covenant is.” “A what?” “A covenant, Beth, it’s a two way promise. That’s what you made yesterday. You promised Jamie that you would love him as he loved you. In return he promised to love you as you loved him.”
“You made that covenant before God. I have not done a lot of talking about God in our house. I regret that too. You don’t make a promise before God lightly. If you do you will come to regret it. Is that what you did, Beth?”
Beth’s head was lowered. Tears were flooding her face. Lucille was devastated. “Oh my Bethie, how could you? I know that you are bitter about Eric and Angela, but oh Bethie! Did you stop to think about Jamie? He’s a nice young man.” “Mother, how can you say that? He’s a half-breed, not all of one race. You always taught us to hate Indian’s! What about your Grandma and Grandpa being murdered by the Indians!”
“Oh Beth, that was a long time ago. They were different times. Here in Calkington I like to believe that we don’t worry about what color our skin is.” “Mother, I can’t believe you’re saying these things. What would you think if you had a grandchild with brown skin?” Lucile clapped her hands, “I would think, goodie, goodie, look this child is as beautiful as his Mother and Father!”
“Now listen to me dear, this is what is going to happen. You’re going to go upstairs to your bedroom and have a nice rest. When you wake up I’ll help you saddle your horse, and you’ll go back to Astoria.”
“I agree with your Father, Beth. I signed that trust that stated you have to stay married for one year before you could receive your inheritance.” “Mother, how could you do that to me?”
Lucille smiled. She briefly hugged her daughter. “I told you Bethie, I did it because I knew that it wasn’t too late to help you change. So, scoot, get on upstairs and sleep. Hurry along now!” Lucille gently tapped Beth on the bottom. In shock, Beth went upstairs to her old room.
Everything in her room was the same. She couldn’t believe that she had left it, was it just yesterday? She looked at herself in the mirror. Beth was not the same person that the looking glass had reflected for all her life. She pulled the covers down on her bed and climbed in. She sobbed herself into a fitful sleep.