|Richard arrived early. Mary watched from the kitchen yard as William vigorously shook his hand, ushered
him into the office, and shut the door. There could be no doubt about the subject of their conversation. Mary
felt like a fecund she-goat at auction. She didn’t know what to do with herself and wandered into the dining
A leaf extended the normally square table into a broad rectangle decked out with a crisp white table cloth and
embroidered napkins. Silver flatware and crystal glasses reflected myriad golden flames from the lighted
candelabra, and the Dutch china service added soft tones of ivory and blue. Well, definitely better treatment
than for a goat, Mary admitted to herself.
The men finished their business quickly. They walked briskly into the room with Ann and Sara close behind.
William took his usual position at the head of the table and Ann sat at the foot. Richard was seated to
William's right with Mary next to him. Sara sat alone to her father’s left. The plump pigeons lay in a pool of
rich drippings. Each was stuffed with bread crumbs redolent of rosemary and parsley and was sliced cleanly
down the middle. Richard made short work of half a pigeon and gratefully accepted a second helping. Mary
picked at her food.
William inquired about Richard’s recent travels and his opinions about regional politics. Ann and Sara adopted
attitudes of studied attentiveness. Mary silently studied her plate and wished the meal would end.
At last Phoebe served dessert, a vanilla pudding richly flavored with beans Mary herself had collected from
the orchids on the east side of the coppice. When he’d scraped the last sweet drop from his bowl, Richard
turned to her and asked, “Mary, with your father’s permission, I’d like to speak with you alone.”
Mary smiled. Of course Father would give his permission. Wasn’t that what all this was about? She
refolded her napkin, placed it neatly on the table and rose. “Shall we go to the parlor?” she asked.
Before she could even invite him to sit down, Richard began.
“Mary, I’m not good at social pretenses and I don’t like them much. I want to speak openly and I’d like you to
do the same. I received your letter.”
Whether he paused for effect or to compose his thoughts, Mary couldn’t tell, but she held her breath until he
“I didn’t think before I wrote those unfortunate words. I should have said I hoped to find you waiting; I had no
reason to assume that you would be. Your letter had such lovely descriptions of the life on this island. I knew
I'd made you very angry because your closing words were so abrupt. They seemed even harsher from such a
“In the weeks since then I’ve had plenty of time to think about my plans and my feelings.”
“Richard . . .”
“Let me finish,” he said firmly. “I’m an adventurer, but I have feelings and I’ve reached a time in my life when
I want to have the comforts of a home and a family. This is not to say that I want to change my profession or
stop taking risks. I recognize that any woman who will be my wife must share my adventurous spirit or she
will be miserable. Mary, I see in you the independence that I hope will help us form a happy partnership.
“While I appreciate some of your qualities and respect you, I don’t love you. And I don’t expect you to love me.
Nevertheless, I wish to propose marriage. Your father has already given his blessing. But I want you to
understand my proposal for what it is.
“If we marry, you will have a fine house. I saw you up in the trees this morning looking at the lumber, so I don’
t have to tell you about that. You’ll have all the pretty things I can provide to furnish your life. In the course of
time, I hope we’ll have children. Many men can offer as much as I’ve described.” He paused.
“But I offer more. I promise you the freedom to pursue your own interests, whether that means wandering in
the coppice at dawn or raising crayfish in your bathtub.” He smiled before he went on.
“You must understand that my proposal requires concessions from you, too. I‘ll continue to sail as a wrecker.
The promise of wrecking, as I’m sure you know, is great wealth. The threat is long absences from home and
grave physical risks. I’m not blind to the grief you suffered and perhaps still suffer from the loss of that scientist
you were engaged to. Understand from the very beginning that if we marry, you risk losing another man at
Mary lowered herself onto the settee. She’d expected a polite exchange of conversation that would lead to
Richard’s asking for her hand. Then she would have insisted on a decent interval in which to make up her
mind. Instead, she’d just received a proposal -- no, a proposition -- with specific terms and conditions. Richard
stood before her and looked down at her intensely.
“I know you’re capable of being decisive, Mary. I ask you to be so now,” he said. “There’s no value in putting
off your decision. You’ve had months to think. Make your choice, yes or no. I hope you’ll choose me. I believe I
can make you happy and we can live together satisfactorily.”
She inclined her head and closed her eyes. She knew what she wanted. She desperately hoped it was the right
thing! Looking up, she met his gaze with determination.
“What I dislike about marriage is the possibility of losing my independence and solitude,” Mary said, smiling
ruefully. “You seem to understand my need for them. How can I refuse your offer?”
Richard’s shoulders visibly softened as he relaxed and smiled again. He sat beside her on the settee. “Well then!
I’ll do my best for you, Mary.
“I promised you a gift,” he said. “Will you accept it? It will be a token of our agreement.” He pulled a royal
blue velvet bag from his vest pocket and lay it on her lap untying the satin ribbon that held it closed.
“I want you to know that however wonderful this thing is, it is only a token,” said Mary. “My affection cannot
be paid for. I won’t willingly enter an arrangement where my behavior is assumed or my feeling is owed. I
won’t lose myself. Do you understand?”
“I understand, Mary,” Richard whispered, returning her earnest gaze.
Mary tipped the bag’s contents onto her lap. Dainty blue enameled flowers and buds linked by delicate silver
work formed a necklace bouquet so realistic she hesitated at first to touch the little petals. At each end a silver
ring was secured to a single flower.
“It’s beautiful!” exclaimed Mary. “What are these little blossoms? I’ve never seen anything like them.”
“I was told they grow wild in the fields in England,” said Richard. “The young lord said the necklace reminded
him of his lady friend at home and he meant to give it to her on his return. When I allowed that there was a
lady in my life, he insisted that I take it as evidence of his gratitude. I bought a ribbon to fasten it. It’s the same
color as the flowers. May I?”
He took a narrow velvet ribbon from his vest pocket and threaded it through one of the silver rings. Mary held
the necklace to her throat and turned so he could pass the ribbon through the other end and tie it in a bow at
the nape of her neck.
“I can make it longer or shorter if you like,” he said.
She touched her throat and turned. “I think it’s perfect.” She smiled and looked at her hands lying palms
down on her lap. A thin black line around her right index fingernail showed where she hadn’t been able to
scrub away the dirt from this morning’s weeding. A fine contrast to my pretty new jewelry, she thought. The
pair sat without speaking until Mary broke the silence.
“I suppose we should share the news with my family. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Sara listening outside the
door,” she said.
Sara wasn’t outside the door, but she wasn’t far off either. They found her in the dining room industriously
trimming lamp wicks, a job Mary knew she would never volunteer to do under ordinary circumstances.
“I am so excited for you!” she exclaimed. She hugged Mary enthusiastically, paused momentarily, then
hugged Richard, too. “Have you set a date? Who are you going to invite? I know! We must have a double
wedding. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
“Sara, I haven’t even talked to Mother yet. I’m sure she’ll want to have her say in the plans. As for a double
wedding, I didn’t know you were betrothed. Has something taken place since lunch that I haven’t heard
Was Sara’s excitement prompted only by her enthusiasm for Mary’s engagement to Richard or was she really
giddy in anticipation of being able to move ahead with her own plans? It didn’t matter.
“Mother and Father are in his office,” said Sara. “They said they wanted to go over some accounts. Don’t
make them wait any longer.”
There was a very brief pause after Mary’s knock. “Come in children,” said Ann.
“Richard and I have decided to marry - with your permission, of course, but I understand that has already
been granted.” Mary nodded deferentially to her father.
William smiled. “I have no objection.”
“What a lovely necklace! Richard is that your gift?” asked Ann. “Those are forget-me-nots, aren’t they? Forget-
me-nots mean constant love. Such a good omen for a new marriage, and flowers never lie!”
“I’m sure you two have much to talk about,” said William. “Why don’t you go for a walk and enjoy the
evening while it’s still light?”
Richard led the way through the weeds to the space where he planned to build their house. It sat to the west of
Mary’s home and overlooked the water. The plot had been passed to him in his father’s will and had lain
idle for years.
Richard took Mary’s arm to guide her around a thorny shrub. Mary winced at the sight of the scar on his left
hand where his little finger once had been. Seeing her revulsion, he slid his hand out of sight behind her.
“You’ll get used to it. I did,” he said laconically and looked away.
“What happened?” Mary asked, trying not to shrink again when he touched her back.
“Carelessness. I was sixteen and thought I knew everything. Another sailor dared me to climb up to the topsail.
I scrambled right up without so much as a glance at the sky. My finger got caught under one of the rigging
lines when a gust filled the sail and drew the line taught. There was a water spout to starboard. It didn’t hit us,
but I was trapped up there hugging the mast for dear life with my right arm while my left hand was pinched
mercilessly. I knew if I fainted I’d fall to my death, so I clung to consciousness just as I clung to the mast. After
the weather subsided, the captain himself climbed up and carried me down, cast over his shoulder like a bag of
sand. My finger stayed up there between line and mast. It’s still there for all I know. The cook poured rum over
the wound and tied it up tight in clean cheesecloth. I guess he did a good job. The bleeding stopped and I
didn’t get infected.
“I learned my lesson. You can never trust the sea or the weather. I never take anything for granted now. I
cheated death once. I don’t want to tempt fate again. Sometimes at night when there’s a storm I feel the finger
being ripped from my hand again. It’s a forceful reminder to watch out for myself.”
Mary’s thoughts wandered briefly to that other man who hadn’t cheated death at sea. She stopped.
This would never do! She pulled her attention back to the present. Fortunately, Richard was busy planning
and didn’t notice her distraction. She concentrated on his words.
“We’ll need a much better path than this one,” he said. “I’ll bring some men out here with machetes to clear it
before we start to build.”
“Let me come with you and look at the plants in the daylight,” said Mary, following his lead. “There may be
something worth saving that we can’t see now. I think I remember daisies growing around here somewhere.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see them in bloom from our windows?”
“The woman’s touch is coming into my life already,” quipped Richard. “It would never occur to me to locate a
house on account of a patch of daisies.” He put his arm around her waist and gave her a little hug. “Let’s sit on
the hill and watch the sun set,” suggested Richard. “Maybe there will be a green flash just for us.”
It was a splendid sunset, bursting with pink and azure clouds and crowned
with golden rays that didn’t disappear until the sun was completely below
the horizon. There was no green flash, but it didn’t matter. As they strolled
home, Mary stopped twice to look back for lingering traces of the spectacle.
Before Richard left her at her door, he kissed her once on the forehead.