Desperately Seeking Absolution

July 30, 1896
Penelope Sumter

“May I have a word, father?” I timidly asked.

He was looking busy at his desk, but then he always does. I had debated for weeks on whether to approach him or to wait for him to approach me. With my father it is always a game of sorts and I cannot help but feel I have lost this one. He has been distant from me since my return from school and although he certainly felt he had cause to be angry with me, I expected forgiveness. It did not have to be immediate, but so much time has passed, I fear I will return to school and still not have it.

I did my best to appear to wait patiently just inside the door. Internally, I was tapping my foot and huffing at being ignored. Father continued writing on a page in front of him, looking up occasionally when he dipped his pen for more ink. His gaze seemed to pass through me and I began to feel like I was wasting my time.

“No doubt you will give me no peace until I say yes.” He said, still writing and pointedly not looking at me.

“If now is not a good time, I can return later.” I replied.

Only then did he really look at me. I shifted uncomfortably under his gazed. He sat his pen aside and placed the page he was working inside a drawer. He pushed his chair back and stood up behind his desk. He gestured toward one of the visitor chairs in front of it.

“Sit down, Penelope.”

I did so with a slight hesitancy. It is unusual for him to offer me a seat in his study. In most circumstances he keeps me on my feet so as to disrupt him less. Clearly he expected this conversation to be longer than usual. He sat back and folded his hands together in front of him on the desk, after I was seated.

“What is it you wish to discuss?” He asked.

“You are angry with me.” I said.

I had given a lot of thought to how I would breach the subject and in the end I decided on directness, although it would certainly rile my father some, it seemed the only way to get to the bottom of the matter in a reasonable time frame.

“I am not.” He replied.

“I do not mean to contradict you, sir, but you punished me when I arrived and have ignored my presence since. Perhaps angry is a poor choice of words on my part, but your behavior toward me is surely not one of adoration.”

“Yes, and what have you done of late which is worthy of my adoration?”

“I will readily concede I have disappointed you, but I am still your daughter. Disappointing you was never my goal. I wanted you to be proud of me, I thought you would be.”

“It is my sincere hope, you are now aware that such is not the case. I expect you to behave like a proper lady and to refrain from politics and political statements at all times.”

“I am. I am truly sorry for the embarrassment I caused you.”

“As you should be.”

“So, why will you not forgive me?”

“What makes you think I have not forgiven you?”

“Your general behavior toward me this summer. The fact you barely even look at me and ever less often speak a work to me and never has it been a kind one since I returned home.”
“You are nearly a grown woman, I did not think you still required coddling.”

“I do not. I just need reassurance.”

“You are so narrow minded. You seem to think the entire world revolves around you. Let me assure you, it does not. If I am not the father you have come to expect me to be, did it ever occur to you that the reasons for my inattention might have nothing to do with you at all?”

“It has, but you make time to speak with James and Wilbur.”

“They are my heirs. James in particular is very involved in our family’s affairs. The time I make with them is not for reassurance, but business. Can you understand ?”

“Yes, of course. I am sorry I disrupted you. I only wanted to ensure we are on good terms.”

“You made mistakes during your first term at Primrose. I suppose it was to be expected, a young woman in particular can easily be given too much freedom. It was as much my mistake as yours.”

“I accept full responsibility for my actions.”

“As you should, and you should know there are consequences.”

“I have suffered them without complaint.” I said, blushing slightly at the memories.

“What you speak of was punishment, not consequences. Consequences are the results of your actions, not the punishments you incur for them. “

“I am not certain I understand.”

“I am certain you do not. A woman’s mind has difficulty grasping this concept and I do not expect you to understand.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I am sending Wilbur with you, when you go back to school. He will stay in Providence and assist with some business there as well as keep an eye on you.”

I was not sure what to say to the revelation, so I said nothing at all.

“If you recall, the most important reason I sent you to Primrose College was for you to find a suitable husband. Seeing as you ignored this purpose, I will expect Wilbur to arrange appropriate meetings for you. He will also determine which young women you may interact with and which you will stay away from.”

“I thought you were approving of Remington?” I said, confused.

“We all know your relationship with him was nothing more than a hoax.”


“Yes, I allowed him to punish you because it was fitting that you fall prey to your own hoax. Do not think there is anything you have done while at school that I am not fully aware of.”

My memory pondered a few things, most significantly Lucy, who was expelled over what was supposed to have been a minor bit of revenge on her. She had pushed the limits of the issue but it was still ultimately on my conscience what happened to her.

Father must have read my mind.

“Yes, even your scheming against the Meyers girl.”

I swallowed.

“Do not look so worried, if anything, your actions in that situation give me faith in your ability to do what must be done.”

“If you have faith in me, then why Wilbur?”

“Again not everything is all about you. Wilbur is not content to serve our family under James. He needs his own responsibilities and the space to become a man in his own right. I am giving him an opportunity to prove himself and at the same time he can help me look after you. Whether you agree or not, you do need looking after. Trouble has a way of finding you.”

I nodded ruefully at the truth of his words.

“I still think I can determine for myself who my friends should be.”

“Because you chose so well last year?”

I sighed. There was little point in arguing. Every point I could make would only further support his own views.

“Now if there is nothing more, I have work waiting.” Father said.

“Thank you, for the time, sir.” I said and left my father to his work.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Melanie, that doesn't say a lot for his upbringing.
Warm hugs,