"How long until his train arrives?" Emma-Lee Palmer swept her blue calico skirt aloft as she jumped clear of the rusty wagon spokes and landed lightly on the sun-bleached planks of the train station walkway. She twirled an impromptu pirouette, her long skirt swishing around bare legs. With slender arms spread wide, she lifted her face sunward to drink in the warmth and light of the glorious summer day.
"Should be any minute now," Captain Stone answered with a twinkle in his eye. "Mind ya' don't use up all your dancin' there--save a little for the fiddler tonight."
"Do you think he'll like us, Captain?"
"Who, the fiddler?"
"Noooo. Not the fiddler!" Emma-Lee's voice was frothy with feigned annoyance. She turned with a flourish, her long russet curls bouncing as she curtsied low to the ground. "Your nephew, Kind Sir."
The burly seaman grinned as he climbed down from the wagon and tethered the sweaty mare to the wooden rail flanking the Eau Gallie depot. Pulling a wilted handkerchief from his back pocket, he cocked his faded brown cap backward over a mop of salt and pepper hair and wiped his glistening brow.
"Of course he'll like ya' darlin'. Who on God's green earth would be so addle-brained as to not be completely smitten with a lovely lass like yourself?" Captain Cornelius Stone righted his cap and stretched a muscular arm out to pat the horse, her shimmering dapple gray coat a testimonial to the blazing Florida noonday heat.
"Not just me ... all of us--Sarah, little Nannie Mae, Aunt Augusta. Why, you only married Aunt Augusta three months ago. He's never met your new wife and her family. What if he abhors us?"
"Bores you? Blimey, I don't think the lad is the least bit boring if I'm to understand my sister correctly. Quite the opposite, I fear. That's why Genevieve can't handle him and the little lassie too while the doctor has her bed bound until the wee one is born."
"Nay, Noble Sire," Emma-Lee mouthed the words with deliberate enunciation, her chin held high. "Thy humble maiden did not say 'bores,' she said, 'abhors.'"
"What kind of a new-fangled word it that? And here you are addressing me like I'm a purebred gentlemen king. Sounds like you've been reading about knights and castles again."
She flashed her best lady-of-the-royal-court smile and gracefully dipped her regal chin.
"You've always been like a dry sponge in a washtub when it comes to learnin'." The captain shook his head. "Now that you're ten, you're leaving my meager collection of knowledge behind in the dust." He smiled broadly at his new niece, unmistakable admiration evident on his sun-weathered face.
"Ten and a half, O Gracious Highness."
"Of course, Fair Lady." He drew his work-hardened body erect and bent stiffly at the waist, one hand behind his back.
Emma-Lee curtsied with much pomp and circumstance in return and then forgot all about her royal majesty when a stray pup sauntered up from the bushes, wagging his shaggy tail in circles. She fawned and giggled over the wiggling mass of canine as Captain Stone entered the depot to check the arrival schedule. He returned a minute later and stroked the mare's long jaw.
"Looks like she's running on time. You can just about set your clock by The Ebony Empress; they say she's the fastest locomotive in the 1905 Seaboard Coastline Railway." He leaned over to peer into the dry water trough, its contents long evaporated by the subtropical sun. "Go on ahead to the platform if ya' like, Admiral. I'm going to rustle up a bucket of water for Miss Sophie here. Wouldn't want to return her to my friend, Ralph, worse for the wear."