Authors: Erica Vetsch
Mrs. Webber lumbered by with the baggage and deposited it on the carpet.
“Thank you, Mrs. Webber. That’s all for tonight.”
“Very good, sir. I’ll see you in the morning. Sleep well.” The housekeeper chortled and coughed, then padded down the stairs humming Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.”
Karen’s heart lodged somewhere in her throat and beat painfully, making it hard to draw a controlled breath. Her wedding night. She set the lamp on the bureau beside the door and stooped to move the bags so David wouldn’t trip on them. “What a lovely room.” Did her voice sound as nervous as she felt? “I suppose we can leave most of the unpacking for the morning, don’t you?” She crossed to close the navy velvet drapes.
David stood in the doorway. “You can leave my things.” He leaned his shoulder on the doorjamb. “Your room is next door. The water closet and bath are across the hall.”
She looked at him over her shoulder, her hands gripping the fabric. “My room? But, I thought I would sleep in here. After all, we did get married today.”
“That’s right. I married you. But this will be a marriage in name only. I have no intention of consummating our union. When the time comes that you realize your mistake in marrying me, you can apply for an annulment.”
The air rushed out of her lungs and her head spun. An annulment? “When are you going to understand that I have no intention of leaving you? Did you not hear me today? I promised to love, honor, and obey you until death parted us.”
“I heard your promise. Now obey me and take your things to the next room. I’m tired and I’d like to go to bed. It’s been a long day.” He stepped farther into the room and waited.
Numb at this turn of events, Karen gathered her valise and straightened. “David, can’t we talk about this?”
“This is not a matter for discussion. Go to bed.”
She gathered the lamp and stepped into the hall. He closed the door behind her, shutting her out as effectively as putting out a cat for the night. The final humiliation came when he turned the key in the lock.
Tears blurred the flame in the lamp she held and smudged the shadowy outline of the carpet runner and the doorways that gaped open like eyeless sockets along the hallway. She went into the bedroom David said was hers and placed the lamp on the dressing table. With chilly fingers she turned up the wick. The furnishings and décor matched the master bedroom exactly.
Her feet sank into the carpet when she crossed to the bed. Cold satin pillowed her body as she lay back across the coverlet. Rejected and humiliated, she tried to make sense of why he would do this to her. Was he punishing her for pushing him into this marriage? And why mention an annulment?
The sobs burning in her throat clamored for release and she gave in, rolling to her side, curling into a ball, and letting go. Nothing had been right between them in such a long time, and now everything was very, very wrong. She had won a victory in forcing him to go through with the wedding, but it was a Pyrrhic victory, indeed.
David rolled over and shucked the blankets twisted about his legs. Karen’s sobs had quieted, but that didn’t make him feel less a heel. In a moment of weakness he’d let himself be goaded into this marriage against his better judgment. Now he was stuck.
be her husband in every sense of the word. The possible consequences were too great. Not only might he father a child who might grow to despise his crippled parent, but David knew he would not be able to get that close to Karen, to love her in that way, and then survive when she left him. Better not to give her the chance to hurt him that utterly. Better to keep her at arm’s length.
His face flamed at the thought of how inept his attempts at loving would be. He couldn’t have borne it if she’d laughed at him or, even worse, pitied his attempts. He would not take that chance, no matter how much he loved her.
She said she loved him right now, but what about later? What about when reality didn’t meet up with her fairy-tale expectations and she realized she’d made a mistake? What about when she realized how hard life would be with a cripple who couldn’t do the simplest tasks for himself anymore?
His profession was lost to him. Every last shred of who he was and why he existed had vanished. He was dead weight, contributing nothing to the marriage but his name and family fortune. How could he be a husband to her? How could he be the leader in his home, the head of his household?
Light footsteps sounded on the stairs.
The fist of anxiety resting under David’s breastbone since Karen left the house early that morning loosened a bit. He hated the idea of his wife roaming the streets of Denver alone, but what could he have done? He was in no position to stop her, nor did he relish the idea of trailing after her through the city as if she were the governess and he the charge to be watched over. At least she’d had the sense to take the carriage.
Fingers tapped on the door.
“Come in.” He straightened in his chair and crossed his legs, lacing his fingers in his lap.
When she entered, he schooled his features to appear dis-interested and calm. Then her perfume assailed him—light, sweet, beautiful. Just like Karen.
He swallowed. “You were gone a long time.”
“Yes, I had lots to do.”
“Shopping, I suppose.”
“No, actually, I didn’t do a bit of shopping, though that’s on the list for tomorrow.” The fabric of her dress whispered, and her footsteps sounded on the rug.
“What are you doing? Are you pacing?”
“I’m making the bed and tidying your clothes. You didn’t go downstairs today, and you didn’t let Mrs. Webber in, so the room could use a little looking after.” The bedcovers rustled and pillows thumped. The armoire door opened, and the latches on his cases jingled. “You didn’t unpack last night, so I’ll help you while we talk.”
“You sound cheerful.” He fisted his hands. Why did it bother him that she did these simple things for him, things the housekeeper would’ve done?
A drawer slid open. “I am, though I’m tired clear through. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I had to go clear across town today.”
“What for?” He turned his face toward the sounds of her movement. “And will you stop fussing with my belongings?”
She laughed, and a shaft of pain sliced through him at the musical sound. “Actually, I’m nervous, and I hoped by straightening the room I could buy myself some time to gather my courage before the vials of your wrath fell upon me again.”
Though she kept her tone light, he sensed her worry. He timed the sound of her movement, and when she passed close, he reached for her, grasping her wrist. Though a sense of dread at her words formed in his chest, guilt pushed to the forefront of his mind. He didn’t want Karen afraid of him, no matter what had happened. “What did you do?”
Her arm twitched, and he realized she had taken a deep breath. “First, I had a chat with Mrs. Webber, and she mentioned the new school for the blind they’ve just built across town. That’s when it hit me. They would be a wealth of information for us. I went straight to the school to find a tutor. A tutor can help us in so many ways. We can make the house easier to navigate and devise some organizational tactics for your wardrobe and office. So many things to make all of this better.” Her words rushed out, as if once she started, she wanted to finish without giving him a chance to interrupt.
A protest made it as far as his teeth. He didn’t need a tutor. Accepting a tutor meant accepting his blindness. Though the rational part of him knew his blindness was permanent, an unreasoning, fearful part of his heart held on to a shred of hope that this hadn’t really happened, that he would wake up one morning and it would all be a bad night that evaporated into a glorious dawn. He would see colors and movement, light and life, and not be shackled in darkness.
“David? Did you hear me?” She knelt before him and placed her hands on his knees.
The warmth of her palms through his pants legs seared him, reminding him of the closeness they had once shared. He shifted and shook his head. “You had no right to interfere this way. A tutor won’t change anything. I refuse to have a stranger in the house staring at me and pitying me.”
A giggle escaped her lips, making her sound very young. “David, I can guarantee Rex Collison will not stare. He’s blind, too.”
His thoughts tumbled like water through a sluice. Accepting yet more help, acknowledging again his need for aid, his inability to do the things he used to do. Every moment since he realized he was blind seemed to be proving he was no longer a man.
After an eternity of silence she ventured, “Will you meet Mr. Collison? He’s waiting in the parlor. I know he can make things better for you.”
“Do you think this will change anything? There is no way you can make this ‘all better.’ A sightless tutor. A true case of the blind leading the blind. Why can’t you leave it alone?” Why couldn’t she grasp the fact that his blindness meant the death of her hopes for their future as well? The man she thought to marry, the strong, protecting, professional man she’d fallen in love with didn’t exist anymore. That man had died in the bottom of a mine.
She removed her hands, and he derided himself for the feeling of loss her action brought. “David, you have nothing to lose. Just as being blind won’t go away, neither will I go away. I won’t stop trying to help you. Where is your faith? Where is your courage?”
“When you’ve walked a mile in my darkness, Karen, perhaps you will have the right to speak to me in such a manner. You know nothing of what it is like to be blind.”
“No, I don’t know, but Rex does. I should think you’d be willing to at least speak with him.”
He could picture her, crossing her arms, her blue eyes, fringed with dark lashes, studying him. The late afternoon sun would caress her hair and a light flush would ride her cheekbones. His feelings for her, carefully leashed, prodded him to acquiesce. “Very well, I will meet him, since nothing else will please you. But remember this. . .I never asked for a tutor. If I so choose, I’ll have him out of here before dinner.”
She took his arm. “I think you’ll like him. He’s nearly your age, I would think, and very smart.”
“You don’t have to sell him to me. I reserve the right to make my own judgment.” They navigated the staircase, and David took pains to count the number of steps. Would the shame and regret of his limitations ever dull? His heart rate picked up when they entered the parlor. Hard enough to greet friends and family. Strangers were another ordeal altogether.
“David, this is Rex Collison. Rex, I’m sorry we kept you waiting. I hope Mrs. Webber made you comfortable.”
She led David across the room in the area of the fireplace. He could detect the smell of the fire and, when he moved his face to the left, the smell of coffee. “Pleased to meet you.”
Something bumped his arm, and he instinctively grasped Collison’s hand and shook it.
“I’ll leave you to your discussion.” Karen squeezed his elbow. “If you’ll take a seat, I’ll pour some coffee for you and go consult Mrs. Webber about dinner. I hope you’ll stay, Rex.”
“Thank you. I’d like that.”
Her footsteps retreated, leaving them alone.
“Your wife tells me your blindness is recent.”
David lifted his cup to his lips and breathed in the warm aroma. “That’s right. About five weeks now.”
“I hope you took the news better than I did when it happened to me.” Rueful amusement tinged Collison’s voice. “I was a trial to my family for half a year or more.”
David said nothing. Trial he might’ve been the last month or so, but he wouldn’t discuss it with a stranger.
Rex tried again. “I understand you’re an engineer.”
. I’m nothing now.”
“On the contrary. You’re still an engineer with several years of experience to call upon. There is no reason, with some adaptation to your routine and with a little help from an assistant, why you should cease your work. Your wife told me you have a very capable assistant to call upon.”
David set his cup down with more force than he intended, splashing hot liquid onto his hand. “Excuse me, Mr. Collison, but do you have any experience working in a mine? An engineer has to be able to read, to write, to calculate loads, design square sets, gauge the quality of the stope. I cannot work without my eyes.”
“In time, you will be able to read Braille and to write in Braille and in script. Your brain wasn’t affected by the explosion, only your eyesight. With a competent assistant, your career need not be halted.”
For one moment he allowed himself to hope, to believe things might return to the way they had been, but the foolishness of those thoughts crashed down on him. Reality was darkness. Reality was the need to rely on others to help him because he couldn’t help himself. Reality was that even before the accident he’d been a bad engineer. Otherwise, the mine never would’ve caved in. Shame licked through him like greedy tongues of fire, incinerating hope and devouring possibilities.
“My career is dead, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” He rested against the antimacassar, wishing he could stop the jangling in his head. Everything he had once identified himself as had been stripped from him, leaving him nothing to hold on to. Had he somehow angered God and earned this judgment? Did God even know or care?