Cook's TourBefore leaving River Heights, while tidying up one of the bedrooms, Nancy had stolen an elegant evening outfit. She didn't know who it belonged to, as it was too small to fit either Dr. Marvin or, at least in her present condition, Mrs. Watson. The room had been full of posh clothing and many other expensive possessions. She guessed that Mr. Drew had a grown-up daughter who lived with him at least part of the time. Perhaps this daughter was at college, on a trip, or recently married or employed and moved out. At any rate, she was ecstatic about this Drew daughter's size. The dress fit Nancy perfectly, as though it had been made for her. She would have to investigate this perhaps-daughter when she got back to River Heights. If young Drew would not be returning home any time soon, perhaps the maid could "borrow" some additional nice items of apparel. She would return them when her ship came in and could afford her own classy duds. She was that honest. Here, at Spring Rock, she was reserving the spiffy gown for just the right occasion. In the meantime, when she went out, she would sport her own rather gaudy, declassé items.
The green number for today, she thought. It will set off my reddish hair. Though I hope my mop doesn't look too carroty. Having expeditiously donned her tawdry leisure-time attire, Nancy set off towards the Spring Rock town common, on the prowl for congenial companionship and a good time.
As she patrolled the streets, the off-duty maid had to admit to herself that Spring Rock, Connecticut was indeed a dull town. It had a nice, picturesque and intensely green common, splashed next to a huge white-painted wooden church. "First Parish Church of Spring Rock, first gathered in 1721." 1721 seemed an awfully long time ago to Nancy. She wondered if there had been wild Indians around then.
Just then, as the careless girl was about to retract her eyes from the fascinating text of wayside pulpit, she ran smack into someone lounging on the sidewalk!
"Look where you are going, Missy!" the man expostulated.
"I'm very sorry, I'm sure," Nancy apologized.
Then, as she looked the man in the face, she felt her legs becoming a touch unsteady. He was a young man, quite handsome-and the spitting image of Mrs. Watson!
As he looked at her, he too felt a sense of dejà vu. Had he seen this lovely girl before, and if so, where?
"I beg your pardon, " he said, with such charm he hoped would efface any harsh impression he might have intemperately given. "It was really my fault, cluttering up the sidewalk and generally obstructing the public right of way."
Nancy was struck speechless by the man's gallantry, and ogled him with an undisguised attraction.
The man, constitutionally not slow in responding to feminine advances, took the welcome hint and extended the expected invitation. "Are you new here? Can I show you around?"
"Yes, please," answered Nancy. "I just got here yesterday and this is my first opportunity to see the town."
"What have you seen so far?" he inquired.
"Just the common, and the buildings facing it."
"There's not much else, I'm afraid."
"No stores or theaters?" pressed Nancy.
"Nothing but a little strip mall. And that is about a mile away, near the turnpike. The biggest deal around here is the healing center. Have you heard of that? It is quite celebrated."
"I just came from there," admitted Nancy. "You see, I am working as a maid for a couple of patients."
"And you are off duty? Having a royal spree in downtown Spring Rock?"
"I guess so," conceded Nancy ruefully.
"Well then, let me take you on the tour of the incredible and fantastic sights to behold! Maybe I can make them, by my patter, a little more interesting than they might seem, to the unaided and naked eye. Shall we start with the cemetery?"
"All right," said Nancy with just a touch of quiver in her voice. Cemeteries were, in her imagination, sinister and ominous. But, after all, it was a bright, sunny day.
"Come along then," said the young man-so much like Mrs. Watson in aspect-as he held out his arm for her to grasp.
"Wait a minute!" Nancy expostulated. "I don't even know your name! It is not with anyone that I will tour a cemetery."
"Where are my manners?" queried the young man in mock self-reproof. He withdrew his arm, stepped back, and bowed deeply to Nancy. "My name is Ashley Montague. And, let me guess, do I have the pleasure of talking to my lady Capulet?"
"I am no lady," stammered Nancy. "I told you that I am a maid, a servant."
"That I well remember. But being a maid is but a job. It is not the inner woman. To me, and all gathered here around the village green,"-Ashley quixotically swept his hands around, embracing a crowd of three dogs and two dozen pigeons-"you will always seem to be, and to be in fact, a highborn lady. Lady . . .?"
"My name is Nancy."
Ashley gave a start at the name and then squinted at his companion more closely.
"Nancy, that is a nice name, but even maidservants regale themselves with a cognomen on their afternoons off. You are Lady Nancy . . . what?"
"O'Donnell," repeated Ashley, in relief that the surname, at least, did not partake of the air strangely familiar he had found in her Christian name and face. "An Irish name. And, bless my eyes, you have such Hibernian hair. Of course, you would be from solid Gaelic stock. Have you ever been in the Emerald Isle?"
"Not that I can remember." This slipped out before Nancy could stop herself.
"You don't remember?" probed Ashley. "If you had strolled the hills and valleys of Erin, how could you not remember? In the autumn light the misty tors and succulent meadows glow such a luminous green as would put this anemic New England herbiage to shame. And they call this a green! A shabby brown it should be called by any that had seen Galway! My goodness, how could you not remember?"
"I must have kissed the blarney stone in a dream," Nancy tried to recover. "Of course I have never been to Ireland. I have rarely been away from home, or work."
"Where do you live?"
Ashley stood at attention at this piece of information and looked at Nancy even more intently. He decided to risk being more candid with her.
"I have been to River Heights, maybe a year ago. And you look strangely familiar to me. I wonder if we ever met there?"
Nancy found this question embarrassing. What if she had met Ashley in River Heights? Was he struggling to refresh his own memory, or just playing with her? She did not want to have to admit her own lamentable mental situation. If he knew about her loss of memory he might think of her as less a girl and more of a freak or a specimen.
"I don't think so," she lied hesitantly. Then, more boldly she declared, "or else I would remember."
"Well, Nancy O'Donnell, I am pleased to meet you for the first time in this life. For I am sure that we must have been well acquainted in a previous. Would you, Miss Nancy, like to join me in a tour of Spring Rock's oldest residences? I can show you where all the bodies are buried."
As Ashley made this quip he again extended his arm in a most gentlemanly fashion. Nancy smiled appreciatively and took the arm gratefully and walked with him down the stone-flagged pathway towards the outside rear of the ecclesiastical edifice.
The cemetery was not as well kept as the church or the common. As they strolled among the headstones, Nancy's pumps sank into the marshy ground. She felt as if the deceased occupants were trying to suck her down into the grave. She shuddered.
"Come, my intrepid young maid, you cannot be afraid?" Ashley teased her.
"I am not afraid," protested Nancy. "It is just that my feet are sinking into the earth. It is a creepy feeling."
"What am I thinking of?" Ashley reproached himself lightly. "Taking a lady, shod in her best delicate footgear, on a stroll in such a gruesome bog as this? Step over here Nancy, we will walk upon the beaten path. The ground is very firm here, I promise."
Indeed the path was dry and firm, but Nancy found it a challenge there to keep from turning her ankle when her narrow heel repeatedly struck the larger pieces of rounded gravel. Ashley, alert to the physical strain, invited her to sit with him on a concrete bench.
"The view is good from here. You must be fatigued, for in your line of work I imagine you have to be on your feet most of the day. We will rest a bit and I will conduct your eye on a tour that will be neither boggy nor rocky nor in any way wearisome."
"Thanks," sighed Nancy.
"We are sitting right next to the town's most distinguished resident. His name is Israel Putnam. A Revolutionary War hero. A leader of infantry in a battle not far from River Heights."
"O yes. The Battle of Forge Creek. He was not the overall commander. That was some guy named . . ."
"Washington?" Nancy ventured.
"I knew that you were a scholar as well as a gentlemen," Ashley quizzed.
Nancy crimsoned to be the object of Ashley's playful banter.
Ashley repented. "Don't take me too seriously, Nancy. That is just my manner. I like you and respect you. I can tell you are very nice. Me, I am shallow. I give a glib song and dance, but underneath there is nothing. I am a hollow man."
The apology did not soothe Nancy as much as it ought to have. Little did Ashley know how hollow indeed Nancy understood herself to be! She had no memory of the past, little understood who she really was, and had only the most elementary grasp of her own character! She pictured herself as a chocolate Easter bunny. If Ashley would but take one presumptuous nibble he might disclose the huge pit underneath her stale confectionary exterior.
The tour went on. As it turned out, Ashley, who confessed that he had only a few months ago begun to live in Spring Rock, knew a great deal of the history and lore of his newly adopted town. He told Nancy of the founding of the town by disgruntled Puritans, who thought both Boston and New Haven theology too liberal. A generation later, during the Great Awakening, they had thought Jonathan Edwards' hellfire sermons far too mild. They were stern folk, but many of them had oddly gentle names, like Comfort Richards, and Resteasy Tyler. They had a covenant with God, with whom "they walked." Nancy tried to picture walking with God on the Spring Rock Common, scattering pigeons as they meandered. There were probably sheep grazing there in those days. Would God pause to gather in a lost sheep or a distressed lamb?
At that moment Nancy felt herself quite the lost lamb. Could anyone, even God, help her find herself? Could she trust Ashley to help her? Could she reveal to him her deep, dark secret? As he turned to look at her at the climax of one of his flippant orations, she looked deep into his eyes, searching for that signal that would allow her to unburden what remained of her soul. What she saw there froze her blood. Ashley had, in one respect, not been kidding her. She felt that she had looked deep into his soul and found there a gaping chasm, one whose depths far exceeded her own!