Orchids in the Snow
By Rosa Lee Lloyd
News of the wedding scurried around the village like a rollicking breeze. McFarland had explained to Jewel before their departure, that everyone should know about the event and be included in the preparations for the reception. That was the way they lived in Bristol. They enjoyed each other’s happiness and shared each other’s sorrows.
Gifts of skins of bear, wolf, and seal, and treasured bits of gold and rock came from Eskimos, Indians, Aleuts, and white people. A hunter from the tundra brought antlers that were too wide to be brought inside, so Sam fastened them to the top of the porch.
“They can almost see them from the landing strip,” Marie said, as she and Sharry watched Sam. “Jewel and Daddy will be married tomorrow. They should be back the next day. Hi, Mama Sue and Uncle Herman, look at the antlers. Aren’t they the grandest ever? He must have been king of the herd!”
Susan and Herman were walking up the path. They smiled and nodded.
“The grandest!” Herman repeated.
Each day the walk over from the house next door was more difficult for Herman, but he always made the effort to come. He enjoyed the music and gaiety and long talks with Sam about Alaska. Today Susan was carrying a package as though it was something precious.
“This is for Jewel,” she said to Sharry and Marie, as they followed her inside. “We must work quickly to be ready for the reception.”
“Trust Mama Sue,” Marie said, kissing Susan’s cheek as she opened the package, displaying a large, velvety white doeskin.
“Jewel’s dress,” Susan said. “McFarland will want her dressed this way. I have one more I am saving for Swenson’s bride – if he marries in Bristol. This is the only place I know where it is appreciated.”
“How lovely!” Sharry exclaimed. “I’m sure Aunt Jewel will appreciate it.”
“We’ll make it princess style,” Susan told them. “You girls can sew seams while I bead it. Each seam must be done by hand, just so. Come, let’s get busy.”
Susan spread the skin on the dining-room table and cut the leather with a razor blade. She showed Sharry and Marie how every stitch must be done exactly right so they would hold. It was a tedious job, but the girls were happy doing it.
Everyone was up at six o’clock on the morning of the reception, to meet McFarland’s plane. He had radioed that they would arrive about seven o’clock.
Marie drove sled, and even Herman, bundled up in a big fur parka, went to the airstrip to meet them. Many of the villagers were there, although no one knew who had told them what time the plane would arrive.
McFarland, his face beaming happiness, walked down the stair-lift first, then reached for Jewel, who was so rosy beautiful she seemed to light up the turquoise darkness.
A little Eskimo boy, not over six years old, pushed his way through the crowd with a white husky puppy for Jewel. She accepted it smilingly, her hand resting a moment on its head.
Excitement was in the air. Everyone laughed and talked until McFarland finally persuaded the villagers to go home until time for the wedding reception.
Jewel stood in front of the fireplace cuddling the puppy, but her eyes were troubled.
“It’s his special prize puppy,” she protested to McFarland. “He told me so. How can I take a little boy’s puppy away from him? I must give it back to Joey.”
McFarland’s eyes sobered as he looked down at her.
“No,” he said, “you shouldn’t give it back to him. Don’t you realize it made him feel like a king to give it to you? We can pay him back in a dozen ways, Jewel, but I wouldn’t let you refuse that gift for an ocean full of salmon!”
“McFarland is right, Jewel,” Herman offered gently. “Who was the poet who said that the only things we ever keep are the things we give away? That’s the way it will be with Joey. Every time he sees you with that puppy he’ll get a happy feeling all over again.”
Jewel was silent as she cuddled the white, furry puppy. Sharry, watching her, was lonely for little Nuzzle. She remembered how he had chosen her for his very own the first time he had seen her.
“What will you name him, Aunt Jewel?” she questioned.
Jewel shook her head. “I’ll have to think about it,” she said.
“He’s a bouncy little guy,” McFarland said. “Look at that happy little face. He seems full of chuckles.”
Jewel’s face was a sunburst. “That’s it!” she laughed. “We’ll name him Chuckles. That just suits him, the cute little thing.”
“The cute little thing needs a bath,” Susan said in her practical way. “There will be enough hot water for him after we have all had our showers and shampooed our hair. This is a big day – we must get busy before anyone comes. Time goes so fast.”
Buckets of snow had been melted the night before for baths and shampoos. Susan dropped some blackberry juice into the rinse water for her hair.
“Won’t it be sticky?” Sharry questioned.
“I don’t use that much,” Susan answered. “I’ve kept my hair black this way.”
“I wish I had some magic that would cure my freckles,” Marie pouted.
“We love your freckles,” Jewel said. “They are little dabs of pure gold. You wouldn’t be you without them.”
McFarland brought out a white shirt and tie for Sam to wear. “I only use these when I’m in the city,” he said. “But the girls have made this a big show so we’ll ride along, too. I heard that all the villagers are wearing bright woolen scarfs. Seems that Susan has been around.”
After the showers and the shampoos, Susan scrubbed little Chuckles until he was a white furry ball.
Then McFarland looked at his wrist watch.
“Well, Sam, we’ll just have time to dress and eat a bite before we meet the plane bringing some special guests.”
Sam stood up and put the book he had been reading on the table. He stretched his arms above his head lazily.
“I’ve had a good rest up here,” he said. “It’s been a real vacation for us. I’m sorry we have to take the regular plane home during the reception. But I’m due back at school tomorrow!”
“So am I!” Marie said suddenly. “But I’m not going. I want to help Mama Sue get ready for Swen!”
Jewel’s eyes were startled. She had thought that Marie would be with Sharry in Fairbanks. Sharry did not want Jewel to worry about her. Nothing must shadow her happiness today.
McFarland, standing with his back to the fireplace, looked at Marie quizzically. Sharry wondered if he knew why she was really staying longer. His heavy brows puckered together, thoughtfully. He didn’t want Marie to be hurt. And yet, he believed in going after what you wanted in life.
“What time does your plane leave, Sharry?” Jewel asked. Her voice was strained.
‘Seven o’clock,” she answered. “Sam says we’ll make good connections in Anchorage. We’ll be home by midnight.”
“We should be getting ready,” Marie said. “I’ll go home with Susan and dress there.”
After Sam and McFarland left, Sharry followed Jewel into the bedroom.
“It won’t take us long,” she said. “First I’ll comb your hair and you can comb mine. Aren’t those white mukluks Susan made for you too cute for words!”
Sharry could see the snow-packed roadway from the bedroom window as she stood at the dressing table combing Jewel’s hair into wavy swirls around her head.
“Your veil will fit perfectly with your hair this way,” she said.
At that moment she caught sight of the dog-sled coming up the snowy road. Sam was on the back rudders driving. His head was tipped back, and he was laughing as though it was great sport. She had not known Sam could drive sled. He must have learned while he was out alone when the girls were busy sewing.
“Who are those three men?” Jewel asked.
“One of them is Bishop Harrison,” Sharry answered. She didn’t mention a big square box McFarland carried in his arms. She was so curious to know what was inside she could hardly wait until the reception, only a half-hour away.
Everyone was ready by twelve o’clock. Even little Chuckles.
Marie and Susan came into the bedroom as Sharry adjusted Jewel’s veil on her shining hair.
“Beautiful!” Marie said. “The prettiest bride in the Arctic. And look at us! Won’t Daddy be proud. He’s waiting, Jewel. You’ll love to meet Bishop Harrison. I like his voice. It melts through you like warm honey.”
“Oh, you!” Susan laughed. “Marie says everything in a fancy way. Bishop Harrison is a fine, sincere man.”
“Listen!” Marie tipped her head. “Hear that music! That’s a surprise for you, Jewel.”
The music rose soft and sweet like a bird call. Jewel wet her lips and a little pulse throbbed in her throat. Sharry hoped she wouldn’t cry.
“My Dad had those musicians come from Anchorage. One plays a violin and the other a viola. Aren’t they perfect together? He wanted the very sweetest for you.”
‘He thinks – of everything,” Jewel murmured in a low voice.
“There!” Sharry said as she smoothed a little wave under Jewel’s veil. “Perfect.”
“Like a white angel,” Susan said softly.
“Come on, angel,” Marie called, opening the door. “They’re playing the bride song!”
Sam was at the door. Jewel put her hand on his arm and they walked together to the fireplace where McFarland was waiting. Sharry had never seen him dressed in a white shirt and black tie before. He looked very handsome. He handed Jewel a huge, tissue-wrapped package. There was a breathless silence as she untied the ribbon and removed the paper from an exquisite cluster of the most beautiful orchids Sharry had ever seen – white, pink, and gold. Orchids for Aunt Jewel!
Sharry bent her head. A little sob broke in her throat, as she remembered what Rachel Jensen had told her about the kind of woman who can find orchids in the snow. Dear, capable, wonderful Aunt Jewel was that kind of woman. She had earned those orchids – she was worthy of every one of them, and McFarland knew it. Love and appreciation were glowing in his dark eyes as he looked at her, they were in his deep voice as he greeted the guests and introduced them to Jewel.
Sharry turned her head to met Sam’s searching eyes. He must be remembering their own wedding last June, she thought. Her heart reached out to him, loving him, wanting to help him. Sam smiled, but his eyes were strangely troubled as they clung to hers.
After the bride song, the music was gay and informal. A young native boy appeared with a mouth-organ and McFarland had him play it.
“This is the kind of wedding where bridesmaids do double duty,” Marie told her, laughing. “Now we’re the serving maids. Look at the food coming in!”
Villagers appeared with great round platters loaded with hot bread and salmon cooked every way imaginable. Susan had brought a large roast of reindeer and a steaming kettle of beans. Hot ginger punch was served from a tin bowl as big as a tub.
“Plenty of tin in Alaska,” Sam whispered to Sharry. “Looks as if they used a good share of it for that bowl!”
Everyone talked and ate and stayed on and on. They had expected a party and they meant to enjoy it.
McFarland basked in their approval. This was his land, these were his people, and he wanted them to be happy.
It was soon time for Sharry to change her clothes for the trip home. Marie went to the bedroom with her. They were both silent as Sharry dressed in her long, woolen trousers and heavy sweater.
“I’ll miss you, Marie,” she said.
“Don’t say goodbye,” Marie answered. “We’ll see each other often, no matter what the distance is. Long rides don’t mean a thing in Alaska. We don’t let storm or darkness or anything else keep us from going where we want to go. We take everything in a big stride.”
“I know,” Sharry said. “I’m beginning to realize that. I have learned a lot, Marie.”
Marie’s eyes were blue candles in her freckled face.
“I think you’re a real pal,” she said. “You can stride along with the best of them. Now, we better get going. I’ll drive you and Sam to he plane.”
They slipped out the back way as they didn’t want to interrupt the festivities or say goodbye. Music and laughter followed them down the hill and along the trail to the airfield. Marie was a good driver. The dogs obeyed her calls. But she drove faster than McFarland or Sam had done, and Sharry had to cover her face against the icy sleet.
“Whew!” Sam said when they stopped.
“You know the dogs, Marie. That was some driving!”
“Guess I’m excited,” she said. “I didn’t mean to go so fast.”
Sharry put her arm around her. “Take it easy,” she coaxed. “I hope everything works out the way you want it to, Marie.”
“So do I,” Sam added, sincerely.
“I have to stay,” she confided, her voice tightening. “Once he said he would wait until I grew up. I’m grown up now – I hope. I’m twenty-one.”
Sam patted her shoulder. “You’re one of the most grown-up little girls I’ve ever known. Good luck, Marie.”
She turned the dogs quickly and hurried away. They could hear her voice calling to the dogs as she disappeared in the frosty twilight.
Sharry and Sam boarded the plane in a strained silence. They were the only passengers.
“We have it all to ourselves,” Sam said, looking around at the empty seats.
Sharry forced a smile. She was determined to be happy and make Sam happy.
“I like it this way,” she said. “You and I alone for a change. There’s been so much excitement we’ve hardly seen each other.”
Exactly on time the plane taxied down the field, lifted easily and sailed off into the blue darkness.
Sam tucked a warm blanket around Sharry. His lips were smiling, but his chin had squared off determinedly. She knew he had made up his mind about something. She waited for him to speak.
He leaned back in the seat beside her. “I’ve been thinking,” he said at last. “You’ll miss Jewel and Marie. Fairbanks will be mighty lonely for you without them. How would you like to fly home to Salt Lake City for a good visit?”
The words tumbled out in a breathless rush as though he had to get them over with.
Sharry closed her eyes. Her heart was a dull ache inside of her. So this was what he had planned. He wanted her to go home to her mother!
“If you want to stay there,” he went on, “I’ll come to you in the spring before it’s time for our baby – I’ll get a job there …”
Silence was a heartthrob between them. Sharry couldn’t breathe. Sam thought she was the kind of woman who couldn’t live in Alaska. He was willing to give up everything he had worked for to take her home again!
With a little sob she put her arms around him and pressed her head against his breast.
“Oh, darling!” she whispered. “Home is wherever you are and always will be. Home is where we’ve worked together, where we’ve built together. Right here in Alaska. I wouldn’t think of going away!”
His arms went around her fiercely.
“Do you really mean it?” he whispered back.
“Oh, I do, Sam. I really do,” she repeated with a song in her voice. “Let’s buy the Gilmore house. Aunt Jewel says she’ll lend us the money. We can have all the folks to our house for a visit. We’ll have such nice neighbors, Rachel and Oscar and Mary Billings. And we’ll build a new doghouse for Nuzzle!”
Sam’s arms tightened around her. A long sigh of relief went through him as he bent his head against hers.
“My wife,” he said, softly.
“I want our baby to be born right here in Alaska,” Sharry went on gaily. “After all, this is the United States, Mr. Wynter. If it’s a boy, he could be President.”
Sam tossed his head back, laughing in his old, carefree way. Dreams were in his eyes again.
“You’re right, Mrs. Wynter,” he said. “He could be President. A red-headed Alaskan for President!”