The children did not create the problem and should be protected. An Unlikely Arrangement.

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Chapter 14

Morning dawned, a pearl gray, and rain was in the forecast. Robert Squire sighed. “We can’t be bothered by rain. We have an appointment with Mrs. Kirby.”

Ruth’s room remained locked when Mr. Squire tried the knob and no sound came when he tried to convince his daughter to come out.

Sarah told them Ruth did open the door to accept the breakfast tray, but wouldn’t talk. “Best leave her alone for a while. It’s shock, distress. I will see to her.” The maid curtseyed and walked quickly toward the kitchen.

“I am sure she is right, dear. We should leave her alone. It all has to sink in. Let’s meet with Mrs. Kirby, and see if we can find a way out of this mess.” Robert Squire felt empowered this morning. The dilemma plagued him all night, and finally, determined fate would have a hand in the outcome.

“Yes, we’ll go see Mrs. Kirby and explain what happened. It cannot be helped,” Priscilla agreed.

They arrived at the country estate close to nine o’clock. Mrs. Kirby greeted them and ushered them in with an offer of tea. She looked haggard, tired, as if she had not slept.

“Mrs. Kirby…Elizabeth, pardon me for saying this, but you look rather frazzled. I hope it is not on our account. Did you not sleep well?” Mrs. Squire asked.

“Actually, a situation has come to light, and I am at a loss as to how to handle it. I am curious about your urgent visit. Is Ruth all right? You sounded rather upset on the telephone last night.” The cup rattled in her hand, and a stray wisp of hair slipped out of it’s confinement.

Mrs. Squire shifted in her chair. “We have also become aware of an unpleasant state of affairs which is going to affect the engagement of Peter and Ruth. I am afraid we will have to call it off. It’s quite out of our control, and we hope you will find it in your heart to understand. We are all quite beside ourselves with grief over this.”

Elizabeth looked from one to the other. “Did you say call off the engagement?”

“Well…I am afraid…I can explain, of course. We hoped we could keep it private. Of course, if it will help you understand…” Mrs. Squire explained.

Elizabeth sat up straight. “No, no. I mean, I would like to know, certainly, but actually…I, well…my problem will also affect the engagement. Peter has not returned home since last night. His wagon is in the barn and the horses not fed. I am very worried.”

Ruth’s mother reached out a hand and placed it over Elizabeth’s’. “What is wrong? What happened?”

“We had a visitor yesterday, a woman from the old country. She recently lost her parents and has no family left. Twenty-seven years ago, a contract was signed between our two families. This woman and Peter are…well…betrothed. Since birth. The contract was in her pocketbook, and threats issued if we did not honor it. She would take it to the courts. When I told Peter about it, he went wild with anger. He wants Ruth, says they have talked and find each other mutually attractive and compatible. He wants your daughter and no other. I couldn’t get him to even consider meeting this woman. When she came back last night to talk, of course, he wasn’t here. I had a devil of a time getting her to settle down. After a half hour of threats and innuendos, I finally persuaded her to leave. I am beside myself with worry.”

The Squires exchanged glances. “We have not seen Ruthie since last evening. I assumed she was in her room, according to our maid. You do not suppose they might be together?” Mrs. Squire said.

“Does Ruth know about your dilemma? Have you talked to her about it? Would you mind sharing it with me?”

Mrs. Squire looked at Robert.

He nodded his assent.

“Well, you see, we’ve fallen on hard times. A second mortgage on our home is in default. Robert’s articles are not selling as well as before. The banker called us in and gave us a choice. If we give our daughter’s hand in marriage to him, he will wipe the slate clean. We can save our home. At first, I thought it a good arrangement, but now…I don’t know. It would be a step up in society, a nice home in a good district, and be envy of all her friends. Should I make my daughter suffer for my mistakes, my transgressions? Now, you tell me of their mutual love for each other. What am I to make of it? Oh my, how have we gotten ourselves into this mess? We only wanted the best for our children. Do you think they ran off together, Elizabeth?”

“I don’t know. It is not like Peter to neglect his duties or the business. I expect I will begin receiving calls from irate customers when they do not find their morning milk. On top of all the rest, I am afraid I cannot handle much more. What should we do?’

“Let them be, I say,” Robert spoke for the first time.

“Let them be? How, Robert? We will have Eric Horton breathing down our necks with a foreclosure summons, maybe worse—and what of Elizabeth, facing charges by this woman? We cannot just let it be.”

The room was quiet, the clock on the small mantle sounded the hour. No one gave an answer.

Robert broke the silence, “Time to go, dear. We need to face Mr. Horton, tell him what we decided. It is the right thing to do, after all.”

“Yes, you are right. It may be too late anyway, if the children ran off. Of course, Ruth is still only seventeen, but if they go away and wait until her eighteenth birthday, nothing can be done. We may as well begin to look for an apartment in the city. Mrs. Kirby, I do not know how to help you with the problem you have right now. We are always available if you need to talk. I hope this does not affect our friendship, for we think very highly of you and your family.”

Elizabeth rose unsteadily. It was evident she was tired. The warm glow, usually on her cheeks, was nowhere to be found.

Robert thought she looked pale and fragile.

“Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate your concern and your frankness. I think I agree with you, Mr. Squire. Let them be. We must deal with the wreckage ourselves. The children did not create these problems. Please, promise me; if you find them, let me know. Tell Peter, it is all right. I understand, and I love him. I will do the same for you.”

The porch was crowded as the three said their good byes, but their voices stilled at the arrival of a black taxicab from the city.

 

 

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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