To Have and To Hold, Chapter 7

A thick fog covered the ground, so dense Mary could barely see more than three steps in front of her. She knew Pa's barnyard like the back of her hand, so managing her way to the barn proved to not be problematic. She swung the milk pail to and fro with a little more vigor than normal. Pa's milk cow, Bessie, had a new calf curled up next to where she stood, munching on her cud. Mary drew the stool over to Bessie, plunking down on the stool as she extracted the milk from Bessie's teat into the bucket. The rhythmic motion of the daily chore seemed to lure the little calf from her slumber.

"Go on, little one. You'll get your fair share soon," Mary chuckled at the calf, as the little thing persistently nudged Mary's hand, hoping to get some breakfast.

Following the morning milking, Mary turned Bessie and the calf loose in the corral so they might get some fresh grass. She raked the soiled straw from their stall and then decided to lay down fresh straw for the cows' bedding. She whistled as she worked, feeling satisfied with a morning's job well done.

"Mary? Are you out here?" Ma called from the front step.

"Yes, Ma! I'll be right in!" Mary replied. She propped her rake up in the corner of the barn, gathered up the milk pail, and stepped gingerly towards the house so as not to spill. With one hand she clutched the pail, and with the other she swung open the front door to the place she called home, the place she shared with her family: Pa, Ma, Laura, and Carrie. "Did you need my help with breakfast, Ma?"

Caroline took in the sight of her eldest daughter in the doorway. Mary had an inquiring look on her face, her head tilted to the side a bit. Caroline couldn't help but grin at the woman before her. Just yesterday Mary and Laura were running through the tall prairie grass, barely able to be seen, and now here she was. A grown woman about to embark on her future.

"No, breakfast will be done in a minute. What were you doing out in the barn?"

"My chores, Ma. I'm still a member of this family, and wanted to do my fair share of the work."

"Oh, darling, you'll always be a member of this family, even when you're an old married lady!" Ma laughed with Mary, sharing the private joke between them. "Today is your wedding day, Mary! You needn't do chores. Your Pa and the girls will see to it they get done."

"I know… Today is just such a big deal for me, I want to keep what little shred of normalcy I have left. Please, Ma? Let me help with the breakfast. In a few hours I'll be married away and I won't have the chance to help you like we always used too," expressed Mary. She'd miss the way Ma and she used to work side by side, going about the cooking and cleaning.

"You'll have a whole home of your own to clean, and a husband of your own to cook for but I don't see what harm it'll do if you help this one last time. Will you set the table for me?"

Mary smiled, pleased with the simplest of chores. "Yes ma'am."

Carrie emerged from the bedroom room she currently shared with Ma and Pa, tying her pinafore in place. At the same time, Laura flew down the ladder to the attic loft, her hair left unbraided. "Ma? How should I do my hair? I just can't get it to look right!"

"We'll fix your hair after breakfast, Laura."

"Yes, ma'am… where's Pa?"

"Laura, must you ask a dozen questions first thing in the morning?"

"No, ma'am…"

"Good. Why don't you and Carrie have a seat while Mary and I put breakfast on the table?" Pa came in just then, shutting the door behind him and seating himself at the head of the table.

"Look like it's going to be a nice day for a wedding!" Pa exclaimed.

"But Pa! A body can't see more than five feet!" Laura declared.

"You mark my words, young lady. Come this afternoon the sky will be crystal clear. Just you wait. You'll see."

Pa passed the platter of potato pancakes around, enjoying the last full meal his family would have together before a new member would join them. Chris was already a son to him as far as Charles was concerned, but now his Mary would carry the name of Nelson, and would no longer be Mary Ingalls. Everyone was silent during the meal, each wrapped up in their thoughts about how their lives were all about to change. Laura especially had to remind herself Mary would just be a few miles down the road, and not moving away all together. Down the road was not half way across the country! Laura shook her head, reminding herself how silly she was, and promptly ate a spoonful of berries. Yet, something inside nagged at her, and wouldn't go away no matter how hard she fought it.

Reverend Alden surprised the family by arriving an hour before the ceremony was to begin. Pa had arranged for Reverend Myers from Tracey to perform the service, as Reverend Alden worried he may be late arriving from a seminar he was to attend in Mankato. It was a dream of Mary's to have her childhood reverend perform her wedding ceremony, and when she learned of the possibility of Reverend Alden being held by another obligation, her heart sank a little. Chris was in agreement the reverend should marry them, having met him on several occasions when he attended church in Walnut Grove with the Ingalls.

"Reverend!" exclaimed Charles when he saw Alden pull up in his buggy behind his horse, Jehoshaphat.

"Hello, Charles! Woaaah there!" he called to the horse. He pulled back the reins as he drew the buggy up close to the barn.

Charles paused by the buggy wheel as Reverend Alden climbed down. "We were afraid you weren't going to be able to make it for the ceremony."

"I wouldn't miss this for the world. I was able to get away from the gathering a day early."

"I know it means a lot to Mary for you to marry her. It's all she's talked about all week."

"Mary's always been very dear to me, Charles, as is the rest of your family."

"Reverend!" Caroline cried from the front door. She nearly ran the entire way across the barnyard to hug Reverend Alden. She flung her arms about him and pecked his cheek. As she realized how exuberantly she behaved, she drew her hand over her mouth, smiling, than giggled at her girlishness.

"Why, I don't think I've had a hello like that in years!" Alden chuckled.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" Caroline laughed. "I am so happy to see you and I know Mary will be! She was heartbroken you may not be able to attend her wedding."

"Charles mentioned that. I got here as soon as I could. "

"I just can't believe my little girl is getting married today. Oh, I'm so happy for her!" Caroline sighed dramatically.

Reverend Alden and Charles laughed in unison again with Caroline before the reverend continued.

"Charles, might I bother you to put up Jehoshaphat for the wedding? I 'm afraid I may have driven him a little hard to get here."

"Certainly. I'll put him in the barn with some fresh water and fed. Would you like a glass of water, Reverend? I guess I'd better thank the preacher from Tracey for coming all the way out here, see if he'd like to stay on for dinner."

"That does sound refreshing. I'm sure Reverend Myers would appreciate the offer, Charles."

"I'll get a glass for you. Won't you have a seat? I'm sure Mary will be ready shortly," Caroline said. Reverend Alden thought that was a mighty fine idea, and seated himself under the big oak tree with a cold glass of water until the guests started to arrive.

Mary turned her head this way and that, admiring herself in Ma's hand mirror as she sat at Ma's dressing table. The very table Pa built for her when they moved into their little house. Carrie picked wildflowers that very morning and arranged them into a bouquet for Mary to carry down the aisle. Ma fashioned a hair piece with some of the small white flowers attached to a hair clip for Mary to wear against her golden hair. She slipped the clip into Mary's soft hair, and brushed out a few loose strands so they lay flat.

"Do you remember how you used to fuss so over having your hair brushed? Why, I think I pulled you out from under the bed to comb it more times than not!" Ma laughed.

"Oh I loved it when I got older though! I still love when you brush my hair for me, Ma."

"I can't believe my little girl is getting married today. It seemed like just yesterday you were born, and now here we are! I guess you're not so little anymore."

"I'll always be your little girl! I don't think I'll ever grow tired of you brushing my hair, Ma, no matter how old I get."

Caroline smiled at her eldest daughter, wishing for just one more day with her little girl as just that. But the time for the start of the ceremony was quickly approaching, and Mary wasn't yet ready, so she took what she could get in these few precious moments.

The two younger girls were soundless, observing as Ma fluffed Mary's hair once more, making sure everything was just right. Mary gazed into the mirror, and saw two long faces. She sat the hand mirror down and turned in her chair.

"Why the long faces?" she wondered.

Laura spoke first, unsure why she was so shy around the sister she'd loved since she was born. "Mary… can I come to visit you in your new home?"

"Oh, Laura! Carrie! You know you are welcome in our home any time. I'm just moving down the road, remember? It's not so far away. I'll be glad to have you… Chris and I both will! I'll wave to you from my front porch on your way to school!" Mary laughed.

Carrie grinned her big, toothy smile, while the edges of Laura's mouth turned up the slightest. "It just won't be the same … going to school without you, arguing over chores. The loft is going to feel mighty empty without you to share it with."

"I'm not going away Laura. I'm getting married! Our family is about to expand. You'll have a new brother-in-law to go fishing with and frogging. Chris promised to take you whenever you wanted to go, remember?"

"I know. Will you come too?"

"Sure I will. I'll pack a picnic lunch and everything. Will you bring the worms?"

That seemed to do the trick. Laura's award winning smile finally made an appearance.

"Enough of this sad chit chat, girls! This is Mary's day, and Chris and your Pa are waiting."

"So is half the town, Ma!" Mary joked. She rose from her chair and twirled for Ma and her sisters. "What do you think?"

"Oh Mary! You look absolutely stunning!" Mary was wearing Ma's wedding dress. How beautiful she looked in it, and how very grown up. Caroline surprised Mary with it when she learned Mary and Chris were going to be wed. She had saved her wedding gown especially for a future daughter. The gown was a beautiful pale blue color, trimmed with white lace on the neckline and the wrist cuffs. It fit Mary nearly perfectly; Ma needed only do a bit of hemming.

"Laura, come sit on the bed so I can put up your hair," Ma requested. Laura did as her mother asked, perching on the edge of Ma's bed. Caroline combed the top section of Laura's hair back, smoothing out the waves from her daily braids. Ma gently tucked each piece of hair into place before she tied Laura's hair back with her blue Sunday ribbon. "There. All finished."

Laura took a peek at herself in Ma's mirror, smiling.

"You do look lovely, Laura," Mary insisted.

"Thank you. When I get married I hope I look as fetching as you do, Mary!" she gushed.

With her hair pulled back with Ma's favorite comb and the flowers pinned in place, Mary looked pretty as a picture. Laura and Carrie crowded around their elder sister and gushed over her, bolstering her conviction with how pretty she was. Laura recalled all the time she teased Mary about how the boys in school buzzed around her like bees to honey. Mary assured Laura she didn't do anything special to receive their interest; she just acted natural. Laura, on the other hand, wasn't so sure.

Pa knocked on the door and called out to his girls. "What's the hold up in there? Is everyone decent?"

"You can come in, Pa, we're all decent!" Laura replied. As Pa entered the house, he was greeted by Caroline, Laura and Carrie all standing in wait for him.

"Where's Mary? Is she ready?"

"I'm ready, Pa," Mary responded, stepping out of Ma and Pa's room nestled behind the fire place that dominated the center of their home. "How do I look?"

Pa was quiet for a minute, taking in what was before him. "Mary, I don't think I've ever seen a prettier sight. You would make any man proud to have on his arm."

Mary blushed, not used to so many compliments. But this was her wedding day, and it was just getting started, so she resolved herself to accept what was meant to be. Mary thought she would get married in the church, like Ma and Pa had in Wisconsin all those years ago. It was her future husband, Chris, who suggested they get hitched on Pa's farm, under the big shade tree next to Plum Creek. Charles and Caroline thought it was a fine idea. Pa and Chris had built an arbor out of tree limbs and vines for the couple to stand beneath while Reverend Alden married them. Laura decorated it with the little white flowers that grew in abundance in the meadow. A collection of assorted chairs were set out in neat little rows, with a small aisle in the middle for Mary to walk down. The scene was laid, their guests had arrived, and all that was needed was the bride.

Chris stood at the head of the aisle with Reverend Alden. He was dressed to impress in his Sunday best, with a new black tie he purchased special at Oleson's Mercantile. Harriet was only too pleased to help the groom purchase a tie. Mrs. Oleson showed Chris a variety of her finest merchandise, when Chris was just happy enough to buy a simple black one.

Revered Alden clutched his Bible, ready to enter these two young people into the sanctity of marriage. He wiped sweat from his brow. He'd performed dozens of marriages in the past, but when one was marrying someone he watched grow from a child to a young woman, it brought a little tear to his eye. Not only was he extremely fond of the Ingalls girl, but the young Nelson lad was a strong man with a smart head on his shoulders. Mary picked a proper partner for her to walk her life's path with.

When everyone was seated, Pa offered Mary his arm to escort her to the end of the aisle. Mary's face was alight with recognition when she saw who stood at the head of the aisle with her future husband, waiting to marry her off. Charles looked down at his daughter, never more proud of her then he was in that moment. The sun was just beginning to sink into the hills in the distance, casting a golden light onto Mary's face, which was already radiant from the happiness. Pa was sure he'd never seen his daughter so content.

"This is it," he whispered so Mary could hear him.

Mary looked up at her Pa, and on his face saw a bit of sadness at marrying off his eldest daughter mixed with the joy of the occasion.

"This is it," she repeated. "Thank you for everything, Pa."

Charles planted a soft kiss on top of Mary's head, as someone started playing 'Here Comes the Bride' on the fiddle. They began their journey down the aisle.

Chris caught his breath, scarcely able to believe he was finally going to marry his Mary. Here she was, gliding towards him on the arm of her Pa. Everyone around him vanished, and for a brief moment, the only people in the world were Chris and Mary. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. The way the light from the sunset landed upon her face made his eyes dance with the love he had for her.

Charles delivered Mary safety to her future husband. The two of them couldn't take their eyes off each other, so Pa had to tuck Mary's arm into Chris's. As he did the simple motion, it seemed to awaken something in the young couple as the realization of what they were about to do finally set him. Chris folded Mary's arm into his and drew her to his side, positioning them to face Reverend Alden.

Mary handed her bouquet to Laura to hold during the ceremony. Her sister was serving as her maid of honor. She couldn't think of anyone she would rather have to stand up with her then Laura. Laura finally had a jovial smile that crossed her entire face.

To Chris's right stood Adam Simms, of whom he got particularly close with the longer he spent time in Walnut Grove. Adam helped him find his homestead, which was already ready and waiting for him to bring Mary home at the end of the night. Mr. Simms was acting as Chris's best man.

"Who gives this woman to be wed?" Reverend Alden began.

Caroline looked at Charles with a loving smile on her face, squeezing his hand to signal him. Pa, with tears forming in the corner of his eyes, responded with "Her mother and I do."

"Dearly beloved, we're gathered here in the sight of God and in the presence of these witnesses to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony," continued Reverend Alden. "Which is an honorable estate instituted of God and signifying unto others the holy union that exists between God and His church."

The cloth of her future husband's jacket was smooth under her hand, and beneath that his strong arm. Mary felt his muscles contract with tension. She patted his arm and smiled to herself as she sensed him relaxing. Something about this man soothed her. Being in his presence was all she needed to get herself through the day.

"Into this holy estate these two persons come now to be joined. If any man here can show just cause why these two cannot lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or forever here after hold his peace."

Chris glanced down at his bride. She was focusing on what Reverend Alden was telling them. His beautiful Mary, always so serious about what she was doing. He loved that about her, her strive to have everything be the best it could be. He covered her hand on his sleeve with his free hand, squeezing it ever so lightly to reassure her he was here with her.

"Chris, will thou take this woman to be thy wedded wife? To live together in holy matrimony? Will thou love her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others? Cleave thee only unto her, as long as you both shall live?"

Eyes focused on Reverend Alden, Chris answered with the two simple words he could barely get out. "I will," he choked, fighting back emotion.

"And Mary…" Reverend Alden went on, smiling at the golden haired young woman before him, repeating the same passage to Mary her new husband just agreed to. Mary heard a stifled sob in the background; undoubtedly Caroline was wiping away tears with her snowy white handkerchief. Her portion of the vows were almost done and before she knew it, she would be Mrs. Nelson. Reverend Alden would introduce them as Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Nelson. Oh, how she was ready for this! This was the moment she'd waited for, all those months waiting to turn sixteen, teaching, planning…. It all lead up to this very moment. "… as long as you both shall live?"

"I will," replied Mary ever so softly, audible to the man beside her who was now her husband, and the man before her, who was the family's reverend since they had moved to Walnut Grove.

Reverend Alden nodded to Adam Simms, who stepped forward, looking dapper in his Sunday best, and handed over a small, round wedding band to Chris. He held it around the tip of Mary's ring finger, ready to put it on when signaled.

"The wedding ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual gift. It signifies to all that this man and this woman have joined together in holy matrimony in the church of our Lord, Jesus Chris. Now we pray…"

Reverend Alden bent his head, eyes closed, in prayer. All before him joined in, during the closing ceremony of the wedding. When he finished, Chris slipped the ring over Mary's finger. "In token and pledge of our constant faith and abiding love, I thee wed. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Laura stood next to Mary, tapping her on the arm to raise her awareness it was her turn to take the ring and present it to Chris. Mary took the ring from Laura, and repeated to Chris the same vows he just said. "…of our constant faith and abiding love, I thee wed. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Mary, facing Chris, hands joined, looked up at her husband. He gazed back at her with all the love he could pull forth into his expression. Forever more he would be bound to her, and she to him. The exchanging of rings was the signifying moment in a ceremony to her that things were official. Words were merely that, words. But this small physical act of putting a metal band on her husband's finger was all it took to join her to him.

"… and the giving and receiving of these rings, I now pronounce you husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Chris waited, almost expectantly, for Reverend Alden to give him the final words he wanted to hear. Reverend Alden glanced quickly at the young couple, and exclaimed, "You may kiss the bride!"

Mary bent her head to the right, as Chris bent his to the left and lowered it ever so slightly. Just before their lips met, he whispered, "I love you, Mrs. Nelson."

Taken aback only slightly, Mary bounced right back with a quick "I love you, Mr. Nelson," before Chris planted his mouth to her's in the most loving and tender kiss she'd ever received from anybody. A round of applause went up as the newlyweds turned towards them.

"Family and friends… I would like to introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Nelson!" declared Reverend Alden.

The slightest breeze blew across the faces of the happy couple, and of those of their guests. The sun was getting lower in the hills behind the home made altar, painting a brilliant picture across the horizon. The glow of the day's final light cast beautiful shadows across the faces of everyone who was dear to her. As Reverend Alden's ceremony was at a close, Mary drew in a deep breath, filling her senses with the sweet smell of the prairie grass she'd come to love as home. She was Mary Nelson now, and her new home would be in the arms of her husband.

A/N: After rewatching Season 5 I realized Mary turned 16 during that season. Given that I already am rewriting Mary's life, I made amendments to the story. Stays tuned for future installments, and please R/R!