The following is how Gemmah (our heroine) and Kyra (her mentor) met, seven years prior to when the H & H meet.
No spoilers – at least none that you will recognize right away. 😉
“Be off with you then, Miss Parker, and mind, you and your fancy tricks won’t ever be welcome back here at Saint Jane’s.” The severe, drawn face of the woman in charge of running Saint Jane Frances de Chantal’s Orphanage looked down her pointed nose at her former charge with disdain. Without further adieu— friendly or no, she slammed the large, ironbound door, separating them as if closing Gemmah out of the lives of those within its walls forever.
Gemmah Parker, who had turned eighteen years old on this gloomy day, glared at the spot where seconds before loomed the face of the crankiest old bat ever to preside over a noble establishment.
Gemmah pressed her shabby bonnet down firmly atop her head to assure herself of its security, and, with a finger, tucked a stray curl back inside from whence it had escaped.
A realization hit her, and she froze. She had resided at Saint Jane’s since she was a child of seven. She understood that it was perfectly permissible for them to send her on her way when she came of age— not to mention they had been more than contented to do so, even as far as counting down the days on the public calendar. Despite their many accusations and tittle-tattle for unexplainable matters in and around Saint Jane’s – in which she was not remotely involved – she held no more love for them as they held for her. Therefore, it was with relief that she left Saint Jane’s behind.
Gemmah’s immediate dilemma consisted of what to do next. Should she turn to the right or to the left? Tiny decisions like these bewildered her. Gemmah closed her eyes, her fingers curling tightly around the leather straps of her small, second-hand carpetbag. Deeper into London or away from the hurly-burly; which would be the best direction to seek employment?
A bird flew by, rather close, and landed on the ground next to her. She turned her head slightly and peered at her fickle-feathered friend through a squinting eye, awaiting an answer that had not yet come. The small bird looked up at her for a moment, and then flew straight up and over the second story of Saint Jane’s.
“Well, you were no help at all,” she said aloud, in the direction of his skittish flight.
Gemmah focused on the clouds above. One solitary raindrop grazed her cheek. She took a shuddering breath and boldly looked to the right toward the city’s center. It felt so uninviting; as if she sensed she wouldn’t be welcome. She couldn’t help but to turn the other way toward Oxford Street. She had assisted with the handling of groceries for Saint Jane’s many times. Perhaps if she made her way to the markets, she might find a friendly face or two.
At the mere thought of familiarity, her shoulders relaxed, a sure sign she’d chosen the right path. With determination, she took the first step toward her new life. Two more raindrops kissed her face, and she hurried along, anticipating the eminent downpour.
She arrived at the market to find vendors pulling their wares underneath shelter. The drizzle gave way to a light rain. Quickening her pace down the street, she noted the busy people at their work and hesitated to disturb them. Finally, at the last store on the street, two elderly women stood beneath the shop’s awning, chatting casually. She observed their little straw bonnets, which were decorated with tiny silk daisies, and matched as if they had purposefully fashioned them into companion hats. Gemmah stepped inside the store and the clouds released their heavy, wet burden. She offered a soft “Hello” to the ladies, not quite meeting their eyes. She leaned against the doorway and placed her small carpetbag just inside to wait out the storm.
The women nodded a polite greeting then continued their conversation. “And I have it on good authority that Mr. and Mrs. Gerard have acquired yet another building in the area.”
“Ah, seeing to their future comfort, eh?”
Gemmah thought the question sounded quite tongue-in-cheek and almost cracked a smile.
“Indeed,” the other woman replied with a bit of a laugh. “Oh, and before I forget, the tea leaves you ordered should be here within the week. I found a tea merchant in town who has connections with an Asiatic supplier. It is my understanding that their prices are more than agreeable.”
“Lovely, Mrs. Norrison. I shall look for a message from you when they arrive. What of the other herbs?”
“Oh, yes. Your Plantain is already on its way, and also the Horehound. I was only able to find a fully mature Chinese Ginseng plant yet in its soil, but I’m sure you will make good use of it.”
“Very fine. I will indeed.”
They fell silent for a moment, and Gemmah shifted her weight under their regard which she felt more than saw.
“And where are you off to, my dear?” the woman who was not Mrs. Norrison asked of Gemmah.
Gemmah faced them and smiled feebly. “Well, I’m not quite—that is to say—I’ve not—” Gemmah glanced down at her feet, realizing she was unable to supply a remotely intelligent answer.
The woman who had asked the question turned to Mrs. Norrison. “Well, so much for small talk,” she murmured. She spun back to Gemmah and stepped toward her. “There will be a break in the storm after a moment. I should be very pleased if you would come with me.” Under her breath she added, “Without too much of a tiff.”
Gemmah’s head came up. “I beg your pardon?”
The woman smiled warmly. “The storm, it will break momentarily. Are you ready to go?”
“Go?” Gemmah repeated like a young child learning new words.
“Yes, my dear.” All three of the women looked out into the street, as a ray of afternoon sunshine lit the ground. “That’s it! Come on! I will be in touch, Mrs. Norrison.” The woman leaned down, plucked up Gemmah’s small carpetbag, and took her by the hand, pulling her out onto the wet street. Gemmah followed like a helpless leaf in the wind, contemplating the woman’s strength as she was drawn along.
Finally managing to form a coherent sentence while crossing the third street on their hurried journey, Gemmah peered in puzzlement at the woman. “Er . . . Where are you taking me?”
“Home to Old Bethnal Green Road, of course.”
After a moment, Gemmah attempted communications once again. “Your home is on Old Bethnal Green Road?”
“Certainly.” The woman hailed a hack-for-hire and it came to a stop in front of them. She indicated Gemmah should get inside.
Gemmah paused to study the face of the insistent stranger. She saw determination in the soft gray eyes, and recognized a faint sort of kinship which puzzled her greatly. Her mind was quiet, even though she should have been screaming that this woman was about to capture her and sell her into slavery in some foreign country. However, she sensed this wasn’t the case. Still, she had no idea what would come of it all.
Gemmah climbed into the carriage, turned to accept her carpetbag. Just before the woman shut the cab door, she inquired, “Why?”
“Why? What a silly thing to ask.” And with that, she closed the door and agilely clambered up to the bench along side the driver.
A peaceful mood settled over Gemmah, as if this extraordinary circumstance was supposed to have happened. She would have preferred an unambiguous message to arrive from another source, as they usually did. However, in the meantime, she’d have to rely on her feelings, which thus far, had not disappointed her.
Finally, they came to a halt in front of a lovely new home on Old Bethnal Green Road not far from London proper. The woman pulled open the door for her passenger to exit the cab. Gemmah glanced up at the intricately crafted house and at once noticed the serenity that resonated from it.
“Come. The clouds are about to open up once more,” the woman hurried up the few stairs to the porch and opened the door for Gemmah.
Just before she stepped inside, Gemmah attempted one more inquiry. “Whom do I have to thank for saving me from a very long walk?”
“Wipe your shoes on the mat, dear.” The woman indicated the floor where Gemmah stood. “My name is Kyra.”
They shed their cloaks in the breezeway, and Kyra bid Gemmah follow her into another room where she tossed a lit match onto a pre-stacked wood and kindling pile in the hearth. The second the fire caught, Kyra announced, “I shall return shortly with tea,” then she hurried from the room.
Gemmah shivered before the fire in the strange, old woman’s parlor and was amazed at what had just occurred. Feeling oddly at ease, Gemmah pressed herself closer to the fire and surveyed the cozy parlor. The room exuded tranquility, almost as if the walls were extremely thick and could hold off whatever turmoil occurred in the world beyond. Several layers of ivory organza and dense lace hung over the windows.
Kyra scurried back in, lit candles which illuminated the darkened corners, and quickly left again. The older woman’s energy awed Gemmah.
Beautiful multi-colored glass shades guarded the candles Kyra had lit. Their tall, lively flames danced and shimmered. In the center of the room, a thick rug covered most of the parlor floor beneath the brocaded settee. Fluffy chairs, covered in rich velvet fabrics, flanked the hearth. Sizeable pillows in different shapes rested in corners and leaned against other pieces of furniture in the room.
Large, strangely formed stones sat upon the ornate marble mantel— within the clear stones, light refracted into tiny rainbows. Jagged, angular stones with sheer surfaces bounced the light back into the room. All of them hummed and winked at her. Gemmah smiled. Stones often communicated with her in this fashion, however she had never heard of anyone else experiencing the phenomenon.
Gemmah watched Kyra wheel in a tea tray and seat herself. Her floral day dress had disappeared, replaced by a gown of dark blue with a scallop-edged apron of light blue organdy. Beadwork along the apron’s fringed hem sparkled in the light of the room. A few long strands of beads hung around her neck and softly clicked together in echo of the older woman’s movements.
From beneath the tea tray, Kyra produced a thick, burgundy-wine robe and handed it to Gemmah. “Go on then, behind the settee and change into this while I pour the tea.”
Somehow sensing that Kyra would allow her privacy, Gemmah went around to the back of the settee and exchanged her damp clothes for the robe. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Kyra fix her tea just the way she liked it- with a pinch of lemon.
Gemmah padded in her bare feet to the front of the settee. She laid her clothes over the screen before the fire, placed her shoes on the low hearth, and returned to seat herself next to Kyra. “How did you know that I like only lemon in my tea?”
Kyra shrugged a delicate shoulder. “I just knew.” She handed Gemmah her cup and saucer.
Gemmah settled back into her seat. Sipping the tea, she found it to be the perfect temperature. It wasn’t Earl Gray, and it wasn’t Breakfast Tea, but whatever the blend, it soothed her to right down to her bones.
“Now, my dear, allow me to tell you something about myself before I begin to tell you about yourself.”
Gemmah peered at the woman.
“I am not your average philanthropist, I’ll have you know. I choose my friends as particularly as I choose the books I read.” Kyra paused and eyed Gemmah. “Do you know what a mentor is?”
“Well if you are so inclined, I shall be yours.”
After a brief pause, Gemmah inquired softly, “Am I in need of a mentor?”
“Young lady, exactly where were you intending to sleep tonight? And the night after that, and the night after that, now that you are no longer welcome at Saint Jane’s?”
Gemmah held her teacup steady. “How did you know I am from Saint Jane’s?” she whispered.
Kyra shrugged again. “I just knew.” She hid a mischievous grin behind a sip of tea.
Gemmah took a drink. There were plenty of things she knew somehow and had no explanation of how she knew them. She took a shuddering breath in preparation for her next question. One didn’t exactly walk up to a stranger and inquire of their religious persuasions. “Are you a witch?”
Kyra shook her head. “If I had a thrupence for every time someone asked me that very question…. No, dear. I believe in The Almighty. I have been blessed with the third sight, among other things.”
“So, then you are with the Spiritualist movement?”
“No, not that. You see, I believe it was God Himself who designated uses for the stones and herbs we have at our disposal. I also believe that He gives us not just one life in which to do His divine will, believing in the Trinity, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and caring for all things, but numerous lives with many choices. Our goal is to learn what lessons He has for us, and join the heavenly realms once we have completed our journeys. Some choose wisely, becoming closer and closer to Him, and others, I’m afraid, never learn at all.”
Gemmah nodded. The revelation from this strange woman made perfect sense. Perhaps God had sent Kyra to bring her closer to Him and help her on her spiritual journey. Perhaps being cast out of St. Jane’s was His doing as well. Not a degrading punishment, but a wonderful gift. Relieved, she considered her new circumstances. “How shall I earn my keep?”
“I am in need of a helper—a secretary, if you will. In addition to that, you shall enhance your gifts, study herbs and healing stones, and assist me with my appointments.”
Gemmah tossed back the rest of her tea and swallowed hard. “My gifts?”
Kyra set her teacup on a small table next to the settee. “Surely my dear, you are aware of things that the average person is not? You receive messages from people whom no one else can see? The guides come to you when their charges won’t listen, and you are looked down upon for having this ability, which is pure jealousy if you ask me.”
“I—I know things, I don’t actually see— Guides, did you say?”
Kyra nodded once in confirmation. “If not now, you shall. There is no hurry.” She took up her tea once again.
“No one has ever . . . believed me.”
“You are a child of light. Many people have been envious of you, including your own peers.”
Child of light? What on Earth is that?
Kyra continued as if Gemmah had spoken aloud. “When you feel frightened, you surround your self with white light.”
Gemmah’s jaw dropped open. She then clamped her lips shut in case the woman found her rude.
With an astute twinkle in her eye, Kyra continued. “And when someone you care about is hurting or frightened, you imagine that they too are surrounded by that light.”
Gemmah took a shuddering breath. She had thought of her light showers as just a silly game that made her feel better. Furthermore, she had never been able to speak to anyone about her “gifts” because they would have dragged her to Bedlam’s gates. To have someone describe them to her was beyond words— like having one’s soul defined before one’s eyes.
“Go on, take your time. The preference is yours.” Kyra cozied up to her drink, her expression serene, lending no importance to the occasion that to Gemmah was life-altering.
In all honesty, Kyra was right, where else had she to go? She had very little money and even if she could gain an interview as a governess, she had no paid experience. “Are you certain I wouldn’t be putting you out?”
Kyra smiled knowingly. “My dear, I’ve been expecting you.”
Until next time —