To Laugh Once More
Lydia Barrington Scarbrough had promised herself three years ago that she'd never let the joy of her wedding day fade from her memory. Now if only she could, life would be easier, for remembering it made her daily mundane tasks seem like captivity. She stood at the kitchen sink, scrubbing the utensils she'd used to prepare her stew. She stood here every evening at this time.
She could still see herself that day, the youngest Barrington child, standing in white in the gazebo, her favorite childhood refuge, with Hamilton and the minister. Winter flowers and ferns had adorned the gazebo, and lace bows had encircled every column. The Live Oaks mansion had never looked so warm and inviting. A banquet fit for a king and an evening of dancing had ensured the guests would never forget the long-awaited union between Lydia and her prince.
However, Hamilton hadn't kept his promises. Promises to forsake ambition for her. Promises to take her with him on his travels. He'd said he was doing it all for her, but his motives mattered not for he was doing it all without her. Once he'd captured her heart and claimed her as his wife, he'd chased affluence and societal acceptance but had failed to include her in his world. She loved him still. She always would. Did his river of love run as deep?
Hamilton's buggy ambled up the sandy path, lined with hemlocks and palmetto palms. Plunging her hands into the dishwater, Lydia pushed her dreadful thoughts away. There was no room in a woman's mind for regret or doubt. No room for fretting over missed parties and forgotten ball gowns.
She'd talk to him soon about her concerns, but today was not the day. After a day in St. Andrews filled with appointments and the long chilly ride home, he'd want a hot meal and his warm-hearted wife to sit with him beside the fire. Lydia straightened her shoulders and sighed. Hamilton opened the back door, and she fixed a smile upon her face.
"Hello, my love." Hamilton stepped up behind Lydia and wrapped his arms around her waist. He positioned a kiss upon her neck after nudging away with his nose a rebellious curl that had escaped her bun.
"Hello." Lydia closed her eyes and leaned into him, longing for his touch to soothe the ache in her heart.
"Are you well?" Hamilton turned her around to face him, dishwater dripping on to the floor.
Lydia wiped her hands on her apron. Her knees buckled at the sight of his strong jaw and squared shoulders. She dove into the waters of his sea-green eyes but tried to resist the current. She wanted to be angry with him, after all. However, when he hugged her, she submitted to the riptide and accepted his love.
The lines across his forehead relaxed as he studied her face—her mouth and then her eyes. He'd told her a thousand times that her eyes were like blue diamonds. If only he'd realize he was the one that put the sparkle in them and that their lackluster now was because he'd spent little time with her of late.
"Lydia?" He cocked his head to the left and tossed his dark hair out of his eyes. Behind him, the robin's-egg-blue wall accented his eyes, and Lydia sunk even deeper into them. "Yes, I'm fine."
"What have you done today to occupy your time while I was away?"
"The same things I do every day." She willed a smile to her face.
"Well, good then." Hamilton released her, and she stumbled into the iron sink. He removed his suit coat, hung it on the hook by the door, and descended into his chair at the kitchen table. "What are we having for supper?"
"Smells good. I have to get to bed early tonight. I leave for Georgia tomorrow to meet with several grocers about carrying our oranges, limes, and grapefruits. After the freeze last month, we can't afford to turn away opportunities." He picked up the St. Andrews newspaper. "Since the gold reserves fell and the stock market crashed, more people are trying to sell goods, and I've got to prove myself to these grocers."
Lydia slumped, ignoring the report on the nation's financial status and the recollection of the aromatic orchard in the summer months. Why couldn't she travel with Hamilton? Why hadn't his father continued to sell porcelain china and silverware? The potential for exotic travel had been much greater then. The beauty and abundance of the orchards paled in comparison to adventure. Hamilton's face showed his weariness.
"Georgia again? When will you be back?" The room flickered before her eyes, and she leaned against the sink.
Hamilton's eyes remained on the newspaper. "It'll take more than a week probably. You know how long it takes to travel this time of year. I'll take the train part of the way, but then we'll go by coach the last leg of the journey. The roads are difficult to travel."
What he dreaded, she longed to do.
"You should stay with your parents. That way I'll not have to worry about you."
Lydia took the white milk glass pitcher from the table by the sink and walked to the corner of the room to the water pump. She pumped her frustrations into the pitcher and groaned under her breath. "What will keep me from worrying about you?" The pitcher overflowed on to the soapstone below, and Lydia grabbed the rag from her apron to wipe up the excess water.
"You've nothing to worry about, Lydia."
She brushed her hair out of her face and carried the pitcher to the coal stove. She poured water into the cast iron stew pot and some into the coffee pot for after dinner. "Well, I prefer to go with you."
"That's out of the question."
She sighed. "Then I prefer to stay here. Your father and mother will watch after me, although I don't need watching after." She opened the top drawer in the spice box and took out a pinch of salt. She tossed it in the pot and wiped her hand on her skirt.
"You'll be more comfortable with your parents."
She lifted her gaze to the ceiling. "I'll be more comfortable here. When I go home, they treat me like a child. Why can I not go with you?" She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and prayed he'd feel her desperation.
Hamilton looked up and smiled. "The travel would be too harsh on you, my sweet. It's cold in Georgia this time of year, and I fear you'd be dreadfully miserable."
She raised her eyebrows. "On the contrary, Hamilton. I'll be dreadfully miserable home alone without you." She cast a faint smile in his direction and stirred the contents of the pot with fury.
"That's why I want you to stay with your parents. So you won't be alone."
"Do you not want me to come with you? This month is our third anniversary, and it'd be so nice to get away together." She tasted her concoction and opened the spice box once again to retrieve the black pepper.
"I know. However, it's not a matter of whether I'd like you to be there with me. Of course, I'll miss you, but I'll be about my business. This won't be a trip of leisure." He rubbed the back of his neck.
The ticking of the New Haven clock on the shelf failed to match the beating of Lydia's heart. "Couldn't we take a day or so to explore Georgia?"
"No, not this time. Maybe next time."
She nodded and allowed her shoulders to slump. "Next time." It's always next time.
"Your stew made me forget about my tiresome day, Lydia. There's nothing quite like a meal made with loving hands."
"I'm glad you liked it." She mustered a smile from deep within, but a cloud of rejection hung over her head. "Have you given any more thought to letting me go with you to Georgia? I can have my valise packed in no time. As your wife, I could be a great representative of our business and our produce."
"No, I haven't given any more thought to it." Hamilton laughed. "It's not the right time."
Lydia rocked in front of the blazing fire, the rocking chair taking her nowhere as it pitched forward and back. Her eyes slid above the fireplace to the painting of them on the beach a handful of years ago. Where had the urgency to be together gone?
"Why are you so desperate to leave home?" Hamilton pulled socks from his drawer and packed them away in his case.
"I'm not desperate, Hamilton. I simply would like to spend time with you away from here—away from the constant interruptions of family. Doing little more than wifely duties suffers in comparison to a trip to Georgia." She stared into the fire, her hope turning to ash.
"I see. There'll be other times to go away though. Winter isn't a good time to take a woman on a trip. You'll be much happier here." He removed his shirt, stepped out of his pants, and walked over to his side of the bed. "I'm going to bed. Are you ready?"
"No, I need to clean up a few things in the kitchen and then I'll come." Lydia stood.
"See you in a bit then." Hamilton walked to her side, leaned over and pressed his lips onto her forehead. "Wake me when you come to bed. I'd love to spend some time together before I leave." He ran his thumb across the nape of her neck, impressing his meaning into her skin.
Did she have to show Hamilton affection on this night? Why didn't he want her for more than that? She tried to find satisfaction with just being a wife, but she wasn't. She needed more. Why wasn't she content with the life God had given her—with the man she'd chosen?
Lydia's heart stirred with verses she'd found not long after her marriage to Hamilton—Psalm 30:11-12. The words flooded her memory like the ocean tide on the sandy beaches of Shell Island on a summer morning.
"Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever."
Her chest trembled. Tonight she would honor God and bless her husband.
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