Strolling with Savannah – Amelia C. Adams

Titus Ross pulled a new skillet from the shelf, placed it on the stove, and added a pat of butter, listening with satisfaction to the sizzle as the butter began to melt. Next came a sprig of thyme, and finally, a nicely trimmed steak. Nothing smelled better than a butter-and-thyme-seared steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes, and everyone out in the dining room of the Iron Skillet restaurant agreed. “Titus, there’s a lady out front who’d like to speak with you.” Azalea, the newest waitress to be hired at the Skillet, set her tray down on the counter. “She seems to think it’s rather important.” “A lady? Did she give her name?” Titus couldn’t think of any lady who would be interested in speaking with him. That had been his problem for quite some time, actually—it seemed that working in the back of a kitchen made one rather invisible. “Mrs. Morgan, I think she said.” “Ah.” Not a young and unattached lady, sadly. Mrs. Morgan was a widow, and therefore unattached, but she certainly wasn’t young. Titus wiped his hands on a towel, then motioned toward the stove.

“Keep an eye on that steak.” “What am I expecting it to do?” Azalea asked. “To brown up nicely without burning.” Azalea was sweet-tempered and the customers seemed to like her, but in the kitchen, she was nothing short of a disaster. Titus paused, wondering if he should remove the meat from the burner, but that might ruin it as well. He shook his head, deciding just to chance it. He pushed through the swinging door and immediately spotted Mrs. Morgan sitting at a table near the window, rather hard to miss in her brightly colored gown. She smiled when she saw him approach. “Hello, Titus.

I hope I’m not interrupting.” He glanced around the dining room, which was about a third full. “I can spare a few minutes. What can I do for you, Mrs. Morgan?” The woman shook her head. “It’s more a matter of what I can do for you. I’ve felt absolutely terrible ever since I failed to arrange things between you and Alice—you deserve happiness every bit as much as she does.” Titus smiled. Mrs. Morgan took her role as matchmaker very seriously, and it was no surprise to him that she had taken this so-called failure to heart.

It was just her way. “There’s no need for you to feel terrible, Mrs. Morgan. Yes, I did find Alice intriguing, but it’s clear that she and the deputy were much better suited. There’s nothing you could have done about that—or I, for that matter.” “So . you aren’t utterly miserable?” He chuckled. “I was disappointed, to be sure. But I’m not miserable.” “Oh, good.

” Mrs. Morgan sat back and regarded him. “I would like to try again, though. You’re such a nice, strong, handsome young man—it’s hard to believe you haven’t been snatched up already.” He felt sheepish under her praise. “Well, you know how it is. So many men in town, so few ladies . ” She waved that away. “I don’t let silly things like statistics distract me from my purpose, and my purpose is to help you find a young lady to share your life with. What about this new girl, the one who showed me to my table just now? I’ve never seen her before.

She’s new in town, I presume.” “Her name is Azalea Roberts, and she arrived last week,” Titus said. “She and a few friends traveled together, and they got jobs here and there in town.” “Is she a possibility?” “A possibility? For me?” Titus chuckled again. “No, I don’t think so.” “Why not? She’s certainly pretty,” Mrs. Morgan pointed out. “Oh, she’s pretty, but we really have very little in common.” Titus didn’t want to cast the girl in a bad light, so he limited his comments to something he thought would suffice. But Mrs.

Morgan was never one to be brushed off so easily. “There must be something you both enjoy. My next ball is coming up in a week—please let me arrange it for you, Titus.” He shook his head. “Honestly, Mrs. Morgan, I’d so much rather that you didn’t. She’s . well . ” He glanced around, then lowered his voice. “She’s not very smart.

” Mrs. Morgan blinked. “She’s not very smart?” “I’m sorry to say, she’s not.” “Well, that’s actually the most refreshing thing I’ve heard in a long time.” Mrs. Morgan folded her hands on the table. “I knew I liked you, Titus Ross.” “I’m not sure what you mean.” “Well, it seems that a decent percentage of the men I speak with don’t care if their brides are smart or talented or have other things going for them besides the basics. Some do, and those are the ones I enjoy helping.

But others . well, sometimes they’re just looking for someone to keep house for them or to look pretty at parties. In cases like that, I generally send them to put an advertisement in the paper. I can’t imagine spending my time helping someone find their perfect laundress or their ideal cook. I’m interested in affairs of the heart, as you know—romance. Love. Not domestic pursuits such as dishes and darning.” Titus nodded. Mrs. Morgan might not look the sort at first glance, but she was a romantic clean through.

“Knowing this about you, there are two young ladies who come to mind,” Mrs. Morgan went on. “They both arrived rather recently—have you met Gloria Bosworth or Evangeline Grant?” Titus shook his head. “I haven’t met much of anyone for quite some time. My father’s been a little poorly, and I’ve taken over several of his duties here at the restaurant.” Mrs. Morgan nodded. “I’d heard he was feeling down, but I didn’t realize it was ongoing. Ivy and Catherine have both left as well, haven’t they?” Titus chuckled. “Yes, apparently getting married was more exciting than staying on here.

I always knew it was bound to happen—my sister and cousin are far too pretty to have remained single for long.” “Well, I would repeat what I said before about you being handsome, but I don’t want it to go to your head.” Mrs. Morgan regarded him. “Please come to the ball, Titus. These get-togethers bring me so much joy, and I’d be delighted to see you dancing and having a good time even if a match doesn’t come of it.” Titus rubbed his jaw. The last time he’d attended one of Mrs. Morgan’s balls, he’d stepped back and watched as the girl he was there to meet danced off in someone else’s arms. He had come to terms with it rather quickly, believing that if she was meant to be his, she would be, but the idea of attending another ball .

“All right,” he said at last. “I’ll come and I’ll dance, but I won’t get my hopes up. That way, anything that does happen will be a pleasant surprise.” “I’m not sure whether to congratulate you on your positive attitude or chastise you for being so dour.” Mrs. Morgan shook a finger at him. “You confuse me, young man.” Azalea burst through the kitchen door and scurried up to the table, her face red. “Titus? Can you come?” He rose from his seat, wondering what the girl had gotten herself into now. “I’ll see you at the ball, Mrs.

Morgan. Thanks for stopping by.” “Titus!” Azalea tugged on his sleeve. “Hurry!” “I promise, you’ll have a good time,” Mrs. Morgan replied. “Now, you’d best hurry—your young lady friend there seems ready to implode.” Titus let Azalea drag him back into the kitchen—and the word “implode” suddenly became very accurate. Flames licked up the wall from the stove, the whitewash now black with soot. Titus grabbed a large towel and began to beat at the flames, then took a nearby pitcher of water and threw that on the mess too. Within a few minutes, everything was under control, but the wall would need to be repaired.

Titus surveyed the damage, his hands on his hips, and then turned to face Azalea, who had been watching the whole thing from the corner. “What exactly happened?” he asked, trying to keep his tone level. “I’m not sure,” she stammered. “I was doing what you said, watching the steak, and then . that happened.” Titus leaned against the counter and pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the oncoming headache he felt behind his eyes. “I’m sorry, Azalea, but I’ll need to let you go.” “It was an accident, Titus, I promise! And I won’t ever let it happen again.” “It’s not just the fire.” He turned and looked at her.

“You’re not meant to be a waitress. You’ve certainly tried, and I give you credit for that, but this job requires attention to detail, and that’s been lacking from the start.” He hoped he wasn’t being too blunt, but she did deserve to know why he was letting her go. “Stay there a moment and I’ll fetch your wages.” He stepped into the office and took some money from the lockbox, then returned and handed it to the girl. Her eyes were red, but her cheeks were dry. “Thank you,” she mumbled. “Do you know of anyone else who might be hiring?” “There are positions open all over town,” Titus replied. “I’m sure that with some inquiry, you’ll find a new job by the end of the week—or even the day.” “Thank you,” she said again, pocketing the money and slipping out the back door.

Titus shook his head as he watched her go. He hated sending anyone away, but he couldn’t justify keeping her on, especially when she set the kitchen on fire. He wiped his hands again, wishing he could do something about the soot streaks on his shirt, and headed out to the dining room. “Ladies and gentleman,” he said, standing in the center of the room and holding up both hands, “we’ve had an accident in the kitchen, and I’ll need to shut down for a day to make repairs. I’m sorry to send you away hungry, but I know Hearth and Home was roasting a nice ham today.” “But I wanted one of your steaks,” a regular customer complained. “I wish it could be helped. Come back when we’ve reopened, and I’ll see to it that there’s something special on the menu,” Titus told the man. The customers in the dining room trickled out, and Titus locked the door behind them. Then he leaned against it and exhaled.

He didn’t want to go to his father with this news, not when Samson was already struggling with his health. But he had no choice, and he’d best be quick about doing it. Otherwise, word would get out that something was wrong at the restaurant, and it would likely worry his father more than was necessary. *** Savannah Tidwell closed the door of the bookstore behind her and stepped out into the sunshine, clutching her new purchases to her chest. Her father would no doubt disapprove of her choices, but then again, he disapproved of anything that wasn’t strictly scientific. As one of the nation’s most eminent scholars in his chosen field, he considered that any time spent on frivolity was wasted, and that one should spend all their time in the pursuit of the greater good of humanity and the education thereof. She sighed as she considered it. What good could humanity experience if it was bored out of its mind? When her father, Ernest G. Tidwell of San Francisco, had been asked by his alma mater, Yale University, to undertake this lecture tour, he’d only hesitated a moment before accepting. She wished he’d hesitated another moment or two to consider what it would mean for her.

He saw nothing wrong with loading his daughter on trains and stage coaches and buggies and carting her all over the country, but she would have much preferred to stay home with her aunt. She didn’t want or need this sort of “adventure,” as her father kept calling it—it was no adventure at all. It was days upon days of dusty travel broken up only by short stints in small towns that really had no interest in the sciences at all, and saw her father as an oddity or a form of entertainment. Even at that moment, he was speaking to a gathering of men down at the newspaper office to prepare for his first lecture the following night at the Creede Theater. He hoped that if he could interest this first group of men in his topic, they would use their influence to encourage more to attend. Savannah had hoped that the prestige of Yale University would be enough to bring people out in droves, but they’d still had to do some advertising in each town they visited—advertising and extending personal invitations in order to make the tour financially viable. It seemed a lot more work than they’d signed on for. Up ahead, Savannah saw a general store, and she quickened her pace. She’d been thinking just that morning that she needed a new hairbrush and quite possibly some stockings as well. She hoped this store had an adequate selection—the last town they’d visited had been so small, their store was comprised of only the barest essentials, and there had been nothing to do there at all.

“Good afternoon,” the pleasant-looking lady behind the counter greeted her as she entered. “May I help you find something?” “Perhaps, but I believe I’ll just browse for a moment,” Savannah replied. She was already pleased with what she saw—the store was quite large, and she could make out row upon row of goods. Her budget wasn’t extensive, but she did have some spending money of her own, and she thought she might put it to some good use here. A few minutes later, she’d chosen out her hairbrush and her stockings, and she’d also decided to begin a new scarf for her father. Winter was a ways off yet, but she was a slow knitter. With any luck, this project would keep her occupied during their upcoming train rides, especially during those long stretches of grassland when there was nothing at all interesting to see through the windows. “And how long will you be in town?” the lady behind the counter asked as she packaged up Savannah’s purchases. “I really can’t say. We might leave the next morning after my father’s lecture, or we might stay on if he’s asked to speak again.

It all depends on how he’s received.” “I see.” The woman nodded. “You’re welcome to post a notice here on the board, if you like. Many of our customers check there for upcoming events.” “Thank you, Mrs. ” “I’m Mrs. Jackson.” “I’m glad to meet you, Mrs. Jackson, and yes, I believe I would like to post on your board.

That’s very kind of you.” Savannah accepted the sheet of paper and the pen Mrs. Jackson offered and took a moment to write up the details of her father’s appearance, including the location and time. “We’ve been on the road so much as of late, I’d enjoy having an extra few days here. I feel like I’ve forgotten what it’s like to hold still for more than a few minutes at a time.” “I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you have a successful lecture here,” Mrs. Jackson said. “At least long enough for you to get your balance again.” “I’d most certainly appreciate that. Thank you again.

” With both arms now full, Savannah exited the store, then stood out front and tried to decide where to go next. There were several more stores that looked intriguing just right across the way, but with her arms full like they were, she was somewhat limited in what she could actually do. She finally decided to return to the hotel and drop off her packages. Then she’d see if she felt like venturing out again. She waited until a couple of wagons rumbled past, then crossed the street. When she reached the hotel, she found her father in his room, mumbling over a few sheets of paper in his hand. He looked up when she entered. “What has you so agitated, Father?” she asked, setting her packages down on the bed. “You’re wearing the same expression I do when I’m studying math.” “It’s nothing, really.

Just some thoughts I had based on my conversation with the gentlemen at the newspaper. I should have realized, of course, that Creede is a mining town, and that my lecture on the layers of sediment in the earth’s crust and what that means for mankind would be received differently here than it would anywhere else.” “And . how would that be, exactly?” Savannah never had fully understood her father’s lectures —she tried, but her brain simply couldn’t wrap itself around all the scientific angles required. Instead, she smiled pleasantly and let those around her do the discussing. “They’ve been down into those layers and seen them personally. I’ve had an idea, my dear, possibly my most radical yet, but the implications . ” Savannah sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off her gloves, then her bonnet. “Father, please remember that I’m not one of your intellectuals. You need to explain things to me quite simply or I’ll never know what you’re talking about.

” He brought his pacing up short and chuckled. “I’m sorry, my dear. I really should be more considerate. My idea is this—because my lecture series discusses the origins and history of man and the way that the layers of sediment built up on the earth’s crust have affected the way men have gardened or hunted, as the case may be, wouldn’t it be quite fascinating to take small groups of interested persons out to a mine shaft and show them the layers of dirt as the shaft descends? Bringing a slice of the earth itself into our conversation?” Savannah noticed a new twinkle in her father’s eyes, a bit of excitement she hadn’t seen for a while, and it made her smile. “I’m sure that would be fascinating, Father. It’s always nice to see what a lecturer is talking about rather than just listening.” “That’s my thinking exactly. So much of my premise is conjecture based on limited evidence, but as we look at the layers of the earth and compare dirt to rock to coal, for instance . ” She nodded politely as he continued. He’d already forgotten that she’d asked him to use less scientific terminology, but it really didn’t matter, she supposed.

He was excited about something, his spark reignited, and it was a pleasure to see. “And so I believe we may stay in Creede for a time,” he concluded. “What would you think of that?”

.

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