The Bartender's Mail Order Bride(4)

By: Cindy Caldwell






“You’re awfully quiet,” Clara said as the buggy approached the gates of Archer Ranch.

Meg was startled out of her thoughts and looked up at the house she shared with her brother, Hank, Clara, her father and her five sisters.

“Am I?” Meg said, but she knew Clara was right. Ever since they’d left the Occidental, all she could think about was Sam’s face at the news he’d not gotten any bride applicants.

“Penny for your thoughts.” Clara gave her a sideways glance from under the brim of her blue bonnet, a color that Meg had always thought made her eyes stand out and her red hair even more lovely.

Meg sighed as she turned back to the house, absently twisting a lock of her fine, strawberry blonde hair around her finger. She looked at Clara again, wondering if now would be a good time to ask her how she always looked so pretty.

Instead, she said, “I was just thinking about how sad this was for Sam, no brides.”

Clara shook her head slowly. “It is a shame. If any of them would just meet him and give him a chance, I am sure that they wouldn’t be so hesitant. He’s a fine man.”

A sigh escaped Meg and she caught herself, not wanting Clara to know that she had any stronger feelings than she’d already mentioned about Sam or his predicament. She knew if she mentioned how she felt, it would be something she could never take back, and she still wasn’t sure she was open for the teasing she knew she’d get. And Sam would be married, soon, anyway.

But I like Sam, too, she thought, her hands fiddling with the ties of her bonnet. The buggy slowed a bit and Meg noticed the little white house that Clara and Hank shared, the very one her mother and father had lived in when they were first married.

The garden surrounding it was bursting with flowers they’d planted when Clara arrived, and she smiled as Clara turned toward the garden and said, “Look at what a little love and effort can do.”

“Yes. You and Hank have been happy there, haven’t you?” Meg said quietly, watching the garden as they passed.

“Oh, yes, very.” Clara patted Meg’s hand as she pulled the buggy up in front of the house.

“Were you nervous when you came from Chicago, after Sadie asked you to marry Hank? You two had never even met.”

Clara laughed as Ben, the stable hand, reached up to help her down out of the buggy. “Yes, you would think so, wouldn’t you. But honestly, I was quite anxious to see and learn about something new. I didn’t even know what a wrangler was before I arrived. Now, it seems, I’m married to the best one in the state.”

Meg smiled at the thought of how well things had turned out for Clara and Hank. “I’m very happy for you two,” she said, quite sincerely. She was happy for them.

Clara removed her bonnet and ran her hand quickly through her hair. As Meg took off her own bonnet, Clara looked at her, her head cocked to one side.

“You know, Meg, before you know it, you’ll be thinking about getting married. In fact, you’re old enough to be married now, and I’m a bit surprised you haven’t welcomed suitors yet.”

Meg frowned and looked down at her dress as her hand flew to her hair, again curling a stray lock around her finger.

“I’m not pretty like you are, Clara. I know I’m old enough to be married—maybe even time I should be— but I didn’t learn much from Mama about being…knowing…well, how to be beautiful, like you.”

Clara’s eyes grew wide and she reached out for Meg’s hand and laughed. “Oh, goodness. You are old enough. In fact, we’re close to the same age, so it’s about time you start thinking about it.

“Like I said, I don’t really know much about girl things.” She took another look at the dirt on the shoes she wore every day, suddenly embarrassed that she’d gone out in the same shoes she wore to do her ranch chores. What had she been thinking? No wonder Sam never noticed her.

As they stood on the porch and watched Ben lead the horses and the buggy back toward the stables, Clara reached out and took a bit of Meg’s hair in her hand.

“You know, I have some time before supper. Would you like me to show you a few things to do with your hair? Easy things?”

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