Read Pearl Online

Authors: Lauraine Snelling

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Pearl (28 page)

BOOK: Pearl
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No, but you promised to take care of the girls
. More inner arguments, her mind was beginning to feel like a beat-up battlefield.

Thinking about Belle brought up something else. Opal seemed to have a case of hero worship for the card dealer, sticking up for her when Ruby grumbled about her, running errands, and more than once Ruby had seen her coming from Belle’s room.

When Ruby returned to the kitchen, she could hear feminine voices out on the back porch. She listened for a moment, then realized Opal had Milly reading aloud. Milly even read with inflection now, as if she enjoyed not only the words but the story.

Opal, my dear little sister, you are part of a miracle here
. She went to the pantry for a jar of raspberry juice, stirred in sugar, vinegar, and water. After pouring it into glasses on a tray, she added a plate of raisin sugar cookies and headed out to join them.

A western breeze lifted the tendrils of hair that had escaped her braids. She’d taken at times to braiding her hair in two plaits, then wrapping them coronet style around her head. Opal said it made her look like a queen.

She held the tray for each of them to take a glass and a cookie, then set it on a box. Cimarron and Milly each had a kitten on her lap, and Cat on Opal’s lap forced her to sit still for a time by extending her claws just to the touch point any time Opal got too jiggly.

‘‘Ruby, wait till you hear Miss Hossfuss read. She’s almost as good as you.’’ Opal stroked Cat’s head.

‘‘Thank you for the compliment.’’ Pearl tasted the raspberry swizzle. ‘‘This is delicious, so refreshing.’’

Ruby glanced out toward the garden where Jed was pounding in tall poles. ‘‘What is he doing now?’’

‘‘Gettin’ the beans strung up.’’ Cimarron set her rocker to singing. ‘‘How come you don’t like him?’’

Ruby stopped mid-drink, then choked. The liquid went up her nose, burning like fire.

Pearl leaned over and patted her back, running her hand in smooth circles. ‘‘They say to thump someone on the back who is choking, but I find this more helpful.’’

‘‘Th-thank you.’’ Ruby cleared her throat again, being careful not to look at Cimarron.
Change the subject, anything. What can we
talk about?

‘‘The mean hen hatched her chicks today.’’

Thank you, Opal, dear sister
. ‘‘How many?’’

‘‘Eight. One egg didn’t hatch. They sure are cute.’’

‘‘Bitty puffballs.’’ Milly leaned her head against the back of her chair. ‘‘She about pecked my arm off when I tried to look under her.’’ She held out her arm to show the scratches. ‘‘She’s a mean one, all right.’’

‘‘We had a rooster that used to chase the little kids. One day he chased my older brother and he picked up a rock, threw and hit that old rooster right in the head with it.’’ Cimarron chuckled softly.

‘‘Did he kill it?’’ Opal hugged Cat close.

‘‘Nope. Thata bird was too ornery to die. Got up, staggered around like an old drunk, then got his bearings and went off to chase some hen.’’

‘‘I never saw chickens up close before I came here.’’ Pearl swished her drink around in the glass. ‘‘I’ve seen a lot of new things, that’s for sure.’’

‘‘Have you heard from your family?’’

‘‘No. I haven’t sent them my address yet. Thought I’d wait until school starts.’’

Ruby glanced up to see Cimarron studying on her. A cocked eyebrow gave Ruby a pretty good idea that she would be questioned again. Was her antipathy so obvious? Either she was not the actress she thought she was or Cimarron was a far more astute judge of character than she gave her credit for. Usually Opal picked up on feelings faster than anyone.

A mosquito buzzed her arm, followed by another.

‘‘The bugs are out.’’ Daisy stood, cuddling the kitten still. ‘‘Think I’ll go on up to bed. Thanks for the story and the refreshments.’’ She nodded to both Milly and Ruby.

Ruby started to stand when Carl Hegland came around the corner.

‘‘Ah, excuse me,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t realize anyone was out here.’’ He backpedaled and would have disappeared, but Ruby stopped him.

‘‘Was there something you wanted?’’

‘‘I was thinking today that I could put rockers on a couple of these chairs, and that would make sitting out here that much more pleasurable.’’

‘‘What a good idea.’’

‘‘Can you do that?’’ Opal studied one of the chairs. ‘‘I mean, that rocker has a different angle on the seat.’’

‘‘Building one from the beginning would be better, but I can adapt those.’’

‘‘Can I—’’ ‘‘May I.’’ Ruby automatically corrected her sister’s grammar.

Opal rolled her eyes. ‘‘May I watch you? I could help maybe.’’

‘‘Sure, if you want. I found some wood out behind the chicken house that might work.’’

‘‘I wish we had a swing here. Remember the one we had at the Brandons’, Ruby? The one on the back porch, with chains to the ceiling? You could take a book out there and read, or sometimes we played word games. Swings are a good thing.’’

‘‘I could make a swing real easy,’’ another voice interjected.

Ruby whipped her head around so fast she almost crinked it. When had Jed Black come up? And who invited him into the conversation?

She glanced over at Cimarron who was watching Jed Black. Her face wore a dreamy look, her lips curved slightly, head tipped just a bit to the side. With one finger she twirled a tendril of hair right in front of her ear.

As if her gaze drew him, Jed Black turned his head and stared back.

Ruby had to admit he was handsome when he smiled, even though she saw him through a haze.

Yes, indeed, it looked like she and Cimarron should have a serious talk—and soon.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

‘‘Pearl, is there something I can get for you?’’ Ruby paused at the table.

‘‘No, thank you. Unless you can sit down and visit with me?’’ Pearl leaned forward. ‘‘I’m just not accustomed to dining by myself.’’

‘‘Generally the help eat in the kitchen after all the guests are served, but since we are so close to being finished, I’ll bring my coffee over here.’’

‘‘Wonderful. And you could eat your dessert with me?’’

Ruby chuckled as she took her coffeepot on to another table.

Slowly the dining room crowd thinned out, and Ruby joined Pearl, a plate with frosted spice cake in each hand. Daisy followed behind her with the coffeepot to refill Pearl’s cup and pour one for Ruby.

‘‘Now you sit there and visit for a while. We’ll take care of things.’’ Daisy answered someone else’s beckon and moved off.

‘‘I’ve been wanting to talk with you, but the time just flies by.’’ Ruby took a bite of the rich cake, as did Pearl.

‘‘My, this is good.’’

‘‘Yes, it’s one of Cimarron’s specialties. Each of the girls is developing her own dishes and desserts. Kind of becomes a contest to see what our guests think.’’

‘‘Our cook, Inga, made the best custard pie. Then she’d put whatever berries were in season on top.’’ For a moment Pearl was transported back to Chicago. ‘‘We had strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, even currants, along with other kinds of fruit. Some from the hothouse in the winter.’’

‘‘You miss home?’’

‘‘More often than I want to admit. But as my father would say, I made my bed, now I must lie in it.’’

‘‘Are you unhappy here?’’

‘‘I won’t be once I start teaching.’’

‘‘Then why are you waiting?’’

Pearl stopped in midbite. ‘‘But I—I mean, school starts in the fall. That is what my contract says.’’

‘‘But you mentioned you don’t have enough to do.’’

‘‘True.’’

‘‘So, of those who work here, Daisy and Milly have just learned to read and do sums, thanks to Opal’s tutoring, and I help when I can, mostly in the winter. I would imagine there are other people around here with the same lack of education.’’

‘‘But they’ve not sent any supplies yet.’’

‘‘When it comes right down to it, what do you really need?’’

‘‘Books to read, schoolbooks, paper and pencil or slates and chalk. Some paints would be nice.’’

‘‘Necessary?’’

‘‘No. But—’’Pearl glanced around the now empty room— ‘‘where would we have it?’’

‘‘How about out on the back porch, as long as the weather holds?’’

‘‘I don’t suppose there is any chance folks around here could all work together to build a schoolhouse?’’

‘‘Not before fall. For the time being all the workers will be busy in Medora. Once Mr. Wainwright returns, things will really roll. If you want, rather than starting school early, you could help here in the hotel.’’

‘‘Doing what?’’

‘‘Cleaning, cooking, laundry, ironing, sewing, canning—we put up as much as we can for winter. Last fall our cellar was pretty full, and this year it will be overflowing if we are to feed all the people who look to be coming here.’’

Ruby picked up her cup and held it with both hands. ‘‘You could earn room and board that way and save on your cash.’’

Pearl nodded slightly, the kind of nod that said,
I’m thinking.

‘‘Oh, and one other thing, I have chosen to offer you room and board here at the hotel as my contribution to the school, so you needn’t worry about a place to stay. With some schools, I heard the teacher moves from house to house so everyone shares in her expense.’’

Well, thank you, Lord. You put me here
. ‘‘Thank you, I appreciate that. However, I know you could rent my room out, so if you want, I will be glad to take a room in the attic with the rest of you, if there is space.’’

‘‘Would you do that?’’

Pearl nodded. ‘‘I mean, you weren’t planning on my arrival quite this soon, and—’’ ‘‘I wasn’t sure I could plan on
anyone
. The territorial offices are a bit slow in responding. Perhaps they had to make sure we were real out here before they could officially approve.’’

‘‘Or that I was.’’

‘‘Ruby?’’ The call came from the kitchen.

‘‘I better go. One of these days we have to sit down and really talk. I have a feeling we have a lot in common.’’ Ruby picked up both their plates. ‘‘We’ve found the back porch a good place for getting together. Nice to have a bit of chatting time when the day is done.’’

‘‘Thank you. I’ll bring my tatting.’’ Pearl glanced up, but the man reading the book at another table had left. While they’d not been formally introduced, she knew his name. Carl Hegland. He was from Minneapolis and could make all manner of things. She took her book out of the bag she carried and settled back to read. Every once in a while the laughter from the kitchen caught her attention. At the rate she was going, that stock of books in the bottom of her trunk was dwindling quickly. Did Ruby or anyone else have any books around here to exchange?

‘‘Now look what you did!’’ The cry brought Pearl to the window in the morning. Daisy, one hand on her hip, the other with finger pointed and shaking, was scolding Milly.

‘‘I-I’m sorry.’’ Milly leaned down and picked up one of the half-twisted sheets.

‘‘Now we’ll have to wash it all over again. Just go throw it in the boiler.’’

I wonder what got Daisy going this time?
She’d awakened to the same scene a few days earlier. Or at least something similar. Milly shook out the sheet and dropped it back in the tub bubbling over an open fire. Pearl thought back to the modern conveniences at her father’s home. The housekeeper oversaw the laundry maids who had a crank-turned washer with a wringer above, also turned by a crank. A receptacle under the tub burned coal to keep the water hot. That was one thing about her father. He liked having the most up-to-date things around him and his household. They’d been one of the first to have gaslights and running water in the house.

Pearl washed in the tepid water and dressed for the day in a sky blue cotton-lawn dress with darker blue ribbons threaded through the skirt, along the square-necked bodice, and around the high-necked lace faced with white lawn. The puffed sleeves, also ribbon edged, came to just above her elbows. She stopped to check the mirror to make sure her scar didn’t show, then made her way down to the dining room.

Today she would write home and mail her letter in time to catch the eastbound train.

‘‘Miss Hossfuss.’’ Charlie stopped beside her table.

BOOK: Pearl
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