by DiVoran Lites
Chapter Twenty Three
Aldon-The train to Denver
One day Molly came out of Signor’s office to tell Aldon the master wanted to see him. When he opened the door, Signor Solano motioned for him to be seated. “Aldon, I have ordered a Packard Six automobile for Father Contenti and I want you to go to Denver on the train and bring it home. The Fitzgerald boy will teach him to drive so he can visit his parish. I hadn’t realized that he had to either ask the Pastor to take him or wait until Rudd went out before he could go. I invited him to apply to come here, he is my countryman and friend from my boyhood, and I’m sorry it took me so long to see what he needed.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll be glad to do that. Is it all right if I go on Friday?” At Signor Solano’s nod, Aldon rose and turned to leave. Then he paused and turned back. “Sir,” he said, “Miss Ellie is looking tired. I think she’d enjoy a rest from her work here. Would it be all right if I took her along? I’ll be staying at the Cattleman’s, but she could stay somewhere else for the sake of propriety.”
After Signor Solano gave his permission, Aldon asked Ellie to go along. It didn’t take much to persuade her, but she refused to admit that she needed to get away. The whole plan changed when Lia heard about the jaunt. She invited herself to go too. She and Ellie could shop for clothes to wear to Molly’s birthday party and to the Fourth of July dance. Lia insisted they take Enrico, after all, he was family and a guest in their home. So the plans were made. Lia said that Aldon could stay at the Cattleman’s Hotel if he wished, but the rest of them would be at the Brown Derby, the best hotel in Colorado.
The train left Clifton at seven on a Friday morning. Aldon talked the conductor into letting him and Ellie stand out on the caboose platform so they would have a good view of the highest suspension bridge in the world as the train went along under it in the Royal Gorge canyon. Lia and Enrico sat inside grousing about getting up so early.
“Hey, kid,” said Aldon bringing up something he’d been wondering about. “I got the notion you were afraid of horses.”
“Yes.” Ellie dipped her head then looked up into his eyes. “The first horse I ever rode ran away with me and I got banged up. No broken bones, but after that, I thought I’d stay away from horses.”
“I noticed that you kind of like your mare and colt, though. Do you … like them all right, I mean? Summer is coming along fine in her training.”
“Yes, she is. You’re a good trainer. If someone had taken the time with that first horse, and if I’d had a few lessons I would have loved horses from the beginning.”
“You’re a natural and I have some more things to teach you.” Joy surged through him. “That young’n is having fun too. He’ll need hardly any training when he grows up.” Aldon slipped his arm around Ellie’s shoulders. He intended to give her a quick, one-armed hug, but the train lurched throwing him back against the caboose. When Ellie fell into his arms he braced himself and tightened his arms around her to keep her from falling. The minute she reached around him to hold herself steady, a blend of peace and pleasure flowed through him like hot coffee on a cold morning. He didn’t want to let her go. Then he recalled the time he’d held her at the beaver dam and how she had rared back and hit him saying, “Let me go you big lug. I can’t breathe…” Wait a minute, though. She had regained her balance and still she leaned into him. Sadly it didn’t last.
She pulled away as soon as she realized what was happening, but hope poured into his heart when she said, “Thank you for catching me, and thank you for teaching me to love.” She took a deep breath. I mean thank you for teaching me to love horses.”By this time they were out of the canyon and heading east toward Artesia.
When the train swept past the Colorado State Penitentiary where some the worst criminals in the west were incarcerated. Aldon thought about Cookie and his wife and granddaughter.
“I heard that Kate’s husband ended up in that pen,” Ellie remarked.
“Yes, he was here, but he’s not here any more.”
“Everybody in the valley knew about it.”
“What did he do,” she asked.
“He killed a man.”
“What?” Ellie gasped. “That can’t be.”
“Cookie Fisher was a good man all right,” Aldon nodded. I told you he helped on cattle pushes and round-ups. His real job was at the saloon where he was the chief cook and bottle-washer.”
“What did he do?” Ellie asked.
“He had saved money to send for Kate and Seraphina and enough to build a cabin but it was time for Slick’s yearly visit to Clifton.”
“Slick? That’s a strange name for a man.”
“Not if you knew Slick,” he said. “He was a traveling gambler. People knew he cheated, but somehow he always got at least one sucker at a poker table. Cookie wanted to buy Kate furniture for the cabin. He ended losing the game and it was the last straw. He was still the underdog. The day after the game, he made a separate pot of chili for the gambler.”
“What did he put in it, arsenic?” Ellie asked.
“How’d you know? But I’ve got this to say for him, he put in enough so that Slick didn’t suffer long. My friend Sheriff Oates came up from Artesia to arrest him. After Cookie was tried, he was electrocuted – the first in the new electric chair.”
“Oh, poor Kate. She must be grieving so… I thought she was just standoffish.” Ellie put her hand on Aldon’s sleeve as if looking for comfort.. Aldon nodded and covered her hand with his until she drew away.
When the train pulled into the station, Aldon walked Ellie, Lia, and Enrico to a taxi. He held Ellie back for a moment.“I’m staying at The Cattleman’s and I’m going to the stockyard. After that, I’ll pick up the automobile. I’ll come get you then. I’d like it to be just the two of us.”
“Could I come with you now?” Ellie asked. He thought he heard a sweet message in her voice.
“You’d better ask the Signora, we don’t want her mad,” he answered. He went around to ask the driver to wait and in a moment Ellie was at his side telling him the answer was no.
“Mrs. Solano needs me.” Aldon saw that Ellie was sad and yet she squared her shoulders and climbed into the backseat of the taxi, which immediately pulled away.