Summary: “I-I’ve come to ask you for your daughter’s hand, Sir.”
Rated: K+ (1,244 words)
Written in response to the February 15th 2016 pinecone challenge. It flat out refused to remain under 500 words. AU.
“I once had a girl,” my mouth twisted into a wry smile, “or should I say she once had me.” Raising my half-empty glass, I took a sip of warm brandy before continuing. “Her name was Charlotte Jennings and she was my world. I have never seen a more beautiful, a more perfect woman than Charlotte.”
As her name left my lips, an image of the black-haired, blue-eyed beauty appeared at the forefront of my mind. Yes, she had been lovely, but it was her indefatigable spirit that had drawn me to her more than anything. The youngest daughter of a prominent Boston lawyer, she had studied abroad at the finest schools; she had been refined, cultured, and far out of my league. But for some reason, none of that had seemed to matter to her. Though she had had more suitors than any girl could have wished for, in the end she had chosen me—a poor, young sailor who had had nothing to offer her except for high hopes and dreams. “She was everything I ever wanted in a woman: graceful, poised, level-headed, but above all she was kind. Though she had been born into wealth, she never saw herself above any other human being; no beggar she passed on the street was left empty-handed, no homeless child was left feeling unloved.” Tears blurred my vision as the grief came upon me again. Had it truly been sixteen years since her passing? “She…she was a true lady.”
For a moment I fell silent, recalling the day I had watched as they placed my beloved wife in the ground beside the grave of our son who had not lived to see his majority. All of creation had felt her passing, and the clouds had wept with me. Life had never been the same again.
A sharp popping noise from the fireplace pulled me from my reverie and I sniffed. “But I don’t think you came to listen to a foolish old man recount his memories of days long past,” I glanced shrewdly at the young man who sat in the chair across from me.
He shifted awkwardly in his seat as his cheeks turned a brilliant red. He couldn’t even bring himself to lift his head; instead, he focused his attention on his tightly clasped hands. “N-no, sir,” he stuttered and it took all of my willpower not to laugh aloud. That was one thing I liked about the boy: at least he was honest.
“Relax, boy, I won’t bite your head off!” I barked, and was more than a little amused when he jerked in his seat.
It was never a bad thing to keep young people on their toes.
Summoning up the courage to do so, he raised his dark eyes and looked at me. “I-I’ve come to ask you for your daughter’s hand, sir.”
Well, I knew that. Elizabeth had grown into a great beauty with a heart of gold, and she was just as tempting as a perfectly ripened peach. The pickers are finally here, had been my first thought when Mrs. O’Brien—my housekeeper—had herded him into my parlor, his nerves as taut as a hawser. “Just her hand or would you like the rest of her as well?” I asked.
The man’s leg began to bounce slightly. “Well, of course I want all of her, sir!” he exclaimed, completely missing the humor of the situation.
I took another sip of alcohol and then began slowly rotating the glass, watching in fascination as the firelight reflected off of the amber liquid. “Why?”
The grandfather clock in the hall struck eight. “W-what?”
Setting the container down on a nearby coffee table, I leaned forward—steepling my fingers as I looked at my guest. “I mean, why do you want to marry Elizabeth?”
For a moment he was speechless; of all the questions I could have asked him, apparently this was one that had never entered his thoughts. “B-because I love her, sir.”
“Ah…and why do you love her?”
He looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted another head. “Well…s-sir, I’ve never quite met a girl like Eliz—I mean, Miss Stoddard. S-she’s good, and kind…and I-I don’t know, I just know that I love her,” he stood agitatedly and began pacing back and forth before me. Dragging a hand through his dark hair, he drew in a deep breath and glanced at me, coming to a halt. “I’ve never been in love before, sir, but your daughter…it’s as if our hearts speak the same language. I-I somehow feel like I’ve known her all of my life, if that makes any sense,” he shrugged helplessly.
“Sit down, boy,” I said, pulling my pipe from my jacket pocket and lighting it. Reluctantly, he did as I bade and his knee once again began to bounce. I took a few puffs, enjoying the sharp taste of the tobacco. “Can you afford to take care of a wife?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. I’m not rich by any means, but I work hard and I’ve got enough money saved up to offer her a comfortable life. It won’t be luxurious, but I can put food on the table and from time to time buy her some pretty things,” he said solemnly.
“I know my daughter, son, and she’d marry you even if that meant she’d have to spend the rest of her life on the streets,” I said, and I saw the light of hope in the youth’s brown eyes. I had always known this day would come, and now that it had…well I couldn’t see myself giving Elizabeth away to a better man—even though deep in my heart I didn’t want to lose her to anyone. “All right, Benjamin, you have my blessing.”
He stood, nearly stumbling over his own feet in his excitement, and thrust out a hand to me. I rose and took it, shaking it firmly. “Oh, thank you, Captain Stoddard, sir!”
“Now, you better be good to her, because if you aren’t, I’ll blast you right out of the water, you hear?”
He heard me all right, but I could see that there was nothing I could say to dampen his happiness. “You can count on me, sir,” he replied, releasing my hand. “Can I…can I see her tonight, sir?”
I frowned at his eagerness, and said gruffly, “It’s too late for that.” His smile dimmed and I almost gave in and called for my daughter, but I selfishly wanted one more night to call her my own, so I stood by my refusal. “Come back in the morning, around nine o’clock, and you may speak with Elizabeth.”
The grin returned and he nodded. “I’ll see you in the morning then,” he said, backing out of the room without watching where he was going. To my amusement, he ran into one of the ottomans and ended up in a crumpled heap on the floor. Before I could even think to give him a hand up, he scrambled to his feet, face flushing scarlet, smile still in place. “Goodnight sir, and thank you again!”
The boy made it out of the house without another mishap and I heard him let out an earsplitting whoop of utter joy. I shook my head. Putting out my pipe, I headed towards the stairs, intent on spending what little time I had left with my only living child. “Young people.”
~ Finis ~
Author Note: If the title and some of the contents of this story seem vaguely familiar, it’s because this was heavily inspired by the scene in the 1965 film Shenandoah, where Sam asks Mr. Anderson’s permission to marry Jennie. If you haven’t seen Shenandoah and are a fan of Jimmy Stewart, I highly recommend it. 🙂
Also, I know this isn’t anything like the episode “Elizabeth, My Love”; this is kind of how I imagined it would have been if Abel hadn’t been made to retire before Ben asked for Elizabeth’s hand in marriage. Ben is rather OOC too, but all guys are a bit nervous when asking such a question of their prospective father-in-law. 😉
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Tags: Abel Stoddard, Ben Cartwright, Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright
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