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    • It was long, tedious work, even though, for the most part, it was just plodding along with the cows, making sure they all stayed together and went the right way they were supposed to.  Even after the wind picked up, there were only a few mavericks who tried to wander off on their own, but the drag riders managed to coax them back to the herd.   As the day progressed, Annie became less jiggy, and Justus could tell she was getting tired.  "It's all right, Miz Annie."  He patted the horse's neck, then tightened the bandanna that was keeping his hat from blowing away.   "Ya think this is just a dry wind?" Justus called to Loredo, "or somethin' more movin' in?"  There wasn't the smell of rain in the air yet, nor clouds, but he knew that the weather could change quickly.  "Will they try ta settle in camp early?"  It seemed to him that if there was 'weather' moving in, it was better to have the cattle settled than moving, but what did he know? He just hoped it didn't impact supper!   @Flip
    • "Wonderful!"  Jonah almost clapped, for this had been going on for so long, that he really expected that this would be some sort of new setback, and Leah certainly didn't need any more complications.  "I'm sure it's going to be a huge relief when they finally break ground.  It's going to be rewarding to watch it take shape, and for you to know you are responsible for it."   He hoped, for her sake more than anything, that the weather cooperated, and that the progress was swift and without complications.    "You'll be overseeing the project?"  He couldn't imagine that she'd step back now, and not assure that every detail was right.   @Flip
    • "Boss, we found us a herd ripe for the pluckin'. Maybe we oughtta move on it afore they change where they're grazin' 'em, an make it more difficult." Toole suggested. "We can take close to a hunderd head easy enough, they move 'em, thet might not be the way of it."   "'Scuse me men, but Toole here is on to something, and cattle is our other business. We've customers waiting up north." Case said, not happy at being interrupted, yet realizing that what he said was true. It was why they were there, and it was what the did. "So go on and make yourselves to home while I get this job situated."   "Oh sure thing, Case, an thanks for the offer. We appreciate it, 'mon boys." Shannon said, and with that they walked outside to find the other building Case was talking about.   "Alright Toole what did you have in mind?" Case asked.   "The place is just at the foothills where they have their cattle. Now any buildin's 'er maybe a mile, mile'n a half away. What we saw was just maybe four riders wit the cattle, may not hav'ta kill any of 'em. We just filter down through the trees and then rush 'em. Maybe eight 'er ten of us, circle the heard an' push 'em back the way we come which was the long way around , and shore they'll be tracks alomst all the way to the dry river bed, maybe  whot, two mile from the tree line. Hard ground to river bed, but they won't catch us, not seein's they're out numbered."   Case gave it some thought, but Toole had been plotting how they would steal a herd for quite a while, and he knew what he was doing. Besides, no County Sheriff, no problem!   "Pick your men, Toole and get it done." Case said, knowing if they got a hundred head, that would be enough to drive north, once the brands were altered.
    • Having a second thought, to bolster the findings he sent for Fairchild before he could leave for New Orleans, and in the vicinity of Elinor Steelgrave, that could be done at another time after this meeting with Elias himself.   It was like hedging his bet on the situation. He wanted Elias to meet the man who could explain what was in the file in detail, much better than he himself.  might be able to. Nothing like being prepared. Elias could be unpredictable when upset, if a man like Fairchild explaining what he had found could manage to keep Steelgrave manage-ably clam then the expense was worth it to all concerned.   He had to congratulate himself on the idea. It just might work!
    • List in hand, they made their way back to town and to the Anderson's Mercantile where they laid out their list of needs. John and Mary Agnes looked over the list and began adding prices, plus shipping where it was warranted.   "So, you're in the mining business Marshal?" John asked.   "We are." Alice replied with a wide proud smile on her face. Speed just looked at her.   "Amos here found a property to good to pass up, so I bought it myself." Speed said, "Actually two properties, the other on is off to the west, but this one is just north of the Evergreen Ranch a couple of miles."   "Ah that would be the Henshaw mine. Sad about his wife passing on so suddenly. Life can be hard out here, it was just too hard for Martha Henshaw, though she tried as hard as anyone could." Mary Agnes said. "Most all of what you have here we have in stock. Most all of this was on Henshaw's list as well, he just quit before he paid for it. I believe we can give you a good price on the machinery out back. Right John?"   "Yes we can, The fact is Speed I'll let you have it at our cost, plus the shipping expenses, of course. Be good to free up that room back there. Let me see here at my cost, yes, well, it looks to be just under three thousand dollars, without the things we have in stock that wasn't Henshaw's."   Fair enough John, and we appreciate it. Now, if you'll let me get up to the bank, we want to use their money until we get started, and then we'll settle up."   "Makes sense to me, it's what we did. Hated those monthly payments, but it worked for us." John agreed.   "We'll be back." Speed promised.

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Mature Content:

With: Addy, Jay
Location: Whitefish/Swing Station Barn
When: December/ 1875
Time of Day: Afternoon

 

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With Oleander reunited with her mule, and the Kalispell rescuers getting organized and ready to head back with survivors, Addy decided to quickly check the barn and swing station owned by Millegan Stage Lines that sat at the edge of town.  The small barn and corral held fresh teams that were switched out with the spent horses pulling the stage.  Hopefully, they had been seen to, or had managed to get out, but she had to be sure before they left.

 

Riding one of the spare team she'd brought with her, she was grateful that the animal was one of the big draft horses that could more easily navigate the deep snow drifts.  As she approached the bar, she looked it over, pleased to see it was still relatively intact...later, when conditions were better, she could come back and see if there was any equipment to salvage, but for now, she was worried about lives.

 

It took a few minutes for her to finally be able to yank the big doors open, since drifts had to be dug away, and she was breathing heavily when she was able to peer into the darkness.  At first, of course, she really couldn't see anything more than outlines, and as she waited for her eyes to adjust, she called out, "Any'a ya'll still in here?"

 

@Jack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After what had seemed like an eternity, thanks to the burning in his side, hunger and the cold, that had crept into every pore of his body, Jay had fallen asleep. It was an uneasy slumber on the bed of hay but it had been long overdue. The winters were hard when you had no steady roof over your head or decent food in your belly. Minutes passed, then hours.

 

It was the voice of a woman, that brought him out of the dreamless sleep.

Disoriented he tried to figure out what was going on. Someone had entered the barn for some reason. Why would anyone come here in terrible weather like this?

 

He could hear the footsteps on the frozen ground of the barn, only blended out by the howling wind outside every now and then.

As he tried to keep as still as possible, the small cat lifted her head and meowed.

 

'Da*n!' Jay cursed in thoughts. That damn little thing!

Under his blanket Jay held his breath, his hand slowly wandering to his belt where he kept his gun. Even the leather felt cold against his fingertips.  He knew that there were no more than two bullets left in the barrel. Enough for just one lady.

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Finally able to see, Addy stepped farther into the big structure, finding some shelter from the cold.  And now she could see a few horses roaming the building, thankfully not stuck in their stalls, where they wouldn't have been able to get to hay.  It would be an easy matter to get them in halters and back to the main part of town, then back to Kalispell where they could have proper housing.

 

"Yer not one'a th' stage horses," she murmured, noticing a saddle horse among the three big draft animals, and she headed for it, her hand held out.  "Hey, fella.  How'd ya get here?"

 

But before the horse could answer, she heard a faint little, 'Mew!' and changed paths.  It wasn't a grown cat, and there was no way that a kitten could survive in this cold!

 

"Kitty, kitty!"  Listening for more noise, she made her way in the direction from which it had come, near one of the stalls...or in.  "C'mon, kitty, I got a nice, warm place for ya."

 

@Jack

 

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Now he was wide awake in a matter of seconds. The voice and steps came closer thanks to the small kitten. 'traitor' Jay thought and tried to get the cat to move away from under his blanket in order to protect his hide away. The animals, that was pushed away, returned right back into his lap. Inwardly Jay groaned about so much bad luck after the raid, that had gone wrong in Whitefish, a cat would give away his presence.

 

The steps were now awefully close and it was only a matter of seconds that he'd be discovered, so he held the kitten in one hand, his revolver in the other and threw off the ratty, old, woolen blanket.

As quickly as his current state allowed he sat up and pointed the barrel of his gun at a lady, who looked like she was about the same age as him. Long dark hair framed her delicate face. Despite her pretty appearance, the robber could tell that she wasn't a fragile girl. No, she looked like she could handle herself.

 

 

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"Whoa there, fella!"  Addy was startled, but she held her ground, putting her hands out in supplication, after all, there was no way she could draw and shoot him before he killed her, and besides, she'd do the same if she were in his boots...er, blanket.

 

"Name's Addy Chappel, there's a group of us, come from Kalispell when we heard about what happened here...come ta help, is all."  She held steady, not moving, hoping this was getting through.  "I got food, an' there's blankets.  We're takin' folks back ta Kalispell, got rooms set up there, if you've a mind."

 

Or, he could just shoot her, and someone else would have to drive the stage back!

 

@Jack

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His grim expression didn't match her firm but still somewhat friendly face in any way. On the contrary. While he was pointing a gun at her, the lady was offering food and shelter, which was something he'd been desperately seeking for a while.

There was a moment, their eyes connected. His cold and weary, hers full of confidence and warmth.

This could be a trap, though. Maybe she knew what happened and belonged to a search party.

That's when he remembered that she'd been talking to the horses, which was very unlikely for someone looking for a robber.

If he understood her right, she was assuming that he'd run away to find shelter, which was at least partly correct.

 

Slowly he lowered his colt but didn't put it back in its holster.

"I'm freezing." His lips had turned blue from the cold. Even without saying anything it was visible, that he was desperate for what she was offering.

He wasn't sure what to tell her yet but he let the blanket slide from his shoulders and stood up so he now was a whole head taller than her, which should be a warning for the lady not to try anything.

He wanted to ask her how many men were out there and why she was being friendly but didn't want to raise any suspicions.

"I could use a meal."

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"Here now..." Addy lowered her hands and started to reach into her coat pocket, but thought better of it, in case he though she was going for a gun.  So instead, she took the heavy coat off and held it to him.  Her pistol was strapped to her hips, over the pants she was wearing.  "There's some jerky in th' pockets, an' take these, too."  Pulling off her gloves, she held those out as well.  For now, she was warm, and he needed the things more than she did.  Besides, if he didn't shoot her, she could warm her hands under one of the horse's manes.

 

"If it ain't contrary, I'm gonna take th' stage company horses an' head back ta th' town."  She gave him a nod.  "I reckon that saddle horse is yers?"  Well, it was now, anyway.  "An' that cat...he yers, too?"

 

@Jack

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As soon as her hand went into the pocket of her coat, Jay's gun was raised again but then he realized what she was doing. Keeping his blue eyes fixed on her he sat the kitten, that he'd been holding in his left hand, down on the straw and reached for the coat to retrieve the jerkey.

In order to take the food out of the pocket and also accept the gloves, he had to make a decision...away with his Colt.

 

So he put it in its holster, that hung on an old worn leather belt on his hips. With stiff fingers he fumbled out the cold jerkey and instantly shoved it in his mouth. The meat was tough as heck but it was food, so who cared. While he chewed  she asked about his horse, so he simply gave her a nod.

 

When she wanted to know whether the cat was his Jay looked down at the small animal, who was still walking around his boots. "I guess now he is. He won't make it through the winter otherwise."

 

He then pulled on her gloves, that he could barely fit his fingers in and picked up the kitten again.

Finally he swallowed and licked his lips. "Thank you, mam. Very kind of you."

He was starting to believe that her kindness was genuine and not a trap.

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"Well, we come here ta help," Addy commented, "I'm just glad I come to check on th' horses."  She took a step closer and held out her hand.  "I drive stage fer th' Millegan Stage Company, these big horses are theirs.  I'll take 'em back, yer welcome ta join me."

 

The horses would be able to pack some gear, too, so there would be more room for survivors in the wagons, and from what she had seen, there was going to be plenty of need.

 

"Ya need help saddlin' yer horse?"  He seemed pretty cold still, and she wasn't sure his hands had enough feeling to work the cinch buckle or buckles on the bridle.  "I can do that while ya munch on that jerky."

 

The activity would help warm her up, and she really didn't mind helping.  "Can make a sling outta that blanket ta carry yer kitten in."  You had to admire a man who was kind to animals.

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The lady, Addy, was incredibly kind to him. Not only did she offer her gloves, food and shelter but her tone was also kind. Despite the Colt, he had pointed at her earlier Addy had remained calm and collected and hadn't lost the warmth in her voice.

She even offered to help him saddle his horse, which would be great because he was weak, hurt and frozen stiff.

"That would be much appreciated." He took her hand and shook it, then introduced himself. "I'm Jay."

 

He slowly walked over to the old leather saddle that he barely had been able to take off. With nimble fingers he tried to lift it up but when he lifted the heavy saddle onto the horses back, pain flared up in his side. So he was thankful that the coach driver was right by his side.

Jay let her do the rest and took a moment to bend down and reach for the kitten again. The blanket was now tied into a sling and the small pet put inside. How a man without any money or a job or home should provide for a cat, he didn't know but maybe Addy would take the kitten in. He'd ask her in town.

 

She knew what she was doing and Jay admired her fearlessness in his presence. Lately he had seen a lot of people, who were afraid of him. It had become a normal state. One without friends.

 

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Deftly, Addy went about tightening the saddle, then making sure that the bridle was properly set.  These were actions she'd done since she was a toddler, and really didn't have to put much thought into it.

 

"There ya go, all ready."  Grinning, she nodded to the man, then headed to the tack room to get halters for the stage horses, and hopefully, she'd find another coat stored there...the cold was starting to get to her.  It was a pity, though, that she couldn't grab the harness that was there, but there as no room for it in the wagons, and she'd just have to hope it was there when she had a chance to come back.

 

"I'll get these horses ready, an' just pony 'em back ta where th' wagons are."  She glanced at Jay.  "So, do ya live here in Whitefish?" she asked as she started to slip a halter on one of the big draft animals.

 

@Jack

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"Thanks, mam." Jay said while he stood back and let Addy finish the work, that he should be doing.

For a moment he looked down at the small cat, who had curled up in the sling. He should probably leave her here in the barn, where he found her but the snow was too high for her to survive.

Gently he ran that gloved hand over the small back and decided to take care of her for now.

 

When Addy asked about his residence, he contemplated lying to her and saying that he lived in Whitefish but other residents would quickly tell her differently. So he decided for a different story.

"No, I wanted to visit my uncle for a while but he doesn't seem to be living there anymore."

He briefly thought about how much of a story he should fabricate. Maybe he should distance himself from the gang with his words.

For now he decided against it.

 

He took the reigns and walked the horse towards the stable doors but he could hear the wind howling outside. Through the gaps Jay could see the snow traveling sideways.

@Bongo

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Taking a last look through the tack room, Addy found a poncho that she gratefully slipped on, then she gathered the lead ropes for the three horses that had been in the barn and swung up onto the big coach horse that she'd ridden out.  At least the wind was dying down, and she knew it was better down off the hill, in town.

 

"'Bout an hour's ride," she said as they started out, then curiosity got the better of her.  "Where ya from, if ya don't mind me askin'?  Don't sound like th' south nor th' north."  He had an accent that she'd never really heard before and couldn't place.

 

@Jack

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Jay knew that he shouldn't give away any personal information. He'd already given her his actual first name, which was probably a mistake. His origin, however, impossible to hide even though he tried to blend in.

 

As soon as they left the shelter of the barn, the wind and cold crept right back into his bones. "Oh, I wish there was a warm bath where we're going...your home town."

After a little while he added. "I'm from Canada but my parents were English settlers." That wasn't true but close to the truth. After all his path had taken him through Canada.

"It's even colder up there." 

He made a face and pulled the cat a little closer to his body.

 

The ride was exhausting but at least he had now snacked on some beef jerkey.

"You're the first lady, that I've met who drives a coach. Your husbands?"

Perhaps she was just filling in. 

 

The path took them across some snow covered fields and through a forest where the snow wasn't so deep so they got ahead faster.

 

"Thank you for your kindness by the way. Sleeping in the barn at such temperatures isn't good for anyone."

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"It's even colder up there."

 

"Colder?"  Addy shook her head.  "Don't need ta be no colder'n this, thank ya very much!  Grew up in Tennessee, got cold, but nothin' like this."  She didn't mind the cold to a point, but sometimes it just cut through you and stuck around.  "Might could get ya warm bath, but at least ya'll have a warm place ta sleep an' hot food."

 

"You're the first lady, that I've met who drives a coach. Your husbands?"

 

"No, I work for a company, but I do own my own freight wagon an' horses, so when I ain't drivin' th' stage, I got that ta keep me busy."   She grinned.  "Got a husband somewheres, good man, but after we both sobered up th' first day, we decided it weren't fer us an' went out ways."

 

"Thank you for your kindness by the way. Sleeping in the barn at such temperatures isn't good for anyone."

 

"I agree on that."  Addy glanced at him with a shake of her head.  "Blizzard wasn't so bad by th' time it came through Kalispell, so we didn't know how bad it was here 'til word came in, an' then th' drifts were too deep ta get th' wagons through for a couple'a days."

 

The road topped a low crest, and they could see Whitefish below, in a shambles.  Trees were blow over, snow covered ruined buildings, but there were other parts where the snow had been melted by fire.  And from here, the rescue activity was evident -- all manner of conveyances, wagons, buckboards, buggies, and people were moving about through the mess.

 

"That there's th' stage, we'll take th' horses there."  She nodded to the bright red Concord stage in the middle of town.  "They got food an' such set up in th' church, I hear.  We'll see when we get there."

 

(Moving us into the 'Deadly December' thread)

 

@Jack

 

 

 

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Addy certainly was an interesting person...drunk marriage and then parting ways. It actually made Jay chuckle a little.

 

When he looked at the path, the hill and finally the town below it dawned on him that they were not going to her hometown right away but back to Whitefish. He wanted to object because there was a big chance that, despite his bandana and the absence of the others he might be discovered.

But how could he explain that he suddenly didn't want help anymore?

After all the lady was armed and he not willing to shoot her after she helped him, nor was he in any shape to outrun her.

"That's not your hometown, is it?" He played dumb and stopped to look at the scene below.

The heavy snowfall probably made her want to take the main road with the horses.

Silently he contemplated, who could identify him. Most likely only the old lady, who had taken a shot at him. Since she was busy taking care of another woman, she would hopefully not be there.

So he followed Addy down the winding hill. "What are you going to tell them? After all I'm not town folk. I think I'll just ride on. There are people down there, who need help much more than me by the looks of it."

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"Tell 'em?"  Odd question, but Addy shrugged.  "Just that I found ya in th' barn up there.  Reckon it was as good a place as any if ya don't have a place in town."  She chuckled.  "An' that ya went there ta rescue a little kitten, good sort that ya are."

 

They headed down to the main street of Whitefish, picking their way around the rubble, and Addy was amazed at the destruction that could be seen from this approach.  "Likely a good thing ya weren't in town fer that blizzard, like as not would'a been killed."  The stage barn had made a good refuge for the kid.

 

@Jack

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