Category Archives: 31 Chapter Thirty-One

Eden 31:4

“Eden,” Eleanor reached into her jacket pocket and drew out a small object. “I came here because there is something I would like you to consider.”

Eden looked at her friend. They sat in the shade of the porch on the west side of the house. Joe had gone out to work and Lillian had gone with Sophia to visit Minna.

Eleanor opened her hand and held it out to Eden. In it was a ring.

Eden took it from her and examined it with a puzzled expression. “Your ring?”

“That one was my father’s. I want you to have it. There’s another like it that I mean to retrieve when…but never mind. Have this for now.”

Eden put down the ring on a crate that sat between the porch chairs, found a cigarette and handed it silently to her friend, then reached out to her with a match.

“Thank you, darling,” Eleanor inhaled the smoke slowly and let it out again.

“Why should I have your ring? It’s your family crest, El.” Eden picked it up again and looked with new eyes at the tiny details on the ring. It looked old. Older even than her mother’s brooch, which she knew had first belonged to the grandmother she’d never met.

“It is. It has belonged to the sons of the Stephens family since long before my grandfather left England.”

“I’m not a son of the Stephens family,” Eden said quietly.

“I know. But whom else should have it? The family in London will barely acknowledge me. Haven’t you ever wondered why you have never met them?”

Eden picked up the ring. She put it on the first finger of her right hand and held it up before her. “I don’t know what my father would think.”

“Don’t wear it if you’d rather not. But take it. Keep it, at least.”

Eden took the ring off her finger, put it in her watch pocket and said “All right.”

She started to rise from her chair, but Eleanor put up a hand to stop her.  “There’s something else.”

Eden settled down again and leaned back in her chair, arms crossed, waiting silently.

“My estate—” Eleanor spoke quickly, seeing the desire to interrupt on Eden’s face. “I want you to inherit it. Why should my father’s money—and mine—go to some cousin who hates me? If there is anyone who will come close to carrying on in my house, with my property as I myself have done—but better, far better than I have ever done—it is you…and Sophia.”

Eden had been shaking her head slightly throughout this speech. “I can’t take it,” she said when Eleanor had finished. She looked up and found Eleanor’s eye. “You know I can’t.”

She took the ring from her pocket, laid it back on the crate, rose and walked back into the house.

Eden 31:3

The room did not, of course, suit Eleanor perfectly. The mattress was filled with feathers, but thin, and in spite of the heat of the day, the night, she found, was cold. She wished there was a fire in the small, rude hearth in the corner.

She had barely slept, when she was awakened by creaking floorboards and the clatter of a kettle in the kitchen.

It was still dark, though the small window at the end of her room faced east, and she saw a faint graying near the horizon that she recognized as coming dawn, having seen it often enough at the end of a long night out. She pulled on her trousers and a fresh shirt, tossed water on her face and slipped through the door.

At the kitchen table some distance from her, sat Joe Smith in a collarless shirt and heavy worsted trousers, braces hanging loose at her hips and a steaming cup before her. Lillian stood before the stove, in a linen dressing gown, auburn hair gathered in a loose braid down her back. She smiled and chatted in low tones until Joe reached out a hand, whereupon Lillian stepped into her husband’s embrace, her fingers smoothing Joe’s hair softly.

They did not see Eleanor and she suddenly hoped very much that they would not. She slipped back into her narrow room and sat back down on the bed. The sun slowly crept up and as it did, she opened the top drawer of her steamer trunk and took out some stationery and a pen.Beth

Dearest Beth,

I do not know if this letter will even reach you, so far from civilization do I find myself. But regardless of the fate of my words, I feel I must write them.

I have wasted every day of my life since we parted so long ago, Beth. I would sell my soul to have those days back, spent in your company, in your arms, in your heart…

Eleanor stopped and read over her words. Sentimental rot. What was wrong with her? Bette would never approve of such rubbish. She put down the pen, crushed the paper into a ball and tossed it into the cold hearth. She would make herself a fire tonight and burn it.

Eden 31:2

Faraway_Ranch_Main_HouseIn the late afternoon they all arrived at a sort of compound, with a half dozen houses and several outbuildings and a large garden. Children were scampering between the yards. Mr. Harris took them to his own house, where Eden’s sister, Myrna, whom everyone called Minna, came to greet them. Another woman who introduced herself as Susan Bell had prepared a large dinner for everyone. It was too many people to eat indoors and so the entire company of thirty or more sat around an expansive but rough wooden table in the long evening shade on the east side of the largest of the houses eating and laughing and talking in terms Eleanor only half understood.

To Eleanor’s great astonishment, Sophia Abington was there. She almost seemed more at home in the desert, Eleanor thought, than she had for the few days she had been in Paris. She and Eden were at an ease with each other that had the effect of both relieving and worrying Eleanor. It was clear that all was well between them, though neither had written this news to Paris. Was Paris—Boston even—no longer to be part of their lives, then? Surely Sophia and Eden did not intend to stay in Arizona. It was impossible to contemplate.

Eden sat beside Eleanor and laughed and talked with everyone, putting children—some white, some Negro—on and off her knees throughout the meal. The food was rustic, Eleanor thought, but fresh and quite good. After dinner, one of the men—Mrs. Bell’s husband, Eleanor thought—took out a violin and played a jaunty tune to which the children all danced. In a moment, he was joined by a man with a guitar. Someone produced an Irish whistle, someone else a mandolin.  Before long, most of the adults were dancing too. At length, even Eden rose, grabbed her sister’s hand and led her in some kind of country dance with a lot of twirling and skipping and weaving between other couples.

The entire thing answered to Eleanor’s idea of a Bohemian wedding party and didn’t end until well after the stars were out. “Do they do that every evening?” Eleanor asked Eden as they walked into the house.

Eden laughed, “of course not. That was a welcome party—for you. We’re usually too busy for all that.”

“You didn’t welcome me that way,” Sophia teased.

“You didn’t wire us with a warning, like El did,” Eden countered.

But that was all Eleanor heard of the story of Sophia’s appearance on the ranch.

Now, on the doorstep of the Smith’s house, Joe turned to Eleanor and said, “This is not what you are used to, I’m sure, but we hope you will be comfortable here.”

Lillian showed Eleanor to a narrow room beside the kitchen, with a small bed, a washstand and a little hearth on one side, but shelves filled with colorful jars on the other. “It’s the pantry when we don’t have a guest,” Lillian said with a smile. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all, it will suit me perfectly,” Eleanor said with just the suggestion of a bow as Lillian handed her a candle and bid her goodnight.

Eden 31:1

Southern_Pacific_Depot_1909The old engine that served the stations between California and Arizona hurled soot and smoke behind it into the open windows of the passenger cars. The only thing for it was to close them, which turned the car into a dark little oven in the desert heat. There was no first class carriage and the wooden benches that served for seats were worn and full of splinters. Eleanor’s trousers had been ruined. She decided there could be no worse way to travel as she climbed with relief onto the platform in Tucson, but immediately realized her mistake when she saw the wagon that would take her to the Smith’s ranch, nearly eight hours from the town itself.

If indeed one might call it a town.

Nothing was paved. The sidewalks, where they existed, were bare boards that creaked as one walked. Some of the buildings looked almost made of mud, with dark little windows without any glass and big, bare yards with chickens running unfenced, sometimes straying into the streets.

She exhaled gratefully when she saw that at least the house where they would stay overnight looked newly whitewashed, with glass windows, a breezy piazza and some flowering bushy shrubs in the yard, though Eleanor could not say what sort of shrubs they were.

Eden’s brother-in-law, Peter Harris, had been a Negro. The fact itself didn’t bother Eleanor—she was an infamous radical herself, after all—but Eden might have warned her so she wouldn’t have had to contain her shock when he had reached out to shake her hand. She supposed it was all part of some mad penance Eden was extracting from her, in spite of her encouraging telegram welcoming Eleanor to come.

The night in town was comfortable enough. Mr. Harris’s mother, Dora, was kind and hospitable. She was not at all shocked by Eleanor’s attire, or if she had been, she’d hidden it well. Then again, Eden had grown up with these people, and who knew how women dressed in Arizona?

But though the breakfast had been a good one—not so different from what one might come by in a French country inn—Eleanor dreaded the day ahead of her, bumping in a wagon in the ridiculous sun for hours, completely exposed to who knew what dangers.

Why did people think the West a romantic place? Eleanor could not believe Lillian Smith sincerely preferred it to Boston.

And yet, halfway through the horrid ride in the wagon, across a landscape that looked like it might not really be the earth at all, Lillian herself appeared astride a chestnut horse, a young man accompanying her on a bay stallion.

“El! You’ve made it!”

It was not a young man. It was Eden—sunburnt and shaggy-headed, wearing workman’s clothes and riding the most magnificent horse Eleanor had ever seen.

Mr. Harris stopped the wagon to greet them as Lillian dismounted.

“Eleanor Stephens! How fine to see you in Arizona!” she exclaimed, clasping her hat to her head as she tilted up her face to smile in greeting.

Eleanor hardly knew what to do. Standing automatically, she found she couldn’t reach Lillian’s hand from the wagon. She climbed down gingerly, brushing at her trousers as she went, and finally arrived at the ground. She removed her hat and took Lillian’s hand in her own still gloved one, for fear it was filthy beneath the kid. It was absurd. They were, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere and she was fretting about etiquette.

“Do you want to ride, El?” Eden called out from astride the bay horse.

“I’ll be fine in the wagon with Mr. Harris,” Eleanor said. She was a good rider and often joined hunts with her English friends. But she had never tried a cowboy’s saddle and did not want to make herself a fool before Eden’s mother.

Lillian climbed astride the chestnut horse again and Eleanor noticed for the first time, a rifle on a leather strap across her back, just like the one Mr. Harris had donned this morning before they left town. If Lillian had appeared before them naked, she could not have shocked Eleanor more.

EleanorThe wagon began to move slowly again and Mr. Harris smiled, not unkindly, as Eleanor dug in her pocket for a cigarette and a match. Eden and her mother rode ahead until they became small spots on the horizon, but never quite leaving the wagon behind. Mr. Harris said nothing and Eleanor hardly knew what to ask him as she smoked cigarette after cigarette and watched the strange landscape creep by. Mr. Harris accepted only one of her cigarettes, and that, she sensed, almost out of politeness. She wished for a snifter of brandy and a bath and a bed in a cool room with blowing curtains, but somehow doubted any of those things awaited her on Joe Smith’s ranch.