He was a man of the world and could teach a girl to be a wife. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 9 –2

Mrs. Squire turned her back. Ruth frowned and made a face at her retreating matriarch. Left alone in the foyer, she shrugged and turned for the kitchen. “Mother says the crystal needs to be cleaned, and I’m to help you, Sarah. I must say, a cloud of gloom always precedes Mother’s arrival.”

“Now, Ruth, you mustn’t speak ill of your ma. She has your future to think of, remember. Come, I’ll show you what to do.”

They found Mr. Squire in the hallway looking around like a lost puppy.

“Father, what’s wrong, what are you doing?”

“Where is your mother?”

“Upstairs, putting boxes away in the guest room.”

He began to climb the stairs. “The bank called. They want to talk to us. I knew we spent too much on this wedding.”

Sarah grabbed Ruth’s hand. “Come, we have crystal to clean.”

One by one, they removed the numerous pieces of precious glass from the antique china cabinet. She almost forgot about her parents until she heard them arguing in the hall.

Together, they entered the dining room, and she was startled by the look on Father’s face.

“Ruth, Sarah, we are going to town for awhile. Continue what you’re doing, and when you’re finished, start on the silver,” Mother said.

Before either girl could answer, the Squires grabbed their coats and slammed the door behind them.

****

“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Squire. It was good of you to come on such short notice. There is a matter we must discuss, and I am afraid it is of dire urgency.”

Eric Horton stood as the Squires entered his office, moved around behind them, and closed the door. His quarters were small, no windows…warm, cluttered, and there was a musty smell. The exception was the surface of his desk where lay one single sheet of paper. They took their seats where indicated, and he moved back behind his desk, and sat down.

Mrs. Squire cradled a large, brown leather purse on her lap, back straight, a deep scowl on her face. “I do not know what is so urgent, Mr. Horton. We are just back from New York and not quite settled, yet.”

Eric sat back in his comfortable chair, aligned his fingers together on each hand like a web, and assumed his well-practiced condescending attitude. “Exactly…New York. How is it possible you can afford a trip to New York City, pray tell?”

Priscilla sat up straighter, and her face grew red. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Horton? What business is that of yours?” She stood and pushed her chair backwards. “How dare you.”

“It is my business, Mrs. Squire, because you are in default on your house loan. I am afraid I must issue a foreclosure.”

Her gasp was audible, and Robert Squire half stood from his chair as he caught his wife in mid fall. He helped her settle into the chair and stood awkwardly, for a moment, before he returned to his seat.

“I see this has taken you by surprise, Mrs. Squire. Surely, you were aware of the increase in your payment and the growing interest. Have you not discussed this with your husband?” Eric looked from one to the other, triumphant.

Priscilla regained her composure. She sat up straighter and looked squarely into Eric Horton’s eyes. “You cannot do this to us at this particular time. We have everything planned. Yes, I knew about the increase. I kept it from my husband. He is a writer, and I knew if I told him, it would block his ability to write. He has not sold his work as regular as before, and we have drifted behind a bit. Naturally, as long standing customers, we assumed you would let us find a way to catch up. Please Mr. Horton.”

Eric leaned forward in his chair and addressed her alone. “I pride myself in keeping personal feelings out of my business decisions, Mrs. Squire. I like both of you, very much. It is against my better judgment to let it go this long. Now, you are in default, and there is little I can do, except…”

“Except what, Mr. Horton?” Her voice dripped with disdain.

Eric suppressed a satisfied smile.

Ah, now she is ready to listen.

“I am at a time in my life when I must consider a step up in my profession. There are certain expectations from my peers and superiors which must be fulfilled in order to climb the ladder, so to speak, in this industry,” he began.

Mrs. Squire waved her hand. “Yes, yes, Mr. Horton. What has that got to with my husband and I—and our mortgage?”

He lowered his glasses on the bridge of his nose and looked over the top. “If you would allow me to finish, I believe it will become clear what it has to do with you, Mrs. Squire.”

She sat back in her chair with a sigh, crossed her ankles, and cocked her head.

“As I was saying, I want a promotion, and I want to improve my lifestyle. I have worked hard to get where I am and am ready for the next level. In order to achieve that level, certain things are required. It must look as if I am improving myself. I have found a lovely home in the better district in town. I can afford it very easily, but it lacks a certain accrouement. There is also another requirement for the next step in my career. The powers that be judge your character, and your ability to conduct responsible business, by this standard.”

Priscilla uncrossed her ankles. “What standard, Mr. Horton?”

“A wife, Mrs. Squire. They require I be married,” he stated.

Mr. Squire looked up from his lap and stared at Eric.

“Well, it should not be too hard to acquire, Mr. Horton, for a man of your means,” Priscilla replied.

Mr. Squire spoke for the first time. “Wife, you do not understand Mr. Horton’s meaning. He wants a wife; our daughter to be exact. Correct, Horton?”

“Correct, Mr. Squire. I am glad to see how astute you are in catching my meaning. I want to marry your daughter. If we can make it happen, I’ll be willing to overlook your foreclosure, and maybe pay off the loan entirely. I know she is only seventeen, young and inexperienced, but I am a man of the world. I can teach her to be a lady.”

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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