(Jane Goodacre has accompanied her employer, Lizzie Johnson on a visit to friends in San Antonio. Jane has found fullfillment and friends as a school-teacher, but she cherishes a warm friendship with Sam and Lottie Becker – and a chance reunion at the Menger Hotel brings an invitation from Sam … and an unexpected proposal for Jane.)

Chapter 24 – A Married Woman

            “What did you say?” Jane was startled into unsuitable bluntness – she simply did not believe what she heard. The music now sounded tinny, distant in her ears as she stared at Sam. The dancing in the salon now had spilled out onto the arcade, even to the courtyard; young men and girls laughing flirtatiously. The wings of moths flickered in the golden lamplight, as pale as the colors of the ladies’ dresses.

“I thought we might get married,” Sam answered, and a slight shadow fell on his face. “If you wanted to marry me, that is. Do you?”

“Yes, I would,” Jane answered, without thinking. “I do, very much…”

“That’s it, then.” Sam’s pleasant countenance was ablaze with renewed happiness. “I was hoping you would, Jane. Tio ‘Firio will arrange it all – I’d like to tie the knot right away, Jane. And …” he began rooting through his coat and vest pockets with one hand, as he held one of hers in the other.

“Why would that be … you’re going to Europe in a fortnight?” Jane was still boggled. It seemed to have happened all at once, in the space of seconds. She had always thought that a proposal of marriage would be a momentous event – that a suitor would be kneeling on one knee, and that he would have said a little more by way of asking for her hand.

“Well, that’s the thing.” Unaccountably, Sam seemed a little flustered. Jane found it endearing; he looked like a small boy caught out. “I thought I’d have more time – but I didn’t want to go away for a whole year without saying something … I know how it is here in Texas. You might be courted by any fellow, any time and say ‘yes’ to him. Onkel Hansi, he says he can’t figure out why you haven’t been already – he thinks the men of Austin must all be gel—or something,” he added in haste. “You see, Jane – you’re the cleverest and prettiest girl I know. I need you in my corner, so to speak. More than anything – even over the chance to study in Paris. You’re the one person who really believes I can make a living from painting. Mama says she thinks so, but she is my mother. Lottie, too – but Lottie is my sister. Everyone else says I’m a fool and just wasting my time. I need someone on my side, Jane. Besides,” he drew a deep breath. “If I must support a wife, and mebbe a family – why, then I have to make a success of it. We can go together, man and wife – have you ever been to Paris, Jane?”

“Oh, no – I couldn’t,” Jane answered at once. “I’d be letting Miss Johnson down – and I’d have to give up teaching. A year,” she straightened her shoulders, and frowned thoughtfully. “I couldn’t go with you, Sam – but I think I can save enough so that we’d have a place to live, afterwards. So that you don’t have to go back to your uncle with your cap in your hand.”

“A year is a mighty long time, Jane.” He sounded regretful. He had finally found the thing in his pockets that he had been searching for – a ring, a slender band of gold set with tiny red stones and a single pearl. “But I have a ring … I bought it with the money that Colonel Ford paid me for doing a painting to his order,” he added proudly.

“I think that a very good omen,” Jane said. “I’ll wear it for tonight, as a promise – and then put it to my other hand as a marriage ring.”

With an uncharacteristically solemn face, Sam put the ring on Jane’s hand; he kissed her also, and Jane thought how miraculous this was – a dream from which she hoped never to awake.  “We can be wed before I leave,” he said. “If you wish it. Tio ‘Firio can arrange it, if I ask.”

“I would like that,” Jane answered, her voice barely steady. She wanted him to kiss her again, to hold her even more closely than he held her in dancing. She wanted more than anything to share a bed with him, as Lady Isobel had shared one with his brother, to laugh together, and to make plans for a future. All other considerations were swept aside in the intensity of her desire – or very nearly all. “Very much … but I think we should keep it a secret at first. It’s not thought seemly for a wedded wife to work … and it would ruin everything. When someone holds the purse-strings, they can make you dance to any tune they choose for you.”

“You’re practical, too,” Sam’s expression was wholly admiring. “Like Cousin Anna, and Miss Lizzie. I like that in a woman.” He put his arm around her, and she leaned into his shoulder, reveling in the closeness. The stone bench at their backs still radiated faint warmth from the day.

“I can cook, too,” Jane answered. “And keep accounts. We’ll never starve.”

“Thought that was what artists did,” Sam laughed and Jane giggled.

“You’ll be the first not to, then,” she assured him, and then they were silent for a long moment. Jane contemplated the upending of her future with relative equanimity. She had wistfully assumed she might marry someday, as a matter of course. It was what women did, unless they chose to remain a spinster forever. Jane did not think she meant to teach for the rest of her life – but she certainly had not expected a proposal, or to accept it instantly. It just felt ‘right’ to her, as it had felt ‘right’ to agree to being Lady Isobel’s personal maid. “I will have to tell Miss Lizzie, too,” she ventured at last. “But I think she will approve. Married or not, she thinks women should be more independent. How long a time do we have before you must go to Galveston?”

“A week,” Sam answered.

“Will that be time enough?” Jane ventured. Sam chuckled,

“It will, if Tio ‘Firio has a hand in it,” he assured her. At that moment, Lizzie appeared in the courtyard, laughing and breathless.

“There you are,” she exclaimed. “The pair of you look as if you have been up to no good! What has Mr. Becker been asking of you, Jane?”

“He asked me to marry, and I have said yes,” Jane answered, and Lizzie’s eyebrows arched only slightly. “You are not surprised?”

“Not in the least,” Lizzie answered. “Only that it took him so long.”

* * *

To Jane, her wedding seemed to pass in the blink of an eye, in a queer dream-state that was not quite real. Mid-afternoon of the day after Don Porfirio’s ball, she and Sam stood up before the justice of the peace, in a dusty little office off the main plaza. The sounds of horse-teams outside in the square and the rough voices of teamsters blended with the chiming of the bells from the Cathedral. Don Porfirio, his mustaches shining with brilliantine, stood as witness with Lizzie Johnson as Ellen and Bill Lockhart watched. The voice of the justice, of Sam repeating the solemn vows and of her own voice, low yet firm – all that was real, and the feel of the little ring sliding onto the third finger of her left hand – that was real, too. It was a hundred times removed from the elaborate ceremony of Lady Isobel’s nuptials; Jane wore the best of the day dresses that she had brought with her, and carried a small posy of flowers that Ellen had picked from her garden. And when it was done; she and Sam signed the ledger, Lizzie and Ellen embraced her, teasingly addressing her as ‘Mrs. Becker’ and Don Porfirio kissed her hand. Oh, thought Jane, for the first time – my lady and I have married brothers. That will make it very strange. What will Auntie Lydia make of this? What will Sir Robert and Lady Caroline think?

Don Porfirio, who seemed to fancy himself as a father to them both,  invited everyone to a celebratory meal at his house – including the Justice in that invitation, who answered, “I don’t mind if I do,” as he closed up his desk and took up his hat from a stand in the corner. Don Porfirio’s home was only a short distance away – they all walked, Sam with Jane’s hand tucked safely into his. She stole a sideways glance at Sam’s – her husband’s face. He looked so proud, and pleased, although she had overheard Bill Lockhart teasing him – saying that his happy bachelor days were over. No, Sam answered, as if he had been quoting something: The best is yet to be.

Jane hugged that thought to herself. The best was yet to be, and she would do her very best to make it so.

* * *

Letter from Jane Becker, Austin, Texas

To Lydia Goodacre, Acton Hall, Oxfordshire

10 January, 1878

Dearest Auntie;

You will see from the return address that I have married. Is this what you had expected, dearest Aunt, when you bid me a fond farewell, and told me that things might be very different, in that country that service to my lady might lead me? I cannot help but think that you did, having knowledge of the world that was not vouchsafed to me! Oh, I was such a child, such an innocent! I am certain that you would see my marriage as difficult – an embarrassment, actually, since it establishes me on the same plane – as kin by marriage to the Family! This will be very awkward indeed…Lady Isobel and I have married brothers, but our prospects will indeed be as varied as the brothers are themselves in character and in their perspectives upon the world! The senior Mr. Becker, the husband of Lady Isobel – is the very picture of prosperity; his future and indeed his life as well-settled as any man of property in England. But my husband is a younger son and his unhappiness with the same prospect has led him to strike out on a different path, which he does with my confident support. We could be as well-settled as his brother – but the family business of cattle commerce is not to his liking. He is passionately drawn to art and the life of the mind, rather than commerce. I believe with all my heart that together we might make a comfortable living from his painting – as long as we do this together, for I have some skill in domestic management, and sufficient in savings to invest in some small establishment where we may live together and he practice his art. He has been painting for friends in a small way. His family and connections are widely known and much respected in this place. I believe that once he has achieved the laurels which are bestowed upon an artist known to have studied ‘abroad,’ my dearest husband may draw sufficient in painting commissions that we might live very comfortably, one established. We are not friendless, even now. Miss Johnson has taken our part very decidedly, and Don Porfirio was kind enough to lend us a small house in the old Spanish part of town, that we might spend the first days of our marriage peacefully together.

Dearest Auntie, I wish that you might meet him – he promises that should his journey take him to Oxfordshire, he will visit under the pretense of bearing personal messages and gifts from Lady Isobel to her family. Should he do this, contrive somehow to meet privately with him – and treat him kindly – as I am certain that you will, as you stand in my own mother’s place. I have not written to her with the news of my marriage; I may, when I return to Austin – or entrust a message to you to forward to her. It pains me to have so harsh a judgment with regards to my living parent – but your words to me and your actions upon assessing our true situation have remained ever with me. My mother was no more a true and loving parent to me than my lady’s was to her. I suppose I might seem harsh, unloving and ungrateful in this judgement, but it is a true one nevertheless. Mine and my lady’s mothers thought very little of us and little considered our content and happiness, as I believe a true mother should.

Be kind to my husband, dearest Aunt – for he is the dearest and most gallant of gentlemen, and those qualities of his which I most value were apparent to me as a friend – and dare I say, those of mine to him – and as such we were, long before we ever considered each other as partners of the heart.

Your very loving,

Jane – now Becker

* * *

“I should paint you, as you look to me now,” Sam murmured. It was the last night they would spend together in the little house in the old village, and they lay close-knit together, with Jane’s hair spread across the pillow. A small fire burned in the tiny masonry fireplace in the corner of the room.

“Oh, you wouldn’t!” Jane exclaimed, covering herself hastily with bedclothes. “It wouldn’t be decent.”

“Maybe not,” Sam agreed, “But you should see some of the paintings of naked floozies in cow-town saloons in Kansas – you’d outclass them by a country mile.”

“I’m sure it’s because you’re a better painter than anyone painting indecent pictures of … those women,” Jane replied. Sam sighed a little, and drew her closer. The night was chill, and the shutters were drawn tightly closed over the small, deep-set windows of Don Porfirio’s little house.  On the afternoon of the day they were married, Don Porfirio had driven them there himself, through the tiny winding streets of what had once been a separate little village across the narrow river which threaded like a green ribbon through town. At the door of a certain house in a row of them, all alike and built of heavy unbaked brick with plaster over it, Don Porfirio halted his horses. Sam leaped down and took their small luggage; Don Porfirio had kissed Jane on both cheeks before handing her a heavy, old-fashioned wrought-iron key.

“My children, tonight begins your life together. May God and his saints grant that it be long and sweet, and blessed with many sons and daughters!”

Jane turned the key in the door, but before she could step through, Sam had picked her up, as easily as if she weighed no more than a feather, and carried her across the threshold, laughing and saying that it was an old tradition. And so they spent five nights there, the last of them tonight. Jane wished that either she could slow time and relish every moment as if it were a day of itself … or hasten those moments so as to get the moment of parting over and done with. For the next year, she would be going over each of these precious days and hours, like a miser counting his gold coins. Marriage agreed with Jane very much more than she had expected. It was very like assuming a brand-new – but comfortable and well-fitting garment.

“You could come with me,” Sam said, one more time. “I’d telegram Onkel Hansi and tell him…”

“No,” Jane stopped his lips with the touch of her finger. “We’ve already of this, my dear. We can’t be beholden to your family for any more than you already are. The cost of two passages on a steam-packet to Europe and back … not to mention the costs for us both to live respectably. You may live in any old boarding-house or in rooms, but a man with a wife must spend ever so much more for a respectable place. It’s too much to ask. And you will be studying, dearest Sam – night and day … there will be no time for me. You would resent the time spent away from your precious paints and your studies. I know this – you would, although you would never say so. No man can serve two masters – or even yet, two mistresses.”

“My beloved distraction,” Sam sighed, and tightened his arms around her. Jane settled herself comfortably in the curve of his body, thinking how easily she had become accustomed to sleeping next to him. More – accustomed to sharing the days also; walking through the streets of town, an alfresco luncheon by the spring-fed ponds in San Pedro Park; in part such excursions were partly for the pleasure of it – and part with an eye for the future; a nice piece of property where Sam could establish his studio, and they could make a home for themselves. They had dined once with Miss Lizzie and the Lockharts, once with Don Porfirio – and this evening, they had dined at the Menger, just themselves. In the morning Don Porfirio would return, taking Jane to the Lockharts, and Sam to the new railroad station on Austin Street. “I know – we had agreed … you would go on teaching, and finding us a place here … you’re certain of here, rather than Austin?”

“It’s where all the trade is,” Jane answered. “Now that the railroad has arrived.” Just in those twenty months since she had first come to Texas, it seemed to her that San Antonio had become even larger. Where the station was now established, a hustle and bustle of commerce had sprang up; chop-houses, hotels, warehouses and stockyards. Street after street of modern cottages and small houses climbed the hill to the north of town, where once had been only the bare, grass-covered hills. To the south lay the districts of mansions and grounds where many of the German mercantile barons lived – and now the spaces between the long avenues were steadily filled in. “Your uncle was right to come from the Hill Country to establish the seat of his empire here. I think we should benefit by following his example. I will find the perfect place here – and with Lizzie’s help, I will buy it.”

“Oh, Jane!” his voice broke with emotion, as he cupped her chin in one hand, “I will miss you so much – but this I promise. I will write and send a letter every day that we are apart, even if it is only a line or two about what I had for supper.”

“I’ll do the same,” Jane promised fervently. “And it will make the year pass swiftly, I am certain of it.”

“And for now,” Sam embraced her again, “Sweeting – that is not a lark, but a nightingale. We’ll use those hours that we have together now to best effect.”

* * *

Once returned to Austin and the familiar classroom routine, memories of those six precious, idyllic days with Sam often seemed – as she had thought – like a dream to Jane, save on those days when the post arrived for her, with a fat bundle of letters, stamped and adorned with foreign postmarks and proudly addressed to Mrs. Samuel Becker. True to his promise, he wrote a letter every day, although most often they arrived many at once at one and two week intervals. Jane saved them to read, one by one, just before she went to bed of an evening, for then Sam was in her dreams. Lizzie and Jemima teased her gently whenever the post arrived – but otherwise, things went on as before; most everyone save Lizzie and Jemima still addressed her as Miss Goodacre, although there was no great secret kept regarding her married state. It was just that no one called attention to it. Jane had begun to think that she and Sam had succeeded in keeping the marriage a secret from anyone in the family who mattered, until one Saturday afternoon when Lizzie Johnson met Jane and Jemima as they returned from a visit to the delights offered by various mercantile establishments. Lizzie had such a grave expression on her face that Jemima paled.

“Is it Aunt Hetty?” she gasped. Old Miss Hetty had been in very poor health over the winter, although inclined to totter out to the kitchen when she felt strongest, to make a batch of her peerless biscuits. Jane knew that Jemima feared a message from the Vining house – that her aunt had gone, or was about to fall into that final deep sleep.

“No – my dear, not that news; but rather it concerns Jane,” Lizzie cleared her throat, significantly. “Mrs. Carl Becker and Miss Lottie are waiting for her, in the parlor. They would not say, nor would I ask, what their call concerns. But … I think, dear Jane – that the cat has departed the bag, at least as far as the Becker ladies are concerned.”

“Oh, dear!” Jane stifled a small groan. Jemima gave her a quick and affectionate squeeze of the hand. The door to the parlor was closed: Jane ran into her room and shed her outer garments hastily. She smoothed her hair in front of the mirror, and straightened the lace collar of the plain dress that she wore. A hasty inspection of her skirts revealed no smudges or smuts, especially at the hem; the streets of Austin were not paved to any degree, and the edging of filth acquired along the hems of dresses plagued the ladies mightily. She ran downstairs again, and composed herself at the door for a moment before setting her hand to the knob. Head proudly held high, she opened it.

“Good afternoon, Marm Becker,” she said, in even tones. “Miss Lottie – I am so pleased that you have paid a call. This is most unexpected – I thought you would have gone to Comfort – to the ranch. I did not think to see you in Austin again until Christmas.”

“There was no need,” Mrs. Becker said, in tones as dry as dust and that accent as harsh-sounding as ever. “My son Rudolph and his family maintain their home there now. I do not wish interfering with their lives.”

“I am certain that M… Isobel would not think the worse of you, taking an interest in the children. They must be … almost two years old now. They seem like very dear children – they are a joy to Isobel, and all the family. So she wrote me, some months ago…”

“They are,” Mrs. Becker answered. “But my son’s children are not my reason for this call. Rather – my other son’s wife.” There was a shrewd grey gleam in her eyes, and Jane’s heart sank in her breast. She knew – and the Baron doubtless knew also. Everyone knew that he shared his business confidences with his sister-in-law, rather than his wife – and that everything outside the confines of the mansion in what everyone had begun to call the King Wilhelm district fell into the Baron’s interest. Now Mrs. Becker continued, “I have been told by someone that I trust – that in December of last year you married my son in the offices of a Justice of the Peace in San Antonio. My son Samuel, that is. Is this true?”

“It is,” Jane confessed, with her heart hammering in her breast like a trip-hammer. “We were married there, in front of reliable witnesses…”

“Oh, Jane!” Lottie cried, ecstatic; she sprang from where she sat beside her mother, and embraced Jane with fierce affection. “How wonderful! I so hoped this news might be true – you have no idea!” and she whispered in Jane’s ear, “Sam is the very dearest brother – of all the girls I know, I would have picked you for his bride and my sister! Oh, Jane – I so wish that I had the courage to run away and marry Seb!”

“You are not of age,” Mrs. Becker’s ears hadn’t missed a word, and her voice was stern, reproving. “Lottchen, you are only sixteen, and to marry before you are of age, that I would not allow. Jane is of the age when she might marry without the approval of a parent or guardian. This was the wish of your Opa – that girls might not be hastened to marry before they knew their minds, and of what the world offered to them.”

“Oh, pooh, Mama!” Lottie answered. “I love Seb very dearly – I would marry him tomorrow, now that he has proved himself …”

“When you are eighteen,” Mrs. Becker’s tone was final, even crushing – but Lottie only pouted, brief and prettily, which reminded Jane yet again of the summer at the ranch, when she ate at the same table, and Lottie had been every bit as much of a friend as Sam had been. “Lottchen – this matter is not for you, but about … a marriage, and a family keepsake.” Now Mrs. Becker fumbled within the depths of her reticule; that large leather satchel which had always accompanied her. She stood, with something small in her hand, retrieved from the depths of the satchel, and now she was kind and perhaps a little uncertain – not so severe in her widow-black as she had first appeared.  “This was a gift to me,” she continued, “From a mother to the wife of her son. It came to me on my marriage, the gift of my mother-in-law, although she was long-dead when my husband gave it to me. I did not want to make a gift of this to Rudolph’s wife. She has so many jewels; it would have cut me to the heart, knowing that something I had treasured for so long would be only a simple, paltry thing to her. I think that Samuel’s wife would treasure it as I have done – and so I choose to make it my bride-gift to you, little Jane. You do not have any such – so I think you might treasure it also. It is trusted to you now, to give to the wife of your son, as you choose…”

Jane was struck to silence; she had not expected this. Rising from the settee, Mrs. Becker took the small thing, and placed it in Jane’s hand, briefly closing her own around Jane’s. She ducked her head – tall for a woman, she stood a head taller than Jane – and kissed Jane’s forehead. “There little one – my new daughter: You are one of my family now, one such as I would have chosen as wife for either of my sons.”

“Thank you…”Jane stammered, quite overcome. No, she had not expected such a mark of affection from Sam’s mother, or the bestowing of a family heirloom on her – even if it was only a small thing. She opened her hand; yes, this was the small brooch she had often seen Mrs. Becker wear for best; an old-fashioned cameo a little larger than a three-penny bit, set in a narrow frame of gold and tiny seed pearls. “I will treasure it very dearly … I will write to Sam and tell him. I am sorry that we did not tell anyone that we married … we were afraid that you wouldn’t approve.”

“I have never been able to prevent any of my children from doing that which they truly wanted to do,” Mrs. Becker answered, dryly. “Once they became of a certain age. It is my good fortune that sometimes they inform me of afterwards of they have done. You are fortunate with Samuel … he has always been open of heart. He does not keep secrets, not like his brother. Little Jane, you will always know what is in his mind. But Dolphchen will always do as he thinks best, and then he will tell his wife – perhaps.”

“I still can’t understand why you and Sam kept it a secret,” Lottie ventured. “Auntie Liesel would have had such a party for you – and a proper wedding, like Cousin Marie.”

“Because we…” Jane began. No, she could not lie to Mrs. Becker, to Lottie; the two other women in the family who believed that Sam could make a living painting.  “We didn’t plan anything like that. He wanted to get married at once, before he left for Europe, and I agreed. We decided that I should go on teaching during the year that he is away. Because we will need the money I earn … he wants …to paint for his living, in an atelier … a studio of his own. It is our own enterprise, you see. We do not want to owe the family anything more, after this.” Jane looked at the others, miserable and ashamed. It had once seemed so easy to keep their secret from the family.

“Dolph will not be pleased at all,” Lottie ventured at last. “He was already planning on Sam to manage the home ranch next year. Isobel is having another baby, you know – and I think he wanted to take her and the children traveling.” Her mother was already nodding in agreement.

“Hansi – he has plans also. He has been saying that this is only a year, a young man sowing his … how to you say, wild oats? I tried to tell him otherwise,” she snorted, almost scornfully. “But men – they think they know better, always. And the longer they go on thinking so, the harder it may be to tell them otherwise.”

“That’s it,” Lottie agreed. “Dolph will be furious that Sam kept this secret for this long. What should we do, Mama?” Suddenly, Lottie appeared very young and anxious – and Mrs. Becker had rather more of a grim expression on her own face.

“I think it best to say that Sam and Jane have entered into an understanding,” she said at last. “And say to everyone on his return, that they are now married. The other matter – that Sam wishes now to pursue art… I think to say nothing to Hansi and your brother until he returns in January. There will be a storm, of course, but I would have him face it and speak for himself. But I will quietly suggest the possibility in the next months. Perhaps they may become more accustomed to the possibility.”

“I do hope so!” Lottie’s exuberance returned. “Oh, Jane – I am so happy for you! Promise that you will come to visit often. We missed you very much, and I know Isobel did. It must be rather odd, though,” and Lottie’s words echoed Jane’s own thoughts. “That now we are all sisters. It will seem very strange to folk in the old country, won’t it?”

“Doubtless,” her mother agreed. “But many things in Texas seemed odd to them. One more will not make a difference.”

1 Comment

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    trailing wife

    “But many things in Texas seemed odd to them. One more will not make a difference.”

    The central theme of the book, and of America altogether. A thoroughly satisfying chapter, Celia. 🙂

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