Harriet is a small woman with a petite build. She is in good physical shape due to her enjoyment of walking and working with her horses. Her hair is such a dark shade of auburn that it appears black. There are strands of pure red running though it that pick up the sunlight. She usually wears her hair up in one of the latest fashionable styles. When loose, it is waist length, thick and wavy. H.G.'s eyes are a light gray with flecks of blue and green. The irises have a pronounced black ring around them which makes the color appear lighter.
H.G. is not a fashion maven, but she dresses stylishly and well. She has a strong preference for deep jewel-tone colors (burgundy, dark red, emerald green, deep blue) and, occasionally, black. She has a marked preference for gowns with cleverly tailored split skirts and with long sleeves or with tailored jackets that have long sleeves. H.G. will not wear high heels as she feels they impede movement plus they make her back hurt. She will wear tailored trousers when out working with her horses or hiking.
Harriet has a distinct distaste for being unkempt or dirty. If she has traveled to see a client, she insists on having time to bathe or, where pull showers are available, showering. She wears very little makeup as she dislikes its feel on her skin.
Traits & Characteristics
Extremely intelligent (+)
Cold, aloof, distant (-)
H.G. speaks in a light, delicate voice with a cultured accent that almost sounds British. She has eradicated all traces of her native southern accent. She moves with a graceful elegance in keeping with her petite build and stature. She tends to fold her hands primly when speaking to keep from using them to talk. H.G. is rather formal in her mode of speech, rarely using contractions, slang or colloquialisms.
Most people view H.G. as cold, distant, and aloof which is reasonably accurate. She has had to develop a tough skin to make her way in her chosen profession. She does not speak in the coy manner of most women of her age and upbringing. H.G. is forthright, direct, and her honesty is often harsh. Harriet Gene Mercer finds losing her temper distasteful; therefore she makes a determined effort to never do so.
Once she takes on a client, which she rarely does without researching them thoroughly, she will complete the job unless she finds she's been deceived.
Thornton Legacy, Inc.
Position: Attorney, Business Manager
Details: Harriet was assigned by the court to oversee the administration of the various business interests belonging to Thornton Legacy, Inc. She assists Quentin Cantrell in the management of the various businesses.
H.G. Mercer & Associates
Position: Owner, Attorney
Details: There are no associates other than H.G.'s long-term friend and watchdog, Alistair Fang.
Eidetic memory for numbers, figures.
H.G. has an ability to recognize numerical patterns quickly. This skill is often utilized when she is investigating businesses and individuals for fraud.
Hand-to-Hand Combat: H.G.'s friend, mentor, and former guardian, Fang, has taught her the martial arts of his homeland. She is proficient and can, if necessary, defend herself quite ably. As a lone woman in business for herself, Fang insisted she be able to take care of herself.
Weapons: While she understands their necessity, H.G. really dislikes guns. She prefers knives and carries several. H.G. is an expert with throwing knives and fighting blades. She owns an exquisite sword given to her by Fang. She, of course, does not carry it often. H.G. most often wears two small throwing knives tucked into spring-loaded wrist sheathes. She also wears a thin, double-edged push knife tucked into a neck sheath (worn beneath her jacket in the back).
Hobbies & Interests
Art: Harriet is a very accomplished sketch-artist. One of her earliest jobs was sketching court cases and crime scenes.
Fast Carriage Horses
Harness Racing: H.G. is a good horsewoman, but her true passion is for harness horses. She keeps a stable of Hackney horses for pulling her lighter personal conveyances. She also has several pacers and trotters as she is an expert whip and loves harness racing. Harriet also keeps a team of four heavier coach horses for long distance travel.
Aliases / Nicknames
H.G. (business name and preferred first name)
Harriet (tolerated form of address)
Genie (used by her late father)
Harriet loathes the use of nicknames, especially in reference to herself. She has a given name and her business name. For those allowed to be on a first name basis with her, those are her preferences.
Lost Lake Ranch (LLR)
San Francisco, California
H.G. purchased the Haight-Ashbury mansion not long after settling in San Francisco.
Place of Birth
Grace Manor, Telfair Square, Savannah, Georgia
Kith & Kin
Franklin Hartwell Mercer (deceased)
Details included in Personal History.
Alistair Fang (guardian)
When Harriet was sixteen, her father relinquished his parental rights. His long-time friend became Harriet's legal guardian.
Winnifred Grace Mercer (deceased)
Details included in Personal History.
Josephine Mercer (half-sister)
DOB: November 19, 1850
Mother: Evelyn Mercer
Father: Franklin Hartwell Mercer
H.G. can only hope that her father has not left a string of children, legitimate and otherwise, in his wake. Her grandparents on both sides are deceased as are the majority of her other relatives.
Alistair Fang (1845 to Present): Frank Mercer met Fang while in England. When Frank's wife was killed and he retained sole custody of his daugher, Fang stepped in to raise her. When Fang insisted that Harriet be allowed to attend a regular school, Frank abandoned his daughter entirely and had Fang made her legal guardian. He continues to be her mentor, sometime bodyguard, best friend and the closest thing to a father she has truly known.
Quentin Cantrell (1875 - Present): Harriet met Quentin during the train journey from Sacramento to Missoula. Subsequently, he and Shade Thornton accompanied Harriet and her sister to Kalispell. She thinks of him as that insufferable man but has to admit to a grudging respect for him. Despite his checkered past, she is developing a fondness for his company, enjoys their verbal battles, and trusts him to do the right thing for his niece and nephew.
Chance and Regina Thornton (1868 - 1875): Harriet was hired by Chance and Regina Thornton in 1868 to do a forensic audit of the various Thornton business interests. They also wanted her to begin proceedings to dissolve the trust set up by Chance's grandfather that prohibited them from leaving the ranch and other assets to all of their children. After Harriet discovered fraudulent activity and that John Caleb Thorton's attorney was also working for the Steelgraves, implacable enemies of the Thorntons, they put Harriet on permanent retainer and soon became her closest friends. She continues to grieve their deaths and is determined to see their two remaining children taken care of.
October 7, 1839
Harriet Gene Mercer was born to Franklin and Winnifred Mercer at their home in Savannah, Georgia.
Frank Mercer was the eldest son of a wealthy plantation owner but was more inclined toward a life of leisure. To that end, he'd married Winnifred Grace, a slightly older but very wealthy woman whose family's fortunes were based on the import and export business. Winnifred was the last living member of the Grace family. Fortunately, while something of a social butterfly, Winnifred was not a fool. She was also a very intelligent business woman.
Winnifred named her daughter after her parents, Harriet and Gene Grace. Gene was an unusual name for a girl, but Winnifred enjoyed being unconventional.
1839 to 1844 (a. 0-5)
H.G.'s first five years were relatively unremarkable. Neither Frank or Winifred were inclined to hands-on parenting. Harriet was left primarily in the care of nursemaids and nannies. About the only time that she saw her parents were on the occasions where they felt a need to show off their darling daughter, Harriet.
In 1844, Harriet's paternal relatives at Twenty Oaks Plantation were killed by a cholera epidemic. She had never been close to them, so it made little impact on her. Frank only saw it as a means to feather his nest with the sale of the family home.
By the time she turned five, her father was spending more time away than with his wife and daughter. Winnifred suspected her husband was having affairs. She also became suspicious of him for other reasons as well. During one of his absences, Winnifred had a separate will drawn up and filed that would leave all of her assets including Grace Manor, the Telfair Square mansion, to her daughter in a trust to be administered by her attorneys. Frank would receive a stipend from the trust.
1845 (a. 6)
July 8: Winnifred Grace Mercer dies.
August: Harriet's father takes custody.
On a hot summer's day, while walking home from the park, H.G.'s mother was struck by a runaway freight wagon. Several days later, on July 8, 1845, she died from internal injuries. In early August, Frank Mercer, H.G.'s father swept in from parts unknown to take charge of his young daughter and her trust fund. Frank brought with him a man named Alistair Fang who would be the biggest influence in Harriet's life.
Winnifred Mercer's will was precise and ironclad. Frank was to receive a stipend from the trust, but it would not support him in the style to which he'd become accustomed. Frank found the terms of his late wife's will annoying, but not an impediment to his life. His charm and dashing looks secured his place in the upper echelons of society. The Mercer name was old and well-respected.
On the positive side, Alistair Fang was considerably better at fatherhood than Frank was. He took charge of H.G., seeing to it that she was educated, taught her to defend herself, and made sure she had the proper chaperones in the form of nannies and governesses. This became increasingly important since her father tended to wear out his welcome in a place very quickly.
1847 to 1854 (a. 8-15)
1847 (a. 8): Frank and Harriet moved to Boston.
April 1850 (a. 11): Franklin Mercer marries Evelyn Thomas of Boston, MA.
November 1850 (a. 11): Josephine Mercer (half-sister) born.
In 1847, Frank relocated to Boston to try his luck in high society there. His apparent wealth and southern charm opened the doors of more than one affluent Bostonian. Frank's money was dwindling, the stipend from Harriet's trust was not enough to offset his monumental gambling debts. He was in need of another heiress, preferably one that he did not have to marry. Frank liked variety.
By age eleven, Harriet's prodigious skills with numbers and figures were being noted by her governess. Her ability to look at several pages of figures and accurately add them in her head made her something of an anomaly. She was also able to look at a group of figures and accurately recall them later as well as to spot when something was slightly off about groups of figures. Harriet took comfort in her skill and in the numbers themselves. Figures could be made to lie by people, but they were not inherently untruthful.
Harriet was not surprised when Frank began keeping company with a young woman of a prominent family. She was gentle, charming and stunningly beautiful. Evelyn Thomas was also kind to Frank's socially awkward and somewhat shy daughter. Frank professed his undying love for Evelyn leading to an affair that would have ruined the young woman's reputation had it become public knowledge. Harriet's father was counting on that and made sure her family learned of their trysts. The Thomas' solution was to arrange a marriage between Evelyn and Frank.
In November, Josephine Mercer, Harriet's half-sister, was born. Coming only seven months after the wedding made the reason for the hasty marriage clear. However, at least on the surface, Boston Society accepted the story that Evelyn was brought to bed in premature labor. Despite the birth of her daughter, Evelyn continued to be kind to Harriet. As Frank's absences increased and were of longer durations, she often cajoled him into leaving Harriet with her.
These periods of stability tended to be brief with Frank swooping in to stay a few days and then leave taking Harriet with him. Frank saw her ability with numbers as his way to an easy fortune. He believed that if she could calculate numbers so quickly and accurately, she could do the same with cards. Unfortunately, while a math prodigy, her skill did not run to being able to accurately estimate card hands to any great degree. Frank soon lost interest in her altogether beyond being able to use her as a way into some gullible woman's heart who felt sorry for the poor, motherless Harriet.
There were advantages to Frank Mercer's vagabond life for Harriet. She learned a great deal about different places and people. But, it also taught her to not become close to anyone or to get comfortable wherever they were living. Frank had a habit of abandoning his daughter to the care of his friend, Fang which was also a blessing in disguise because Fang loved the child unconditionally. From that, Harriet learned there was only one person she could depend on outside of herself, and that was Fang.
1855 to 1858 (a. 16-19)
January 14, 1855 (a. 16): Starts St. Vincent's Academy, Savannah, Georgia.
May 1857 (a. 18): Graduates St. Vincent's.
September 1857: Begins classes at Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia.
1858 (a. 19): Franklin Hartwell Mercer dies (duel).
Shortly after Harriet turned sixteen, Fang put his foot down and insisted that Frank allow her to return to Boston or Savannah to attend a regular school. Frank agreed. He even went one step further and had Fang appointed as her legal guardian. Despite how unorthodox it was, the law firm that administered Harriet's trust fund and maintained the Telfair Square mansion was relieved. With Frank out of the picture, Fang took Harriet back to Savannah and enrolled her in the newly formed St. Vincent's Academy.
Under the care and guidance of a lady's companion and the teachers at the school, Harriet lost a great deal of her social awkwardness while her cold demeanor earned her the nickname of Merciless Mercer. She didn't care. Harriet had a goal, and that was to be at the top of her class and to excel at everything.
Harriet succeeded beyond her goals, managing to graduate as Valedictorian and received a full scholarship to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.
In 1858, Fang returned from New Orleans with news of Frank Mercer's death. He had been killed in a duel over a woman and money. All Harriet felt was relief in being able to close that chapter of her life. She forwarded the news to her stepmother in Boston and continued on with her life.
Freed of the responsibility for her father, she focused on her studies and graduated first in her class with a degree in math and her certification as a CPA. Her professors happily sponsored her to a place at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was accepted into the College of Law.
1859 to 1866 (a. 20-23)
1859 (a. 20): Moves to Cambridge, Mass. to attend Harvard Law.
1861 (a. 22): Completes law degree; Civil War begins; relocates to San Francisco.
In 1860, Evelyn Mercer died of a wasting sickness leaving Harriet as her ten-year-old sister's legal guardian. Evelyn's brother wanted nothing to do with his niece and, in fact, made a determined effort to deny her the modest inheritance due her from her mother's estate, what was left of it after Frank Mercer went through it. Securing additional remuneration from the estate was Harriet's first legal action.
A year later, in 1861, Harriet graduated from Harvard, again at the top of her class. Unfortunately, she quickly learned that few people were willing to trust a female lawyer. Likewise, it was not feasible to try to open her own practice in Savannah where her name might carry some weight due to the talk of conflict. That left the West.
Harriet sent Fang to San Francisco to secure them a residence there while she handled the sale of the Telfair mansion in Savannah. She also withdrew her money from the various Southern banks. The house sold quickly. Harriet and Josephine then relocated to San Francisco where she hoped to meet less resistance to practicing her trade.
Fang secured them a beautiful Victorian mansion, the result of a miner having invested unwisely and lost everything. It was located in the burgeoning Haight-Ashbury neighborhood which was still mostly rural at the time. However, San Francisco itself was still a rough frontier town, and Harriet did not consider it suitable for Josephine. She also needed to focus on her career. After a search, she found a suitable convent school in Sacramento. It was peaceful and secluded. To Harriet's way of thinking, considering how unstable her own upbringing had been, it was ideal. She enrolled Josephine at the St. Agatha's Sisters of Mercy school feeling that the kind sisters of the renowned nursing order would be ideal teachers and caregivers.
1862 to 1867 (a. 23-28)
Forms H.G. Mercer and Associates
Harriet's credentials from Harvard and her brilliance with numbers secured her a few clients. One day, Fang told her that she could not change the fact that she was a woman, so she needed to change people's perceptions of her as a woman. With those few words, H.G. Mercer and Associates was born. Harriet began referring to herself as H.G., the initials of her first and middle names. H.G. Mercer began attracting clients, and as she successfully resolved their cases, her reputation as a brilliant attorney grew.
In 1864, one of H.G.'s clients was a man who suspected illegal activities in his business but had been unable to prove it. This proved H.G.'s first venture into sorting out a client's legal business entanglements. She found it challenging and fascinating. It also made her a great deal of money in the form of fees and bonuses, putting her on the path to a successful career. It also taught her that people rated a person's abilities largely based on how much they charged.
In 1865, the Civil War ended, and H.G. found Mercer & Associates had more clients than they could handle. Her solution was to narrow the firm's focus. The firm began to discreetly handle an exclusive segment of clientele that needed someone who was an expert on finance from a legal perspective. These people needed a legal troubleshooter more than a simple attorney.
1867 to 1874 (a. 28-35)
1868: Hired by Chance and Regina Thornton.
In 1868, H.G. received a letter from a man named Chance Thornton who resided in the Territory of Montana. He was a well-to-do rancher who had recently inherited the family businesses and their ranch. He and his wife had been studying the accounts and also trying to figure out why they were losing money on some of the businesses and livestock contracts from the ranch's business.
Harriet traveled to Montana and, as much as she was capable of, fell in love with the region and its people. Travel to Kalispell, however, was arduous as there was no train beyond Missoula. She put thoughts of relocating to Montana aside, settling for maintaining a suite at the Belle-St. Regis Hotel in Kalispell.
H.G. was able to resolve all of the Thorntons' financial mysteries. In the process, she revealed that many of their woes could be attributed to a man, another attorney, named Carson Tyndall. He had been working for the powerful and wealthy Steelgrave family whose agenda involved the total destruction of the Thorntons. Chance and Regina fired the man and retained Harriet as their attorney.
1875 (a. 36)
Chance, Regina, Grant and Beth Thornton are killed.
Josephine and Jeremy Fitzpatrick attempt to elope.
Meets Quentin Cantrell and Shade Thornton
Relocates to Kalispell, Montana.
By 1875, H.G.'s reputation as a corporate assassin was well known in business circles. If a business owner needed their affairs of any kind put in order without a scandal, they contacted H.G. Mercer and Associates. As Fang was the only associate, discretion was guaranteed.
Josephine attempted to elope with a young fortune hunter named Jeremy Fitzpatrick. Harriet thwarted the elopement but felt it would be unwise to leave her sister in the path of temptation. Since she had to journey to Kalispell to deal with the legal crisis engendered by the deaths of Chance and Regina Thornton, H.G. forced Josephine to accompany her. Her sister was less than pleased and, still grieving the loss of her friends, Harriet was less than sympathetic.
The initial legal crisis was soon resolved as was the issue with her sister. The Judge mandated that Chance and Regina's five-year-old twins be remanded to the custody of their uncles, Quentin Cantrell and Shade Thornton, Chance's younger brother. He further stipulated that the two men hire a suitable woman to help care for them and manage the household. H.G. recommended her sister who was young enough to keep up with the twins. The ranch also suited Harriet's plans to keep Josephine away from temptation - Jeremy Fitzpatrick.
An unexpected mandate by Judge Mandrell was that Harriet remain as the financial advisor and business manager to the Thornton Legacy. For now, she is residing at the ranch so that she can discharge her duties.
Completed high school and law school. Harriet has a legal degree and a degree in accounting.
H.G. was sent to boarding school and learned most of the accepted skills for a lady of the period (art, music, dance, embroider), all of which she loathes, except for painting.
Animals & Pets
Breed: Gypsy Horses
Age: 5-8 years
Dancer (Wheeler): Crooked white stripe on the face.
Dante (Wheeler): Star on the forehead.
Flint (Leader): Blaze and snip, white rear socks.
Manny (Leader): Star on the forehead.
Note: All four of Harriet's Gypsy Horses are cross-trained to each team position and will go under saddle. Please see Harriet's photo album for images of the team.
Color: Dappled gray with silver and black mane and tail.
Age: 6 years
Harriet prefers driving horses, but she is a reasonably skilled horsewoman. After the death of Regina Thornton, she is given Regina's Arabian gelding.
Mature Content: No
With: Quentin Cantrell, Shade Thornton Location: Blackbird Lodge (main ranch house) When: Mid-September 1875 (just past the middle of the month) Time of Day: Late Afternoon
At last! Harriet felt herself slump in the saddle as the main barn next to the lodge came into view. Without the cattle holding them back, they had made good time on the return trip to Kalispell. Still, the last thirteen miles from the ranch's border to the main house felt like it would never end. She patted Spirit's neck. Even the powerful paint was weary, although he did manage to throw up his head and whinny at the sight and smell of home. They had left the other riders at the bunkhouse, so it was only herself and Quentin arriving at the house. Now, she glanced over at him, certain that he was as exhausted as she was.
The ride back from Poison had been made with Harriet very aware of what had passed between herself and Quentin. They had been careful of one another during the journey for propriety's sake. She needed to talk to him, but that would also have to wait until a more propitious time. Right now, she would have to content herself with brushing her gloved fingers over his when he reached up to help her off of her horse. Despite her best efforts, she staggered slightly when her feet hit the ground.
A hand came out to greet them and take the horses. Harriet smiled, "Give him a good extra helping of feed. He worked hard and took good care of me." The man grinned and tipped his hat as he gathered the reins.
Harriet walked slowly to the door and paused just outside it. Squaring her shoulders, she tossed a smile at Quentin, then pushed heavy doors open, raising her voice stridently, Harriet called out, "Shade Thornton! I need to speak to you right now!" Her eyes and her smile brightened as she imagined the younger man wincing or even trying to find a place to hide.
Harriet took her time washing up. While she was at it, she did her best to rinse her trail-weary clothing and laying them out to dry. She then changed into a clean split riding skirt, blouse, and vest. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do with her hair except tie it back with a ribbon borrowed from the lady-of-the-house. Feeling as presentable as possible, Harriet admonished herself for the slight fluttering of her heart at the thought of Quentin and how terrified she had been for his safety. Of course, they had hugged and held one another for a moment after what had happened. It did not mean that he had feelings for her...or her for him. Still, her spirits lifted at knowing she would see him in a few moments.
Once downstairs, she went to the home's well-kept little parlor to wait on Quentin. Harriet was capable of finding the mess on her own, she was just waiting for him to help her thread the maze of military protocols...at least that was what she was going to tell herself.
Quentin stood in front of the mirror mounted on the dresser in the small bedroom. He finished combing his hair back with some product he found on the dresser. He could use a haircut but if he tried to give himself one the result would probably be laughable. He set the comb down and looked at himself in the mirror. He had also enjoyed a bath and the shave did more than anything else to make him feel human again after the time on the trail. He stepped back a bit and smoothed out the black bibbed shirt. He nodded and looked down at the clean pants he had found in his gear. Quentin was also proud that he had managed to clean the trail dirt off his boots and even accomplished a reasonable shine with some time and polish. His hat was a lost cause and would have to serve only in the field until he could get back and buy a new one.
Quentin put everything away and back into his saddle bags and then buckled on his gunbelt. He tied the holster to his right thigh and left his hideout Colt with his gear. Quentin then headed downstairs and set his personal gear beside Harriet's before he stepped into the parlor and came up short. "Oh, I apologize...I was looking for my trail partner, not a lovely lady..."
Harriet blinked at Quentin for a second before realizing that he was teasing and complimenting her in the same breath. No wonder Regina had often talked about how charming her brother could be. It was not a side of him that Harriet had seen much of as they tended to rub one another the wrong way. The smile she offered in return actually reached and warmed her twilight-colored eyes, "Why, thank you, Quentin. You are a bit unexpected as well." She moved closer to him and her voice was a bit husky when she spoke, "Now that we do not have an audience," Harriet touched his arm gently, "I am very glad you were not shot. I was frightened for you." There! She had admitted it. Being forthright was one of her hallmarks.
Quentin heard her words as he watched her face change from her smile. He reached a hand up and lightly cradled the side of her face and her neck. "I really did not care what happened to me as long as I knew it meant you were safe..." He leaned over and very lightly kissed her and let it linger across several heartbeats before he leaned back. "...Um...I guess we should get to dinner..." He straightened and offered his arm to Harriet. "Shall we?"
Her heart danced in her chest as Quentin's lips met hers and she felt her eyes glisten. Harriet had never expected this...this feeling. It was new and unknown and heady. She smiled at him and took his arm, leaning into his side and squeezing his arm gently where her hand rested on it, "We shall." Her gray eyes flew up to meet his dark ones. She wanted to voice how she was feeling, but they could not keep Colonel MacKenzie waiting. There would be time to talk later...
Harriet dismounted from Spirit once they were all within the environs of the fort. She patted the big paint's neck and stretched, feeling her spine crackle and pop. Major Brittles had immediately headed to see Fort Kilpatrick's commanding officer. At least, Harriet presumed that was where he was going. She and Quentin needed to see Colonel MacKenzie also, but that was going to have to wait. She wanted to get Spirit settled and was a bit of the trail dirt off herself.
She hailed a young man and had to stop herself from shaking her head. Young was the operative. He looked far too young to be wearing the uniform of the United States Cavalry. "Private, could you show us or tell us where we can see to our horses?"
The young man blushed but seemed pleased that she had gotten his rank correct, "Certainly, but we can see to your mounts, ma'am."
Harriet glanced over at Quentin, then back at the Private, "I know, and we appreciate the offer. However, I think a person should take care of their animals before themselves. I would like to find a place to wash-up a bit afterward though. We need to see Colonel MacKenzie.
The Private showed them to a couple of empty stalls in the stable and where to find everything to care for their horses. Weems was leaving as they entered. He told Harriet and Quentin that he and the other two hands were going to grab a bit of food in the mess and make a tally of their remaining gear. Harriet promised to locate them after talking to the Colonel. A few minutes later, she had Spirit's saddle and bridle off of him and food and water in his trough, which he snorted at softly before beginning to eat. She brushed some of the dust off his black and white coat and then leaned on the stall rails looking over at Quentin, who was working on Paladin.
"Well, our first cattle drive certainly went awry," Harriet commented quietly, a note of amusement in her voice.
Quentin gave Paladin a few brushes along his back and side then looked over the horse's back at Harriet. "Shade will never let us hear the end of it after this, but I claim Force Majeure due to Indian interference, so it's not totally our fault." Quentin left Paladin happily eating from a trough as he put the stable items back and then leaned on the rail opposite Harriet. "It's still embarrassing, but I think we did pretty well with our lack of experience..." Quentin glanced around as his face grew more serious. "...Something feels wrong around here. I can't put my finger on it, but the men here feel worried. You can almost feel it in the air like before a storm comes up."
"Perhaps we can avoid giving Shade the details?" Harriet suggested mischievously. Then, her face fell, "That will never work if we have to make up a shortfall. We shall just have to put up with his teasing."
Harriet shifted her stance so that she was leaning closer to Quentin, allowing her to speak in a lower voice. "I noticed it too. Add to that, I checked before we left Kalispell on the drive. There were no reports of hostile Indian activity between there and Missoula. Fort Poison has always sent telegrams to the sheriff if there was a need for caution. Of course, it could have come after we left."
Quentin rubbed his chin as he considered what she was telling him. "I suppose...it is possible things happened quickly and the commander forgot to send an alert to Kalispell with preparing for an attack..." Quentin looked around as if hoping to see the answer he was searching for. "...We need more information before we can decide what to do next."
"Agreed," Harriet answered. She found it a pleasant feeling to not be at odds with Quentin for a change. That was a novel sensation that she would have to file away and worry about later. Harriet had not yet had time to examine why she had felt panicked at the thought of him being injured during the Indian attack. "We need to find out if Colonel MacKenzie can see us now. We have to inform him of our plans for retrieving the cattle and making up any shortfall anyway." Since Harriet was clad for the trail, she did not have a handbag with her. She pulled her saddlebags off the back of Spirit's saddle and slung them over her shoulder, "Ready when you are, Quentin."
Harriet smiled at Addy, "Thank you for the offer, Addy. I do appreciate it. However, I prefer to continue on to Fort Kilpatrick since it is less than five miles off. I have no idea why that man," she shot a glare at the major's retreating back, "keeps talking about Kalispell."
She then whirled around to look at Quentin, "I am not having hardtack and beans in a tent, Quentin Cantrell. I do not care how many bottles of whatever it is that you brought."
Honestly, Harriet was confused why the Major kept mentioning Kalispell since they were more than twenty-five miles away from the town. Did he really not know that Fort Kilpatrick was just over the rise, next to the lake? He certainly seemed single-minded about it...and about setting up camp for the night. "You may certainly do as you like for the night. I am riding to Fort Poison." Harriet turned to her horse and began checking the saddle straps, making sure all was still in working order. As she worked she muttered, "will not ALLOW me...As if anyone could stop me!"
"Major, the bloody creatures will not have returned to Kalispell. Until we can round them up and count them, we have no idea how many the natives might have taken," Harriet folded her arms over her chest and threw a sideways glance at Quentin, hoping he planned on backing her up. "Fort Kilpatrick is within minutes of here. If we cannot locate the remainder of our herd, we will ride there and request help. We will not travel the more than twenty-five miles back to Kalispell."
Quentin finished sliding his Winchester back into the saddle scabbard before walking back to the group. "I think you may have misunderstood the situation, Major...the indians pursued us. They did not seem interested in the cattle unless as an afterthought...we may still salvage our contract with a bit of assistance from the US Army..." Quentin smiled pleasantly even as he looked at Harriet with the hope of some silence. "...Besides, the beeves were for the Army to begin with...it's sort of your property once it gets to the fort."
Harriet smiled at the Major, "Thank you for your timely intervention with our pursuers." Turning away, she began checking her gear. Harriet had no intention of defaulting on the contract.
Harriet took the canteen from Addy, removed the cap, and took a long drink. Hers had come off her saddle at some point during the harrying ride. She gave a mental shrug. She could replace it once they got to Fort Kilpatrick. "Thank you, Addy," Harriet said, sincerely grateful to the other woman. She waved back the way they had ridden from, "I am not sure how we offended the Indians. I thought they were after the cattle and horses but they continued on after us instead. Perhaps, Quentin can get us some answers at the fort. We checked for hostile activity before leaving on the drive...none was reported in Kalispell."
After explaining what had occurred, Harriet turned to the man that Addy was introducing. The man was dashing enough but a bit forward she thought as he stated his pleasure upon being introduced. "Major Brittles," Harriet murmured, "Harriet Mercer," she responded. Glancing at Quentin and the men, she shook her head in response to the Major's question, "I do not believe anyone took any harm. However, we cannot linger, sir. We need to see if we can retrieve the cattle we lost." Handsome military officers were all well and good but the Major would not be out the money if the ranch did not show good faith on the cattle contract.
While everyone was stirring about the wagons, Harriet rode over to the wagon with the one person she knew outside her own party. Lost Lake's two trail hands and Weems had settled nearby as well. They were loading spare weapons and preparing for a fight. Harriet wanted to talk to Quentin and take stock of where they stood and what was coming. She pulled her Winchester from its scabbard and dropped to the ground, and looped Spirit's reins through a loop on the wagon.
Harriet kept one eye on Quentin as she began reloading her rifle. She was extremely grateful that he had not been harmed. At the same time, she tried to quash some of the other underlying feelings that had surfaced when he had put himself in harm's way for them. Practicality resurfaced. They needed to find a way to retrieve the scattered cattle and finish the short drive to the fort. They needed to fulfill the contract even though Harriet felt sure that Judge Wendell would take the Indian attack into account when he reviewed the ranch's records. It was also a matter of honor. Harriet suspected that Shade half expected them to fail.
To her surprise, she knew the woman that Quentin had spoken to. Harriet's smoky gray eyes widened, "Addy!" Despite their circumstances, she smiled, "You are the last person I expected to run into out here."
It felt as if she had been in the saddle and riding hard for hours when, in fact, it was only minutes...very long minutes. For whatever reason, the band of Indians had not left off their pursuit. That surprised Harriet. She had thought that once they had clear access to the cattle and horses, they would break off. Harriet was not an expert, but she knew that most tribes wanted no part of attacking an occupied fort. Poison's former trading fort was nothing grand, but it was well-armed. On top of that, it was fairly close to the settlement. It simply was not typical behavior for Indians.
Spirit stumbled hard as he leaped into the middle of a narrow, fast-flowing stream, jarring Harriet's teeth and making her lurch in the saddle. She managed to stay on the horse and pushed him to leap up the far bank. Their pursuers were gaining ground on them and Harriet was exhausted. She clung grimly to the saddle horn and the reins, spurring the big paint forward. Driving the horse hard, she and her companions burst from a narrow copse of trees into a vast meadow.
This time, she came close to falling as Spirit threw up his head and neighed loudly. Far across the expanse of thick grass was a number of men in uniform... Harriet tossed a quick look at Quentin and leaned low over her gelding's neck. Fortune had finally favored them....
Quentin blinked as he heard Harriet's horse, his eyes widening as he saw the soldiers across the meadow. The flood of relief was almost as quickly overcome by a wave of fear. It would be just their luck to be shot down in the exchange of fire between the soldiers and the Indians pursuing them. Quentin spared a quick glimpse behind them and then he spurred to the front of the small group, pointing the Winchester off to the left as he guided Paladin in a curving path to get out from in front of the carbine barrels that were coming up and the snapping rounds coming from behind them. "This way! Left! Left!"
Harriet felt her heart drop like a stone when Quentin whirled his horse around to face the hostiles. She only had a second to think on it though. She and Barnes, the younger of the two hands riding with them, had bought enough time for Weems to get sorted. He had given up trying to snag one of the second string. Instead, he'd unhooked the team from the wagon and vaulted onto the back of the wheeler. With the wagon driver safely mounted, Harriet and the two hands made a last charge, firing a few shots in the direction of the milling cattle. With loud and frantic bellows, the animals finally scattered, many of them running toward the group of Indians. It would buy them a little more time...
Wheeling the big paint in next to Quentin as he caught up to them, Harriet turned long enough to fire off two more shots. She had been stingy with the ammunition in her Winchester. She had come a long way with her marksmanship since Quentin's first lessons, but she was a long way from being able to reload while on the back of a running horse. She had seen Shade do it, holding the reins in his teeth and managing his horse with his legs.
Yelling and screaming like an Indian herself, Harriet drove Spirit at the cattle, pushing the horse and the beef to go faster and faster. She kept low in the saddle, making herself as hard to hit a target as possible. Harriet trusted Quentin to guard her back while she concentrated on the cattle. At the same time, as gunshots rang out, she prayed that he was unharmed.
They were on the fort almost before she knew it. Now began the job of slowing the frenzied cattle down...
Although Harriet had no experience with hostiles, she easily recognized the sounds as the Indians broke from cover. She had barely gotten word to Weems and the other two men when it happened. Harriet reined Spirit in so hard that he slid to a halt on his haunches, rearing slightly and tossing his head. She turned in the saddle and a wave of relief swept over her as she saw Quentin riding hard in their direction. With some luck, the Indians were after the cattle although it was equally likely that they wanted the horses and weapons too.
Whirling Spirit around again, Harriet set spur to the horse's flanks and the big paint leaped toward the herd. After all of the hardships on the trail, she flat refused to lose the cattle to a bunch of Indians. She had been told that Fort Kilpatrick was a mile or two over the rise. She had no idea if they could keep the herd in a flat run and on-target, but she was going to give it her best try. Besides, if the hostiles were after the cattle, they would be hard-put to get ahead of them and turn them. She doubted they had much experience with rounding up a terrified mob of cows that were half-wild on a good day.
The two hands intuited her plan and also circled to the outside, whistling and whooping. They needed the delay to allow Weems to mount one of the second string of horses they had brought with them. The wagon would be too slow even with a strong pair of horses pulling it. Hopefully, they could recover it later, the team, and most of the herd later. Right now, their lives were more important and the best way to stay alive was to get to the fort!
Harriet brought Spirit alongside the startled cows, sighing in frustration as the herd tried to stop at the creek and drink. She held the reins in one hand as Shade had taught her and drew her rifle from its saddle scabbard. Making sure she aimed it in the clear and would not hit Quentin or the hands, she fired two shots in rapid succession low over the cattle's heads. The sound of the gunfire did the trick. The herd's leaders bolted across the creek, bellowing in terror. Harriet balanced her rifle across the saddle and war-whooped, driving Spirit toward the flanks of the herd that was now galloping madly across the water, up the bank, and flat out on the plains beyond. She dropped low over the saddle's horn making herself less of a target as she yelled let Spirit run flat-out with the herd.
Sagas of the WIld West is a roleplaying game set in a fictionalized version of the town of Kalispell in Montana territory. Our stories begin in 1875 and are set against the backdrop of actual historical events.Sagas was inspired by the classic television and movie westerns. Our focus is on writing, storytelling and character development.
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