by DiVoran Lites
Aldon drove the Ford in next to the barn and and Pastor Rudd pulled his Stutz up behind them. Molly, Kate, and Seraphina got out and Ellie followed them to the house. A moment before she went up the back steps, she turned to see what the men were doing.
Aldon, the Signor, and Enrico stood next to Pastor Rudd, who had lifted the hood of his car, and seemed to be explaining its workings. Enrico, however, was watching her with an expression of adoration. She turned away confused. Had she done or said something to make him think she wanted his attention? She recalled only that one thought about how good-looking he was. Had it shon in her face?
By the time she got to her room, changed into a housedress, and descended to the kitchen, Molly was bustling around like a waitress in a train station cafe.
“Oh here she is at last,” Molly said. “Ellie, Signor Solano believes in a Sabbath Day of rest for servants as well as for the master, so we’re having sandwiches for our noon meal.” Before Ellie could reply, Molly spoke to Kate, who stood with her back to the counter and the child leaning against her watching everything.
Because Kate wore a calico headscarf that hid any degree of grayness in her hair, and she had a young-looking face, it was hard to judge her age. All Ellie knew was that she was old enough to be the grandmother of a four or five-year-old child. Kate’s long-fingered hands rested lightly on the child’s chest, probably to keep her out of the way until Molly told them what to do.
“Are you hungry?” Molly inquired of the girl.
“Yes,” Seraphina nodded without looking up.
“She fine,” Kate said, getting a light grip on the child’s shoulders.
“I’ll say who is fine in me own kitchen if you please.” Molly’s mouth gathered into a pursed stricture. “Sure’n it’s my house to run. If somebody is hungry here, they will eat, or I’ll know the reason why.”
“Yes’m,” Kate said. She had a wary look that told Ellie she wasn’t one to talk back.
“Butter a piece of bread for the child and sprinkle plenty of sugar on it,” Molly told Ellie.
“I take it Seraphina, means angel.” Molly spoke now to Kate, who nodded. “She might have some Caucasian, as well as Indian in her. I don’t know what tribes you have where you come from but here we have the Utes, mostly they’re all gone now, though.”
Ellie had found the bread on the counter, sliced off a piece, slathered it with butter, and then sprinkled sugar over it. The child looked up with an impish grin as she handed it to her.
“Ah, she’ll be something when she grows up,” said Molly. “You can tell from those light green eyes that she’s a smart one. Here in our valley, everyone gets along. Folks help each other. During the Great War, we people with ancestors from Germany, England, and Ireland buried our young men in the community cemetery and mourned our losses together. Ellie, get the ham out of the refrigerator. We traded five pounds of beef for that. It’s a treat to have something different for a change.” Molly seemed to be letting off steam by talking whether anyone was listening or not. “Kate sit that child down at the table and make yourself useful. You and Ellie can make the sandwiches on that counter over there, assembly line style like that Mr. Ford up there in Michigan.”
“Kate I knew your husband,” Molly said slicing radishes into red-rimmed rounds and throwing them in the bowl on top of the lettuce that had grown in the ranch garden. Next she would add sliced carrots and scallions, all home grown. “Mr. Fisher, Cookie, we called him, was a good humble man. I’ll bet you were surprised when you got here and found out he was gone. I knew him from working with him to prepare food for cattle drives. Once Aldon’s Ma moved to Artesia, we needed a camp cook and he applied, even though he worked most of the time at the saloon. He probably had a real good reason for what he did to that gambler fella.”
Ellie, for one, was listening; she wanted to know as much as possible about the community she had moved into. What had Mr. Fisher done? Why did he make a serious mistake right when his wife and granddaughter were on their way to join him?
“Kate and Seraphina can sleep in the room next to yours, Ellie. The child must be with her granny so she won’t be scared. The rooms are already clean because I regularly mop the floors and risk my life washing windows by sitting on the sill with the top of me hanging outside. I need to train both of you and that will take me all my time. But you’ll do for help and company until Aldon’s mother, Nancy, gets tired of working in the café with her sister and comes back to us.”
Just then, Signora Solano came into the kitchen. She was so stunning Ellie couldn’t take her eyes off her. She wore a red silk dress with jet beads swinging from a generous bosom. The beads were no blacker or shinier than her hair, which she wore, in a low bun on the nape of her neck. To Ellie, it looked ready to fall down at any minute. She wore high-heeled shoes but had a cloth wrapped around her ankle as if she’d been hurt.
“What happened to your leg?” Molly asked.
“It is no business of yours,” said the Signora lifting her head in disdain. “I am the mistress here, not you.” Then suddenly she rushed over to the child eating her sugar bread at the table. She squatted down next to the chair.
“Bella, bella! Who are you, bambino?”
“I am Seraphina and I am five-years-old.” The child showed five fingers. “I want to be four, but Granny says I already been that and I can’t go back to be it again. How old are you?”
Kate stepped over, rapped Seraphina on the head with one finger, and hissed at her. The child’s expression turned mulish.
“I’m four times five,” Signora Solano answered frowning at the older woman. “Do you know how old that is? Have you learned to cipher, yet?”
“What’s cipher?” the child demanded, looking into the signora’s face and smiling.
“Adding, subtracting. It’s arithmetic.” Signora reached up and cupped the girl’s chin in her hand, but Seraphina jerked away.
“We don’t teach arithmetic to such young children around here,” Molly broke in. “They can’t learn it.”
“Do you like stories, little one?” Ignoring Molly Signora spoke directly to the child.
“Oh, yes. I will give you my sugar bread if you will tell me a story.” She offered the crust, which was all she had left.
“You behave now, chile. This lady ain’t got time for the likes of you,” Kate spoke sternly. “Pardon, ma’am, but our last lady took time with her and now the chile she think she somethin’”
Signora Solano at last standing and looking around saw Ellie. “Your hair! I did not notice it when we met last night.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Ellie’s hands flew to her hair.
“It’s bobbed!” Signora Solano sang out.
“Yes, ma’am.” Ellie nodded. “But I can grow it out, if you …”
“No, no, I want mine bobbed, too.” Signora Solano automatically started pushing in hairpins that had come loose from the chignon on the back of her neck. “It is heavy, it falls down, it is hot.”
“Oh, yes, ma’am, perhaps you would allow me to style it for you.” Ellie took a deep breath.
Seraphina put her hands in her hair in imitation of Signora Solano. “My hair is heavy, I’m hot,” whined the child.