Ragtail was sorting his packs when he saw Cornelius coming toward him in measured steps.
She had a broom handle for a walking stick.
“You should be resting,” he said.
“Sunshine and fresh air are better.” Cornelius inhaled and turned her face to the sun. “I’ll make it.”
“How’ll you git back?”
“One trip at a time. Right now I’m here to see you, Eb.”
Ragtail’s stomach was doing flutters like a quail with its foot caught. It’d be best if he kept his mouth shut and let her do the talking. The lump in his throat was growing. That must be why his heart was beating harder, to dislodge it.
“I decided you were right, Eb, when you called me a grave marker. Taking my dead husband’s name, doing everything to keep his memory alive while losing my own identity.”
She searched his face. “That’s what you meant wasn’t it?”
He could only nod. Cornelius sure was attractive in the outdoors. Ragtail expected a Red Bird or a Blue Bird, the only colorful birds he knew, to land on her shoulder.
“Well then.” She extended her right hand.
“Ebstanshul, I want to introduce myself. I’m Esther May Cooper and I’d be delighted if you’d come calling on me.”
What a wonderful day.
Ragtail saw Kettie and Rose watching from the porch. Lark and Cecilia were taking it in over by the barn. They were grinning.
Off to one side, Anna was bouncing a rock in her hand, her eyes held the flame of candles. She pinned him with the same hungry look Yalla had given him.
He sprang to shake Esther May’s hand, but it was his heart she gripped.
Anna dropped the rock.
Esther May stepped close. Ragtail could feel her breath on his neck. “What’s your full name, Eb?
He had trouble talking when she was so close, her face turned up to him. “Um … um, Ebstanshul Stanley Stanford.”
Anna snorted then laughed aloud. “Too bad you aren’t ‘Abstanshul.’ Then yer initials would prove you and yer burro are related.” She was laughing when she left.
“C’mon, we’d better git you back inside,” Ragtail said.
Esther May looped his arm with hers and sent tingles up his neck.
Cecilia and Lark fell in step with them and took right in talking. “I’m staying here with Cecilia. We can fix up some of the barn jist fine fer us and have a nice place.” He eyed Ragtail. “So’s you know the barn is spoke for.”
Ragtail acknowledged Lark, but kept Esther May in his sight. “That fine.”
“That’s a point, Eb,” Esther May said. “Where will we live?”
“There’s a cove on t’other side of the wet, high enough so’s it won’t flood during the rainy season and low enough fer green pasture. I’ll build us a place there.”
Esther May squeezed his arm. “Oh, Eb. Can we have two rooms?”
Right then he’d have built her a palace, but Cecilia and Lark were still tagging along.
“You know, I’ve been wonderin’,” Lark said, “if these wimmin couldn’t jist leave and slip back into another town. It’d make life a lot easier.”
They were close enough to the porch that Kettie and Rose heard the conversation. “We’ve all wondered that,” Rose said.
She pointed at Ragtail. “What do you think? Could we move back around people?”
Ragtail scratched his whiskers. “I reckon if’n you was careful, you wimmin could probably take up someplace else and make out tolerable good.
Except for Anna and Esther May.”
“Why not them too,” Kettie wanted to know.
“People don’t fergit crazies and murderers,” Ragtail said. “Makes ‘em skittish.”
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