Ladies' Shooting Club, Book 2
Susan Page Davis
About the Book
The gunsmith paused on the board sidewalk and turned around.
Maitland Dostie left the doorway of his tiny office and shouted at him, waving a piece of paper. “Got a message for ya.”
Hiram arched his eyebrows and touched a hand to his chest in question.
The gray-haired telegraph operator smiled and clomped along the walk toward him, shaking his head. “Yes, you, Mr. Dooley. Just because you haven’t had a telegram in the last five years and more doesn’t mean you’ll never get one.”
Hiram swallowed down a lump of apprehension and reached a cautious hand for the paper. “What do Iowe you?”
“Nothing. It was paid for on the other end.”
It still seemed he ought to give him something, but maybe that was only if a messenger boy brought the telegram around to the house. Hiram nodded. “Thanks. Where’s it from?”
“Whyn’t you look and see?”
Hiram wanted to say, “Because if it’s from Maine, it’s probably bad news.” His parents were getting along in years, and he couldn’t think of a reason anyone would part with enough hard cash to send him a telegram unless somebody’d up and died.
But Hiram rarely spent more words than he had to, and Dostie had already gotten more out of him than usual. Besides, if someone in the family had died, the telegraph operator would know it. Wouldn’t he look a little sadder if that were so? Hiram nodded and tucked the paper inside his vest so it wouldn’t fly away in the cool May wind that whistled up between the Idaho mountains. He walked home, stepping a little faster than previously, certain that Dostie watched him.
At the path to his snug little house between the jail and a vacant store building, he turned in and hurried to the back. Maybe he ought to look. If it was bad news, he’d have to tell his sister, Trudy. Undecided, he mounted the steps and opened the kitchen door. A spicy smell of baking welcomed him, along with Trudy’s smile.
“Just in time. I’m taking out the molasses cookies and putting in the dried apple pies.” She bent before the open oven.
The woodstove had warmed the kitchen to an almost uncomfortable level. Hiram hung his hat on its peg and headed for the water bucket and washbasin. No use trying to get cookies from Trudy unless he’d washed his hands.
“Did Zachary Harper pay you?”
“No. He says he’ll come by next week.”
Hiram shrugged. Trudy got a little mama-bearish on his behalf when folks didn’t come forth with cash for his work on their firearms, but he knew Zach would pay him eventually. It wasn’t worth fussing over. As she peeled hot cookies off the baking sheet with a long, flat spatula, the soap shot out of his hand and skated across the clean floor. Thankful it hadn’t slid under the hot stove, he walked to the corner and bent to retrieve it. The paper in his vest crackled.
“Oh, I’most forgot.” He corralled the soap and returned it to its dish. After a good rinsing, he dried his hands, fished out the folded yellow sheet of paper, and laid it on the table.
“What’s that?” She stopped with the narrow spatula in midair, a hot, floppy cookie drooping over its edges.
“What’s it say?”
He rescued the crumbling cookie and juggled it from one hand to the other. “Don’t know.” He blew on it until it was cool enough that it wouldn’t burn him and popped half into his mouth. The warm sweetness hit the spot, and he felt less anxious.
Trudy set the cookie sheet down and balled her hands into fists. She put them to her hips, though she still held the spatula in one. “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you readit?”
He shrugged. How to tell his younger sister that he hadn’t wanted to be smacked with bad news while the telegraph operator watched him?
“It’s windy out.”
She scowled at him.
“I didn’t want it to blow away. Read it if you want.” He reached for another cookie. “Is Ethan coming over tonight?”
“What do you think?”
Hiram smiled. The sheriff spent a disproportionate amount of time at the Dooley house these days, but he didn’t mind. Ethan Chapman was a good man.
Trudy still eyed the telegram as though she expected it to rear back and sprout fangs and a tail rattle.
“Go ahead and read it,” Hiram said, feeling a little guilty at putting the task off on her.
“If it’s addressed to you, then you do it.”
He sighed and laid his cookie aside. It would be better with milk, anyway. He wiped his hands on his dungarees and picked up the paper. As he opened it, he quickly scanned the message for the “from” part and frowned. Why on earth would Rose Caplinger send him a message all the way from Maine?
“What?” Trudy asked.
He held it out to her. “It’s Rose.”
Hiram nodded. “She wants to visit, guess.” He should have read it more closely, but the idea of his opinionated sister-in-law descending on them was enough to make a bachelor quake. He and his bride, Violet, had traveled west twelve years ago, in part for the opportunities that beckoned them, but also to escape her pushy family. If Rose hadn’t bothered to come after Violet died, why on earth would she take it into her head to visit a decade later? “We’ll have to tell her not to come.”
Trudy’s eyebrows drew together as she studied the paper. “Too late, Hi. She’s already in Boise.”
Libby Adams lowered the bar into place inside the door of the Paragon Emporium. After a long day tending the store, it was a
relief to close up shop. She threw the bolt and turned the Open sign to Closed, but before she turned away, a man appeared outside and tried the door handle.
Surprised, Libby gestured for him to wait, removed the bar, and unbolted the door.
“I’m just closing, Cyrus. Do you need something tonight?” She stood with the door open a few inches, peering out at the stagecoach-line manager, whose office lay a few yards down the boardwalk.
“ I came on a social call.” The tall man’s smile stopped short of his gray eyes. “It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Thought I’d invite you to dinner --- say, Friday evening?”
Libby caught her breath. Cyrus and her husband, Isaac, had been friends. After Isaac’s death, Cyrus had made overtures to Libby, but too soon in her widowhood, she’d felt. Cyrus’s wife, Mary, was also deceased, so she supposed there was nothing improper about it. Back then, she’d told herself that his timing alone had prompted her to turn him down.
Now it was more than that. Her sharp grief was past, but she knew without any rumination that she didn’t wish to form a social alliance with Cyrus. She found his authoritative manner overbearing and repulsive. Actions she’d observed over the past few years confirmed her suspicions that she would not find happiness in the Fennel household. No, if she ever married again, it would be to a far gentler man than Cyrus.
She opened the door a bit wider so as not to appear rude, but she determined not to budge on her answer. “Don’t think so, Cyrus, but thank you for asking.”
His face hardened. “Why not?”
“I’m content with my situation the way it is.”
“Oh, come on, Libby.” He leaned closer, and she drew back, shocked that his breath smelled of liquor. “Aren’t you tired of being alone? We’ve both had enough of that. Do you enjoy living by yourself and working all day to earn a living? I’m offering you a chance to put this behind you.” His nod encompassed the emporium and Libby’s entire life.
His implication that she lived a bleak and pointless existence annoyed her. “I’m not ready to --- ”
“Of course you’re ready. Neither of us is getting any younger. Now’s the time, while we can enjoy life together.”
She shook her head. “I’m not interested in changing my situation just now, Cyrus.”
His eyes narrowed, and he studied her thoughtfully. “Not interested in me?”
“If you insist that Isay it, then suppose not.” Her pulse quickened at the angry twitch of his mouth. “We’ve known each other a long time, Cy. To be frank, don’t think we would suit each other.”
“We could have good times, Libby.”
“Ah, but we might differ on what constituted good times. Think we’ll do best to remain friends and not try to make more of it than that.”
He swore softly, and she stepped back.
“You’d best go home. Expect your daughter will have supper waiting when you get there. Good night.” She shut the door quickly and once more shot the bolt. Cyrus raised his hands to the door frame and peered in at her. “Good night,” she said again and plopped the bar into place. She turned away and hurried up the stairs to her apartment.
As she took out bread, preserves, and cheese for a cold supper, she shook her head. “Drinking, this early. He never did that when Mary was alive.” She wondered how his daughter, Isabel, liked that. Isabel taught the village school. A thin, colorless young woman, she’d always kept to herself. Libby had made a point of drawing her out. She’d known Isabel’s mother and felt a nebulous duty to make sure Isabel wasn’t forgotten and isolated after her mother’s death. For the last year, had taken part in the Ladies’ Shooting Club against her father’s wishes. Cyrus had declared the club a menace to the town, but he’d backed off somewhat when the ladies’ organization had proved its worth. He still wasn’t keen on it --- which was one more difference between her and Cyrus. Libby loved the shooting club and saw it as a benefit to the members and an asset to the town.
She took her plate to the parlor and sat down on the French settee Isaac had imported for her. She ought to entertain more. What good was all this fancy furniture with no one else to enjoy it? But she was always too tired in the evening. She did well to carve out time for shooting practice.
Cyrus’s renewed interest surprised her. She’d assumed he’d given up the notion of wooing her. A couple of years ago, she’d made it clear --- or so she thought --- that she didn’t want a new husband, even if he was the richest man in Fergus and a member of the town council.
She bent over and unlaced her shoes, then kicked them off and leaned back on the cushions. For a moment, she allowed herself to imagine life at the Fennel ranch. Cyrus would ride into town every morning to run the stagecoach line. Isabel would go to the schoolhouse. And Libby --- Libby would clean the house and bake and sew, she supposed. Maybe tend the hens and a vegetable garden. She’d probably not see another soul all day, except perhaps a ranch hand or two. None of the bright visits she enjoyed now with her customers. It struck her that, as owner of the emporium, she was privileged to see nearly every resident of the town at least once a month. Who else could claim that?
She tried to conjure up a picture of Cyrus as a loving husband. She’d counted Mary Fennel as a friend, but Libby suspected she’d harbored a deep unhappiness. Without tangible proof, she held the keen memory of a night twelve years ago when she’d been called with Annie Harper to Mary’s bedside. Mrs. Fennel had miscarried a baby that night, and she’d wept long afterward.
Libby, in her own awkwardness, had tried to soothe Mary, but she would not be comforted. In a moment alone, when Annie had gone to the kitchen, Libby had patted Mary’s shoulder and said, “There, now. You have Isabel. She’s a good girl, and perhaps the Lord will give you another child yet.”
“No,” Mary wailed. “He’s punishing me. Cyrus wanted a child of his own, but it’s never to be. God won’t let me give him that.”
Shocked into silence, Libby had listened to her weeping for hours. She had never told anyone of Mary’s words, but many times she had pondered them. Her own barrenness had brought on deep sorrow and feelings of inadequacy from which she’d never recovered. But Mary…something odd lay behind those words. Though she and Mary visited many more times, Libby had sealed her lips and never brought it up again.
Now Cyrus had come to her door and invited her to dinner --- offering much more than that. She shivered. If God had another husband for her, she would consider it. But not Cyrus. Never would she tie herself to that unhappy family.
Excerpted from GUNSMITH’S GALLANTRY: Ladies' Shooting Club, Book 2 © Copyright 2017 by Susan Page Davis. Reprinted with permission by Barbour Books. All rights reserved.
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