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Annual Spring Dance (Preparations)


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Rating: PG-14
Content: N/A

Mature Content: No

Author: Wide Open

With: Whoever posts
Location: Kalispell
When: 22 April 1876
Time of Day: Varies

 

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Excitement was building in the small frontier community. April meant winter was finally over and summer lay ahead. For farmers it was time to prepare the fields for planting. For ranchers their herds could now fatten on pasture land buried by snow during the winter. People could move around more, travel more now that the roads were not blocked by snow. And April also meant the annual Spring Dance where the town gathered for socializing  in a festive setting. Besides dancing there was plenty of food and drinks for all.

 

But it did not happen without some organizing to set this whole affair up. A committee was formed each year to handle the myriad details of preparation. Many local citizens pitched in to help in whatever way they could. Donations of all sorts of foodstuffs were promised, usually a local ranch or two provided a cow for the meat. Individuals would bring in bakery goods and many side dishes. Local musicians gathered for practices - though many had performed at prior dances and were well accustomed to each other. The Stardust Saloon was providing a few barrels of free beer and pitching a small tent where hard liquor could be purchased.

 

The actual locale of the dance that evening would be Mr. Horace Simkin's large barn, normally used for hay and other feed storage but blessed with a strong wood floor unlike most barns. It was located just outside of town proper and Simkins was proud to have his place host such festivities (and he always said as much to anyone who would listen).

 

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Townsfolk could easily walk there, those who needed to come further had hitching posts and a corral for horses plus plenty of open space to park buggies and wagons. A large fire pit out back of the barn was where the butchered beef was roasted on spit.

 

All of this was the material side to this grand event, but there was far more to the Spring Dance than just that. The weeks then days prior to that glorious Saturday evening, people were making their own arrangements as to just who was going and of course who were they going with!  Nervous or maybe confident males were formally requesting the ladies of the community for them to accompany them that night. Shirts, trousers, dresses were washed, shoes polished. Everyone wanted to look their best.

 

Yes sirree, it was going to be a hot time in the old barn that night come April 22nd.

 

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When Arabella ran, screaming and yelling and waving her hands, through the back kitchen door of the saloon and into the barroom at the front (an extreme display, even for her) Messalina, the Stardust Saloon’s cook, could only assume that: a) the town was under Indian attack, b) Thomas Gage Love and his band of outlaws had returned to re-rob the town’s bank, or c) the whole cotton-picking town was on fire and about to go up in a puff of smoke, just like Whitefish.

 

With a cry of “Mercy alive, child, what is it now?!” she waddled after the girl and found her dancing around in front of Mr Flandry breathlessly singing a song, the lyrics of which seemed to consist of a monotonous recitative of “Can you do the polka? I can do the polka! Can you do the polka? Yes, I can do the polka!” and when this had been repeated enough times, along with the accompanying capering, to convince any poor onlooker that Arabella could indeed ‘do the polka’ she span round and round with a high pitched cry of “Weeeeeeeeee!!!” before collapsing on the floor in a dizzy heap and somehow catching enough breath to shout “THERE’S GONNA BE A DANCE!!” and give out a rebel yell that was probably louder, and given with more gusto, than any that Mr Flandry had heard during the late War.

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Ralph weathered the storm that was the child's histrionic performance until she collapsed then announced there was going to be a dance. He already knew that, Matilda was on the town dance committee and was planning on providing beer and selling the hard stuff out of a tent. Combine fun with some profit too.  She was a better businessman than most men he knew of.

 

"Well, I'll be out front now, manning the bar," he calmly announced in a tone that definitely signaled it was not a subject up for debate.

 

And with that he left the young girl with the poor frazzled cook.

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Mr Flandry didn’t even comment on the dance! She hadn’t expected him to get that excited about the event, but still, he could have said something. What she didn’t realize was that the thing would probably just mean more work for the barman of the saloon: supplying the booze and selling out the hard stuff; and it never even occurred to her that she herself might be required to work as well: she just saw, in her mind’s eye, a night of glittering romance, heady music, and fun, and mischief, and showing off how good she was at dancing.

 

She scrambled to her feet and ran past Cookie, shrieking “I gotta tell Clara!!”

 

Pretty soon she was creaking open the back door of the Lick Skillet. It wasn’t usually locked, even if Clara and Ms Emeline were both out front for some reason. She poked a nose in. By some misunderstanding, Arabella had become convinced that Ms Em was something of an ogress and, having never spoken to the woman, had never been disabused of the notion.

 

So it was that she crept into the wonderful workshop where perfect pies were prepared, belly-filling buns baked, and marvelous muffins manufactured. The smell rivaled that of the kitchen of her very own, very dear Mammy Cookie. Unlike that cuddly lady, though, Ms Blakesley would probably give her a clip round the ear if she caught her here.

 

“Clara?” she whispered as she crept into the kitchen, virtually on tiptoe, “Clara! I got somethin’ to tell ya!”

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Clara had not even been planning on attending the upcoming town dance. Oh she had enjoyed the last one alright but that was when Shade danced with her.  Now however she had been tossed aside for that Jezebel school marm, the latest object of the rancher's obviously flitting affections. No, she would not be humiliated by standing there against the wall watching him cavort about on the dance floor with THAT WOMAN.

 

And what would be her other options? Charlie Wentworth? Hardly, he despised her, liked nothing better than to do his best to belittle her and toy with her feelings even though she had tried very hard to be nice to him too. That left a couple of those Evergreen cowpokes. Billy or Brendan.  A more likely chance of a blizzard in mid July. Handsome they might be but they were also louts and possibly dangerous ones at that. Anyone working for the Steelgraves could not be trusted.

 

So why should she waste her time and effort to attend some frivolous dance?

 

Her gloomy reflections were interrupted by a familiar voice behind her. Turning about it was Arabella. Now what? She had told the girl before she was welcome to visit by coming in the front door of the place so she could be waited on like any other customer but was not to be sneaking in the back. Waste of breath telling that child anything though.

 

"Arabella, why are you here?" she sighed.

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As Arabella started to poke her nose in the kitchen door, she felt something rub against her boots and the bottom of her skirts. Looking down she noticed a familiar man-about-town who was regularly voted the town’s second most annoying personage by those who didn't appreciate the beauty of the feline form.

 

“Frank'!”  Arabella frowned, looking down at the fluffy cat, “You know you ain’t allowed in here!” she admonished the feline, even though it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Arabella would stop and pet just about any critter alive: cats, rabbits, turtles, hairy caterpillars, even small dogs, although anything bigger than a dachshund would usually set her running away in terror.

 

She decided that the best way to stop the curious tomcat getting into the kitchen was to pick the incorrigible scavenger up. So, after first giving Frankie a tickle just bellow and behind the ears, to lull her victim into a false sense of security, she hefted him up with a grunt. Fluffy didn’t necessarily mean light: it had clearly been a successful morning's scrounging for the pot bellied furry piggy.

 

“Hush now! If Miss Em catches us, we’ll both be chopped up and put in a pie!” she warned the mewing cat. “Clara? Clara?”

 

"Arabella, why are you here?" she sighed.

 

The girl jumped and the cat took fright too, trying to crawl over Arabella’s shoulder and down her back, with a good set of claws dug in through the material of her dress and into her skin for traction, but Arabella gave Frankie another few deft tickles behind the ear, and he calmed and even emitted a few throaty purrs.

 

“I come to talk to ya about the dance!” whispered Arabella excitedly “And Frank was trying to get in!” she explained about the fluffy article lolled over her shoulder, who was even now sniffing the air for signs of meaty pie fillings.

 

“What we going to wear? Who d’ya wanna dance with? We need to plan it all out and practice dancing! I ain’t been to a dance in ages, my legs is all rusty!”

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Even though the girl was looking for, and one would think, expecting Clara's presence, she was startled when Clara spoke up. The cat she was trying to hold reacted in the same fashion. That was Emeline's cat too?

 

“I come to talk to ya about the dance!” whispered Arabella excitedly “And Frank was trying to get in!”

 

"He was trying to get in for the past hour and now magically he got his wish. You carried him in," Clara pointed out.

 

“What we going to wear? Who d’ya wanna dance with? We need to plan it all out and practice dancing! I ain’t been to a dance in ages, my legs is all rusty!”

 

"Glad to see you are all aflutter about the dance," Clara sighed, "As for me, I have no plans to attend. It is a foolish waste of time and I cannot be bothered with it."

 

And then perhaps even unwittingly, she got to crux of the matter, "Besides no boy has asked me. And I am certain no one will."

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"He was trying to get in for the past hour and now magically he got his wish. You carried him in," Clara pointed out.

 

“Oh, Frankie, Frankie, Frankie!” cooed Arabella, cuddling the tom, who blinked his eyes in sure indication of relaxation.

 

“I call him Frank, after my third favorite outlaw, Mr Frank Younger. The was another brown tabby one, Cole, but I think he’s been run over by a wagon cause I ain’t seen him lately. Anyway, Mr Cole Younger is my second favorite outlaw, but my favorite outlaw is Mr Tom Love, he’s the most romantical outlaw there is! And even though he’s a ‘Tom’ I ain’t named a pussy cat after him yet. Hey, ain’t it funny when you say a word a whole lot of times? Outlaw, outlaw, outlaw. Huh! Anyways, talking about romantical, how ‘bout this here dance?”

“What we going to wear? Who d’ya wanna dance with? We need to plan it all out and practice dancing! I ain’t been to a dance in ages, my legs is all rusty!”

 

"Glad to see you are all aflutter about the dance," Clara sighed, "As for me, I have no plans to attend. It is a foolish waste of time and I cannot be bothered with it."

 

Arabella frowned at this display of non-logic by the usually cerebral Clara.

 

“Sure it’s a waste of time, that’s why I wanna go! I wanna waste my time that way, being waltzed and polka’d and Schottisched about the dance floor by a whole succession o’ handsome men, an’ all the time Mr Wentworth standin’ there in the corner, in a jealous fury, an eventually he comes stompin’ across the dance floor an tears me from some handsome swain’s embrace and says ‘out the way sonny, this is MAN’S work!’, and sweeps me right off o’ my feet. An .. an … an you don’t wanna go?!!” she shook her head, uncomprehendingly.

 

"Besides no boy has asked me. And I am certain no one will."

 

Arabella looked at her supposed intellectual superior with sad, sad sympathy.

 

“Oh Clara, Clara, Clara. Don’t you know that the only boys as ever asks a girl to a dance are the ones who you don’t want to ask you? The one you want never does. You just gotta be there and ready to bushwack the one you DO want. Now, who’ve you got your eye on right now?” she asked, serious faced.

 

She needed this essential piece of information to start to plan the campaign on a grand strategic level. Individual battle tactics could be dealt with later, but in general, when dealing with romance, she followed the cast iron rule of General Nathan Bedford Forrest – ‘Git thar fustest with the most mostest.’

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"Outlaws are scum," was Clara's abrupt assessment on the girl's silly affectation for such men. However the child came from the south, what could one expect from such folk.

 

Needless to say, Arabella saw the upcoming dance quite differently and listening to her go on, the child was wildly optimistic on her chances with menfolk. But it did not change the older girl's mind in the slightest.

 

"Yes, I do not want to go, I believe I stated that already," Clara asserted.

 

"Oh Clara, Clara, Clara. Don’t you know that the only boys as ever asks a girl to a dance are the ones who you don’t want to ask you? The one you want never does. You just gotta be there and ready to bushwack the one you DO want. Now, who’ve you got your eye on right now?” Arabella asked, serious faced.

 

"Bushwhack? I am not about to do any such thing," Clara rolled her eyes.

 

"Besides I do not have my eye on anyone. All the boys....young men I know are louts and/or ruffians. I have better things to do with my life," she declared.

 

 

 

 

 

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"Outlaws are scum," was Clara's abrupt assessment on the girl's silly affectation for such men. However the child came from the south, what could one expect from such folk.

 

“Hmph!” hmphed Arabella “I suppose you think Robin Hood and The Black Arrow are ‘Scum’ then, and Dick Turpentine!” She meant the folklaw hero-highwayman Dick Turpin. “Tom Love’s a gentleman, listen…” she fished out the latest newspaper clipping he had on the exploits of the man who had robbed the town’s bank last year from her apron pocket.

 

She read the apposite part of the clipping out in her slow, methodical, frown-browed way:

 

“… blah blah blah, Mr Love, in his letter, further explained that the man he shot in Kalispell last year had deserved it as he had been rude to a lady in the bank and begged one of the robbers to shoot her instead of him. Mr Love had then declared ‘For that ungentlemanly conduct, you shall die like the dog you are, you d___d coward’ and thereupon had plugged him one right between the eyes. Mr Love further el-lu-ci-date-ed” she pronounced the unfamiliar word syllable by syllable “… that the rougher element of his outlaw gang, a notorious and brutal killer identified by witnesses as ‘English Rodger’ had been expelled, as Love would not stand mere wanton murderers in his company.”

 

Arabella looked at Clara triumphantly “And that’s in the newspaper, so it must be true!” she crowed.

 

Then back to business about the dance, but Clara was being obstinate, and her reply to Arabella’s question about who the prim pie-maker was pie-eyed about at the moment just made the little Reb’s own eyes roll.

 

"Besides I do not have my eye on anyone. All the boys....young men I know are louts and/or ruffians. I have better things to do with my life," she declared.

 

“Ugghh!” Arabella grunted, waving her hand around the kitchen “What, like making pies for Ms Blakesly all day long?! That ain’t livin’ that’s just makin’ a livin’! Livin’ … why, that’s falling in love and having your heart broken and running all about the place and dancing and laughing and crying and kissing boys and praying and bein' mischievous and getting forgiven by Jesus and, oh, I don’t know … all things you can do goin’ to a dance and you can’t do sitting at home reading a book about Jonah Vark!”

 

She took a deep breath after that little lot.

 

“Besides” she added, mentioning the mysterious new friend whom Clara had yet to meet.  “I can’t go with Bridget any more, we broke her leg practicing the Polka – so you see, you GOTTA come with me!”

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