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Sagas of the Wild West
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Each Dawn I Die


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"Oh your boots, they're tucked in the corner. I was going to clean the mud and ashes off them but have not gotten around to it yet."

 

The girl didn’t fully understand her own mixed feelings about that piece of news. Her brain told her that this was good news – a body needed a pair of boots to kick around in, after all. She’d pretty much gone barefoot when she was a child of the mountain, but for treading on rough stones or cold snow or fields strewn with cattle chips, all of them were made a whole lot easier for a pair of good sturdy boots.

 

On the other hand, ‘mud and ashes’: the boots were a tie to her old life and the mixed, muddled and morbid memories of the way that old life had ended; if she put the boots on would she somehow find herself back in that nightmare? She pushed the dark thoughts down by returning her attention to the exciting tub of tepid water that was rapidly filling under Clara’s ministrations.

 

It took a few more trips but finally the tub was at least half filled, that would have to do. Clara tested the water with her hand.

 

"It is warm but not hot. Very well then, you may remove your gown and get in," Clara also had come up with what was left of a bar of tallow soap. Soap was a luxury for many folk but Clara thought this a worthwhile use for it on this day. She also extended a wash cloth to the girl.

 

“Oooh!” Arabella squeaked, taking the flannel “What if someone comes in?” she asked as she pulled the voluminous ‘utilitarian garment’ over her head, although she actually sound more excited and intrigued about such an eventuality, rather than worried. 

 

The sight that her body presented was a sobering one. It wasn’t so much dirty, her simple smock had absorbed most of the filth and grime of her misadventures, it was just so unbearably thin and pale. The child looked akin to one of the ghastly scarecrow figures that had shambled out of Andersonville ten years ago, and the mass and volume of the black hair hanging down her back only seemed to exacerbate the mortuary aspect of her appearance. Still, she was a lively little corpse, and jumped into the tub quicker than you could say ‘Jack Robinson’.

 

“Ohhhhh!” she sighed in ecstasy “You were right! Not too hot and not too cold, just like the Baby Bear’s porridge!” she tucked herself down in the tub, displacing the water to make it go as high as possible over her body and drank in its warming effects. “This here bath is beautiful” she cooed, dragging out the last word for as long as possible.

 

"I can get your back for you when you are ready," Clara offered.

 

“Ooh!” Arabella sat up straight with alacrity “I’m ready!!” she yelped, this was going to be an interesting experience. “I just thought” she ruminated aloud “I never seen my own back, what’s it look like?”

To tell the truth, the back bones of the emaciated girl, like her ribs, stuck out so much that a good xylophone player could have beaten out a tune out of them.

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The girl certainly was not shy about shedding the nightie and slipped right into the bathtub then although she did ask what is someone came in. Clara was not worried about that but shrugged and moved to shut the bedroom door tightly.

 

"No one is going to come in. My father and brother are busy with chores outside," she announced in addition.

 

As Arabella sat down into the tub, Clara was a bit disturbed how scrawny the poor thing was. She looked like she had been starving. Whoever she had been staying with Whitefish had not bothered to feed her properly but granted, Whitefish had been a den of iniquity.

 

"Oh my poor dear, you need to eat more, put on some weight. Do not be afraid to ask for seconds at the table these upcoming meals, " she could not help but comment and advise.

 

As soon as she offered to scrub the girl's back, Arabella claimed she was ready.

 

"Very well," Clara nodded and knelt down next to the tub.

 

“I just thought” Arabella ruminated aloud “I never seen my own back, what’s it look like?”

 

"Like any one else's back not that I am an expert on such things," Clara secured the soap.

 

"Rather easy to see your skeletal structure though. We need to fatten you up some," Clara then started washing the girl's back.

 

 

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"Oh my poor dear, you need to eat more, put on some weight. Do not be afraid to ask for seconds at the table these upcoming meals, " she could not help but comment and advise.

 

Arabella nodded, but it was perhaps fortunate that when it came to it, she wasn’t really that hungry. One of the side effects of malnutrition was lack of appetite. It was only later on, when she had regained her strength, that she became the terror of the dinner table, snaffling up every crumb in sight. Thus it was that she did not suffer the fate of those Union prisoners, living skeletons,  who, liberated from the starving conditions of the Andersonville prisoner of war camp, stuffed themselves silly at a banquet on the paddle steamer home and were carried off as corpses when the ship docked.

 

As soon as she offered to scrub the girl's back, Arabella claimed she was ready.

"Very well," Clara nodded and knelt down next to the tub.

“I just thought” Arabella ruminated aloud “I never seen my own back, what’s it look like?”

"Like any one else's back not that I am an expert on such things," Clara secured the soap.

 

“Oh!” said Arabella “Not like a lovely white swan, then?” Ladies’ necks and décolletage were usually like lovely white swans in stories.

 

"Rather easy to see your skeletal structure though. We need to fatten you up some," Clara then started washing the girl's back.

 

Arabella nodded at this advice, then closed her eyes and just enjoyed the moment: not just the warmth of the soothing water and the cleansing of the fatty soap, but the touch of another human being.

 

“Clara” she eventually piped up. “What’s all your other names? Seein’ as you ain’t a little Indian girl after all, I got to thinking that you must have a couple more in your apron pocket somewheres. Oooh, no, don’t tell me yet, I wanna guess! I think you’re called … urm … Clara-Belle Bodine.” What made her pick that twee agglomeration was anybody’s guess.

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“Oh!” said Arabella “Not like a lovely white swan, then?”

 

"No, that would not be the image which comes to mind," Clara left it at that.

 

The girl sat still and let Clara work the washcloth and soapy water up and down her back, she had washed her brother enough times she had grown adept at it.

 

"Clara” she eventually piped up. “What’s all your other names? Seein’ as you ain’t a little Indian girl after all, I got to thinking that you must have a couple more in your apron pocket somewheres. Oooh, no, don’t tell me yet, I wanna guess! I think you’re called … urm … Clara-Belle Bodine.”

 

"All my other names? Oh, you mean middle and last name? Well my full name is Clara Anne Redmond. Clara Belle sounds like a name for a cow," the older girl replied.

 

"My mother picked Clara because that was a favorite aunt of hers' name and then Anne was the Christian name of my father's mother. Sadly all of them are gone now. My mother died a little over a year ago, she was murdered by Indians," she sighed.

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"All my other names? Oh, you mean middle and last name? Well my full name is Clara Anne Redmond. Clara Belle sounds like a name for a cow," the older girl replied.

 

“Clara Anne Redmond. Clara Anne Redmond.” Arabella said it out loud a couple of times to try it for size, as she sploshed around in the water. She secretly thought that Clara-belle Redmond had a much better ring to it, and that there were too many ruh ruh ruhs in Clara’s real name, but for once the little flibbertigibbet kept her trap shut; she knew folks was precious about their names, even those as said they didn’t like the one they’d be given.

 

“Oh, that’s a beautiful name!” she lied, and made a mental note to ask Jesus to forgive that little white ‘un.

 

“Did your Mammy and Pappy chose them just because they sound nice, or have they got some special meanin’ Like, my Pappy chose Arabella after a beautiful English princess who he read about in a book and, you know what? Some cruel ol’ Queen starved her to death in a Tower! Pappy was a romantical sort, see? And Mammy, she called me Sumter after Fort Sumter, what with her bein’ red hot sessesh and all. How about you?”

 

"My mother picked Clara because that was a favorite aunt of hers' name and then Anne was the Christian name of my father's mother. Sadly all of them are gone now. My mother died a little over a year ago, she was murdered by Indians," she sighed.

 

Arabella drew in her breath in a horrified gasp and managed to somehow scrabble around in the close confines of the tub and then, before you could blink an eye, threw herself bodily at Clara: wet, soapy arms clinging around her neck, and the waif’s pinched little face buried into the older girl’s shoulder. It was then that the earthquake began, except it wasn’t an earthquake, it was Arabella sobbing her eyes out and rocking back and forth like a mother comforting a baby. She clung and clung and cried and cried, this seemed to be what she planned to do for the rest of eternity.

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The girl repeated her name a couple of times, perhaps to secure it in her memory? And then threw in a compliment too.

 

"Oh, that’s a beautiful name!” 

 

"Why thank you," Clara nodded, she was not sure she would go that far but it was nice to get compliments.

 

The conversation moved on to talk about why their parents selected the names they did. Now Clara just happened to mention her mother's sad  death at the hands of the Indians. However she  had had no idea it would affect Arabella so ... dramatically.

 

Arabella drew in her breath in a horrified gasp and managed to somehow scrabble around in the close confines of the tub and then, before you could blink an eye, threw herself bodily at Clara: wet, soapy arms clinging around her neck, and the waif’s pinched little face buried into the older girl’s shoulder. 

 

Clara might have screamed at this sudden predicament she found herself in except that was not in Clara's nature. Instead she froze up and tensed from the unexpected (and unwanted) contact.

 

"Wait. What are...." she started to protest but then the child began to wail almost as if she had lost her own mother or even entire family  herself. Good gracious! This was way too much physical contact not to mention she was getting soaking wet herself!

 

"Arabella... calm down. You are getting me all wet, let go. Please," she practically pleaded, fighting to remain calm.

 

When that neither silenced the child nor loosened her death grip, Clara had enough and broke free with a sudden effort then stood up.

 

"Kindly do not ever do that again," she sternly requested.

 

Just then the door opened and there was her younger brother  wide eyed and excited.

 

"What was all that caterwauling?" then he caught sight of their house guest in all her ... nakedness.

 

"Oh, " he swallowed, "Shit!"

 

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"Arabella... calm down. You are getting me all wet, let go. Please," she practically pleaded, fighting to remain calm.

 

When that neither silenced the child nor loosened her death grip, Clara had enough and broke free with a sudden effort then stood up.

 

“I’m sorry, Clara-Anne” sobbed the soapy bather “It just makes me so sad think about you bein’ all without your nice Mammy, and fer her to be took away from you so cruel like that.” she sniffed.

 

"Kindly do not ever do that again," she sternly requested.

 

Arabella was still standing up in the bath and she tried to wipe away the tears without getting the soap in her eyes. “I promise I won’t do that again.” she repeated the oath out loud by rote “But one day, if you ever do change your spots and want a hug or a shoulder to cry on, you just go right ahead and use mine.” she offered with a sad little smile.

 

She couldn’t help feeling it: that somewhere, deeply, ever so deeply interred inside that serious and cold 60 year old head on a 15 year old body, there just had to be buried a heart made not of stone, as she might have the world believe, but a heart made of flesh and blood. And that even the deepest buried treasures could be found with love, prayers and perseverance.

 

 Just then the door opened and there was her younger brother  wide eyed and excited.

 "What was all that caterwauling?" then he caught sight of their house guest in all her ... nakedness.

 

Arabella turned, took one look at the boy, and then managed to somehow scream, cover herself with her hands and arms, and dive back into the suddenly tiny-seeming tub all in one go. The haste of her attempt to re-submerge, combined with the slipperiness of the tallow soap made her slide over backwards, her legs popping up and waving at Wyatt for a second while her head went backwards and under the water.

 

A normal sized person would have probably become embarrassingly wedged at that point, but Arabella, displaying the agility of an undine managed to twist round and onto her front and have her head pop up facing Wyattt and her feet sticking out of the water at the back. The attempt at modesty was far from perfect, but we will spare her blushes by not relating the exact flaws in her plan.

 

"Oh, " he swallowed, "Shit!"

 

Arabella’s face was totally covered by a curtain of wet black hair, making her look like some strange seal-like creature, but within seconds a pair of pale hands appeared to part the curtains and reveal an impish, open mouthed face, which blurted out the words of delighted horror “It’s a man, Clara Anne, and he’s been a peekin’ at me while I been all nudie in the bath!!”

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"Just Clara, no one says Clara Anne. I only told you my middle name because you specifically asked," Clara gently pointed out.

 

Arabella meant well though, Clara realized that, "I am not angry. My clothes will dry. And thank you for the condolences. I will readily admit I still miss her very much. But life must go on."

 

And then Wyatt barged in, though in fairness he was no doubt curious about the loud crying. Wyatt had never seen nor heard Clara cry. The inevitable then occurred as he got an eyeful of Arabella in her natural state. Not unreasonably Arabella was less than happy having her privacy invaded, especially after Clara had told her not to worry about such an occurrence.

 

Arabella thrashed about in the tub, sending yet more water all over the floor and onto Clara's shoes, before settling in a position that put most of her with the tub shielding any further unwanted viewing.  As for the girl's wild declaration it was a 'man', that was quite a stretch even with her fevered imagination.

 

"Wyatt, you need to leave. And Arabella, this is just my little brother, Wyatt," Clara combined an order with an introduction.

 

"Don't know what the big deal is but ...." Wyatt kept his focus on Arabella, "I'm glad you ain't gonna go and die on us. What with the ground so hard, we wouldn't be able to bury you til spring so I reckon we'd need to store you in the barn."

 

"Wyatt...you stop talking like that," Clara frowned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It seemed a terrible waste to Arabella, not using that middle name when her first one was so short and plain, but she decided to do as she was bidden. ‘Clara’ it would be. But she didn’t have much time to think on that problem, what with Wyatt coming in and all. From her position in the bath looking, she supposed, like a beautiful mermaid in a painting, she surveyed this new addition to the room with approval.

 

"Wyatt, you need to leave. And Arabella, this is just my little brother, Wyatt," Clara combined an order with an introduction.

 

“Why, Clara, you said he was only twelve, he looks much older than that! I’d ‘a thought this young gentleman was more like Eighteen!” she lied flatteringly. Ooh, poor old Jesus was going to have a busy time of it come Sunday, forgiving all of these little trespasses she was building up. But Arabella had the natural talent of a coquette to say the right things when she was a addressing the male of the species, even if she usually put her foot in it with members of her own sex.

 

"Don't know what the big deal is but ...." Wyatt kept his focus on Arabella, "I'm glad you ain't gonna go and die on us. What with the ground so hard, we wouldn't be able to bury you til spring so I reckon we'd need to store you in the barn."

 

"Wyatt...you stop talking like that," Clara frowned.

 

Arabella just closed her eyes and laughed. It was a deliciously deep, bubbly, chuckly, gurgly sort of laugh.

 

“Aw, that’s all right Mister Wyatt, I already been stored in a barn with dead folks once, don’t reckon it would bother me none the second time ‘round.” She then addressed Clara, but kept right on looking at Wyatt from between the drapes of her wet hair. “Say Clara, your brother’s a caution, but you never told me he was so darn cute looking too, why I reckon he’ll make some lucky gal a pretty utilitarian boyfriend some of these days!” she tipped her head a little as she said this to see what reaction this notion brought from the lad.

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Once more the child took Clara by surprise, suddenly she was gushing over of all people, Wyatt?

 

"Why, Clara, you said he was only twelve, he looks much older than that! I’d ‘a thought this young gentleman was more like Eighteen!”

 

"I do?" that was news to Wyatt.

 

"Did you perhaps lose a pair of spectacles back in Whitefish?" Clara inquired.

 

Arabella wasn't finished yet with her buttering the boy up.

 

“Aw, that’s all right Mister Wyatt, I already been stored in a barn with dead folks once, don’t reckon it would bother me none the second time ‘round.” She then addressed Clara, but kept right on looking at Wyatt from between the drapes of her wet hair. “Say Clara, your brother’s a caution, but you never told me he was so darn cute looking too, why I reckon he’ll make some lucky gal a pretty utilitarian boyfriend some of these days!”

 

"You were? Really?" Wyatt found that revelation fascinating enough, unsure why she had roomed with the dead.

 

Wyatt grinned at hearing she thought him cute. He hadn't ever heard any girl say that of him. Of course he did recall his mother declaring he was quite handsome but mothers probably have to say that sort of stuff. As for being a ....what? Utili.....whatever she just said, he had no idea what that meant. Hopefully it was a good thing though. But actually the boy in him was more fascinated with her remark about being placed with the dead.

 

"So how badly were you hurt they stuck you with dead folks? I mean you look fine now. Mostly..." Wyatt pressed the issue.

 

"You know Clara almost died once herself. An Injun shot an arrow right into her chest," he loved telling folks that exciting fact.

 

"You should ask her to show it to you? It's quite the scar," Wyatt beamed, gross stuff like that appealed to boys his age.

 

"Wyatt! Did I not tell you to leave the room? And shut the door behind you also. Honestly," Clara glared.

 

 

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