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Georgina Chappel has everything a girl could wish for, except her freedom. As a daughter of a wealthy and influential man she is forced to be something she is not every single day. She knows that she has failed her parents, her Coming Out was a distinct flop and despite her wealth and good name she has yet to find a suitable husband. But she does not want any of the dull and insipid men of her circle. She wants adventure and a man who will love her just the way she is.
Martin Shaw has worked hard to establish the town’s only bank. He loves his work, but feels there is something missing. Will he finally find a way to move forward from his past, or will it haunt him forever?
“Good day to you Mrs Meakins,” Martin Shaw said cheerily as the elderly woman waddled slowly to the counter. As the wife of the local Minister she was always busy, and his most regular customer, often undertaking errands for those not able to get to town themselves due to illness or infirmity. She smiled back at him and placed her capacious handbag on the counter.
“I have three deposits to make, a withdrawal for old Mr Clayhorn and Michael asked me to check on our own accounts today,” she huffed breathlessly. “Foolish man wants to purchase a new buggy. I’ve told him we don’t need one, the gig does me quite nicely thank you.”
“No need to spend good money when you have what you need eh?” Marty said with a wink. She grinned at him, her fleshy face lighting up making her eyes sparkle.
“Quite right. I am glad to meet at least one man in this town with sense,” she said. Marty took the bundle she offered him and separated out the different transactions, marking them carefully in his ledger and putting the cash away in the drawer.
“I am a banker. Frugality will always prevail over recklessness,” he reminded her. “But, maybe the good Reverend is right, that you deserve something a little more comfortable to travel all over the county in.” She harrumphed.
“I get comfort in my rocker by the fire young Mr Shaw, I do not need it in my transportation.” Marty chuckled and she giggled, almost girlishly.
He finished processing her transactions, then moved to the drawer where he kept each client’s personal records. He pulled out the drawer marked M to O. Quickly he thumbed through the files and found Reverend Meakins’ statement of account. He went back to the counter and presented it to Mrs Meakins. She looked it up and down. He could almost see her mind totting up the amounts, tallying it with her own record in her head. “As I thought,” she said. “Though it would be affordable, it is an expense we might be better to put off for another year.”
“I don’t know whether to say I am happy for you, or commiserate with you,” Marty said cheekily. “But, if you do ever wish for a more comfortable seat to undertake your errands, you may always borrow my buggy Mrs Meakins. I barely use it as I am here all day.”
“You are a good man Mr Shaw,” Mrs Meakins said, reaching across the counter to gently pat his cheek with her gloved hand. The cool white cotton scratched a little against his skin, but the gesture made him feel safe. His Grandmother had often done the very same thing to him to let him know he was loved, or had done something especially good.
“I do try, though I know I probably do not try hard enough,” he admitted.
“I think that can be said of all of us.”
“Not of you Mrs Meakins. If you try any harder you will put the angels themselves to shame,” he said honestly. She blushed and ducked her head, as giddy at the compliment as any vain girl receiving the flattery of the man she had set her cap at.
“You should not say such things, but thank you.” She picked up her things, bundled them back into her bag and bustled back out of the office, the bell above the door tinkling merrily as she opened and closed it behind her. The smile she left him with stayed on his face for some time after she had gone.
The bank was now empty. Marty moved out from behind the counter and towards the window and swiftly looked up and down the quiet Main Street. He sighed. Wednesday’s were always the same. A brief flurry of customers in the morning, but then not a soul would cross the threshold of his unexpectedly prosperous bank for the rest of the day. He had not expected to do so well when he moved here, had known that Ruby Springs was only a small town. Yet his skill with numbers and his integrity and utter honesty had won him many customers from far and wide.
As he gazed around the office he knew he should be grateful of the peace and solitude. He should use the time to catch up on the filing and the bookkeeping. He usually did. But today he was feeling distracted. In fact he had felt that way since a conversation he had shared with his friend Dylan many months ago now. Dylan had surprised everyone by advertizing for a bride. He had disappeared off to the East Coast to meet with the woman he had enjoyed a lengthy correspondence with, and had finally turned up in town with her, and the lovely Catherine was now his devoted bride. Marty couldn’t help wondering whether such a marriage could last, though he wished them both well. He longed for companionship, but he was too shy to consider doing such a thing himself.
Distractedly he tidied up the counters and refilled the ink wells, throwing away the many discarded and defaced slips his customers just left lying around. He wondered how they would feel if he did something similar in their homes. He was sure that they would be quite disgusted at his behavior, yet despite providing them with more than enough waste paper baskets very few of his customers ever seemed to use them. He tutted under his breath as he picked up a newspaper someone had left behind. He was a man who enjoyed order. Numbers had always made far more sense to him than people, and they didn’t surprise you either. He liked that.
He straightened the pages, and quickly skimmed the headlines on the front page. The story grabbed him. At last the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act had been enacted, passed into law by his father’s oldest friend, President Chester A. Arthur. He still had to pinch himself to think that he knew the President of the United States personally. His father had attended Law School with him at Union College, and the two were still firm friends. He liked to think that since being here in Ruby Springs he had managed to forge similar friendships with Dylan and Matthew. The two men were both kindly and decent, and it was a source of great amusement for them all that they had fled their wealthy upbringings back East to begin their lives here in Texas, where success was far harder to come by, though Marty had never told them the full truth about why he himself had made the move away from his family and everything he had once known.
He moved back behind the counter and retreated into his private office in the rear where he sank down in his walnut desk chair. The leather upholstery made it comfortable enough to sit in all day if he needed to, and it had tiny wheels so he could scoot across the room from desk to file cabinet to get whatever he needed without ever standing up. He had put the wheels on himself, his mind often wandered to creating practical solutions that could make his life easier. He enjoyed making things too, it gave him a true respite from his daily work. He read the article about the Act, glad that from this day forth men would be chosen for their abilities and not their position in Society or their political affiliation for federal government positions. It would change generations of ill-suited men from using their connections to achieve the most lucrative roles, as they would now have to sit examinations to prove they had the skills and knowledge required to undertake them. He vowed to send a note to the President to congratulate him, knowing how hard both President Arthur and his own father had worked to ensure this came about.
He continued to flick through the pages, carefully reading the articles that interested him and skimming those that did not. He liked to be informed on all matters, but economics and politics were the subjects that most intrigued him. The local newspaper came from Dallas, and he often wondered if one might ever be started up here in Ruby Springs. He was not the man for the job, but he would be glad to offer good terms to an ambitious soul who wished to do so. He strongly believed that in order for America to become truly great, it needed educated and informed men at all levels of society. Good journalism could help to disseminate information, and help those without specialist knowledge to have some understanding of the matters that undoubtedly affected every man, woman and child in the country.
The final pages were filled with advertisements, and Marty frowned when he saw that Gavin Macready was selling his farm. The poor man had been struggling, but they had both hoped that the good harvest this year might be enough for him to stay afloat. It would appear that it had not. Marty decided that he would close the bank early today and would make a trip out to see him. There had to be something he could do, the man worked all hours and deserved better than to see all his hard work go for nothing. But Macready was so darn stubborn, would not even ask for a loan. Marty knew he would have to do a lot of persuading, but if it meant he could keep Gavin and his family in their home he would do it.
Just beneath the real estate section was a single advertisement that stood out as it was not of a kind Marty had ever seen in the Gazette. He read it, and re-read it at least a dozen times.
A lady of greatest respectability is solicitous to correspond with an agreeable and respectable gentleman with a view to Matrimony. She does not seek a man of great fortune, more one with kind regard and respect for hard work and the building of a partnership to prosper both parties in equal measure. The subscriber has been informed that she is of tolerable prettiness, and of a good nature, though it would seem vain to pass comment on anything more. Any respondents must enjoy lively discourse, and enjoy music. Address all replies to Box Three, The Austin Gazette.
Marty could not help but think of the joy that his friend Matthew had gained from submitting such an advertisement, and meeting dear Ellen because of such an introduction. They were now happily married and were expecting their first child , and of course Dylan’s more recent happiness with the delightful Catherine.. But it seemed almost odd to him that a woman should have been the instigator of such a relationship. But the more times he read it, the more he wanted to respond. He did not want to be the only one of his friends who was still alone, not when there was a chance – even a slim one – that he might be able to find love.
He reached for his pen and pulled a fresh sheet of his thick, parchment-like paper onto the blotter. He began to write. Then stopped, balled up the paper and threw it into the waste paper basket under his desk. Whatever was he thinking? He had no clue where this woman came from. He knew nothing of her past, nothing of her family. What if she knew of him? What if she knew of the scandal that had driven him to Texas four years ago? He was a pariah in Washington, an outcast in New York. Nobody wanted to be reminded of his name there – not even his beloved Papa, and he would not ruin that great man’s career because of his own failings.
He drummed his fingers on the desk, then stood and paced around it. “Damn,” he exclaimed. This was not the way he wished to live his life. He had come here so he didn’t have to look round every corner. He had no desire to hide any longer. He would not live the rest of his life alone. He craved the love of a good woman and the companionship and closeness of being part of a large family once more. He had to take the chance this advertisement offered him. He doubted that the kind of woman who would be looking for a husband in such a way would move in the circles he once had, and he could only hope that someone brave enough to take matters into her own hands like this simply would not care about his past anyway.