Patty Franklin Cooper
The dinner bell rang as in days of yore at half past two. Savannah’s mother met her in the hall and instructed her to come downstairs in five minutes.
“Where are you going Mama,” Savannah asked?
“To join your Father. Come down the stairs the way you were taught before the war in five minutes daughter.”
“Mama won’t you tell me what is going on?”
“Five minutes girl. We’ll be waiting for you. Okay?”
“Yes, Mama,” Savannah said.
“Remember, Savannah--glide and smile, glide and smile.”
All of the women fussed with every detail of Savannah’s attire one more time. Some were giggling, some shushing and some looking forlorn. At exactly the appointed time Ann, Savannah’s life-long best friend and her mother’s youngest sister said, “It’s time love.”
Savannah stood at the top of the stairs as erect as a goddess. She slowly started down the stairs barely holding onto the banister just as she had been taught. She looked straight ahead as she slowly truly seemed to glide down the long curved staircase. She couldn’t see them, but those in the dining room could see her. Her father gasped at the beauty of his eighteen year old daughter. Her hair was the darkest brown and she was petite looking so much like his wife had looked at that age. She is so beautiful he thought.
Savannah’s mother also watched her daughter with pride. This moment took her back to the old south. But, the horrible reality was that it was 1869 and things were definitely not as they used to be. Yes, she was proud of how graceful and poised and perfect her daughter was in this her last minute of childhood. But Rhonda’s heart felt like a huge stone. She had become so proud of how Savannah had embraced the hardships after the war and how she had thrived under the new role she accepted becoming a helper and hard worker taking up the slack of jobs others used to do. She had marveled as Savannah seemed to love this what was to Rhonda a horrific afterlife. Now became the question. Now, how to proceed?When Savannah reached the bottom of the stairs and turned toward the dining room she nearly swooned, because standing beside Papa and Mama was that horrible man Reginald R. Ryan. She looked at his face for just a second and saw the most fiendish grin then swiftly averted her eyes as she had been taught continuing to maintain the most natural pleasant look upon her face. At that moment she was lucky to have all of her manners fully ingrained, because she needed to rely on all of her history to remain standing to not scream out something unseemly and to not embarrass her parents. But, what was he doing here?
General Beauford Morris stepped forward and took his daughter’s hand. “Savannah, although I understand you met Mr. Ryan this morning may I properly introduce you? Savannah Charleston Morris may I have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Reginald R. Ryan of Surry’s Landing, South Carolina late of Newport, Rhode Island and formerly of London, England. Mr. Ryan my daughter Savannah Charleston.”
Savannah curtsied and Mr. Ryan bowed then Savannah extended her hand as she responded, “My pleasure Mr. Ryan.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Miss Morris,” responded the man in a voice sickeningly sweet as he bent and kissed her hand.
“Grand, grand,” General Morris said, “now let us share a meal.” He took his wife’s arm and lead her to her place at the foot of the table pulled out her chair and seated her. As he was doing that, Reginald Ryan took Savannah to the side of the long polished table and assisted her to her seat. General Morris sat at the head of the table and Mr. Ryan sat on the side opposite Savannah looking straight at her.
The household unaccustomed to serving did an admirable job as the party ate on what was left of the best china and silverware. It was a mismatched service and the fare was tasty but more country kitchen garden than what would have been previously served to a guest. There was general chitchat during the meal, but no mention of the war.Savannah had great difficulty eating the meal and felt very happy that the great south took pride in their women eating like a bird at important meals.
After the meal Savannah’s father said, “Before Mr. Ryan and I retire to the library we want to accompany Mrs. Morris and Savannah into the parlor.” Once in the formerly ornate sitting room April arrived with a glass rather than a silver tray, because there were no more silver trays. The war took care of that. Upon the tray Savannah recognized her father’s small remaining amount of sherry and four delicate glasses.
“Thank you April please put the tray there,” Rhonda said pointing to a table. “You may leave us now,” she continued.
“General Morris will you pour,” asked his wife?
The General moved to the table and while pouring the sherry into the small glasses said, “Today is a very great day. Certainly it is a day that is cause for celebration.” After pouring he straightened then continued, “Formerly, we would not have such an auspicious occasion in late afternoon with only the four of us present. Formerly, there would have been an announcement with many more family members present, then soon thereafter a great ball. But, times as they are we must all adapt.”
Savannah still did not know what was going on because everything seemed so strange and so out of place. She saw that her father was holding his mouth that little way that seemingly only she could ever recognize. It always bode badly as when he had announced to their then much larger family in this very room that war was declared. Her mother was white as a sheet as if every drop of her blood had drained out of her body.The four were standing around the table as the General handed each of them a glass of sherry. Savannah couldn’t believe her eyes as her mother took a glass. She never drank anything stronger than tea. For the first time in her life her father handed Savannah a glass just as if it was as normal as having a glass of cool water from the well.
After all of them had their glasses the General raised his glass stating, “It is with the greatest pleasure that I announce the marriage of our beloved daughter, Savannah Charleston, to Mr. Reginald R. Ryan.”
Savannah’s knees buckled, but Mr. Ryan standing beside her while still holding his glass aloft took hold of her elbow tightly and kept her on her feet.
“Now, let us all toast their upcoming marriage and their long and happy life.”
Savannah did drink the sherry. Not as a toast as the others did although that was how it seemed, but because after that announcement she just plain needed a drink. Savannah had seen much, and endured more, in her short life but this blow had been so unexpected.
Mr. Ryan said, “I couldn’t be happier. When I laid my eyes on your beautiful daughter this morning I knew at that moment that I must have her as my wife as soon as humanly possible! Go get the preacher!”
“Now wait just one minute …” Savannah exclaimed using the sharpest tone that she had ever used in her life.
Rhonda quickly intervened, “There there Savannah, Mr. Ryan is kidding there will be no preacher called today.”
“But, no madam, I do mean call the minister today for a wedding this evening!”
Rhonda looked at Savannah who looked as if she had been struck by lightning, “Why Mr. Ryan, what I was meaning to say is that we have preparations to make and people to notify and it is not seemly to marry too soon after an engagement is announced. So,” as she looked to the General for support, “we simply must have some time to prepare.”“Quite right my dear,” the General replied, “we must not be too hasty.”
“Well, dear folks and family to be I understand your situation, but as we all know things are no longer how they used to be. I think that a fortnight should suffice,” Mr. Ryan pressed.
“Papa, I feel rather tired. Will you please grant me my leave and please let Mother and I discuss how much time it will take us to prepare. We should know by tomorrow.”
“Well certainly daughter. I am sure that Mr. Ryan can wait until tomorrow to allow you and your mother catch your breath and to decide what you need to do.”
Savannah saw Mr. Ryan frown ever so briefly and his black eyes seemed to flare once again with the anger she witnessed just this morning. The look disappeared as quickly it had appeared.
“Why certainly my betrothed, and that will allow me time to bring and present to you my own dear mother’s engagement ring. Tomorrow it is! Shall we say noon?”
“My two dears why don’t you go upstairs to begin your mother daughter talks regarding preparations. Please excuse us as Mr. Ryan and I retire to the library to discuss some business and to do some serious drinking. I am sure that my dear wife will allow me this one time expression due to the occasion!”
end of Chapter Two
© Patty F. Cooper, 2018