Summary: Remembering a past love.
Word Count: 1930
“You and Adam were engaged!” Joe’s exclamation was filled with shock.
Margaret turned toward the boy. “You know we…well, you knew at the time but…” Her voice faded as she thought, “He was only four or five. No one talked about it much after Adam left. Of course he forgot.”
Little Joe Cartwright stared at Margaret Rainsford with his mouth hanging open. He could not remember a time when she had not been a friend of the family, but neither could he remember a time when she had been more to Adam then a friend.
“It was ages ago, Joe. I suppose you were too little to remember.”
Little Joe walked over to the young woman. Softly he asked, “Can you tell me about it?”
“It would make a boring bedtime story, Little Joe,” she teased.
“Please, Margie, please,” he wheedled using his most pleading expression.
“I don’t know what you think there is to tell, Joe. There weren’t that many families around here back then. By the time we were fifteen, Adam and I knew each other better than we knew any other boy or girl. I suppose it was natural that we thought we were in love. Your big brother made an excellent beau, Joseph, and on my sixteenth birthday he asked me to marry him. I said yes.”
“Pa said Adam could get married at sixteen!” Little Joe sounded almost as astonished as he had at the start of their conversation.
Margie shook her head setting her dark curls dancing. She tapped Little Joe on the nose with her pointer finger. “You know better than that. Our folks agreed we could be engaged but made us promise to wait until we were eighteen to actually wed.”
“But you didn’t; you didn’t get married.” Joe sounded slightly sad.
“No, no, we didn’t.” Margie’s tone was slightly wistful.
Little Joe saw the look that came to her eyes and asked gently, “Tell me about why you didn’t.”
She studied his eyes and then sighed, “Very well. Actually, things started to change when Saul Eckers arrived. He was from New England and a graduated of Harvard. Very well-spoken, very charming, with a brooding and romantic good looks.”
“He was better looking than Adam?” Little Joe interrupted.
Margie shook her head. “No, no, not better looking.” She laughed softly. “Your big brother is like the hero from some exciting novel, Joe. Mr. Eckers was from a romantic piece of poetry.”
“You called him Mr. Eckers,” Joe mused aloud.
“He was at least ten years older, a grown man, but he and Adam began to spend a great deal of time together. Actually, your pa ended up hiring Mr. Eckers as a tutor for Adam. Not that Adam stopped working on the ranch. No, Mr. Eckers tutored him in the evenings and on Saturday and Sunday. It seemed that I hardly had a chance to see Adam unless I came to the Ponderosa, and then Mr. Eckers was always there.”
“Uhrump.” The derisive grunt was Joe’s only comment.
“Well, one Saturday I was at the Ponderosa. Adam and Mr. Eckers were studying Latin. I was waiting for them to finish and pretending to listen. Your Pa called Adam out to the kitchen to discuss something or other. Mr. Eckers and I started talking. He came over to where I was sitting. I was only giving him half my attention because I was wondering if Adam and I would have anytime alone together. Then he took my hand for some silly reason just as Adam walked back into the room.”
“He got mad.” It was a comment more than a question. Little Joe knew his brother well enough for that.
“Yes. He made some sarcastic comment, and Saul Eckers said it was time they finished for the day and left fairly quickly. After he left, well, your brother and I had a real row, and he broke our engagement.”
“You didn’t get married just because you had one fight,” Joe demanded.
“We’d had many fights before that, Joe, and even a few after, but that was when our engagement ended.”
“You could have tried to get him back. He can be stubborn, but you can get him to see sense. He even says he’s sorry sometimes.”
Margie smiled at the teenager. “I suppose both of us could have tried, but then, well, things happened, and Adam ended up going off to college less than a year later.”
“He wouldn’t have gone if he’d married you.” Joe’s tone made it clear he considered it a missed opportunity to have prevented something that never should have happened.
“No, no, he wouldn’t have, and that would have been a great loss to him.”
Little Joe snorted.
“Joseph, you know what college meant to Adam,” Margie chided.
“When he got back why didn’t…” Little Joe began.
“We became friends again. And that, Joseph Cartwright, is that!” Before Little Joe could speak again, Margie ordered, “Now, the story’s over, young man, and I’m sure there’s some pretty young thing waiting for your attention.”
Joe could not bring himself to deny that fact and allowed Margie to shoo him back toward the churchyard and its picnic.
“I don’t remember it quite that way.” Adam’s tone was chiding.
Margie turned around to see Adam leaning against a tree. “I thought your Pa taught you not to eavesdrop, Adam Cartwright.”
“It’s one of my bad habits he could never quite cure,” Adam replied with a wry smile. “He did try awfully hard though,” he continued as he walked toward Margie.
“If I told him you were up to your old tricks, would he deal with you for me?”
“Yes.” He looked down his nose at the smirk on her face. “But not the way he would have before. Sorry to disappoint you.”
“I always said he didn’t tan you half as often as you deserved.”
“Only because he didn’t know about half the things I did to deserve it.”
She grinned at him wickedly. “I suppose it’s best for both of us that he didn’t know half of what we did together.” She flounced away from him, but went only a few steps into the shade of several trees. He followed her.
“You got me more than one hiding, you know.” His scowl was as wicked as her grin.
“As I recall, everything we did that you got a hiding for was your idea.” She tossed the words at him.
He arched an eyebrow, “As I recall, I never had to use much persuasion.”
“Oh, I never said I wasn’t willing; I just said it was always your idea.”
“So you recall it as being all my fault?” he inquired archly.
Lowering herself to the ground and settling the yards of cloth that formed her skirt and petticoats, she patted the ground beside her in invitation.
Adam took a seat on the grass in front of Margie.
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him through her lashes. “Just how do you remember it, Adam? What would you have told Joe if he had asked you?”
Adam leaned back on one elbow. “Well, let’s see, it did start with Saul Eckers, but I would have told Joe that every female around who was between ten and thirty developed a crush on Saul the first time they met him, including my fiancée.”
“Adam Cartwright!” Margie straightened with indignation.
“You’re interrupting; I didn’t interrupt you,” Adam admonished.
“You were eavesdropping!” she snapped back.
“We can drop this whole…”
“No, go on. I won’t interrupt you again.”
“You did have a crush on him, you know. I could see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice. You fluttered your eyelashes at him every time he spoke to you.”
Margie snorted but did not speak.
“But, like I said, all the females were acting that way, so I decided to overlook it and wait for it to pass.”
“How grand of you,” Margie muttered under her breath.
“You’re as bad as Joe,” Adam observed, but he continued, “You always managed to come visit me when you knew Saul would be there.”
Margie simply rolled her eyes.
“That day, well, as I remember it, you kept interrupting my Latin lesson. Then Pa called me into the kitchen. I had failed to do some chore he had set me, and he called me into the kitchen to let me know just how displeased he was about it and what I could expect if I displeased him again that way. I don’t suppose you knew that or that he…” Adam paused and then continued with a slight omission, “I stopped at the door to compose myself and …” he paused again and straightened. “I saw you flirting with him.” Adam’s tone had grown very serious. “You were my fiancée, after all; I had a right to be angry.”
“You had no right to say some of the things you did. You have a wicked sharp tongue when you’re angry, Adam.”
“You were the one that said you didn’t want to marry me.” His words lashed out like a whip.
“I said I didn’t want to marry a mean-mouthed, jealous brat.”
“You didn’t use the word brat.”
She bit her lower lip. “No, I admit I didn’t. You said you’d make sure that the preacher knew he’d never have to read the banns.”
“You threw our ring at me.” He had taken a lock of each of their hair and woven a band from them.
“I, I never…”
“I’ve proof; it’s in my room at home.”
She dropped her eyes to her hands and said softly, “I don’t remember throwing it. I shouldn’t have.”
“I could have given it back.” It was true. He had made no attempt to reconcile. He had been hurt and angry and had wanted to teach her a lesson. Pa had started speaking of college, and then Marie died, and everything changed.
She gave him a smile that spoke of sadness and regret. “We were very young.” She shrugged her shoulders and rose to her feet.
Adam sprang up and caught her arm drawing her within inch of him. “I was old enough to truly love you, Margaret Anne Rainsford, and you broke my heart.”
She raised her hand and laid her palm against his cheek. He placed his hand over it to trap it there.
“Have you forgiven me, Adam Stoddard Cartwright?”
“Yes, I’m forgiven, but you’ll never trust me enough again. We’ve both known that ever since.” She simply answered, “Other things would have gotten broken if I hadn’t.”
“Perhaps.” He gave her a slow, deep smile. “Was I really an excellent beau?”
“Well, now, I…”
“You told Joe I was an excellent beau and as good-looking as Saul Eckers.”
“You did have your good points,” She admitted teasingly.
“Was this one of them?” Adam slipped his hand behind her head and titled her lips to his. His kiss was as soft as the first one they had shared.
“Mmmm, yes, from the very first,” she murmured when his mouth released hers.
“The first time I kissed you, you tasted of wild strawberries,” he whispered. They had been berry picking and eaten most of the fruit that they picked.
“What do I taste of this time,” she asked playfully.
“Lemon pound cake.” He laughed, and she joined him.
They had always laughed well together.