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The Scouting Mission


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Mature Content: No.

Author: Lorenzo Crabbe

With: Ralph Flandry, Bridget Monahan plus anyone else who might be there.
Location: Bar Room.
When: Early April 1876
Time of Day: Early evening.

 

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The bespectacled be-suited ‘dude’ with the low crowned billycock hat entered the saloon through its swinging doors with the waif like, aubern-haired beauty on his arm, and both of them looked about the place with no little interest. Her gaze was one of wonder at the beauty of the place with its fancy mirrors and the attempt by some local dabber to render neo-classical paintings on the plasterwork in several places. These showed nymphs and goddesses whose modesty was tastefully saved by a luckily blown cloak or cloud in just the right places. Crabbe’s interest was more practical, and he immediately decided that his ‘Hurdy Gurdy House’ would go one better – he’d have Greek goddesses too, but their saddle blankets would have been blown away totally by a strong Nor’Easter some time previous to them posing for the artist.

 

The man sauntered up to the bar and hefted a foot onto the brass rail that was placed there for that very purpose. He grinned, real friendly like, at the bearded barman.

 

“Hello friend! A glass of sarsaparilla for the little lady, a drop o’ the good stuff for me, and one for yourself!”

 

When the drinks were set up, he handed the glass containing the soft drink to the girl and told her “You go sit down at that there table, honey, I’m talking to the man.” The woman managed to juggle the parasol, clutch purse, a large (and somewhat disturbing looking) porcelain faced doll, and now the drink, and she walked slowly and carefully over to the table. She put the objects down on its surface first, before she eased herself into the chair with as much care as a saddle-sore cowpuncher might.

 

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Once she was safely ensconced, the man with the thick glasses turned around again and spoke to the barman. “Nice place y’got here!” he smiled, looking around the area above the bar where the big mirror reflected the glory of the whole place. “You the owner?”

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Ralph watched the couple enter, he was used to so many folks coming and going  that he had no particular interest in them. The man went right to the bar, he had the look about him  of an eastern seaboard greenhorn but Ralph knew looks could be deceiving.

 

“Hello friend! A glass of sarsaparilla for the little lady, a drop o’ the good stuff for me, and one for yourself!”

 

"Howdy. Coming right up then," Ralph then took advantage of the opening and reached down for his most expensive bottle of whiskey, pouring two shot glasses. His would be set aside though for now. He had long shifts and never was one to make the mistake of getting drunk on the job.

 

Ralph watched the woman struggle to juggle her armful and seat herself without mishap. There was some sort of affliction or injury, that much was apparent. Though hardly regarded as a gentleman by many, Ralph thought this stranger should have had the manners to help her out yet he did not. Ralph said nothing of course, the man was a paying customer.

 

“Nice place y’got here!” the man smiled, looking around the area above the bar where the big mirror reflected the glory of the whole place. “You the owner?”

 

"We think so," Ralph nodded then took on the second question, "It's a partnership of sorts. The official owner is Matilda Devereau."

 

Now he had a question, "Why?"

 

 

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“Nice place y’got here!” the man smiled, looking around the area above the bar where the big mirror reflected the glory of the whole place. “You the owner?”

 

"We think so," Ralph nodded then took on the second question, "It's a partnership of sorts. The official owner is Matilda Devereau."

 

The stranger nodded his comprehension. “Lady owner, huh? Interesting, interesting!”

 

 Now he had a question, "Why?"

 

“Well, y’ see, it’s like this: I’m just in from Ogallala, used to run a little hurdy gurdy house there, and I’m fixin’ to do something similar here.” He took a sip of the whiskey and smacked his lips appreciatively.

 

“See, it’s a maxim o’ mine to always try and get on nice and peaceable with my neighbors. I wanna make sure that I’m not doing anything that's gonna tread on your toes, so to speak. I mean, what do you run here? Dancing? Faro bank? Shows? Not that you can have too much of either, really, in my experience.”

 

He turned around to make sure Bridget hadn’t wandered off, but she was busy being talked at by a scrawny-looking black haired girl who’d suddenly and silently popped up from nowhere.

 

“Now this looks like somethin’ of a blue-nosed town to me” Lorenzo further informed the barman “But give it a couple o’ weeks and there’s going to be a flood of wild and wooly would-be miners swarming through here from north of the border heading for Deadwood and the Black Hills generally. Then they’ll all be swarming back at some point later, the most of them, once they realize that that particular section is all either claimed up or washed out!”

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“Well, y’ see, it’s like this: I’m just in from Ogallala, used to run a little hurdy gurdy house there, and I’m fixin’ to do something similar here.” the man then took a sip of the whiskey and smacked his lips appreciatively.

 

"That'll be a dollar five cents," Ralph pointed out, the whiskey was expensive at fifty cents a shot but that man wanted the 'good stuff'.

 

"See, it’s a maxim o’ mine to always try and get on nice and peaceable with my neighbors. I wanna make sure that I’m not doing anything that's gonna tread on your toes, so to speak. I mean, what do you run here? Dancing? Faro bank? Shows? Not that you can have too much of either, really, in my experience.”

 

Regardless of how the jasper worded it, Ralph saw this new business as nothing other than competition, Matilda would be less than happy about this news.

 

"We don't have a regular piano player but we do have some singing and dancing on occasion.  Some of the tables got card games goin' on a regular basis. We got a rouelette on order," Ralph informed the man.

 

The newcomer went on then about his take on the town and how it was going to be flooded soon eough  with a wave of prospectors.

 

"Could well be,," Ralph shrugged, "So where you moving inta?"

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

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"That'll be a dollar five cents," Ralph pointed out, the whiskey was expensive at fifty cents a shot but that man wanted the 'good stuff'.

 

Unfazed by the steep price, Lorenzo fished a standard shield nickel out of his pocket but the silver dollar he flipped with his thumbnail, so the barman could hear the distinctive ring of sound currency. He caught it and rapped it on the bar, before placing it down.

 

“Probably don’t see many of them round these parts.” he said “I won’t be offended if you bite it!” he chuckled. Indeed, the coin, bearing a seated Liberty atop the 1870 legend, was one of a rare stamp produced in San Francisco a few years before. Charlie Fa seemed to have an endless supply of them, though where he actually kept them was a mystery to his partner.

 

It was money well spent as the barman filled him in on the spacious saloon’s activities. They seemed somewhat meager for so large a joint.

 

"We don't have a regular piano player but we do have some singing and dancing on occasion.  Some of the tables got card games goin' on a regular basis. We got a roulette on order," Ralph informed the man.

 

Crabbe produced a tablet notebook from his inside pocket and a stubby pencil and carefully crossed through a word on there “No Roulette wheel.” He said methodically. “Hmmm, might run a wheel o’ fortune though. Sell little paddles with numbers at the door, then build up to a big spin, that sort o’ thing.” He ruminated out loud. “Feller I work with is pretty handy with a saw, he could knock that up in no time at all.”

 

The newcomer went on then about his take on the town and how it was going to be flooded soon enough with a wave of prospectors.

 

"Could well be,," Ralph shrugged, "So where you moving inta?"

 

“Oh, empty store down the road apiece, think maybe it used to be a funeral parlor judging by what we found in there. Certainly a good deal of lumber, which we been putting to good use.” He ruminated “Say, if this town’s short of an undertaker, that might be worth a go! Lot of money in that.”

 

He looked around the saloon, and at the sight of the one or two patrons dotted about, couldn’t help adding “… If I can work out who’s dead and who’s alive around here.” After the excitements of Ogallala, this settlement seemed like a pretty “dead ‘n’ alive hole.”

 

Suddenly, behind him, the piano burst into sound, almost waking some of the patrons. Arabella was showing off to Bridget with a chorus of ‘O! Susannah!” Lorenzo turned and grinned at Ralph.

 

“That your pianna pounder? I could use a girl like that! She your daughter?”

 

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“Probably don’t see many of them round these parts.” the man said “I won’t be offended if you bite it!” he chuckled.

 

"Already had lunch," Ralph dryly responded as he scooped up the coin, he had seen a few as a matter of fact.

 

"The town has an undertaker, the man was quite busy when Whitefish up and died in winter," he informed the fellow.

 

Crabbe quipped, "If I can work out who’s dead and who’s alive around here.”

 

"Might not look like it now but we do damn good business. Most men are at work now, we get our crowds in the evenin'," Ralph wasn't sure he liked the man's snide attitude.

 

Just then the piano struck up a tune, it was Arabella of course. 

 

“That your pianna pounder? I could use a girl like that! She your daughter?”  the man asked.

 

"We have a gent who comes in some evenin's. But she's pretty good alright. No, she ain't my daughter, she's an orphan girl from Whitefish. Matilda took her in and agreed to be responsible for the child," Ralph explained.

 

 

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"Already had lunch," Ralph dryly responded as he scooped up the coin, he had seen a few as a matter of fact.

 

“Oh! Ha ha!” Crabbe laughed, gushingly, “Very swift, Sir, very swift.”

 

"The town has an undertaker, the man was quite busy when Whitefish up and died in winter," he informed the fellow.

 

“Lucky bastard” grumped Lorenzo, what a windfall for the lucky man! “Still, I could always open up a rival outfit: cheaper coffins, quicker services, that sort of thing…”

 

Crabbe quipped, "If I can work out who’s dead and who’s alive around here.”

 

"Might not look like it now but we do damn good business. Most men are at work now, we get our crowds in the evenin'," Ralph wasn't sure he liked the man's snide attitude.

 

“Oh sure, sure!” the stranger nodded, not sounding entirely convinced. He looked around the place again. “No whores, then?” he asked, matter-of-factly.

 

 Just then the piano struck up a tune, it was Arabella of course. 

 

“That your pianna pounder? I could use a girl like that!”

 

"We have a gent who comes in some evenin's. But she's pretty good alright.

 

“She’s more ‘n all right!” Crabbe commented, taking an interest in the girl. “She your daughter?”  the man asked.

 

“No, she ain't my daughter, she's an orphan girl from Whitefish. Matilda took her in and agreed to be responsible for the child," Ralph explained.

 

“Oh, don’t talk to me about waifs ‘n’ strays!” Lorenzo shook his head, and jerked a dismissive thumb at the red haired lass, who was still sitting there, watching Arabella’s antics with child-like pleasure. “I tossed that one a nickel in Ogallala and she’s been following me around ever since. She ain’t no use t’ me, though.” He added ruefully.

 

Crabbe looked from Arabella to Bridget and back again, finally twisting back around to Ralph with a thoughtful look on his face.

 

“Say … I don’t suppose you’d consider swappin’?”  he asked seriously.

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Just then who should come sashaying in than the owner of the saloon, Matilda Devereau, in a fine recent Eastern seaboard dress of jet blue. She had appeared from a back room off to the side of the bar. Both hands held liquor bottles which she then set upon the hardwood top.

 

"What's this? Swapping for what?" she had heard the last line only and her curiousity was piqued. The gentleman was obviously some sort of businessman.

 

Ralph immediately answered, "This here jasper wants to ...acquire Arabella."

 

Matilda's eye flared, "What?"

 

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Ralph immediately answered, "This here jasper wants to ...acquire Arabella."

 

Matilda's eye flared, "What?"

 

Crabbe gave a nervous laugh and removed his hat. “Ah ha ha ha, a mere jest dear lady , a mere jest. Lorenzo Crabbe, theatrical entrepreneur, at your service.”

 

It was clear from her reaction that the idea was not a welcome one. “And you must be the owner of this wonderful emporium, Ms Devereau. Your barman here’s been singing your praises, but he never mentioned that you were a beauty as well as a talented businesswoman.” said the slick visitor with a smarmy smile, using that form of mashing commonly known as ‘laying it on with a trowel.”

 

“Appears that we have both taken on the heavy mantle of caring for a poor waif and stray, cast adrift in this cruel world and lost in the shuffle of life.” he intoned, gesturing with pious concern to the two young women.

 

The pair were a contrast in some ways, not only in their hair color, and the fact that Arabella was dressed in a simple work smock and toted a mop bucket, whereas Bridget was ‘done up like a dog’s dinner’ and carried a fancy and rather useless looking parasol; but, in all fairness, they both looked healthy and happy.

 

Bridget was now sitting with her mouth gaping in amazement, as Arabella took her doll and with some skill was making it look like the doll was singing the tune that she had just been playing on the ramshackle piano.

 

“Sings and does ventriloquism, too!” salivated Lorenzo, clearly distracted from Matilda’s ample charms by the moneymaking possibilities of the showbizzy teenager “Don’t ‘spose you’d consider hiring her out for few hours every night? Top rates, o’course!”

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Crabbe gave a nervous laugh and removed his hat. “Ah ha ha ha, a mere jest dear lady , a mere jest. Lorenzo Crabbe, theatrical entrepreneur, at your service.”

 

Matilda eyed him, there was no theatre in Kalispell and she also had never seen this man before in her life, he was no local was her guess.

 

“And you must be the owner of this wonderful emporium, Ms Devereau. Your barman here’s been singing your praises, but he never mentioned that you were a beauty as well as a talented businesswoman.”

 

"Well, I am the owner ....yes. Ralph doesn't sing, the world is thankful for that," Matilda responded dryly.

 

“Appears that we have both taken on the heavy mantle of caring for a poor waif and stray, cast adrift in this cruel world and lost in the shuffle of life.”

 

"I am the child's guardian, yes," Matilda knew this sort of spiel, she had heard most every trick in her line of work. But she was still a bit confused at what he was going on about. Ralph could sense  it.

 

“Sings and does ventriloquism, too!  Don’t ‘spose you’d consider hiring her out for few hours every night? Top rates, o’course!”

 

"The man is going to give us some competition, drinks, wimmen, music, askin' about whether we got whores here," Ralph now chimed in.

 

"Ah, so that's it," Matilda flashed a terse smile with an edge to it. "Sizing up your opposition huh? And trying to recruit right out from under me?"

 

"Well, Arabella is not for sale or rent. Now you get out of here right now before I lose my temper. You don't want to see me do that, I can assure you," she snapped.

 

 

 

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