The ivy crawled up the side of the wall like a monstrous spider with long, leafy legs, hiding the brick underneath it. Except that some of the leaves had already started changing color. And Rosalyn had never seen a tricolored spider.
“Do you suppose that the ivy could trap people, Mrs. Henderson? It’s so thick. Perhaps there are people living inside the ivy?” Rosalyn asked.
The old woman’s eyes twinkled with playfulness as she laughed cheerfully, “No, my dear! Ivy doesn’t trap or house people. If it did, gardeners would have an awfully hard time taming it. Although it does grow very thick, doesn’t it?”
Mrs. Henderson was the kindest and most spirited person Rosalyn had ever met. She laughed more often than the birds chirped and showed kindness and gentleness to everyone in her path, even Ms. Millis, the lady in charge of the orphanage, who was in fact the most unkind and mean-spirited person Rosalyn had ever met. Once, a strand of Rosalyn’s hair was hanging below her collar so Ms. Millis cut off all of Rosalyn’s hair and told her, “Tuck your hair in and don’t become a trollop!” That was her third day at the orphanage. She was six years old. But now, fourteen years later, Rosalyn felt oddly comfortable next to Mrs. Henderson even though she had only known her less than a day. She had never known so much laughter, kindness, or gentleness. There was something about it that made the old woman oddly beautiful, like a swan in its prime. And trustworthy, something Rosalyn had never known, making her feel odd about her high comfort level. “Ah! Here comes town! Or I suppose here we come to town, huh?” Mrs. Henderson said, smiling and interrupting Rosalyn’s thoughts.
Every building was different – brick, stone, large, small, wooden signs, glass windows with signs. Some of them were extremely detailed, others not so much. Most were small shops, some were rather tall, and a few were towering over the others. Rosalyn pressed her face against the car window and followed the building with her eyes until the sight of it was beyond her range. Of course, growing up in an orphanage in the country never provided such sights. Except when Ms. Millis made Alice stand naked in front of the rest of the girls for stealing one of Ms. Millis’ dresses. Daring that Alice was and Rosalyn had learned so much from her.
“Oh Rosalyn. Isn’t that a sight?,” Mrs. Henderson said. Rosalyn looked excitedly hoping for another large building or quaint shops filled with flowers and trinkets or Oxford University. But instead she saw several boys her age standing outside. What could be so exciting about that?
One of the boys saw Rosalyn through the car window and winked at her. “He’s a rather fit one, wouldn’t you say so my dear?” Mrs. Henderson asked, nodding and smiling at the young man. But Rosalyn didn’t smile, nod, or wave. In fact, she immediately broke eye contact with the boy and turned around to stare at Mrs. Henderson. She wanted to speak but couldn’t do anything but gape at the old woman. It took a moment before she recovered enough to speak. “Mrs. Henderson! How could you say such a thing?! You’re an old woman who’s married!” Rosalyn whispered horrified, her cheeks blushing pink, half embarrassed by the old woman and half surprised by the boy who winked at her. No one had ever, in fact, winked at Rosalyn. Though her friend Anna once told her she was pretty and that her brown hair matched the branches that moved with the wind. But Mrs. Henderson laughed playfully, “I may be an old, married woman, but I know a looker when I see one. Who knows, maybe you might get married to one someday.”
“Married?!” Rosalyn shrieked so loudly that the driver turned his head. “Mrs Henderson! I have never, do not, and will not plan on getting married, regardless of whether a young man is a looker or not. Oxford University is where I’m going to earn my degree. They just started allowing women to earn degrees last year you know. And I fully intend on doing it.”
The car came to a sudden stop. Rosalyn was so busy talking with Mrs. Henderson about her inappropriate comments that she hadn’t noticed their arrival. “Oxford,” Rosalyn breathed out. The smooth stone walls and castle tops made Rosalyn swoon with joy. The polished glass was so inviting. The vines growing up on the walls begged to be touched. The courtyards longing to have books upon books read in them. And the library! Oh, the library! Rosalyn was finally here, in front of the place she hoped to fall in love with. It’s charm already working. “It’s…it’s…oh, it’s – ” Rosalyn spoke almost breathlessly. “A stone building,” Mrs. Henderson said, finishing Rosalyn’s sentence with a completely different ending. Rosalyn smiled at the old woman’s frankness and simplicity. “Well yes. But beautiful, Mrs. Henderson. It’s beautiful.”
Rosalyn began to step out of the car when Mrs. Henderson gently grabbed her arm. She looked sad. “Will you really never marry, my dear? Even if you spend the rest of your days alone?” she asked Rosalyn softly with pleading eyes.
“Even if,” Rosalyn answered confidently. But, turning to the old woman, she said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Henderson. If I find a looker, I’ll send him your way.” And, with a wink, Rosalyn closed the car door to walk into her future.