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The Heart of a Stranger

By , Salyersville, KY
Mary Elizabeth and her twin brother Lazarus had lived in the servant’s cottage behind the Master and Mistress’s house ever since they ran away from the orphanage. There they lived with Mr. Franklin O’Connell and sometimes, when Mary Elizabeth was feeling romantic, she fancied that Mr. O’Connell was their grandfather, and that he, Lazarus and she were all a family. There was nothing more that Mary Elizabeth wanted than a family. So, she held her wishes in her heart and lived out her days in the little cottage, taking care of Lazarus and listening to Mr. O’Connell’s fascinating collection of stories after he finished his work for the Master and Mistress in the big house. Mary Elizabeth was mending a hole in Lazarus’s britches late one night because sleep could not find her, when she heard a knock on the door.

Tap, tap, tap. The beating on the door matched the increased thump of her heart. She grabbed Mr. Franklin’s gun and peeked out the window. A boy who looked to be about 16 or 17 was standing outside in the freezing cold.

“Who’s there?” asked Mary Elizabeth.

“John. John Marlin.” Mary Elizabeth heard a deep, husky tone answer her from the other side of the door.
“State your business,” Mary Elizabeth tried to sound not afraid, but her shaky tone betrayed her.
“It’s freezing outside and I’ve nowhere to go,” John yelled over the roar of the wind. “If I don’t get inside soon, I will surely die.”
Mary Elizabeth bit her lip. She didn’t know what she should do. She finally cracked opened the door and a tall, handsome stranger walked through the door. She felt herself blush when she thought him handsome.
“Have you no home?” asked Mary Elizabeth.
“I was kidnapped from my parents and I escaped,” John tried to explain. “It’s a very, very long story and I’m very weary. May I please explain later? I have had a long journey.”
Mary Elizabeth looked the stranger over. She didn’t know whether to trust him or not. Nevertheless, he did look ragged and his clothes were dingy. To say the least, he was looking pretty shabby and act like he felt as he looked.
“Well, alright. I shall make you a warm cup of tea and a place in the floor to sleep in Mr. Franklin and my brother’s chamber. We only have two bedrooms, and it would not be proper for a strange young boy to share a chamber with a young girl.”
“Oh, so I am in the presence of a lady?” John said in a half mocking tone. He was tired, but not tired enough to forget his rude charm.
“Not exactly a lady, John, but I do have standards,” Mary Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Already the stranger was becoming a nuisance.
“Excuse me, Miss--?”
“Mary Elizabeth.”
“Does the lady have a surname?” he replied in the same mocking tone.
“Not exactly,” Mary Elizabeth blushed.
“Oh, my apologies,” John brushed off the embarrassing question he had popped. Even John had some manners. “Do you have parents?”
“I don’t know the answer to that question, either,” she admitted. Heavens, why did she trust this stranger so much?
“I see.” John cleared his throat, and the two were silent for a moment.
“Here is your tea, Mr. Marlin. Please, do not touch anything while I make your bed,” Mary Elizabeth sighed, handing the cup to John.
“Miss Mary Elizabeth?” John called as she started to walk away. She turned around, hand on hip.
“Yes?”
“I do believe we got off on the wrong foot. Care to try this again?”
John held out his hand, as if expecting Mary Elizabeth to take it.
“Hello, I’m Mary Elizabeth,” she curtsied as she took John’s hand.
“And I’m Mister John Marlin,” he said, shaking her hand. “Much obliged to meet such a lady,” he winked.
“Oh, Mr. Marlin!” Mary Elizabeth exclaimed, as she ran off to fix his bed.

Morning light shone through the cracks of the old cottage on John Marlin. He heard whispers in the next room, one whose voice belonged to Mary Elizabeth and the other he had no name for. What was the name of the elderly man that Mary Elizabeth said that they lived with again?
“Should we trust him, sir? He might very well be a thief in disguise,” he heard Mary Elizabeth’s voice trail off.
“I’m leaving it up to you, Mary Elizabeth. You are almost a grown girl now. You said you think you are fourteen years old. You need to start to learn to make decisions for yourself, so I will allow you to make this one on your own. I will be interested as to what choice you do make.” The male voice was saying.
John heard the door open and close, then the sound of footsteps walking his way. He closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, and felt a soft hand gently shake him.
“John,” Mary Elizabeth fiercely whispered. “Get up and help me take care of the house. Mr. Franklin just left and I’d like to fix the fire pit and pick the vegetables before he returns from the big house and Lazarus returns from the field.”
John put on his best show pretending he just woke up. Mary Elizabeth rolled her eyes.
“Outrageous boy,” she whispered. She heard John chuckle as he sat up and got off of the cold stone floor. He stumbled over to the looking glass the elderly man had propped against the wall. He was, indeed, a mess. No wonder Mary Elizabeth had pity on him, John thought. He tried knocking the dirt off of his clothes and wiping off some of the grime on his face, but, in the end, John’s pride was still fatally wounded. Mary Elizabeth must’ve been watching him from the door, for how long, John didn’t know, but she finally cleared her throat and said, “I will give you some of Mr. Franklin’s clothes to borrow. Take these off and I will scrub them.” John Marlin stood and looked at her in disbelief.
“I am but a stranger. Why are you being so hospitable to me?” John asked, sure that his face betrayed his bewilderment.
Mary Elizabeth was shocked by his moment of sincerity. Ever since this stranger had walked through her door, he had done nothing but crack joke after joke.
“I guess God gave me a heart,” she shrugged her shoulders, taking an old rag to John’s face.
“He gave me one, too, a long time ago. But it fell into the hands of icy cold people, and now it’s as cold as the hearts of the hands it fell into.” John swallowed again. What was it about this moment that was making him so vulnerable?
Mary Elizabeth swallowed. She didn’t know what to say.
“I felt the same way, too, a couple of years ago when my brother Lazarus and I ran away from an orphanage. My heart was warmed back up. Yours can be, too, if you let it. Just trust me, and I’ll trust you.”
Mary Elizabeth took the kiss John gently put on her forehead as a “yes.” Like the protagonists in the stories Mr. Franklin used to tell Mary Elizabeth and Lazarus, she hoped she could help save the day—in her life, by doing the right thing. By helping the stranger she barely knew, and she had already hopelessly fallen for;
John Marlin.





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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Fakesmile said...
Apr. 13, 2012 at 9:33 pm
Really nice! I loved the idea of it.
 
LittleOldMe said...
Apr. 13, 2012 at 4:22 pm
Lovely. :) I would love to hear more from you!!!! Wonderful writing
 
dancing.in.the.rain said...
Apr. 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm
really nice. i love it. left me wanting to read more... keep writting :D
 
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