Addie adjusted her hoop skirt. She wanted everything to be special when John came to see her. Everything seemed in place as she turned back and forth in front of her full length mirror. Bessie had curled her hair perfectly and the rose on her new hat matched her dress perfectly. She wanted to make a good impression on John this time. Their first meeting was rather embarrassing for her. Her favorite mare, Beauty, had just skimmed over the fence and they were flying down the meadow. Suddenly Beauty halted, frightened by a snake only visible to her. Addie was unprepared for this quick stop and tumbled over the horse’s head and landed flat on the grass. She was dazed and maybe even knocked out for a minute because she was having trouble seeing clearly. She rubbed her eyes and then it seemed as if the sun was gone.
“Well little lady, you seem to have taken a tumble.” This voice came from a tall man holding Beauty’s reins. Addie tried to push herself up quickly, her face turning a dark shade of pink.
“I’ve been riding a while, sir, and I assure you I am perfectly fine.” Grabbing her horse’s reins from this stranger, she pulled herself together.
“Would you care for a hand up?” he asked, gesturing to give her help climbing back on Beauty. Embarrassed still, Addie started walking and leading her horse away. “Excuse me, but it would not be a difficult task. Are you sure you’re all right?” He walked by her, leading his own horse. “I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself. My name is John, John Smith. He bent at the waist, sweeping his hat in a fake flourish and a huge smile.
Addie couldn’t believe how that smile effected her, bothered and shy at the same time. She took a longer look at this rescuer. Should she let him? No, I’ll walk, she thought. But he is interesting looking. “Thank you, but I am fine, sir. I am Miss Addie Branchworth. I just live over the hill there. I can walk the rest of the way.” There was no possibility letting him see her jump on her horse. Of course that is exactly what she would do if she was by herself. She had been riding all of her sixteen years.
As she walked by her horse she stole glimpses of Mr. John Smith and liked what she saw. His manner, his clothes, and a fine horse portrayed him as a gentleman. Since she was the youngest of three sisters, she had met their husbands and knew a little about what to expect of their mannerisms. He glanced back and caught her peeking through her horse’s reins. His smile broadened and her face grew pinker.
As they came over the hill her home was visible and he asked if that was where she lived. They chatted a bit and she wondered what her father would think of her being accompanied by a strange man. As they approached the house, her father came out with that stern look on his face, the one he wore when she was in trouble. Before either of them could speak, John stepped up, held out his hand and introduced himself to Addie’s father. “Good afternoon, sir. My name is John Smith and I’m sorry to report your daughter had a slight accident.”
Addie’s father surveyed his daughter for any sign of injury. He only noticed a few grass stains on her dress. However, he did see a more than normal color in her face.”Addie, are you all right?” His protective manner took over from the angry father persona. He looked rather embarrassed having been upset at seeing his daughter with a strange man. “I thank you, Mr. Smith, for seeing my daughter safely home. Would you care to come inside?”
John knew this was an opportunity he longed for, but thought it best to be subtle. “Thank you, sir, but I had better be getting home myself. I live just down the other side of the meadow. Maybe you’ve met my mother, Miss Jane Sumner.” He was about to turn and mount his horse when Addie’s father stopped him.
“You mean Jane Sumner is your mother? I never knew she had a son.”
“I’m afraid so, sir. Well I’d better be getting back. Nice meeting you folks, and Miss Addie, I hope to see you again.”
Addie smiled a little too long and realizing her father was observing her reaction, quickly gave him the reins and went into the house.
At dinner that evening, Addie’s father was inquiring about Miss Jane to his wife. “Did you know she had a son? I didn’t think she ever married.” At this remark, his wife gave him a well known warning look and left the answer for later. Addie wasn’t paying much attention to her parents conversation, she was daydreaming about John. So handsome, so polite, so, so adorable. The thought made her giggle out loud but even her parents didn’t notice. They were too busy whispering to each other.
Addie took another look into the huge mirror and decided she was ready to meet Mr. John Smith formally. Her parents were concerned, of course. This new guest would be grilled in a mannerly fashion, but questioned nevertheless. First, was he a bastard or not? Of course they wouldn’t come out and say it just like that, but they had their daughter’s reputation to consider. If he was a legitimate heir to Miss Jane, that would be another matter. Addie’s mother knew the story. Addie wasn’t getting any younger and there were not many eligible single men in the area.
Addie’s parents had discussed a few days prior to this dinner, the true happenings of their friend and neighbor. Apparently Miss Jane knew a soldier leaving to fight for the Union Army. They had known each other since childhood and as adults their friendship secretly turned to love. The controversy surrounding Miss Jane’s friend concerned living in a Confederate territory and being on the wrong side. This caused them to marry secretly. He left and never returned, killed by a Confederate officer. John was the result of this brief union, but no one knew except Miss Jane and her dear confidant, Addie’s mother.