What would she find in her mother’s old love letters? An Unlikely Arrangement. Chapter 4 – 2

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Chapter 4 – 2

Ruth’s hands trembled. The parchment fell to the floor. “Mother was in love with a Captain Adams? How can this be possible? Father …”

She scooped up the letter and read it again. “What will I find in the other ones? Should I even read them? This is all too much. First, a strange lady in the guest room, and now I find Mother’s old love letters? Surely, it can’t be true. I must get out of here.”

She slammed the letters back in the drawer and navigated through the closet maze, caressing the party dresses one last time. “I need to find out who the strange woman is, and I need to ask Sarah about Mother.”

Ruth hurried out of her mother’s room, careful to leave no evidence of her clandestine trespass.  She hesitated at the guest room door, walked by, turned, and stood before the door once again. The knob didn’t give, and she dropped her hand at the sound of steps on the stairs. Hands on her hips, Ruth stomped to the head of the stairs and issued her ultimatum. “Okay, enough of this cloak and dagger business. Who is the woman in the guest room and why is she here?”

An armful of laundry muffled Sarah’s startled cry. “My and ya did frighten me, Miss Ruthie. What woman? What are you talkin’ about? There’s no one in the guest room.”

Ruth could see Sarah’s puzzled look.

“Come on. I’ll show you.” She pointed to the guest room door. “Go ahead, open it.”

Sarah set down her basket and reached for the door. “Okay, I opened it. Now will you be tellin’ me what I am supposed to be seein’?”

Ruth brushed past the housemaid. The room stood in perfect order. No clothes on the bed, no messy dressing table, and no young woman. The blue ruffles on the bedspread hung perfectly in place. No hairbrush, no perfumes, no hair ribbons, nothing to indicate anyone was there. “Sarah, I swear. There was a woman in here just a moment ago. At least, I think so. There were clothes strewn over the bed, and the dressing table was cluttered with hairbrushes, ribbons, and such.”

She went to the closet and flung open the door to reveal the truth. Nothing—except empty hangers and a few old boxes.

“There were dresses, shoes, and jewelry. Where did it all go? I waited too long. You got rid of it. How did you know I was in there, Sarah? It must be you. You knew I was in there didn’t you?”

A long, black cloak hung at the end of the closet. Ruth rushed forward and pushed aside the cloak to reveal the corner turn. Her heart beat faster as she followed it. Her mother’s drab dresses and shoes hung as they had a moment ago.

“No! I know what I saw, those dresses were there.” She ran out of the closet, into the hallway, and tore into the top-heavy laundry basket.

“You are overwrought, Ruthie.” Sarah called to her. “What your parents sprung on ya messed up your head. Come out of there. I have the very thing to soothe you.” Sarah put an arm around Ruth’s shoulder, led her downstairs, and settled her at the kitchen table.

The aromatic herbal tea calmed Ruth’s nerves, and she listened while Sarah went on about Ginny’s excitement at the invitation Peter’s mother extended.

“Does she think I forgive her for her running out on me? I hope you told her I will get my revenge.”

“You know she could have done nothin’ else, Ruthie. Her parents are sometimes harsher than yours.”

“I know. I hoped for a little support from my best friend, I guess.”

“You can talk to her later, Ruth. Finish your tea, have your soup, and get some rest. You have a big day tomorrow.”

She let Sarah help her upstairs and arrange a warm comforter over her weary body. She fell asleep instantly, exhausted. An hour later, the front door slammed, and she awoke, startled. The comforter fell to the floor as she scampered from the bed to the window.

What is Father’s banker, Mr. Horton doing here this time of night?

She stomped toward the door and found it locked. “Sarah. Sarah!” Balled fists pounded on the solid oak barrier. “You come here right now. I mean it. I will make your life miserable if you don’t let me out.” She beat harder. “I will scream all night if I have to. You better open the door.”

The key turned in the lock, and the door opened. Ruth stopped her screams, stood back, and rubbed her sore fists. “Well, it’s about time. How dare you lock me in again. Why was Mr. Horton here, what did he want?” she demanded.

The petite blonde maid’s pretty face crumpled.

Ruth observed the wrinkled, white uniform, her cuffs soiled, and the smell of bleach. A round, pillbox cap sat askew on her head.

“Miss Ruth, I’m not knowin’ what he wanted. He asked to see your parents. I told him when they would be back, and he left. Please Miss Ruth; I’m not supposed to open your door until mornin’. I don’t want to get fired. You were so upset. I didn’t want you wanderin’ around the house.”

Ruth sat down on the bed, shoulders slumped. “Sarah, I won’t get you in trouble. You are my only friend in this house. Will you please just talk to me…like we use to when I was small? I need you. My brain is going to explode. Can you be my friend tonight and not an employee?”

A tiny smile tweaked the corners of Sarah’s mouth. “We did have some good times, didn’t we Ruthie? It has been a lifetime since we laughed together, shared secrets. I swear there is a dark cloud hangin’ over this house. I cannot remember the last time the whole family showed true happiness.” Sarah put her hand on her hip. “Would you like to come down to the kitchen and share a pot of warm cocoa with me? Promise you won’t tell?”

Ruth jumped off the bed and hugged Sarah tight. “Oh, you are the best. I knew I could count on you.”

They giggled together, arms entwined, and clattered down the stairs.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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