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Authors: Lauraine Snelling

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Pearl (31 page)

BOOK: Pearl
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So what to do? Intervene or let them hash it out for themselves? Things usually blew over if left alone long enough.

‘‘I think you owe her an apology.’’ Cimarron’s voice again.

‘‘All right.’’ The door slammed against the wall on opening.

Daisy was not in a good mood. ‘‘That Cimarron thinks she always knows better than anyone else.’’ The mutter continued as she grabbed the handle for the flatirons, slammed one into place, and took off for the storeroom and the never ending stack of ironing, without even acknowledging Ruby’s presence.

They needed someone else to help iron—that was for sure. Ruby was amazed that she had not received a single inquiry in response to her advertisements in the spring. Well, they would just have to make do. She’d ask one of the other girls to help carry the load—or Opal, maybe. A second ironing board was on her list for Charlie to make. Perhaps Carl could get to it sooner. She was beginning to hope Mr. Wainwright never would come back.

He arrived that day on the westbound train.

‘‘Still have a room for me, Miss Torvald?’’

‘‘You’re getting the last one. Starting tomorrow I’ll have two rooms with two sets of bunks in each, so four to a room. I’ll be raising the single room rates then too.’’

‘‘To how much?’’ He signed his name in the register. ‘‘I might have to go live in a tent if you go too high.’’

‘‘Two dollars a day.’’ She felt guilty even saying the rate. While she’d charged that and more to really wealthy customers, Mr. Wainwright was more like a regular.

‘‘I’ll pay that and gladly, though I’ll have to set up a tent for an office until I get something built. Charlie said you have a carpenter here waiting for a job?’’

‘‘His name is Carl Hegland from Minneapolis, and he’s been working here until you came back.’’ She leaned closer to the counter and whispered, ‘‘Thanks for being late. He got the beds made for the hotel, and he and some others are closing in part of the porch for a kind of bunkhouse.’’

‘‘Good idea. Which room is mine?’’

‘‘Number seven.’’ She watched him carry his bags up the stairs.
I wonder if he is married? Perhaps he would like to meet Miss
Hossfuss. Ruby Torvald, stop your matchmaking
.

Opal, Milly, and Charlie were back from serving food to those on the train, as usual with nothing left.

‘‘You know, we’ve been going to build a stand over there for months and just never got around to it. Maybe now with Carl here—’’ He stopped when he saw Ruby shaking her head.

‘‘You saw Mr. Wainwright get off the train, didn’t you? I’m sure Mr. Hegland will start over there tomorrow or the next day.’’

‘‘That’s good for him and not so good for us. But Jed is doing a fine job too, and—Now don’t you go getting on your high horse. That man would walk on burning coals for you.’’

‘‘But—’’

‘‘But you said you forgave him. Now it’s time to act like it.’’

‘‘Charlie, you just don’t understand.’’

‘‘Maybe not, bein’ as I ain’t a woman, but I been beat up far worse’n you were, and life’s too short to bear a grudge like that. Like the Bible says, you can’t let bitterness grow.’’

Am I doing that? Am I really bitter toward him? Hateful? Lord, on
one hand I want to love you with my whole heart like you ask, but . . .
but to love the neighbor as myself is really hard to do. Not most of the
time, but in this instance. How am I supposed to love a man who . . .
who. . . ?

Let me love him through you
. She almost turned around to look over her shoulder the voice was so clear. Let me love him through you. How would that work?

‘‘I know you’ll work it out.’’ Charlie patted her shoulder and headed on out to where the sound of hammering and sawing announced that men were working—on her hotel and not costing her a cent.

If this was a way God was providing for her, she should indeed be thankful. And grateful. After all, she’d asked for an addition, and here she was getting it.

By fall she’d need more blankets and quilts. Right now, sheets and ticking filled with dried grass would be enough.

‘‘Ruby, can I . . . er . . . may I and Milly go riding after dinner?’’ Opal asked.

‘‘Are the rooms all clean?’’

‘‘Far as I know.’’

‘‘And the garden weeded?’’

‘‘Mister Black has been doing that.’’

I know I should send her in to iron, but . . .
‘‘You can’t be gone for hours and hours, but you haven’t been fishing lately, and a mess of fish for supper sure would be good.’’

‘‘Good, we’ll ride up to that fishing hole the captain took us to.’’

‘‘You be—’’ ‘‘Ruu-by.’’

‘‘All right. I won’t say it. But be sure to wear your hat. Your nose is not only freckled but sunburned most of the time.’’ She tapped her little sister on the nose. ‘‘If you want to go now, we’ll manage dinner without you. There aren’t too many folks here for that today.’’

‘‘Good!’’ Opal spun out of the kitchen. ‘‘Gotta get some worms. Milly, we’re goin’ fishing.’’

Ruby found Pearl out on the back porch sitting in the rocker reading. ‘‘So did you get a chance to meet all your future pupils after church yesterday?’’

‘‘I think so. I’m amazed that there aren’t more children here in town.’’

‘‘I know. It’s strange, but it’s like only loners settled here. I have no idea what their pasts are like. They aren’t really sociable, but through some of the things we’ve done here at the hotel, people get together. Last year we had a big Fourth of July celebration— rodeo, dance, and barbeque.’’

‘‘Barbeque?’’

‘‘They roasted half a steer on a spit with a crank that turned it over coals. Mr. Harrison took care of that. The cantonment sent men to serve and clean up afterward. The dance was right out in the street here.’’

‘‘And now you have worship services here.’’

‘‘We also did a small party at Christmas.’’ Ruby wished she could tell Pearl what Dove House had been before, but what if she then treated the girls like the rest of the town did?

But what if someone told her and didn’t get it all right?
I hate
keeping secrets!

After a dinner that kept them all running because Charlie was working with the men on the addition and Opal and Milly were gone, Cimarron took up her mending, and Daisy returned to her ironing. Ruby sat down on the back porch with ink and paper to catch what breeze she could. She had some thinking to do.

Pearl brought her book out but seemed content to read and not visit.

Ruby set out columns of figures, added and subtracted this way and that, all to figure if she could afford to close the card-room. She checked the takes, estimated increased income due to the new beds, figured the additional supplies needed. She reviewed her ledger. Now that she’d been keeping it for over a year, it held solid information about the financial life of the hotel.

If she had the increased income from both cardroom and extra lodgers, she could be banking a tidy sum. If, if, if.

‘‘Is there something I can help you with?’’ Pearl asked, laying her book down.

‘‘Ah, not really. Why?’’

‘‘I heard you sigh and groan. Sounded disturbing to me.’’

Ruby put the cork back in her ink. ‘‘I’m just trying to make some wise financial decisions regarding Dove House, and trying to see into the future to plan is not easy.’’

‘‘I would assume that if all of Marquis de Mores’s dreams for this area happen, you are sitting on a gold mine here.’’

‘‘That
if
is the stumbling block.’’

‘‘I meant it when I said I would rather have a room in the attic than take away a paying room for you.’’

‘‘Thank you. We need to get some more walls built up there. Right now Opal and I share a room. Milly, Cimarron, and Daisy share another, and Charlie has his own. There is room up there for more of the same.’’

‘‘Another project for Mr. Hegland?’’

‘‘Probably not. De Mores’s construction superintendent arrived back today. You might meet him at supper. I’m sure he’ll be taking the men away immediately.’’

‘‘Not Charlie.’’

Ruby felt her mouth drop open. ‘‘I . . . ah . . . I sure do hope not. Guess I better ask him. The pay would be far more than he gets here.’’ A good part of his money also came from the card-room when it was busy enough to need a second dealer, another of those arrangements she’d made when she was forced to take over Dove House.
Of course, Far, just take care of ‘‘the girls.’’ Such a
heavy commitment you extracted from me. If I had known . . .
She didn’t bother to complete the comment. When one’s father is on his deathbed, what daughter wouldn’t promise whatever he asked?

I need to talk all this over with Charlie. But when? He’s working
harder than any of us
. She closed her papers in her ledger and followed the sound of hammers and saws around the corner. The outer walls were up and the window from the pantry was installed. Instead of a door at each end, there was one door to the outside and another cut through the wall of the cardroom. She stood in the doorway and watched as Mr. Hegland measured a board, Jed Black hammered one in place, and Charlie laid another board on the sawhorses. The three worked well together, with Mr. Hegland giving quiet directions.

Charlie stopped on his way out the door when he saw her. ‘‘Lookin’ good, isn’t it?’’

‘‘I’m amazed at the amount you’ve gotten done.’’

‘‘That Hegland, he knows his stuff.’’

‘‘When you have a few minutes, I need to talk some things over with you.’’

‘‘Sure enough. How about after supper?’’

‘‘Good.’’ She’d rather it had been right then, but she didn’t want to slow progress either.

Everyone ate their fill of fried fish for supper, leaving only nibbles for the cats. Cat announced her displeasure and cuffed one of her kittens when he tried to take a piece from her.

‘‘We should have fried the heads for her.’’ Opal stroked Cat’s back.

‘‘Charlie snagged those for his garden fast as I cut them off.’’ Cimarron worked a fishbone to the front of her mouth and tongued it into her hand. ‘‘No matter how hard I try to get them all when I peel back the spine, there’s always one. Opal, you and Milly need to go fishing more often.’’

‘‘It sure is easier when we have two horses. A fish took the first worm before it hit the water. Finally put grasshoppers on, and the fish liked them too.’’

Ruby watched the exchange, remembering the afternoon she and Opal spent with Captain McHenry fishing in that hole. She’d never ridden so far, had never been fishing in her life, and never thought she’d have such a good time at it either.
Wonder
how the captain is?
followed the memory. She didn’t remember the last time she’d written him, and she hadn’t prayed for his safety lately. If she was honest, she’d hardly prayed for anything beyond the hotel and what to do next. How to work it all in was another one of those deep questions to which there seemed to be no answers.

When Mr. Hegland asked to see her, she knew she wasn’t going to like it.

‘‘I’m sorry, Miss Torvald, I won’t be able to finish your addition. Mr. Wainwright has hired me to work on the house.’’

‘‘I knew he would.’’

‘‘I thought maybe I could help here on Sundays, but I think Jed and Charlie can finish up.’’

‘‘If you would help on Sundays, I would be grateful. Thank you for all you managed to accomplish.’’

‘‘Ah, about the room. I can sleep for free over in Medora in a tent, but I really like it here. Could we work something out?’’

‘‘Of course.’’ Ruby thought a minute. ‘‘If you took one of the bunk beds and paid three dollars a week, would that be fair?’’

‘‘And I work on Sundays? Ja.’’ He nodded. ‘‘That would work.’’

‘‘Good luck with your new job.’’

‘‘Mange takk.’’

Now to find Charlie.

‘‘The peas are ready,’’ he announced when she found him in the garden.

‘‘Will there be enough for canning?’’

‘‘Not this first picking, but I can’t think of anything better for dinner than creamed peas and new potatoes with ham and biscuits.’’

‘‘Me neither.’’ She found a plump pod, picked it, sliced it open with her thumbnail, and plopped the peas in her mouth, closing her eyes the better to savor the delight. Peas were best eaten right out of the garden. Forget the cooking.

‘‘You wanted to talk with me?’’

‘‘I do.’’

‘‘Something wrong?’’ He handed her another pea pod and opened one himself.

‘‘No, just trying to make some decisions.’’

She chewed the peas with a smile of gratitude. ‘‘Let’s go to the cardroom. I need a table. We can shut the door there.’’

Once she had her ledger and papers laid out, she explained her ideas, showed him her estimations, and then leaned back while he studied on them.

When he looked up, she asked. ‘‘Well, what do you think?’’

‘‘So the key question is, do we close the cardroom?’’

‘‘And turn it into a schoolroom.’’

‘‘It could be both, school during the day, cards at night.’’ Charlie leaned back in his chair, setting the legs to screeching.

‘‘I guess the main question I have is, what about Belle?’’

‘‘Belle will always land on her feet, just like Cat. Wouldn’t surprise me if she has something else already cookin’.’’

BOOK: Pearl
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