By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.
January 2, 1913
“Hello, Ada,” Hugh said, his eyes twinkling.
I blushed. “Hello, Mr. Prentice.”
He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “You needn’t be so formal, Ada. Call me Hugh.”
I shrugged and continued fluffing the pillows. “All right.”
“How is your father faring?” he asked. “Any better?’
I nodded. “Yes. A little. He’s still not well enough to go back to work, I’m afraid.”
“And when he does? Will you be able to stop working here?”
I nodded again. “Papa would like me to go back to school. I’d like to train as a teacher.”
“That’s a lovely idea,” he said and was quiet for a minute.
I glanced over to see him frowning. “What is it?” I asked.
“Well, it occurred to me that most young ladies who embark upon careers don’t expect to marry…” he grinned. “I am trying to decide whether to be happy that you don’t have a young man waiting to walk you down the aisle or to worry that you have no wish to marry at all.”
I turned an even deeper shade of red, which made him laugh. “Oh, Ada. You must have realized by now that I have my eye on you. Don’t you like me just a little?”
“I can’t imagine why you’d have your eye on the likes of me,” I said keeping my eyes averted. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“Ada,” he said, standing. “You think my motives are improper.”
I shrugged again.
“I am sorry. That is not at all what I intended.” He cleared his throat. “I will admit, you caught my attention when you came up from the kitchens the day the table collapsed. I asked Mrs. Cooper about you. She told me… well, she told me you were meant for better things and that you’d only ended up working because your family had fallen on hard times. So…” he paused. “I realized that you were a young woman of good character and it made me all the more… interested in making your acquaintance.”
“Mr. Prentice,” I began, turning to face him. He looked so sincere and so very handsome that I faltered for a moment. “Mr. Prentice, you can’t seriously mean that. Surely, there is a young lady of more suitable station intended for you…” I trailed off, as he shook his head.
“No, no one,” he replied vehemently. “My father would have me marry our family into title but I want no part of it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ada, we are nouveau riche. My grandfather made his fortune in manufacturing 40 years ago. It was a case of having a good idea and being in the right place at the right time. So you see, we are not ‘society’ in the sense that you think. Our wealth has not allowed us entry into that oh-so exclusive world of gentry and nobility. I would be reduced to marrying a penniless debutante whose family would permit it only to gain access to a fresh influx of capital.” He turned away, irritably. “It would be no better than a business transaction.”
“I see,” I said softly.
“I’ve been away at one of the best preparatory schools in the country, probably had as much, if not more wealth at my disposal than half the other boys in my class. And yet, and yet,” he balled his hands into fists. “You’d have thought I was a poor charity case, been allowed into the school on a scholarship or the altruism of a benevolent patron. And so Ada, I’ve seen first hand, how that world works. I’ve seen it and I hate it. And I never want to be a part of it.”
“I’m sorry. That must have been very difficult for you,” I offered.
He turned back to me, offered me a wry smile. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to unload my frustrations on you. What I meant to say…. The point I was getting to… “ He moved closer, took both my hands in his and said, “When I marry, Ada. I will marry for love.”