Heiress | Chapter 23 of 31

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1914 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 15

“Welcome to the ‘Richest Hill on Earth.’ ” Esme stood back to allow the porter to open the door to her suite.

“It’s so grand,” Ruby said, her eyes wide. “I always knew Daughtry was wealthy, I just never knew how much.”

Esme hadn’t the heart to tell her that this room could fit twice into her room back in New York. But then again, she could fit her current bedroom three times into this top-floor suite of the McDermott Hotel in Butte.

Esme entered the room behind Ruby. “Yes, grand, if you concentrate on the red brocade wallpaper, the velvet drapes, the sitting room, the white marble hearth.” Indeed, she had transported yet again back to her youth, with the golden chandelier dripping with the hues of twilight, the smell of roses on the round table by the window. “But don’t look out the window.”

Even from here she saw the steel headframes rising behind the hotel, the dark smoke of the smelters hovering like a hand over the city, turning it dusky. The city smelled of rotten eggs and even breathing the air seemed poisonous.

Behind her, yet another porter ferried in her trunks with tonight’s accoutrements. The first contained one of the grand dresses Daughtry had bequeathed her. The other held her undergarments, her clothes for tomorrow’s ride home, and her dog collar she’d taken from the safe at the Times. She’d kept a weather eye on it as they’d traveled from Silver City to Butte, not sure why she’d brought it.

Certainly she wouldn’t need it tonight. But some errant urge inside her compelled her to bring it, to fit herself back into the mold, if not the name, of Esme Price.

“I don’t care. It’s glorious.” Ruby flung open the double doors to the bedroom, tossed herself onto the large, silk-covered bed with fluted pillars rising to the frescoed ceiling. “I could live here.”

Esme caught her smile. “Then I guess I won’t have to worry about you getting into trouble tonight while I’m at dinner.”

“I’ll be waiting with anxious breath for you to tell me everything the president says.” Ruby came over to the trunk, opened it, and gasped. “This dress is breathtaking.” Over a flowing, royal-blue satin skirt lay an embroidered crepe overskirt, all of which tucked into a white gauzy top, low cut and gathered at the apex of the waist with a blue floret.

Esme watched her draw it out slowly, stuffed as it was for travel. Dawn knew how to pack a dress, and this one had survived the twenty-six-mile journey without damage. Ruby caught it up and carried it to the wardrobe, hanging it inside. It would have looked more spectacular on a dress form, but still it caught the light, the silver and gold threads shimmering.

“I’ve never seen such a beautiful dress. Or slippers!” Ruby had returned to the trunk to pull out the crinoline then opened the other trunk to discover the white satin high-heeled shoes. She set them beside the trunk and dug back in. “And what’s this—a corset?”

She turned to Esme, mischief in her eyes. “Don’t tell me that Daughtry gave you this too.”

“No, thank you very much. That’s mine.”

Ruby got up, set it on the bed. “It’s so fancy, so much lace.”

“It’s imported. From France.”

Ruby stared at her. “How did you get an imported lace corset? Did you work for one of those high society women?”

Esme walked to the trunk, withdrew the case with the pearl dog collar. Perhaps tonight wasn’t the best night to wear it after all. Too many questions. Too many memories. “Something like that.”

She tucked the dog collar in the drawer beside the bed. “Ruby, do you know how to do hair?”

“I can braid, but—”

“No matter. I’ll teach you how.”

Two hours later, she’d bathed, instructed Ruby on an elemental hairstyle that swept her hair up from her neck, with a long braid that wound into the back. Dressing seemed more complicated than she’d remembered, from the bloomers and the crinoline, to the chemise and corset—how she’d forgotten her posture over the past seven years!—and finally the magnificent dress.

The dress hugged her body, flowing over it like it had been made for her.

“You’re breathtaking,” Ruby said, and Esme felt it as she considered herself in the mirror. And not only the dress—something had changed inside her since the last time she wore a dinner costume. No longer the woman who cowered inside her attire, she saw herself, suddenly, as an accomplished woman.

She belonged in this dress. And perhaps, also in pants and an apron behind the linotype machine.

A knock at the door echoed through the suite.

“It’s Daughtry.”

“I need my gloves. And my jewelry.”

Ruby stared at her. “You have jewelry?”

“Please tell Daughtry to wait in the parlor. I’ll be out presently.”

Ruby shut the doors behind her and Esme retrieved her gloves. Then she pulled out the jewelry box with the dog collar. For a moment, she wished she still had the pearl earrings to match, but then she wouldn’t have this life. Her birthright had purchased her future.

Standing before the doors, she took a breath. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.

Once upon a time, she’d given God her future, her hope.

Perhaps, tonight, He’d bring it to pass.

She opened the doors and mouthed the word “prism.”

Daughtry turned, and for a moment the world stopped on his smile. His eyes shone. “You are more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Oh. He stood and extended his hand. She allowed him hers.

“You managed to get the dirt off,” she said. Indeed, if she’d been a debutante, she would have hoped that he scrawled his name on every line of her dance card. In his gray and blue silk waistcoat, his cutaway jacket, the dark pants, and a bowtie, he appeared fresh from the Metropolitan Opera.

She handed him the jewelry box. “Would you carry this for me?”

He searched her eyes then nodded, putting it into his inner jacket pocket without looking at it. She began to work on her gloves, but they tangled in her hand.

“Allow me,” he said, and took them from her, holding them open. She worked her hand in and drew the glove up above her elbow. Then, the other. She took his arm.

Outside, the lights glittered beneath the cloud of smelter smoke. His shiny brougham waited at the entrance, and a footman helped them into the carriage. He climbed in beside her.

It seemed incongruent for them to be ferried in their finest attire through a city populated with saloons and brothels, with women displayed in large windows, and raucous music drifting into the streets.

“I despise Butte,” Daughtry said and handed her a handkerchief for her to press to her mouth.

Carter’s mansion sat on a hill overlooking the city, a red-bricked, gabled house that could equal anything on Fifth Avenue. Still, it seemed too elegant, too gentry sitting above the tiny wooden houses of the working class boroughs of Butte.

They pulled up to the gabled entrance, the house lit up and spilling into the darkness. Through the window, she spied men already seated at a long table, the blinds open to the street. Strange. Mrs. Astor always obscured the public from a view of the wealthy.

A footman met them, although Daughtry helped her down.

She took a breath.

“You look nervous.”

She glanced at him.

“I hear there will be everyone from senators to miners here tonight. But you will be the belle of the ball.”

She had heard that Carter’s young wife of twenty-three years—to his sixty-two—might be in attendance tonight. At twenty-seven, Esme felt ancient.

Daughtry knocked at the door.

The butler, of course, answered, and Daughtry presented his name.

The butler asked them to wait and closed the door.

She shivered in a breeze from the mountains. “I should have brought a wrap.”

“You can wear my jacket on the way home.”

The door opened.

The butler stared at them, and for a moment, Esme returned to the moment when her father, so many years ago, had discovered her with Oliver. She’d opened the door, and Oliver’s father, the butler, stood there on the stoop, behind him Father’s footmen, bearing his orders, his anger. She stiffened on Daughtry’s arm.

Then, “I’m sorry, sir, but you are not on the guest list.”

Daughtry just stared at him, nonplussed. “But I am. I received an invitation.”

“Apparently, your father received an invitation. You, however, did not.”

Daughtry stiffened and Esme felt a muscle pull in his arm. “But I am attending in his stead,” he said very softly.

“I’m sorry, sir. Mr. Carter has ordered you sent away.” He closed the door.

Esme heard Daughtry’s breath, tremulous, and in her heart, heard his words about his mother, in Esme’s New York. All our money couldn’t buy her respectability.

But Daughtry was, in her estimation, the only respectable Copper King.

“I’m sorry, Esme. Perhaps we can find a nice dinner someplace.” He made to move away. She held his arm.

“No.”

He looked at her.

“We’re getting into this dinner party. We are talking to the president. We are holding Ellis Carter accountable for his crimes.”

She turned her back to him. “There’s a necklace in your pocket. I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear it until now.”

She heard him reach into his pocket and pull out the jewelry case. A pause. He cleared his throat. And then, “Oh, my.”

She lifted her chin as he secured the collar around her neck, the cold jewels prickling her skin. Then she turned back to him.

His face was solemn. “What are you doing?”

“Knock again, please.”

“I don’t understand.”

She looked up at him and suddenly wanted to cry. “Would you still care for me, still want to court me, if I were rich?”

He stared at her, even more flummoxed, if that were possible. “But—aren’t you poor? Because, last time I looked, you live above your newspaper. You seem poor.”

“I have a newspaper.”

“That you sleep at. You don’t even have a proper house.”

“I’m not poor.” She drew in a swift breath just as the door opened. The butler stood like a gunslinger, backlit by the entry hall lights. “Please tell President Roosevelt that Esme Price, daughter of New York Chronicle publisher August Price, would like to present herself for dinner at his table.”

She managed not to touch the jewels at her neck, but noticed that the butler’s gaze ran to them a moment before he nodded. “Please, come in,” he said. “It’s cold out.”

She couldn’t look at Daughtry as they waited in the hall, but he leaned into her ear anyway.

“I honestly thought you were just a very avid scholar of Page Six.”

She smiled as the butler returned to escort them for dinner.

* * * * *

She didn’t expect the dinner company around Ellis Carter’s massive table. Mayor Mullins, of course, and she recognized the owner of the Amalgamated Copper Company seated at the far end, along with the president’s aides. But seated at the table along with the dignitaries was a cross-section of every face in Butte. A negro man, a Chinese man, an Englishman who reminded her very much of Abel, a red-haired Irishman, a Greek, and an Italian. And finally a man who bore the fair coloring of a Swede.

They all stood and introduced themselves. She could nearly swim in the whiskey on their breaths.

From everything she’d heard about Ellis Carter, she doubted he would impress her. She sat opposite the senator—she had no doubt he ogled her décolletage, or perhaps her jewelry—and thought she just might lose her appetite if she had to watch him shovel quail soup into his bearded maw.

She hadn’t come for the dinner anyway.

She’d come, perhaps, for the look in every man’s eye when President Roosevelt greeted her with warmth, like she might be his long-lost daughter. He hadn’t changed severely in seven years—still robust, still the handlebar moustache, the way he peered through a person, disarming her even as he offered her a seat. “What is August’s daughter doing out here in the middle of mining country?”

“I moved out here, seven years ago, to start a paper. In fact, I cabled you to ask for an interview, but was told you were too busy.”

He glanced at an aide. “I wasn’t informed of any interview request.”

“I used a different name. My…Montana name. Esme Stewart.”

He raised an eyebrow, and in that moment, her courage scattered.

She couldn’t look at Daughtry. What if she made a fool of both of them with her request? What, was she running to the president like he might be her father, about to solve her problems?

Around the table, the miners presented gifts to the president. She clasped her hands in her lap and tried not to touch her necklace, tried not to run from the room.

When the negro miner presented his gift, Roosevelt held it up, a pair of sliver scales. “This comes in the shape I appreciate—scales of justice held even. I served with many colored soldiers in Cuba, and they all honored themselves.” He turned to him then. “It’s my duty to help you get a square deal.”

She glanced at Daughtry, saw a sort of hope light his face.

The waiters finally served the first course, and she turned her skills to the art of small talk.

She hadn’t been a debutante for nothing, it seemed.

She made Roosevelt laugh, his aides grin, and Daughtry shake his head with her story of riding a horse astride for the first time, and turn solemn at the time during Christmas when four children showed up at the Times’ doorstep, hungry after their father had died of consumption. She had them nodding in agreement over the cleanup of the Butte highway by Montana vigilantes, and Roosevelt’s eyes widened at her account of seeing a buffalo for the first time.

“Daughtry has about forty head,” she said. She glanced at him and found his eyes on her, the sort of smile on his face that might make a woman blush. For all his desire to see Roosevelt, Daughtry seemed more intent on her every word.

The president turned to Daughtry. “I’m sorry to hear about your father. Send him my regards. Your family runs the Silverthread Mine Company, is that correct?”

“Yes sir. But we may be shutting down.”

Esme drew in a breath. “In fact, that’s why we wanted to talk with you tonight.” She wouldn’t look at Carter, the way his dark eyes speared her. “We believe that one of the men at this table, one of the Copper Kings, is sabotaging our mine.”

Silence drilled into the room. Roosevelt sat back in his chair. “That’s a serious accusation.”

“Men are dying. We’re extremely serious. But we believe the local law might be…compromised. We need your help to keep our miners safe.”

Roosevelt considered her, and she held his gaze. And it occurred to her then that she hadn’t been born a Price, hadn’t spent the last seven years scraping out a life in Montana, to scurry under the table. She drew in a breath.

Finally, he nodded. “I’ll have my men look into it.” He looked up at the men around the table, let his words sink in.

She somehow managed not to throw her arms around the President of the United States. She glanced at Daughtry. He wore pride in his eyes.

“About that interview, Miss Price,” the president said. “Join me after dinner. I believe I may have some thoughts for you.”

* * * * *

“I think I’m in love with you.”

Daughtry spoke the words softly, earnestly, into her ear as he draped his coat over her shoulders, drew her to himself. “You were magnificent, Esme Price.” He kissed her hair. “But I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me your real name.”

She leaned away from him, settled herself into the seat of the brougham. Overhead, the sky had cleared, the stars spilling out like diamonds. “I couldn’t. I didn’t want my name—or my family’s money—to taint how you saw me.”

“I couldn’t care less about your money, Esme. I care about you—the way you laugh, the way you make me feel like I belong in your world. ”

She slid a hand to his cheek. “I think you’re the only one who could.” And somehow, the words felt exactly right. Only a man who straddled both worlds would understand hers.

His smile dimmed, his gaze growing serious. He took her hand from his cheek, wound his fingers between hers. “I meant it. I love you, Esme Stewart.”

Suddenly, her name hovered between them. “Esme Price. Stewart belonged to a man I once loved. But he died before he could really live. He had passion, and loved me, and I was more thirsty for what he could give me than for him, perhaps. But I couldn’t find what I needed with him.”

“And what is it that you need, Esme?”

“I—I don’t know.” She looked away, but he brought her face back to him.

“I do. You need to know you’re loved.”

And then he kissed her. Nothing like Oliver, or even Abel, Daughtry took his time, his lips on hers so soft it might be a whisper. Then, as she moved toward him, as his touch awakened something locked inside her, he deepened his kiss, moving his hand behind her neck, exploring her mouth. He tasted sweet, of the chocolate dessert and the after-dinner cognac, and smelled husky and dark, the cowboy hidden under that refined waistcoat. She let her arms move around his waist, let herself hold him.

Let herself be held.

Daughtry. His name seemed so right, so rich in her mind. Daughtry Hoyt.

“Marry me.” His voice was in her ear, soft, urgent. “Marry me, Esme. Marry me tonight. Right now.”

She leaned back, the words rushing through her.

He caught her face in his gloved hand. “I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I can’t stop thinking about you. You are in my head, in my heart, and in my hopes for the future. And, yes, you were amazing tonight, but I fell in love with you when I saw you in dirty britches lying in a puddle on my barn floor. You’re strong and trustworthy and brave and I don’t care what your name is as long as you’re my wife.”

She hooked her hands on his arms, stared up into his face, those eyes that could see right through her. “You forgive me for my secrets?”

“I told you I knew you had them. Why would I be angry?” He tipped his forehead to hers. “Marry me, Esme. I’m not afraid of your secrets.”

Oh, she longed to say yes. Maybe it was time for her to fall in love. Except… “I can’t move back to New York, Daughtry. Not yet. I’m not ready.”

He searched her face. “Then we’ll stay. I’ll figure out a way to keep the mine open, make repairs so that it’s safe.”

He would stay, for her? “How much in debt are you?”

“We can cash in our investments. Maybe fifty thousand?”

She reached up and unlatched the dog collar. Pressed it into his hands. “Will this cover it?”

He stared at her, back to the jewels. “I can’t take this.”

“If I’m going to be your wife, then what is mine is yours. We’re in this together. Take it. I don’t need it anymore.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m sure, Daughtry. I know who I am.”

Still, he asked twice more as they drove through the city, as they tracked down a judge.

Asked her one final time before he agreed to be her husband.

They made it back to the hotel before dawn flushed into the sky, and she left a note for Ruby under the door, from Mrs. Daughtry Hoyt.

* * * * *

“Are you nervous?” Daughtry sat on the bench beside Esme in their train compartment, looking out the window as the train cut through the greening hills and gullies of Montana. Behind them, the Rocky Mountains rose crisp and white, parting the sky. “You are so quiet today.”

“I just don’t want it to end.” She slid her gloved hand onto his on her shoulder, squeezing. It seemed right to have procured a new toilette—two split skirts, a blouse. She couldn’t continue to wear Daughtry’s mother’s clothing, but she hadn’t felt like slipping back into her britches either.

“What do you fear will end?”

“This happiness.” She turned, pressed his face between her hands, finding his eyes, seeing herself in them. She liked what she saw—a woman unafraid to be in two worlds, a woman at peace. “I think God has finally forgiven me. Finally decided to bless me.”

He drew in a long breath, frowning. “Esme, God has always blessed you.”

She shook her head. “No. I disappointed Him. He gave me so much, and when I rejected my family, my duty, he took Oliver from me. But now he’s given me you.” She leaned up to kiss him, but he drew away.

He took her hands in his. “Oliver’s death was not about God not blessing you. He wasn’t punishing you because of something you did. Oliver simply died. And I’m sorry. But it has nothing to do with God’s love for you.”

She pulled away from. “No. No. God knew I’d turned away from my birthright, the life I was supposed to live. I had no choice but to run, to strike out on my own. Depend on myself.”

“You’ve never been on your own, Esme. That’s a lie that the devil wants you to believe. Don’t you know that nothing you do can ever separate you from the love of God?”

She watched as they rolled toward Silver City, the outlying homesteads, the bitterroot flowers peeking their pink and white buds through the silvery grasses. “I grew up very wealthy. I could buy anything I needed, we lived with a host of servants. I thought we were blessed. But I never felt blessed. And, I was ashamed of that. How could I have so much and be so miserable? I thought maybe I should try to be poor—D. L. Moody says that it is better to live in suffering than prosperity, because you find God in suffering. But where is God’s blessing when you make a living tunneling under the earth, making just enough to feed your family? Is that God’s love? What does it mean to be blessed by God?”

He turned her, drew her to himself. “Esme, being blessed by God isn’t being wealthy, or healthy. Nor is being poor a lack of His blessing. The Bible says the Almighty makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. Being blessed is about being safe in His hand. It’s about belonging to Him, and knowing you are secure in His care.” He put her away from himself. “ ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.’ God’s love, His blessing, isn’t about getting things, it’s about knowing that even in our suffering, He is holding us secure and can make good things come out of it.”

“Like losing Oliver, but marrying you.”

He cupped her face in his hand, a smile that told her he approved. “God has never abandoned you, my beautiful Esme. He has gone with you, cared for you, and protected you. And you will find everything you need, and more, as you trust in Him and His love for you.”

He kissed her then, and she believed him.

As they pulled near the station, he gathered their bags. “Do you want to keep this paper?” He held out a copy of the San Francisco Examiner, with the front-page interview with President Roosevelt. “I like the byline.”

She took it, ran her finger under the name. “Is it okay that I wrote it under Esme Price? I—I could start writing under Esme Hoyt.”

He tipped up her chin. “You write every article under your name, Esme. You earned it.”

She considered the paper then folded it, and left it on the seat.

They stopped and he took her hand as they exited. But, even as they stepped into the sunshine, even as the pigeons scattered before them on the platform, she heard the siren.

“The mine,” she said. “There’s been an accident.”

Beside her, Daughtry’s face tightened. “Come.” He said nothing, his eyes on the headframes on the hill beside the mine as he helped her into the brougham. He didn’t wait for their trunks, just headed toward the Silverthread.

Esme spotted Ruby in the crowd pressing against the fencing. Mine officials stood at the gate, the doors closed, yelling at the women, the other miners. Ruby stood with her hands pressed to her mouth.

“Stay here,” Daughtry said. She gave him a look, and he reached up his hand to help her from the carriage.

They pushed their way through the crowd, to the gate. The guard there, a man whose fear rattled through Esme, let them through. Ruby pushed in behind her.

“What’s going on?”

Ruby shook her head. “There was a cave-in. Dustin—he’s down there. With six others.”

Daughtry turned to her. “Was it sabotage?”

“No—they’ve had extra security on the mine since the Federal investigators were here. This one is deep inside the mine—they blasted and a tunnel caved in. It’s just an accident.”

Esme read the flash of pain in Daughtry’s eyes. He shucked off his coat, handed it to Esme. “I’ll be right back.” He stalked over to the office and emerged five minutes later holding a carbide light, wearing a pair of dirty overalls, Abel behind him.

Abel appeared as if he’d spent the last week underground, his reddish hair matted with dirt, his skin blackened. He carried a pickaxe.

When he saw her, she recognized a ghost of a smile, something sad. “I always knew you’d look pretty in a dress.”

She tried to find a smile for him.

He glanced at Daughtry, now talking with the shift boss. “We’re taking another crew down. But you might want to talk your man into staying behind. The drift they’re trapped in is unstable, and it might cave in.”

Even as Abel said it, Daughtry glanced at her. His eyes told her the truth. He wasn’t sending Abel someplace he wouldn’t go himself.

“Take care of him, Abel,” she said softly.

Abel’s mouth tightened into a solemn line. He looked at Ruby. “I’ll find Dustin, I promise.”

Ruby wrapped her arms around herself and nodded.

Esme did the same when Daughtry returned to her, his hat lopsided on his head. She wanted to wind herself tight, to hold in the words. Don’t go. But she’d married a man who knew where he belonged. Who knew what he had to do. He cupped her chin. “I love you, Mrs. Hoyt.”

She nodded, her eyes wet. “Come back to me, Daughtry. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be waiting right here until you return.”

Then he disappeared into the dark cradle of the earth, carrying her heart with him.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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