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"You'd make me the happiest man on the whole Denver, South Park, an' Pacific line, ma'am, if you'd agree to become Mrs. Patrick Feeney," said the railroad man, who had bounded after her when she left the dining room of the Pacific Hotel.
Not another one, thought Kathleen Fitzgerald, buttoning her heavy wool coat as she stepped out under the first-floor roof, whose ornate supports reached almost to the train tracks. "You'll catch your death of cold, Mr. Feeney," she advised, "coming out here in your shirt-sleeves." The wide, snow-covered valley of the South Park stretched away in every direction from Como, Colorado, where she had stopped to change trains.
"That's all right, ma'am. Cold don't bother me," Mr. Feeney assured her, although she could see the goose bumps rising on his arms where they emerged from the rolled-up sleeves of his flannel shirt.
"Not but what I don't appreciate your thinkin' of my health," he added, a flush highlighting a face whose rough, unfinished quality needed toning down, not accenting.
Poor Mr. Feeney, thought Kat. He was a homely man, if the truth be told.
"But if you'd agree to be my wife, hell I'd--oh, excuse me, ma'am." He flushed a deeper red, having already been reprimanded for using bad language. "Heck, I'll ride with you all the way to Breckenridge in my shirt-sleeves. To ask your brother's permission, you understand. Don't need a ticket, so it won't cost me no money. Bein' as I'm an employee of the railroad, I got a pass."
Kat sighed. Mr. Feeney was a nice enough fellow once you got past his ugliness and his dreadful checked suspenders, which clashed with his plaid shirt. Hehad a fine head of black hair, not that she held a brief for hair like that. From the back, he looked enough like Mickey Fitzgerald, her late husband, to send a shudder of remembrance up her spine. And she certainly didn't want to marry Mr. Feeney, which meant that another ladylike refusal was in order. "As touched as I am by your kind proposal--" she began, trying to put a little feeling into the standard rejection speech.
"Excuse me." The gentleman who had occupied the far end of their table in the dining room brushed by, looking amused.
"--I fear that I must decline," Kat continued. "With thanks, of course, for the honor you do me." This was the seventh proposal she'd refused while en route from Chicago, via Denver, to Breckenridge, where her brother Sean lived. For some reason, half the male population of Colorado seemed to have decided that 1887 would be a good year to get married, only to discover that there were not enough females to meet the demand. Virtual strangers, like Mr. Feeney, approached her at every opportunity with matrimonial intent. I must write Mother, she thought. Perhaps some of her boarders would like husbands. Kat herself knew better than to fall victim again to romantic impulse.
"I got a fine job with the railroad," said Patrick Feeney, following her down the platform that led to the depot next door. "Boss of the roundhouse. Fine stone roundhouse. Be glad to show it to you."
"That's very kind of you," Kat murmured, "but I have a train to catch."
"Make more than enough money to support a wife an' any young uns God might see fit to bless us with." He had circled and was now walking backward, impeding her progress.
Kat scowled. She did not consider it proper for a man, seeking a lady's hand in marriage, to mention procreation.
"It's 'cause I used bad language, ain't it?" he asked, looking hangdog. "But it's what folks call the D.S.P. & P., ma'am. I just thought you'd be interested. I sure didn't mean to offend you."
Mr. Feeney had explained, as he and five other men shared her table during the midday meal, that D.S.P. & P. Railroad stood for "damn slow pulling and pretty rough riding." The male diners were vastly amused by the joke; Kat wasn't. "Most ladies are offended by swearing, Mr. Feeney," said Kat, wishing that she had followed her mother's advice and worn a wool scarf instead of a pretty hat. The wind, whistling across the treeless valley, was turning her poor ears and nose to ice while Mr. Feeney slowed her path toward a seat in the warm railway car. Why couldn't the man just accept her refusal as politely as she'd given it and be on his way?
"I own my own horse, an' I got a dog can tree a bear. I'd make you a real good husband."
"I have been married," she responded, "and I did not like it!" Plain-speaking was the only way with some men.
Mr. Feeney stopped backing and gaped at her.
"And now if you will be so kind as to step aside, I will bid you good day."
Since he did not step aside, she had to circle him and, in doing so, bumped into the gentleman who had interrupted her initial response to Mr. Feeney's proposal.