Constance knew the second she opened the letter, before she even read it, her life would never be the same. She had just returned from the Post Office and had climbed the stairs to her bedroom. She walked over to the paned glass window and drew back the yellow calico curtain with a delicate hand. The ruby ring on her finger caught the slanting afternoon sun’s rays transforming it into a burning coal. Constance scanned the horizon and could see Jack the wrangler riding back to the ranch on his chestnut mare. His faded denim shirt billowed in the breeze. Looking beyond her property, the rolling hills looked like a patchwork in the golden light. With her left hand she rubbed the fastened top button of her white lace blouse. This nervous habit had started many years before.
She turned away and walked back through the French antique laden bedroom. Constance couldn’t bear to read what he had to say just yet. Slipping the letter back into envelope, she set it on her nightstand. She hitched up her long cornflower blue flowing skirt and walked back down the stairs.
“Connie! Are you there?”
Constance recognized the voice of her younger brother Hank and the back screen door slamming shut. She turned a corner on the landing and walked into the kitchen. He had been working with the beef cattle out in the fields and kicked the mud off his boots onto a red braided rug.
“Can’t you do that outside?” asked Constance.
Hank ignored her and stomped into the kitchen where he started working the pump in the sink. Up and down and up and down and all the while squeaking until a thin stream of water spurted forth. He grabbed a tin cup from the table and caught the fresh water.
“That stupid Heifer got stuck in the mud again.”
“It looks like you did too.”
Hank pulled out a red bandana, dunked it in the enamel pan sitting on the wooden side board and wiped his sun burned face. “Did you hear from him?” Hank’s piercing blue eyes seemed to look right through her.
Constance felt her cheeks grow hot. He knew. “Yes I did.”
“What did he say?”
“I, I haven’t read it yet,” Constance replied and played with the top button.
“What? Well where is it? I’ll read it,” Hank replied.
Constance stormed out of the room and paced towards the stairs. With every step she took up the staircase, her heart beat faster. Beads of sweat broke out under her covered arms. She clung to the rail her father had planed and sanded then polished over thirty years ago. As she gripped it her throat closed up. She still couldn’t believe they were gone. Her parents had claimed this fertile land years ago and had worked hard to build a successful cattle ranch. This house was the first two-story in the region and her father had built it himself with her Uncle Robert. It was all she had known and it could be gone. What would she do?
She walked into her bedroom and her hand shook as she picked up the letter she had laid next to her feather bed. Tears welled up in her eyes as she descended from the steep stairway. Her mind raced. Hank would be a college student in Richmond and she would have to move to town. And do what? Laundry? Sewing? Become a maid? A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away along with a blonde ringlet.
She walked across the pine floor and slid the letter out a second time. This time she unfolded the thick vellum and recognized the neatly quilled penmanship. She took the letter in both hands and read aloud.
“Dear Constance and Henry,
I am happy to inform you that the sale of your parent’s ranch has proceeded much better than expected. You will be relieved to know that not only did it sell and make a profit, but a handsome one at that.”
Constance was visibly shaking now and a smile appeared on her face as she looked up at Hank and said, “Oh my heavens!” Hank reached over, grabbed her by the forearms, and gasped.
“There has always been some suspicion that oil may exist on the property, so the mineral rights ended up being more fruitful than the 250 head of cattle and the 500 acres of land.”
Constance looked up at her brother who was only 18 months younger but taller by almost a foot.
“And? And? What does he say? How much do we get?” Hank was practically jumping up and down now.
“As part of sole beneficiaries of the estate, you will each receive a check for $65,000. I hope you will find this a sum to your liking. I know your parents would be proud of what they accomplished.
The new owners would like to offer employment to your ranch hands.
Henry will be attending Richmond University in the fall. I have taken the liberty to enroll Constance in Miss Judy’s Finishing School.
More information will be forth coming.
The siblings hooted and hollered and danced around the kitchen.
Hank ran back outside to inform the men and quiet any of their fears. They would be able to stay on if they liked.
Constance walked out onto the veranda and lifted her hand to gaze at the ruby ring which glinted in the sunlight. She knew that her dream could now come true.