Monday, August 1, 2011

Chapter 17

     During the winter months there was no crop to plant, and Angus spent less time mulling over his inventories and accounts. He commence a regime of courting Mary, spending his evenings  in the Jordan parlor in front of the fire sipping a cup of tea and listening to her conversation.  She seemed rather naive. Leastwise,from the tone of her conversation she had not thought a great many things through. Not yet eighteen, she had expected several marriage proposals from her immature peers, and failing that, was counting the days.  Her ideals were too simplistic. A husband would rescue her from her parents and make her happy. However, she had one redeeming trait. She was truthful. He found himself discussing some of the most intimate details of Ashley Loche and his plans for expansion. The friendship blossomed, but not into love.
     Spring came, then summer, and fall again.  With Mary's help, he planned to host the Hunt ball at Ashley Loche.  The idea entered her head that she would be at his side all evening, as a wife would, entertaining the guests. Another event would occur simultaneously: her 18th birthday.  All of the  young belles of Charleston counted upon being married by their 18th year because after that they would be treading too near the old maid stigma.  She calculated that Angus would propose marriage to her during that splendid evening and alerted her parents to the idea. She wore a chantise blue gown with a brocade bodice stitched with little pearls.  Her shoulders were bare, accentuated by puffed sleeves, her skirt hadh a lace hem and she wore long white gloves covering the elbow.  Her hair was on top of her head, tied in an array of ribbons. She arrived early that morning to assist the household in the last minute preparations, taking charge of the servants and staff. Just the ticket, so far as Duncan was concerned. So it was that Duncan also surmised that there would be a proposal of marriage that evening. Too, if any of their friends had doubts, that would be snuffed away by Mary's commanding presence. As she stood beside Angus, she fantacized a stroll in the garden where the lanterns lit the footpath.  But there were problems.   
     As the evening progressed, Mary clinging to his arm was unable to capture his devotion. She tried again and again to command the conversation, but his eyes could not stay with her.  Suddenly she was astonished to notice that his eyes were following Catherine Winship.  Catherine, with lovely brown curls nesting around her ears and little silver combs in her pompadour, stood poised beside John Beavers. The flickering light from the chandelier cast a flattering shadow across her china complexion, almost breath-taking, as she stared at her. Suddenly, her eyes met his and lingered there for an agonizing moment. He was sick in the gut. The truth was upon him.  He could never stop loving Catherine Winship! He pinched Mary's gloved arm.
     "Will you walk with me in the garden?"
     She was ecstatic.  This was the moment that she had imagined!  "Yes," she said breathlessly, forgetting about Catherine Winship.
     He quickly led her outside onto the terrace away from the music and fanfare of the party and into the garden. He paused under a trellis of withered roses and while he knocked off the faded blossoms was stabbed with a thorn.
     "Oooh", he said, removing his glove.
     Mary took his hand and kissed the wound with her lips. "Oh, now tis all better." She said sweetly,
He was annoyed and showed it by quickly withdrawing his hand."
     "I did not intend to displease you," she said offended.
     "Nothing that you do offends me, Mary. Look here, the wood on this bush looks dead."
     "Silly, it is decideous this time of the year."
     "Will it bloom again in the spring?"
     "Yes," she said laughing.
     "Well, ye won this argument, Miss Mary."
     "There is something else wrong. What is it Angus?"
     "Nothing, I wanted a breath of fresh air in my garden, that is all."
    "I saw you staring at that woman."
     His body stiffened and his face was visibly pained with the realization of his fate.  All these years he had convinced himself that he had buried that old feeling for Catherine, but now his feelings were surging hot in his veins;  it was all coming back to him in the worse sort of way.  He had awakened the misery and impossible fate. He had trapped himself. His unwilling thoughts focused on Catherine and that one moment that their eyes were painfully locked together. He struggled to answer, but his face said everything.  It looked as though the blood had been squeezed from it.
     "That means nothing," he murmured.
     "But what about me?"
     He did not answer. Laughter.  A couple approached.  Mary's eyes darted towards  him, awaiting an answer and when there was nothing but silence, began a pool of humilating tears began dripped onto her flushed cheeks.  Still, he did not answer. She lifted her skirts and ran from the garden.  He did not follow but instead sauntered down to the river where it was dark and stood  on the bank, staring hypnotically at a cloud of vapor rising from the water as the night  temperature dropped.  Eventually, he was discovered by an irate Mr. Jordan.
     "Mr. McDonald, what are your intentions towards my daughter!" His voice bristled with anger and there was the tone of outrage and insult in his demeaner..
     "If you mean do I plan to ask for her hand in the marriage, the answer is no," Angus said flatly.
     "But you led her to believe, led her on...."
     "No sir, there was never a time when I expressed affection for Miss Mary, other than friendship."
    "A man doth nought befriend a woman!"
     "Well then, that is your opinion, Mr. Jordan, but I do not think of Mary as otherwise."
      "The whole room expected an announcement this evening....Mary told me that she expected it. After all, you hath fostered your attentions upon her all year. She will be 18 soon.  She expects a proposal of marriage."
      "Are ye aware that we are some distance apart in age?  I am nought inclined to rob a cradle, sir."
     "How old are you, sir?"
    Jordan settled down a bit, perhaps his daughter had exaggerated. "That is a cloth of a different cut," he admitted.  "My wife had another suitor in mind; perhaps she is correct on that score." He offered his hand.  "May we shake on this, Mr. McDonald, and agree that it is a ridiculous situation?"
     Angus shook his hand and grinned, settling on a more friendly conversation.
    "She hath a great many friends. Someone more to her own age, I hope."
    "It is John Beavers. She wants me to partner with him in the mercantile business, to bring him along for Mary."
    "May I speak confidentially?"
    "I do regard Mary as my friend.  She is one of the few persons that I know of who always speaks truthfully.  In this respect, your daughter is a treasured flower.  I do know something of Mr. Beaver's personal life."
    "I will respect your confidence, sir."
    "He frequents the back rooms of taverns.  He is a gambler, sir."
    Jordan was shocked. The examination of his books had revealed a modest profit, and had not reflected anything out of the ordinary.  "Thank you, sir, for this privileged confidence. I should nought wish my daughter to fall into that sort of fate."

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