The quiet last descendent of a dilapidated aristocratic family, Lady Grae was doe eyed and demure. She lived in the Grae manse, just outside of Town, surrounded by a carefully kept garden. Bees hummed over lavender stalks and dragonflies cast shadows over cracked terracotta pots. Lady Grae lived alone, a quiet life in the country.
The year of the flood, Lady Grae became an unexpected hero. When the river overflowed its banks and the Town flooded, Lady Grae was at the fore, carrying sandbags and building dykes. Her sleeves once rolled up revealed impressively muscled arms and her even-toned voice quelled panic and admitted no dissent. She kept her head in the crisis and calmly fought the roiling waters.
When the surging waves had subsided and Lady Grae had resumed her petticoats and lace collars, she found herself surprisingly popular. The townsfolk remembered how she had dug channels away from the river. A number of families had slept in makeshift beds in her house: three in the kitchen, four in the study, even a few in a tent in the garden. Another family remembered her help in moving furniture from the basement to the attic as water seeped in. Her actions were remembered with appreciation and gratitude and she was invited frequently to teas and fêtes, cramped rowdy family dinners and stately affairs. She was unfailingly polite, if somewhat bewildered by the attention. It was as if she, not feeling she deserved any special recognition, believed everyone else might eventually, suddenly, come to the same conclusion. Every invitation was a surprise and she never grew complacent in her popularity.
So it was that when the illness came to her, she did not think to ask for help. She always considered her place in the Townsfolks’ hearts to be a temporary one, based on some strange quirk of nature that she could not explain and therefore could not depend on. She became more retiring; although she still accepted every invitation she was able to. As her illness progressed, she had, on occasion, to decline a cheerful offer or shyly made request. These refusals pained her and further convinced her that her former hosts would, upon receiving her politely worded regrets, shrug their shoulders and forget her. The flow of invitations would dry up and public opinion would turn against her.
Homebound, she missed the ripple of consternation that ran through the Town when her absences were noticed. Folk gossiping on the green or meeting in the market remarked on her withdrawal and speculated. Finally, one rainy Thursday, Madam Calavera pronounced in her thick accent, “We should call upon Lady Grae. I shall visit her tomorrow with some of chapulines and lemonade.”
Madam Calavera was as good as her word and soon a steady stream of visitors and well-wishers were reaching for the bell pull and filling Lady Grae’s pantry with treats. Phil brought three carefully selected bluebird eggs; Mrs. Tealing left a rather dry fruitcake; and even George had a can of boiled ham to present Lady Grae. When she sat by her window, she could see her garden being restored to its former kempt state by many hands, some more practiced than others. Their kindness astonished Lady Grae and she tried to repay it by hiding, as best she could, her weakness, fatigue and growing pain.
On the last day, Lady Grae, who never drank, asked for a snifter of whiskey and sipped it at her window until the ice clinked and the glass was empty. She then said, sweetly and quietly, “The river has overflown. Excuse me. I must go and help,” and went.