A Bittersweet Reunion Part 2
Night had fallen. The Ingalls and Edwards clans were gathered in front of the Ingalls cabin, making merriment. The sweet music of Pa's fiddle filled the night air and they all got up and began doing the jig - all except two of them.
Mary had been quiet and off to herself all evening. She tried to smile and act friendly, even to John, Jr., but she clearly wished the evening would end.
John stood across the yard, somewhat back in the shadows, his hands in his back pockets. From time to time he glanced over at Mary. He felt up-tight. Not surprisingly, there was tension between him and Mary. So far, he hadn't gotten up the nerve to speak to her privately. He really didn't know what to say. Though no one had mentioned it during the visit, he was ashamed of the way he'd acted at the cotillion.
He and Charles had had a bitter exchange whenn Charles found out John had been untrue to Mary. Some harsh words were said, yet the exchange had ended somewhat amicably - or so John liked to think.
Indeed, John had broken off whatever relationship he'd had with that other girl shortly after the cotillion. He never liked her much, anyway. At that moment, he couldn't even remember her name. His friend, Chris, had actually been the one who'd fixed him up with her, despite John's reluctance. "My friend..." Chris had said to John, "you're not a country-boy anymore. You need to move on and discover new things."
Deep down, John knew there was some truth to what Chris said. And from the start, he had wondered if it was right for him to ask Mary to wait four years for him.
But he still cared about her, and didn't want to hurt her.
All these things going through his mind as he watched the dancing. There was a bit of a frost in the air - due not only to the temperature.
The jig finally ended. Caroline, who had been inside tending the baby, came outside to talk to Grace. "So how long do you think you'll stay in Walnut Grove?" she asked.
Grace one of her dearest friends; she'd even named her youngest daughter after her.
"Well," Grace answered, "since our old house has been sold, I expect this won't be anything permanent."
Caroline looked down. She'd always been taught to be courteous and not be nosy, but still had difficulty hiding her disappointment.
"Isiah says he's been offered a logging job - I'm not sure where" Caroline could hear the doubt in her voice.
"Well," Caroline replied in her characteristic stoic voice, "I hope it it's not California again."
"That was Isiah's idea," Grace said, shaking her head. She sounded a bit put out. "For the life of me, I'll never understand how he got the notion to try his luck in California when we were halfway back from Gold Country!"
She glanced over at her husband and Charles reminiscing. "I'm glad," she said in a whisper, "that what happened with Mary and John Jr. hasn't driven a rift between the two of them."
Caroline half-nodded; that was still somewhat a sore spot for her, too.
"Ma," asked Mary, approaching Caroline from the shadows, "may I please be excused? I have a test tomorrow."
"Certainly, dear," Caroline answered, knowing full well that Mary did not have a test the next day. Obviously seeing John, Jr. again hadn't been easier for her, but something else seemed to be bothering her, too.
Mary went inside and tiptoed up the ladder, still feeling a bit resentful. She had considered asking Patrick (one of her many new suitors) to act as her escort that evening, but decided he was too nice a boy to use to get back at an old beau.
But lately, she also just hadn't liked going outdoors after dusk. Everything seemed so dark. Outside the firelight, she could barely make out people's faces, or make her way around without stumbling. But she knew Pa couldn't afford new eye-glasses. And she certainly wouldn't have worn them on this occasion, anyway
She peered briefly out the window at the merriment, then closed the curtain. She slipped into her nightgown, said her prayers, and nestled into sleep.