Several minutes later, she opened her eyes to the sound of applause and was stunned to see that a small group of campers from across the road had come over to listen to her.
It was the first of many, many nights when she sang while Rafe played and a crowd gathered to listen. Sometimes, when they were in a village or town, people expressed their appreciation with gifts of food and even money. In the months that followed, Rafe taught her to play the guitar, though she never played as well as he did, and he taught her Spanish, which she spoke almost as well as he did, then Italian, which neither of them spoke very well. At Sherry's request, he kept an eye on the people her father gambled with, and her father's winnings began to increase. He even began to talk to Patrick about becoming partners in all sorts of ventures that sounded awfully exciting, and terribly unlikely to Sheridan, but her father always listened with interest.
The only person who seemed to be less than pleased with Rafe's presence was Dog Lies Sleeping, who regarded the other man with open disapproval and refused to do more than grunt at him, and that only in answer to a pertinent, direct question. To Sherry, he became rather withdrawn, and when she unhappily sought her father's counsel on the subject, he said Dog Lies Sleeping probably felt bad because she didn't spend as much time talking with him as she had done before Rafe joined them. After that, Sherry made it a point to seek the Indian's advice and to ride beside him in the wagon more often than she rode beside Rafe.
Geniality and accord returned to their tiny cavalcade, and everything seemed perfect and permanent… until her papa decided to pay a visit to her mama's spinster sister in Richmond, Virginia.
Sheridan had been excited about meeting her only other living relative, but she'd felt out of place in Aunt Cornelia's small, stuffy house and terrified she was going to break one of the fragile knickknacks or soil the lacy handkerchief-looking things that seemed to be on every available surface. Despite all her precautions, Sherry had the awful feeling that her aunt did not like her very much at all and that she completely disapproved of everything Sherry said and did. That suspicion was confirmed by a mortifying conversation she overheard between her aunt and her father only two days after their arrival. Sherry had been sitting on the edge of a footstool, looking out at the city street, when muted voices in the next room made her turn in surprise and curiosity at the sound of her name.
She got up and wended her way around the furniture, then she pressed her ear to the door. Within moments, she realized that her suspicion was correct: Aunt Cornelia, who taught deportment at a school for young girls of wealthy families, was not at all pleased with Sheridan Bromleigh, and she was treating Patrick Bromleigh to a furious scold on that very subject: "You ought to be horsewhipped for the way you've reared that child," Aunt Cornelia ranted in a scornful, disrespectful tone that Sheridan's father would ordinarily never have tolerated from anyone, let alone endured in silence as he seemed to be doing. "She can't read, and she can't write, and when I asked her if she knew her prayers, she informed me she didn't 'hold with too much kneeling.' Then she informed me—and I quote—'The Good Lord probably doesn't like to listen to Bible-banging preachers any more than he likes harlots who lead men away from the path of goodness and righteousness.' "
"Now, Cornelia—" her father began, with a sound in his voice that almost sounded like stifled laughter. Cornelia Faraday obviously thought it sounded like laughter too, because she flew straight into what Rafe called a devil-rage.
"Don't you try to get around me with your false charm, you—you scoundrel. You lured my sister into marrying you and traipsing halfway round the world with your fancy talk about a new life in America, and I'll never forgive myself for not trying to stop her. Worse, I came along! But I will not stand by and keep silent this time, not when you've turned my sister's only daughter into a—a joke! That girl, who is nearly old enough to be married, doesn't act like a female; she doesn't even look like a female. I doubt she knows she is one! She's never worn anything but pants and boots, she's as tanned as a savage, and she curses like a heathen! Her manners are deplorable, she's outrageously outspoken, her hair is untamed, and she doesn't know the meaning of the word 'feminine.' She announced to me, as bold as brass, that she doesn't care to marry right now, but she 'fancies' someone named Raphael Benavente and she'll probably ask him to marry her someday. That young lady—and I use the term very loosely in Sheridan's case—honestly intends to propose matrimony herself—and furthermore, the man of her choice is apparently some Spanish vagabond who, she proudly informed me, knows everything important—including how to cheat at cards! Well," Aunt Cornelia finished in a rising tone of angry triumph, "I defy you to defend all that!"
Sherry held her breath and waited with some glee for her father to let loose an answering tirade in her defense at the hateful, sour-faced woman who'd wheedled her way into Sherry's confidence with her questions and was using her honest answers against her.
"Sherry does not swear!" her father retorted a little lamely, but at least he sounded as if his temper was beginning to reach the danger point.
Aunt Cornelia was not as intimidated as others were when Patrick Bromleigh finally lost his temper. "Oh, yes she does!" she flung back. "She bumped her elbow this morning, and she swore IN TWO LANGUAGES! I heard her myself!"
"Really," Patrick drawled nastily, "and how would you know what she was saying?"
"I know enough Latin to be able to translate 'Dios Mio'! into a blasphemy."
"That means 'My God,' " Patrick defended, but he sounded suddenly guilty and not very convincing as he added, "She was obviously having a go at some of that praying that you're so worked up about her not doing!" Sherry bent down and put her eye to the keyhole. Her father was flushed, either with embarrassment or anger, and his fists were clenched at his sides, but Aunt Cornelia was standing right in front of him, as cold and unmoved as stone.
"That shows what little you know of praying or of your daughter," Cornelia flung back contemptuously. "I shudder to think of the sorts of persons you've let her consort with, but I have a clear enough picture to know she's been exposed to gambling and cursing, and that you've allowed liquor-drinking card cheats, like that Mr. Raphael, to see her dressed indecently. God alone knows the sort of evil thoughts she's evoked in him and every other man who's seen her with that red hair of hers flying all about like a wanton. And I haven't even mentioned her other favorite companion—an Indian male who sleeps with dogs! A savage who—"