Tuesday, March 13, 2012
An Unusual Engagement
It's December and the Christmas activities in Camden Corners are in full swing. Luke and Molly Shannon put on another memorable Christmas Program at the Rialto Theater. Becky Bentley had a featured part in the production. Becky had a wonderful singing voice and now that she was speaking and singing again it was obvious she was a very talented little girl. Becky was unable to speak after several tragic events happened in her young life.
The children decorated the giant spruce tree in the town square as the townsfolk gathered to sing Christmas carols and Santa handed out packages for the children to take home. Chris Pringle made the perfect Santa accompanied by Mrs. Santa or Priscilla Pringle as the town knew her. Luke continued his tradition of donating toys to the children. He couldn't bear the thought of a child not having at least one gift for Christmas. Thanks to Nettie Crowley and her friends, he was no longer burdened with the full expense of the toys. That was a good thing because he and Molly were expecting their own child in the spring.
The children were practicing for the Christmas pageant at St. Peter's Church on Christmas Eve. Everyone was busy shopping for that special gift and baking their favorite Christmas treats.
Reggie Blackburn had his hands full in his construction business. So far the weather had been good. His crew had just finished the outside walls and roof of the winery and were working rapidly to complete the exterior of the hospital before the snow began to fall. They were succeeding in their quest but Reggie was not about to let his crew work long hours without working right along side of them. Josie missed her husband but didn't expect any less of him. His dedication to a job well done was one of the many reasons she loved him.
Josie had recently established the Camden Corners Chronicle. Randy Burke was her right hand man. Randy didn't know any more about publishing a newspaper than Josie did but together they were learning. Arthur Preston, the new editor of the Greensboro News was a big help to them. Arthur liked Josie and Randy and wanted to see them succeed. He felt a certain responsibility for the actions of his former boss, Harvey Wilson, who tried his best to sabotage the first edition of the paper.
Josie had written an editorial about a special family she had met recently in Virginia. Zeke and Effie Dalton lived at the base of Dalton's Mountain with their two sons, John and Ben. Josie hadn't known what to expect when Reggie decided to pay Zeke a visit. She had heard horror stories about how mountain people lived and was a bit nervous about meeting them. She couldn't have been more wrong. Zeke and Effie lived in a lovely old farmhouse that had been built by Zeke's kin years before. Zeke prided himself on the exceptional lumber he sold. They lived very frugally. Effie put up vegetables from her garden and fruits from the trees and bushes on the land. Zeke and the boys hunted and fished all year long. Effie and Josie hit it off immediately. Although the visit was not a lengthy one, Josie left Dalton's Mountain knowing a friendship had developed between them that would last a lifetime. At the end of the column, she asked her readers to submit their own stories of people who had come into their lives and made a difference. As many as possible would be published throughout the month.
Polly Cooper finished reading Josie's column. She was touched by her words and immediately sat down to write about her own saviors, Nettie and Oscar Crowley. Polly had been taken advantage of by a young man who was under the mistaken impression that Polly's father, Marlin Cooper was a wealthy man who would give up his land for his daughter. James Philpot arranged a bogus marriage between them and then tried to weasel money out of the old man. What James didn't know was that next to Harvey Wilson, Marlin Cooper was the meanest man in town. James admitted that his marriage to Polly was a sham but not before she was expecting a baby. Marlin marched his daughter off to an aunt with the intention of sending the baby to an orphanage as soon as it was born. Polly managed to escape her aunts house and found her way to Camden Corners where she knew her favorite teacher, Nettie Dawson had moved. Nettie took her and baby Faith into her home and heart. Shortly after that Nettie and Oscar were married and the four of them became a family.
Randy Burke fell in love with Polly and Faith the minute he laid eyes on them. They had been inseparable since their first meeting but Polly, who had been emotionally mistreated by both her father and her so called husband, was reluctant to commit to Randy. Randy was a patient man and was willing to give her all the time she needed.
Polly wrote her story and turned it over to Josie. Josie thought it was the most beautiful tale she had ever heard. She could feel the love pouring out on the paper and knew it had to be published in the next edition.
Several days later Marlin Cooper walked into Shaky's Bar & Grill. He liked Shaky's because nobody bothered him there. He would sit in the corner booth, grab a day old paper and drink himself into a stupor until it was time to go home to his long suffering wife and children. Marlin picked up the paper.
“What's this rag” he said out loud to no one in particular as he read the heading Camden Corners Chronicle.
His eyes went directly to the name at the bottom of an article Polly Cooper, Camden Corners Resident.
Marlin could feel his blood pressure rise as he swigged one double bourbon after another. The other patrons of the bar could hear him talking to himself but decided to just let him be. Marlin was known to get violent when he drank.
“I thought I'd heard the last of that harlot. The ungrateful twit left the loving home of my dear sister to go off with her little brat to that snoopy school teacher. That woman gave me trouble when Polly was in school. She kept telling me the kid was too smart not to go to college. College? I didn't even want her to go to high school but at least it got her out of the house part of the day. She was a real pain always telling her mother she should leave and take the other kids with her. No respect. She didn't give me no respect. Well, we'll just see who she respects now. I wonder how much money I could get for that little brat of hers. Sure she's older now but some people like older kids.”
Marlin got up from the table with the Chronicle in hand. He walked out without saying goodbye to anyone. Nobody was sorry to see him go. Schultz, the bartender wished there was some way he could keep the man out of the bar. He gave him the creeps.
Marlin went directly to the train station and bought a ticket to Camden Corners. He slept on the train and woke up thirsty. Before finding a bar he would find this fancy Crowley house and drag his kid home where she belonged.
Even after several days, Nettie Crowley would still tear up when she thought of the beautiful piece Polly had written about her life in Camden Corners. Nettie knew Polly was grateful to her but Nettie loved Polly and Faith and considered them her own family.
She had just finished setting the table for a quiet dinner at home. Faith had recently mastered walking and was scampering all over the dining room. Oscar entered and picked the little girl up to swing her around. She giggled as he tickled her belly.
Faith was born in the back bedroom of her great aunt's house. Polly had been treated with disdain by her aunt the whole time she was there. Polly knew she had to get away from the house with Faith and wrapped her newborn in a thin blanket before boarding the train to Camden Corners. After reaching Camden Corners she found a small chapel where she stopped and rested. Her prayers were answered when Nettie entered the chapel that fateful day just over a year ago.
Polly and Randy arrived at the Crowley home together. Polly was taking classes to become a teacher like her benefactor. Faith squealed when she saw her mother and Randy. Polly put little Faith in her high chair and they all settled down to eat their dinner when the doorbell started ringing and there was pounding on the door.
“I know you're in there you little tramp. Open this door or I'll kick it down.”
Polly thought her heart would stop beating. She knew that voice. She would never forget it.
“It's my father.” she cried.
Oscar quietly got up from his chair and went to the door.
“May I help you sir?” he said
“Yeah, give me my daughter and her kid and I'll be on my way.”
Oscar reluctantly allowed the man to enter his home. He could smell the stale booze on him and knew he was still drunk. There was no telling what the man would do and he'd heard Nettie repeat some things she'd heard about him in Greensboro. Now be believed those stories were correct.
Before Marlin could make his way into the house, Polly picked up Faith and handed her over to the housekeeper.
“Trudy, please take Faith out the back door and to Emma and Richard's house. Tell Richard what is going on here. They will know what to do.”
Randy stood by Polly's side when this crazed man who was her father walked into the room.
“There you are. Pretty proud of yourself aren't you? Living here in this fancy house. Where's the kid?”
“Hello to you to father. I can see you are still the charming man I remember so fondly.” Polly said sarcastically.
“Got a mouth on ya still, don't ya. I'll get rid of that once I get you home now get that kid of yours and let's go.”
Randy fumbled in his pocket and took Polly's left hand as he slipped a ring on her finger. Polly's eyes opened wide. The ring wasn't a total surprise to her but why on earth would Randy pick this time to give it to her?
Randy stood tall, stepped forward and extended his hand to Marlin.
“How do you do sir, I'm Randy Burke and I'm engaged to your daughter. I hope you will give us your blessing”
“Engaged! Why would you want to marry the girl. She is soiled goods you know.”
Oscar put his hand on Randy's arm because he could feel the boy was going to explode if he didn't calm down.
“I love your daughter sir. She is a wonderful young woman and you and your wife can be very proud of the life she is making for herself and her daughter. It will be an honor to be married to Polly.”
“You people are all crazy. I don't know what you like about her. She won't show you any respect. You just wait and see. Right now I want to see the brat.”
“She is not here and since you have no claim to me I suggest you leave right now. Go back to your happy little home. I know you won't but I wish you would tell my mother and brothers and sisters that I love them. If there was some way I could save them from you I would.”
Just then Richard and Robert entered the house with Sheriff Mendenhall.
“Mr. Cooper, come with me. I'm arresting you for public intoxication. Maybe tomorrow you will feel the urge to apologize to these fine people.” The sheriff put the handcuffs on Marlin and walked him out of the house.
“You'll pay for this Polly. I'll be back.” He dropped the copy of the paper with Polly's words staring back at her.
“I never imagined he would ever see this” she cried. “I'm so sorry he came into your house, Oscar. I didn't think he could get any worse than he was a year ago but I was wrong. Oh Randy, I wish I could get my mother and the other children away from him. I just don't know how.”
Trudy came back and started clearing the table of still full plates. Everyone had lost their appetite. Oscar proceeded to pour everyone a brandy including Trudy who was still shaking from fear.
Emma and Lily came in through the back door with Faith who was oblivious to all that was going on. Lily was the first to notice the ring on Polly's hand.
“What have we here?”
Polly looked down at her finger and for the first time she saw the beautiful ring Randy had slipped on her finger.
“Guess it's time to ask if you will marry me? How could you possibly turn me down with all these people waiting for your answer.”
“Randy, this isn't the first mess you have gotten me out of. Are you sure you want a wife who always seems to be more trouble than she's worth?”
“I'll take you any way I can get you. Now, are you going to marry me?”
Everyone started clapping and singing and sipping a little more brandy. Faith was still in Emma's arms and was clapping along with everyone else. She was smiling and giggling and suddenly reached her arms out to Randy and said