When I heard the news, I went out to search for Lauren. I did not know her well, but I did feel some responsibility.
From what I did know about Lauren, I figured that she would have gone into the park. She so often disappeared there. I occasionally saw her as I walked, playing make-believe amongst the more fantastical “Whimseys”. She was shy, and tried to avoid me when she noticed that I was watching her. I understood, and always left her alone, wishing that there was some way that I could approach her, that I could find a way to talk to the girl. She was only about three years younger than me, perhaps 12 or 13, but she often acted like a small child.
I decided to go into the park to look for her, knowing nobody else would be looking out for her or searching for her. It had been sunny earlier in the day, but I bundled up, putting on my great coat. I could see the clouds and feel the damp that meant that snow was in the air.
Lauren intrigued me. She was like a sprite or fairy in her gentle, graceful movements. I felt, with a twinge of guilt, that her thin frame may have been due to the poor food that must have been her staple. Yet she had stars in her eyes and there was something that attracted me. Not just the forbidden fruit aspect of it, but the free spirit that I could see and feel. A kindred spirit.
It took me almost 45 minutes to reach the Greek Temple, the most beautiful of the Whimseys. It was set on a wooded knoll. There were statues of nymphs and dryads around it. The snow was just starting as I approached the temple.
Lauren was, as I suspected, sitting on the ground in front of a nymph, one that always reminded me of her mother. Had the woman been the model for the statue in the spring beauty of her youth? It would have been about the right time period.
“What are you doing here?” Lauren asked when she saw me. I was invading her private space, her sanctuary. A look of horror passed over her face as she realized what she had just said. She jumped up. “I am sorry, sir. I did not mean to offend. Here, I will leave immediately.”
She turned and quickly walked away from me. I realized that she had no jacket. Although her clothes were clean and well cared for, they were old and thin. She had no hat, nor gloves, and her shoes looked thinner than my socks. She was shivering.
“No, please, don’t leave,” I said. She continued on, as if she didn’t hear. I followed her. “Lauren, please. Wait.” She stopped on hearing her name, and turned towards me. There were tears in her eyes. I quickly closed the distance between us.
“You are cold,” I said. The snow was coming down harder. “Come with me. Let’s go to the temple and seek sanctuary.”
I removed my glove, and took her cold hand. At first, she resisted, but then, reluctantly, followed me into the small shrine. Once in the shelter of the temple, I opened my great jacket and sat down. I pulled her with me. Again, she resisted.
“Please, Lauren, you are cold. I won’t hurt you. I promise.”
She looked into my eyes and must have seen something. She sat down close to me. I wrapped my coat around the two of us. I pulled her close, to share our warmth, but made sure I didn’t touch her inappropriately. I could tell she was frightened.
“I heard about your mother,” I said. “I am very sorry. I liked her.”
Lauren didn’t answer, but I could there were even more tears.
“I liked her a lot.” I did like her a lot. She was always respectful of my position, but she treated me like a person, unlike how some of the other servants acted.
“Sir,” she said after a few minutes of silence. “Mary told me that your father would turn me out, now that Mother is gone. I don’t know where I will go. I am sorry sir, I know my problems are not yours. I’m sorry.”
“You will not be turned out.” She looked up at me in disbelief. It was well and good for me to say something like that, but she knew better.
“I have never told anybody about this,” I said. “You know my mother passed away four years ago. I was desolate. Nobody seemed to care. Except for your mother. She took me, as if I were her child, instead of her master’s child, and she held me. I was 12 and felt that I was a man, but I broke down in tears, like a small child. She comforted me as no other could. She was a good woman. I liked her a lot. Her daughter will not be turned out.”
I held Lauren a little closer. She placed her face into my shoulder, let out a sob. I patted her back and let her cry.
After a while the snow slowed and finally stopped. I led the girl from the inner sanctuary of the temple, keeping my coat around the two of us. I didn’t care who saw or what they would say. Lauren was coming back to live in the big house with us, as part of our family. I knew Father would resist, but I also knew how I could win him over. In time he would welcome her and know he had made the right decision.
We had walked for a very short time when we turned around to look back at the Whimsey on the knoll. The sun came out as we watched it. The temple, our little sanctuary from the storm, glowed as if made of diamonds.
“I have never seen anything as beautiful,” Lauren said.
I looked into her face and wiped a tear away. She turned to me, looked deeply into my eyes, and smiled. The sun had come out again. “I have,” I said.
— — —