A New Future

Will they ride off into the sunset?
Will they ride off into the sunset?

Samuel Stivens rubbed the five-day-old stubble on his chin as he contemplated his options. He couldn’t see many through the whiskey buzz. After twelve hours on the docks stacking grain, his weary eyes blurred the black letters on the ivory page. Although he could hardly see straight, her words were clear:

You should know that I am to wed Bartholomew Folsom at the end of next month.

“So what’ll ya do?” Barclay asked before he chugged the last of his beer and slammed the mug on the smudged bar. Barclay had spent the last two months working beside him, so he knew all about Caroline. The first day they met, Samuel made the mistake of asking if he was from England. In three lightning-fast strides, Barclay fisted his shirt and pulled him to his face. He threatened a blinker if he ever insulted him again. Paralyzed with fear (and by the wretched smell of Barclay’s breath) Samuel apologized and promised his best behavior. Later, he discovered Barclay left Scotland two years ago to see the world. Samuel wondered if he’d seen a world beyond the docks or the pub, but he wasn’t idiot enough to ask.

Samuel cringed when Barclay let out a belch he could smell. “I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I think I sold my soul to the devil.”

Barclay laughed. “I doubt you seen the devil, mate!”

“What kind of man offers three weeks’ pay to the man his daughter is to marry, on the condition he walks away?”

His co-worker raised an unruly black eyebrow. “What kind of man takes such an offer?”

Samuel glared at his whiskey sour. He’d progressed from beer hours ago.

“When’s she marrying the bloke?”

“Next week.”

“Aye. Ain’t good.” He tapped his empty mug. “Why don’t ya just buy yer soul back, then?” He nudged Samuel. “Or, how ‘bout that broad over there? She might take yer mind off things.”

Samuel peered through the haze of cigarette smoke and working class stench. Neither the booze nor the thick air could give proper cover to her exposed cleavage. “I’m done.” He slid off the stool and dropped several coins on the bar.

Barclay shrugged and ordered another beer.

* * *      * * *      * * *

Three days later, Samuel debated whether he should go to the front door or to the east side loft window.   On the one hand, sneaking to her window might besmirch her reputation; however, he doubted he would be granted proper passage.

He scooped some pebbles and flung them one by one at her window. With each steady ping, his anticipation grew. It would only be a matter of time before curiosity drew her to the window. Sure enough, the curtains parted.

“What are you doing, you fool boy?”

Samuel gulped. “I-uh… I wanted to see Caroline, Ma’am.”

Caroline’s mother pursed her lips. “She’s not here.”

“Where is she, Ma’am? I must talk to her.”

“She married last week.”

“Oh. G’night then, Ma’am.” He tipped his hat.

Samuel pulled his coat tight to block the chilly post-dusk air. He shoved his hands in his pockets and felt the envelope. He’d intended to give the money back.

He shuffled down the dirt road. The Folsoms lived less than three miles away. An hour later, he rapped on the door. Through the crack, he recognized the hazel eye.

“Caroline!”

The door opened wide. “Samuel…. What are you doing here?”

He shifted his gaze to his feet to keep from staring at her cotton nightshirt. “I hoped you’d marry me, but I’m too late.”

She stepped onto the porch and pulled the door latched behind her. “Let’s go.”

“You’re married now.”

“Not in my heart.” She flung her arms around him. “I love you.

Tears soaked through the chest of his thread-bare coat. “I don’t even have a horse.”

“There are several in the stable. I’ll dress and meet you there in five minutes.”

Samuel waited, half expecting her to not show. He heard rustling in the hay and his heartbeat quickened. “H-hello?”

Bart rounded the corner, zipping his pants. “What are you doing here?”

Samuel gave him an obvious once-over. His unbuttoned shirt and disheveled hair were clues that led to a petite blonde peeping around the corner.

Bart lunged, hands grasping for his neck. Samuel kneed him and a right hook sent Bart stumbling backwards. His head cracked on a stall gate.

“She deserves better than you,” Samuel said through gritted teeth as he continued to pummel the unconscious man. He only stopped when he saw her skirt.

Caroline’s gaze traveled between the two men and then to something beyond them.

Samuel looked over his shoulder to see the blonde-haired woman standing in full view, gaping at them.

“Let’s go.” Caroline’s voice was firm.

He saddled the horses, but before he mounted, he pulled the envelope from his pocket and dropped it by Bart’s body.

“What’s that?”

“I’m not a horse thief.”

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

Since I posted my Speakeasy story yesterday, I changed the ending on that story a little.  I also wrote this as a sort of continuation to it, although I think either one can be read stand-alone.  If you want to read what led up to this, click here to read the prior segment.

Thanks for stopping by!

Writing a Future – Speakeasy #167

To milk or not to milk... that is the question...
To milk or not to milk… that is the question…

Dorothy skipped into the barn. “Lookie, here!  A looooove note from Samuel Stivens,” she taunted in a sing-song voice. She made kissing noises and then clasped the letter to her chest.

Caroline dusted off her skirt and ran toward her little sister. “Give it to me!” Her left boot knocked over the milk pail.

Both girls gasped.

Caroline stooped to right the bucket. “Mom’s going to be mad. Sophie’s dry and we won’t have milk for dinner.”

Dorothy scrunched her eight-year-old face. “Maybe it’s ‘cause yer tryin’ to milk a bull. Can’t you see the horns?” She giggled. “Or the…” she pointed to the underside of the animal. “Yer lucky you didn’t get knocked silly!”

Blushing, she ripped the letter from Dorothy’s hand. She plopped onto a bale of hay and took a deep breath before slipping her finger under the envelope flap. Sam left for the city two-and-a-half months ago to find work because after three seasons of drought, the ground supported death more than life. Caroline prayed this would be the letter where he sent for her.

Dearest Caroline,

I found a job at the docks. For twelve hours a day, I stack grain. The meager pay barely covers my expenses. It’s not nearly enough to support a family, so I have to withdraw my proposal until such time as I am able to afford to properly care for you.

I hope you will wait for me, but I understand if you cannot do so.

Sincerely,

Samuel

Caroline felt the blood drain from her face. At age nineteen and seven months, her parents pressured her to marry. Mostly because they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed, but she knew the gossip about her marriageability bothered them as well.

“Whatsa matter?” Dorothy patted her shoulder. “You look like you seen a ghost.”

“You wouldn’t understand, Dot.” Caroline sighed. “Sometimes when you’re grown up you have to do things you don’t want to do.”

Dorothy wrinkled her nose. “Then I don’t wanna grow up.”

Caroline smiled. “Neither do I, kid. Neither do I.”

* * *                * * *               * * *                * * *

Dressed in her nightshirt and sleeping cap, Caroline sat at her wooden desk, inked quill poised over paper. Just as she imagined, her father insisted she marry Bart Folsom. His family owned the town mercantile, which her father found stable and honorable. He turned a blind eye to the rumors of Bart’s carousing and dalliances with prostitutes in the shadowed alleys beyond Main Street.

Her protests ignored, Caroline had to accept that she would be wed the next month. At the mere thought of him touching her, acid backed up into her throat. She forced it down.

Dearest Samuel,

I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling and that you are unable to keep your promise. I had hoped that you would find faith to believe love would see us through you would find prosperity.

She crumpled the paper and shoved it off the desk. She felt trapped by the limitations of her words. A part of her wanted so much to condemn him; as if his guilty emotional imprisonment would grant her freedom from her own atrocious future. However, in her heart, she didn’t want the responsibility of forcing him to bear the burden of her circumstances, so she decided to project the illusion of happiness instead.

Dearest Samuel,

I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling, but I believe, in time, innumerous blessings will be bestowed upon you. The good Lord gives us tribulations so that we may appreciate our times of peace.

You should know that I am to wed Bartholomew Folsom at the end of next month. Although I gave my heart to you, I will dedicate what remains to my new husband.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Caroline

She folded the paper in thirds and slipped it into an envelope. After extinguishing the lamp, she crawled into bed and pulled the covers to her chin. In the morning, she would take it to the post office. She hoped her letter would free him to pursue a new future.

Loneliness and dread gnawed at her insides.  Caroline knew she had no choice but to accept a life without her Samuel.  She figured in time, she might be blessed with some shade of happiness.  She prayed the same for Sam.

But Sam was never the same again.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 734) and (1) use “But Sam was never the same again.” as the last sentence; and (2) make some sort of reference to the video prompt, a short film, entitled Writer’s Block, by Tom Gran and Martin Woolley.

The letter with the strike-through lines and the paragraph following it are my references to the video prompt.

Note:  I amended the last few sentences after original posting (but before linking to Speakeasy grid.)  I think it flows better now.  Also, for fun, I wrote a continuation, from Samuel’s POV.  It’s not part of the challenge, but if you’re interested in reading it, click here!

The challenge is open to everyone, so click the badge below if you’re curious to find out more!

P.S.  I have been away from the computer for the last few days, so I’m a bit behind on reading and commenting.  If you’ve visited here lately and I’ve not responded, please bear with me as I catch up 🙂