Summary: Laura’s wedding day – how does everyone actually feel about this coming marriage?
Word Count: 4,700
There was a veil with its tiara of waxen orange blossoms and seed pearls spread out upon the chair. Hanging on the handle of the closet was the white gown with pearls and sequins glittering on its bodice. A posy of sweet flowers perfumed the air in the room with the delicate aroma of spring flowers.
It was going to be the perfect day for her wedding day. Soon, just an hour away, and she would be Mrs Cartwright. She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Mrs Cartwright. Wonderful, wonderful thought.
She walked to the window of her room and looked out into the yard. She had looked out at that view for so many years with such misery and now she could look at it with joy, and anticipation and excitement. Life was a promise of pleasure now, and even if there had been betrayal… she dropped the curtain and turned to look at the trappings of her wedding apparel. Why had she thought that – betrayal? Why had that word come into her mind now when she was on the threshold of so much happiness? Didn’t she deserve to be happy after so many years of misery?
It was not as though she had not loved him, was it? She had loved him, loved him sincerely, and she had thought him everything to her, but then how was she to know that another could come and snatch that love away and replace it with a love of its own. Did her own heart then, betray her?
“Mummy, hurry up? Are you dressed?”
“Just a moment …”
There was silence again. She slipped the gown over her shoulders and buttoned the bodice, and her fingers trembled. She picked up the veil and placed it carefully on her blonde hair.
He whom she had loved and betrayed would be there in the congregation watching her as she walked up the aisle to become Mrs Cartwright. Would he be thinking of her as fickle, cheap, unworthy to be trusted? Would he feel – betrayed?
She shook her head. No, she loved Will Cartwright. Nothing would stop her from marrying him. Nothing and no one. Not even Adam Cartwright.
He took a deep breath and cleared his throat. Strange how nervous he was feeling and yet he honestly believed this was the happiest day of his life. Soon he would be marrying the only woman he had ever loved.
He walked to the dressing table and stared into the mirror. His reflection looked back at him. He saw a tall well set up young man, dark haired, good looking. He straightened his shoulders and tried to relax the tension out of his face. He looked proud, really proud. A slight frown furrowed his brow. Proud of what?
He had allowed himself to fall in love with the girl his cousin loved. Quite simply, quite easily. He couldn’t even now explain how it had happened but, well, call him a fool and a cad, but he felt like there had been a meeting of minds and hearts almost from the first moment he had met her. That long lingering look, those blue eyes, the banter between them.
He had not even thought of the consequences of his feelings. But he had felt no shame in them, none at all. Except – there was that time when they had ridden out to the house his cousin was building and seen him fall. A man working like that, and on his own? What tom fool idiot would do that except, he paused to answer the question himself, one who loved another so much that he would give her away to his cousin rather than have her unhappy again.
He clenched his fists and shook his head. He had not known her when she had been married to Frank Dayton. He never knew the fear and the misery, the humiliation and shame that robbed her of her youth, her joy in life. He knew her now, with a sparkle in her eyes and laughter in her voice. He knew her now, with love in her heart for him, and that made his heart swell with pride.
His cousin had seen her as a bruised flower, and had tenderly nurtured it in hopes of seeing it blossom into beauty once again. But it had been him, Will Cartwright, who had brought the colour and the vibrancy back.
Yes, it was all going to be just fine. He closed his eyes and savoured the memory of their last kiss before parting. In little less than an hour she would be in his arms again, and his wife.
She screwed up her eyes and then stared into the mirror again. Usually she wore her hair in braids or tied in two fat bunches either side of her freckled face. Today she had ringlets and there were flowers in her hair. Not real flowers but pretty silk ones that Mrs Kaye had made for her. They were the same colour as her dress.
Usually she wore dungarees and a shirt. She didn’t like to wear frills and stuff like that, after all, Daddy liked her wearing boys clothes. He used to say, well, he used to like her dressed like that, that’s all. He loved her better than anyone else in the world. He always told her that when he’d come into her room to say good night to her.
The memory caused her to wrinkle her nose a little. The memory reminded her that sometimes Daddy did not smell so good. She would listen and hear him talking to Mummy. His voice was always loud and angry when he spoke to Mummy. She shut her eyes and counted to ten, she always did this when she had these memories because by the time she had reached ten the memory would go away.
To day was special though. She swirled and pirouetted before the mirror and the skirts of her very important dress shimmered and billowed just like – oh, just like a fairy or even a princess like in the books she read. She leaned forward to look at her self in the mirror again. She was pretty. Her teeth had grown nice and straight and she was pretty.
She turned around and peered over her shoulder at her reflection. Perhaps one day she would be as pretty as Mummy. Then Uncle Adam would come and take her for horse rides and tell her that he loved her better than he had ever loved Mummy. She smiled and giggled. From now on she would wear pretty dresses and wear her hair like this, because Peggy Dayton was a very special little girl and soon she would be called Peggy Dayton Cartwright.
She giggled again and looked coquettishly into the mirror. She liked what she saw and blew herself a kiss before skipping her way out of the room.
“Mummy, are you dressed yet?” she called as she skipped and swirled down the landing to the stairs.
“Just a moment …” Laura had called in reply.
Peggy looked at the time on the clock. She knew that at 2 o’clock her Mummy would be marrying Will Cartwright. She sighed contentedly and picked up the little posy of flowers that had been made just for her. Uncle Will had said of all the flowers there she was the prettiest of them all, and she believed him.
It was difficult to contain his joy. He found himself whistling at odd times during the morning and smiling at nothing in particular. Hoss had asked him why he was being so cheerful and he had replied, quite truthfully, that he felt happy. It was a wedding day, after all? Better still, it was a family occasion, and the groom was not himself. Joe Cartwright felt quite justified in feeling joy.
He saddled Cochise and found himself humming some song that seemed to haunt him, and was popular in the saloons in town. Most of the cowboys were whistling it or humming it. He couldn’t recall the words, but then he could never remember things like that even though Adam called him a barbarian for not being able to carry a tune.
He paused for a moment and wondered what his brother, Adam, would really be feeling now. The wedding was for 2 p.m. that afternoon, and they had all spent a little extra time on getting themselves smartened up for the occasion. Will may have sneaked in and ended up with the bride to be, but even so, he was still family. He was a decent enough chap too. Joe smiled, and shook his head,
“What’s so funny?” Hoss asked from the stable entrance and giving his little brother a sharp look.
“I was just thinking of how funny it was the way Will came visiting and ended up getting hitched.”
“He ain’t hitched yet,” Hoss replied curtly.
“He will be in a hour or so.” Joe shrugged, “Anyhow, what’s the matter with you? Anyone would think you wanted Adam to marry Laura?”
Hoss raised his eyebrows in amazement that anyone could have said something so honestly tactless. He shook his head,
“It might surprise you to know, little brother, that I’m just a mite concerned about our brother Adam, that’s all. What do you know about how he’s feeling right now, huh?”
Joe shrugged. So far as he was concerned Adam had done himself a favour falling off that roof of his and ending up in that wheelchair. In fact, he’d go so far as to consider his brother had done the whole family a favour by sparing them the unmitigated problems that would have been theirs had Laura become a member of the family. True enough she was marrying a cousin of theirs, but Will was not going to stay in the area so that small hic-cough was soon resolved.
Joe tightened the girth strap and thought of reasons why he had disliked Laura. Coming down to brass tacks he decided it was not a case of disliking her, just that she was in that class of females that did not appeal to him. He also had to be honest and admit that the sound of her voice made his breathing go funny. It was the same with Miss Abigail Jones when he was at school. One screech of his name from her, and he could barely breathe. He concluded that Laura and Abigail had the same pitch, pace and power to their voices and that was the underlying problem in their relationship. Why Adam had been unable to see it was beyond him.
Besides, Joe smiled slowly, he had to admit a particular affection for his stubborn, obstinate, grump of a big brother. He had fond memories of this adored figure from way back when he was in diapers. If Adam was going to get himself hitched then it should be to someone who had all the family’s approval surely?
“Peggy will miss Adam,” Hoss suddenly said, his voice intruding into Joe’s thoughts which now swung full circle back to Laura and Peggy.
“Yeah, she’s a cute kid.” Joe conceded, “But she’s fond of Will, and he’ll be a good father to her.”
Hoss frowned and nodded, and led his horse out of the stall and into the yard. Glancing up at the sky he felt pleased at the sight of the sun shining. It was always good to have the sun shine on a wedding day.
Joe began to whistle again, and the surge of joy that filled his heart now was one of pride and pleasure. Laura Dayton may become Mrs Cartwright today, but, thankfully, his brother Adam had been spared … for the time being.
Hoss had the horses saddled and waiting in the yard for his father and Adam. He put a finger round his collar and wondered why it was feeling so tight. He was sure that he had not put on any extra pounds recently. He walked to the house and opened the door, peered in the big room and frowned. There was no sight nor sound of his father or brother.
He stepped back and looked about the yard, before finally sitting down in the rocking chair that was on the porch. If he had to wait, then he might as well wait in comfort and some distance from Joe who was making out he was some kind of canary, whistling and chirruping like he was in the stable. He wanted to think. He wanted to come to grips with feeling this heavy weight of anxiety and sadness that was in his heart.
He wasn’t really sorry that Adam and Laura were not getting married after all. He had been pleased at the time of the announcement but that had been way back, before the accident. The misery stemmed from the fact that Hoss had not been there to help as he felt he should have been when Adam was working on the building. Contrition welled up and spilled over amply in the generous heart of this young man who loved his brothers more than words could say.
He should have done more, made sure that he was available to help but, doggone it, Adam was such a stubborn mule at times. Then there had been that conversation he had overheard between his Pa and Paul Martin. It was after they had brought Adam home and Paul had seen to his injuries. Ben had been explaining to Paul why Adam had insisted on working alone that day, and Paul had shrugged and said that sometimes a man does things to provide himself with a reason for not doing something else.
Hoss sighed, he shook his head. Whatever the reason, and even now he couldn’t really understand what Paul had meant, but whatever the reason Adam had gone to work on that house alone, it had been wrong. Hoss should have realised and put himself forward to work along with him.
He sighed deeply now as he remembered seeing his brother carried into the house. The anxious waiting, then the result of the injuries. The time Adam had spent in the wheelchair and Laura’s visits, it seemed to Hoss, being less frequent that even he had expected. Hoss shook his head again, it was all a mystery. All this changing of minds and feelings. Surely no one turned love off just like turning water from a pump?
He felt more sorry than he could say. He was not even able to put into words the reason why he was sorry, just that something that had made Adam happy for a while had come to an end. He would do anything to make his brother happy like that again.
Ben Cartwright knocked lightly on the door of his son’s bedroom and pushed it open to peer inside the room. Adam turned and greeted his father with a smile as he pulled on his jacket.
“Alright, son?” the deep voice was tender, gruff in the way it sounded because of the feelings contained in those few words. “Alright, son?” he had asked but alright for so many different reasons.
He looked at his son now and nodded in approval. Pride welled up in his heart as he watched Adam straighten his back, button the jacket and pick up his black hat. Ben felt he had never realised just how much pride he felt for this young man as he did just then.
All these past weeks he had worried about his son. Wondered whether or not he had made the right decision, or whether the decision had been influenced from a wrong sense of pride. Had Adam stepped back from his promise to Laura really because he suspected her love had changed to pity? Had he felt too proud to marry a woman because of the situation that he feared becoming permanent?
Ben followed Adam down the stairs, taking them slowly for walking was still a problem with the recent invalid. Ben recalled to mind the day Laura and Will had arrived at the ranch house, and the way Adam had forced himself to his feet to prove to – who -? May be it was to himself as well as Laura. But he had stood there, shown her that there was no need to submit to keeping a promise to which she no longer wished to be committed. She was free of him, free of the burden of his love and his injury. She could now love whom she chose, and it had been Will.
Pride had almost suffocated Ben at that moment, just as it had done in the room upstairs. He knew that when Laura walked down the aisle to meet her future husband eyes would be turned to Adam, people would be wondering, whispering, talking, and Adam would know, just as they did, and he would smile, and wish the newly married couple every happiness. Ben took a deep breath as he thought of it. Was there ever a man as proud of his son as he was of this one?
If Adam were aware of the mixed bag of emotions that were present within his family he showed no sign of it. He responded to Joe’s smile and merry quip with a smile, a nod of the head and a wink. He mounted his horse and rode alongside his brother, Hoss. Perhaps he would have preferred it if Hoss had joshed about a little, but a mood of constraint had fallen over his brother recently, and Adam was all too painfully aware of the fact that he was partly the cause.
He rode a little ahead of the others knowing that Hoss would make sure he remained by his side. He smiled to himself, and acknowledged the fact that sometime or other Hoss had become his protector. Had it been before the accident or after?
So, here he was riding to Laura’s wedding. She would look lovely, of course, there was no doubting that fact. People in the congregation would gaze at her, exclaim at her beauty and then, perhaps, look at him and wonder what had happened. Would they assume that she had decided she could not care for a cripple after all? Would they gossip about the reasons why and when in their usual incompetent small minded way and rob her of the happiness that she deserved? He hoped not because – well, because he cared about her.
He wanted this to be a happy day for her, and for Will and little Peggy. A day where there would be laughter and that heady excitement of not knowing what the future held, but because they would be together it would be just wonderful. He wanted that for them because he cared, but to be brutally honest, he no longer loved her.
“It’s alright, Hoss,” he said quietly, and his brother turned anxious blue eyes towards him, and raised his eyebrows questioningly, “You needn’t worry about me, you know?”
“Can’t help it, Adam.” Hoss said in reply and heaved a sigh, “I feel kinda responsible.”
“For what?” Adam looked at him again, his brow creased in a frown, puzzled at this remark.
“For what happened to you. That fall, doing all that stuff on your own and not helping you as much as I should have done.”
“I didn’t ask you for your help, Hoss. Remember?”
“Shucks, Adam, since when do we take any notice of anything you tell us?” Hoss quipped, and he smiled, “Adam?”
“I’m sorry about what happened between you and Laura. I thought you were going to get married to her for sure. Then that accident happened… you could have been killed.”
“It was my own fault, Hoss. I was overtired, and I overreached. Any fool knows better than to do that, don’t they?”
“Yeah, but it changed things for you and Laura. You were all set to get married and all, then that happened and instead of sticking with you, she decided to get hitched to Will instead.”
Adam frowned. He had thought his brothers had known what had happened that day when he had given Will and Laura his blessing. The day he had stood on his own two feet and proven to her that he had not needed her pity, sympathy, kindness.
Kindness. Now, that was a word that summed up everything really. People didn’t equate Adam Cartwright with kindness, not like Hoss who took pity on any creature, no matter how many legs it had. People thought of him as a man of integrity, honour, pride – but not kindness. Yet kindness was as big a part of him as it was in his brother, and often overruled his sense of logic and clear thinking process. It was kindness that had set him free of the misery of seeing Laura struggling to be loyal to him, and yet so in love with Will.
He couldn’t now remember when he had stopped actually loving Laura. It was some time before the accident. One of those moments when there was a flash of clear thinking and he knew that he did not love her as his father had loved his wives. He felt protective of her, tender towards her. He knew in that strange odd moment of clear sightedness that the things he could overlook now and even laugh about, those odd quirks that made Laura so vulnerable and fragile, would eventually irritate him. Then, perversely, he had shut that thought out of his mind and continued along the course he had chosen for them both. That strange distorted road to matrimony.
But he was only fooling himself for the damage was done. That flash of common sense had shattered the illusion. He worked hard on the house, as though building the house would reaffirm the feelings he thought he had possessed. And Will was there – affable, charming, attentive.
“Don’t worry about me or Laura. We talked it out, you know, and it was alright, we both knew that we didn’t love one another.”
“That was because of Will.”
“No,” Adam smiled and shook his head, “No, Hoss, it was because we didn’t love one another. We cared enough to reach out for something more, but it wasn’t ours to have, it wasn’t love. That accident was my own fault, not yours or anyone else‘s. Do you understand?”
“You don’t mind her marrying Cousin Will then?”
“No, I don’t mind. I’m just glad he happened to come by when he did. It’s all worked out well.”
Hoss nodded. He’d heard this all before, of course, when they had talked together, but he hadn’t really believed it. He nodded again as though to affirm in his own mind that he had to accept what Adam was saying, because he needed to believe it was the truth.
It hadn’t been just kindness to let her go, Adam knew that, and whatever feelings he had for her that particular day, had not been motivated by kindness. But afterwards, when he had thought it over in his own mind, he had felt it had been kind to her, as well as to himself. It had freed them both from emotions that would have crippled them both, and perhaps, Peggy as well.
He felt free. He wanted her to be happy on this, her wedding day.
The tall dark haired man leaned forwards to peer more closely towards the house. It stood amidst apple trees, the blossom of which covered the boughs like snow, and the perfume drifted on the breeze enveloping him in that casual way to tease the senses.
He narrowed his eyes a little to see more clearly the view of the door of the house, and was about to urge the horses forwards a little to come in more closely, when the door opened.
Three people now stood on the porch, a man, a woman and a young girl. The man was tall, good looking, and carried himself with that air of casual elegance that is the natural garment of a confidant person at ease with himself. The woman was slight of build, blonde haired, with a slight uncertainty about her that some would misconstrue as femininity. The girl on the other hand was blossoming into womanhood, wearing her clothes with that self-conscious air that comes from stepping over from one world to another.
The door closed behind them and they walked to the gate, which the man opened for the women to walk through. If they noticed the carriage standing motionless amidst the apple trees on the far side of the road, no one mentioned it.
Adam Cartwright released the breath that he unknowingly was holding in, and leaned back against the seat of the carriage. Peggy was getting prettier, he thought to himself, and soon, no doubt, some young man would come along and whisk her away. He wondered if that was what she wanted, or whether she had been caught up in this whirl of female emancipation that was sweeping through the world.
He watched them walking down the street. Peggy on one side of his cousin, Will, and Laura on the other. He wondered why Will now limped, and needed the aid of a walking stick. He noticed that his cousin was greying, certainly it made him more distinguished looking, but it was also a marker of years. Adam sighed, yes, years.
He waited until they were out of sight, then called to the driver to return to the town. It had not taken him far out of his journey, this visit, this sating of his curiosity. He smiled to himself as he watched the road widening into town, and felt content. He felt no regret now, he had felt no regret then, when Will and Laura had driven away from the Ponderosa all those years ago. It had just been interesting to see them, from a distance, just to make sure.
Laura Dayton Cartwright kept her eyes straight ahead and said nothing. Her husband had taken her arm and placed it caringly through his own, and smiled down at her. He wondered why there had been no bright answering smile in return and why she stared ahead so fixedly. Her lips were thin, taut, and there was a faraway look in those eyes that now seemed to shut him and everything else out of their sight.
She had seen the carriage pull up as she was closing the bedroom window. The fact that it had stopped and taken some time to conceal itself from view of their house had aroused her curiosity. She had seen the dark haired man lean forward to view the house and had recognised that tanned skin, and the large well shaped eyes with the smudge of eyelashes that had once so beguiled her.
For some seconds she had stood in the shadows and watched as he sat there, surveying the house. Should she run down and greet him? Would it not be better to wait and see if he would leave the carriage, walk up that path and knock on their door? Where had he been all these years? Was he married?
She had waited and still he had not moved from the carriage. Now Will was calling her, and Peggy was hurrying from her room telling her mother to stop delaying. They wouldn’t hold up the concert for her, would they?
Now she walked along, deep in thought, engrossed in her memories. Did she have any regret at all? Did she wonder, had she ever wondered, whether or not she had made a mistake and married the wrong Cartwright after all? In that neat little head of hers Laura Dayton Cartwright was all too scared to even think of asking herself that question. The answer could have been far too revealing.