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    • "We'll have to get on over to the dinning room them. Afraid it's liable to be a bit more like Kalispell than Frisco." He said. "But it'll be good food, just not what we've been used too. Will be up on the hill, for sure.  I was told this is the best hotel because it was a ways out across the river from town, and it was solid built."   "The wealth on the hill is such that all most everything around it is growing at a fast pace. You'll really see that when we visit the Capitol, Carson City. Supposedly discovered by Kit Carson and General John Freemont on their way to Sacramento in. At least Freemont named the river after him back in '43 or '44. Nothin' was there then."   "All that made me hungry too, let's go eat an then take us a walk across the river, or along it, which ever you want." @Bongo
    • That did not take long. Cookie rang the triangle and shouted his best but in the end he sent the kid to roust all but the closest to him. Rance joined young Wheeler in the line, a bit out of the wind, but mostly in it for the moment. It seemed calmer up by the wagon.   "That had ta be bad back there. The wind drivin' the dust an' the smell, but should this wind let up you'll be on flank, left flank, then right, then back to the drag. It'll be me, Dallas, an' Dixie. eatin' dust tomorrow. But at least we got hot grub, won't always be that'a way out here though, every trip is different."   And they moved up steadily. @Bongo
    • "Nothing to discuss? I am surprised, Jonah. Why, if we have time for breakfast, there will be much to discuss regarding the hospital as well as the start of the orphanage. Hopefully that the railroad will be completed, or close to it by then." She smiled brightly. "Things will be different by then."   "My hope is that we get through all of this without my fathers interference causing delays, or real problems with the builders. You know we could get well into October before the snow flies, but I'm not counting on that. The winter will stop construction until the thaw." She stated, but the smile was still there, "But it will be well underway!" @Bongo
    • "Pleased ta meet ya, Rance."  Justus gave the man a nod, then lined up with the others for grub.  Maybe he could get some sleep despite the wind.  He surely was tired enough, and until there was something that concerned him, he didn't need to be concerned.   First, though, a full belly!  As the line progressed, he he nodded to the kid who was the cook's help.  "Times like this, I bet yer glad ya don't have ta be on th' downwind end of a herd'a cows!"   @Flip
    • "It's good to know you'll have the best working on the project, you've come this far, you don't need to risk the quality with less than the best working on it."  Even though he had no doubt that the crew would be excellent, it was reassuring to know that the man hand picked for the job would actually be on site overseeing it.  That way, too, he'd be there if Leah needed to discuss anything with him, and Jonah had a good feeling that was going to happen!   He grinned and took a sip of coffee.  "Just think, this time next year it will all be over!  We'll have a fine hospital with the best equipment...and nothing to discuss over breakfast!"   @Flip  

The End of the Trail


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Posted (edited)

Mature Content: Probably not, some bad language.

With: Jess Matthews
Location: The Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas
When: Late August, 1876
Time of Day: Afternoon

 

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"That's it, Jess, I'm gettin' tired of cowography! I'm gonna find a nice little girl, get a nice steady job and settle down someplace... nice!"

 

Clem Craddock, known to his friends as 'Scrappy' (more from the amount of fights he seemed to get into, than his ability to win them), could hardly be blamed: this had been the toughest cattle drive of his life: the Boss had been nearly as surly as the herd, and as likely to stampede at the slightest provocation. Rivers had been swollen beyond crossing (they'd lost one man that way) or creeks they relied upon to water the doggies were completely dried up. Rustlers, Indians, rival cowboys whose herds had mixed with theirs, touchy townsfolk, farmers with their confounded barbwire fences, outlaws: they'd had falling outs with all of them. And one particular ornery muley - well that hornless steer just about had it in for Scrappy - from the minute the Mexican 'Corporal ' had delivered the herd to them over the border to the time the Boss had paid them off in Dodge, about fifteen minutes ago.

 

Dodge City, Kansas - the latest and greatest cattle entrepot. Jess and Scrappy's crew had always delivered to Wichita before now, but the growth of farm lands around that railhead made the place unviable now. Dodge was the place to be, and the place to be in Dodge was the Long Branch Bar. 

 

As Scrappy slammed down his cash on the bar and ordered two fingers of red-eye each for himself and his pard, he sighed somewhat wistfully. "Boy, just think of it, a feller like me that never had no family to speak of, settling down, and getting a nice family started, just like yours. You've sure painted a nice picture of family life for me, Jess: I can picture them now, just back from church: the dear old father, proudly beaming down on his happy brood: his noble upright sons, his pretty little daughter, and there in the background, the idol of them all, the sweet mother of the family, serving up their Sunday roast..."

 

"Hey, you!" a female voice broke Clem from his reverie.

 

"Jesus Christ, Wichita Lou?! What in the name of hell are you doing here?!!" he gaped. 

 

"I go where the cowboys go" the brassy looking blonde replied. "Crappy Craddock isn't it?" she asked, and looked at Jess "Your friend's called Matthews isn't he?"

 

"Scrappy, actually and yes, this here's Jess Matthews." the short cowpoke replied, frowning quizzically at his partner while the woman disappeared someplace and came back. "They left this telegram here for you, couple weeks ago now." she said and handed it to Jess.

 

It was from an old Kalispell school friend of the taller man and read:

 

Jess, Yr Mother very ill. Outlook bad. Come soon if you can. Yrs Hector W.

 

"Good news?" asked Wichita Lou, adjusting her cleavage - maybe the feller had come into money! -  while his friend looked on with a concerned look on his face.

 

images.jpeg

Wichita Lou

 

@MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It had been a long hot day of work in Dodge City.... this had to have been one of their toughest gigs yet...but Jess was fairly certain they both thought that after each drive.  But now they'd been paid, and paid well, so they would eat and drink good tonight!

 

Jess had met Scrappy at his very first job he'd gotten right after he left Kalispell, they'd struck up a quick friendship and had stuck together through many a wild cattle drive.  Scrappy had talked a many a time about settling down, but there was something different in his tone about it today.  Perhaps he should take him back to Kalispell, let him see where he'd grown up ... plus Jess couldn't lie, he did miss his family....even if they were rough around the edges.  One person that wasn't was his Ma.  And boy could he use a serving of that roast Scrappy just mentioned!

 

As Scrappy painted the pictures of what Jess had described about his family to him over the past year, on the inside he cringed some, 'cause that won't nothing like what his family really was.  Had Jess really led him to believe that's how they were?  That was more how he wished they'd be.  

 

As Scrappy slammed down his cash on the bar and ordered two fingers of red-eye each for himself and his pard, he sighed somewhat wistfully. "Boy, just think of it, a feller like me that never had no family to speak of, settling down, and getting a nice family started, just like yours. You've sure painted a nice picture of family life for me, Jess: I can picture them now, just back from church: the dear old father, proudly beaming down on his happy brood: his noble upright sons, his pretty little daughter, and there in the background, the idol of them all, the sweet mother of the family, serving up their Sunday roast..."

 

"Well now, Scappy, I don't know if it's quite like tha...." But he was interrupted by the female voice and he immediately wondered what Scrappy had done to tick this woman off, but quickly he could tell that it was more...friendship maybe?

 

He couldn't help the snicker when the woman called his friend Crappy but quickly his smile faltered as she was off somewhere and he could see her coming back with a telegram.  The smile was back as he slapped his hand against Scrappy's arm. "I bet it's Ma, wanting me to come home for a visit." He eagerly grabbed the gram and read through it, the smile falling yet again.

 

"Oh, no...." he whispered as he stared down at the information from his old friend Hector, then blue eyes back up at the woman. "Can you send a telegraph from here?" He asked her, wanting to send a message to his family quickly, let them know he was coming and see if he could find out how his Ma was doing.  He looked over at Scrappy. "It's my Ma....she's fallen ill." His brow pulled together, heart sunken to his stomach, making him feel sick.  

 

@Javia

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Scrappy was just about to knock back his grog, when his friend seemed to physically sag and his voice let out a pained whisper. 

 

"Oh, no...." he whispered as he stared down at the information from his old friend Hector, then blue eyes back up at the woman. "Can you send a telegraph from here?" He asked her, wanting to send a message to his family quickly, let them know he was coming and see if he could find out how his Ma was doing.

 

"Does this look like a telegraph office?!" answered the woman tersely. Wichita Lou didn't have a very big heart, especially considering the size of the containers. "Anyway, the line's down. Indians!" she added uncaringly. 

 

"What is it?" asked Scrappy with a worried look on his suntanned, unshaven features.

 

He looked over at Scrappy. "It's my Ma....she's fallen ill." His brow pulled together, heart sunken to his stomach, making him feel sick.  

 

"What, bad?" Clem looked serious as Jess handed him the telegram, the shorter man scanned it and stated what they already knew: "Sent two weeks ago... Let's think, Dodge to Kalispell, that's right up the top of the Territories, right? That's quite a space." He shook his head for a second, but then the light bulb literally shone above his head. He slapped his pal on the arm. "Drink up, It'll do you good, you're in shock. Then come on. The boss hasn't sold off the remuda yet. If we pool our pay, he'll cut us a deal and we can buy enough good remounts that we can ride hell-for-leather for Kalispell and be there in a few days."

 

And if the Boss didn't want to play ball, Scrappy had already decided he'd make him an argument in lead. 

 

Wichita Lou returned to them. 

 

"Say boys, would you like me to introduce you to couple of nice young ladies?" asked the shameless bawd. 

 

"No thanks, we're not interested in girls, we're only interested in horses!" exclaimed Scrappy as they exited the den of iniquity. Lou looked them both up and down as they exited the place "Takes all sorts, I suppose!" she shrugged. 

 

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Jess was happy his friend was thinking clearly, more clearly than he could because his mind was certainly consumed with worry over his Ma.  I guess the term "Mama's Boy" applied to him whether he would admit it or not!  And the fact that Scrappy was willing to go along on the ride with him, was something special to him, to not have to ride alone and not have to say goodbye to a good friend, not knowing where or if they'd meet up again.  

 

His plan had been perfect.  Though their boss had been intolerable and crude he hadn't minded cutting them a deal on the horses.  And off they were, the town of Dodge City eating their dust as they hit the trail.  Thankfully the weather had cooperated and while it had been hot ride the further north they got, towards Montana, it was cooling off a good deal and the temperature difference was most welcomed by the men.  Even though the weather had been nice it took longer than Jess wanted to arrive back home.  It was a week since he'd gotten the telegram in Dodge City, so 3 weeks since his Ma had fallen ill.  Certainly by now she was getting better.  Though he hadn't been able to kick that nagging feeling that he won't getting the results he wanted when he arrived.  That was just the devil talkin' to him!  And he won't giving that old devil any victories by giving those nagging thoughts any of his time or energy!

 

Had he been arriving under different circumstances he would have allowed his mind to go back to the many good memories he has from here, being that he'd been here his entire life except for when he left a year ago.  It was getting to be late afternoon when they finally arrived at the house.  

 

"Home sweet home." He said low, looking over to Scrappy as he got off his horse and rushed up the steps, opening the front door of the house and going right on in, leaving it open for his friend to follow.

 

"Ma?" He looked around, pulling his hat off his head he held it by his side.  She'd always made them take their hats off when they came inside.  He didn't want her to have to fuss over that.  His heart was beating fast behind his chest.  The house was quiet....too quiet.

 

@Javia

 

 

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Their father was prostrate with grief and there seemed little to do but put him into bed - oh God, no, not the bed their mother had died in just yesterday morning: no, they put him in Raymond's bed, the sixteen year old himself could sleep on the sofa or bunk up with a pal. With a shot of laudanum they were able to get Father into some sort of fitful but basically comatose state. It had been a trying 24 hours. 

 

Then Raymond and Zenobia heard the front door open, someone marching straight in. Even relations wouldn't do that, cousins Jake or Leonora, and even Great Aunt Nellie would introduce herself with a shout and a holler: a cantankerous Where is everybody? The brother and sister looked at each other with a frown across their poor father's now recumbent form.

 

"Ma?" He looked around, pulling his hat off his head he held it by his side.  She'd always made them take their hats off when they came inside.  He didn't want her to have to fuss over that.  His heart was beating fast behind his chest.  The house was quiet....too quiet.

 

It was a voice that they both recognised instantly, though its speaker was a half forgotten man. Zenobia's face formed into a scowl that could have graced a harpy's face.  "NO!"" she spat, and started to fly to the bedroom door while her father stirred in his restless sleep. Raymond tried to catch her but instead had to troop swiftly after her instead. 

 

When she reached the bottom of the stairs and entered the parlour, Zenobia flew at her older brother, but it was not an embrace of sisterly affection she had in mind but a full blown physical attack accompanied by language that made Scrappy's hair curl.

 

"You bastard! You filthy fucking bastard!" she spat as she rained blows and slaps on her brother "You killed her! You bastard, you killed her!!" she snarled as Raymond, running up behind,  somehow managed to pull her off. "Get it out!!" she now shouted hysterically at Raymond, pointing an accusing finger at Jess "Get that THING out of our house!!"

 

With that she turned and ran back upstairs sobbing.

 

Jess had always been their mother's favorite, just as Zenobia was their father's. Raymond had been a bit of an afterthought, his main role in the family, it always seemed to him, to provide a cushion to absorb the blows, or make peace between the two warring camps. He had been angry when Jess left, too. He had tried to pick up the pieces, always feeling that he wasn't doing too good a job of it. He did what he could now. 

 

"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

"And get some mourning, will you?" This he said a bit more tersely. With his mother dead, his father as good as dead with grief, his sister in a state of virtual apoplexy and his brother persona non grata, the burden of responsibility seemed to have fallen squarely and heavily on his own narrow shoulders to see things were done right. 

 

"He's right, come on." encouraged Scrappy, who was only too anxious to get the hell out of his pal's 'happy family home'.

 

Zenobia 3.jpg

 

@MD

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The two of them could hear the "NO!" coming from upstairs, but Jess had no idea that it was directed at him and that he was about to be met with a myriad of physical blows from his younger sister.  But there she was, rushing towards him and before he knew it he was doing his best to protect his face from those nails of her, however she connected a couple of times, leaving small red welts in their place. 

"Zenobia, what the hell!?" He yelled at her as he deflected her blows best he could.  He couldn't dare raise a hand back at her or he'd be dead at the hands of their father.  But then the words cut him like a knife, hurt him more than any of those physical blows ever could.  They opened his chest, stabbed him in the heart and ripped it out.  Zenobia in all her glory had confirmed to him that his mother had indeed passed.  But all the while she made sure to let him know that it was his fault.  And as if to add insult to injury she referred to him as a THING and wanted him gone.  He watched in astonishment as she stamped away from him.

 

Then to be replaced by his quite and coy self, Raymond made his way in.  

 

"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

Jess's mouth nearly fell open, well it did for a split second before he closed it back and he blinked unbelievingly at his brother.  Were they this angry with him?  Even the little brother that, before he had left anyway, had been more than a brother but a friend.

 

"You kiddin' me right now, Ray?"  The reality setting in more the more his little brother talked.  She had died just yesterday.  Jess had been late by less than 24 hours.  Dammit!  He knew he needed to be a man right now but the emotions welled up in his throat, causing a lump and his eyes started to water, but no tears fell.  His looked towards the stairs then back at him. Where was Pa?  But if these two, if Zenobia and Raymond wanted him gone, what was his father thinking of him.  "Where's Pa?" He finally asked but hearing his friend confirming that they should get out of there Jess did take a step towards the door.  He wouldn't stay no place he won't welcome.....even if that was home. 

 

@Javia

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"You'd better go." he said firmly to his big brother "Ma died yesterday morning. She's... if you want to see her she's at the funeral Parlour. Not the old one, Mr Jolly's, opposite the saloon." he flicked his eyes between the two men, this was no time for introductions.

 

"You kiddin' me right now, Ray?"

 

That didn't merit a reply. Raymond was split: on the one hand, Zenobia was right: when Jess had run off to be a cowboy, it had hit their mother hard; she had doted upon the older lad, he was the apple of her eye; she worried about him, she fretted about him - out there, somewhere: perhaps dead in a gully or gored by a steer or scalped by Indians!

 

But their father would not even allow his name to be spoken, so angry was he. The initial shock, and then the worry and stress of it all, had played upon their mother's pre-existing weak heart, she had steadily declined over the year. 

 

Father had forbidden Raymond from trying to get word to Jess, so the boy had told Hector and he he had miraculously worked out where the wanderer was likely to eventually fish up. Because, at the end of the day, Raymond had a lot of his mother in him, and he knew that the dear sweet woman would have forgiven her prodigal son everything, had she just been given the chance to look upon his face one last time. 

 

But it was not be. 

 

"Where's Pa?" He finally asked but hearing his friend confirming that they should get out of there Jess did take a step towards the door.  He wouldn't stay no place he won't welcome.....even if that was home. 

 

"He's in bed, he's... not good." Ray said quietly: he had never seen his Father like this, never even imagined he could be like this; their mother had been everything to him, and now his everything was dust. Zenobia stomped around warningly overhead.

 

"Go and see her." Raymond advised: Jess's silly little kid brother suddenly looked and sounded like a thirty year old man: it was odd, but he and Zenobia had been forced to grow up a good deal over the last year. Zenobia practically ran the house now, and they depended more and more on Ray's earnings as Father had become more depressed and let his barber business slide.

 

"Then go and see Aunt Nellie, she'll put you up and tell you... tell you anything you want to know." The sixteen year old looked ready to keel over, he had hardly slept for days and then only fitfully: it was no wonder he and Zenobia were on short fuses. 

 

Another thump upstairs. 

 

"Please... go." Raymond repeated, this time more beseechingly: he had reached rock bottom of his store of energy and his nerves were in shreds, having Jess and Zenobia in the same house was beyond him right now. 

 

@MD

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Raymond couldn't seem to get his brother out of the house fast enough.  Jess was completely aghast at the situation.  He really didn't know how much his leaving had affected his family.  The reason for his leaving was their father.  He couldn't take the constant ridicule...he could never do anything right and they were almost always arguing.  They did seem to find common ground from time to time and they'd get along just fine, but it always seemed to settle back down on them butting heads over something.  He thought it best for all of them, his mother especially, not to have to see that day in and day out.  Jess also validated his leaving so that he could send money home.  In all his working as a cowboy he had only kept enough for him to eat on and get any necessities, the rest of it he had wired back home every chance he and Scrappy came to a city big enough to do such a thing.  

 

Learning that their Pa wasn't in any shape to see him right now, he supposed he would just come back later.  As he backed to the door and looked his little brother in the eye any light of childhood had been dimmed and he was indeed acting as the man of the house right now at the ripe age of 16.  This made Jess feel terrible but he knew right now there was nothing he could do and he was only making things worse by being here. 

 

"Well if you need me you know where I am."  He looked at Scrappy and motioned with his head for them to leave.  He wouldn't be surprised if Scrappy just saddled up and left, never to be seen again, since it was obvious that Jess had stretched the truth to him about his family.

 

He turned back and looked at Raymond. "You're doing good, Raymond.  Hang in there, brother." He said low, knowing the boy needed the encouragement and wishing he could stay and take some of the weight off of him.  Maybe once they got over the shock that he was back he could do just that.

 

@Javia

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Scrappy followed his pal out of the cosy looking, but very chilly feeling, home: he didn't care that his pie-eyed ideal of the Matthew Family's domestic bliss had been exploded into a thousand shimmering shards, he just cared about Jess's inevitable hurt that his Mother had died and that they had arrived just a day too late for at least the consolation of a deathbed farewell. He felt for him, too, about the frosty reception he had met at the hands of his family. 

 

They were men, though, they couldn't actually talk about these feelings. 

 

"Pretty rugged, huh?" he said grimly. 

 

He waited for Jess to say something: whatever he wanted, Scrappy would go along with, be it unhitch the horses and ride out of there, hit the saloon for the anaesthetic of a drink, or go and view the body of his dearly beloved Mother. Even the last option was preferable to re-entering that house and meeting Jess's harpy of a sister again. 

 

Then there was a call "Jess?" a lanky, long nosed and long faced lad of about eighteen or so Summers was hailing them from across the street. It was Jess's second cousin something-removed, Jake Lutz. The young man jogged over to them, hardly recognisable as he was wearing beat up clothes covered in dust with a Western Union satchel and a rifle over his shoulder and a black armband rounding out his ensemble.

 

He shook hands with Jess and nodded at Scrappy. He noted that Jess wasn't wearing mourning.

 

"Guess you just got in." he surmised "I'm sorry you were too late. Did you get the telegram Ray got Hector to send? Your Pa wouldn't let him send one himself." the distant cousin related. 

 

 

Jacob.jpg

 

@MD

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Jess reluctantly left the house.  It was against his better judgement on one hand but on the other he knew he had to.  There was no telling why his Pa was passed out in the bed.  Of course the grieving had, but was it alcohol or some kind of drug induced coma?  There was no telling the mood the man would wake up in and given the mood of his sister....yea, he had better leave.  


He walked out of the house, nodding to Scrappy's summarization of what had just happened in there.  He was just about to ask him if he'd mind him going over to Mr. Jolly's to visit his dearly departed mother when he heard the familiar voice of his cousin.  Albeit they were distantly related he felt more loved by Jake, Josephina and Aunt Nellie than his own father and sister.  He welcomed the sight of him and extended his hand shaking Jake's.

 

"It's sure good to see you, Jake." He greeted the boy and stepped back motioning towards his friend. "This here's my good friend Clement, call him Scrappy though.  Met him on the range." He said with just a small smile touching one corner of his lips, looking at Scrappy "Scrap, meet my cousin Jake."

 

He shook hands with Jess and nodded at Scrappy. He noted that Jess wasn't wearing mourning.

 

"Guess you just got in." he surmised "I'm sorry you were too late. Did you get the telegram Ray got Hector to send? Your Pa wouldn't let him send one himself." the distant cousin related.

 

At the news that his cousin gives him he feels a rage rise up inside of him.  He was already tired from the long trip, upset over being a day late for his mother, upset at his sister's reaction to him coming home, upset that his brother had booted him out of the house, upset that his father ... was ... well, his father and this sent him over the edge.  

 

"Wouldn't let him send one himself?!" he replied to Jake.  Wouldn't let his own brother send him a telegraph to tell him about his Ma being on her death bed!?!?  His jaw locked, his teeth clenching as he let the news settle... he turned on his heel muttering under his breath as he stormed towards the door. "I'm going to let that old brute have it!" He yelled as he stormed back towards the house.  This would be an opportune time for Jake and Scrappy to put a halt to his fit of rage before he got inside and caused things to go farther south than they already were!

 

@Javia

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"It's sure good to see you, Jake." He greeted the boy and stepped back motioning towards his friend. "This here's my good friend Clement, call him Scrappy though.  Met him on the range." He said with just a small smile touching one corner of his lips, looking at Scrappy "Scrap, meet my cousin Jake."

 

There were gruff nods and howdies between the young men. 

 

"Guess you just got in." he surmised "I'm sorry you were too late. Did you get the telegram Ray got Hector to send? Your Pa wouldn't let him send one himself." the distant cousin related.

 

"Wouldn't let him send one himself?!" he replied to Jake.  Wouldn't let his own brother send him a telegraph to tell him about his Ma being on her death bed!?!?

 

Jacob wanted Jess to know that poor Raymond wasn't completely culpable, the poor boy had been in a very invidious position and had done his level best to let his big brother know just how ill his mother had been after he left (because he had left, his father would say): he hadn't meant to stoke the already smouldering coals of enmity between Jess and his father. But he realised he had done just that, and he quietly kicked himself for the mistake. 

 

His jaw locked, his teeth clenching as he let the news settle... he turned on his heel muttering under his breath as he stormed towards the door. "I'm going to let that old brute have it!" He yelled as he stormed back towards the house. 

 

Both Jacob and Scrappy immediately started after him, only his cousin had the temerity to actually grab ahold of him: they'd fought and played together enough as kids that it wasn't so much of an invasion. "Hey hold on, come on!" Jacob intoned softly. "You got the rest of your life to settle with your Pa, you've only got today to say goodbye to your Ma." he looked sad, not so much for his Aunt, her pain was over at least, but for those she left behind: Jess, Raymond, himself and his sisters, poor Granny, who was slowly seeing all of her family dying off before her; Jacob even had empathy enough to spare some drops of pity for his brooding, never pleasant, Uncle Abe and the always difficult Zenobia.

 

"Listen..." he said slipping the black armband off his arm and handing it to Jess "... why don't you go and see her? I'll take Scrappy to see the sights of Kalispell... that's kinda the one saloon..." he told the short cowboy "... and you can join us afterwards." he offered. 

 

"Ask for Miss Mudd at the funeral place, she's... she'll take you to where Aunt Hildie is. I've been, she... she looks so peaceful..." He knew that phrase sounded hackneyed and trite, but it was true.

 

@MD

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 "Hey hold on, come on!" Jacob intoned softly. "You got the rest of your life to settle with your Pa, you've only got today to say goodbye to your Ma."

 

Jacob always had a way with words, and those words indeed stopped him in his tracks, of course along with the help of Scrappy and he now standing in his way of entrance to the house.  He realized as he stood there with his head dropped just how selfish he must have looked, but deep down he knew it was easier to go in there and pick a fight with his father than it was to go and say goodbye to his Ma.  

 

"Right....you're right." He begrudgingly took the black arm band from his cousin and clenched it in his fist.  He didn't want the band because he didn't want to the reality of this news to set in.  He didn't want to go see his Ma at the funeral pallor.  He didn't want any of this!  He wanted back out on the frontier with Scrappy, living his best life. He guessed he had to though, so once he made sure that Scrappy was OK with going off with Jacob while he tended to this business he headed towards Mr. Jolly's.  

 

He couldn't understand why Pa had chosen Jolly's.  The man was only after everyone's money, he was about as pleasant as a bee sting on the hottest day of the summer; hardly any hospitality at all for the grieving families.  He walked through the familiar town, deciding not to ride his horse over, he needed some time to clear his head and prepare himself for this.  

 

He stood outside the pallor for longer than it probably took him to walk there, not finding the courage to go in.  He paused with his hand on the knob of the door before finally just making himself go in.  Looking around he felt a chill go down his spine and the lump came back to his throat as he thought about his Ma being in here.

 

What was the girls name that Jacob had told him?  Ah, yes...

 

"Miss Mudd?" He called out since no one was at the front.  Hopefully she had more personality and sympathy than Mr. Jolly.  While he stood there waiting he slipped the black arm band around his sleeve.

 

@Javia  

Edited by MD (see edit history)
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Those who knew the scatterbrained chatterbox outside of work were surprised these days if they entered the sober confine's of Mr Jolly's Funeral Emporium on the Kalispell High Street. The Miss Mudd of the Undertaker's was softly and sparingly spoken, quietly sympathetic to the needs of those in mourning who came there to pay their respects to their dearly departed. 

 

This was not acting (although she later said, many years later, that she learned more about theatre working in a funeral parlour than she did in 30 years on the New York stage): she was genuinely empathetic to those who came in sadness and loss. This was no exception. She rounded the corner into the front of the place and her blue eyes, sparkling in her palid face which seemed so suited to the black of her dress and raven hair, twinkled with feeling for the tall young man who had come here. See him knew immediately. 

 

"Oh, you must be Mrs Matthew's son." she said with a small, sympathetic smile which said I am sad that you must be here; but I am glad you have come.

 

Though she had never met Raymond's brother, she knew it must be he from his resemblance to his mother.

 

She stepped forward and looked up, way up, at him. 

 

"May I take you through to see her?" she asked. Not would you like to see her or do you want to see her. She knew he did not want to, but that he must. 

 

Arabella was proud of her work. Hildie lay in her best dress, her hair not overdressed, but as she might wear it gathered for bed, in a state of repose, her head upon a cushion. She was not in a coffin, but upon a low bier surrounded by flowers, and not those sickly-sweet-smell-of-death white lilies either: they were beautiful wild flowers that Arabella had picked herself. The light was not that of some ghastly guttering candle or sickly yellow lamp, but clean white light coming in through an open curtained window. There was no attempt at disguise here, the woman was clearly dead, not sleeping: but she looked at peace. 

 

Miss Mudd led Jess in to the room and asked gently "Would you like me to stay?"

 

@MD

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It was a relief to see Miss Mudd the moment she rounded the corner instead of old Mr. Jolly.  Her warm smile and soft tone made being here perhaps just a small bit easier.  He removed the cap from his head and nodded to her assessment.

 

"Yes, m'am." He answered and stepped toward her and, hesitantly as she asked if he'd like to go see his mother, he nodded once more.  Then following her to the room where his mother lay he hesitated at the door, pausing before he entered...this was going to be hard.  Her voice broke him from his pause as he stared down at the floor not able to bring himself to look inside just yet.

 

Miss Mudd led Jess in to the room and asked gently "Would you like me to stay?"

 

He found her gaze, focusing solely on her and not what he could see in his peripheral.  The mere blurry outline of seeing his mother made the lump form in his throat again.

 

"Either way is fine, ma'm." He said with wet eyes as he lowered them again and walked around Miss Mudd to go to his mother's side.  He stared for quite some time down at the floor.  He didn't think he could stand to see her lifeless form.  He slowly, ever so slowly, lifted his gaze and found first her hand that was nestled against the flowers that surrounded her.  Without moving his head he looked up more, his eyes going up her arm and then finally landing on her face.  As soon as he saw her sweet and peaceful face the tears that he felt welling spilled over.  He didn't dare make a peep though, for the unwatching eye no one would know he was crying.  "Oh, Ma!" he spoke in a whisper as he reached for her hand, the coldness of it shocking him. "Mama....you're beautiful." he whispered again. "I'm so sorry." He closed his eyes, more tears falling down onto his shirt.  He was feeling the guilt of his sisters words even more heavily now that he saw her.  Had he really caused this? 

 

He opened his eyes again.  "Mama, was it me?  Did I break your heart?" He asked, wondering if somehow he might get an answer sent to him from her.  "Zenobia says I did.  But I promise I left so that things would be more peaceful for ya.  So that Pa and I wouldn't fight in front of ya like we were.  I left so I could send money home.  Did you get the money, Ma?"  Then the seed planted in his thoughts somehow that maybe he shouldn't go to her funeral.  That if he'd upset his sister so much by coming home what would she do at her funeral.  Maybe he should do his family a favor and not. "Zenobia was so angry with me.  I know Pa is too.  And Ray....he would hardly speak to me." He shook his head as he dropped it. "Please don't be mad at me if I don't come.  I'll be there in spirit, Ma." He looked back at her, still not sure what he'd do. "I love you so much.  I always will." Squeezing her hand he made to leave.

 

He used his sleeve to dry his face before he would see Miss Mudd again.  He couldn't stay any longer.  He wanted to remember her the way she used to be.  Not like this.  He turned and with his head down started to leave the room.

 

@Javia

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The clearly distressed Cowboy's "Either way is fine, ma'm." was not untypical of some of the visitors to the viewing room: it was common for them to be so upset and focused on the object of dread before them that they cared not whatever else happened around them. 

 

"I'll be just by the door." Arabella said softly and waited there silent and still, hands clasped before her and head bowed.

 

She could only half hear Jess's whispered conversation with his Mother, she did not pry, but certain words and names stuck out. Raymond was a nice enough co-worker, and they talked about all sorts of subjects together, but he didn't usually talk about his family: except sometimes his mother and then he clearly struggled to keep the sorrow from his voice at her serious illness. 

 

The father she only knew by repute (or rather disrepute) as a stern humourless man, ill-suited for the occupation of barbering: most men were happy to pay two bits for a regular shave and haircut, but the prospect of the glowering figure of Matthews hovering over your jugular with a cut-throat razor in his hand put a lot of otherwise brave fellows off. Raymond had suggested that his father teach him the trade, only to be met with a gruff "what, you trying to steal my business from me, boy?!"

 

She heard Zenobia mentioned and bristled. Arabella didn't like her. Not many people did have any affection for the stormy petrel. To be fair, Arabella's dislike more stemmed from Zenobia''s raven haired, pale skinned looks - she was like a beautiful version of herself, and she felt she paled miserably in comparison. Female vanity, she knew it, she was just jealous. 

 

Of Jess, she knew little. Oftimes Raymond would start to talk with affection about his brother, only to catch himself and quickly curtail whatever he was saying with a curt 'But he went away' - as if he was scared his Father might, by some uncanny means, be listening.

 

That the man cried, Arabella understood and thought better of him for it, rather than less. 

 

He used his sleeve to dry his face before he would see Miss Mudd again.  He couldn't stay any longer.  He wanted to remember her the way she used to be.  Not like this.  He turned and with his head down started to leave the room.

 

As he walked out of the portal, Arabella closed the door with a soft thud, the sound redolent of the sound of the final closing of a tomb.

 

She came up beside him. "All right?" she asked, formulaically, but not without empathy. Forms and traditions that had to be followed were not all bad, they gave a structure to the very necessary process of grief.

 

"The Funeral service is tomorrow morning at nine o' clock in the Church, internment at ten." she gave him the facts. "Mr. Matthews..." she started a little more personally "I'll be playing the organ at your Mother's service, were there any hymns that she particularly loved?" 

 

It was sometimes helpful to those deep in grief to be able to add something to the planning of a dear loved one's final farewell in the eyes of the Church and the ascent of their soul to Heaven.

 

@MD

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As he walked out of the portal, Arabella closed the door with a soft thud, the sound redolent of the sound of the final closing of a tomb.

 

She came up beside him. "All right?" she asked, formulaically, but not without empathy. Forms and traditions that had to be followed were not all bad, they gave a structure to the very necessary process of grief.

 

He walked through the door and with the close, the thud of the door behind him the hair literally stood a little on the back of his neck and he closed his eyes a moment.  As Arabella came beside him he turned towards her, clenching his hands around the hat he was holding, for some reason wringing it nervously, nodding his head yes to her question....even though he wasn't really all right at all.  His family in turmoil and his mother's passing.  He was far from it.

 

"The Funeral service is tomorrow morning at nine o' clock in the Church, internment at ten." she gave him the facts. "Mr. Matthews..." she started a little more personally "I'll be playing the organ at your Mother's service, were there any hymns that she particularly loved?" 

 

When she asked about music he could almost hear his mother singing at the very thought of her favorite hymn. "Oh, yes m'am."  The remembrance of her singing and seeing her in church made him actually smile just a touch. As much as it sounded cliché there was one song that just had to be played at her funeral and that was ... "Amazing Grace, please." He smiled again but then it faltered as he thought about if his father would find out that he suggested it. "But, please Ms. Mudd...don't let it be known that I suggested it.  Might you suggest it if neither my father, Zenobia or Raymond does?" But he just knew that one of them would.  They all knew that song was special to her so in turn it was to them.

 

@Javia

 

 

 

 

 

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When she asked about music he could almost hear his mother singing at the very thought of her favorite hymn. "Oh, yes m'am."  The remembrance of her singing and seeing her in church made him actually smile just a touch. As much as it sounded cliché there was one song that just had to be played at her funeral and that was ... "Amazing Grace, please."

 

The slight, pale girl nodded "That's a beautiful choice, Mr. Matthews." She meant it, too: the hymn had a special resonance with Southern Methodists like Arabella. 

 

He smiled again but then it faltered as he thought about if his father would find out that he suggested it. "But, please Ms. Mudd...don't let it be known that I suggested it.  Might you suggest it if neither my father, Zenobia or Raymond does?" But he just knew that one of them would.  They all knew that song was special to her so in turn it was to them.

 

"Don't worry..." she said, laying a comforting hand on his arm. Gosh, things certainly must be bad between Jess and his family if he even had to stoop to subterfuge to get his mother's favourite hymn played at her funeral service! She frowned for a second in thought. 

 

"Listen, Mr. Matthews, if you don't want to... well, if it's difficult between you and your folks at the moment, I'll be at the church early, gettin' the flowers nice and such. Why don't you come round there about a quarter to nine and I'll get you seated near the back? I mean, if you don't want any unpleasantness with your family during the service." she offered. 

 

She gave him another small but sympathetic smile. 

 

"And, well it ain't none of my business, and you can tell me to keep my nose out if you like, but, tomorrow in that service, I'll be praying just as hard as I can for your dear mother and for the whole family but, well, I'm going to be saying a special prayer for you Mr. Matthews, that things... well, that things will get better for you." she glanced at the door to where his mother lay. "I guess they can't get any worse, huh?" 

 

@MD

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He was pleased when she complimented the song selection and relieved also when she told him not to worry about how she would handle that with the rest of his family.  He nodded to her and as she went on he tilted his head as he looked at her, his blue eyes seeming brighter as they were a bit red from his tears earlier.

 

"Listen, Mr. Matthews, if you don't want to... well, if it's difficult between you and your folks at the moment, I'll be at the church early, gettin' the flowers nice and such. Why don't you come round there about a quarter to nine and I'll get you seated near the back? I mean, if you don't want any unpleasantness with your family during the service." she offered. 

 

He was felt a relief when she made that offer.  He was wrestling with the idea of what he should do and her idea was just perfect.  It was as if she could read his mind and he supposed that's why she had been chosen for this job.  Someone in such a position, it would be helpful, if they were able to intercept thoughts and troubles and things of the nature to help those in mourning that were having trouble organizing their thoughts, and she had done just that.

 

"I think yer reading my mind, ma'm." He nodded to her offer. "That would be quite nice.  I'll be here early to take just that seat."  He had no plans on even going back home.  Of even speaking to his father or Zenobia again...although he supposed it was inevitable that he would see them, but it wouldn't be because of his doing!

 

"And, well it ain't none of my business, and you can tell me to keep my nose out if you like, but, tomorrow in that service, I'll be praying just as hard as I can for your dear mother and for the whole family but, well, I'm going to be saying a special prayer for you Mr. Matthews, that things... well, that things will get better for you." she glanced at the door to where his mother lay. "I guess they can't get any worse, huh?" 

 

He didn't feel that Arabella was prying and he didn't mind that she offered such a thing.  "I ain't ever turned down any prayers, and if anyone needs them right now it's myself and my family." Dropping his head some his thoughts going to his father and sister.  If someone needed Jesus, it was them.  He looked back at her. "Thank you, ma'm.  You've been overly generous today." He smiled to her just softly.

 

@Javia

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"I think yer reading my mind, ma'm." He nodded to her offer.

 

"Well, Mr Jolly does say I have 'the sight'" young Miss Mudd agreed. Her manner was warm and friendly and, yea, even humorous to an extent, but never beyond the bounds of what was appropriate in the circumstances. She hadn't been in the job long, but was starting to find that acting completely dour and miserable was not always what the bereaved needed. They also needed to know that life went on, and that there would still be rays of sunshine peeping through the dark clouds of their mourning.

 

"That would be quite nice.  I'll be here early to take just that seat."  He had no plans on even going back home.  Of even speaking to his father or Zenobia again...although he supposed it was inevitable that he would see them, but it wouldn't be because of his doing!

 

"Not here, at the church. About eight forty five." she reminded him. Poor feller was in shock, of course, he wouldn't know if he was coming or going. She offered him her prayers and he accepted them. To be honest, he was going to be getting them anyway. 

 

"Thank you, ma'm.  You've been overly generous today." He smiled to her just softly.

 

She shook her head, as if to say 'it's the least I can do.' and then, as he departed. "Oh, one last thing Mr Matthews..." she said "I'm a teetotaller and member of the Temperance League, but I reckon you could do with going at getting yourself a stiff drink right now."

 

Maybe she did have 'the sight' - that was where he was going next, to the saloon to meet Scrappy and his cousin Jake.

 

@MD [I'll start the saloon bit though...]

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Jacob Lutz seldom visited the Stardust Saloon, Kalispell's sole drinking emporium, and when he did it was usually because he'd been dragged in there, against his better nature, by someone like Hector Wigfall. It was as much about saving money for the baby when she came, than a certain disinterest in getting drunk, that kept him away. Thus it was that he got as many curious glances as the stunted cowpoke at his side when he pushed open the swing doors. He knew Mr Flandry the barkeep though, and gave what he hoped was a nonchalant nod to that Grand Keeper of the Bar.

 

"Howdy, Mr Flandry. Er, a beer please and whatever Mr Craddock here wants." he said, maybe a bit too politely for the ambience of the place. 

 

"Thanks Jake, beer here too." chimed in Scrappy, a little more colloquially. He looked around. "Nice place!" he nodded, but it looked kinda tame compared to the gambling-filled, fight-filled, whore-filled dives of the Cowtown he and Jess had just ridden from. There was no Wichita Lou here, boobies bubbling over her top and offering them introductions to young ladies who were anything but. 

 

@Wayfarer @MD

 

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Ralph looked up from perusing some whisky bottle labels, his sight wasn't what it used to be but he'd be damned if he was going to spend money on spectacles. Caroline teased him about it on occasion and he put up with it because....well it was Caroline.

 

A pair of young men came thru the bat doors, he recognized the younger of them, that tall spindly drink of water who rode for the telegraph. A very occasional customer. The other one he had no idea. And as long as they ordered and paid for drinks, he didn't much care.

 

"Howdy gents," he nodded, not exactly friendly but certainly not hostile.

 

"Howdy, Mr Flandry. Er, a beer please and whatever Mr Craddock here wants," the beanpole lad requested.

 

"Thanks Jake, beer here too." chimed in Scrappy, a little more colloquially. He looked around. "Nice place!"

 

If the cowpoke thought the compliment would elicit some sort of smile or pleased reaction, he didn't know Ralph.

 

Ralph nodded and reached for two beer glasses from the shelf, "Two beers comin up. Nickel apiece."

 

Another moment and two beers were placed right on the bar in front of the two men, foam slightly overrunning the brim. Ralph made a habit of never stinting on the drinks.

 

 

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If the cowpoke thought the compliment would elicit some sort of smile or pleased reaction, he didn't know Ralph.

 

Miserable bastard, thought Scrappy, but said nothing, just looked around the place. It seemed kinda miserable, too, just like the barman. Oh well, beer was beer, wherever you drank it. 

 

Ralph nodded and reached for two beer glasses from the shelf, "Two beers comin up. Nickel apiece."

 

Scrappy was suddenly immensely interested in the ceiling of the place and Jacob frowned and dug into his pockets bringing forth a silver dime with a bare headed liberty on the front, a rare 1873 'Open 3' to a modern collector, but just another coin to the express telegraph rider. 

 

Another moment and two beers were placed right on the bar in front of the two men, foam slightly overrunning the brim. Ralph made a habit of never stinting on the drinks.

 

Scrappy rubbed his hands together, then lifted the glass and gulped the refreshing brew down in a nonstop series of gulps that ended with the empty glass hitting the bar again, while Jacob took a ginger sip of his, making it last. 

 

"Ahhh" Craddock licked his lips "Well, my round! Oh, you're still drinking yours. Fill her up there will you, 'Keep?" Scrappy indicated his empty glass to Ralph, while he fished out a lone nickel. 

 

"How are you getting along without Arabella, Mr. Flandry?" Jacob asked, politely and boringly. "Did you get anyone yet to take over the cleaning? I think she's doing OK at the funeral parlour. She did my Aunt Hildie and I went to see her and she'd got her looking real nice." he told the bearded man "My cousin Jess's just gone over to see her."

 

Scrappy wished he'd gone, too. Would've been a damn sight livelier than this dead and alive hole. 

 

 Of course, he'd yet to meet the star attraction!

 

@MD @Wayfarer [Either could go next, I reckon...]

 

 

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Finishing up at the funeral palor Jess made his way to the saloon where his cousin Hector had said he was going to take his buddy Scrappy.  Walking into the bar, he easily found the pair and made his way over to them, seeing that they had already made themselves right at home, enjoying a beer.  Scrappy having already downed one and having another.  

 

"Hey, fellas." He made his entrance known, slapping his hand down on Hector's shoulder and then leaning in against the counter.  His mood was somber as he looked down the bar and saw Mr. Flandry.  He wasn't sure if the bartender would remember him or not.  He'd been gone for a year now, but he was sure he knew his father, since he frequented the place, enjoying a drink a bit too much.  

 

Jess didn't have much to say, his heart heavy and his mind going crazy with trying to figure out solutions to all the problems with his family.  He knew all his Ma would want was for her family to be together, but that won't happening anytime soon. Jess' solution for keeping the family happy, was to stay away from them for now.  

 

"Howdy, Mr. Flandry." He inclined his head to the man, not able to find a smile.

 

@Wayfarer @Javia

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Ralph poured a second beer for the one cowpoke, the young Mr. Lutz was nursing his and would awhile, if ever, before he'd finish up. He swept up the nickel then when Jacob spoke up.

 

"How are you getting along without Arabella, Mr. Flandry?" Jacob asked.

 

"We seem ta be surviving without the girl," Ralph hadn't approved of the girl up and leaving but she was getting the age to run her own life. And quite plainly she didn't like it at the saloon anymore.

 

"Did you get anyone yet to take over the cleaning? I think she's doing OK at the funeral parlour. She did my Aunt Hildie and I went to see her and she'd got her looking real nice." he told the bearded man "My cousin Jess's just gone over to see her."

 

"Hiring people ain't my job, kid," Ralph shrugged, "I just work here."

 

As for the rest Ralph had no idea how to comment on that. What the hell did he care about some dead woman he never heard of.

 

Another man joined them, bellying up to the bar, must be Lutz's cousin. He did look vaguely familiar but then Ralph sees so many faces in his line of work, they often blend together.

 

"Howdy, Mr. Flandry," the man knew him apparently.

 

"Howdy, can I help ya? "  Ralph meant as in serving him a drink, nothing  less nothing more.

 

***

Meanwhile, Caroline had by now noticed Ralph had a trio of new customers up at the bar. That called for her presence. She might be the saloon entertainer but another vital part of her job involved in mingling with the customers and getting them to buy more drinks.  She had been sitting at a poker table with four locals deep in a long drawn game of five card stud. As they played, she encouraged the men, flirted a bit with them, and on occasion went to fetch them more drinks from the bar.

 

"See ya later, boys," she smiled then rose from her chair to sashay on over to the trio at the bar. Time to do her tried and true routine.

 

"Well, well, I do believe the young men of Kalispell do seem to be getting more and more handsome  all the time," she greeted them.  She sort of knew Jacob Lutz thru Arabella and that he had married that brunette girl running the diner. That gal was visibly pregnant when she was last in the diner to buy a pie.

 

"Jacob, you know if that ....farm girl of yers hadn't snapped you up, I mighta claimed you for myself. How ya been? Your wife doin' well, I hope?" she beamed, eyes sparkling as she gave him a playful pat on one cheek.

 

She figured he'd handle the introductions on these other jaspers.

 

 

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Jacob's attempt to make small-talk with the taciturn Mr Flandry was, inevitably, a failure and soon the arrival of a clearly distraught cousin Jess, still with his black crepe armband in place, put a further dampener on the mood. 

 

"Howdy, Mr. Flandry," the man knew him apparently.

 

"Howdy, can I help ya? "  Ralph meant as in serving him a drink, nothing  less nothing more.

 

"You'd better get him a couple o' fingers of redeye, Jake" Scrappy suggested to Jacob, before adding cheerfully "I'll just have another beer thanks!" Jacob nodded confirmation to Mr Flandry and dug around for more money. How he would explain this unwonted expenditure to Clara he did not know. 

 

Then something even worse made him freeze in horror - there approached the thing that every married man is most afraid of - a pretty girl with yellow hair and a red dress!! He pretended not to see her and took another parsimonious sip of his still full beer glass.

 

"Well, well, I do believe the young men of Kalispell do seem to be getting more and more handsome  all the time," she greeted them.  She sort of knew Jacob Lutz thru Arabella and that he had married that brunette girl running the diner. That gal was visibly pregnant when she was last in the diner to buy a pie.

 

Scrappy was torn between wanting to act sombre in front of his grieving pal Jess, and the attraction of this bar-room belle. Poor Jess, he didn't stand a chance!

 

"Jacob, you know if that ....farm girl of yers hadn't snapped you up, I mighta claimed you for myself. How ya been? Your wife doin' well, I hope?" she beamed, eyes sparkling as she gave him a playful pat on one cheek.

 

"Er, yeah, Clara's fine, and baby Arabella. Thanks for asking Miss Mundee." he mumbled into his beer, his face going an even brighter red than the singer's dress! He was so nervous of being caught talking to the glamorous singer that he inadvertently used the name for the foetus which he used to tease his wife. 

 

Scrappy had no such qualms, whipping off his big cowboy hat in the presence of a lady. 

 

thekid.jpg

 

"Well Howdy, beautiful! Miss Monday is it? And as pretty every other day of the week too, I'm sure!" he drawled, bowing and sweeping his battered hat like a cavalier of old, doing his dusty best to ooze Southern charm. "Permit me to introduce myself, Mr. Clement Craddock of Kosse, Texas, Scrappy to my friends, perhaps you already know my esteemed partner in cowography, Mr Jesse Matthews..." he had no idea that Caroline had only arrived in Kalispell this year and didn't know Jess from Adam's off-ox. "And my new friend Mr. Lutz, it seems, has the unbearable pleasure of being already acquainted with your glorious self." Unbearable? Wrong word, but he pushed on.

 

"Say Jake, Miss Monday looks thirsty, why don't you throw a drink into her, I mean, er, would you permit us to buy you some form of liquid refreshment, 'fair vison of my idyll'?" he asked, trying to keep his baby blue eyes fixed on hers, and not her cleverly upholstered cleavage. 

 

Jacob was grateful that the pint sized Casanova, Scappy, was taking care of the scary blonde siren, even if he was footing the bill. He turned to Jess as the latter's stiff drink appeared. 

 

"All right?" he asked softly. Cousin Jake was the thoughtful member of the clan; he even used to write poetry, until his wife asked him to please stop it. "Hard, isn't it?" The death of his aunt had made him think about the death of his own mother all those years ago, when he and Jess were at school together, and how it had affected him at the time.

 

@MD @Wayfarer

 

 

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