Magnolia Jane Pierce left the veranda and walked into the huge house on East Oglethorpe Avenue.
She’d been working on her needlepoint and enjoying the delicious smells of breakfast being prepared in the house’s separate kitchen. She wrinkled her nose appreciatively as she left the porch.
Her brother had sent for her to come to the study at the back of the first floor. The room had, until recently, belonged to their father. Ashley now used it as his own.
What could he want with me? To call me into the study and not discuss whatever it is over our breakfast means that it’s private. It means no one else is to know it. No one at all.
Not that there were many that would know it. Karen, the housemaid still worked at the house as well as Jim, her husband, who took care of the horses, the stable, and the grounds. They were very trusted members of the household who’d been in the employ of the Pierce family since just after the war. If her brother didn’t want them to hear what he was about to tell her, she didn’t know if she wanted to hear it.
Her head ached with the effort to keep her thoughts clear.
She knocked on the heavy wood of the study door and heard her brother’s muffled ‘come in’. She opened the door and entered. Ashley sat back from the work he’d been doing.
“Ah, Magnolia. Thank you for seeing me here.”
“Yes, of course.” She walked forward and took a seat across from where he sat at his secretary.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve asked you here.”
Her eyebrows rose. “It crossed my mind. I mean we’ve, uh you’ve, never minded if Karen or Jim heard anything we had to say to each other before. I can’t imagine what you could have to say to me without their presence. They’re completely confidential. I don’t understand why you’re excluding them.” I’m talking too much. Too fast. Why doesn’t he just tell me what this is about?
“Magnolia! I’m not excluding Karen and Jim. But this is private … in a different way than family private. It’s uh, very, very private. It’s in your best interest that I asked you to speak with me here, alone. You might not wish anyone else to know of what we’re about to speak.”
“I might … My best interest? What is that supposed to mean? What is this about? I demand to know. This instant. You’re not making sense.”
Ashley sighed. “I don’t mean to be furtive. I have something to discuss with you that you might not want others to hear. Not even our beloved servants. At least not at the moment. It’s something of a delicate topic of conversation.”
“Well, you might as well stop beating around the bush and tell me what it is, then. I can’t imagine what it could possibly be that Karen and Jim can’t hear it, but fine. Go ahead.”
Ashley cleared his throat and nodded. “Right.”
“Yes?” Magnolia didn’t know whether to laugh or give in to her usual impatience in times like these.
Times when her brother didn’t know how to phrase his thoughts.
He sat back in his chair and played with a pen that lay on top of a pile of papers.
“I’ve been offered an opportunity to open a law practice up in Charleston.”
“Ashley! That’s wonderful! I suppose we’ll be selling the house then. I mean most of the furniture has been sold. That way the rest of Papa’s debts can be paid off. Oh, I see why you excluded Karen and Jim. You want to surprise them. And we can finally pay them what we owe them from the last six months.
Everything is finally coming together. Oh! How exciting. I love Charleston!”
“Um, that’s what I want to talk to you about.”
“Of course. I think I understand completely. Do you want to put the house up for sale immediately or should we visit Charleston to see where we might live?”
“I thought I would wait until I got there. There’s no time and certainly no money for a visit. I have no credit in Charleston. And I have no wish to run up any more personal debt with our own creditors. In fact, I aim to pay them off before leaving town. ”
“But that can run into extra expenses down the line. What if you can’t find a place and you end up in a hotel?”
“The sale of this house will leave enough after paying the debts. I’ve done all the calculations. It won’t be much, but of course, you will receive half of the money left after all our expenses and the rest of Papa’s debts have been taken care of.”
It occurred to Magnolia that her brother was speaking of the move as if he’d be going to South Carolina by himself. Singularly. It couldn’t be. She wondered why she was being so silly and quickly put the thought out of her mind.
“That’s very generous, Ashley. I don’t know what to say. Since Papa left the house to you exclusively it’s very, very generous of you to think of me in that way.”
“Ah, that brings me to another point. There’s something else I, er, want to discuss with you.”
“Yes?” What can he be thinking of? I can’t imagine anything else that we need to speak of.
He sighed. “There’s no easy way for me to say this. I’ve given it much thought, and I assure you I cannot think of an option.”
Not knowing what he could be talking about, she waited for him to continue.
“I wish that things would have turned out differently, but I cannot find any other way to approach the current situation.”
“The current situation? Well, alright. What, what do you have in mind?” She took a slow, deep breath and exhaled slowly. Her hand gripped the carved rosewood on the armrest of the sofa.
“There’s no easy way to say this. Please hear me out before you respond. Will you do that? Will you give me your word?”
Her heart was thudding. What does he mean to tell me? She nodded.
“Magnolia. I, I cannot take you with me. To Charleston, I mean. I’m sorry, it’s just not possible. There isn’t enough money.”
It felt like a ball crashed into the pit of her stomach. “What do you mean you can’t take me? What will I do? Where will I go? You’re going to just leave me here?”
“That’s the point. I won’t have the money to rent a large enough house for the two of us to stay in. It’s impossible. I’ll most likely need to stay in a boarding house for gentlemen. We would be unable to stay together at a house for unmarried women. I won’t be able to afford two residences.”
“But we can use my half of the money from selling our house.” A small feeling of panic began to rise within her. She searched her mind for an answer to the dilemma that was presenting itself. If Ashley were to leave, and she had to stay in Savannah, what would become of her?
“It won’t be enough to meet our costs. Think! You’ll need to eat. I’ll be working, and there will be a modest income. But it will be even less than what we’ve been subsisting on. You’ll need the money from the sale.
I’ll barely be making enough, at first, to support myself much less another.”
“But we’ve managed so far.”
“Magnolia. Please don’t be like that. You must know how bad it’s gotten. Every day I sell another one of Mama’s family heirlooms. There isn’t much left besides the house itself. Look around you? Besides this desk and chair and the sofa you sit on, there is no other furniture in the room. The dining room table and chairs were sold just this morning.”
“Well, there you go. That’s got to be a good amount of money! That table and chairs go back to the 1700s! You must have made a pretty penny. That is some fine work, brother.”
“I’m sorry, but I got half of what they’re worth. People know you and I are without. Some are taking advantage of my desperation to pay as little as possible for our mother’s furniture and belongings because they know we need the money. I got only one offer for the set. I had to take it. The man would not negotiate.”
“If things are that bad, then what do you expect will become of me? You’re going to just leave me here in Savannah. Homeless. Destitute. I can’t bear it.” Her voice rose to a high pitch, the more agitated she became.
“Am I to become a governess or worse? Living in a grand home that belongs to the family I’m employed by? And what’s to become of Karen and Jim? Surely you’re not thinking of putting them out. Not after how loyal they’ve been. They’ve been working without pay, Ashley.”
“No! I am not about to put Karen and Jim out. They will go with you. I would never leave you alone and unprovided for! How could you even think such an awful thought about me? You’re my baby sister, Magnolia. You’ll never have to go to work. Don’t worry about that. You’re a lady. It wouldn’t be fitting.
Besides, you’re my sister. How could you possibly think I wouldn’t take care of you?”
“Then how will you provide for me if money is so tight? And where am I to go that Karen and Jim may accompany me? Oh, Ashley. Please take us all to Charleston. I’ll get a job. I’ll be a governess if it means you won’t leave me alone. Karen will have no trouble finding work. And Jim can fix just about anything. Of course, there will be those who can use his services.”
“It wouldn’t be fitting, dear little sister. We would all be arriving with empty pockets. But I do have an idea that could help all of us.”
“What idea could you have that’s better than what I just suggested? I declare I can’t for the life of me imagine what your thinking could be.”
“We need to find a husband for you, Magnolia.”
She sat up straighter, her eyes wide. “A husband? What are you talking about? A husband? What a silly notion.”
“Look, you’re 19. It’s a perfect age to get married.”
“But I’m not in love with anyone. I’m not even being courted by anyone.”
“That’s the beauty of marriage. You don’t have to be in love.”
“But I want to be! Ashley! How can you talk like this? What do you have in mind? Will you marry me off to anyone?”
“That’s not going to happen. We have time to enter into negotiations. We can make a mutually beneficial arrangement that you will be in complete agreement with.”
“Mutually beneficial? Do you actually believe I’ll be in complete agreement with the arrangement? You cannot be serious. You mean it will be mutually beneficial for you and whoever it is you decide I’ll marry, don’t you?”
“No, that’s not true! That’s not what I mean at all. Magnolia, I want you to be happy. I want you to have everything in life that you desire. But we are in dire straits here. I have to leave. My practice hasn’t made any real profit since Papa died. You know we’ve been living hand to mouth. When we find you a well off partner to marry, I know that I, at least, will rest easier knowing that you are provided for.”
“So it’s to be a business arrangement?”
“Not specifically? What do you mean by that? You want to, to just get rid of me by marrying me off to the highest bidder? You’re auctioning me off so you can go to Charleston with more money. If I have a husband you can leave and take all the money from the sale of the house. I see how it is …”
She couldn’t stop herself. The more she spoke, the more upset she got, and the more her thoughts spun around and tangled themselves up in her brain.
“I can’t believe you’d turn your back on me like this, Ashley, I can’t believe it.” Tears filled her eyes rapidly turning to sobs.
“Magnolia.” Ashley stood up quickly and went to the sofa. He sat next to her and took her in his arms.
“I’m sorry, dear sister. I’m so sorry. But I have no other idea of how to save us.” He stroked her hair and fished in his jacket pocket for a handkerchief.
“I know you don’t mean to hurt me, Ashley.” She sniffed and held onto him tightly. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you too.”
“You won’t lose me. Charleston is less than a day’s journey from here. Once you’re all settled into married life, you can come on an extended visit. Would you like that?”
She sniffed again. “Y … yes.”
“There’s my girl. Now,” he sat back, “we’ll start going over all the young gentlemen we know.”
“Oh, do we have to? I don’t have an interest in any of my friends. I mean not that kind of interest.”
“That’s the point, Magnolia. You’ll want to marry someone you’ll get on with and like to spend time with.
Sometimes love comes later. Our parents had an arranged marriage, you know that. Their parents put them together. And everything worked out fine.”
“Mama and Papa were in an arranged marriage? I didn’t know that. And quite frankly, I don’t believe it.
Don’t fib to me to get me to go along with your plan.”
“What I say is true. You know how they loved one another. They grew to love each other. As you’ll grow to love your husband. That is if we spend the proper time finding someone acceptable.”
“You mean acceptable to you.”
“I need to know that you’ll be taken care of in the ways you’re accustomed to.”
“I need to know that my husband will love me as I love him.”
“There’s simply not enough time to prioritize that, Magnolia. These are extenuating circumstances. I’m asking you to please try and see my point. If, if you are truly unhappy after one year, then we can talk about a … divorce.”
“Now you would have me be a divorced woman? As if it’s not bad enough with the way folks talk and gossip about us now. Who will want to marry me when everyone in Savannah knows we’re poor?”
“Magnolia, please! I’m trying to do what’s best for both of us. I cannot work here and make any money.
We’re broke. I cannot support both of us. At least not right now.
“Now there are a few very rich young men in town who have shown an interest in you. A significant interest, poor or no. Three young men in particular. All you need to do is choose from among them. I’m sure, let me rephrase that … I know each one of them would jump at the chance. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet. I wanted you to know my plans. And I give you my word if you’re terribly unhappy after one year of marriage, then I will bring you up to Charleston.”
“It looks as if I have no other choice.”
“Neither one of us has another choice. This is about our very survival.”
She knew that her brother would always put her welfare above his own. She’d just been so surprised by the development of the current events. It wasn’t fair. They’d lost their parents within a three-year time span, their father just six months earlier. Now she was expected to marry someone she barely knew. Maybe even a complete stranger. It didn’t seem real.
All Magnolia had ever wanted was to have a loving marriage as her parents had had. But now Ashley said that their union had been arranged by their parents. It didn’t seem possible. But she knew Ashley would never lie to her. She did trust him implicitly despite her recalcitrance to happily agree with his plan.
She brought the hankie to her nose. She had no choice; it was true. But she could accept the facts happily or not. And while she wasn’t happy about any of it, she made a promise to herself to make the best of things.
She had to.
Red Wilson was in Savannah to collect on his inheritance. He’d just turned 30, the age required of him to claim what his parents had left him. They’d both died in the yellow fever outbreak of three years earlier.
He, himself, had been working out in the Colorado Territory and hadn’t seen his parents for nearly ten years before they were taken home. He’d left home on a very sour note after a fight with his father on the day of his 18th birthday.
Henry Pierce had sent a letter to him about the event of his parents’ deaths, but because Red had moved around so much, from job to job and ranch to ranch, it had taken the letter almost three years to find him.
Because he had the desire to buy some land and start his own ranching operation, the time was right for him to go back to Savannah and collect what was his. He’d learned much out west and had decided to make his permanent home there. Now he would have the money to do so. He hoped never to see Savannah again after all was done.
He walked up the steps at the front of the office building and went inside. A secretary sat at the desk in the small, combined office and waiting room. There was practically nothing on the man’s desk, and Red wondered if that was a good sign in a lawyer’s office.
“Hello, I’m here to see Mr. Pierce’s partner.” Red stood at the desk and the secretary looked up.”
“His, uh, partner?” The man looked momentarily confused. “Do you have a meeting scheduled?”
“I’m sorry, no. I’m in town for a couple of days only.”
“Very well. I’ll let him know you’re here. Your name, sir.”
“Wilson. Red Wilson.”
“Ah, Mr. Wilson. Very good.” The secretary stood and walked down a very narrow corridor to a door at the back. Red watched him go behind the door, and then the man reappeared.
“He will see you now, sir.”
“Uh, thank you.”
Red swallowed hard and went back toward the office. Henry Pierce had been his parents’ lawyer, but the word in town had come to him that very morning that Henry had succumbed to a heart attack a mere six months earlier. Today he would be meeting with Henry’s law partner, he reckoned. He hoped the man had all the facts he needed. It would go far in speeding up the process.
He strode through the door and stopped short.
“Ashley?” He broke out into a huge grin.
“Red! I didn’t put two and two together when my secretary told me a man by the name of Wilson was here.
He said, Mr. Wilson. But it all comes together now. How are you? And what brings you here of all places?” Ashley stood up and went to his old friend.
Red grasped Ashley’s proffered hand. “Ashley, I’m so sorry. I only just learned of your father’s death.”
“Come. Sit down.” Ashley led him to the chairs by the fireplace. “It was sudden. But why do I have the pleasure of seeing you here today? I think the last letter I had from you was five years ago!”
“Most likely. I’ve moved around so much. In fact, I recently learned about my parents’ demise. I noticed that my mother hadn’t written and attributed it to my moving all the time. I thought there’d come a day when a bunch of letters from the past ten years would fall into my lap I reckon.”
“Your parents died in the same outbreak of yellow fever as my mother. It was a difficult time. My father wrote you a number of letters.”
“I know. The letter I finally received was dated one year ago. Your father mentioned in it that he’d written before.”
“So you’re here, no doubt, to collect your inheritance.”
“That would be why. It’s here in this letter that I needed to come back. You know I bear no great love for Savannah. I’ll be heading back out west as soon as possible. As soon as I’ve collected my money and opened a bank account here so I need not travel with it.”
“Alright. Give me a minute, will you? Help yourself to bourbon if you’d like.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Red poured himself a drink while Ashley went into a box of files that rested on the floor. “I brought my father’s files here when I opened my practice. Things have been very slow. My father was indulging in, shall I say, questionable business practices?
“However, he and your father grew up together. I know that everything regarding your father’s estate is in order. Papa had become desperate I think toward the end. That’s why he was messing up. I like to think that he was so distracted that he didn’t realize what he was doing. He didn’t realize his work was not up to par and that he was overcharging his clients.”
“I’m not worried about it. I already heard some of the gossips. I went to the old office. Naturally, when I found it boarded up, I asked where Mr. Pierce had moved to. Folks relish a sordid story. I’m sorry you’ve had to be surrounded by it. You and your sister.”
At the mention of Magnolia, Red thought he saw a distinct change come over Ashley’s face. He couldn’t quite place it, but there was a definite change to the visage of his friend.
“Very well, then. I reckon you want to hear what’s in here.”
“Yes. I might as well.”
Ashley unsealed the will of John Wilson and began to read.
Five minutes later, Red stood and took a turn about the room. The words in the will had caused him to become immediately concerned. He took the bourbon bottle and poured himself another.
“Are you sure there’s no way around that, Ashley?”
“The last part. The part that says I have to be married in order to collect the money. Is there some way I can pay a penalty fee or something? I have no interest in marriage. If I did, I daresay I’d be hitched up by now.”
“You have an interest in getting your inheritance, don’t you?”
“Of course. My future hinges on it. I mean to buy land. I’m going to be a rancher. On my own ranch. I don’t have a mind to work for other people anymore. I want to be my own man.”
“That’s quite the plan. I’m impressed, Red, really I am. But a man’s last will and testament are just that. Nothing within the will can be changed once it’s been sealed. That is unless the person wants to make a change before his death. Even then, with the law, it’s not the easiest of tasks.”
“Hmm. I see. So there’s no way around it?”
“No. I’m sorry, Red. It’s the law. You’ll have to get married if you want to collect your inheritance.”
“Dang! I don’t want to get married. My ma and pa knew I had not the faintest interest in it.”
“Maybe you want to look at this.” Ashley held a paper out for Red to look at. “See? It says they were concerned about you being alone in your old age. They wanted to make sure your heart would be provided for as well as all else. It’s very sweet if you ask me.”
Red was chewing his lip. “I didn’t ask you.”
“Look, Red, I know this isn’t what you had in mind …”
“That’s an understatement,” Red interrupted.
“You can snap at me and be as upset about this as you’re going to be, but the simple fact remains.”
“Mm-hmm. I need to find me a wife.” His mind went over all the families he remembered in Savannah that had daughters around his age. Most of those young ladies had been married or about to be before he’d left Savannah just before the war broke out.
“There are quite a few young widows in town, Red. The war years weren’t kind to anyone. It’s lucky for you that you were out west. I was at university in Paris when things went crazy here. I was worried sick about my mother and Magnolia. But Papa had taken them to New York. He had a banker friend up there who put them all up for the duration of the war.”
“Magnolia? Is Magnolia here in Savannah?”
“She is. Red? Why don’t you come over to the house tonight and have dinner with us.”
“I’d like that. It would be nice to spend this evening with old friends.”
“Well, if you don’t mind sleeping in a room with a bed only, you’re more than welcome to stay with us while you’re here in town. Why bother with a hotel? Too expensive.”
“Only a bed in the room at your house? Has it been so bad as all that, Ashley? As I said, I heard some talk when I asked around about where your new office was. I didn’t know things had gotten so out of hand. I’m so sorry.”
“It is what it is. Papa engaged, as I said, in some questionable business tactics, whether he was aware of it or not. When I opened a separate practice to put distance between us, the townspeople didn’t take to it. They reckoned I guess, like father like son. But enough of that. We’d love to have you over.”
“Maybe y’all can help me find a bride.” Red chuckled.
Suddenly Ashley’s eyes widened, and his jaw dropped.
“Ashley? What’s happened? Is everything OK?”
“Y … yes, it’s just that, well, I just had an idea, Red. An amazing idea. I think it would be mutually beneficial to us. Yes. I don’t see how it couldn’t be. It would most definitely benefit each of us. And Magnolia!” He clasped his hands together. “What a wonderful thing. This will take care of all of our needs.”
“Whoa back, there. What are you going on about?” Red’s chuckle had turned to full out laughter.
“I’m talking about your inheritance and my dilemma of losing clients and not having success here in Savannah. I think I might have found a solution to all our problems.”
Red was grinning broadly. “Well then, I’d like to hear what you have to say. Out with it!”
“I’ve got an opportunity to open a law practice in Charleston. There is a man there, an old friend of my father’s. He will sponsor me, and I don’t know anyone else there so my father’s illicit behavior won’t follow me.”
“Why, that’s wonderful news, Ashley. And here you’re going on about problems. You’re set up for a new beginning. It’s a serendipitous situation to be sure.”
“I do have a problem, though. I must sell the house before I leave Savannah. As soon as the place sells, I’ll be on my way.”
“It won’t be difficult to sell. Yours is one of the finest homes over on East Oglethorpe.”
“That’s not my worry, Red. First, I’m concerned about getting the right price for the house. My furniture has been going for half price at most. I can’t afford to take a cut on the sale of the house.”
“I see. Then that’s your worry? I don’t understand what it is you’re getting at. You don’t have to sell for less. You must hold out.”
“Time is an issue.”
“You can hire someone to sell the place for you. How does that sound? They would get a percentage of the sale price. So you won’t need to pay the person upfront.”
“That is a very good idea, Red. Very good. However, it doesn’t take care of the more important part of my dilemma.”
“What part is that?”
“It has to do with my sister.”
“Will you just come out with it? I don’t have the faintest idea of what you’re getting at. Excuse me if I’m no good at guessing games.”
“I cannot take my sister with me when I move up to Charleston. I don’t have enough money to take care of her there.”
“I see. That’s unfortunate. So, tell me, where do I fit into that?’
“Think Red! Your inheritance. You need to be married to claim it!”
“My inheritance? Oh no! No, you don’t, Ashley Pierce. If memory serves me right, you’ve always had a gift for squeezing others to do your bidding.”
“How is this squeezing you? You need to get married. I cannot take my sister to Charleston; therefore, she needs a husband. Don’t you see it? It’s the perfect solution! For all of us!”
Red reached over to the small table for the liquor. He poured himself yet another bourbon and added a little water from the pitcher there. He sat back in his seat and took a deep breath.
“Let me get this straight. You want me to marry your sister in order to take care of her after you leave? And that is how I’ll be able to claim my inheritance?”
“Yes. And I’ve already told Magnolia that if she’s sincerely unhappy with the arrangement … her marrying, that is … then in one year we can talk about a divorce.”
“So, your sister knows about this plan of yours.”
“That she marry someone? Yes. We discussed it just this morning. Of course, I had no idea then that I’d see you. I had no idea of your father’s stipulation about your marrying.”
“But, in essence, you’re saying that I need only stay married for one year?”
“There’s nothing in the will that states you must stay married once you receive your money. Of course, I’m willing to wager that your parents thought you would take your marriage vows in all seriousness. Till death do us part. You know.”
“This is to be a business arrangement, that is, if I consent to do it. It’s to be a business arrangement and nothing more.”
“But Magnolia is so young. I don’t know if it’s fitting. In all seriousness, Ashley, don’t you think she’s too young? I mean how old is she now, 16?”
Ashley’s face broke into a huge smile that spread from ear to ear.
“Nope. She’s plenty old enough; she’s 19!”
“Nineteen? Is that so? Hmm. That’s still mighty young, but if we were to divorce in a year …”
“This idea presents the best solution for everyone. Don’t you see it? My sister will be taken care of, at least until I get myself established in Charleston. And I trust you, Red. I know you’ll treat her well. I wouldn’t worry nearly so much about Magnolia if I knew she was with you.”
Red’s mind was running a mile a minute. It did make sense. And the added fact that he could divorce in a year made the idea quite palatable. If he had to marry, it might as well be someone he knew. Even if she was quite a bit younger than him, it was only to be a temporary union.
“Come to the house tonight. It will give you and Magnolia a chance to get reacquainted.”
“Good. We’ll see you at half-past five for a drink. We sit down to dinner at half-past six. Does it sound agreeable to you?”
“Yes. It does.” Red stood as did Ashley. The men shook hands.
“We’ll see you later, then.”
“You will. Good afternoon, Ashley.”
Red left the office and walked out onto the street. It was balmy and warm. The heat felt good to him after the cold of the Colorado Territory. It was still winter in the mountains and still cold on the prairie, but Savannah was warm and bright.
He couldn’t get his mind off of Ashley’s words. Ashley wanted him to marry his sister, Magnolia. She’d been a child when Red had left Savannah. He wondered what she must be like now, but the face of the young girl she’d once been was the only image of her his mind carried.
Magnolia was visiting Lacy Buxton. They’d been friends since childhood and they’d always told each other everything. They hadn’t seen each other much in the last six months, and Magnolia had looked forward to their luncheon date for the last few days. She was curious to hear what Lacy had to say about the idea Ashley had come up with. The idea about her getting married.
She’d thought of little else since her brother’s talk with her that morning. And she’d succeeded in driving herself into a tizzy. Everything was happening too fast. She longed to pour her heart out to Lacy
Something wasn’t right, though. Lacy had been exceptionally quiet all through lunch. Magnolia couldn’t reckon what must be troubling her friend. But it didn’t seem to be the right time to discuss her own troubles. She pushed her plate away, and someone appeared to her right and whisked the dish away.
“Shall we go into the parlor, Magnolia? We can have our tea and cake there.”
“That would be nice. I have something I’d like to discuss with you. That is if you’re willing to hear me out.
You’ve been uncharacteristically quiet. I can’t help getting the feeling that something is wrong.” She reckoned she might at least mention it. Then if Lacy wanted to hear it, she could say so.
It was odd. Lacy had said practically nothing during lunch. Magnolia wondered why she even wanted to go to the parlor. She didn’t seem to want to talk. Still Magnolia hoped she could get Lacy to listen to and then comment on what Ashley had said.
They were seated by the fireplace. A screen covered it due to the warmth of the weather. Bright sunshine and sounds from the street carried in through the open windows.
“So,” Lacy breathed. Her face held a strained smile.
Magnolia forced herself to smile back. Why does she seem so tense? Something must be wrong. I can feel it. I wish she would just tell me. I hope it’s nothing too bad.
“Please, Lacy. Whatever you have to tell me, I can assure you your words are safe with me.”
“I know that.”
“And I will hold no judgment over you.”
“You know how much I love you, don’t you?” Lacy interrupted.
“We’ve been friends all these years because of the love we bear for one another.”
“And you know how … how much I’ve valued your friendship these many years, don’t you?”
What is she getting at? “Yes. I feel the same way, Lacy.”
“I know you do. And this, what I’m about to say to you, doesn’t come easily to me. I want you to understand that. I wish that I would, that I could be saying anything else to you but what I’m about to say.”
“Very well. Don’t be afraid, Lacy, dear. You can tell me anything.” Something is definitely wrong. But what?
“My, uh, my parents … hmm, how shall I put this? You know I adore you, Magnolia.”
Magnolia sat still, her hands folded in her lap. “Why don’t you just say it? I can see it’s bothering you a great deal. Get it all out, and we’ll take it from there. How does that sound?”
Lacy appeared to study her for a moment.
“Thank you, Magnolia. Well, alright. I don’t know how to say this. I’m just going to blurt it all out.”
“I’m waiting.” Magnolia smiled, hoping to give the impression that she was in wonderful humor.
The thing is, my parents have been distressed particularly these last three months. By, you know, by the state you and your brother have found yourselves in.”
“Oh my, how absolutely dear of them. No, they mustn’t be distressed over us. I wanted to talk to you about our conditions. It seems my brother has come up with a solution to our problems.”
“That’s grand. I’m happy to hear that, Magnolia, honestly I am. The thing is, Mama and Papa, well, they’re not distressed in the way you seem to think they are.”
“Why, I don’t understand. Are you saying that your mother and father are not distressed at my brother’s and my plight?”
“It’s something like that. Oh, dear. I don’t know that I can go through with this.”
“You must tell me everything, dear Lacy.”
Tears began to flow down Lacy’s cheeks. “They’ve … my parents … have asked me to stop spending time with you.”
“Whatever for? We’ve hardly seen one another since my papa died. Now they want us to see each other even less? How odd.”
“I know we haven’t seen one another very much since your poor father, oh I’m so sorry, Magnolia. You see, the thing is, my parents will not allow me to be friends with you any longer. They told me I must end my acquaintance with you.”
“Your acquaintance with me? Lacy, we’ve been through so much together. We’re much more than acquaintances. Your parents know that. Now, what is actually going on? You’re talking complete nonsense, dear.”
“I cannot associate with you anymore, Magnolia.”
“Excuse me? Your parents? They won’t … won’t? Lacy, where is this coming from? What happened to cause your parents to …? You must tell me everything.”
Lacy looked down and wiped her nose. She stuffed the hankie down her bodice and sighed.
“You’re poor, Magnolia. You and Ashley. Y’all are poor. Mama and Papa say I’ll ruin my chances for a good marriage if I’m seen with you. Birds of a feather flock together, Mama says. Folks will think of me differently if I’m friends with the daughter of a crooked lawyer. I’m sorry, but you wanted to hear it all.”
Magnolia’s eyes narrowed. She felt hurt as she’d never felt before. Lacy was telling her that she wasn’t good enough to spend time with. Others would talk and say that Lacy had fallen from grace if she continued to see Magnolia much less be friends with her.
Magnolia was at a loss for words.
“We are not in the same class anymore, dear. Try and understand. I’m sorry, but you must accept the truth. I cannot allow my chances of contracting a marriage with a suitable partner to be hindered in any way. You do understand, don’t you? And … and I can’t go against Mama and Papa. Surely you must understand that if nothing else.”
“I believe I understand perfectly, Lacy.” Magnolia stood. “I can see myself out. I know where the back door is.”
“Don’t be like that; please don’t. I can’t help it that my parents want what’s best for me. If I’m going to marry rich, Magnolia, I must spend my time around the rich. Surely you would have to do the same if our roles were reversed. Just think about it. I don’t mean to hurt you. But I need to; I have to think about my future.”
“Please don’t let me stop you, then.” Magnolia snatched up her hat and reticule and strode from the room.
How dare they! They think I’m not good enough to be friends with their daughter. And Lacy is so controlled by them it probably never even occurred to her to defy them. She didn’t even question their decision.
Magnolia hurried along the street, Lacy’s calls for her to wait following after her. She wanted to be away from the Buxton house as quickly as she could. Jim wouldn’t be by with the carriage for another 30 minutes, at least. She’d told him two o’clock, but then she’d had no idea that things were going to take the turn they did. She wanted to get home so she could stop Jim from getting the carriage ready. She was also afraid she might burst into tears. That would never do on the street. Especially since it seemed folks had decided she was no longer a lady.
Her breath came in tiny gasps, and her hand went to the stitch in her side as she slowed her pace a tiny bit. She looked down, not wanting to see anyone she knew. If her own best friend would turn her away, there was no telling what anyone else might say or do.
She approached the corner that would lead her to Oglethorpe Square. She would be home in less than 10 minutes. The tears that swelled in her eyes threatened to blind her.
At the corner, she flew around to add speed to her step, and without warning, she smacked right into the middle of someone. A small cry emitted from her mouth into the offender’s chest, and after a fleeting scent of cedar and smokey tobacco, her mind came back to her and she glanced up.
“Pardon me, ma’am. I didn’t see you. You must have flown around the corner. I didn’t even see you.” The gentleman stood back from her and smiled.
She was smarting from Lacy’s remarks. Even so, she was surprised to hear her own words echoed sharply from her lips.
“What are you doing? Just walking around and not paying attention? Not looking where you’re going?” She stepped back, angry at being caught so off guard. At the same time, she felt pulled into the clear sea-green gaze of the man noticing how handsome he was. Exceptionally handsome. And there was something distantly familiar about him. In spite of her upset, she couldn’t take her eyes from his.
“Please, you’ll have to pardon me if you will, ma’am. You’re right. I’m very sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. I was lost in my thoughts, you might say.”
“Well, why don’t you find yourself? I’m in a hurry, and now you’ve made me late. Good day.” She stormed past him and cut across the square to the avenue and her home.
I never. The one time I’m nearly running in public, and I run, literally, into someone. I’m only thankful it wasn’t someone I know.
She dashed up the stairs to the front door and went inside.
“Karen? Are you here? I think I’ll take my dinner in my room tonight.”
As usual, Karen appeared out of nowhere, ready to assist with whatever the situation was at hand.
“I don’t know if that’s possible, Miss Magnolia.”
“Just what is that supposed to mean?”
“Mr. Pierce, he wants to see you in the study once more, Miss Magnolia.”
“Ashley’s home? He said he was going into the office today.” She rolled her eyes. “Something about starting to pack things up.”
“He did go in, miss. He came home early. There is to be a dinner guest this evening.”
“A dinner guest? Oh no.” Her stomach cramped, and she felt a wave of nausea wash over her. It must have something to do with what she and her brother had spoken of that morning. Was the dinner guest a prospective suitor?
“Your brother is waiting, miss.”
“Oh, very well.” Magnolia ambled back to the study her hand on her stomach in an effort to still its acrobatics. She pushed the door open and stood at the threshold.
“Healed by Her Soothing Sight” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Magnolia Pierce has led the quiet and sheltered life of a southern belle in post-war Savannah, Georgia. But after the death of her parents, things for her and her brother have gone downhill. When her brother suggests that the only remedy to the situation is to find a husband for her, she rejects his proposition and vows to marry for love. Her willful and stubborn nature will make her run off to Arizona City as a mail-order bride. Will her dream of finding true love come true or will she be trapped in a terrible nightmare?
Red Wilson has just received a letter that informs him that his estranged parents succumbed to yellow fever three years prior, and his inheritance awaits him in Savannah. Intent on buying his own ranch, Red eagerly makes his way back home to claim the fortune. A stipulation in his father’s will, though, will ruin his plans; in order to collect his birthright, Red must be married. Out of nowhere, the ghosts of the past will come back alive in his effort to claim what belongs to him…
Magnolia has decided to refuse Red without even giving him a chance to prove himself. Red needs to cast his demons, so saving Magnolia could be his salvation. Will Magnolia return to reality and make the right decision for her? Will Red manage to protect her, or will he relive the painful past?
“Healed by Her Soothing Sight” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.