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Nevada Barr - Bittersweet.docx
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In the kitchen, Sarah heard the door bang and called out, “How many for lunch, Imogene?”

            Harland stopped at the sound of her voice and followed it. The kitchen door was propped open with a stone. Inside, Sarah bent over the table, pounding a lump of dough. Strands of blond hair escaped their pins, falling in tendrils over her temples, a rosy glow flushed her cheeks, and the warm, homey smell of baking bread filled the kitchen. Harland leaned in the doorway, assumed a rakish air, and waited to be noticed. After a few moments, when his piercing stare failed to rouse her, he cleared his throat.

            She looked up and started at seeing him so near. For a moment she stared at him without recognition. He took it as a compliment, smoothing back his oiled hair and running his palms down his waistcoat.

            “Harland Maydley, inspector for Dizable & Denning,” he said, and waited for the significance of his announcement to come home to her.

            “Oh. The boy at the Wells Fargo office.” She looked around the kitchen and, finding no new exits, fastened her eyes on the dough in front of her.

            “I’m an inspector now. Dizable & Denning. I’m the one checks the stops, sees that things are running smooth. We just came down from Fort Bidwell way.”

            “Um.” Sarah fumbled with the dough.

            “I’d say this place is looking pretty good.” He rolled his eye around the kitchen in a proprietary manner. “Just the three of you running the place?”

            Sarah nodded.

            “Your mister coming in for dinner and catching you talking to another man got you in a fluster?”

            “No…I don’t know…” Sarah murmured.

            “Your husband, he keep you running?”

            Sarah favored him with a blank look. “You mean Karl? Karl’s not my husband, he’s the hired man. Karl Saunders.”

            “Just the three of you? No Mr. Ebbitt?” A crimped smile hardened Harland’s face. Sarah realized what she had done, and her hand flew to her mouth. The flour on her fingers left two white marks, like cat’s whiskers, on her cheeks.

            “Sarah, has Karl come in?” Imogene called from the other room.

            “Excuse me.” Sarah scurried past Harland. Imogene was tying her white bar apron over her dress. “He ain’t…” Sarah stammered, “He isn’t…hasn’t come in. He wasn’t feeling well and went out to the barn to lie down. He said his stomach’s been hurting him.”

            “What has you in such a fluster?” Imogene looked past her to Harland Maydley, who was just emerging from the kitchen. “Pay no attention to him, Sarah,” she whispered, then went on in a normal voice, “Wednesday’s coach might have brought in a touch of something. I feel a little under the weather myself. Why don’t you go check on him? I doubt he’s even built himself a fire. Try and get him to come inside.” Sarah waited a moment. “All right,” Imogene sighed. “Tell him Moss Face can sleep with him upstairs.”

            By sundown the Reno stage still had not arrived. Ross and Leroy, the swamper, not sorry to be by a crackling fireplace with good whiskey to drink, had unharnessed the team and stabled them for the night. Karl insisted on staying in the tackroom, so Sarah built a fire in the little woodstove and laid in a pile of wood.

            After supper, Imogene brought him a plate of hot food, and a bowl of pan scrapings for Moss Face. She declined any supper for herself; the smell, she said, made her feel faint. Her color was bad and her broad face was covered with a sheen of sweat. Sarah urged her to go to bed, and as soon as the supper things had been cleared away, she succumbed to the younger woman’s entreaties and let herself be led off to bed.

            Her long, narrow feet were white against the floorboards and her arms angled out sharply from her wide shoulders as she stood in her shift before the washstand. Sarah hovered by, the towel over her arm. “You oughtn’t to be washing. It’s winter and you’re coming down with something,” she warned.

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