I stepped towards the dining room, eager to eat some of Hannah’s stew. I could hear laughter from my father and Hannah. I suppose I smelled like horse, but I was just too hungry to care.
A hush fell over the room as I entered. Hannah and my father stared at the bottom of my dress, and then at Jesse. I took a seat next to Hannah, hoping to eat quickly then politely excuse myself so that I could bathe. This, alas, did not seem to be a wish that would be granted anytime soon, for Jesse sat down next to me, apparently with the intent of making conversation. I internally sighed.
Hannah stood up and filled two plates with food, then handed each to Jesse and I.
“Thank you, Ms. Boone. This smells delicious,” Jesse told Hannah, accepting the plate with a charming smile.
“You are very welcome Jesse,” Hannah responded, returning the smile. “Although I must say, Ella did help with the biscuits. We had such a grand time making them, it put a smile on my face.”
Good for me, I thought, trying hard not to roll my eyes. There should be more to life than biscuit making! Apparently Jesse agreed, for he directed a chuckle towards me so slight, I wasn’t sure if it actually happened.
I turned up a corner of my mouth at Hannah, silently cursing her for being so boring. She did not see my smile, however. She had already sat back down, with her attentions on my father and the rest of the men.
“I think the horse was more interesting, was it not, Señorita?” Jesse’s velvety voice broke my concentration on my food. “His words were quite thought-provoking, if I do say so myself.”
His words weren’t even that funny, but I snorted into the cup of coffee that I was taking a gulp out of, splashing myself with the warm liquid. All eyes at the table snapped to me, and Jesse burst out laughing.
“Ella, what is going on?” My father asked in an amused tone. Hannah passed me a brown cloth napkin disapprovingly.
I mopped my face, trying not to laugh again. Luckily, the coffee only splashed onto my face and a little bit of my dress, which was already destroyed anyway, so it was not that big of a deal. Hopefully the Cassidy women don’t find out. That would be quite unfortunate, since these damages to the dress are the result of one very attractive man.
Stop, I thought to myself at the idea of Jesse being considered attractive. It is a sin to think of any other man besides Ambrose, who has as much beauty as Jesse, but in a very different way. Ambrose is sharp, always quick with his tongue and admirable in an intimidating way. Jesse is also intimidating in his own way, but more physically then emotionally. From what I’ve seen, he's friendly. He does not to seem to have the disdain for the world like Ambrose, and he is sure to make a nice girl happy one day.
Once the excitement over my little mishap had died down, my father cleared his throat, his surefire indicator that he was about to start asking questions.
“So, Jesse. Where are you men headed from here?” Father asked, sipping his own coffee carefully. I suppose he was being cautious after what happened to me.
“Nowhere in particular. We will probably head to a gold camp somewhere around here,” Jesse answered, turning his head towards me slightly. “We are not in any rush.”
“What gold camp?” I jumped in, feeling only slightly bad for interrupting my father.
“I’m not sure, señorita.”
“Maybe you will see my fiancé, Ambrose Cassidy. He’s at one of those gold camps, I don’t know which, but he’s there.” I told him, glad that the only person listening to me was Jesse.
“Fiancé, wow. Congratulations. How long have you two been courting?” Jesse responded.
“Oh, well, we never exactly courted. He had to leave soon after our engagement, so I suppose we will have more time when he gets back,” I said, embarrassed about telling these things to Jesse.
“I see,” he answered, obviously not understanding at all. “You must love him dearly, to wait for him.”
“Yes. I truly do,” I murmured, hoping I sounded convincing, because I really do love Ambrose. He is the best man for me.
“Well, then that is all you need.”
“What about you, Jesse? Do you have anyone?” I asked, hoping that I did not sound rude or nosy. Hannah has accused me of both on multiple occasions.
His carved face hardened a bit at that question, causing his features to appear even stronger and finer than before. I found myself looking at his eyes again. Beneath the long lashes were eyes of a very curious color; brown like Hannah’s, but much lighter. I had never seen anything like them.
“No, señorita, I have nobody but my horse and my men. I have no problem with keeping it that way.”
His words made me sad in a way that I could not explain, but I also felt as if I could relate. In a sense, all I have is my cat, my father and Hannah, and of course Ambrose, once he returns. I do not have many friends my age, all of the friends I made in the boarding house were much older and did not stick around for very long.
Understanding that there is some sort of sore spot with this subject, I stood up and began clearing the table. I felt the men’s eyes on me as I made my way to their side of the table, and I did my best to ignore them without seeming hostile. The chatter throughout the table continued, and I moved into the kitchen with all of the plates stacked on my arms, being extra cautious not to drop them and make a scene.
Hannah usually washed the dishes if I cleared them, so I went back up to my room to get ready for bed. It had been such a long day, and I was positively exhausted.
My bare feet made no noise as I moved up the stairs and to my room, where I shut the cream-colored door quietly. There was a small washroom adjacent to my bedroom; in it was a large tin tub that was amazing for keeping the water hot, a chamber pot, and a little box to put the dirty clothes that Hannah needs to clean in. There was, of course, an outhouse at our boarding house, but I rarely used it, for it was filled with spiders.
I put my hand on the little pump of the bathtub and began pushing the hot water out. The hot water came from a little tank in the laundry room, which was right below my room. I pumped until the tub was full, then took my soiled dress off and threw it in the box. Hannah can decide what to do with it. I removed my slip, then stepped into the hot bath, sinking all the way down into the water.
I relaxed for quite a while, enjoying the enticing water on my skin. I took my bar of soap to my hair first, scrubbing it thoroughly and taking care to remove any tangles as I went. I then washed my body, paying special attention to my feet. I ran out of soap just as I finished my bath, so I would have to go shopping tomorrow.
I reached for the big drying cloth once I was done, and stepped from the tub’s now-murky water. I dried the moisture off of my skin, then ran a brush that belonged to my mother through my hair.
After slipping into a sleeping gown and preparing my bed warmer with coals from my fireplace, I got into bed.
I miss Ambrose