Texas Mail Order Bride(10)

By: Linda Broday

“She seems like a sweet old lady.” Delta took a bite of meat loaf. “I’m sure she’s very lonely.”

“Oh, she is,” Mabel agreed. “Pa Ketchum passed over several years ago and that’s when Granny’s forgetfulness got decidedly worse.”

“We could tell you stories that would make your head spin,” a fellow boarder, Charlie Winters, added. A silver deputy sheriff’s badge stood out against the young man’s black shirt. “Granny puts Sheriff Strayhorn through the wringer. Her complaints never end. Someone’s always stealing something.”

It could be the woman simply wanted some attention, to know someone cared. Delta suspected the same thing held true for Mr. Abercrombie. She couldn’t fault them for that. Knowing you mattered even to one person was important. Delta knew the special kind of heartbreak that came from being invisible.

“Granny never had any children, and I think that added to her loneliness and grief.” The words came from Violet Finch, another boarder. Her small frame and fidgety movements reminded Delta of a little brown wren. Violet worked at the milliner’s and wore big hats that dwarfed her head.

For several long minutes, they ate in silence. Then another boarder—Mr. Nat Rollins, the clerk at the hotel—cleared his throat, his large Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “Miss Dandridge, since you’re new to town, I reckon folks have yet to tell you about Battle Creek’s fame.”

Delta wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin. “What’s that, Mr. Rollins?”

“We’re…the town that is…the proud possessor of a piece of the opera singer Abigail Winehouse’s shoe. You see, when she passed through here three years ago on her way to Austin, the heel of her shoe broke off when she stepped from the coach.” Nat Rollins leaned forward with his elbows propped on the table. “We got it in safekeeping over at the Lexington Arms Hotel. You can stop by and take a gander at it any time you want to. Be happy to show it to you.”

“I’ll remember that, Mr. Rollins. Thank you.”

Deputy Winters put down his fork. She grew uncomfortable under his piercing gaze. “Where did you say you were from, Miss Dandridge?”

“Georgia,” she mumbled.

“A real Southern peach,” Mabel said.

“Georgia’s a big state. Where exactly?”

“Charlie Winters! That’s none of your business.” Mabel shot him a disapproving glance. “I’ll not tolerate rudeness in my house.”

“I didn’t mean nothing by it. I apologize, Miss Dandridge. Sometimes I forget my manners.”

If he ever had any to begin with. She wondered if he’d asked because he was a lawman or out of idle curiosity. She couldn’t take the chance.

“That’s quite all right, Deputy.” Delta had lost her appetite. If he were to telegraph Cedartown… She pushed back her chair. “Excuse me, but I’ve had a long day.”

“Don’t you want pie? I made peach. Most folks don’t know Cooper Thorne has a small orchard on his ranch. He brought two bushels of peaches by last July and I canned them. These are all I had left. Some of the sweetest you’ll ever eat.”

“It’s very tempting, Mabel, but I think I’ll skip dessert.”

Upstairs, Delta gazed out over the town from the corner window in her tiny room. Twilight bathed the people walking below and every building in dusky purple hues.

Battle Creek, Texas, was a strange place. She’d never seen one quite like it. For starters, it only had one of everything. One mercantile, one saloon, one barbershop, one newspaper, one boardinghouse, one livery, and so on and so forth. It was as if they had a policy against having two of anything in the town. Maybe they feared competition. Or maybe they simply had no energy left to bring in more.

The only thing they seemed to have two of was cemeteries. Not that you could rightly call the one planted smack in the middle of Main Street a cemetery. The more accurate term would be burial plot, since it held only four graves. Someone, probably the blacksmith, had built an iron fence around the section to protect it from being trampled. Otherwise, she suspected folks might drive their rigs right on top of it instead of going around. Whoever kept the weeds out deserved a medal—burial plots needed to be tended.