“The prosperity and happiness of a family depend greatly on the order and regularity established in it.” Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife
Mathilde could not believe what she was hearing. She dropped the pewter plates into the basin, landing with a metallic thud, as she felt her temper flaring and fought to stop herself from not flinging a plate across the room at her father.
Joshua was coming here—at her father’s request. Joshua Bowman, the son of her father’s best friend in Pennsylvania, would be here this week. She knew that her father wanted them to marry. She wanted no part of it.
“Father,” she said, turning to face him, so glad that the dining room was empty except for their family, as innkeepers they rarely dined alone as a family. She concentrated on keeping her voice even and steady. “I am not interested in marrying Joshua, nor am I interested in moving from this valley. This is my home.”
“Damn you, girl! How can you be so ungrateful? ” Her father, John, said, raising his voice and pounding his fist. “What am I to do with you, then? You need to be married. It’s the natural order of things. There are no decent young men around in this place. It’s time you courted.”
Mathilde felt her face flush. Her tongue felt thick in her mouth and her throat was clutching. “Father, I want to stay here and help with the ordinary. I love to cook and care for you and the children. I don’t want to be a farmer’s wife. I don’t want to move to Pennsylvania.”
“Tillie, your father and I—“ Her mother began, while rubbing her hand over her rounded, pregnant belly.
“Confound it woman,” John said to his wife. Her eyes lowered, but her hand touched his hand gently. He glanced at his wife’s hand. Then softening, he turned his head to Mathilde. “I am not going to force you to marry him. But you must allow him to court you. Give the man a fair chance. He can give you a good life in Pennsylvania. He is to come into a great deal of land. Land, Tillie. He can provide for you.”
Oh how maddening it was to not be heard. She did not want to be a farmer’s wife—no matter how large the farm. She loved cooking at Miller’s Ordinary, loved meeting all the travelers and hearing their stories of far away places. How dreadful to be stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with hardly any contact with others. Couldn’t her father see that?
She looked at her sisters’ faces—all three of them sitting there with their eyes on her and remembered her mother’s chiding her for some previous minor indiscretion. “The girls watch you to see how to behave. You must take care.” Mathilde forced a smile on her face, even though she felt no comfort from her father’s words. Even though he said he would not force her to marry, that is exactly what he was doing. Mathilde’s smile belied her red face, which was a continual burden because she was so fair.
Heidi’s pleading eyes, Emma’s eyebrows lifted just so. Rosa looking so smug. Why did her 17-year-old sister anger her so much? She loved her, of course. They were sisters. Rosa, so much like her mother’s side of the family, was the opposite of Mathilde, both physically and personality-wise. Rosa of the calm, dark eyes, the steady personality, the undeniable beauty and charm—always saying the right things to the right people at the right time. By the time she was 16, she had three proposals of marriage. None of whom their father approved of—and to Rosa, of course, his approval was most important. He always shook his head and said, “Pretty flowers often get picked too early.” Her beauty and goodness, right now, however, acted like a pebble in Mathilde’s boot— a constant irritant.