He might be handsome, but she was afraid to marry. An Unlikely Arrangement. Chapter 4 – 3

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Chapter 4-3

Embers glowed in the brick fireplace, the last hurrah of a long day.

Sarah made the cocoa while Ruth sat at the worn, wooden kitchen table, and chattered about Mr. Horton.

Sarah stirred the pot in a slow rhythm, glanced at Ruth, and changed the subject. “Ruthie, what did you do this time to upset your mother so much? It must have been terrible bad for her to make you marry Mr. Kirby.”

“Mother didn’t tell you? Oh, of course, she didn’t,” Ruth said. She grinned at the maid.” Do you want to hear the whole story?”

Sarah sat two, hot steamy mugs of hot chocolate on the table, slid into the chair next to her, and cupped her chin in one hand. “Yes, the whole story.”

Ruth stood, went into a semi-crouch, raised both hands like claws, and in a low, dramatic voice, began her tale of woe.

Sarah giggled.

“Well, I dropped my new, black satin shoes from the second-story window ledge. Poof.” She tapped the table softly.  “Ginny held the ladder below and yelled, Hey, watch where you are throwing things, Ruthie. Those shoes came close to my head. Hurry, I can’t hold this ladder forever. Someone might see me. I might be your best friend, but I am not taking the rap for your great escape plan.” She balanced on one foot and wobbled in a precarious fashion. Shh, someone will hear you, Ginny. Just hold it still. This isn’t easy, you know. My fringe caught on the windowsill. The ladder trembled, and I thought I was a goner.”

She shot furtive glances around the room in dramatic style.

Sarah rewarded her performance with a snicker.

“I could see Ginny glance around, nervous someone would see us. I landed with a thump on both feet, safe and sound. Ginny looked splendid in her red dress. I doubted my choice of black, but she reassured me. Oh, no. Black is so dramatic with your new bob. The dress is perfect. The boys will all want to dance with you. She is a little jealous of me, you see. We are exact opposites. Ginny’s blond hair and blue eyes give her an innocent flair. I’m a bit more dramatic, don’t’ you think?” Ruth struck a pose, one hand on her hip. She danced about the kitchen.

This was the Ruthie she wanted to be, carefree…happy-go-lucky.

Sarah snapped a towel at her. “Go on, silly girl. What happened after that? Did your mother catch you comin’ down the ladder?” She shoved the mug of cocoa toward the storyteller.

Ruth settled herself in her chair and continued. “I slipped my shoes on, grabbed Ginny’s hand, and raced down the alley beside the house. We laughed about dancing the Charleston with Will Johnson and stopped at the hedge to see if anyone was around. Then, we heard it.” She stopped to sip her cocoa.

“Well, what was it Ruthie, don’t stop now,” Sarah said.

“Umm Hmm.”

“That was it? Umm Hmm? Who was it?” Sarah asked.

“We stood statue-like, afraid to breathe,” Ruth Said. “I thought I imagined it. I nudged Ginny. What was that, Ginny? Is someone on the other side of the hedge? Ginny didn’t utter a sound. The leaves rustled, and a hand poked through the hedge…with a pair of garden shears.”

Sarah let out her breath in a loud groan.

Ruth continued, “Going somewhere, ladies? We both screamed. Mother, what are you doing in the garden at night? She babbled something about lanterns and it being 1929, but my blood pounded so hard in my ears, I couldn’t pay attention. Of course, she asked the question again. What are you and Ginny doing dressed like that this time of night and where are you going? I adjusted my black sequin headband while I tried to think of a good reason. It’s a party at Ginny’s house. A…a  slumber party. I knew you wouldn’t let me go, so I decided to take advantage of my bedroom window. I am 17 after all. Ginny jabbed me in the ribs. You attend slumber parties dressed for dancing?” Mother asked. I jabbed Ginny back. She confirmed my story and beat a swift retreat down the alleyway. The rest is history, Sarah. I have remained locked in my room ever since, except to meet Mr. Kirby.”

“Oh, Miss Ruthie, you do have a way of tellin’ a story. You should be an actress.”

“I want to be an actress. Mother will hear none of it. Says I need to marry, raise a family. Phooey. I want to travel, see the world. I don’t want to end up like her. She has done nothing, gone nowhere. I need excitement.” Ruth stared into space for a moment, and tears splashed the table’s surface.

Sarah reached across the table and laid her hand on Ruth’s arm. “Oh miss, don’t cry. It will be all right. Please, don’t cry.”

“I don’t want to marry. Not now. They cannot make me, can they, Sarah? Tell me what you think of Mr. Kirby. You can be truthful with me.”

“It’s not my place to talk about family matters, Ruthie.”

“Come on, you are a woman, same as me. You must have noticed if he is handsome or not. Did he spark your interest at all?”

“Why, I declare, you think he is fine-lookin’, don’t you?” Sarah poked her in the arm. “Come on. Tell me what you’re thinkin’.”

Ruth sighed. “Well, when I looked into his eyes, I felt my stomach flip-flop. Tanned, tall, strong. He is handsome, I guess. I felt odd when I stood by him—jittery, light-headed. What do you suppose it means?”

Sarah cleared the cups from the table, went to the sideboard, and washed the last of the day’s dishes. “I think it means you find him desirable. Maybe it means marriage will not be so bad. Maybe your mother has the right idea, Ruthie. She has lived a long time, you know, might be a good idea to trust her judgment.”

“But what of my dreams, travel, being an actress? Am I to give it up, to marry a milkman? I don’t care if he is handsome, he might be mean, lock me in my room, starve me. I might have to have tons of babies.”

“Ruthie, you do go on. It’s late. You need to go back to your room. I made a promise to them, ya know. Please? Your parents would not hand you over to someone like that.”

“Oh, wouldn’t they, Sarah? What about Mother’s secret lover? I found them, you know, the letters. Why should I listen to her when she has done nothing but lie to her own daughter and Father?”

The cup shattered on the floor when Sarah whirled from the sink. Sudsy bubbles flew helter-skelter in the air, but she only stood there, hands dripping, mouth open. “What do you know about any letters?”

“Don’t look so surprised, you have known about them all along. I’ve read them, Sarah. I know all about Captain Adams.” Ruth’s chin jutted forward. The shock on the maid’s face confirmed what she already knew. Mother had a secret past.

“Those letters were destroyed on her wedding day. She gave them to me herself. How could you know about those?”

“So, you admit it. You have been in on the lie from the beginning. Who is Miss Williams, Sarah? I heard her, too. If you don’t tell me the whole story, I will tell Father and destroy this family.”

“Miss Williams? There is no Miss Williams in the house, child. Don’t you know? Your mother’s maiden name was Williams. The woman you thought you heard was your own mother!”

 

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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