Through The Garden Gate

 

By Atonia Walpole

(Picture creations also by Atonia)

Chapter 1

He looks quizzically toward the garden gate. Does he see me? I wonder who he is. This is the second time I’ve seen him there and both times the colors fade to black and white. I stand quietly and watch him move about the garden. He touches the bamboo and sometimes dips a hand into the fountain. He wears his hair long and clubbed at the nape of his neck. His hair is light and I suspect it might be blond.

His dress is circa early 1800’s and I think it is part of a uniform. I wish I knew who he was. He’s a handsome man, well built and broad across his shoulders. The first time I saw him I spoke but I don’t think he heard me. Perhaps my voice does not carry where he is for he is not here in this time period. I believe I have found a ghost.

The old house is partly visible in the background. Is it his? Somehow I don’t think it is. He appears to be waiting for someone. I tried the gate and it is rusted shut. It won’t budge. It’s an ornate wrought iron gate set in a high fence that is covered in ivy. Here and there you can see the points along the top. Not that I thought about climbing it. For one thing I’d probably be stopped or reported. The house is empty. I know it is because I’ve been up the front steps and looked through the glass in the side windows. This was before I discovered the man in the garden. As much as I’m fascinated by old houses, he is much more interesting.

People pass by me on the sidewalk and I don’t think they see what I do or they’d stop. If he were visible to all then the gate would surely be opened by somebody and an investigation would ensue. I haven’t asked anyone to stop and look. I don’t want to share him.

I suppose I should say where I am and how I came to be here. My name is Ella Chastain. I am 33 years old, single and currently unemployed. In the junk mail that finds its way to my mailbox was a flyer from a tour company. Having nothing better to do I signed up for a tour of Georgia’s gold coast. We had a couple of nights on St. Simons Island touring the surrounding area and are now in Savannah. I’ve more or less parted ways with the group after the trolley tour around the historic district. I found I didn’t care to visit Paula Dean’s restaurant with the rest of the group. I set out on foot, much to the tour guide’s dismay, to discover what I might on my own.

That’s when I discovered this house and garden. Today the group is having lunch on a river boat out on the Savannah River. I rushed through mine at a café on Bay Street and came back here.

I did say I was single but I am in a relationship with Tom Shealy. We’ve been in a relationship for going five years now and I wonder sometimes if it will ever progress beyond the point where it seems to have stalled. He is a lawyer/lobbyist in Columbia, SC and we live together in a townhouse in Wales Garden. I was employed by SCE&G (South Carolina Electric and Gas Co.) in their environmental lab out at Lake Murray. The last layoff caught me unawares. There is something rather disheartening to find yourself a non-essential employee.

I’ve been wandering around taking photographs. I have one still in my camera of this very garden that I took yesterday. It’s early spring and the garden is not in full bloom. In other words it’s mostly green with a great clump of white thrift blooming in the center of the boxwoods. The far side of the garden is an arbor covered in Jessamine. The blooms are yellow where visible. Camellias are also blooming on the far right in shades of pale pink and white. The garden has a neglected look about it though the box appears to have been trimmed. It’s a very old garden put in probably when the house was in its prime. Birds are nesting undisturbed in the shrubbery.

The birds are undisturbed by the presence of this man. He’s plucked a camellia and stands looking down at it in his hand. There is an air of sadness about him. I must find out about this house and hopefully about him. There’s a little shop across the street from the hotel. I remember they had several books on display about the history of Savannah, folk lore, Civil War, Revolutionary War and of course Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannah’s claim to fame.

The books I thumbed through didn’t mention the house and I’d stood there going through them until the lady behind the counter asked if she could help. I asked her about the house on Abercorn Street. She told me it was haunted, surprise, and that the original family still owned it although they were scattered far and wide over the world. It was a shame, she said, that it had been allowed to fall into disrepair.

I asked what sort of ghosts were supposed to haunt it?

She told me a story, whether true or perhaps should be noted as folk lore, I wouldn’t know, but it was interesting all the same.

In 1785 Captain John Treadwell came over from England and built the house. He was somehow involved in introducing silkworms to Savannah and hoped to develop a thriving business. He invested a lot of money into the process. He brought his family over, including two daughters. The eldest daughter married a local man and moved away from home. The youngest daughter was an invalid. The saleslady didn’t know what she suffered from but her name was Chloe Elizabeth Treadwell. She lived to be twenty-five and died in the house.

Her father doted on the girl and when she died he went mad. He had a son who came back home to try and keep the family business going and to look after his mother and father. He was a sea captain and was never happy here in Savannah. His father killed himself in the house and the surviving daughter came for her mother and took her away. It was said that the father was searching for his daughter and the daughter for her father.

It was a good story but the man I saw in the garden wasn’t old enough to be the father of a twenty-five year old girl. I asked what happened to the son and did she know his name.

The son was named for his father and she thought he went back to sea. The house was on the ghost tour if I’d care to check it out. I did care and was directed to where I could buy a ticket. It was a walking tour and was to take place at sundown as such things do, ghosts being more active at night. Little did they know?

While the rest of my tour mates went off to dinner and local theater I hurried to meet the ghost tour guide. There were about twelve of us fellow ghost hunters gathered about her. She was dressed in period costume and carried a lantern. We trudged after her, hearing some of the same stories the daytime trolley tour guide imparted and I was becoming a little weary until we hit Abercorn Street. She pointed out where the silk mills used to stand and then we came to Captain Treadwell’s house. What luck! She had a key.

She now recounted the story the lady in the shop had told earlier in the day, adding little of importance. I was more interested in the son. I’d decided the man in the garden was John Treadwell, Jr. Little was said of him except he’d tried to make a go of his father’s business until failure was apparent then he sold his holdings in the company and went back to sea.

She was taking the group to the room where the father supposedly committed suicide by shooting himself and I lingered in the downstairs rooms. I brushed my hands across the faded peeling wallpaper, the wavy glass in the tall windows and came to the window I determined to be the one I could see from the garden gate. The garden was in shadows and only an outline of the fountain could be seen in relief from the street light beyond the gate.

There I had my brush with a ghost and a brush it was. Something brushed by me and I turned with my little plastic flashlight given out by the tour guide. I couldn’t get the thing to light up. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing at attention as I strained my eyes around the room. Finally fumbling long enough, I turned on the flashlight. The room was empty and yet it wasn’t. Someone was there. The feeling soon passed when I heard the group coming down the staircase.

I quickly assembled myself with the tour group thinking safety in numbers. It could have been Mad Old Treadwell…or not. I’d like to think it was Junior who’d found me in his house.

I left the tour after we exited the house, claiming sore feet. It was true my feet were feeling the pavement but I wanted to wander around the house on my own. It was a waste of a good pair of walking shoes. I couldn’t get into the garden from the front gate located on the side of the house and so I walked around the block and came up to the rear gate and looked again for my ghost but he was otherwise engaged and did not appear.

Arriving back at the hotel I apologized to my tour guide for failing to follow the designated tour I’d paid for but assured her I was fine and had enjoyed my stay in Savannah. I put my luggage outside my room at 7:30 the next morning for the bus driver to pick up and made my way down to breakfast with the rest of the women.

The bus was leaving at 9:00 and while I took my little breakfast plate of omelet and fruit with a cup of coffee toward a table, my appetite left me. I had little over an hour before we were to leave. I tossed the plate in a trash can but kept my coffee. I left the hotel and walked quickly down the street, across the square and onto Abercorn Street. I paused at the front of the house, taking it all in and then went around the block to the rear gate. My vision blurred for a moment and then the garden faded to black and white. He was there again as before. I spoke to him, simply saying good morning. He looked toward the gate and I could have sworn he’d heard me. I finished my coffee and crumpled the cup into my handbag.

Grasping the iron curlicues in my hands, I spoke again. “Are you John Treadwell?”

I felt a jolt and a movement in my hands as the gate slowly swung open as if on well-oiled hinges. Holding my breath, I stepped inside the garden to find it wasn’t black and white at all and neither was the man coming toward me. His vest and breeches were buff-colored and the linen at his throat snowy white, marked by a black neck cloth. As I’d suspected his hair was blond and as he neared I looked into eyes the color of the sea. I barely head the click of the gate falling back into place.

I’d stepped into another world.

 

Chapter 2

He raked me up and down with those sea green eyes and then fixed me with a stare.

“Who are you and why have you come?” he asked in British-accented English. His voice was deep with authority.

“Mm…my name is Ella Chastain and I don’t know why I’ve come or exactly where or how.” My voice sounded awfully thin to my ears.

It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be in danger or that I should fear this man but I felt a chill run right through me. Was I talking to a ghost or what?

“You came through the gate into my garden.”

“Yes, well, it opened. Something strange has happened.  I spoke to you earlier though the gate. did you hear me?”

He looked away for a moment, clearly confused. “I may have heard something. Did you call me by name?”

“I asked if you were John Treadwell.”

“How did you know my name? I’m sure we’ve never met.”

“I’ve, uh, done a bit of research on this house.”

“What interests you here?”

“I’m afraid it was…you.”

“Are you a spy?”

“Spy? Why, no.” I shook my head. “I’m just a tourist here. I came with a group of people.” I checked my watch and frowned. It had stopped working at precisely 8:35. “I really should be going or I’ll miss my bus.”

“Going where?”

“To South Carolina. That’s where I’m from.”

“Carolina…I know it.” He looked me over again. “You are dressed strangely, almost as a boy.”

I looked down at my jean-clad legs and an oversized knit top in a particular shade of raspberry pink. “It’s pretty common where I come from.”

“Women dressed as men? Are you all spies then?”

“I’m not a spy. I was only curious. I’ll go now. I didn’t mean to intrude. It was just that the gate opened where it wouldn’t before.”

“You saw me here and spoke. Therefore, you did intend to enter the gate.”

“I didn’t. The gate was rusted shut and wouldn’t open. I don’t know why it did this morning. I’m sorry to have bothered you.” I turned around and reached for the gate. It opened easily but what was on the other side brought me up short. It was not the Savannah I’d just left a few moments ago.

“Oh my God!” I covered my mouth and looked up and down the street. The smell of horse was predominant and everything I knew was gone. I saw a carriage approaching with its occupants dressed in period clothing and stepped back into the garden. He was watching me with his head slightly tilted.

“How do I get back?”

“Back to where?”

“Where I came from.”

“Are you indeed lost?”

“It appears that I am.”

“Where is this group you claim to have been a part of?”

“They’re at the Hampton Inn, probably boarding the bus by now. It’s only two blocks away.”

“I would accompany you but it is not wise to be seen with me at present. I can send my man with you.”

“You don’t understand. The, uh, landscape has changed. When I was on the other side of the gate it was the year 2011. Obviously it’s…”

He looked concerned for a moment. “Are you…mad?”

“No, but I might be fast going mad. What year is this?”

“1812, 23rd of May.”

His face told me he did think I was mad. I thought about his father and wondered if he were still alive or if the tragedy had already occurred.

“I seem to have blundered into the past. I don’t know how it happened. I was at the gate and not for the first time I was looking through at you. You see now it opens both ways but the world I knew is gone.”

He walked away from me in thought. I could imagine what he was thinking. I should be locked up somewhere. Isn’t that what they did with mad people in his time? It sounded so ridiculous that I hardly believed it myself. How could you step back nearly 200 years in time?

“Will you come into the house, perhaps a cup of tea or coffee?”

His voice close behind me caused me to jump. I turned to find him very close behind me, his eyes steady and his lips forming a slight smile. Humor the idiot? I didn’t know what else to do but just go with it.

“Thank you. I could use a cup of coffee.”

I followed him through the garden and disturbed a nest of wrens as I brushed by the tangled shrubbery. I felt a leaf…it was all too real. Inside the house he called for someone named Salt and ordered coffee from the sizable black woman.

“You have caught me at a disadvantage. I am trying to clear up my father’s business and have freed his slaves. Salt and her husband, Bill, are all that’s left. They are still here because they had nowhere else to go.”

“Are you preparing to leave Savannah?”

“I am indeed before this unpleasantness forces me to.”

“What unpleasantness?” I asked.

“Do you not keep up with current happenings in your own country? Why it's a damnable thing you Americans are doing. While England is embroiled in a war with France your country is carrying on free trade, aiding the enemy.”

I reached back to what knowledge I had, which wasn’t much. “But France is not an enemy to America.”

“Be that as it may, we have diplomatically requested that you cease and desist. They’ve thumbed their noses at us.”

“I thought you might be an American. Your father…”

“My father was a British subject. He remained so until his death. I was born and educated in England and am an officer in His Majesty’s Navy.”

“I see…well.” I smiled a little weakly. He was very forceful and obviously had strong feelings about the matter. It finally occurred to me what he was talking about. This was just prior to the War of 1812 with England. No wonder he was feeling uncomfortable here.

“I seem to have popped in at the wrong time, if there ever was a right time, which I doubt. If I knew how to get back to my own time and place I’d go.”

He frowned slightly. “I’ll have my steward escort you.”

He didn’t understand what I was talking about.

I finished my coffee, which was quite good, and thanked him. He bellowed out for the steward, Killick. I’m not sure how to describe the man who appeared instantly in the room. His wild hair was long and plaited into a sort of braid with smaller braids around his face. He was told to escort me back to where I’d come from. Well, I hoped he had a bit of magic in his pocket.

He walked to the front of the house with me while Killick found a cab. He explained he’d sold the carriages and the horses.

“You are leaving soon?” I asked.

“As soon as arrangements are completed.”

“I never did get your name.” Although I thought I knew it.

“You know who I am. Captain John Treadwell but I’m called Jack, not John. Your research did not tell you that, did it?”

“No, actually there was very little about you.”

“Just as well. I see your cab is here. It’s been very interesting to meet you, Miss Chastain,” he smiled.

“Thank you. I’m glad I got to meet you, too. Good bye.”

I stopped on the front steps, seeing the black cab and its two matching horses. This was not going to turn out well. I gave the address of East Bay and Abercorn Street and we set off down the street past the green space that would one day be Reynolds Square. I could see the corner from there and there was nothing but a ramshackle looking old building. My heart sank.

“This is where you wanted, Miss?” Killick raised his brows and looked at me.

“I don’t believe it is. It’s not what I thought it was going to be. I can’t…oh, I can’t get out here!” I looked around in a mild panic. The corner of the street was full of men milling around in various states of drunkenness.

“Where to then?”

“I…I don’t know.”

Killick bounced his knee around for a moment then told the driver to take us back to the house where he’d picked us up.

“It’s not a fit place to put you down, Miss,” he explained. “The Captain will know what to do with ye.”

I very much doubted that but I hadn’t a better idea.

Killick disappeared into the house while I waited in the cab. I thought about the night before and the ghost tour. My encounter hadn’t been with Jack Treadwell at all. I closed my eyes, trying to recall everything I’d experienced. That first brushing by…like skirts, voluminous skirts, that’s what it was like.

“Miss?” Killick was back. “He says to come back inside.”

I hung my head. Oh dear.

It wasn’t any better when I got back inside and found him pacing off the length of the front living room with his hands clasped behind his back. He paused in front of me.

“It appears we have a problem.”

 

Chapter 3

“I wasn’t sure how to address him so I adapted Killick’s form. “Captain, it is I who have the problem. I didn’t mean to bring it to your doorstep. “

“My steward tells me your party has left you behind. There was no one to meet you at the designated port and an unlikely port at that. So…you cannot possibly go about on your own. I suggest you remain here until some arrangement can be made to get you back safely to South Carolina.”

“That is very generous of you.” I didn’t know what else to do. Was it 2011 in South Carolina?

“Not at all.” He looked me over again. “Something will have to be done about your appearance. Women may dress that way in South Carolina but not here.” He hesitated a moment and called for Salt. He instructed her to find suitable attire for me.

I was to be his guest and Salt led me up the winding staircase to a bedroom. It was Chloe’s room. I knew it as soon as I crossed the threshold. It faced the street and sunlight was pouring though the windows. The large four poster bed was hung with pale blue silk.

“What happened to her…Chloe?” I asked Salt.

Salt told me Chloe had a weak heart and it finally gave out. She also gave away a few other bits of information. Chloe, the youngest child, was her father’s favorite.  I asked if the Captain was close to her and Salt said he hardly knew her. He spent his time in England while she was growing up and only saw her a few times in her life.

Chloe was a much smaller woman than I was and while Salt measured and took clothes away to be altered I pulled a dressing gown around me and looked down at my sandaled feet. No way would I ever be able to wear her tiny shoes.

I tested the bed and sat down on it, running a hand over the smooth silk embroidered coverlet. My situation was becoming dire. By now the tour guide would have contacted Tom since I put him down as one to call in case of emergency. I’m not sure they would have held the bus for very long. There were 25 other people to get back to Columbia. Meanwhile it was 1812.

I rose and inspected the room. Her hairbrushes were still on the dressing table. I picked one of the silver backed brushes up and ran my fingers through the bristles. The mirror over the dressing table reflected a modern woman with long wavy light brown hair and hazel eyes. I topped out at 5’4” and weighed 120 pounds. I pulled my hair up with one hand, wondering if I could do anything with it. There was a pin dish on the dressing table with hairpins and combs.

Letting my hair fall in its usual tousled drape, I covered my face. There was no way I could pull this off. Somehow I had to make him understand what had happened to me in his garden. Surely that gate would swing both ways eventually. Why was I here?

“For him.”

I stared wide-eyed into the mirror and then looked around the room. “Hello?”

There was no one there but I heard a breathless voice speak to me. “For him,” it said. Him? Jack Treadwell? It wasn’t going to elaborate. The house was haunted already.

In little over an hour Salt was back with one dress and, while it was still snug around my middle, it would do. She disappeared and came back with the tortuous under things that would make the dress fit. I was put into a chemise, laced into a corset and handed a pair of soft linen draw-stringed bloomers. The underclothes had been Jack’s mother’s second best. I also had a pair of her satin slippers to wear. My toes were a bit cramped but I could get around in the house with them. Petticoats followed, layers of them, and then the dress slipped over my head and buttoned up. I could hardly breathe but my posture improved immediately. There was nowhere for it to go.

I twisted my hair up in a makeshift French twist and secured it with pins. The shorter bits around my face would just have to be there in their natural messy state. Was I suitably attired for Captain Treadwell? The dress was a heavenly shade of pale lavender. Salt said it was a day dress. Thank God for Salt.

I glided down the stairs, holding tight on the banister with one hand and holding my skirts up with the other. It was like being at a costume ball without the promised pumpkin at midnight.

Captain Treadwell came out into the hallway with something folded in his hand and stopped, staring at me for a full minute as I tried not to trip on the long skirts navigating the last few steps.

“You look very nice,” he said quietly and then remembered what he was about and left the hall for the front living room where I heard voices and realized he had visitors. I wandered into the dining room and my stomach began making noises. I hadn’t eaten anything at all this day and wondered now how I’d manage with the corset.

Lunch was finally presented around two in the afternoon. I was trying to be on my best mannerly behavior in the formal atmosphere of the dining room. The food was excellent.  My dining partner seemed to be quietly taking me in. He glanced away when I would look up at him. He is a very good looking man, as I’ve said before. I wouldn’t mind spending some time just staring at him, but of course I didn’t. I finally broke the ice.

“Is my attire more to your taste now, Captain Treadwell?”

“I’m sorry if I offended you, Miss Chastain, but a woman in trousers simply would not do.”

“I wasn’t offended and I respect your sensibilities.”

There was a twinkle in his eye when he looked up from his plate but he didn’t comment.

“I shall be dining away tonight. I’m sure Salt will take care of your needs.”

I hid my disappointment in a glass of very good wine. “She has been very helpful to me and is handy with a needle.”

“Yes, she has served me well and I shall be sore to leave her behind.”

“When do you think you might be leaving her behind?”

“Soon enough.”

“What will…If I’m still here…what will become of me?”

“I hope to arrange your safe conduct to South Carolina.”

“Captain Treadwell, there is something I need for you to understand about my appearance here.”

I explained as best I could the extraordinary thing that had occurred at his garden gate.

“I know it sounds fantastic but please believe me…it is true. I don’t know how to get back across that divide. I appreciate your efforts to get me back to South Carolina but if I arrive in this time period I’ll be more lost than I am now.”

He had a piece of bread in his hand and he bit, chewing slowly, looking across the table at nothing in particular. “I do not disbelieve you. I am a sailor and have been for half my life. I know there are things that occur that have no reasonable explanation to a sane mind. We are a superstitious lot.” He smiled and looked at me. "Whether God, fate or spirit has had a hand in this we cannot know, but you are here, delivered up on my doorstep for whatever reason.”

He picked up his wine glass and took a drink, setting it down carefully.

“I had in mind to close this house when I left but as you’ve nowhere to go perhaps I may keep it open.”

“You’re thinking about leaving me here…alone.”

“My dear, I cannot take you with me.”

He’d called me dear. I shook my head. “You are the reason I’m here in the first place. You can’t leave me to my own devices. I have no idea how to live here. I’d go stark raving mad.”

His eyes widened at that. “This is not a situation of my making. I am offering you my house to live in. There are people to look after your needs and you will be safe here.”

I held his look for a minute and put my hands in my lap. “I am so very sorry.”

In a softer tone he said, “I suppose I should be flattered that you found me interesting, but you see the problem it has presented for both of us. I cannot stay here when conditions are deteriorating daily with my country. I should find myself arrested for being English very soon.”

I felt so foolish. How was I to know what was in the works with God-fate-sprits when I looked through the gate. Oh, all right, I found him very attractive and add in lonely and unhappy. It nearly mirrored my own situation with Tom. I, too, was lonely and unhappy in a relationship I didn’t know how to end.

I wasn’t going to cry…I damn well wasn’t going to cry. I pushed my chair back and stood up abruptly, tripping over my skirts and an arm caught me before I fell and made a complete fool of myself. I wet his vest with my tears and my inexpert hair arrangement came down in a mess of pins. I felt his hands on my back and in my hair before he stepped away from me.

A pretty sight I must have made when he lifted my chin and looked into my blurry eyes.

“I am sorry to have upset you. You must admit it is a difficult situation, but one we must find an answer for. Perhaps you’d like to rest for awhile.”

“Yes,” I blubbered. “I think I need to rest.”

I left him and, hiking my skirts up, I went up the stairs with about as much grace as a rheumatic dog. I closed the door behind me in Chloe’s room and made for the bed. Some other items of clothing were hanging on the wardrobe but I didn’t even look at them. I fell onto the bed and had myself a good cry.

It’s hard to indulge yourself for very long with whale bone digging into your soft parts. I sat up in one piece to see Salt coming through the door with an ewer of water, which she poured in the bowl on the wash stand. She quietly arranged towels around the bowl and straightened the dresser, picking up pins from the floor.

What she knew or didn’t know about me required no conversation. She wet a towel and brought it to me to press to my hot eyes. After a while she began to talk to me in a low voice, rich with West Indies rhythm.

“De Cap’n, he be gud mon. He cum from warah wid ole nappy to care for he daddy and he momma. Da sista die and de daddy go off he head. De Cap’n and ole Bill care for him till he find gun an kill hisself. De Cap’n fear for he momma and he call he odder sista to cum for her. He gud mon. He free all slaves cause he don belib in slaves. He tak care ob all us. He tak care ob you. You don worry bout dat.”

“Who takes care of him?” I asked.

“Wal, I tink dat be you. You cum to him.”

I made another swipe with the towel across my face.

“De God know whut a mon need and he send ‘em.”

“I’m not sure God had anything to do with this.” I looked up to see her broad smile and hear her deep chuckle.

 

Chapter 4

After Salt left me, I couldn’t rest. I was up pacing around the room and looking out of the windows. I saw him leave and walk down the street with his steward. I sat down at the dressing table again and looked at the woman in the mirror. I felt through my hair and found the rest of the pins. I must have left a trail up the stairs.

Oh, what was I going to do? Here he was trying to get out of the country and I appear quite unbidden on his part to create an obstacle for him. I supposed I could stay in his house…for what…forever? The reason for being here would be gone. No, that was out of the question. I needed to get back to my own time and leave him in peace to go about his business of leaving Savannah.

I twisted my hair up again, securing it as firmly as I could then went back downstairs and out into the garden. I paused several times in places I’d seen him through the gate before arriving at the garden gate. I reached out to open it and it didn’t budge. I shook it and felt around for a lock but I couldn’t feel anything through the ironwork that would cause it to stick or be locked. It simply would not open.

I turned around and leaned on the gate. I was trapped inside this time warp…for him.  I saw a movement at the far side of the garden, a glimpse of a blue skirt. It was the blue skirt of Salt. I frowned. Was this woman somehow responsible for this? I set out to find her.

She was in the kitchen building talking to an old black man who was peeling potatoes. He nodded toward me and she turned around.

“Salt, the garden gate will not open.”

“She open.”

“I just tried it and it’s stuck shut.”

“De gate she open.”

“Okay, you come and open it then.”

She moved out of the kitchen and I followed close behind her. She pulled the gate and it opened.

“It wouldn’t do that when I tried. If you have anything to do with this, with my being here, you need to stop. Captain Treadwell is trying to leave and he doesn’t know what to do with me. I don’t know what to do with me.”

She chuckled, “De gate open if yo got sum’ers to go.”

I narrowed my eyes, “I haven’t anywhere to go out there now. What have you done?”

“I don’ do nuthin’. God got de plan.”

“I hope he sees fit to reveal it soon!” I whirled around and made a dramatic exit. I just knew she was working something…some kind of magic, probably voo-doo or such. I thought I might check around for tale-tell chicken feet.

With my dander up so went the temperature. It’s warm and humid in May and this May was no different. I went upstairs to what I was now thinking of as my room and found the fan I’d seen on a table. Too many layers of clothes! How did the women live and stand it? I fanned away at an open window, leaning out, hoping to see him coming back.

He didn’t come back. I had my dinner at a small table in the front living room. Afterwards I carried the glass of wine to a piano and sat down and began to play. It had been a long time since I played and I never played well but it kept me from biting my nails and worrying myself into a fit.

I didn’t hear him come in. It was after nine o’clock because I’d heard the clock chime in the hallway. By then I’d been through the better part of the decanter of wine. I was just finishing up a Scott Joplin piece. He lounged in the doorway and must have made a sound for I turned on the seat and looked at him. He looked even better by candlelight.

“What strange music you play.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

He smiled, came over to the piano and leaned on the top of it, looking at me for a moment before he spoke.

“You have me at a disadvantage. Not only do I not know the half of it, I do not know the whole of it.”

“I don’t know anything anymore.”

His eyes traveled to my bosom where I’d sunk down in the staves and left the soft bits pushed up as far as they could go without popping out completely. Yes, Captain, I am a woman. He met my eyes for a moment.

“I have some news.” He straightened up and moved away. “I have arranged passage out of Savannah.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow night…midnight to be exact.”

“No.” I stood up.

“It may be the last chance I have.”

I bit my lip to keep from turning into the blubbering mess I was earlier in the day. I picked up the glass of wine and moved out into the room not far from him. “You mean to leave me here.” It was a statement.

He rubbed his eyes and moved closer, taking my glass and emptying it in one swallow. “No.”

“Well then…what?”

“Against all sensible thinking I’m going to take you with me. It will not be a pleasure trip. If it be true, Madison is going to declare war on England.” He set the glass down on a table.

“I cannot, as an officer, take a woman on board a ship lest she be my wife. We will be married in the morning at 10:00.”

I staggered into a chair and sat down.

“You may divorce me when we reach England.”

“Oh, married…divorce.” I looked up at him, flabbergasted.

“It is…the only way I see out of Savannah. You were correct. I cannot leave you here. Some force has brought you here to me and I mean to the best of my ability to take care of you.”

My head was spinning…too much wine. “So is this your idea of a proposal of marriage?”

“It is not my idea at all. It is a solution to a problem.”

“Ah…you are a romantic, aren’t you? Yes sir, you really know how to win a girl’s heart.”

He raised a brow and glanced at the wine decanter. “It will be a marriage in name only to protect you aboard ship.”

I boldly rose from my chair. “How convenient, but who is going to protect you from me? Once I have that ring on my finger I just might demand conjugal rights…as your wife. Jack, I suppose I can call you that since we’re to be married, you have no idea what mental anguish I’m in. If I said I wasn’t attracted to you I’d be lying. That may very well be why I’m here. So don’t think you have to spare me the marriage bed.”

I do believe I shocked him.

“I’m not a virgin. Given time I’ll tell you all about myself. There hasn’t been any time to do that yet. Don’t think I’m the kind of woman who jumps into bed with just anyone, because I’m not. I come from a different time where morals are a bit looser…I guess you’d say. People do live together without the benefit of marriage. I was one of those non-benefited people. Five years I gave to a man who treated me like a piece of furniture…he did, after all is said and done. I don’t know why I stayed with him.” I shut up because I was in danger of becoming a crying drunk and that is most unattractive. I turned to leave.

“Ella.”

That stopped me.

“It is a marriage of convenience that I am proposing. I was only thinking of you and how to get you away from here. We are not acquainted with each other. A few hours are not enough to…it can be whatever you wish it to be.”

“I’m probably not suitable for you, not the kind of woman a man in your position would marry had he a choice in the matter. For all I know you already have somebody in mind. I appreciate your concern and what you’re willing to do for me. Forgive me; I’ve had quite a go at your wine decanter tonight.”

“I did not mean to offend you, Ella.”

“No, I know you didn’t. I should go to bed. I’ll be more sensible in the morning when the wine has worn off.”

“What you said about me having someone…I don’t.”

“I didn’t really think you did. Good night.”

I weaved my way to the staircase and sat down. That was the last thing I remembered until I woke just before daylight in bed, in a nightgown, alone.

I sat up on the side of the bed, holding my head and trying to move the cobwebs around to where I could think. I was embarrassed to think of what I’d said to him the night before. Oh, God.

I made for the ewer and scooped water up in my hand to drink. By daylight I was feeling a little better and with a mostly clear head, his plan to get us out of Savannah made sense. He wasn’t in love with me; he didn’t even know me. Of course it had to be a marriage of convenience.

Salt brought me breakfast in bed.

Around 9:30 she finished buttoning me up into an altered ball gown that would serve as my wedding dress. It was pale pink silk adorned with heavy cream lace about the elbows and around the bodice. I wore my own diamond stud earrings. A cab awaited me downstairs and, trying not to think at all, I was on my way to the church to be married.

Jack was there waiting a few paces from the church steps. He looked resplendent in full dress uniform. Regardless of the circumstances of our marriage we made a fine looking couple as we entered the church with me holding his arm. This momentous event was witnessed by the minister’s wife and Killick. We took our vows and he placed a gold ring set with rubies on my finger. His kiss was soft and moist. We were married.

Chapter 5

In less than an hour we were back at the house. In just a little over 24 hours I’d traveled 200 years back in time, married a man I didn’t know and was now preparing for a sea voyage in a sailing ship. I stood at the window overlooking the garden and gazed toward the gate. There would be no going back now. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, honor and obey…had I actually promised to obey?

I heard his footsteps behind me and turned.

“Mrs. Treadwell, have I told you that you look beautiful today?”

“No, Sir, you haven’t said much of anything to me except the repeat after me stuff.” I smiled up at him and he touched my arm, letting his fingers slide over the heavy lace before dropping his arm at his side.

“Salt and Bill have prepared a feast for us.”

“Did you carry me upstairs last night?”

“Ah, yes, I did but it was Salt who undressed you.”

“I owe you an apology for my smart mouth and for drinking too much. You’ve been nothing but kind to me.”

He took my arm, guiding me toward the dining room. “We’d better sup well while we have the chance. You will not see such food again for some time.”

“How long does it take to get to England?”

“Four weeks, in peacetime and smooth sailing.”

“A month? Wow! Someday I’ll tell you how it was in my time.”

“200 years hence? I’m not sure my mind would be able to grasp it.”

“You’ve accepted me and my time travels.”

He looked down at me, standing by my chair. “I have indeed accepted you.”

Did I feel my heart swell? I was looking for little things, anything really that I could grasp onto. I needed something from him, something that said he cared beyond a sense of duty. He held himself away from me where I would fall into him in a heartbeat. I’d come 200 years for him and patience was not a virtue I possessed. Still, I reminded myself, I only met him yesterday.

“You’re going to have to guide me, Jack, because I’m lost here. I don’t know what is expected of me. I don’t know if I’m supposed to stand at your side as your wife or if you expect to keep me confined to the bowels of the ship until we reach England.” England was another thing but I wasn’t going to bring it up yet.

He smiled a little as he took up his knife and fork. “I will not keep you confined to the bowels. Weather permitting and circumstance, you will be allowed on deck but only where you are allowed to walk. There is danger for someone who is not familiar with the workings of a ship.”

“I’m a little frightened at the whole prospect of crossing the ocean under sail.”

“I will keep you safe.”

I looked at him a moment. “I believe you will.” I believed what Salt had said about him. He was a ‘gud mon’.

I filled my stomach with as much food as I could, considering the limitations of the damned corset. Jack was a hearty eater, I’d noticed, but there was nothing soft about him. That I’d determined from the brief moments I’d been against him and that brought up another thought. Did he mean to consummate our marriage?

I gazed at him across the table until I caught his eye. I then demurely dropped my eyes. Had he any idea where my mind was at the moment?

Obviously not. “Salt has brought in some help to get your wardrobe in order. We will be leaving for the ship as soon as it is dark. You might lend a hand if you are handy.”

“I’ll do what I can but I’m not very good at hand stitching.” I forked a piece of chicken, feeling my face flush.

He cleared his throat. Perhaps he did know.

I spent my wedding day letting out the hems in petticoats. Salt found me some boots that more or less fit if I wasn’t walking very far. Old Bill had tried to stretch them and had polished them to a brown glow. They would do and do better than the slippers I’d been wearing. As garments were finished they were folded and placed in the bottom of a trunk. I got out of my wedding dress and placed it in the trunk myself. I dressed in a ‘traveling costume’ which to my delight required no more than three petticoats and I secretly ditched the corset under the bed. There wouldn’t be anyone to do up the laces anyway. Unless of course…but…no.

I was amazed at how fast the women stitched. They measured me with their hands and their fingers would fly over the mounds of dresses. Did I need all this…evidently I did. I left Salt in charge and she was getting plenty of advice from her helpers.

The clock in the hallway said 4:15 when I finally emerged from the heated confines of my room. I walked out into the garden and looked toward the gate. Never again would I pass through it. Everything I’d known was gone from me. I tried to conjure up some regret but it wasn’t coming. Tom would raise a hue and cry for awhile but he’d go on with his life. What friends I had would discuss my disappearance for awhile until something else came along to dispel it. Life would go on without me. I mattered that little to anyone left behind. My father, whom I hadn’t seen in twenty years, wouldn’t even know I was gone.

Whatever or whoever had stepped into my life and brought me here must have known what they were doing. The only thing that bothered me was that I felt I was a burden to Jack. He hadn’t wanted this, hadn’t asked for me to appear here in this garden. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for him. Now he was shackled with a wife that he had to drag across the ocean.

What lay beyond the ocean I didn’t know. He may discard me like a hot coal once we reached land. If that happened I’d disappear for there was no way I could make it on my own without him. The quietness of the garden soothed my troubled mind. How quiet it was without the sounds of machinery and the noise of the 21st century. I could hear bees at work in the jessamine.

I heard his footstep on the gravel walk.

“There you are. Bill’s made tea if you’d like to come in for a cup.”

“I would like a cup of tea.”

He paused at my side and looked toward the gate. “Are you having regrets?”

“No. I tried to but I haven’t any regrets. For better or worse I’m with you now.”

His eyes softened and he walked with me back into the house.

Women know when a man is attracted to them and I was no different. I think if he wasn’t he wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to marry me. He’d have left me there in his house with Salt and Bill. There was something there between us that needed time to grow. Right now he was feeling responsible for me and the fact he’d taken on that responsibility gave me hope.

He’d been in his study writing letters and making preparations for our trip while I had been in a cloud of silks and cottons. He told me stores of foodstuffs had been taken by Killick to the ship.

“Do not expect meals as you’ve had here but you will not go hungry if you’re willing to eat what is provided.”

I was curious about life aboard and asked him about accommodations.

“Ah, I don’t know what you are used to but you may find the space small and confining.”

“I’m not used to anything as far as a ship goes.”

He looked at me. “We have a cabin with a small bunk. We may have to sleep in shifts.”

“Oh.”

The rest of the day went by quickly. My room looked bare for the women had packed the dressing table ornaments. The wardrobe was empty except for a few items that were considered unsuitable. A bonnet lay on the bed with long pale blue ribbon streamers along with the tight fitting jacket that completed my ensemble. The trunk was ready to be carried to the ship.

I was becoming anxious about it now. A little coil of fear had settled in my stomach. Walking around the room I touched everything solid and real and safe. In the last vestiges of daylight two men with a wagon came for my trunk and Jack’s. I watched them from my window. Killick was down there on the street with them, ordering about. I smiled a little at him; what an unlikely man, but he looked after Jack and his needs.

I gathered up the bonnet and the jacket and came downstairs. The rooms were not lit with candlelight as they had been the night before, only a small room off the hallway. I stopped at the door. Jack was donning his coat and looked up at me.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“As ready as I can be.” He was busily putting things into an oilskin bag. “I…I feel like I’m an anchor dragging you down.”

He picked up his bag and walked over to me. “Perhaps I am in need of an anchor. I have been adrift for many years. Come, the cab should be arriving.”

He took my arm and walked me to the door. There he put down his bag and took the bonnet from my hands and placed it on my head, tying the ribbons under my neck. All the while I searched his face but he wouldn’t meet my eyes.

The docks looked like a beehive of activity. The sloop that awaited us was lit up with lanterns. Jack handed me down from the cab and left me while he went to search out someone he knew. There were other passengers boarding and there were children among them. He’d told me there were other English families that wished to leave Savannah before the hostilities began.

He was certain there was to be a war.

It wasn’t long before he was back with a tall handsome gentleman that he introduced to me as Dr. Stephen Maturin.

“Stephen, may I present my wife, Ella.”

I saw the shock and direct look Stephen gave Jack but he bowed over my hand.

“How good to meet you. I had no idea Jack even knew a woman.”

I took one last look at the cobbled street before I was lifted down onto the dock and guided onto the ship. He stayed beside of me, taking my arm when I was meant to move from one place to another on the deck. It occurred to me that I’d never been on the ocean in anything larger than a blow-up float.

 

ON TO PART TWO

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