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Martha Conradson sighed. It had taken months, August, September and October, to be exact, for her life to finally come into a semblance of order and a kind of pattern she didn't regret. Careful washing and pressing had saved most of her clothing she hadn't sold back in St. Louis. Selling some of those clothes, like the striped nainsook, was no hardship. She didn't need those stripes to make her look taller.
She did keep the blue velvet hat with black veil, blue ribbons and pink roses. The veil had helped disguise her face on more than one occasion while she fled her pursuers. Her heavier winter clothing was rather scarce. Luckily the hooded wool cloak survived the upheaval of her life.
She put her tired and aching feet up on the small footstool Sophie's husband Charlie had made and Tessa had left behind. I really should replace these old high-buttoned shoes, but they are more comfortable than new ones would be. The restaurant's cookstove heat felt good as the November wind whistled around the corners of the kitchen and against the windows. On again, off again snow swirled outside the small window. The rag strips she'd stuffed into the cracks around the back door kept out the worst of the cold winter wind howling outside. It was a nuisance to re-stuff around the door after the morning supply of water was brought from the outside well. Charlie Maynard's promise to pipe water to a kitchen pitcher pump had been delayed by cattle branding, cattle drives and his work on Sophie's and his house.
Inside the kitchen the aromas of spicy pies and roasting meat were pleasant and familiar. Yeasty bread smells still remained from the baking loaves. She had evengotten used to cooking the occasional venison that came her way from some of the ranchers. She wasn't fond of antelope, but she did fix it on the rare occasion she was given one all butchered and cut up.
Except for her tired feet, she felt better than she had in a long time. Sophie, Tessa's longtime friend, and Bets, the sheriff's wife, had encouraged her in doing the restaurant's curtains in blue instead of the greens and yellows Tessa had favored. They said it was time for a change, just as Tessa had made changes every four or five years.
It was too bad the cold winds made her lovely blue checked curtains flutter now and then. She had stuffed rag strips around those windows as much out of sight as she could. It did help.
Martha glanced up at the latest painting on the restaurant wall. Her birthday present from Sophie and Charlie put color on the drab wall. A local rancher's wife did very beautiful watercolors and framed them for hanging. The gold of aspen leaves against dark green pines set off the log cabin with an orange campfire in front.
Sadly it reminded her of the Alderman oil paintings her husband Clarence had sold to replenish his gambling funds. She shrugged off the dreary thought.
Also for her birthday, Sophie, Bets and Aggie, who was married to Hod, the local livery owner, had given her three new blue aprons to wear while working. Hilda, the kitchen helper, had made a small cake and no one pried as to how old she was. Sophie had become a good friend, along with Hilda, the sheriff's family, Hod and Aggie and their family. She and Sophie were close to being full partners in the restaurant because she was well on her way to buying out Tessa's half interest in the place. People in Springton were friendly. There were loyal customers who appreciated her good cooking the same as they had Tessa's.
One great worry from her past was over. She knew Tessa was happy with her husband Joe Gilmore. They corresponded fairly often from their home in Omaha.
No customers were in Tessa's Arrowhead Restaurant at present. Even the kitchen helper, Hilda, had gone for bacon, more eggs and cabbage for tomorrow's soup.
Martha slumped down so she could rest her head back on the hard wood of the straight-backed kitchen chair. So much had happened in the last ten months, starting with her husband Clarence's death. She shivered as she remembered how scared she'd been when she fled the collectors who were after what little money she had left after the bank foreclosed on the only home she'd ever known.
She hoped those awful collectors had given up. They couldn't get money from a dead man and it wasn't her gambling debt. She stubbornly refused to consider it her responsibility.
She remembered her arrival in Springton...
That hot August day she had walked up the rough boardwalk toward Tessa's Arrowhead Restaurant. She'd paused, then walked on by, not having the courage quite yet to confront her estranged niece. The boardwalk had been swept, but the dust of the street puffed up every time a horseman or a wagon went by. She'd brushed travel dust from her black silk suit that was much more appropriate for mourning than for traveling. It had been so many years, almost eighteen, since she had even seen, or had any contact with, Tessa Fenscott.
When Martha had asked at the general store, they told her they only knew a Tessa Alderman, not Fenscott. Martha guessed Tessa had changed to her mother's maiden name. Now her name was Tessa Gilmore, Mrs. Joseph Gilmore.
Martha shifted on the hard wooden chair. Someday she would sew cushions for the two kitchen chairs. Cold November was a long way from a blistering hot August. She was so thankful to be in where it was at least heated, even though the floors away from the cooking stove often got cold.