Maria (Chapter 2)
Posted by: Maria Atalanti
Published on: 12/09/2021Back to Blog
(This story is the product of fiction and all the characters are fictional; the historical elements included are real)
Lady Mary William Moore was sitting in the back of her car, leaving the family’s lawyer’s office in central London. She was a very elegant lady, around 50 – 55. Her grey hair was cut short, at the height of her ears, according to the fashion of the time. She wore a grey loose dress, with a wide belt, loosely tied under the waist. A long line of pearls, reaching under her chests, was the only ornament in her outfit. On her head she wore a small hat, fitted, with a small veil that covered her eyes slightly. It was at the same time very modern, but also aristocratical elegant. With her gloved hand, she nodded to the driver to proceed home.
She sighed with relief. At last, she had settled all the inheritances, after the death of her husband, Lord William Moore, from a heart attack, at the age of sixty. She had left it all to her daughter, the house, the cash, and the tower in the countryside. For herself, she kept only the property she had inherited from her parents. It was not at all much compared to that of her husband, but for her, it was enough to have an annual income and live a decent life. She did not need luxuries.
She was pleased that her husband managed to marry their daughter to James Macdonald, a noble young man of Scottish descent, highly educated, who was teaching medicine at the University of London. Her daughter met him during the war, when she was helping as a nurse, and he was a doctor. At first, her husband disagreed with this marriage. He wanted his daughter to marry an aristocrat with a title, as he was, but she convinced him that the educated people would be the country’s new elite, as it would be after the War. James was thankful to her for that, because he really loved Alexandra, her daughter.
Mary felt a lot of remorse as a mother. She gave birth to her daughter in June 1897. Her husband was appointed an officer in India in August 1898 and mother and daughter followed him. Until 1907 Mary took care of her daughter’s studies herself, since she was unusually educated and cultivated in relation to the other English women of her time. But then her husband decided that India was not the place to raise an English young lady and decided to send her to England, in a boarding school for girls. Although Mary disagreed with him, it was impossible to dissuade him. When she threatened him that she would return to England herself to be close to her daughter, he reminded her of her premarital pledge that she would stay with him wherever he was.
So, all she was able to do, was to accompany her daughter to The Cheltenham Ladies’ College and say goodbye to her. Fortunately, she convinced her mother to leave Cyprus and move to London to be close to Alexandra. She returned to India.
After that, her relationship with her husband had been cold and formal. She had kept the premarital promise she had given to him, but she moved away from him.
Now she was free. For the first time! It was a very strange feeling. None of those who ruled her life and chose for her which path to follow, lived any more. Her parents had long since died, and two years before she had also lost her husband. The only person that she had in the world was Alexandra. Alexandra was independent and dynamic. She looked like her mother, even though in the appearance she looked like her father.
She had decided to talk to Alexandra. It was too difficult. Alexandra had grown up as an English high-class girl, proud of her origins and the titles her family brought. She was a famous member of the British Empire and everything else, it, was somehow inferior.
Next week, she would visit her to inform her of the transfer of all her father’s property, in her name. She would also give her all the relevant titles. And then she would announce her decision to return to Cyprus. At any cost.
The car stopped outside her home in Notting Hill. She thanked the driver and got off.
While drinking her tea in her office, and looking out the window at the garden, she tried to prepare her words and put in order what she would say to her daughter. Regardless of Alexandra’s possible reaction, the biggest problem was that she did not remember much. Her memories were blurred and confusing.
For years her parents and especially her mother Evelyn McCain tried to make her forget. And if she would not forget, she would never, ever, be able to talk about it.
She closed her eyes and recalled the first images of her life. An old woman who spoke Turkish to protect her and not let that woman with small oblique eyes beat her with the stick. Who were these women? Am I a Turkish? She thought. But why I was called Maria? She would love to find the old lady! But how would that be possible? It is out of the question that she was alive.
Then she remembered the teacher. At his thought, she smiled. She remembered him well. She was seeing him almost daily before she left Cyprus. He taught her to write to read, taught her English, French, and studied the ancient Greek writers. He had even taught her Turkish. He was called Antonios Philippou. Did he live? Very unlikely.
She felt a quid in the heart. For her, he was her father. Although Michael McCain, the military commander of Nicosia, adored her and was less strict with her than her mother, she, deep in her heart, considered her teacher her father. He taught her almost everything she knew and opened the avenue of knowledge to her.
She tried again to remember. Apart from the confused memories in the Turkish house, the rest of her memories began in her parents’ house. When she went there, she must have been around seven to eight. She remembered that at first she was staying in a room and the teacher would come every day and teach her. Greek, English, French, ancient Greek writers and even Latin. When he found an opportunity, he also taught her Turkish. She learned easily; she did not forget anything.
Then her mother would come, taught her good manners, and corrected her pronunciation in English. But above all, she taught her to be confident. She did not remember how long this lasted. However, when they decided to take her out and present her to her parents’ friends, she was a perfect English young lady in fluent ways and cultivation. They had explained in their circle that their daughter had just returned from a school in Switzerland. Her mother had forbidden her from talking about her past life, and she herself had almost believed that this is how she was born and that she was the daughter of the McCain couple. Miss Mary McCain, who everyone admired.
But in her dreams and nightmares she often saw the Turkish house, that ugly woman with small eyes chasing her and the old woman protecting her. Sometimes she would wake up in the middle of the night and scream, but these times the nightmare was worse. She was seeing a man bending over her and caressing her with his thick hands while his eyes were shining. And in these cases, the old woman came to protect her. In the early years of her marriage, when she woke up in the night screaming, her husband tried to understand why. She never spoke to him, though. This was not an information for an English Lord to learn!
In fact, she had never spoken to anyone about her past. For everyone, she was Mary McCain, a well-bred English aristocrat. Anything else would expose her own position and that of her parents in English society. But now she had to talk to her daughter. And things were not easy at all, because her daughter was also a member of this society of aristocrats, and she had the temper of her father.
It was dark when she decided that there was no point in thinking any more. She had not come up with how she would explain to Alexandra the reasons she wanted to return to Cyprus.
Suddenly she remembered the document she found in her father’s office after his death, well hidden in the double bottom of a drawer. It was the document of her adoption. She searched and found it, where she had kept it. With that, she would begin the conversation with her daughter!
Lady Mary William Moore chose to visit her daughter on Wednesday. On this day, the servants had their day off and Alexandra’s husband would be at work. So, whatever her daughter’s reaction would be, there would be no one to listen to. Their conversation would be private.
She began by giving her all her father’s inheritance. Alexandra was amazed. This was not common. One would expect that her mother would still live the rich life with which she was accustomed, for many years to come. She was not an old lady! On the contrary, she was a particularly nice lady, who everyone envied. She could not understand her decision.
-I will leave London, her mother continued. I will return to Cyprus. The money my parents left me is enough to live there.
-And why would you do that? Alexandra asked in amazement. Now that I have been married and will have children, will you leave? When will you finally be by my side when I need you! What is the point of your decision? And where are you going to stay there? You don’t have anyone in Cyprus, and as far as I know it is a very underdeveloped place compared to London. It’s absurd what you’re telling me.
Mary did not respond; she simply gave her the adoption document. Alexandra read it many times until she understood what it was about. Her hands began to tremble. Now she was not talking any more. She shouted:
-Are you telling me that you are adopted? And now it’s time to find out where you’re coming from? What is the point of that? What will benefit you. You will just offend us and feed gossip. What am I going to say to my husband?
Before Mary could answer, a voice was heard from behind them. They both turned back, surprised, and saw James, Alexandra’s husband, standing at the door and listening to their conversation.
-Darling don’t talk like that to your mother, he told Alexandra. Mary has a right to know where she’s coming from, and we’ll help her find out.
-How did you find yourself here? Alexandra stammered.
-This is not important. I came to get something I forgot, and I listened to your conversation. Your mother Alexandra has always been sad, under her due behaviour, and now I understand why. I knew that your father was running her life – you told me it was his decision to send you to a boarding school in London, and she resisted vigorously, but she could not change his mind. It is a pity, my love, to discourage her, let’s listen to her and plan this journey together.
Mary, who was crying silently, during this conversation, now started crying with sobs and could not stop. For the first time in her life, her secret life, she had an ally, and the emotions that drowned her for more than fifty years began to rise to the surface like an unstoppable torrent.
Alexandra, who for the first time in her life had seen her mother crying, ran and hugged her and constantly apologized to her.
When Mary managed to form herself and put an end to this intensely emotional moment, all three of them sat back and Mary began to tell them what she remembered from her childhood. She confided to them her thought that she might have been a Muslim, even though she was called Maria.
That moment, Alexandra ran to her room and returned holding a small box.
-It was given to me by Grandma Evelyn when I came to stay in London, and I was crying that my mother was not with me. One day she gave me this box and told me that it belonged to my mother, and I may always have it with me to remember her.
She opened the box and pulled out a golden cross. It was a simple cross, like those worn by the Christian Orthodox in Cyprus, as Mary explained. But she could not remember it. She probably wore it when she went to stay at her mother’s house, and she removed it from her so that she had nothing to connect Mary to her past life.
They stayed late that night and chatted quietly, so that the servants, who had meanwhile returned, would not hear. Mary agreed that all movements should be made discreetly, because there was no need to leak their secret and feed gossip.
They came up with the following facts and moves that Mary had to take, for the best possible result:
After so many years, it was very difficult to find the truth, but Mary would try.
Her presence in the Turkish house was a mystery, and perhaps this was the key to her origin.
The only person who probably knew anything, was the teacher Antonios Philippou, who was unlikely to be alive. Mary remembered, that when she left Cyprus he had been promised that he would look for her past. But then there was no correspondence between them. His letters never came, but it seemed that her letters never reached him. The correspondence was done through the British army, and surely her mother made sure that communication between them did not continue.
The golden cross was a testament to her Christian origins, but nothing more. It was a very ordinary cross, which simply implied that her family was wealthy enough to give it to her.
The act of adoption said nothing about her family. It simply said, “orphaned child, of unknown parents.”
The first move she would make was to write to the wife of the current military commander of Nicosia and explain to her that health problems were forcing her to leave London, and she would like to return to Cyprus for some time. She would ask her to find a home in Nicosia for her.
Before saying goodbye that night, her son-in-law took her hand and assured her.
-Don’t worry Mary. We will come to see you in Cyprus.
That night, she felt real security for the first time in her life. She felt that she was not alone and that she had people of her own who wanted to stand by her side. She cried out of happiness.
The journey into her foggy past had begun.