It was time to figure out the past and address the present. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 15

“No, Ruth, you don’t understand,” Sarah began.

“I think I do. Please don’t patronize me. Mother’s life has been a lie and Father her victim.”

Peter reached out. “Ruth, you mustn’t judge your mother until you know all the facts. Does she know about the information you came across? Give her a chance to explain her side.”

Sarah went to the vanity and opened the bottom drawer. “Look, Ruth. I haven’t shown these to you, more letters. Aye, your mother was young, and maybe vain and spoiled, but an incident at the dance changed her forever. Your father knew and married her just the same. I was instructed to destroy the dresses, the jewelry, and all the letters, but I couldn’t. I found this hidden closet years ago and decided to hide everything in here. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe to preserve the carefree girl she was before the worst night of her life destroyed all innocence.”

“What are you talking about? She loved Alexander. Father was second choice. I don’t want to read anymore of her lies. So, please tell me why Mother and Alexander never married?”

“Wait here, Ruth.” Sarah went to a shelf beside the vanity and pulled a package down from the top shelf. “You need to see this, so you will understand.”

Ruth took the package of butcher paper and twine from Sarah’s outstretched hands and looked into the maid’s eyes. “What is it?”

“Open it.”

Ruth sat on the vanity chair, and placed the package in her lap, and gingerly untied the knotted string until it fell away from the paper. She carefully unfolded the brittle tissue and beautiful ruffles of rose material burst forth. “Is it a dress, the one she wore that night?”

“Aye, but unfold it and look closely.”

Peter helped pull the dress out of its confines and laid it across the vanity table.

Ruth gasped at the site. The bodice was torn almost to the waistline, and mud smeared across the skirt front and back. “Sarah, what is this? Why is it damaged so badly?”

In one word, the story was told. “Alexander.”

Ruth looked at Peter. He put an arm around her. “Are you saying Alexander…he tried to…?”

“Aye, little one. Your mother was assaulted—spoiled.”

Silence permeated the room, and Ruth tried to make sense of Sarah’s revelation. Finally, words croaked between clenched teeth. “But why, how? Sarah, what of her parents, how did he get away with it? I read the other letters. He was a captain in the Navy. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you.”

Sarah sat down beside the dress and slowly folded it back. “Her parents never knew. I found her in the garden, or rather your father did. She begged us not to tell anyone, not even her parents. You see, if it got out, no one would marry her…damaged goods. I helped her back to the house, cleaned her up, and put her to bed. Mr. and Mrs. Williams would have missed her, so I hurried back to the dance, and told them of a sudden illness, and I’d helped her back to the house. They left the party immediately. Upon their arrival, Priscilla pretended to be asleep. The next day, orders were given for her to stay in bed, assuming it was something she ate, bad caviar, or something. I remember Mrs. Williams confronted the hostess, and the subject of food poisoning came up. Their relationship suffered irreparable damage.”

Ruth shook her head. “What of the dress, didn’t they wonder what happened to it? How could they just accept an excuse like that? From the sound of it, my mother lived for parties.”

Sarah laughed. “Ruthie, you’ve seen all the dresses in the closet. There were so many; her parents never missed it. It was never an issue.”

“How could you let Alexander off the hook? He should have been punished…exposed. I don’t understand.” Ruth took the gown from Sarah and studied it again. “He must have brutalized her by the look of the damage, and the mud. Did he…succeed?” She looked up at Sarah.

“Yes, dear. He forced himself on her.”

Peter grabbed the dress and handed it back to Sarah. “Ladies, I know this is an unpleasant memory, and all these issues are hard to take. This happened almost twenty years ago, before Ruth was born. May I remind you of the present dilemma? My God, Ruth, they want to marry you off to Eric Horton, and I have a dire situation myself. It’s why I’m here! We must address the present day and find a way to end our parent’s interference.”

“Peter is right, Ruth. We cannot stay in this closet forever. Time enough to figure out the past, it is the present needs to be addressed now,” Sarah replied.

Ruth put a hand on Peter’s arm. “I’m sorry. I got so wrapped up in Mother’s drama, I completely forgot about our situation. Tell me, what has happened?”

“Please sit down, Ruth. You won’t believe what I have to tell you.”



Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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