Agnes #2 (WIP)

Agnes: Book II in Daughter of The Alvar Series

I started writing Agnes during Nano 2014 and am some 20K into the story. So far only a rough draft. Will add more info soon.

My contribution to the Thorstruck Press Anthology the short story  The Blood Red Nails of War contains a snippet of Agnes’ life (from 1907 and 1917).

A taster..

Chapter 1

Goodbye to Ingrid

Öland, South-Sweden

August 1893

Martha bent over Max and tapped him softly on the sleeve. He needed to move, to let go of Ingrid’s body. Even the hard-shelled peasant woman, her head filled with all the bad stories about the young woman lying dead in Max’s arms, had to swallow a lump in her throat. This blond girl, former Miss Ingrid, looked so serene and beautiful now she was at peace but Agnes was jumping up and down in Martha’s fat arms, wanting to go to her mother and docile Gåva, Ingrid’s dog stood immobile with her neck on the bed, looking with big brown eyes at her motionless mistress. The situation demanded movement for the living.

“Something has to be done, Sir,” the simple woman said, panic making her voice sounds squeaky. Max seemed to wake as from a trance. As carefully as he could he withdrew the arm that had lain under Ingrid and resting on his elbow, never taking his face of his beloved, said through his tears:

“Yes Martha, I know, but please give me another moment to say goodbye to her. I’ll be out there in a minute.”

“Sure, Sir. Whatever you say, Sir.” The stout woman shuffled out of the make-shift bedroom, taking the protesting baby with her. Max slowly got up from the bed, his entire body sore and stiff, but that was a mean feat compared to the agony in his heart. He sank his defeated self in the old arm chair next to the bed.

“There are so many things I still wanted to tell you, dearest. So many things. But we never had the time and now we never will. I don’t know how to survive on my own, now I’ve finally found you and found out you loved me back. We were supposed to live together forever. Oh, it’s all my fault. I came too late. But it’s not going to help me lamenting about my foolishness. I promised you I’d look after Agnes and Gåva for you, your little family but in truth I know nothing about babies or dogs. Still, I’ll do what I can and I promise you I will not let all the work be done by strangers. I will personally look after your two family members to the best of my ability. So much I owe, dearest, dearest Ingrid.” The broken-hearted French baron kept talking to the still white girl on the bed as if his words would revive her and she would suddenly open those heavenly blue eyes, the colour of cornflower fields in summer. But Ingrid didn’t move, her long blond hair that Martha had braided in two long plaits so it wouldn’t bother her in her very sick state lay by the sides of her thin white neck, the two flocky ends resting on her sunken tummy. She looked so frail under the white cotton nightdress, almost an old woman instead of a girl of nineteen short summers.

After only hearing the stillness in the bedroom, Max all of a sudden became aware of Agnes’s wailing outside where Martha had taken the four-month old child to give Max the privacy he had asked for. Slowly the tired Frenchman raised himself from the chair and after casting a last look on his lost love, he also went outside, bent like an old man. When he passed the main room, it was as if he opened his eyes for the first time to the dinginess of the place where Ingrid had been forced to live for the past three years. How had she done that? How had she lived on a day-to-day basis in this hellhole? Only a person with an iron will would be able to survive here, a prisoner of society, cast out by each and every one.

Max halted for a moment before he stepped through the front door that existed of simple planks, a free play for snow and rain, rats and other vermin. At that moment, the wealthy aristocrat vowed to himself that whatever he would encounter in the rest of his life, he would dress simply and eat and drink in moderation as an ode to the way Ingrid had starved. And yet another idea crossed his mind. These old rickety chairs, the pots and pans, everything she had owned and used, scrubbing and polishing it with her bare hands, would be packed and taken with them to be kept at his summer château near Picardy. He would arrange all Ingrid had owned in one of the rooms so that if Agnes was bigger she would have an idea how strong her mother had been to survive like this, without the help of anyone. Absent-mindedly he stepped outside in the glorious summer sun. The Alvar had exploded in a tapestry of colours, and the scent of wild roses and chamomile filled the air. Birds sang their most beautiful songs and the wind was a soft breeze. Ingrid had died the day the Alvar partied, not when it was a barren wilderness of icy storms and blizzards of snow. Miss Ingrid Gunarsson had finally mastered the wild steppe that had killed her and the life that went on celebrated her beauty and liveliness.

Agnes was still sobbing, although no longer with her earlier long howls and Max strongly felt a need to return to reality to be able to comfort the little one. He took the child from Martha, who murmured she’d finally make them some tea. The baby was already a little used to the foreign man in the humble hut she had shared with her mother and Gåva, so she gave up her crying and started to coo and smile, happily ignorant of the death of her mother. Max took in the baby’s features as if he saw her for the first time. Everything had revolved around Ingrid in these past weeks after he had hurried here from New York and found her in these wretched conditions, more dead than alive. The tiny fingers fumbled at this linen lapel, trying to pull the emerald pin that was stuck in it and glittered in the sunshine. The blue eyes, so very much like her mother’s, shot him a quick glance to see if she had permission to keep pulling and Max Dupuis was sold. There and then he became her father. A gulf of emotion, sadness, joy and heavy responsibility flooded through him, he who had no experience whatsoever with children and had never had any other interests but music and tutoring.

“Whatever happens, little Agnes,” he said planting a tentative kiss on her white little curls, “you and Gåva and I are going to make this work. We’re family now and we will always be family. I promised your mother I would look after you and – God be my witness – I will keep that promise even if it means I have to die for it.” The baby seemed to understand some of the seriousness of what her new father was saying. She fixed him again with her big round eyes, the familiar shine in them, although a little less forthright than those of her mother’s. But being a baby Agnes couldn’t keep her attention focused for a very long time so soon she was grabbing a fistful of Max’s dark hair and pulling it firmly. It was her token they had bonded and Max’s ‘ouch’ made her giggle.

“After the tea, I’m going to arrange things with the undertaker,” he said to Martha as he went indoors with Agnes dancing up and down in his arms, gurgling with delight now, “I will take Miss Agnes with me as I don’t want anything to happen to her.” He had no idea what could happen to her but decided that letting her out of his sight was not an option at the moment.

“What am I to do here with the Miss dead in the bedroom and you two going away, Sir?” Martha’s eyes grew big with fear.

“Start packing what you can and prepare the evening meal. I will return as soon as I can and will bring with some people.”

Martha certainly wasn’t pleased with this foresight, being a little superstitious and afraid to be left alone here in the wilderness.

“What if Kalle Ljundberg suddenly returns, Sir?”

“He won’t, Martha, he is in jail in New York.” At this the poor woman’s jaw fell open. “Now listen to me, let me speed up or we won’t be back before dark. All this babbling is wasting precious time. You know what. I’ll pay you 100 kronor extra if you do as I tell you.”

“100 kronor? Yes, Sir!”

When one hour later Max and little Agnes in her basket and Gåva in the back of the Baruche arrived in Kastlösa, the Baron went straight to Grimm & Söner on the main street and after another big financial hole in his budget managed to coax the undertaker to return with him to the hut on the Alvar so they could prepare everything for Ingrid’s modest grave on Smedby’s graveyard.

“Vicar Gunarsson is not going to consent to this,” Old Olaf Grimm had protested, shaking his head. The undertaker, a short man dressed in solemn black, had a crumpled-looking face as if his chin wanted to touch his forehead, pushing the corners of this mouth downwards in the effect. His shrewd somewhat bulging eyes took in the Frenchman with as much dignity as was needed for his profession but not an inch more. It was an un-heard of business anyway to come here and ask for a grave for that girl. That foreigner, now with a baby that was clearly Ingrid’s offspring and a ratty looking dog in tow. What was the man thinking? But morals had little weight against a protruding wallet and Max – for the very first time in his life – blessed his father’s wealth to deal with this sad and almost impossible mission.

“I’ll deal with the vicar if need be,” Max snapped at the undertaker, “if I understood things correctly, you sell plots on the Smedby graveyard, don’t you? I heard family members here in Kastlösa who were born in Smedby sometimes want to be buried in their native ground?”

“Correct, Sir, but only the lesser plots and there is no way Ingrid Gunarsson can be buried in the family tomb next to her mother.” Mr Grimm looked glum.

“I’m well aware of that,” Max retorted, “So what plots may you sell to me?”

The undertaker brought out a drawing of the Smedby graveyard and pointed to some small plots at the very end near the rhododendron bushes.

“Right,” Max stabbed his finger to the paper, “I’m buying this plot here for fifty years. And now I want to look for a coffin.” After he had decided on a simple rosewood coffin, the undertaker asked:

“Sir, may I ask, is there going to be a certain ceremony.. uh.. I mean… service?”

“No, I don’t think so, Grimm. I will speak a few words myself but I don’t think I will be able to find a minister willing to hold a service. To be honest I wonder if Miss Ingrid would have wanted it. The way she was treated by everyone.” The undertaker wisely kept his mouth. He was going out of his league anyway in this situation. Who knew what the Missus Grimm and himself would have to endure after he’d become involved?

And thus Miss Ingrid Gunarsson was buried on a warm August afternoon on the graveyard that she had known all her life. It was a sad but providential circumstance that her father was once again visiting his son Johan and his daughter-in-law Ariane on the mainland so couldn’t make any objections to his only daughter being buried almost next to her parental house. The warm breeze blew over the open grave as Max looked down on Ingrid’s coffin for the very last time, remembering her vivacity, her jokes, her lightness of being and how through some cruel turn of fate all that had gone awry and wrong fatally wrong. Agnes in a little black dress did and didn’t understand what was going on, but not being a difficult child at all, she was just very silent and solemn.

Although Max, Agnes and Gåva were the only people attending the funeral apart from the undertaker who kept his distance, eyes could be seen watching the little scene from behind the bushes and laced curtains of the houses in the village. It gave Max a bad taste in his mouth that nobody seemed to care, until over the grass, in between the graves he saw Elise Aberg slowly come their way, one white lily in her hand, her black dress simple but reverently. She walked up to the grave without saying anything. She just stood there and Max saw how a tear welled up in her eye. She hadn’t forgotten Ingrid, at least one person hadn’t forgotten her. It crossed Max’s mind that the one Aberg girl Ingrid had always been so critical about ‘that haughty girl who thinks she can speak French’, that of all people Elise would dare to show her face and mourn the unnecessary death of her childhood friend. Max gave her a grateful smile and Elise smiled back under her black veil lying the lily on top of the coffin, next to Max’s red roses and Agnes’s lilies of the valley.

“Rest in peace, Ingrid.” Elise said softly before her tall willowy figure was seen disappearing the way she had come. But this little scene meant the world to Max and he vowed he would repay Elise whenever the occasion arose.

“Rest in peace, beloved,” were also his last words before he slowly made his way to the baruche together with Agnes and Gåva with her tail in between her legs. Max had no further business in Smedby right now. He had decided he would register the birth of Agnes Elisabet Gunarsson Dupuis de Melancourt in Kalmar as he didn’t want to encounter any of the rude islanders again.

So off they went, the little newly composed family, followed by a cart with all Ingrid’s belongings along the road to Färjestaden and then the long, long road to Paris. Everywhere Max felt the eyes on him and his company but Elise seemed to have broken the spell. There was compassion in the air, disbelief and a first attempt at a look inside their own hearts and minds.

In no way Miss Ingrid Gunarsson had treated any of them badly. Ever.

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