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Cade paced with nervous movements outside the cabin behind the church. He had come to speak with Ella’s father, but the words escaped him at present.
I love Ella.–Far too brazen.
Sir, may I court your daughter?
No, you may not, Cade retorted, mimicking the reverend’s gaze. He swallowed hard. Will he ever agree to let me see her? Turning his gaze towards the mountains, Cade took several deep breaths. A resolute man, Ella’s father had told him long ago to figure out his past first. He had done so, but at this present moment, he didn’t feel worthy of the request.
“Mr. Stevens, is that you?” Ella’s father opened the cabin door.
Cade spun around to face him. “Uh–yes sir,” he said, kicking the toe of his boot into the dirt at his feet.
“Well, do you have something to say, or are you just going to pace outside my house all afternoon?” As usual, the reverend lowered his spectacles in that pointed way.
The knot formed in Cade’s throat again. “Yes, as a matter-of-fact, I do wish to–to speak with you–that is, if you have the time?”
“Certainly son, come inside.” The reverend stepped back from the entrance and extended his arm to motion toward Cade. “Please sit.”
Cade took his hat and fingered it in his hands. “I couldn’t.”
“Then, what do you wish to say? It must be quite important.”
“I–,” Cade started. “I wish to speak about your daughter.” In that moment, he felt the urge to reach for his gun. The action had always given him confidence. Why couldn’t he just say what he intended?
“I assumed,” the reverend said.
“You did? –I mean, you did. Of course.” Cade swallowed. “I know we spoke about courting Ella. You had said only if I figured out my past. Well, I think I have, sir.”
The reverend smiled. “Ella told me so.”
“Then, do I have your blessing?” Cade looked into the man’s eyes.
The reverend watched him in return. “My daughter is the only family I have left on this earth. I don’t plan to lose her.”
“And you shan’t.” Cade assured him.
“You promise to take care of her?”
“I always shall.” Cade studied the face of a dutiful father, so unlike his own father’s. For even now, he recalled his boyhood memories, the man’s terse words. Oh how Cade had tried to please him, but even unto death, he had disappointed the man.
“Then, you have my permission to court her.” Ella’s father interrupted his thoughts. “And Cade?”
“Yes sir.” Cade looked upon him, all business.
“Don’t break my girl’s heart.”
“I wouldn’t dare wish it, sir.”
“Very well, good man, Cade.” The reverend patted his shoulder and escorted him to his door.
“You’ll find her in town, that is if you wish to break the news.”
Cade placed his hat atop his head and traced the familiar rim with his fingers. “Thank you sir, thank you very much.” With that final word, he raced on horseback toward Ella.
Ella exited Mr. Pelkman’s shop with a new bonnet. Yesterday, her father had given her bills for the purchase. He said she deserved a new one, and he often wondered if he forced her to delay such gratifications.
Your mother would have recognized you needed it long ago. Ella had caught her breath at those words. Yes, mother would have noticed.
She studied the hat, it’s ribbon laced with flower petals. Such a splendid piece for the time of year! Ella rested the bonnet on her head and wrapped the ribbon as if the threads might shatter from her touch. She had never owned a hat quite so fine. Placing a gloved hand at the bonnet’s rim, she surveyed the street with the airs of a lady.
But just then, her ear caught the thunder of a horse’s hoof beats. As the horse and rider’s silhouettes entered into view, she studied them. A broad-shouldered man wore his hat slightly tipped to one side. She had never noticed the distinction before, yet somehow she recognized the silhouette. But why did he ride at such precarious speeds?
Ella watched the two figures grow and approach the center of town. There, Cade reigned in the mare and slid off, while the horse still bounded to a stop.
“Ella!” he said, his pressing stride catching her attention.
“Cade, is everything well? Is it my father?”
“Everything’s fine,” he said, coming to a halt.
She watched that old scar appear on his cheek, but his eyes remained tender, soft, the color of a Montana mountain with a hazy sky above.
“Cade?” She whispered.
He stopped with two lengths still between them and removed his hat. “I’ve never been treated so fine by a woman. I’ve come to love your heart, your courage, your grace, and your poise. But I don’t hardly reckon that’s all there is to know about you, Miss Whitley, and I reckon you still have plenty to learn about me.”
Cade stepped closer, loosened her bonnet and slid it off her head. Then, he held her shoulders firmly within his arms. “I’ve spoken with your father. It is my wish–my upmost desire–to court you. I want to know every fragment of your heart, and in time, I hope you’ll come to know every ounce of the man I’ve been. My past is tainted. It’s not one I wish you had to know, but I’m a different man. I hope my word is good enough for now.”
Ella studied his eyes, those hazy grays. He flinched and turned away when she traced the worn line is his cheek. “Cade, I’d desire nothing else.”
He gazed upon her once more, but now a single tear filled the corner of his eyes. “If that be so, would you attend a picnic with me after church this Sunday?”
“With pleasure.” She smiled at him, tempted to ruffle his hair with her hand, but restrained the sudden urge and instead moved past him. “Sunday, it is then.”