Suddenly Steven looked relieved, and he said, “Please, don’t marry him.”
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
It was a beautiful day to celebrate Independence Day. The sun was blazing high in the sky, and it wasn’t too hot of a day. The breeze was blowing in from Lake Erie and it kept the air from being humid. I was helping Ma at the table with the food as the band played in the town square’s gazebo. Everyone was in good spirits and talking about the dance that was to be held tonight at the big barn at the end of Main Street.
Sheriff Mulligan was standing by the gazebo with his hands on his gun holster and his eyes on the Hancock brothers, prepared for the slightest sign of trouble. The Hancock brothers were not really all that bad. They do not rob banks or anything like what we heard the infamous Billy the Kid doing. They are just men who seem to not have grown up at all. They are arrogant, big bullies who like to get into brawls. Ma says it’s because their ma and pa spoiled them rotten and never spared the rod. There are five Hancock brothers and the youngest, Rodney is 21, three years older than me, and for some reason believes I am betrothed to him. He likes to talk about all the babies we will have together, and how I will help his ma with the house chores while he tends to the family ranch with his brothers. I do not know where he gets these ideas as I have always tried to stay away from all the Hancock brothers. Ma says he will get the hint once I’m promised to another, which I know Ma and Pa thinks it’s time I find a beau.
It has been slowly coming to the town’s attention that Deputy Nick Harrison has developed an interest in me. Ma and Pa have even let me know that Deputy Harrison would have their blessing if I accepted any offer of marriage from him. Deputy Harrison is ten years older than me, which Ma says is perfect. I don’t mind the attention. He is a sweet man who has the cutest dimples when he smiles, which is when he is looking at me, and I have found a man with a badge appealing looking. I just cannot image how I can spend my life married to one man when my heart wants another.
That other is my very own best friend, Steven Shelton. His father’s farm borders ours. We grew up together, practically glued to each other’s hip since my family moved to town when I was six. We went fishing in the creek together, did our chores together, and walked to school together during the winter. I still wear the bracelet on my wrist that he made out of yarn for me when we were ten. It’s hidden under my dress sleeve. I don’t know if he still has his; I haven’t seen it in a few years. I rather be married to him and have his babies. These days, my heart flutters when he is around. It is not just because I think he has become the most handsome man in town, with his hazel eyes, dark hair that curls at the nape of his neck, and muscular arms, but it’s because he is always supporting me. He knows how much I want to teach, and I know he will allow me to keep teaching until the babies arrive. I am not so sure any other man would. Most of them, if not all, are about the wife supporting them and having their babies. Sadly though, all the girls in town know Abigail Swanson has her eyes on Steven, and what Abby wants, Abby gets.
I was putting Ma’s famous potato salad away when the sound of my name being called pulled me out of my reflections.
“Hey Ella!” I looked up to see Steven standing across from me. “Are you daydreaming again?”
“No!” I shot back while I felt the temperature shot up a notch or two. Steven laughed. He is always teasing me about how I can slip away into my thoughts and forget the world around me.
“I was asking if you wanted to go fishing tomorrow.”
“Sure, I’ll go”
“I don’t think so,” Pa intercepted. “You two are at that age where it’s improper for you to be hanging out without a chaperone.” Then with a sneaky grin Pa adds, ‘unless you plan on setting her up for where you two will have no choice but to get hitched.”
“Pa!” I exclaimed.
“I’m sorry Mr. Conley. I wasn’t thinking. I sometimes forget when it comes to Ella.”
“Understandable, but I must protect my daughter’s honor as you know. I can see if Ella’s brother would be willing to play chaperone, if you like.”
“Would you please, Pa?” “Would you sir?” Steven and I said in unison.
“I’ll go find Tommy now and ask.”
As Pa walked away we heard a voice say, “When me and Ella are wed, her pa won’t have to worry about you ruining her honor anymore, because you will not be able to even speak to her once our vows are spoken. I’ll see to it.”
Steven spun around to face Rodney and said “Ella will never marry you or she would have agreed to it a long time ago!! When are you going to get that through that thick skull of yours?”
“She will. I just have to be patient and wait for her to cut those apron strings, and when she is ready to leave Mommy’s nest we will get hitched.”
I saw Steven’s hand close into a fist, getting ready to use it on Rodney.
“Don’t Steven!” I yelled out just as Deputy Harrison walked up to us.
He asked, “Is there a problem here boys?”
Rodney quickly said,” No sir,” and turn to head back over toward where his brothers and ma were.
Deputy Harrison then turned to me and said, “I was ah wonderin’ if you would uh save me a dance on your dance card tonight Miss Ella. Sherriff Mulligan said I can take the night off.”
Knowing Deputy Harrison to be a lovely man and I could not do much worse. I said yes and Deputy Harrison grinning like a Cheshire cat said, “Great! I’ll see you at the dance then.” Turning to Steven, he said, “Lovely day for a picnic isn’t it Steven,” and walked on. Steven was about to tease me, but before he got the chance, and to my horror, Abigail Swanson sashayed up to us.
“Oh Steven, it looks like Ella is going to have her dance card filled and not leave any dances for me. Can’t I put you on my dance card so I can get at least one dance in and won’t have to watch Ella have all the fun?” asked Abby dripping with so much molasses, I thought I was going to be sick.
I looked at Steven to see what his response was going to be and to my disappointment; he blushed and replied with “I would most certainly do that. I wouldn’t want the beautiful Abby to be a wallflower.” Now Abby was smiling like a Cheshire cat, and I reminded myself I am a lady and must not wipe that smile off her face.
When Little Miss Abby finally left to go back to her group of giggling girlfriends I turned to Steven and mimicked Abby saying, “Oh Steven, it looks like Ella is going to have her dance card filled and not leave any dances for me. You know very well she would never be a wall flower.”
Laughing Steven responds with, “What was I supposed to say? What about you and the Deputy? Great! I’ll see you at the dance then.”
“Oh shut up,” and I playfully smacked Steven.
“Ella! Remember Propriety.” Ma had returned from meeting with the other Ladies of the Church. I groaned.
“Yea Ella, remember you’re a lady,” Steven chastised me with a silly grin. Ma shook her head trying not to laugh. She always had a weak spot for Steven and always treated him as if he were her son.
“Well, I gotta go and help my ma before she comes and drags me back by my ear. See ya later Ella, Mrs. Conley.” I watched Steven walk back to his family’s table to help clean up.
“Ella, come on let’s get this cleared up so we can get ready for the dance. Now where are your pa and that brother of yours?”
I wore my new blue calico dress and matching bonnet to the dance. It took a month for ma and me to make it and I was so proud of it. I felt pretty when I bumped into Steven at the dance and he had told me that I looked lovely in the dress and how it brought out the blue in my eyes. Deputy Harrison came calling for his dance and as we waltzed around the barn I saw my brother Tommy dancing with Liza Jane and Steven dancing with Abby. My heart dropped; they did look beautiful dancing together. As I was starring at Steven over Nick’s shoulders, I realized Nick was trying to say something of importance so I forced myself to listen.
“I applied for the job of sheriff there since their sheriff wants to retire soon. I should have an answer in six months. Now, I know your family is here and you grew up here, but I was wondering if would do me the honor of being my wife and come with me. I already asked your pa and he said he would give us his blessing, but he also said the decision would be yours that you have a mind of your own and we have to respect that.”
I was stunned. I stopped dancing and stared at the deputy. Getting nervous, Deputy Harrison went on to say, “I know it is sudden and you may want to think about it a bit, but I want you to know I have been smitten with you for some time now, and I promise to always be good to you.”
I finally found my voice and said, “Thank you Deputy Harrison…”
“Please, I think you can call me Nick now.”
“Thank you Nick, but you are right. This is sudden and I will need to think this over. Please, give me some time to think about it.”
“Oh yes, Ella. There’s no rush.” Nick bowed to kiss my hand and then walked away.
I looked up to see Rodney in the corner glaring in my direction. I ignored him and looked to see where Steven was, and I saw him walking away from Abby, and Abby looking crestfallen as if she didn’t get her way. Hmm. Maybe she wanted another dance and he wanted a break.
I saw my girlfriends; Sally Dawson, Becca O’Malley, and Ann Smith over at the punch bowl, beckoning me to join them so I walked over. They pounced on me like wild animals, wanting to know what the deputy and I were talking about so seriously. I told them he had asked me to marry him. They were so excited and happy for me.
“What did you say? You said yes, right?” asked Becca.
“No, I told him I had to think about it and he said I could.”
Sally looked at me as if I was a fool and said softly, “What’s there to think about? I would have said yes in a heartbeat.”
That’s when I looked at Sally. I mean really looked at her and realized that she was in love with the deputy. I looked across the barn at Abby and thought to myself, if Abby gets what she wants; as she always had before, will the rest of us fall like a stack of dominoes.
Ann piped up “I can’t believe he asked you to marry him. I am so jealous. I wish Robert Dollinger …”
I was suddenly grabbed by the arm and abruptly turned around. I looked up to see who accosted me. It was Steven and he looked so angry. I never saw him so angry before. What could be the matter? Before I could ask he bellows, “Is it true?”
“Wha-what’s true?” I stuttered.
“Is it true that Deputy Harrison just asked you to marry him?” Steven asked between clenched teeth.
“What did you say? Did you say yes?”“No, I said I had to think about it.”
Suddenly Steven looked relieved, and he said, “Please, don’t marry him.”
That’s when in front of the whole town Steven dropped to one knee and grabbed my right hand. I knew everyone was starring and listening, because Danny Dawson stopped playing the fiddle. Everyone could clearly hear Steven say, “Marry me, Ella. I love you. You’re my girl. You’ve been my girl since the day your family moved next door and I watched you stepped off your pa’s wagon. I thought I was making my claim when I made those bracelets for us back when we were kids. Didn’t you know that? I love you Ella, I can’t imagine my life without you. Please, marry me.”
I didn’t have to think about it. I always knew what my answer would be. With tears of joy in my eyes I said, “Yes, I will marry you. I love you to.” I then pulled up my dress sleeve so he can see the bracelet.
He smiled like he won the raffle, stood up, and kissed me. Everyone was clapping. Danny announced loudly, “Looks like this is now an engagement party ya’ll.”
I remembered my girlfriends were still behind me. I turned to them with tears streaming down my face. They looked extremely pleased for me, but Sally also had the look of hope on her face. I knew Nick was going to be upset at this change of events, and remembered Ma telling me once that a woman can sometimes get her man by default if she played her cards right, so I looked at Sally and said, “Go to him.” She knew what I meant, smiled, and lifted up her dress skirt so it was off the floor enough to allow her to move swiftly, and hurried away to find the deputy.
I turned back to Steven and he said, ‘Come dance with me. I’m tired of dancing with someone else, and watching you dance with other men. I want to dance with my girl,” and preceded to lead me on to the dance floor and waltzed me around the barn.
I will never forget that night, and I am sure others will not either. By morning, word got around town that Rodney Hancock and Abigail Swanson had been seen together alone during the dance, and three days later were married in a private ceremony. Nine months later, they had a baby boy. The town whispers behind their back saying that when they were alone they must have been having relations when everyone knows Abby was seen to have been crying. I also know better. I know Miss Abigail Swanson sees herself as too much of a lady to do anything to ruin her reputation, and the day after, Rodney was seen with a bandage on his hand. I believe they both ran out of the barn separately, him to punch holes into something and her to cry in private and just had the misfortune to run into each other. As for the baby being born nine months later, Rodney consummated their marriage on their wedding night. Abby may not have been the bride he wanted, but it was the bride he got and he expected her to do her wifely duty. Abby just turned out be a fertile woman and conceive right away. After all, she spent the next eight years pregnant with their six children, four boys and two girls.
It may have not been the marriage they both envisioned, but they grew on each other and I believe they eventually came to love one another. Everyone in time agrees they seemed to be made for each other, and they sure seem to enjoy their bickering. Although, Abigail has found love in her marriage to Rodney, she still has not forgave me for taken from her what actually was never hers to begin with. She gives me looks full of daggers when we pass in town and Rodney does the same to Steven when their paths cross. Ma says, “What do you expect from two spoiled people like them? A thank you?” I guess Ma has a point.
Deputy Nick married Sally three months after the dance and they moved to the next town when he got the job as town sheriff there. We still keep in contact, and they come to our house for dinner sometimes with their two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. Sally says them moving helped their marriage. Nick has come to love her deeply and tells her he is happy how things turned out and Steve had saved him from a lackluster marriage. Sally has told me the reason they have not had more children and it’s because they decided not to. She had a really rough time with their two and now they follow a personal calendar. She told me not to tell her ma, because her ma would not approve. Sally says it was Nick’s idea not to have any more children. He told Sally that as much as he would love to have more children with her, he loves her more and cannot bear the thought of losing her. He was always a sweet man.
Ann smith is married to Robert Dollinger. A year after that Independence Day dance, Ann set Robert up so they would be caught alone together and then be forced to marry. Mr. Swanson, Abby’s pa, and the owner of the mercantile store is the one who found them alone together. He swears to this day Ann didn’t seem surprised to see him come in the cloak room and it didn’t seem that they were doing anything improper, but for propriety sake they had to make the young couple get married. He says they seemed too happy for a couple who was being forced to marry, and it did take them almost two years to conceive their first child.
Ann admitted to me she got tired of waiting on Robert and got the idea from Abby’s misfortune. Believe it or not, Robert told Steven he is thrilled that Ann took the initiative and took it out of his hands. As much as he loves Ann, he was too nervous and shy to pop the question. Every time he tried he would trip or do something else embarrassing. He said, once his suspenders broke and popped him in the eye just as he was about to ask Ann for her hand. They seemed to have taken what should have ruined their reputation in town and got the town to see it as a romantic gesture, thanks to Mr. Swanson’s inputs.
As for me and Steven, we didn’t get married until one year after he proposed. He wanted to give me as much time as I could get to teach at the schoolhouse in town, and he said I deserved to be courted properly; it was a new phase in our lives. I found out on our wedding night he had been spending that year building our own home on a piece of land that he bought from Old Man Jenkins with money he had been saving from his wages since he was fifteen. My Steven had been planning our lives together all that time and I didn’t know it. I got to teach for another year until our first child, Steven Shelton II was born. We had four children in all, two boys and two girls. I believe I made the right choice with my life. I have learned that sometimes the choices one makes in their life can affect others, touching their lives in ways you can never imagine. I hope I am able to pass that lesson onto my children.
*written Friday, July 2, 2010