Authors: Lauraine Snelling
Tags: #ebook, #book
‘‘Yes, Mr. Higgins.’’
‘‘Just Charlie, miss. Ruby was saying that perhaps you might like to meet those of your pupils we know of before school starts. I’d be glad to take you around if you would like.’’
‘‘What an excellent idea.’’
‘‘Good. I’ll ask Opal if she wants to go too.’’
‘‘Ah, Mr. . . . ah, Charlie.’’ She adapted at the look he gave her and lowered her voice. ‘‘Is Milly all right?’’
‘‘Far as I know, why?’’
Mind your own business, Pearl
. ‘‘Is there bad blood between Milly and Daisy?’’
‘‘Naa, just the peckin’ order at times, that’s all.’’
Back up in her room, she took out her writing kit and settled in the chair by the window.
My dear family,
I am hoping you still want to hear from me after the way I left home. I could see no other way, and I beg your forgiveness for sneaking off like that. I am living in Little Missouri, which is a stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad between Dickinson and Beach, west of Bismarck. I live at Dove House, which is a residential hotel owned by a wonderful young woman named Ruby Torvald. You can guess by her name that she is as Norwegian as we are. She has a younger sister named Opal.
She went on to describe some of the other people she’d met so far, carefully omitting Carl Hegland. Her reason being that she hadn’t really met him or gotten to know him. After all, he was quite alone most of the time.
I am well, and I do pray that you will write back to me and give me news of home.
Your loving daughter,
She took the envelope down with her when she went. Since there was no sign of Charlie, she stuck her letter in the mail pouch on the front of the hotel and went in search of one of the chairs on the back porch to sit and read.
After dinner she wandered into the kitchen looking for Ruby.
‘‘She and Charlie and Mr. Hegland are out on the porch, figuring on the new addition.’’ Daisy pointed out the back door and to the left.
‘‘I’ll wait. I don’t want to be a bother.’’ She watched as Daisy washed dishes, then set them in the rinse water. ‘‘Could I help you?’’
Daisy looked over her shoulder. ‘‘Why would you?’’
‘‘I need something to do?’’
‘‘I don’t know about a guest helping.’’
‘‘Mr. Hegland is.’’
‘‘Yeah, well . . .’’ Daisy shook her head. ‘‘If you want to help, you are welcome to help. And if Ruby don’t think so, she’ll tell me.’’ She nodded to a stack of folded white cloths. ‘‘Use one of them flour sacks over there. Stack the dishes on the table, and we’ll put them away later.’’
‘‘You have something to drain these on?’’
‘‘Guess we could use the baking rack. Under there.’’ She pointed to the lower portion of a counter.
Pearl set the rack over the reservoir and lifted the dishes from the rinse water to drain. Then she began drying them. The two fell into an easy rhythm, the clatter and swish a pleasant sound.
‘‘Who’s singing?’’ Pearl asked after she’d enjoyed the sound for a bit.
‘‘Ah, that’s Opal. Has a voice like an angel, she has. She’s going to sing a solo on Sunday. First time she’s done that. Belle’s been coaching her.’’
‘‘How wonderful. I hear Opal’s been the schoolteacher here.’’
‘‘And a good job she has done too. I couldn’t read a lick, and neither could Milly. Now we both can, and I can add and subtract too. You’ll be the teacher come fall?’’
‘‘Yes, but you know, we could start earlier if some of you want more help.’’
‘‘You would do that?’’ Daisy stopped washing for a moment and looked at Pearl. ‘‘Why?’’
‘‘Why not? I have the time, and there is nothing more exciting to me than to watch people learn something new.’’
‘‘Well, I’ll be switched. What would we learn about?’’
‘‘Oh, read more difficult things, learn to multiply and divide, learn history, geography, science.’’
‘‘Just like in a school.’’
‘‘Someday if I get married and have children, I want them to go to school right from the first. Not be dumb like their mother.’’
‘‘Oh, Daisy, you aren’t dumb. You just didn’t get a chance to learn these things. But the first time you got an opportunity, you took it. Now that’s the sign of a smart woman.’’
‘‘You don’t know the half of it. Why, before Ruby came—’’ Pearl was surprised when Daisy cut off her reminiscence, but she just kept on drying dishes.
Daisy took the dishpan outside and dumped the wash water on the roses, then moved the rinse water to use for washing, and carved curls of soap from the bar into the dishpan.
‘‘You can refill this pan with clean water from the reservoir to rinse with. Use the teakettle too.’’
Never had Pearl seen so many dishes. Never had she dried so many dishes. The servants always did those things. Sometimes she had helped in the kitchen, but she’d asked for the privilege. While setting more plates on the table, she stopped for a second in midset. What if they didn’t like her as a teacher? What could she do to earn a living if her father cut off her allowance?
She put a hand to her throat, her chin. She, who had always seen her scar as a horrible disfigurement, suddenly realized there were far worse things that could happen. What would she do? Could she do the work these women seemed to take for granted?
I could always be a governess
. The thought brought instant relief.
‘‘Thanks for helping.’’ Daisy threw out the final dishpan of water, but when Pearl lifted the rinse pan to follow her, she shook her head. ‘‘No, we will use that one for dishes tonight.
When you have to haul all your water, you learn to use everything more than once.’’
Another lesson that showed the gulf between her life now and her former one. And here she’d thought that having only one servant if she married Mr. Longstreet would have been a hardship. Charlie walked into the kitchen. ‘‘Sorry, I got busy. We’d best put off going out to visit till tomorrow.’’ At the question on her face, he continued, ‘‘It’s too far out to the Robertsons when we need to be here to serve supper.’’
Pearl, here’s another example of your lack of knowledge
. ‘‘How far would their children have to come for school?’’
‘‘Four to five miles. They’ll ride in on horseback unless the weather is real bad. Then they’ll stay home.’’
‘‘I see. And how many children have to come from such distances?’’ ‘‘Oh, the Robertson girls, five of them, and the children that belong to those sodbusters north of town. You’ll see them all Sunday when we have church here.’’
‘‘At the hotel?’’
‘‘In the dining room.’’
‘‘I see.’’ She seemed to be saying that a lot lately. She certainly had a lot of seeing to do.
That night at supper Ruby stopped by her table. ‘‘I’m running out of tables. Could I bring someone to join you?’’
‘‘Why, of course. I could eat in the kitchen if you’d like.’’
‘‘No, but thanks for the offer.’’ Ruby returned in a minute with Carl Hegland in tow.
‘‘Miss Hossfuss, I’d like you to meet Mr. Hegland. I think the two of you have a lot in common, seeing that you both love to read.’’
‘‘Miss Hossfuss.’’ Carl nodded.
‘‘Mr. Hegland.’’ Pearl nodded back. And that was the last the two said to each other the entire meal.
When he was finished eating, Carl stood. ‘‘Thank you for the pleasure.’’
She nodded again. ‘‘Tusen takk.’’
His eyes lit up, and a smile showed what nice teeth he had. ‘‘Ja.’’
Pearl watched him leave. Was he running away from her or from people in general?
‘‘Easy, Buck.’’ Rand stepped out of the saddle and flipped Buck’s reins over the hitching rail before knotting to the rail the lead rope of the horse he’d brought in. The saddle he’d dug out needed work, and that’s what he planned to do now as he untied a roll of tanned cowhide he’d brought from the ranch, just in case.
‘‘Hey, Mr. Harrison. You brought in another horse.’’ Opal leaped from the top porch step and bounded out to the rail.
‘‘No, really, oh, he must have followed me in.’’ He enjoyed hearing Opal laugh at his jokes. Unfettered and free, her laugh sparkled its way above the trees and danced on the breeze.
‘‘What are you going to do with that hide?’’
‘‘Repair the saddle. See, it needs new leathers for the stirrups, and the strap on the cinch looks like a mouse has been gnawing on it.’’
‘‘You can fix it?’’
‘‘Sure. You want to help?’’
‘‘Do I have to chew the hide?’’ She kept her face without expression, poker-faced one might say, but her eyes laughed, crinkling slightly at the corners.
He knew she was referring to his comments on an earlier visit about Indian women chewing the hide to soften it. ‘‘Nope, this time we want the leather solid, not soft. In fact, if we had a sewing machine here, I’d sew strips together to make them stronger. Now, we could sew them by drilling holes with an awl, threading sinew in a bone needle, and whipstitching the sides.’’
‘‘Sounds like a lot of work. Do we have to?’’
‘‘Nope, that’s the kind of thing Beans does in the winter in front of the fire. He has a whole barrelful of patience.’’
‘‘Not me. I don’t like to sew at all. And we don’t have to punch holes first.’’ While she talked, she stroked the new horse’s shoulder. ‘‘What’s his name?’’
‘‘That was his name when I got him. He’s pretty old, but he’s careful with his feet and not flighty, so he should do well for around here. Just don’t go shooting off him, makes him shy away.’’
‘‘Good to know. I’ll leave my guns to home.’’
This time it was Rand’s turn to laugh. ‘‘You know, you are one sharp kid.’’
‘‘She’s a young lady, Mr. Harrison, not a
.’’ Emphasis of disgust layered the last word. Unbeknownst to him, Ruby had stepped out onto the porch.
Rand wanted to roll his eyes, but he kept his face masked. ‘‘And a right good day to you too, Miss Torvald. Meet your new mount. His name is Baldy.’’
‘‘Now Bay won’t be so lonesome that she has to go talk with Mr. Johnson’s cow.’’
‘‘Horses are herd animals, as are cattle. They like company. How about we set this business up on the porch? I’ll need a chunk of wood to pound these rivets home on.’’
‘‘How big?’’ Opal asked.
‘‘Broad enough so it won’t tip over.’’
She scampered off to the woodpile and brought back an unsplit butt.
‘‘That’s good.’’ Rand pulled a chair over and laid out his tools. ‘‘You want to go get the saddle off old Baldy there?’’
‘‘So, how was the roundup?’’ Ruby asked while they waited for Opal to return.
Rand folded the hide in three and pulled his knife out of the sheath attached to his belt. ‘‘I need a straight edge. You have a board of some kind?’’
‘‘Charlie’s square. Would that be all right?’’ Opal said as she set the saddle down.
‘‘He and Mr. Hegland are working on the other side of the hotel.’’
Rand looked up at Ruby. ‘‘Roundup went right well. Didn’t lose as many to winterkill as I’d feared, and found a bunch had wandered clear over to the Circle H. Brought ’em back when we did theirs.’’
‘‘Yep. Perhaps something spooked them. Sometimes they get driven by a heavy wind.’’ He laid the square Opal offered on the hide. ‘‘Hold that end.’’
Opal clamped down on the metal as he made a cut the length of the hide.
‘‘Right through all three thicknesses.’’ Opal looked up, hero worship pinking her cheeks.
‘‘You want to do the next one?’’
‘‘Sure.’’ She took the knife, held down the square, and could barely saw through one layer, let alone three. ‘‘You made it look easy.’’
‘‘Push harder and keep going. You can do one layer at a time like that, just keep working at it.’’ He returned to the roundup. ‘‘Funniest thing, the same old cow as last year wasn’t goin’ to let us brand her calf. She near to hooked Joe this time. I never saw him run so fast. ’Course Chaps never helped him at all. He was laughin’ so hard he near fell off his horse.’’ He glanced up to see Ruby watching Opal, locking her hands behind her back to keep from helping her little sister. When she looked at him, he gave her a nod and a smile.
‘‘I’ll get something for us to drink.’’
Were her cheeks pink? Or was it just the heat?
By the time they had the saddle fixed, most everyone had gathered on the back porch, drinking lemonade, eating cookies, and then cheering Opal as she rode Baldy for the first time.
Opal walked, jogged, and loped the horse around the pasture, with Bay jogging along for a time.
‘‘How’s the saddle?’’ Rand asked when she returned to the mounting block Charlie had moved into place.
‘‘I like bareback better, but it’s all right. Come on, Ruby, you ride him.’’
‘‘No thanks. I’m not dressed for it; besides I do not want an audience when I try riding again.’’
‘‘Okay. Milly, you want to ride?’’
‘‘Oh yes.’’ She mounted, tried to cover as much of her bare legs as possible with her skirt, and followed Opal to where she let down the bars of the gate.
Opal climbed up the second rail and swung aboard Bay, using the end of the horse’s mane.
‘‘She doesn’t have a bridle.’’ Ruby started off the porch.