Tears streamed down Cara’s cheeks as the train moved down the tracks, leaving Adam and her home behind. She didn’t want to be apart from him. She loved him, and she had been so looking forward to their wedding. His love had transformed her life, giving her hope that things would be different.
Doc’s death had disproved that thought. The humiliation she had felt when people passed her by had made her realize more than ever that she was never going to be accepted as part of the community. Besides Doc, Adam and his mother, and the Ackerbys, were the only people she felt truly cared about her and her children. Others were polite, but they did not really know her, nor did they seem to want to get to know her. She had been accepted as Adam’s fiancé, more for his sake and his mother’s sake than for her own. Knowing that was painful.
“Mama, why are you crying?” Charity asked.
Rose reached up and patted Cara’s cheeks, as though comforting her.
Remmie’s eyes were wet with tears, and his lower lip trembled. Cara wrapped her arm around his thin shoulders. “It’s hard to leave Adam behind, isn’t it?” He burst into sobs then.
“I want Adam to be our pa.”
“He will be, Remmie. We’re only going for a short time.”
“Do you promise?”
Adam had asked the same question. “I promise, Remmie.”
He wiped his eyes and nose with the handkerchief she gave him. She patted his head gently.
“It will be a good experience for us, Remmie, to see the city.”
“Have you ever been there before?” His tears were under control now.
Cara shook her head. “No, I haven’t, Remmie.”
“What’s a city, Ma?” Charity’s innocent question made Cara smile.
“It’s kind of like our town. There are buildings all over, close together. Only it’s a lot bigger than our town, and a lot more buildings.”
“Where will we stay?”
“Mrs. Warner has invited us to stay in her house.”
“Is it a nice house?”
Could it be no less? Cara mused. She imagined that Margaret’s house was extravagantly furnished, if the way Margaret dressed was anything to go by. Margaret was a wealthy woman, and she had confided that her house was very large.
“Very large and empty,” she had lamented.
Cara encouraged the children to look out the windows at the passing scenery. Rose complained of being hungry, and she fed her a cookie from the basket that Dinah had sent. She was thankful for her mother-in-law’s thoughtfulness. Taking the four children to the dining car would be quite an ordeal, more than she could handle.
It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at their destination. A porter came to assist Cara and the children from the train. She was relieved to see Margaret waiting for her. Dressed elegantly in black silk and wearing a wide-brimmed hat with plumes, it was not hard to miss Margaret. Beside her stood a colored man, very large and intimidating. It took Cara by surprise, until Margaret explained that the man and his wife were paid servants who took care of her house and gardens.
The children were wide awake, having napped on the train. They looked around at the buildings, and Remmie asked many questions. Margaret was pleasant and answered every question. Rose took a liking to Margaret and climbed onto the seat beside her. She reached out and touched the plumes on the hat.
“Rose,” Cara said in a reprimanding tone.
“She’s all right,” Margaret said with a smile. She took off her hat and put it on Rose’s head. The large hat fell forward and covered her eyes. Rose giggled. Cara was embarrassed. Then Rose took the hat and set it back on Margaret’s head, knocking her glasses askew. The expression on Margaret’s face was almost comical.
“I’ve aired out the upstairs rooms for you and the children,” Margaret explained. “There is a bedroom downstairs, next to mine, but I thought you would be more comfortable if you could sleep near the children.”
“Yes, thank you.”
“There is a room just right for the girls, and one for Remmie, also.” Margaret looked thoughtful. “Have you thought any more about changing the boy’s nickname?”
Margaret had suggested last summer, during her disastrous visit. Cara had been reluctant to do as Margaret suggested.
“I haven’t given it much thought.”
“I think you should consider calling him ‘Tony.’ It sounds much less babyish than ‘Remmie’ and I think it will help him fit in better at school.”
Cara certainly did not want Remmie to have problems fitting in at school. It had been hard enough for her to attend school when she first came to live with Gran. “Carabel the Dunce” still ran through her thoughts at times, causing painful memories.
Margaret’s house was all that Cara expected and more. Set high on a hill in the city, it had a vast front yard and was palatial in appearance.
“Is this your house?” Remmie asked in awe.
“Yes, it is. Do you like it?”
“It’s really big.”
“It’s pretty,” Charity spoke up.
“Thank you. I’ve worked hard to make it beautiful.”
Or her caretakers did, Cara thought with a smile.
The inside of the house was just as lovely as the outside. Cara looked around at the expensive cut-glass bowls and china vases set ornately about. How would she keep her children from breaking them?
“What do you think, Cara?” Margaret was saying.
Cara realized she had missed part of the conversation. “I’m sorry, Margaret. I was looking around and not paying attention for a moment.”
Margaret laughed. “I was asking if you want to take the children up to their rooms now. They might like to change and freshen up before dinner.”
Their clothes did look dusty, and their hair was mussed. Cara feared that her appearance was no better.
“That is a fine idea.”
“We dress for dinner here,” Margaret said.
“I’ve had new clothes made up for the children and myself. I hope they will be appropriate.”
“Wear what you have, and if need be, we’ll see the dressmaker tomorrow.”
Cara followed the servant upstairs. He showed her three spacious bedrooms, all decorated lavishly with silk draperies and embroidered pillows. One room was a little larger than the others, and she presumed it to be her bedroom while she was here. It had a fireplace and a stone hearth. There were two beds in one of the other rooms, and a large bed in the third. Since the girls were used to sleeping together, she decided to put them in the room with the larger bed. That left Remmie with the room with two beds.
“Maybe Adam can sleep in here with me when he comes to visit.”
Cara did not want to upset him, but she thought it was best to be honest. “Adam won’t be coming here, son.”
His lip trembled. “Why not?”
“Because his place is to stay on the farm and take care of the animals.”
“I want Adam.”
“Want Adam!” Rose demanded. Charity looked ready to cry. Cara was going to have her hands full with the children if they did not adjust to their new surroundings right away.
She washed the children’s hands and faces at the basin in her room. She combed Remmie’s hair, adding a little water to make it lay down. She curled Charity’s hair around her finger into ringlets, and tied a new ribbon in both Charity and Rose’s hair.
She knew what Margaret meant by dressing for dinner. Gran had not been formal. When she went to live with her great-aunt in Charleston, she had learned something of the nature of high society. The evening meal was elegant with several courses served on the best china. Evening attire was expected, even of the guests.
Her choices in fabric for the children’s clothes, and her own, had been very practical. The fabric was sturdy, and pleasant in appearance, but she had a feeling that it would not be formal enough to please Margaret.
Dinah had made two dresses for each of the girls, matching sets. One of the sets was pink gingham, with a ruffled hem and puffy sleeves. The other set was blue calico, with tiny rosebuds patterned throughout. Dinah had also sewn pinafores with gathered pockets to wear over the dresses. Cara put them in the blue, and tied their pinafores around their waists.
For Remmie, Dinah had sewn two pair of knickers, two shirts, and one jacket.
“The jacket scratches,” he complained when Cara buttoned him into it.
By the time the children were dressed, Hope was awake and crying to be fed. Cara took the children’s toys out of the trunk, the girls’ dolls and Remmie’s farm animals. They played in front of the fireplace while Cara nursed the baby. Then she changed Hope and put her in the new little gown that Dinah had stitched for her.
She was unsure if Margaret expected her to wear black, and decided it was best to err on the side of wearing mourning clothes. She put on the hoops, and then slipped into her black dress. She combed out her hair smoothed it into a bun, fastening it with pins.
“It’s time to go downstairs.” The children looked up from their play.
“I don’t want to. It’s a strange house.” Remmie was quick to complain.
“We’ll soon learn our way around. Mrs. Warner is expecting us for dinner.”
Rose jumped up from her play. “I hungry.”
Cara gathered the baby in her arms and led the way downstairs. Unsure of where she should go, she opted for the sitting room. It looked very elegant and formal. She worried that her children would break something.
“Come sit down with me,” she said gently. “We’ll wait here for Mrs. Warner.”
Margaret came in momentarily. “You’re wearing black.”
“I wasn’t sure if it is appropriate.”
“I don’t see why you need to dress in mourning. Doc wasn’t related to you.” Cara felt a twinge of pain at Margaret’s blunt words. “Of course, if you want to wear black, that’s all right,” Margaret hastened to add.
“I have other dresses with me.” Cara’s voice was quiet, unsure of herself.
“You see, Cara, I have told people that a young friend of mine has come to visit me. I haven’t told them anything about your connection to Erich. I have told them that you’re a widow, and just come out of your mourning period. It wouldn’t be right, then, for you to wear black.”
“Have you told everyone that I am coming?” Cara was surprised.
“Oh, yes. I’ve planned to take you and the children visiting, so my friends and neighbors can have the opportunity to meet you.”
“Why would you want to do this?”
“You meant a lot to Doc, and it means a lot to me to have you here. Naturally I will want to introduce you to my circle of friends.”
Remembering what it was like to be introduced into high society back in Charleston, Cara worried. Back then, she had felt uncomfortable and out of place. Now, with four children in tow, she would feel even more awkward.
Margaret’s colored house servant appeared in the archway. “Dinner is served, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Lettie. Shall we go into the dining room, children?”
The dining room table was large enough to seat twelve. Cara noticed that Margaret was seated at the head of the table, with Remmie to her left. She had placed the two little girls on the right, with Cara between them. There was a basket on the floor just the right size for Hope, so she laid the sleeping baby in it.
The meal was extravagant and made up of several courses. Some of the foods were familiar to the children, but most of them were not. Several times, Remmie made a face when he tried the food on his plate. Charity only picked at her food. Rose tried everything, but made a terrible mess trying to use her utensils. Cara was embarrassed.
“I’m sorry my children don’t have proper manners.”
Margaret was more understanding than she had anticipated. “They will do all right, with some practice. How do you children like pudding?”
“I like pudding,” Remmie said.
While the children ate their dessert, Margaret looked them all over. Cara could see that Margaret found their attire lacking.
“Now, I’m thinking that tomorrow we’ll visit my dressmaker.”
Cara felt disheartened. “The clothes we have aren’t presentable enough?”
“They are certainly sturdy and stylish enough, for the farm. I’d like to have some dresses made up for you and the girls, and some suits for Remmie, that are more fashionable.”
Meaning expensive, Cara thought dismally. She had the money from Doc’s estate, but she did not want to spend it frivolously. Why buy clothes that were not practical for small town life?
“Do you play piano?” Margaret asked when dinner was over.
“I never learned. Gran had a piano, but we sold it.”
“I have a fine piano, and I’d like to play for you and the children. Would you join me in the parlor?”
Cara and the children sat on the uncomfortable, stiff chairs in the parlor. Margaret sat down on the piano bench and began to play. The songs were not the hymns in the church that were becoming familiar to Cara. Instead, she guessed that they were classical pieces. Margaret’s hands flew over the keys and she never made a mistake that Cara could tell.
The children grew restless. “Sing, Mama,” Rose said.
“This isn’t a time for singing, Rose,” Cara said in a hushed voice.
“We sing.” Rose’s voice was demanding, and Cara could see that Margaret heard it by the frown on the older woman’s face.
“Not now, Rose.”
Margaret finished the song she was playing and slid the cover back down over the keys. “I think that is enough for this evening.”
“You play very well, Margaret. Thank you for playing for us.”
“Perhaps while you are here, I can give young Charity some lessons. Would you like to learn to play piano, dear?”
Charity’s eyes widened in awe. She nodded.
How long did Margaret think they were staying? Cara wondered.
Later, she tucked the children into their new beds. Before she settled into the big bed in her room, she heard little footsteps across the room. Charity and Rose stood beside the bed, looking sad.
“What’s the matter, girls?”
“I don’t like our new bed, Mama. It feels strange.”
“You’ll get used to it, Charity. Now go back to bed, you and Rose both.”
Charity’s eyes welled up with tears. “May we sleep in here with you, Mama?”
“Stay with you, Mama.” Rose added her request.
Cara could not say no to the plea in Charity’s voice. She smiled and drew back the covers.
“It’s all right, just for tonight. Once you get used to the new place, you’ll be able to sleep in your own bed.”
In the morning, Cara rose early, before the baby awakened. For a moment, she wondered where she was, and then reality set in. She was away from the farm. The luxurious bed that she was sleeping in belonged to Margaret. She wondered why the other woman had invited them here. She said she had done it because she was lonely, and Cara guessed that could be true. But the feelings that Margaret had raised during her visit last summer pursued.
Margaret had turned down her nose at the meal Cara prepared. She had made it clear that she thought Cara’s home was old and unfashionable. Now, the clothes Cara had made for herself and the children weren’t good enough for Margaret. She wanted them to have new things.
“I’m hungry, Mama,” Rose said, sitting up.
“We’ll have breakfast after I feed the baby.” Cara’s voice was reassuring. Rose chattered to her doll, but she was patient. Cara fed the baby and dressed the children. Remmie came into the room, looking shy.
“How did you sleep, son?”
“I slept good. The bed is soft.”
“Yes, ours is soft, too. Do you like it here?”
It was the wrong question to ask. “I miss Adam.”
“Adam,” Rose cried.
“We’ll see Adam soon. Now, let’s get dressed and go downstairs for breakfast.”
Cara did not see Margaret downstairs, so she made her way to the kitchen. The servant, Lettie, smiled when she saw her.
“Are you and the children ready for breakfast, Mrs. Bancroft?”
“Yes, we are. Is Mrs. Warner going to eat with us?”
Lettie chuckled. “Mrs. Warner doesn’t get up until nine.”
Nine o’clock was late for Cara. By then, she had breakfast dishes and half of her morning’s work done. Having no one else in the house made it easy for Margaret to sleep in, she realized, and did not begrudge her hostess her sleeping time.
After breakfast, she was at loose ends. The children were, too. She took them into the sitting room, which was only slightly less formal than the parlor. There was a bookcase, with some children’s books on it. Remmie chose a book, and they passed the time reading.
Margaret came into the room about nine o’clock. “I see you are up and around early.”
“Yes, we get up rather early, I’m afraid.”
“I guess you would have to, on the farm. I haven’t had anyone to take care of for so long that I guess I’m rather spoiled. Are you dressed for leaving the house?”
Cara looked at the dove-gray dress she was wearing. It was the latest fashion, Agnes Morrow had assured her. She wore her new hoops, uncomfortable as they were. “Yes, we are.”
“Well, then. I’ll have Miles bring the carriage around, and we’ll make our way to the dressmaker’s shop.”
Cara cringed at the thought of the children getting fitted. They would surely be impatient, especially Remmie, who hadn’t liked it when Dinah measured him for his suits.
“Why do we need new clothes, Ma?” he complained when the dressmaker was measuring him.
“You’ll be going to new places, and meeting new people,” Margaret answered. “You’ll want to look your best.”
“I don’t want to meet new people.”
“Remmie, that isn’t polite. You need to apologize to Mrs. Warner.”
“Mrs. Warner is a mouthful for the children, don’t you think? I’ve been thinking that perhaps they might call me ‘Aunt Margaret.”
“I suppose that would be all right. If you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” Margaret said with a smile.
After the fittings, the dressmaker showed them a variety of fabrics and patterns. The materials were expensive silks and satins. Cara protested.
“I don’t think the children need such fancy clothes. Silk will tear easily, and doesn’t wash as well.”
“But, my dear, they need to be in fashion.”
“Maybe one dress in silk, then, and the others in something sturdier.”
Margaret looked upset. “I want them to look their best.”
“I can make some wonderful dresses out of this,” the dressmaker said, holding up a pink lawn fabric. “It washes more easily as silk, and is equally pleasing to the eye.”
“Very well, then,” Margaret agreed reluctantly.
With Margaret’s input, Cara chose material and a suit pattern for Remmie, who frowned. “I don’t like that.”
“It will look very handsome on you,” Margaret said. But he was not appeased.
Cara tried to calculate the costs, but not knowing how much the fabric cost made it difficult. When the dressmaker showed her an array of silk fabrics for her own costumes, she realized it was going to be a costly affair.
“I don’t want to be too extravagant.”
“Don’t worry about the cost, Cara. This will be my treat, the clothes for you and the children.”
“I can’t let you do that, Margaret. I have money now.”
Margaret laughed. “I know how my brother felt about fashion. He wore suits that were hopelessly outdated, because they still had some wear in them. He would not be pleased if I allowed you to spend your inheritance on new clothes.”
Cara smiled. It was true that Doc had not put much stock in what he wore. But she could not let Margaret finance her new wardrobe.
“I’ll pay for it.”
Margaret glanced at the dressmaker. “Just put it on my account, Lydia. We’ll settle up later.”
There seemed to be no point in arguing the matter, not right now. Cara finished choosing the material and patterns for her own outfits, and then it was time to leave.
“I’ll have Miles take us around the city, to show you some of the interesting sights.”
Margaret’s guided tour of the city lasted about one hour. Remmie was hopelessly bored, and Rose fell asleep. Hope started to cry. “I’ll need to feed her.”
“We’re almost back at the house.”
It was a noisy ride the rest of the way to Margaret’s house. The baby’s crying woke up Rose, who howled in protest that she was hungry.
“My, my. The children certainly are restless this morning.”
Cara wanted to tell Margaret that her children were used to playing, not spending all morning in a dressmaker’s shop and riding around in a buggy. But she held her tongue, and was relieved when the house came into view.
“Why don’t you nurse the baby in the downstairs bedroom?” Margaret suggested. “I’ve some things that I want to show the children.”
After Hope was satisfied, and sound asleep, Cara left her in the bedroom. She found Margaret and the children in the sitting room. Remmie played with a train set on the floor. Rose was holding a new doll, and Charity and Margaret were working on a puzzle.
“I bought a few toys for the children to play with while they are here. I’ve never had little children around, so I wasn’t sure what to get. I think they are happy with what I chose.”
“They look very pleased. It was thoughtful of you to think of them.”
“Are you ready to put the toys away and eat?” Margaret asked.
“Eat!” Rose was happy to put down the doll and make her way into the dining room.
Cara could not say whether she enjoyed her visit with Margaret or not. During the first few days, Margaret was kind and patient with the children. When they began to bicker among themselves and complain, she showed her impatience.
“I don’t think you’ve done much for discipline, Cara.”
“They are quite well-disciplined, but they are away from home, and everything is new to them.”
“I hope they will adjust soon. We can’t possibly take them calling with us if they are unruly.”
When their new clothes were ready, Margaret announced her plans for the children. She introduced Cara to a young colored girl, maybe sixteen at the most. “This is Miriam, Lettie’s oldest daughter.”
“Hello, Miriam.” Cara was polite but curious.
“I’ve hired Miriam to sit with the children while I take you calling.”
Cara’s face turned white with anger. “I don’t need someone to watch the children.”
“You said yourself that when they are away from home, they are unruly.”
That wasn’t what Cara had meant by her words. “If they can’t go with us, then I don’t want to go.”
“Nonsense, Cara. What fun could it possibly be for the children to get all dolled up and visit strangers?”
What fun could it possibly be for herself? Cara wondered.
“I’m sure they will do fine.”
“Miriam is a sister to seven brothers and sisters. She is used to watching them when Lettie is working. I think she will be quite able to handle your children.”
“I don’t doubt that she is, but I wouldn’t like to leave them with a stranger.”
In the end, Margaret won the argument. Cara left her children in the care of the young girl, taking the baby with her while she and Margaret went calling.
So began one of many days in which she dressed in her new silk gowns, put on the uncomfortable hoops and high-heeled boots, and rode with Margaret to the wealthy neighborhoods of the city. Margaret poured out the details of Doc’s life and death to her friends, all of whom were sympathetic to her loss. Their hostesses served them tea and fancy cakes, and little sandwiches such as Cara was not familiar with.
They were all curious about Cara. “How do you know Margaret?” many of the ladies asked.
“Cara’s grandmother was a dear friend of Patsy’s,” Margaret would always tell them. Cara cringed inside at the half-truth, but short of embarrassing her hostess, she did not correct her. Margaret always brought out up Cara’s southern heritage, and Cara had to tell about her social season in Charleston.
Margaret did not realize how painful it was for Cara to recall those days. She had been homesick for her grandmother, and grieving the loss of her parents. Then she had met Lem, and their secret courtship had thrown her into confusion and guilt. Much of what had happened in Charleston was a private matter, and she was careful what she told Margaret’s friends. Yes, she had met her husband there. She had returned to the farm, and he followed her there and married her. The women thought it was so romantic, just as Margaret had.
If they could have known the truth, about the letters Cara had found, they would have been disappointed in her, and judgmental. Yet hiding the truth, and pretending that her marriage had been wonderful, was hard for her to do.
The days passed by much too slowly. Cara missed Adam. She was delighted when she received a letter from him.
His penmanship was neat and legible, much better than her own. And he had a way with words that made her feel as if he were really talking to her.
You’ve been gone only a few days, but already it seems like a long time. The house is quiet without you and the children. I’m used to having all of you greet me when I come in the house. Now when I bring the milk in it’s to an empty kitchen.
I’ve been working with the new team, and they are well-trained. We invested our money wisely. With the pace at which they work, I believe we can get more crops planted this spring.
The cows are producing more milk than I can churn, so my ma has taken over that task. I take the milk to her each day at noon, and she is taking care of it. She is feeding me well, too. But I am missing your cooking, and the smile that always accompanies the meal.
I don’t know what your plans are, but I hope you will see your way to coming home soon. I miss you, and all of the children. It isn’t the same without you here.
The letter was signed, with all my love, Adam. Recalling his tender kisses and warm smile, her eyes filled up with tears. She missed him, too. So did the children. She was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to go home.
She started to write Adam a letter, but after a few words, she gave up trying. It was not easy to put her thoughts down on paper. Spelling and grammar had not been her strong points. She did not want to send a letter that showed her lack of formal education. So the letter sat on the little secretary desk in her guest room, unfinished.
When he took her to the train station, Adam had asked her if she was escaping to the city. In a sense, she had thought of her visit with Margaret as an escape from the prying eyes and gossiping tongues of the community. She had wanted to walk down the street or sit in church, and not be judged for her past. Yet she found that living a lie, or rather, half-truths, as she was doing with Margaret’s social circle, felt just as uncomfortable. Margaret showed indifference when Cara expressed her doubts.
“I’m not going to have them know the whole truth about you, my dear. They will sit in judgment on you just as I have done. Here, you have a chance at a fresh start.”
“My stay here is only temporary,” Cara reminded her hostess. “I’m planning to return home and marry Adam.”
“Are you certain of that? Now that you have had a taste of the city life, and an elegant lifestyle, why would you want to return to the farm, and all of that hard work?”
“It’s my home,” Cara said with a hint of stubbornness. “And it’s the children’s home. I know they want to go back.”
“I think they’re adjusting very well.”
Margaret thought that because she did not spend much time with the children. Cara saw their sad looks, even Rose, who was usually so good-natured. They were homesick. Remmie, especially, voiced his thoughts to Cara every evening as she tucked him in.
“When are we going home, Ma?”
“We’ll go home when our visit with Aunt Margaret is done.”
“Why can’t that be now?”
Cara wondered that herself. She knew she could leave at any time, but she did not want to hurt Margaret. Doc’s sister seemed to enjoy her company so much. Margaret often lamented that she would be feel so lonely and sad if Cara were not here to visit with her. Cara felt guilty, so she put off her plans to return home.