Polka With Pauline – Caroline Clemmons

Pauline Brubaker carried her purchases from the Mercantile toward the home of her aunt and uncle, Nancy and Henry Chambers. The wind blowing between the cliffs whistled through the canyon where the town sat. She quickened her steps. As she slipped into the kitchen, she put down her basket and called, “I’m back. I’ll have your lunch in a few minutes.” “Pauline, come to the bedroom, please,” her aunt called. Thinking her aunt needed help, Pauline hurried. When she reached the bedroom, a woman sat beside her aunt’s bed. The woman was slender and looked as if she would be tall if she were standing. Her gray hair was neatly arranged in a bun. “Seffi, this is our sweet niece, Pauline Brubaker. Pauline, Seffi Morgan is the first person I met in Creede and has proved to be a good friend.” Mrs. Morgan smiled widely and had a twinkle in her eyes. “Your aunt has told me how kind you’ve been, coming from Denver to help care for her since she broke her leg.

” “She would have done the same for me were circumstances reversed.” She smiled fondly at her sweet aunt. “Besides, she and Uncle Henry are two of my favorite people in the world and this is an excuse to visit them.” Mrs. Morgan leaned forward slightly. “Pauline—I hope I may call you Pauline—I’ve come to invite you to attend the ball held at the Tivoli ballroom. I’m sorry you missed the rehearsal last week but tonight is the actual ball. Please don’t let the name fool you. There are no ball gowns or formal wear worn at these unless people feel the need. They’re an opportunity for young folks to meet and dance with one another.

” What was the point when she’d only be here a few weeks? “I’m afraid I can’t leave—” “Don’t you try using me as an excuse,” said her aunt while shaking a forefinger at her. “Your uncle is perfectly able to take care of me for the evening while you go meet some people your age. I remember from when we lived in Denver that you enjoy dancing.” Left without a way out, what could she do? “If you’re certain you’ll be all right, Aunt Nancy. Will I be able to find the Tivoli on my own?” Mrs. Morgan held up a hand. “Going to such an event on one’s own when you don’t know others is too difficult. Besides, you shouldn’t walk alone home afterwards. That’s why I’ve arranged a young man to call for you. His name is Creighton Reed and he’s very shy but kind and a gentleman.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy dancing with him as your escort.” Although a bit miffed the situation had been arranged without her knowledge, she knew her aunt had her best interests at heart. Since Pauline had arrived two days ago, Aunt Nancy insisted she would become bored after her life in Denver. Perhaps she would, but she didn’t think so. She missed seeing her friends, of course, but she wasn’t bored or pining for them. After Mrs. Morgan had left, Pauline stood with her hands on her hips. “How long have you and Mrs. Morgan been plotting this?” “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, dear.” Her aunt’s eyes twinkled, putting lie to her words.

“Henry can find plenty for us to snack on this evening. Be sure to leave yourself sufficient time to get ready for the ball.” “You know you’re incorrigible. When your eyes sparkle like that, you remind me of Mama when she’s up to something. You’d think you were sisters instead of sisters-in-law. Good thing I love you so much or I’d rebel.” She turned to go prepare their meal. Her aunt’s laughter followed her down the hall. *** Creighton Reed smoothed the wood on the curved arm of the rocking chair he’d almost completed. Creating quality furniture pleased and soothed him.

He wanted each piece to be treasured for future generations. When the door opened he paused and turned. Mrs. Morgan ambled near where he worked. “That’s lovely. Is that one spoken for?” “Yes, ma’am. Mr. Chambers asked me to have it finished for his wife’s birthday next week even though she’s laid up with that broken leg. It’s a secret so please don’t let it slip.” He pulled a rag from his back pocket and cleaned dust from his hands.

“What can I do for you?” “I’ve come to ask a big favor from you. The Chambers’ niece is visiting to help while Mrs. Chambers is unable to walk. Mrs. Chambers is certain the niece is going to become bored with only her and her husband for conversation. I desperately need for you to call for the niece tonight and take her to the ball. Her name is Pauline and apparently she loves to dance.” He took a step backward. “Mrs. Morgan, you know I don’t go to things like that .

” She held up a hand. “I know, but this is an emergency. You can’t expect her to go alone. Even if she did, it wouldn’t be safe for her to walk home alone.” Mrs. Morgan held a lot of prestige in Creede social circles. She’d been responsible for getting him many commissions, including that of the Chambers. She was also a nice woman even though so far he’d resisted her attempts at matchmaking. He exhaled defeat. “I’ll call for her.

Does she know I’m not a good dancer?” Her look of censure was softened by the sparkle in her eyes. “How would I know to tell her, Creighton? After all, I’ve never seen you try.” He grimaced and looked down. “Take my word for it, I’ve two left feet. Poor girl will limp off the dance floor.” Mrs. Morgan chuckled. “I’ll be waiting to see if that happens. Now don’t be late or Pauline will be afraid you’ve reneged.” “Yes, ma’am.

” He hoped at least that she was pleasant. Nice and pretty would be more than he could expect. Skipping the dances locals called the Matchmaker’s Ball had become more and more difficult. He had known it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Morgan snagged him in one of her schemes. She was famous for her persuasive powers and love of matching single men and women. He had to admit she had a pretty good record for correct matches. He stopped work in plenty of time to fry a couple of eggs and some bacon then toasted his last slice of bread. His rooms behind his workshop had running water but no bathtub. He stripped and scrubbed using water he’d heated on the range and poured into a large galvanized washtub.

At least he had clean clothes, thanks to the women he paid to do his laundry. When he was clean and his hair combed, he checked his image in the small mirror. He’d been letting his beard grow and decided against shaving. He took out his pocket watch and opened it. Perfect timing. He locked his shop and strode toward the Chambers’ home. He was fortunate that at least this match was temporary. This woman would be going back to her home in Denver when her aunt’s leg had healed. He knocked on the door and Henry Chambers answered. “Come in, Reed.

Nice to see you.” He leaned in to whisper, “Everything on schedule for that rocker?” He smiled and gave him thumbs up. “I’ve come to escort your niece to the dance at the Tivoli.” Henry called, “Pauline, there’s a young man here for you.” A beautiful woman glided toward him. Her light brown hair was pulled up but a few curls fell around her perfect face. Her blue eyes captured his. He couldn’t help gaping. Close your pie trap or she’ll think you’re an idiot. “Pauline, this is Creighton Reed.

Reed, our niece, Pauline Brubaker from Denver.” She smiled at him then turned to her uncle. “Take care of yourself and Aunt Nancy.” Pauline kissed her uncle on the cheek. “In the icebox, I left slices of last night’s roast for you to have in sandwiches for supper.” Henry Chambers made a shooing motion with his hands. “I can manage a couple of sandwiches. You forget about us for an evening.” She pulled a stole around her and tucked her hand on Creighton’s arm. “Shall we go?” Creighton fought to think of something to say.

His mind was blank. Maybe he had been reduced to an idiot. “I’m sorry you had me foisted off on you, Mr. Reed. My aunt and Mrs. Morgan decided I would miss not having friends my age and activities.” He forced his brain to connect with his mouth. “I-I’m pleased to escort you, Miss Brubaker. Even though you’re busy caring for your aunt, surely you do need to get away occasionally.” “I suppose you’re correct.

Aunt Nancy and Uncle Henry are both such dears and I’ve missed seeing them. They lived only a block from my parents’ home until Uncle Henry’s health worsened and forced him to retire.” “Is it his heart?” Her expression turned solemn. “Yes. When my cousin Hank was killed late last year the strain was too much for my uncle. He worked in my father’s business until then.” “I can understand that would be heartbreaking. I guess this was their only child?” “They’d lost another son to diphtheria ten years ago. Seems so unfair for such kind people to lose both children.” “They do seem like good people.

I hope they enjoy living in Creede.” A smile returned to her face. “Yes, they love it here. Less stress than working for my father.” Her laughter pealed like silver bells. “Oh, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded. Papa is a kind man who has a chain of department stores that are headquartered in Denver. My uncle was the corporate First Vice President and handled a lot of difficult details.” “That does sound stressful.” “What is your profession, Mr.

Reed?” “I make custom furniture.” “I imagine with the town growing as much as Uncle Henry said that you have a large clientele.” “My customers are not in general those who chase the mines. Usually I cater to those who have settled in a place permanently.” “In other words, you create fine pieces.” “That’s always my goal. Here we are at the Tivoli. You’ll enjoy the dance floor. I’ve been told it’s on railroad springs.” She smiled and her blue eyes twinkled.

“What fun that sounds.” Music played and couples circled the dance floor in a two-step. “Miss Brubaker, I’d better warn you that I am not a good dancer. I fear your feet may suffer.” She pointed at her feet. “You have no idea how many feet have trod on my toes. I love to dance and I’m sure we’ll be a successful pair.” The music stopped then started in a brisk polka. She turned to him and grinned. “No time like the present.

” He’d known how to polka since he was seventeen. He returned her grin and swept her onto the floor. They spun around the room. The floor’s movement added to the sense of flying. She laughed with pleasure and he couldn’t help echoing her. He’d hit the jackpot by being paired with Pauline. Even though he called her Miss Brubaker, he couldn’t help thinking of her as Pauline. Why had he been reluctant to attend these dances? He faltered with the waltz and two-step at first but didn’t disgrace himself. Most of the other dances were lively—schottische, polka, mazurka, quadrille, and steps he remembered from attending barn dances. She appeared unaware of his missteps.

At one point, he apologized. “Mr. Reed, look around us. Couples are varying the steps to suit their ability and their mood. Stop worrying and enjoy yourself. I am, very much.” He decided to do as she said and relaxed. When he did, he made fewer mistakes. In addition, he enjoyed himself more. They danced each dance and only paused when the musicians took a break.

When the small band packed up their instruments, he was out of breath but exuberant. He smiled and nodded at Mrs. Morgan as he and Miss Brubaker left. “The cool air feels good on my face after the ballroom. This was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Thanks for letting me escort you.” “Thank you, Mr. Reed. Look at the full moon. Isn’t it lovely and bright?” “We probably wouldn’t need streetlights tonight.

All the same, I’m glad we have them. There are unsavory characters in town due to the mines. I don’t mean the miners who work hard for their pay. I mean those preying on them, hoping to steal or cheat the hard working men.” “There are always bad types, aren’t there? Uncle Henry said the marshal tries to keep the peace and protect the honest citizens.” Raucous laughter came from a saloon across the street. Men stood in groups on the boardwalk in front of the establishment. “He and his deputies do their best. They can’t arrest a man for laughing too loud if he’s not causing trouble. There are simply too many saloons in town.

I heard there are about forty of them in Creede. You can imagine simply keeping drunks in line creates a lot of work for the marshal and his deputies without mentioning having to control criminals.” She moved closer to him. “I’m glad you’re available to walk me to my aunt and uncle’s home. I see why Mrs. Morgan said I shouldn’t be out alone at this time of evening.” “You wouldn’t be safe even if you weren’t as beautiful as you are.” He could have bitten off his tongue. “Please pardon my personal remark. I meant no disrespect.

” She squeezed his arm where her hand rested. “Mr. Reed, I can hardly find fault with your saying I’m beautiful even though I’m not. You’re as kind and gentlemanly as Mrs. Morgan promised.” He hated that they’d arrived at the Chambers’ home. “Thank you for agreeing to let me take you to the Tivoli. I enjoyed our time together.” “So did I. Thank you for a lovely evening.

Goodnight.” She slipped inside the house and closed the door behind her. He wished he’d received a kiss, even one on the cheek as she’d given her uncle. Why didn’t he ask her if he could call on her or if she’d go out with him again? He wanted to bang his head against something hard for being so tongue-tied. Instead, he strode home.

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