He wanted her now, and the heat of desire was almost unbearable. An Unlikely Arrangement.
June 19, 2013
A VG Serail: An Unlikely Arrangement
The day’s route ended without incident. Tired and frustrated, Peter was anxious to get home. Doubts invaded his mind, repeatedly, troubled his thoughts, and distracted him from work.
Maybe she is too young. Maybe this is unfair for her. Yes, there is a strong attraction, but at seventeen, how can she really know?
The horses came to a stop outside the small barn, and in mechanical fashion, the night’s routine was accomplished. He brushed them down, put out the feed, secured the wagon for the next day, and headed toward the welcoming light in the window.
An unsettling sensation overcame him in the empty kitchen.
Something is not quite right…no warm aroma of a promised meal Where are my brothers?
He called out, “Mother?” Cruel silence added to the confusion, an ominous companion.
The garden, she could be out there. Could she have fallen or worse?
The moonless evening inhibited the search, but he tore through the winter cabbage, the purple-sprouting Brussels sprouts, and carrots with little care of her faithful tending, even in the cold season. Only the faint bark of a distant dog answered his frantic cries.
She must be in the house.
He found her in the parlor, in a chair, hair mussed, and a frightened look etched on her face. Alarm heightened by her disheveled appearance, he spoke softly, “Mother, what is it? What has happened? Are you hurt? Is it the boys? Where are they?”
Elizabeth turned a dazed stare toward Peter. “They are at the neighbors down the road. I had to send them there for a while.”
He took her hand gently. “Why, has something happened? Please tell me. My heart is beating out of my chest.”
She sat up a bit straighter and withdrew her hand. “Yes, something has happened. Sit down, and I will try to explain.”
Peter rose, seated himself on the settee opposite her, and gave his full attention. “Please, Mother. I am listening.”
“I had a visitor this morning.”
“Okay, a visitor. Was it a man or a woman?”
“It was a young woman. A Hattie Morgenstern…from the home country.”
A lifeless silence filled the room.
“Well, it must have been pleasant for you, a visitor from home. The name sounds vaguely familiar. Why did she come, why is her visit upsetting you so?”
Elizabeth shifted in the chair. “I knew her. She was born a short while after you. Our families were close neighbors.”
He drew a ragged breath, impatient. “Well, how nice you could see her again, all grown up. Get to the point, Mother. What did she want?”
“To marry you, Peter. She is your true betrothed.”
The room spun. What did she say—my true betrothed?
“Let me start at the beginning. It is a long story.” Elizabeth relayed the tale of his birth and the customs of the day, while he listened, stunned.
Thirty minutes later, Peter stood, fists clenched at his side. “How dare she! An ancient contract between two people who have never met? I have something to say about this, Mother, and I won’t be forced into a marriage by anyone. Ruth and I are engaged. I came home to tell you. We talked last night, and I realized she finds me desirable, after all. We have a true connection, and I will not give up my engagement to Ruth for this other woman.”
Elizabeth stood up slowly. “Peter, it is not so different from what we arranged between you and Ruth. Don’t you see? This woman lost her whole family. There is no one and nowhere to go. She intends to take legal action if we do not honor the contract. What are we to do, Peter? Miss Morgenstern is coming back this evening to speak with you.”
“She is what?” He paced the floor. “I will not. I want nothing to do with her. Let her try to involve the law. It will never be considered in an American court.”
“Peter, please, at least meet with her. She is all alone. Maybe we can work something out. Help her find a new life in this country.”
“No, Mother. I won’t be here when she arrives. I’m going to find Ruth. You can deal with Hattie Morgenstern. You and Father signed the contract, not me. It is your responsibility to set things right. She better be gone when I get back.” He started for the door, but turned and looked at his mother again. “For the first time in my life I feel happy, excited to have found someone who makes my soul soar. I cannot turn it off to honor some stupid contract you signed twenty-seven years ago.” The door slammed behind him.
Furious, he drove recklessly down the country road. The willow tree where he kissed Ruth came into view, and he slowed down. The recent memory made his body yearn, the heat of desire almost unbearable. He pressed his foot harder on the gas pedal and sped toward town. The intention was to take Ruth this very minute, find somewhere to marry, and end this nonsense. At the cross roads, before the entrance to the city, an automobile sat crooked on the side of the road. Even in the dark, the flat tire was obvious.
A taxi, but what of the woman standing beside it? She’s alone…not a good situation. He pulled to the curb.
“Is there something I can do to help?” The woman lowered the hood from her cloak, and he caught his breath. “Sarah, what are you doing out here?”
“Oh Master Peter, you are the one I was coming to see. Please, I need to speak to you. It is very urgent. We need to go at once.” She ran to his car.
“Is Ruth all right? Is she hurt?” He opened the car door and stood beside the little maid.
She grabbed the lapels of his overcoat. “Safe for the moment, sir. Something has happened. I had to hide her. You must save her from a fate worse than death.”
“I will go at once, but wait…do you need help, sir?” Peter called to cabbie.
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.