Summary: A missing scene for the episode “She Walks in Beauty”
Word Count: 1725
“Never trust a woman with a beautiful face for she will quickly betray you.”
Johnny de Marigny, one of Pa’s ranch hands, told me that. I hadn’t heard those words in twenty years but they immediately came to mind as I wiped my lips after Regan’s kiss. She was definitely a beautiful woman and, before that kiss, had insisted that she’d changed because Hoss loved her. When I threatened to tell my brother about her sordid past, she proved beyond a doubt that she’d never be anything more than a leech that drained the ability to love from good men. Hoss would want to believe she’d love only him, but his heart would eventually be crushed when confronted with evidence to the contrary.
After she said she was going to marry my brother regardless of that kiss, I realized I had to find a place to think about my course of action. Should I return home and confront him while he prepared for the party at which he intended to announce his engagement? Would it be better if I discussed Regan’s past and Hoss’ future with Pa and asked for advice on how to proceed?
Sport snorted and tossed his head as we stood at the crossroad — we could go home or continue wandering. Thoughts of Pa drifted through my mind and I set Sport on a course for the lake. Thinking of Pa brought up thoughts of another scandalous woman — Marie. She’d been blackmailed to keep her secrets hidden. As a young man, I didn’t understand why Pa paid that money — I later came to realize that he didn’t do it so much to hide her past as he did to let her mold her future. Without the constant reminder of who she’d been and what she’d done to survive, she became a woman I was proud to call my mother.
Hoss was just a boy when she entered our lives — a complete stranger married to our pa. I resented the way Pa brought her into our home and expected us to welcome her as our mother. She wanted nothing more than for us to return her love, but I couldn’t — at first. Hoss’ heart immediately let her in but mine had been sealed shut with Mama’s death — the only people allowed to dwell in there were Pa and my brother.
When I realized that she’d been Johnny’s wife, I was confused. Before leaving for New Orleans, Pa said he had to let Johnny’s widow know of his death. Pa not only told her, he married her. I asked him many times why he’d decided to marry her and his only response was that someday I’d understand — that’s not an answer to an angry eleven year old boy.
Women whispered behind their hands when we went into town. Sometimes I hid in the shadows to listen to the gossip exchanged by those biddies. Some said Marie was a lady of the evening who’d given Pa her charms in hopes of escaping New Orleans. Others said she was a slave he’d purchased with the furs he’d taken to New Orleans and now she claimed she was his wife because he shared his bed with her. Looking back, my favorite rumor was that she served with the Pirate Lafitte and won Pa in a duel; of course he married her out of gratitude, according to that one. Many of these gossips would greet us with smiles when we saw them and behave as if they adored Marie. Sometimes we were barely out of earshot before we’d hear those “ladies” imitating her accent and giggling. Marie never gave those biddies the satisfaction of seeing her open wounds; instead, she wept at home. Many times, innocent Hoss tried to comfort her because he didn’t like to see her so sad.
I found myself defending my mother when other boys repeated what they’d heard. Many times I arrived in town in clean clothes but departed with my nose bloodied and my clothing covered in dust. Neither Pa nor Marie ever punished me for fighting; maybe they guessed at why I did it, though.
When Joe was born, all of the fears that locked my heart were opened and I knew I could love Marie as my mother. The ladies in town, though, escalated their gossip campaign to include my youngest brother. I told Pa that we needed to put a stop to the rumors once and for all but he said people would believe what they wanted no matter what we did. Marie held her head high and never indicated that she cared what anyone else thought of her or her son.
After Joe’s birth, I overheard Marie and Pa talking about her other son. My curiosity demanded satisfaction and I finally asked about this other child when we were alone.
“He was mon fils with Jean.”
“Did Johnny leave after the baby was born?”
“Non. Did he tell you why he left?”
“He never said.”
“Maybe it would have been different if he’d stayed.” She looked towards the ceiling to keep the tears from spilling down her cheeks. “I was ill after Philippe’s birth; when I recovered, I was told my son was dead from the fever.” She took a deep breath and sighed from the memory. “Philippe was my link to Jean. With our son’s death, all of my dreams for the future died. I found I could dream again when I met your father.”
I must have blushed with shame when I admitted, “I hated you at first because we were living the dream Inger, my mama, was supposed to share. Maybe I thought if I hated you, you wouldn’t leave us, too.”
She squeezed my hand, her green eyes moist with tears, “We’ve both borne terrible hurts in our lives which have molded us into the people we are.”
“I won’t ever let anything happen to Joe.”
“You can’t always protect your frères from everything in life. Oui, Hoss will need your protection, too, mon fils. Things will happen that we don’t like, but they must find their own ways.” She took a deep breath and said, “Je t’aime, mon fils.”
I kissed her cheek and said, “Je t’aime, Ma.”
Joe’s cries from upstairs ended our conversation.
I’d rarely had to protect Hoss physically — his size ensured that there were few challengers. Emotionally was another matter. People forgot that a kind soul was inside that large body when my brother was a child, and many nights I tried to explain why people were sometimes cruel while he cried. When he reached the age where girls became enticing, he began to realize that most young ladies treated him as if he was invisible until they needed help carrying packages.
Hoss has often been preyed upon by women who mistake his faith in the goodness of humanity with gullibility. Helen Layton was such a woman and I believed I had to protect my brother from that scavenger — she’d use him until she found someone else to exploit. He hadn’t wanted my protection — his fist crashing into my jaw proved that.
Now faced with Hoss marrying a predator like Regan, I was torn between protecting him or letting him find his own way as Marie said those many years ago.
I arrived at the lake, tethered Sport, and knelt down on one knee. Gently, I brushed the pine needles off of Marie’s grave and then sat down against a large pine tree.
“We need you, Marie. I need you. Should I let Hoss make the biggest mistake of his life? You had the love of a good man to guide your future. This woman Hoss loves says she’s turned her back on her past because he loves her; she’s proved that a lie by kissing me to buy my silence. What if I do stay silent? Would Hoss ever forgive me if his heart was destroyed by the woman he loved?”
I laid my hand against the cheek Regan had slapped. Would I receive more slaps from her in the future if she was my sister-in-law? How might she try to buy my silence if I saw her with a man who wasn’t her husband?
My thoughts turned to children. Would Regan want children or would she find a way to keep Hoss from her bed?
A breeze wafted from the lake, sending leaves and pine needles skittering. After Marie died, Pa wanted to tell Little Joe about his mother’s past; I discouraged him, arguing that my youngest brother’s memories should only be of the mother he’d adored. Our arguments continued after my return from college, since Little Joe would soon be entering his teen years. He probably overheard some of the late-night conversations — or loud discussions as Hoss called them — in which I urged Pa to never reveal all of Marie’s secrets to her son. I believed that would be a disservice to the woman I’d taken into my heart and thought of as my mother.
If Hoss and Regan had children, would they ever become curious about their mother’s past? Would it matter at all? What if they saw her with another man and asked questions — did they deserve an answer?
I looked at the sky, which was becoming overcast as dusk approached. I still didn’t know what to do.
“You must be proud of Hoss, Marie — he’s so much like Pa.”
A shaft of sunlight burst forth from a cloud and struck the surface of the lake. I felt the day’s tensions begin to ebb away as I took a deep breath. There was so much of Pa in Hoss that my brother would make the decision that was best for his future, with or without my advice.
I knelt by Marie’s grave marker and placed my hand on the cool stone. “Thanks for your help, Marie. Je t’aime, Ma.”
I mounted up and headed for home, my decision made. The party was starting soon and I needed to change clothes.