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Toward the Light


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Mature Content:  Unlikely

With: James Vaughn, Frank Fortner & Saloon Folk
Location: Stardust Saloon.
When: July 1876, after Fortner has taken over the Saloon.
Time of Day: Late Morning.

 

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Frances had recovered from her illness, no doubt brought on by nervous strain, in time to make her brother's funeral, at least. It had been a desultory affair: low on attendees, and even the redoubtable Reverend Thomas Reed had struggled to find much good to say about her late brother. He had been lost in the shuffle, he had obeyed the wrong commands, he was in the hands of ever-merciful God now. The Marshall and the ever solicitous Mr Vaughn had been her main supports, and someone giving freely of their services had played competently enough upon the harmonium to accompany the hymns although she could not help musing during the service, God forgive her, that she could have played it better.

 

Still, all in all, the funeral had cost a goodly portion of the funds that the Marshall had so generously managed to garner for her from the sale of Frank's possessions. She suspected that the generous soul had even thrown in a few extra confiscated items that were nothing to do with her brother, to bump up the pot a little. She did not embarrass him by asking if that were so, for she knew him to be too modest a gentleman to admit it.

 

And now the reckoning. She stood on the boardwalk near the saloon awaiting the arrival of Mr. Vaughn, who would accompany her into the place where Frank had died, to settle his account there. She soon recognised James' tread on the boards and turned with utmost confidence to face him. She would not admit it to herself, but she had 'dolled up' for the occasion, subconsciously wanting to look her best for him. She could only hope that the clothes and bonnet and shawl that she had chosen toned nicely together (they didn't; the dress was gaudy and the bonnet and shawl clashed horribly with it). She had also mistakenly replaced her eye bandage with some eye glasses whose translucent green lenses did not successfully shield the viewer from the disconcerting sight of her useless grey eyes rolling meaninglessly up in their sockets. 

 

Frank's advice had always been that the bandage looked 'stupid' and the glasses made her look better, more 'normal'. That was his only bequest to her - a piece of bum advice.

 

"Good Morning, Mr. Vaughn. I hope you are well today." she greeted him formulaically enough, smiling to show those slightly weird cleated teeth so indicative of her condition, but with maybe a little more enthusiasm than was quiet correct between a young lady and her solicitor. 

 

@Nova

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  • 1 month later...

James had done everything he could to help Frances during her time of grief, though from what he’d overheard about her brother perhaps she was better off without the man, not that he would ever say such a thing to her.  It was not the way a gentleman behaved, and wasn’t his place, especially since he hadn’t even known the man.  He had not attended the funeral, feeling it to be too forward, even though he’d been doing what he could to support the young lady in her time of grief.

His hands in his trouser pockets against the chill of the morning breeze, James hurried down the road, doing his best to avoid stepping in any of the horse droppings that were in his way.  His shoes were not new, but they were still serviceable so he wanted to keep them as nice as he could for as long as possible.  He did look up having assured himself that the road between them was clear, so he had time to take in the change in her appearance.  The glasses allowed more of her face to be seen, but they did little to mask the fact that her eyes behaved rather oddly.  Fortunately, he had time to compose himself before he drew within range for easy conversation with the lady in question.  James was rather shy, especially around women.
 
“Good morning to you Miss Grimes.”  James said, returning her smile as he closed the distance between them, with his long strides.  “I am doing well, as I hope you are…. again.”  he said, his voice pitching slightly higher as he remembered her recent bout of illness.  Why was it that he always felt the fool when it came to his interactions with the fairer sex?  When he was closer, he reached out a hand, touching her elbow so he could guide her to the saloon.

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“Good morning to you Miss Grimes.”  James said, returning her smile as he closed the distance between them, with his long strides.

 

"Oh, Mr Vaughn! You are here!" she smiled almost as if she was surprised to hear his voice. This was a prearranged meeting, after all. Her eyes goggled upward, as if she were searching for the sight of him in the top of her head. "How are you, this morning?" she asked, formulaically.

 

 “I am doing well, as I hope you are…. again.”  he said, his voice pitching slightly higher as he remembered her recent bout of illness.  Why was it that he always felt the fool when it came to his interactions with the fairer sex?

 

"I am much better, thank you." she nodded. She instinctively reached out her hand toward the direction of his voice. She didn't find his voice or words foolish, she was even used to his cultured  English tones now: when he spoke, she heard beyond all of that. When he spoke: she heard the voice of a man of feeling; shy, yes; perhaps a little too diffident, too concerned with what others thought of him: but a man of feeling, a man of warm heart and kind feelings.

 

She was a realist: she was no great catch, she knew; apart from her disability, her brother had been sure to let her know that in this far off unknown world of the sighted, she was not what was called 'pretty' - she was something called plain, and her eyes, her useless eyes, were actually repugnant and, yea, even terrifying to some.  There would never be romance for her, but she gathered and cherished what little crumbs of 'life's biggest thrill' that were sometimes scattered her way.

 

When he was closer, he reached out a hand, touching her elbow so he could guide her to the saloon.

 

She thrilled to the touch of his warm hand. Saloon? She would have been happy had he been leading her over a cliff. 

 

They entered the place. She didn't understand the swing doors: that was a novelty, and one that nearly hit her in the face. Men were laughing and talking, there was a female voice, purring in someone's ear, glasses clinked, a jaunty tune was being played on a slightly out of tune piano somehow she knew that the fingers that were pounding out the sprightly "Gay As A Lark" were the same as those which had softly played sad hymns at her brother's funeral service. 

 

As they entered, the music suddenly stopped, as did the laughter and the talking. You could have heard a pin drop. Apparently, they had "Made An Entrance"!

 

@Preston @Wayfarer  @Nova + Anyone who wants to be in the bar.

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Maybe because it was a blind person arriving? But the silence was short, afterall all sorts of people went in and out of the saloon. People took a look then went back to their drinks, cards, conversation. It was a social place. And it needs be said - probably a whole lot less judgemental than the so called proper folks of the town, well most towns.

 

Caroline was at the bar, chatting with a couple of hands from the Lost Lake ranch - just the usual mix of small talk mixed with a dose of harmless flirting. The sort of thing that almost always works for the saloon girl in wheedling extra drinks out of customers. She glanced over at James and the girl with her. Definitely NOT your normal customers. Was there more to it? She excused herself.

 

"Later boys," she smiled at the two cowpokes than sauntered on up to James and the young miss.

 

"Well, if it isn't...........ummm, sorry forgot yer last name...James though it was, right?" Caroline greeted the man, "You lookin' fer Arabella are ya?"

 

She was quite certain he wasn't here for a drink, he was not the drinking kind she remembered that much too.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

“Hardly fitting for a gentleman to keep a lady waiting.”  He replied, giving a little bow, then grimaced at his own idiocrasy since she couldn’t see him.  “Right as rain.  Thank you for asking.”  He was speaking formulaically as well, but hoped that he didn’t sound too stiff.
 
“Glad to hear it, Miss Francis.”  James said sincerely, catching her extended hand in his own.  He stepped closer, tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow, putting her on the side away from the road as he guided her along the street in the direction of their destination.
 
Truthfully, James wasn’t considered that great a catch either.  An Englishman who was barely scraping by, in a town of rough around the edges Americans with skills that he lacked, necessary ones for life on the frontier.  When he touched her hand, James was struck by the difference in the sizes between his hand and hers.  Not that his was stronger, since he didn’t work with his hands.
 
James didn’t think about the fact that the door would swing that way, and barely managed to keep it from hitting the young lady he was escorting into the saloon.  He was apologizing under his breath for his mistake when it dawned on him that the sound in the room had dropped into utter silence.  He looked around, wondering if he’d made some huge faux pas by bringing Frances into an establishment such as this.  
 
He did his best to hide his relief as the conversations resumed, albeit at a lower volume than before.  He looked for the man he’d seen before when Arabella had dragged him into the saloon the day he’d saved her life.  “Good morning Miss Caroline.”  James said, relieved by the arrival of a familiar face.  “Not to worry.”  He waved his free hand dismissing the fact that she’d forgotten his surname.  “Actually no….”  James replied, gesturing to the woman on his arm.  “I’m merely here to help Miss Frances…..  Err….  settle her late brother’s….  Um….  affairs.”

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Frances met Caroline Mundee now, for the first time. She could not behold the golden mop of hair, or stare into the baby blue eyes; nor could she glare jealously at the beauty of her face and figure. For Frances, meeting Caroline Mundee meant hearing her voice for the first time: and listening to the effect that she was having on James' voice!

 

“Good morning Miss Caroline.”  James said, relieved by the arrival of a familiar face.  

 

"Well, if it isn't...........ummm, sorry forgot yer last name...James though it was, right?" Caroline greeted the man.

 

“Not to worry.”  He waved his free hand dismissing the fact that she’d forgotten his surname.

 

Frances felt her heart sink. This woman sounded like... what was it? Experienced but fresh: an old head on young shoulders. Her voice was sultry, relaxed, but it's effect on James' speech was to raise his pitch of nervousness up a whole other level. She must be attractive. She bristled, involuntarily. 

 

"You lookin' fer Arabella are ya?"

 

Arabella? Who was she? Some other femme fatale that made James... excited?!! Luckily, Arabella had made a run for it as soon as the blind girl had appeared. 

 

“Actually no….”  James replied, gesturing to the woman on his arm.  “I’m merely here to help Miss Frances…..  Err….  settle her late brother’s….  Um….  affairs.”

 

"I want to settle up my brother's debts" announced the Grimes girl "I'm starting here because he never seemed to be out of the place. I understand men sometimes have something called a 'tab' at the bar. Or maybe he had gambling debts. I would need to see a signed I.O.U. of course." she said in a businesslike way. She was not afraid to use the 's word', although James Vaughn would have to do the looking for her. 

 

"Hey, Frank Grimes owed me two dolla... THREE dollars! For services rendered" came Sally Adam's throaty voice from down the bar. Frances was starting to wonder if this saloon was something rather different! It seemed to be populated solely by females. 

 

@Wayfarer @Preston

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Caroline remembered this man of course, the one without his trousers on in Arabella's room who had looked so panicked she had thought he had been ready to faint.  Now he was with this blind gal, or if she wasn't, then it was a pretty good act.

 

“Actually no….”  James replied, gesturing to the woman on his arm., “I’m merely here to help Miss Frances…..  Err….  settle her late brother’s….  Um….  affairs.”

 

Late brother? Oh, must be Frank Grimes, it would help if they actually used last names thought Caroline.

 

"I want to settle up my brother's debts" announced the girl "I'm starting here because he never seemed to be out of the place. I understand men sometimes have something called a 'tab' at the bar. Or maybe he had gambling debts. I would need to see a signed I.O.U. of course." she said in a businesslike way.

 

"So you mean?" Caroline didn't get a chance to finish.

 

"Hey, Frank Grimes owed me two dolla... THREE dollars! For services rendered" came Sally Adam's throaty voice from down the bar.

 

"So you say, not like you can prove it. She ain't talking ta you," snapped Caroline at Sally, she did not like the woman who was increasingly acting like she worked here, Matilda Devereau would have never tolerated her but then she wasn't owner no more.

 

Then she answered Frank's poor young sister, "Nah, you don't have ta worry, miss. There was no bar tab, you don't owe us anything here.  Ain't that right, Ralph?"

 

Ralph caught Caroline's look and got it, "Yeah, Grimes has no debt here."

 

"That was the bartender, hon, and if anyone would know, he would. Yer fine," Caroline lightly touched the girl's hand.

 

 

 

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  • 2 months later...

The effect that Caroline had on James wasn’t exactly a positive one given how nervous she made him.  The fact that he’d been caught in Arabella’s room sans trousers while they were being mended did not make the rather reserved young man comfortable in her presence.  A fact that had nothing to do with her physical appearance.
 
When her hand tightened on his arm, James glanced down at her, shifting slightly before laying his free hand atop hers in an effort to offer comfort.  He assumed that she was feeling uncomfortable in the saloon.  Heavens knows he did.
 
Of all the women he’d met since his arrival Frances was the one he was most comfortable with.  Arabella and Caroline were most definitely not his type.  
 
James was here to escort her, to be her eyes, and to use his legal knowledge to ensure that everything was on the up and up.  He had not finished his studies, but he was intelligent and had learned more than enough to support her in this endeavor.  
 
The throaty voice calling out an owed sum that increased even as she spoke had James stiffening on behalf of the young woman at his side.  He was about to reply that she needed to produce the signed I.O.U. when Caroline spoke up, cutting the would-be debtor off at the knees so to speak. 
 
The kindness that Caroline showed Frances made him smile in gratitude for the brash young barmaid.  He wasn’t comfortable around her still, but he thought higher of her now than he had just a few minutes ago.  All because of the kindness she’d shown the young lady on his arm.  “Thank you Miss Caroline.”  he said, before turning to look down at Francis, his smile warming.  “Shall we be off then?”  he asked her, trying not to reveal just how eager he was to leave the saloon behind them.

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"So you say, not like you can prove it. She ain't talking ta you," snapped Caroline at Sally, she did not like the woman who was increasingly acting like she worked here, Matilda Devereau would have never tolerated her but then she wasn't owner no more.

 

It was true, Sally Adams hadn't got an I.O.U. for the sexual liaison with the late Frank Grimes, and the last that Frances heard of her distinctive gravelly tones was her going up and asking a random table of customers if any of them had a pencil and paper on them.

 

Then she answered Frank's poor young sister, "Nah, you don't have ta worry, miss. There was no bar tab, you don't owe us anything here.  Ain't that right, Ralph?"

 

Ralph caught Caroline's look and got it, "Yeah, Grimes has no debt here."

 

"That was the bartender, hon, and if anyone would know, he would. Yer fine," Caroline lightly touched the girl's hand.

 

Frances took the hand that touched hers, she could tell a lot about a person by the feel of their hands and also it made it a lot easier to tell where they were! She smiled between Caroline and where she guessed Ralph was by his short, gruff sentence.

 

"If that is true, I thank you for your honesty, and if not, I thank you for your kindness." She had quickly decided that she liked these two and, if they were representative of the saloon's staff, she sort of liked this place, too. She had yet to meet Fortner, Priest or Arabella.

 

“Thank you Miss Caroline.”  he said, before turning to look down at Francis, his smile warming.

 

“Shall we be off then?”  he asked her, trying not to reveal just how eager he was to leave the saloon behind them.

 

"Oh? Oh, very well. Goodbye, it was lovely to meet you!" said Frances, her frank smile displaying her cleated teeth. Her eyes were all over the place, so she could have been saying goodbye to anybody, including Sally Adams, but it was intended for Caroline and Ralph.

 

If anybody should have been uncomfortable in the somewhat rowdy atmosphere of the saloon, it should have been Frances, but instead it was James who more or less dragged her out of there. She wondered if it was the place or the person they had been talking to that had her escort on the run.

 

Seconds later, she and James were back outside.

 

She couldn't resist it: it was a question she never asked because the answer was usually meaningless to someone who had never had the use of their eyes. But she asked it to hear the tenor of his voice.

 

"What does Caroline look like?"

 

---------

 

Meanwhile, in the saloon, as soon as Frances disappeared, Arabella popped up, as if by magic. 

 

"Is she gone?!" she quickly asked Caroline "Did you see her eyes?! Was they all googly?!!!" she probed as she bobbed up and down, trying to look under and over the saloon's swing doors at the retreating girl. She visibly shuddered. "Brrrr, blind folks give me the willies!" she declared, before asking Caroline "Say, do you reckon James and her's having... a romance?!!"

 

The flibbertigibbet girl from Virginia seemed both appalled and fascinated with the doings of the sightless waif.

 

Muddy.jpg.89372f2e644c73e53645986311453552.jpg

 

@Wayfarer @Nova

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