Authors: Pamela Morsi
hen it’s settled
. You two will marry as soon as the hay is in.” Widow Nora Green smiled across the table at the serious faces of her daughter, Lessy, and her soon to be son-in-law, Vassar Muldrow. “I’m just so tickled I could purely swoon,” she added. “And I know, Vass, that your mother and daddy will be just as delighted.”
The big, blond young man gave a slight nod of agreement and stole a careful, respectful glance toward his future bride. “They couldn’t be more delighted than me, ma’am.”
Four years earlier, when Nora’s husband, Tom, had died, Vassar Muldrow, the youngest son of a distant cousin from Arkadelphia, had come to help out on the Green farm. It had been a good thing for all concerned, and from the first day the widow had held secret hopes of a match. Hopes that had now materialized.
“You can’t be calling me ma’am anymore.” Nora Green was beaming. “It just ain’t family sounding. You just call me Mammy, like Lessy does.” She nodded firmly. “You call me Mammy Green.”
Vassar’s smile was broad and friendly. He was a quiet and serious young man; the widow saw his smiles rarely, but considered them worth the wait. The wide slant of his mouth and the seemingly small brilliant white teeth made his rather plain farmboy face glow with good looks. “I’d be honored, Mammy Green.”
“What kind of wedding are you wanting?” She looked fondly at her only child.
Her daughter, just turned twenty, sat demurely across the table from Vassar. Her pale brown hair was parted very straight down the middle, each side tightly braided and rolled into two carefully secured swirls at the back of each ear. Excitement glittered in her eyes, but she held tightly on the reins of her enthusiasm.
“I don’t think we need a big to-do,” she told her mother quietly. “I think if we just get the preacher to marry us on the church steps after service, then we could come back here for the wedding supper.”
Nora Green frowned slightly. “That ain’t much of a wedding, honey. You sure you don’t want something fancy and grand? I’ve got a little money saved up, and a girl only gets married oncet.”
Lessy cast a glance at Vass that seemed almost hopeful. His look was open and unassuming, but she shook her head. “There’s no need to pull a fuss,” she said with a lightness that didn’t fool her mother for one minute. “You save your money, Mammy, for something important. We’ll be just as married without some showy shindig. Vass and I are quiet people.”
If the widow’s murmur of assent didn’t quite ring true, it was clear that Vassar’s nod of approval was all that Lessy noticed.
“I just want you to be happy,” her mother said.
Both young people turned to look at her curiously, as if it had never occurred to them that they wouldn’t.
“Do you want more pie or coffee?” Lessy asked her young man.
Vass shook his head and patted his belly with contentment. “I couldn’t eat another bite.”
Lessy rose to help with the dishes, but her mother waved her away. “I’ll wash up these things. You two are officially engaged.” She smiled warmly at Vass. “I think that means you can go walking out with my daughter alone now.”
Vassar’s cheeks reddened, and he appeared more ill at ease about the prospect than delighted. “Do you want to walk out with me?” he asked Lessy.
She blushed also as she nodded her agreement. With roses in her cheeks and sparkles in her eyes, her rather ordinary appearance blossomed to genuine comeliness. Vass looked away.
Helping her out of her chair, he offered his arm like a swain at a dance. Lessy took it, her expression blissful. As the widow watched them step out onto the front porch, she shook her head.
There was something about this engagement that wasn’t exactly right.
was rising in the eastern sky and turning the hot summer evening silver gray in its light. The young couple strolled casually from the front porch of the farmhouse down the path that led past the corncrib, into the peach orchard, and toward the pond.
“It’s a pretty night.” Lessy took a deep breath. The warm summer scent of ripening fields and maturing fruit always pleased her, but tonight it could have been pouring rain, and she would have been happy. Her spirit soared within her.
Vass nodded as he surveyed the fleeting light critically. “The weather’s been just about perfect this year. Com and oats were good, the stock is near fat enough for market, and your peach trees are still producing when they were nearly to breaking limbs with fruit a full month ago.”
Smiling, Lessy agreed. “It’s been a very good year.” She gave him a shy glance. “I just hope that’s a good omen for a wedding.”
Vassar kept the serious gaze of his pale blue eyes straight ahead. “We don’t need any omens, Lessy. We’ve had four years of getting to know each other. This is not some dizzy craziness that will pass with the first rough row to hoe. There aren’t many couples who are as sure of wanting a marriage as we are.”
“Of course, you’re right.” Looking up at him, Lessy’s heart was in her eyes.
She felt as dizzy and crazy as the first day they’d met. Vass was big and blond and tanned ruddy from working in the Arkansas sunshine day after day. And his long, thickly muscled arm so close to her own was strong and warm, even through the thin covering of his near-threadbare cotton shirt.
Vass glanced down at her and gave her a small smile of encouragement before he looked away, assessing the grove around him and the fields farther on.
‘The hay is about ready,” he said. “I wrung out a handful today, and it broke near as clean as celery. 1 suspect to get the haying crew up here any day now.”
“That soon?” Lessy asked.
Vass nodded. “If the weather holds, we’ll have it all in the barn in three weeks’ time.”
“So I guess we should plan on the wedding about the end of the month.”
It was a statement, but she looked up at Vassar as if it were a question.
“Sounds fine,” he answered. “I’m glad we’re just having a quick marry-up.”
Lessy cleared her throat and nodded determinedly. “A big wedding does seem like a waste of money.”
“More than that. It’s sure a kind of foolishness for a couple such as us. It isn’t like marriage is going to be a big change in our lives.”
Lessy raised her eyes in surprise.
“I mean, of course it’s a change,” Vass hastily corrected himself. “But it’s ... well... you’re not leaving home, and I’ll not be working a new farm. Our lives will be pretty much what they’ve been for the last four years.” Lessy made no reply, but Vass noticed her biting her lip nervously and tried again to explain. “You’ll go on doing what you do every day,” he said. “And I’ll go on doing what I do. Things will be just the same. Except, of course, that we’ll be a ... a . . . sharing a room.” Vass rubbed his palms nervously against his trouser legs.
Her face flushing bright crimson, Lessy could only nod in reply. Vass took her speechlessness as concern.
“Now, please don’t start to worry about that, Lessy,” he said. “I promise it won’t be as bad as you’re thinking.” She looked up curiously, but when she met his eyes, she dropped her gaze again in embarrassment. Vassar gently patted her hand.
“I want children as much as any other man,” he told her quietly. He swallowed and looked away from the woman beside him. Once again he felt a twinge of regret. She was sweet and innocent and deserved a better man than he. “I’ll try not to bother you excessively.”
“I know you won’t,” Lessy whispered, her face flaming with humiliation.
They hurried on, as if moving out of the fragrant peach orchard would move their thoughts into new directions as well. When they reached the edge of the pond, they could go no farther. Both of them stared out over the water, wistfully, as if wishing for the courage to look at each other.
Lessy’s grandfather had dammed up a small creek when he’d first arrived in this part of Arkansas. The pond was so well established now, only those who knew it was man-made could distinguish it from a natural water hole.
A spindly willow tree grew on the bank, and the couple stopped beneath it. Vassar leaned against the tree trunk as Lessy gazed out over the water listening to the croak of the frogs and the rattle of crickets. He no longer held her arm.
“Have you thought what you want to do with your peach money this year?”
She smiled, grateful that he’d introduced a safe subject for discussion. The peach orchard had been Grandma Green’s pride and joy, and she’d willed it separately to Lessy. Since she was a little girl, every year that the peaches made money, Lessy spent it on whatever she pleased.
“Mammy and I thought we could send for some dress silk from the catalog. Mammy says a woman needs something new to get married in.” In her mind she could picture herself in a beautiful gown, Vass standing beside her... perhaps looking at her proudly ...
When he made no further comment, Lessy finally asked, “What do you think I should do?”
He shrugged. “I was thinking we might could raise some birds on this pond. A few ducks and geese wouldn’t be much of a worry. And there ain’t nothing like a big old fat goose in the roasting pan.”
A vision of her dreamed-of silk gown fluttered into oblivion. “Then waterfowl it is. Mammy and I can make over one of the dresses that I already have.”
“You really don’t even need nothing new since you’re marrying me,” he said. “I think you look mighty pretty in your regular Sunday-go-to-meeting.”
Her regret over the loss of a wedding dress was soothed by the compliment. Vass made so few. Lessy was pleased as she glanced over at Vassar. He was grinning and pulled himself to his feet. Moving to stand in front of her, he took her hands in his own.
It got very quiet between them as they both stared at their clasped hands. Vassar looked away and took a deep breath before turning back to her.
“With us betrothed now,” he said, “I guess a kiss would be in order.”
Lessy smoothed a wispy lock of hair that had escaped the tightly twisted braids and raised her chin bravely. “Yes, I suppose that would be all right.”
With only a slight hesitance Vassar leaned closer. Gently, oh, so gently, he pressed his mouth against the soft, rosy cushion of her lips. Lessy inhaled the raw, sweet scent of him and felt the heat of his nearness. The soft touch of his lips was so brief, barely lingering, over almost as soon as it began.
Vassar stepped back, ran a nervous hand through his hair, and cleared his throat. “We’d best get back to the house. Your Mammy will be worried.”
he Widow Green
did not appear to be the least bit worried when Lessy returned home. Her mother was sorting through the wardrobe in their bedroom and humming pleasantly to herself.
“Mammy? What are you up to?”
With a gesture toward the sorted clothes strewn across the bed, she answered, “I just thought I’d get some of this packing done before the haying crew arrives and we get so busy.”
“Packing?” Lessy plopped on the side of the bed, her expression puzzled. “Are you going somewhere?”
Nora Green looked up and shook her head, chuckling. “Did you think I’d expect you to move into the little room with Vass?”
Lessy hadn’t thought about it at all.
“Of course you two should have the front bedroom,” she said. “It was meant for a married couple.”
Lessy glanced around uneasily at the room she had shared with her mother for the last four years. It suddenly seemed a strange and alien place. When she’d imagined sharing a room with Vassar, she’d always seen herself crossing the threshold of the little one added onto the back of the house where she’d spent her childhood. It had been Vassar’s room since the day he had come to live with them. It was almost as if she couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been there.
“We wouldn’t want to run you out of this room,” she protested. “This is the room you shared with Daddy.” Widow Green reached out for her daughter’s hand. “It was, indeed, the room I shared with my husband, and it will be the room you share with yours.”
A mixture of delight and anxiety skittered inside Lessy, and she averted her eyes.
She had wanted to marry Vassar Muldrow since the first day that she had seen him, a few weeks after her father’s death. She was sad and scared and confused. Although she had always been close with her mother, Daddy was so very special. He’d called her Gopher-Girl for her love of gardening, tree planting, and any other dirt-digging activities. And he’d given her confidence in herself.
“You can be anything you want to be, Gopher-Girl. Your life is like a batch of your mama’s bread dough. You can shape it into a standard loaf, twist it into curlicues, or you can tie it into sailor knots. It’s all up to you.”
Lessy had smiled at him skeptically. “I suppose I can make my hair blond and my eyes blue and turn into Sugie Jo Mouwers if I want.”
Her father had raised his eyebrows in surprise at the mention of the exuberant young daughter of one of the neighboring farmers. “I don’t doubt that you could if you put your mind to it,” he’d said. “But I hate to see you aiming so low.”
“Aiming so low?”
Tom Green nodded thoughtfully. “Poor Sugie Jo is a ray of sunshine in a very dark, brooding family. That’s a burden that merely being pretty ain’t going to overcome. You, Gopher-Girl, should be thinking about your own life. You have the chance to be whatever your heart desires. You’ve just got to figure out what you want in this world.”
And she had. She wanted Vassar Muldrow.
That first summer after they’d laid her beloved father in the ground, Cousin Jake and his sons had shown up to help harvest the cowpeas. She could remember, as if the image were burned into her brain, her first look at Vassar Muldrow. He was standing in the back of the wagon unloading their gear. His golden-blond hair seemed almost burnished in the sunlight, and his tall, broad-shouldered physique made him appear a giant of a man. Heartsore and lonely for the man who called her Gopher-Girl, Lessy needed the strength she’d seen in those young shoulders and was drawn to the pain in those murky green eyes that seemed to mirror her own.