Declarations of love are a staple in fiction and they vary enormously according to author, audience, characters and situation. We mostly think of such effusions as romantic. We hope they're truthful, and we hope (usually) that they'll be made and received in a positive manner. Love's not always romantic though, so not all the declarations in this sub-set will be between romantic partners. This one is a woman and her long-time devoted swain... seen in three scenes, some years apart.
Anna arrived in a convict ship, and saw a man at the docks.
Other folk waited on the docks as well, and one brawny, brown-faced young man gave a great shout of Irish welcome and tossed his hat into the air. He was a fine, well-set-up fellow, with a thatch of chestnut-coloured hair, exuberant side whiskers, and a merry, unreliable face. Some of the convict women began to look more hopeful, and several of them smiled coquettishly at the Irishman as they were herded down the gangplank...
... Within hours, most of the women had been selected by employers—although this was something of a euphemism for the real relationship between convict and settler. An assigned servant had few rights and in some cases was little more than a slave, to be beaten and used as the employer saw fit. As the official had implied, some of the employers had more on their minds than a capacity for work. The ebullient Irishman’s eye passed over the women to fall speculatively on Anna, and he raised an interrogative brow. She trembled, and shrank back into her shawl. The man gave a tiny shrug and his gaze swept on to settle upon Betsy Potter, the most comely of the women. He beckoned for her to come and stand beside him. “Ye’ll do for me, me darlin’!” he exclaimed, and seized the girl for a smacking kiss.
“Sir! Please wait your turn!” cried the official, but the Irishman winked and took his chosen one firmly by the arm. “Sure, me name is Pat McNamara of Shepherd Town. Anyone can tell ye where to find me should ye be so inclined!” he said, and was off.
Anna was fortunate enough to be assigned to a couple and she found her new employers, Jane and Charles Colby, of a kindly disposition. After her sentence was served, she married Jack Kelly, whom she met at a dance. Pat McNamara was a friend of Jack's, which meant he saw Anna from time to time. He soon came to the conclusion he'd chosen the wrong girl from the ship, but Anna soon disabused him of any notion of second chances. It wasn't until years later, when they were both widowed, that she relented... on her own terms... when Pat came to call.
She set the tea to brew and then sat down opposite him, folding her hands in her lap. “Mr McNamara,” she said gently, “are you ill?”
He looked at her then. “Have ye ever forgiven me Anna me love? For those hasty words I spoke regarding the day ye had the news of Jack?”
“Oh yes,” said Anna. “I have.” She cleared her throat. “That was not kind of you, Mr McNamara.” She held out her hand, and McNamara took it doubtfully. “You’re not kind now, either, Mr McNamara,” she said. “You know I rely on you, always, to give me a hare for my hound, and this evening you’ve not loosed a single one.”
“Neither I have!” he said dolefully, but she was encouraged to see something of his old smile lighting his face. “Anna me love,” he said after a moment, “we’re both of us free now poor Betsy’s gone.”
Anna sighed. “I wonder if one is ever truly free of the past,” she said dreamily, but McNamara was not to be diverted. “Anna? Will ye be me wife?”
Anna met his eyes squarely. “Do you know, Mr McNamara, you’ve really surprised me,” she said. “I took you for a man who wanted certain things, simply because he knew he should not.”
McNamara tried to look offended, but failed. “Now Anna me love, ye’re not fair,” he said. “Ye know ye have only to speak the word and Pat’s your man. Come Anna Kelly—will ye marry me?”
Anna shook her head. “No, Mr McNamara. I will not. Not after being wed to Jack.”
McNamara did not pretend to misunderstand her. “I know ye’d never be thinking of me the way ye were thinking of him,” he said. “And sure, Mad Jack was a man of parts. But see here, Anna me love, I can be loving ye well enough for the both of us.”
“No, Mr McNamara,” said Anna. “I’ll never marry again. The good Lord knows I loved Jack Kelly, but the uncertainty—that I did not love. Mr McNamara, you were his friend, I can say these things to you without disloyalty. Living with Jack was like standing on the deck of a ship. I never knew for two days together if a storm would not come and swamp me entirely. Since Jack went, I’ve had to make do, and work hard, but I’ve been my own woman. I’ve made mistakes—I lost Maggie and little Jane and almost lost young Jack, but through it all I’ve been my own woman and my life has been my own.”
“Ye’ve tied yourself to Shepherd in business, or so I hear tell,” growled McNamara.
“I had to, Mr McNamara. I had no choice.”
“Ye had a choice,” said McNamara. “Ye could have been turning to meself.”
“I could have come to you, I know. But Mr McNamara, if I’d come to you then—knowing you were Betsy’s—I could never have trusted myself again. As it was, in turning to Mr Shepherd I almost made the biggest mistake of my life.” She looked down at her joined hands. “Had I done so, I would have lost another of my children, for good and all.”
“And now Betsy’s gone, and ye’ll still not be having me,” said McNamara discontentedly. “Sure, and as if I’ve not ached to be your own man all these years ...”
“Anna’s Own,” said Anna.
“Anna’s Own,” said McNamara. “Sure, that’s me, poor benighted creature that I am. I come to lay me heart at your feet, and ye’ll not be having me, even now. Ye’re a cruel woman, Anna Kelly.”
Anna made a decision, suddenly and with no hesitation at all. “Mr McNamara,” she said quietly, “I never said I’d not be having you.”
“Did ye not! Begorra, woman, ye’ve said nothing else for all these years!”
“You’re right. And things are different now,” said Anna. “Jack is gone, and so is Betsy. My children are grown, all but Jack, and him I cannot help at present. I don’t want to marry, but I can offer you my dearest affection—and anything else you’d care to be having.”