On Christmas Eve, Ezra stood in an alley outside of the factory where he worked, smoking with Laurie and watching the people go by.
It was bitterly cold and the air was thick with the smoke from the factory’s chimneys. The dim December sunlight peaked through the thick clouds and gave a tantalizing taste of warm and dry among all the damp and cold.
People passed by in a sooty blur of grey and brown.
Their friend Matteo Abelli was chatting with a fellow named Morris who worked at a near by factory which was owned by the same man. When the conversation was over, Matteo walked back over to where Laurie and Ezra were standing.
“What did Morris have to say?” Laurie asked him.
“Bad news,” Matteo answered in his thick Sicilian accent, “He was let go this morning. They’re closing down the factory he works at and everyone was given the sack.”
“Why did it close down?” Ezra asked.
“They can’t afford to keep it running because all of the money is going to Ackerman’s mistress.”
“Aw that’s too bad,” Laurie said, “Makes you realize how lucky you are to have a job.”
“Do you think anything anything like that could happen here?” Ezra asked.
“I hope not.”
“I almost feel bad for Ackerman, that woman of his is ruining him.”
“Oh yes, poor Mr. Ackerman.”
Laurie’s sarcasm was biting.
A barrel organ across the street bellowed out Blue Danube. A girl wearing a long, camel colored coat and a silver fur hat and muff stopped to listen. The organ grinder’s monkey climbed on her shoulder and held out his little tin cup to the girl. She put some coins in it and asked the old organ grinder if she could try out the barrel organ.
“Certainly, why not,” the old man answered.
She began to turn the crank and Blue Danube bellowed out again. The dim sunlight danced among her dark ringlets and set deep red sparks alight.
Ezra went over to listen as well and she turned to look at him. He could see the heart shape of her face which he remembered being obscured by a black lace veil. Bristly black lashes fluttered at him and carmine lips curled into a smile.
“Hello, ” she said.
“Hello,” he answered.
“Would you like to try the barrel organ?”
“Yes, I would.”
He turned the crank to make Blue Danube bellow out. She giggled.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Beautiful was not exactly how he would describe barrel organ music but he answered “yes”.
“I’ve heard your voice before. I’m not very good at recognizing faces but I’m good at recognizing voices.”
“Yes, I think I saw you around here a few weeks ago. You were wearing a black hat with a lace veil and you were passing by on your way to get the trolley.”
“I do own a hat like that and I did come here a few weeks ago by trolley. I remembered your voice because it was so beautiful.”
Ezra had never been told his voice was beautiful before. Her eyelids flickered and then closed.
“Why did you close your eyes?”
“The light hurts my eyes. It feels good to close them.”
He closed his eyes and it did feel good. They took turns turning the crank of the barrel organ.
Another girl came down the street wearing a sky blue velvet cloak trimmed in swansdown and a dark fur toque perched atop her rolls of dark hair.
“Natalie,” she called.
Ezra’s companion turned when she heard the name. The girl in the blue cloak rushed over.
“That’s where you are.”
“I’m sorry Lucy, but I had to come listen to this barrel organ.”
“Very well, we’re going home.”
“Goodbye,” Natalie said to Ezra.
Her face seemed to say, “I might not be able to recognize your face if we ever meet again but I’ll try to remember your voice.”
Ezra went back to where Laurie and Matteo were standing. Laurie told him that he was more likely to barf up the devil the next time he got drunk then get anywhere with the likes of her. He then asked Laurie why he had to be so crude all the time and Laurie just told him to stop being such an old maid.
Ezra liked Laurie a lot but hated how he teased him all the time.
The Ackermans had a small dinner party on Christmas Eve, just themselves, the St. Oswalds, Lord Allan, and Miss Barrow. Both Mrs. Ackerman and her daughter Lucy looked at each other when they saw Miss Barrow come through the door of the winter drawing room, as if they were both confused as to how she could have possibly gotten herself invited.
Miss Barrow sat down next to Natalie and chatted with her as if she were grown up, which Natalie quite liked.
Natalie was just a few years out of the nursery and though she was allowed to go to dinners and the theater, she was still expected to keep silent and observe and was still seen as too young to be of any interest to anyone. She was highly flattered that someone as worldly and interesting as Miss Barrow would take the trouble to talk with her.
Lucy felt jealous of the attention Miss Barrow was getting from Natalie and was afraid that her cousin had found someone she liked better. Next to her father, Natalie was the person Lucy was closest to.
Miss Barrow had also captivated the attention of the gentlemen of the party, mostly because her gown showed off more shoulder and bosom than New York was used to seeing. Lord St. Oswald looked at her as though he was terrified but could not look away.
Mrs. Ackerman was seated close to the fire and was cooling herself with her lace fan. She was chatting with Lady St. Oswald.
“Hasn’t Aunt Ackerman done up this parlor for Christmas beautifully, Abby?” Miss Barrow interrupted “Doesn’t it remind you of Christmas at Arcadia House?”
“What’s Arcadia House?” Natalie asked.
“My father’s plantation,” Lady St. Oswald answered.
“It’s the beautiful place on God’s earth,” Miss Barrow told Natalie, “Just imagine this. You travel ten miles outside of New Orleans and come to a long drive way lined on either with large, gnarled, oak trees hung with Spanish moss. When you reach the end, there it is, sitting like a pure white pearl set among sweeping green lawns dotted with magnolia trees, willow trees, palmetto trees, and cedar trees. Up a small flight of imperial stairs with a wrought iron banister is a wrap around veranda broken into segments by white columns which hold up another veranda on the second floor. A beautiful lady dressed in peach colored gown and a white hat loaded with roses greets you and invites you to sit next to her in a wrought iron chair. She gives you a piece of cake spread with orange marmalade and tells you that the marmalade was made from oranges that grow in a near by orange grove. You can even smell the orange blossoms on the breeze. You are startled by the squawking of one of the white peacocks that are given the run of the place and the beautiful lady tells you not to be afraid.
When it is time for you to go to bed, you are brought up to a bedroom on the second floor. There is a set of French doors which lead out onto the second floor veranda. The evening is warm and heavy with the perfume of flowers. You hear birds singing in the distance and you see the occasional twinkling of a firefly and you fall asleep knowing you will never be happy anywhere else.”
“You’re a real poetess, Miss Barrow,” Lord St. Oswald responded, “you described it just as I remember it.”
“You’ve been there, My Lord?” Natalie asked.
“Yes, Miss Flood. Many years ago, when I was a boy.”
“The St. Oswalds are distant relatives of the Barrows,” Lady St. Oswald explained.
Wade the butler stepped in and announced that dinner was served. Lord St. Oswald offered Mrs. Ackerman his arm to go into dinner. Mr. Ackerman offered Lady St. Oswald his arm and Lord Allan offered his arm to Lucy.
Miss Barrow and Natalie found themselves without escorts.
“Will you take my arm, Miss Flood?” Miss Barrow asked Natalie, “Since there’s no more gentlemen.”
Natalie took her arm and allowed her to escort her into dinner.
The winter drawing room was the smallest and least formal drawing room in the house, housing the oldest and most worn furniture in the house which was bulky, ornately carved, and had gone out of fashion some twenty or thirty years prior. It’s entrance was hung with dark green velvet drapes and it’s windows were hung with yellow velvet curtains. The chairs and sofas were upholstered in green leather and strewn with needlepoint pillows. A wallpaper with a gaudy pattern of red flowers and green birds on gold trellis work covered the walls. Every surface which could be covered with a doily and dotted with knickknacks was covered with a doily and dotted with a knickknacks.
This was the room in which the Christmas tree was set up.
After dinner, everyone returned to the winter drawing room to exchange and open presents.
Mrs. Ackerman returned to the red plush chaise she had been sitting on and artfully arranged her creamy, ivory colored skirt.
Footmen brought in a punch bowl full of eggnog and several glasses.
While everyone else sipped eggnog, Natalie searched out everyone’s presents and gave them to them.
“And now, I have a special surprise for Lucy,” said Mr. Ackerman said.
A pretty young maid came in, holding a squirming and yipping, black and white spaniel puppy.
“Hello Sarah, ” Miss Barrow said to the maid.
“Oh, she’s so precious,” Lucy said when she saw the puppy, “Thank you, Father.”
Sarah handed the puppy to Lucy and the little dog began to sniff at Lucy’s gown.
“Merry Christmas, my dear,” Mr. Ackerman answered.
He came over and kissed his daughter’s forehead.
Lady St. Oswald was troubled the rest of the evening and had trouble falling asleep that night. When she finally fell asleep, a memory she had preferred to forget came back to her in a dream.
She was about nine years old; a small, plain, insignificant little girl with carroty red hair and freckles. Thankfully, her hair darkened as she grew up and her freckles had faded away from the constant use of buttermilk and lemon juice. She had gotten away from her mammy and went to feed a sugar lump to her white pony, Fairy.
She heard laughter coming from behind a stack of hay bales in the stables and recognized it as coming from Melanie. Melanie was the daughter of her father’s brother. Her father was dead and no one knew who her mother was. Abby, as Lady St. Oswald had been known then, had been a curious child who listened in on the conversations of adults and that was how she had learned all these things.
What Abby saw behind those hay bales shocked her. Melanie was laying on her back in the hay. Her skirt was pushed up and her bloomers were open and two boys who lived on near by sharecropper farms were taking turns looking down them. Abby had not understood what was going on but had known it was wrong. Melanie turned and noticed Abby and shot her a look which said “turn around, go away, do not say anything or I will strangle you.” Abby was too frightened and shocked to even move.
Mammy was calling for the two girls and came bustling into the stables. Melanie and the two boys were frozen in their tracks. Mammy grabbed the two boys by the hand and dragged them to where Mrs. Barrow was sitting. Melanie and Abby followed close behind.
Mrs. Barrow was furious when Mammy explained what had happened in the stables.
“Did they force you to let them?” she asked Melanie.
For a few moments, Melanie was silent as if trying to figure out what to do. Then she began to cry and say that the boys had forced her to let them look down her bloomers. Mrs. Barrow ordered Mammy to bring the boys over to the near by shed, where they were thrown against the wall. Mammy grabbed a switch and was about to beat them.
“Wait,” Mrs. Barrow interrupted, “bare.”
With their trousers pulled down, the two boys were beaten until they were both in tears. Abby looked over to Melanie, expecting her to be in shock from what had just happened to her and horrified by the sight of the beating but Melanie was laughing and smiling like she had not care in the world.
Lady St. Oswald awoke from her dream and was greatly agitated. She reached over and turned on the electric light on the bedside table.
“Abby?” Lord St. Oswald asked.
“I’m alright, Frank,” she answered, “Go back to sleep.”
His Lordship had been the best of husbands to her these two years they had been married and she was very found of him but she had never allowed herself to truly love him.
It was about six in the morning and the sky was just beginning to lighten. A few rooms over, the St. Oswald’s baby son was crying for his nurse. Lady St. Oswald got of bed and put on her negligée, then went into the nursery.
The nurse had just taken little Lord Francis out of his crib. She made a little bow and bid “good morning, My Lady.”
“I’ll feed him this morning,” Lady St. Oswald told her.
The nurse found this strange but not wishing to contradict her mistress, she handed the baby to his mother.
Her Ladyship cradled her son in her arms and kissed the coppery down on his head. She sat down in the rocking chair and placed Lord Francis in her lap so she could unbutton her nightdress so she could suckle him.
On Christmas Morning, Laurie and Jimmy took the trolley uptown to Central Park. The weather that day was cold but there was no wind and the sky was bright and clear and sunny.
They entered Central Park at Fifth Avenue and left the city through an elegant tree lined mall. The park widened to reveal an unspoiled urban paradise which seemed to go forever and had none of the sights and sounds of the bustling city.
The carriages of the wealthy rolled through the paths of Central Park. Their gentlemen occupants were buttoned up into overcoats and their ladies were wrapped up in furs.
Laurie stopped to stand under a tree and pulled a tin box out of his waistcoat pocket. Inside the box were several cigarettes he had rolled as well as a book of matches. Laurie lit himself a cigarette and surveyed the people who passed by.
A small, chestnut colored spaniel puppy scampered through the snow and up to Jimmy, putting his wet paws on Jimmy’s knickers.
“Hey, get down, Mutt,” Jimmy shouted at the animal.
A little girl, presumably the dog’s mistress, approached Jimmy. She was a pretty little thing dressed in an expensive looking coat. Her apple cheeks and button nose were rosy from the cold and blond ringlets stuck out from a fur trimmed hat.
“Je suis desolée,” she said, “c’est mon chien.”
She spoke a language Jimmy did not recognize.
“Huh, excuse me,” he answered.
“Je m’apple Madeleine.”
She gestured to herself when she said “Madeleine”, so he guessed that was her name.
“Joue avec moi.”
She tapped on his shoulder so he guessed that she wanted to play tag, so he chased her. Laurie looked on and laughed.
He continued making his inspection of his surroundings and noticed in the corner of his eye, the same strongly built, shabby looking middle aged man he had seen at the saloon and at the theater. The entire time he was watching him, this man appeared to be coming closer.
Upon closer viewing, Laurie recognized him and the shock was so great that the cigarette in his mouth almost fell out.
“Dad,” he said, “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Merry Christmas to you too, son,” the man answered.
Laurie’s father’s appearance gave him a glimpse of the future of his own looks when he was older and stouter, they both had short dark hair, strong noses, square jaws, and grey eyes with a devilish twinkle. The older Brady had the remains of good looks spoiled by years of bad living. Although Laurie did not consider his own looks anything to be vain about, he hoped that time would not be as unkind to him as it had been to his father.
Brady looked his son over and smiled.
“How old are you now, boy?”
“Last time I saw you, you were a scrawny little thing and now you’re grown into a man. How many years has it been?”
“Seven. What’s bringing you back now?”
“Can’t a father see his son on Christmas.”
“A father, yes.”
“I admit I expected a warmer welcome from you.”
This was typical of him. He disappears without a trace, comes back out of the blue, and acts like nothing happened.
His father had been gone for the past seven years and he did not even care where he had been. He had not even cared if he ever saw him again.
Laurie had learned long ago that he was better off without him.
Brady tipped his hat to his son and continued on his way.
Laurie wondered what was going to happen this time. His father usually brought trouble in his wake.
Jimmy and the little girl he was playing with were now taking turns trying to get her puppy to fetch a stick. The animal appeared to be still untrained and ignored the stick.
Another girl, a moody adolescent of about eleven or twelve, appeared and pulled Jimmy’s little friend away by her arm.
“Tu n’es pas censée jouer avec des garçons comme lui,” the older girl said.
Confused, Jimmy returned to Laurie.
“What’s her problem?” he asked.
“I guess she didn’t want your little friend to play with someone beneath her station,” Laurie answered.
“Am I beneath her station?”
“Did see the fancy clothes she and the other girl were wearing?”
“I didn’t notice.”
“According to some people, rich little girls shouldn’t play with poor little boys.”
“She was talking funny, I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. Is that because she’s rich?”
“Yes, that’s why?”
Christmas night was clear and frosty and pleasant. The type of night when a warm room seems a bit stuffy and one must open a window or door a crack to let in some fresh air.
The Murray apartment was warm and toasty and Ashlyn went the window which was opened slightly to let some cool breathing air in, so she could see her reflection and adjust the large red satin bow in her hair.
Some friends of Will’s from the Metropolitan Police were coming over for Christmas dinner. The table was laid with the best table cloth and the set of china with the yellow rose pattern which Ashlyn had received as a wedding present. In the center was a glass dish of nuts net to the jolly red nutcracker Ashlyn had received that morning from Aunt Deirdre. Aunt Nora had given her a pair of embroidered handkerchiefs.
The goose and the plum pudding in the oven gave forth an aroma which tickled the nose and made the mouth water. Just when they were done cooking, Will’s friends: Patrick, Finch, and Knobs, arrived.
They were among the first people Ashlyn had met when she arrived in New York and they had been at her wedding. They were rather coarser than the type of people she had imagined William associating with, but she liked them nonetheless.
Finch, who was somewhat smitten with his friend’s pretty wife, presented her with a box of chocolate covered caramels in a tin with a scene of Ophelia drowning painted on the cover.
“Thank you, Mr. Finch,” she kissed the young man on the cheek and he blushed.
Will saw his wife through other men’s eyes for the first time that night.
Ashlyn had changed in the time she had in New York. She had started wearing her hair in a different way, started walking differently, and had become a beauty. Maybe she had always been one, and he had not noticed it. Perhaps he was like someone who lived in town which had some famous monument and walked by it everyday forgetting how famous it was until someone else pointed it out to him.
The admiration Ashlyn attracted did not make Will jealous, in fact it flattered his vanity to know that he possessed such a woman and as long as they understood that she was his, he felt proud watching his friends flirt with his wife.
During dinner, Will had told everyone he had a surprise for after dinner. When they finished eating, they brought their chairs over near the stove where Will has standing.
“The Story of The Children of Lir,” he said.
His audience applauded.
“In the days of the high kings of Ireland, Bodb Derg was the ruler of Tuatha Dé Danann. To make peace with his rival, Lir, he sent Aoibh, his fair daughter, to be become his wife. Lir and Aoibh loved each other instantly and she bore him four children: fair shouldered Fionnuala, god-like Aodh, and the twins, Fiachra and Conn. But Aoibh died tragically young and her lord and her children mourned her deeply.
Wishing to keep peace with Lir, Bodh Derg sent his other daughter, Aoife, to take Aoibh’s place,
Aoife was every bit as fair as Aoibh but was a black hearted sorceress who resented living in her sister’s shadow and was jealous of Lir’s love for his children and their love for him and she conceived in her black heart, plans to murder her innocent step-children. She took Lir’s children on journey to visit their grandfather, during which she ordered her servants to slay them. The servants refused, so Aoife tried to do the evil dead herself but not even she was wicked enough to kill such beautiful and innocent children. Instead, she used her dark arts to turn the children in swans, as fair and pure as their souls.”
At the word “swans”, Will pulled out a pair of swan’s wings he had got from a poultry shop and flapped them about.
“Will Murray!” Ashlyn shouted with mock disapproval.
“When Bobh Derg heard of what his daughter had done, he cursed her to be an air demon for all eternity, so people could see her for as black and evil as she really was.
The children spent three hundred years on Lough Derravaragh, a lake near their father’s castle. One, two, three hundred years. Then another three hundred years in the Straits of Moyle in the Channel. Four, five, six hundred years. And another three hundred years in the open sea around Inishglora Island. Seven, eight, nine hundred years.
During these nine hundred years, Saint Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity. The children of Lir heard the bell of a monastery church and it beckoned them to land. A monk of the monastery found them and they begged him to bless them.”
Will made a sign of the cross over his audience.
“After the monk’s blessing, Aoife’s curse was broken and the children of Lir were made human again. But since they were now over nine hundred years old, they instantly died and lived happily in heaven with their mother and father.
Now this time four months ago, I was a lost swan but now I have died and gone to heaven, all because this fair monk found me” He knelt down in front of Ashlyn and placed a little package in her lap,
“So I’m the monk?” Ashlyn said.
“Have I mentioned today, how lucky I am to be in love with you?”
Ashlyn opened up the package to find a beautiful chatelaine to contain her sewing supplies
“Oh Will, It love it!”
She leaned upwards to kiss him.
“Ashlyn,” Aunt Nora said to her niece, “Why don’t you sing for us?”
“No,” she answered, “I don’t think so.”
“C’mon,” Will encouraged.
Knobs, Finch, and Patrick joined in with their encouragement.
Reluctantly, Ashlyn stood up , smoothed her skirt, and stood in front of everyone to sing The Black Velvet Band.
“Her eyes they shone like diamonds
I thought her the queen of the land
And her hair it hung over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band”
Other friends dropped by throughout the evening to take a glass of wine or whiskey with them and all in all it was a very enjoyable Christmas.
During Christmas night, a soft blanket of snow fell over New York. Those who woke up early the next morning were treated to a vision of virgin snow, rosy early morning sky, and purplish clouds.
Laurie Brady and his foster brother Jimmy made their way eastwards from The Bowery to the Tenth Ward to visit their friends, The Fabers.
In the vestibule of the building on Hester Street where the Fabers lived, Laurie bumped into a young lady wearing a black coat and hat.
“Forgive me, I didn’t see you there,” Laurie said to her.
“It’s alright,” she answered. Her voice was high and sweet.
She was a pretty brunette with a warm complexion and large but delicate features. Large dark eyes and dark curls peaked out from under the brim of her hat and carmine lips smiled at him.
Laurie and Jimmy began to climb the stairs to get to the second floor and the young lady followed close behind them. On the second floor, she was still at their heels.
The Fabers lived in the fifth apartment on the second floor, and the young lady was standing right beside them as they were waiting for their knocks to be answered.
“Do you live here, Miss?” Jimmy asked her.
“No,” she answered, “But my family does.”
The door opened and Ezra appeared
“Hello Sarah,” he greeted her.
“Hello Ezra,” she responded.
“Laurie, this is my sister Sarah.”
Laurie was aware that Ezra had a sister but he had never met her. He knew that she worked as a maid for some rich family and lived in their house.
Sarah and Ezra’s little brother Ben, a small, wiry little boy with a broad face covered in freckles, large brown eyes, and a little pug nose, stepped into the doorway and greeted Jimmy.
“I’ve brought my marbles,” Jimmy told him.
“We can swap,” Ben replied.
The two little boys rushed through the door into the apartment.
“Come in,” Ezra said to his friend and his sister, “Mama will be happy to see you.”
The Faber apartment was small and neat. In one corner of the room was a window with lace curtains. There was a sideboard with two blue candlesticks and some pieces of pottery and an old sofa near it. In the other corner was something of a kitchen and a dining table. Another part of the apartment was blocked off by by curtains.
A woman in a black dress and black lace headcovering sat on the sofa doing some embroidery. Sarah greeted her as “Mama” and said something to her in Yiddish. The woman then said something to Laurie in broken English with a thick Polish accent which Laurie could not make out.
“Nice to see you, Mrs. Faber,” Laurie said.
Mrs. Faber could not be more than twenty years older than her eldest child, Sarah and was an older version of her lovely daughter but her eyes were blue like Ezra’s. She looked at Laurie and then turned to her daughter and gave her a secret and knowing smile then said something to her.
Sarah got up and put a kettle full of water on the stove, so her mother must have told her to make coffee or tea.
“Not every day you see girl pretty as Sarah who’s domestic,” Mrs. Faber said in her broken English.
“Mama,” Sarah blushed.
Mrs. Faber then pointed to some pieces of pottery on the sideboard: a green ceramic vase painted with irises and a yellow ceramic bowl painted with white rabbits.
“She paint those.”
Sarah’s blush deepened. Laurie sensed that her shyness was not due to an objection to having her talents and virtues praised but rather a fear that her mother had an ulterior motive. It was obviously Mrs. Faber’s habit to point out her daughter’s accomplishments when guests were over, especially if they were men.
Laurie noticed a feeling of emptiness in the Faber home, as if someone was missing. A chair left vacant, a photograph given pride of place on the sideboard. These had belonged to Mr. Faber, who had died nine months before.
Ezra brought Sarah back to the Ackerman home. Looking up at an upper window of the impressive Fifth Avenue mansion, he noticed the small form of a girl standing there. He recognized her pale little heart shaped faced and large dark eyes.
“Who’s room is that?” he asked his sister.
“Miss Natalie’s,” Sarah answered
“Mr. Ackerman’s niece who lives with them.”
Ezra deposited his sister at the servants entrance, bid goodbye to her, and turned around to go back. The girl who Sarah had called Miss Natalie was no longer there.
Sarah went up to the bedroom in the attic she shared with Hannah, who was maid to Lucy and Natalie. It was small, simple, and bare with walls painted light brown, a small window with lace curtains, two metal framed beds covered with crazy quilts, a washing station, and a fireplace.
Hannah had just come back from going to the Nickelodeon with her sweetheart, who was one of the footmen.
“Hello Sarah,” Hannah said, “How was your visit home?”
“Fine,” Sarah answered, “Ezra brought a friend home. Mama was so embarrassing, she assumes every man who comes to visit is a suitor for me.”
“Was he handsome?”
“I guess so, I was so ashamed that I could hardly look at him.”
“I bet he was looking at you.”
“Why do you think that?”
“You’re not bad looking.”
As she changed back into her parlor maid’s uniform, Sarah thought about how she had entered the Ackerman household.
When she finished school at age sixteen, Sarah had decided that she should go out and work and found that the Ackermans were looking for maids. Her mother disapproved of the idea at first because she would have to live away from home. In her day, girls only left their parent’s house in a wedding dress or in a coffin. But Papa and Ezra, she always listened to them, talked her into letting Sarah work for the Ackermans.
Mrs. Faber loved her children equally but in different ways. Ben was her darling, Ezra, her pride and joy, and Sarah was her constant source of worry.