Ryder (Prairie Grooms, Book Two) (7 page)

 

* * *

 

Constance had a few cooking lessons from Belle and Sadie, but none were as fun and educational as the one Ryder gave her that morning. He not only showed her how to properly fry an egg, but explained things about chickens of which she had been totally ignorant.  There were all kinds of different chickens, and some better than others. It all depended on what they were used for. Her new husband knew a lot of thing she didn’t, and was very good at telling her how everything worked. He also showed her how to make coffee and grind the beans until she got the hang of it.  He then showed her how much water to use and how the coffee pot worked, and to her surprise and delight, it all turned out wonderful. She even made eggs for Cutty, who ate them with relish. Of course from the looks of the poor wretch, he’d eat anything with relish!

“I know you haven’t felt well, Sugar, but I think we’d better make
a trip to town. Do ya think you're up to it?” Ryder asked.

She scrubbed the plates they shar
ed. Ryder had only two, and let Cutty use his when it came time for the man to have his breakfast. She turned to him, a trip to town meant she could get supplies if Ryder could afford them. More plates would be nice.

  She never envisioned herself married to a man as poor as a church mouse, but in her gut she knew things had to change. It wouldn’t always be this way, but in the mean time, she’d have to learn to be frugal. “Yes, I’m sure I can. We do seem to … need a few things.”

“Ah Sugar, you ain’t
foolin’ nobody. We need a
lot
of things.”

“Maybe I can tag along,”
Cutty suggested.

Ryder rubbed his jaw. “Well, now that you mention it, that’s a right smart idea,
Cutty. I was hopin’ to get me a wagon today, and you could ride Banjo while Constance and I use Othello. Then I can hitch Banjo up to the wagon to bring it home.”

“Happy to do it,”
Cutty said. “Er, ain’t Othello a little uppity for the two of you to be riding?”

“Nah, he’ll be fine.
Me and August rode double on him a few weeks ago when I was workin’ him. He did great.”

Cutty muttered something that Constance swore sounded like “
Drat
,” before he stood and brushed at his dirty shirt. “I’ll go saddle up the horses.”

“That’s mighty kind of ya,
Cutty. I’ll help.”

Again he mutt
ered something under his breath, and seemed put out at Ryder’s offer of help. But what did Constance know of vagrants? The man might be harmless, but he
was
strange.

She set about drying the dishes as the men left to get the horses ready.  She wondered if they should take some of the left over food from their wedding basket with them. It was a long ride to town and back, and she wasn’t sure if Ryder had money enough to buy them lunch. She didn’t want to hurt his pride by asking, so decided to take a few hard-boiled eggs and pie along to munch on.  They would need water too, and so she searched for a canteen or something else she could fill. She’d seen a pump outside when Ryder showed her the privy earlier that morning, and hoped it worked like the one at the Triple C.

For a brief moment she envied Eloise who now
had the bedroom she and her sisters shared at the ranch to herself. That is, until she was married to Seth, Ryder’s brother.  Hmmm, maybe she should ask Ryder a few questions about the kind of man her sister was getting for a husband. The ride to town would be a perfect time to do so, and she was sure Ryder would want to know about the woman his brother was marrying as well. Yes, that’s what she’d do.

Constance continued her search for a container and at last found a canteen. It was under the cot next to a box and a very large knife in a leather scabbard. There was beadwork covering it, and she wondered if it was something made by Indians. She'd definitely have to remember to ask Ryder where he got it. She always became thrilled, yet terrified at the thought of ever meeting a real Indian. How would such a meeting with a true savage go? She shuddered at the thought as she left the cabin to fill the canteen.

That done, she put everyth
ing they needed into the wedding basket, then headed to the barn to see if Ryder and Cutty had the horses ready.  They came out just as she reached it. "You ready to go, Sugar?" Ryder asked.

"Yes, I've prepared a snack for all of us in case we get hungry."

"Now that's what I like to see, a woman who's prepared," said Cutty.

"See, she's not as helpless as ya thought," commented Ryder.

Constance looked between the two. "You think I'm helpless?"

The men gave each other a quick glance. "Not exactly helpless, Sugar. Uneducated
maybe ..."

"Uneducated?" she said, her voice laced with indignation. "I'll have you know I am most certainly
not
uneducated."

"Now I didn't mean you weren't smart," Ryder said, a worried look on his face. "I just meant you don't know everythi
ng there is to know about livin’ out on the prairie."

She furrowed her brow. "I knew that," she said, trying to keep from putting her foot in her mouth. "And I'm a fast learner too."

Ryder smiled at her. "I'm sure you are. Now let's go."

She popped back int
o the house for the basket, came back, and after Ryder helped her mount Othello and climbed up behind her, they were off. The stallion was bigger than Banjo, and more powerfully built. She would never want to ride him by herself. He pranced around the barnyard a few times before Ryder could get him to settle into a walk. But even then the horse had no problem catching up with Cutty and Banjo. Constance prayed she’d never have to ride him by herself.  He was clearly too much horse for her.

They r
ode in silence the first half hour before she finally asked, "Do you think Eloise and Seth will be a good match?"

"Well now I can't say as I have an answer to that, Sugar," answered Ryder. "They have to spend time with each other first. Like your sister and August did."

"We didn't spend time together first," she stated.

"No, we didn't. But I think things
between us will turn out, don't you?"

"Do you have any abhorring habits I should know about?"

He laughed. "If'n you mean do I spit, burp, pass wind, and never brush my teeth, well, I'd be lyin' if'n I told you I didn't have a one or two of those."

She stiffened in his arms. "Which ones?"

"Oh no, I ain't tellin'. You'll just have to find out for yourself. What about you? What bad habits do you have?"

"I do not possess bad habits."

He laughed again. "Is that so? Well, what say I be the judge of that."

"I assure you, you won't find a one."

"No burpin' cussin' or caterwaulin'?"

"Certainly not ... wait a minute, what in Heaven's name is
caterwauling
?"

"It means ya wail and carry on all
cryin' and a screetchin' like an old tom cat."

She gasped. "I do
not
caterwaul."

His bo
dy shook with his chuckles. "Ya sure? I know quite a few women that do."

"I assure you, I am not one of them."

"We'll see, Sugar. We'll see."

They stopped at a small stream to water the horses. Pretty purple, white, and yellow wildflowers grew along its banks, along with some odd looking weeds. At this point in the journey they were less than an hour from town.  Constance decided to make a mental note of the location so she would have a better idea of how close to Clear Creek they were getting during future trips. Trips that wouldn't take as long if riding at a faster pace, but Ryder didn't want her on Othello with him when he let the horse have his head.  Too dangerous he said.  Banjo was a good horse and more to her liking anyway.  She'd much rather stick with him, especially if she had to ride by herself one day.  She noted Cutty enjoyed riding Banjo and listened to their conversations about siblings, the town of Clear Creek, and stories Ryder told about building the Van Cleet hotel.  It was then she asked the question that caused her hackles to go up.

"Won't it be nice to have tea with my sisters at the hotel one day?"

"Tea?" Ryder asked as he cringed. "You mean a fancy tea like some of the men do after work? I've never done it. Not my thing."

"Oh, but you must like a cup of tea now and then," she countered.

"Nope, don't care for the stuff, too weak. Never liked it, see no need to have any in the house."

"But ... I like tea."

He didn't say anything.

"Can we get some while we’re
in town?" She felt him stiffen again, and she did too. Surely he wouldn't deny her one small luxury. Tea was a staple in her world, much more than coffee. Again, he didn't answer, and she became irritated with his silence. "Ryder, it's only tea."

He sighed. "It costs ... oh never mind."

Her shoulders slumped. "I understand if we cannot afford it."

"I didn't say that," he snapped.

Constance shuddered in his arms. It was the first time she'd heard an angry tone in his voice. "I'm sorry, I just thought ..."

"If'n you want tea, I'll see what I can do
. That's my word on it."

She swallowed as realization struck yet again. She didn't know him, didn't know what angered him, made him happy, made him laugh, though was getting more experienced in that department. He laughed more readily then he became angry, th
at's for sure, and she was happy he did.  But she needed to pay attention so she could learn about her new husband, find out what he did like. For Heaven's sake, she didn't even know what his favorite color was!

Ryder was silent the rest of the journey and didn't speak again until they reached the livery s
table. "I need to talk with Chase."

"Who is Chase
?" asked Constance.

"The blacksmith. He's got a wagon for
sale, at least he did last week. I wanna buy it if’n he still has it." He helped her slide of the horse. "Mrs. Dunnigan carries tea at the mercantile."

His words sent a chill up her spine. Was he willing to buy tea to please her, or to make
a point that he could afford it?  She didn't want him spending money if it would cause him hardship. Especially when he was making such a large purchase.

"Why don't you mosey on down to the mercantile and visit with Wilfred and
Irene, while I take care of this wagon business," he suggested.

Cutty dismounted and handed the reins to Ryder. "I've got my own business to attend to. See ya later Ryder."

"You comin' back to the ranch with us?"

"Yep, I'll keep an eye out for ya."

  Ryder nodded, took
Banjo's reins from him, and without another word, led the horses into the livery stable.

"Do you want me to pick out so
me supplies?" she called after him.

"No, wait until I get there. Have a nice visit."

And he was gone, just like that. Constance sighed. "Well, so much for walking down the boardwalk on the arm of my new husband," she muttered as she turned.

"Howdy!"

Constance jumped. She'd turned right into the grinning face of Grandma Waller. "Hello, Mrs. Wall ... oh ... I mean Grandma. How are you?"

"Ache all over, got a case of indigestion, and my corns hurt. You?"

"Oh, well, I'm perfectly fine."

"Liar."

Constance gasped. "Mrs. Waller, how dare you call me a ..."

"Grandma! And you lie
like a rug! Why, just look at those circles under your eyes, and your hair ain't been properly combed and pinned up like I've seen it."

Constance reached up and touched
her hair, and she realized she hadn't taken the time to make herself very presentable that morning. "Oh, yes ... I can see how you would come to the conclusion that I ..."

"Ain't being exactly truthful? Land sakes, child. Around here you might as well tell the truth, someone might be able to help. Don't say you're fine when you ain't."

"In that case, I'm afraid I haven't a remedy nor help for your corns or indigestion," she offered.

"For Heaven's sake, I'm married to a doctor, I'll let him
take care of that, but still, I ain't gonna tell someone I'm fine if'n I'm not. Makes no sense."

Constance smiled. "I suppose you're right."

"So ... I take it your wedding night didn't go so well?"

Constance took a deep breath. "I coughed all night. I took a chill you see,
because of the wind and rain and ..."

"A chill? You come with me, right this instant!  I know just what you need." Grandma took her by the arm and pulled her down the boardwalk.

"I dare say! Where are we going?"

"My house, I got all kinds of medicine there. You don't want that cough turning into anything worse. What were you doing out in last night's weather any way? Wasn't a fit night to
be outside."

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