Jack steered the open carriage toward the stables behind the ranch house. The visit with Ruth and Jim had been enjoyable. They’d talked of many things and reminisced and made new plans for new get-togethers in the future. They’d almost thought to stay for dinner when Ruth invited them. But now it was time to put the children down for their naps. Delia had wanted the boys to wake up in their own beds.
Jack had barely brought the carriage to a halt before little five-year-old Eli hopped down and ran toward the back porch of the house, squealing with excitement.
The tiny rendition of Jack Bowdrie sprinted up the steps.
Margie stooped down and swept her young grandson into her arms. “How’s my little man, today?”
“Very good, Granny. We visited Aunt Ruth and Uncle Jim in town. Mama told me she used to live in their house before she married Papa.”
“Yes, indeed, that’s true, darling.”
“And Uncle Jim gave me some marbles!” Little Eli was nothing if he wasn’t enthusiastic.
“That’s wonderful. Now, do you want to help Granny put some clothes on the line? We had to do an extra wash today even though the day after tomorrow is Monday. You and your brother are growing so fast we have all we can do to keep you in clean clothes!”
“I’m sorry you have to work so hard, Granny.” The little boy frowned.
“No, no, no, darling. It’s joyful work. I love getting your clothes ready for you, sweet.” She set him down. “Take my hand, Eli. Let’s go help Cassie. She’s training a new maid for the house today. So we’ll lend her a hand won’t we now?”
“Yes, Granny. I love Cassie. She reads stories to me before I go to sleep at night.”
“Cassie is a very nice young lady. And she’s getting married soon.”
“She is?” The boy’s eyes widened.
“Yes, and she wants you to have a part in her wedding ceremony. She asked me to speak with you just this morning.”
“I will do whatever Cassie wants me to do, Granny.”
Margie smiled and bent down to kiss the child on the top of his head. “Of course you will, my darling. You’re as sweet as your mama was when she was a tiny thing like yourself.”
“My mama was little once?”
Margie waved to Delia and Jack and moved indoors with her grandson explaining yet again how babies were born and grew up into people.
Delia watched her mother and Eli from the carriage. They had a strong bond that made Delia very happy. And Charles positively doted on both of her children.
Jack had walked around to her side of the wagon and helped his wife down. Then he reached for their little three year old, who had already nodded off. He handed the child to Delia. He stirred and she shifted him to her hip. Then his tiny head rested on her shoulder, and he was asleep once more.
“Your youngest takes after you, darling.”
“What do you mean? He’s the spitting image of you. They both are. My mother teases me about it.”
“But look at you, Delia. You and Margie are practically like sisters. You resemble your mother greatly.”
“You flatter me, Jack. My daughter has spoken of your charming ways!” Margie laughed and spoke as she approached the couple. “But Delia’s ways are those of her father. As much as my daughter looks like me, she acts just like her dear father.”
“Your point, Mama?” Delia laughed
“My point is the boy sleeps deeply and nearly as much as his mama!” Jack laughed.
“Jack!” Delia’s face broke into a broad smile.
Margie winked at her. “Give me this little fellow, dear. Eli is already asleep. He was going to help me hang diapers on the line, but I saw his eyelids drooping and suggested we get him changed. Once I sat him on the bed, he burrowed into it and was out in a flash.”
“See, Jack, my mother knows so many tricks to get the boys to take their naps.”
“The number one trick is don’t use the word nap?” Margie laughed and took the baby, named Thomas Charles for Delia’s father and stepfather.
“Thank you, Mama.” Delia kissed her mother on the cheek as she handed the sleeping toddler to her.
“I’ll see you in the kitchen in a bit, Delia. Cook had started lunch, but I told her I had wanted to make my special fried chicken today. Being the love that she is, she pushed the food she was preparing to the dinner menu. Lunch is up to us, she said. She’ll do whatever we want her to do.”
“Tell her I want her to take the afternoon off. And tomorrow is Sunday. She usually takes every other Sunday, but I notice there’s been a certain ranch hand hanging around the kitchen when the men come to get their horses from the stables in the morning. I believe our Cook has a beau.”
Margie gasped. “Oh. Wonderful. I can’t wait to tell her she has the rest of the day to herself.” She turned and walked up the steps and into the house and Delia watched her. Her mother was a woman who loved love.
“We have a beautiful family, Mrs. Bowdrie.” Jack took Delia’s hand and kissed it.
Delia reveled in it when Jack called her Mrs. Bowdrie. The girl who had been Delia Waite had grown up into the woman and mother who was Jack’s beloved wife. It never ceased to amaze her that she was more in love with her husband than ever. Her love for him grew with each day. She felt blessed beyond her wildest imaginings. She was truly happy in her soul with this man she had sworn to love until death.
And she was in the family way again. She knew the signs by now, but the strange part was she’d gone through the early weeks with no illness of any kind. She counted herself to be about four months along, and she felt good.
She could eat whatever she wanted and when. And she’d developed a fondness for the ‘oysters’ that were prevalent in this part of the country. She’d always turned her nose up at the unusual meal, but once she’d gotten with child again, she’d had an opportunity to try them at Ruth and Jim’s. Since then, she hadn’t been able to eat enough of them.
This pregnancy was so different from the other two. That’s when Delia had realized she was carrying a girl. By her calculations, the little one was scheduled to arrive in mid-February. For once she wouldn’t be heavily pregnant when it was hot out.
Instead of heading for the house, Jack and Delia moved toward the edge of the land that bordered the western end of the ranch. Since six years prior, there had been very little activity as far as the cattle rustlers went.
Jack and Jim had rallied up their neighbors. They’d created a volunteer lookout system to deter the thieves. And it was working. Another result was that the ranchers were now willing to share water. They allowed the cattle from other herds to use their watering places along the river. Everyone in the valley was working together thanks to Jack and Jim and their forward thinking.
They stood together looking out over the plain. The September sun was high in the sky. Delia rested her head on Jack’s shoulder.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too, Delia.” He turned to her a look of concern in his eyes.
“There’s something I want to share with you. Something wonderful.”
“Oh, that’s a relief. I don’t know why, but for a split second I thought you were going to tell me something awful.”
“No. It’s something you will be most happy about.”
“Delia? The last time you spoke like this …”
“Yes.” She tilted her head saucily and giggled.
“Delia, are you … no you must tell me. I don’t want to be mistaken.”
“I know what you are thinking, husband. You’re not mistaken.”
“I’m not? I mean you, you’re going to have a baby?”
“Delia, that is wonderful news. How long have you known?” He pulled her close and kissed her. Her body pressed into his.
“For a few months,” she whispered.
Jack stepped back. “A few months? And you’re just telling me now? But it explains why you’ve grown even more beautiful.”
“Jack. Stop.” She playfully slapped his arm.
“I should have figured it out. I can’t believe I didn’t.”
“I, myself, wasn’t sure until today, Jack. I didn’t figure it out either. You see I knew something was different in my body. Then I waited for the sick spells to start happening. That’s how I can gauge how far along I am. But the spells never came. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. The illness is the only part of pregnancy that I don’t like. But I wasn’t sure of what was happening without the spells.”
“Why do you think it’s so different for you this time? I mean the other two were, well, they were almost exactly the same. Right down to your labor.”
“Yes, and I have two boys.” Delia looked at him expectantly.
Jack was silent for a moment; then his eyes opened very wide. “Delia! You have a girl baby growing within you.”
She laughed and clapped her hands. “Yes!”
Jack picked her up and swung her around, kissing her all over her face and lips.
Delia went into the house to help Margie, and Jack waited at the stables for Charles and Sammy to come in from the plain for lunch. They didn’t do that every day but considering it was Saturday they did so on this day.
He spied the familiar dust cloud that announced the arrival of the men. They rode up and dismounted, both handing their mounts over to the stable boy who had replaced Sammy.
“Jack.” Charles embraced his son-in-law.”
“How goes it, Charles?”
“Very good, very good indeed. Sammy is a most proficient hand.”
“I’m glad to hear it though I’m not surprised.” Jack looked fondly at Sammy. He had practically raised the boy and had strong paternal feelings toward him.
“We teach each other, Mr. Jack.”
“That you do. And I’m glad for it. Someone else I’d like you to work with is Jim.”
“Mr. Beeson, sir?”
“Yes, Sammy. If you’re going to be my foreman, well you’ll need to apprentice for a few years. And Jim’s looking to retire.”
Sammy straightened his posture. “Are you saying I have a future here on the ranch, Mr. Jack?”
“That’s what I’m saying though I can’t imagine that you would ever have thought otherwise.”
“Thank you, oh, thank you so much, Mr. Jack.”
“You have no one to thank but yourself, Sammy. You’ve worked hard for years. I want you to know that your work never went unnoticed or unappreciated. And since Charles and I are co-owners of the ranch, we’ve agreed that you are the man to take Jim’s place when he leaves the business.”
Sammy was eighteen, just about the same age Jack had been when he’d come to Edenbrook without a cent to his name and no ranching experience whatsoever.
“I won’t let you down, Mr. Jack. Mr. Charles.”
“We know that, Sammy.” Charles smiled at the young man. “That’s why we are offering you the position. In two years, Jim will retire, as will I. Jack … you have a few good years left in you if I’m not mistaken.” He chuckled and winked at Sammy.
“Your first drive will be the week after next, Sammy. I’d like you to prepare by riding with Jim each day until then and practicing your roping.”
“Yes, Mr. Jack.”
“Alright, run along. I know you’ll want to share your news with Cassie. You know, you have a solid future now, Sammy. The kind of future that enables a man to get married.”
Sammy grinned. “Yes, sir, Mr. Jack.” He turned and ran away from Jack and Charles to the house.
Charles patted Jack on the back. “Sammy’s a good, honest, hard worker. He’s the perfect replacement for Jim.”
“I agree, Charles. As long as you don’t want the position, I’m more than happy to give it to Sammy. It would have gone to him anyway, you know, if you hadn’t entered the picture. But since you have, I felt it only fair to offer you the position first.”
“You’re a good man, Jack. You’ve done more for me than anyone in my life, and that’s including my own dear father, God rest his soul. If my cronies back at the bank in Philadelphia could get a load of me now, how they would laugh!”
Jack grinned. “You’re in better shape than all of them put together, Charles. Working out in the air and the sun. Being up on a horse. This life is good for you. I can’t imagine you at a desk in a cramped little office.
Charles guffawed. “I can’t imagine me at a desk in a cramped little office.”
“What are you two laughing about?”
Delia strolled toward them.”
“What a good ranch hand Charles is.” Jack winked at Charles as he said it.
“Oh, I’m sure of it. Mama says that Charles can do anything he puts his mind to.” Delia smiled at her stepfather. “Why don’t we get out of the sun and move up to the porch,” Delia suggested.
They ascended the steps, and Margie came outside.
“The boys are both asleep, Delia. Hello, darling.” Margie kissed Charles on the cheek. “My but you look rugged.” She giggled.
Delia’s eyes met Jack’s. They’d discussed how Charles and Margie seemed to have become younger and more in love since they’d moved to Edenbrook. They laughed more and flirted with one another like a young, new couple. It was a joyous event to witness.
They took seats on the porch, and the maid brought out a tray with sweet tea for everyone. Delia picked up her sewing. She was in the process of another crazy quilt, this one for her mother. She embroidered a silken flower and smiled to herself as her mother and Charles discussed happenings on the ranch with her husband.
“And now, I’d like to make an announcement.”
Delia looked up at the sound of Jack’s voice. What could he be doing? He wasn’t … he wouldn’t. She glanced at her mother, who waited with the expectant look of a child.
Charles took Margie’s hand.
“Oh, do tell, Jack. Don’t tease us,” Margie nearly wailed.
“I don’t mean to tease, Margie. I’m trying for dramatic effect.”
“Jack!” Delia laughed. “Just tell them and be done with it.”
“Tell us what, Jack? Tell us …”
“My lovely wife is expecting again.”
“You are?” Charles and Margie spoke in unison.
“My word, I’m to become a granny once again. How wonderful. But how do you know you’re with child, Delia? Have you spoken to Dr. Bennett? How far along are you? But you didn’t get the sick spells you had with the other two. Are you certain?” Margie’s questions peppered Delia who began to laugh.
“Mama! Stop! No, I haven’t seen Dr. Bennett. Obviously I’m familiar with the signals, but you’re right. I never had the nausea and spells that came before. That can only tell me one thing.”
“What is that, dearheart?” Margie seemed beside herself with excitement and curiosity.”
“I’m going to have a girl.”
“How wonderful! Charles, isn’t it wonderful?” Margie gripped Charles’s arm. “But how do you know it, Delia?”
“The absence of the sick spells. I thought to myself, this is so different. What could be the reason? And then it came to me.”
“We’re very happy for you both.” Charles sipped his tea.
“We’re very happy as well,” Jack added. “Everything has turned out beyond the realm of my wildest dreams. I am so fortunate that I thank the good Lord each day for the blessings that have been bestowed on my family and me.”
“Hear, hear.” Charles laughingly lifted his glass of sweet tea, and the other three joined in.
“Hear, hear.” They laughed.
Delia looked from her mother to Charles and then at her husband. It had all begun with a letter to Margie from Jack’s Aunt Ro. It was a letter that had proven to change all of their lives for the better.
The ranch was succeeding in a way it never had before. Their profits were huge. Delia and Jack’s children were both healthy, happy, and handsome children who delighted in learning about everything around them.
Delia was completely and utterly in love. With her children. With her husband. And with her life.
It came to her then what her baby girl’s name would be. Rowena. For the woman who had taken pen to paper in an effort to cheer her broken-hearted nephew and through that endeavor had created miracles in all of their lives.