After working in a hot office all afternoon, I sat with my front door open and a fan circulating the cooler outside air as I caught up on recorded reruns of The Closer. When my security light went on, I looked over to see if a deer was crossing my lot, but nothing was apparent, so I went back to the episode.
A few moments later, a movement caught my eye, and I glanced over to see the figure of a young woman standing in the light. She was dressed in an outfit with a long, bell-shaped skirt, so I knew immediately that one of my characters had come to visit.
Turning off the TV, I approach the door. The blonde girl with the anguished features appears to be Ella Ruth Allen, whom I had chased away previously after her outrageous behavior toward me. I'm not sure I want her in my house again, so I hesitate before greeting her. After a long moment, I succumb to Christian principles and speak.
Me: Yes? (I know. A bit short, but at least I sound half-way civil.)
Ella Ruth (in a shaky voice): Ma'am. I know I behaved badly on our previous acquaintance, and I am sorry for my ill-mannered comportment. May I come in? I am so worried.
Me (unlocking and opening the screen door): Worried? With a rich, influential pappa?
I perform the usual ceremonies of getting her seated and asking if she requires anything to eat as she dithers, making polite replies and little gasping noises. I understand the mental electrical storm that creates a condition of dithering, and become more kindly disposed toward her.
Me: What brings you to my door, Miss Ella Ruth?
Ella Ruth: Benjamin. (She begins to cry, and I bring out the box of tissue and hand it over. She wipes her eyes and begins to rush through a blubbering account.) He gave me an ultimatum and I rejected him. I did not think he was seriously planning to talk to my pappa so plainly and dash my dreams so rudely. I said some unkind words and turned on my heel and left him. Then he left me!
Her wail of distress seems genuine enough. I dredge through my memory, and recall that when Ben came to visit me, I had not finished writing the scene that occurred behind the mill. I did so later. The scene had indeed progressed as she outlined.
Me: Well. That is unfortunate. What does he write to you?
Ella Ruth: Ma'am, he does not write. Not a word. I do not know if he has been in a battle, or injured, or fallen prey to illness, like I hear other men have. He went in my own cousin's infantry company, but I hear nothing from George, either. Please ma'am, what am I to do?
Me (somewhat flummoxed): What are you to do? What do you want from him?
Ella Ruth: Oh ma'am, I want to know that he is well and sound. I bear him such a great deal of affection. My heart is sunk low to know that we parted on unfriendly terms.
Me: It sounds like you need to re-establish a connection with him. Have you asked his mother for news?
Ella Ruth (uncertainly): Mrs. Owen? Mrs. Julia Owen?
Me: The very one. If anyone has heard from Ben, it will be her.
Ella Ruth: Oh ma'am, she will not bear kindness toward me. I am sure of it.
Me: Then you have already approached her?
Ella Ruth (in a tiny voice): No. Ma'am. I am frightened of her.
Me: You're frightened by the kindest woman in the Valley?
Ella Ruth: She is formidable, ma'am.
Me: No she isn't. I've written her as a kind, giving soul. She is really very pleasant, very easy to know.
Ella Ruth: She will heed Ben's plight before my own, ma'am.
Me (feeling the disbelieving expression on my face): You really should talk to her, Miss Allen. Straight out.
Ella Ruth: May I not approach the new Missus Owen? The new bride at Hilbrands' store?
Me: Mistress Mary? What does she have to do with this?
Ella Ruth: Perhaps she will be amenable to asking Mrs. Owen for news of Benjamin.
Me (sighing): That way is quite roundabout, Miss Allen. I see that is your plan, however. Suit yourself. Ask Mary for help. You can only hope her happiness will color her response to you.
Ella Ruth: Her response?
Me: New brides often wish to share their happiness and help others achieve some for themselves, as well. You might find yourself fortunate. It just seems like such an involved and convoluted way of gaining news about Ben.
Ella Ruth: Miss, um, Mistress Mary is closer in age to me. I believe I can talk to her, persuade her to help me.
Me (rising and spreading my hands in acceptance): Like I said, suit yourself. Good evening, Miss Allen.
She leaves, and a bolt of lightning sears the sky. I wait for the thunder, but it rumbles in the distance, and I go back to my television watching, a tense feeling squeezing my abdomen. What will come of Ella Ruth's plan?
Copyright © 2013 Marsha Ward
*This is a work of fiction. I don't really talk to time-traveling characters from my
novels. I do like them a lot, though, and am glad they pass under the
rainbow from time to time to visit me in my own time and place. To order autographed copies of my novels, The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, Trail of Storms, and Spinster's Folly, visit my website at marshaward.com or Westward Books.