Western Short Story
The Wedding of Priscilla Kimball
Rich Ritter


Beyond the Western

Priscilla Kimball—brown pigtails bouncing in the Saturday morning sun, white cotton dress swirling wrinkled across graceful legs, slender arms swinging in exuberant tempo—skipped urgently along the dusty edge of East Temple Street. Now three months beyond the milestone of her fourteenth birthday and full of youthful vigor, she weaved skillfully between muscled working men unloading wood-staved-iron-ringed barrels from an ox-drawn wagon and danced by the eleven neatly-dressed children of a strolling family. At one point she pranced athletically around a gnarled hitching post to avoid a group of quarrelling men and then sprinted behind a row of three sturdy farm horses. As she passed the last horse and angled back toward one of the brick buildings lining the street, she ran her delicate fingers along the animal’s flank and felt the coolness of fresh sweat. Without breaking the pace of her cadenced skipping, she sniffed the pungent sweat before wiping her hand in the billowing folds of the white dress. The horse, reacting to the unexpected caress, shook its head and whinnied. Priscilla glanced back at the calling sound before losing sight of her path and blundering headlong into the arms of James Kimball, her older sibling by five years.

James caught Priscilla in his sinewy arms, hardened by years of obedient work and bronzed by the sun to the boundary of his rolled-up sleeves. “Priscilla. Where are you off to? You were supposed to meet father and mother at the general store an hour ago. Now I find you here in the street skipping along as if nothing mattered in the world.”

Priscilla loved James above all her brothers and sisters, but also knew of his relentless loyalty to mother and father. She had not forgotten the appointment. She had merely chosen to ignore it for a while. “I was on my way to the store now. This is why I was skipping. I did not want to be tardy beyond what father and mother could tolerate.”

James released his grip. He loved Priscilla above all his brothers and sisters, but also knew of her cleverness with words. “Then I suppose, since you are on the way to the store right now, it would not matter if I accompanied you to your intended destination.”

Priscilla smiled mischievously, a smile James had witnessed many times before. “You may accompany me, my brother, but I fear your presence at my side may slow me down. I was moving quite fast before you stopped me, and now I am not moving at all.”

James removed his wide-brimmed hat and shook a spray of sweat across the ground. “I do not believe speed is the issue at this point. I think your safe arrival at the general store is the reason I should walk with you. I would not want a horse to distract you again and make you even later.”

Priscilla grasped James’s left hand and tugged. “Then let us get moving my beloved brother. I do not want you to make me any later than I already am.”

James placed the wide-brimmed hat on his head and stepped off briskly to keep pace. “There are times, my little sister, when you are a lot of trouble. It makes me wonder why I care for you so much.”

Priscilla immediately shot back, “No more trouble than you yourself, big brother.”

Priscilla and James resumed the serpentine path through erratic crowds of people congregated beneath canvas awnings and haphazard piles of loose farm implements and materials and cascading boxes of freshly picked apples and rolling wagons and more sweat-glistened farm horses and another family with children and a second throng of bickering finger-pointing farmers and an unpleasant mongrel of a dog tied up to one of the hitching posts and nipping at anyone who got close enough to nip at until they arrived at the key-stoned brick entry and display window arches of the two-story general store. They stopped before entering to gaze up at the wrought iron letters pegged into the joints of the brick fascia above the entry:

Kimball and Smith Emporium & General Store

Established Salt Lake City 1862

James squeezed Priscilla’s little hand. “It should not take that long to read the name of the store, little sister, especially when you have read it many times before. You must go in and speak with father and mother. You can delay no longer.”

Priscilla released her brother’s hand. “Thank you, big brother. Will you accompany me into the store? I would appreciate your company.”

James balked at the idea. “I would like to, little sister, but I must return to work before both of us are in trouble. I only came here to find you and deliver you to father and mother at the general store. I must return to my job and leave you alone to your task.”

Priscilla felt her resolve flag a bit. “I…I understand James…” then tried to conceal it, “…then on your way, and thank you for delivering me safely to my destination. I may never have arrived without your help.”

James nodded once and shoved both hands into pants pockets. “I’m sorry—”

Priscilla held up a little hand with the palm facing her brother’s lips in the manner she had learned by observing her mother. “No need to say anything more. Just go. I do understand.”

James turned slowly and walked away. Priscilla watched his sweat-stained back vanish around a corner before climbing up the stone steps to the wide landing and opening the massive doorway at the main entry and skipping blithely into the Kimball & Smith Emporium and General Store.

♦ ♦ ♦

A man of gentle temperament and enormous patience, Thaddeus Haglund waited. A man of straightforward integrity, Thaddeus Haglund did not judge the reason for waiting. A man of great personal wealth obtained through vision and honest hard work, Thaddeus Haglund now possessed the financial resources to achieve the purpose of waiting. A man of profound religious beliefs and now only a few months from the age of thirty, Thaddeus Haglund had decided to take a second wife.

Priscilla’s mother twisted her hands together as if scrubbing with unseen soap and paced behind the wood chair now occupied by respected Salt Lake City banker and entrepreneur Thaddeus Haglund. “I really do not understand what has delayed my daughter, Mr. Haglund. I am certain she knew of the location and time of our meeting. I reminded her this morning during breakfast.”

Thaddeus Haglund rested his plumpish hands on the top of a simple wood cane with a tastefully decorated brass handle. “Do not worry, Mrs. Kimball. Your daughter is young and cannot be expected to demonstrate the maturity of an experienced woman such as yourself. I shall simply wait until she arrives. I know she will arrive before too long.”

Priscilla’s father maintained a stoic expression and offered no discernible indication of the agitation twisting his stomach. “Nonetheless, Mr. Haglund, it is not right for her to be late. I expected better of her. I shall certainly have words with her later.”

Thaddeus Haglund hunched over his walking cane and peered intently at the main entry door to the emporium and general store. His countenance brightened when the door swung open, but quickly dimmed when a bearded wrangler stumbled in. “I do not think that will be necessary, Mr. Kimball. It would not be my desire to intentionally create any ill will between me and your daughter over such a tiny lapse of responsibility. In my opinion, we should ignore the clock, wait patiently, and strive to conduct a pleasant meeting when she does arrive. I do not imagine we shall wait much longer.”

One of the local wives approached Priscilla’s mother with a nearly empty bolt of sky-blue fabric with tiny white dots. “Good morning Mrs. Kimball. How much for this fabric?”

Mrs. Kimball, still washing her hands with imaginary soap and water, glanced at the fabric. “That is a remnant, Mrs. Smith. As such, I would be willing to sell it to you for—”

The entry door swung open again, and Priscilla skipped into the general store. The bearded wrangler, who had not managed to get beyond a row of boots displayed just to the right of the entry, closed the door behind her. She did not stop skipping until she arrived at a spot approximately one skip in front of Thaddeus Haglund’s wood and brass cane. She waited for her father to begin the conversation, but when he remained silent she said, “Sorry I’m late, but I lost track of the time when I stopped to admire a horse. I do love horses.”

Thaddeus leaned back in his chair and smiled. “Perfectly understandable, my dear. However, I do not believe admiration of horses is a proper avocation for my future wife.”

Priscilla clasped her dainty hands behind her back and pressed her toes together. “And who might that be?”

Priscilla’s father finally joined the conversation. “Priscilla, this is Mr. Thaddeus Haglund. You have met him at church several times during the last few months. Your mother and I have been talking to Mr. Haglund at great length concerning your future, and we are pleased to say he has graciously agreed to take you as his wife.”

Priscilla frowned. “But Mr. Haglund already has a wife, and she has a wart on her cheek.”

Priscilla’s mother took her turn. “Yes, we know dear. Mr. Haglund has decided it is time for him to take a second wife. Father and I could not be more pleased that he has chosen you for this sacred duty. Mr. Haglund is highly respected in the community, a businessman of great means, and a pillar of the church. He will offer you the blessing of a good life.”

Priscilla protested, “But I hardly know Mr. Haglund.”

Priscilla’s father replied, “You will know Mr. Haglund through holy marriage, Priscilla. This is a wonderful opportunity for you and all of our family. But there is no reason to belabor a decision already made. We have scheduled the wedding for one month from today, and there is much to do in preparation.”

Thaddeus Haglund stood, and for the first time Priscilla observed that he was not a man of much physical prowess. “Yes, one month from now suits me fine, Mr. and Mrs. Kimball. It will allow sufficient time to prepare my household for Priscilla’s arrival. After, of course, our trip to the state of New York, which I promise will be memorable.”

Priscilla’s mother exclaimed joyfully, “And it will allow me sufficient time to sew a wedding dress for Priscilla. I will select the fabric today and begin the work tonight.”

Priscilla nearly asked a foolish question about New York, but held her tongue because the question served no purpose other than to create needless turmoil in the family.

♦ ♦ ♦

A glorious morning of blue skies and gentle breezes had graced the marriage of Priscilla Kimball to Thaddeus Haglund. The groom had presented himself surprisingly dapper in a tailored pinstripe suit accentuating an illusion of broader shoulders and slenderer waist. The bride wore a wedding gown of purest white (her mother had fussed over it every night during the preceding month). Several of the attendees commented that the gown’s understated elegance gave Priscilla the appearance of a woman nearing the age of twenty. Because of Thaddeus Haglund’s standing as an important businessman in Salt Lake City, many of the community’s leading families attended the ceremony. And now that the nuptials had successfully concluded and the couple had become forevermore Mr. and Mrs. Thaddeus Haglund, many of the same families attended the outdoor reception to celebrate the blessed day.

The couple stood side-by-side, near a table covered in white table cloths and piled with food and drink and flowers, to greet the long queue of well-wishers. A string quartet performed Mozart somewhere by a thicket of sycamore trees, the lilting string notes mixing pleasantly with the sound of quavering leaves. After shaking hundreds of hands and hugging dozens of friends, a small break in the line allowed the opportunity for Thaddeus to utter the first informal words to his new bride. “I trust you have enjoyed the day, Priscilla?”

Priscilla rubbed her nose on the gown’s embroidered sleeve. “I believe I have, Mr. Haglund, but I really have no previous experience to compare it to.”

Thaddeus reached over and squeezed her little hand. “Quite understandable, my dear. You do not have the advantage of a previous marriage like I do. Completely understandable.” He released Priscilla’s hand to shake another and then hugged a distant relative who had recently borrowed money from the bank. “I have been thinking about our conversation at the general store, particularly what I said to you about horses.”

Priscilla adjusted her veil and hugged Thaddeus’s distant relative. She did not remember the discussion of horses at the general store. “Did we talk about horses? I do not remember.”

“Yes we did, and I now regret what I said to you.”

Priscilla still could not remember any talk of horses. “And what did you say to me that you now regret, Mr. Haglund?”

“I told you I did not think the admiration of horses was proper for my future wife. Do you remember now?”

Sunlight flashed across Priscilla’s face and she squinted. “I apologize, Mr. Haglund, but I still do not remember the conversation of horses.” A local rancher wearing recently washed clothes smelling only slightly of manure, and who almost never travelled to town unless absolutely necessary to purchase supplies, stopped in front of Priscilla and stretched out his arms to offer a heartfelt embrace. Priscilla bent slightly to accept the hug.

Thaddeus bowed to shake the next hand. “Well, I have thought much about my remarks, and now that we are married I have experienced a change of heart in regard to your love of horses.”

“And what change of heart are you speaking of, Mr. Haglund?”

“I have decided to honor you with a special wedding gift, something I believe you will like very much. I would like to show it to you when this seemingly endless line of people has ended, and I see, with the exception of a few latecomers, the end is finally near.”

Priscilla held a petite bouquet of flowers bound with a white ribbon up to her nose and sniffed the subtle fragrance. The pungent smell of impending rain tainted the nectar’s perfume. She noted the grayish cumulus clouds gathering from the southwest. “I have bought you no gift, Mr. Haglund. Was I supposed to?”

“No, no, my dear. Do not worry about it. My gift is merely a demonstration of the deep love I hope to nurture with you in the coming years, and a sign of repentance for my thoughtless words when we met at the emporium.”

The end of the line finally arrived in the person of forty-seven-year-old Wilhelmina Scott, a local seamstress who had, scandalously, never married. She spoke to Thaddeus before addressing Priscilla. “Congratulations, Mr. Haglund. I wish you well in the coming years. And you, my little princess, are a lovely bride. I wish you prosperity and happiness in your new life. And please do not hesitate to come by the store if you should need any sewing, or even if you just wish to share a cup of tea.”

Priscilla nodded and responded politely, if a little impatiently, “Thank you Miss Scott. I may certainly take you up on the offer of a cup of tea.” And then spoke quickly to Thaddeus. “May we go see the gift now? The line is finished.”

Thaddeus chuckled. “Certainly, my ‘little princess.’ I think it’s a wonderful idea to take a small break from the scores of people who have attended the reception to wish us well.” He clasped her tiny hand. “This way to see the gift. It is only a few minutes’ walk from here.” A muffled rumble of thunder echoed off the mountains to the east, and the morning breeze freshened as he led her around the lavish reception table and past the string quartet near the rustling sycamore trees.

Priscilla squeezed Thaddeus’s hand. “Why didn’t you just bring the gift to the reception? You could have given it to me there.”

Thaddeus chuckled again. “You will see.”

Thaddeus and Priscilla crossed a broad sun-scorched lawn and then a patch of raw earth speckled with chuckholes until they arrived at the rear of a heavy-timbered-red-painted barn where one of the local blacksmiths worked. Thaddeus quickened his pace and pulled Priscilla around the corner to a small corral built against the side of the barn. A beautiful chestnut-colored horse raised its distinctive head and whinnied. Thaddeus lifted Priscilla up until she stood on the lower fence rail to allow her to see the horse clearly. “This is my wedding gift to you, Priscilla. It is an Arabian horse purchased from a respected stable in New York and shipped by train to Salt Lake City just this week. This is an intelligent animal of even temperament, and it possesses both great speed and endurance. The Arabian horse was originally bred by the nomadic peoples of Arabia for the desert; he should feel quite at home here in Salt Lake City.” Thaddeus waited for a response, but Priscilla did not say a word. He tried to prompt a response. “I hope you like it.”

Priscilla tilted her head enough to reveal the rivulet of a fresh tear on her tender cheek. “What’s its name?”

Thaddeus pressed his shoulder against one of the corral posts. “It has no name that I am aware of. The naming of this magnificent animal is up to you, my dear.”

Priscilla scrunched her face in thought. She had actually considered several horse names in the past, but had never imagined she would actually possess her own horse. “I will name him Ezekiel, after the prophet of the Old Testament.”

This surprised Thaddeus. “An awfully serious name. Do you not wish to name him something of a lighter attribute?”

Priscilla persisted. “No. Ezekiel fits him, and this shall be his name. Can I ride him?”

This also surprised Thaddeus. “But Priscilla, you are wearing a wedding dress. I don’t think now is the time.”

“Then I would like to at least sit on Ezekiel before we return to the reception. Do you have a saddle and halter?”

Thaddeus could see that his new bride had no intention of relenting. “Yes, I have a saddle. I will talk to the blacksmith, and he will prepare…Ezekiel…to allow you to sit on him.” Thaddeus disappeared into the barn. He returned a few minutes later with the blacksmith who carried an English riding saddle and matching bridle. The blacksmith brushed Ezekiel’s back then saddled and bridled the animal. When he had finished the task, he nodded to Thaddeus and sauntered back to the barn. Thaddeus opened the narrow corral gate and gestured with an open hand. “Your mount awaits, my lady.”

Priscilla skipped into the corral, the hem of the white dress catching on the bottom of the splintered gate post, and hopped to Ezekiel’s side. “Help me up, please.”

“Do you want me to hold your flowers?”

“No. I want to keep the flowers. They smell nice.”

Thaddeus grasped Priscilla around her youthful waist and lifted her up until her foot reached the metal stirrup. She flung her leg over the black saddle and the folds of the wedding dress cascaded across Ezekiel’s muscular shoulders and rump. Priscilla raised the flowers to her nose and sniffed. Thaddeus waited briefly before speaking. “Are you ready to dismount? It looks like a storm might be coming in. I’m sure Ezekiel would like to retire to the shelter of the barn.”

Priscilla lowered the flowers. “I would like to sit a little longer. You may return to the reception if you are worried about rain. I will join you in a few moments.”

“But…I’m not sure it is a good idea to leave you here sitting on…Ezekiel.”

“Just awhile longer. Do not worry, Mr. Haglund. I will join you shortly.”

Thaddeus lifted the reins up to Priscilla’s eager hand. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for you to enjoy your gift a few minutes more. Do you like it?”

“Yes, I love your gift. I will never forget this special day.”

“Alright my dear. I shall meet you at the reception shortly. I just felt a sprinkle of rain on my hand. The ladies may require some assistance moving the food indoors. You won’t be long then?”

“No, Mr. Haglund. I won’t be long.” Priscilla smiled broadly.

“Good. I shall see you in a few minutes. Be careful not to soil your wedding dress. Your mother worked very hard sewing it for your special day.”

“I won’t.”

Reluctantly, Thaddeus Haglund walked out of the corral, leaving his young bride sitting atop the Arabian horse recently named Ezekiel. He did not care for the name. He had expected something different, but there was no way to reverse the decision now.

Priscilla watched Thaddeus stroll around the corner of the barn. The distant sky flashed with jagged lightning above the sycamore trees and light rain moistened the sleeves of her wedding dress. She waited five minutes before coaxing Ezekiel over to the gate. She lifted the loop of rope that secured it and rode out of the corral. When she had reached the street in front of the barn, she pulled Ezekiel left and nudged him into a trotting gait. At the boundary of Salt Lake City, with the thunderstorm spreading quickly across the town and her little hand still clutching the flowers, she kicked Ezekiel into a full gallop and headed north.