What secrets lay in her mother’s past? An Unlikely Arrangement. Chapter 3 – 5

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 Chapter 3 –5

Ruth struck a pose, the back of one hand against her mouth, eyes wide. “Why Sarah, I have nothing up my sleeve. You don’t trust me…when we have been friends so long?”

The housekeeper laughed aloud. “It is because I have known ya so long that I don’t trust a single hair on yer head. I’ll be leavin’ directly. Mind you behave yourself while I am gone.”

Ruth shut the door to the study and meandered around the house for a few minutes.

I wonder if I will enjoy this warm home for much longer, or will I leave it for another soon?

Her wanderings led her to the kitchen where she had taken many a meal with only Sarah and occasionally their gardener, Oscar. She loved sitting at the butcher-block table while eating a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and Sarah’s wonderful blueberry muffins. Laughter echoed through the kitchen when Oscar shared stories of how her mother considered herself a master gardener. He told of his displeasure at her interference in the roses, and how he went back to restore the damage Mrs. Squire did to the garden. His thick, black eyebrows and mustache covered a kindly face. A stout, round man, his agility in the garden always surprised Ruth. The flowers became the pride of the neighborhood, and Mrs. Squire took a lot of the credit, much to Oscar’s dismay.

“How many more times will I enjoy the easy banter, unbridled by proper manners and decorum? This is my true home, right here in this kitchen.”

Before she realized it, she stood in front of the parlor. Peter’s face drifted into her mind, and the heat of the memory rose to her cheeks. Angry and confused at the sudden surge of desire, she bounded up the stairs to watch out the window for Sarah to leave.

“Finally.”

The curtain fell back into place, and she raced down the hall to her mother’s room.

“They wouldn’t nail all the windows shut.” She opened the door. “It still smells of violets in here. Maybe I can get the window open.”

In three strides, she crossed the room and grabbed the window sash. “Oh fudge, no luck. Now what?”

Her leg bumped the dressing table and rattled the perfume bottles. “What does Mother do with all these perfumes? Every bottle and atomizer is different, elegant, and feminine, so unlike her.”

She surveyed the room for more insights. The closet! “Now is as good a time as any.”

The glass doorknob beckoned to her, a forgotten fancy brought once more to light. She placed her hand on the knob and turned. “Locked.”

A wooden coat rack stood in the corner nearest the door, an old, faded dress hung lifeless on the tree. She rummaged her hand in the pocket. “Eureka! Now let’s see if it is the right one.”

The long key slid in easily, and she smiled at the click when the lock sprung. She stepped into the roomy wardrobe and stared at the neat rows of gray and black dresses displayed like soldiers, perfectly aligned. On the floor, in consummate formation, sat sturdy, sensible shoes—all black. Nothing pretty, nothing fancy. She noticed a lingering scent in the closet, something curious. The forbidden vault showed nothing of interest, however.

She started to turn around, but something shiny caught her eye in the deep recesses of the small room. The dresses whispered as she made her way past them—she ignored their complaints. The closet went on forever. When she thought the end near, it turned a corner.

She paused, tempted to venture on, bewitched by an unusual sight. A bracelet sat like a sentry atop a glass shelf attached to the far wall. Three strands of diamonds sparkled, set alight from the open door’s illumination. She reached out to touch them, one hand poised above the radiant stones. Instead, she drew back, conquered by curiosity and the unknown room ahead. She followed the turn and caught her breath. A rack stood, out of sight, full of fancy gowns, all colors, and styles. Beautiful ballroom dresses, an array of ruffles and flounces, plunging necklines, feathers and boas, purple, red, bright blue, yellow, tangerine.

Shoes lined up under each dress and matched perfectly the color of the gown. Above the clothes, shelves of beautiful long gloves, diamond tiaras, and overstuffed jewelry boxes displayed necklaces, bracelets, and earbobs.

She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t comprehend her mother owned such opulent attire, much less wore it. She touched the silky fabrics and reveled in the extravagant softness.

“Why did Mother hide all this from me? Why doesn’t she wear these things? In all of my seventeen years, I’ve never seen her in any of these clothes. Not one piece of jewelry.”

A musty perfume emanated from the clothes, and the air became heavy and pungent in the small space. A dark, heavy curtain hung at the end of the row. She pushed it aside to reveal a beautiful white vanity.

My goodness, a surprise around every corner.

Suddenly, the room closed in on her. “I’m dizzy. My head is spinning. It must be the stale perfume. Maybe if I rest for a moment…”

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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