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Harriet Mercer

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  • Profession
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  • Height
    5' 5"
  • Hair color
    Dark Auburn
  • Eye Color
  • Playby
    Molly Parker
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  1. Cattle Drive

    @Quentin Cantrell has already agreed to this plot. We will discuss it and determine exactly when to write it once the main plot of The Bear has been resolved (i.e. dead bear). I just moved this from Episode ideas because it does not really merit being a full episode.
  2. Cattle Drive

    Summary After the rampage of Ole One-Eye, the monstrous bear, both Shade and Ezra Hale are injured. Someone has to see that a small herd of cattle are driven to Fort Kalispell (or Missoula) to fulfill the terms of a contract. Shade elects Quentin and Harriet to see the contract is honored. Story Goals Be one with your horse, he said. Just make sure you keep all the cows going in the right direction, he said. The main goal of this character plot is to provide some laughs at the expense of Quentin and Harriet. End Goals Harriet and Quentin will learn a great deal about what a cowboy and drover does on a cattle drive and in their day-to-day lives.
  3. The Gauntlet

    Scene Rating: PG Scene Type: Joint Scene Characters: Quentin Cantrell, H.G. Mercer Location: Meadow, east of Kalispell, Montana Timeline: Afternoon, Tuesday, July 13, 1875 Harriet had met Quentin precisely a half hour later clad in a split riding skirt, jacket and tall boots. She had loosened her hair and pulled it back into a clasp at the nape of her neck. On her head, she wore a flat brimmed gaucho-style hat. With the court case behind them and despite Case Steelgrave's threat, she felt an odd sense of abandon and good spirits. At the livery stable, there had been no sign of Shade. Harriet felt a mild quiver of concern, but set it aside. He had been taking care of himself for several years so she turned her attention to the selection of horses and vehicles. They had driven from the ranch in a comfortable carriage, but it was large and bulky for just two people. After a few moments of conversation with the owner of the livery stable, Harriet chose a smart high-wheeled buggy, well-sprung and lightweight. To pull it, she chose a tall, liver chestnut mare that the stable manager said was a cross between a Standardbred and Hackney Coach Horse. After watching him trot the mare the length of the barn, she pronounced her satisfaction with the animal and proceeded to follow behind the man double checking the harness and traces. If Quentin had been expecting a sedate drive to the country, he was doomed to disappointment. Harriet took charge of the reins and whip. She kept the mare to a brisk walk until they cleared the town's speed ordnances. As soon as they were on the open road, she expertly snapped the whip. Its tip never touched the mare's flanks. Striking the horse was not required. Just the sound sent the mare into a fast trot. The buggy was nowhere near as good as Harriet's racing sulkies, but it was quite well-made and stable, even on the sharper curves. As they descended a hill onto a flat, straight stretch of road, she called out to the mare to get a move on. The horse proved her mettle. Without ever breaking her gait, she fairly flew along the road. Finally, well-clear of Kalispell where gunshots would alarm no one, Harriet pulled the mare to a walk and guided the carriage off the road for some distance. Flashing Quentin a laughing smile, she leaped from the buggy and walked to the mare's head, "Oh you beauty. I might have to see if the stable manager will sell you." Harriet offered the mare a few bites of dried apple. Quentin slowly released his white knuckled grip on his side of the buggy. He took a breath and looked around then at Harriet. "Good lord, woman..." He slowly climbed down from the buggy, his legs just a little rubbery from being braced so tight for so long. He shook each one lightly. "...Do you normally drive like that?" He held on to the buggy as he stepped around to the small rear compartment, getting out the small box of items he had bought at the general store. Quentin had been smart enough to tie it down before they left town. He tugged the blanket off the top and picked out the canteen he had placed inside. He then twisted the cap off and took a drink, then held it out toward Harriet. Harriet laughed, her eyes sparkling with excitement as she took the canteen and took a long drink, "Not usually in a buggy not suited to racing. I need to find a place of my own with a stable so I can bring my racers. Perhaps I can start a new fad here in Kalispell." Quentin shook his head as he set the canteen down. "Well if its all the same, I'll watch from the stands if you get that kind of racing started." Quentin left one box covered with a blanket and rummaged in the first one. He pulled out some wooden boards, leaving a set of glass bottles still inside the first box and lifted out some boxes of bullets. "So just how much shooting have you done?" "Fang saw that I learned the basics. I can load and unload, point, aim, fire. I can also do basic maintenance," Harriet reported dutifully. "However, I have not fired a gun in many years - probably not since Fang's lessons in my late teens. In fact, until Shade handed me the rifle when we road into town yesterday morning, I have barely touched one. You have my permission to treat me as a total beginner as about all I do know about the things is that I should not point one at anything I do not wish to harm." Quentin nodded and reached under his jacket and tugged the bird's head Colt from the holster under his arm. He pulled it out and let Harriet see it, then he flipped the loading gate open and pulled the hammer to half cock. He then turned the cylinder and let the rounds slide into his palm until the weapon was empty. He then ran the cylinder around again and then closed the gate and lowered the hammer and handed it butt first to Harriet. "Here, feel the weight and get familiar with it. I would recommend something this size but a lighter caliber unless you think you want to hit very hard." Harriet took the gun and did as he instructed, mimicking his previous actions. With it still unloaded, she raised in order to get a feel for holding it and sighting on a target. Slanting a glance at her new mentor, she said with a faint wry tone in her voice, "Quentin, if I am going to use a gun, I want to hit very hard. Otherwise, I would rely on my knives and throwing stars." She handed the gun back to him butt-first. "We will soon know if I cannot manage this caliber, yes?" Quentin nodded as he took the pistol back and opened the loading gate, sliding the shells back into the cylinder. He closed the gate and half cocked the Colt, checking the load before turning the weapon around and handing it to her butt first. "You're absolutely right...and my money is on you being able to handle it..." He nodded as she took the weapon. "Let me set up a target..." He went to the back of the buggy and came back with a small square of wood. He walked over a short distance, maybe fifteen feet, and set the wood in the branches of a tree. Quentin then walked back over and stood beside Harriet. "Alright, first let's just get an idea of your basic accuracy..." Quentin pointed at the board. "That's about the right height for a normal man's chest...and this is about the normal distance for a gunfight inside a room. Shoot as fast and as straight as you can...try and keep the bullets as close together as possible. Fire whenever you are ready." Taking a deep breath, Harriet tried to make herself relax. Bringing the gun up, she squeezed off the first round and then the other five in quick succession. She opened her eyes slowly and looked over at Quentin, "How did I do?" Quentin looked at the board, then back at Harriet. "Actually not bad, but next time keep your eyes on your target. Anything can happen while you are shooting at someone..." Quentin reached into the box and pulled another handful of shells and handed six to her. "Here you go. Reload...do it as fast as you can but still not drop any. If anything helps your shooting it will be knowing that once you are empty this is how long it will take to get reloaded." Harriet was fairly quick with the reloading process despite being a self-proclaimed novice. Her ability with timing and numbers kicked in allowing her to precisely calculate the time it took to reload and fire the gun to empty. Unfortunately, she failed the command to keep her eyes open. At the first loud explosion of the weapon, her eyes snapped shut and stayed that way until it clicked on empty. She sighed inwardly, recalling why she had not pursued the sport of shooting. She loathed the noise. Cutting her eyes sideways at Quentin, she shrugged, "It is the noise." Quentin nodded and rubbed his chin as he thought. "I might have an idea while you practice and get used to it." He walked back to the wagon and rummaged around, then came back with some small pieces of the blanket in the other box. He handed these over. "Put these in your ears, that should drop the noise enough for you to keep your eyes open...eventually you will be able to keep them open without effort." Quentin stopped. "Wait. I have an idea..." He ran back and then returned with some small empty bottles. He walked a short distance to the side and set them on some low rocks. "There. That should also force you to keep your eyes open as you move from target to target." "Sadist," Harriet muttered. She took the bits of cloth and did as he instructed, resolving to start carrying some cotton with her until she was comfortable with the weapon. Harriet kept it on hand at home to use when she wanted to tune out noise when reading or working through her martial arts moves. Sometimes, she liked her surroundings to be quieter than it was possible to make them without artificial intervention. Harriet turned to the new targets and brought the gun up. Following Quentin's previous instructions, she sighted in and fired as rapidly as possible. Despite the bits of cloth in her ears, the sound of the weapon discharging still made her flinch and blink her eyes although she did not close them entirely. Pleased with her results, Harriet smiled a bit at him and removed one of the earplugs. "Better, but I have a long way to go to reach proficient." Quentin nodded. "Hey, you're not doing too bad for your first real shooting practice. You need practice and you will start practicing." He smiled. "Don't be too hard on yourself. It's not easy to learn especially if you are picking it up a little late." He then pointed at the Colt in Harriet's hands. "You hang on to that...I want you to go out behind the ranch house every day and fire a box of shells. We have plenty in the gun room and can buy more." Quentin rubbed his chin as he thought. "So, any questions about shooting in general? It might be life and death considering what we are dealing with. Turning the gun in her hand, Harriet studied it. Aesthetically, she really liked guns. The look and feel of one in her hand gave her a thrill. For practical purposes, she was not a fan. She found them cumbersome and noisy. Her choice of weapons, the throwing stars and knives, were elegant and all but silent. Of course, they were impractical in many situations. "Thank you. I will take good care of it until I can purchase my own at the gun shop in town or order one." Quickly, she made certain the cylinder was empty and tucked the pistol under her arm. Reaching inside her jacket, she slid out one of the steel kill-stars she carried and handed it to Quentin. "No questions just now, Quentin. Those will come as I familiarize myself with shooting." Quentin took the star carefully. "I'll probably end up cutting my own throat with this before I damage anyone with it." He carefully slid it into a shirt pocket. "Anytime you have a question about shooting, just ask me...I am happy to help you..." He then grinned. "...And just so you know...I happen to have picked up a basket of fried chicken with some water, sarsaparilla, and root beer in the back of the buggy...care to have some lunch?" Surprisingly, considering the fact that she had a light lunch right after the hearing, Harriet's stomach rumbled quietly at the mention of food. "That sounds wonderful, Quentin! If you will get the food, I will make sure the mare can graze," she told him and started toward the buggy.
  4. The Gauntlet

    Harriet had listened to the two men discuss the situation and her frown deepened. Still, she said nothing. She wanted to talk to Quentin, but not in front of Shade. She was learning more and more about the younger man's character and gradually coming to the conclusion that her opinions on him might just be based on prejudices rather than cold, clinical facts as she'd insisted. Quentin too. He had been an enigma from the beginning. Now, she was looking at having to revise what she'd thought about him as well. Of course, much of her hostility toward Cantrell was based solely on the fact that he was from the South and from a class of society that her father had taught her to be suspicious of and despise with all her heart. Too much was changing too fast! However, she needed to sort where she stood in all of it since Judge Mandrell had mandated she remain involved in the business and thus the lives of Quentin Cantrell and Shade Harper. She followed Shade's progress through the dining room until he exited. A moment later she saw him pass in front of the windows as he headed toward the livery stable. Harriet turned her eyes back to Quentin, concern showing plainly on her face, "Can he beat Steelgrave in a fair fight? Can you?" Quentin sat in his chair and watched Shade go by the window. His chin rested in one hand as he rubbed his jaw slowly. After a few moments he realized Harriet had been speaking to him. "Honestly, I doubt it. Shade's got plenty of speed but that's not the only thing you need to beat someone like Case..." Quentin then looked over and locked eyes with Harriet. "Can I?...Hell, I don't know. I am good, but I haven't had the practice a man like Case has. Not having a soul takes away a lot of worries between the brain and the gun." Harriet tapped a manicured nail against the side of her glass. "I have not changed my opinion regarding either one of you," she said, her voice stern. "However, Nettie and Cody cannot stand any more loss. Their heritage is at stake." She leaned toward Quentin and lowered her voice, "Do what you need to in order to make sure you can defeat Case Steelgrave if it ever comes down to a fight. Do what you need to in order to make sure Shade can beat him." Her gray eyes were cold, "Short of outright murder that is." Quentin smiled a bit. "You sure don't ask for much, do you?" His smile then washed away as if blown by the wind. "I don't want to die and I sure as hell don't want Shade to die. I will do what I can to keep both of us alive, but I can't make promises." Quentin then looked Harriet directly in her eyes. "Maybe you should hope we are as unsavory as you first thought." The slow wink that followed let Harriet know Quentin was not meaning it as an insult. Humor lit Harriet's twilight-colored eyes and a smile pulled at the corner of her lips, "Oh, I think both of you are likely far more unsavory in reality than I could imagine." Her words held no animosity. "Quentin, I need to learn to shoot. I know the basic mechanics of picking up a gun and firing it at a target. That is not good enough." She stared at the man steadily. "I am very good with knives and can defend myself more than adequately. Fang saw to that. However, there is an old adage that says never bring a knife to a gunfight." Quentin nodded. "True, this is definitely the age of the firearm..." He looked thoughtful another few moments. "...I recommend something like I carry under my jacket. Small enough for you to control but enough power to handle most threats. I will let you try it out and if you can handle it we will get you one to carry." Harriet looked down at her tailored and tightly fitted jacket. Fortunately, she had other jackets for most of her wardrobe, ones that allowed her to fit her larger knife sheaths beneath it. Her tailor was accustomed to making two of each one. Women's clothing was generally unsuited to the discreet carrying of firearms. She might have to set a new trend in lady's business clothing. "That sounds like a reasonable suggestion. I will go change. Hopefully, Shade will not be alarmed when he returns to the hotel to find us absent. Quentin glanced down at his own suit and nodded. "That's probably a good idea. I'll change also and run over to the store and buy a box of shells and come up with some targets for us. Meet in the lobby in half an hour?
  5. Harriet Gene Mercer

    Harriet Mercer's photo album.
  6. The Eyes of Justice

    Originally published on Sun Dec 17th, 2017 @ 4:18pm The town of Kalispell started life as Fort Kalispell, a stockaded trading post sandwiched between the Snake and Chogun Rivers. In 1872, it was decided that an independent military fort needed to be established in the region. It was decided to relocate the settlement of Kalispell five miles to the north. With the help of the town's business owners and the Army Corps of Engineers, the move was accomplished within six months of the decision being made. The decision had been a fortuitous one. Soon after the relocation was complete, people began flocking to the region lured by the promise of rich farm and ranch land and, of course, the rumors of gold. By 1875, Kalispell had been declared the county seat of Flathead County. In three short years, the town went from a single street with five or six shops, a couple of saloons, and a boarding house to having several streets branching off of it. More businesses, including the elegant Belle-St. Regis Hotel sprang up. The town's most recent pride-and-joy was the new Kalispell Municipal Building which housed various city and county clerks offices, the town magistrate's office, and two courtrooms. The smaller of the two courtrooms saw the most business as it was used mainly by the magistrate for civil affairs. The Kalispell Municipal Building stood in its own square at the end of Municipal Street. It was a marvelous two-story building clad in gray granite. The interior sported polished wood paneling on the walls and gleaming marble floors. Harriet Mercer stepped down from the carriage and smoothed the travel wrinkles from her gray skirt. She did not wait for her traveling companions to alight from the vehicle. She wanted to get set up in the courtroom as soon as possible. Harriet disliked being rushed. Leading the way to the smaller courtroom on the second floor, she took a moment to see the Hales and the Harper twins settled in the pew just behind her table. To her pleasure, their opponent, Carson Tyndall, was nowhere to be seen. Harriet had just started laying her documents out when the doors opened to admit Shade and Quentin. They had just settled in the chairs to the left of Harriet's when Carson Tyndall strolled in with an assistant scurrying in his wake. Tyndall was a tall, well-built man if somewhat on the thin side with iron-gray hair and eyes so dark that they appeared black. He wore an immaculately tailored dark suit and carried an expensive custom-made leather briefcase. The look he cast at Harriet and her clients could only be described as a combination of smug and bored, as if this proceeding was barely worth his time. Harriet smiled sweetly at him. She knew his reputation in the courtroom was merited. Harriet knew better than to dismiss him as incompetent. As he had been dismissive of her the few times they had met at the Harper ranch, she hoped he would underestimate her. Just then, there was a rustle at the front of the courtroom. A clerk and the bailiff entered. The clerk settled in a chair near the bench, and the bailiff called things to order, requesting that everyone stand for the Honorable Judge Oliver Mandrell who walked in the right on the heels of the man's announcement. As soon as the room settled, the bailiff read off the docket number for the case the judge was hearing. Mandrell thumbed through some papers he'd carried in with him. Finally, he cleared his throat, "As agreed yesterday, I will first speak to William Cody Harper, Regina Antoinette Harper, Mr. Ezra Hale, and Mrs. Kathryn Hale in my chambers. The rest of you may walk around if you like but please do not go far. This should not take very long." He once again exited, followed by the Hales and the children. The judge was as good as his word. Less than thirty minutes later, he returned and resumed his seat. "I have heard from Cody and Antoinette Harper about their wishes in this matter. Mr. and Mrs. Hale have taken the children to the park. There is no need for them to be present for the remainder of this proceeding. Mr. Tyndall, present your case." Carson Tyndall rose slowly to his feet. In Harriet's opinion, he was trying to draw the moment out to emphasize how important his case was. It was also designed to impress and unnerve those in the courtroom. Harriet had already discussed his probable tactics with her clients. Neither man flinched or batted a single eyelash as Tyndall began addressing the court. "Your Honor," Tyndall's tone wasn't quite obsequious. "Ladies and gentlemen." His voice was definitely contemptuous as he looked at Harriet and her clients. "I contend that the will drawn up by Miss H.G. Mercer violates the terms of the Harper Legacy Trust. The trust was designed specifically to keep the ranch in the hands of the eldest son's bloodline. Mr. Ishmael Harper had some of the best legal minds in the country design it. It cannot be dissolved or replaced by a personal will." Carson made a slow turn and threw his arms out expansively, "I further contend that Mr. Shade Harper and Mr. Quentin Cantrell are not suitable guardians for the children. I contend that a guardian should be appointed that would have their best interests at heart. The last thing those poor children need is to be raised by a couple of gunslingers if they even stay once they learn they cannot touch the Harper fortune." Tyndall picked up a sheaf of papers from his table, "Your Honor, I would like to submit the original Legacy Trust documents as proof that the wills of Chance and Regina Harper are invalid." He carried the papers to the bench then returned to his table and sat down, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. Harriet rose to her feet, "Your Honor, Mr. Tyndall," she began, her voice rich and confident. "While my esteemed colleague's concern for the Harper children is laudable, I feel it is misplaced. The rule of the land and, in fact, the laws of this country favor the relatives of minor children when it comes to guardianship. Even had Chance and Regina Harper not left wills designating Mr. Shade Harper and Mr. Quentin Cantrell as their children's guardians, the courts would have appointed them. Neither man is a gunslinger as Mr. Tyndall contends nor do they have outstanding arrest warrants. Any past legal transgressions have been cleared. Cody and Antoinette Harper could not have a stronger support system. They are surrounded by adults who love them, want nothing but the best for them and will protect them at all costs." "And the children's wealth, the ranch?" Tyndall spoke up, his voice holding a note of derision. "Are you stating that these men do not have a personal interest in obtaining the rights to the children's inheritance?" "They do not. I would also point out, your Honor, that the Legacy Trust has not been dissolved. Chance and Regina Harper only requested that it be modified to allow control of who would inherit based on the wishes of the present owners. The courts agreed that the dead should not dictate or preempt the rights of the living. The Legacy Trust was merely appended to allow some latitude in the dispensations of all property and money. The courts also determined that the trust lacked foresight. It did not allow for the possibility of there being no Harpers to inherit or for there being a generation with no male heirs born. While Ishmael Harper desired to protect his legacy and ensure it remained in the hands of his descendants, the trust would have actually left no clear line of inheritance in the event of there being no immediate family living." Harriet smiled sweetly as she ended her argument, "In summation, your Honor, if anyone has an ulterior motive, it's Mr. Carson Tyndall because he was fired after Chance Harper learned of his conflict of interest." She gave the judge a respectful nod and returned to the table to sit down. Her smile toward Shade and Quentin was definitely reminiscent of the cat who ate the canary. Oliver Mandrell took off his reading glasses and laid them aside. He shuffled all of the documents into a neat pile and then looked up at the courtroom. "I have reviewed both cases and all the documentation. Mr. Tyndall, Miss Mercer is correct. Regarding contesting the guardianship of the Harper children, you do not have a legal leg to stand on. No one has brought charges of neglect or abuse, and those are the only reasons I would consider removing the children from the care of Mr. Harper or Mr. Cantrell. All of the court documents regarding the Legacy Trust are in order and there is no reason for me to set aside the former ruling or request that the case should be reopened. Mr. Tyndall, your case is dismissed." Tyndall sputtered, "Judge Mandrell, I protest this in the strongest terms..." "I'm sure you do, Carson," Mandrell drawled. "And before you protest further, understand that I am dismissing the case with prejudice. You are done. You have not represented the Harpers for many years. You have no legal right to bring suit for how they manage their personal affairs including the dispensation of their property. You are dismissed, please leave the courtroom." Tyndall gathered his documents and put them into his briefcase, closing its lid with a furious snap. Pausing beside Harriet's table on his way out, he looked at the two men sitting there, a cold, menacing light in his dark eyes, "This is not over." He stalked down the row between the pews and exited, slamming the door behind him. Mandrell leaned back in his seat and regarded Harriet, Shade, and Quentin solemnly, "Although I found Mr. Tyndall's case to be presumptuous and arrogant, not to mention illegal, I do have concerns which need to be addressed. Please make yourselves comfortable, this hearing will be informal..."
  7. All Nice and Legal

    Originally published on Sun Dec 17th, 2017 @ 12:35pm Breakfast had been a lively event. The twins had rebounded from the influx of strangers in their midst and had kept Kate Hale on alert. The conversation around the breakfast table had mainly consisted of everyone discussing the ranch's business and their plans for the day. There had been some consternation when Harriet announced that she was riding into town to deliver papers to the judge's office, especially since she declined all offers to accompany her. Harriet had pointed out with a slight touch of asperity that she had made the ride from the ranch to Kalispell and back quite often. After changing from her morning dress into a practical gaucho-style riding skirt, Harriet made sure all of the documents that she needed were in order before slipping the attaché case into her saddlebags. Stepping out of the house, she took a deep breath of the mountain air and smiled. She had lived the majority of her working life in San Francisco. It did not hold a candle to the majestic beauty of Montana. Stepping out from under the covered portico in front of the lodge, she crossed the courtyard and walked the few yards to the barn. Horses grazed in the large paddock next to the barn. Inside the barn, Harriet stopped by the stalls that held her Gypsy Vanners. Their coats shone from a recent brushing, and they looked to be rested and in good shape, even after the grueling drive from Missoula. She gave each gelding a carrot from the bunch she had carried down from the house. Walking the rest of the way down the barn, she found Shade grooming the dappled gray Arabian that had belonged to his sister-in-law, Regina Harper. The topic of which horse she should ride to town had also come up at the table that morning. The final decision was that she should have Regina's Arabian. Shade looked up at her approach. He nodded toward her team, "I wasn't sure you'd want them turned out to pasture." Harriet decided that there was no point in continuing the enmity with the younger man for now. Whatever his past, he was there and trying to do the right thing. She smiled, "Please do, Shade. They get very little time out of a stable ordinarily. They earned their rest." "Yes, ma'am," Shade agreed, his deep voice rumbling pleasantly. "It'll be good for 'em. I'll have Stone ready to ride in a couple of minutes." In a short time, Shade had the gelding bridled, saddled and led outside the barn. He gave Harriet a leg up, helped her adjust the stirrups, tied her saddlebags firmly behind the cantle of the saddle, then handed up a Winchester 1873 carbine. She took the weapon from him and slipped it into the saddle's rifle scabbard. "Just in case?" She asked with a slight smile. "Just in case," Shade agreed. "You never know what kind of varmint you'll run into." Harriet acknowledged the veracity of Shade's statement before setting her heels to the gelding's flanks to nudge him into a jog-trot. She was an expert driver but less skilled as a rider. Fortunately, the Arabian had smooth gaits, a good mouth, and an even disposition. It helped that he was familiar. Regina had often allowed her to ride the horse when she was visiting.
  8. Echo of Another Day

    Harriet had been grateful when Kate, with twins in tow, had told her that their bags were being taken upstairs. She'd quickly reached the conclusion that she was simply too dusty and dirty to clean up thoroughly in the washroom. There would not be enough time before dinner for a long, soaking bath, but she would be able to take a quick one and put on clean clothes. In the end, she had taken a bit more time and washed her hair, pulling it back into a thick braid afterward. Clad in a gaucho-style, calf-length riding skirt, a full-sleeved gray blouse, and boots, Harriet made her way back downstairs to the family room, nearly colliding with Shade as he passed by the main staircase. He blinked and reached out to steady her, "Miss Mercer! I'm sorry, afraid I wasn't watching where I was goin'." "That is quite alright, but - Shade - would you mind continuing to call me Harriet, H.G., or even Miss Harriet if you prefer?" Harriet smiled, "As I told Quentin last night, I am sure there will be ample opportunity for hostilities, but for now, we are on the same side." She still was not sure how she felt about the younger man, but it was best for everyone if they presented a united front - leastways, until after the judge's ruling on Wednesday. They walked into the huge, open family room to find Ezra setting the table for dinner and the twins playing near the huge fireplace. Kate poked her head out of the kitchen, "Good, you two are here. Start ferrying in the food, will you?" Shade grinned and winked, "Not home one full day and gettin' put to work!" Quentin walked into the family room. He had just climbed out of his outfit of the last several days and left it on the floor. He planned to deal with it later after he got a good whiff. Quentin had showered and then poked through his closet. One advantage of staying at the ranch occasionally was that he had left a good selection of clothes because a lot of times he had been riding from one place to another. Quentin was wearing a hunter green shirt with the sleeves rolled back to his mid-forearm and a pair of dark black pants that came down over a pair of low cut boots. Quentin had walked in at the end of Shade' comment. "The secret is not to be caught standing around waiting for the food..." Harriet shot a look at Quentin and said sweetly, "Which means you can help us." She smiled at Kate and headed into the kitchen. Jo was also more than grateful for the chance to freshen up, to wash the dust from her skin and hair and to put on clean clothes, this time a dress in dark green with a light silver underlay. Having taken the offer given by Mrs. Hale for a guest bedroom, she'd been able to wash her hair quickly, allowing it to dry in neat little curls, which she pinned up off her face to cascade down her neck to below her shoulders. She didn't know how long they were going to be here in Montana, so she figured she'd just have to make the best of it. The bedroom itself was lovely; the furniture was hand-crafted and well made with cream colored linens, gently accented with pale lilac. Jo was definitely looking forward to sleeping on an actual bed tonight, a bed that was quite soft and filled with feathers. She hadn't been able to resist laying back on it for a few moments after disrobing of her dusty travel clothes. After a quick tending to her birds, a few treats, and fresh, cool water, Jo made her way through the halls toward the family room where the others were gathering. Stepping quietly over to Kate, she spoke gently. "May I help in any way?" "No, dear, just go ahead and grab a seat. Save the far side of the table for me and the twins. They sometimes need supervision," Kate's eyes sparkled as she answered. She knew one or both of the twins would want to sit with Quentin. He'd been very popular with all four of the children. Now, he was a familiar face and family member in a sea of uncertainty. Kate also did a quick count to make sure there was enough room. Six adults and two children. Ezra had already secured the children's booster seats onto two of the chairs. Everything was as ready as possible. Once all of the food had been set on the table, everyone was seated. Ezra said grace and then passed the first dish, a serving platter heaped with fried chicken. That was the signal for everyone to fill their plates. During dinner, the conversation was casual. Ezra and Kate filled everyone in on child-friendly local news and gossip. She made it clear by her choice of topics that everything else could wait until after dinner.
  9. Beginnings

    Originally published on Tue Sep 19th, 2017 @ 3:00pm It took Harriet two trips up the trail to the well because of having to carry the lantern to light her way. Each time, the men had tried to insist they at least help her carry the pots, pans, and dishes. At least the cast-iron skillets had been wiped clean and rubbed with lard to keep them conditioned. Those were packed away in the carriage. She had finally acquiesced enough to ask Shade to carry back the two coffee pots full of water for fresh coffee and tea which she prepared before returning to the pool to do the washing up. Harriet knew she would need a cup of tea once she had the dishes done. She figured she was one of the few women that found doing dishes a pleasant chore especially the metal ones that she did not have to be concerned about breaking. Harriet carefully wedged the lantern between a couple of rocks before placing the dinner things into the hot spring to soak. Rolling her sleeves up, she pulled a bar of soap out of a small satchel and used her pen knife to shave slivers of it into a cup. Next, she pulled a small cloth from the bag, rolled it in the soap slivers and then added a little sand to the first plate. She hummed an old Welsh lullaby that she'd learned from her nanny as a child, before her mother's death. The soft hoot of an owl startled her causing her to peer up into the branches of a tree that slanted precariously over the small pool. The owl blinked at her but seemed totally unconcerned about Harriet's presence. "You are not white, my friend, but you are still another legend come to life." The same nanny that had taught her the lullaby had regaled the young Harriet with tales of her homeland. One of those had been about the gwenhyvar, the white owl. It was said they were ill omens or harbingers of death. She shook the rag at the bird which did not disturb it in the least, "Shoo! Death has already walked this meadow. There is no place for you right now." It wasn't often, very rarely in fact, that Jo saw this side of Harriet. The domestic side. They had servants back home in San Francisco that took care of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. She stood quietly behind Harriet for a few long moments, simply watching her older sister. Seeing her like this made her seem just a little bit more human. Harriet wasn't a monster, far from it and she'd never been outright cruel to Jo, just cold, distant and aloof much of the time. Sometimes, though, she just didn't know how to relate to her. At the moment, however, there was something on Jo's mind that weighed quite heavily, and it needed to be discussed. Hearing Harriet's comment to the owl in the leaves overhead, Jo stepped forward, announcing her presence. "He's only looking for his own dinner. It's no different than Mr. Harper hunting down what we put in our own bellies tonight," she stated quietly as she looked up at the owl for a moment, those bright yellow eyes almost eerie. "Do you need some help?" Harriet glanced up from the pan she had been scrubbing with her soap and sand solution. She had heard Josephine's soft footfalls coming up the trail. One of the many things she had learned from Fang was how to listen on several levels, to distinguish the sounds of nature from the sounds of man. Still, it wasn't like her sister made much noise. In fact, Harriet often envied her grace and natural beauty. "If you don't mind, I would appreciate the help. Perhaps you could start with the cups? I am already elbow-deep on the pots," Harriet said and smiled. She nodded her dark head toward the tree with its watching owl, "I do not begrudge him his hunt, but would prefer he take it elsewhere. It is an old superstition, to be sure. One learned from my nanny when I was a small child. Despite the fact the Gwenhwyfar is an ill-omen in Welsh and Cornish lore, I admire their grace and beauty." "Sure," Josephine replied, stepping closer to where the dishes were piled up neatly on the natural stone wall of the well. Lifting her eyes upward to the tree looming above them, Jo smiled softly at the owl. "He's probably curious about why we are here, seeing as we are in his home territory after all." Turning her attention back to the dishes, she picked up Harriet's satchel and small pen knife to slice off a small bit of soap for her own use, mimicking her sister in wrapping it in a clean rag before taking it to the cups they'd used at supper. Her questions were right there at the tip of her tongue. Before Jo knew how to ask them, her mouth opened, and words came out. "Harriet... yesterday, during the attack." She didn't look at her sister as her hands were kept busy, but green eyes did shift in Harriet's direction at her side. "The way you threw that knife, and the accuracy. You've done it before. You were trained, weren't you?" She asked quietly. "Was it by Fang?" Harriet sat back on her heels and blew at a tendril of hair that had escaped from its braid. She knew this was going to come up with Josephine and expected to be asked for an explanation by her clients as well. "When I was a child, Fang took pity on me because of the horrid teasing I received for being so awkward, clumsy, and singularly unattractive. He began teaching me some of his Oriental fighting styles to help with balance and focus. Later, he discovered my ability to calculate angles and trajectories when I corrected him when he was practicing throwing his kill-stars." "So, yes, I had practiced with the knives I carry, but I had never used them as I did yesterday morning," Harriet said, turning her twilight gray eyes on her sister. "I needed to protect you and did not wish to see either Mr. Cantrell or Mr. Harper shot in the back. I am proud of the skill, but not of the use I had to put it to." Jo was quiet for a moment as she worked, letting her sister's words sink in. For as long as she could remember, Fang had been Harriet's constant companion so it made sense that he would have been Harriet's teacher. The Mercer ladies had definitely had very different upbringings to a degree and Jo couldn't imagine herself performing as Harriet had on the previous day. "Yesterday was," Jo started, then shook her head. "I can not think of a time where I was more scared. Thank you." The words came out in little more than a whisper as she glanced over at her sister. Harriet turned her pale gray eyes on Josephine and regarded her steadily for a few moments. She shook her head, "You do not need to thank me. Don't you know that I would protect you with my life if need be?" Her hands paused in their work, Jo didn't look at her sister right away. There had been so many times over the years that she'd been living with Harriet that she'd felt nothing more than an obligation, taken in only because she had nowhere else to go. Her uncle hadn't wanted her, in fact, he'd been quite happy to sign over her care to her older half-sister. Perhaps that was part of the reason she wished to fall in love with a good man and start a family of her own. When she finally did look at Harriet, there was a shimmer of faint tears in her green eyes, illuminated by the moonlight. "No, I don't know that." Harriet had no idea how to respond to Josephine. What could she say when her younger sister was right. How could she have known of Harriet's mixture of jealousy, resentment, envy, and devotion? The first two emotions had been motivated by Frank Mercer's cruelty, making it clear to Harriet that he far preferred his younger daughter as he lavished affection and gifts on Josephine. The envy was again the result of Frank's cruelty, but also came from Harriet's longing to be as petite and pretty as the younger Mercer sister. On the rare times that Frank left Harriet in Evelyn Mercer's care, her gentle and gracious stepmother, she was lavished with the same affection shown to Evelyn's own daughter. The harsher emotions had given way to a quiet devotion, but her sire's cruelty had left her incapable of expressing it to either Evelyn or Josephine. She had still been finding herself, establishing her sense of self-worth, and making sure she did not starve when she found herself having to take guardianship of her younger sister and see that she never wanted for anything. Finishing the last of the dishes, she dried them and stacked them neatly in a pile. Harriet then took the cups from Josephine and quickly dealt with them too. After washing her hands in the hot pool, she dried them with a clean towel and pushed her hair back from her face again. Settling back on one of the larger rocks that bordered the pool, she turned her full attention to her sister. "Josephine," Harriet said quietly, but with soft emphasis, "I will always and forever protect you and see you taken care of although my ultimate goal is to make sure you can take care of yourself. When you receive your full inheritance, I want you to know how to manage it so that you are never at someone else's mercy. I need to find a way to teach you to recognize those that sincerely care for you from those with ulterior motives. I want you happy, healthy and fulfilled. Most of all, I want you safe and secure. I do not know how to express these things on a day-to-day basis or in the way that other sisters show affection to one another. That is alien to me and, honestly, it is frightening." Harriet leaned back, supporting herself on the boulder with one hand behind her. She felt drained from the surge of emotion and the short speech. No doubt, if not for the hot spring next to her, she would also be chilled to the bone. She regarded Josephine for several moments, then said, "Remind me to loan you a pair of pants, shirt, and boots. You will be cooler and far more comfortable." Jo barely recognized the woman standing next to her. Was this really Harriet, telling her things she'd not once heard in her time on this Earth. There was a tightness in her chest, and she closed her eyes, her hands resting on the spring's wall, the stones cool beneath her fingers. "All I have ever wanted was for us to be proper sisters." She finally spoke, her voice soft. "And I thought that meant we needed to be close, share the more personal parts of our lives. Maybe that's not meant for us, I don't know." Jo looked over at Harriet, sitting over on a boulder. "But you truly are my sister, and I thank God for that." For once, Harriet decided to allow someone else the last word.
  10. Around the Campfire

    Originally published on Wed Sep 6th, 2017 @ 12:49pm By the time Shade returned with four decent sized grouse, the camp was well in hand. In anticipation that his hunt would be successful, Harriet had found and sharpened several sticks to use as skewers. It made Shade glad that he'd taken the time to pluck and dress the birds by a small stream near where he'd shot them. He had also been fortunate enough to find several of their nests which he'd raided for eggs. There'd be enough to scramble and have for breakfast in the morning. Harriet had pounced on the birds when Shade arrived, lamenting in her usual prosaic tones about not having her cooking herbs and spices with her. Quentin had graciously raided his dwindling supplies and offered them up to help enhance their dinner. While Harriet and Josephine took on the chore of preparing dinner and Stahl and Quentin put the finishing touches on their camp, Shade had made his way through the rocks to the spring to wash up. The well itself was tucked back into a grotto formed by several boulders that had broken away from the main rock formation due to erosion. Three or four, depending on the time of year, natural artesian springs bubbled up from the rocks and formed tiny rivulets that trickled and cascaded into a larger pool. This pool also had its primary source deep underground, but whereas the streams that fed into it were icy cold, the pool was formed by hot springs. If the rains had been heavy, the pool would often overflow, but usually, it simply disappeared back into the earth from whence it had sprung. Shade had laid aside his saddlebags, taking out soap, a large cloth to dry off with and his shaving kit. After removing his shirt, he bathed as thoroughly as possible, enjoying the hot water from the pool. After a few moments of thought, he'd shed his boots, hanging up a sock on the bushes as a warning he was bathing, pulled off his gun belt and jeans and immersed himself in the pool. By necessity, as he did not want to shock his traveling companions, he made fast work of his ablutions. After shaving and dressing, Shade had stopped by the picket line to check on the horses, fill and hang their feed bags. The area where they'd chosen to make the main camp seemed to be a popular one with travelers. Logs had been sanded down and left to form a square around a fire pit. The smell of the roasting grouse made Shade's mouth water as he settled on the end of one of the logs, dropping his saddlebags next to him. He reached for the nearest coffee pot, flipping the lid up to make sure it was coffee and not water set to boil for the tea that Harriet and Quentin preferred. He poured a cup, returned the pot to the grate, and slid off the log to sit on the thick meadow grass, using the log as a backrest. Harriet had made use of the spring. After helping Stahl carry buckets of water for the horses, she had excused herself and cleaned up, finishing in time to help set up the rest of the camp. By the time they had everything situated with pots of water on for coffee and tea, Shade had returned with the grouse, and several eggs packed carefully into the game bag slung over his shoulder. Forgetting her hostility, Harriet had relieved him of the game birds, exclaiming at the fact he'd already dressed them out for cooking. She'd even been quite cheerful and grateful when Quentin offered his treasure trove of cooking spices. Quentin had finally walked back after spending a short time alone at the wagon. He was very quiet as everyone worked on setting up the camp. Quentin took his turn cleaning up in the spring and ended up back at the camp. He had his saddle resting on the ground, blanket resting on the side as a pillow. Cantrell rested his rifle on the saddle close at hand and the Schofield in its holster beside the rifle. Cantrell still wore the Bird's Head Colt in its shoulder rig as he sat cross-legged on the ground, poking through the small mound of shell casings from the wagon site. Stahl had made himself useful with the small tasks around the camp after the horses were cared for, eventually turning back to H.G. to offer assistance with whatever Shade had brought from his hunting trip. Another night camping outside, oh, how Jo already missed her bed back at home in California. She was, however, grateful for not having to sleep on the actual ground, so she kept any complaints to herself. When Harriet knocked on the carriage, telling her that they'd stopped for the night, Jo took the birds' cage and made her way to the rock formation, easily locating the little grotto that Harriet told her about. Her feathered companions' comfort came before her own right now. Jo took some time to clean out the bottom of the cage, changing out the cloth that protected the wood against droppings and cracked seed shells. She also washed out their food and water dishes, wishing she could let them out of the cage for a few minutes so they could spread their wings. But she could not take the risk of one of them deciding to fly off or another predator, a larger one, would decide they looked like a nice meal. After taking a few moments to freshen herself up, Jo with birds in tow returned to the campsite where she tucked the cage neatly back on the floor of the carriage. "Anything I can help with?" She asked, knowing that she wasn't much help when it came to making camp, but she'd do what she could. With Stahl's help and the addition of the herbs and spices that Mr. Cantrell provided, Harriet had gotten the game birds Shade had brought them seared in the flames of the campfire and put on spits for slow cooking. She smiled when the younger woman offered her help, "I have set Adalwin to helping turn the spits, so our dinner does not burn. We have a few potatoes left from what Mr. Harper and Mr. Cantrell purchased in Missoula. Would you help me peel them?" With everyone pitching in, dinner was soon ready to be served. Along with the perfectly seared and fire-roasted grouse, the campers had rosemary-dill boiled potatoes and cold sweet-tasting water from the artesian spring. For the first few minutes after the meal was served, the weary travelers ate in silence. However, Harriet took note of the items Harper and Cantrell had gathered and laid out on the log between them. The copse of trees where they now sat obscured the Devil's Watchtower and the wagon that lay at its foot. Harriet chewed and swallowed a bite of meat. She did not normally care for the taste of game birds, preferring chicken and turkey to duck or pheasant, but the grouse tasted wonderful. It was a welcome change to the usual fare of bacon and beans. Turning her twilight colored eyes on Harper and Cantrell, she said, "While it is not likely there will be more trouble this close to Kalispell, it could happen. Mr. Harper, Mr. Cantrell, I'd like to request your leave to state the reasons for our journey to Kalispell. I will not betray client-attorney privilege without your permission, but this actually could become a matter of life and death." Shade had finished his meal and was grateful for that since Harriet's words caused a knot to form in his stomach. He'd set his plate aside and had been running his fingers over one of the arrowheads he'd dug out of the burned wagon's frame. "I don't have a problem with it, ma'am. After all, everyone's gonna learn about it all sooner or later anyway. Not many secrets in Kalispell. So if Quentin doesn't object, I surely don't." Cantrell looked up from taking a bite of his dinner. He thought for a moment and then shrugged. "I don't see why not...everyone here is in the same boat now and in just as much danger..." He took another bite and looked around at the group, "...Ignorance never stopped a bullet." Taking a deep breath, Harriet settled into attorney mode, "First, what is said here is strictly confidential. While some of it will be or will become public knowledge once we reach Kalispell, I ask that no one confirm or deny anything they hear, are told, or are asked." She paused until Josephine and Stahl had nodded their understanding. "Please be patient as I have to give you some history to explain the current circumstances." "In 1862, Mr. Cantrell's sister, Regina Cantrell, married Mr. Chance Harper, Shade Harper's older brother. That is how and why Mr. Cantrell and Mr. Harper are connected to one another in all of this. In 1868, Mr. John Caleb Harper and Mrs. Isadora Harper, Chance and Shade's parents, died within a few months of one another leaving all of their business assets and a 500,000-acre ranch to their eldest son. Shortly after that, Mr. Chance Harper requested my services for an in-depth financial audit of all Harper assets. I found issues. I also found that their current attorney was also, under-the-table, working for the Steelgrave family who had vowed to eventually ruin the Harpers. Chance and Regina fired Mr. Carson Tyndall forthwith and retained my services as their attorney-of-record." Harriet paused to clear the hitch in her throat. It was hard talking about Chance and Regina in the past tense. Until she began the story, she had not realized how hard it would be. "In addition to their regular legal work, Chance asked me to undertake to have the Harper Legacy Trust which entailed the ranch and all assets to the eldest son only legally dissolved. It took some time, but I was able to eradicate the trust leaving Chance and Regina free to create wills leaving the ranch and businesses to whomever they wished, which they did. Their wills leave the custody of any surviving minor children to Mr. Shade Harper. He was also to inherit one-half of Lost Lake Ranch. Mr. Cantrell was named as guardian should Mr. Harper be unable or unwilling to discharge that duty. He was also slated to inherit an interest in the various businesses." "On June 2nd of this year, on their way home from Missoula, Chance, Regina, and their two oldest children, Beth and Grant were killed in what was reported to be an attack by renegade Indians. Their youngest son managed to hide in the Watchtower and was found by a stagecoach en route to Kalispell the following day. Their youngest daughter was not with them as she had a bad cold. Cody Harper has been unable to clearly articulate the events. He is only five years old." Harriet's voice had taken on a cold edge of anger, not only for the loss of her friends but for the fact that someone had been willing to murder children and she strongly suspected that it was not an Indian attack. "It took some time for the notice of their deaths to reach me as I was on business back east. In the meantime, however, Mr. Cantrell was contacted and arrived in Kalispell to learn that Mr. Carson Tyndall was challenging the wills and bringing suit for the custody of the twins. The judge was willing to grant an injunction on the lawsuit and custody hearing for thirty days, allowing Mr. Cantrell time to locate Mr. Shade Harper and bring him back to Kalispell," Harriet paused to sip her tea and then continued. "Due to being delayed by two attempts on their lives, Mr. Harper and Mr. Cantrell traveled to Sacramento where they could get a train to Missoula. We encountered them there. I should also add that I took the precaution of sending my business associate, Alistair Fang, ahead of us to Kalispell to make sure the judge does not meet with any accidents."
  11. Whither Thou Goest

    Originally published on Wed Sep 6th, 2017 @ 12:48pm The rock formation known as Wadi's Well rose from the vast meadow in a far less threatening manner than the Devil's Watchtower formation. It provided a good, safe spot to set up camp amongst the scattering of small trees at its base. A small copse of trees would shield the camp from the road while also keeping the coach hidden. They also provided a place to picket the horses. Harriet had been the one to pull the carriage into the shelter of the trees at the place Shade Harper indicated. She and Josephine would utilize the custom fold-out seats inside the coach for their beds later that night, so Harper had not wanted it left out in the open. She and Stahl had just alighted from the driver's box when Shade walked over. He paused and glanced out over the meadow to the Watchtower where Quentin could be seen still poking around. Harriet heard the younger man sigh slightly as he turned to her and Stahl. "I've strung a picket line in that copse of trees just beyond the front of your team. Close enough that we can hear the horses if there's trouble and far enough away to not interfere with our camp." Shade walked past to the rear boot of the carriage, pulled up the tarp covering it and reached in. Harriet watched as he pulled out a shotgun, leather game pouch, and a box of shells. He broke open the breach, opened the box of birdshot and loaded two into the gun before tucking some extra shells into the pocket of his vest. "Going hunting. With luck, I can scare us up a game bird or two for dinner. Don't let the gunshots alarm you." With that, Shade headed off past the rocks and toward the gently undulating meadow beyond. Harriet watched him go, a cross between a frown and expression of puzzlement on her face. Mentally, however, she wished him luck. She could certainly use a meal that did not consist entirely of bacon and beans. Harriet knocked on the coach's door and let Josephine know they were stopped for the night and then joined Stahl at the head of the team to help unhitch the horses. She reached up to pull Manny's head down and rub the big white star on his forehead before setting to work on the harness. When Shade left, Stahl turned to work, not quite sure what to think. "Off to hunting dinner..." he said softly to himself, not commenting any further directly, but as he too turned to helping unharness the horses, he softly began to hum the tune of the "Three Gypsies." Harriet and Stahl worked in silence for several minutes, getting the two lead horses settled on the picket line. When they returned for the wheelers, Harriet stopped and said, "I'm glad we are stopping early tonight. I could use a few hours on the ground." She arched an eyebrow at the other man, "Is it too impolite of me to ask if I may call you Adalwin instead of Mr. Stahl. I prefer H.G., but do not mind Harriet." It might not be intensely ladylike to ask an employee to call her by her first name, but too much of Harriet's life was spent being formal with people. In private, she tended to be somewhat more casual. Miss Mercer's stopping had interrupted their work, and her question somewhat surprised Stahl. Miss Mercer by appearance, her highly educated speech, and demeanor was certainly not a woman that he had expected to allow familiarities. He could not help but notice how she made clear how she'd like to be called, which quite distinctively said that there were ways she would not like to be addressed. "Adalwin or Stahl, both will be fine H.G." he replied. It felt strange calling her like that, but Harriet felt strange too, the weirdly modern version of the more familiar Henrietta. A small smile showed Stahl's slight amusement. "I too have a middle name I do not use: Georg." He still could not manage to pronounce it the English way. "So I will stick to H.G. if you permit it." Harriet carefully copied his pronunciation of his middle name, then shook her head, smiling, "I would find it hard to think of you as Georg or George, for that matter. I am named for my maternal grandparents, Harriet and Gene Grace. Too many people want to call me Harri which I simply cannot tolerate." She finished stripping off Flint's harness and looked over to where Adalwin was working on Dancer.
  12. Turn of the Wheel

    The carriage crested the rise and came to a stop. Harriet had noted that Shade and Quentin were looking at something in the distance with the aid of field glasses. She now noted that they had angled off the road a few yards below the summit of the ridge and were making slow progress toward a large rock formation. Curious, she pulled her field glasses from the leather pouch that hung just under the driver's seat. The blackened hulk of a wagon leaped into focus, making Harriet gasp in consternation. "Oh, good Lord no!" She leaned forward, taking in deep cleansing gulps of air to keep the morning's meal from leaving her stomach. "Mr. Stahl, we need to follow them, carefully." Stahl squinted, but he could not see clearly what had startled Ms. Mercer. He followed her order to get moving again, but only slowly. Whatever it was, something was not right ahead, and they lacked a clear signal from their scouts. As the carriage began to move again, Stahl cast a short look at the Lady beside him. Her exclamation made it clear that whatever was ahead was terrible. In light of how calm she had been during the attack on them, it had to be all the more nasty to get such a reaction from her. "How bad is it?" he asked softly, eyes never leaving the terrain the carriage slowly moved toward. Harriet glanced at Adalwin while she considered how much she could say without betraying client-attorney privilege. Finally, she gestured toward the dark image that lay close to the rock formation they were slowly approaching, "If that is what I think it is, it is the reason my clients and I are journeying to Kalispell. I apologize for being so vague, but there are things they will have to reveal. As their attorney, I cannot." Her words cast an entirely new light on the reasons for her journey, he had not asked for her reasons to travel when they met, it had not been necessary. Strange though it might be to see a woman in a legal role like this, she was bound by the law to keep her confidences. He respected that. Frowning, he studied the scene before them, the traces that were hard to miss. This looked like danger, trouble, and maybe a very dark reason for his employer to travel. "I understand," Stahl confirmed out loud that he respected Miss Mercer's position. "Nevertheless, we should be careful." The group continued to progress toward the rocks in the same manner with Shade leading on foot, stopping to search the ground periodically. Quentin rode behind him, often pointing out objects from his vantage point that Shade missed. The carriage followed at a slight distance to make certain the team of big Vanners did not crowd the two saddle horses. The objective gradually resolved itself into the burned out hulk of a wagon built in the style of a Conestoga prairie schooner. It was the type of vehicle bringing people to settle in the west although there were a few notable differences. The wagon was not an actual Conestoga. Those were built in the Conestoga River region of Pennsylvania's Lancaster County. This one had been designed and built by a custom craftsman in St. Louis, Missouri for a couple making the journey by wagon train to Oregon. It had been shorter in length than standard covered wagons, a bit wider, and the wheels had been wider as well. Shade knew all this because his father had purchased the wagon at auction in Sacramento. It was the one that he'd learned driving a heavy team on. Now, the beautifully polished wooden sides and bed lay charred and blackened. The bows, large wooden or metal hoops that supported the bonnet, could be seen sticking up like the ribs of some dead animal. In this wagon, the bows were of metal and had darkened but survived the fire intact. Only a trace of the bonnet, the canvas cover that gave covered wagon its name, remained. A fragment of the canvas, darkened but not badly burnt, could be seen still attached to one of the bows where it attached to the side of the wagon. The wheels on the side nearest the rock formation, some twenty feet away, had been burned away while the ones nearest the travelers were mostly intact. This caused the wagon to lay with its bed tilted toward the rocks, away from the group that now stood a few feet away.
  13. Turn of the Wheel

    Cantrell watched the byplay, flicking between Harriet and the newcomer as she quickly settled any question regarding her safety or ability. He reached and eased the twin hammers down on the shotgun and then angled it back over his shoulder to hold comfortably as the conversation continued. He caught Shade' eyes on him and gave a slight shrug as the two men continued watching. Stahl saw the unasked question in her words, in the way she looked at him. There would be questions to answer later. He rose, his eyes meeting Miss Mercer's. "Miss Josephine's help would be much appreciated, ma'am," he replied, keeping the words and tone in a way that indicated an answer to her question. Yes, he was still working for her. "and a kettle of boiling water will be helpful too." He may dislike leaving, and by that sparing himself the debate about the interrogation that was to follow, but he also saw little option otherwise. "Miss Josephine," he turned to the other Lady. "If you could help me get my things? I have some supplies, disinfectant, bandages and such with my horse." "One moment, please, Mr. Stahl," Harriet said, her voice still calm and cool. She had taken note of the look that passed between Quentin and Shade. After only a few hours on a train, she could not state she knew them well. Her dislike and prejudices based on her view of their history was firmly in place and would not be easily changed. However, during that train ride, they had become her clients. More than that, their well-being directly impacted the wishes stated by Chance and Regina Harper in their wills. These were the men chosen by her clients and two of her dearest friends to oversee their estate and take care of their children. Her opinion of Quentin Cantrell and Shade Harper was immaterial to the situation at hand. "What is your name?" H.G. asked the man who now sat with his back against the fence. "Royce, Jed Royce," he answered, his tone sulky and slightly defiant. "Mr. Royce, you and your late companions have committed numerous crimes including conspiracy to commit murder," Harriet informed him coldly. "You will be arrested, charged, incarcerated and tried. What the final charges against you will depend on your cooperation now. If you cooperate, I will recommend a lesser charge which could mean the difference between time in prison and hanging. Do you understand me, Mr. Royce?" Royce's eyes slid from Harriet to her two traveling companions. Harper still looked ready to tear him apart. Although Cantrell no longer pointed the shotgun at him, he was no less menacing. The woman was frankly scary while the man that had examined his wound seemed most likely to be his salvation should either of the other two decide to harm him. Escape was impossible, especially with his injured hand and leg. There was nothing for it, he would be going to jail...again. "Blackie hired me," Royce said flatly, pointing toward the man Harper had killed. "Hired you to do what?" Harriet demanded. "Rickert and me were to get two-thousand dollars each to make sure Harper and his traveling companions didn't make it outta Missoula," Royce's eyes slid sideways. "Didn't know that meant we had to kill women though." It was clear from his tone of voice that Royce thought not knowing he was being paid to kill women as well as two men made being hired to murder people was perfectly okay. "Mr. Stahl will attend your injury now," Harriet turned and offered the tall blond man a slight smile and nod. "Thank you for your patience, Mr. Stahl."
  14. Turn of the Wheel

    For several moments, the only sound in the livery stable's yard was that of the ragged breaths being taken by the man laying against the front wall. No one moved, no one spoke. A few of the horses in the paddock had shied at the sound of the gunshots and stood on the far side, heads up, eyes showing white and ears twitching nervously. To their credit, Harriet's coach horses had not shifted so much as an inch. The two men that had been shot lay unmoving where they had fallen. Shade left Quentin to deal with the two dead men while he turned and crossed the yard. He kicked the dropped six-gun away from the man with the knife impaling his hand to his thigh who seemed more intent on watching Harriet where she stood with a smaller knife drawn. Her gray eyes were the color of storm clouds, and her lips were drawn back against her teeth. She turned her gaze to Shade, nodding at the whimpering man on the ground, "Can you make sure he is not in possession of other weapons?" Shade kneeled next to him and performed a quick search, pulling out a thin wallet from inside the man's vest. He handed it to Harriet and rose to his feet. The man watched him with equal amounts of fear and pain showing on his face. Shade nodded at Harriet who rose to her feet. The small knife in her hand disappeared. Shade thought he saw her tuck it beneath the cuff of her blouse but wasn't sure. "Josephine," Harriet called out, "please find a clean cloth for binding this man's wounds. I want my knife back. Mr. Chaffee, can you send one of your boys to the sheriff?" Chaffee, who had come out of the office after the shooting was over, nodded and sent a groom off to do her bidding. "Please bring your sketchbook too. I would like for you to draw the scene so that we have a record of where each of these villains was." Jo could not believe what had just gone on, right in front of her eyes as well. This was not something she was accustomed to, gunfights and murder. Her heart was pounding furiously in her chest as she rose to her feet, her hands trying to bat dust from her skirt. And when exactly did her sister...the way she'd thrown that knife? Even though she had seen it with her own eyes, she still didn't quite believe that it wasn't some illusion. "Of course." She replied to her sister's command, moving toward the front door of the store to see if Mrs. Chaffee could spare something.
  15. Turn of the Wheel

    Chaffee's Livery Stable lay at the end of a short, wide alley. Of the three establishments in Missoula Mills, it had the best reputation when it came to the care of the animals under its roof. The one at the Guardian Arms Hotel was probably a little cleaner and definitely more expensive, but the care of the horses had been indifferent. The third one, McCaskey & Sons, was downright filthy and catered to a clientele that would be considered dodgy at best. In fact, it was usually a toss-up on whether the old man and his boys would be available to take care of clients or locked up at the local jail. In addition to providing long-term and short-term boarding for horses, they also offered storage for private coaches and carriages, drivers for hire, and horse rental. Once it became necessary for Harriet to travel to Missoula and on to Kalispell on a regular basis, she had lodged her team at Chaffee's. The alley opened up to a large, tidy yard. On the left was a paddock where several horses picked at bales of hay or took advantage of the shade provided by an open-front shed that had been built against the barn. On the right was a long, low two-story building. The first floor housed a tack and feed store and the livery's offices. The upper floor was the Chaffee's home. Between the store and paddock was the entrance to the main barn. Through its breezeway was another area with two larger paddocks for grazing the animals and another large barn. Across from the rear barn was a long shed where carriages, coaches, and wagons were housed. Just beyond that was a blacksmith's shop. School-age boys scurried about, mucking out stalls or carrying feed. Mr. Chaffee and his wife were popular employers because they paid a fair wage, even to the boys, and let them keep their tips. In front of the feed and tack shop was a wide, covered porch. Several tables were set along its length along with a few comfortable rocking chairs. In mild weather, this was where people would wait for their bill to be drawn up, feed orders to be filled or for their rentals to be brought to the yard. Mrs. Chaffee offered a light breakfast in the mornings, sandwiches at lunch and hot coffee or tea all day long. It was a service that even the hotel's livery stable did not offer its clients. Shade and Quentin left Harriet near the porch to seek out one of the grooms to arrange for the walking of their saddle horses and to purchase supplies needed for the animals. Charles Chaffee walked out of the office door and down the steps. He glanced at Josephine and nodded toward the building's low porch, "There's seating and shade there, miss. I'll send out the Mrs. Chaffee with some coffee and tea." He turned cheerful brown eyes on Harriet, "We got your telegram, ma'am. Too late to get a reply to you though. Roman is putting the final touches on cleaning your harnesses and coach." "Thank you, Mr. Chaffee," Harriet answered, offering the older man a pleasant smile. "I trust Mrs. Chaffee is well?" "Oh yes, ma'am," the older man said with a smile, "family's doing quite well, thank you." "Mr. Fang is attending to other business, Mr. Chaffee. I will need a relief driver. Is Mr. Bennett available?" There were two men that Harriet employed when Fang was not with her. Both were trustworthy, married men who were good with her horses. Usually, she included the need for a driver in her telegrams informing the Chaffees that she'd need her team ready on a certain date. This time, however, she had not expected to be without Fang. "I'm sorry, Ms. Mercer, Christopher Bennett broke his arm last week and the other gentleman you normally employ, Mr. Holloway, decided to move to California." Chaffee sounded sincerely saddened to have to inform Harriet of the circumstances. He liked being able to accommodate his customers' needs and it distressed him to be unable to do so. Harriet frowned. This was a predicament she had not anticipated. Ordinarily, it would not be an issue. She could simply remain in Missoula Mills until a driver became available or Fang could join her. However, time was of the essence on this trip. She did not like taking things like the vagaries of weather, the cooperation of hostile Indians, or the perfect operation of her coach and team to reach Kalispell before the injunction expired for granted. Harriet was also annoyed that she had put herself in this situation by becoming distracted before leaving San Francisco and getting the telegram off to Mr. Chaffee late. She had failed to leave time for him to reply as she normally did. Now, she would have to take a chance on a stranger to help drive her team, if there was one available. "Mr. Chaffee, it is really quite urgent that I secure the services of a driver immediately," Harriet said, her voice firm although she knew that the man could not force a driver to materialize. "Well, I don't know, ma'am," Chaffee drawled, "I wouldn't want to send you north with just anyone. His gentle brown eyes brightened, "Wait! I might just know a fella that would be available and would not...uh...take advantage of you." He reached into the pocket of his vest and brought out a folded napkin, "Apples for your team. I'll check and see if the man I'm thinking of would be interested." "Thank you, Mr. Chaffee," Harriet said with heartfelt relief in her voice. She placed her attaché case and carry-all next to the table where Josephine and her birds were seated. She turned and headed into the barn with light and graceful steps, calling the names of her horses with an almost-girlish voice, "Manny, Traveler, Flint, Dancer!" She was answered by various sounds from the horses as they recognized her voice. Arthur Chaffee walked around to the side door entrance where the employee break room was. The man he was looking for was not technically an employee of the livery stable, none of the drivers were, but he had a habit of dropping in to check for work. As he'd hoped, he was there. "Mr. Stahl, may I speak with you?" Surprised at the voice from the side door Stahl turned around, interrupting his talk with one of the employees from the stable. "Of course, Mr. Chaffee," he replied walking up to the man, so they could have a proper conversation. "What can I do for you?" Chaffee led Stahl out to the stable and down the breezeway to where Harriet stood by her horses' stalls, doling out bits of apple to each. Four pairs of equine eyes and one pair of human eyes turned to survey the newcomers. "Miss H.G. Mercer, this is Mr. Adalwin Stahl. It might be he'd be interested in helping you out, ma'am." "Thank you, Mr. Chaffee," Harriet said, smiling at the older gentleman. "If you would have my coach wheeled out, I'll harness the horses myself." As Arthur Chaffee headed off to make sure the coach was ready, Harriet turned her eyes to the gentleman that had accompanied the livery's owner. He was a tall man with blond hair worn slightly long and clear green eyes. She saw nothing that made her immediately uneasy. Harriet used her gut reaction as a barometer when evaluating people, but not as the only gauge. More times than not, however, her instinctive reaction had led her to turn down a client only to learn that they had been dishonest in representing themselves to her. Of course, her internal barometer was not always accurate. "Mr. Stahl," Harriet greeted the gentleman and offered her hand. "I find that I am in need of a relief driver for the journey to Kalispell." She smiled slightly, "I tend to trust Mr. Chaffee's recommendations." There were several things that Stahl noticed when Mr. Chaffee introduced him to Fräulein H.G. Mercer. The first was, of course, her appearance and a Lady of her good looks would have stood out anywhere. But she had such a well-kept, well-groomed appearance like she was just going to visit a fellow Lady, that certainly was a contrast to her surroundings. Without even noticing Stahl had straightened up, falling into the straight-backed formal stance that had become ingrained in the past. "Miss Mercer, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," he responded to the introduction. The second observation of Ms. Mercer came once she spoke, and her words and carriage made it clear she was a woman of education. Mr. Chaffee had already headed off to bring out the carriage, so no explanations of the nature of the journey or where this Kalispell indeed might be found were forthcoming. Both had become secondary concerns though, no matter where this Kalispell was, even if it was right on the other side of the continent, denying a Lady the requested assistance was one rudeness Stahl hoped he'd never commit, no matter what else life still held in store for him. "I am quite honored by Mr. Chaffee's trust," he replied, deciding not to wonder what in the world the man based said trust. "I was indeed looking for a company to continue my own journey, so I would gladly accept your offer to be your secondary carter on that tour." "I have business in Kalispell," Harriet went on to explain, taking note of his accent which, she guessed, placed him from somewhere within the German Empire. She was not good enough with the accents of Europe to narrow it down further than that. "Can you handle a coach and four," she waved a small, gloved hand at her four Gypsy horses. "A coach and four are no problem," Stahl replied honestly, his eyes turning to the four horses. They were lighter than those he knew from supply wagons and other wagon trains, agiler too. "Tinkers," the observation was made only for himself as he studied them for a moment. "Do you wish me to harness them?" He asked, trying to word it in a way that made clear he did not doubt her own abilities, but kept the politeness that was to offer to take such a task from the hands of a Lady. She also might want to know how well he could handle those four. Harriet smiled, "Not that I do not trust Mr. Chaffee. He and his establishment do an outstanding job of taking care of the boys." She rubbed the snip of white on Flint's nose as she spoke, "But, for my peace of mind, I like to harness them myself the first time out. It allows me to inspect them and their rig." Reaching up to the peg that held the halters and lead lines, she added, "I would be most appreciative of the help, Mr. Stahl. Will forty dollars for the week be sufficient for your time? Kalispell is one hundred twenty miles north, normally a two or three-day journey for a well-sprung team." "Your offer is more than sufficient, Ma'am," Stahl replied, meaning it. Her words gave him a first sense where the journey would lead them. Without further ado, he moved to assist her as she harnessed the horses.

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Sagas of the Wild West is a roleplaying game set in the American Wild West of the 1870s. It is based on the classic television and movie westerns of the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s.

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