Grace frowned, noticing the older girl watching her closely. She was about to ask them their names when the lad turned to gather the girls and all three of them clomped down the steps in an obvious hurry, disappearing from Grace's view.
Grace stared after them, thinking.
Eli strode over, tapping her on the shoulder. "Is there anything wrong, Grace?"
Grace turned around and looked into Eli's kindly, older face. "Oh, no. Not at all. I was wondering about those children just now. I don't believe I've seen them around."
"Seems like I've seen the boy before, but then we have such an influx of folks in Bozeman, a man my age can barely keep up." He chuckled.
Grace waved a gloved hand. "Oh fiddlesticks! You're not old and still have plenty of vigor. I wish my father did." Tears misted her vision, but she took a shaky breath and tried to put the situation out of her mind.
"I'm really sorry about your father," Eli said, his face softening. "What can I help you with today? Did you get your field ready for planting?"
She shook her head. "I'm afraid I haven't, and that's exactly why I'm here." She handed him the piece of paper. "I've written a notice to hire a helper with the farm. It's just becoming too much for me." Grace thought about how her back ached from helping her father in and out of bed, and the thought of bending in the field all day made her wince. "Do you know of someone needing work, or could I post this on your bulletin board? I'd be glad to pay you a fee."
Eli slapped his thigh. "I don't charge a thing for my board. I consider it a service to the community until we get a newspaper going." He smiled, his hands on his hips. "I can't think of a soul at the moment, but let's go nail it up right now and see what happens. There's always drifters and the like passing through."
"Well, as long as they're reliable. I need someone who's not afraid to work."
"Or someone who has to work and will work hard." Eli grunted.
"That's true. You are so kind, Eli, to me and Pop. Please stop over to see him soon. He misses you but hasn't felt well enough to take the ride into town like he used to. It's not easy for him," she said, following him to where the bulletin board hung next to the service counter.
"I'll be sure and ride over with the missus soon." He pinned the paper at eye level where it was noticeable. "Is there anything else today?"
"No, Eli. I appreciate this, but I'd better be getting back to the farm."
"You can repay me with some of that delicious huckleberry pie you make when I stop over." He grinned down at her.
"I certainly shall. See you soon, and thanks again." Grace waved to the clerk as she left, hope springing in her heart.
Before returning to the farm, she decided to stop by and say hello to her friend Ginny. Avoiding the deep ruts in the road, she crossed the street in her buggy, took a left, and stopped. She hopped out and looped the horse's reins around the gatepost, stepped through the wrought-iron gate, and walked up to the sprawling porch to ring the bell. As she waited, Grace admired the potted plants and wicker furniture where she and Ginny had enjoyed much conversation and tea. Virginia, a Southern transplant after the Civil War, had married well. Frank was a successful attorney, but she was down-to-earth with all her Southern charm, and once she and Grace met at church, a fast friendship began. She insisted that Grace call her Ginny.
The door swung open and Ginny's smiling face greeted her. "Grace, I'm so glad to see you. Please come in," she said in her Southern drawl.
As Grace made her way through the door she said, "Are you sure? Is this a bad time?"
Ginny laughed. "It's never a bad time to see my friend." She led the way to the parlor, beautifully furnished in colorful tapestry with heavy Persian rugs and comfortable chairs flanking the fireplace.