Olivia considered that for several moments, a mixture of frustration and admiration swirling around inside her head. It was nice to have men of honor around, however this particular bit of moral righteousness was interfering with her own happiness. It had been a long time, many years of her poking around the edges of Tom’s life, he lingering around the edges of hers, all those years and nothing had been said by him. Until now. Maybe there was something in that.
“This woman, you still love her then?”
Tom winced a bit when she spoke, clearly uncomfortable with the question. He stayed silent, turning his head to her instead and shaking it in a brief but definite way.
“So, what’s the trouble then? It surely cannot be impossible to get a divorce from her? A bit unseemly for sure, but possible.”
“This is a very complicated thing Olivia, very complicated. The woman, my wife I mean, she and I both come from rather prominent families in Rockland, ones that own much of the ship building business in that area. Our marriage was arranged by our fathers, carefully planned you might say to keep our families connected and all the power consolidated. It’s a plan that’s been followed for generations now.”
“Don’t you folks worry about all of that intermingling of your families?”
Tom looked at Olivia with amusement in his eyes. “Are you trying to say we are inbreeds?”
Olivia flushed deeply and sputtered, “No, no, please, I,”
With a short laugh Tom cut her off, patting her hand and saying, “It’s okay, I was just having a little fun with you there. And to answer the question, yes it is something we worry about. We do know that issues can come from such arrangements and we try to avoid it.”
Olivia had taken her arm away from Tom’s to cover her cheeks, which were still bright red, holding them there as she spoke. “Don’t play with me like that, I really felt terrible. And just how do you manage to avoid all of the problems?”
“Let’s stop here for a minute.” As he spoke Tom sat down on a small bench that had been placed under one of the maple trees, reaching out for Olivia’s hand, an invitation to sit next to him. As she arranged her dress after sitting he continued.
“Your question is one that has actually been part of our families conversations for years. I am not sure we really have avoided all of the problems but we do try. I should explain that there really are three families here, mine, the Lermond’s and then the Thomas clan. They all go way back to the beginning in Rockland and they all own shipyards along with some other businesses such as foundries, sail lofts and lumber mills. At whatever point it was, years ago, the men of these families decided that they wanted to consolidate all of the power among themselves and keep everyone else out.”
Olivia held up her hand. “I find it hard to believe that any such men as these appear to be would share power so easily. Men usually want it all for themselves.”
“Ah, a wise observation. This whole agreement came about after all of the usual unpleasantness. I guess no one could win and enough damage had been done. Since then though it has all gone remarkably well.”
“I agree, but it’s true. So, once they decided upon this arrangement they soon after understood that keeping the families basically marrying into each other could have some unwanted side-effects. And that led to the shipyard Bible.”
“A Bible? What…,” and then Olivia paused, putting her hand up again as Tom began to offer another comment. He breathed deeply and then sat back as Olivia’s mind worked.
“The families, yours and the others, they keep the records there don’t they? Who married who, and who’s children are related to whom? Just like anyone’s family Bible, but one that is for all three?
Tom smiled, amused and impressed. “You are a smart woman Olivia. Yes, the shipyard Bible tracks every relationship within our families and it is kept by the eldest woman among the three. When I left that was my great-grandmother Rebecca, and as far as I know it is still her.”
“And she decides who marries who?”
“Oh no, as I said, my father arranged my marriage. Once such a thing is proposed, well that’s when the talking starts. The Bible gets hauled out and then it’s an on-going conversation, some might call it an argument, until all of the potential conflicts are worked out. It’s not a science, at least not where I am from. We’ve had first cousins marry and third cousins end up getting denied. I think half the benefit to it all is that sometimes the arguments go on so long that proposed marriages just fall apart.”
“That really makes no sense. The whole thing I mean, it makes no sense.”
“Yes, I know, I really do.”
“And so you ended up married to this woman…”
“Eleanor, Eleanor Lermond.”
“You married her and now?”
“Yes, that’s the other part. Once your married in our family, in our families that is, you stay married.”
“After really. You only get married once.” He said this with a firm but sad finality, looking over at Olivia who met his eyes. She understood now that her ultimate dream of someday having a life with him was not going to happen. It was still interesting to her that Tom had taken this opportunity, not only to accept her mother’s invitation but to reveal that he did feel something for her. What was it that had made him declare himself finally. She kept working through that in her head while she talked.
“So, you weren’t happy then?”
“Dreadfully unhappy. Eleanor is not a very, well not a very fun person. Very straight-laced and uptight.”
“And so you left, ran away from your problem?” Tom was silent for a moment after that and Olivia feared she had gone to far. Maybe he was just going to get up and walk away? Instead he sighed and replied.
“I guess that’s about what it was. It’s happened before, to other unhappy husbands caught up in this arrangement. Nobody seems to care if you go away, you just have to stay married. Eleanor is likely much happier with me gone anyway, she can tend to all her domestic duties which she always takes so very seriously.”
Although he said this last sentence scornfully, there was also a trace of nostalgia in his voice. Olivia figured that maybe he missed her after all, and then she knew.
“So, you’re going away then? Back there?”
Tom, who had been leaning back into the bench, sat up immediately, a look of astonishment on his face. “How could you have known that?”
Olivia did not care to explain it, her mind racing ahead. “But you are going?”
Tom looked down at his feet and then up to meet her eyes. “Yes.”
A panic had overtaken Olivia, one that brought a rush of what she would later call madness to her actions, and she reached out abruptly and grabbed Tom’s hand, pulling him over to her. Thirty minutes later, and with no argument from Tom, they were discreetly in a hotel room. Although their encounter was brief, and they parted ways immediately after, it did leave one consideration. Olivia of course was pregnant.
… to be continued