The banker was willing to dismiss the loan to marry their daughter. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 9 – 3

Mrs. Squire struggled to her feet. She wavered a little, but found her balance. “You are saying you want to marry my Ruth, and you will dismiss the foreclosure, and see to it the loan is paid in full?”

“Yes, that about sums it up. I think it is a reasonable deal, Mrs. Squire. I realize arranged marriages are a thing of the past, a relic of the old country, but it is still done on occasion.”

“She cannot marry you. Not you! She is engaged to be married in a month. That is why we went to New York, to buy her trousseau. She is spoken for, Mr. Horton.”

Eric stood up and faced her. “Married? How could she be getting married? I have not seen her with anyone. I move in the best circles, I would have heard about it. Who? Do I know him? Can we buy him off? She is the only one I have considered. She is beautiful and would compliment me to perfection. I would be assured of getting the promotion.”

“She is engaged to Peter Kirby. I am sure you do not know him. He is much younger than you, and they are a very good match.”

Eric Horton sat down with a thud. “Did you say Peter Kirbv? Tall, blond young man?”

“Yes, do you know him?”

“I met him this morning. He tried to open a household account for his new bride. I had no idea it was my Ruth.”

Priscilla laughed. “She is not your Ruth.”

Eric focused his attention, once more, squarely on Mrs. Squire. “I suggest you make her my Ruth, if you know what is good for you. Either she becomes my wife, and you get rid of Peter Kirby, or you will find yourself homeless, as well as penniless. Are we clear?”

“Are you threatening us, Mr. Horton? Because, if you are, I shall obtain a lawyer. You have hit my husband and me with quite an ultimatum. There is so much more to consider than this one thing. I implore you to give us a day or two to digest your request. You can not expect us to give you an answer on such short notice.”

“I can see where this might have come as a surprise to you, but I suggest you dismiss the idea of a lawyer. I am well within my legal right to foreclose. I know people, Mrs. Squire, people who can make your life miserable. Be in my office in two days at nine o’clock, and we will discuss this further. I will want to call on Ruth in the afternoon and express my desire to wed her.”

“Come, Robert, we need to go,” Priscilla said.

Eric came around the desk and opened the office door. He called to them as they walked out into the foyer. “Remember, two days, nine o’clock.” A maniacal grin formed on his lips as he watched them leave. “They have no choice but to bow to my wishes. Therefore, Peter Kirby, you will not need the household account. Your good looks will not help you out this time.”

****

Ruth and Sarah polished the silver in silence. The crystal gleamed, and they finished the last set of silver trays.

“Do you think I am pretty, Sarah. I mean, pretty enough to attract a man?” Ruth turned to and fro admiring her reflection in the large tray.

“You’ve already attracted a man, silly. What are you worried about?” the maid replied.

Ruth replaced the tray on the shelf. “He doesn’t really have a choice in the matter, Sarah. Does he really think I am pretty, or is he settling for what he can get?”

Sarah handed another tray to Ruth. “Are ya serious, girl? Have ya not seen the way he looks at you? There is no doubt he thinks yer pretty. He fair can not keep his hands off of you.”

They were both laughing when her parents came through the door.

“How was your trip to the bank, Mother? Did you see that horrid Mr. Horton?” Ruth called.

“Keep to your work and leave the business to your parents, Ruth. Your father and I will be upstairs. We do not want to be disturbed.”

Mother’s voice was harsh, but what Ruth noticed the most was her red nose and red-rimmed eyes. Father marched upstairs behind his wife.

“What was that all about, Sarah?”

“I certainly do not know, nor is it any of my business. Don’t bother your head about it. I am sure your parents have everything under control.” Sarah finished the last piece, gathered her supplies, and started for the kitchen.

“Don’t leave me, Sarah. Something is wrong. I can feel it. What shall I do? Sit in my room?”

“Exactly what I would do. No sense in causing upheaval right now. Best you let them take the lead. I’ll come up in a while after I make sure dinner is okay.”

Ruth nodded and made her way slowly up the stairs. The closer she got to the top, the more she thought heard voices. She crept up the stairs and fought the urge to inch toward her mother’s door. Instead, she turned into her room and shut the door. She shook off a chill, but a sense of foreboding crept into her bones.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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