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Prairie's Children, Chapter 2
Submitted by Starla Anne on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 17:04
By Starla Anne Lowry
When Mrs. Wellington had informed Ruth that her room would be small, it was no exaggeration. It contained a small bed and a dresser on which a water pitcher and basin for bathing were placed. There was not room for anything else.
Mrs. Wellington had given permission for Ruth to go to bed early because of the long distance she had traveled. Compared to the bed at home, Ruth discovered a much more comfortable place to sleep. The mattress and pillows were so soft that it was easy to imagine sleeping on a cloud. She slept soundly for the first time in months, dreaming of her earlier childhood when she was a member of a very happy family.
Her mother and father had worked hard, but enjoyed life. Her dad enjoyed hunting and fishing when he had the chance, while mother got joy out of working with her hands and giving to others.
Each Christmas, she always had three or four quilts to give to the neighbors. The neighbors had moved away, though, due to hard times. Ruth's family seemed to be the only one to stay, hoping for better crops and healthy livestock -- a hope that never materialized. Being the final member of the family, Ruth was the last to leave and only a lonely abandoned house remained.
As daylight began to spread into the room through the upstairs window, Ruth opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling of the strange place. It took a moment for her to realize where she was and when she did, she immediately began to bathe and get ready for the day. She put on a fresh calico dress and looked at herself in the mirror. The dress looked very good and had been hand made by her mother from flour sacks. Ruth had never owned a store bought dress in her life.
Finding Mrs. Wellington in the kitchen, she asked, "May I help?"
"Oh, up early," replied Mrs. Wellington as she looked up. "Just the kind of girl I like. Can you make biscuits?"
"Yes, and very good ones, too -- or at least my daddy had always thought so."
"Good, make about two dozen -- good size, now -- great big ones."
Ruth smiled." Okay."
The women finished just in time as the first of the guests came into the dining room.
"If you don't mind hon, get them some coffee and I will start bringing the breakfast," said Mrs. Wellington.
Compliments were forthcoming about the breakfast and particularly the biscuits. Ruth beamed with joy that she was able to bake something suitable her first time as Mrs. Wellington's employee. When the guest had filed out, there wasn't a single biscuit left.
"Well, looks like we will not have any bread unless you want to make some more," said Mrs. Wellington.
"That is okay. I am used to daddy bringing home some men for supper and not having anything left. I learned when he did that to make some extra, so I have a half dozen for you and me," answered Ruth.
"Looks like I have a smart girl working for me," stated Mrs. Wellington with a smile.
The morning went smoothly with house cleaning and other household chores. After lunch, Mrs. Wellington said, "Ruth, you are a marvelous helper. Why don't you take a break and run to the store for me?"
"Sure", answered Ruth as she was handed a short list. Ruth had wanted to find out about Josh -- if he got a job or not.
Ruth was walking down the plaza (later known as "Snake's Row") when she saw the livery stable at the edge of town and immediately recognized Josh. He did not see her coming until she was hugging his neck.
"Oh, Josh, I am so glad you got some work," she said.
"Well, it puts a few cents in my pocket, some food to eat, and I can sleep in the hay loft," replied Josh.
"Sleeping in the hay loft?" questioned Ruth. She began to think about the comfortable bed she slept in while Josh was sleeping in a hayloft. She began to turn things over in her mind.
"Yeah, at least it is better than sleeping on the hard ground under the stars -- or clouds if it rains." Josh chuckled at the last reference.
"If you stay this winter, it will get awful cold."
"Well, maybe things will get better -- or I may just shove on further west," answered Josh.
"I was just thinking. I am helping out at the boarding house and Mrs. Wellington seems to like me. After I work awhile, maybe I can ask about you helping over there, too. If nothing regular, maybe something part-time so you can have a warm place to sleep."
"Aw, don't put yourself out. I will make it."
"No, Josh, I like you and I intend for you to have a place to sleep if you have to take my bed and I will sleep under it -- or something," insisted Ruth.
"You sleeping under a bed? I would like to see that," laughed Josh.
"Just give me time, okay?" pleaded Ruth.
"Well, okay", answered Josh.
"Well, I gotta get some things and head back or Mrs. Wellington may send a posse after me," said Ruth as she reached up and kissed Josh on the cheek.
Josh just stood there with a grin on his face as he watched Ruth walk to the general store.
"You know she is sweet on you," said Barney Jones, the livery stable owner, as he walked up.
"Oh shucks," replied Josh. "She is just a gal I met on the trail and we rode into town together. That's all."
"Round these parts a gal don't kiss a man unless she has taken a liking to him. You just watch -- if you get into trouble, she will lay down her life for you."
"I kinda doubt that. She almost shot me the night I walked up on her."
"Did she shoot at'cha? If she didn't, you have a chance. If she did, you still have chance 'cause she may have missed you on purpose. I saw that six-shooter she was wearing when y'all rode into town and she looked like a gal that knew how to use it," kidded Barney.
"Nope, she did not shoot me and I don't think she intended to -- just wanted be sure that I was not gonna hurt her."
It seemed like everyone knew about Ruth riding into town wearing a gun belt. At the general store, she was referred to as the 'female gunslinger'. It was embarrassing, so Ruth gathered her supplies together as quickly as possible and got out of there.
When she got back to the boarding house, she told Mrs. Wellington about the nickname to which Mrs.Wellington replied, "Well honey, you are gaining a reputation that will stick, so might as well get used to it."
"But, I am only seventeen years old," answered Ruth.
"Makes no difference. Once someone gets a name, others build upon it until it becomes a reality in everyone's mind. The best thing for you to do is continue to act like the little lady you are and hope for the best," advised Mrs. Wellington.
"Be back in a minute. I am going over to the saloon for a drink," Barney told Josh.
"Okay, everything will be taken care of here," replied Josh.
Barney entered the saloon and walked up to the bar. An elderly man standing there asked, "How's your new help coming along?"
"Very good," replied Barney, "but I think that gal he rode in with is sweet on him."
"Shore 'nuff?" asked the man.
"Yep. She came by today and gave him a kiss. It must have been her way of saying she was sorry for shooting at him."
"She shot at him?"
"Yep -- he told me that she almost shot him when they met on the prairie," exaggerated Barney, stretching the truth somewhat. It seemed the nature of Westerners to make things sound bigger than what they are.
Another man, sitting at a table, remarked, "I could tell she was a female gunslinger when I saw how she was wearing that gun belt."
The man next to him asked, "Ain't she kinda young?"
"Young don't count any more. Kids learn early and a lot of gals are wildcats. Just get one mad at you and see for yourself."
The man at the bar spoke up, "I sure wouldn't want her mad at me."
Ruth was very happy with her job. Although it was a meager salary, it was the first time that she ever got paid for doing things she had done all her life -- cooking, sweeping, cleaning and things like that. Most of the guests made their own bed, but a few didn't, so that was an extra chore at times. She made sure the bed linen was changed twice a week and to keep sufficient towels and washcloths handy and the water pitcher full. The female guests did their own laundry and the men did not seem to care. However, Mrs. Wellington made sure that their clothes were cleaned occasionally. She did not like stinking men.
Since Josh did not get a lunch regularly, Mrs. Wellington allowed Ruth to carry meals to him every day after the few guest had eaten. Only a few ate lunch at the boarding house. Most of the others were working or doing something else. It gave Ruth and Josh time to talk and get acquainted.
The bond between the two youngsters began to grow until it was no longer a kiss on the cheek, but a more romantic relationship. It may have because there wasn't any other young people their age around them or because they had learned to depend on each other for help and companionship, but whatever the reason, they grew more in love each day. They always met around lunch, but had never gone out with each other on a date.
That changed one day when Josh mentioned, "There is a dance Saturday night and I was wondering if you would like to go with me."
Thrilled at the thought of them being together, Ruth quickly answered "Oh yes, I would love to."
"Great! Have to get me some new clothes. These are too dirty," Josh said, looking at the dirt and the holes in the knees of his jeans.
"Oh, I will wash them for you and patch them, too", answered Ruth, wondering within herself why she had not already offered to do that. "But, if you have the money, you need a good pair, too -- and a shirt -- for Sunday go-to-meeting or some special occasion. If you don't have enough, I haven't spent much of my money. You can have it."
"How about you. Don't you need a new dress?"
"Oh my goodness, no. I never had a store bought dress in my life."
"Well, it is about time. No future wife of mine is going to be able to say that I would not even buy her a dress!"
Future wife? Why Josh had never proposed or even mentioned that before. The nerve of him -- assuming that she was going to marry him! Of all things!!
Josh must have realized his mistake. "Well, I -- ah -- meant -- ah --oh shucks, you ain't said you would marry me. I am sorry."
Ruth just sat there and stared at him. Her mind was going wild, thinking "say it, just say it! I will accept! Oh, no, he is going to drop the subject! Ruth, do something -- say something!!"
Suddenly she blurted out, "You dumbbell. Don't you know I would marry you if you would just ask?"
"Sorry, I am new at this thang. I ain't never been married before."
Ruth thought in her mind, "Of course not, you idiot. Every man has to ask before a girl will marry him.
"Aren't I 'pose to have a ring or something?"
"Well, get one off a bridle or something. They are round!"
"Oh, yeah," said Josh as he got a ringlet off of a bridle and gave it to Ruth.
"Put it on my finger."
"Well, -- ah -- okay. Let's see -- with this ring, I thee wed.."
"No, no, you say that when we get married. Now, just ask if I will marry you."
"Okay -- ah -- will you marry me?"
"Of course, you dump cluck -- I will marry you." With that, she threw her arms around Josh and gave him the longest kiss he ever had.
"You know a lot about getting married. Where did you learn all that?" asked Josh.
"By watching a couple of my cousins get married and reading a story in a book."
"Can you read?" Josh thought it unusual for a girl in the middle of nowhere to be able to read.
"Yep, my momma taught me. I learned to read from the Bible."
"I wish I could read."
"I will teach you. No husband of mine is going to be able to say he can't read."
"What were we talking about? Oh yeah -- no wife -- ah -- future wife of mine is going to be able to say that I would not buy her a dress. Tomorrow, instead of sitting here, we will go looking for you a dress."
"And you a pair of trousers," added Ruth.
Copyright 2008 by Starla Anne Lowry
All characters and places (other than historical persons and the name of towns & states) are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or other places are coincidental.