The following short work of fiction, a slice-of-life piece, was never intended for publication. I wrote it a year ago as a creative exercise and have opted to present it now because it introduces Hettie Steward, the main character in Angel of Mercy, along with many of her friends and family members.
New Year’s Eve 1913
A week later, the Steward household was bustling with a different kind of excitement. All the older Steward children, many of their cousins and friends, and the Bartlettes had gathered to celebrate the New Year. Only Alice and Adelaide were forbidden to attend. Lucretia said they were too young, so they watched, unbeknownst to their parents who had gone to bed, at the top of the staircase.
How Benjamin and Lucretia got any sleep, the girls did not know. Every few minutes, someone trudged up the stairs to the use the bathroom, and the girls had to hurry back to their bedroom and shut the door, pretending to be asleep.
There were easily 50 young adults crowded into the house, eating leftover Christmas treats and drinking hard cider as well as porter and champagne ale from the local breweries.
In the sitting room, the phonograph was busy playing one record after another, and all the furniture had been pushed against the wall to create a makeshift dancefloor. In the parlor, some of the married women had gathered to gossip and catch up on each other’s lives while in the breakfast room a group of married men were playing poker and smoking cigars.
Victor Bartlette was already drunk. He thought it was funny to go through the crowd and dangle a dried-up ball of mistletoe over the heads of all the couples. Most of the couples gladly obliged, but Freddie was annoyed. He did not want to kiss his girlfriend Posie Walker. He wasn’t even certain he wanted to continue his courtship with her, not since he’d met his brother-in-law James’s younger sister earlier in the night. Miss Morris was educated, intriguing and a challenge. Posie was pleasant, pretty and easy. It was a wonderful dilemma. Finally, Freddie kissed Posie in order to make Victor leave then made his way through the crowd.
Tommy was timidly making conversation with Maeve. She flushed, not accustomed to flirting.
Finally, the clock neared midnight. A hush came over everyone as they realized they had less than two minutes left. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends ran to find their partners. Someone turned off the phonograph.
Time was running out.
10, 9, 8….
It was almost over.
7, 6, 5….
The crowd gathered in a circle, joining hands and at the stroke of midnight, when it all came to an end, began to sing.
“‘Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?…’”
At the beginning of the final verse, they crossed their hands across their chests, again joining hands with the people beside them.
“‘And here’s a hand, my trusty friend. And give me a hand o’ thine.’”
As the final round of the chorus began, they all rushed to the middle of the circle and out again.
“‘For auld lang syne, my dear. For auld lang syne. We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne,”’
At the conclusion of the song, everyone turned, hands still joined, so that now they were facing the exterior of the circle.
The group dispersed, intent on finishing drinks and conversations before heading out into the cold night.
“One moment, please,” Geoffrey said amid the voices, “I’d like to make a toast.”
The crowd quieted yet again. Geoffrey continued, his eyes firmly on Hettie. “To 1914. The best year ever.”
Everyone raised their glasses.
“Nineteen-fourteen. The best year ever.”