Tyler Montgomery paused at the stone pillar marking the entrance to the drive from the dusty road to the house. A wooden sign hanging on a shepherd’s hook at the top of the pillar was carved to spell Glen Knolls. The young man removed a folded paper from his coat pocket and looked at the words. “Mr. Glen knows the way.” This must be the place. The cryptic message led nowhere else.
Two parallel paths worn in the grass wound their way along the side of a yellow two-story framed farmhouse with Greek fluted pillars and a triangular portico common in Northeast Ohio architect. The driveway ended in front of a gray weathered bi-level bank barn. Midway, pieces of slate created a path from a hitching post to the entrance door. Small fluted pillars and sectioned windows framed the doorway.
Tyler debated what story to tell the owners of Glen Knolls in order to gain their trust. The sound of hoof beats of a lone rider approaching from the north interrupted his thoughts. He ducked into the thick woods on the opposite side of the farm.
Unfortunately, the rider turned into Glen Knolls and tied his horse to the hitching post beneath a shady elm. The stranger wore a black suit even though it was summer. He removed a bouquet of flowers from the stovetop hat he’d tied to the saddle and headed for the door. Since he didn’t appear to live at the farm, Tyler remained in the shadows of the trees and waited for the caller to leave.
The time dragged. Two dairy cows and a calf grazed in the pasture on the other side of the road where a split rail fence kept them from wandering into the yard. Chickens rooted for worms and grubs in the heat of the first day of July. When the long shadows of evening fell across the field, the chickens retired to their coop, and the bovines headed for the back of the barn.
The sound of a window opening focused his attention on the house. Maybe the visitor was finally leaving.
Inside the brightly colored farmhouse, Cory Beecher propped open the window with a notched board. She had kept the tall sectioned windows closed during the day but hoped the evening air would offer some reprieve from the heat. She took her seat across from Douglas Raymond at a small table in front of the unused fireplace in the front parlor. Although his initial visit three weeks before had been to show his concern for the recently widowed Adelaide Thomas, his subsequent visits had been to court her.
Cory was flattered such an eligible bachelor was paying attention to her. She’d never had a shortage of male callers, but she had turned twenty in May. Time was running out to choose a husband. The pool of desirable suitors was shrinking, and younger, more
aggressive ladies snatched up the coveted prospects.
Most of her friends were married, and they said it was time she did the same. She could do worse than Douglas. He was an instructor at the Western Reserve College in a town northeast of Darrow Falls. He had to travel more than ten miles to call upon her. A good
She had hoped someone college educated like Douglas would prove interesting, but her thoughts drifted as the evening wore on. If only Douglas didn’t consider himself an authority on nearly every subject and monopolize the conversation.
Although Douglas appeared arrogant, a wife could teach him tact. She studied his face. He wasn’t handsome, but he wasn’t repulsive either. Douglas had a high forehead, thin face, and a narrow angular nose. Cory debated the merits of his features and missed Adelaide’s last remark. She looked at the elderly woman rocking beside her. “Excuse me.”
“We were talking about slavery,” Adelaide said. “Mr. Raymond is of the opinion race defines a man.”
Cory frowned. “In what way?”
“There are three races of men in this world, each with distinct characteristics.” Douglas stood, bumping the table and rattling the floral tea cups. “But more than physical differences, are their thoughts and mental abilities.” He paced in front of the two women. “The black race lacks the intelligence other races exhibit to become superior.”
Cory was tired of mindlessly smiling, and his words lit a fuse to her tongue. “I have children in my classroom who can’t read or write until someone teaches them. It doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent. It means they haven’t been taught, and slaves aren’t
allowed to be educated.”
“A person doesn’t need to attend school to be wise,” Douglas replied.
“But a person can be scholarly and still be a fool.” Adelaide turned her head to look at the clock on the mantel.
Cory regained her composure. She smiled, hoping to repair any damage her outburst may have caused. She could be more outspoken after she was married. “Politicians prove they’re fools every day.”
“It is difficult to discern between a wise man and a fool, especially in politics,” Douglas said. “That is why I disagreed when they changed the law ten years ago to let any man vote.”
“Every white man,” Adelaide corrected.
Douglas raised his voice. “Even though eliminating the land ownership requirement permitted me to vote, how can a man who can’t even write his own name make a decision as important as choosing the next President of the United States? These uneducated men
will probably choose someone like Abraham Lincoln. The man has barely a year of proper schooling, and yet he thinks he’s qualified to become the next President of the United States.” Douglas pointed his index finger upward. “I will not vote for him.”
“Neither will I,” Cory agreed, forgetting to keep her thoughts on women’s rights a secret. Her crusade to change a woman’s status had cooled the ardor of too many admirers, and she had decided to keep her ambitions a secret. Maybe her daughters would change
the world instead.
Douglas frowned. “Women can’t vote.”
“They can’t?” Cory prayed Douglas didn’t recognize the sarcasm in her voice. She tried reason. “Maybe now that white men can vote, they’ll let their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters vote, too.”
Douglas laughed. “Women are too emotional to make such an important decision. They would base their vote on a man’s appearance or his eloquence of speech and not on his real qualifications to lead the country.”
Cory seethed, but she schooled her face to remain calm. How could a man like Douglas understand how it felt to be treated like a second-class citizen? A woman couldn’t vote, own property, or sign a legal document. She was barely better than a slave, which made her completely sympathetic to their cause.
Douglas continued his lecture. “It takes an educated, intuitive man to discern an honest man from a liar. Why earlier this day I met a Southerner at the college looking for a runaway slave.”
Adelaide stopped rocking. Cory looked at the old woman to see if something was wrong. Adelaide leaned forward, fixed on Douglas. Cory turned to her suitor. What was he saying that was so interesting?
“And not the usual bounty hunter.” He lowered his voice. “He was too well dressed for a chaser. I suspect he was the owner of the runaway.”
“A slave owner?” Cory studied Adelaide. “Must be an important slave to come for him in person.”
Adelaide’s hands had paled to a bloodless white from gripping the arms of her rocker. “Must be.” She resumed her rhythmic rocking.
Cory glanced at the clock behind her. Douglas had stayed too long, but politics and slavery were his favorite topics.
He pounded his fist into the palm of his hand. “I’ve always made my thoughts on slavery quite clear. Colonization is the answer. Send the Africans back to Africa where they came from.”
“But this is 1860. None of the slaves in the United States were born in Africa,” Adelaide corrected. “Why most of their ancestors were here long before yours or mine.”
“Makes no difference,” he argued. “They’re African. It’s in their blood.”
“Why stop at Africans?” Adelaide demanded. “Why not ship the Irish back to Ireland? Or the Germans back to Germany?”
“The Germans are hard workers, but no one would miss the Irish.” He laughed, but the women remained silent.
Cory focused on the empty teacups as she placed them on the tray with the teapot and dirty cake plates.Her grandfather was Irish, and her grandmother was German. Douglas had unwittingly insulted her ancestry, but Cory was equally upset with Adelaide. She’d posed the question to make Douglas look bad. From the first visit, Adelaide had voiced her unfavorable opinion about Douglas. Cory wanted him to approve of her, especially since there were rumors he was shopping for a wife. She frowned. Why was Adelaide meddling in her affairs?
When no one joined in his merriment, Douglas reddened. “The Beecher’s aren’t Irish, are they?”
“No, but my Grandpa Donovan is.”
“I do apologize.” He withdrew his pocket watch and studied the timepiece. “I can’t believe the late hour. I must return to the college. Even instructors have a curfew.”
He was leaving. Cory stood and fluffed her skirt, allowing the crinoline beneath to regain its bell shape.“Thank you for visiting.”
“I want to thank you ladies for the dessert and excellent conversation.”
“The time certainly went by quickly.” Cory wanted to end the night on a happy note. “Stop by any time.”
“Are you attending the Independence Day activities?”
Cory looked to Adelaide for permission. “I can spare you for one day. After all, it’s a holiday, and your family will want to spend time with you.”
Cory followed him into the hallway. She had placed the flowers he had brought in a vase on the sideboard. “The flowers are lovely. Thank you.” She handed him his hat. “I’ll see you at the celebration on the square on Wednesday.” She stepped outside onto the porch and led the way toward his horse, swishing her wide skirt side to side. For a few minutes, they would be alone.
She had worn her best-looking frock, an emerald and blue plaid made with a gathered skirt, wide shoulder straps and a tightly cinched waist to create an hour-glass figure. The bodice was altered for evening wear and cut perilously low in the front. Adelaide had
threatened to tell her mother if she didn’t sew some modest lace inserts above the bodice, but she had postponed the work until after Douglas called. Now it appeared to have been a futile attempt to attract his attention.
She stood by his horse, anticipating a declaration of love or a gesture of affection, but after securing his hat, he awkwardly mounted the horse he had borrowed from the college stable.
Cory leaned against the elm tree as he rode off. Her ingénue attempts of seduction had failed. Most men spoke words of admiration when they called. Some held her hand. A few had the nerve to kiss her. And those advances were at home with her mother, father, and her pesky younger sisters all gathered around them. Here, she was practically alone, and Douglas hadn’t even given her a warm smile. He was all prim and proper. Perhaps his position as an instructor required it. As a school teacher, she was expected to adhere to higher standards, but they were alone. Couldn’t he have let his guard down a little?
She waved when he turned onto the road in case he looked back. Not even a glance. A sigh escaped her as the wooden heels of her leather shoes clicked against the slate. The visit should have been more successful with a delicious dessert, a daring outfit, and flattering
conversation. What did a girl have to do to get married?
She entered the house serving as her temporary home. A long hallway ran from the front to the back of the house and allowed a strong breeze to flow through the house when both doors were opened. But it was getting late, and she reluctantly closed the front door. A
steep staircase to the right of the hallway led upstairs. Cory entered the front parlor on the left where she had entertained Douglas. She kept the windows open in the event a breeze stirred and removed some of the humidity that left her dress damp and clingy. She paused at the roll-top desk between the windows and noticed an unfinished letter to Adelaide’s daughter. She would leave Glen Knolls next month. Hiram had built the house thirty-six years ago, and Adelaide had meticulously furnished it. But his untimely death left her no choice but to sell. Cory admired the workmanship in the curtains, pillows, and other small touches making the home inviting. The tray of dishes was missing. She walked through a doorway to the formal dining room overlooking the backyard. A stenciled tulip pattern decorated the walls. As she passed the mahogany Hepplewhite table, she pushed in a shieldback chair. She heard Adelaide in the adjoining kitchen singing a hymn Adelaide had told her Hiram built the kitchen first with its own fireplace and door to the backyard. They had lived in it for three years until he finished the rest of the house. Adelaide stood at the dry sink below the window overlooking the elm and drive to the road. She washed one of the ornate cups in a basin of soapy water and rinsed it in another bowl of clean water.
“Let me help.” Cory grabbed a towel from a hook on the wall and dried the cup.
Adelaide handed her a saucer. “Did he propose?”
“He’s only called a few times.”
“How long does it take a man to decide whether or not he wants a woman to be his wife?” Adelaide demanded. “Hiram took one look at me and knew I was the girl for him. And you’re not the first girl he’s considered.”
Cory almost dropped the saucer in her hand. “What do you mean?”
“I heard he asked Beth Davis to marry him, and she said no. Now he’s calling here. Maybe he’s more cautious this time, but he’ll marry the first girl to say yes.”
Cory frowned at this bit of news. She was second choice? How humiliating. Beth Davis was the daughter of the Reverend Lawrence Davis and well-known by members of the Community Congregational Church.
Beth had been helpful during Hiram’s funeral and offered to stay with Adelaide. But Beth had no farming experience, and the role of caregiver fell to Cory. “Do you know why she said no?”
Adelaide snorted. “She has more sense than you.”
Cory carried the clean dishes to the dining room and placed them in the hutch. “I love my family, but I don’t want to live at home forever,” she defended. “I don’t want to become a burden to them.”
“You earn your keep, or don’t I pay you enough?”
“You’re very generous.”
Adelaide was paying her three dollars a week. A fair wage for a man, let alone a woman, even if it did include caring for the livestock and canning the vegetables and fruit the farm produced.
“Why rush into marriage?” Adelaide asked. “I thought you considered yourself a suffragette?”
A suffragette wasn’t an occupation. It was a state of mind, and ideals tended to falter in the face of reality. Most men, including Douglas, were traditional, conservative, and authoritative. They wanted a wife who was submissive.
“Some men don’t like independent women.”
“Men don’t know what they want in a woman so why pretend to be something you aren’t?” Adelaide closed the back door at the end of the central hallway. “Did you close the front door?”
“Yes,” Cory answered. “I don’t know why we can’t keep the doors open. At least until it cools down.”
“The last time you left the door open, raccoons made a mess of my pantry. No telling what kind of vermin will wander in.”
Cory had cleaned the mess the masked marauders had created and didn’t want to repeat the arduous task. The doors would remain closed.
Adelaide climbed the stairs, and Cory hurried to assist her. It would never do if Adelaide followed her husband to the grave so soon.