Pending the reluctant marriage of young Abigail, a mysterious man visits the bride-to-be with a plan that may just change her destiny. But will she accept?
Written by Missie S.
June 23rd, 1869
Wedding guests milled about the large white house. Lawn chairs decorated with white ribbons were set up under a large tent-like establishment. Over two hundred guests were expected to show to the soft southern marriage between two of the most prominent plantation owners. Upstairs, on the balcony overlooking the lawn, a blonde girl tightly gripped the railing. A breeze caught her voluminous skirt and twirled it around her bare ankles. Her slight weight looked nearly enough to blow away with a strong enough wind. Far in the distance, she saw a dark storm cloud approaching.
"Abigail!" At the shrill voice, the blonde whirled around. Her mother grasped her arm and hauled her into her bedchamber none too gently, but she didn't protest. "How dare you stand there at the window and let those guest peek up your skirt?" Mary gasped, withdrawing her hand to strike her daughter across the cheek. Abigail winced at the contact of her mother's leather glove, yet refused to shirk away.
"Well," Mary concluded, tugging on that glove and smoothing her pale blue skirt, "sit." And Abigail sat on the settee at the end of her bed. The domineering mother suddenly lost the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth; a smaller frown replaced the deep scowl and she sat gracefully on the couch next to her young daughter. "Your husband," she began, "will expect many things from you. Obedience, Abigail, is prudent. You must obey him whatever he says. You are responsible to keeping your husband happy. He must feel he has the upper hand," here she paused to add under her breath, "or backhand," but then continued in her commanding voice, "to manage you, that is, his wife. Understand?"
Abigail quickly tried to make sense of what her mother told her. "And a little powder can hide the gravest sins," Mary added, standing from the settee. "Sapphire will be in shortly to help with your hair." And she swept out of the room before Abigail could say anything. She sat in silence for a few minutes, the sound of the latch click ringing in her ears, but retreated to the balcony again to watch more servants carry in chairs and white cloth to cover them.
Marriage. Abuse. The slight blonde frowned. "A little powder can hide the gravest sins," she whispered. She had seen her mother live that lie; at church when she used too much rouge to cover the black splotch coincidentally the size of her father's palm, when guests visited and she kept her fan close to her neck, or during the hottest of days when she wore a winter gown and kept pristine gloves covering her hands and arms, claiming she had a chill. Abigail slid down to sit with her back against the railing.
Ever since the engagement, Abigail had been whirled through dinner parties, wedding plans, food tasting, fabric and jewelry stores, and gift catalogues spread all over the dining room table. She had received many wedding gifts, none of which she had time to examine or enjoy for they were whisked away to Richard's house - soon to be her house too - to lay in wait. Or be returned for money. "I refuse to live like that," she whispered. She snatched of her glove and wrenched off the small engagement ring Richard had given to her not one year ago.
The woman jumped to her feet, chucked the ring into the middle of the guests where they waited to sit down. She ran back into her room and shut the veranda doors.
A man no older than twenty stood just below Abigail, and watched her as she was dragged away from the window and as she returned in tears. Neil frowned when she violently repelled something off the second story, and as she dashed inside, he went in search for the tiny metallic gem. Finally, a flash in the grass caught his eye and the dark haired man picked up the plain ring. All around him, women chattered and men sighed in annoyance. No one paid attention to the man who looked out of place in his light brown suit in a sea of white and black.
Neil looked up to the ledge, but the bride was nowhere to be seen. Silently, he tiptoed up the front steps where a constant stream of black male servants and white female servants flowed in and out of the wide-open double doors. He ducked behind a large stack of chairs when the mistress of the house traipsed down the grand staircase with a tiny black woman on her heels, then quickly ran up the stairs before he was spotted.
Abigail sat at her vanity, gently fingering the curls Sapphire had piled at the top of her head. She pulled one curl loose to fall into her eyes, then another one to brush the back of her neck so she didn't feel so naked in the low-cut bridal gown. Her mother had left her with the words, "Thirty minutes until obedience," and swept out of the room. The girl had yet to say anything as she was left in solitude for the day to reflect upon her unwanted marriage.
It really was Mary's wedding. She insisted upon the engagement in a romantic situation, and pressured Abigail to accept her father's businessman's proposal. Then as Abigail was sent away to finishing school for the last spring, Mary had planned, prepared, and produced the gorgeous, fairy tale wedding day she had always wanted. Mary took time to tell Abigail, whenever her daughter complained that she lacked involvement, about the day she eloped, and never had a chance to have a bouquet or veil at her marriage, and how Abigail should be grateful her mother had taken the time to plan so the bride could relax. But Abigail never was truly grateful. A soft knock sounded at the door and she answered to find a tall man on the other side instead of her mother.
"May I come in?" he asked, removing his hat and smiling. Abigail trusted his white smile and let him in, figuring if he wanted to harm her he wouldn't be asking permission. Without a word, she left the doorway open and retreated to the sitting area on the far side of her room. A solid click of the latch told Abigail her chance of escape was over. The man followed her over to where she sat and made a low bow.
"Let me introduce myself," he said, looking at the soft bride, "I am Neil McAllen, and I believe I can help you." Abigail started, wondering if he could read minds. "You are frustrated your mother is controlling," he continued, sitting across from her, "and I understand that. But, you can escape right now and not be missed for half an hour." Looking down at her lap, Abigail listened, picked at a nit on her lace gloves. "I chose freedom over slavery too. I ran away from my life and started over where no one judged me by my conduct in the church." Neil knelt before her.
"Do you know what adventures await out there?" he whispered excitedly, tipping her chin to meet her gaze for a moment. "For a woman your age, you can ride to the coast and swim out to the island, or sail to Europe. I traveled all over the east coast before I stumbled across a dying woman who had no one to leave her meager inheritance to, and I sailed around South America to Hawaii! Do you know what amazing villages reside in South America? You could come with me; we could go to China or India. Delhi, Bangkok, you pick it you can go!"
Abigail pulled away from the man's touch. "You look familiar," she whispered. He smiled, and put a hand over the gold tie at his neck; he moved it to the side and the blonde saw a gold medallion, similar to one her father kept in his sea chest. She remembered tales he told of the Society; of men who left everything they knew to search the world for adventure and glory, and all they found was long trips and stale food. Until her grandfather died, Henry belonged to the Society. He returned home broke and broken. "You are from Society," she whispered in awe. Henry refused to talk to his daughter about his adventures though exciting they sounded.
"And I have never regretted walking away for one instant," Neil replied. "I know what you crave, for I have felt it too. Running is the only answer, the only way you can feel at peace; out there, you can make decisions on your own, in your own time. The world is waiting for you. And the world is waiting on you." Abigail listened, wide-eyed, to the man's words, hoping what he told her was true. She knew they were true. Neil offered the simple ring to her and his eyes held a childish innocence and mischievousness Abigail had not seen in a long time.
The moment was shattered when a crisp rap at the door preceded a deep voice calling out a pet name Abigail assumed she should respond to. She turned to look at the door, then noticed the key in the lock was turned and Neil was safe for a moment. But when she turned back around to find a place her visitor could hide, he had disappeared and she watched the bottom edge of the bed skirt rustle before she realized the young man had dived under the dusty bed. She bit back a smile and slowly went to open the door.
As she opened to her fiancÃ©, the man grabbed her arm and threw her back inside. Before the door was locked once again, she glimpsed a worried servant holding a tray of silver. Richard's glare froze fire. "Why did you lock the door?" he demanded, his grip on soft, white flesh unforgiving. "Why did you not hurry to let me in? You should know better than to hide from me, Abigail!" he continued before she could answer. Her face burned. "Answer me!" he bellowed into her face.
"I'm sorry!" she cried, her one free arm coming up to protect her bruised cheek from where her mother stroke her before. Richard hit her again. His ring caught her hand and cut into her skin, drawing droplets of blood.
"Do not raise your voice to me!" he shouted, and Abigail burst into tears. "Stop crying, woman," he said, sounding disgusted, and thrust her away. She stumbled and fell to the floor. She heard fabric rip as she stood back up, and she knew the lace scallop on the edge of her gown had come undone. "You will be silent, woman, at all times! You will not raise your voice to me, and I will answer for you. I am the man, soon to be your husband, dear." How an endearing name could be said like a curse, Abigail couldn't figure out. "Now obey me and hurry to clean up. You are too lazy and slow to realize people are waiting for you!" Neil's words came to mind, 'The world is waiting for you...waiting on you.' Abigail weakly nodded, gripping the bedpost to keep straight. Richard straightened his coat and swept out of the room, taking the key from the lock on his way out.
Neil coughed and dusted himself off as he scooted out from under the bed. Abigail stood in shock; not noticing the back of her hand was bleeding. The man gently took her elbow and led her over to the sofa and sat down beside her. He held the ring in his open palm, and offered it to her again, knowing she was closer to being swayed than before.
"Come with me?" he whispered. As much as she desired to dash away from her fears-her future-she knew Richard would stop at nothing to hunt her down like the does whose heads littered his hunting lodge's walls. Abigail would be put on display at dinner parties, shown off as a trophy and petted as a favorite horse, then thrust aside like a decrepit, mad dog, left to her own devices until another opportunity arises to shine her up and pet her with love and devotion. Abigail reached out and took the ring from Neil's hand, and slipped it on her forefinger.
He smiled, stroking the trim beard on his chin. "I will wait for you then, Abby," he said gently. She wondered at the nickname. He reached into his coat and removed a triangular parcel wrapped in soft cloth. He handed the wide end to Abigail and she took the heavy bundle. "Richard won't stop you," Neil whispered in her ear, then tipped his hat and left the little bride to her thoughts; as she unwrapped the cloth, he smiled to her back at the door and vanished. Abigail gasped as she saw the gleaming revolver lying in her lap.
The words, 'Richard won't stop you,' rang clear in her mind, and realized that if she cocked the weapon, she would truly be free. Then she would run away to begin her life. Outside, the professional pianist Mary had hired began a rendition of Canon in D. Abigail watched herself rise from the settee and cross to the veranda windows, open them, and stand on the balcony, the pistol hanging limply by her side. One by one, she watched her bridesmaids slowly stroll down the aisle strewn with white flower petals. Mary's best of friends were dressed in similar styles, carefully sewn by town seamstresses. She had refused to allow Abigail's school friends invite themselves, and insisted only close family be allowed to come, and the rest of the party were acquaintances from parties and other social events.
In the crowd, one sight caught Abigail's eye. Her cousin Rebekah sat near the back with her little daughter on her lap. The three-year-old was watching the bride and reached out to her, blowing raspberries into her mother's ear. Tears welled in Abigail's eyes and were quickly gone as she focused on Richard, standing at the end of her life, smiling at the guests, as a proud husband was expected. The bride's heart clenched. She could see her mother waiting outside with the bridesmaids, not noticing her daughter was still in her room. Her father stood beside her mother impatiently until he finally grabbed her arm and dragged her away to sit down. Abigail shut her eyes. Carefully, she cocked the barrel. In a burst of blood, her future crumpled to the ground.
Without a backward glance, Abigail picked up her skirt and made a dash for the door, the pistol falling to the veranda in a clatter of smoke and empty shells.