She didn’t want to walk into a trap searching for the truth. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement

Chapter 17

Sarah watched as Ruth ran to the door of Mrs. Squire’s room, and knew she should stop the girl, keep the truth from her, but she had interfered enough. Instead, she turned away and disappeared into the shadows.

****

Ruth glanced back to see if the way was clear and entered the forbidden sanctuary. The glass doorknob sparkled like before; she grasped and turned the handle. The drab gray dresses hung as if in defiance.

Would I ever resort to wearing such unbecoming attire?

She followed the wall of the closet until it turned the corner. “Oh, no, it cannot be. Where is everything? Where did it all go?”

Empty hangers chaperoned the forsaken, bare shelves. All the colorful gowns…gone, no matching shoes or jewelry illuminated the dark wardrobe. The white vanity sat alone.

She rushed forward and pulled open the drawers—empty. “Mother’s letters are gone. I put them right back here, in this drawer. I need to read the rest of them, find out what happened between her and Captain Adams. I need answers.”

Scalding tears burned her eyes. “Peter, oh, Peter. Why did you desert me and choose Hattie? Who is to guide me?”

A slight rustle startled her. She looked up. “Sarah. How did you know I was here?”

“I’m the only one who knew about this false closet until you found it. We need to talk.” Sarah entered slowly, kneeled beside Ruth, and laid a hand on her back. “You are confused, my dear. I saw you slip in here. I promised myself I wouldn’t interfere again, but you cannot handle all this alone.”

Ruth sat up and wiped the tears away. “Yes, Sarah, I wanted to read the rest of the letters, find out how Mother made the decision to marry Father. My heart is broken. So much has changed in only a week. The little escapade of mine, sneaking out with Ginny…so childish of me. I was angry with Mother. I thought it impossible she would want me to marry a perfect stranger. But now, Sarah, I have lost him. He is going to marry the other woman, and I am desolate. Can you fall in love so quickly, or is it only a girl’s foolishness?” she sobbed.

“Why do you say Peter is going to marry the other woman, Ruth? Did ya hear him say it? Did ya stay and hear him out or run away like a little child?”

“Of course, I ran out. They went outside and talked…forever. When they returned, their arms were entwined, and he said they had an announcement to make. What else was I to think? They are going to marry. He is going to honor the contract to save his mother. He is an honorable man, and I have lost him.”

Sarah took Ruth’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “Come with me, Ruth. I have something to show you.”

She jerked her hand back. “Leave me alone, enough of your mysteries. My mind is made up. I am going to boarding school. We went directly to the telegraph office and bought my train ticket.”

The maid grabbed her hand, again, and pulled harder. “No, Ruthie, you are coming downstairs with me. Ye must see this.” She practically dragged Ruth out of the bedroom and into the hallway.

“Oh, all right. Stop pulling. What is it you want me to see?”

“Just come. All will be clear in a moment, but be quiet.”

They tiptoed down the stairs and stood in front of the parlor.

“Okay, Sarah what am I supposed to see?”

The maid pressed a finger to her lips. “Quiet.” Sarah opened the door a crack and guided her to peek through the slim opening.

Ruth stooped over and tried to look inside.

Mother and Father sat on the settee, snuggled close.

Ruth stood up and whispered, “It is Mother and Father, so what?”

Sarah pushed her back to the door. “Watch.”

Her eye pressed to the opening, Ruth focused again, and saw something she never before had witnessed. Their heads were nestled together, Father’s hand lifted Mother’s chin, and he kissed her, gently. Priscilla Squire blushed like a young bride and rubbed her nose, flirtatiously, with his.

Ruth could not take her eyes from the intimate scene. It was shocking, but pleasant, at the same time. Mother’s face softened, the stern, pursed look disappeared, and a pink color bloomed on her cheeks. Father lifted his hand and pulled the pin out of Mother’s hair. It fell over her shoulders and immediately, the transformation gave a Ruth a glimpse of her mother as a young girl.

She had never seen Mother’s hair down, and all of a sudden, Ruth recognized the girl she saw in the closet. “Sarah, what has happened to my parents?”

They have found one another again, Ruthie. Their love for you forged the path back to the love that bound them, so many years ago. Come, we must go. They don’t need to catch us spying on them.” She pulled Ruth away.

Back in Ruth’s room, Sarah explained, “You see, things are not always as they appear.”

“But why now? I am going away to boarding school. Are they glad to be rid of me?”

“Oh, Ruth, you are a silly girl. Of course, they don’t want to be rid of you. Your mother doubted her decision after years of struggle with your father. You imagined her in the guest room as a girl. She wanted jewels, parties, society, and popularity. Those things did not happen with your father. He was a writer, and being a writer is a lonely profession. Not all the fault lies with him. After you were born, Ms. Squire focused all the attention on you because of loneliness. So, your father retreated farther into his study. There was no room for him, anymore. You were her world and transferred every hope and expectation on you.”

Ruth stood, went into the hallway, and gazed down the stairs. “I am a disappointment. Her dreams were not my dreams. It was a vicious circle, wasn’t it?”

“In a way, dearie. It’s the human condition, after all. I made you aware of this because I do not want you to run off without fighting for what you want. You want Peter, don’t you?”

“I think I want Peter, but with what has happened, maybe I don’t know my own mind. Is it love or attraction?”

A clatter in the street shifted their attention. Sarah reached the window first. “Oh my, it is the sheriff’s car and that awful Mr. Horton. What could they be wantin’ now?

“They cannot be foreclosing, can they? Oh, my goodness, do you think he is here to ask for my hand in marriage again? We must hide, Sarah. I can’t look at him. I certainly don’t want to meet him face to face. Please, Sarah, hide me.” She turned and grabbed Sarah’s arms. “Please.”

“Come with me, quickly,” Sarah hurried out of the bedroom door.

“They ran down the hall and back into her mother’s room.

“Back into the closet?”

Sarah shoved her inside. “It’s a safe hiding place.”

They fought through the drab dresses, turned the corner, and huddled together waiting to hear the dreaded summons to meet Mr. Horton. It never came. An hour passed, and she worried Sarah’s job might be in jeopardy if she didn’t show herself soon. They decided to sneak through the guest room and down the hall to Ruth’s bedroom. They ran to the window to see if Horton’s car was still there.

“Sarah, he’s gone. Mother didn’t call for me. What do you suppose it means?”

“I’m not sure. I better scoot back to the kitchen. If I find out anything, I’ll come tell ya. You stay locked in your room.” Sarah hurried out the door.

Ten minutes later, Mother called to Ruth from the hallway. “Ruthie, dear. Dinner is served in about ten minutes, and your father and I want to dine all together. Please come down.”

Ruth called back. “Certainly, Mother. I’ll be right there.” She went to the window again, just to make sure Eric Horton’s car had not returned. “I don’t want to walk into a trap.” Dressed in a sky blue dinner dress, she joined them in the dining room.

Conversation remained light. The banker’s name never came up, and no one talked about Peter. Ruth, fascinated, watched her parent’s newfound affection. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other. Every time a dish was passed around the table, their hands touched and lingered. Ruth wanted to talk about that night so long ago—Alexander, the dress, but, the mood was sweet and loving, and she didn’t want to break the spell. Maybe I will never know, and Mother may never agree to share the details, but some way, somehow, I will find the truth.

 

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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