Authors: Ginger Simpson
Books We Love Ltd.
192 Lakeside Greens Drive
Chestermere, Alberta, T1X 1C2
Copyright 2012 by Ginger Simpson
Cover art by Michelle Lee 2012
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under
copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored
in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by
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without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above
publisher of this book.
“Doggone men,” Roselle Fountain muttered under her breath.
“By the time they get done with breakfast the cattle will have strayed all over
the place.” Not in the mood for a heavy meal, she pushed away her empty plate.
No one at the table paid her any attention.
She’d awakened extra early to assure that the men didn’t
leave without her. They were moving cattle to a new pasture today, branding
some new arrivals, and she aimed to be part of the work team. Roselle refused
to allow Tyler Bishop, the ranch foreman, to outshine her in her father’s eyes
He draped an arm over the back of his chair and said
something that brought a chuckle from the men…including her pa.
Ellie’s jaw tensed.
The way Pa idolized Ty galled her, and she was bent on doing
something to change it.
She fidgeted in her chair, feeling invisible. Smoke hazed
the air over the hired hands who puffed on rolled tobacco. She wrinkled her
nose at the smell and glared down the long kitchen table at the men hunched
over their coffee cups. She rolled her eyes in disbelief. They hung onto Ty’s
every word. Some boss he was. Shouldn’t he be ordering everyone to work?
almost done?” She raised
her voice to be heard.
“What’s your rush?” Ty drawled, not even turning to
acknowledge her. “Keep yer britches on. We’ve got plenty of time.”
Ellie stewed at his dismissive attitude and grew tired of
listening to the endless prattle. She grabbed the last piece of bacon and a
biscuit from the nearest serving plate and left unnoticed through the back
On the porch, she paused to lick away the oily sheen left on
her lips by the crispy piece of pork. Her disdain with Ty still rumbling in her
belly, she finished the last bite of bread and gazed to the east.
For a moment, she forgot her anger. A brilliant variegation
of oranges and reds stretched across the horizon and mirrored matching hues in
the pond adjacent to the house.
She walked down the steps while eyeing the glassy pool, and
feeling child-like, bent to pick up a small flat rock. With perfect pitch, she
skimmed it across the water. The resulting ripples disturbed the sky’s
reflected image and sent a flock of ducks scurrying up the far bank. Within
seconds, the pond’s surface calmed, and the downy birds slipped back into their
morning bath, as if nothing happened.
The sun peeked over the distant mountains and highlighted
all the shades of green in the landscape. At that moment, Ellie held her breath
and wondered what the rest of the world looked like. Certainly, Tennessee had
to be the most beautiful place, even amidst all the rumblings of a possible war
and the call for volunteers to form Confederate regiments.
What was it about men that made them want to fight?
She didn’t know much about government issues, but she’d
listened to the men talk over supper about some fellow called, Abe Lincoln—who
vied for the presidential nomination. She wasn’t quite sure what they meant
about his “rail-splitting” attitude, but some felt it contributed to the
growing unrest in the south. A recent article in Pa’s weekly paper, written by
a Mr. Horace Greeley, strongly suggested Mr. Lincoln would be a much better
leader for the country than his rivals, Seward and Douglas.
Of course, she had no idea who they were or why they
wouldn’t be suitable, but it didn’t matter what she thought anyhow. Such boring
matters were better left to the men folk.
Pa usually picked up a newspaper each week, but Ellie
steered clear of reading the depressing stories and bad news that filled it.
She wondered why a person couldn’t find something good in the world to write
about. Who wanted to read the graphic details about John Brown’s hanging for
raiding a federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry and giving the weapons to Negroes?
She only knew about it because Pa choose to read that story aloud at the
breakfast table, saying it was just one more thing made public to fuel the
growing discontent about owning black folks.
When first hearing about the story, a horrid image seized
her mind. That same mental picture returned and made her shiver again. Her hand
flew to her throat, and she swallowed hard. What a horrid way to meet one’s
She walked to the water’s edge, pondering why one person
should be allowed to own another. She thanked God that Pa, like most in the
area, didn’t believe in slavery.
Plucking a cattail, Ellie shook it, and watched the
compacted brown flowers come apart and sail away. It made her mindful that
people should be just as free to drift wherever the wind blew them. Her gaze
followed the last fluffy piece as it wafted to earth before she walked back
toward the compound. Patience with nature came easy, but not with malingering
She cast a fretful look at the house and released a breath
hard enough to flutter her lips.
Maybe, if she carried a bag of tobacco and some of those
small rolling papers, she could lollygag after each meal like they did—smoking
and drinking coffee.
In an effort to mask her annoyance, she picked up a long,
skinny tree branch and began drawing a continuous line in the yard’s red dirt.
A momentary pang of shame gripped her. She should be inside helping Cook clean
up, but Ellie grimaced at the thought. Housework didn’t interest her. For as
long as she could remember, she hated being a girl. Pa wanted a son, and being
born one would have made her life a whole lot easier. He wouldn’t need Ty.
As an obviously female stick-figure emerged in the dirt,
Ellie summoned back what little memory she had of her mother. Always, the same
haunting question came with the recollection: what would it be like if Ma had
Typhoid fever had claimed her when Ellie was only three. The
small portrait in the living room and another on her night table were her only
recollections of Ma’s face. Pa often commented how much alike they looked, and
as Ellie grew, the more she saw it.
Both were small in stature, with thick curly hair and
bow-shaped lips. Of course Ellie was always reminded how they shared the same
copper-colored hair and green eyes. She sighed, and with the toe of her boot,
rubbed out the drawing, but not the pain of a mother long dead.
Ellie etched her full name in the dirt and drew an “X”
through the part she disliked—a name shared with a great-grandmother she’d
never known. As soon as Ellie was old enough to make a choice, she insisted
everyone drop the “Rose” and simply call her Ellie. The name Roselle suited
someone older and more ladylike, and she was neither. Much to Pa’s dismay, if
given the option of riding the range with the wind in her face or airing out
feather beds, Ellie picked mounting up any day. She nodded. Yep, she was a
tomboy through and through, and she loved being one.
The earlier guilt passed, replaced with the excitement of
riding out to the north forty to check the herd—if the men… She screwed her
face into a scowl and eyed the kitchen door again.
When she was a youngun’, as Pa called her, being around the
ranch hands hadn’t been much of a problem. Every morning, she rose at dawn and
followed the men wherever they went, staying out until the sun went down. She
learned to rope, brand, fix fences, and even
thrown horseshoe now and then, but turning seventeen changed things.
For whatever reason, Pa insisted she spend more time inside
doing woman’s work rather than hanging around the barn. It seemed he didn’t
want her around anymore, and his attitude confused her. He’d suddenly taken
issue with her dressing in denims. For heaven sakes, she’d worn them for as
long as she could remember; save the few times she’d gone into Sparta on a
special Sunday to attend church.
Ellie glanced down at her well-worn pants. The time had come
for a new pair with a little more breathing room. But, what was wrong with what
Pa wanted her to be more feminine, to wear women’s clothing
and act the part. Ellie rolled her eyes, thinking about petticoats and such.
How much cleaning could one person do, and why gussy up for that? She easily
juggled her chores and still found time to saddle up with the hired help. You
couldn’t do that in a dress.
She kicked dirt over her name. Being born a boy would have
solved so many problems.
Ellie walked over to a large tree and leaned against the
trunk. She gazed up at the remaining leaves fluttering on the branches
overhead. Yep, being a girl came with too many challenges.
Thank goodness for Betty Jo—her friend who lived about an
hour’s ride away. Had she not explained that sudden amount of blood in Ellie’s
bloomers, Ellie would have certainly thought she was at death’s door. Women’s
‘issues’ weren’t the kind of things she discussed with Pa. What did he know
about such matters?
What pesky tricks God played on girls.
visitors, cramping stomachs, budding bosoms.
Was there no end to the
surprises of aging?
Of course, Ellie enjoyed female companionship, but other
than occasional visits with Betty Jo, there wasn’t much opportunity to
socialize. Once she outgrew school, her friends scattered hither and yon. Some
even married. She puckered with distaste.
Oh, there were a few things to do: the seasonal picnics, a
weekly quilting bee and a wedding now and then, but with Sparta a good
ride away, Ellie rarely ventured out.
Cook, the live-in lady charged with running the household,
was the only constant woman in Ellie’s life, and unfortunately, Cook had little
time for anything other than keeping the men folk fed, and doing laundry.
Ellie doubted that anyone so old would have youthful
recollections to share, anyhow.
She dropped her stick on the ground and pulled her oversized
shirt tighter to emphasize her amply developed breasts. They, and the rounded
behind encased in tight fitting denims, proved that like her namesake, the
rose, she’d begun to blossom. She chewed her bottom lip.
Could the sudden changes in her body be what Pa didn’t like?
He only wanted her to cook and clean these days. Well, she wouldn’t. And she
wouldn’t bother to look pretty for anyone, either. It was true, her hair shone
like a penny, but she’d rather stuff it all up in a cowboy hat than let it hang
free…even if it might attract Ty.
She smacked her cheek at the thought.
Lately her emotions were like a run-away wagon. Why would
she want to draw his attention? She likened him to a burr under her saddle.
Ellie tucked her shirt snugly back in her pants and heaved a
loud sigh. Her newly acquired curves proved she’d become a woman, but they were
a definite hindrance to riding and roping. She’d be darned if being a female
would keep her from doing what she loved—hopefully Pa wouldn’t either.
She stared at the back door and clicked her tongue against
the back of her teeth. Could the men jabber any longer?
A soft breeze caressed her face and gently rustled through
the limbs of the huge oak, setting a few leaves adrift. It wouldn’t be long
before the ground wore a colorful fall blanket.
Still fighting impatience, Ellie closed her eyes and tried
to picture the seasonal beauty. She took a long, deep breath.
She jumped as an ear-piercing noise shattered the morning calm
and sent wood splintering into the air. A gunshot! Her heart pounding, she dove
to the ground and cowered. The bullet came way too close for comfort.
The morning dew sopped the front of her, and prickly rocks
bit into her skin, but she dared not move for fear that a second shot might
find its mark.
The back porch door burst open and slammed shut. Thundering
footfalls quivered the ground as the men ran from the house to investigate.