Authors: Tamara Ternie
Copyright © 201
3 Tamara Ternie
All rights reserved worldwide.
Available at Amazon.com
(American Historical Romance)
(A Whimsical Select Romance Novella)
THE WIDOW’S TOUCH
THE SOCIAL PARIAH
73 ~ Reconstruction Period
“I’m out of cash on hand,” Thomas announced. He looked inside his leather billfold and a puckered brow replaced the agreeable look he normally presented on his face. Thomas lowered his head and tapped his cards repetitively on the table. After an exceedingly long pause Thomas finally shared his thoughts. “What if I call your
three hundred with my sister?”
“Sister, eh?” Brice strewed his fingers through his hair and pondered the pot. As luck had it, he held a straight flush with a queen high in his hand. No doubt the money was his, Brice was sure of it. He had already gained a sufficient amount of coppers from Thomas earlier in the evening, all due to his
that hadn’t quite panned out. But he needed more, and the present collection in the middle of the table was a right good start. Brice looked at him with a hesitant smile. He wasn’t there to gain a woman, least of all Thomas’s sister, especially if it was Abigail who had acquired disagreeable notoriety in their town before leaving Mecklenburg County. Brice only knew him to have one sister, but he figured there was a chance he may be mistaken. “Are you referring to Abigail; the sister who’s—?” Brice paused, and not wanting to offend, wisely considered his words. There was no way he could state it delicately. As an alternative, Brice spread his arms wide.
“That would be a good estimate,” Thomas said and trailed his words with a grimace.
“And you reckoned
would sweeten the pot?”
“When my parents passed away they left behind a considerable dowry f
or Abigail,” he added.
Brice smiled. Now Thomas gained his attention. He was in dire straits since the note on his farm was called in, and if he didn’t pony up the funds right quickly, he’d lose everything he owned. His need for money was what initially lured him into the poker game, especially with Thomas Large. Other than being the wealthiest gentleman in town, he was well regarded for playing loose with his coffers and notoriously bad at cards.
“How big are we talking?”
“Since our parents passed on at the end of the war she’s lived in Baltimore, so it’s been a quite a few years since I’ve seen her,” he admitted. “But last I saw…well, rather big.” Thomas shifted uncomfortably in his seat and again nervously tapped his cards atop the walnut table in repetition.
Brice closed his eyes and shook his head. “I was referring to the dowry.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” he announced. He looked properly embarrassed when his cheeks blushed to nearly the shade of his red head of hair. He cleared his throat and regained his composure. “Rather generous. As I’m sure you’ll recall, my father greatly benefited from the Carolina Rush, as well as his business dealings outside the South which the war didn’t poorly influence.”
“Gold business, eh,” Brice said. He leaned forward and stared Thomas in the eye. “And the dowry amount?” he asked.
“I’m unable to give you a direct sum, but my parents knew that due to her condition that a suitor wouldn’t be easily had. Being so, my father decided it would significantly aid the cause if he offered exactly her weight in gold.”
It was difficult for Brice to contain his enthusiasm. Even though it had been over five years since he last saw Abigail, Brice recalled their time together growing up as children. Even then she was worth a significant fortune. Brice pondered the math in his head. Even at thirty stones, which he reckoned was a low estimate of her weight; he’d obtain at least one-hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of gold. A sum well above what he needed to pay off his debts and get his farm running as well or better than before the war.
Brice was dog-tired and his lack of sleep made him question Thomas’s motive. Brice took his time considering the deal even though the sun had already broken over the horizon. He and Thomas had sat alone at the table inside the Calhoun Saloon all night. A few men who were corned to the ears were passed out on neighboring tables. Brice glanced over to Calvin, the barkeeper who had overheard their negotiations. The lanky fellow donned Piccadilly weeper sideburns that framed a sleepy face. The man cautiously wobbled his head to and fro when he swept a cotton cloth across the table next to theirs. He didn’t think Brice should accept the deal. As he, Calvin also knew Abigail. Unlike Brice, Calvin and many others in town had persistently poked fun at the portly girl. On more occasions than not, they had sent
her off into a fitful of tears.
“I only have three hundred in the pot but you call me with the chance at that great of a sum,” Brice said suspiciously. “What’s the catch, other than the obvious?”
“I don’t plan to lose,” Thomas said. He grinned so wide that it made Brice look at his own cards and second guess his odds. “But if I should lose, it’d still settle the issue of my sister’s marriage. It’s been troubling me since she’s now nearing her thirtieth year.”
“And if you should lose,” Brice began, “Do you think she’ll be agreeable with this arrangement?” Brice was doubtful since he was almighty sure that Abigail’s abrupt
departure was triggered by him.
“As I hold the purse strings and she isn’t exactly a desirable catch, I’m sure she’ll be perfectly agreeable, if not outright tickled. If I recall, she had a fancy for you a few years back before she left.”
Thomas was right, Abigail had taken an almighty shine to him, but he waved the intrusive thoughts from his head. He clearly recalled the public humiliation he had unduly caused her. It wasn’t a memory that he cared too greatly to ruminate upon.
Brice looked at the barkeep again and then back to the cards in his hand. He sat silently and collected his thoughts. He had already experienced love for a brief time in his life, but after his wife had passed on from consumption only five months after they wed, he was convinced that he’d not want to experience love again. As sure as he was with that decision, he was equally adamant about never remarrying. Yet the offer on the table made him seriously reconsider the latter. Calvin poured another shot of whiskey into Brice’s glass. Brice pitched it down and hoped that it’d make the terms of marriage more agreeable. Damn, he needed that money.
“Okay, agreed,” Brice finally conceded and he laid down his queen high straight flush.
Thomas frowned. “It appears you have me,” he returned. He then followed his
words by placing his two pairs, jacks and threes, onto the table. “Well, Brice, I see congratulations are in order. It would appear you’ve gained yourself a wife,” Thomas said happily, and he offered his hand to Brice who was more than reluctant to accept.
* * *
Abigail didn’t expect the fanfare she saw when the
stagecoach arrived at the Charlotte station; her final destination. After she gathered her blue mesh reticule that was trimmed with steel fringe beading, she peeped out the side window beneath the dusty, leather curtain. It was a carnival atmosphere outside. The people cheered, applauded, and waved their arms in excitement as their coach neared. People rushed toward the station in droves and the horses squealed their loud neighs in protest when the driver pulled the reins back and halted their travel. Abigail wondered if perhaps there was someone of notoriety on the coach and the town was awaiting his or her arrival. She swept a scrutinizing stare upon the other three passengers. One was an elderly gentleman who kept his clouded-blue eyes downward toward a well-worn open bible. He had done so from the moment they caught their connecting stage in Yorkville and hadn’t spoken a word the entire trip. The other two passengers had recently wedded and came visiting Charlotte to announce the news to the woman’s sister. The woman and her newly husband showed such a resemblance with their towheaded blonde hair and matching blue eyes that Abigail suspected they were probable cousins who married, despite the growing distaste for it in society. If any of the three who sat with her were of distinguished renown, they hadn’t mentioned it to her. Abigail returned her thoughts to the telegram in her hand. It was in regard to her brother and she had received it from Ellen, their family’s maid of twenty-five years. It merely stated that Thomas was gravely ill and she should return home posthaste. If not for that calamitous circumstance, she’d never have stepped a toe back into Mecklenburg County. Even then, despite the prospect of losing her only sibling, she seriously considered not leaving Baltimore. Yet there she was, stepping off the coach and back into the town that embraced her with the same enthusiasm as the plague.
A beefy, crotchety man looked at Abigail and shouted, “Get out of the way, she’s coming!” She hadn’t yet reached the stage’s second step when the man, with manners no better than that of a swine, grabbed her arm and roughly pulled her into the swarm of people.
“What is this all about?” she asked, crossly, but she was pushed back and forward by all the people who hovered eagerly around the coach. A young man, who Abigail was hard-pressed to call a gentleman, plucked several strands from her chestnut ringlet of curls when he attempted to push her out of the way. She yelped out in response. The mysterious event was the most frenzied occasion she had ever the misfortune to fall upon. She reached out and grabbed a handful of wool from the man’s worn sack coat and roughly tugged his arm to gain his attention. “I asked you, sir, what is going on here?”
The man looked at her with derision and then turned back to eagerly watch the coach as the young couple made their departure. “Miss Abigail is returning home,” he called over his shoulder, not sparing her the courtesy of even a glance. “She should be getting off the coach at any moment
,” he added.
The onlookers who stood within earshot of the man raised their voices in cheer and waved arms skyward in excitement for the woman they awaited. Pushes and shoves followed and several cursed when they got caught in the press. Certainly they weren’t in lather over her arrival, Abigail thought.
“And what Abigail would that be, and what is her claim of distinction that she should receive such a maddening reception?” Abigail smoothed out the wrinkles on her lavender day dress. The crowd’s shoves and thrusts crinkled it horribly into disarray.
The man in front of her looked baffled by her inquiry; as if it was the silliest question he’d ever heard. “Why, Miss Abigail Large, of course!” he proclaimed.
Abigail didn’t hide her astonishment and her mouth went agape, and even wider still when the crowd behind her began chanting her name. However, their temperaments soured quicker than goat’s milk in July when the throng of people began shouting in unison, “Where is she?” The last fare, the elderly gentleman with his head still lowered into his bible, left the train, and
Abigail hadn’t departed.
“Perhaps she’s grown so big they needed to haul her on a special buckboard,” an unseen man shouted happily from the crowd. The men within the
crowd responded with raised arms and cheered with delight at the speculation.
Abigail watched and listened and she was convinced they had all gone completely mad. For the life of her, she didn’t know why they’d find merriment with the thought that she had grown larger. It was in considerable contrast to how they had felt about her weight bef
ore she moved away.