She had been the victim of an unfortunate set of circumstances. An Unlikely Arrangement.
July 24, 2013
A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement
Chapter 19 – 2
Ruth’s unease returned at the sight of the simple home. Has he told me the truth? Does he not care for his own mother’s place?
“The school keeps me so busy, and while I look for permanent employment, it is hard to keep up with the demands of the farm. Mother keeps the house spotless, but cannot do the yard work. That is left to me, and I’m not doing such a great job, as you can see.”
Ruth smiled, a little more relieved.
The car came to a stop, and Cal came around to open the auto door. A young golden retriever bounded around the house as she stepped out of the car.
Cal intercepted the exuberant pup, knelt, and scruffed his ears. “Joey, you silly dog. Ms. Squire does not want your muddy paws all over her nice dress. You need to settle down, old boy.”
“He is beautiful, Cal. How old is he?”
“Not quite a year, yet. Still a pup and ill-trained, I fear.”
“Cal! Is this the new young lady? Get that dog away and bring her to the house.” A lovely, plump, white-haired woman called from the porch.
“Coming, Mother.” Cal made a grab at the dog’s collar, but he scampered out of reach.
The dog sniffed the hem of Ruth’s skirt. Cal called him off in a gruff voice, and Joey loped away, barking at the chickens in the yard.
“Come on, Ruth. You need to meet my mother.” He took her arm and led the way to front porch. “Mother, may I present Ruth Squire, the newest addition to Barkley Women’s School.”
Ruth reached out a hand when she arrived at the top step. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. Taylor. I appreciate your hospitality.”
“Glad to do it, Miss Squire. It’s a bit of a tradition around here. Please come in and shed your coat.” The older woman stood aside and allowed her guest to enter first.
Once inside, there was a shuffle of coats, and Mrs. Taylor led Ruth through the house. On a long, wooden dining table, a full course meal beckoned—ham, mashed potatoes, a huge vegetable salad, rolls, and corn on the cob.
Ruth stopped in the doorway. “Oh, Mrs. Taylor, this is too much. I surely did not expect such an elaborate spread.”
“It’s nothing, child. This is a working farm, nothing more than ordinary fare. Please sit down.”
Cal pulled out the heavy, oak chair for Ruth, moved to assist his mother, and ended up at the head of the table. The white, lace tablecloth looked a little fancy for a meal at noon, but it was lovely. Cal was right. The house was spotless and not overcrowded with knick-knacks. There was the basic, wooden furniture with a few pots of greenery placed here and there for warmth. The wooden floors were clean and shiny. This was a practical, well-organized woman.
“Now, Ruth, tell us a bit about yourself. You are from Detroit, we know already. What brings you here to our school?” the older woman began.
Ruth glanced from Cal back to his mother. “There is not much to tell, Mrs. Taylor. I struggled to stay in the girl’s high school in Detroit, but a set of unfortunate circumstances led me here. I am a good student hoping for a fresh start. My parents and I need some time apart, I’m afraid. I suppose I was a bit troublesome to them. I am only a semester from graduation. They insist I graduate, unlike so many girls of the city, nowadays. After school, I hope to return home and to a normal life at the end of the term. If they want me back.”
Cal’s mother reached for a ceramic teapot and poured a most aromatic cocoa.
“Mrs. Taylor, this smells delicious. What is in it? I cannot wait to taste it.”
“Be careful Ruth, it’s hot. Don’t burn your tongue,” Mrs. Taylor cautioned. “We would not want your first day at our school to be spent in the infirmary.”
Ruth picked up the cup, held it to her lips, and blew. “What do you mean, Mrs. Taylor? You keep saying our school. Do you work there also? Like Cal?”
Mrs. Taylor chuckled. “Well yes, I guess you could say I work there. I’m the head mistress.”
Ruth’s almost dropped the cup. “The head mistress? My goodness, Cal why didn’t you tell me? I’m so embarrassed.”
“Don’t fret, my dear. I suppose Cal had you afraid you were being kidnapped, also. I scold him about his antics, but to no avail. I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you. This is my tradition, to welcome the girls alone in my home. I like to get a good feel of each one, let them meet me in my home setting. It makes the transition easier for them. How is the chocolate, dear?”
Ruth sipped the hot liquid. “It is heavenly, Mrs. Taylor. I must know your secret.”
“I’m afraid I never give out my secret. All the girls ask for it. Only upon graduation will I reveal it, and only then to the girl with the highest scores,” she passed the potatoes while Cal laid a generous portion of ham on her plate.
“Now let’s eat. After lunch, Cal will take you to the dormitory and help you get your bags up the stairs. A hall mother will give you a set of instructions and settle you into the school’s schedule and routine. I hope you enjoy it here, Ruth. It is a good school, and our girls come from a variety of backgrounds. Those who take advantage of what we offer usually return to their homes to begin the lives they aspired to while here. I hope it holds true for you, too.”
The rest of the meal was full of small talk and laughter, but Ruth remembered another meal when the mention of a secret ingredient came up in conversation. The thought of the dinner Mrs. Kirby prepared for her and Ginny plagued her mind. She too, refused to give her the secret ingredient and explained only the woman Peter married would have it. Hattie Morgenstern will have it now, she guessed. Ruth would never prepare Peter’s favorite meal. She shook herself and realized Mrs. Taylor had asked her a question.
“Brothers and sisters? Oh no, I am an only child. It is probably a good thing. I have been a handful for my parents.” She attempted a laugh.
A silence fell, and all three continued with their meal—forks and knives scraping the china plates, the only noise in the room.
Ruth looked at her hostess. “Do you teach cooking in this school, Mrs. Taylor?”
“Why yes, Ruth, we do. Have you an interest in cooking? Your mother didn’t teach you how?”
“No, we had a maid. Her name is Sarah. She taught me a few things, but it dawned on me I know nothing about preparing a meal. I would like to learn. Is it too late to enter the class?”
“Not at all, my dear. We will arrange it for you. If you are finished, Cal will take you on to the school. I will meet with you tomorrow, and we will discuss your schedule. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ruth. I hope your experience with our school will be a good one.”
They shook hands, Ruth thanked her for the meal, and Cal escorted her to the car. Mrs. Taylor stood on the porch and waved as they drove away.
On the way to the school, Cal was silent. As they neared the town, he finally spoke. “I guess you are mad at me for my little game.”
“I was at first. It was a mean trick. However, I forgive you. Your mother is a lovely person, and it was good to meet her that way, instead of an old stuffy office.”
Cal chuckled. “Works every time.”
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
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