"Well, mam. It's been a pleasure coming to an agreement with you. I will come to your place in two days time with my tools. If you'd excuse me now?"
“You are excused, just make sure you do a good job on that there fence. It’s tricky stuff, that wire.” She said sternly, standing up and bustling to the door and pushing past him with a tart “Ladies first!”
Stepping out into the street, Nellie could feel well satisfied with her day’s work. She’d decided to let Jacob stay at the dance while she went home in the pony and trap. Last time she’d seen him, he’d been pitching woo at that snooty little Redmond girl: well, good luck to him there, she didn’t fancy his chances with that po-faced little Madame. If she’d been a boy she’d have gone after that gormless redheaded piece. Only one leg, dumb as a stump, but probably anybody’s for a slice of pumpkin pie.
Yeah, if she’d been a boy, things would have been different. It was a man’s world, but if a girl put her mind to it, she could have all of those fellers dancing to her tune and putting up barbed wire fences till Kingdom Come.
Jay was locking up before heading back to the dance.
“Night Night, Mister Ryker” she simpered with sickly sweet smile that would have charmed any passer by into thinking ‘what a wonderful grandmotherly figure of a woman!’
Jay took another swig and placed the bottle on a small wooden table. She had even suggested that he'd go back to the woman, he was sweet on. Maybe she wasn't all that terrible after all.
"Thank you, mam....what do I call you?"
“Mrs Miggins to you!” Nellie informed him, in no uncertain terms. “Just cause I’m keepin’ quiet about your little escapades don’t mean you should be getting’ over-familiar!” she warned.
Before he left he had to tell her one more thing, though. "I swear you're not making a mistake by keeping my secret hidden. I'm not a bad person, I just ran with foul company. But since I arrived here I've not done anything bad."
“Hmmm, we’ll see!” said the old woman. To be frank, she didn’t give two hoots about whether Mr. Jay Ryker was a devil or an angel when he was in town, as long as he behaved himself and did a good job of the barbed wire when he came out to her homestead.
Now, there was only one person in the whole wide world whom Nellie Miggins would admit to that she’d made a mistake, and that person was Nellie Miggins. Thus it was that she now began to regret and chide herself for encouraging Jay to go back to the Chappel woman and make things up. She still had an unmarried old spinster of a Granddaughter back at the homestead, all of 25 years old. Sure, she'd been a little sickly of late, been practically shut-in all of Winter, but now she seemed a little better, sitting up and even walking around a mite. Maybe…
The liquor from her pocket was another surprise, but a welcome one. Reaching for it he nodded towards her. "Thank you." Took a good long swig to calm himself down a little. The home made stuff burnt down his throat like fire and made him cough a little. "Holy smokes, that tastes like...wonderful."
Granny always liked to be complimented on her homebrewed firewater. “Keep the bottle!” she offered. Suddenly Jay was pressing all her right buttons.
"I always bring my gun...but as you know. Use it too seldom, unlike you." That little jab was necessary.
“I shoot first and ask questions later, that’s the way round these parts if you don’t wanna get shot yerself. And I don’t fire no warning shots, neither!” she lectured.
Then he briefly listed his shirt to show her the scar that her bullet had left. "You got me."
His body was pale but finely formed, his abdominal muscles highlighted in relief in the lamplight. The elderly lady took off her glasses and gave them a rub on her apron before replacing them for to get a real good look at Jay’s masculine form. Then she remembered that she was meant to be looking at the wound. “Hmm, not bad. You’d ha’ been a goner if’n I’d had my shootin’ spectacles on.” She told him.
As he pulled his shirt back down, she looked him up and down appraisingly.
“You’d better have another swig of that moonshine.” She advised him. “Get some Dutch courage before you go back to that dance and make it up with that little girl you’re sweet on. You should get some sparkin’ in there while she’s still wearin’ proper wimmin’s clothes!” she declared, presumably talking about Addy.
"A fence? You mean, no sleeping with you?" He let out a breath, he didn't know he'd been holding. "Oh...a fence. I guess, I could do that."
“Sure, it’s a fence I need; not some filthy minded hanky-panky!” Mrs Miggins declared. “Kissin’ an’ Cuddlin’ ain’t gonna keep them no good cattle off my crops now is it?!”
"But no other demands, right. I'll do the fence for you and you'll keep your mouth shut. ...”
“Deal!” answered the Grandmotherly looking figure, thrusting out her right hand, and these were the days when a gripping flesh like that meant more than a bunch of scribbled words on paper contract. “And now, Mr. Jay Ryker, we’ll drink on it!” she added, pulling a bottle of her own home brewed licker out of her apron pocket. She pulled the stopper out with her still-strong teeth an spat it on the floor before taking a long glug and shoving the bottle in Jay’s direction.
“How do you know my name?"
“Ohhh, I got a special way of finding stuff like that out…” she whispered conspiratorially, before shouting out loud “It’s called ASKING FOLK!”
“Now listen” she said seriously “What I said before about this bein’ dangerous, I wasn’t kidding about that. Ranchers don’t like barbed wire, they might try and stop us puttin’ it up, you savvy? And my farm borders on the outskirts of Lost Lake and Evergreen, just like the Redmond place, so I got double trouble if they want to kick up a ruckus over it. So you need to bring yer shootin’ irons with you when you come, see.”
"You are not suggesting that." He huffed, eyes wide open. It didn't escape his attention how she was giving him the once over with those lustrous old eyes, that had been deprived of the sight of a younger man for many years.
Granny Miggins seemed a little surprised at Jay’s reticence, forgetting that she hadn’t really explained what she wanted him to do.
“Sure, what’s wrong with you? Nothing to get fidgety about. Normally I’d make use of my hired hands, but the only one I got at the moment is kinda old and past it, and I can hardly ask my Grandson to do it, he’s too young and inexperienced! I reckon you’d be all right though, just a matter of shoving a pole in a hole, after all.” She assured him.
"I'm not sure you'd survive it, if I went to bed with you."
“How DARE YOU!” Mrs Miggins exploded, shooting up form her chair “I never heard of such a disgusting suggestion in my entire life!” holding her hand to her heart.
“Go to bed with you?! And me nearly seventy!” (she was seventy nine, but who was counting?) “I’m outraged! You Britishers are sex mad! Last time one of you limeys tried to get jiggy with me, back in ’15, I shot him with a musket, so don’t try any of them tricks on me Mister Jay Ryker!!”
She had forgotten that, actually, she had already shot Jay.
“Go to bed indeed! What I want you to do is put up a bunch o’ this new fangled ‘barbed wire’ fencin’ fer me. Got a bunch of the stuff sent up from Helena and my Jacob can’t put it up on his own. I reckoned with your know-how, and the fact you owe me a little favor, you might help me out. Didn’t figure you’d be trying to get your hand up m’skirts at the same time, though!” she explained, still standing in a judgmental pose with crossed arms.
Despite her feigned outrage, she was secretly enormously flattered that Jay had, in her mind, tried to seduce her. He had gone from zero to hero in her estimation, not that she would let him know that, of course.
“That’s right, I have!” she agreed. “Question is, have you?” she challenged him.
"I never killed anyone in cold blood and I will not start today. I didn't even shoot back at you, when you put a bullet in my skin. You should be ashamed. You're the only one, who committed a crime. I barely took some food. And I didn't set fire to anything. Nor did I shoot anyone in a bank."
“Oooh, just an innocent ‘babe in the woods’ eh?” she said in mock sympathy “Well, I’m sure an honest judge and jury would find you not guilty, but that don’t play out round these parts. Soon as folks round here found out you was ‘spected of havin’ a hand in all o’ them crimes, a lynch mob’d have you out of that jail and hanging from a sour apple tree, kickin’ a jig in the air, before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’. Yep, real fond of ‘necktie parties’, folks in these parts!” she threatened, painting a lurid picture of the Englishman’s fate if she informed on him.
Then she threatened him with the sheriff, so Jay got uncomfortably close to her, looking down on her.
"What do you want from me, if you didn't already alert the sheriff?"
“Well, now that’s more like it. I’m a reasonable woman. I’m prepared to forget I ever saw you that night in Whitefish, if you can give me what I want.” She said, looking knowingly at him over her spectacles.
“There’s something you can give me that I need, if you get my drift. It’s a service a widow woman like m’self would normally have got from her husband, you understand.” The petite grandmotherly figure confided, looking him up and down in an appraising manner.
“Oh, I’ll pay you fer it, don’t worry about that. But I gotta warn you, if folks find out what we been up to, they might not be too understandin’!” Nellie said “The pair of us might get lynched!”
He snuk to the door and decided to open it. Standing with his shoulder at the wall next to it, he let her in but was sure to point his gun at her head.
"I don't know who you think I am but you got me mixed up with someone else."
There was an almost maniacal cackle as she walked in from outside.
“D’ya think I was born’d yesterday, sonny?” the old crone asked as she walked through the door, pointing an ancient pistol out in front of her: she always carried one on her trips into Town and out again; injuns, you know. "How's your friend Curly, by the way?" she asked accusingly as she peered round. Then she caught sight of him: aiming a gun straight at her.
“Oooh, trying to bushwack me, eh?!” she accused, narrow eyed, before quickly turning her own gun in his direction with a triumphant shout of “Ah-ha! No one gets the drop on Granny!”
He could still easily have shot her in that instant, but she cackled again and lowering the pistol, shoved it in her apron pocket and helping herself to a chair. “Ah ha ha! You won’t shoot me! You haven’t got it in ya.” She almost chided him for not blowing her superannuated head off there and then. “I knew’d that when you broke into old Widow Jarvis's place back in Whitefish. You’re soft. Got no business being a bank robber in the first place.” She held up a hand before he denied that.
“Oh, don’t bother … I worked that out from the newspaper report … Tom Love’s Gang had an Englishman in it. Report said he was the one as shot that poor feller in cold blood, but I thought to m'self ‘Nellie, that’s the boy you winged at Whitefish, an’ he couldn’t a shot a rabbit, let alone a human bean.'”
She cackled again, pleased with her own powers of deduction.
“Well, d’ya deny it?!” she demanded. “Or shall we go and ask the Sheriff if he thinks it adds up?”
Perhaps, in that moment of deep, dark despair, one of God’s Angels in Heaven, might have looked down and taken pity on the poor Englishman: a man trying so hard to turn his life around; to steer his once crooked path onto the straight and narrow; to atone for past wrongs.
No such luck.
There was a sharp rap on the window, and the screeching voice of a harpy, spawned from the depths of some hellish pit.
“Ryker! Jay Ryker!! I know your name now and I know exactly who you are! Let me in! Let me in do you hear? Or I’m a headin’ straight to the Sheriff’s office ‘n tell him exactly who and WHAT you are my fancy English friend. Come on! Chop, chop! Nellie Miggins don’t repeat herself twice for any man, especially no low down dirty bank robber and murderer and arsonist and whatever the Dickens other sinful wickedness you been up to! And don’t try anything fancy, I’m armed!”
Nellie Miggins had had quite enough of this here barn dance. Why, she’d been here half an hour, and not one young man had asked her for a dance. She’d decided that the whole affair was a dead loss and was going to high tail it, as soon as she’d found her grandson: not only to inform him of her departure, but to warn him again not to dance with any ‘fast’ girls, especially that Mudd creature from the saloon. At one point she had intended to suggest he ask that nice quiet and respectable Redmond girl for a dance, but then she’d noticed that even she was dolled up like a floozie tonight, showing enough bare skin to qualify as a savage, in her eyes. Morals and public decency was certainly going to the dogs around these parts.
While looking for Jacob as the last dance ended, she nearly fell over a feller who was on one knee in front of a ginger haired girl who was dressed up like a dogs dinner. As he rose, she had only one question for the man.
“Well, did she say yes?!”
Like one or two other onlookers, she assumed that the man was proposing marriage to the girl.
“You know she’s a cripple, don’t ya?” she asked. Not the poor girl’s fault, she supposed, but she did hate to see a man go to market to buy a dog in a basket and come back home with a pig in a poke.
As he came to his full height, though, and spoke in his peculiar accent, Granny Miggins’ eyes narrowed as some ungraspable memory tickled her brain.
“Say … don’t I know you from someplace?” she asked with more than a hint of suspicion in her voice.
Nellie Miggins had Matt Wentworth trapped in a corner, so there was no escape from the vitriolic complaints of the batty old woman who, to be honest, had never looked quite so batty as she did today. Apart from the white sheet (well, it had once been white) that was wrapped around her like a toga, she was sporting a bizarre spikey cardboard crown on her head, which made her look like a surprised person in a newspaper cartoon. Finally, she was carrying what looked like an enormous cardboard ice-cream. This was meant to be a symbolic torch.
She was somehow balancing all this with a large basket, and still managed to find a spare hand to cup to her ear to hear what the man was asking. Why couldn’t folks these days speak up nice and loud?
“What?! I’m meant to be Liberty of course! Whatd’ya THINK I’m supposed to be?! Now listen here young man, I was definitely told that this was a fancy dress do, and that there’s a prize fer the best outfit. And that’s me!”
She cocked her head.
“WHAT?! Oh – I’ll tell ya who told me that, it was that girl there. The one dressed like some slut of an Army camp follower!” said Mrs Miggins pointing to Arabella on the other side of the Hotel Ball Room, which had been rearranged to house the meeting of the Ladies Society.
Apart from Granny Miggins and Arabella, the only other person in fancy dress was a lumbering figure who was clad from head to foot in a bear costume or, to be precise, an actual bear skin, complete with head. It was hard to know what was inside the bear skin: Man? Woman? Bear?
Arabella herself was nonplussed. Not only were all the ladies then in boring everyday dresses, but they were all just that – ladies. There were no men or boys here. Perhaps the name Ladies Society should have given it away. Also, the rows of chairs for the audience made it clear that there would be no dancing.
There wasn’t a band anyway, just some fancy looking dude in the corner playing out a dirge on a ginormous fiddle. He didn’t even have it under his chin like a proper fiddle player, but was holding it between his legs, which, Arabella thought, was a disgraceful thing to do, especially with ladies present.
Oh well, at least she was having a nice chat with a lady that she’d never met before.
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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