That night Abigail helped her mother and sister clear the dishes from the table while her father built a fire before settling into his big chair in the parlor. At supper, her father had mentioned that he’d met Dr. McCormick for tea that morning. She was anxious to find out whether they’d spoken of Amos. Perhaps Daddy could shed some light on why Amos had failed to make their appointment.
The minute she came into the parlor, Daddy put his newspaper down, leaned over, and patted the chair beside him. “Come. Sit for a minute, Abigail. There’s something we need to discuss.”
Wrinkling her forehead, Abigail didn’t like the sound of his voice. She watched her father’s face closely as she settled in the chair that her mother usually sat in for the evenings. She heard Cathy reading to Mother in the kitchen.
“Yes, Dad. What is it?” she said, scarcely looking him in the eye.
“I had a visit with Philip McCormick this evening. He tells me that you and this Amos Jones have been spending a great deal of time together.” With bushy eyebrows staring ahead, he gazed at the fire, never glancing at Abigail, apparently waiting for a reply.
Feeling a little unease, Abigail didn’t know how to respond. “You know we have, Father. He tutors me each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, and he’s been walking me to the mill each evening for some time now. But you know all that.”
Before he replied, Mr. Clarke cleared his throat. “Philip says you’ve come by his office on Mr. Jones’s arm on several occasions.”
The idea she was watched made her feel more unease, and so she just sat in silence.
“Abigail, what do you have to say?”
She nodded, it was the truth. “Yes, dear Father, I sometimes stop by Dr. McCormick’s office with Amos on our way to the mill. He…he offers his arm as any gentleman would.”
Again, her father cleared his throat. “I learned some rather disturbing things about Mr. Jones this morning, Abigail. I’ve asked Dr. McCormick to assign you a new tutor.”
“But, Daddy, why?” she protested and got very teary-eyed. She couldn’t imagine what could have possessed her father to do such a thing.
Scowling, he turned to her and looked her in the eye. “I don’t believe an explanation is necessary, Abigail, but I know you well enough to know that you will badger me until you find out the truth…”
Horrified by what would come forth, Abigail paled. “Wh-what truth?”
“Just a moment, I’ll get to that…” he said, a little vexed by the interruption. “So I’m going to do you the courtesy of telling you what I know, with the understanding that this information is to stay in this room. Do I make myself clear?”
“Y-yes, sir,” she replied, overwhelmed by curiosity and somewhat angered by his actions.
The serious expression that shadowed his face frightened her as he began deliberating. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Abigail?”
She turned from his glowering gaze, “Yes, Daddy, but–”
He stopped her with an upraised palm. “I am not a man to judge another by the deeds of his past, Abigail, and what I am about to tell you does seem to be in the past. Nevertheless, when it comes to my daughter, I believe a man’s past is an important factor.”
Her mouth flew open with disbelief as she stared at her father. “Father! What are you talking about?” She shuddered, her whole body ached. Why did she have to listen to this conversation?
James Clarke leaned forward in his chair, placed his elbows on his knees and tented his fingers beneath his bearded chin. “It means that Amos Jones got into a bit of trouble a few years ago. The details aren’t important, but it involved a serious crime–theft, if you must know. As I understand it, the young man has made restitution, and Philip believes him to be rehabilitated. I trust Philip’s judgment, and I’m willing to let time prove Mr. Jones’s sincerity. But until it has been sufficiently proven, I want you to have nothing to do with him.”
Abigail, pale and shaken, was ready to jump from her seat. “Father! You can’t be serious! Theft? No, no, no! Amos would never do anything like that!”
With both palms spread wide, Mr. Clarke warmed his hands as he gazed silently at the logs crackling while flames leapt around them. Finally, when he spoke again, his voice was remarkably soft. But Abigail didn’t miss the waver it held when he told her, “Then you have just proven your poor discernment where the man is concerned, Abigail…”
Her eyebrows flew up in anger. That accusation smarted. What did he know about Amos Jones?
“Philip heard the story from Amos Jones himself,” said Mr. Clarke in a low voice.. “It seems that Mr. Jones was employed for a time at a post office in Lumley’s Grove. He was caught stealing…dipping into the drawer and filling his pockets full of cash…until the postmaster caught him. Quite a large sum of money, as I understand it. I don’t mind telling you that the fact that Mr. Jones has chosen to keep this information from you offers no comfort.”
Not only Abigail’s mind reeled with trouble, her eyes blurred as hot tears ran down her face. What her father said couldn’t be true! Yes, Amos had hinted at a rebellious period of his youth. But the things he said implied the usual boyish tomfoolery–turning over outhouses, rolling paper on trees and other harmless pranks, she had imagined. But not criminal activity!
She looked at a father and nodded, then turned away. But Daddy said Dr. McCormick had heard it from Amos himself. It must be true, then. And of course, this explained why Amos had broken off their appointment this morning. Her heart lurched, and her face flushed red as she realized what a fool she’d made of herself defending Amos to her father. No, she corrected herself, it was Amos who had made a fool of her. Her hands began to tremble, and she wished Amos were here so she could give him a piece of her mind.
Instead, she stuttered. “Daddy, I don’t know what to say. I-I assure you Amos has been nothing but a gentleman toward me.”
Her father reached out and put a warm hand on her arm. “Abigail, from what Philip says, it appears that young Jones is making an effort to reform. However, this black mark on his past causes me to feel very cautious, particularly when I learn that my daughter is spending an inordinate amount of time with the man and in addition, he has told her none of his story.” Again, he cleared his throat rather nosily. “I have requested that Philip assign you a new tutor. I trust that will relieve Mr. Jones of the opportunity to accompany you to the mill after your sessions, but should he persist, I want you to let me know immediately and I will see to it that the man leaves you alone.”
Stunned by her father’s ultimatum, Abigail stared back at her father. “But, Dad–”
“I don’t intend to discuss the matter any further, daughter. If Mr. Jones has kept his record untarnished a year or two from now and if he still has an interest in pursuing a respectable courtship with you at that time, we shall revisit the matter. Until such time, I have asked Philip to see to it that his assistant has no dealing with my daughter.” With that said and his mind closed, her father picked up his newspaper and turned his back on her.