Gordon Hill, Tennessee, 1901
"So I suppose Millie Beth may be wondering why I was bold enough to ask for the privilege of walking you home today," David commented. Celia's face showed how nonplussed she felt by his upfront manner. "And now, I've disconcerted you with my plain speaking. It's something you'll have to get accustomed to if this courtship is to go any further."
"Courtship?" Celia inquired, only a trifle breathlessly. "Is that truly what this is?"
"It's the best I can do, ma'am," David admitted. "Flowery speeches and subtle hints are not my strong suit. I run more to telling a girl what's on my mind and asking her what's on hers. Maybe that's why I'm thirty-three and still single." He looked down at her and saw that she had no reply. "See, there? I'm doing it again."
She paused for a moment's reflection then nodded her head once. "Plain speaking I can't fault a man for that."
He stopped, there in the middle of the path in full view of at least ten people and turned to face her. "Then I certainly hope you'll accept my proposal. If you don't mind honesty in a man, then you're the girl for me."
"Dr. Byrd, please," Celia replied as she continued on their way down the broad path. "Folks are beginning to stare."
"I'd say I'm sorry," he replied, "but I'm not. If you think it bothers me for people to stare at me as I talk with a beautiful girl, you don't know me very well yet, do you?"
* * * *
He had to work to win her heart and her father's permission. Then he had to find a way to get her down the aisle. David knew how to deal with a wayward girl and didn't hesitate to apply his paddle where it would do the most good, but could he truly convince her to trust him? Giving up wasn't a choice, no matter how many times a bottom had to be set ablaze with belt, spoon and paddle.
The construction engineers tapped and prodded in a practiced rhythm on the walls of the old chicken coop, one taking measurements, the other taking notes. Talking while they worked, they discussed their progress on the multi-building renovation project until one made an interesting discovery. �What have we here? Sounds hollow to me. Does it sound hollow to you? Right here it starts and goes all along this section of the floor. What do you think?�
�I think I'll let you get down there with the feathers and the cob-webs, thanks,� replied his co-worker. �What do you think it is?�
�I'll just drill a quick test hole and send the mini camera lens down there on the wire to take a gander at it.� Once this was accomplished, he displayed his findings on his laptop. �Well, I'll be. What in this world could that have been there for?�
�Far as I can tell, the family wouldn't have needed it, not by the time this addition was constructed,� came the answering comment.
�Some reason for it, there must have been. They did things their own way, back then. Maybe just a back up. No reason to throw out the old just because something new is coming along.�
�But this thing looks brand new. No signs of wear or use.�
�No way to tell. We'll have to report it to Dr. Byrd though. He's interested in all the information we can give him on this old house. I would be interested, too, if I lived in an old place like this that had been in my family for generations.�
* * * * *
Gordon Hill Tennessee 1909
�Doctor Byrd? Why is it that your wife seems reluctant to sit down? She's writing out bills, and I advised her to sit at the desk, but she said she preferred to stand. Is there something wrong?�
�No, not at all, Mrs. Pruitt. She's fine. So what seems to be the problem with little Snowball here?� The tall, dark-haired veterinarian lifted the beautiful long-haired kitten onto the examination table.
Mrs. Byrd stepped back from where she had been standing in the doorway, eavesdropping and grateful that her husband had not betrayed her secret. She was standing because she could not bear to sit. Her bottom was much too sore for walking or sitting. She just hoped her friend Millie Beth was faring better with her husband. That thought made her smile. She thought back to the first day Millie Beth had talked to her about the big strong veterinarian, David Byrd.....
* * * * *
Gordon Hill, Tennessee 1901
�But isn't he the mean animal doctor?� Millie Beth asked. She glanced around the churchyard to make sure no one could overhear her comments, which could be interpreted as unkind. None of the crowd milling around after the morning service was paying them any attention except the solemn doctor, who was waiting with arms crossed for Celia to return to the path so that he could escort her home.
�He's the animal doctor, but I wouldn't call him mean,� Celia replied. She nodded at Dr. Byrd to show she wold rejoin him in a moment.
�I would,� Millie Beth answered. �Didn't he keep Lon Rourke from riding Kingfisher in the races at New Year's? And didn't he tell Miss Sole at the school that the kids couldn't keep that frog for a class pet? He's an old spoil sport and most unchivalrous.�
Celia knew that to Millie Beth, this was the most uncomplimentary adjective which could be applied to any man.
�You said that about Coleman, too, and now you're married to him. I'm sure he had his reasons for doing those things. He's been very nice and polite to me.�
�Well, I think you're making a big mistake, spending so much time with him. He's an old grouch and you can do better.�
�I'm twenty-five years old, Millie Beth. If I haven't done any better by now, what makes you think I'm going to do better at all?�
�You can't give up hope, Celia.�
�I'm not giving up hope. I'm hoping more now than I have in a long time. I'm hoping things work out with Dr. Byrd. But don't worry. If I find out he really is an old grouch and very unchivalrous, I'll give him his walking papers and keep right on hoping for someone else, okay?�
�And I'll hope that the rumor is true that he is thinking of going abroad to study in some famous college or other,� Millie Beth pouted.
The two friends embraced, then Celia walked back over to the veterinarian, who offered her his arm when they turned to start down the path towards home.
�Was there some problem?� David asked politely. �Something I can help you with?�
�No, nothing like that,� Celia answered. �I was just talking with Celia. Her husband is Jane's son. Jane is the widow who married my father four years ago and well, we're like sisters.�
�You must be very close with all those connections.�
�That's not all. Millie Beth's mother, Flora married Jane's cousin Frank, so we really are very connected. It's a small town, but very nice for all that.�
�It is indeed. So I suppose Millie Beth may be wondering why I was bold enough to ask for the privilege of walking you home today,� David commented. Celia's face showed how nonplussed she felt by his upfront manner. �And now, I've disconcerted you with my plain speaking. It's something you'll have to get accustomed to if this courtship is to go any further.�
�Courtship?� Celia inquired, only a trifle breathlessly. �Is that truly what this is?�
�It's the best I can do, ma'am,� David admitted. �Flowery speeches and subtle hints are not my strong suit. I run more to telling a girl what's on my mind and asking her what's on hers. Maybe that's why I'm thirty-three and still single.� He looked down at her and saw that she had no reply. �See, there? I'm doing it again.�
She paused for a moment's reflection then nodded her head once. �Plain speaking? I can't fault a man for that.�
He stopped, there in the middle of the path in full view of at least ten people and turned to face her. �Then I certainly hope you'll accept my proposal. If you don't mind honesty in a man, then you're the girl for me.�
�Dr. Byrd, please,� Celia replied as she continued on their way down the broad path. �Folks are beginning to stare.�
�I'd say I'm sorry,� he replied, �but I'm not. If you think it bothers me for people to stare at me as I talk with a beautiful girl, you don't know me very well yet, do you?�
She set a quick pace for the rest of their jaunt and he allowed her to step just a bit ahead of him.
When they arrived at the house, her father was waiting on the front porch. �Where have you been, young lady?� he demanded.
�Daddy,� Celia replied, embarrassed. �Dr. Byrd has been kind enough to walk me home.�
�I can see that,� he answered brusquely. �Byrd, you may not know it, but around here, a man asks permission to come calling on a girl.�
�Yes, sir,� Dr. Byrd replied. �And that was my intention for this afternoon.�
�I'll save you the trouble, then,� Mr. Robinson countered. �We don't need a horse doctor so I'll thank you to leave my daughter alone.�
Celia stared at her father, dumbfounded. Who was this stranger? And where was her loving parent?
�Miss Robinson, you have my sincerest apologies if my attentions have been unwanted,� David apologized with a formal bow.
�But they haven't been unwanted, Dr. Byrd. In fact, just the opposite.� Turning to face her father, she pleaded, �Daddy, can't we please talk about this inside?� Returning her confused gaze to David, she promised, �I'll write you a note as soon as I can. I'm sorry to have brought you into such a situation. I had no idea he would...�
�That's about enough, Celia,� her father interrupted. �Don't hold your breath waiting to hear from her,� he told the veterinarian. He held the door open, gesturing Celia inside. At that moment, his bride of four years, Jane, peeked out.
�Why hello, Dr. Byrd,�she called brightly. �Pleasure to see you. Won't you come in?�
�No, he won't,� Chuck told an astonished Jane. �Please go back in the house and leave this to me.�
Jane's eyes grew wide with surprise. Taken aback, she withdrew into the hallway and by that time, Celia had mounted the porch steps and joined her.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, Celia rounded on her father. �Daddy, how could you? He's a very nice man.�
�You can do better than the likes of him.�
�But what's wrong with him?� Celia began.
�Why don't we all go into the kitchen and have dinner?� Jane asked. �The fried chicken is getting cold and the carrots are drying out.�
�Yeah, sure thing, Jane. Dinner. Just the ticket.� He knew he was going to have a fight on his hands, and he wanted one of Jane's excellent Sunday dinners under his belt before he started.
Jane told her step-daughter and dear friend not with words but rather with a wink and a nod that she would do what she could to help her deal with Charles. She had no idea what her husband was thinking, but she knew him to be a fair and reasonable man. They could work something out. At least, she certainly hoped so.
Dinner conversation was strained at best. Chuck commented on the weather and the Mayor's latest speech. Jane asked about his views on the upcoming parade for the Fourth of July. Celia heard not one word of it. Her head just kept buzzing with questions which finally tumbled out. �Daddy, what in this world is going on?� she demanded.
Chuck looked from his wife, his heart's desire, to his daughter, his fondest hope. He loved them more than life itself, but at this moment his hand itched to take them both over his knee for a good sound spanking. Then they might be in the correct frame of mind to have the discussion he knew they would try to turn into an all-afternoon affair.
�It's very simple, Celia. I want what's best for you. And that horse doctor isn't it. Not by a long shot. You can do better than him.� The air of finality in his tone gave her pause, but the words struck a strange chord in her memory.
�That's exactly what Millie Beth said. But I don't understand what y'all are talking about. Dr. Byrd is a fine man,� she protested.
�He's too old for one thing. He's as sour as an old bear with a toothache for another. And he hasn't got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of,� he finished.
�Charles, really,� Jane protested. �There's no need for such language.�
�Sorry, Jane, but that's the truth of the matter. He knows she's a well-off girl and is just out to get a little financial security without having to work for it. He's probably got debts from going to that fancy school back East, too. What better way to move up in the world than marry into money?�
�We don't have nearly the money the Collins family does. Why didn't he court Millie Beth when he had the chance?� Celia challenged.
�By the time he had finished school, she was already married. And when she was single, she wasn't a Collins. She and Flora didn't didn't have any money at all,� he argued back.
�So that's what you think, isn't it? You know what we've all always known. I had no chance of getting a beau while Millie Beth was still available, and once she married, I was too old. I'm even older than she is, so I was an old maid even before she married.� Her hurt and self-deprecation rang in her voice.
�That's not at all what I said. Did I say that, Jane? She was the one who brought up Millie Beth, not me.� Chuck looked to his wife for help.
�Celia, dear, I think what your father is saying is that he doesn't think Dr. Byrd can provide for you. That is a husband's job and what one would expect in our class of society. He doesn't want you to have to take in lodgers and laundry just to feed your children.�
�You don't really think Dr. Byrd would allow that to happen. He's not some drunk on skid row,� Celia objected.
�He's no better than a horse trader. In fact, they say horse doctors are just farmers who couldn't make a go of it,� Chuck asserted.
�But Charles, dear, David Byrd comes from a good family. I'll bet you didn't know I went to school with a distant cousin of his on his mother's side. That was a good many years ago, back East, you know, but still, he has a good education from one of the most respected universities in the country.� Jane knew that if she became argumentative, Chuck would be more likely to stalk away angrily, so she kept her tone informative.
�There's nothing respectable about a horse doctor. Fancy school or no, a horse doctor is all he is and that's not good enough for my daughter,� he replied hotly.
�There's honor in all work,� Jane tried again, gently.
�Then he can honor someone else with his courting 'cause Celia is not at home to him. Do you understand me? I'm forbidding him the house!� With that, he stood up, threw his napkin on the table and strode out of the room.
Celia looked at her step-mother with helpless despair in her eyes. She hadn't realized until that moment how much she had been counting on this opportunity coming to fruition. Jane returned her gaze with sympathy and growing concern. �Come, come, now, Celia. It can't be all that bad. You can't have known him well so you can't already be in love with him. Just be thankful that you didn't get in any deeper before you father cut it off.�
�But don't you understand? I may not know him well, but I know him better than any other man who has ever looked at me as a woman. And why is that? Because he's the only man who's ever looked at me that way! I've always been best friends with Millie Beth, constantly the wallflower, drooping in her shadow. Well, now it's finally my turn in the sun and Daddy pulls the shade! Can't he see? Beggars can't be choosers.�
�You're not a beggar, Celia. And what does that say for your opinion of Dr. Byrd, if you're only accepting him because you're desperate?� Jane asked.
Celia was taken aback. �I didn't mean it that way,� she explained, half to Jane and half to herself. She realized the truth of her words even as she formed them. �Dr. Byrd had my respect from the first moment he spoke to me at the school when I was giving the lecture to the girls on proper canning methods. He complimented me on my attention to cleanliness and then went on to explain some very interesting things about germs which I didn't know. He said it really was true what they put in the County Extension pamphlets about washing and boiling. He seemed to know so much, but he was willing to talk to me about it and never once made me feel foolish. His lecture came next about how to properly milk a cow and then heat the milk to kill the germs. All the girls there thought it was silly, but I thought what he said made sense.�
�You remember every word, don't you?� Jane inquired, in a kind voice.
�Yes, I suppose I do, now that I think about it,� Celia admitted. �I remember how he spoke and how he made the girls giggle and how he seemed not to notice. I remember thinking he must be the kindest man in the world, though his face may not show it. He certainly was very stern when he talked about what can happen if they aren't clean in all their habits. Did you know that if meat is left out on the table too long, there are germs that can grow in it, even if it's cooked?�
�We're not talking about food safety just now, dear, though I'm sure it's a fascinating subject,� Jane reminded her with a sigh and a smile. �We're talking about Dr. Byrd. I see that the problem has gone perhaps a little further than I had hoped, but your heart will mend in time, dear. Your father has said 'no' and there's an end to it. He won't change his mind now, no matter what. You'll have to forget Dr. Byrd.�
* * * * *
�But I can't forget him, Millie Beth,� Celia sighed. The woods around them provided ample privacy for confidences, but still Celia was careful to keep her voice low.
�I don't see how you can have gotten so attached to him so quickly,� Millie Beth answered. �You hardly spoke to him half a dozen times.� She slowed her pace to extend their time away from the Robinson house. She had no desire to return there any time soon. Though she loved Celia dearly and enjoyed their rare visits when Coleman would bring her to town from the farm to let her see her friends, the tense atmosphere had upset her greatly. They had escaped into the woods as soon as they could manage.
�Once was enough. I realize that now. It started out as admiration and grew from there. I know it sounds crazy, but when I think of never seeing him again, I just get sick to my stomach. I don't know if I'm in love or not, but I know I have to find out. So will you take the letter to him for me?� Celia's pleading tone wrung Millie Beth's heart.
�I don't think Coleman would like me going behind your father's back, Celia,� Millie Beth hedged. �Actually, he told me not to interfere.�
�He'll never have to know,� Celia wheedled. �Please take just the first note for me. After that, I can figure something out.�
�You're not going to run off and elope with him after just one note, now, are you? Because if I thought you would do anything so dangerous and impetuous, I'd never agree,� Millie Beth declared.
�No, I only want to write him and see if he still feels any affection for me. After what Daddy said and did that Sunday, I'm not sure he will even want to hear from me,� Celia moaned. �If nothing else, I want to tell him good-bye.�
�All right, then. One note. Just one and that's all,� Millie Beth answered. �Just to tell him good-bye. That's not interfering, I guess. And Coleman would want me to help Dr. Byrd anyway, if he knew.�
�Oh, I knew you'd help me. With your romantic nature, you have to understand that my heart is breaking,� Celia enthused. She drew a sheet of note paper out of her pocket. �Just deliver this and then come tell me what he says.�
Millie Beth looked around and realized that they were in front of a livery stable. �You brought me here on purpose, didn't you? You knew he'd be working here today. But how?�
�He mentioned once that he always checks on the livery horses on Thursdays, so I knew he'd be here,� Celia admitted. �Now, go on.�
Millie Beth put the note in her reticule and approached the livery stable where the veterinarian was just packing his medical supplies into a large wooden trunk fixed to the back of a wagon. �Good afternoon, Dr. Byrd,� she began tentatively. �I saw you there and just happened to remember that I have this note for you from Celia Robinson.� She drew the note back out of her bag and held it out to him.
Dr. Byrd looked up. �Miss Robinson? Is she here? Where is she?�
�She wanted me to give you this note is all, Doctor.� Millie Beth tried to hand him the note again, but he wasn't looking at her. �She doesn't intend to speak with you.�
At that moment, Celia stuck her head out from behind a tree. Dr. Byrd spotted her and left Millie Beth with a quick, �Excuse me, please, ma'am.� Millie Beth tried to call him back, but he ignored her.
Just a few long strides brought him into the woods where she was hiding. They were completely blocked from view from the street or stables. He stood close to her looking down into her face. �Your father has relented, then? He's changed his mind?� Hope and triumph showed in his eyes. She hated to disillusion him, but she felt she had no choice?
�Didn't you read the note?� Celia queried. �If you did, you'll know he hasn't changed his mind at all. He's still dead set against it. I am so sorry.�
�I'm sorry, too,� David replied as he took a step back and let his shoulders slump slightly. �Please convey my thanks to him for at least allowing you the chance to come and tell me in person.�
�He didn't even do that,� Celia admitted. �We came out for a walk. My father would not even allow me to post a note to you, so I had to get Millie Beth to deliver it for me. I didn't think that you would come out and find me like this.�
�You mean you're here without your father's permission? You've written me without his knowledge? I may not be your husband yet, but I won't have you sneaking around behind your father's back.� So saying, he whirled her around and lifted her with a strength that surprised her. He had her bent over his arm, with her feet dangling, before she realized his intention.
In her confusion, she didn't even try to fight him. She just held on to his supporting arm and endured the coming swats. He brought his hand down on her skirted bottom twelve times before he paused for breath. �When I come for you,� he scolded, �it will be out in the open, not skulking around like a thieving coyote. You are not to do anything secretly or underhandedly, do you understand? What kind of a man does that make me look like, encouraging a girl to do something underhanded like that?�
�But how was I to get a note to you?� Celia asked. �How was I even to say good-bye?�
�There's no 'good-bye' about it. I was going to approach you the next time I saw you. Gordon Hill is a small town. We'd have seen each other again. But that's not the point,� he cried, remembering his purpose. �The point is,� he continued, �that you are not to do anything like that again. Do you understand?� With every word he swatted her rear end hard. She could not believe that spanks from this man's hand could feel so much like bumping down a flight of stairs. The sounds of the thudding swats were muffled by her clothing and she covered her mouth so that her cries could not be heard, but still she could not help swinging her feet as the sting and burn mounted. His hand, strong from handling skittish horses and huge cows all day, felt like a branding iron before he was through and she finally gave in to tears. When he felt her relax in his grip, he eased her to the ground and took her in his arms.
�I'm a straightforward man and I want you to be straightforward, too, in all your dealings, even with your father. He may not allow us to have a proper courtship, but you're of age and he can't actually stop you marrying me, if you decide you want to. I'll be here, waiting and watching. You just give me the signal and I'll come for you. Until then, you don't try to deceive your father. Disobedience is one thing. Deception is quiet another. If you're going to write me or meet me, your father will have to know. If he doesn't like it, well, he'll just have to be angry.�
�All right,� she answered quietly, looking at the ground.
He looked at her then, as if examining her for a wound or bruise. �He isn't hurting you because of me, is he? He wouldn't mistreat you?�
�No, no, it's not that at all,� she replied. �He just...� Her voice trailed off and he came to her rescue.
�He's a father trying to look out for his daughter. He doesn't need a reason to act as he does. But since you're here now,� he returned, �we might as well take advantage of the moment.� So saying, he pulled her in to him for a sweet embrace that left them both tingling. He knew he shouldn't do it. He knew he really had no right, but search as he might, he couldn't find the will to care about propriety just then, with this sweet treasure there in his arms for the first and perhaps last time. That thought made him desperate and he impulsively kissed her hard on the mouth.
She allowed the liberty and then suddenly, it didn't seem like a liberty at all. It seemed like the most necessary action anyone could take. She kissed him back with abandon while Millie Beth looked on, aghast. Having sneaked to the edge of the woods, she witnessed the last moments of their farewell with a plummeting heart.
�Who's that?� Coleman asked. Millie Beth jumped at the sound of his voice.
�Coleman! My, how you startled me. I wasn't expecting to see you here or so soon,� Millie Beth exclaimed.
�I can see that. If you had been expecting me, you wouldn't be standing there holding a letter for Dr. Byrd in your hands. The whole town knows Chuck's forbidding Byrd the house. What nobody can figure out is, why? Do you have any idea?�
�My first idea is that if he doesn't let her go soon, they'll have to get married,� she answered. �And yes, she told me today why her father objects. She told me that he said that a veterinarian is not good enough for his daughter.�
�Not good enough? That's crazy. David Byrd is a fine man. I admit, on the surface, it looks like he hasn't got much now, but I know somethings that make me wonder. Anyway, he'll be able to provide for her. Why, my ranch alone will keep him solvent, with all the work he does for me. Not to mention the government work he's getting, inspecting and such. Chuck's not making sense. He must have some other reason he's not telling Celia.� He seemed to consider a moment, then continued, �He may be remembering what folks used to think about vets. They used to call them horse doctors, back when any Tom, Dick or Harry could get himself a wagon and a sign and call himself a vet. It's not like that nowadays. Chuck really ought to get with the times.�
�Speaking of time, don't you think we ought to go and get Celia before someone sees her? They've been together out there for a good little time now,� Millie Beth commented.
�That's a good idea,� Coleman agreed. He eyed the thick woods speculatively. �You say she wrote him a note secretly and then sneaked out here with you against Chuck's orders with a view to getting this note into his hands? Even maybe hoping for a reply? I'll bet I know what they were doing out there before they were kissing. It's what I've got planned for you when we get home.
Celia and Dr. Byrd have to overcome her father's misgivings and swindle things their way to marry.
The second book in the series is primarily about Celia, Millie's best friend. She falls in love with Dr. Byrd, David, and when her father does not approve she starts to sneak around with Millie's help. Neither David nor Coleman approves of the girls are constantly in trouble. Fun story about best friends that are spoiled and bratty in the early 1900s. Liked this story is much is the first one.
I found this book really dry. This is the second Chula Stone book I have tried and they just feel kind of... empty to me. Like the spankings are there, and the story is sort of there, but they don't meet up quite right. :-/
Pretty good story except it could have had a bit more of a storyline. I found myself getting distracted in the middle.
Really great. Nice romance and well written.
If you like your stories with lots of spankings in them then this is the book for you. Some may seem to not have been deserved but it is fiction and it is a good story about a man trying to win over the girl he wants and having to get past all the obstacles her family has put in the way.
This story is very enjoyable. A real book fully flushed out not just a few short chapters. The characters are well developed and the author did a great job of telling the story. I had a hard time putting it down.