Authors: Pamela Morsi
Drayton is thinking to court you!"
"What?" Hattie Colfax stood next to her buggy in the shade, unsure she had heard the excited whisper of the Reverend Mr. Jessup's wife, Millie, correctly.
"It's the truth," Millie said.
Hattie lifted her head and scanned the crowd of people milling outside the church, searching for the man in question.
"Don't look!" Millie urgently waved her hands downward as if the action would lower her companion's eyes. "You don't want him to think I've told you."
"I don't want him to think you've told me what?" Hattie asked. "You haven't told me anything yet."
Millie was obviously beside herself with the news. She beamed at Hattie and leaned forward, as if sharing word of a conspiracy.
"He came to speak with the Reverend about it last night."
Millie Jessup always referred to her husband as "the reverend," even though everyone else in the county called him Preacher Able.
Drayton ask Preacher Able about courting me?" Hattie asked skeptically.
"For permission! Well, not permission, exactly," Millie corrected herself. "With his wife passed on so recent, he wanted the reverend's opinion about remarrying."
Hattie nodded, remembering that Lula Drayton had been put to ground only early last winter.
"The reverend told him," Millie went on, "that with all those children of his to care for, God and everybody else would understand about him starting to look for a helpmate a little earlier than usual."
Hattie surveyed the crowd again, but she still didn't see him. "Just 'cause he's looking, Millie," she told the other woman, "doesn't mean he's looking for me. Sure, he and I are of an age, but most men have no qualms about marrying a bit younger."
This was obviously Millie's most thrilling piece of news, and she delivered it with giggling delight. "He specifically told the reverend that he wanted to start courting Hattie Colfax."
A surge of blood pounded through Hattie's veins, and an embarrassed flush stained her neck as she realized Millie might not be mistaken. Glancing up once more, she finally saw
Drayton plainly. He was standing behind his wagon giving a leg-up to his youngest little towheaded boy. As if sensing her gaze, he raised his eyes and caught her looking at him. Smiling broadly, he offered a friendly wave that shook Miss Hattie to the toes of her brown high-buttons.
Could it be true?
wondered. After all these years, was someone finally going to court Miss Hattie?
* * *
"Have you heard about Old
Reed Tyler looked up from the chicken leg he was eating and gave Bessie Jane Turpin a stern look. "Bessie Jane, I've told you not to call her that." The young
having an after-church picnic on a little hill that overlooked a low-lying field next to the river. "When I buy the Colfax farm," Reed continued, "no matter where we build our place, Miss Hattie's going to be our closest neighbor. She's a good friend of mine, and I think you ought to be thinking of her the same way."
Bessie Jane made a little pout that was not an apology but was pretty enough to diffuse his anger.
As he turned back to his chicken leg, he asked, "What about Miss Hattie? What could anybody possibly find to gossip about her?"
Drayton wants to court her!" Bessie Jane laughed as if that were the funniest joke ever told.
Reed stared open-mouthed, not believing his own ears.
"Can you imagine?" Bessie Jane continued, giggling. "That smelly, balding old man and that dried-up old spinster on a sparking bench! Oh, I'd love to be a little fly and hear what those two have to say to each other." Her eyes sparkled with an amusement that was hard for Reed to resist. "They'd probably trade recipes for lumbago salve!"
Reed managed with effort to hold back his laughter at the image. But then he tried to picture for himself
Drayton courting Miss Hattie. Drayton wasn't exactly what came to mind when one thought of a courting gentleman. Far from fastidious in his clothing, he typically garbed himself in worn overalls that were less than clean. He wasn't the one to call on for help, and Reed thought him plain lazy. Oh, he worked. He plowed and planted and brought in a crop, but he wasn't much of a farmer. He was certain Miss Hattie felt the same. "Well, that piece of news will go out of style soon," he said to Bessie Jane. "Miss Hattie will send old Drayton packing in a minute, and that will be the end of it. She's not the type that will take just any man as long as it's a man."
Bessie Jane raised her eyebrows skeptically. "Seems to me that she ought to consider
lucky to have even the chance to turn him down. I heard in church today that she's never had a caller, not even one!" Shaking her head in disbelief and widening her eyes in false innocence, she added, "Why I've had so many, I'm sure I've lost count."
Reed silently admitted that was probably true but disliked having her point it out. Half the single men in the county had shown up at Bessie Jane's door at one time or another. Bessie Jane was so
it was hard for a man to take it all in. Her hair was corn-silk blond and fell in a mass of ringlets down her back. Her eyes were big and blue, and coyly concealed by the longest, thickest eyelashes he'd ever seen on a human. Her head came up just high enough to rest against Reed's chest, and her minuscule waist and generous bosom caught the eye of every man in the county between the ages of twelve and ninety. And when she smiled that sweet dimpled smile, Reed knew, he went just as calf-eyed as the rest of them.
Was it true that Miss Hattie had never had a beau?
wondered. He tried to think back to when Miss Hattie was younger. He'd been the plowboy for the
since he was eight, so he'd known her since she'd first put her hair up. He couldn't remember any men paying court, but he'd not been much interested in that sort of thing then.
Miss Hattie had never been particularly pretty, Reed supposed, but surely there were men who had looked beyond that. "It doesn't matter to me whether she's had callers or not," he said finally. "I don't think you should be gossiping about her, Bessie Jane. She's doing real
by us, waiting to sell her farm until I've got the money to buy it. And if anyone should be standing up for her good name, it should be my betrothed."