The sweat dripped off my face as another pain gripped me. I bit down hard on the corner of the blanket to avoid crying out. I had managed to hide my increasing discomfort throughout the day, praying that things wouldn’t progress too far until everyone else went to sleep. Thankfully, now that everyone was fast asleep, the house was silent. I was able to pace the cellar in relative privacy.
The pains were coming faster now, and I was starting to realize what a dangerous situation I was in. Nobody knew I was down here. Nobody who would care even knew I was pregnant. I could die in this cellar all alone with nobody the wiser until someone came down the next day to fetch the milk. I thought, oh no! Mother will surely send one of the little ones down. What if they find me? The panic of that thought was chased away by another pain. How did I get into this situation?
When I was born my mother named me Candace. The general thought behind naming girls was that you wanted to pick something that wouldn’t give them ideas. No fairy names or anything fancy. Give them a good, strong name that would keep them close to home. When I came into the world my sweet mama was only 17, married to an innkeeper almost twice her age. She said she was so scared to be a mother that she knew she needed help, so she picked a name that meant “queen mother.” Neighbors thought it was a little presumptuous, but my father couldn’t deny his sweet bride anything. So, Candace it was.
I loved my mother. We were almost like sisters together, but I felt badly for her as well. I wasn’t the last child – not by a long shot. Ten more times my mother became a mother to someone else, and each time she looked more tired and worn down than before. I worked hard to help her, but I also was determined that my life would be different. I resolved that I would marry someone as young as I was and that we would travel the world together. I would have one child, maybe two, but certainly not eleven.
I even had my future husband all picked out, my handsome prince. I knew he was the right one for me the moment I saw him. All the girls wanted to be with him, but he picked me. Me! I couldn’t believe it! I was so in love. His family was the wealthiest in town, and he was the only son. I didn’t care about his money, not that much anyway. As the oldest daughter of a respectable innkeeper I knew I could make a suitable match, but I never imagined I would be connected to the family that owned half the town.
Every day as I went through my chores at my family’s inn, I thought of him. I couldn’t wait until we could see one another again. My mother told me to stay away; she told me he was bad news. She even tried to give me extra work to keep me busy. I was smart, though. I knew I could work hard and steal a few moments away. She didn’t understand that he loved me and only me. I was sure we were meant to be together.
One day, when I woke up, I didn’t feel very well. My stomach hurt, and the food smells of the kitchen made me want to throw up. I thought I might be getting sick, but I pushed through. The next day was the same. And the next, and the next. I wasn’t an idiot; I knew what had happened. With that many younger siblings I was well acquainted with the signs of early pregnancy.
No matter, my prince would marry me. We were young, but not that young. My aunt always said nobody paid too much attention to when the first baby arrived – so long as you were married when the little one decided to make an appearance. I was nervous to tell him but excited, too. We were going to get married, have a baby, and have our own home. Life couldn’t get any better than this. It was a bit different than I had imagined, to be sure, but still plenty of opportunity for love and joy.
You can imagine my shock when he reacted to my joyous news with horror. He called me a stupid girl. He said he couldn’t believe I was foolish enough to get myself into this situation. He railed at me for ruining his life, trapping him, and tying him down. We were just having fun, after all, and it wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, he stormed off.
I couldn’t believe it. We were supposed to be together forever. Now I was ruined. What was I supposed to do? What would my mother say? What would my father say? Not only had I destroyed my chances of a good marriage, I had quite possibly ruined my sisters’ chances as well.
The next day he showed up at the inn. He had never done that before; he knew my parents didn’t like him. I thought for sure that he was coming to apologize - to propose, to take back all the hurtful things he had said and promise to take care of me, of us, forever.
That’s not why he was there. He shoved an envelope at me and told me this was the first and last money I would ever see from him. And, if I was smart, I would use it to get rid of “it.” He said he was leaving for university, and afterwards he would fulfill a long-ago betrothal to a girl in another city – a betrothal he conveniently forgot to mention at any point during our time together. He told me in no uncertain terms that if I tried to claim him as the father of the child he would deny it, and he would have other young men in town swear they had been with me as well.
I just stood there with my mouth hanging open limply holding the envelope. He rode away, and I was left. Alone. What was I going to do? I heard my mother behind me and shoved the envelope into my pocket, swiping away tears. “Gone, is he?” my mother snapped. “Good, it was only a matter of time before he got you into trouble.” I fixed my eyes on the floor - I couldn’t trust myself to look at her. “Don’t worry, child, we’ll fix you up with someone more suitable when you’re ready. You’ll soon recover from this heartbreak.” Heartbreak. I wish that was all I had to worry about.
Later that night I thumbed through the envelope. He had left me more than enough money to, as he put so bluntly, “take care of it.” I wouldn’t be the first one. Not by a long shot. And, everyone says it doesn’t matter so much if you catch it early. It’s not even really a baby, not at that stage. I resolved to talk to the midwife the next day. She would help me.
Everyone said she wouldn’t do that sort of thing as a matter of course, but she did make exceptions for unmarried girls.
Stay tuned for Part Two of Candace's story next week!