- 31 . The Widow’s Rancher – 30
- 32 . The Widow’s Rancher – 31
- 33 . The Widow’s Rancher – 32
- 34 . The Widow’s Rancher – 33
- 35 . The Widow’s Rancher – 34
- 36 . The Widow’s Rancher – 35
YOU’LL be the next one I’ll be seeing to,” Grandma Mary declared as she finished checking Sissy over.
With a tender pat on the young girl’s hair, she focused her attention on Nadia.
“Unless the Lord decides to take me before then. Which would be a pity seeing as I’ve seen to all the Rorke boys’ births − all of them easy except for Tynan. Boy was the size of an ox even when he was born.”
Nadia flushed under the woman’s intense regard, not comfortable with the conversation. She fiddled with the quilt at the end of the bed and glanced at Diggory for help.
“I don’t think so.”
Grandma Mary leaned forward slightly and pointed an arthritic finger at her.
“Yes, you’ll definitely be next. You have children in your eyes. Right there. I can see them. Fine brood waiting for you to mother.”
Nadia’s cheeks grew hotter as the old woman continued to squint at her.
“I already have enough people to care for,” she insisted. “I can’t have children. I was married before and I never . . .”
“Oh, I know old waster Bennett never gave you no children,” Grandma Mary dismissed. “Thought he was the cow’s dung. Stood next to him once in the mercantile. He smelled like it, too.”
A chuckle came from Diggory standing near to the door, despite his attempt to cover his mouth.
Nadia’s own heart flipped like a drifting snowflake in the wind. Was the funny lightness she always experienced around Diggory really the emotion people talked about? Was the trust she had in him stronger than simply belief in the man? Was she truly in love for the first time in her life?
Yes, she decided. From the moment on the hill when he kissed her for the first time, she knew she loved him.
* * * *
“Sissy, after breakfast I want you to put on your best dress. And you, too, Nadia. Sunday is the perfect day for an outing.”
Nadia glanced up from the bacon frying in the pan. Her stomach turning slightly from the smell of it and the freshly baked biscuits.
Diggory stood in the middle of the kitchen, a determined twinkle in his eyes, wearing his best white cotton shirt and grey vest. With his hair combed back and cheeks freshly shaved, he looked smart, handsome and very content.
“What are you up to, Diggory Rorke?”
He raised an eyebrow at her direct question.
“It’s Sunday and we are going to the town picnic. Tynan reminded me it’s today and the day’s too bright not to enjoy it in the company of friends and acquaintances. We’re all going to the picnic. Every single member of this family is going to dress up, climb in the wagon and head down to the town’s creek.”
Nadia’s eyes shifted to rest on Sissy, busily buttering the warm biscuits at one end of the table. Her left arm, finally free from its binds, was slowly regaining its strength. Due to work on the ranch, they hadn’t attended church since she ran away three weeks ago.
The ride to town was noisy and full of easy laughter. Sissy sat between Nadia and Diggory on the wagon seat, all pretty and grown up in her new dress. The seven Rorke boys sat in the back of the wagon chattering and joking.
Katy, Sam and some of the other men who worked on the ranch rode in a separate wagon behind. Poor Toby rode on his horse, sad but resigned. He planned to go ahead and divorce Hester.
“Looks like a full turn out,” Diggory said as he pulled the wagon to a stop beside several others.
Wagons, carriages and horses filled the grass area close to the town creek. People carried wicker baskets and rugs, children yelled with excitement and ran around in all directions. Parents called for them to behave.
Preacher Michael stood near some bushes giving a group of young men a sermon on the wickedness of drink. Miss Brewster, the new schoolteacher, was reading a story to a handful of infants.
Nadia nodded and grasped Sissy’s hand. Her stomach churned with nerves, despite her husband’s constant looks of reassurance.
“Good thing we have such a large family or we might get lost in the crowd.”
Diggory helped her down, while Ed reached up for Sissy. Since the night she ran away, Ed spent most of his time with the young girl, often including her in his day’s chores or games. Between each of the boys, Sissy was learning everything from ranching, reading, writing and the stars.
Diggory fetched the large basket which held the family’s food, while Ed and Alfie grabbed the three quilts. Nadia and Sissy linked arms and together they set off in the direction of the water.
They found a spot big enough to spread out the three quilts so each member of the family had a place to sit and eat. Not far from a group of trees, the leaves would provide some shade later on in the afternoon when the sun moved higher in the sky.
“I’m going to take Sissy down to the water,” Ed told them once he’d finished helping setting out the quilts and placed the wicker basket in the centre of the middle one.
“One minute, son,” Diggory said, before the two youngsters raced off to join the rest of the Rorke males who were already heading that way.
“I’ll keep an eye on Sissy,” Ed promised, grabbing her hand.
“I know. But I want to do something first. It’s important.”
Nadia frowned, wondering what Diggory planned as he called the rest of the family members back to the quilts.
“What are you going to do?”
“I have an announcement to make. And I’d like each of you to stay around to hear it. It’s important to us as a family.”