A just for fun fiction with a little Psalms 119 thrown in.
Now, Elise was trying to make her way in a foreign place though it did not seem as if she would ever belong. She clung to a portion of Scripture God had comforted her heart with in Psalm 119. The verses 49-55 became her prayer, "Remember the word unto Thy servant upon which Thou hast caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction: for Thy word quickened me." This was how she moved forward in spite of her grief when she felt God leading her to move to the great unknown.
After Sunday, she now understood the next verse, "The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet I have not declined from Thy law. I remembered Thy judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself...Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I have remembered Thy name, O Lord in the night, and have kept Thy law." In spite of the rejection, the derision she'd felt in church on Sunday, not to mention the cruel note left for her in the wagon, "Go home, you don't belong here," she only felt "horror," sorrow for them as spoken of in verse 53. She read these verses every night before going to sleep as a blanket to her soul.
"Too bad," Uncle Gil said shaking his head. "Your father was a good man. Always was a better man than me. I can't imagine him not thinking ahead to protect his children. But I'm sure he never thought he'd be snatched away so quickly by the yellow fever either."
"It looks as if you've done alright for yourself, Uncle Gil. You have a lovely ranch here," she stumbled with her words. Lovely wasn't exactly a fitting description of his place.
"Don't know about the lovely part, but I'm a respected rancher hereabouts. I can't imagine that it's very comfortable for the likes of you though. You're more refined than probably any gal around here except maybe Marybelle. She's the mayor's wife from Boston. She'd keep up her end of the conversation if you were to meet up with her. Me? I'd ride ten miles out of the way to keep from talking to the woman."
"Why is that, Uncle Gil?" she couldn't help but ask.
"Cause she loses me in the first two minute when she latches on to me with her jawing. I learned to just nod my head no matter what she says 'cause I couldn't win an argument with that woman if I tried. If I said that skunks all have stripes, she'd try to argue."
"Well, there is such a thing as spotted skunks, Uncle," she grinned.
"See? See what I mean? You two are a pair. Not many around here can hold their own with the kind of gal you are, so I doubt you'll get too many friends. People will think you are uppity even if you're not. Besides, you're too pretty. The other females will be green with envy and meaner than a pile of rattlesnakes most likely. I hope I'm wrong, but just be prepared, darling," he warned.
"Oh, goodness, I hope you're wrong, but I'm afraid I did get the cold shoulder in church on Sunday." She had told no one of the note she'd found. "Not many were willing to greet me. At least the parson and his wife made me feel welcome. There was a Willa Smith too. She also was friendly, especially when she overheard me say that I was your niece. She said that you were long-time friends and I was to tell you hello for her. I took an instant liking to her."
"Yes'um. She's one right fine woman. She was married to my best friend. He died in a stampede a few years back. I sure miss him," her uncle mused.
"Do you know a man named Cotton? He said that he'd be riding over to talk with you soon. He seemed to be an unpleasant sort."
"Who, Cotton? Why I thought all the ladies swooned around that young buck. He's welcome here any time. His pa and me were pretty close when he was alive. I've tried to take him under my wing and help him out every chance I get as a good neighbor should. Our property is adjacent to each other in fact."
"Well, he certainly scowled at me. In fact he stepped on my toes, literally."
Her uncle threw back his head and laughed. "So that's why you're limping," he said. "I'm not laughing at your injury, jest at that galoot hoofing it on you. I think he's scowling 'cause he's never seen someone like you, probably thinks you're a duck out of water."
"Well, that's certainly unfair. I don't think it speaks much of one's character to be so judgmental. He doesn't even know me. He practically tried to argue me out of truly being from the Rocking G Ranch. Mr. Cotton was downright rude to me. He thought I was trying to pull the wool over his eyes."
That sent her uncle into another spasm of laughter. "I bet he did. I don't guess he'd think I'd have such a pretty thing like you related to me. Other than Margarita, we haven't had another female on the place. Ever. That explains some of my shock when you rode up in your rented buggy. That was the first buggy to ever grace our ranch too. And then you climbed out. I thought I was seeing things and my cowpokes all stopped what they were doing too. Joe even got bucked off the bronco he was breaking as soon as he saw you. I've told them all they are never to talk to you or come near you, that you are a lady and too good for them."
"Oh, Uncle. Was that really necessary?"
"You bet. If I didn't lay down the law, work would never get done 'cause they'd be mooning around you like moths to a candle."
"And here I was beginning to think there weren't more than a couple of friendly people in the whole territory. At least that explains why the hands have been so stand-offish. But I hope you are wrong with what you said about other women shunning me." Elise chewed on her lip.
"I hope I'm wrong too, darling. I just have been witness to human nature for a lot of years. Sometimes a fella can get jaded. It's hard for me to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. It's too bad there aren't more Miss Willa's in this world. Maybe she'll pave the way so you can meet some ladies on more pleasant terms."
"Perhaps we could invite her out here for supper one night," Elise suggested.
Her uncle went into a coughing fit like he choked on his own spit. She patted him hard on the back until he could speak again. "I think it would be a much better plan if I was to take you to her place one day next week when I will be going to town to get supplies. How's that sound?"
"I would enjoy that. In fact, I wish you would go to church with me, Uncle Gil. I'm just not comfortable taking that big ol' wagon all by myself. That is something I've never done before. See?" She held up her hands to show him her blisters from the reigns.
"Well, I'll be a hound dog...I never thought of how soft your hands were and unused to such a common things as driving a wagon. Maybe I could go with you, at least until you've earned your callouses."
"Thank you," she beamed. Now she could look forward to Sunday with eagerness instead of dread. One thing's for certain, she'd never sit in the third row from the back on the right side again if it was that cowboy's place.
She was working in the garden that Margarita had planted. It was hot. She was sweating. She had dirt everywhere from the crown of her head down between her bare toes. Every time she'd yank up a weed, it'd shower dirt down on her again. Elise was on her haunches and was wiping her forehead with her sleeve when someone on a horse rode up. She didn't turn around because the ranch hands had been warned not to talk to her. However, she soon saw a familiar pair of boots when a man walked up next to her. This time the black hat shadowed his eyes while hers had to be shaded with her hand to block the bright sunshine as she looked up.
"You surprise me Miss Waters. I didn't know gardening was your passion."
She ignored him knowing he was just baiting her. He didn't deserve a response. Now she was even angrier.
"I'd hate to see you get heat stroke though," he went on. "Most gentle folks know to go inside at this hour of the day. This part of Colorado is at a little higher elevation than most other places back East and as such, is closer to the sun. Take care." With that he walked away while she attacked another whole row of weeds with fury. She had indeed planned to quit right about the time he rode up. Elise was not stupid. She could feel the warning headache coming on from too much sun. When she finally stood up, she wobbled and made it only to the porch steps before she collapsed putting her head down in her hands. She just needed a moment. Margarita ran out
speaking Spanish. The woman knew how to use English, but seldom did around Elise.
Elise wanted to get up and go inside, but was seeing spots before her eyes. Maybe in a moment. She thought she heard Margarita calling from a distance, "Mr. Gill, Mr. Gill," but that was her last thought before she sprawled out.
Margarita was clucking worse than a hen who was forced off her nest when Elise opened her eyes. Her head was pounding.
"Is she sweating? It's not good if she's not sweating," some man was saying.
"Think it's heat stroke then and not just altitude sickness?" She recognized her uncle's voice.
"Maybe both." That was Margarita.
She wanted to argue, but didn't have the strength. It had all drained out of her. She was even too tired to see who was speaking, but she knew it wasn't her uncle. She forced her eyes open only to see blue eyes bent over staring her in her face. They both were startled. He stood up and took a step back so fast that he almost knocked her uncle over. It had been that cowboy's hand which she had felt on her forehead.
"Please leave," she managed to say mortified.
Her uncle cleared his throat and then said, "Well, I think Margarita has it well in hand now, Cotton, but thanks for carrying her in for us. I'll keep checking on her. Margarita, I will pump you a couple more buckets of water to cool her down with. Just keep her drinking too."
Then the door mercifully closed.
The woman spoke in her lilting tongue softly. It was soothing. Elise was almost glad she didn't know what she was saying, but the tone was comforting. It felt good to have her face bathed.
Suddenly she had to retch though nothing was on her stomach to lose. Margarita held back her hair while holding the bucket before gently laying her back against the feather pillow.
"Too much sun, pequeno. I should have been watching over you better. You don't need to work so hard to prove anything to Mr. Gil. He so very happy you are here."
Elise was too tired to talk. Her head was pounding and she just wanted to sleep. It was dark when she next woke up. Margarita was not there. She was really thirsty. Elise reached for a glass of water, but her grip was so weak she dropped it. She fell back thankful that it landed on the rug and did not break. Elise left it there. It was too much to bend over to pick it up. Her door opened and the light that flooded in caused an onslaught of pain.
"Please close the door. I need it dark."
"Sure, sugar." He closed it, but opened the curtain to let the gentle moonlight stream in. Her uncle bent over and picked up the glass that had fallen. "You had me worried there for a moment when you blacked out, darling. Then you got delirious. Once you get sun stroke, it can make it to where you can't take the heat nearly as well from then on out. It's something you are going to need to be careful of. It can kill a body the same as a snakebite or a gunshot, or a stampede. You have to respect all the dangers around here. Your daddy would skin me alive if I let something like that happen."
The mention of her daddy made a single tear escape from her closed eyes. Her uncle's rough calloused finger wiped it away.
"There, there. You're going to be just fine Margarita says, but you need peace and quiet for a few days to build up your strength, and you definitely need to stay out of the sun."
She felt weak as a kitten. Never in her life had she felt so limp and devoid of strength.
He propped her up and helped her drink a fresh glass of water.
"Thank you, uncle." Then she turned her face away and slipped back into sleep. The pounding in her head was still there, just was a hammer now instead of a sledgehammer.
When Margarita came in the morning, she begged, "Please close the curtains. It's so bright, it hurts my eyes."
Margarita did so without complaining. I brought you just a little bit of cream of wheat with butter, brown sugar and cream." The woman helped her to sit up. Elise took two bites before her hand felt too heavy to lift the spoon back up to her mouth. So the woman fed her. It was humiliating. She managed to eat about a fourth of the bowl before giving up. She was overwhelmingly sleepy.
"Sorry to be so much trouble, Margarita. Don't worry about me. I'll just sleep for awhile. I know you have too much to do without having to take care of me."
"Horse feathers. This ranch needed a young senorita around here to brighten up the place. We just want you to get strong again, and you will. He'll have you out riding horses before you know it."
"I'd like that, but I don't know how I'll do it in a skirt with no sidesaddle."
"I will make you a split skirt. That's what ladies wear around here." When she saw Elise's wide eyes, she laughed. "You will like, you'll see."
Later that day she heard Mr. Cotton in the kitchen. The words were too soft to hear, but his voice rolled like distant thunder.
Her uncle came in that evening. "You look like you are feeling better, sugar, but still have the stuffings knocked out of you. I think you should wait one more day before you try to get up. After that, too much lying around will just make you weaker. But I told Margarita to only let you sit in the kitchen on the morrow until you are stronger."
She appreciated his concern, and wished he was wrong, but she was in no shape to try to prove a point that she was ready to get back up on her feet again. Instead she just said, "It makes me feel silly to cause this bother. I'm sorry."
"You just plumb wore yourself out in the hot sun, darling. There's no need for that. Margarita has always managed to keep her garden and the house and cook the meals and do the laundry..."
"That's just it, Uncle Gil. I feel useless as a Shetland pony on a cattle ranch." She wouldn't cry. That would be more of a show of weakness, so she just chewed her lip.
"Well, I have been giving it some thought. I'll have to admit wondering how you would be at helping with my books. If you're any good at math at all, I'm sure you are better than me. These old eyes are having a hard time focusing on the figures even with a pair of glasses. Then I was pondering how you were at sewing, if you could maybe sew me up a new shirt now and then. It also came to mind how nice it would be to sit in my chair come evenings and listen to you read me one of those novels you have. Sometimes I jest get a hankering for a story, but my eye sight's not what it used to be.
"Oh, Uncle Gil, I would love to do all those things," she said with a timid smile. "It would feel so good to belong. You don't know how much it means that you've opened your home to me. It takes my breath away sometimes though hearing you and thinking it's my daddy's voice. If I can't have my daddy, at least I can have his favorite brother."
Uncle Gil got out his red handkerchief and wiped his eyes then blew his nose. "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that Cotton has come by to check on you. Several times. He was real concerned."
"I'm embarrassed. He must really think I'm unfit on the ranch."
"Nah, he just was worried about you. He normally keeps his distance from any females, so it's quite the honor he's even noticed you at all, and believe you me, he's noticed," her uncle cackled.
"Well, I'll feel better the less I see of him," she mumbled.
Her uncle didn't hear her as he rose from the straight back chair and said, "It's time I get back to work. Mind Margarita, you hear?" He shook his finger at her and tried to scowl, but it just turned into a silly grin. "I'm just glad to see you coming back around, darling. Don't overdo it."
"Yes, sir." It was time for another nap anyway.
When she woke up, she was able to feed herself the chicken soup Margarita made. "This is so good, Margarita. Uncle is lucky to have you."
"Mr. Waters has been good to me and my Manuel. We had fallen on hard times when he hired us on even though Manuel was recovering from a broken leg at the time. Mr. Gil had him mending harness and such until his leg was healed. He is a good man, your uncle."
"I don't know what I would have done if he did not let me come live with him. I didn't have enough money for a return ticket on the train."
Margarita laughed. "I don't think I've ever seen him so turned inside out as when you arrived. The man didn't know what to do with himself worse than a cowboy who didn't know which end of a branding iron to put in the fire."
Mr. Cotton didn't come until the next day when she was sitting in the kitchen watching Margarita make tortillas. He swept his hat off his head leaving his hair trying to decide which way to lie down. Hers was probably worse, and she nervously fingered her braid which was down with all its mused hair from laying in bed so long.
"I'm going to the spring house to get a round of cheese," the housekeeper announced. "There's cookies in the crock, Mr. Cotton. Help yourself." With that Margarita disappeared.
The man nodded without looking at Margarita peering at Elise's face. "How are you feeling today, Miss Waters. It's good to see you up and around."
"Well, I'm much better, thank you." Somehow he made her more nervous than a cat caught in a rainstorm. She felt like streaking out of there. "I believe my uncle is out riding the fence line today. I don't know how far out he is though."
"I saw him before I came to the house, but I wanted to check on you. You were pretty sick there for a day or two. Sun stroke is nothing to mess with. Lost one of my new hands one year. His horse had gotten away from him and he tried walking in, but didn't find shade soon enough and passed out apparently. He'd laid out in the sun for too long before we found him. After a couple of days being delirious, he died. We just couldn't get his temperature down." Cotton was practically wringing his hat.
"That must have been terrible for you," she said sympathizing and looked up at him while his eyes assessed hers.
"Well, I can see you're better, so I'll take my leave." He grabbed a couple of cookies out of the jar and lit out like a fire was under him almost knocking Margarita off the porch steps as she was coming in.
"I swear, for a man who rides his horse so effortlessly, he's as clumsey as an ox when his boots are flat on the ground," she laughed.
Somehow word got out that she had been sick and callers started coming. No ladies, only men. A couple of gents from town came all slicked up, but mostly it was cowboys with wildflower bouquets, or a handmade card with a verse, or a woven braid to wear round a cowboy hat. They all came bearing gifts. She tried to turn them away.
After the first fella settled himself into a kitchen chair, Margarita stood behind him shaking her head no. Chad Miller was nice enough, but she didn't like his appreciative stare.
Later after the man left, Margarita explained, "That's Miss Johnson's boyfriend. The gossiping tongues call you "the man thief," you know. Those silly women think you are of a mind to steal their beaus."
"Well, you may think so, but just look at the herd of young men pounding a trail to your door." Elise wanted to discount it, but they were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was a cowboy she'd seen loitering in town.
"Howdy, Miss Waters. Heard you were sick. I thought I might come over and try to cheer you up with my mouth organ. With that he began playing. It was enough to bring back her headache.
"Thank you Mr...what did you say your name was? But I'm afraid I need to go lie down."
Once she was safely tucked under the cool sheets, in her chemise, Margarita stepped into the room. "That one was Miss Reynald's boyfriend. She'd be fit to be tied if she found out he was here."
"Well she can have him for all I care."
The next one pounded on the door while they were eating supper. Her uncle jumped up to answer since people did not knock like that usually unless something was wrong. Nothing was. It was just another suitor. Her uncle turned him away at the door.
"I thought that dandy was engaged to Miss Ellis. Fancy him come-a-calling."
After the dishes were done, someone was at the door again. Her uncle answered again, took the flowers and sent him packing.
"That was Isabella Mason's boyfriend. I don't know what that fella was thinking trying to two-time a gal like her. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.' I think that Shakespeare fella said it once upon a time. These galoots are stirring up a whole pack of trouble by showing their faces around here."
"Please tell them to go away. I don't want any more company."
"Earlier today, I came upon three would be suitors standing in the yard looking like stallions pawing the ground. I ran them off too," her uncle said disgustedly.