It was a blazing hot day, so everyone kept to the shade as much as possible and moved as little as could be excused. Even the horses were drained of energy. Miss Grimshaw, however, wisely pointed out that the usual women's work around camp could still be accomplished in the shade. Feeling some sympathy, Catherine made a point to join them for the day.
Evening brought some relief as the winds shifted and the sun sank, bringing cooler air and a lively wind off the mountains. The ground was still baked, however, and radiating heat. Man and beast alike stirred more readily as sunset approached.
Conversations had been short and stilted under the women's canvas, and the cooler temperatures brought them more to life as well. Catherine’s attention piqued toward Jenny, who remained uncharacteristically quiet-- almost brooding -- even as Karen and Mary-Beth started chattering excitedly about their plans in town, which they were due a trip in a day or so. She was about to ask, but then a shadow fell over them.
“A’roight, confess now, will ye, ladies?” Sean grinned, leaning against the tent pole.
“What are we guilty of this time?” Mary-Beth asked.
Karen scoffed, refusing to even look at him, “Don’t bother, Mary-Beth… He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”
“Oh, but I do!” Was the Irishman’s laughing insistence, “Ye’ve been here all day havin’ yer secret conversations--”
“--You’re a loudmouth idiot, you know that?” Groused the blonde.
“Ain’t nobody been in a mood for gossip in this heat, Sean.” Tilly assured him.
“I’m not talkin’ about gossip, Miss Jackson. I’m talkin’ about heartfelt confessions between girls--”
Karen scoffed and climbed to her feet, “--Why would we tell you about any ‘heartfelt confessions’?!”
Watching them, and the grin steadily broadening on Sean’s face, it became obvious what his real intentions here were, and that even negative attention was attention that he wanted. Catherine interrupted in an off-handed manner, “Well, if you really want to know…”
Turning suddenly away from Karen, the young redhead eagerly pressed, “Yes! Go on an’ tell yer good lad, Miss Catherine.”
Aware that this, too, was an obvious and childish maneuver to elicit a reaction out of Miss Jones, Catherine demured, “...Not here. In front of everyone. It wouldn’t be appropriate. Will you meet me at the opposite end of camp, by the chicken coop in fifteen minutes?”
“What are you up to, Miss Schofield?” Tilly accused, hiding her smirk.
“Mister MacGuire, don’t be cruel,” Was Catherine’s wounded response, “Won’t you give a lady a few minutes to prepare her heart before she bares it to you?”
“Oh!” Suddenly all laughter was gone from his voice and countenance, “Oh certainly, if she’s t’be barin’ herself, I can wait some-- not too long, moinde ye.”
“Fifteen minutes.” She turned her eyes back to her mending, “At the coop.”
He left, and shortly after he did so, Catherine finished the pants she’d been stitching and tossed them over into the ‘finished’ basket with the others. “Well. I better go make ready.” She smiled.
“What are you up to?” Tilly repeated her demand, no longer able to hide her amusement.
“Are you really going to confess?” Mary-Beth asked, “What are you going to say?”
Karen sat down in a huff, “You’re wasting your time with him.”
“We’ll see.” Catherine stood and bent, kissing her lightly on the cheek, “Be sweet to Miss Grimshaw while I’m gone.”
“Not a chance.” But Karen smiled.
“I’m gonna find out!” Was Tilly’s laughing threat as the dark haired lady left the tent, “Don’t think I won’t!”
“I’m counting on it!”
It took her nearly fifteen minutes entirely to prepare, but fortunately timeliness was not one of Sean MacGuire’s strengths, and so she was still at the coop before him. The birds trusted her, and several pressed close around her ankles, searching her boots for the stray seed, beetle, or fleck of dried mud that interested them.
“Don’t worry, ladies.” She told them fondly, “I haven’t forgotten to find you a lizard or a rat.”
The young Irishman strode lively toward her from the direction of Pearson’s tent, grinning broadly, “Are ye talkin’ t’the birds?”
“They’re good listeners.” Was her reply.
“If ye say so. Speakin’ of sayin’ so… are ye sure yer wantin’ t’be barin’ yerself here for all an’ God t’see?”
So much for good listening, she mused and passed him the folded pages of paper from where she’d tucked them into the front of her corset.
“What’s this?” He took the papers, giving them and her a confused look.
“What!” Unfolding the papers, he saw the neat lines of script which he regarded first with shock, then with something like disgust as he thrust them back toward her. “What am I supposed t’do with this?!”
“...You don’t want my confession?”
“Yer toyin’ wit’ me!”
The hurt and affront colored her face and she lowered her eyes, “... I see this was a misunderstanding… Nevermind, Mister MacGuire, I won’t bother you any more…” She reached for the pages, but he was moving his arms, gesturing.
“I thought y’were goin’ t’ tell me at th’very least!”
“Tell you?” She flushed, “Out loud ? Oh, Sean, you don’t… you really don’t know anything about wooing a lady do you?”
“What! Now you listen, miss fancy, maybe I ain’t ever wooed a fancy highborn lass, but it’s not from lack of ability ! You highborn misses are too much trouble fer yer own good!”
“Well. Then you do not want the affections in my letter? I’ll take it back…” She reached for it again. He snatched it back, out of her reach.
“Wait… ‘Affections’ you say?”
“What else do you think I would write when you asked?”
“... Did you write me a love letter , Miss Catherine?!” Sean was grinning boyishly again. He did not notice the big man come up behind him to snatch the pages from his grip.
“No, she did not.” Arthur said rolling his eyes, “Stop bothering her, boy. What you want with these papers when you can’t even read them?”
“Give that back, she gave it to me!” The shorter man struggled to reach them, but Arthur pushed him back with his free hand and held them out for Catherine. She blinked at him before making a show of lowering her eyes to the greeting on the first page.
Arthur did the same.
“... ‘Dear Sean’...” He murmured under his breath.
“Y’see! Give it back, y’damn bastard!”
Hiding her rising amusement, Catherine watched Arthur’s eyes scan the first several lines swiftly, his face growing slack as his jaw unclenched in shock and the blood rushed up from his neck, coloring his countenance. He stepped away from Sean’s reach again, and blocked him with his body when trying to pass the letter to her once more.
“You can’t give this to him, miss…” Was his almost desperate warning.
“But I already did.” She shrugged helplessly.
“It’s mine!” Bold and angry, on the verge of recklessness, Sean bodily tackled Arthur, trying and failing to wrestle him to the ground. After much swearing and an attempted bite to the hand, Arthur finally surrendered the papers and the redhead congratulated himself his victory and hurried off, hollering for Lenny.
“Lenny! Oy, Lenny! I need ye!”
Looking over his hand, Arthur told her, “You’re gonna regret this.”
She smiled, “No I’m not.”
The Irishman’s voice rang out “What d’ye mean ye’ll no--”
“Maybe if you learn to read, like I’ve been sayin’ , you can read it yourself!” Lenny told him with finality.
“W… b… Help a brother out!”
“I am going to help you. So let’s get to reading.”
“W… Oh alright! ”
Turning his face to regard her with new respect, the big outlaw said, “... I always thought you were clever, but this is frightful wicked, Miss Catherine. I do believe you could trick the devil himself into forgetting to steal your soul.”
“Here’s hoping,” Was her reply, shrugging a shoulder, “It’s probably the only way I’ll stay out of Hell at this rate.”