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Authors: Lauraine Snelling

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Pearl (34 page)

BOOK: Pearl
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‘‘All you need for that is snares like Charlie uses. Don’t waste bullets on rabbits.’’ Daisy joined the conversation as she exchanged flatirons. She set hers on the stove and went to dip water out of the bucket. Wetting the cloth draped around her neck, she took a hot iron back to her ironing board.

‘‘You better get your trays ready,’’ Ruby cautioned as she retrieved change for them from the buksbom, a carved wooden box of her father’s where she kept the money. Since no one had had time to build a stand over at the train stop, Milly and Opal still carried wooden trays of sandwiches, cookies, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese. Whoever could get away, usually Charlie, carried the two-gallon coffeepot.

When they returned, handed in their money, put away the trays, and washed the cups, Milly went out to dig worms for the fishing expedition. With so many of those staying at the hotel working over in Medora, dinner guests were few. Supper, however, was another string of fish. They needed to bring plenty back.

‘‘We have to get more help.’’ Ruby took another rack of canned carrots from the boiler. She’d thought of setting up an outdoor kitchen on the back porch, but thinking and doing usually didn’t even inhabit the same house. She’d read that in the south they had summer kitchens in order to keep all the kitchen heat from making the house uncomfortable. While she needed Milly’s and Opal’s hands, they also needed fish. And the two girls needed to be girls once in a while. Not that fishing was a socially approved occupation for young girls, but as the months passed, Ruby’s strictures for proper society had slipped. Manners yes, society, like tightly laced corsets or any corsets for that matter, no.

Pearl came in from snapping beans outside. ‘‘This finishes this picking. Are the jars ready yet?’’

Ruby pointed to the lineup on the boards set over sawhorses for extra counter space.

‘‘You want me to go ahead and fill them?’’

‘‘Might as well. Once we get them on, I think we all need a break.’’ She took the last pan of cookies from the oven. ‘‘Cimarron, let’s use that custard mix for pies for supper. Since we have to keep the stove hot anyway, might as well continue using the oven too.’’

‘‘It’s going to cool off. There’s thunderheads north of here.’’

By the time they took their cold tea out on the porch, the breeze had sprung up.

‘‘Ah, that’s wonderful.’’ Pearl fanned herself with a piece of paper.

‘‘There some reason you wear such a high collar all the time? Seems would be mighty hot.’’ Cimarron glanced around to make sure no men were in sight and hiked her skirt up to her knees.

‘‘It is hot. . . .’’ Pearl said nothing more.

Ruby watched her, sensing the struggle going on within her friend. While she’d noticed what might be a scar or something barely peeping out above the fabric, she’d never said anything, thinking Pearl would say something when ready.

‘‘I-I have a very disfiguring scar on my neck and down on my chest. I do my best to keep it hidden so as not to offend anyone.’’

‘‘But no one would be offended here. We’re your friends,’’ Cimarron said.

Bless you, Cimarron
. Ruby felt like applauding.

Pearl sniffed, then wiped her eyes with the tips of her fingers.

‘‘I-I believe that was why I never had any suitors and why my father . . .’’

Ruby and the others waited for more. The rockers creaked a duet. A robin serenaded the coming storm.

Tears dripped off Pearl’s chin. Cimarron dropped to her knees in front of Pearl’s chair. ‘‘I didn’t mean to make you cry. Some of us have a lot to hide, but you are truly beautiful, inside and out, and I think there are several men here who think that. Men in Chicago might well be dumb and blind, but out here we see things as they really are.’’

Pearl took a handkerchief from her apron pocket and dabbed her eyes. ‘‘Thank you.’’

‘‘What brought you out here anyway?’’ Daisy asked. ‘‘I mean, I know to teach school, but I bet you could teach anywhere.’’

‘‘I did teach in Chicago at a settlement house, the children of the tenements and immigrants.’’

‘‘Did you like it?’’

‘‘Very much so. I taught fifth grade. One year we put on a play, and once we had a picnic at my father’s house. I taught for four years there.’’

‘‘I bet they’ll miss you come fall.’’

‘‘Yes.’’ Pearl sighed.
And I’ll miss them and a proper school, not
one used for men playing cards at night. And compared to here, a wealth
of supplies
.

Lightning flashed against the purple black clouds, and far off thunder murmured.

‘‘I sure hope Opal and Milly are paying attention. They better be on their way home.’’ Ruby stood at the railing, the electricity in the air standing hairs upright on her arms and head.

‘‘Milly knows better than to be out on the plains when lightning comes.’’ Daisy held her cool glass against her forehead.

‘‘They could take shelter under a tree,’’ Pearl said.

‘‘No, never under a tree. Lightning strikes the high points. I’ve seen trees explode in a torch of fire.’’

The breeze strengthened like a young boy trying out his muscles. It tossed leaves in the air, tugged at their skirts.

‘‘Ah, that feels wonderful.’’ Daisy raised her arms over her head, then pulled her dress out from her body. ‘‘When the rain starts, I’m going to wash my hair.’’

‘‘And my clothes.’’ Cimarron looked down at her feet. ‘‘Don’t think my feet will ever come clean again.’’

‘‘I’ll get the rose soap, Daisy. We’ll all get clean.’’ Ruby nearly bumped into Belle on her way into the kitchen. ‘‘Sorry.’’

‘‘Are Milly and Opal back yet?’’ When Ruby shook her head Belle continued, ‘‘I got me a bad feelin’ about this. You know where they went?’’

‘‘Yes. Up to the fishing hole Captain McHenry showed us.’’
Dear God, please get Milly and Opal home
.

All through the washing of hair and clothing in the drenching rain, she kept up her prayer. Should she go get Private Stone and the other soldiers to go look for them?

When it looked like the rain had settled in for a time rather than just blowing over, Ruby put on dry clothes, grabbed a shawl, for now everything felt cold, and headed out the door.

‘‘Where are you going?’’

‘‘To get Private Stone and some others to go look for them.’’

‘‘I’ll go with you.’’ Cimarron wrung her hair out and, after twisting it, pinned it on top of her head.

‘‘Where’s Charlie?’’

‘‘I don’t know, but he doesn’t have a horse either.’’ The sound of hammering was drowned out by the drip and splash of the pouring rain.

They’d gotten past Mrs. McGeeney’s when they heard the sound of pounding hooves splashing through the puddles.

‘‘Ruby, have you seen Opal and Milly?’’ Rand Harrison skidded to a stop. ‘‘Baldy came home without a rider.’’

Cimarron put an arm around Ruby as she staggered at the blow.

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

‘‘I heard the army’s back.’’ Rand stared at them.

‘‘A few.’’

‘‘Just in time. Go on down to the cantonment and ask for help. Tell them to go out the west side of the river. And to bring a canvas in case Milly is injured.’’

‘‘I will.’’
Oh, God, I want to go along
. Yet Ruby knew she’d do nothing but slow them down. She and Cimarron ran down the street, bursting into the mess before anyone could say enter.

‘‘Sir, you have to help us.’’ Ruby panted out her message, not sure if she was crying or rain was running off her hair. She dashed the deluge to the side.

‘‘Opal and Milly are missing. They went fishing earlier this afternoon.’’ Cimarron tried to catch her breath.

The officer went to the door and commanded, ‘‘Four men, mount up! We’re looking for Opal and Milly!’’ and nodded to them to continue.

‘‘Rand just rode into town and said Baldy galloped home to the ranch.’’

‘‘Milly was riding Baldy.’’ Cimarron took up the story. ‘‘Rand’s already on his way out to find them, and he said to take the west side of the river.’’

‘‘Please, our Milly might be lying out there injured.’’ Ruby finished the story.

‘‘We’ll bring them back, Miss Torvald. Don’t you worry.’’

‘‘Take something along for a sling.’’

‘‘We will. You go on back to Dove House.’’

‘‘Thank you.’’

They had not crossed the parade ground before four men, including Adam Stone, were galloping their horses toward the river.

‘‘Now don’t you go worrying. We gotta pray about this instead,’’ Cimarron said.

But it’s not your baby sister,
Ruby wanted to scream, but instead they both trotted back to Dove House, slipping and sliding in the puddles and mud.

‘‘Get out of those wet things,’’ Belle said, ‘‘before you catch your death. What did they say?’’

‘‘Sent four men out. The officer didn’t even wait for us to finish our story.’’ Ruby leaned against the table to catch her breath. Half running, half walking in soaked skirts took a lot of air.

‘‘Did Rand stop here?’’

‘‘No.’’

‘‘He saw us on the street. Baldy came home to the ranch without a rider, so he rode Buck in to see who was missing. I told him Opal and Milly went to the fishing hole, so he headed on out there.’’

‘‘Here. Change in the pantry.’’ Daisy handed Ruby dry clothes and a towel.

When Ruby came back out, Belle was making coffee while Daisy dried Cimarron’s hair with a towel. Ruby went to stand by the stove. She was amazed that only a short time earlier it had been so hot in here they were about to faint, and now the fire felt wonderful.
God, please take care of them
.

Rand galloped on out to the river, trying to see through the rain blinding his eyes and running off his hat and down his neck. When he shouted ‘‘Opal, Milly,’’ the wind blew the words back down his throat.

Buck slipped and stumbled, but Rand kept a firm hand on the reins to help his horse keep his footing. He slowed down to a trot.

Surely they were on the trail. Surely he’d find them any moment.

He was nearly to the fishing hole when Buck whinnied and he heard an answer. ‘‘Good son.’’ He thumped Buck’s shoulder and called, ‘‘Opal.’’

‘‘Here.’’

How it could be so dark when it was not even dusk yet? Buck called again and Bay whinnied back.

Please, Lord, let them be all right. I gave them the horse, if something
happens—no, that kind of thinking is a waste of time
.

Buck saw them first and veered off to the left, then nickered as he stopped. Bay stood, her reins loose, ground tied as he had always promised Opal the horse would.

‘‘Rand, she’s hurt. Milly’s hurt.’’ Opal’s wail as she knelt beside her prostrate friend cut into his heart.

Rand leaped off Buck and knelt beside the girls. ‘‘What happened?’’

‘‘We started home, but lightning struck, and at the crash Baldy reared, dumped Milly, and ran off. How’d you know to come?’’

‘‘Baldy came home to the ranch.’’ While he talked, he felt Milly’s legs and arms for breaks. ‘‘What’s going on here?’’

‘‘She’s been unconscious this whole time. I didn’t know if I should stay or go get help or what to do.’’ Sobs punctuated her story. ‘‘It wasn’t her fault, or Baldy’s fault. We should have started for home sooner when I first saw the clouds, but we were trying to get enough fish for supper, and feeding that bunch of people takes a lot of anything.’’ She gulped. ‘‘Is she going to be all right?’’

‘‘I sure hope so. She’s breathing all right. Has a knot on her head like a goose egg. Some blood but not a lot.’’ He stripped off his shirt and laid that over the girl on the ground. ‘‘Go unsaddle Buck, and we’ll cover her with his blanket. The army will be here shortly with a sling.’’

Opal did as he told her and spread the horse blanket over Milly.

Rand set his hat over her face so she wouldn’t breathe in any more water.
God, hurry those bluebellies up. If we’ve ever needed the
army out here, we do now. Thank you for sending back this patrol.

Buck and Bay both whinnied, and an answering neigh sounded.

‘‘Over here!’’ Rand cupped both hands around his mouth and yelled again.

Private Stone was the first one out of the saddle, even before the sergeant ordered halt.

BOOK: Pearl
4.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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