Chapter 1 - New Hope
It was a fine mid-summer Monday morning, warm, but not too hot yet. The sun shone down on two girls on a chestnut horse. The main rider was a teenage girl with shoulder length auburn hair. Behind her rode a very sleepy little girl with her long black hair tied back with a ribbon. They had reached the town. Alexis was still half asleep. “Are we there yet?” she mumbled.
“Yep,” her older sister answered. Sweetwater. Papa used to have a saying for the perfect place; shade and sweet water. Maybe this was a sign, Meg thought. Anyway she had a good feeling about this place and they needed to rest.
Meg turned Chase toward the Marshal’s office. “You stay here, right next to Chase,” she told Lexi. “I’ll be just inside.” Meg attempted to straighten her dress. Head held high and fighting her nervousness, she opened the door.
Marshal Sam Cain was at his desk when a young woman walked in. She was wearing a very rumpled navy blue dress, but her hazel eyes showed strength and determination. “Can I help you, miss?” Sam asked.
“I hope so, sir,” she answered. “My name is Meg Collins. My little sister and I just arrived in town. I was wondering if you know of any families that need a housekeeper or cook. I can clean, cook, sew and take care of children. I need to find a job to support my sister and myself.”
“I see,” said Sam. “Well, I can’t think of any right off hand. I’ll let you know if I hear of anything. How long you stayin’ and where?”
“Well, how long would depend on if I found a job, and - I don’t know where,” Meg replied softly.
“Is that your sister?” Sam asked with a smile as Lexi pressed her face to the window.
“Yes, sir,” Meg said, glancing at Lexi, “and my horse, too.”
Suddenly Sam thought of something. Emma. It was a long shot, but maybe she could give this young girl work. “Wait a minute,” Sam called as Meg started toward the door. “I may know of a possible job. I’ll ride out and check and you girls can wait here.”
“Alright, thank you very much,” Meg said with a note of relief in her voice.
Emma was on the porch when Sam rode up. “Mornin’, Sam. What brings you out this way?”
“Mornin’, Emma,” Sam responded. “What would you think of adding two more chickens to your flock?”
“What are you talking about, Sam?”
“Well, these two girls just came in my office. The oldest is a teenager and she’s got a little sister that couldn’t be more’n five. The older one, Meg, is looking for work as a housekeeper or cook. They’re all alone, Emma.”
Emma sighed. “Bring them out and we’ll see what we can work out. I’ll talk to Mr. Spoon about it. The least I can do is give them a good meal and a place to spend the night.”
Sam thanked her and said he’d bring them out that afternoon. Then he headed back to town. The girls were still waiting at his office, and Sam told them the good news. “Have you girls eaten yet?” Sam asked.
“No, sir, but that’s alright,” Meg assured him. She knew that they couldn’t spare the money to eat in town right now.
“Meg, I’m hungry,” Lexi whispered.
“In that case, I’m taking you ladies to lunch.” Sam stated.
“But…” Meg started to protest.
Sam held up his hand. “Don’t argue with the Marshal,” he said with a smile.
Meg smiled back. “Alright,” she agreed. “Thank you.”
After lunch the girls mounted Chase, and following Sam and his horse, they started out of town. “What is this place like, Marshal Cain?” asked Meg.
“Well,” Sam looked for the right words, “it’s a Pony Express Station. I know the lady there real well. Her name is Emma Shannon and she owns the place. The station master is Teaspoon Hunter, a retired Texas Ranger. There’s six teenage boys who live in the bunkhouse and are riders. You and Lexi would stay with Emma in her house and help with the cookin’ and cleanin’ and such.”
“Mr. Sam?” Alexis turned her big blue eyes toward him.
“Say Marshal Cain,” instructed Meg.
“No, no, Mr. Sam is fine,” said Sam who was already charmed by the little girl.
“Is that man really named Teaspoon?” Alexis giggled.
“Yeah, sweetie, he really is. And he’s a nice fellow. You’ll like him,” Sam assured the little girl. “Do you like horses?” Lexi nodded. “Well, they have a lot of horses, and really fast ones, too.”
“Not as good and fast as Chase,” Lexi declared loyally, patting her sister’s horse.
They had reached a small rise, and Sam stopped at the top. “There’s the station,” he pointed. Meg looked down at a barn with corrals, a bunkhouse and a few other buildings, and a neat white house surrounded by a picket fence. “It looks nice and homey,” sighed the girl.
“Let’s go.” Sam started toward the station. Meg followed him.
In the yard was a woman, an older man and four teenage boys. Sam dismounted, took Lexi down, and got the two bags tied to the saddle. Meg hopped off Chase.
“Here are the girls, Emma,” Sam stated. “This is Meg and Alexis Collins.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Emma with a smile.
“Thank you for having us,” Meg replied shyly and shook hands.
“This is Teaspoon Hunter, the station master,” Emma introduced the older man.
“Howdy, little ladies,” Teaspoon grinned. Lexi giggled.
“And these,” Emma continued the introductions, “are four of the boys; Buck, Lou, Cody and Jimmy. Kid and Ike are on a run, but they should be back by supper.”
Four pairs of eyes regarded Meg. Trying to hide her nervousness, Meg studied the riders. Lexi hid behind her sister. Meg couldn’t really blame her. Two of the riders were rather intimidating. The Indian had a solemn countenance and piercing dark eyes that seemed to look into a person’s soul. The tall rider dressed in black looked tough, stern, and unyielding. Meg read the challenge in his eyes and she felt a slight shiver run down her spine. Turning her attention to the smaller rider, Meg was surprised that the boy dropped his head and didn’t meet her eyes. Maybe he’s as nervous as I am, Meg thought. Lastly, Meg surveyed the blond rider. He looked a little friendlier than the others. Managing a smile, Meg said hello. They all nodded except Cody. Never one to pass up meeting a girl he held out his hand. “William F. Cody, at your service, ma’am.” He told her with a grin.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Cody,” Meg shook his hand.
“Come on, Cody,” Buck pulled him away. “We got work to do.”
“Follow me and I’ll show you where to put your things,” Emma guided the girls toward her house.
“I need to take care of Chase first,” Meg looked at her horse.
“I’ll take him to the barn and untack him for ya, missy,” Teaspoon offered. “You can come out and brush him when you finish with Emma.”
“Well,” Meg said unsurely, “sometimes he doesn’t like strangers.” Rubbing the horse’s nose she said, “Chase, you be good.” Then she handed the reins to Teaspoon.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Great another one that talks to horses,” he said under his breath.
“Let’s get back to work,” Teaspoon said and he and the riders headed toward the barn.
“See ya’ll later,” said Sam, mounting his horse.
“Thank you so much, Marshal Cain,” Meg said gratefully.
Alexis smiled and said, “Goodbye, Mr. Sam.”
“‘Bye, sweetie,” Sam replied. “I hope things work out for you all.”
“We’ll give it a try,” Emma responded as she led the girls inside.
“Emma, this is so nice.” Meg looked around the room that she and Lexi would share. It was small, but comfortable. There were two small beds with a table and chair between them. In a corner stood a bureau with a wash bowl and pitcher on top. A desk with a lamp was in the other corner. The window looked out past the bunkhouse to the hills in the distance.
Alexis had already gone to sit on one of the beds. “It’s soft,” she announced giving a little bounce.
“I’m glad you like it,” Emma smiled. “Now would you like to rest and freshen up before supper? We can talk more tonight and make arrangements about a job.”
“Well, I would like to change clothes,” Meg glanced down at her stained travel dress. “Then I need to check on Chase. And wouldn’t you like me to help fix supper?’
“Tonight you’re a guest. Tomorrow you start work,” Emma stated with a smile.
“I can’t thank you enough for giving me a chance,” Meg told Emma. “I’ll do everything I can to help.”
“I know you will,” Emma told her, “I can tell you are a dependable young woman.” She left the room.
“Come on, Lex, let’s change clothes,” Meg said to her sister. Quickly they washed up and changed. “Wish I could wear my pants, but that’d shock ‘em too much,” Meg mumbled as she pulled on another worn dress. “At least we look better now. Let’s go.” Meg took Lexi’s hand and they went downstairs.
Emma was waiting for them on the porch. “I thought maybe Lexi might want to walk around the place with me while you check on Chase. We could meet you back in the barn,” Emma suggested.
“Lex?” Meg asked. Alexis nodded and slipped her little hand into Emma’s. “Mind your manners,” Meg reminded her little sister.
Then Meg walked to the barn. It was quiet inside. Meg gave a low whistle and Chase’s head popped out over a stall door. “There ye are, me lad,” Meg crooned as she stroked the horse’s nose. “Looks like someone already brushed you down, but I’ll wager they don’t know your itchy spots.” Meg was scratching under Chase’s mane and around his ears when she heard footsteps. She looked up to find Teaspoon watching her. “Thank you for taking care of Chase for me.”
“It was no problem,” Teaspoon answered. “He’s a mighty nice looking horse.”
“Thank you. He’s all I have left now besides Lexi.” Then Meg grinned, and tapping the horse’s shoulder, she said, “Chase, this is Mr. Hunter. He’s letting us stay here. Tell him hello.” The horse responded by ducking his head and bowing.
“Well hello to you, too, Chase,” Teaspoon laughed. “Kid will love to see that. And by the way, missy, it ain’t Mr. Hunter; just call me Teaspoon.”
“Meg.” Lexi’s little voice called from the barn door.
“In here, baby,” Meg responded. Emma and Lexi came over.
“Meg, Emma’s got chickens and she said I can help feed them and gather eggs,” Lexi reported excitedly. “I had fun walking with Emma.”
“I’m glad. But now we need to wash our hands again and go help Emma with supper,” Meg told Lexi.
“I told you, you can wait ‘til tomorrow,” Emma reminded.
“Papa always said never put off ‘til tomorrow. Besides I want to start earning our keep right away.” Meg explained.
Teaspoon chuckled. “Sounds like we got a smart, determined little lady here, Emma.” Emma nodded.
They headed for the house just as the call of “Riders comin’” rang out. “That’s Kid and Ike, the last two of the boys,” Emma stated. “You’ll meet them at supper.”
Meg glanced at the two riders in curiosity, but followed Emma. At least those two don’t look as intimidating, she thought.
Supper that night was an interesting affair. While the boys knew better than to be totally rude, they were as rough and boisterous as they could get by with. They kept looking at Meg for her reaction, but she sat calmly eating and didn’t let it phase her. Poor little Lexi, on the other hand, was not use to this kind of behavior. She sat between Meg and Teaspoon, her wide eyes trying to take it all in. After watching Cody stuff a huge piece of meat in his mouth and Buck reach over to get the biscuits, Lexi looked at Teaspoon with a frown. Meg noticed and quietly asked her what was wrong. Lexi whispered something to her sister. Meg tried not to laugh as she whispered back. Lexi nodded, sat up straight and said, “Mr. Teaspoon?”
“Yes, sweetie?” Teaspoon answered.
“Boys don’t have very good manners, do they?” she asked.
Teaspoon threw back his head and howled with laughter. Emma was laughing. Meg grinned and then she noticed all the boys were chuckling, too.
“Well, honey,” Teaspoon said when he recovered some, “I reckon your sister and you will have to teach them how to behave around ladies. Think you can handle that job, missy?” Teaspoon looked at Meg.
Meg met his look and replied confidently, “An Irish lass can do anything.”
“Oh, Lord, another one,” Cody mumbled.
Emma shot him a look. “Did you have something to say, Cody?”
“No, Emma,” Cody answered as the other riders snickered.
“So, Meg, how old are you?” asked Buck.
“Seventeen.” Meg responded. “And Lexi just turned six.”
“Teaspoon says your horse does tricks,” Kid piped up.
Meg smiled, so this must be Kid that Teaspoon mentioned. She’d get them all straight soon. “Yes, he does,” she responded. “Would you like to see?”
“Sure,” Kid grinned. “What’s his name?”
“Chase. Well, actually Star Chaser, but I call him Chase,” Meg answered.
“How’d you happen to get a trick horse?”
“I trained him myself.”
Kid gave her an admiring glance. “Could you show me how to train Katy?”
“I can try if I have time from my work,” Meg promised. She liked this young man already. Then she noticed the look the rider next to Kid gave her. Meg blinked and looked away from the piercing eyes behind the glasses.
Everyone finished up and Meg helped Emma clean up and wash the dishes. The boys and Teaspoon said good night and headed to the bunkhouse.
After tucking Alexis in bed, Meg went downstairs to sit and talk to Emma. “What do you think?” Emma questioned.
“I think I’m going to be tested for a while,” Meg answered.
“They’ll warm up to you soon,” Emma smiled.
“Emma,” Meg said slowly, “I thought Marshal Cain said there were six boys.”
“There are,” Emma said puzzled.
Meg smiled shyly. “Emma, the one with the glasses is a girl.”
Emma’s mouth dropped open. “What are you talking about? How do you know?”
“‘Cause I did the same thing. I cut my hair short, dressed as a boy and worked at a horse farm under the name of Robert, until they found out I was really a girl. Then I got fired because they said the work was too dangerous for a girl.”
“Meg, I can’t believe it,” an amazed Emma said. “No one but me and the boys know Lou is really a girl. I can’t believe you walk in and find out our secret first thing.”
Meg shrugged. “I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t done it too. That and the look she gave me when I was talking to Kid. Then I knew for sure. You don’t glare daggers like that at someone for talking to your buddy. Don’t worry, I’ll keep the secret.”
Emma smiled. “I think you and Lou should talk. It would be good for Lou to have a girl her own age around to talk to.”
“It would be nice for me too,” Meg admitted softly. “I’ve never really had any close friends.”
“Meg, would you like to talk?” Emma asked gently, not wanting to pry.
Meg looked at Emma’s honest, kind face, and before she realized it, she was telling Emma everything. “I was born and raised in Kentucky on a large horse farm. My father’s name was Robert and my mother was Mary Alexis. Mama was a true lady, delicate with blue eyes. Papa always called her Lily, because he said she was like a fragile flower. Mama taught me to cook, sew, and clean, as well as reading and writing. She trained me to run a household. She thought it was important for a girl to learn to be a proper lady. I learned, but I preferred to be with Papa in the stables. He taught me all about horses and called me his ‘pony girl’. Mama didn’t like it to much, but she tolerated it. Over the years Mama lost three babies and her health got worse. Then when I was eleven, Lexi was born. Mama died giving birth.” Meg got quiet for a moment. Emma leaned over to put an arm around the girl’s shoulder. “Papa never got over losing Mama. He still took care of us and I did all I could, but he started taking more trips and staying late at the saloon. Then right after Lexi’s third birthday, Papa was shot and killed by a drunk in a brawl at the saloon.” Meg couldn’t hold back the tears any longer and Emma held her close.
“I’m so sorry,” the older woman said as she patted Meg’s shoulder.
Meg wiped her face and continued. “I was a fourteen year old with a three year old and a horse and very little money. That was all that was left after we sold the farm to pay all the bills. For the past few years we’ve roamed around with me working any job I can find. We would stay at a place for a while and then move on. I really want to settle somewhere and give Lex a normal life.”
“Well, you stay here as long as you want.” Emma stated. “We may not have a lot or be able to pay you much, but you and Lexi will always be welcome.”
“Thank you, Emma. You must think I’m a crybaby,” Meg wiped away the last few tears.
“I don’t think anything of the kind. You are a strong young woman,” Emma told her firmly.
Meg gave her a faint smile. “Papa always said I was a combination child. I could be gentle and patient like Mama, but I also had his Irish temper and stubbornness and could hold my own against anyone.”
Emma smiled. “Being Irish myself, I can understand about the temper and stubbornness. And trust me; you’ll need it with the boys around.” They laughed together as the little clock on the mantle chimed ten o’clock. “I didn’t realize how late it was. We better turn in for the night.” Emma stood up.
“Good night, Emma. And thank you again for everything,” Meg said hugging Emma.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Emma told her.
“Yes, you have. You’ve given me hope - and a new friend,” Meg replied.
Chapter 2 - Taming a Colt
Meg woke up early the next morning. She dressed and was ready when Emma knocked on the bedroom door. “Good morning. I was just about to wake Lexi.”
“You’re up and ready awfully early. Got a case of the nerves?” Emma teased.
“I was hoping you’d just think I was eager to work,” Meg laughed. She tugged back the covers and shook her little sister. “Lex, come on. We got to get breakfast ready.”
“Breakfas?” mumbled the little girl, as she tried to wake up.
Soon the trio was ready and when the boys got back from doing the morning chores they found bacon, eggs, and biscuits waiting. During breakfast Emma said, “By the way Mr. Spoon, if Lou’s not busy I need some help today.” Teaspoon nodded. Lou didn’t look to thrilled, but Meg knew what Emma was up to.
When the women were alone in the kitchen Emma said, “Now, Lou, I want you to help Meg organize the bedroom today. It’ll give you a chance to get to know each other. Meg, if you don’t mind, I’ll keep Lexi with me.”
“Can we go walking again?” the little girl asked.
“Maybe later,” said Emma, “but first I have to pick some beans from my garden. Want to help?”
“Okay,” Lexi happily went off with Emma.
Lou and Meg stood in the bedroom eyeing each other. “Alright, so what do you want to ‘organize’?” Lou asked sarcastically.
Meg grinned. “Nothing. Emma just wanted us to talk.”
“Because I saw the look you gave me last night when I talked to Kid. And I commented on it to Emma.”
“So?” Lou shrugged.
“I have a secret I want to show you. Turn around for just a minute,” Meg replied.
“Don’t try anything funny,” Lou said guardedly.
“I won’t. Trust me.” Meg quickly whisked off her skirt and pulled on a pair of pants she had put under her bed. Tucking in the cream colored shirt she already wore, Meg then tucked her hair into an old slouchy hat and said, “Alright, turn around.”
Lou turned and her eyes widened in surprise. “What’s this all about?” she asked.
“Meet Robert Collins, stable lad,” said Meg with a smile. “Only my hair was shorter, more like yours. I know you’re a girl, Lou. I’ve done it, too.”
“How…what…” Lou stammered in shock.
“Don’t worry. I told Emma I knew and I’m going to keep your secret. I know how hard jobs are to find for us girls. And you can relax about Kid. I ain’t interested in anything but a way to take care of Lexi and me,” Meg explained. “I would like us to be friends though.”
“I’ll be danged!” Lou flopped down on the bed and stared at Meg. “It would be nice to be able to talk to another girl,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ll have to tell the boys though or they’ll think something strange is going on if we’re together a lot.”
Suddenly Meg’s eyes twinkled with mischief. She and Lou were about the same size and Meg was only a little taller. “Lou, come look in this mirror. We look kinda alike.”
Lou looked. Meg raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Are you thinkin’ of tricking the boys?” Lou grinned back.
“Yep. Only we’ll have to make sure Teaspoon ain’t around.”
“Emma can fix that.” Lou ran to the door. “Emma!”
“What’s wrong?” Emma came running into the room. Lou whispered the plan to her and Emma laughed as much as the girls. “No problem,” she assured them. “Jimmy and Cody just left on a run and Mr. Spoon went to town on an errand. I’ll send the boys to the barn.”
“Give us about ten minutes to get in place,” Lou said. “Here, Meg, swap hats with me.”
The girls ran laughing to the barn. Lou hid in an empty stall and Meg stood in the open with her back to the door. In just a few minutes the boys came in.
“What’s up, Lou?” Kid asked, thinking that Meg was Lou. “Emma said you needed us in the barn.” Meg stood silently as planned. “Lou, didn’tcha hear me?” Kid took Meg by the shoulder and turned her around. “What the heck!” He jumped back and Meg couldn’t hold back the giggles.
Lou burst into laughter and stood up in the empty stall. “Meg knows the secret. She dressed up as a boy, too.” The amazed boys looked at each other, then at the giggling girls disguised as boys, and then they started laughing, too. The girls explained the whole story to them.
“I guess I’d better go and change back now, before Teaspoon sees us,” Meg said with a smile.
“Who’d thought there were two of you in the world,” Kid said shaking his head.
The tension was gone with Meg and the four riders now. They all talked at lunch and supper in a friendly way. Lexi was fitting in, too. She had charmed Teaspoon and the boys with her big blue eyes and sweet little girl ways. They were already calling her “princess”. Teaspoon had also had a talk with the riders and reminded them about watching their language around the girls.
Emma smiled and commented to Teaspoon, “Things are looking good. The boys seem to be accepting Meg.”
Teaspoon nodded. “But the real test will be how she handles them other two.”
“Cody’ll be no problem,” Emma laughed. “You know how he is with girls.”
“Yeah,” Teaspoon agreed, “but that last one will be the test.”
Emma looked thoughtful. “Something tells me Meg can handle Jimmy,” she told Teaspoon.
“I hope so,” Teaspoon said as he walked outside.
The following afternoon Meg was sweeping the porch when Lou called out “Riders comin’”. Cody and Jimmy galloped into the yard. Jimmy walked right past Meg with a nod, but Cody stopped to talk. “How do you like it here so far?” he asked.
“It’s nice,” Meg responded, pushing back her hair.
“Your hair looks fine,” Cody assured her
“Yours doesn’t,” Meg laughed. “You’d better wash up. Supper will be ready soon.”
“Yes ma’am,” Cody grinned and walked off.
I wish they were all that easy to talk to, Meg thought.
“Emma,” Meg asked later that night when they were alone, “could I do most of the cooking tomorrow?”
“If you want to,” Emma agreed.
“I really want to,” Meg assured her.
“Well alright. You fix breakfast. Then I’ll help you get lunch ready and then I do need to go into town for a few hours.”
“Sounds great.” Meg said happily planning what to cook.
Meg was up extra early on Thursday. She fixed biscuits, bacon and eggs. Then she started some homemade rolls for later. The boys didn’t know that Meg had done the cooking and were saying how good breakfast was. Emma smiled and told them, “Meg fixed it all.”
“Thought it tasted different,” Jimmy muttered. He pushed back his chair. “I’m goin’ start my chores.” And he left.
“Grump,” Cody said, sticking his tongue out at the door Jimmy had just gone through.
Lou smiled at her new friend. “Cody’s right, Meg. Jimmy’s just grumpy in the mornings. The breakfast is good.”
“Yeah,” Kid chimed in. “Don’t let Hickok bother you. Your cooking’s as good as Emma’s.”
Ike smiled and patted his stomach to show Meg he enjoyed it, too. Buck took another biscuit and grinned at Meg as they all headed out the door.
“Thanks, guys,” Meg smiled at them. She was glad they were getting to be better friends by the day.
Emma fixed roast beef for lunch, while Meg made mashed potatoes and gravy, string beans and rolls. She even made apple pie for dessert for a surprise.
The boys were eating when Teaspoon said, “Emma, you ain’t never made rolls like this before. They’re good.”
“I didn’t make these either,” Emma laughed. “Meg did.”
“I like Emma’s biscuits better,” Jimmy grumbled.
“I swear, Jimmy, you’d fuss about anything,” Kid remarked with a frown.
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” Lexi piped up.
“Who asked you, pipsqueak?” Jimmy retorted.
Meg’s eyes flashed. “If you don’t like it, don’t eat it, but you leave Lexi alone,” she stated firmly.
“We have a surprise for dessert,” Emma said quickly to head off any trouble. She brought out the pie.
“Apple pie!” yelled Cody. “Give me two pieces!”
Meg served each of them a slice. “Man this is good,” Buck said. “Did you make it, Meg?” Meg nodded.
“Ain’t as sweet as Emma’s,” remarked Jimmy.
Meg calmly walked over and took his plate. “Well, I’d hate to make you eat something you don’t want,” she said sweetly, handing Jimmy’s piece to Cody. The boys hooted with laughter. Jimmy glared at them and then left the table.
“You sure showed him,” Cody laughed, digging into the pie.
“I’m glad the rest of you like it,” Meg smiled.
“Well, seeing as how you got things under control, missy,” Teaspoon announced with a grin, “Emma and I are going into town for a while this afternoon.”
“We’ll take care of things,” Kid stated.
“I know. Have fun, but get the chores done, too.”
They all nodded. Lexi looked from Emma and Teaspoon to her sister. Emma saw the look and guessed, “Would you like to go to town, sweetie?”
“Please, Meg. Can I go?” Lexi turned to her sister.
“Only if you promise to be good and mind Emma and Teaspoon,” Meg agreed.
“I promise,” Lexi said solemnly.
Teaspoon grinned. “This little lady is always good.”
That afternoon Meg and the riders were sitting on the corral fence when Kid reminded Meg they wanted to see Chase’s tricks. Meg brought out her horse and showed them how Chase could bow, count, and rear on command. Kid was impressed.
“That’s fine if you want to join a circus, but can you really ride?” Jimmy questioned smugly.
The green in Meg’s hazel eyes blazed. If Emma had been there she would have known trouble was brewing. “Aye, I can ride and if ye be up for a race, Chase and I’ll be showin’ ye what we can do,” Meg snapped.
“Just let me get Sundance ready,” Jimmy countered and headed to the barn to tack up. When Jimmy was ready, they all headed to the flat meadow behind the bunkhouse.
“Alright,” Kid said, “race to that clump of trees yonder and back here.” Both contestants nodded. “Ready, set, GO!”
Both horses jumped forward in a gallop. They were even with each other as they rapidly approached the trees. Leaning over Chase’s neck Meg yelled, “Go, Chase!” and the horse pulled ahead. Meg reached the trees first and spun Chase for the run back. Meg was ahead by a good two lengths when she looked back in time to see Sundance stumble and almost go down. Braking Chase so hard he almost sat down, Meg galloped back to where Jimmy and Sundance were now standing. Meg swung off Chase and looked at the leg Sundance was favoring. The other riders had run over by now.
“I guess she stepped in a hole, but she twisted it good,” Jimmy commented.
“Easy lass,” Meg crooned to the palomino. “Tis already starting to swell. We need to get her back to the barn and put hot poultices on it.”
“Teaspoon’s gonna kill you, Jimmy,” Cody breathed.
“I know,” Jimmy agreed.
Meg sent Lou to find some clean, soft rags. Buck boiled some water. Kid, Meg, and Ike tried to keep Sundance calm. “Okay, boys, hold her good, because this will be really hot.” Meg used a stick and lifted a strip of cloth from the boiling water. Kid and Ike held on to the horse’s halter as Meg talked to the mare and wrapped the hot poultice around her leg. Sundance flinched and whinnied, but quickly calmed sown under Meg’s gentle hands. “We’ll have to keep doing that until the swelling goes down,” Meg stated. “But right now I’ve got to see to Chase.” As she left the boys to fend for themselves, she heard Jimmy mutter, “Who put her in charge?”
By late afternoon, the swelling in Sundance’s leg had gone down. Cody shoot out of the barn when they heard the buckboard. Seconds later Teaspoon came thundering in. “What the hell happened here?!” He dropped down in the hay next to Meg, who was removing a poultice. Teaspoon’s hands felt the horse’s leg quickly and then he stood up.
“Well, the swelling’s about gone thanks to somebody’s quick thinking to use those poultices. But Sundance won’t be going on any runs for the next few days.” Teaspoon eyed the group sternly. “Now I want to know what happened.”
Meg stood up. “It was my fault, Teaspoon.” She looked him in the eye and waited.
Teaspoon eyed her and up. “Well, that ain’t what I heard.” Everyone looked at Cody, who had run to tell about the incident.
“What did you hear, Teaspoon?” Kid asked carefully.
“I heard we had a hothead around here with a smart mouth,” Teaspoon responded.
Meg cleared her throat. “That’d be me. I lost my temper and challenged Jimmy to a race.”
Teaspoon gave her a look and said, “Maybe you did lose your temper, but there had to be something said to you first to make you do that. You got anything to say about this, Jimmy?”
Jimmy shrugged. “All I said was I bet she couldn’t ride.”
“Wouldn’t you get fired up if someone questioned your abilities?”
“And did you find out she could ride?” Teaspoon questioned.
“Yeah,” Jimmy grudgingly admitted.
“Not only can she ride, she took care of your horse and was willin’ to take the blame for your sorry butt,” Teaspoon raged.
“I don’t need her help,” Jimmy snapped.
“Fine, you won’t get it. But you will clean this entire barn by yourself tomorrow,” Teaspoon stated firmly.
“Teaspoon,” Meg interrupted hesitantly, “shouldn’t I get punished, too?”
“You already served your time by helping this horse like you did,” answered the older man. “Now let’s go eat and get to bed. I’ve had a long day.”
The next day after her chores, Meg decided to go riding. She had tied Chase to the corral fence and gone back inside to get the saddle. Jimmy had finished cleaning the barn and he and Kid sat on the fence talking.
“With Sundance lame we should could use another good horse,” Kid commented.
“Well there’s a good one right there,” said Jimmy, pointing at Chase.
“Yeah, but Chase ain’t ours,” Kid reminded him.
“Should be. I could ride him,” Jimmy stated.
Meg came out of the barn in time to overhear the last statement. “Nobody can ride Chase but me,” she informed Jimmy.
“I can ride any horse alive,” boasted Jimmy.
“Not Chase,” Meg smiled as she put on the blanket and saddle.
“I’ll prove it.” Jimmy declared coming over to help with the tacking up. He grabbed the cinch and yanked. Chase flipped an ear back and raised a back foot.
“Put it down, Chase,” Meg ordered. Reluctantly the horse dropped the foot. “He’s kinda picky about the way you do up the cinch and he’ll try to kick if you don’t do it right,” Meg explained.
By now Cody, Buck, Ike, and Lou had joined Kid on the fence. “What’s going on?” Cody asked.
“Oh, Hickok thinks he’s going to ride Chase,” said Kid.
“I am,” snapped Jimmy.
Meg’s temper was up by now. She had had enough of Jimmy Hickok testing her. “Fine. You try it,” she said and backed away.
“Alright, I will.” Jimmy untied the reins and yanked them back over Chase’s head. Chase snorted at this brash young man and looked at his mistress. Meg just stood there. Jimmy flashed a grin at his audience and turned to put his foot in the stirrup. As he did, Chase swiveled his neck around and nipped the young man right on the seat of his pants.
“OW!” Jimmy yelled. “Damn it!”
The audience exploded. Cody and Buck were in danger of falling off the fence they were laughing so hard. Meg reached out and caught Chase’s reins. “I warned ya,” was all she said as she swung easily onto the horse’s back and trotted over to the gate. Jimmy muttered a few more choice words and stomped off to the bunkhouse rubbing his backside.
“Oh, that was too good,” gasped Cody.
“Did you know that Chase would do that?” asked Kid as he opened the gate.
“I had a feeling,” Meg answered with a twinkle in her eye as she trotted off.
“We gotta tell Teaspoon this one,” Buck snickered.
Things were quiet when Meg returned from her ride. She didn’t notice the faces at the bunkhouse window. Jumping off Chase, she led him into the barn to untack and brush him. She scolded the horse briefly as she brushed him. “Now, I think we taught Mr. Hickok his lesson so NO MORE BITING, understand?” Chase nodded his head. “I want these people to like us.”
“We do like you,” said a voice from behind her.
“Lou, I didn’t know you were there. I guess you think I’m crazy talking to a horse.”
“Nah, Kid does it all the time.”
“Is Jimmy real mad at me?”
Lou grinned. “He’s sulking in the bunkhouse. But he shouldn’t be mad at you; you tried to tell him. Don’t worry, Teaspoon will take care of him. Jimmy’s been giving you a rough time for no reason and he got what he deserved. See ya at supper.” And Lou walked out.
Meg finished and was walking to Emma’s house when she heard Teaspoon call her. She stopped and waited by the porch. When he got to the porch, Teaspoon asked her to sit down. Great, Meg thought, he’s gonna tell me to leave. “I’m sorry about what happened, Teaspoon. Chase won’t do it again,” she blurted out.
“Honey, you ain’t done nothing to apologize for,” Teaspoon told her. “If anyone needs to apologize it’s me and that boy. I’m sorry I ain’t put a stop to it ‘fore no. Hickok’s been roughin’ you since you got here. I was trying to see how you’d handle all the boys, but I guess I let it go too long. But you showed me today you can handle things fine. Me and Emma want you and Lexi to stay with us for good. Right now I just wanted to tell you I was proud of you for bringin’ Jimmy down a peg. I suspect he’ll be wantin’ to talk to you later.”
“Thank you, Teaspoon, for letting us stay.” Meg sighed. “But I can’t help wondering if I ruined any hope of friendship with Jimmy today. I mean, I’m starting to get along with everyone but him.”
“Some things just take time, little lady.” Teaspoon told her.
“Like Chase.” Meg said softly.
“What’s that?” queried Teaspoon.
“I was just thinking about Chase,” replied Meg. “When I first saw him, he was a young colt tied to a post in the middle of a corral. He had whip marks on his back and sides. They tried to break his spirit. He had a wild, yet sad and gentle look in his eyes that went straight to my heart. I spent almost every dime I had to buy him from his horrible owner. It took months before he would trust me. But now he trusts me and knows I’ll never hurt him. And I’d trust him with my life.”
“Darlin’” said Teaspoon as he patted her shoulder, “you just described James Hickok in horse form. If you can work that same magic you did on Chase on Jimmy, you can’t lose.”
“Thanks, Teaspoon,” Meg smiled. “I’ll try. I’ve got to go. Emma’s probably wondering where I am.”
“I don’t think so.” Teaspoon nodded at the door where Emma stood.
“Let’s get supper ready for ‘our boys’,” she said with a smile and the two women went inside.
Supper was quieter than usual. Lexi chattered some, but no one said much. Toward the end, Teaspoon cleared his throat. “I need to make a new rule around here. From now on, no one rides or tries to ride Chase. He’s Meg’s horse and if she ever decides one of you can ride him, then you can. Understand? Also Meg and Lexi are now officially here to stay and a part of this family and I expect you to treat them as you should. Do I make myself clear?” Teaspoon pinned a look at Jimmy, who hung his head and nodded with the rest of the riders. “Alright, good.” Teaspoon left the table.
Lexi and all the riders except Kid and Lou excused themselves as well. “It’ll all work out,” Lou said as Meg took the plates.
“Give Jimmy time to cool down,” Kid advised.
Meg smiled at her new friends and turned back to the dishes. After patting Meg’s shoulder in reassurance, Kid and Lou walked to the bunkhouse. Emma went out to get some more water.
From the porch, Meg heard sounds of a dispute. Teaspoon was chewing Jimmy out about how he had been treating Meg.
“I was just testin’ her,” Jimmy argued.
“Testin’ my foot! You put that girl through hell this week,” snapped Teaspoon. “And this bit today was the last straw. You’re going to apologize to her.”
“Hey, I was the one who got horse bit,” Jimmy countered. “How about her apologizing to me!”
“You didn’t get any more’n you deserved,” Teaspoon stated.
“Well, I ain’t apologizing!” snarled Jimmy.
“Yes, you are!” roared Teaspoon.
“NO!” Jimmy was defiant.
“You will,” said Teaspoon in a voice that brooked no more backtalk. “That’s final.”
Meg couldn’t stand it any longer. She opened the door and tore past the two startled men and Emma, who was returning with the water.
“Was she in there this whole time?” asked a flabbergasted Teaspoon.
“Yes, I left her cleaning up the kitchen,” responded Emma.
“Damn!” Teaspoon swore.
“You two have really done a great job here,” Emma fumed. “Somebody better go talk to that poor girl.”
Without another word Jimmy left the porch and started along the path Meg had taken to the barn. He found her in Chase’s stall sobbing into the horse’s mane. Chase was nuzzling her and making little whickering sounds. The horse threw back his head when he saw Jimmy. Meg lifted her head and turned. Jimmy looked at her tear streaked face and hung his head in shame.
“I’m sorry,” Jimmy told her.
“Alright, you can go back and tell Teaspoon you apologized now,” Meg said bitterly.
“I ain’t doin’ this because Teaspoon made me. I’m doing it because I am sorry for the way I’ve been acting to you.”
Meg looked closer at Jimmy. He was really sincere. “Heck,” Jimmy continued, “if you’d been a man and I said and did that stuff to you, you’d have drawn on me.”
A tiny smile formed as Meg said, “Nope, I don’t need a gun. I’ve got a biting horse.”
Jimmy grinned. Then before they knew it, they were both laughing. Meg brushed off the last of her tears. Jimmy opened the stall door and took Meg’s hand to shake. “Friends?” Jimmy asked. “Yep.” Meg replied.
Together they walked toward Emma’s house. “I’ll tell you a secret,” Meg said. “Chase used to bite me, too. Just about took off my arm one time. I’ve still got the scars.”
“Guess I got off lucky then,” Jimmy commented.
“I’m sorry it embarrassed you in front of everyone today.” Meg apologized. “And then Teaspoon yelled at you.”
“It’s my own fault,” Jimmy said as they reached the porch. “Good night.”
“Good night, Jimmy.”
“Well, I’ll be danged,” Cody said as Teaspoon and the other riders watched from the bunkhouse.
“What do you make of it, Teaspoon?” Kid asked.
“She’s just taming a colt, son,” Teaspoon answered. “Just taming a colt.”
Chapter 3 – Settling In
Saturday at supper, Meg asked Emma if they went to church. “Sometimes,” Emma responded.
“May Lexi and I go tomorrow?” Meg asked.
“Of course,” Emma answered. “In fact I think we should all go.”
The boys groaned.
“Fine idea, Emma.” Teaspoon stated. “We’ll all go.”
”Do we have to go, Teaspoon?” questioned Jimmy.
“Yep,” Teaspoon said simply.
“You boys better get cleaned up good tonight. It won’t hurt you to get dressed up and behave correctly for a change,” Emma declared.
“Besides,” Teaspoon added, “we need to take our two new girls and introduce them to everyone.”
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. The boys had the wagon hitched up before breakfast. They ate and then dressed and went to wait on Meg, Lexi, and Emma. Teaspoon helped Emma onto the seat and turned to pick up Lexi and put her in the wagon. Meg had just come out and was standing on the porch. Every one of the boys just stood and stared. Meg had traded her normal faded calico work dress for a blue dress with lace on the collar and sleeves. She had pulled back her hair with hair combs borrowed from Emma. Cody let out a low whistle. Meg blushed and Kid punched Cody. Ike stepped forward and offered her his arm. Meg smiled and let him help her into the wagon. Teaspoon climbed up and took the reins. The boys mounted their horses and they headed to town.
At the church Emma took Lexi’s hand and led the way to a seat while Meg followed them. Teaspoon herded the riders into the pew behind the women.
During the preaching, Lexi’s little head slumped onto Meg’s shoulder. Cody noticed and whispered to Buck, “Wish I could do that.”
“What,” Buck asked, “sleep or put your head on Meg’s shoulder?”
“Both,” Cody whispered back. Buck bit his lip to keep from laughing, as Teaspoon gave the two a hard look.
After the service, Emma introduced Meg and Lexi to the Reverend Matthews. “I hope to see you next week as well, Miss Collins,” the Reverend told her. “And please, bring the boys.”
“Thank you Rev. Matthews. I enjoyed the service and I hope to come often.” Meg answered.
On the way home Emma announced, “I enjoyed the service today, too. I think from now on we will all attend church every week.”
“Aw, Emma,” the boys protested.
“You boys may as well get used to it.” Emma declared firmly. “It certainly won’t hurt any of you to go to church and it may help you more than you think.”
A routine began to develop for Meg. She helped with meals, swept and dusted, washed and mended the clothes, and helped in the garden. When she had time, Meg went for rides on Chase. Sometimes Lou or Cody went with her. With their help, Meg learned the surrounding countryside pretty well. Once in a while she would ride into town with some of the others to pick up supplies.
Meg was becoming good friends with all the riders. She enjoyed being with Buck and Ike and was quickly learning sign language. Ike would sometimes go to fast for her on purpose and they would all laugh as Meg got hopelessly mixed up.
Kid was Meg’s steadfast friend since she kept Lou’s secret and loved horses. Meg helped him train Katy to bow on command like Chase.
Cody was the trickster that could always get Meg to laugh. She could never stay mad at him for long. He was fun to be around and he was very attentive to her. Of all the riders, Cody spent the most time with Meg.
Meg and Lou became closer friends. They told each other everything and became like sisters.
Jimmy’s hot temper and stubbornness got him into trouble with Meg, who, having the same traits, didn’t back down often. However they soon worked things out, and their clashes became more playful.
Emma was like a mother to Meg. Meg went to her with problems knowing that she would understand.
Meg loved Teaspoon like a second father. He was tough acting, yet gentle. And, like her own Papa, he believed in her ability to do things even if she was a girl.
Lexi had quickly become everyone’s pet. Teaspoon and the boys loved having her around. They took her for rides, brought her candy from town, and generally spoiled her.
From the first Lexi’s favorite was Kid. She followed him around and loved it when he took her riding on Katy. Ike was a close second to Kid. Lexi didn’t always understand his signs, but she loved him for his gentleness.
Both girls were starting to feel that they belonged with the Express family and the summer was a happy time for everyone.
It was a hot, steamy day. The sun beat down on the corral where the boys were mending the fence. They all had their shirts off and Kid paused to wipe the sweat from his face. “I think Teaspoon just wants to torture us,” he commented.
Jimmy nodded, pushing back his sweaty hair. Then he called, “Cody, get your lazy butt over here with them nails.”
Cody was relaxing against a fence post. He dragged himself up to take the bag of nails over to his friends. After handing them the bag, Cody flopped back onto the ground.
“’Preciate all your help, Cody,” Jimmy snapped sarcastically.
“Sure,” Cody grinned. Jimmy kicked him as he went by.
“I ain’t got the energy to fight with ya right now,” Jimmy commented.
“Guess you won’t have the energy to go swimming then,” Cody smirked.
Jimmy, Kid, Buck and Ike all looked at Cody. “What are you talking about?” Kid questioned.
“Well, Teaspoon told me after we finish the fence we got the rest of the day off to go swimming.” Cody answered.
“Alright!” Kid yelled. “Buck, Ike, how many more boards ya’ll got to fix on your side?” From the other side of the corral Ike held up two fingers. “We’re on our last one,” Kid called back. “Let’s hurry and get finished.”
The boys were putting the finishing touches on the fence when Teaspoon walked out of the barn. After inspecting the work carefully, he nodded. “Good job, fellows,” Teaspoon acknowledged. “Now how about we all head to the pond?” Loud whoops of agreement were his answer.
Meanwhile, Lou and Meg had finished helping Emma with the cooking and Emma had released them from the hot kitchen to go have a swim. The girls had been enjoying the cool tranquility of floating and swimming for a while when suddenly they heard voices. Looking at each other, they exclaimed, “The boys!” and headed for the shore. They reached for their clothes which they had left next to Chase. Meg hastily pulled on her skirt. Lou had managed to get her pants on and they both grabbed for their shirts. Unfortunately they weren’t quick enough. Teaspoon was in front of the boys and he saw Meg and Lou standing there in their wet, clinging undershirts.
Turning his head, Teaspoon said, “Sorry, Meg, didn’t know you were here.” Then something hit him. “Lou?” he asked in disbelief.
Lou had a look of panic in her eyes as she turned and ran down the road. Meg swung up on Chase and galloped to her friend. Lou grabbed Meg’s outstretched hand and swung up behind her and the two girls took off for home.
Teaspoon leaned weakly against a tree. “Somebody wanta tell me what I just saw?” he asked in shock. Slowly and carefully, the boys told him about Lou’s story. Teaspoon nodded. Then he said, “You boys stay ‘n’ swim. I’ll go talk to Lou.” And he started back to the station.
Lou had put on fresh clothes and was in the bunkhouse when Teaspoon returned.
“Whatcha doin’?” Teaspoon asked.
“Packin’,” Lou stated simply.
”I’m a girl.”
“Yeah, I know,” Teaspoon told her. “Still don’t explain why you’re packin’.”
Lou looked at him. “A girl can’t be a rider,” she reminded him.
“Who says anyone’s got to know,” Teaspoon smiled.
“You mean I’m not fired?” Lou asked incredulously.
Teaspoon shook his head. “We’re family now, honey. I ain’t sendin’ nobody away. ‘Sides, you’re just as good as them boys,” he told her with a grin.
“Thank you, Teaspoon.” Lou hugged him. “So now what?”
“So, now you unpack.” Teaspoon told her as he walked toward the door. “I’m headin’ back to the pond.” Teaspoon had made it over to the corral to mount his horse when Meg came running out of Emma’s house. Lou ran from the bunkhouse and they met in the middle of the yard.
“I’m stayin’!” Lou yelled to Meg.
“Yea!” Meg yelled back, grabbing her friend’s hand. The girls swung each other around, laughing in happiness. “Thank you, Teaspoon,” they chorused. Teaspoon tipped his hat to them and rode laughing back to the pond.
One Sunday afternoon, Meg sat on the swing reading. Buck and Ike walked over.
** Whatcha readin’? ** asked Ike.
“Pilgrim’s Progress. Ever read it?” Meg replied.
Both of them shook their heads. ** You could read it to us ** signed Ike with a smile.
“Alright.” Meg smiled back. Buck and Ike sat down on the steps. Meg was about to start reading when Jimmy called from the bunkhouse. “Ike! Buck! Ya’ll gonna play cards?”
“No!” Buck called back. “We got something better to do.”
Jimmy and the other riders looked at each other and came to see what was going on. “So what’s better’n cards?” Jimmy asked when he reached the porch.
** Meg’s gonna read to us ** Ike told him.
“What’s she readin’? The Bible?” Jimmy questioned. They all knew how important Meg’s faith was to her.
Meg’s eyes sparked. “Mind your manners, James,” she said heatedly. “And you shouldn’t be playin’ cards on Sunday anyway.”
“Aw, Meg, it’s just for fun.” Cody told her as he sat down in the swing with her. Meg just looked at him and shook her head.
“Maybe this book will help you understand things better,” Meg said. She opened it and began to read to them about Christian and his journey. Meg read for most of the afternoon. Finally she said, “I’ll stop here for now. I’ve got to help Emma with supper.”
“Will you read us more later?” Kid asked.
Meg looked around at them. “Would you like to hear some every Sunday?” she asked. They all nodded. “Alright, I’ll read it to you then,” Meg agreed.
As she started inside, Jimmy put his hand on the door. “It is better than cards,” he commented. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier.”
Meg tried to look stern, but she couldn’t. “I forgive you,” she said as she went in the house. Lately she had found herself drawn to Jimmy more and more, but she tried to hide it.
Emma looked up and smiled. “I heard your little lesson just now,” she told Meg, nodding toward the book.
Meg sighed. “Think it’ll do any good?”
“Probably more than a hundred sermons,” Emma answered.
Chapter 4 – Awakening Feelings
It was late summer with a hint of fall in the air. One day Lexi came in from playing and started sneezing. “Too much dust,” Meg laughed. But the next day Lexi was still sneezing and complaining her throat was sore. The doctor came out and said, “Just a cold. Keep her in bed a few days and give her plenty of liquids. She may have a little fever, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”
By the end of that week Cody, Ike and Jimmy had all come down with a cold as well. Teaspoon kept the others out on runs so they wouldn’t catch it. After a couple of days, the sick boys and Lexi were back up and around.
“But it’s my turn,” Jimmy protested.
“You’re still coughin’,” Teaspoon argued.
“I feel fine. Come on, Teaspoon, let me take the run,” Jimmy pleaded. “I can’t sit around here any longer.”
Teaspoon thought it over. “Alright, go get ready,” he decided, “but ya be careful.”
A few hours later Jimmy set off on a run. “Ride safe,” Meg called. He flashed her his cocky grin and waved goodbye.
Two days later, Meg was watching the pouring rain from the kitchen window. It had rained all afternoon. “He’s due back by now,” she commented.
“He’ll be back soon,” Emma smiled, “the rain probably slowed him down.”
“Don’t worry, mother hen,” Lexi sang out from her chair by the table.
“Mother hen?” Meg questioned. “Where did you hear that?”
“Cody said the other day that you and Emma worry like two mother hens,” Lexi informed her.
“Did he really?” Meg laughed. “Well, remind this ‘mother hen’ to give Cody a peck when I see him.”
The door swung open and Buck stood there. “Teaspoon sent me to find out if supper’s ‘bout ready.”
Emma nodded and Buck waved toward the others waiting on the bunkhouse porch. As everyone was approaching the house, Jimmy rode up. He was soaked to the skin and slumped over Sundance’s neck. Teaspoon and Kid grabbed him before he fell. “Cody! Go get the Doc!” Teaspoon yelled. Then Teaspoon, Kid and Buck got Jimmy upstairs to Emma’s extra room.
The doctor shook his head. “Light case of influenza,” he stated. “He wasn’t completely over that cold and riding in those wet clothes half the day made it worse. Fever’s pretty high. Might go higher. Keep him warm and let him rest. We should know something in a day or two.” The doctor closed his bag. “Here’s a couple of packets of quinine. Mix them in water and try to get him to drink it. I’ll check in tomorrow.”
“I guess we’ll all take turns helping out like always,” Lou commented after the doctor left.
“I’ll take tonight.” Emma said wearily.
“No, I’ll take care of Jimmy,” Meg stated.
Emma and Lou looked at each other in understanding. “Let’s draw straws,” Emma suggested. “Shortest one gets the job.” Lou, Meg, and the boys all drew. Emma didn’t look really surprised when Meg came away with the shortest straw. “Alright Meg, it’s up to you,” Emma remarked.
Meg got a blanket and a pillow from her room down the hall and sat down in the chair next to the bed. Emma patted the young woman’s shoulder. “Call me if you need anything,” she told her. Meg nodded.
It was a long night for Meg. Jimmy’s fever did go higher and he tossed and turned on the bed. Meg managed to spoon feed him some water and quinine mixed. She put cool cloths on his forehead and straightened the covers where Jimmy had kicked them around.
Morning brought the doctor for another visit. “The worse may be over,” Doc Barnes told them. “It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.” Looking at Meg, the doctor said, “Just keep putting those cool cloths on him. I’ll give you some more quinine; get as much down him as you can. I’ll check with you again in the morning. If need me before then, send one of the boys to get me.” Then the doc left.
Emma said quietly, “I’ll take over for a while. You need a rest, too, Meg.”
“I’m fine,” Meg responded.
“We just don’t want you sick, too,” Teaspoon tried to explain.
“I’m not leaving him,” Meg declared with determination.
Emma started to say something, but Teaspoon shook his head and pulled her out of the room.
Lou and the boys did their chores and then sat around not knowing what to do. Emma took Lexi for a walk. No one wanted to be very far away from the house for long.
Lou took supper up to Meg that night. “Any change? She asked setting down the tray.
“I spooned another cup of medicine to him,” Meg reported, “and I think he’s resting more comfortably.”
“That’s good.” Lou put an arm around her friend. “Are you okay?”
Meg nodded. “But what if…?” She turned to look at Lou.
“No what ifs,” Lou firmly said. “You know what a fighter Jimmy is. He’s gonna pull through, and you’re gonna be there to help him.”
“Thanks, Lou,” Meg hugged her friend tight. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Lou smiled. “You’re not going to be without any of us. Now eat some supper.” Meg ate enough to satisfy Lou and then the girls said good night.
Meg sat in the chair beside the bed and watched as Jimmy slept. He looks so young, she thought to herself. Jimmy’s hair was tousled from his rolling on the bed when the fever gave him nightmares. Without thinking, Meg leaned over to smooth it and started singing quietly. Jimmy sighed and drifted into a more peaceful sleep.
Meg awoke to the felling of someone touching her hand. She opened her eyes all the way to discover Jimmy watching her. “I’m thirsty,” he said in a hoarse voice.
Meg quickly got him a cup of water and helped him drink. “That better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he smiled weakly. “How long have I been out?”
“Almost two days,” Meg responded. She leaned over to feel Jimmy’s forehead, then ran and yanked open the door. “Emma! EMMA!” she yelled.
Emma came running up the stairs. “What?!”
“The fever’s broken!” Meg exclaimed joyfully. “Jimmy’s gonna be okay!”
From below they heard a series of loud whoops and thundering feet on the stairs. The boys and Lou burst into the room.
“Told ya he was too mean not to pull through,” quipped Cody. He was promptly thumped in the back of the head by Lou and Meg.
“Glad to have you back, son,” Teaspoon stated from the doorway.
“Good to be back,” Jimmy replied.
“Doc said it could have been a lot worse,” Kid told his friend.
“Good thing you had such a devoted nurse,” Lou said with a sly grin at Meg.
“Alright, enough chatter,” Teaspoon was all business again. “Buck, you got a run coming up today. Go get ready. The rest of you got chores.” They all turned to go after saying goodbye to Jimmy.
“I’ll go get you some broth,” Meg told her patient. “Be back in just a minute.” When she reached the kitchen, Emma had a bowl ready.
“Now that Jimmy’s better, I want you to take a walk and get some fresh air,” Emma ordered.
“No arguing,” Emma told her firmly. “I can watch Jimmy a little while. Besides, Lexi wants to show you some flowers she found.”
“Alright, I’ll walk around and go see Chase, but I’m coming back in when the doctor gets here,” Meg insisted.
“Fair enough,” Emma conceded.
The Doc arrived shortly before lunch and after seeing the patient he said, “Keep him in bed another three days.”
“Three days!” protested Jimmy. “I feel better now.”
“You’re still weak. If you get up to soon, you’ll have a relapse and wind up back in bed again anyway,” the doctor stated. He handed Meg some more quinine. “Make him drink it,” he said firmly. Seeing the face that Jimmy made at these instructions the doctor laughed. As he started for the door Dr. Barnes stopped to whisper knowingly to Emma and Meg, “If you keep him there for two more days, you’ll be doing good. Just be careful.”
It was close to suppertime when Meg went to check on Jimmy. Lou had been with him during the afternoon, so Meg didn’t feel quite as guilty about leaving for a little while.
Jimmy grinned as she came in. “Lou and I were puttin’ bets on how much longer you’d stay away.”
“Well, I thought you might want some supper by now,” Meg brought in the tray. “Lou, you’d better make a run for it if you want any food; Cody’s still washing up.”
“That’s my cue to leave,” Lou said, laughing as she left the room.
“First, you gotta have some more medicine,” Meg told Jimmy as she handed him a cup.
“That stuff tastes awful,” he complained.
“It’ll help you get out of the bed quicker,” Meg pointed out.
“Alright,” Jimmy drank it quickly. Then Meg gave him Emma’s good soup and cornbread to make up for the bitter medicine.
After cleaning up from supper, Meg and Jimmy talked. “Did you really stay with me all the time I was sick?” Jimmy asked. “Lou said they couldn’t get you to leave.”
“Yes, I stayed. I figured you needed somebody,” Meg told him.
“Emma coulda done it,” Jimmy spoke gruffly. He didn’t want to admit that he like having Meg around to take care of him. “You got Lexi to worry about.”
“Lex had more fun staying with the others. Besides, we drew straws to see who would stay with you.”
“Uh-huh,” Jimmy said with a knowing grin. “Who rigged the straws, Lou or Emma?”
“Emma,” Meg laughed.
“But I didn’t mind. Do you?”
“Nope.” Jimmy leaned back on the pillow and sighed.
“Getting tired?” asked Meg.
“A little,” Jimmy admitted.
“Go to sleep. I’ll be here if you need me.” Meg told him.
Jimmy closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them again. “Meg? Did I just dream it or did you sing to me last night?”
Meg blushed. “I thought you were asleep when I did that.”
“Not quite. It helped me get to sleep though.” He looked at her. “Sing it for me again.”
Meg chuckled. “Who’d thought the tough ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok would need a lullaby,” she teased.
Jimmy grinned sheepishly. “You won’t tell, will ya?”
“Never. Now close your eyes like a good boy and get some rest,” Meg said affectionately. She began to sing. Before now Meg had only sung to Lexi and Chase. She was shy about singing if front of others because even though she loved to sing, Meg knew her voice was far from perfect and she was often on the wrong key. However she sang from her heart and did the best she could. When she finished singing, Meg looked over to discover that Jimmy had indeed fallen asleep. “Sweet dreams, Jimmy,” she said lightly kissing his cheek. Then she made herself comfortable in the chair for another night.
The sun shining in the window woke Meg the next morning. She sat looking out the window until she heard Jimmy stirring. “Good morning,” she greeted him.
He stretched and yawned. “Mornin’.”
“Ready for some breakfast?” Meg questioned.
“That sounds good,” Jimmy replied.
Meg went down to get the food. While Emma was putting it on a plate, she asked, “Who’s going to help with Jimmy today?”
Meg shrugged. “Lou did it yesterday.”
“I will,” Cody spoke up from the table. Meg and Emma looked at him skeptically. “What?” Cody asked. “I’ll be good, I promise.”
“Alright,” Emma agreed. “After your chores, you can come relieve Meg for a while.”
A few hours later Cody appeared in the kitchen. “Reporting for duty,” Cody saluted Meg.
“What are you planning on doing this afternoon?” she asked him.
“Well, I brought over a book to read and a pack of cards,” Cody informed her.
“Don’t get to fussin’ over cards,” Meg cautioned. “Jimmy’s supposed to stay quiet.”
“I told ya I’d be good.” Cody assured her. “Look, I’m puttin’ on my halo.”
Meg cocked her head and playfully said, “I think it’s bent.”
Cody made a face at her and headed upstairs. Emma laughed. “I’ll be in and out with them,” she reassured Meg.
Meg smiled and nodded. “I think I’ll take Chase and ride out to the pond. It’s not too far, but still a nice ride. See ya before supper.”
In the barn, Meg decided to skip the saddle and ride bareback. “You’re ready for a good run, aren’t you boy?” she asked swinging up on Chase’s back. The horse quivered in excitement. Meg held him to a trot until they were past the house and then let him go. Chase snorted and broke into a wild gallop. Meg’s hair whipped against her face and she laughed with joy. As they neared the pond, she pulled Chase down to a trot and then stopped him under a tree. “Oh, that was wonderful!” she sighed. “I’ve missed riding these past few days.”
Chase took a drink from the pond and blew gently at his mistress. Then he rolled in the grass. Meg leaned back against the tree and soaked in the early fall sunshine. After about an hour, Meg called to Chase and they started back home. This time she went slower just to enjoy the ride.
Buck was sitting on the bunkhouse porch when Meg got back. “I’ll take Chase for you,” he offered.
“Thank you, Buck,” Meg handed him the reins. “I stayed gone longer than I planned.”
Buck looked at her happy smile and smiled himself. “Looks like you enjoyed a little freedom.”
“Oh, I did,” Meg admitted, “but I need to get back to work now. Thanks again for looking after Chase.” She turned and walked to Emma’s.
Emma wasn’t around, so Meg skipped up the stairs to check on Jimmy. He grinned as Meg burst into the room. “You look like you had fun.”
“I did,” Meg responded as she flopped into the chair.
“Did you know you have leaves in your hair?” he asked and leaned over to pull one out. “And you smell like a horse.”
“Whoops,” Meg shook her head and two more leaves drifted down. “I rode Chase bareback. I guess I’d better go wash and change or Emma will have a fit. Be right back.”
Jimmy laughed as she peeked out the door for Emma and then scurried down the hall to freshen up. Meg was back a few minutes later with another dress on and her hair brushed. “Is that better?” she asked.
“I didn’t mind ya the other way,” Jimmy grinned. “But Emma would have.”
“Did you and Cody have fun?” Meg questioned.
“It was alright. We played cards mostly.”
“Did you win?”
“’Course.” He gave her a wink.
“You didn’t play for money, did you?”
“Nah, I let him off easy this time. It was just practice.”
Emma poked her head in the door. “I thought I heard Meg’s voice. Jimmy, are you ready for supper?” When he nodded, Meg went downstairs with Emma to fetch the tray.
After supper Jimmy yawned. “Cody tired me out more’n I thought.”
“You do need to get some sleep,” Meg agreed. “Doc’s coming back after lunch tomorrow to check on you.”
Jimmy watched Meg sewing quietly. “You gonna sing again?” he asked hopefully.
“You know, I think you’re gettin’ spoiled,” Meg told him playfully.
“Yep,” Jimmy admitted with a smile.
Jimmy looked guilty. “Aw, Meg, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You’re supposed to be in bed,” Meg scolded.
“But I feel fine. And besides, I’m bored,” Jimmy protested.
“I can’t help it. You’re still supposed to be in bed,” Meg repeated.
Emma entered with breakfast. Hearing the dispute and seeing Jimmy up she said firmly, “Jimmy, you get back in that bed before I take a switch to you.”
“But, Emma,” Jimmy began.
“Now!” Emma pointed sternly to the bed.
“Oh, shoot,” Jimmy reluctantly climbed back in bed.
“That’s better,” Emma stated. “Bring the tray down when ya’ll are finished, Meg.” And Emma went back downstairs.
Meg took the tray over to the bed. “Eat your breakfast and don’t pout,” she told Jimmy with a smile. “If you’re good, I’ll try to talk the Doc into letting you get up this afternoon.”
“Promise?” Jimmy asked, starting to eat.
“I promise,” Meg laughed.
When Meg took the tray downstairs, Teaspoon teased her. “How’s your impatient patient?”
Meg sighed. “Bored and restless. I can’t wait till the Doc gets here.”
Kid laughed. “I’ll go relive you after my chores.”
“Thanks, Kid,” Meg smiled gratefully.
Kid and Jimmy played checkers all morning. After lunch the doctor came. He checked Jimmy and then said, “Well, as a favor to your nurse, I’m letting you get up and go. Take it easy and no runs for a day or so, but I’d say you were pretty much back to normal.”
“‘Bout time. Thanks, Doc.” Jimmy replied.
Meg and Dr. Barnes walked downstairs to tell the others. No sooner had the doctor left than Jimmy came running down the stairs.
“I’m a free man again!” he exclaimed, coming out on the porch.
Meg gave him a look. “I didn’t realize I was such an awful person to have to be around.”
Jimmy blushed slightly. “That’s not what I meant,” he tried to explain.
Meg laughed at him. “I know what you meant. I was just teasing.”
“Let’s walk to the barn,” he suggested. “I want to see Sundance.”
“Alright,” Meg agreed and they set off to the barn together.
Teaspoon raised an eyebrow at Emma. She smiled and shrugged. “You never know, Mr. Spoon.”
Chapter 5 – A Touch of Autumn
Fall had arrived crisp and bright. Each day was a little cooler and windier than the previous day. One day when everyone was at home, Emma announced at breakfast, “We need to do the fall house cleaning.”
Loud groans came from the boys. “Didn’t we just do that not long ago?” Cody protested.
“Nope, that was spring cleaning,” Buck responded.
“Same thing,” Cody said.
“Enough complain’,” Teaspoon stated. “What do want us to do, Emma?”
“Let’s see,” Emma ticked off the jobs on her fingers. “We have to wash the windows, scrub the floors, beat the rugs, wash and hang out the clothes, clean the barn and storage sheds, whitewash the fence around my house, and really clean that bunkhouse.”
“Hey, she ran out of jobs before she used up all her fingers,” Cody observed gleefully.
Emma looked at him. “I can always find more,” she promised.
After the dishes were washed, Emma took the rugs outside. Lexi had fun helping Emma beat the rugs. Then Emma and Lexi went inside to scrub the floors.
Buck and Ike set off for the barn to clean it and the storage sheds. Teaspoon went with them.
Lou and Meg gathered all the clothes and went outside to wash them. Kid and Jimmy were already fussing at Cody to do his part.
“Hey, I brought you the water, didn’t I? Now you two can wash the windows,” Cody argued.
Jimmy threw a wet sponge at him, but Cody ducked and it hit Lou instead.
“Oops. Sorry, Lou,” Jimmy grinned.
“That’s alright,” Lou responded as she flung a soapy shirt at him.
Then Kid dumped a bucket of water on Cody. Cody threw a wet rag at Kid and got Meg by mistake. Meg retaliated by hurling a wet towel at Cody. Soon it was an all out war with clothes and water flying fast.
Emma, hearing the laughing and yelling, came outside. “What in the world?!” she exclaimed. They all stopped and looked at each other. They were soaked. There were soap bubbles in their hair and the clothes the girls had been washing were scattered on the ground.
“We, ah, just thought we’d wash each other, too.” Jimmy remarked with a mischievous grin.
“Oh – just get the work done, you scamps,” Emma threw up her hands with a laugh.
“Yes, Emma,” they all answered and got started with the real work.
By lunchtime Emma’s house and the barn were spotless and fresh smelling. The clothes were all washed and flying from the line in the breeze.
“After lunch you boys clean that bunkhouse. And I mean clean it,” Emma instructed. “Meg will help you. And when you finish that, the fence needs whitewashing.” Everyone finished up and the riders and Meg headed to the bunkhouse.
Looking around at the boxes of things overflowing, stuff on the table, and things shoved under the beds, Meg asked helplessly, “Where do we start?”
“At least most of our clothes are out of the way, 'cause you already washed them,” offered Kid.
“Alright, how about each of you clean under and around your own bunk and I’ll clean the corner cupboard and shelves,” Meg planned. They fell to work and soon exclamations could be heard.
“What is that? Or what was that?”
“I wondered where that was.”
“I forgot I had those!”
Before long there was a pile of trash and the area around the bunks was neat and orderly. The cupboard and shelves gleamed from Meg’s scrubbing and polishing. The boys disposed of the trash and scrubbed the table, while Meg tackled the chore of scrubbing the floor.
The boys looked at Meg on her hands and knees. Her hair hung in sweaty tendrils around her flushed face, but her eyes still shot sparks as she scolded the riders for not keeping the bunkhouse neater. “Tis a shame and disgrace for a place to be this filthy,” she grumbled. “Sure and the next time I’ll be making ye fellows scrub it.” The boys all looked at each other and grinned. They loved it when Meg reverted to her Irish voice. She did it sometimes when she was feeling affectionate to the boys or the horses, but the majority of the time Meg only lapsed into her Irish dialect when she was upset. But even though she was fussing, the lilting tones made it seem like music.
Emma came to inspect and told them that they had done a fine job. Meg and Lou went to help get the clothes off the line and fold them and put them away. The boys grabbed buckets of whitewash and brushes and set to work on the fence. This was one job they didn’t really mind.
Buck and Ike took a bucket and started on one side of the house, while Jimmy and Cody started painting the fence on the opposite side. They planned to race to see who could get their side done first. Kid whitewashed the shorter stretch of fence and gate in front of the house. Meg and Lou sat on the swing relaxing and Meg did some mending as they talked.
By the time the four riders made it to the front fence, they were splattered with whitewash. Lou poked Meg to get her attention. Meg looked up and burst out laughing. The boys were all working hard, but Ike had a streak of white on one cheek and Buck’s shirt was speckled with whitewash. One side of Cody’s blond hair was white and so was his shirt and pants. Jimmy was covered virtually head to toe in whitewash.
“What happened to you guys?” Meg giggled.
Buck grinned and answered first. “I told Ike he had too much whitewash on his brush, so he shook some off – on me.”
**Then Buck put war paint on me** Ike signed merrily.
Lou laughed. “Do we even want to know about those two?” she asked and pointed at Jimmy and Cody.
Meg shrugged. “Might as well.” She looked questioningly at Cody.
“He started it.” Cody stated, pointing at Jimmy.
“How come I’m not surprised by that answer,” Meg chuckled.
Cody laughed too. “Well, Jimmy decided to swipe his brush down the side of me instead of the fence.”
“And?” prompted Meg.
“And then I threw the bucket of whitewash at Hickok,” Cody said casually.
Meg and Lou fell back in the swing laughing until they cried.
“What’s so funny?” Emma came to the door. “Oh my Lord!” she exclaimed seeing the four boys.
“We’re finished,” they chorused.
“Did you get as much whitewash on the fence as you did on each other?” Emma laughed. They nodded.
“Come check,” Buck offered. Emma, Meg, Lou and Lexi walked out to look at the fence. Emma nodded her approval. Then turning to the paint covered boys, she smiled. “Thank goodness, I made you all wear your oldest clothes today. Jimmy, how did you get so much on you?”
“Cody threw the bucket at him,” Kid laughed.
“Billy Cody! All that whitewash and you wasted it?” Emma asked incredulously.
“I don’t see it as being wasted,” Cody grinned devilishly.
“Well, it’ll take a lot of soap and scrubbing to get you boys cleaned up,” Emma shook her head. “Best get at it.”
“We could just throw Jimmy in the horse trough for his bath,” Kid teased.
“Watch it, Kid. There’s still some whitewash left,” Jimmy threatened.
Ike clapped to get their attention. ** Race you to the pond ** he signed and they all took off for the bunkhouse to grab clean clothes and towels.
That night at supper, Emma told them that she was proud of them all for their hard work. “So tomorrow we’ll all go into town. I need some supplies and you can all have the day off.”
“Alright!” whooped the boys. They looked forward to it.
That night in the bunkhouse Cody and Jimmy were arguing about who would ride in the wagon with Meg on the trip to town. Meg had gotten in the habit of picking one of the boys to ride with her, and they considered it an honor to be chosen. They kept arguing until finally Jimmy hit Cody with his pillow. Cody returned fire and soon they were going at it. Buck and Ike got caught in the cross fire and slung their own pillows in self-defense. Kid and Lou watched, laughing, until Cody whacked Kid and he joined in, too. Lou refused to participate and rolled over on her bunk. Before they knew it, pillows were ripping and feathers were flying. Ike dropped his pillow first and motioned for Buck to look. Buck saw a small split on his pillow. He in turn stopped Kid, whose pillow also had a small hole. Kid gave a shrill whistle and Jimmy and Cody stopped.
“Look at this,” was all Kid said. Feathers fluttered everywhere. Cody’s pillow had a large rip on one side and Jimmy’s had two.
** I think we’re in trouble ** Ike signed.
“We just got this place cleaned up, and now look,” Buck commented.
“We’d better clean it up again by morning,” Kid said, grabbing feathers. The others grabbed feathers and stuffed them back into the pillows. “Lou,” Kid called.
“I’m asleep,” Lou responded.
“Aw, Lou, you gotta help us.” Cody whined. “Emma’ll skin us alive.”
“Needles and thread are in the box on the bottom shelf, but I ain’t sewin’,” Lou told them.
The boys grabbed the needles and thread and hastily tried to repair the damage. They decided to turn the pillows over so the splits were on the bottom and hope for the best. Then they hopped in their bunks and went to sleep.
Meg walked to the bunkhouse to get everyone for breakfast the next morning. All the riders except Kid were on the porch. Kid came out, saw Meg and quickly closed the door. Meg looked at him suspiciously. “What’s going on?” she asked.
“Nothin’,” Kid replied. “Why?”
“You’re all up and ready early,” Meg responded.
“Just ready to get to town,” Jimmy told her.
“We even straightened things up and made our beds,” Cody put in.
“Cody, hush,” the others hissed.
“This I’ve gotta see.” Meg opened the door. Everything looked neat. Then Meg noticed a feather in one of the chairs. “How did that get there?”
** We missed one ** Ike signed.
Meg looked closer at the bunks and noticed how lumpy the pillows were. Turning Cody’s over, she had to laugh at the large, rough stitches. “What happened?”
Jimmy and Cody looked at each other and said simultaneously, “He started it!”
“We tried to fix ‘em,” Kid explained.
“You tried to hide them you mean,” Meg amended.
“Yeh, that too,” Kid admitted.
“You’re not gonna tell Emma are you?” Jimmy questioned.
Meg looked at Lou and winked. “I should,” she said, then seeing their woebegone faces, she laughed. “But I won’t. Still, you can’t hide them forever. What do you plan on doing?”
“Maybe you can help us,” suggested Cody with a hopeful grin.
Meg cuffed him playfully. “Did ye ever doubt it, ye rouge?” she teased. “If you all give me some money, I’ll get some more muslin in town today and make new pillows. Emma need never find out.”
The boys thanked her. “Can you get the stuff without Emma seeing you?” Cody was still a little worried.
“Dinna worry your bonnie head over it, me laddie,” Meg assured him with a fond smile. “Sure and I’ll take care of everything.”
“As usual,” Lou grinned and they all trooped over to Emma’s for breakfast.
After breakfast, everyone was ready to go when Cody asked, “So Meg, who do you want to ride in the wagon with you today?”
“Lou,” Meg responded.
“But I thought…well, you usually let one of us…”stammered the blond rider.
“Well, Cody," Meg smiled, “I think Lou deserves to ride this time, don’t you?” Lou grinned and jumped in. Teaspoon started the wagon.
Jimmy looked at Cody and then at the wagon ahead of them. “Cody,” he stated, “I think we just got our punishment for last night.” Cody nodded unhappily. They mounted their horses and followed the others to town.
When they reached town, Teaspoon and the riders headed off to see Sam. Emma, Meg, and Lexi went straight to Tompkins’ store to get supplies. While Emma and Lexi were looking at the fruit out front, Meg quickly slipped inside and bought enough material to make new pillows. She had just paid for it and hidden the package under the shawl in her basket, when Emma and Lexi came in.
“Meg, look at all the apples we got,” the little girl exclaimed. “Emma got some for pies and some for eating plain.”
“That’s good,” smiled Meg. She knew Lexi loved apples. They picked out the other things they needed and Tompkins was wrapping them up when Cody came bounding in, followed by the others.
“Guess what?!” he grabbed Meg’s hand. “There’s gonna be a dance Saturday. Wanta go?”
“Sure,” Meg responded. “Are we all going?” She looked at Emma and Teaspoon.
Emma smiled. Teaspoon shrugged. “Don’t see why not.”
“It’ll be a good opportunity for you to meet some respectable young men, Miss Meg,” Tompkins put in, frowning toward where Jimmy and Buck stood. The two young men rolled their eyes at the store owner’s comment. It was a well known fact that Tompkins did not hold the riders in the highest esteem.
Cody pulled Meg aside. “You’ll dance with me won’tcha?” he gave her his charming smile.
“Of course,” answered Meg. “I’ll dance with all you boys.” She turned back to the others, not seeing the disappointment on Cody’s face.
Jimmy noticed and walked over to Cody. “Losin’ your touch, Cody?” he grinned.
“Shut up, Hickok,” Cody growled and stalked off to help load the wagon.
Chapter 6 – The Fall Dance
Meg thought a lot about the dance during the next few days. She loved to dance, but it had been a long time since she had had the chance. She was excited and nervous at the same time. Meg had met most of the townsfolk at church, but this was the first social event she would be attending.
The boys had mixed feelings about the dance as well. Cody, of course, was thrilled for the opportunity to dress up and show off for girls. Kid enjoyed dancing well enough and knew he’d have an pretty good time. Buck, Ike, and Jimmy, on the other hand, would have been content to stay at home. Lou just wished she could wear a dress and be in Kid’s arms, but she knew that was impossible.
The day of the dance, Emma caught Meg humming and twirling as she fixed breakfast. “Practicing for tonight?” Emma teased.
“I can’t wait.” Meg admitted with another twirl.
Lexi came in and giggled at her sister. “Do the biscuits dance good?” Meg gave her a gentle swat and laughed.
The day passed quickly for Meg and before she knew it, it was time to get ready. She was just about to put on her blue Sunday dress, when Emma knocked at the door. In her arms was a dark red dress with cream lace. “I thought you might like to wear this,” Emma said, handing the dress to Meg.
Meg was speechless. “Oh, Emma, I couldn’t!” she gasped.
“Sure you can.” Emma helped the younger woman into the dress. “It’s too little for me now, but for some reason, I saved it. Now I know why. Look,” she led Meg to the mirror.
“It’s gorgeous…” Meg stammered.
“Now let’s fix your hair.” Emma pulled Meg’s hair back and secured it with a pearl hair clip. “There,” she stated, “perfect.”
Meg laughed nervously as she smoothed the skirt. “I feel like someone else. It doesn’t seem like me.”
“Let’s go down now. Lexi’s already waiting with the others.” Emma headed to the door. Meg followed slowly behind.
When they came out on the porch no one said a word. The boys stared at her until Meg was ready to turn and run back inside. Then Teaspoon offered her his arm and said, “I may just have to claim a dance from this fine young lady myself tonight.”
Meg laughed as she climbed into the wagon. “I would be honored to dance with you, sir,” she told him as they started to town.
They could hear the music as they arrived, and Lexi bounced up and down. The riders all dismounted and Kid helped Lexi down, while Buck helped Emma. Cody and Jimmy shoved each other to try to help Meg. Teaspoon shook his head at the two and helped Meg down.
Once inside, Cody approached Meg and with a bow said, “May I have this dance, my lady?”
“Of course, sir.” Meg replied graciously and then giggled. Grinning at each other, they joined the other dancing couples on the floor.
Meg did not lack for partners. Buck asked her next and then Kid. Then Cody claimed another dance. By this time several of the town boys had plucked up their nerve and Meg danced with some of them.
As promised, Teaspoon asked Meg to dance. She was amazed at how well he danced. The older man executed turns and dips that the younger men could not equal.
“The next dance will be ladies choice.” the caller announced. Cody had a smug look on his face as Meg headed over to the riders. But walking right past Cody, Meg stopped in front of where Ike sat. “May I?” she asked gently. Ike beamed and nodded. He took her hand and led her onto the dance floor.
Teaspoon smiled. “That gal’s a real lady.” he commented to Emma. Emma nodded.
When the song was over, Meg and Ike made their way back to the riders. “Thank you, Ike.” Meg told him. “I enjoyed our dance.” And she kissed him on the cheek. Ike blushed happily.
“Lou, you want to get something to eat?” Meg looked at her friend. Together they walked over to the refreshment table.
“That was real nice, what you did for Ike,” Lou said. “He was touched that you picked him out of all the boys.”
“I meant it to be special.” Meg explained. “Ike’s a special guy. And I’ve seen how folks have treated him tonight. No wonder he didn’t want to come. And the same could be said for Buck. I don’t see how people can be so mean and narrow minded. I wanted Ike to have some fun, too. I’d dance with him again if he’d ask.”
“Ike’s shy about that kind of stuff,” Lou said, taking a bite of cake.
“What’s Jimmy’s excuse?” Meg asked. “We both know he ain’t shy. He’s hardly danced all night.”
Lou grinned. “Cody.”
“Cody does seem to want to monopolize me,” Meg admitted, “but I’d dance with someone else if they asked.”
The twosome headed back to the boys as the next song was starting. Cody held out his hand to Meg. She rolled her eyes at Lou and went with Cody.
Lou sat down next to Jimmy. “You gonna sit here all night?” He shrugged. “He who hesitates is lost,” Lou told him.
“What?” Jimmy asked.
“Ask her to dance, Hickok!” Lou exclaimed, and she left to go find Kid.
Cody and Meg were heading back at the end of the song. “How about the next one?” Cody questioned.
“I promised Lex I’d dance with her some,” Meg told him, going over to her little sister.
“Well, how about after that,” Cody persisted.
“Maybe someone else will have asked her by then,” said a familiar voice.
Meg turned to look at Jimmy in surprise. “Maybe,” she commented as she twirled Lexi out to dance. Cody eyed Jimmy and went to find another partner.
“Cody likes you.” Lexi informed her sister as they danced.
“I like him, too.” Meg answered.
“So is he your beau?” Lexi asked.
“No!” Meg laughed. “Cody’s a good friend, but that’s it.”
“Alright.” Lexi was satisfied. As the music ended Lexi announced, “Teaspoon said he’d dance with me next.”
“Well, let’s go find him then.” Meg steered Lexi through the crowd.
Just as they found Teaspoon, Meg felt a hand on her shoulder. “Care to dance?” Jimmy asked quietly.
“I’d be delighted,” Meg replied softly. With his arm around Meg’s waist, Jimmy guided her back to the dance floor. Meg felt comfortable and at home in Jimmy’s arms, but she could tell he was nervous. “What’s wrong?” she questioned.
“You don’t look like yourself tonight,” Jimmy said with hesitation.
“Neither do you.” Meg responded. “You’re really handsome when you’re dressed up.”
“Thanks.” Jimmy smiled. “But you…with that red dress and your eyes sparklin’ and your smile…you look like a glowing ruby,” he gallantly proclaimed.
“Why, Jimmy, you can sweet talk a girl as well as Cody,” Meg playfully said.
“I meant it,” he responded seriously. Meg dropped her eyes and prayed he couldn’t hear her heart pounding.
They danced two more times, while Cody fumed on the sidelines. Kid and Lou had slipped out to dance by the wagon so no one would see.
“Want to go for a walk?” Jimmy asked Meg after their third dance. Meg nodded. Jimmy took her hand as they walked.
Meg sighed happily. “I had so much fun tonight.”
Jimmy laughed. “Your hair’s falling down.”
Meg touched her hair to discover he was right. She laughed, too. “I guess I twirled too much.”
Suddenly Jimmy reached over and removed the hair clip. Meg’s hair tumbled back around her face. “Now you look like Meg.” Jimmy told her, brushing her cheek lightly with his knuckles.
Suddenly unsure of herself, Meg stepped away from him. “We’d better go,” she said shakily and turned back to the wagon. The others were coming out. Teaspoon carried a sleepy Lexi and put her in the wagon. The he helped Emma and Meg in and they set off for home.