The hot summer sun beat down on Evan and Willis as they repaired the western corner of the grazing pasture fence. The winter had been one of Bluff Springs’ worst, and Evan had been meaning to get to this for weeks but the daily grind of the ranch had kept him and Willis busy enough. With no hired help to speak of, Evan was lucky to have his cousin Willis as a ranch hand. He was just as tall as Evan, and the two shared the same trademark Stanwick blue eyes, although Willis’ hair was a corn-golden blonde, in contrast to Evan’s dark, shorter locks.
Willis was going on and on about some girl or other, but Evan was hardly listening, preferring to keep his mind on the task at hand, and then the task after that, and so forth. He was a sweet boy, but Willis knew how to spin a lengthy yarn and seeing as they had grown up together, Evan knew Willis wouldn’t mind if he didn’t hang onto his every word. Evan wasn’t prone to loneliness, and maybe he wasn’t a great listener, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t nice to have the company. He’d worked on building this ranch for as long as he could remember and his Aunt May and Willis had been by his side the whole way, ever since his parents had died in a train accident when he was 16, leaving him an orphan. He looked up at the field of healthy cattle leading up towards the log house at the top, where May was inside baking a pot pie for dinner in the kitchen, with windows backing out onto a view of two snow-capped mountains. Born and raised in the Colorado territory, Evan loved his home more than the bees loved their honey. He took a deep breath in while he surveyed the landscape. There was a time when he may have wanted more, but his heart had changed over the years and Evan Stanwick knew he had just about everything a man could hope for.
“And she’s a schoolteacher, which would be perfect. Sally told me she’s Tom Wilson’s sister or something like that, but I think it’s high time you let that grudge go, seeing as-”
“Tom Wilson?” Evan interrupted Willis’ rambling, finally saying something for the first time in hours. “Why are you talking about that paltry excuse for a man?”
“I thought that would get your attention,” Willis said, quite pleased with himself. “She’s his sister, according to Sally, but I don’t think you should let that stop you from getting to know her. You know Tom’s been doing some good work in town these days, and-”
“Who is this sister, and why are you telling me about her?” Evan asked, none too pleased to have had his peace disturbed by any reminder of Tom Wilson’s existence. Evan was no fan of gossip, and tried to stay clear of the town rumor mill as much as possible. He liked his cousin’s girl Sally well enough, but as daughter of the saloon owner she knew everything about everyone, and wouldn’t hesitate to pass on ‘information.’ In other words, she could absolutely not be trusted with even half a secret. Evan had once told her that one of his heifers had given birth to a calf with five legs, and the next morning there was a lineup outside his front gate, as if he’d opened a circus and was charging a penny a head. So if there was information to be had about Tom Wilson’s maybe sister, Sally would have it, and Willis would tell it, whether or not Evan liked it.
“Melodie. Melodie Banfield, just arrived in from Philadelphia. The one with the fine auburn hair, and the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen. Have you been listening to a word I’ve been saying, Evan?”
“You know I have bigger things to think about sometimes, and I can’t always keep track the way you go on about this or that. Pass me that post,” Evan ordered Willis, who obliged, pulling an appropriately sized piece of lumber to replace the rotting section. Evan paused in his work for a second when Willis returned, looking into his eyes sternly. “You know you shouldn’t be talking like that about another girl. That Sally Hertz is real keen on you, and it’s wrong to throw that kind of love away.”
Not that Evan was an expert on love or anything, but he’d lived a life, and sometimes his cousin Willis wasn’t the most considerate of boys when it came to the feelings of others. Sally Hertz had clearly had her eye on Willis since she’d been able to braid her own hair, and Evan didn’t think Willis should be throwing away the love of a good, constant woman, be she a gossip or not.
Willis looked away towards where the sun was sinking behind the mountains, and shook his head. “You know, Evan, for a man who taught himself how to read, you can be real thick sometimes. I’m mad about Sally Hertz and nothing is going to change that. I meant that you should think about introducing yourself to Melodie Banfield. She’s just about the prettiest thing in town, besides Sally of course, and she’s starting up the old school house again so you know she’s the thinking kind, which you like. And yes, she’s related to Tom Wilson, but you’ve got to leave the past in the past, Evan. Bluff Springs is a small place, and you can’t go about your whole life carrying that kind of anger around.”
It had been five years since Sarah had rejected Evan’s proposal and left him for his best friend at the time; none other than Tom Wilson. He tried not to think about it much, but every once in a while he was brought back there again, like it was just yesterday. The scene would flash before his eyes, Willis’ face begging him to stop, Sarah pulling away and looking at Tom, who didn’t know what to say. Their fingers, intertwined in each other’s as Evan looked on, still unsure what he was seeing. The way that he had held Sarah’s hand just days before. All the looks from the guests and the musicians at the harvest dance, unsure about whether or not to continue playing. Evan had run all the way home that night, wishing it was raining just so he could feel the water on his face, but it was a clear night. He drove himself crazy thinking about his last conversation with Sarah, and wondering about everything he might have done wrong. What would have made her deny what they’d had? Had he not been open enough with his feelings or waited too long to propose? That couldn’t be the case and he told himself that Sarah knew how he felt about her, turning all his self-blame onto the happy new couple.
The embarrassment, shame, and hurt would flash through Evan like a lightning bolt, and he’d try and shake it off as quickly as the thoughts would come to him. How could he have been so blind not to see that Sarah would never want a man like him? Then he’d remember the better times when they were much younger, running through the neighbor’s corn field, and he’d watch her dark hair streaming behind her as she laughed. Nights spent looking at the stars, and dancing while Willis played the fiddle as Aunt May clapped along. It had been a long time since he’d seen Sarah like that, with ribbons in her hair, smiling as Evan pulled an eyelash off her cheek, and they’d blow it away together with a wish. That Sarah didn’t exist anymore, his friend Tom had never been the friend he thought he was, and the idea of them filled him with a different kind of sadness. The ranch, he’d think then. Focus on the ranch. What needed to be done next, what task could he distract himself with? There was the feeding, calving, weaning, roping, pasturing, and herding, and that barely one day’s activities. Thankfully, there was plenty to distract him from his heartbreak and loss.
“Tom Wilson is a snake in the grass. And anyone related to him is bound to be as well.”
Willis’ speech had had the opposite of its intended effect, and Evan returned to silence, angrily hammering the new post into the ground. Willis sighed audibly, frustrated at his cousin’s stubbornness, and the two settled back into the quiet of the ranch with just the sound of grazing cattle and the wind running through the trees in the distance. This was the way Evan liked it best, and with any luck, Willis wouldn’t mention Tom, Sarah, or any of their potential sisters ever again.
The two men headed back towards the house about an hour later, fence repaired and a solid day’s work under their belts. Evan felt like he had succeeded in putting an end to Willis’ idea that he ought to strike something up with a new girl. It was such a ludicrous thought in the first place, anyway. Evan had no need for anything as featherbrained as love, not when the rest of his life was so fruitful. His thousand acres and cattle was all he wanted to raise and protect, and his heart belonged right here on Lone Pine Range. They were almost all the way to the porch before either of them spoke again.
“The truth is, Willis,” Evan said out of nowhere, the surprise enough to stop Willis in his tracks, “I just don’t think I’m the marrying kind. Maybe I used to be, but not anymore. And I don’t need a wife anyway; I just need what I have right here. You, Aunt May, and the ranch.” Evan turned around, finally noticing that Willis wasn’t following him anymore, and faced his unmoving younger cousin. Willis wasn’t one for sentimentality, but just this second it looked like there were tears welling up in his eyes and Evan wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. Running through all the things he’d said over the afternoon, nothing had been terribly rude.
“What are you waiting over there for? I can smell the pot pie from here, your mama’s going to be wondering what’s taking us so long,” said Evan, waving for Willis to come up the stairs into the house. But Willis didn’t move, instead just shuffling the dirt around his feet, and Evan started to worry that there was something really the matter.
“Evan, I’m 25 now, you know that,” Willis said as soon as he could choke down the lump in his throat, “and I’ve been courting Sally for a few months now, and… it’s getting to be that time where, well you know. I can’t stay here with you forever, Evan. I’m going to ask Sally to marry me one of these days, and then we’ll start our own life. And seeing as how she’s my mother, I mean, well, May’s likely to want to come live with us, wherever we go, and I just don’t want… I don’t want you to be all here by yourself, Evan. I know you fancy yourself an independent gentleman and all, but no man is an island, Evan Stanwick. Not even you.”
It was an odd feeling, knowing that Willis was worried about him. Evan didn’t like to be pitied, but it struck him that Willis meant his words to be more of a warning than anything. Touched, and relieved that nothing was wrong after all, Evan walked over to his younger cousin and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Willis. You’ve grown into a strong, upstanding man, and Sally will be lucky to have you as a husband. But don’t you worry about me, alright?” he said, tousling his cousin’s hair. “You should be worrying about how Aunt May is going to share her boy with another woman!”
Evan’s joke broke the tension, and the two young men walked into dinner where a smiling Aunt May was waiting there to greet them. Behind them, the sun set over the picturesque Bluff Springs, a town full of promise, heartbreak, and the finest views this side of the Rio Grande.
Aunt May’s pot pie was as delicious as ever, and Evan and Willis ate it so quickly you might’ve thought they were still growing boys. It was the kind of warm night that the men normally would have wanted to spend out on the porch smoking a pipe while Willis chattered on about his latest whittling project, or Sally’s latest tale from town, with Evan quietly listening, squinting out into the horizon. Tonight, however, Aunt May had other plans for them.
“I hope you don’t think that I’d forgotten what day it is Evan,” she said playfully, leaving him perplexed. The fifty year old woman with soft lines across her face smiled at her nephew, tying up the long grey braids that ran down her back into a bun. Evan had tried to tell her time and time again that the ranch was quite successful now, and that he could afford to buy her a new dress if she wanted. He wished that she would enjoy the profits of the ranch, settle into the small fortune they had all worked so hard for, and treat herself with a little lace every once in a while, or a new bonnet. Aunt May was the practical sort, however, and she was determined to wear her old farm frocks till they literally bit the dust.
“And I hope you know I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about, Aunt May,” Evan responded with a rare smile on his face, the kind reserved only for his beloved aunt.
“Oh nonsense, boy, you know exactly what I’m referring to. Willis, go get Evan’s birthday cake from the kitchen,” she ordered, and Evan put his head down on the table in disbelief. With the business of the season he’d completely forgotten about his very own birthday. He could name the birthdays of practically his entire herd, but couldn’t seem to keep track of his own; the perfect metaphor for Evan’s continued emotional state.
“You didn’t have to bake me a cake, Aunt May, that pot pie was the most perfect present I could have wished for.”
Aunt May was getting on in years now, and Evan didn’t like the idea of her working too hard around the place. He’d considered hiring someone to help her out, but she’d insisted that she could still take care of the household herself. He didn’t doubt that she could, but the thought of her working away in a hot kitchen all day, baking a pie and a cake brought him more guilt than joy.
“Don’t be silly. After all that you’ve done for me and Willis, a little cake is the least I can do. After all, it was the second happiest day of my life the day that you came into the world, Evan,” Aunt May said, starting to tell one of her favorite stories as Willis came back to the table with a sugar cake and three plates.
“Oh no, is she telling the darn baby story again? We know the story ma, you tell it every year. There was no doctor, he was coming out the wrong way, they turned him around, and he was born. I’ve met goats with more exciting birthing stories.” It may have seemed harsh, but Willis knew that giving his mama a hard time about her stories was part of the act, and she enjoyed telling them more knowing her audience was dubious.
“Sit down, cut the cake and listen, Willis,” Aunt May scolded her son, and he obliged, rolling his eyes. “You may know the story, but you’re stoic as heck cousin here seems to have spent so much time conversing with his cows that he forgot that on this day, 29 years ago, he was born. On a hot July night, just like tonight. And your mama was fat as can be, seeing as you were taking your sweet time coming out to meet us. Nothing much has changed in that regard I suppose; you’re still a man who takes things at his own pace.”
Willis passed around slices of the fine sugar cake, and the boys looked at each other with a smile and politely listened to the story they’d heard so many times before.
“Now the plan had been that your papa would ride into town and get the doctor as soon as the pains started coming on, but you weren’t playing by anybody’s rules. By the time your father had the horse saddled up you were already coming out, and there wasn’t any time to go get the doctor.” It was true that Lone Pine Range was far enough from town that getting the doctor in would have been quite a hassle, but it was usually advised for first births. It was strange to think how much the homestead had changed since his parents had lived here and he was a baby. It had been much smaller then, just a one room cabin, and now there was practically too much space for just the three of them. Evan liked the thought that he had built up the ranch in his parents’ memory, and continued working to this day to make their dreams come true, dreams that had been cut so short.
“Now your mama had witnessed many birthings, so she knew what to expect,” Aunt May continued, “but this was different. There was mess everywhere, and you had stopped moving inside of her. Something was very wrong, and they needed to get you out quick. Your parents knew from your position that you were facing the wrong direction, and coming out like that you’d kill yourself and your mama all at once. Breach birth, they call it.”
“Ah yes, my cousin the would-be murderer,” Willis teased, and Evan laughed along. This certainly wasn’t the type of story that would be told around most polite society, but as ranchers, they’d all seen the ins and outs of animal life. Truth be told he liked hearing any stories about his parents, and there weren’t many people around Bluff Springs anymore who had known them. He was lucky to have Willis and Aunt May for company, but he missed his parents every day. His mama used to tell this story herself, which always embarrassed Evan greatly, but she would have loved to know that Aunt May was continuing the tradition, even to this day.
“Oh shush yourself Willis. It was a miracle birth, and don’t you forget it. Your parents were desperate, Evan, but your papa, just when things were getting dire, he decided to try one last trick. Years before, he’d seen a cow give birth to a calf who had also been all turned around, like a pretzel, and he’d helped the farmer turn around the calf inside the belly of the cow. So they decided to try it on your mama, and they massaged and coaxed you back into the right position, singing a sweet song to you the whole time. The Lord was with them that night, and by the time I came to call the next morning, you were a healthy and happy, screaming baby boy,” Aunt May finished her story, sitting back into her chair properly, pleased with the recounting.
“And we all lived happily ever after,” Evan said, finishing up the last of his sugar cake. It wasn’t completely true, but Evan felt happier just now than he had in a long time. “Thank you so much, Aunt May. I thank my lucky stars for you every day.”
Aunt May could see that he was fighting off emotion, and she reached across the table to hold his hand.
“They would have been so proud to see you today. You are an honor to their memory. The way your mama’s eyes lit up when she talked about you… well, I can’t wait till I see your eyes light up like that when you are blessed with your own family.” Evan pulled away with the mention of children, not liking where this conversation was going.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. It looks like you might have better luck with Willis here, in the grandchildren department. As for me, well. The two of you are all the family I need,” Evan said, wanting to stand up and take the dishes back into the kitchen but knowing that would be rude. Aunt May still hadn’t touched her cake, she’d been so busy with the storytelling.
“He’s been talking like this all day, Ma,” Willis piped in, “tell him he’s being stubborn as a mule! I hear the way the girls talk about you in town, Evan, and they all swoon over you. Who’s that mysterious, handsome rancher on the hill, they ask. Do the honorable thing and marry one of them already! We’ve got so much space up here; honestly it seems greedy to keep it all to yourself. Don’t you ever imagine a brood of young ones running around the place, and a Mrs. of your own, barefoot in the kitchen singing a pretty tune?”
The room got quiet, and the agonizing thought entered Evan’s mind that the picture Willis was conjuring was exactly what his parents would’ve wanted. It broke their hearts that Evan was the only child they had, and his mama had often talked of wanting a big family and a large home where the sound of children laughing could fill every corner.
“Don’t listen to him,” May said to Evan, kindly, before turning back to Willis. “For once in your life keep your thoughts to yourself, son. I know Evan, and he’ll find love. But like he does all things; in his own time.”
Evan wasn’t quite sure how to respond. He woke up every day with a renewed desire to stay as far away from courtship, love and romance as he possibly could, but his aunt’s intentions were sweet, and he knew she meant to be reassuring. What could he do to make Aunt May and Willis understand that he was happy, just as he was? Looking around, he told himself again that he had everything he needed: his health, a successful ranch, and a caring family. Love just wasn’t worth the risk.
The following morning was just as sunny, but the breeze brought a crispness to the air. In her new sky-blue dress, Melodie walked quickly down Bluff Springs’ main street, her mind filled with all the schoolhouse supplies she may have forgotten to put on her shopping list. She smiled to herself, smelling the sweet apples almost ready to fall from the trees, and feeling like everything was finally going her way. The possibilities that this new life in Bluff Springs could offer her seemed endless, even if she’d only been here for a few days. Back in Philadelphia, the expectations put on her as a twenty-four year old woman to marry and immediately give up any aspirations she might have had on her own were overwhelming. The business and grit of the Philadelphia streets seemed dismal compared to the open air here, even if the amenities of frontier life were limited.
To her friends it had seemed a strange choice to leave the city, and there was a time when it never would have occurred to her either, to pick up and change everything about her life. But three years ago her mother, Iris, had made a surprising decision to marry a man she hardly knew, and move to Bluff Springs, in the middle of nowhere Colorado territory. Slowly but surely Melodie was also seduced, not by a man, but by the promise of the town. At first, Melodie had done her best to talk her mother out of it. Was it really worth moving halfway across the country just for the sake of securing a husband? Not to mention, her mother was hardly suited for small town life. She’d only ever lived in metropolitan areas, and Melodie doubted she’d adjust well to the slower pace of life.
Then the letters started coming. Iris’ notes to her daughter were filled with beautiful descriptions of country life, and depictions of the charming characters of the town. She had also talked about how difficult life was for many people in the area, and how education seemed to be an afterthought, as the strain of survival took up most of the townsfolk’s energy. Ever since then Melodie had been aching to follow her, and truly believed she could make a real difference in Bluff Springs. She’d trained for years to be a schoolteacher, and positions were scarce in Philadelphia. Bluff Springs, on the other hand, had been without a properly run schoolhouse for years.
“Melodie Banfield, would you just slow right on down there for a minute?” Iris said, doing her best to get her daughter’s attention. “I’m no old maid, but just how do you expect me to keep up if you’re sprinting away from me?”
For a few minutes Melodie had truly forgotten that her mother had been accompanying her, and she was struck with a pang of guilt. Iris and Sarah, her new sister-in-law, had brought her into town the day before, but they hadn’t stopped in any shops. Instead it felt as if they were showing her off, and silently parading her down the town center without actually introducing her to anyone. They’d both spent the better part of an hour fussing over which bonnet she should wear, which would best bring out the color of her eyes, and which dress would best show off their status (and her figure). There was the latest style, with an open neck and lace lined sleeves, but the mauve silk was clearly the more expensive frock, if a few years older. In the end they settled on the mauve, with a more modern shawl, but all she’d really wanted to do was get down to business. Which was finally what today was all about, although that was hardly an excuse to neglect her very own mother. Melodie turned around, surprised, and apologized profusely.
“I’m so sorry, Mother! I was just getting excited thinking about getting the schoolhouse ready, I suppose I was double stepping.” She waited for Iris to join her, and they rested for a moment.
“We should’ve ridden the cart in further,” Iris said as she caught her breath.
“It’s a fine day for a fine walk, Mother. We hardly needed to crowd up the streets with the cart when we can walk peacefully for a mile or two.”
“One day you’ll have ankles like mine, and you might think otherwise. Alright, we can start walking again. The general store is just up here.”
It was true that her ankles weren’t what they had been, but Iris would be lying if she said she’d never sought out a fast-paced life herself. Melodie’s father, Henry, had been a well-off textile manufacturer in Philadelphia, with a taste for the finer things and travel. The two of them had bounced around Europe together as newlyweds before Henry finally settled down to run the factory he’d inherited, and Melodie was born. When Henry passed away just a few years ago, he’d left Melodie with a love of reading, Iris with a fine house, and not much else besides. The board members had bought Henry out of the factory, and the majority of his fortune was passed on to distant male heirs, leaving Irish and Melodie on the brink of pennilessness. Always one to make the best of things, Iris dusted herself off as soon as the appropriate mourning period was over and entered society again. She quickly met Mitchell Wilson at a city event, while he was in town for a brief political conference. Iris worked her magic, charmed the living daylights out of Mitchell Wilson, and the rest was history. To say that it was a one-sided relationship would be a lie, however, as Iris was just as taken with Mitchell’s charisma as he was with her liveliness. It was a love match, by all definitions of the phrase.
“Have you really never been into the saloon, even for a minute?” Melodie asked as they passed the swinging doors, and she caught a glimpse inside at the wide bar and dimly lit card tables. Part of her was genuinely surprised that her mother had never been tempted to spend an evening there.
“Absolutely not. It would be quite unseemly for the mayor’s wife to be seen in such an establishment, although we support it from a distance. It’s a vital part of the local economy, of course.”
“My mother, a paragon of virtue,” Melodie said cheekily, but she had to give it to her; Iris was playing the part of the politician’s wife perfectly.
“Don’t sound so surprised my dear, I’ve always had a charitable heart, and I’ve been inspired by Mitchell’s sense of duty, my adventurous past notwithstanding. Here we are, watch the step here,” Iris said, leading Melodie into the general store, and getting quieter as they climbed the stairs. “Now don’t say anything when you see him, but I wanted to warn you, the owner Gerald has an eye patch. I like to imagine he was a pirate in the Spanish seas, but in reality he just woke up like that one day.”
“He just woke up one day wearing an eye patch and never took it off? Well if that doesn’t sound like a falsehood, I don’t know what does,” Melodie whispered conspiratorially back to her mother. “I’ll bet he lost an eye to a jealous lover.”
“A lover? Gerald? Well now, you’re just saying that because you haven’t seen him yet. That man is a frog not even another frog would kiss.”
“Mother!” Melodie gasped, half laughing, and legitimately appalled at her mother’s harsh words. “Bluff Springs has turned you into a certified gossip. You’ve been spending too much time with that Sarah.”
“Now, Melodie, don’t say that about Sarah. She’s been quite sweet to me these last few years, and welcomed me nicely into town. Now come,” Iris scolded, and led Melodie through the door into the store.
From floor to ceiling, Bluff Springs General Store was filled with anything you could imagine needing. Not just hardware supplies but eggs, cheese, fresh produce, and even simple fabrics, though the tailor across the street would have more variety. Melodie hadn’t been sure what a place like Bluff Springs would have in terms of stock, so she was pleased to see she’d be able to find everything on her list.
“Oh Gerald, there you are,” Iris said, ushering Melodie towards the front counter where Mr. Dunn was counting inventory. “Meet my one, only, best and favorite daughter Melodie, in from Philadelphia. She’s going to be teaching at the schoolhouse come fall. Melodie, this is Gerald Dunn, our fine general store owner.”
As Melodie took in the sight of Gerald, she quickly realized her mother had been right. He wasn’t exactly a frog, in fact more like a toad, with a black eye patch over one side of his face, reaching around the back of his mostly bald head. In the end she was glad her mother had warned her, otherwise she may not have been able to hide her surprise and might have been unintentionally rude to the first Bluff Springs resident she was meeting outside of her own family.
“Pleased to meet you, Melodie. Your mother Iris had told me all about you, and we’re so thrilled to have you here in Bluff Springs,” Gerald said kindly, opening his mouth to reveal hardly any teeth at all.
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Dunn,” Melodie said politely back, always the picture of courteousness. “From what I’ve seen, your town is beautiful and I’m lucky to call it my home now.”
“Well isn’t she something. You must be an awful proud mother, Mrs. Wilson, to have raised such a fine young lady.”
“She’s one of a kind, that’s for sure.” Iris said lovingly.
“If there’s anything you need help looking for, give me a holler. This place can get awfully cluttered, and I happen to be an expert on the whereabouts of just about everything.”
“Actually, that would be very helpful Mr. Dunn. I’m not quite sure where to start here. Would you be able to tell me where the chalk is?” Melodie asked, fetching out and consulting her list.
“Now you just wait right here, and I’ll show you what we’ve got. And please, you can call me Gerald,” he said, as he disappeared between the shelves, muttering to himself about this and that.
Iris looked at Melodie as if to say, “I told you he was a frog,” and Melodie couldn’t help but giggle a little. She and her mother had always been able to communicate without words, and it came in handy more often that anybody would think.
“He is very nice though, mother, you have to admit,” Melodie whispered to Iris, even though there wasn’t anyone else in the shop just then.
“I never said he wasn’t!” Iris put her hands up, pleading her innocence. They waited patiently for Gerald to come back with the chalk, and Melodie started looking around for some of the other items on her list when her mother started in again.
“Listen, Melodie,” she continued, in a serious tone this time, “are you really going to stay here in Bluff Springs? I know you’ve got your heart set on opening this schoolhouse, but you have to admit there was more for you in Philadelphia. I love it here, and I love your step-father, but this is a two street town and you’re a city girl.”
“There was nothing for me there,” Melodie coldly replied, instantly regretting the harshness of her tone. “Besides, I want to be of some use wherever I choose to make my home, and when you told me there hasn’t been a schoolmaster here in years, it seemed like the perfect fit. I can really make a difference here, Mother. I think I can really help these children.”
“You speak as if there was no charitable work to be done in Philadelphia. Or as if there were no schools, Melodie, and that just isn’t the case.”
“No schools that would take me, Mother, and you know it. There are better educated men there, and they swept up all the teaching positions. Besides, no self-respecting Philadelphia mother would send their child to learn from a lady when there are such fine gentlemen-run schools around.”
“Oh that’s rubbish my girl, you could’ve been a governess. You could’ve been a governess until you were ready to marry John Turner, and then you would’ve had such a life, my dear. Society events every other night-”
“Marrying John Turner would’ve been the biggest mistake of my life, and I won’t hear you say otherwise.”
Iris got quiet, but just for a moment. She could be just as stubborn as her daughter, but her years in Bluff Springs had taught her a thing or two. They say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. That didn’t mean she had to stop trying just yet, however. Iris leaned in towards her daughter, not wanting Gerald to hear what she was going to say.
“You say that now, but John is a smart man. I don’t mean to speak ill of the good Bluff Springs people, but I worry you may find yourself starved for intelligent company. And John has prospects, you can’t deny that.”
She wasn’t wrong and Melodie knew it. When they’d first met, John Taylor had dazzled her with his quick intelligence and knowledge of the world. He’d read a great deal, and studied history at university, but after about a year of knowing each other, John had changed. He went to work in sales for his father’s steel company, and Melodie saw less and less of him as time went on. Their conversations all seemed to turn to money, professional prospects and business affairs, and his quick wit spun into anger after long days at the office. He became mean spirited, started judging others based on the quality and style of their clothing, and abandoned old friends in their times of need. Iris didn’t know, and Melodie hadn’t wanted to tell her, but before she’d left Philadelphia, John’s clerk had come to speak with her. The clerk’s daughter had died of scarlet fever just a month before, and John had fired him when he’d missed too many days of work while taking care of her. The clerk had practically begged Melodie to convince John to rehire him, and she promised him she would do her best. But John’s heart had hardened with greed, and nothing Melodie said could change his mind. It would hurt Iris to know that the John she had grown so fond of had become such a monster, so Melodie wanted to preserve his reputation in her eyes for now, while still insisting that they weren’t right for each other.
“John cares only for money, mother. There was no room for me in his life,” Melodie said simply. He hadn’t taken it well when Melodie had told him she was leaving, and John’s reaction had only reinforced the wisdom of her decision. The shouting had turned to begging, then tears, but nothing would stop Melodie from seeing out her dreams now.
Though she had many more thoughts on the subject, Iris held her tongue. She knew her daughter was strong-willed, and nothing was going to convince her otherwise once she’d set her mind to it. If teaching the children of Bluff Springs was what she wanted to do, that’s what Melodie would do, even if Iris thought she knew better. It was hard for Iris to believe that her daughter the dreamer would be happy in such a small town, but then again, Melodie had never been the predictable sort. There were days when Iris wished she was still in Philadelphia herself, enjoying a concert including more instruments than just a fiddle and a player piano, but she had a good life here in Bluff Springs. Stable, and with the love of a good man, Iris reminded herself every day how lucky she was.
“If I didn’t know any better, Mother, I’d say you were trying to get rid of me, and ship me off back to Philadelphia!” Melodie teased her mother, attempting to atone for her dismissive attitude moments before. “Aren’t you happy that I, your one and only daughter, am not so far away from you now?”
“I’ll have you know I have three children now! Tom and Sarah are fine company, and they treat me with more respect than you ever did,” Iris teased Melodie right back.
Though Melodie had only been in Bluff Springs for a short time, she already had gotten to know Mitchell’s son Tom and his wife Sarah fairly well. The couple had been her main source of companionship, apart from her mother and Mitchell. Tom seemed kind enough, and had a good sense of humor, but Melodie had very little in common with Sarah. Sarah was constantly in search of new hat ribbons, and mainly wanted to talk about the current dress styles coming from Denver, and Melodie had little to offer on either account. Sarah was very quick to tell her about every townsperson, where they came from, who they associated with and so forth, but Melodie had no patience for such idle chit-chat. It puzzled Sarah that someone as pretty as Melodie would opt to move to the middle of nowhere, just in an attempt to educate the rowdy children of Bluff Springs, instead of marrying rich and enjoying all the civilities of the city. If Sarah had her way, she and Tom would have left Bluff Springs permanently for Boston long ago.
“The chalk has been located,” Gerald announced, finally making his way back from the rear of the store, proudly presenting a small box. “Bluff Springs’ finest. Now what’s next on your list?”
Melodie and Iris exchanged a glance, recognizing that this might take a while.
“My dear, I hate to abandon you like this, but if I don’t take my leave now I’m going to be late to meet May Stanwick for tea. You don’t mind, do you?”
Melodie had forgotten about her mother’s engagement, and suddenly she felt a twinge of regret. She had been hoping that they would have finished the shopping in time for her to join the two of them at tea. From what her mother had told her about May Stanwick, she sounded exactly like the kind of woman she’d like to meet. Practical, wise, and knowledgeable about the town, May just might have some valuable input on just how to get the schoolhouse up and running again.
“Now? I’m just not sure how I’m going to be able to carry everything I need back to the cart.”
“That’s why I told you we should’ve ridden it closer in! You’ll be alright though, Gerald, will you help her carry everything back to the cart? It’s all going on the Wilson tab of course,” Iris said to Gerald, flashing him her famous smile.
“Of course, Mrs. Wilson, I’ll have Elijah give her a hand with everything. You tell that May Stanwick that she needs to bring by more of her biscuits. They sold out in forty minutes last week, and everyone’s been asking me for them since.”
“I’ll certainly tell her you said so, Gerald. Thank you for taking care of my girl here, and Melodie, I’ll see you back at the house in time for supper!” Iris exclaimed, about to leave before Melodie stopped her.
“Wait, but Mother, how are you going to get back to the homestead if I leave with the cart myself? You couldn’t possibly walk all the way home from the tearoom.” Maybe she’d be able to pick up her mother on the way home, and meet May Stanwick just after tea.
“Oh not to worry, Mitchell will take me home in the buggy of course! He’ll be done in the town hall around six, and I’ll meet him there. What a perfect daughter I have, worrying about me so,” Iris said to Gerald, happy to have her girl to show off, even if she did think Melodie ought to have stayed in Philadelphia.
“A horse and buggy, my oh my! Perks of being married to the Bluff Springs mayor I suppose,” Gerald piped in.
“Just one of many, I assure you,” Iris laughed back, and was about to leave again when Melodie stopped her with another question.
“Will Tom and Sarah be joining us for dinner again this evening?”
“Yes of course! I know it must be the highlight of your day, conversing with young people such as yourself. I’m sure it gets tiresome with only Mitchell and I for company. We’ll introduce you to some new people about town in no time.” Melodie rolled her eyes internally, wishing to explain to her mother how wrong she was about enjoying her time with Sarah Wilson, but she resisted the temptation, opting instead to kiss Iris goodbye and turn her attention back to the task at hand. Another long night of pretending she knew anything about east coast fashion trends was hardly what she thought of as a good time, but Melodie knew she’d have to make nice with Sarah for the time being until she had settled into new friendships. Sarah had mentioned a church society gathering that happened once, and Melodie was looking forward to it already.
It took another hour and a half to gather all the supplies she’d had on her list, and then Gerald called out for his young help, Elijah, to aid Melodie carrying the goods back to her cart and horse. He was a small boy, dressed in thick brown overalls, with a ragged shirt underneath which was clearly too big for him. There were dark smudges across his face, a result of working in the general store supply room for hours on end, she supposed. It started out as a quiet walk, while Melodie took in her surroundings, but as soon as she asked Elijah about the embroidered patch pinned onto his overalls, he came to life.
“Sheriff Jones gave this to me after I told him about how I’d saved a cat from drowning, about nearly eight weeks and three days ago now. He says I’m the youth deputy now, and it’s my duty to help others, and report back to him if I see anything suspiscus.” The way he mispronounced the word was adorable, and Melodie was instantly taken with the confident young man.
“Oh my, that’s very brave of you Elijah. I think you might mean ‘suspicious’ though. It’s a pretty tough word, I’ll admit,” Melodie said, smiling down at the very sincere child.
“I don’t know about that Miss, Sheriff Jones definitely told me to look out for anything suspiscus. And Sheriff Jones isn’t the kind of man who gets things wrong very often.”
“Well I’ll tell you Elijah, suspicious or suspiscus, I could use a boy like you down at the schoolhouse in the fall. I’ll need help keeping all the children in line, and you might learn a thing or two while we’re at it.” Melodie thought that perhaps appealing to the boy’s sense of duty that seemed so important to him might make the idea of school more palatable.
“Due respect, Miss, I don’t need no schooling. After the harvest I’ll be going back to help Mr. Dunn in the general store, and then I’m going to work in the mines when I’m old enough. I don’t have time to worry about all that numbers and such.”
They finally reached the cart, and Elijah helped her pile the supplies in the cart. It had been hot work, and she offered him some water from her flask.
“Thanks Miss,” Elijah said in between gulps of water, handing her back an almost empty flask.
“How old are you, Elijah?” Melodie asked, genuinely curious. He spoke like he was older but had the appearance of an eight year old, with his scrawny arms and knobbly knees.
“Thirteen, Miss,” he said back proudly.
“Well Elijah,” Melodie said with one hand on his shoulder, trying to hide her surprise at his age, given his small stature, “you think about schooling. I could really use the help, and there’s no one alive, not even a miner, who regrets having learned how to read.”
Elijah simply nodded, and bolted away, back to the general store. At thirteen already, Melodie knew they’d be sending Elijah to the mines in only a year, or a matter of months, depending on how desperate his parents were getting. She wondered what his home life looked like, and if she’d ever be able to find out. Being the step-daughter of the mayor kept her in a very different society than the likes of Elijah’s family, but it was people like him that had made her want to be here the most, and inspired her to take on the teaching position in the first place.
“A Melody to Tender His Soul” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Melodie Banfield wants to make a difference, and as a teacher, she believes she can do so in Bluff Springs. Leaving Philadelphia, and an inadequate love behind her, she is looking forward to a new adventure. What she could never predict, though, is that his stepbrother, Tom, might spell disaster for the feelings she starts to develop the second she sees a kind stranger, Evan. Now, she stands in the middle of a conflict, triggered years ago because of a girl. Is she actually prepared to deal with a potential threat, full of challenges and lies that is about to land on her path?
Evan Stanwick is a cattle rancher who seems to have it all. He has a successful ranch, a large house, and a tight-knit family. In spite of his blessings, life has been cruel to him. Having burnt already once by betrayal and unrequited emotions, he vows to seal her heart and never love again. But fate proves him wrong, when he bumps into Melodie. However, the minute he realizes who she is, he understands that this acquaintance is doomed to fail. Can he let go of the pain and bitterness that has swallowed him? Will he let anger prevail, destroying everything in his life?
Melodie and Evan are struggling to ignore what is written in the stars out of fear that they will get hurt. Could they work everything out and find a true soul mate in one another, despite all odds? What will they have to sacrifice in order to follow their hearts?
“A Melody to Tender His Soul” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.