"Seven of them!" exclaimed young Ruth as she saw a wagon load of handsome strangers roll into the picnic. The girls around her were just as curious to know who these fellows were and when Alice noticed that Millie was sitting at the head of the wagon, it seemed the perfect opportunity to tear themselves away from their escorts to greet their greatly missed friend. Ruth also was keen to see these rumored mountain men up close, so smoothing her bodice down she fluttered off with the others.
Like the girls around her, Ruth found it hard not to beam with happiness to see Millie and gush about how long it had been since they had seen her. Acting as subtly as she could, she swiftly captured a small glance at the seven bodies a top the wagon – they were all smiles and wide eyes, peering down at Ruth's friends. Quite handsome, the lot of them! One by one, these folk jumped down over the side to assist the girls with Millie's delicious offerings for the collation and escorting them back over to the tables. They seemed so gentlemanly; not at all what was rumored about town when folks gossiped about the mysterious Pontipees from up in the mountains.
At last, Ruth was able to get closer to Millie so she could be of use and take a plate over. The giant Pontipee who Ruth had recognized from town reached down to offer her a plum cake but before she could take it one of the brothers had jumped off the wagon and landed in front of her, as quick as a bolt. He was tall and lithe looking but she could see the outlines of strong shoulders under his very tidy yellow and brown check shirt. Most of the men in town were clean shaven but this fellow had a well-shaped, dashing moustache and beard, almost like an etching of a knight in the pages of a story book. Ruth considered him very striking and handsome. He smiled warmly as his eyes met hers while plucking the plate from the eldest brother. Ruth couldn't help but smile back.
"If you'll just follow me," she asked, still taken aback from this man's gallant maneuvered.
"To the ends of the earth," he cooed and offered her his arm.
Right then and there, Ruth Jebson's heart melted.
Millie stifled a triumphant smile in front of her husband – she had gone and done it and transformed her slummocky lot of brothers-in-law into fine gentleman. She had no doubts that Caleb was capable of being the perfect gentleman, he was so eager to learn how to be refined in the hopes of courting a girl and kept practicing his manners at the dinner table while helping himself to seconds of any treats Millie had made for supper. Millie knew he had it in him but this little scene that just played out had exceeded any hope she had. Ruth was going to be a great match for Caleb, both were chatty and jolly. Ruth was sunny gal with romance always on the mind when not thinking up sweet things to create. Truth be told, Ruth and Millie had always had a friendly competition between them as to who was the best cook, they were always teasing one another about in an affable manner but always in the spirit of encouraging each other. It was a special joke between the two friends and both were great cooks that many fellows in town wanted as a wife. Like the saying goes, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and Millie knew that as soon as Caleb tasted one of Ruth's famous picnic pies there would be wedding bells before too long.
Caleb had never seen such a pretty face before. While he had always thought Millie was a pretty gal, Ruth was a right angel. He had spied her from above in the wagon and felt his heart skip a beat. But now there was something buzzing between them to be certain as he couldn't look away from her smile or resist smiling back as they walked over to the picnic tables. Ruth did not even see the table as she crashed her hip right into it and was rudely brought back to reality.
"Lands, are you hurt now?" Caleb asked as he gently supported the small of her back with one hand slid the cake onto the table with the other.
"Oh, goodness! I'm fine, just a shock." She steadied herself. "Thank you, Mr.-"
"Caleb, ma'am," he replied. "Caleb Pontipee." He pretended to busy himself trying to settle and steady the girl as a rouse behind getting physically closer to her.
"You're very kind!" she smiled at him.
"I'm at your service if you care to break your leg, too!" he joked.
She giggled sweetly.
"But, I promise no harm will come to you while I'm near you," he said with a nod. He meant it; he was now set on courting this gal.
"I'm terribly sorry, I forgot to introduce myself! I'm Ruth Jebson."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Jebson."
"I'd be delighted if you'd call me Ruth, seeing as you're Millie's family. We just adore her!"
"So do us brothers! She's just been a real help up at our farm, a great cook too. The best we ever ate!"
"Oh, is she just?" giggled Ruth again, "Well, let's just see who the best cook is." She searched the table for her latest creation – apple and rhubarb pie. She found a knife, a small plate and cut into the golden crust that was decorated with pastry hearts. The sweet, warm fragrance of the fruit wafted towards Caleb's nose and he breathed it in, his mouth began to water for the buttery pastry.
Ruth offered him a slice to test. "You're the first person to try my new recipe. Tell me what you think!" she said excitedly.
Caleb bit into the sweet crust and tasted warm nutmeg and cinnamon. The next bite refreshed his palate with the crisp texture of apple and tangy rhubarb. He closed his eyes – never had he tasted anything as good as this before in his life.
Right then and there, Caleb's heart melted.
He opened his eyes to the beaming blonde girl in front of him who seemed ten times prettier than a moment ago. He pretended to swoon, which delighted the girl immensely and she clapped her hands together and laughed again. "Miss Ruth, I can honestly say that you are a better cook than Millie," He grinned, drew closer to her and whispered "But don't tell her I said that."
She smiled, even more smitten.
"Would you be kind enough to introduce me to your folks?" Caleb asked as took her arm again and led her over to where his brothers were congregating with Ruth's friends.
"It's just me and my uncle in town," she said with a half –smile. "I'd love you to meet him."
"That would be an honour,"replied Caleb. He gently took her hand but both soon came to a standstill as they heard the rapid clatter of hammers on anvil.
"C'mon, everybody! There's going to be dancin'!"
Thanks for being so patient, everyone! I hope you enjoyed this chapter, please let me know what you think!