Ruth Lowndes, the belle of antebellum Charleston, South Carolina, has loved planter’s son Francis Simmons for as long as she can remember.
Francis Simmons loves another; a love one is lucky to find in a lifetime.
Ruth resorts to trickery to push Francis into marriage. When Francis learns what her tricks have cost him and his true love, he exacts sweet revenge.
That revenge costs Ruth her peace. . .in life and death.
Francis Simmons was on the verge of proposing to lovely Sabina Smith–whose best friend happened to be Ruth Lowndes. So focused was Francis on Sabina that he had no time whatever for Ruth. Ruth may have been, in fact, even lovelier than Sabina, but her loveliness was spoiled by petulance and a firm belief that, when she said jump, the world should automatically respond how high?
Ruth, fixated on marrying the man she had loved from childhood, put in motion a plan to get Francis to the altar–with her. She was certain that, once they were wed, she could persuade Francis that he had loved her, rather than the insipid Sabina, all along, and they would be the happiest couple living.
Her first lie was a whopper. She told him that Sabina was secretly engaged to a man whom Francis knew well and didn’t much like. Francis, unsure as men in the first flush of love can be, believed her; if he couldn’t believe Sabina’s best friend, then who could he believe?
From there, it was a short step to Ruth’s next objective, and unfortunately, Francis gave her an opening.
At a party one night, when Sabina was not present and Ruth was hanging over him with something just an infinitesimal bit short of a proprietary air, Francis happened to pull out his pocket handkerchief. He was proud of it because his younger sister Ann, a novice embroiderer, had laboriously sewn his initials into one snowy corner.
“Oh, what lovely work!” Ruth fluted.
“Indeed,” Francis said proudly. “Would you not love to have such beautiful initials?”
He meant nothing by the remark save that anyone would be proud to have such painstaking work from an adored younger sister on his handkerchiefs.
Crafty Ruth made something else of it entirely. She went straight to her father and made Francis’s pride into a request for her hand in marriage–so she, too, could have beautiful initials.
Confounded when old Rawlins Lowndes congratulated him on his engagement, Francis–raised in the old planter class where honor mattered more than life itself–could not bring himself to insult the older man by telling him he had no intention of marrying that unprincipled baggage Ruth.
The day before the wedding, in late November, he learned the depths of his bride’s perfidy, in an unexpected conversation with Sabina. Sabina sadly congratulated him on his impending nuptials, and he sadly asked when hers would take place.
Sabina was not and had never been engaged. She had had hopes that one day she might be his bride. Now those hopes were dashed, for tomorrow was his wedding day, and she would never marry herself if she could not be his wife.
Francis left in a towering rage to confront Ruth Lowndes. The quarrel they had that day was the talk of Charleston; he told her he knew of her trickery and hated her for it, while she sobbed and pretended not to know what he meant.
He would not break the engagement or refuse to go through with the wedding, he told her, but he would make sure she repented of her lies, the longest day she lived.
He came late to the ceremony, when all–bishop, families, the cream of Charleston society–were gathered at the Lowndes home in anticipation. His answers to the questions of the ceremony were cold and clipped, and he did not once look at Ruth, lovely in her embroidered muslin and veil. Nor did he kiss her when the bishop pronounced them man and wife.
He maintained that cold, correct behavior through the reception that followed, and through the carriage ride to the house on Tradd Street that old Rawlins Lowndes had given his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift, and which Francis himself had furnished with the finest trappings Charleston could offer. Once there, Francis Simmons escorted Ruth to the front door and told her with icy politeness that he hoped she would find the accommodations to her liking, got back into the carriage, and drove away, leaving her with a houseful of servants who laughed where she couldn’t hear them at her predicament.
At first Francis returned to his plantation on John’s Island and was seldom seen in Charleston; Ruth, meanwhile, maintained her social schedule but otherwise lived more like a widow than a wife. Five years into their fraudulent marriage, Francis bought a house on nearby Legare Street. He unbent so far as to host her dinner parties, facing his despised wife over the long dining table, and attended her parties, but he never spent a single night in her company, always leaving with the last guests to return to his home.
This polite estrangement lasted a full twenty years. Francis, alone on Legare Street, finally passed away. His will left nothing to his “wife”; he had settled fifteen hundred pounds on her at the time of their wedding and given her to understand she could expect nothing else from him save the use of his name. All his brothers and sisters were long dead, as was his beloved Sabina, who had died unmarried within a few years of their last meeting.
Ruth Lowndes Simmons, twenty years a bride but never a wife, lived out her days after Francis’s death in the house on Tradd Street. She was often to be seen on Charleston’s streets, riding from this engagement to that, always leaving alone and returning to her lonely home on Tradd Street.
If she ever suffered any remorse for her part in the long estrangement that was her marriage, childless, alone, and hated by the man she loved, she never said so in life.
But it seems she might have regrets in death. The house on Tradd Street has long since been torn down, and in its place there is an alleyway, at the top of which stand four columns–all that survives of Ruth’s house. Charlestonians say that often the sounds of an unseen carriage and horses can be heard along that stretch of Tradd Street.
They believe that Ruth Lowndes Simmons has never left the place where she lived out her loveless life, though the house is long gone.
The story of Ruth Lowndes Simmons and her luckless loveless marriage comes from Charleston native Margaret Rhett Martin’s Charleston Ghosts (1963).