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The Unexpected Courtship of Widow Laramie

by Susan Joy Clark about a year ago in literature
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The Rose Blooms Again

Warren LeMay from Cincinnati, OH, United States, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

“I don't like his whiskers!” protested Caroline. She stamped her foot, and her ringlets bounced.

“Well, why not? What's wrong with whiskers? Your father had whiskers,” said her mother.

“Yes, but I don't like his whiskers,” she said. “It makes him look like a goat.”

“Caroline Violet Cordelia! That isn't very nice at all,” said her mother. Anna Laramie sat upright in her spoon back armchair and touched her fingers lightly just above her heart over the bodice of her black bombazine mourning dress.

“Or a schnauzer,” inserted her brother Thomas. He was, apparently, not discouraged by his sister being scolded.

“Thomas! If you two keep this up, I will have nanny put you to bed without your tea. I don't think there's anything wrong with Mr. Whittaker's whiskers,” she said.

Thomas smiled at her in a silly, stifled way, his mouth more or less staying in a straight line, while the rest of his face wanted to pull upwards. A stern look from his mother kept him from laughing. “Mr. Whittaker's whiskers” sounded so much like an amusing story his nanny should read to him before bed.

“He looks like a gentleman. You wouldn't like him to look like a lady, would you?” his mother asked.

“I don't want him to look like anything at all. I don't want a new father. I already have a father,” said Thomas.

“Well, I think we are getting now to the real problem,” said his mother. “Of course, nobody can replace your father exactly. Your father was a dear man. But it's been very hard for your mother to be without him all this time. We need a man about the house. Speaking of which, you don't want us to lose the house, do you?”

Thomas was silent a moment. He didn't like this set of options. It was like choosing between broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Anna Laramie touched the broach at her throat which contained a snipping of her husband's dark wavy hair. This prompted Caroline to look at her father's photograph on the mantel. “Father had handsome whiskers,” she said.

“Yes, he did,” said Anna. “Very handsome.” The quarter turn profile showed off Captain John Laramie's mutton chops very well.

State Library of Queensland, Australia, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

In the meantime, Thomas had found his words again. “My father is not a was. My father is an is,” he said. “He and his crew are deserted on an island, and they are living off the ship's provisions and tropical fruit. He can't send a letter, because there is no post office on a deserted island.”

“Can't he send a pigeon or a smoke signal?” asked Caroline. Anna pressed her hands to her temples as Thomas began to protest his sister's logic. She was wondering how to give an answer to this when the doorbell rang.

Photo by Rikonavt on Unsplash

The housekeeper came to her. “It's Mr. Whittaker at the door, Ma'am,” she said.

“Children,” said Anna. “Go to the nursery with nanny. Mary, you may let Mr. Whittaker in.”

The children obeyed and scampered off to the nursery, and, soon afterwards, the whiskered Mr. Edgar Whittaker strode in, bearing a top hat and a bunch of pink roses in his hands. “Ms. Laramie, I brought you these,” he said, holding the hat forward in his outstretched arm.

“Your hat?”

Toxophilus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“No.” Mr. Whittaker looked at his arm like it was not a part of him and had a mind of its own. “That went wrong.” He cleared his throat. “These.” He put forward the hand holding the roses.

“Thank you. They're lovely,” said Anna. Then, turning to the housekeeper, “Mary, would you put these in water?”

The housekeeper waddled off with the flowers.

“Oh, and, uh, this,” said Mr. Whittaker. “A small token.” He fumbled in his coat's breast pocket, grasped a small something and then nearly dropped it. He put the small box into Anna's hand. When she opened it, she found a small broach, the center of which was whalebone scrimshaw with an intricately carved rose.

“It's lovely. This is your work?”

“Yes, of course,” said Mr. Whittaker. “I carve mostly ships, but, on this occasion, I thought it best .. uh … well … not to do a ship.” Edgar Whittaker fidgeted his hat, twirling it, as Anna studied the carving, turning it one way and then another. “And, uh, to do a rose, of course, with all its feminine appeal and … uh ...” He cleared his throat. “Meaning.”

Anna Laramie felt at the broach currently at her throat, the one with a lock of Captain John's hair. Could she possibly replace this old broach with the new one? “Of course, just now, it wouldn't be proper for me to wear any new adornments. I will keep it for ...” Her voice trailed off.

“I'm hoping the time is soon coming when you can put away your mourning.”

“Oh,” said Anna, and then, “Oh!” again, with a little more force, her heart thumping like the grandfather clock in the parlor. Prickly heat tickled her cheeks as she bent her face once more over the gift. “How wonderful that you can do this work so tied to the sea and yet staying safely ashore. It's so … so …”

Mary, the housekeeper, returned, set the roses, now in a cranberry glass bud vase on the upright piano, looked at Anna, reddened and bustled off again.

“So ...” The housekeeper's interruption had done little to help Anna collect her words.

“Yes?”

“Well, I was going to say sensible, but it seems all wrong to say it like that.”

Some of the tension melted in the face above the whiskers, and Edgar Whittaker smiled. “I think I can understand those feelings.” He twirled his hat. “I was a sailor once.”

“Yes, yes, I know.”

“And I'm not, by any means, a starving artist. Scrimshaw for me has turned into a profitable enterprise.”

Stay busk of whalebone with scrimshaw, Auckland Museum, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

“I know. I am quite proud of you, Mr. Whittaker.”

“Are you?” He smiled again. “Well, we were going to walk about. Shall we?”

They sauntered out onto the streets of Edgartown, taking the brick walkways. Anna thought about the roses in the cranberry glass vase as they passed the garden in front of the house. The rose bush Captain John had planted was late in blooming, and she wondered if it was diseased or dead even. Her husband John had brought her roses during their courtship, while she still lived in her father's house. When they were newly married, he planted the rose bush in the garden. Now, the roses on the bush were not blooming, and another man's roses sat in the parlor.

For a while, the only sounds were the rhythm of horses' hooves and the turning wheels of passing carriages. They strolled past Italianate houses with decorative brackets below the eaves and rows of columns along the verandas. Many, like Anna's own house, had a widow's walk, a balustraded platform on the roof for overlooking the sea.

Circa 1870s Nantucket street scene by C. H. Shute & Son of Edgartown, MA. Charles H. Shute (1818-1877) was a Nantucket native who operated a photography studio with his son on neighboring Martha's Vineyard from approximately 1858-1877. Public

The top hat, no longer twirling, was sitting sensibly atop Edgar Whittaker's head. Still, it was evident to Anna that he was more nervous than usual, and his anxiety was as contagious as consumption. Perhaps, this was the day they would come to an understanding?

It had been five years since Captain John's whaling ship, Heritage, had gone out to sea. After three years, he was assumed dead, and she had taken up her mourning. Edgar Whittaker began calling on her six months ago.

“I thought we would walk out to the lighthouse,” said Mr. Whittaker.

“Fine,” she said.

“I've been enjoying keeping company with you these past few months,” he said.

“Yes, I mean, I enjoy your company also.”

After a while, they walked out across the wooden causeway to the island that was home to the Edgartown Harbor Light. As Anna's feet sunk into the sand, Edgar reached out to steady her elbow.

The original Edgartown Harbor Light, circa 1830. Photo by William Waterway, Attribution Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons.

Once they had reached the spot, he fumbled at his coat pocket again, crinkling a paper, and Anna wondered what new surprises were in store. He had poetic leanings and had read nature poetry in other settings.

Whittaker fumbled in his pocket, pulled out the paper, shook it open and ironed it with his fingers. He made eye contact for a moment before darting his eyes down to the paper again. He began to read, not a poem about the sea or the sun or the birds, but Shakespeare's 116th sonnet.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds, Admit impediments. Love is not love, Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove:"

Anna's mind wandered off in a direction that Mr. Whittaker would not have particularly liked. Had the remover removed it? Could time or space or even death be said to remove love?

A breeze stirred and fluttered the paper in Edgar's hand, Anna's bombazine skirts and the curls that dangled from a cluster on top of her head. The air smelled fresh and salty.

"O no; it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;”

Ever-fixed? Never shaken? Anna looked over to the lighthouse.

“It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.”

Bark! For someone who had carefully avoided references to ships in his gift, Edgar Whittaker had not avoided them at all in his choice of poetry. Anna Laramie looked out at the sea, scanning it uneasily.

"Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks, Within his bending sickle's compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

Anna's heart thumped again. She had anticipated a moment like this, but it seemed different than her expectation. She didn't know her thoughts would be so full of Captain John.

Whittaker folded the paper and returned it to his pocket, fumbling at it now for a new thing. How many surprises did his pocket hold?

Next, he held out a ring to her, a gold band with four colored flush-mount set gemstones in a row. “Will you be my wife?”

Anna's heart fluttered. “Yes... Of course, yes.”

“Dear Anna, you've made me a happy man.” He slipped the ring onto her finger, and she looked at it awhile.

“It's what they call a gypsy ring,” he explained.

“It's quite lovely … Edgar,” said Anna. “What are the stones in it?”

“From left to right, they are lapis lazuli, opal, vesuvianite and emerald. Do you see?” he asked. “They, uh, spell something.”

“Love. How very clever. You've always been very clever and very poetic.” She studied her hand still.

“Anna, are you happy?”

“Yes, yes, of course.” He bent down and kissed her, a tender one with a little tickle of whiskers.

They walked slowly back over the beach and back towards the house. Whittaker's steps had a bit more spring and bounce to them. They were silent for a while, and Anna was glad for the silence. Her thoughts flitted from Edgar Whittaker, the romantic artist, to Captain John, her first love, and then to Thomas and Caroline and their resentment for her fiance's whiskers and his soon-to-be new position in the family.

Warren LeMay from Cincinnati, OH, United States, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

When they approached the house, she noticed something she had not seen before. The rose bush had a single tiny bud. It was barely perceptible, like a distant ship on the horizon.

Once she was home, Anna paced restlessly in the parlor. She didn't want to talk to the children yet or even to Mary, the housekeeper. Instead, she climbed up to the roof, to the widow's walk.

She spotted a ship on the horizon as she walked towards the balustrade. She peered through the telescope, and her heart raced as she read the name on its side, Heritage.

William Duke, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

literature

About the author

Susan Joy Clark

I am a former journalist with North Jersey Media Group and an indie author of several books including Action Men with Silly Putty, a mystery comedy, And the Violin Cried, a juvenile novel, and The Journey of Digory Mole, a picture book.

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