Loretta remarks with maternal pride, “Carrie is such a pretty girl.”
Her husband laughs, agreeing, “Sure is...but then again, we're partial." He adds, "What do you think of Andrew?”
Loretta smiles at Philip's insinuation that she thought her daughter more beautiful than the other girls before answering his question. “Andrew? I think he’s a fine young man. Why?”
Philip tips his head to one side, his eyes fastened on the gay young couple, who were completely unaware they were the topic of discussion, “I don’t know if he realizes it, but he’s taken a real liking to our little girl.”
Somewhat started, Loretta remarks, “Oh." After a pause, she asks, "Do you mind?”
She looks at her husband almost anxiously.
Philip smiles at his wife and pats her hand on his arm, “Personally, I think they’d make a fine couple—but I’m keeping my nose out of it for now. If he comes calling I won’t discourage him. Do you mind?”
Loretta thinks for a minute, “The idea is just new...but no, not really. Andrew is a good, considerate young man. More importantly, he is a godly fellow.”
As the dance ends, Andrew bows to Carrie and she drops a shallow curtsy in return. He offers her his arm to leave the dance floor. Taking it, Carrie smiles, “Thank-you.”
Andrew grins broadly, “Thank-you for the dance. Are you having fun?”
Carrie is practically beaming, “Oh yes! I love dancing. Don’t tell him, but I’m a little nervous about dancing
Surprised, Andrew asks, “Why?”
A little sheepishly, Carrie whispers, “I’m afraid he’ll step on my dress!”
After a moments silence, Andrew throws back his head and laughs heartily.
On the other side of the room, by the refreshment table, stand two girls, Sophia Vale and LouEllen Smith.
Sophia turns to the younger girl, “Isn’t this so much fun? We ought to have dances more often, don’t you think, LouEllen?”
LouEllen sniffs, “Not if she comes…”
“Who?” Sophia wants to know, her face registering surprise at LouEllen's attitude. She was even more surprised by the answer, “That James girl.”
Sophia demands, “Why? What’s wrong with Carrie? She’s very sweet!”
LouEllen practically sneers, “You would think so, Sophia!”
Sophia's hurt is clear as LouEllen sweeps away, her head held high. Aaron, standing near the door, straightens his tie and moves forward. Standing behind Sohpia, he clears his throat a little apprehensively.
“Miss Vale?” His voice is soft.
Sophia spins around a mixture of emotions betrayed in her pretty face, “Aaron Burke! I heard you were out of town!”
Aaron nods, “I was—a little business. Would you care to dance?”
Sophia holds out her hand, trying to appear aloof, “Thank-you very much.”
A little smile twitches around Aaron's unusually somber mouth as he takes her hand to lead her to the dance floor. The musicians strike up a waltz.
After that waltz, which Carrie danced gracefully with Bartholomew, who managed to avoid trodding on the girl's dress, Carried headed for the refreshment table. LouEllen is standing there by the punch bowl.
As Carrie comes up, her cheeks flushed with excitement, she breathes, “Oh, LouEllen! I’ve been meaning to get to you all evening…your dress is so beautiful!”
LouEllen returns sarcastically, “Of course you have! You’ve been flirting with Andrew Burke all evening!”
Carrie gasps, as though stung by a wasp, “Why…why…no I haven’t!” She stammers in her shock.
LouEllen went on, “Before you showed up, that would have been me out there on the floor with Andrew three times in one evening! You’re trying to get your claws into him!”
Carrie tried to defend herself, “I am doing no such thing! Andrew is a very nice young man and he’s a friend of my family's.”
LouEllen's voice was cutting, “I bet.”
LouEllen turns and ‘accidentally’ bumps into Carrie, spilling punch all down the front of Carrie’s first fancy party dress. Carrie stands there in horror for a moment before rushing out of the building and bursting into tears. She slumps down by a wheel of the family's wagon, covered in humiliation, anger, and sticky punch.
Back inside, Philip is looking around. “Now where did Carrie get off to? I was just going to claim my dance.”
Loretta hurries over to him, “Philip! Mrs. Butler just told me she saw Carrie rush out of here as if something were the matter!”
They start to move toward the door when a wail stops them. A clamor of “Mrs. James!” “Mr. James!” “Dr. Harris!” “Come quick!” turns them about. They rush to the crowd. Four-year old Beatrice has fallen off a ladder and banged the back of her head. She is wailing with vigor.
Loretta croons, “Oh my dear!” as Philip bundles the little girl up into his arms, “Hush, little one…Papa’s here.”
Dr. Harris comes up with his bag. He kneels down and pushes her hair aside. He smiles, “It’s not too bad. Just a goose egg. Little lady, you have a tough head. Don't you go banging the back of your head into the
floor after this!”
Beatrice recovers enough to giggle a little at the doctor's playfully stern warning.
Within a few minutes, the James’ leave. Carrie, slumped down in the back of the wagon says nothing on the ride home.
Late the next morning, Andrew rumbles up into the James' yard seated atop the Burke's buckboard. In the side yard, Carrie is hanging some wash out—including her new dress. Hearing the wagon, Loretta steps out onto the porch.
Andrew calls cheerily and waves, “Good-morning, Carrie!” as he drives by. She ducks her head and turns her back on him, picks up the basket and walks off.
This unaccustomed behavior left Andrew rather hurt. He turns to the girls' mother, “What was that about?”
Loretta appears equally surprised, “I have no idea!”
Andrew stares at the closed door for a moment then shakes himself. “Uh, yes ma’am. I swung by to see if you’d like me to pick anything up for you while I was in town?”
Loretta thinks momentarily, “No. I don’t think I need anything. But thank-you for offering, Andrew. It is very kind of you.”
Andrew's eyes have wandered back to the door that Carrie has so determinedly shut. When he speaks, it's almost more to himself than to Mrs. James, “Not at all. I wonder...”
Loretta asks somewhat sharply, “What?”
The young man turns to face Mrs. James, “Did I offend her last night? I did laugh at her when she said she
was afraid Bart might step on her dress…”
Loretta's lips twitch at that. “I doubt that would do it, even though she was pretty proud of it. She was quite upset because someone—it wasn’t you, was it?—spilled some punch on it.”
Andrew shakes his head, “I didn’t spill punch on anyone last night. I didn’t even have any.”
Loretta starts to speak, “Well…”
“A deep subject.” The cheerful voice comes from around the corner of the house, followed quickly by a set of mischievous blue eyes and a laughing face.
Mrs. James and Andrew start and turn towards Caleb's intrusive person. Suddenly, Andrew laughs, “Well, I’ll be going. You sure there isn’t anything I can pick up for you?”
Loretta affirms, “Yes. Quite sure.”
As Andrew drives off, Caleb peers up at his mother, squinting at the sun, “Say, Mama, what were you talking about anyhow?”
Unable to resist her self, Loretta smiles down at him, “A deep subject.”
She turns away and goes into the house. Caleb, unaccustomed to such joking by his mother, stares after her wonderingly, and then rolls his eyes, shrugging as he wanders toward the barn.
Philip James is up in the hayloft making a repair to a rafter. His wife scrambles up the ladder and
stands next to him in the mow. She exudes indignation.
Philip lowers his hammer, asking, “What’s the matter, L’etta?”
Loretta says testily, “I know what was wrong with Carrie last night—and this morning too!”
Very interested now, Philip puts his tools down. His raised eyebrow is all the encouragement his wife needs.
She continues, “One of the girls, Carrie wouldn’t say who, essentially told her she was ‘horning in’ on Andrew, insulted her, and then purposely dumped punch down the front of her dress! Carrie feels bad about how she treated Andrew this morning but she says she is so mixed up and hurt that she doesn’t know what to do. I’m afraid that she won’t be able to look at him as ‘just a friend’ again…you know what girls are.”
Philip's smile isn't really amused, more wry, “Yes…having six sisters I do. Put some romantic notion in their minds about some handsome boy and they have a hard time keeping their head on straight.”
Picking up his hammer, he pounds in a nail. By the concentration on his face, it is clear that he is thinking.
“What do you think I should do?” he asks presently.
Loretta sighs, “I don’t know, but for some reason, I don’t think it would hurt to tell Andrew that she isn’t mad at him. I think that was the impression he got. I will leave that to your discretion. After all," here she smiles, "you understand men better than I do.”
Philip laughs and reaching out pulls one of the curls that frame Loretta's face.
The Burke men are sitting, or sprawling, in various attitudes on their front porch when Philip rides up. The evening is quiet, with a gentle wind tickling the hardy faces.
George greets his friend, “Good-evening, Philip! Didn’t expect to see you around here this evening.”
Philip acknowledges the greeting, then adds, “Actually, I came to talk to Andrew…about this morning.”
Andrew rises, slight confusion showing, “Oh…am I in trouble?”
Philips laughs briefly, shaking his head, “No. Carrie feels badly about how she behaved this morning, but once I explain, maybe you’ll understand.”
Relieved, but still confused, Andrew offers, “Well, have a seat!”
Philip accepts the proffered bench next to the lank youngster, “Thanks. Apparently, last night at the party, someone—I don’t know who and if I did, probably wouldn’t tell you—insinuated some not very nice things about Carrie and her friendship with the Burke boys and most particularly with you, Andrew. None of the accusations were true, but still, Carrie got her feeling extremely hurt and a ruined dress.”
There is a pause, then Andrew demands, “And so, she takes it out on me?”
Philip shakes his head slowly, “No…I don’t think that was what it was. My daughter is confused as how to handle it—you know, still being friends, yet without the appearance of…ahem…trying to ‘get her claws in you’.”
Andrew stands up and takes a turn about the porch…then stops in front of Philip. Something like light has dawned in his perplexed face.
“ ‘Claws’? So that’s it. I know who she’s talking about…LouEllen Smith. That girls’ been tryin’ to mess with my head for three years now. I didn’t realize it at first but once Pa wised me on up it I stopped payin’ her
George nods, “It figures. LouEllen always was a nasty little girl—but I shouldn’t say that.”
Andrew blurts, “Mr. James, would it help Carrie if I drop by rather infrequently? Or not at all?”
Rather surprised, Philip pauses before answering, “Just be normal. Continue to come by anytime you want.”
Andrew almost snorts, “Normal. That’s easier said than done, sir, when someone upsets ‘normal’ and starts rabbit trails in peoples heads.”
Philip smiles, “I know. But try. Carrie is embarrassed; just treat her with the dignity and respect you always have and she will get her feet back under her.”
“Yes, sir. I’m glad that I didn’t offend her in anyway…that--that’s what I was afraid of. I’ve been racking my brain all day to think of something that I did that would have miffed her and I couldn’t think of a single
Mr. James laughs and starts toward his horse, “She’s like her mother like that—it takes a lot to anger her. Even now, she’s not angry, just hurt.”
He swings into the saddle and "Good-night’s” chorus between the men.
The James family is on their way to church. Benjamin sits up front with his father, intently watching as his father drives. Caleb is sandwiched between his two younger sisters in the very back; he has a most ridiculous look on his face--something between pride and humiliation. However, no one is paying any attention to the little rascal. Loretta and her eldest sit next to one another on the first plank.
Loretta is speaking, “You’ll have to face him today, you know.”
Carrie nods, “I know. You sure Papa said he wasn’t mad at me?”
Mrs. James assures her daughter, “Yes. Papa thinks he understood—and that is why he hasn’t come around for the rest of this week.”
Carries sighs, “Worse than that though, I have to face her…”
The James rumble up before the church. As soon as they stop, Benjamin jumps out and ties the horses up, then lifts Beatrice and Lucy over the side. Caleb scrambles over the wheel of his own accord and promptly dashes off to speak to a friend. Mr. James helps his wife and Carrie down and then the family goes into the
Inside, Carrie suddenly leans over to her mother, "I must have left my Bible in the wagon! I’ll go get it.”
Loretta whispers back, “Very well. You sure you don’t want to send one of the boys for it?”
Carrie shakes her head, “I’ll get it.”
As she exits, the Smiths come in. LouEllen pointly ignores Carries. Carrie straightens her shoulders resolutely and continues on her way.
The Burkes are arriving as Carrie reaches the wagon. She glances up and then quickly down before climbing onto the wagon wheel. Her Bible is laying on the floor-boards. Quickly, she picks it up and slips down. Carrie brushes a curl that pushes out from under her bonnet into her eyes. It springs back out, so she stops to fix it more permanently.
As she looks across the wagon, she sees Andrew lift Julian out. The young boys feet fly through the air, accompanied by a laugh. As soon as his feet hit the ground, he runs off to catch up with his father. Andrew straightens and their eyes meet. Carrie gives him a tiny, but real, smile. Relieved, Andrew flashes a grin in response. As Carrie hurries off, Aaron jabs his brother in the ribs with his elbow.
Andrew looks over at his brother and the two laugh as they head into the church, Aaron's arm draped over his brother's shoulders.