Two years later
Ronnie pulled up the wagon outside the barn and let the horse into the corral. He banged his Stetson against his legs to get rid of the dust and patted down his clothes.
“I’m back,” he called as he went into the kitchen and looked through into the living room. The six-month-old was sitting in the crib that was kept there and waved her hands when she heard her daddy’s voice. “My best girl,” he said and picked the little one out of the crib. “Where is your mom?”
He went and called up the stairs but there was no response and then he went back outside. A flash of fear went through his system as he looked around and there was no sign of Martha. He stopped and listened and then hurried to the barn as he heard her voice.
“Ronnie, I am stuck in the corner.” He found some hay to lay down the little one and ran to the sound of his wife’s voice. He clambered over the bales and found Martha on the floor in the corner. She was crying and shaking, and he asked what had happened. “I fell off the ladder. I think my arm is broken. It hurts, Ron.”
“Stay still,” he said. “I’ll pull away the bales. He lifted the hay and threw it to one side to make a pathway to where she was lying. Her arm was at a strange angle, and he asked if she could stand if he held the other arm.
“I can try,” she said tearfully. “Is Bella alright?”
“She’s here. I was carrying her when I heard you call. Dear Lord, what a terrible feeling when I could not find you.” He pulled on the good arm, and she came to her feet. She tottered to where the baby was lying, and Ronnie picked Bella up. “Can you walk to the house?” She nodded, but he could see it was painful.
“We have people staying who will need a meal. What will I do?”
“Well, to start with, I can sit you down and give Bella a bottle feed. Then I will go for the doctor and Wilma, and then I’ll cook the meal.”
“Oh what a wonder you are. It was such a stupid thing to do to go up the ladder. I am sorry Ronnie.”
He made sure she was sitting as well as she could and then warmed some goat’s milk to put in a feeder for his daughter. He made himself sit still and keep calm so that the baby would not be upset and Bella finished the milk and looked sleepy. He burped her over his shoulder and made sure she was not going to cry by rocking her gently.
“You stay still, and I will ride over to the farm.” He left at a run and saddled the horse. It was not far to the farm but quicker if riding. He threw himself from the saddle, and Wilma knew there was something wrong.
“What is it?”
“Martha fell and broke her arm. Can you go over as I go for the doctor? I fed the baby before I left.”
“Will,” she was shouting as she went over to the farm area. “Martha has had an accident, Drive me over there.”
“Thanks,” Ronnie called and set off for the doctor.
“I’ll come straight away. You go back to her,” the doctor said, and Ronnie galloped back to his house. Martha had moved and was rocking the cradle as Bella had wakened.
“I can’t pick her up. Oh Ronnie, how will I look after her?”
“Listen sweetheart,” he took her to the sofa. “The doctor is on his way. He will strap it up and give you something for the pain. Then we can sit Bella on your knee, and you can use your good arm.” Then he picked up Bella and walked the floor until she went back to sleep. Wilma, Willy, and the doctor all came at the same time and asked about the arm.
“I can see it,” Doctor Kelly said. “I will give you some laudanum and then I can straighten it and put it in splints. When you wake up, it will be much better.” Martha nodded and drank what he gave her.
“Aunt Wilma, could you put on a pot of stew or something for the people staying? Fortunately, there are just two at the moment,” Ronnie asked.
“Glad to have something to do,” she said and headed for the kitchen. Ronnie watched as the doctor laid Martha down on the sofa and let the arm lie alongside her. Then he put it back into place.
“A straight break, thank goodness. It will feel better when she wakes up. I have two splints in the bag here,” he said and asked Ronnie to hold them in place until he tied them.“I will leave some painkillers in case she cannot sleep.”
“Thanks for coming so quickly,” Ronnie said and paid the fee the man asked. He put a blanket over Martha and went to see Wilma. Willy was helping her.
“Stew in the pot, and there is cake and cream for dessert. I can stay and serve the people, and Willy can go home and knows what we have to eat.”
“Nataly will be home shortly, and she is very good at helping,” Ronnie said. “I can take you home after the guests have eaten.”
Willy said they would eat cold meat and pickle at home and went off with the small wagon. Wilma poured Ronnie and herself some coffee, and they sat and looked at Martha sleeping. She moaned quietly and stirred. Ronnie went to hold her hand and tell her everything was fine. Her eyes flickered open, and she looked puzzled.
“What happened?” she asked and tried to sit up.
“Lie back,” Ronnie said, “remember how many times you told me that when I was shot.”
“I was shot?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “No. You fell off the ladder and broke your arm. The doctor has put it in a splint and says it will feel better than it did. He says it is a clean break and will mend.”
“The dinner,” she protested, and this time he let her sit up.
“Stew in the pot and under control,” Wilma told her. “Bella is still sleeping, and Nataly will be home soon.”
There was a knock on the front door, and Ronnie let in the couple who were staying with them.
“Oh dear. Is there something wrong? the lady asked.
“Martha fell and broke her arm. My aunt has made a meal for you.”
They thanked Wilma, and she laid the table for their meal when they went up to their room to leave outdoor clothing. There was a lovely stew with cake and fresh cream from their own milking cow, and the couple said they felt guilty eating when Martha was in pain.
“I am not in pain at the moment,” she said,” because the painkiller is working. Enjoy your meal.”
“It is delicious,” the man told Wilma. Then Nataly arrived home from school and rushed to her sister’s side.
“What did you do?”
“I was stupid and fell off the ladder in the barn. I am going to need your help, Nat. I think you will have to stay at home for the rest of the week.” Martha turned to Wilma and asked her to tell Reuben to say that Martha was not able to come to school.
“Come on, Aunt Wilma. I will take you home.” Ronnie went out to find the smaller wagon that he used for lightweight deliveries, and Martha called out a thank you.
“Oh, Martha does it hurt a lot? Nataly asked.
“It is a lot better since it is tied up. Can you heat goat’s milk for a bottle and feed Bella for me?”
“Then I will change her. I think she needs it,” Nataly said and sniffed pointedly.
“You are a wonderful sister and so grown up these days.”
“I will do chicken and vegetable pie tomorrow as Chesney showed me. It is still my favorite. I can whisk some eggs tonight to make meringues, and they can sit in the warm oven overnight.”
While she was talking, Nataly had warmed the milk and put it in the feeder for Bella, and then she picked her up and sat beside Martha.
“I will know exactly what to do when I have children of my own,” she said and let the little one drink.
She had taken the baby to lie on a seat as she unwrapped the dirty diaper and cleaned the bottom. She had tidied Bella up and handed her to her mother when there was another knock on the door.
“I know I love to have customers, but today is not the day,” Martha said as Nataly went to see who was there. Then Nataly gave a little scream of delight and dragged Chesney the cook into the room.
“Look who is here, and I was just talking about chicken pie.”
“I cannot get up, Chesney. Lovely to see you, but I have broken my arm.”
Chesney came to sit beside her and took the baby into the crook of his arm.
“Had four of my own, you know,” he said as they both gazed at him in a new light. “And some news.”
Ronnie came in and shook hands.
“What news?” he asked.
“Laura and Carter are moving on to a bigger hotel, and I am buying the one in Redport. She has written down the new address if you ever get the chance to visit. It will take some time to sort out the new place and then I take over.” He looked at Nataly. “In a couple of years when you are almost fifteen, I think …” she nodded, “you can come and work with me. I’ll pay you and train you to be a great cook.”
“That would be the best thing ever,” Nataly told him. “I practise all the time.”
“In fact, she is chief cook here at the moment because I am out of action,” Martha told him.
“I arrived at the right time. I can help out here. I was giving myself a few days away, anyway.” Ronnie took the baby and sat her in the little pen they made for her to sit and play with toys.
“You are very welcome to stay here, and we will not hear of any payment,” Martha told him, and Ronnie agreed. He asked if Chesney would like to look around the place. The two men went away, and Nataly came to hug her sister, but Martha held up her arm.
“I love you too. Do not grab me. It is lovely to know that you have a career waiting when you finish school.”
Martha left her sister in the kitchen and went upstairs to make a room ready for Chesney. The arm was not too bad in the splints, and she found a scarf to hold it up against her waist. She looked out of the window and saw the two men deep in conversation. Ronnie was showing him the two wagons and the carriage that he had recently bought. That was in case anyone needed being taken in something better than a wagon, but his transport work in the carts was doing really well.
She saw the gate open and Freddie come in. He went over to join the two men, and they started toward the house. She went downstairs.
“Freddie just arrived,” she said. The men came in and Nataly produced beers for them and some cold pie.
“She is just a wonder,” Martha said and accepted a glass of red wine.
Freddie had a newspaper. He put it on the table.
“Just came on the railroad. The gang of older Malwethers had a shoot out with another gang and are either dead or in jail.”
“That is good news,” Ronnie said and read the article.
“The other good news is that Matilda has agreed to marry me.”
“That is wonderful,” Martha said and stood to kiss his cheek. The men shook hands, and Nataly put her arms around his neck. He picked her up and swung her around at head height where she squealed with pretend fear.
“We all made it to this new life. We have the guest house and the delivery firms. Freddie has a good job on the railroad and Matilda. Nataly has a future in cookery, and Chesney has his own hotel.
“To us,” Chesney said and lifted his glass. Nataly raced to get lemonade and joined the grownups.
Later, when the two paying guests had taken a late night snack and gone to their room, Chesney wished them goodnight and said he would be up to cook breakfast.
“Some holiday this will be,” Martha said with a smile.
“Come on, Mrs. Broken arm. I have put away the animals and the baby is in her cradle in the bedroom.” They turned down the lights and went upstairs.
“This is always the part of the day that I love. You and I together,” Martha said.
“Me too,” he told her. “We are so lucky. We have each other, Nataly, and Bella.”
“And Nataly knows where her career will lie.” She cleared her throat, and he looked into her eyes.
“What are you not telling me?”
“I think,” she said, “that we may get quite crowded in here.” She put his hand on her tummy, and he drew a breath.
“Two children would be marvelous. I love you, Martha Harman.
“I love you too, Ronnie Harman, in this world and the next, forever and ever and even after that.”
“Happy ever after. You are still my sweetheart and always will be.”
She forgot about the broken arm as he held her in his arms, and they slept wrapped around each other as they always did.