Mrs. Franklin, a kindly soul, clasped her hands with the warmth of a dear friend. "You must find the strength to go on. Your mother would have wanted it."
Yet it was easier to say than to do. Once the condolers left, she would be alone with nothing but memories, a few personal items, and David's letters. Those had brought comfort in the most difficult days. He had pledged a life together. David Latham never broke a promise.
"He will return," Mrs. Franklin stated with a knowing nod.
"How did you know I was thinking of Mr. Latham?"
Mrs. Franklin sighed, her gaze far off. "A woman gets a certain look when she recalls the man she loves." She patted Prosperity's hand. "Never fear. You need only write, and your lieutenant will come back from that wilderness."
"Key West." It might as well be Tahiti, for both lay beyond reach. Ship passage, even in third class, cost far more than she could save.
"Wherever it is, your young man will set sail for home the moment he receives your letter. Mark my words, he will not hesitate."
Prosperity wasn't as certain. David had stressed that his tour of duty would last eight years. Even now she could recall how worry had pinched his brow that day. Eager to brush it away, she had promised to wait. A rare smile had flickered across his lips, and she had been pleased. Alas, she had not accounted for this day.
"I doubt the army will grant leave," Prosperity murmured.
"Nonsense. You must write. He will find a way to return to you. Then you can decide together what to do."
That was the fanciful talk of a woman seeking to comfort. The army would not grant David leave because his fiancee's mother had passed away. No, she must find her own way. She couldn't stay in this house. That much was unavoidable. She could not afford to pay the overdue rent, least of all continue the lease of an entire house on her own. Mother's rainy day jar had been emptied long ago. There were no secret bank accounts, no accounts at all. John and Olivia Jones had left this world as poor as they'd come into it.
Mrs. Franklin, short and portly and pink-cheeked beneath her white lace cap, must have been chattering for some time, but just one statement caught Prosperity's attention. "You can stay with us, of course, if your relations can't take you in. Mr. Franklin would dearly enjoy your delicious currant cakes each morning."
Prosperity mustered a smile, though she could not manage the emotion to go with it. Her parents were gone, and life on Nantucket Island was slipping away.
"You are very generous," she said, though living with the Franklins was out of the question. No Jones accepted charity.
"Only until your young man returns for you, of course."
Prosperity nodded, unable to speak over the knot in her throat. Two years had passed since David offered for her. Each morning and night she recalled his handsome visage. The cornflower-blue eyes and curly hair the color of sand brought a smile to her lips. How stiff he'd seemed when she first met him. She had laughed at his formal bow, and he had acted affronted, but in time she'd grown to appreciate his careful ways. Nothing was out of place. No possibility had gone unconsidered.
He was a product of his demanding father and austere upbringing, so serious of temperament that she'd made silly faces at him to induce a laugh. Oh, how he resisted. First, the corner of his mouth would tick up a fraction. Then he would force a frown. Will would battle emotion until, in the end, a deep guffaw would burst out. Only then would the corners of his eyes crinkle and pleasure fill his gaze.
If only she could see that again. If only she could hear his voice and feel how the very air shimmered when he walked into a room. Then she would know all was well. She could endure any hardship. Alas, her David was beyond reach, and she had only memories to lean upon.
Over time his features had grown dim. Was that tiny mole above the right corner of his mouth or the left? Did his brows sweep high in an arc or duck low? Did the spectacles he used for reading leave the same red marks on the bridge of his nose? Had he succeeded in taming the tuft of frizz at the peak of his brow?
She closed her eyes and tried to recall.
The shifting shapes of memory faded like a dream in morning's light.