Pages

Monday, March 27, 2017

A LAST MINUTE SWITCH

by c.j.
A Just for Fun Fiction
inspired from a true story.



Abigail hated chaperoning her sister.  It was mainly because she was being forced to watch Judith's false simpering and fawning pretending to be other than she was: mean and two-faced. Not only that, Abigail was doomed to watch the most esteemed gentleman in their set--adored by all the young ladies, admired by all the young men, and highly approved by all their parents--become entangled in the web her sister had woven. 

"Abigail, I wish you to leave and bring back, umm, the book by my bed.  I would like to read Kirk a favorite selection of poetry." 

It was a lie.  Her sister probably had never read a poem in her life.  She only wanted to be alone with her gentleman caller for a few minutes.  "I will stand just outside the open door and look for Susan to pass by.  I will ask her to retrieve it for you.  Which one was it, Judith?"

"You know, the one by Algernon somebody."

"Swinburne?  Are you sure?"  Abigail hid her gin.

"Yes that's the one,"  Judith agreed. 



Evan's eyebrows raised in shock for a slight moment before putting his calm visage back in place.  Only his jaw appeared clenched.  Abigail  had once heard  a few lines and knew her father would never have allowed such a book in his house.

Stuck in her head, Abigail quoted under her breath the sacrilegious and controversial poet known to be an alcoholic,


"Glory to man in the highest! 
For Man is the master of things.
Time turns the old days to derision,
Our loves into corpses or wives;
And marriage and death and division
Make barren our lives."



"Abigail, I want it now!  Get it for me."

She sighed.  "I will be back shortly."  Instead of going up the stairs knowing no book was to be found in her sister's room, Abigail went through the kitchen grabbing an apple, and headed  to the stable.  She would pet her horse, her favorite Christmas present ever.  He would be better company than her sister.

Suddenly she smelled alcohol among the stable scent of hay and horse.  Abigail turned around to find Evan's friend Howard standing there staring.

"Hello, Abigail."  He closed the door a bit more leaving them in shadow.  "Don't you look lovely today.  I've always said how you are the most beautiful of the two sisters."  He had walked up so closely that his breath was offensive. 

"Hello, Howard.  Why didn't you come in with Evan?"  She tried to back away, but found she was up against the wall of the stall.

"Oh, he said he wouldn't be long.  He didn't think I would be fit company for young ladies today, but I'm glad you thought otherwise."  Then he tried to kiss her.









Abigail pushed him away and found that he was stronger than she had imagined.  His fingers plied her hair free as she tried to squirm away from his roving mouth and hands.  A button at her throat was torn off.  She raised her voice saying, "No, please, don't!  Stop!"

The stable was suddenly bathed in sunshine as Kirk threw the door open and charged in yanking his friend away.  In the process, her sleeve was torn at her shoulder.  Then he threw a punch while Howard cowered. 

"How dare you touch Miss Abigail!  You aren't fit to clean their stable!"  Kirk drew Abigail in a comforting sideways hug allowing her to cry into his shoulder, kindly asking, "Are you alright?"

"What is going on?"  It was her sister's shrill voice.

Judith ripped her away from her protector's arm and slapped her in the face.  "Have you no shame, you little hussy!  Is it not enough to get untoward attention from one gentleman, let alone my fiancé?"

Abigail was stunned and looked wide-eyed at Judith.

Kirk's countenance hardened as he turned to her sister. "This was not her fault.  Howard is drunk and was forcing himself upon her. I had just pulled him away.  After dealing with him, I only sought to comfort your sister."

They were a sorry bunch as Howard slid down onto the dirty hay with a split lip, a bruised cheek and what would soon be a black eye.  Abigail was sure she had the print of her sister's hand emblazoned on her cheek which she gingerly tried to cover it with one hand while pulling up her sleeve to cover her shoulder with the other.  Evan was opening and closing his fist trying to shake the pain of his bruised knuckles off while glaring at Howard.  But Judith was glowering at her .

Then Evan turned to her sister and calmly stated.  "I beg to differ, Miss Judith.  I am not your fiancé and never will be.  I have neither asked you nor your father for your hand in marriage and am  certainly most grateful now that I did not after seeing your display of anger.  Neither is your sister a hussy.  Please do not be confused about either of those facts again.  Get on your horse, Howard.  We need to leave." 

Kirk did not see her sister's slap coming.  Now he had a matching print to the one on Abigil's cheek.  Evan's eyes narrowed but he turned away without another word as Judith stomped her foot and growled, "Good riddance of the both of you.  Don't you dare set your feet back on our property again!" 

Howard got unsteadily to his feet and stumbled to where their horses were tied.  It took him two tries before he could stay in the saddle.  Evan mounted in one smooth move and never looked back except one sympathetic glance in Abigail's direction. 

As soon as they turned out of sight, Judith launched herself at her pulling her hair and stomping on her toes and kicking her in the shins.  "You did this, you wicked, wicked girl!"

Abigail did not bother to reply only tried to fend off her sister's attack.  Fortunately, the stable lad  came running up.  Judith stopped.  "Sorry miss, oh!"  He looked between the two sisters with owl huge eyes looking as if he could not blink.  "I was just at the neighbor's helping him see to an injured horse.  But I came running when I heard the row," he panted.

Judith stomped back into the house slamming the door.  Abigail wanted to wait for her sister to cool off before returning.  However, she turned her back to the young man trying to put her hair back up while busy blinking back tears.

"Are you alright, Miss?"  he asked kindly.

Abigail shook her head but could not trust herself to speak without sobbing.  She was still shaking from her fright. 



Two weeks passed while he waited for his wounds to heal.  When Howard came to the door with a bouquet of flowers, Kirk was not with him.  He said, "Is Miss Abigail at home?"  He was shown into the parlor.

"Howard?"  She felt weak in the knees and sat down quickly at his unexpected visit.

He strode forward holding out the flowers.  "I have come to apologize for my despicable behavior.  It is no excuse, but I had been drinking and was not myself.  Please forgive me, Abigail."

She looked away trying to find it in her heart to say the words he wanted.  Though she had wrestled to find it in herself to forgive him every night at prayers, every day when she looked toward the stable she felt sick to her stomach,  So far, she had not succeeded in granting him mercy.  Even though her mind knew what the Savior required of her, her wounded heart was not ready.  Hopefully, He would be patient with her.

To her dismay, the young man got down on his knee to implore her looking up saying, "Please, Abigail.  I know I don't deserve it, but I truly am sorry."

Just then they heard a gasp.  Her mother stood in the doorway with her hand over her mouth.  It dawned on Abigail what it looked like.

"No, mother.  It's nothing like that, I assure you!  It's not what it appears." 

Howard jumped up and began nervously turning his straw hat in his hands.  "Hello, Mrs. Kincaid.  I was just...I was going to ask Miss Abigail if I could come calling."

It was Abigail's turn to gasp.  She shook her head with her hand over her mouth. 

But her mother looked pleased as punch.  "Of course, dear.  She would look forward to that.  Would you care to stay for supper tonight?"

Abigail felt like she might lose her lunch and quickly passed them both running upstairs.



"She's just a little timid," she heard her mother say before she shut her door and threw herself on her bed sobbing.

And he did come calling.  Persistently.  Not only had she suffered through that first supper during which she could not meet his eyes or contribute a single word to the conversation, but she sat evening after evening in the parlor with him though she still had not spoken a word.  It seemed Judith thought he had come to call on her.  Abigail only wished that were true. 

She wished Kirk could have come with him, not that she desired to press her sister on that gentleman, but because he was good company.  It would have been easier to abide Howard's presence.  Evidently, Howard and Kirk were still friends though it had been strained for awhile, Howard confided.

At least while he sat lounging on a chair, Judith kept up her blather.  Abigail remained stiff on the sofa, still as a statue, with her hands clenched in her lap gazing out the window.

"Miss Abigail, did you hear me?  I asked if you would give me the pleasure of accompanying me to the gala at the Humphries  Friday evening?"

She turned and saw Judith's look of shock before she glared daggers at her.  Well, that doused her sister's hope. Then Abigail looked at Howard.   Her sister said testily, "Of course she will, won't you, dear Abigail." She wickedly grinned,  "You haven't stopped talking about how much you enjoy his company, isn't that right?"

She had pinned Abigail as one would pin a butterfly to a board though its wings were still moving.  "Yes," was all she managed to say while Howard's face lit up.

The look of hope dawning on his face seemed genuine.  "Thank you, Abigail." Then he lowered his voice  to add, "You won't be sorry.  I'll be a perfect gentleman, I promise."

When the evening arrived, Abigail came down the stairs slowly gripping the rail so as to catch herself if she tripped.  Howard tried to look dashing, but she was not impressed.



Howard grinned his appreciation of her appearance.  "Gracious, Miss Abigail!  I already thought you were beautiful, but look at you now."  Her mother took the bouquet of roses he offered her.

"I'll put these in water, dear.  Have a good time, you two," she said looking smug.

It was a quiet ride in his landau.  He seemed content just looking at her making her blush. Their hosts greeted them as they entered awaiting the elaborate dinner party for what looked like at least one hundred guests.  Not even her family had been invited.  However, Kirk was there. 

"Hello, Miss Abigail.  Are you enjoying your evening?"  He arched his brow watching her closely observing her and Howard together.  Was he disappointed in her?  Abigail couldn't tell.  She found she could not open her mouth to respond and could hardly swallow. 

Finally, she managed to say, "The orchestra is quite lovely.  I do enjoy pieces by Hayden."   Kirk nodded, but Howard seemed to be more interested in the servant going around with a tray of drinks.

"Champagne?" he asked her.

"No thank you. Just water, please."

The alcohol on his breath was a little stronger as the evening wore on as he disappeared into the host's library time and again.  She suspected the decanter there held stronger stuff. 

"Will you be alright?" Kirk asked. 

"I hope so," she replied.  "Should I be worried?"

"Perhaps.  But if he is too far into his cups, I'll see you home myself."  Which he did.



Howard came the next afternoon beside himself with apologies.  "I am so very sorry, Abigail.  I was not paying attention to how many times Mr. Humphries filled my glass."

"Kirk was kind enough to see me home," she replied with her dander up and her neck stiff.

"It won't happen again," he promised. 

"Isn't that what you already promised?" she asked looking him in the eye.  He shrank back like a little boy with his hand in the cookie jar.

"I will give it up for you, Abigail, gladly.  I will drink water whenever I am in your company.  You may ask Kirk even.  He'll hold me accountable.  You should have heard him this morning putting me through the wringer."

It seemed after that, her whole family endeavored to make a match.  The young man was incessant with his visits.  He wore her down and never once slipped again from gentlemanly conduct.

When he spoke to her father one evening after supper, Abigail's heart sank.  This time when he went down on his knee, she felt forced to accept.  She was betrothed.  It was expected.  Abigail knew she was not in love.  However, Howard did seem to have redeemed himself.  He even faithfully sat beside her in church.  He came from money.  Her family was in the same set.  That's just how things were done.  So why did her heart ache so?

Only Judith was up in arms.  "It's not fair!  I'm the oldest.  It should be me who is engaged first.  You should make her wait," she ranted and raved.

"Now, dear.  Isn't Mr. Hansen calling regularly?  Your turn will come," her mother tried to calm her, but Judith stalked off in a huff.



It would suit her just fine to wait, Abigail thought as wedding plans went forward.

"Should we serve ham or beef for the wedding supper, dear?  Do you have a preference?"

"I don't care."

"Would you like to be married in the church or here at home in our backyard?"

"I don't care."

"Which would you prefer, roses or peonies?"

"I don't care."

Then she realized her mother was trying to grab her attention when she asked, "Elephants or zebras?"

"I don't...what?" 

"You don't seem very enthusiastic about your wedding dear," her mother studied her.  It was the first time anyone had asked her whether she wished to marry Howard since he has asked her.

"I just don't care for the planning.  It would make me happy for you to do what you wish, mother."  She sighed wishing she could just call the whole thing off.

However, Howard did seem attentive more than ever.  But  he pressed his intentions on her whenever the opportunity provided itself sneaking a kiss here and there though she tried most of the time to turn away.  It turned her stomach.  As much as she tried, Abigail could not forget the incident in the stable and every kiss brought it all back making her feel dirty. When she asked about the alcohol on his breath once, he swore it was mouthwash.  Until the vows were said, she did her best to make sure they were chaperoned as much as possible.  She supposed it wasn't uncommon for a man to wish for more, but she just couldn't and wouldn't until she would have to endure him after the ceremony.

"Sometimes you make me feel like you still despise me, Abigail," he said testily crossing his arms one night out in the garden.  He had just tried to kiss her on the lips, but she had turned away.

She blushed.  "I'm trying not to, but you have to admit, we did not start off on the right foot."

"Seriously?  That was months ago," he said exasperated.  "You need to get over it if you want to be my wife."

"I'm trying, truly I am."

"Well, I'm trying too, trying to kiss you."  And he did pushing it way beyond what she was comfortable with.  She finally pushed him away.  That's enough."

"Enough for now.  The wedding is in one week," he reminded her.  "Kirk has agreed to be my best man while Henry, Harold and Isaac will be groomsmen.  Who will be with you?"

It was the first time he had asked about the ceremony.  "My sister, of course," she said ignoring his snort.  "Then my friend Eleanor and two cousins, Elizabeth and Sophia.  The preacher said we need to have a rehearsal for the ceremony the night before..."

"Hey, my groomsmen have planned a bachelor party for me that night.  It's the last time for that sort of thing, you know."

"You will just have to wait to go off with them until after that is over."  It was the first time she stood up to him about anything.

"I suppose," he grumbled.  "I'm glad I won't have to go through this again," he sighed.

She didn't know what on earth he had done to prepare for the ceremony other than perhaps be fitted for a new suit and asking his friends to stand with him.   Oh, how she wished she had had the backbone to have turned him down.  It was too late now."  She sighed more deeply than he did.

At the rehearsal, she could smell him before she saw him.  Abigail's heart sank.  He had already begun drinking ,and it was still early in the evening.  Somehow he managed to make it through the practice with his buddies snickering and elbowing him. 



But not Kirk.  He looked as upset as he had looked that day in the stable.  After they left, he found her and put his hand at her elbow and guided her outside.  Staff was still stringing up paper lanterns and putting the tablecloths on.  He took her around to the side of the house out of view before stopping.   She looked up with only the moonlight to shine on his grieved face.

"You don't have to go through with this, Abigail, you know."  He had taken her hands and was rubbing his thumbs over them in a gentle caress. 

She shook her head while tears glistened.  "It's too late."  She knew he had asked her when her engagement had first been announced if she was sure.  When she asked him if he knew of things to keep her from honoring her commitment, he had looked her straight in the eyes and said, "Yes.  He is not as honorable as he appears.  Though he has been my friend from childhood, he has no business marrying someone as innocent and special as you."  Her mother had walked in then interrupting them just as she was doing now as Abigail heard her calling searching for her.  It would be unseemly to be seen with someone other than her betrothed standing there in the dark alone, so he guided her through the side gate out in front of the house though still mostly hidden by the weeping willow.

"Think about it, Abigail," his eyes implored her. "I know you don't love him.  He would make your life miserable.  It's not just his drinking," he said pausing, but added, "he has other vices as well."

She shuddered and gripped his hands.  "Truly?" 

"I've wanted to tell you, but had hoped you would have found him out before now on your own.  I don't know what I would do if he mistreated you, sweetheart."  He blushed realizing what he had just said.  He was still holding her hand.

She let her eyes rove over his wonderful face since she knew she could never look at another man like this once she was married.  She finally whispered, "I wish with all my heart I could call it all off."  She gave him a desperate hug before running in the front door as her mother came in through the patio. 

"Where have you been?  I've been looking all over for you.  Your sister is unhappy with having to walk down the aisle with Kirk, and I don't blame her the way he led her on.  We decided that we would let the ladies come down the aisle on their own while having the groomsmen stay standing beside the groom.  Goodness, I am so glad that I'll only have to do this once more for your sister."


"However you wish, mother,"  she complied.  Then she turned to duck around her and to run up the stairs to the safety of her own room, a room she would have to share in another house with her soon to be husband.  The thought only made her cry harder.  Though he had courted her for months, she still really did not know him at all.

The next morning she overslept after tossing and turning and crying out in prayer for most of the night.  When she looked in the mirror, she saw how puffy her eyes still appeared.  Abigail quickly put on a day dress and went down for breakfast though not hungry.  She just wanted a cup of coffee with a half piece of toast, maybe.

"There you are, Abigail.  I've been up for hours.  There is still so much to do.  It is all too much!  I don't know why we agreed to do the ceremony here.  It is impossible to get good help..."

Abigail tuned out her mother's droning.  She concentrated on keeping her stomach from roiling.  She tried to tune out Judith's panicked voice wondering who had stolen her pearls ready to accuse the entire household staff.  Abigail merely pointed to her throat.  They were around her neck, the ninny.  It seemed to almost be a comedy, no a tragedy, playing out before her and she was the leading lady. She bit her lip to keep from crying some more. 

It was mere hours before the ceremony.  Her hair was being pulled and twisted, curled and braided and piled up upon her head.  Orange blossoms were woven in with her combs with a refreshing scent.  A knock sounded upon her bedroom door.

"Miss Abigail?"  It was the head housekeeper. 

"Come in, Betsy," she said turning back so the women could continue to torture her hair.

"There's a gentleman here to see you. He says it's urgent."

"Who is it?" she asked bewildered. 

"It's Mr. Kirk Prindle, miss.  He looks upset.  I think you should go down," the woman said avoiding her eyes.

She wasn't dressed.  She didn't dare put anything over her head without endangering the well being of her hair as the maid's look warned her, at least not until she donned her wedding dress.  "Show him into the library please."

It wasn't proper, but it would have to be, she sighed putting on her satin wrap over her slip.  Her corset refused to allow her to take a deep breath.  Once downstairs, she slipped into the library and shut the door.  Kirk stood still as if struck dumb by her presence.  Then he shook his head.


"I'm afraid there is a problem."  He once again held her hands. "Evidently at the wild party Howard's friends threw him last night, somebody thought it would be funny to put him in an empty box car on the train thinking he would get off at the very worst in the next town.  Now no one can find him.  They don't know how far he has gone before sobering up.  His other groomsmen just came and told me."

She was stunned.  "What?"

"What I'm trying to say is that he probably won't make it back in time for the ceremony," Kirk carefully studied her as she processed the shocking portend of what he was saying. 

Suddenly a giddy relief surged through her breaking forth in a wondrous smile, then followed by a crushing guilt as to the shame her parents would go through, though it meant nothing concerning herself.

"What should I do?"  She looked up to Kirk.  She always had, she realized, thinking he was more than the most admirable of men.  He was the most desirable as well.  Her face heated, but she refused to look away as they stared into each other's eyes.

He took a deep breath then began.  "I have always admired you, Abigail.  Ever since that day in the stable, I realized then for the first time that you were no longer a young girl, but a true lady.  Unfortunately, Howard began calling on you before I had the nerve to face the ire of your sister, to come myself to court you, to my everlasting regret.  But if you would have me, I would gladly marry you," he glanced at his pocket watch, "in less than two hours.  In fact, I adore you.  You are the kindest, most beautiful Christian young woman I have ever known.  I would be honored, if you accept..."

At her stunned silence he finished nervously saying, "but I understand if you do not wish it.  Please excuse me if I have overstepped your bounds."

"No, I accept!" 

"Really?"  Kirk grinned like a boy on Christmas morning.  Then he laughed from somewhere deep inside. 

Then he looked at her with an endearment she had never known, no hint of a boy left, only a man.  It sent delicious shivers inside her.   Pulling her close, he kissed her.  It was nothing like any kiss she'd ever known.

Finally , he put his forehead on hers and laughed nervously, "I will go speak to your father first, then to the minister.  We will surely shock many, but the wedding will go on."  He was grinning like the sun rose just for them.  "Pray for me," he added and winked.


Her father came in knocking on her door as the maid was buttoning up her dress.  "Is this what you what, Abigail?  It makes me want to ring Howard's scrawny neck, but Kirk makes two, no ten of him."

"I agree, father.  I think I might even love him, which is more than I could ever say about Howard."  She giggled feeling more like a giddy bride should.  He came and kissed her on the cheek. 

"The only ones who won't be totally pleased will be your sister and your mother.  Your mother will come around once she thinks it through while I don't know if your sister will ever forgive you.  But don't let that keep you from your own happiness, dear."

Fortunately, her father did not tell her mother until moments before the ceremony which did not allow her to have a conniption fit in front of all the guests.  She then saw him whisper into her sister's ear right before she walked down the aisle.  Then all she could see was her groom waiting, waiting for her.  She ignored all the curious whispers.

Just as the minister pronounced them man and wife, while Kirk was kissing her, Howard came striding down the aisle.  His tie and hat were gone, and he was wearing the same rumpled clothes he had worn yesterday.  She didn't know whether he smelled worse of vomit or alcohol.  "What's the meaning of this?"  He was still slurring his words.  Kirk held her close as her father jumped up and grabbed the missing groom by the arm and propelled him out the front door.  His own father followed on their heels.  There was some yelling and cursing even, then quiet after the clatter of a rig pulled away.  Someone was crying, probably his mother.  Her mother motioned to the orchestra to begin playing. 


But Abigail and Kirk just grinned at each other knowingly as the preacher said in a final pronouncement, "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder!"   Abigail could not be more thankful for the last minute switch of grooms.



*It seems that I read a news clipping from a hundred years ago, a story about something similar happening in a town we lived in.  It seemed friends of the groom got him drunk the night before his wedding and thought it would be funny to  put him in a rail car.  They thought he would sober up and get out in the next town and make his way home.  However, he was carried much further away, so far that he did indeed miss his wedding.  He sobered up too late.  She married someone else.  However, everything else is just pure fun fiction.




"Wine is a mocker,
strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise."
(Proverbs 20:1)


"Listen my son, and be wise,
And direct your heart in the way.
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine...
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness with clothe them with rags...
Who has woes?  Who has sorrow?
...Who has redness of the eyes?
Those who linger on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly;
At the last it bites like a serpent
And stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things
And your mind will utter perverse things...
They beat me, but I did not know it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink."
(Proverbs 23:19-21 & 29-35)


"What, O my son?
...It is not for kings to drink wine,
Or for rulers to desire strong drink,
For they will drink and forget
what is decreed,
And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
Give strong drink to him who is perishing,
And wine to him whose life is bitter."
(Proverbs 31:2-6)

(In other words, only bitter, dying people should drink.)




































No comments:

Post a Comment