THE LAMONT HOME -
don't understand," Burt said as he looked at his mother curiously.
"What do you mean by my real father? Pa is my real father."
he's...not." Penelope struggled to inhale deeply and winced from the
pain. "You were...you were already well...well on the...way before
I-I ever m-met your...Pa."
Burt leaned back as he tried
to catch his breath. This sudden revelation had thrown him for a loop and
he wasn't quite sure what to say. The man who'd raised him...well, for
most of his life, anyway...wasn't his real father! That meant...that meant
he was really illegitimate! A bastard...a man who's name wasn't even
really his own! He covered his mouth in shock, not knowing quite what to say.
Burton, p-please...let me...explain." Tears began to fill her eyes as
she clearly saw the pain that her truths were bringing her son...her first born
son, the son she'd sacrificed everything for. Embarrassed by her secrets
and lies, she rolled her head away in an attempt to avoid his questioning stare.
Who? Who is my real father?" Burt grabbed her hand urgently in
an attempt to push her further into revealing the truth. She was looking
worse by the minute and he'd finally begun to realize that he would never be
able to get a doctor out to the farmhouse in time.
"A...a long time ago...I
was v-very young and...and very n-naive..."
"Oh, Nellie, I
love you so much."
"I love you, too, but you
know this can never work."
"No! Don't say
that! Our love is strong enough that it can overcome
"Even your family?"
"They don't matter!
Nothing else matters!"
"I...I met a b-boy.
It was almost...almost love at...first sight. I fell head over heals in
love with him." As Penelope's eyes began to flood with tears, her
voice became oddly calm as she began to remember a happier time in her life...a
time before the worst tragedy she could ever imagine changed the course of her
destiny. "He felt the s-same way about me."
"The man in the
picture," Burt mumbled as he listened intently to his mother's story.
"You did see," she
sighed, realizing that her son had, in fact, searched through the photo album that
she'd fought to keep hidden for decades. "Y-yes. That
was...him. He was the l-love of my...of my life."
happened?" He sat transfixed, enthralled in his mother's romantic
"We...we wanted to
get...married, but his family didn't...approve." She let out a slight
sigh of sadness as she thought about all of the conflict that her love had
caused. "You see, I was...was born and raised here
in...Albanyville. He was from the...the best and most prominent
family in town. I was just a p-poor farmer's daughter. You see, my
Ma...your grandma died bringing me into this world. You never knew
her. It was just me and my Pa. We...we never had m-much."
Grandpa. I wasn't that little when he died." Burt kept a firm
hold on her hand as he listened intently. "But...but what about this
man? What about my father?"
"His family...his family
didn't approve of me because...because we weren't of...of the same class.
I wasn't...good enough for him. They wanted to...to force me out of
we need to talk about this...this situation that is going on between my
son and your daughter," the man said as he stood in the doorway.
"I'm not sure what you
mean, sir." Nellie's father eyed him curiously, but stepped
aside so that he could walk into their tiny living room.
"Would you excuse us,
please." The man looked at Nellie coldly and a chill ran down
"Oh, um, yes sir,"
Nellie said as quickly rushed out of the room. As the door to her
bedroom closed behind her, she could hear the men talking. They
were talking about her! Curious and frightened, she pressed her
ear to the door in an attempt to hear what they were saying.
"Mr. Burgess, this
situation between our children is unacceptable! Why, my son is
nothing more than a mere child, himself. And that...that wanton
daughter of yours is intent on luring him down a path of
"I'll thank you not to talk
about my Nellie like that!" Mr. Burgess' eyes burned with
fury in defense of his daughter. "My girl is a good
girl. She would never behave in the manner that you're
"Did you know that this
'good girl' of yours is trying to talk my son into running off with her
to get married? This 'good girl' of yours is trying to use her
charms and wiles to get to my family's money!"
"My Nellie would never do
anything like that!"
"It turned out that his
father bought our farm and threatened to have us thrown out if Pa didn't keep me
away from him."
next?" Burt watched her carefully. He desperately wanted to
finally learn the truth that she'd been hiding for so long, but saw that each
word and each labored breath were bringing her closer and closer to the
end. Could he push her into saying more and risk what it might do to
"Pa tried to keep me away
from him. He did the best that he could do, but I was much too stubborn
and head strong. I...I just wouldn't...listen. We started to meet in
secret. Every fleeting moment we could find, we...we spent together."
Burt kept his eyes firmly
locked on her. She was looking more frail than before and her eyes began
to take on a vacant look as she gazed at him. He soon realized that she
wasn't looking at him, she was looking at the past.
"W-what happened to
him? What happened to my real father?"
"Pa found out that...that
we were still seeing each other. Oh, he was furious. He...he started
locking me up in my room. He wouldn't...he wouldn't l-let me out. He
said it was...was for...for my own...good. But...but I had...to see
him. I had to...t-to tell him...about...about..."
"About what? Ma,
what did you have to tell him?"
"About you! I had
to tell him that I...I was carrying his...child." Penelope swallowed
again and attempted to reach for the glass of water that was on the
nightstand. Burt quickly grabbed the glass and, though his hands were
shaking, fought to hold it still so that she could take several sips.
"Ma, go on."
"Pa and I lived on the
other side of the lake. Of course...of course this was...way before
all...all of those...f-fancy homes s-started to go up over...there."
She stopped to take a deep breath, but could only manage several quick gasps for
air. "We planned to meet o-on this side of...of the lake. I
w-waited for...for him, but he n-never sh-showed up."
Burt listened intently for her
w-worried. I thought t-that maybe...maybe his p-parents h-had found
out. I started the...the long walk up the p-path from the lake. I
was almost...almost at the clearing w-when I s-saw...when I saw..."
"Saw what, Ma? What
did you see?"
He loved to r-ride horses." She let a brief smile cross her lips when
she struggled to lift her hand to caress Burt's cheek. "S-so
much...like...so much like...you." As his eyes began to cloud over
with heartbreak, she rolled her head away as if looking at Burt was nearly too
much to bear.
"Ma, what happened to
"He...he was on his horse
and headed toward...toward the lake. I...I was standing...standing in a
small grove of...trees. I s-saw...everything!"
"Ma! What did you
see?" He felt his hands begin to shake and struggled to keep them
still as he held onto her hand tightly. "Ma, what happened?"
"H-he was on his horse
and...and it s-started to b-buck." Penelope's body suddenly began to
convulse in anguish as tears began to stream down her cheeks. "H-he
was thrown...from the horse. He was thrown and...and hit...hit his
"Oh, my god."
"H-he was killed
because...because he was c-coming to see m-me." She began to sob as
the guilt she felt for her roll in her lover's death ate away at her
heart. "W-when his parents found...found out w-what h-happened, they
k-knew that I...I was involved. T-they b-blamed me for...for what
h-happened. I-It was my fault."
"No, Ma, it wasn't your
fault! It was an accident!"
"W-when they...when they
found out about the baby...about you, they threatened to...threatened to have
you...have you taken away. I c-couldn't let them do...do that to my...to
"What did you
do?" His mother's story was affecting him deeply. In spite of
the lies surround his own birth and family, his heart went out to her and the
love that she'd lost. Looking at her, frail and weak, he realized that
there was nothing he would be able to do to save her. No doctor could make
it there in time. Even if he could, Burt realized that would be nothing
that could be done.
she muttered. "I hopped a...a train and...and wound up
in...Kentucky. T-that's where I...where I met y-your Pa. I would...I
would hang around the f-farms to be a-around the horses. They always
r-reminded me...reminded me o-of him. Y-you're Pa knew about w-what had
happened and fell...fell in love with m-me. He...he wanted to m-marry me
and be y-your P-Pa."
Penelope kept her eyes locked
on Burt as she struggled to find the strength to continue with her story.
She had to tell him everything before it was too late.
"H-he had b-been...had been married b-before and
they...they had been expecting...a child. B-both his w-wife a-and
the...baby d-died in...childbirth. He so...so wanted to be a P-pa, b-but
event...eventually he c-couldn't cope w-with you n-not being h-his and my...my
love f-for y-your...father. T-that's really...really why h-he left."
"Oh, Ma. Who is
he? Who is my real father?" Burt began to grow frantic, would
she be able to tell him what he needed to hear before the end came? Would
she be able to tell him the truth?
is in...in my top dresser...drawer." Penelope began to gasp again for
air as her voice took on a more faint and raspy quality. "It's
all...all you n-need to prove who...who you r-really are."
"Ma, who am I?"
"P-promise me t-that
you'll finally g-get w-what's yours. M-make them...make them give y-you
promise." Burt's eyes filled with tears. He knew the moment he
dreaded was coming quickly. He knew that these would be her last
moments. "W-who is my father?"
"Oh, darling," she
sobbed as she looked up into the air. "I...I'm finally going...going
to see you...again. Oh, my p-precious d-darling. Finally, w-what we
c-couldn't have in life...w-we'll have in...."
"No, Ma, no!"
He grasped her hand tightly as if in an attempt to hold on to her. He
couldn't let her go. Not now. "No, Ma!"
"Finally, w-we'll be
together." Penelope's eyelids began to flutter as her breathing grew
more and more shallow. "Finally, darling, finally. Finally,
Landon, I'm home."
Penelope Burgess Lamont