Part 28 of the Ranch Days series
By Maz McCoy
"You okay?" Jeff Collins asked as he studied his friend.
"I feel sick," Nathan admitted. He did look pale and there was a fine sheen of sweat on his brow.
"Maybe if you loosened your collar a bit you might…" Before Jeff could finish his sentence Nathan launched his breakfast into the nearest bush. Oh boy. "Nathan?"
"S'oright." Nathan kept his head in the bush.
"You don't look all right."
"Gimme a minit."
"Okay." Jeff turned at the sound of footsteps.
Bill Napier stopped in his tracks when he saw Nathan bent over a bush. He looked at Jeff. "He okay?"
"Apparently he needs a minute."
"Uh huh." There was another retching sound from Nathan.
Jeff rolled his eyes. "Better make that two."
"How long's he been..?"
"Anything we can do?"
"Nope. Just let him get it out of his system."
More retching from the bush.
"Seems to be doin' that just fine."
"Were you like that?"
"No, I just lost the power of speech. When it came time for me to say something in the ceremony, I froze."
"What d'you do?"
"Sweated a lot. Then I looked at Mary and…" He smiled. "I got my voice back."
Bill looked at Nathan. "What should I tell them?"
"Tell them, Nathan's…indisposed at the moment."
Bill looked at the man in the bush. "Right. Indisposed it is." He turned and walked back to the church.
"Do I look all right?" Annabelle Eldon asked for the fourth time, or was it fortieth? Rosalind Tanner had stopped counting. Now she simply nodded every time Annabelle asked about something. In truth Annabelle looked beautiful in her wedding dress and as much as she hated herself for it, Rosalind was jealous. The bride stood in front of the mirror in a room at the Claremont Hotel studying her reflection. "Is this bodice too low? I don't want people to think I'm…?"
"It's fine. In fact it's perfect." Rosalind tugged the bodice higher and Annabelle's bosom rose and fell with it. Her friend stood back and looked her over. "You're ready to go."
"No, I'm not!" Annabelle sank down on the bed. "I can't do this? Can I do this? I mean am I doing the right thing?"
"Isn't it a little late to be asking these questions?"
"Better before the wedding than after."
"I mean shouldn't you have asked yourself these questions before today?"
"I should and I have, over and over. What do you think? Should I be getting married again?"
Rosalind sighed and sat down next to her friend. She reached over and took Annabelle's hands in hers; it was time to be a patient and caring friend. "Do you love Nathan?"
"How would you feel if you could never see him again?"
"Answer the question."
"I can't imagine that."
"Good. Can you see yourself spending the rest of your life with him? Growing old with him?"
Annabelle sighed. "Yes."
Rosalind stood up. "Then what are we waiting for? Go marry the man!"
Annabelle smiled. "You're right. This is all just nerves. Speaking of which, I have to use the outhouse again."
Marty stopped beside Jeff Collins outside the church and looked at the rear end of Nathan sticking out of a bush. "Is he?"
"Should we get him anything?"
"I reckon a whiskey'd be the best thing but I don't think the bride would be too pleased to smell that on his breath."
"Well, she sure won't like how he smells now."
"Good point. Marty, why don't you see if you can rustle up a bottle of something special for the groom? Medicinal purposes, you know?"
"I'll do what I can, Boss. Oh and the minister wants to know how much longer Nathan's gonna be indisposed."
"Tell him we're working on it."
As Marty walked back to the church Jeff stepped closer to his friend. "Nathan, you're gonna hafta go inside soon."
"S'oright. I'm feelin' betta." Nathan stood up and turned to face Jeff. The foreman of the Bar T stared back. Some of Nathan's wedding breakfast was now stuck in his hair or plastered to the front of his new shirt or splattered on his shiny boots.
Jeff took a deep breath and then regretted what he'd just inhaled. "We need to get you cleaned up."
"Okay." Nathan nodded weakly.
"Uncle? Is something wrong?" Annabelle asked as she stepped into the hotel corridor. The man standing in front of her had been stunned into silence.
"Nothing's wrong, Annabelle. You look beautiful."
Annabelle smiled. "Thank you."
"I know I've asked before, but you are sure about this? About Nathan?"
She patted his arm. "Yes, I'm very sure, but thank you for worrying about me."
"You're my only niece; of course I worry about you. So, your carriage awaits." Walter Knight held out his arm and she slipped her hand around his elbow. They descended the stairs. "You know your Aunt is gonna cry buckets at the church."
"I hope you have your handkerchief ready."
"I have two."
"Are you happy for me?"
"Knowing it's what you want, you know we are."
"And you don't mind my moving out to the ranch with Nathan?"
"A woman has to be with her husband."
"You didn't answer the question."
"I'm gonna miss you, you know that, so will May, but we'll see you when you come to town and I might even persuade my wife to take a buggy ride or two so we can see this fine new home you have."
"I'd like that."
He patted her hand. "You just be happy, child, that's all we pray for."
"Is she here?" Nathan asked for the twentieth time. "Is she here?" Twenty one.
"Not yet," Jeff informed him with a tolerant smile. They stood at the altar watching the minister adjusting the position of the large gold cross that stood there.
Nathan looked over his shoulder, and then ran a finger around the inside of his shirt collar. "This dang thing's strangling me."
"Leave it alone."
"Is she here yet?" Twenty two.
"No, she ran off with Bobby this morning."
"It's a joke."
Nathan glared at him. "I don't find it funny."
Jeff sighed. "Nathan, will you just relax? Annabelle will be here. Just be patient. Everyone knows the bride's always late. It's traditional."
"Why? Are they trying to drive the groom mad?"
"You're gonna spend the rest of your life waitin' for her, might as well get used to it."
"Great." He looked at his boots. Were they clean enough? His fingernails! Had he…? He looked. Yep, clean. Good.
Jeff scanned the congregation searching for…There she was. Rosalind Tanner. She was sitting on the side of the church for the bride's family. She smiled and Jeff smiled back. "She's on her way," she mouthed.
"Good." Jeff jerked a thumb at Nathan. "He's driving me crazy."
Rosalind laughed. "He's nervous."
"Don't I know it." He rolled his eyes and took a deep breath. "I need to ask you something later."
Rosalind's heart seemed to miss a beat. "Okay."
Jeff smiled, then Nathan tugged his sleeve.
"Is she here yet?"
"D'you think you'll ever get married?" Jed kept his voice reverently low as they sat side by side in a church pew.
"I guess; when I meet the right woman."
"What's she gonna be like?"
Heyes considered this. There wasn't much else to do, as they sat, sweltering, in their Sunday best, waiting for Nathan's fiancée to turn up. He decided to play along. "She'll be intelligent; well she'd have to be to be marrying me." He smiled but Jed ignored him. "And beautiful."
"Not taller than me."
"Can she shoot? Or cook? Or…?"
"She'll be too refined to shoot."
"What's that mean?"
"She'll be a lady. Ladies don't shoot."
"Mrs Eldon can, she told me. You saying she ain't a lady?"
"No, I mean, my wife won't know about shooting because she'll come from somewhere where you don't need to shoot."
Heyes shot him a look. "Don't ask so many questions, Kid." He returned his attention to watching Nathan squirm at the front of the church.
"D'you wanna hear about my wife?" Jed asked.
"She'll be beautiful too, and blond or maybe she'll have brown hair, although I like girls with dark hair too so maybe…"
"How many wives you plannin' on having?"
"Just the one."
None the wiser, Jed continued. "And her hair will be long. Long and soft and…Maybe she wears it up, you know with a ribbon? Or maybe it's shorter and she…"
"Can we move on from her hair?"
"Oh, okay. She'll be a good rider. Has her own horse and we'd go out riding every day."
"Maybe you should just marry a long-haired horse." Heyes smirked at his own joke.
"Is she here yet?"
"Nathan, so help me…"
The organist began to play and the congregation rose to their feet.
"Oh, God," Nathan muttered.
"What's in that?" Jed pointed to a sandwich.
Heyes separated the pieces of bread and looked inside. "Beef."
Jed took two sandwiches. They each held a plate and made their way along the buffet table in the town hall. Their plates were already piled high with food and they were only half way down the table. The room was filled with the wedding guests. A band was playing and small children ran between the tables and chairs.
"I don't think I ever saw so much food." Jed's eyes grew wider as he took in the sandwiches, meat pies, potato salad, beets, biscuits, apple pie, devilled eggs, pickles and fried chicken in between the jugs of lemonade and iced tea.
"We won't hafta eat for a month after this."
"You know they got beer and whiskey too?"
"Yep. I say we get some once we reach the end of this table."
"Sounds like a plan, Heyes."
"There's gonna be dancing later. Have you seen some of the girls here?"
"No, I went blind. Of course I've seen 'em!"
"I reckon they'll be lining up to dance with an eligible bachelor," Heyes preened.
"Eligible bachelor. Someone who's not married."
"I know what a bachelor is. What's the first part? Elly-gibble?"
"Not elly-gibble, eligible."
"Ain't that when you can't read something?"
"No, that's illegible."
"So what's what you said?"
"Eligible. It means I am not married."
"Like a bachelor."
"That's what I said."
"So what's elly-gibble? That a special sort of bachelor?"
"In my case it is."
"Well then I'm elly-gibble too. " The young men grinned foolishly just as someone announced the arrival of the happy couple.
"When the minister said "Do you take this woman", I thought he was gonna pass out," Marty told them. Several of the Bar T ranch hands were seated outside the town hall, glass of beer or whiskey in hand, discussing the wedding.
"Did you see him throwing up in the bushes beforehand?" Bill asked and some of the men nodded.
"We gonna play a trick on them tonight? Wedding night an' all?" one of the younger hands asked with a grin.
"No," Bill stated categorically.
"Because Nathan's our friend," Marty informed him.
"But it's traditional!"
"We leave them alone. Tonight." Bill and Marty exchanged a look.
"Okay," the hands agreed.
As the younger men went in search of more beer and food, Marty and Bill smiled. "Amateurs!"
"Does this taste funny to you?" Rosalind asked as she held out the glass of lemonade to Jeff Collins and the ranch foreman took a sip. A look of recognition crossed his face and he suppressed a smile.
"Nope, seems fine to me."
"You're lying, Jeffrey. I can tell because the corners of your mouth turn up when you do."
"They do not."
"They do. What could you taste?"
He took the glass from her hand and placed it on the buffet table. "I don't think you should have any more. It's some of Stanley's Special Lemonade."
He grabbed her hand, leading her away from the table. "Shhh."
She followed him out of the town hall and around the back of the building. They interrupted a young couple locked in a romantic embrace. They quickly broke apart and ran off, giggling.
"That's not a bad idea," Jeff said, then pulled Rosalind closer, crushing her against his body.
"Jeff! We sho…" He cut her words off with a kiss.
"Is it me or is the room movin'?" Jed asked as he leaned against the wall inside the town hall watching couples swirl around the dance floor.
"I think it is," Heyes agreed.
"Nah! It's gotta be the floor," Henry postulated as he swayed towards them. "Somethin's wrong with the floor."
"Those gurls look like twisss." Jed laughed. "I mean terwins." Jed pointed across the room.
"What gurls?" Heyes narrowed his eyes trying to find twins.
"The one in the green dressssss," Jed slurred, "And the other one in the green dress."
"I only see one." Heyes tilted the glass of lemonade to his lips and drank.
"Nope, definit-a-tit-atilly," Jed snorted at the mispronunciation. "Two, I can see two." He finished his lemonade. "This is the best lemonade I ever had. I'm gonna get some more. D'you want s'more, Henry?"
"Sure. Ol' Stanley makes the best lemonade around." He held out his glass which Jed caught on the second attempt. Heyes and the cook watched Jed weave his way across the room to the buffet table. "He been drinkin'?"
"Only lem-nade," Heyes assured him.
"You been drinkin'?"
Both men giggled and looked up as Marty and Bill wobbled towards them.
"Hey, Hey, Heyessss. How ya doin'? And how you doin' too?" Bill asked, making a concerted effort to point at Henry. Bill also held a glass of the popular lemonade.
"Fine, Bill, fine. You?"
"Fine, jus' fine." Bill reached out a hand and eventually found a wall to lean it against.
"That boy been drinkin'?" Marty asked as they watched Jed weave his way across the room with two filled glasses in his hand.
"Only lem-nade," Henry and Heyes chorused.
"Sure looks like he's been drinkin'."
"Yep," the men agreed.
Liquid sloshed out of the glasses Jed carried. He smiled at his friends and held out a glass to Henry. "We should get the ressissippi for this," Jed suggested. He took a swig from the glass.
"I don't feel so good," Heyes announced suddenly.
"You look okay to me," Marty stated.
"I feel kinda fuzzy." Heyes stared at Jed. "Do I look fuzzy to you?"
The dark haired young man moved to stand in front if Bill. "Do I look fuzzy?"
"If I knew what the heck you were talkin' about I'd tell ya." Bill stared back. "You do look kinda green though."
"I think I might be sick."
"Not on me you won't." Bill shoved Heyes back towards Henry.
"I don't want him!" the cook protested, shoving him to Marty.
"Not over me you don't." He pointed Heyes in the direction of the side door. "Out you go, boy!" A kick in the pants sent Heyes on his way; he tripped on the door step and disappeared into the night.
"I sure do like this lem-nade." Jed grinned as the band struck up, masking the sound of retching from the open door.
Jeff finally let Rosalind up for air. Her lips were swollen from his kisses.
"Wow," she said.
"Yeah." Jeff grinned. Rosalind grinned back. They held each other's soppy gaze for a while. "So. Rosa. I've been doin' some thinking and there's something I have to ask you. Can't put it off any longer." He dropped to one knee.
He took Rosalind's hands in his. "Rosa, will you marry me? Please?"
"Oh. Oh, Jeff. I thought you'd never…I mean I didn't think you wanted to…I just assumed you, you know…I mean I knew you…But then you might not want to…And the thing about children might be…It made me think that we could f you wanted but I just resigned myself to…"
"Will you stop talkin', woman and answer me?"
"What? Oh, yes."
Jeff's eyes narrowed. "Is that yes, you'll answer the question or yes, you'll marry me?"
Rosalind smiled as she gazed down at the man on his knees before her. "I want to enjoy this moment."
"Yes, Jeff, I'll marry you."
Jeff leapt to his feet and pulled her close. "Thank you. Thank you. I'll make you happy, I promise." He hugged her tight.
"You'd better, cowboy."
The carriage pulled to a halt in front of the cabin. Nathan pull on the brake, secured the reins, jumped down and walked around to Annabelle's side. He placed his hands around her waist, helping her down. It was dark now but someone had thoughtfully lit the lamp that hung by the door.
"Welcome home, Mrs Tyler."
She smiled. "It might take a while for me to get used to being called that."
Nathan held out his open arms and she looked confused. "I hafta carry my beautiful wife over the threshold."
"And put your back out for the wedding night? I don't think so." She started up the steps to the front porch but Nathan caught her hand.
"Annabelle! I want to do this."
"Nathan, I'm not the lightest of women."
"And I'm no weakling." He opened his arms again.
"What about your leg?"
"I reckon it'll hold up, despite your considerable weight," he mocked.
She peered at him. "If you fail to perform your husbandly duties because you insisted on this I will never forgive you." She braced herself and he picked her up.
"Sheesh, you weren't lying about not being light!" He struggled to stand upright.
"Nathan!" She batted his arm.
He laughed and she swatted him on the head. "OW!" Her protests were lost when he kissed her. "So these husbandly duties. What do they involve?"
"I'll tell you once we're inside the cabin."
"I can't wait." He reached out a hand and turned the handle. The door was locked. "It's okay, I have the key. Can you reach inside my back pocket and get it?"
Annabelle's hands fumbled behind him and grabbed his butt. "Mmm, nice."
"Keep your mind on the job sweetheart; but you can do that again when we get inside." She laughed and retrieved the key from his pocket. He held her close to the keyhole; she inserted the key, then unlocked and opened the door. Nathan gave the door a kick. "Welcome home, wife." He kissed her and stepped over the threshold into the darkness.
"I hope there's a lamp here somewhere," Annabelle said as she tried to make out the shadowy objects around her.
"Bound to be."
"Nathan, what's that smell? I think there's something in here."
"I don't think…"
End of Part 28