Liza was sitting under an ancient cherry tree with the younger Langdons gathered around her, listening to her read Sir Walter Scott. As Mr. Langdon was having a farewell word with the minister and his wife, Ryle Tate wandered around the yard, slowly gravitating toward the group of children. Liza kept half an eye on him as he sat down on the grass nearby. Was he just passing the time waiting for his Aunt and Uncle to finish their goodbyes, or did he have other things on his mind?
“Alright, children. That’s enough for today. It’s school tomorrow. You scoot off and get ready for bed.”
The children knew better than to protest, and dutifully headed back toward the house. Only little Becky lingered, staring from Liza to Ryle.
“Liza, are you going to marry him?” She had come to love and depend on Liza, and looked at Ryle Tate as if he were come to steal her away from them.
“Land o’ Goshen, child! What ever put that into your head? Of course not! Now be off with you, and don’t forget to wash behind your ears.”
She shoo’d Becky on her way and turned to Ryle with a smile. Before she had a chance to say anything, Ryle chuckled and said, “Out of the mouths of babes… Tell me, Elizabeth, are you really not going to marry me?”
“What makes you think I want to marry anyone?”
“Why I just assumed you would. Don’t most girls want to get married someday?”
Liza shrugged. “Maybe. I can’t speak for others. I expect I’ll decide when the time comes, if it ever does.”
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that. Anyone who can cook like you and keep house will have no trouble finding a man. And good with children, too. Where I’m going, you’d have your choice of husbands.”
“And where might that be?” Liza didn’t want to admit to having eavesdropped on them.
“Colorado. As beautiful a place as you’ll ever see. I’m going to go into ranching. Sooner or later, I expect I’ll be looking for a wife myself.”
Liza clenched her teeth and kept her temper with difficulty. Is that how he thought of her? A housekeeper, cook and mother? She had never spent much time fantasizing about romance, but he seemed never to have even heard of it. She wasn’t particularly vain, but she knew she was pretty and it irritated her that he hadn’t so much as acknowledged it even in passing. The man was completely hopeless!
“Mr. Tate! I cook and keep house and tend children because that’s what I’m paid to do, not because it’s what I want to do. When I leave here, it won’t be to exchange one drudgery for another.”
Ryle Tate realized he had angered her, but couldn’t quite understand how. “I’m sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. I just thought you’d make some man an excellent wife. It was a compliment, really.”
“Then I thank you for your good intentions, but I suggest you not be so quick to make assumptions about people in the future.”
“I’ll remember that next time, Miss Woods. And now I must take my leave of you, at least for the time being. I hope to see you again some day.”
He bowed politely to her and joined his Aunt and Uncle coming down the path.
“And next time – if there is a next time – ” Liza thought to herself, “you might consider flowers.”