I’ve finally arrived home, but I’ve hardly had enough time to write. Even writing now, it feels as if I am scrawling at light speed! In between sewing like a madwoman to complete my new Western wardrobe, and helping Father fix up the house, there truly has not been any time for recreation! Poor Father, he wanted to hire a butler and maid just like we had back home, but unfortunately Big Thunder Mesa simply doesn’t have an infrastructure or economy suitable for one to work in the service industry. And Mother would never allow for Father to have someone live in the house, that’s far too much responsibility. So, alas, I’m left to assist in cleaning. As rewarding as it is to see everything nice and squared away, it is positively tiring! I have barely enough time to sew new dresses for myself.
Father has such an Old World way of thinking; it can often be frustrating for me. He is an old curmudgeonly rock, who won’t budge for the world, but I’m a rolling stone gathering no moss—I love learning, adapting, even making compromises for this new way of life. Even though we’re in a modern society now, Father still thinks we’re living in old England! Perhaps it’s because I’m an American, I think like one. I’m quite sure that Father will always be a proper Englishman, no matter how long it’s been since he’s first set foot on Long Island. I suppose I can understand that, but oh, the way he acted to our new neighbor, it was positively dreadful! Where do I even begin….
There was a knock at the door when Father and I were scrubbing away at the kitchen floors. Well, it was mostly I, who was working; Father has a bad back so he was busying himself with wiping the counters and windows. The knock gave us both a start, and we looked at each other, rather confused. Father’s not used to answering doors—he’s always had a footman to answer the door. I would imagine that he had no earthly idea what to do!
I kindly motioned to the door. “Well, go on, Father,” I encouraged him gently. “It’s probably a new neighbor to greet us.”
And right I was! After a few moments, when Father plucked up the courage to open the door, he revealed a man about his own age. Except they looked nothing alike—he had tanned, leathery skin from being in the sun for hours and hours, he wore denim coveralls and a cotton shirt underneath, and he had creases and lines around his eyes and mouth. It seemed as if he’d been smiling or squinting all his life—perhaps both.
“Well, bless my soul, it’s a delight to have me some real neighbors after so long,” the man said when Father silently opened the door. What a funny accent! It reminded me of—
Oh, but Father just gave him this horrible, horrible glare. It felt like hours before he even spoke a word. And when he did—oh dear, oh dear!
“You have come to my manor to introduce yourself to our family—and you’re wearing overalls?”
“Father!” I exclaimed. “Oh, do forgive us, we’ve had a long day of cleaning, and we’re quite tired.” I tried to grin past my flaming red cheeks. “My name’s Melanie, and this is my father, Henry.”
“Ravenswood. Mister Ravenswood,” Father corrected. He didn’t even try to hide the utter disdain in his voice.
Trying my absolute best to ignore Father, I smiled sweetly again, and extended a limp wrist towards our new neighbor, anticipating a gentlemanly kiss on the top of it. But, oh, did he take me by surprise—he laughed a hearty laugh, grabbed my hand with his great, leathery browned hand, and pumped it up and down! What a start I gave!
“Mighty fine to meet ya, Mister and Miss Ravenswood. Name’s Alfonse Richards, of Richards Pastures!” he said proudly.
I looked at Father knowingly, trying not to give away a hint of smugness. The only reason he had been acting particularly cold towards this man was because he thought Mr. Richards was a competitor—another gold miner, to be exact. Mr. Richards, to him, was someone who could potentially be taking away his profit. Of course, Father always has his business at the forefront of everything. But almost immediately, at the world “pastures,” his hard countenance began to fall away ever so slightly. He still kept his guard up, though, and raised a graying eyebrow. “Pastures? But how can one possibly be a farmer on this dry land?”
“Ah, well, that’s my secret, ain’t it?” He said with a twinkle in his eye. “If everyone knew how to keep the grass green in these here climates I’d be, well, outta business! That’s right. Minin’ fer gold ain’t my expertise, nosirree. But I do wish ya the best in that line of work!”
“I take it there has not been any other miners who settled here in Thunder Mesa, have they?” Father already knew the answer to this, but he was just testing Mr. Richards. I know him too well!
“No sir, this ain’t a real big town, so my guess is that you’re in luck!” Mr. Richards cried happily. “I’d say the closest mine is, er,” he scratched the thinning beard on his chin for a moment, thinking. “Probably all the way up in Springfield, about 50 miles out. But if ya need any investors, though, I’d be happy to help out,” he said, tipping his worn leather hat. “Last season’s crops left me richer n’ an oasis in the Egyptian sand dunes.” He stuck his thumbs in his overall straps proudly, beaming from ear to ear. I couldn’t help but emulate his infectious smile—how positively wonderful it was to hear him talk about his successes! His accent sounded so much like Ernest’s, too—only deeper and richer, like a brown, warm, and earthy soil.
“Well, Mr. Richards, that must be a good sign for us,” I said, laughing a little at my boldness. “What do you think, Father?”
Father stared down at Mr. Richards again. “We shall see,” he said in the most monotone voice possible.
“Mr. Richards, may I ask—do you have a wife or daughter on the farm living with you?” I chimed in hopefully. My eyes briefly darted to Father. I could tell I bristled him the wrong way, but I couldn’t help but scratch an itch that I had had ever since the knock at the door.
“Why, yes—I have me a wife. Name’s Mildred. My daughter’s left for New York a few years past, though.”
“Well, if Mrs. Richards ever needs any help with the housework or assistance with errands, I’d be much obliged. In fact, my specialty is dressmaking,” I added on rather quickly. Father turned and threw me a look, but I ignored him. Besides, I needed to make up for his positively rude behavior to the poor man.
“Now that ya mention it, Mildred had been talkin’ about going into town to buy herself a new Sunday dress. Maybe she can come by with, uh, some fabrics and you can help her—?”
“Oh, I’d love to! Tea and sewing with Mrs. Richards sounds just lovely, doesn’t it, Father?”
“Only if Lady Ravenswood is feeling up to the challenge of hosting for company. We shall be in touch with you, Mr. Richards. Good day.” I threw Father a pleading look, but his mind was made up. He didn’t want to speak with poor Mr. Richards for a second more.
“Oh! Well, I’ll be sure to speak with Mildred.” Mr. Richards looked a little put out, but still had his wonderful smile on. He winked at me surreptitiously while he tipped his hat once more. I stifled a giggle—what a charmer! “It was mighty nice meetin’ y’all. Bye now—!”
And Father shut the door, almost square in Mr. Richard’s face!
“Father, how could you? Mr. Richards just wanted to—“
Father was lashing out now that our guest was no longer present. “Melanie, have you no sense? Your mother needs to focus on her recovery. Having a load of racket in the house will only disturb her illness further.”
“Well, maybe company is just the thing she needs!” My tone was now raised to match his as I gestured toward the grand staircase. “After all, she’s sitting upstairs, all cooped up with no one to talk to!”
“Melanie, for the last time, we cannot have any company for some time, and that’s final.” Father had his stern look on his face again, and I must have looked hurt and quite put out, because that softened him up right away. He sighed, and put a hand to his temple, closing his eyes briefly. “I know you were trying to be a kind hostess, just as Mother would, but please be reasonable.”
“Yes, I know. But please, promise me we’ll have them over for luncheon as soon as Mama’s feeling better?”
It was a long silence before Father finally gave in, heaving another sigh before responding. “Yes, Melanie. Of course we will. It’s the right thing to do, I suppose?”
“Love thy neighbor,” I recited like his little songbird. He couldn’t help but smile and pat the back of my hand. I know him too well—he could never stay angry with me forever!
He turned away to head back upstairs, but then turned to address me over his shoulder. “Oh, Melanie, I must say—your wardrobe has been looking lovely.” I couldn’t believe my ears! “Did you really make the dresses yourself, though? Why didn’t you send for a dressmaker?”
“Why, Father, dressmakers are as much in supply in Thunder Mesa as butlers and maids,” I said jokingly. “You’re the one who needs to be more reasonable! I had no choice but work on my sewing after buying all those fabrics. You didn’t think I was going to stay another week in Denver just to wait for my dresses to be done by a dressmaker, did you?”
“I’m proud of you, Melanie. I’m glad you’re finding something to do here.” He gave the tiniest, thinnest smile from his old, weathered lips. “It’s a relief to know you’re enjoying yourself here.”
“I really am, Father. I love it here.” I smiled so wide, it almost hurt.
Can you believe it? Father actually complimented my dresses! Goodness, the old bird doesn’t even notice when I put on rouge sometimes. I think that this is the start of something wonderful. I’m going to have Mrs. Richards over and, who knows, maybe this will be the start of an exciting project….!