(With thanks to my beta, Terri Derr.)
(Words: 2,511. Date: 2 August, 2015)
“Have you had a good day?” Plumping down on the bench seat next to Katie, Scott leaned back against the trunk of the old orange tree. He closed his eyes and breathed in the fragrance of citrus and roses.
“I have, but you look tired.” Katie put her book aside and took his hand. Turning it over, she traced a fingertip around the calluses. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing really.” Scott smiled. He liked it when Katie read his mood. Twisting around, he could see she didn’t believe him. “Grandfather has written to say how pleased he is that we’re keeping company.”
“Well, that’s good, isn’t it? Why look so vexed?”
“Because his letter is preposterous. Why can’t people just be happy for us?”
“You’re talking in riddles, Scott. What people? You just said your grandfather was happy for us.”
Scott pulled a crumpled envelope out of his back pocket. He’d collected the letter from the postmistress in Morro Coyo at midday, and it had been adding padding to his saddle all afternoon. A second reading when he’d finished his day’s work hadn’t made any difference; the contents still irritated him. “I’ll read it to you; then you’ll understand.”
Katie raised an eyebrow and the corners of her mouth twitched.
“He always calls me that in private. I’ve never had the heart to ask him to stop.” Scott shrugged and grinned sideways. “Don’t laugh.”
“Yes, sir.” Katie saluted, straight faced but eyes twinkling. She had beautiful eyes.
Clearing his throat, Scott turned back to the letter; then hesitated. Maybe reading this aloud wasn’t such a good idea. Even the first few lines…. But Katie was expecting him to read it now, and she had to find out what his grandfather was like some time.
Congratulations, my boy. I am pleased California has not blinded you to the advantages of attaching yourself to a young woman of good family.
“As if your family has anything to do with us keeping company.” Scott lowered the pages. “I apologise.”
“It really bothers you, doesn’t it? The idea Mr Garrett and others could believe you’re interested in me, even partly, because I’m an Eliot.” Katie rested her hand on his. “I’m not that easily offended, Scott. We know it’s not true so why worry?”
He nodded and gave her fingers a small squeeze. It was still insulting.
Please give Miss Eliot my regards, and assure her of my very great pleasure upon hearing the news. My only regret is her grandfather is not alive to share my joy.
“I’m rather sad about that too. Grandfather Eliot was an old devil, but I had a soft spot for him. I’d have liked you to meet him—properly. You may not believe me, but he was a kind and generous man. You probably only ever saw the ruthless politician.” Katie smiled sadly. Senator Eliot had died of a heart attack the year before.
Scott hoped he looked sympathetic, but Katie was right, he had only seen the political face of her grandfather. Scott had dine with him more than once, and ‘kind’ and ‘generous’ did not belong in the same sentence with the man he remembered. Perhaps Senator Eliot had been different with his family, but to lesser mortals, he’d appeared wealthy, superior and calculating.
After all the times I backed Lowell Eliot’s campaigns and delved into his finances and dealings to ensure he was still a good investment, he would have thoroughly enjoyed putting me through my paces to prove you were worthy of his granddaughter’s hand.
“Grandfather is the master accountant. He reduces everything to dollars and cents; even a friendship of fifty years. I don’t like him applying the same principles to us; I’ll tell him that when I write back.”
“Don’t be too hard on him, Scott. Grandfather Eliot was much the same; and he rarely meant to offend. Men like our grandfathers simply consider it sensible to investigate the finances and character of anyone seeking something from them.”
“I sometimes wonder if Grandfather has any real friends; they all seem like business associates.” Scott frowned and looked down at the next paragraph. “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but this bit really annoys me.”
You should know various members of Miss Eliot’s extended family have already begun enquiries into your background and finances. The Eliots are the political and commercial elite of this fair city. You could not have chosen better, but there is a price to be paid. More than just your young lady’s reputation is affected by her choice. You must expect some intrusion into your private concerns.
“I certainly do not expect intrusion into my private concerns, and I will block any attempt.”
“Oh, please don’t.” Katie reached out to him. “If you fight them, they’ll only think you’ve got something to hide. Let them dig. Once they’re satisfied you’re no threat, they’ll leave you alone. After all, you don’t have any skeletons for them to find. Or do you?”
“My cupboard is bare, but that’s not the point.”
Katie began to play with the cameo ring on her finger. “I’m an Eliot, Scott.” She looked at him as though she was willing him to understand something. “I’m sorry if you didn’t realise what you were getting into. I probably should have given you better warning.”
“I grew up in Boston. I’ve been friends with Bob for as long as I can remember. I think I know your family well enough without warnings.” It was true—or at least it was true that he ought to have known, but when his feelings for Katie first took hold, somehow he’d forgotten.
Katie bowed her head. “Papa is making enquiries. He’s asked all the family members who know you or Murdoch to report; Uncle Will told me.”
Scott stared at Katie. “Report?”
“Oh, Scott, you can’t be surprised about my father. He doesn’t know you well, and we’re so far away. He just wants reassurance. Don't worry—Uncle Will likes you. He gave you a good review.”
“I like Will too, and yes, I suppose I did expect your father to ask about a bit. But I don’t think Grandfather was talking about Dr Eliot.”
Katie folded her hands on her lap and sighed. “No, you’re right. He’s referring to my father’s relatives. The Eliots are highly political. My father has three brothers, two are politicians and the other owns half of South Boston. Papa has six sisters too, and all of them married powerful men. There are two senators, three congressmen and a high court judge in that generation alone. Being politicians, they worry about associations that could tarnish their image. For them, my welfare is not the issue. Your ability to damage or enhance their political careers is all they care about.”
“I will not have your relatives poking their nose into my private concerns. I’ve had enough of that with Grandfather.” Scott stood up, his back to Katie, his blood rising to the boil.
“I’m afraid you don’t have much choice, unless... If you keep seeing me, they’ll take an interest in everything you do. From their perspective, it’s necessary. You can’t stop them; it’s a waste of energy to try.”
“We’ll see about that.” Scott kicked at a stone and scuffed his boot in the dirt. Katie was making excuses for the inexcusable. Whose side was she on, anyway? He turned back to press his argument, but one look knocked the wind out of his sails.
Katie’s eyes were focussed on his mother’s rose, a mass of apricot blooms, as it climbed over the adobe wall between Teresa’s garden and the kitchen courtyard. A Boston calm surrounded her, as solid as the wall—and she had taken refuge behind it. She was unhappy, and what was worse, Scott knew it had less to do with his grandfather’s words than with his own.
Crouching down, he took hold of her hands. “Look at me. I don’t know what I’ll do about the mighty Eliots. Maybe nothing, as you say. We’ll see, but there’s one thing I’m very sure about. You and I are keeping company. Nothing your family says or does will affect the way I feel about you.”
Katie searched his eyes. “I hope that proves true.”
“You didn’t take my word for something once before; remember?”
A smile flickered, but she still looked unsure. “The circumstances were a little different.”
“It doesn’t matter. Trust me.” He held her gaze and her hands; her long, slim fingers feeling warm and delicate within his. The Californian sun had tanned her skin, but the softness of her touch was a reminder of Beacon Hill. Like so many things Scott cherished about Katie, it made him worry about their future together.
But after a few seconds, she nodded and laughed. Then she tapped the letter in his hand. “What else does your grandfather say?”
Scott sat down next to her again and leaned forward to read, his elbows resting on his knees.
I thank you for giving me such prompt warning of the situation. Your letter arrived the day before I attended the Eliot-Winston wedding so I was prepared when Dr and Mrs Eliot approached me. As you are aware, the relationship between me and Beth Eliot has not always run smoothly, however I can assure you in this case we are in complete agreement.
“Mama is very fond of you. She says you remind her of Papa when she first met him: ‘mouth-wateringly suave and almost as handsome’.”
“Your mother said that?” Scott sat up. He was surprised and a little embarrassed.
“Well, she’s married to Papa so she has to say ‘almost’. I don’t have to agree.” Katie brushed a stray lock of hair away from Scott’s eyes. It was far too long, but he planned to get it cut just before Johnny and Emily’s wedding. He wasn’t sure at what point he stopped breathing, but when Katie blinked, he blinked, and he was in desperate need of oxygen. She dropped her hand to her lap. Inhaling, he coughed and went back to the letter.
I believe Dr Eliot is not yet fully convinced of your worth, but he is naturally less swayed by sentiment. While he is not as political in his outlook as his brothers, he is a protective father, and a man used to being courted by those with only an eye for personal gain. I was in a similar situation with your dear mother so I do not hold it against him. I trust I have done enough to alleviate some of his fears, and I urge you and Miss Eliot to be on your best behaviour. Give him no cause for concern.
“As if we would.” Blushing, Katie glanced at Scott, and they both laughed. It seemed being on their best behaviour was getting harder for both of them. Scott would never do anything to damage Katie’s reputation, but it was nice to think temptation wasn’t all one-sided.
Your courtship became common knowledge within a week of my conversation with Dr and Mrs Eliot. I assure you it was not my doing, and I doubt it was theirs. I had only just informed your Aunt Winifred when I was approached and congratulated by a man, with whom I’d been trying to do business for months. Evidently, you and Miss Eliot are the topic of lively speculation in salons and dining rooms throughout Boston. Miss Eliot’s confidantes have shared the news, and the gossips have spread it like wildfire. They will have you engaged by next Tuesday the rate things are going.
“Oh really, now that is too much. I will kill Fanny and Olivia McIntyre when I get back to San Francisco.”
“You think your cousins are responsible?”
“Depend upon it. They are avid letter writers and atrocious gossips, both of them. Oh, it’s too bad of them. I’m very angry. I begged them not to say anything. I wanted a little privacy. Olivia promised.”
“We’ll call Fanny the culprit then.” Scott chuckled.
“Egged on by her sister; I know how those two work. I knew I should have extracted a promise from Fanny too, but she kept evading me.” Katie glowered. Scott was sure she would have stamped her foot in frustration if she’d been standing. “You can stop laughing at me; gossip only muddies the waters, and my uncles’ minions will jump on any suggestion of scandal, real or imaginary. Finish the letter so I can go inside and write one of my own. I’ll tear strips off the pair of them.”
“Now who’s indulging in fruitless effort?” Scott winked. Katie opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again, and waved him to keep reading.
I know you too well to believe you will rush into such an important decision, Scotty. Take your time. I look forward to meeting Miss Eliot in person sometime soon; in Boston perhaps, if that is not too much to hope for.
Best wishes to you both.
Scott read the last part quickly as though it was of no real importance, but Katie did not miss the hint. “Your grandfather thinks courting me will bring you back to Boston. He’s not as astute as I thought.”
“Is it so obvious I wouldn’t go?”
“No, but it is obvious that any woman who truly loved you couldn’t let you leave Lancer for her sake.” Without looking at him, Katie got up and retrieved her straw hat and book from the seat. “Supper must be nearly ready. We should go inside. I’ll write a note to your grandfather afterwards, thanking him for his good wishes.”
Rising, Scott tucked the letter back into his pocket and offered Katie his arm. Could he live with the interference of her family, and would their curiosity extend to Murdoch and Johnny? It wasn’t just his privacy he was concerned about. Could Katie ever see herself living on the ranch? The nearest town was an hour’s drive away. The biggest one within convenient distance boasted only one dressmaker and a modest hat shop. Visiting was all very well, but could a young woman from her background be happy living at Lancer? Could they make each other happy? He didn’t have the answers. It was like Katie had said at Woodward’s Gardens, the jury was still out, but if she loved him she wouldn’t ask him to leave Lancer. That was something. That was a lot. He thought again about what she’d just said and…
“Why are you smiling?” Katie released his arm to go through the kitchen door.
“You’re hopeless.” Katie shook her head, laughing, and carried on inside.
No, definitely not hopeless. Scott’s smile got broader. Maybe he’d just put two and two together and come up with five. He acknowledged he wasn’t one hundred percent certain. But he was almost sure. In a back to front way and reading between the lines—if he wasn’t very much mistaken—Katie had just said she loved him.