The bell hanging from the door of Hannah’s shop chimed. Father, let it be a customer, she prayed. Business had continued to be poor.
“One moment please,” she called from the back room and then pushed a bolt of cloth onto a top shelf. After smoothing her skirt and tidying her hair, she hastened to the front of the cottage. “Good mor—” she started, but the words died. Cecilia Smith, the householder, stood just inside the door. Hannah’s stomach turned. Cecilia was certainly here to turn her out.
Managing a smile, she said cheerily, “Good morning. It’s a fine day for February, wouldn’t you say?”
Cecilia shifted her infant son from her right hip to the left. “Yes. Fine indeed.” Her expression was somber. “Ye know why I’ve come. I need the rent. I can’t wait longer.”
“Yes.” Hannah searched her mind for inspiration; there must be something that would rescue her from the streets. She moved to the kitchen and retrieved a crockery bowl from a shelf. Scooping out a handful of coins, she said, “I have some of it.” She moved toward Cecelia. “As I explained, since my mother’s passing I’ve had a temporary decline in business. I’m sure things will improve.” She pressed the money into the householder’s hand. “I assure you I’ll pay the rest before the month is out.”
Cecilia looked down at the money in her hand and then let out a slow breath. “Ye know I can’t wait. Mr. Whitson wants the entire payment. If I come to him with this, I’ll be out on me ear.”
She turned regretful eyes on Hannah. “I got me kids to think of.” Her eyes fell to the floor. “There are tenants that want to move in. And they have the money.”
Hannah fought down rising panic. “Perhaps Mr. Whitson’s wife needs a fitting. I can take care of that for her. And right away too.”
“Mr. Whitson’s a widower.”
“Does he have a sister, then?”
Cecilia simply stared at her.
Hannah’s mind frantically searched for an idea—something. Nothing came. “Can’t you ask him to wait just a few more days? I’m sure I can manage by then.” Hannah knew she was simply putting off the inevitable. For without some sort of miracle she’d be just as destitute in a week or two weeks as she was at this moment.
Cecilia set her jaw and shook her head. “Can’t do it. I already give ye more time than I ought. I can’t wait another day.” She looked down at her little boy and smoothed his hair, then turned her gaze back to Hannah. “I hate t’ do this, but I got no choice.”
“What am I to do? I haven’t any place to go.”
Cecilia looked at the coins in her hand, then held them out to Hannah. “He’ll not know if ye paid me or not. And ye’ll ne