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My Word, My Rules


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With: Matilda, Ralph, and Arabella
Location: Stardust Saloon
When: January, 1876
Time of Day: Late afternoon

 

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When Whitefish met it's fate, a lot of folks suffered. Refugees poured into Kalispell, being the closest town to the disaster. It was sad and most folks in Kalispell felt compelled to do their part to help out. Matilda was no different, neither she nor Ralph had left town to go on the rescue but that didn't mean they were indifferent to the fate of so many of those poor souls. For the first few days, the saloon became a shelter for some of the homeless and they provided food supplies out of their own storehouse. Finally as things began to settle down some, Matilda was approached by one of the town council members who asked if they might be willing to take in an orphan temporarily or - if all worked out - maybe permanently. She agreed but, as was her nature, stressed nothing was guaranteed. If this new person was going to live under their roof, she was going to do it under Matilda's rules. Or else.

 

The girl was supposed to be fourteen but didn't look it. Originally a southerner and quite the chatterbox. Skinny as a rail,  hopefully the rest of her health was reasonable enough though. Decent regular meals and hard work should hopefully build her up some. Matilda assigned the girl, Arabella by name,  to the kitchen where their regular cook, a most capable professional, could use the help in there. Then it was wait and see how the girl did.  Though it might not be always apparent, Matilda also kept an eye on the young miss.

 

Christian charity was fine but as far as Matilda was concerned, the saloon was her world, her life, and thus her rules. She had set the girl down their very first meeting and explained what she expected.  Now it was just a matter of wait and see.  Matilda really wanted the child to succeed but she was not going to tolerate the waif running wild either.

 

Speaking of Arabella, Matilda now entered the kitchen to check on how things were going.

 

 

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Messalina McMahon, the Stardust Saloon’s cook, whose girth attested to the quality of her own productions, looked round quickly as the owner walked into the kitchen, and then went back to stirring the contents of the saucepan she was attending to. She had known the woman long enough not to stand on ceremony: she knew that she valued hard work more than showy sycophancy and had impressed that fact upon Arabella when she saw how prone the new pot-girl was to fantastical displays of ‘Southern Courtesy’.

 

Thus, when Ms Deveraux entered Arabella contented herself with quickly standing up from the table where she was peeling spuds, bobbing a quick curtsey, and standing to hear any instructions with head bowed. She imagined that’s what Cinderella would have done when the wicked stepmother visited her dungeon of a kitchen in the story. ‘Modest and hard-working’, that’s what she was going for in this performance, with a heavy dollop of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ thrown in for good measure.

 

“Can we do anything for you, Ms. Tildy” the Cook asked as she continued stirring: she didn’t want this to curdle.

 

“Oh, Arabella, didn’t you have something you wanted to ask Ms. Deveraux?” she reminded, genially.

 

Arabella gave another bob and still head down in due deference, squeaked “Please Ms. Deveraux, would I be permitted time off to attend church on Sunday morning?”

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All seemed to be in proper order in the kitchen, as usual really, her cook was conscientious and made good food, Matilda was pleased to employ the woman who spoke up.

 

"Can we do anything for you, Ms. Tildy” the Cook asked as she continued stirring: she didn’t want this to curdle.

 

"No, seems like things are well in hand here - as usual might I add," the woman replied.

 

Then the cook gently prodded her newest and definitely youngest employee, the orphan girl, about some question she apparently wish to ask. Fair enough.

 

"Oh what is it then, girl?" Matilda was not hard to approach.

 

Arabella gave another bob and still head down in due deference, squeaked “Please Ms. Deveraux, would I be permitted time off to attend church on Sunday morning?”

 

Matilda blinked, "Why certainly, child.  Who am I to get between you and your God. You may go. Besides we are not even open on Sundays."

 

 

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Matilda blinked, "Why certainly, child.  Who am I to get between you and your God. You may go. Besides we are not even open on Sundays."

 

“Oh, He’s not just my God, Ms. Devereau, He’s everybody’s God.” She immediately kicked herself for saying that, she was trying her best to keep her big trap shut in these early days at the saloon, but she’d heard a preacher say that at a Camp Meeting once and it just sounded so doggone clever and important and religious that she couldn’t quite stop it from popping out. She added a quick coda of “Beggin’ your pardon, Ma’m.” to try and shore up the damage, but that somehow made it seem even more preachy.  

 

Messalina rolled her eyes, and half turning, threw Arabella a lifeline.

 

“I’m just about done with that girl ‘til this evenin’, Ms. Tildy..”

 

Arabella grabbed the save and ran with it.

 

“Oh yes, if there’s anything I could be doin’ out front, I’d be surely pleased to! I could mop the floors or polish Mr. Flandry's knobs” (the barman did have an impressive array of shiny golden colored brass beer pulls and other paraphernalia about the bar) “or if I can do any sewing or ladies maid work for you Ms Devereau, oh you do wear such beautiful clothes and things, I would so dearly love to help you with those sorts of things!” Arabella gushed. To her, the owner of the Saloon was impressive not so much because she managed to run and keep order in such an establishment, but because she looked so gosh darn stylish and beautiful and fashionable and .. and… Why, she almost had as big a crush on Ms. Devereau as she did on The Mystery Stranger

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“Oh, He’s not just my God, Ms. Devereau, He’s everybody’s God.”

 

"In your opinion, don't think it's everyone's, child," Matilda smiled. Neither she nor Ralph were religious.

 

“Beggin’ your pardon, Ma’m.”

 

"No matter," Matilda waved it off, the girl was entitled to her opinions and beliefs, she just hoped that as Arabella grew up she would learn tolerance amongst other things. Messalina announced that the child had just about finished her kitchen duties (and no doubt, worn out the woman's patience).

 

“Oh yes, if there’s anything I could be doin’ out front, I’d be surely pleased to! I could mop the floors or polish Mr. Flandry's knobs” (the barman did have an impressive array of shiny golden colored brass beer pulls and other paraphernalia about the bar) “or if I can do any sewing or ladies maid work for you Ms Devereau, oh you do wear such beautiful clothes and things, I would so dearly love to help you with those sorts of things!” Arabella gushed

 

Matilda just about burst out laughing at the girl's turn of phrase regarding Ralph, she'd have to tell him that one later.

 

"Leave everything behind the bar alone, including Ralph, Arabella. However ...yes, if you want to mop up the floors, that sounds like a good idea. But first take a broom and sweep it then mop it," Matilda directed.

 

"And thank you for your compliments. You know...I have a couple of dresses I no longer wear and with a few alterations, we could have them fit you. That is if you would want them?"  she offered, she was quite certain she knew the answer already.

 

 

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"Leave everything behind the bar alone, including Ralph, Arabella. However ...yes, if you want to mop up the floors, that sounds like a good idea. But first take a broom and sweep it then mop it," Matilda directed.

 

“Oooh!” Arabella clapped her hands together in delight. Mopping up floors might not be everybody’s idea of a good time, but the girl was happy that one of her ideas had been accepted by the short but glamorous and imposing figure of Matilda Devereau and, more importantly, that she would get to go ‘out front’: the stage on which the life of the saloon actually strutted and fretted its hour, to paraphrase the Bard. She might also get to talk to the taciturn, slightly scary, but altogether fascinating Mr. Flandy.

 

"And thank you for your compliments. You know...I have a couple of dresses I no longer wear and with a few alterations, we could have them fit you. That is if you would want them?"  she offered, she was quite certain she knew the answer already.

 

Arabella gasped and her jaw dropped in disbelief. “Really?!! Oh… oh…” Unfortunately, she was still suffering from the problem that had plagued her ever since her Father had died and she herself had nearly died at Whitefish; whenever someone did something nice for her, her eyes welled up with tears and she became a soggy emotional mess. To counter this, she bit down on her lip, which stopped her crying but rendered her speechless. So, she just had to nod tearful, joyful thanks and undying gratitude to her employer for the offer.

 

Cookie waddled over and lay a calming hand on the happy, sobbing girl’s shoulder. “Lord Ms. Tildy, now you know you can’t do nice things like that for this child, she’s only happy when you gives her ornery chores to do like mop floors an’ peel taters!”

 

Arabella nodded her head. It was true. She didn’t know why. Cookie didn’t know why. She looked up at the saloon owner. There was something about the woman that made her feel that she must know just about everything in the whole wide world. Maybe not about history and God and geography and that kind of book learning, but about being a person, being a woman. “Why am I this way, Ms. Devereau? Will I get better soon?”

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The child was more than happy to do the sweeping and mopping. Matilda was a bit surprised but pleasantly so. She was coming around. Ralph had questioned taking the kid in, saying it could be a mistake and trouble in the long run. But of course when it came to final decisions, there was never a doubt. Matilda won out, as she always did. And in truth, Ralph was fine with it. They worked well together.

 

Being in a good mood now, Matilda offered the child a couple of her old dresses, saying they could do some alterations to make them fit the young miss. However she did not expect the gush of emotion by Arabella, though her cook seemed to have seen it coming. Matilda let the kid go on with all the dramatics though.

 

“Lord Ms. Tildy, now you know you can’t do nice things like that for this child, she’s only happy when you gives her ornery chores to do like mop floors an’ peel taters!”

 

"So it seems," Matilda replied calmly.

 

“Why am I this way, Ms. Devereau? Will I get better soon?”  the girl queried.

 

"Arabella, grow up. You're a young lady now, not a baby," Matilda now declared then turned about and left the pair to themselves and their chores. She had book keeping to do.

 

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 “Why am I this way, Ms. Devereau? Will I get better soon?”  the girl queried.

 

"Arabella, grow up. You're a young lady now, not a baby," Matilda now declared then turned about and left the pair to themselves and their chores. She had book keeping to do.

 

The verbal slap in the face served to snap Arabella out of her state, and she snorted the mucus away and nodded, agreeing with the woman’s assessment. A pat on the back from Cookie took away the sting of it a little. In the words of a later and equally enthusiastic young woman: she might not be a lady yet, but she was the beginnings of one.

 

She finished peeling the last potato and heaved the water filled pan in which she had been plonking the finished articles over to the stove. Then she shook a leg and, without further ado, fetched the bucket and broom and brushes and went to the pump to put some water into it. And not very long afterwards, after brushing away the movable dust and debris, got to work on her hands and knees, scrubbing and swabbing the floor in the main saloon.

 

She sang, as she worked, a popular song of the day. As she couldn’t help but scrub the floor in time to the tune she sang, she had to pick a reasonably slow one. A chorus of Camptown races and her arms would have dropped off. So, her pretty voice picked out the notes of a more maudlin air.

 

🎶 Darling, I am growing old,

Silver threads among the gold,

Shine upon my brow today,

Life is fading fast away.

But, my darling, you will be,

Always young and fair to me,

Yes, my darling, you will be

Always young and fair to me. 🎶

 

Her knee-crippling shuffle across the floor brought her inevitably to what she now knew to be a ‘pianna’ (and not an oversized harmonium with broken foot pumps, like she’d first thought). She looked around. Nobody was about. Still in a kneeling position, she creaked open the lid of the keyboard and, as quietly as possible, began one of the most delicious and most illicit-feeling pleasures of her somewhat spartan life: to pick out, with commendable accuracy, the tune that she had just been singing on the black an white ebony and ivory keys.

 

She might have gotten away with it too, if she hadn’t been unable to resist the temptation of adding a few chords and bass counter point notes in there: that increased the volume considerably, but it just sounded so pretty, and… there was a noise behind her! Arabella let out a yelp and immediately dropped to the floor to continue her scrubbing, like that’s what she’d been doing all the time. It was just that they were magic, music producing floorboards that played Silver Threads Among The Gold if ‘n you scrubbed them hard enough.

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Ralph ambled on in, soon enough he'd be opening the place up for the business day and he would be manning his usual behind the bar station. He had a plate in one hand and a fork in the other, wolfing down the contents of said plate.  Once his hunger was satisfied, he was pretty much ready to begin work. Though customers on the other side of the bar wouldn't see it once he got behind the big counter top, he wore a holster on his hips with a Colt  Army Single Action revolver on the right side. Also behind the bar on a shelf outside of the customers' view was a double barreled sawed off shotgun. Finally, was a less drastic form of weaponry, a hardwood chair leg which would function for Ralph as a club to batter some sense into an unruly customer. Yessir, all the tools of the trade.

 

He glanced at the girl, "Humppfff, guess we must have ghosts or somethin' in this place? I heard that piano playin' and now there ain't no one sitting there. Strange. "

 

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He glanced at the girl, "Humppfff, guess we must have ghosts or somethin' in this place? I heard that piano playin' and now there ain't no one sitting there. Strange. "

 

Arabella popped her head up and felt delighted: it was Mr. Flandry. Now, Mr. Flandry was a magnet for Arabella. Not in that way, of course. Nothing romantical. It was just something to do with him being so big and magnificent and formidable and frightening. He was like a dangerous Tiger at the zoo, that a child just can’t resist reaching out to,  through the cage bars, to try and tickle its furry chin. Why, Mr. Flandry even had the furry chin!

 

“Mr. Flandry, don’t you know that this place is haunted?” she piped up as she carried on with her work. “Ain’t you never seen the Old Lady?” she asked in as matter of fact voice as she could muster.

 

“Oh, I never see her direct, like. I just catch her out of the corner of my eye, sometimes, or see a flash of her in that big mirror behind your bar. Then I spin ‘round but she’s always gone. And sometimes…” this was the clincher, there was an old rocking chair in the place, among the more regular furniture, chairs and tables and whatnot, that some of the more old-timey gentlemen customers liked to sit on. Even the gentlest movements on the floorboards made it rock slightly, to and fro, and Ralph had just stomped right past it.

“… and sometimes I can just feel her evil presence, sitting in that old rocking chair, gently rockin’ back and forth, back and forth.” she glanced over and pointed with a gasp “Oh! It’s movin’ now!”

 

This bit of theatre over, she fessed up about the piano.

 

“Course, I cannot tell a lie, that was me tinklin’ on the pianna just then, not the Old Lady, but I hope you ain’t going to tell me off, Mr. Flandry, because I’ve already been told off once today by Miss Devereau, on account of she said she was going to give me a dress and I just cried and cried ‘cause I was so happy and folks being nice to me like that always sets me off, and she told me off for being such a big baby, an’ I suppose she’s right.”

 

She sat up from her cleaning, for this monologue had been delivered while she was hard at the scrubbing and swabbing, and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes. Was he even still there?

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