Supper came with disappointments. Father sat me beside Agatha while Daniel was across the table beside Temperance, who seemed to be trying her best not to meet anyone’s eye as she picked at the food on her plate. Daniel was acting quite the same way, slumped unattractively against the table and rolling his peas around the plate, piling them onto the mound of mashed potatoes like they were tiny green people climbing a mountain. Temperance snorted a little when she noticed he was playing with his food, and decided to join in, making sure her parents weren’t looking before nudging her elbow against Daniel’s side and pushing the carrots on her plate into the mashed potatoes.
I was slightly aghast at the way she was supporting my brother’s bad manners. We were all adults, we should all act our age. Old enough to know not to play with our food! The two of them seemed to be having fun, so I figured it was up to me to actually pay attention to the conversation going on between our fathers. It was a dull talk of business, the cotton trade in Europe and the fact the Taylor family wanted to expand further into America.
Just by sitting silently and listening to the experts planning on how to make more money by taking the cotton business to different states was rather fascinating. This was precisely what I was in school to learn, the ways of business, what moves to make to further our investments and expand the company, what offers that were best to pass up because the risk was not worth the benefit.
I was grateful that our parents were so distracted with talk of business that they didn’t notice Temperance and Daniel making fold of themselves, God knows I would have been the one yelled at for my brother’s disrespect around our business partners. I was finally able to relax when supper ended and we settled in the drawing room for tea.
I was sitting between Daniel and our mother on one of the couches, and across from us sat Temperance and her mother and cousin, all of us holding cups of tea while the older men stood near the fireplace with pipes, finally getting down to discussing the real reason the Taylor family had come to visit.
“This is where our arrangement comes in,” Mr Taylor was saying, and I straightened as Temperance frowned and glanced over at her father, a slight grimace on her face and her lips in a tight line as she tightened her hold on her teacup.
“Indeed, old friend,” my father agreed, “In the letter you sent you said there was a change in what we originally planned?”
“That’s right,” Mr Taylor leaned forward, waving his pipe a little, “See here, Elias, you remember the original arrangement, for your son Henry to wed my only daughter?”
Temperance blushed a deep red and bowed her head, and I tried not to feel too pleased that the thought of our marriage so affected her, forcing myself not to stare at her as I concentrated fully on my father, who nodded, filling his pipe with tobacco.
“I remember. What here has changed?” he paused, eyes shifting to Taylor, “You haven’t gone back on your word, have you? My son is honorable, he’s studying in the city just like I did at that age, he’s a worthy man for your daughter.”
Pride made my heart swell, and I turned to smile at Temperance, frowning at the smile she gave me in return. It didn’t look quite right, and she appeared to be in some sort of pain as she averted her gaze from mine to stare into her tea, which I noticed now she hadn’t even tasted. It just made me even more uneasy, believing that something was wrong.
No, did she have reservations concerning the marriage? Of course, I wouldn’t hold it against her, but the thought that she didn’t care for me even a minor amount had my throat closing. Temperance was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, from a young age I was rather fond of her, and many times she would show similar agreement. Through the years we wrote each other, discussing the marriage, dreaming together.
It made both of us equally happy that we were arranged to marry people we already knew and cared about. She was as excited as I was for this, or at least she had been in the last letter she mailed me. What had changed? Perhaps she was sick? Even if she was I would still marry her.
“Goodness, Elias, I would never dream of going back on my word. This marriage is a smart move for both of us, our businesses would be married as would our children, I’ve been excited for this since the moment my daughter was born,” he gave a sharp nod, “My daughter will marry your son,” I began to relax again, until he continued, “Just not the way we planned.”
“Explain,” my father urged, and Mr Taylor turned with a smile.
“Not only must we marry Temperance off, but my sister entrusted me with her daughter’s future,” he turned back to my father, “You have two sons, old friend. If we should marry both at the same time, imagine the coverage! My brother-in-law had business relations in England whom I’ve kept in contact with since taking in Agatha, I’ve already developed business relations with them, but should your family be married to her, those relations would be directly yours as they are mine.”
“That…,” my father paused, before absolutely beaming, “That is a magnificent idea, Mr Taylor!”
“Thought you might like it,” Mr Taylor grinned, biting his pipe and pushing his other hand into the pocket of his vest.
I dared to look to my left where Daniel was sitting, to gage his reaction, but he seemed distracted by something, dazed, staring down at his cup as if he were still attempting to process what had just been said. Our father had just effectively promised Daniel’s hand in marriage, somehow my mind stopped at the conversation I had witnessed between he and Josiah.
Daniel didn’t want to be forced into an arranged marriage, certainly not with a woman. He wanted to run away with Josiah. While I felt pity for him, at the same time I was silently pleased with this sudden turn of events. If Daniel were to marry, then he would be completely distracted by his wife, he would never have the time to waste with the unclean slaves, and even more pleasing, Josiah would be out of the picture. Daniel would be safe.
“Taylor, I have to ask, how old is your niece?”
I pulled my eyes away from Daniel to look back at my father and Mr Taylor, who was blowing smoke from his nose as he pulled the pipe from his lips, “Nearing her twenty-fourth year.”
“I see,” my father had a frown on his face, but I already knew what this conversation was leading to before he continued, and I finally understood why Temperance wouldn’t look at me, “Your daughter is barely twenty. So, this is the change then?”
“Naturally age must be considered in marriage,” Mr Taylor agreed, “The eldest promised to the eldest, youngest to the youngest. Henry will marry Agatha, while Daniel should marry Temperance.”
I stopped breathing, and when the porcelain shattered, for a moment I thought I had been the one to drop my cup, until my mother snapped, “Daniel! You clumsy boy!”
My eyes moved to my brother, who was holding his hands positioned as if he were still holding his cup, but it was at his feet, and his fingers curled to his palms as he stood up and turned away, leaving the room before anything more could be said to him.
“I apologize for him, Taylor, bit of a disappointment if I should be honest,” my father sighed, “Lucky I can marry him off at all, he’s not like Henry,” he turned, “Henry, find a slave and have them clean this mess, and find your brother. Talk some sense into him!”
“Sense?” I questioned, still in the midst of being dumbstruck myself, and my father snarled his teeth at me, so I quickly took to my feet and set me cup down, “Yes, sir,” I paused as I stood straighter, watching Temperance for a lingering moment and noting the way she was refusing to look up, her cup quivering between her shaking hands, before forcing myself to turn and follow Daniel out.