This is the second of an 11-part short story based on the characters of author Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures and is posted on her blog https://circlecadventures.blogspot.com/

Part 2

I have to confess, I am excited to meet Chad Carter again.  I’m more excited than I should be.

The soft murmur of the children’s voices as they recited their lessons filled the schoolroom.  Ellie checked the small timepiece pinned to the bodice of her green sprigged gray dress.  Almost time to dismiss class.

Ellie folded her hands on her desk and studied her new pupils. There were fifteen to twenty students. Most of which behaved well.  The Morgan twins:  Jimmy and Beth would cause no trouble.  They were obedient, polite, and already Beth had won her teacher’s heart.

And then there were the Belstead clan:  the blacksmith’s three children with ages ranging from six to ten.  They were unpredictable, but not mean, and prone to harmless mischief as Ellie learned early in the day when she found a grass snake in her desk.

Ellie sighed regretfully at having to punish them the first day of school.  It had been a harmless prank, but such disrespect, on the first day of school, could not be tolerated.  The worst part about the prank was that Ellie had ended up punishing all three, even though she doubted the guilt of the younger two.  However, all had confessed since it seemed their motto was “all together, or not at all.”

The children’s voices stopped, recalling Ellie to the present.

She nodded.  “Return to your seats.”  When they were all seated, “You may put your books away, class is dismissed.”

Laughter and discussion erupted as the children rose and stampeded for the door.  Ellie sat watching them go.  At the door, the oldest Belstead, Tom, turned back and glared at Ellie.  She had lost her chance with them already, they disliked her now and it would take a long time to regain their trust.  Her face fell.

A flicker of surprise crossed Tom’s face as he saw his teacher’s mournful expression.  Then he clattered out the door and ran across the yard to join his siblings.

Ellie crossed the room to look out of the window.  As the crowd of children separated to their homes, one figure turned back and waved.  Ellie recognized Beth, and a smile crept across her face.  She waved as the little girl grabbed her brother’s hand and skipped toward their home.  Ellie was encouraged by the sweet gesture Beth had just offered her.  At least she had made a good impression on one child.

“Miss Coulter.”

The deep voice caused Ellie to whirl around.  A tall man stood in the entrance of the classroom, leaning easily against the doorframe.

Ellie nodded a polite greeting.  “Yes?  Can I help you, sir?”

The man crossed the room with easy, long strides.  He removed a worn Stetson hat and ran a hand through his thick black hair.  Startling ice blue eyes twinkled at her from his suntanned face.

“Howdy, I’m Chad Carter.”  He held out a hand.  Ellie gave him her’s, and it was swallowed in a firm, but gentle grasp.   Ellie flashed a smile from her greenish blue eyes as Chad started in on a conversation.

“I hope you had a good journey here.  I’m sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you.  I had planned on it, but I was called away suddenly by ranch business.”  Chad lifted a shoulder apologetically.

Ellie smiled.  “I understand.  Your brother, Justin, told me.  To tell the truth, I had my doubts as to whether or not you would remember my brother and me.  It has been so long since we last met.”

They talked for almost an hour, hearing the latest news and catching up.  The years rolled back, and suddenly they were laughing at the memories that surfaced.  She glanced at her timepiece and winced.  She was going to be late for supper.  Mrs. Stewart was not going to be happy.

Chad caught the glance, and guessed at the source.  “Want me to walk home with you?  I’d like to hear more about Jem.”

Ellie smiled gratefully.  ‘Thank you, please do.  My landlady insists supper is at five-thirty, and if I’m not on time…” Her voice trailed off, leaving Chad to figure out the rest.

At the door of Mrs. Stewart’s boarding house, Chad shook hands once more.  “Would you like to join us for supper tomorrow night?  The family would love to have you.”

Ellie was delighted at the invitation.  It seemed Chad had picked up the friendship right where they had left off, and so had she, despite the fact that the Chad Ellie remembered was a young boy who teased and roughhoused, not a, she had to admit, handsome cowboy with a free-and-easy air who owned and ran a large ranch.

“Thank you, I’d love to.  What time would you like me to come?”  She asked.

Chad brushed her question away.  “I’ll come by and pick you up after school if that’s fine with you.”

Ellie nodded.  “I’ll be ready.  Thank you.”

Chad waved and started down the street.

Ellie entered the house and found Mrs. Stewart at the dinner table.  She seated herself sheepishly and looked across the table at Mrs. Stewart.  “I’m sorry I’m late, ma’am.”

Mrs. Stewart pursed her lips.  ”I warned you, Miss Coulter.”

Ellie cleared her throat and bowed her head in a quick blessing.  As she served herself, Ellie watched Mrs. Stewart eating sourly.  Finally the older woman broke the silence.  “Miss Coulter, please come to supper on time.”  Ellie was startled at the change in Mrs. Stewart. Her mood seemed suddenly to have improved.

Ellie nodded humbly.  “I’ll try, ma’am.  I have an engagement tomorrow evening, though.  So I won’t be at supper.”

Mrs. Stewart frowned angrily.  Ellie had said the wrong thing.  “If this has something to do with that young man who walked you home-“

Ellie nearly choked on her roast beef.

“I tell you, miss, it is highly unseemly for an old maid schoolmarm to be walking home with a young man that she barely knows.”

Ellie chewed furiously, trying to clear her mouth to interrupt Mrs. Stewart.

“If this continues-“

“Mrs. Stewart!”  Ellie’s sharp tone put a stop to the tirade.  “Mr. Carter is an old family friend.  And above all, it is none of your concern!”

Mrs. Stewart turned white with anger and left the table. Ellie could hear her heavy footsteps as she went to her room and shut the door with a bang.

Ellie dropped her head into her hands.  Already she regretted her sharp words.  Of course it was none of the woman’s business, but had that really merited such a sharp reply?  She should have ignored Mrs. Stewart.  Now she faced the dilemma of how to apologize to Mrs. Stewart, without giving her a license to meddle in all of Ellie’s private affairs.