By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.
January 2, 1913
Marry for love. Hugh’s words whirled in my mind as I walked home that evening. I had thought he was going kiss me, he’d stood so close. But like a true gentleman, he had merely lifted my hand to his lips and lightly bussed my knuckles before hurrying off to have tea with his family.
“I’ll see you soon, Ada,” he promised before leaving.
It took supreme effort to finish my work with two feet floating off the ground like they were. The thought of being noticed by, being courted by the son of the most prominent family in the town was a dizzying prospect. I never would have believed such a thing could happen to me. My first instinct, of course, was to doubt that he was sincere. Yet, nothing he’d said or done had indicated anything else. And as far as I knew, he had an excellent reputation around town. My father’s friend, Mr. Jennings might be able to tell us more. He and his sons delivered the coal from their warehouse down near the train station to all the homes in the area. I was sure Mr. Jennings had had dealings with Hugh’s father.
The gravel crunched beneath my feet as I hurried home in the frosty air. As I considered how best to proceed, it occurred to me that Mr. Jennings, in fact, might be disappointed by this turn of events. I was fairly certain he and Mrs. Jennings had hoped I would marry their older son Will. Will was twenty-one, enough older than me that, to this point, I’d only ever thought of him as an older brother. Though he was very dear to me, I couldn’t imagine ever thinking of him any other way. And truly, I’m sure he felt the same about me.
The new electric lights were coming on in the streets. The town had converted from gaslight just this year. I wondered if we’d ever be able to have them in our home. I stamped the grit from my boots before opening the door to our house. The sounds of voices drew me back to the kitchen. Mama had put Clara and Grace to work setting the table while she helped my father to his seat.
“Papa! You’re feeling better?” I asked, rushing to take his other arm.
“Yes, my dear. A bit better today.”
After getting him settled, I went to help Mama dish up our supper — a potato leek soup, with a small loaf of brown bread.
“Mama, aren’t you going to tell Ada…?” Grace said, stifling a giggle.
“Tell me what?” I asked.
Mama smiled. “We’ve had a wonderful surprise today. A lovely gift.”
“A gift? What kind of gift?” I asked.
“Someone… brought a supply of flour and sugar. Eggs and cheese. Butter and milk.”
“Oh and the candies, Mama!” Grace chimed in. “Don’t forget about the candies!”
“How wonderful!” I exclaimed. A gift like that would certainly help stretch our meager supplies. It could have only come from one source.
The Jennings family had been a tremendous help during Papa’s illness. My mother and Mrs. Jennings – Violet- were dear friends. Violet had come with food and supplies as soon as father had taken ill. I had a feeling they had been instrumental in my getting employment at the manor house, too. They had also put my sisters Clara and Grace to work for a few hours each week, filing and straightening up at Mr. Jennings’ office. So it was with absolute certainty that I said, “Well, thank goodness for friends like the Jennings.”
Grace and Clara exchanged a look and started giggling again. Papa cleared his throat and gave way to a fit of coughing. When it had subsided, Mama continued, “No dear, Mr. Hugh Prentice delivered it himself.”
As Mama passed a package wrapped in white paper over to me, I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. She said, “Go on. Open it, don’t keep us in suspense.”
I carefully slid a finger beneath one of the folds and opened the end without tearing the paper. No sense ruining a lovely wrap that could be reused. I withdrew a journal, with lined pages for writing and bound within covers of heavy woven cloth. The cloth was embroidered with gold threads which formed an intricate pattern of flowers and birds. A silk ribbon was attached to the spine for marking my place. It was a beautiful and thoughtful gift. I found a little card tucked inside the front cover. It read: Dear Ada, It pleases me to give you the means to record your memories. May they ever be as wonderful, as your friendship is to me. With warmest regards, Hugh.
I stared at the words. I couldn’t speak. Then as I looked up, first at Mama then Papa, I caught them exchanging a glance. My father began, “Ada, Mr. Prentice has asked my permission to court you.” My head swam and my heart leapt in my chest. I didn’t hear what he said after that, for the buzzing in my ears. “My dear,” he said, taking my hand. “Is this what you want?”
I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“I told him that I wanted to know your mind on the matter before I gave my consent. And so I am asking you, my darling girl, is this what you want?”
I nodded. “Yes. Yes, I think so.”
“Are you sure, Ada?” he asked again, stifling a cough. “I do have some reservations.” He paused to have a sip of water. “I have expressed these to young Mr. Prentice. I am concerned about his family’s view of this match. That perhaps they had a young lady of the same social status in mind for him. However, Hugh indicated to me that his parents have always been open minded and could be won over in this regard. This of course, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, if you have determined in your heart that this is something you want, I am willing to give my blessing to your courtship.”
I took a deep breath and smiled. “Thank you, Papa.”
“You’re welcome, Ada. Now,” he said looking a round the table. “Let’s everyone bow their heads and we’ll thank the Lord for His gifts.”
Header image courtesy RTE