She foolishly let a stranger pick her up. Was he kidnapping her? An Unlikely Arrangement.
July 22, 2013
A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement
Ruth was glad they drove directly from Peter’s house to the ticket office. She barely listened at the discussion of how they must get her out of town, away from the scandal. Boarding school became the focus now—salvage what they could of Ruth’s reputation. Mother made it clear Ruth would not marry Eric Horton, either. She remained silent as her mother talked to the head mistress of the school. Nothing mattered, anymore.
The train rocked back and forth, as it chugged down the track, and lulled Ruth into a fitful sleep. The night before the departure for school, sleep eluded her. Dreams of Peter, and fear of a new life, had her staring at the ceiling. She felt betrayed and lost. The noisy train’s brakes hissed steam, brought the iron horse to a stop, and jerked her awake. Someone was to meet and escort her to the school. Maybe there will be a sign from the designee, something for me to recognize. A tremor of fear shivered down her spine.
The train emptied slowly, and Ruth elected to hang back, scan the crowd, and have the first look at the person who was to give her a ride. At last, all the other passengers were off, and she was the last person in the car. Reluctant to exit the security of the train’s shelter, she finally shook off the trepidation, squared her shoulders, and moved to the exit. People walked to-and-fro, greeting friends and family, and retrieving their baggage. A tentative step down the stairs, eyes cast downward so not to trip over her own feet, she landed on the platform. Only at the bottom did she dare look up, afraid to see what manner of person came to collect her. Horror stories of boarding school filled her mind. The dull uniforms, the jailor-type head mistresses, and the strict rules and punishments for infractions of those rules. Freedom? All of a sudden, she was not too sure of the meaning of the word. Maybe she rushed into a more restricted atmosphere. What did it matter now? All was lost. The only good thing—she did not have to marry the awful Eric Horton.
How she argued to get Ginny to go to the school, too. She missed her friend. There would only be strangers here, and an ally would be nice to have. Ginny refused. She chose to stay in Detroit, although Ruth knew it was more about a certain boy. Ginny always had an eye for George Pollard. Her best friend remained in the city, and Ruth set out on a new adventure, solo.
Both hands clutched the brown leather purse in front of her, but she braved the fear long enough to raise her head, and scan the crowd. No one. The crowd thinned, and Ruth decided the school forgot to send anyone. A long wooden bench sat in front of the ticket office. She walked over and sat down. No choice left but to wait.
The crowd disbursed as everyone found their way to family and friends until Ruth was completely alone. Should she ask the ticket master where the school was and walk? She stood and went to the counter. “Yes, miss? The next train will not be along for another hour.”
“No, I was supposed to meet someone here. I mean, they were to pick me up. I am going to the boarding school, and well, no one is here. Can you tell me the way to the school?” A tap on her shoulder made her jump. “Are you Ruth Squire?”
She turned to see a tall, dark haired man. “Oh yes, I am. Are you from the school?”
“Yes, I’m Taylor. Cal Taylor. The head mistress sent me. Where are your bags?”
She pointed behind him. “Over there, on the platform. They were too heavy for me to lift. I am Ruth by the way.”
“I know you are, Ms. Squire, you said so before,” he replied.
She felt the blood rush to her face. “Oh, I am sorry. It’s all the travel, I guess.”
The handsome man turned abruptly to retrieve the bags, and she took a moment to survey the back of Cal Taylor. He sported a long, black wool overcoat, and a black, derby hat sat a bit crooked on his head. He walked with purpose, maybe a little impatient. He hoisted a bag in each hand and nodded at Ruth. “Let’s go. My auto is over there.”
She followed—a little guilty about her lack of assistance.
Once settled in the car, he entered the highway without a word.
Ruth stole a glance. He acted distracted, like an unwilling participant in this rendezvous. “I’m sorry I took you away from your duties, Mr. Taylor. I know this is quite unusual to start in the middle of the term,” Ruth spoke softly.
“No problem, miss. This is part of my duties at the school. Don’t let it bother you.” he cut his eyes in her direction.
She saw a fleeting smile and sparkly green eyes that crinkled at the corners. Was he amused? Did he think her a silly inexperienced country girl? It was hard to read him. Her cheeks warmed, and she wondered if it would be best served to cease further conversation.
Before she could think of anymore to say, he spoke, “What brings you here, Miss Squire, trouble at home, or failing grades at your high school? Too many girls are dropping out of school. It’s a shame, really.”
Startled, she looked directly at him. “I am a perfectly good student, Mr. Taylor. It surely had nothing to do with my grades.” Reluctant to explain further, she stared straight ahead, and remained quiet.
They drove in silence for a time, and Ruth watched the scenery—the rain soaked trees and winter gray houses. Instead of heading for the town, he took a road away from the populated area. “The school is in the country, Mr. Taylor?” She dared a look at him.
“No, the school is closer to the city. I am taking you to my house.” He kept his eyes on the road.
Fear engulfed her. Is he kidnapping me? Is he really from the school? Did I let a perfect stranger pick me up? What should I do? “Please, Mr. Taylor, stop the car and let me out. I will walk. My parents will worry if they do not get a phone call to let them know I arrived safely.” Her voice quavered.
Cal Taylor looked at her and smiled. “I’m sorry, Miss Ruth, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I simply thought you might like a nice home cooked meal and a cup of Mother’s famous hot chocolate before you entered the cold domain of the boarding school. She always feeds the girls a meal before their first encounter with the head mistress. I promise; I am not a kidnapper.”
Ruth examined his face, saw the easy smile, and the twinkle in his eyes. Her relief was audible as she blew out a long breath. “I apologize, Mr. Taylor. I didn’t know. This is my first experience with boarding school. Please forgive me.”
He reached over and patted her hand. “It is I who should apologize. I do this all the time, to all the new girls. Mother gets very angry with me, but for the most part, my job is very serious, and it lends a little of the unconventional to the day. Please forgive me. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She cut another quick look at him. What could his job be at the school? It’s a school for girls. I didn’t think about men being on the campus. He looks a little older than I. “What is it you do at the school, Mr. Taylor?” she ventured.
“Please, call me Cal. I actually graduated from the men’s school a few blocks from the women’s. I volunteer at Barkley’s. I’m the official driver and all around jack-of-all-trades. Whenever the women require something only a man can do, they call me,” he said.
“I see. I shall probably see you around the school, then.”
They arrived at a modest farmhouse. It needed a little paint, and the yard looked neglected. Weeds overtook the flowers, chickens wandered around, pecking, here and there, at the ground.
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.