Embers of Love
by Tracie Peterson
Chapter 1 Philadelphia ....June 1885 I won’t let you go through with this,” Deborah Vandermark declared. She clasped her best friend’s gloved hands. “Even something this drastic will not win your mother’s respect, and it certainly won’t soften her heart with love.”
Elizabeth Decker ....known as Lizzie to her dearest friends .... shook her head. “You don’t understand. If I don’t go through with this, I’ll have to return home with her.”
“Nonsense,” Deborah replied. “You can come home with me. My brother is waiting at the train station ....or will be in another half hour. There’s no reason to remain here. You’re of age, and my guess is that even your father will approve.”
“Simply one more thing my mother would blame him for.” Deborah squeezed her friend’s hand. “Lizzie, your parents are divorced and your father is capable of dealing with this. They live in different towns. They needn’t ever speak to each other again ....and even if they do, it won’t change how you feel about Stuart. Don’t let your concerns about everyone else be the reason you go into a loveless marriage.”
Lizzie walked over to the window and gently removed her wedding veil, revealing carefully coiffed blond hair. With that one simple action, Deborah took hope that her friend was finally start- ing to see reason.
“Oh, Deborah, how I can stop things now ? Everyone is seated and waiting for a wedding. And what of Stuart? He doesn’t deserve such ill treatment.”
“Stuart doesn’t love you any more than you love him. This is all some sort of game to him. You are simply a beautiful ornament for him to add to his life.”
“Just as my mother has always said. Men do not marry because of love.”
“That isn’t entirely true, and you know it,” Deborah countered. “Many men marry for love. My father, for one.”
“But if I walk away, then Mother wins this battle.” Lizzie shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m saying these things . . . and after I fought so hard for this day.”
“Marriage and romance isn’t a war ....at least it shouldn’t be,” Deborah replied. “You speak of the fight to get to the altar, not of the hope, joy, and love that should have brought you there. You don’t want to marry Stuart Albright. You’re only doing this to upset your mother.”
Lizzie bit her lip. “It’s not just that. I have to prove to her that I can make my own choices. She’s so steeped in her battles for women’s rights. She cares about the treatment of every woman in America ....except for me.”
Deborah joined her friend at the window. “Perhaps that’s true, but I care about you, Lizzie. And it’s not too late to stop this marriage.
You can walk away ....run away. You can leave now with me.” “I can’t. If I don’t marry Stuart, Mother will expect me to return home with her and involve myself in the suffragette fight. She’ll drag me from one rally to another. Not only that, but I’ll have to offer some sort of explanation to Stuart and his family ....to my parents ....to Jael and the rest of the congregation.”
“Jael knows you’re making a mistake. She’s the only other friend we have here in Philadelphia. She’ll be back any minute and we’ll simply explain that you’ve come to your senses.”
“How is running away from a promise coming to my senses?” Deborah wanted to shake Lizzie until some semblance of reason formed in her brain. Instead, she took hold of her slender shoulders. “It is when the promise was falsely made. You don’t continue with a lie just because you were the one who started it. Your mother’s love will not be won this way. Your mother doesn’t understand what she has lost. She doesn’t see your value for who you are. You don’t have to go home with her. As I’ve already said, you can come with me.”
Lizzie looked at her oddly. “What would I do in Texas?”
Deborah tapped the side of her cheek considering the question.
“There’s plenty to do. You can stay with my family. We don’t have the luxuries that we’ve known here in Philadelphia, but there’s no reason we can’t make the best of it. You can share my room, just like we did while attending college.”
“But how would I explain this to my family ....to the guests?”
Joy surged through Deborah. Now it was just a matter of help- ing Lizzie reason through the details. “We’ll let your father handle it. He will understand completely.”
“But I’ve already signed the church records.”
“No vows have been said. The preacher has not officiated any ceremony.”
“And what of Stuart?”
Stuart Albright had a reputation for getting what he wanted. He had been seeking Lizzie’s hand for the past two years, and in order to spite her suffragette mother, Lizzie had finally agreed to the wedding. Deborah knew he wouldn’t take kindly to being publicly humiliated, but on the other hand, she honestly didn’t believe he loved Lizzie.
“Perhaps your father will have an idea. Let me get him.” The church bells chimed the hour, and Deborah knew their time was up. “I’ll be right back.”
Carefully maneuvering in her cream and pink silk gown, Debo- rah made her way into the hall. Just then Jael Longstreet returned, her red curls bouncing very nearly to her waist.
“The church is full and everyone is waiting. Why is Lizzie not ready?”
“Because she’s not going through with it,” Deborah announced. Jael’s eyes widened and she clapped her gloved hands together. “Oh, won’t this make for a scandal.”
“Don’t take such joy in it, Jael. This has been very hard for Lizzie. I’m going to take her to Texas with me. You go wait with her. I’m going to find her father.”
Near the church’s foyer she spied Mr. Decker. He was pacing rather nervously, tugging at the starched cuff of his sleeve. When he caught sight of Deborah, he halted and squared his shoulders. “Are we ready?” he asked, beaming a smile.
“Not exactly.” Deborah cautiously looked past him toward the church sanctuary. “Would you please follow me?”
“Of course. Is there a problem?”
Deborah waited to speak until they were back in the tiny room where Lizzie was waiting with Jael. “Something was wrong, but now we are trying to make it right.” Deborah left Mr. Decker’s side and went to Lizzie. “Your daughter doesn’t want to go through with this wedding.”
They had no way of knowing how Mr. Decker would take the news, but his broad smile was not at all what Deborah had expected.
“I’m so glad, Lizzie. I know you don’t love him, and it gave me real concern.”
Lizzie took several halting steps toward her father. “How did you know?”
“It was quite evident that you were doing this only to assert yourself. I could clearly tell during our supper last night that you and Stuart shared little affection for each other. Then after he left and your mother began railing at you regarding the marriage, you never once mentioned love.”
“Stuart has pursued me quite diligently,” Lizzie said. “He has lavished me with gifts and attention. I’m sure he must care for me, but I do not love him. That much is true.”
“Oh, my sweet girl, that man does not love you,” her father said, taking her small hands into his. “I believe he has been using you as much as you have been using him.”
Decker shrugged. “He likely believes you would benefit his political and business ambitions. A beautiful wife who possesses all the social graces always does.”
“Then he will not willingly let me go,” Lizzie said.
“Oh, don’t worry about him,” Jael interjected. “He’ll survive.”
“But I feel cruel.”
The sorrow in Lizzie’s tone only strengthened Deborah’s resolve. “Mr. Decker, my brother G. W. is waiting at the train station for me to join him as soon as the wedding has concluded. We are to journey back to Texas, as I believe I told you last night.” He nodded. “I remember.”
“My thought ....that is, if you approve ....is to take Lizzie with me. My brother will not mind, and my mother will relish having another young lady in the household. Lizzie can stay with us as long as she likes.”
“That would be a good solution, Lizzie,” Mr. Decker said, turning back to his daughter. “Texas will put enough distance between you and the Albrights so that I can smooth things over. Your mother will be upset that you didn’t tell her good-bye, but I suggest you two slip out of the church right now.” He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a leather wallet. “I will give you all the money I have on me. It should be enough to see you through for quite a while. If you need more, simply write to me.”
Lizzie took the money he handed her. “But, Father, what if ....” He put his finger to her lips. “There is no time for further ques- tioning. Leave now, and I will explain to the congregation that you have taken ill and we are postponing the ceremony. Once I’ve had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Albright and your mother privately, I will explain that the wedding is permanently canceled.”
Deborah reached out for her friend’s hand. “Come on. We can slip out the back door.”
“But what of my clothes? I can hardly remain in my wedding satin.”
Deborah considered the situation. “We are the same size and we shared our clothes all the time while attending university. There’s no need for much finery where we’re headed, so I’m sure to have suitable attire for us both.”
“Besides, your steamers are packed for the wedding trip. I can simply have them forwarded to you when the time is right,” her father added.
Deborah smiled. “There, it’s resolved.”
Lizzie’s father leaned forward and kissed her soundly on the cheek. “Go. Go quickly. Miss Longstreet and I will stall for as long as we can.” He looked to Deborah. “Where can I write to Lizzie?”
“Address letters to her in care of Deborah Vandermark in Perkinsville, Texas. There will be no problem in receiving correspondence there. It’s a tiny town. Once she arrives, everyone will know her.”