Authors: Lauraine Snelling
Tags: #ebook, #book
‘‘Come on, help me tune this to the piano.’’ Rand pointed at the keys. ‘‘Hit a low E.’’
Wishing she could be assured that Opal wouldn’t spill any more of the family secrets, Ruby turned instead to greet her guests and breathed a prayer of gratitude when all the girls returned in total decorum.
Cold blew through the room with every subsequent tinkle of the bell, blowing away her fears that no one would come. When the seats filled up, they brought more chairs out of the cardroom.
Ruby turned as the opening chords of ‘‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today’’ rolled from the piano, joined by the melody plucked from guitar strings. The guests quieted, the bell tinkled with the last of the worshipers, and hands shaking, Ruby made her way to the front of the room.
When the song finished, she stood and smiled. ‘‘Welcome to our first church service here in Little Missouri, and a blessed Easter to you all. Thank you, Opal, for the copies of our hymns for today.’’ Ruby held her papers up. ‘‘Do you all have copies of our songs? I know we have to share.’’ When no one raised a hand, she turned to Belle and nodded.
Daisy, Cimarron, and Opal took their places, Belle hit the beginning chords of ‘‘Up From the Grave,’’ and one by one the congregation joined the singers, gaining in volume as rusty pipes cleared and the music swelled.
They sang all four verses. Ruby could hardly believe her ears at the harmonies that surrounded her. Bass, baritone, tenor, alto, and even a strong soprano, the melody flowed on a river of beauty. After the third hymn, Charlie stood, the Bible open on his broad hand.
‘‘Today we are reading from the Gospel of Luke.’’
As he read the Passion story, Ruby fought to keep from crying.
Christ died on that cross for me
. She could hear sniffing from other parts of the room. Charlie read beautifully, another of his hidden talents.
He closed the Bible. ‘‘Let us pray in the words Christ gave us. Our Father . . .’’
People joined in softly at first, as if still locked in the story he read, then gaining as the beloved words rolled on.
‘‘And now I give you the Easter greeting my mother always said. Christ is risen.’’
He nodded for their response, and a few answered, ‘‘He is risen indeed.’’
‘‘All right, not bad for a start, but let’s try that again. Christ is risen.’’ He paused.
‘‘He is risen indeed.’’
After a moment of silence he continued, ‘‘The Lord bless us and keep us all the days of our lives.’’
The amen came almost in unison.
‘‘Much better. We do indeed thank you all for coming. The coffee is hot, so make yourselves comfortable. We will be serving sweet rolls in just a minute or two. Our Easter gift from us at Dove House to all of you.’’
‘‘You sang wonderfully,’’ Ruby said to the girls in the kitchen.
‘‘You didn’t think we could do it, did ya?’’ Belle paused on her way up the back stairs. ‘‘And we didn’t have to change clothes. Don’t pay no nevermind to those biddies.’’
Leave it to Belle to get her digs in. ‘‘I’m sorry, Belle. I—’’ ‘‘We’re ready, Miss Ruby,’’ Charlie said.
‘‘Of course.’’ Ruby led out with a tray of cups, followed by Charlie with the coffeepot. Cimarron brought out the cream and sugar, and Milly assisted Daisy with the platters of rolls. Opal handed out spoons and napkins.
‘‘That was a right nice service,’’ Mrs. Robertson said when Ruby handed her a cup. ‘‘We’ve been needing religion out here, that’s for sure. Sister, you sit yourself down right there and wait your turn.’’ She gave the order without even looking over her shoulder, just chatting with Ruby like they were old friends.
Ruby rolled her lips together to keep from smiling. Another mother with eyes in the back of her head.
‘‘And Mary, that’s enough of that. Why, thank you, Charlie. A cuppa is just what we all need. I’ve heard tell that those rolls made here at Dove House are worth driving halfway across Dakotah Territory, let alone to town on a spittin’ morning.’’ She smiled at the puzzlement on Ruby’s face. ‘‘Snow was spittin’, that’s all. Last skirmish before spring really takes over.’’
‘‘I was afraid no one would come, with bad weather and all.’’ Ruby handed each of the five girls a cup. ‘‘There’s hot chocolate for you in the kitchen, if you’d rather.’’
‘‘Really?’’ The next to the youngest daughter looked to her mother, who nodded. ‘‘I surely do want some.’’
‘‘Opal will bring out a pitcher.’’ Ruby smiled once more and continued her way around the room. The cowboys had congregated in the back, as if afraid to mix with the so-called townsfolk. The two sodbuster families, as the newcomers were called, acted like they were chained together, and while the staff of the hotel served everyone, the lack of conversation was evident even to the most unobservant.
‘‘Good morning, Mrs. McGeeney,’’ Ruby said with a smile. ‘‘Blessed Easter.’’
Mrs. McGeeney turned her back as if studying the hang of the curtains.
Ruby moved on to meet the others. ‘‘Glad you all could come. Happy Easter.’’ Refusing to allow herself to look back over her shoulder, she kept on smiling and welcoming the visitors to Dove House. Being gracious and polite was paramount to being a lady.
Milly was anything but subtle. ‘‘Ruby, how come that woman,’’ she said, nodding toward Mrs. McGeeney, ‘‘is so rude to you? You didn’t do nothin’ wrong.’’
‘‘I know, but, well, perhaps she had a bad morning.’’ Ruby tried to keep the venom she felt out of her voice. Here she was trying to do something good for the town, and this was the thanks she got. The snub made her want to accidentally spill the coffee in the woman’s lap. But rude didn’t begin to describe the cruel comment about Cimarron that Mrs. McGeeney had murmured slightly under her voice but just loud enough that Ruby overheard. She was sure she was meant to hear.
Had the woman heard nothing of the Bible reading? Wasn’t the fact that Jesus died such a terrible death because He loved them a good reason to at least be
to one another, even if loving was beyond the possibility of the moment?
Were all their efforts a waste of time?
‘‘Don’t you worry none, Miss Ruby,’’ Charlie whispered as he returned to the kitchen to refill his coffeepot.
Ruby tried not to. She smiled at Opal talking with two of the Robertson girls. When Opal took their hands and led them through the kitchen door, Ruby figured Cat was about to receive extra attention. And Cat never minded extra love and pats. But her attention kept returning to the glowering Mrs. McGeeney.
Heap burning coals of kindness upon her head
. The thought floated through her mind like a wisp of fog off the river. The idea held no appeal for her, but Ruby took the plate of rolls and bent in front of Mrs. McGeeney. ‘‘Would you like another roll?’’
Lord, what can I say or do here?
She sat down in the chair next to the rigid-backed woman. ‘‘Isn’t it amazing how many people are here? Have you met Mrs. Hanson and her sister yet? You know, they live downriver, closer to the Triple Seven spread.’’
‘‘Those ranchers are gonna run them sodbusters off. You wait and see. We don’t want no fences around here.’’
‘‘Surely there is enough land around here for everyone.’’
didn’t I think of something else?
She tried to catch Charlie’s eye. When that failed, she leaned slightly closer to the woman. ‘‘I am hoping that we can continue to have Sunday services here. If there is anything that you can suggest. . . ?’’ She smiled and stood. ‘‘I thought that since you have lived here from almost the beginning, you would be a good person to ask.’’ She smiled again, in spite of the tightness of her jaw, and took her serving platter back to the kitchen for refills, since no one seemed to be moving on. Talking to a wall would have been as rewarding.
She looked again to the group of sodbusters and stopped when one of the women put a hand on her arm. ‘‘Yes?’’
‘‘I just want to thank you for inviting us. The service was real nice, and the music sounded like a little bit of heaven. Made me so homesick I near to busted right out crying.’’
‘‘Thank you. I’m hoping we can meet like this more regularly.’’ ‘‘Me too. One place we lived, everyone brought something for dinner for after church. We met in different homes, but you got such a lovely place here.’’
‘‘Thank you. I’ll be right back with more rolls.’’
that beat all, as Cimarron would say
. Ruby set her plate down on the kitchen table. Just one more pan, and the rolls would be all gone.
‘‘Coffee will be ready in a couple of minutes.’’ Daisy, dark hair wisping around her oval face, added two more chunks of wood to the firebox and set the round lid back in place. ‘‘I never dreamed we’d have so many here.’’
‘‘Me either. And here I was afraid no one would come. You all sang so beautifully. Mrs. Hanson said the music was like a little piece of heaven.’’
‘‘Now wasn’t that nice of her?’’
Go ahead and ask. What can it hurt?
Ruby stepped closer to Daisy and whispered, ‘‘What does Mrs. McGeeney have against us?
‘‘Well, it’s what we used to be. I mean us girls, not you and Opal.’’
‘‘But that’s over and—’’ ‘‘Her husband used to . . . you know.’’ Daisy studied her fingernail. ‘‘Well, let’s say he didn’t come to Dove House just to drink and play cards.’’
‘‘Oh. So no matter what we do, she isn’t going to forget that?
Like it was your fault that her man . . .’’
Daisy nodded. ‘‘Most women feel that way.’’
‘‘Didn’t any of them hear the message this morning?’’
‘‘I did. And I know my sins are forgiven, that Jesus died for me.’’
Ruby ignored the burning at the back of her eyes and hugged Daisy close. ‘‘I’m sorry I was so abrupt this morning. I just want those women to forget what used to be and see all of you for the new women that you are. All of us women need to work together to make this a better place for everyone to live.’’
‘‘You’re doing just that.’’ Daisy patted her arm. ‘‘Don’t let that Mrs. McGeeney bother you none. We don’t.’’
‘‘Thank you.’’ Ruby transferred more rolls to her plate. ‘‘Good thing we made a huge pot of ham and beans for dinner. We might have more guests than I thought we would.’’
Between the altercation with Belle and Mrs. McGeeney’s attitude, Ruby still had a sour feeling by the end of the day, and to top it off, Rand had been so nice that she was sure something was brewing—and all she wanted was a lovely Easter for all.
‘‘Cat sure is getting fat,’’ Opal announced the next morning.
‘‘Perhaps you are feeding her too much.’’ Ruby looked up from the letter she was writing to the Brandons, who, though she had not seen them for a year, seemed like family, especially since she had no other.
‘‘Ah, it ain’t that Cat is just getting fat.’’ Charlie flinched and ducked behind his coffee cup.
Opal’s eyes widened and her brow wrinkled. ‘‘She isn’t sick, is she? Oh, please don’t let her die.’’
Charlie shook his head, sending Cimarron a pleading glance.
Cimarron’s laugh made Opal look more hopeful. ‘‘No, honey-bun, Cat isn’t going to die, but she is going to have kittens.’’
‘‘But how . . .?’’ Opal stared from Cimarron, who wet her lips, to Charlie, who managed to hide his entire face behind his coffee mug, to Cat, who butted against Opal’s stomach for the stroking to continue.
‘‘I think I better get at stripping those beds.’’ Cimarron winked at Ruby as she left the room.
‘‘Got to get at that ironing.’’ Daisy hefted her flatiron off the stove and headed for the storeroom, where her ironing board had taken up permanent residence.
‘‘Kittens.’’ Opal breathed the word like a prayer.
‘‘We sure do need more firewood.’’ Charlie took his jacket and exited out the back door.
Milly, who’d been visiting the outhouse during all the discussion, had to flatten herself against the wall to keep from being run over.
‘‘What’s the matter with him?’’ She flinched as the door slammed in her face.
‘‘Cimarron said Cat is about to have kittens, and Opal said ‘How,’ and everyone left.’’ Ruby wrote a few more words on her letter.
‘‘Don’t s’pose you’ve ever seen kittens born?’’ Milly asked.
Ruby glanced at Opal. ‘‘No.’’
‘‘You mean there are real live kittens inside of Cat?’’ The awe on Opal’s face made Ruby smile. While she’d never seen anything born, she did understand the principle of the thing. She rolled her lips together to keep from smiling. No wonder everyone left. They didn’t want to be subjected to Opal’s endless and perceptive questions.
‘‘But, Ruby, how will they . . .’’
‘‘I guess we’ll have to wait and see.’’
‘‘But . . .’’
‘‘If you are lucky, perhaps Cat will share her grand event with you.’’
‘‘Cats usually go off by themselves to have their kittens.’’ Milly said. ‘‘They like small dark places with soft stuff. Most of the ones I know had their kittens up in the barn where no one could find them until the mother brought them out.’’
‘‘But we don’t have a barn.’’
‘‘So she’ll find somewhere else. Cats have been having kittens for a long time.’’
‘‘Not our Cat. How will she know what to do?’’
‘‘Ah.’’ Milly looked to Ruby, who shrugged helplessly. ‘‘I guess they just know how.’’ A smile broke forth. ‘‘Guess God just gave them that kind of know-how when He made cats.’’