Summary: It’s a romantic farce as Ben goes to talk to the new school teacher with an invitation to dinner. Things get very complicated very quickly with an unexpected consequence you might expect in a farce.
Word Count: 1734
Slowly and deliberately, Ben made sure his tie was just right. He pulled on his jacket and smoothed the collar staring into the mirror as he did so. He thought he looked like a reasonably intelligent man. He didn’t look like a man who couldn’t speak his mind and get others to understand him. If that was so, why was he marrying a woman today that he didn’t love? She was attractive enough, well spoken, intelligent, and capable. His body stirred at the thought of taking her to his bed, but his heart wondered if liking her could ever turn into love. He wondered again as he had for hours over the previous six weeks how he had gotten himself into this predicament that he was unable to find a way to extricate himself. It had started so innocently with an effort to show gratitude to the first teacher who had managed to get Little Joe to find school interesting and not a place for him to engage in wild if amusing acts of rebellion. He remembered the morning of the fateful day very well.
“Little Joe, I’m going to be in town today, and I’ll pick you up after school. I want to speak with your teacher.”
Suddenly on edge, Little Joe had looked guilty even though at that point, he couldn’t think why except for habit. “Pa, I ain’t done nothing wrong at school lately. Miss Amelia done said I’ve turned over a new leaf. I don’t know what that means cause I ain’t been messing with no leaves, but she smiled when she said it so it couldn’t have been anything bad.”
“No, son, I know you haven’t done anything wrong. I wanted to thank the teacher for the excellent job she’s been doing and offer her an invitation to dinner on Sunday.”
“She’s gonna come here and eat?”
“Yes, that’s not a problem, is it?”
“What are the other kids gonna think if I have the teacher here?”
“The parents have been talking, and we all agreed that it would be a good idea for the teacher to spend each Sunday in the company of one of the families. She would get to know more of the people in the community. We would like her to stay on as a teacher for next year, and hopefully this will help convince her to sign another contract with us. She would only accept a one-year contract, but we’re hopeful she’ll be willing to stay longer, perhaps stay here for her whole career. She may be the best teacher we’ve ever had in Virginia City.”
Later Ben wondered why he didn’t state that so clearly to the young teacher. He knew why but somehow it wasn’t a satisfying answer. He had been a bit flustered when he walked into the classroom that warm spring day. He found Miss Amelia Puckett washing the blackboard. She had shed the jacket she had worn all day and rolled the sleeves of her blouse up her arms. Her hair had slipped from the pins that had held it in place all day and curly tendrils framed her face and fell to her shoulders. She turned when she heard him enter and was slightly embarrassed to be found in such a state by none other than the head of the school board and one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the west. She had adored him from afar from the moment she had met him. His deep voice made her heart seem to flutter in her chest. His broad shoulders looked like they could carry a lot of responsibility. His large build gave him the look of a protector. His eyes could be fierce when he was crossed and gentle when he was with the children in school. She believed he was a man of passion and wished so many times that she could be the one to ignite those passions. Now he stood in her schoolroom, and she couldn’t think of a better way to end the day.
No naive youngster, she had traveled from town to town going further west each time after teaching a year or two before moving on. She couldn’t imagine moving on from Virginia City after she had met Ben Cartwright though. She had assumed she would never catch his eye, but from the way he was looking at her that day, she decided that perhaps she had. She was thirty-five years old and had never been married. When she was younger, men her age had seemed like such boys. Her desire to be a teacher allowed her to spurn their efforts at romance. She dressed conservatively, kept her hair up in a conservative bun, and attended church regularly. All of that had kept potential suitors away until she began to think that no man would ever again see her as a romantic interest. But now she saw that Ben Cartwright definitely liked what he saw. She had seen his eyes travel from her hair down her arms and lower. It made her tingle all over to have him look at her with such admiration.
“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, may I help you?”
“Now, Miss Amelia, I’ve told you to call me Ben. Mr. Cartwright is so formal. I stopped by to ask something of you.”
Amelia’s heart began to pound rapidly. Her cheeks flushed. Ben noticed and thought that it made her even more attractive, but he did his best to discipline his thoughts so that he could issue the invitation he had meant to deliver.
“Yes, I would like you to come out to the Ponderosa on Sunday for dinner. You can meet my other two sons. I would be proud to tell everyone that you had agreed to do that. I hope that dinner could be the first step in convincing you to stay this year and perhaps forever or as long as you will have us.”
“Oh, yes, Ben, yes. Oh my God, I am so thrilled. I never ever thought that you would ask me that. We hardly know each other, but that doesn’t really matter that much. I would be more than happy to accept your invitation. Yes, Ben, yes, I will marry you and stay with you forever. Oh my goodness, I must look a fright. I never expected such a meeting or I would have been sure to make sure I was prepared. Oh, my. Ben, we should talk more. Perhaps we could meet in town for dinner on a night before Sunday and the big meeting with the family?”
At first pleased with Amelia’s enthusiasm, Ben slowly progressed to shock as he realized she had misinterpreted his invitation. He thought back over it and was sure he had never mentioned marriage. But she was in his arms then and kissing him, and it was getting more and more difficult to think as he kissed her back and held her as she wrapped her arms around him. It did feel good to kiss her and to have her press her body against his. He knew later that he had mishandled that moment as well. By responding to her advances, he had sealed the deal.
So here Ben was, standing in his bedroom preparing to walk down the stairs and say I do with a woman to whom he had not proposed marriage. He had met her for dinner in town on Saturday. He couldn’t bear to tell her then in front of all those people that he didn’t want to marry her. He thought that he could do it better on the Ponderosa where they would have a chance for some privacy. That didn’t happen either. Hoss took an immediate liking to her, and even Adam with his more suspicious nature found her charming, witty, and a challenge in conversation. He looked forward to spending time with her too once his father married her. Ben had not been able to admit to his sons how he had mishandled the whole situation, so even though they had been very surprised to hear the news from Little Joe, Ben had confirmed what Little Joe said Miss Amelia had said as she exited the schoolhouse with their father. Hoss had smiled, and Adam had shrugged. Little Joe was hoping that having the schoolteacher in the house would get him even more leniency at school than his charm had managed to secure for him.
Pausing at the top of the stairs, Ben surveyed the roomful of friends and family. His sons looked up at him and grinned in unison. Ben knew that Hoss and Little Joe looked forward to having a mother in the house. He descended the stairs and took his spot next to Adam who placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Any second thoughts, Pa?”
Oh, if only he could tell his eldest son what had been going through his mind for weeks. This marriage thing had taken on a force of its own and every day he delayed in explaining the misunderstanding the harder it got to explain the misunderstanding. He had finally decided it was fate. She was nice, intelligent, and he would certainly enjoy waking up beside her in the morning. As she walked toward him, he saw such love and adoration in her eyes. It made him remember the three wedding days he had before. He had been filled with worry and uncertainty each of those times too even though he had definitely asked each of those women to marry him. There had been no misunderstanding in any of those. As he looked at Amelia though, his heart opened to her. She respected him, loved him unconditionally, and looked forward to spending her life with him and his sons on the Ponderosa. He hardly heard what the minister had been saying. Adam prodded him then and whispered in his ear.
“I think you’re supposed to say ‘I do’ about now.”
Smiling, Ben reached out and took Amelia’s hands in his. He nodded at the minister and at Adam. “I do.”