This is the sixth 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/
I’ve never been more surprised in my life. I wonder what new secrets I’ll discover next.
A light was burning in the window of Mrs. Stewart’s boarding house as Chad helped Ellie down from the buggy.
Ellie opened the door cautiously, and made her way quietly to her room. A squeaking floorboard made her jump. This felt like the time she had snuck out of the house with Jem to see the full moon. Pa had caught them and sent them back to bed, smarting from his rebuke. The memory made Ellie smile. A sudden rush of tears caught Ellie unawares. She wiped them away, and pushed open her door.
Mrs. Stewart stood in the hallway, a candle in her hand.
Ellie let her shoulders sag. Not another lecture, not now!
“Miss Coulter, I apologize for my rude behavior last night.” Mrs. Stewart’s voice was cold and distant.
Surprised, Ellie couldn’t say a word for a minute. Then she remembered herself. “No, Mrs. Stewart, I apologize. I had no right to speak to you in that manner, and I have regretted it ever since.”
A slight tremble in Mrs. Stewart’s lips betrayed her feeling. “Thank you, Miss Coulter.”
Ellie reached out to hug the older woman. “Just call me Ellie.”
A sob shook Mrs. Stewart’s shoulders. The usually stern woman suddenly dropped her mask and clung to Ellie. Bewildered, Ellie held her in a hug and waited for an explanation.
After a moment Mrs. Stewart looked up. “You look just like her.”
Ellie’s brow furrowed, until Mrs. Stewart held up a small gilded frame. Inside was a picture of a young lady’s face. The picture looked exactly like Ellie.
Ellie gasped. “That’s my mother!”
Mrs. Stewart nodded. “She and your Pa stayed here for a time when they were just married. I don’t have any children, but I loved her like she was my own daughter.”
Two large tears rolled down her wrinkled cheeks. “I was heart broken when I heard she had died. And then you came, and you looked just like her, but you’ve got your Pa’s spunk. When I was cross with you, it felt like I’d torn my own heart out, and learned your Ma was dead all over again.”
Ellie was lost in thought, pondering this turn of events.
“And this is why you were so stern, isn’t it?”
“Yes. I was afraid to be hurt by your Ma’s memory. You are so like her. The way you talk, your face and expressions. Your love of children. You do have your Pa’s temper, though. Once aroused, you’re fierce as a lion.” Mrs. Stewart gave a shaky laugh.
All of the rest of the week, school went well. Tom made his brother and sister behave, and Beth stuck closer than a bur to her new hero: Teacher.
Ellie even received an invitation to attend an engagement party for one of the daughters of Matthew Powers, a member of the school board.
As Saturday approached, Ellie thought more and more about her promise to Chad to spend the day at the ranch. She couldn’t make up her mind whether or not to redeem her promise immediately, or wait and ensure that she didn’t out stay her welcome. She asked Mrs. Stewart.
“By all means, Ellie, go and visit the Carters. If they like you half as much as you seem to like them, they will be overjoyed to see you.” Mrs. Stewart gave Ellie a meaningful glance.
Ellie flushed. “Mrs. Stewart!”
Mrs. Stewart went back to her mending with twitching lips.