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Carrie Ann stepped off the steaming locomotive and onto the New Orleans train station platform. She gently pushed a light brown, practically golden curl across her slightly damp forehead. Her small dainty hands were covered with a pair of delightful white gloves and a marvelous hat was sitting upon her head to match them. It was late fall, 1908, and she was twenty-two. The wind blew a bit a steam against her back and she jumped forward like a child pushed ahead with a small spanking. Her now dusty white satin dress (why had she ever worn it to travel?) swept around her feet in such a way that a curious passer-by or a small child would have gotten a glimpse of her tiny white shoes with pointed toes. This particular pair was indeed a necessity, for she would never have left the house without them. They fit around her small feet quiet nicely, a bit snug at times but, of course, this was not important because these where the types of shoes where the simple charm of them and the silent sighs of envy when young women spotted them was more important than the way they felt. Not that one would notice such detailed things unless you were looking, which of course, everyone must, because the lady in white stuck out quite oddly against the black of the locomotive and the grey of the platform. She had, in fact, no luggage except for a small purse she kept quite close to her breast, peeking in a few times and then closing it once more. An ordinary man would stop and stare, and after taking his fill, go on his way to his own lady in white. A man such as this, she prayed, was not the man whom she had come to meet. She peered about the crowd, searching for a face she could not seem to find. And after many a round trip of her eyes, she closed and wished she was back home, or any place that was familiar. But as soon as she started she pushed thoughts of home away quickly reminding herself why she was there.
Upon closing her eyes for a moment a man had stepped into her closed view. This man, as the others in the crowd of top hats and pressed black suits stopped and stared at her, this lady in white. He found her to be quite stunning and felt ashamed for only staring at her. Thus, he began to make his way through the throng of train passengers toward the beautiful young lady in white.
“Dear me, I do pray he’s not forgotten.” Carrie Ann said quietly to herself, fiddling once again with her purse, this time pulling out a folded, wrinkled paper, but she held it with such care that would intrigue one curious of knowing such things. She looked around once more to find a man walking towards her. She clutched her purse, for that was all she had to clutch. What a dashing young man he was. He quite resembled someone she perhaps use to know- but for now she could not remember.
“Does something trouble the lady?” The man tipped his hat and asked her. She felt herself blush and was thankful for the hat she wore.
“What makes a gentleman of yourself one for asking?”
“Ah, a gentleman am I?” He smiled broadly, as if they were old friends. Carrie Ann felt offended that he could ease her into a personal conversation. She would much rather discuss the weather, which was, speaking of, quite gray for fall. She feared it might rain.
“Your hat and coat I presume are then your father’s, not yours?” She said with a smirk, feeling quite clever and proud of her witty rhetoric.
“Quite right, they became too small for him so now I have the pleasure.” His serious expression conned her into a small laugh. But quickly, she smoothed her face, for ladies do no joke at train stations. She clutched her purse once again.
“So you are not from New Orleans?” the strange young gentleman inferred rather than ask. Her surprise expression lead him to say, “I take that you were not, with those clothes, and that dreadful hat...”
“This hat!” Carrie Ann cut in hotly, holding onto it, “Was my grandmothers! She gave it to my mother and now it is mine. It’s a precious thing. How can you say such a thing without a bit of-”
“Yes I know-.” His interruption made her face grow red and she turned away, humiliated and feeling foolish that she let him talk to her while she was waiting for someone else. Suppose that someone had seen her during their argument, and had changed his mind and stole away before she could see him. The thought of it coaxed a slight pout and she sniffed just a bit, giving the stranger an implication to pity her.
“Oh, please dear don’t cry...”
“Dear?! Dear? How dare you call me dear, scandal!” She paused, collected herself, and proceeded. “I am a dear, to someone else and he’s to meet me here today. So if you wouldn’t mind to go kindly about your way and leave me be!” She felt the hot tears in their ducts once again, and she fought to keep them back. She would not tell her mother a lie of what happened today and therefore she mustn't cry, especially not in the sight of a stranger.
“You’re meeting someone?” Now that he was not talking about her tears, she merely forgot them, but did not forget her vexation.
“Yes. He has been writing for some time now,” she felt herself blush, “and I to him. He’s going to ask me to marry him today.” Saying that, she felt better. A burden off her chest. She felt sophisticated again, belonging to her class now he knew that yes, she is a desired woman and has been for some time, and now shall be snatched up and carried away back to her mother to construct the wedding plans. She was beginning to feel quite pleased with herself when she caught him smiling at her. “Why do you smile so?”
“I am simply happy for you.”
“You hardly know me.”
“That I don’t, but it’s remarkable what one can find about another through a simple conversation. Now, what of these letters?” His smile made her uncomfortable, as if he knew what she had written.
“Well,” she gasped alarmed, “you act as if you’ve already seen them!”
“Well I find, if I can be frank with you...”
Before Carrie Ann could blink he continued, “...is that women now these days are all the same; hopelessly too romantic for their own good. A man’s a man, and a woman should not waltz into the room acting as though she shall be the say. Which, including yourself, all do.”
“Well, you’re being quite ill-mannered.”
“As are you.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Ah yes, that reminds me that a woman also believes that everything and everyone must revolve around herself.” He gazed at her. “And you’re quite a fine specimen my dear.”
She looked straight into his eye and said cooly, “I refuse to be a victim of your silly scholarly women theories nor will I be another one of your science experiments. As far as I’m concerned, you’re just a nobody in a borrowed suit.”
“I’m impressed.” He leaned away from her. “You must have a wonderful way with words Mademoiselle.”
“You’re waning my patience, please leave me be.”
“Then leave you I shall.”
“Thank you, sir.” Her gaze wandered past him.
“The name is Ralph.”
She reluctantly looked back at him. “Then good-bye Ralph, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
He began to turn, but stopped and stared at her once more. “Say what you mean.”
Exhausted from his constant nagging and mindless questions, all the countless lessons of how to act like a lady in any situation seemed to have failed her. Deliriously she said, “Fine. Ralph, I hope we never meet again.”
“As you wish, my lady.”
And with the tip of his hat, he was gone.
Carrie Ann waited patiently for the rest of the day for the man who would ask her to marry him at the train station. But he did not come that day. Nor the next day, or the next. On the third day, she boarded the last train back to Atlanta and flew into her mother’s arms, crying to her that men where cruel, cruel creatures, wishing she was born a nun to be rid of them all. Her mother stroked her golden hair and cooed her, saying that one is never born a nun, women who have lost all sight of the real world choose to become such things. “But becoming a nun is not the proper way for a lady to act if she is to be married soon. We shall find you another suitor.”
But Carrie Ann did not want another suitor. She wanted the one who had written her letters since she had moved away nine years ago. Why hadn’t he come to meet her? It was absolutely absurd. She wrote him the following day. A week later a letter came for her and she opened it with hast. Within it, she read:
From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And tender churl mak'st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
My dearest Carrie Ann,
When you were at the train station, I too was there. But as I now realize, you did not recognize me, nor did I truly recognize you. I find now that we are not who we both thought we were. Send my regrets to your loving mother for there will be no wedding in our future. You had told me as I was leaving, that you wished we would never see each other again. And that wish, my dear, I will grant you. Farewell.
Eliot Ralph Hemway
“It just isn’t fair! It just simply isn’t fair mother!” Carrie Ann sank into the couch as if it was her own grave. She had given the letter to her mother instantly upon reading it for she could not understand why Eliot would do such a cruel thing. “Men are cruel creatures!” She cried. “How was I to know that it was him! After all these years I-” But she did not finish, for she, overcome by grief was sobbing into the peach silk couch. Her mother, in the reading chair across the room would have comforted her, but was alone in her own thoughts; marveling at the cleverness of Eliot, and wondering how she, of all people, could have raised such a daughter.