This chapter starts with Marty musing about how well Christmas went, despite being snowed in. She sees deer outside in the snow, and calls Missie over to see. (There is no discussion of shooting one for meat; instead, the focus is on how pretty and docile they are.)
There’s this bit:
Clark had been to town again the day before and returned home with a rather grim expression. Marty was about to ask the meaning of all the trips but checked her tongue.
Iffen it be somethin’ I be needin’ to know, he’d be sayin’ so, she told herself as she went to get the breakfast on the table.
That’s not how communication works.
Anyway, the meat of this chapter is an unexpected visit from Ma and Ben Graham. Well—unexpected for Marty, that is.
Ma remarked that they were more than happy to say yes when Clark had stopped yesterday, inviting them to come for coffee New Year’s Day if the weather held.
So thet’s it, Marty thought. An’ he didn’t tell me fer fear it might be ruined agin by “mean” weather, as he calls it.
Dude. That’s not cool. I like to know in advance when I have guests, so I can be prepared! Actually, this happened to me once recently—my husband invited friends over and didn’t tell me. But that was a surprise party and it was my birthday. This ain’t that.
The visit took on even more meaning for her. Ma told Marty the news that young Jason Stern was there “most ever’ time I turn me round.” With misty eyes she told how Jason had come Christmas Eve and asked permission for Sally Ann and him to be “a marryin’ when the preacher come for his spring visit.”
I was initially unclear as to why this would have meaning for Marty, but I think this bit further down the page helps explain:
Marty thought back to her own tearful pleas, begging her ma and pa for permission to marry young Clem. She had been about the age of Sally Anne. She suddenly saw her own ma and pa in a different light. No wonder they were hesitant.
No, Marty, they were hesitant because Clem wanted to go west and didn’t know what he was doing. Also, just so we’re clear, this clarifies that Marty’s parents are both still alive.
Now, Sally Anne will have just turned 18 when she marries in the spring. Marty is 19 now. Since Marty wasn’t married and was still at home the previous Christmas, she’s been married less than a year. She probably got engaged around the same time exactly one year ago; they would have married in the spring, just before leaving with the wagon train.
I realize that in the past people tended to socialize with people who were at the same stage of life with each other, and Marty, being married with children, is in Ma Graham’s stage of life, and not Sally Anne’s. But something still feels just slightly off about all of this. Sally Anne is about to become a married woman and will soon be in the same stage of life as Marty—and closer, really, as they’ll both soon be new brides with young children. Is Marty going to start hanging with Sally Anne then, rather than with her mother? I must know!
Ma says Sally Anne’s engagement is bothering Laura.
I think it be troublin’ Laura, too. She just not been herself the last few days. Moody an’ far off like. She lawyers was a quiet one, but now she seems all locked up in herself like. Bothers me, it does.”
Ma stopped and seemed to look at something a long way off. Then she pulled her attention back to the present.
Of course it’s bothering Laura! They’re both the same age, and Sally Anne’s life is finally staring while hers isn’t. Laura is actually the older of the two, by two months. Are there husking bees and things like that where Laura can meet guys? At the time, getting married would have effectively been the only way Laura could leave home and start her adult life. Is Ma making sure Laura has ample opportunities to meet marriageable young men? The only marriageable young man we’ve met so far is Jason, and he’s taken up with Sally Anne.
Why did Jason choose Sally Anne, and not Laura? Oke was quite determined to make sure we knew, earlier, that Sally Anne was the pretty one while Laura was plain. Her words, not mine! We’ve also been told that Sally Anne has happy, cheerful ways. Laura, in contrast, “always was a quiet one.” She doesn’t sparkle the way Sally Anne does. Poor Laura.
Marty, by the way, doesn’t spare a thought for Laura. Instead, conversation moves on. “We’s all gotta settle in an’ add to Sally Anne’s marriage things,” Ma says. No wonder Laura feels left out! Is anyone surprised? Is there a way she could board with someone in town and make a little money, say, doing cooking and cleaning or sewing or something? She could put it by for her own future household, and she might have a chance of meeting people, too.But no. Laura’s feeling troubled and “seems all locked up in herself like,” and that’s the end of that. Nothing more to be done. “We’s all gotta settle in.”
And then we get this:
“How be things a comin’ with the doc?” Ma asked, changing the subject and catching Marty completely off guard.
“What doc?” puzzled Marty.
“Why, the one Clark be a workin’ on to git to come to town. The one he be making’ all the trips fer an’ gettin’ all the neighbors to sign up fer. He’s most anxious like to git him here afore thet young’un of yourn makes his appearance.”
At Marty’s dumbfounded look, Ma finished lamely, “Hasn’t he been tellin’ ya?”
Marty shook her head.
“Hope I haven’t spilled the beans,” Ma said, “but ever’one else in the whole West knows ’bout it, seems to me. Thought you’d be knowin’, too. But then maybe he thought it best ya not be gettin’ yer hopes up. Might be ya jest not mention my big mouth to him, huh?” Ma Graham smiled a bit sheepishly, and Marty nodded her head, dumbly agreeing.
So that was it.
Clark, Clark, Clark.
Just how does everyone else in the whole west know about Clark’s doctor search anyway? Are they not all under house arrest like Marty? Look, if you are keeping a secret, you have to tell other people who are in on it that it is a secret. Seriously?
Marty, meanwhile, has to hide her tears. She’s touched. As annoyed I am with Clark for how he has gone about this, I get that. I’d probably have a similar reaction. He’s going through a lot of trouble for her, after all—a lot of expense. He cares about her not dying. (And again, this is part of why I think Ellen’s death had to be pregnancy related).
Anyway, Ma and Ben go home. January passes. And then there’s this weird passage:
Clark fretted about the lack of a cradle, and Marty assured him one wasn’t needed yet as she planned to take the wee one into her bed until he grew a bit. Clark was satisfied with that, saying that come better weather he’d get busy on a bigger bed for Missie and let the baby take over her crib.
Clark! You can make a cradle! You made a whole doll house full of furniture! Make a damn cradle!
Anyway, one day when Clark is out, Marty tells Missie all about the baby. She shows Missie the baby clothes she’s been sewing, and tells Missie the baby is sleeping in her belly. She puts Missie’s hand on her belly so that she can feel the baby move—and he obliges her and kicks.
Missie didn’t get it all, that was sure, but she could understand that Baby was coming and Mama was glad, and Baby would use the soft things and live in Mama’s bed. Her eyes took on a sparkle. She touched Marty timidly and repeated, “Mama’s ba-by.”
Marty pulled the little girl to her and laughed with joy. “Oh, Missie,” she said, “it’s gonna be so much fun.”
I strikes me that this whole situation is incredibly unfair to Missie. Marty is still planning to leave come spring. When that time comes, one of two things will happen. Either Missie will go east with Marty and the baby, losing the father she adores, or Clark will decide to keep Missie, when Marty and the baby leave Missie will lose both her new mother and the baby she was led to believe would be hers to share in.
When Clark returns, he has a rocking chair with him. He bought it in town. What is this strange magic? He is able to make wooden dollhouse cupboards with doors that open, but he can’t make a cradle. He can buy a rocking chair in town, but not a cradle. Why on earth?
Missie loves the rocking chair. Marty does too of course, and Clark jokes that he swore when Missie was little that if there was ever another baby in the house, he’d buy a rocking chair to calm it. They all take turns trying the rocking chair out. Missie is truly thrilled. Missie takes Clark over to Marty and touches Marty’s belly. “Ba-by fer Missie. Mama let Missie touch ‘im,” she says. Yep. this is seriously unfair to Missie. Poor kid.
I have a Patreon! Please support my writing!