They locked her in her room to keep her from leaving. An Unlikely Arrangement. Chapter 2 – 2

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Chapter 2 – 2

From Ruth’s vantage point, he towered over her. She rose, determined not to look him in the eye, and managed a curt nod.

Both parents escorted him out of the room.

The front door closed, and she waited, fists clenched by her side, jaw set.

I’ll have MY say now.

Minutes passed; the grandfather clock in the corner ticked louder, still Mother did not return.

“She’s not coming. Coward.” She swept the skirt of her gown high and stomped up the stairs, back to her room.

Once inside, she collapsed on the bed. The willow green floral comforter muffled the sobs. “How could one little escapade end like this? Can they force me to marry this man? How long have they known him and where does he come from? I know all my parents friends, and I have never seen him before.”

****

Priscilla Squire knew Ruth would wait in the parlor to confront her and decided not to play into her hand. The kitchen was empty, the cook already gone for the day. The evening meal’s aroma of roast beef mixed with the robust fragrance of coffee lingered in the air. She opened the drawer of the polished light oak buffet, drew out her personal stationery, settled herself at the kitchen table, and composed a note to her errant daughter. She rang the velvet bell rope in the corner to summon Sarah.

The maid appeared immediately.

“Take this to Ruth and be quick about it. I need you to help me pack,” she ordered. “And Sarah…”

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Lock her door as you leave. Bring me the key.”

The room dimmed to dark, but Priscilla sat down at the table and lowered her face into her hands. “I am doing the right thing. I know I am. It is what I must do. Robert does not understand our dire predicament. His writing doesn’t sell any more, and he is out of touch, such a stubborn man. Once more, I am left to make the impossible decision.” She sighed, straightened her voluminous skirts, and exited the kitchen.

At Ruth’s bedroom door, she stopped to listen. The loud sobs tore at her heart, but she forced herself to ignore them and continue down the hall to her own room.

Sarah already stood at the closet door, one hand poised above the clear glass knob.

Priscilla hurried to block the door. “I will get that, Sarah. You go to Mr. Squire’s room and get his clothes ready.”

“But the luggage is cumbersome, madam.”

“Do as I say Sarah. I said I would handle it.”

Sarah curtsied, held out the key to Ruth’s room, and left.

A quick turn of her wrist locked the closet door. She slipped the key ring back in her pocket and lowered herself onto the blue velvet vanity bench. Practiced fingers removed the pins from her long, steel-gray hair, and it fell to her shoulders.

She stared into the Queene Anne mirror. “I almost made the wrong choice when I was a girl. I will not let the same happen to Ruth.

****

After a time, the tears subsided, and she lay silent on the rumpled bed, her room a safe haven. Light from the gas street lamp filtered through the creamy lace curtains and gave the soft rose and willow green décor a cheery ambience, which did not match her mood.

She sat up, pulled both knees to her chin and hugged them close, “They cannot be serious. Marriage—for a few minor infractions of the rules? Mother is stern, but not cruel. It’s a test. That has to be it. They want to show me what they could do if I don’t straighten up. Okay, I have learned my lesson. I’ll show them.”

A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Miss Ruthie, may I come in?”

She opened the door.

Sarah stood in the hall. “Your mother left you a note.”

“Am I off the hook? Did they change their minds?”

Sarah shook her head, adjusted her white cap, and left her to read it alone.

Dear daughter, we know this is a great shock to you, but trust you will understand we only serve your best interests. We have arranged a trip by train to New York where we will assemble your wedding trousseau. Mrs. Kirby will call on you, with Peter, on the morrow. Sarah will attend in our absence. Wear the green again. Mr. Kirby barely saw it, and his mother will love you in it. Present yourself well and we will see you in a few days.

Mother and Father.

Her hand crumpled the note, and she hurled it across the room. In the silence, she heard voices outside in the alley. She pulled back the curtain, surprised to see Peter standing beside the milk wagon, talking to Father. A moment later, he waved to him and climbed to his perch atop the truck.

I must admit he is a fine figure of a man.

Chills rippled through her body, and she tried to shake off the odd sensation in her stomach. “That is the point. He’s a man! I’m a girl, not a woman. I have never had a proper boyfriend, and I am to marry a milkman? I must get out of here.”

She ran to the door and tried the knob.

Locked again. Sarah must have turned the key when she left.

Panic crept up her spine, and she whirled around. The oval mirror atop the dressing table reflected disheveled black hair, alabaster skin, pale as the moon, and dark eyes, round and frightened.

 

She looked to the window, again, as a means of escape. Her fingers dug into the sash. It would not budge, no matter how hard she pushed. Shiny, new penny nails forced deep in the wood sealed her prison. Tears filled her eyes.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

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