By DiVoran Lites
“Pastor, you’re invited to the Fitzgerald’s for coffee. We have something to discuss as a community.” Aldon said. “You’ll remember meeting Kenny and Mr. Fitz at the livery yesterday, Ellie. Come along, you’ll be involved, too.”
The Fitzgerald’s parlor was spacious and comfortable. It held a mix of old and new furniture, which included enough chairs for everyone. Kenny and his mother served the coffee in china cups and set out plates of delicate pastries. Signor Solano and Father Contenti, who had changed out of his vestments, sat on either side of the inactive fireplace. Ellie, Molly, Aldon, and Pastor Rudd arrayed themselves around the room. Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald sat together on a Victorian couch. After helping his mother serve, Kenny disappeared.
Aldon introduced Ellie to Mrs. Fitzgerald and Father Contenti. The priest stood and smiled at Ellie. She didn’t know whether to bow or shake hands, but Aldon moved her on as Father Contenti sat down again. The godly man folded his hands waiting for the din of conversation to fade. His snow-white hair lifted in a breeze from an open window. As he began to speak, Signor Solano nodded his head in affirmation obviously knowing what was coming.
“I have called you together to ask for your help. You heard about the Negro man who worked at the saloon.” The priest looked at Aldon.
“Yes, Sir.” He always worked the cattle drives and round-ups with us, called it his vacation.” The room fell quiet for a moment.
“Did you know he sent for his wife?” Mrs. Fitzgerald asked.
“Did she get here?” Aldon nodded a serious expression in his eyes. “She arrived with a small child on Friday – her granddaughter. She has no job and they have no home. We’re wondering if you might look after the two of them at the ranch for a while.” Father Contenti seemed to be asking Molly for her opinion.
“Is she a good worker?” Molly asked. “With so many coming to stay at the house, I’m going to need more help.” Molly crossed her legs at the ankles and leaned back.
“She has helped me a good bit since she’s been here. In fact, she made the pastries.” Mrs. Fitzgerald picked up a plate of baked goods and passed it to Mr. Fitzgerald who made everyone laugh by lifting his pinkie finger as he made a show of choosing the perfect treat. “She’s a fine cook, but the child is quite young and needs someone to look after her all the time. We just can’t manage it.”
“No, Mrs. Fitzgerald, you cannot.” Father Contenti spoke in a firm voice. “You have too much work already for the three of you: the general store, the livery, the movie theater. We could have Mrs. Fisher …”
“She asks that we call her Kate,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald breaking in. “She doesn’t talk much, but I did learn that she and her husband have saved for her fare and a cabin here for many years. The child’s name is Seraphina. Her mother and father are in prison for robbing banks.”
“At first we thought Kate might relieve the Fitzgeralds of looking after the parish house and me, but there’s one thing we need to consider,” said Father Contenti.
“The clan,” Aldon said knowingly. “They’ll be on the look-out for Kate and Seraphina, especially since the two of them passed through Denver, then Artesia and on here to Clifton. The clan seems to know everything these days.”
“Yes.” Father Contenti agreed.
“They aren’t primarily after people of color,” said Mrs. Fitzgerald.
“No,” said Aldon. “They’re after Jewish people and Catholics, and anyone who might take jobs their families could do. To be honest, they haven’t hurt anyone too badly, yet. I don’t think, however, that they’d hesitate to come after someone like Kate do you?” We will be happy to take them,” said Signor entering the conversation. “Perhaps Miss Morgan could help look after the bambina?”
“Of course, Signor,” Ellie said. “I am in your employ. I am not familiar with children, but I will do my best.”
“Signora Solano, my dear wife, will be delighted to help. It is what she needs to fill her life.” Signor Solano lifted his head listening as the sound of the noon train whistle sounded over the valley.”
“Your grandson has arrived.” Standing, Aldon pulled his gold watch from his pocket and glanced at it. “Right on time. Shall we go meet him? Molly, will you and Mrs. Fitz help the woman get ready for the ranch? Ellie is coming with us to the station.” He lifted an eyebrow in Ellie’s direction and she nodded yes. “Quentin, can we prevail upon you to bring a load of people to the ranch in your Bearcat? Molly will give you a sandwich for your trouble.”
Five minutes later, Aldon, Ellie, and Signor Solano got out of the Ford and hurried to the boardwalk to watch for Signor’s grandson. When Ellie spotted a young man in a white suit and Panama hat with an umbrella on his arm, she knew it was Enrico. With soft, dark curls resting on the collar of the suit, he resembled a poet from the days of Rosetti. The Signor sagged momentarily against Ellie, so she slipped her arm around his thin waist to support him. He soon straightened his shoulders and stood tall waiting to greet a boy who had become a man. Enrico paused to set his Panama at a jaunty angle. When he looked up and saw his grandfather, his face lit with the smile of an angel. Aldon retrieved Enrico’s small case and paid the porter who had been carrying it.
Signor Solano threw his arms around Enrico. When they both began to cry he took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed first at Enrico’s tears and then his own.
“Name’s Aldon Leitzinger,” said Aldon moving to shake hands.
Ellie would learn in the weeks to come that Enrico’s entire family had been scattered at the beginning of the war. Signor Solano had decided to leave him in boarding school in Switzerland so he could finish receiving the excellent education he was getting there. When peace came, his parents were dead and he wanted to come to America, but his grandfather said he must finish at university. He had a degree now and was ready to move into the next phase of his life.
After putting Enrico’s suitcase in the car, Aldon opened the back doors for the two men and they got in. As Ellie got into the passenger seat, she glanced back at them and saw that they were now holding hands. She was so happy for dear Signor Solano to have this new joy in his life.