Quartz – Part 4
“I just got your letter yesterday.” Zeke held Mary’s hand, aware of the women passing by, smiling at the couple. He looked into her blue eyes. They sparkled with unshed tears of happiness. “And your ma and pa? They were all right with this?”
Mary sniffled back her tears and shook her head. “No. Ma was dead set against it but Pa,” she made a face that was puzzled. “He didn’t like it but he helped me get the stage ticket.”
Zeke nodded. Mr. Younger didn’t like him much but they did have a mutual respect. “Your Pa has always been fair to me.” He smiled at her. “Where’s your trunk?”
“Oh!” She wiped her eyes with an embroidered hanky and turned around. As they watched, the stage helper was handing down her trunk to the driver. Zeke stepped forward. “I’ll take that.”
The driver nodded and put the trunk down. When Zeke went to pick it up, he nearly dropped it. The driver grinned and turned back to the stage. “Mary. Did you bring everything you own?”
“Yes. Oh. Is that bad?”
“No. Nope.” He took a breath and hefted the trunk, carrying it to the hotel registration desk. “Miss Younger would like this sent to Mrs. Estrada’s boarding house.”
The clerk looked over the desk at the trunk. “Put it back here.” He pointed at the path around the desk. “I’ll have someone bring it out this afternoon.”
Zeke put the trunk where indicated and dug a dollar out of his pocket and handed it to the clerk. “Thank you.”
He escorted Mary back outside and to the horses. “This is Diva. Your horse for now. We can get another if you want. And this is my horse, Butters.”
Mary stepped up to Diva and gave the horse’s nose a gentle rub. “Hello, Diva. We’re going to be great friends, aren’t we?”
After she made the horse’s acquaintance, Zeke handed her the reins and helped her mount. “Mrs. Estrada’s house isn’t far.” He mounted Butters. “We can walk so you can see the sights.”
They had a leisurely ride—Zeke pointing out the various businesses along the street. Outside of town Mary exclaimed, “It’s greener than I expected. Not like Santa Rosa.”
“I think more rain falls here. And the ponderosas help make it feel more green.”
The ride to Mrs. Estrada’s was over much too soon as far as Zeke was concerned. They dismounted in front of the barn.
Cesar hurried out, wiping his hands on a rag. “Mr. Zeke! Miss Mary! Welcome.” He held Diva’s head as Mary dismounted, then took the reins. “Mr. Zeke has told us all about you. We’re happy to see you.”
Mary grinned at Zeke as he got off of Butters. “Thank you, Cesar. He’s told me all about you and Pia and Mrs. Estrada, as well.” She held out her hand to Cesar. He shook with her.
Cesar beamed. “Pia is waiting for you in the house. I’ll take care of the horses, Mr. Zeke.”
“Thank you, Cesar. Miss Mary’s trunk will be arriving this afternoon from the hotel. I’ve already paid them for delivering it.”
Cesar bobbed his head. “I’ll bring it in when it arrives, Mr. Zeke. Miss Mary.”
In the house, Mrs. Estrada’s and Pia’s welcome was even more enthusiastic. “Welcome, young lady.” Mrs. Estrada gave Mary a hug. “We’re so happy to see you.”
“I’m happy to be here. You have a lovely home.” Mary smiled. “Zeke has written me so much, I feel that I already know all of you.”
“I’m glad.” Mrs. Estrada turned to Pia. “Get a tea service ready Pia. Take it up to Miss Mary’s room.” She turned back to Mary. “You must be tired. Let me show you your room.” They went through the house and upstairs, Mrs. Estrada pointing out handiwork her deceased husband had done and the occasional picture on the wall. Mary’s room was at the end of the hall, the same side as Zeke’s. “This is it,” Mrs. Estrada said as she opened the door.
Zeke saw a room very similar to his but with pink, rose-patterned wallpaper but the same crisp, white paint on the door and window frames. The bedframe, bed side table and dresser were in oak, and unlike his room, there was an oak dressing table and mirror on the same wall as the closet door.
“I love it!” Mary exclaimed. “I’m going to be so comfortable here. Thank you, Mrs. Estrada!”
“You can call me Cassie. Mrs. Estrada sounds so formal. I just know we’re going to be friends.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.” Mary stepped to the window where an armchair and small table were arranged to take in the view. “It’s just as beautiful as Zeke described.”
“I appreciate that.” Mrs. Estrada stepped to the door. “I’ll let you freshen up. Pia will have the tea up here shortly.”
Zeke stood, hat in hand, grinning.
“Zeke?” Mrs. Estrada held the door.
“Oh! Yes.” He hurried to the door looking sheepish. “I’ll see you downstairs, Mary.”
“I won’t be long.”
Mrs. Estrada closed the door and walked with Zeke downstairs. “Would you like some buttermilk, Zeke? I’ll have Pia bring some out on the porch.”
“That would be very nice, Mrs. Estrada.”
“Very well. Go on out. Relax. Everything is covered.”
He nodded and went out, picking one of the rocking chairs. As he sat and looked at the view, he couldn’t believe his luck. Mary was here! There was so much to think about now. He hardly knew where to start.
After an afternoon of showing Mary around the farm and the creek, they arrived back at the house in time for supper. They were standing in the living room, chatting with a new arrival, a Mr. Alvarez, seller of notions, when Mary heard a voice clearing behind her.
“A new arrival, I’ve heard.”
Mary turned around.
He held out his hand. “I’m Red Talbot.”
Mary shook his hand. “Mary Younger, Mr. Talbot.” She smiled up at him. “Red doesn’t seem like a usual name.”
Beside her, Zeke did not like the way the gambler was looking at Mary. More disturbing, was the way Mary was looking at him.
“A nickname, Miss Younger. My mother named me John. But that’s such a common name, don’t you think?”
“An honorable name.”
Red shrugged. “I thought I’d dine here, this evening, Mrs. Estrada. If that’s not too much trouble.”
Zeke didn’t like the way the man was oozing at his landlady. He could see she didn’t think much of it either. “Not at all, Mr. Talbot. I’ll have Pia set another place.” She moved off to the kitchen and through the door.
“Mr. Alvarez,” the notion seller held his hand out to Red. “Making my rounds from Globe, here, up to Flagstaff and then back around through Winslow and Holbrook before heading home.”
“Nice to meet you.” He gave the salesman a brief look and turned back to Mary. “Any you, Miss Younger? How do you come to this fine place?”
Zeke watched as Mary blushed. “I came to see Zeke.” She reached out and tucked her arm into Zeke’s.
That made him feel better until he saw the dude’s eyebrows rise.
“Is that so! I had no idea.”
The look Red gave Zeke made him want to punch the gambler. He could feel the anger rising. His whole body tensed. Mary dropped his arm and looked at him, alarmed.
That is when Mrs. Estrada came back in. “Dinner is served.” She went into the dining room.
In Zeke’s anger, he wasn’t thinking. Red stepped forward, offering his arm. “May I escort you, Miss Younger?”
Mary looked between the two men in confusion but with the man’s arm out and him looking at her with expectancy, she just took it and followed.
Zeke stood there watching, hands clasping and unclasping in fists. After a few deep breaths, he followed Mr. Alvarez into the dining room Where he found Talbot seated next to Mary.