|A Vow Fulfilled|
A VOW FULFILLED
1800, South Carolina
“Isn’t that Gregory, your fiancé?”
Celia Sheldon followed the direction of her friend’s outstretched arm to see Mr. Gregory Owens, III, only son of the largest and most successful merchant in all of Charleston, strutting down East Bay street in all his ostentatious glory.
“He is no longer my fiancé, Mabel,” Celia said even as Gregory’s blue eyes latched upon hers from across the street. They turned to ice.
“Stop it, Celia. You do taunt me so.” Smiling, Mabel gathered the packages from their afternoon shopping venture closer to her chest, but her eyes remained riveted upon Gregory and his friend sauntering down the street. Celia couldn’t blame her. How could any woman pull her gaze from such a fine figure of a man? He filled out every inch of his brown silk-embroidered tail coat, white breeches, stockings and black boots. Even the red plume atop his cocked hat seem to swoon at his magnificence.
“I’m not teasing you. I called off our engagement last night.”
Mabel stopped her. “I don’t understand. Why would you do such a thing? He’s absolutely perfect.”
Celia raised a brow. “That’s the problem, Mabel. He’s too perfect.” Shifting her gaze from the look of shock on her friend’s face, Celia took one last look at Gregory.
“How can someone be too perfect?” Mabel asked.
Gregory’s strong jaw quirked slightly as he leaned to say something to his friend walking beside him. The man grimaced, looked her way, and the two of them shared a laugh. Celia’s insides stormed. They scoffed her! But he had not scoffed her last night. No, at first he had begged her most ardently to reconsider. That was before a mixture of outrage and indignation twisted his handsome features and he stormed out the door of her plantation home.
Tearing her gaze from him, Celia swerved about and pretended to admire the hats displayed in the front window of the millinery. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. But now his pompous display only caused her fury to rise. His reflection strutted across the glass of the shop, finally disappearing to the right, leaving Celia staring at her own likeness. Pale blond hair hung in ringlets to her shoulders beneath her lace-trimmed bonnet. Her gown of gold linen made her skin glow—her mother had said—but all Celia saw was an outward beauty she did not feel within. What was it her cousin had called her that morning? A cruel coquette, a tease.
Mabel eased beside her. “Gregory is wealthy, intelligent, courteous, romantic, chivalrous and he adores you.”
“Precisely. That I fail to find a fault in him makes me suspicious.” Clutching her friend’s arm, Celia proceeded down the street, past a warehouse and a row of wharfs, before turning down Market Street. Bells rang and the briny scent of the bay drifted over her, twirling her hair and cooling the perspiration on her neck. She glanced at the sun floating atop the horizon in the west.
“Then what was wrong with Jonathan, your last fiancé?” Mabel asked.
“He snorted when he laughed.”
“And Milton before him?”
“A milksop at the whim of an overbearing mother.”
“He smelled bad.”
“Oh bother, I’d forgotten about him.” Celia wove through the throngs of people strolling down Market Street. “Have I been engaged that many times?” She sighed. “Well I suppose I was too young when I agreed to marry Allen.” Celia bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to break all those men’s hearts. She hadn’t meant to go back on her word. Truthfully, she had no idea what was wrong with her.
“But you are all of two and twenty now, Celia. You cannot hold out forever.”
Celia knew her friend was right. Celia’s father had made that plain last night when he’d heard what she had done.
“You ungrateful, spoiled girl!” he had yelled, his face mottled red. “Gregory’s father and I had an agreement, and now you have dishonored our family.”
“I do not want to be part of any agreement, Father,” Celia had retorted. “I’m not ready to marry yet.”
Or ever, if she had her way. She’d watched her father rule over her mother for years, ordering her about like one of the slaves and then ignoring her the rest of the time. Yet, Celia’s sweet-hearted mother endured it all with humility and grace.
Two qualities Celia did not possess.
She would rather work on the docks than serve at the whim of a swaggering, petulant bully.
“I bet your father was beyond furious.” Mabel said as if reading Celia’s mind.
“Indeed. Since I am an only child, he demands a grandson to take over the plantation. That’s all I am to him, a means to extend the family business.”
Mabel sighed as they turned the corner at Church Street. The rattle of carriage wheels and clomp of horse’s hooves joined the cacophony of voices filling the air. A late afternoon breeze coming from the bay pushed aside the muggy air, offering a reprieve from the hot summer day. “I’m sure he loves you, Celia, but you know how men with great possessions and power can behave at times.”
“I do. And that’s why I want no part of any man with wealth or position.” Celia said as a gentleman passed, tipping his hat their way. “I’ve been courted by nearly all of the eligible bachelors in Charleston and none of them are suitable.”
“Good thing you did not meet Miles before I did, or you would have snatched him up and I’d be the one fast becoming a spinster.”
“Miles is a good man.” Celia agreed. Although he was too short and persnickety for Celia, though she’d never tell Mabel that.
“No one is perfect. Marriage is never quite what we hope.”
“You are right, of course.” Celia huffed. “What does it matter who I choose as husband? All men are alike. I have found none who stir my heart—none who I trust to not rule over me after the vows are made.”
“Perhaps you should pray and ask God to send you the man perfect for you.”
“I have prayed. That’s when Gregory came courting.”
Mabel’s lips twisted as they stopped to cross onto Pinckney Street. “Then perhaps you should reconsider your decision.”
Grabbing Mabel’s arm, Celia darted between a carriage and a horse and rider. “I know what I will do,” she said. “I shall make a vow. The next man who says to me”—she searched for a phrase that was not too common but not too uncommon—“by your leave, that is the man I shall marry.”
“Don’t be a goose, Celia. That is silly.”
“No.” Celia lifted her chin. “It’s the only way I will ever marry. As you are my witness, I pledge before God.”
Horror crossed Mabel’s brown eyes. “You shouldn’t say such things, Celia.”
Celia shrugged. “What difference does it make? I must marry soon or who knows what father will do.”
They halted before Mabel’s quaint two story home, before which stood Celia’s footman and carriage.
“I won’t hear of such nonsense.” Mabel shook her head then faced Celia. “Do say you’ll come in for iced tea?”
Celia glanced up at the sun now spreading farewell ribbons of maroon and saffron over the western sky. “I should get home. Mother will be worried.”
“Very well.” Mabel kissed Celia on the cheek, clutched her packages in one hand, her skirts in the other, and headed toward her front door.
Turning, Celia allowed Wilson to assist her into the carriage.
As the blur of buildings outside the window gave way to open fields, Celia pondered her promise to God. Foolish as it seemed, it nestled into her heart, soothing away her anxious thoughts for her future. Let God decide who she would marry. She was done with choosing.
Settling back into the leather seat, she allowed the evening breeze tainted with wildflowers and earth to waft over her as they entered a small stretch of forest before they would emerge onto the beginning of the immense Sheldon cotton plantation.
Someone shouted. The horse neighed and the carriage jerked to a sudden stop, nearly sending Celia toppling to the floor. With a huff, she leaned her head out the window to see what the problem was, but the moss-laden trees and dense shrubbery cast the area in darkness.
The carriage jostled. A man’s angry voice split the evening sky. Wilson shouted something. Then he moaned. A thud sounded. His body fell onto the dirt beside the front wheel.
Celia’s heart thumped against her ribs. Her blood ran cold. She had no idea who had struck her footman and for what reason. Sliding across the seat, she opened the opposite door. Perhaps she could dash into the forest and hide behind a bush before the ambusher knew she was here. She turned the knob ever so slowly then opened the door and lowered herself to the wooden step.
A man cornered the carriage and halted before her. He cocked his head and gazed at her curiously as if surprised to find her there. Hair as dark as coal hung to the tip of his white shirt that flapped in the breeze above a tightly banded chest. His dark eyes narrowed upon her even as a smile played upon his lips. “I wouldn’t move if I were you.”
A plethora of horrible scenarios played across Celia’s mind. Her legs wobbled. “Who are you, sir, and what do you want?”
“Turner Cane at your service, miss.” His eyes flashed their approval as they scanned her.
“You hurt my footman.”
“A necessary evil.” He grinned. “He will live.”
Celia swallowed. “I carry no money on me.”
“Indeed?” He scratched his stubbled jaw. “What do you carry?”
“Nothing that would interest you.” She teetered on the step and nearly slipped. The last thing she wished was to tumble to the ground, petticoats in the air, before this ruffian.
“Please allow me to step to the ground, sir.”
He withdrew his hat and waved it before him in a mock bow. “By your leave.”
Contributed by MaryLu Tyndall, Author of Veil of Pearls, http://www.marylultyndall.com
A Vow Fulfilled Serial Schedule
Blog Serial section author
3/13 MaryLu Tyndall Debbie Lynne Costello
3/14 Patty Smith Hall Gina Welborn
3/15 Roseanna White Carrie Fancett Pagels
3/18 Gina Welborn Patty Smith Hall
3/19 Debbie Lynne Costello Laurie Alice Eakes
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