Authors: Kentucky Bride
Ballard slipped his arms around Clover’s waist and lifted her onto his lap. “I do not believe this position will facilitate your reading,” she said even as he draped her arms around his neck.
He started to unbutton the bodice of her gown. “I dinnae feel inclined to be tutored just now, leastwise not in reading and writing.”
“Ballard, we are in the kitchen. Anyone could come in and see us.”
“Then we had best go somewhere private,” he said as he stood up, keeping her in his arms.
“Ballard, ‘tis the middle of the day and we have work to do.”
“Newlyweds are expected to be, er, distracted.”
“Distracted, is it? I call this shirking.”
“Well, lass, I intend to have a verra enjoyable shirk afore the noon meal …”
“You are not getting married?”
“No, Mama, I am not getting married. This is a letter from Thomas in which he ends our engagement. Very politely, of course.”
Clover Sherwood sighed and glanced out the small parlor window of their brick town house. It was a beautiful morning, but she was unable to appreciate it. Spring was a time of renewal and hope, but she, her mother, and her young twin brothers were weighted down by scandal and poverty.
Her pale mother, Agnes, almost looked worse than Clover felt. Almost. It was an effort for Clover not to tear at her blond hair—the hair her fiancé had so often admired—but she had no wish to display such unseemly emotion. Her fiancé, Thomas Dillingsworth, a prominent man in Langleyville, had been the rock upon which they had built their hopes and that rock had just crumbled to dust. Clover knew
her own personal hurt over being so rudely jilted was insignificant compared to the desperate uncertainty her family now faced, but that did not make it any easier to bear.
“Oh, heavens, what are we going to do?” whispered Agnes.
As her mother covered her face with her dimpled hands and began to weep, Clover bit back a stream of angry words and fought hard to restrain her own tears. The letter she clutched was indisputable proof that Thomas Dillingsworth was not worth even one tear. For all his flowery protestations of love and sweet poetic murmurings about her periwinkle-blue eyes, he had deserted her with no lack of speed the moment her family’s troubles began. His love was a complete sham, a fleeting, shallow thing. Clover was determined that her pain would be no less fleeting.
Her mother continued to weep. Clover decided to get her a cup of herbal tea. Since the servants had abandoned them shortly after her father’s suicide, she had to go to the kitchens herself, but she did not mind. It would give her a moment alone, and her poor mother time to compose herself. She knew her mother had every right to cry, but Clover was growing heartily sick of misery.
As she set the heavy iron kettle over the kitchen fire, she reflected that there would undoubtedly be a lot of misery yet to come. All the debts her late, desperate father had left behind were now paid off, but the family was totally impoverished. In just two weeks they would be forced to leave their fine brick home. As yet, they had no new place to live. Even finding food to put on the table was becoming a problem, one that was bound to worsen unless their fortunes
suddenly improved. Now that Thomas had deserted her, she saw little chance of that.
That dismal picture of the future occupied her thoughts as she took the tea back to her mother. To her relief her mother looked more herself. Strength and calm were what they needed now. There simply had to be something they could do to halt their plummet into utter ruin and destitution, but they would only discover it if they refused to succumb to self-pity.
“Here, Mama, drink this. It will soothe you.” After handing her mother the tea, Clover sat in a dainty chair facing the settee upon which Agnes was seated. “We must keep our heads if we are to overcome this trouble.”
“Perhaps you should go and speak with Thomas,” Agnes said after taking several sips of the aromatic tea.
Thinking that was a poor start to solving their problems, Clover struggled to keep the sharpness from her voice as she replied, “Why should I do that?” She took the letter from the pocket in her pale blue skirt and waved it at her mother. “Thomas’s letter is most clear—our engagement is at an end.”
“Yes, but there are many reasons why he might have acted so ungentlemanly. He may be regretting his behavior already.”
“There is only one reason why he broke our engagement—I no longer possess an attractive dowry.” Clover stuffed the letter back into her pocket.
“But he loved you.”
“So he said, but ‘tis clear that he did not. If he did, he would be here to help us. Instead, he has cut us adrift.” She sighed when her mother continued to
frown in confusion and disbelief. “Mama, one of the few things I still possess is my pride. I cannot—I will not—grovel before that man.”
“Pride sets a poor table.” Agnes grimaced, then took a quick drink of tea to still her trembling lips. “Oh, Clover, m’dear, I do not ask you to grovel or beg, just to go and speak with him.”
For one solid hour Clover tried to convince her unusually stubborn mother that talking to Thomas was not a wise step, but it was no use. Her mother refused to believe that Thomas’s love had been based solely upon the Sherwood wealth. Clover reluctantly agreed to go and talk to Thomas after midday. Nothing else would be accomplished until she did.
Something as simple as a walk through the small yet growing riverside town had become an ordeal, Clover realized before she was even halfway to Thomas’s waterfront offices. She resisted the urge to huddle in the folds of her cloak and tip her head so that the brim of her bonnet would hide her face. The few people who did acknowledge her presence seemed embarrassed to do so. She wondered crossly if they feared she would hurl herself to the ground at their feet and plead for money.
It was not as if they had no money to spare either, she thought with a touch of bitterness. Langleyville was perfectly situated to profit from the trade from the young settlements along the Ohio River. Thomas was just one of several men who were making good livings buying trade goods from the frontiersmen and shipping them on to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and farther east. Many of the backwoodsmen did not
wish to make the longer trips to the larger cities, which ensured Langleyville a steady source of profit. It seemed cruel to Clover that no one in town wished to share that prosperity with her family, who had lost everything.
Just as she was about to enter Thomas’s warehouse offices, Clover glanced around her and frowned. The docks were extremely busy and crowded with frontiersmen. She had completely forgotten that spring was the time of year when the backwoodsmen showed up in town in large numbers to trade and to enjoy riotous evenings in the riverside taverns. It was one of the few times she made a point of avoiding the Dillingsworth docks.
She shrugged her slim shoulders and entered Thomas’s offices, smiling at his startled clerk, John Thimble. He smiled back, but began to look extremely nervous. It was clear that Thomas’s jilting of her was already becoming known.
“Is Thomas in?” she asked quietly, determined to be calm and dignified.
“Er, I am not sure. I will go and look.” John hastily disappeared into the inner office, careful to give Clover no clear glimpse of the inside.
She tapped her foot in annoyance. She knew she was likely to receive a polite dismissal. She recognized the signs; they were becoming painfully familiar to her. She decided she was not going to be shunted aside like some beggar. After taking a deep breath, she straightened up to her full four feet, eleven inches and marched into Thomas’s office—almost colliding with John, who was hurrying out. A crooked smile touched her lips as she looked around
John and saw Thomas struggling to open a begrimed window.
“Running away, darling?” she asked in a sweet voice. She heard John hurry from the room, firmly shutting the door after him.
“I do not understand why you feel a need to force this awkward confrontation,” Thomas said, a hint of sulkiness in his voice.
As she watched him shut the window and move back to his desk, she acknowledged that he was a very handsome young man with his thick golden hair and hazel eyes. She supposed it was not surprising that such a fine-looking, well-to-do man would balk at taking on a poor wife and her dependents, especially since they were now tainted with scandal. It would severely curtail his continuous rise in the world. He could do so much better. Nevertheless, it hurt to think that his feelings for her had been so shallow.
“Actually, Thomas, I am here at my mother’s insistence. She is a dear, romantic soul who finds it hard to believe that your avidly declared love for me could vanish so abruptly.”
He flushed. “A man has to look to his future.”
“And a poor wife with a mother and two young brothers depending on her will not help you at all.”
“Well, I am glad that you understand.”
“What I understand, Thomas, is that I have spent too many months of my life listening to your sweet lies. I tried to tell my mother that was the way of it, but, as I have said, she is of a romantic turn of mind.”
“Are you quite finished?” he said testily as he stood up and grabbed his hat from a rack just behind his chair.
“Ah, you have an appointment, do you?”
“As a matter of fact, I do.” He strode to the door and flung it open, then turned back and scowled at her.
“Well, do not let me keep you,” she murmured as she walked through the door. “Sarah Marsten always insists upon promptness.”
“What makes you think I am going to see Miss Marsten?”
“I read it in your appointment diary. It was open on your desk.”
“Do you need a ride home?” he snapped.
“You always did have such nice manners, but, no, I think not. Good day,” she said cheerfully and winced when he strode out of the building and slammed the door behind him.