Aggie and Molly sat down with Bartles at the day’s end telling her troubling situation.
“Molly, if I had money, I’d gladly buy your bond. We hardly have two pennies to rub together. I’ll talk to Master Wharton for you. He’s a fair man. Losing two bondsmen has left him in a dire situation as well. I will speak to him now.” With that, he left the women, and strode to Master Barton’s house on his mission. In an hour or so he was back. “Molly, Master Wharton wants to speak with you. Aggie, come with us as witness.”
Molly felt panicked, not prepared to deal with her fate so soon. She had no idea what awaited her as she walked in his back door. Master Wharton greeted them.
“Come in the front room. This is no talk for the kitchen.” Though she’d cleaned it every day since her arrival, Molly felt she was seeing the room for the first time with its golden pine walls, large fireplace, table and chairs, and bench. A large quilt covered-bed filled one corner. She’d swept and scrubbed the pine floor with lye-water till it was white-bleached. Even though it had never been her home, it had become familiar and dear, especially since she and Andrew had so recently occupied the small bedroom off the kitchen. It was certainly the most comfortable dwelling she’d ever lived in.
“Let’s get straight to our business.” Molly felt a sense of doom at his terse demeanor. Battles has explained your situation. You know mine. We have to assume Andrew is dead. I have to engage another bondsman or a couple. My cash stores are depleted. A woman in your position is in peril. I have two offers to buy your bond, both single men. There is the possibility, but no promise you might be offered marriage, though of course, neither man is aware of your condition. I cannot guess how that might change their offers.
I have grown fond of both you and Andrew over the past months. I loathe the idea of your falling into peril. Though I am an fifty-seven years old and you but a girl, I offer you marriage. I realize you cannot expect the comfort a young man could give you, but offer I marriage if you desire it. I would welcome your child as my own. I had never thought to know the joy of a wife and children again after losing my family. You can take some time to think before giving me your decision.
Molly had come in expecting to learn she’d be cast out, not offered marriage. Even though she’d had little time to grieve Andrew’s loss, she knew she needed Master Wharton’s protection. This was a time for reason, not emotion. The welfare of her child was her main consideration.
“I’d be honored to be your wife.” She answered.
Wharton nodded. “I’ll ask the minister to announce the banns. Battles, can Molly reside with you till our marriage? I want no gossip.”
“Certainly, Master Wharton. We’d be honored.” He and Aggie were beaming.
“And call me James. You are a free man now.” He directed.
“Yes indeed, James. My name is Will. “The men shook hands heartily and James embraced Aggie. He turned to Molly. “I won’t kiss you till after we wed. James, make sure there is no gossip on my wife’s good name.” With that, he took both Molly’s hands in his. “I will keep out of the house while you are about your duties until we marry.”