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Starting All Over Again Part 2


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Mature Content: Maybe

With: Caroline, Lorenzo, and others  (also open)
Location: Kalispell Main Street
When: April 1876
Time of Day: Late afternoon

 

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The collected and edited letters of Miss Caroline Mundee would have made a rather slim and meagre volume, but amongst them might have been included two telegrams that were now stuffed, somewhat crumpled, in the middle of one of the trunks that accompanied her atop the stage to Kalispell.

 

The first, crafted by the hand of Lorenzo Crabbe, who always saw writing a telegraph, where you paid by the letter, as an exciting test of how much message you could get across with the least expenditure, read as follows:

 

Telegram Office: Kalispell, Montana Territory.

To: Mundee Clark Hotel Helena.

 

Poss opening here stardust sln apl ms devrogh [sic] [stop] Do not mention yt crabbe [stop]

 

Or, as he hoped his old colleague at the Kiyus Saloon in Helena would read it:

 

“Dear Old Mundee, Having heard of the recent incendiary demise of our good old stamping grounds of the Kiyus Saloon, and knowing that you would be desirous of alternative employment, I forward to you the intelligence that an appropriate position has arisen here in Kalispell at a venerable watering hole which carries the appellation of the Stardust Saloon. Enquiries should be forwarded to Ms. Devereau at said address. Please forebear to mention the author of this missive, as such a disclosure might possibly injure the reception of your application for the post. Signed this day by your Good Old Pal, W. Lorenzo Crabbe.”

 

A second message, typed out on the same thin telegram paper, had travelled across the wires and been decoded at the other end by an operator of the Western Union office. On hearing that the the pretty blonde girl, who used to sing and show off a little flesh and a lot of lace while he relieved her admirers of their dollars at the Monte table, had secured the job, Crabbe had sent a slightly less cryptic:

 

Telegram Office: Kalispell, Montana Territory.

To: Mundee Clark Hotel Helena.

 

Hooray [stop] Wll meet y off stg [stop]

 

And, as good as his word, both he and the Chinaman Charlie Fa were there at the Kalispell Stage office to meet her and help her with her luggage, at least as far as the swinging doors of the Stardust Saloon. Miss Bridget Monahan was also in attendance at this august occasion, excited to meet the 'Famous Singer' that her Guardian had described. 

 

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Caroline had climbed off the tall seat on the stage, winced a bit as she hit the ground but glad to have all that damnable bouncing over with at last. She said her goodbyes to Addy, who had proved to be fine company that made the exhausting journey a more tolerable one. As they pulled into town, she made a point of inviting Addy to come into the saloon in a few evenings and see her perform - well, if she was a mind to. She also padded the invite with a promise of a couple of drinks on the house.

 

And there who should she see but none other than old (not in the literal sense) Lorenzo Crabbe, the very man who had sent her news of this here job opening. Now Lorenzo could be quite the oily scoundrel but she met a lot of all kinds of low lifes in her career and at the very least he always treated her right. Same could not be said of all her fellow saloon folk.

 

The outgoing girl did not hesitate but took a few confident strides toward the fellow who was accompanied by his personal chinaman and some red haired tart. She ignored them for the moment as that big smile of hers, which could light up a room, preceded her greeting.

 

"Well, well, Lorenzo Crabbe! You're lookin' your usual self, dapper as always. So are you here  to stick up the stage or just waitin' for little ol' me?" she teased with a grin.

 

 

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The outgoing girl did not hesitate but took a few confident strides toward the fellow who was accompanied by his personal chinaman and some red haired tart. She ignored them for the moment as that big smile of hers, which could light up a room, preceded her greeting.

 

As Caroline approached, Crabbe regaled her with the words with which she had been introduced at their old place in Helena. “Here she is! The Chicago Siren! The Songthrush of the Territories! The Helena Nightingale! Miss Caroline Muuuunndeeee!” He finished it just in time to take her in his arms and give her a comradely kiss on each cheek, like French people and showbusiness folks did, then stood back to take her in and nodded appreciatively at the sight.

 

The Emden family from the stagecoach, passing by, looked horrified and disgusted at this open display of affection, but Crabbe just tipped his hat at them with a friendly “Sir! Madame! Sonny!” and for the peevish looking girl trailing behind them, even spared a “Hello, what’s your name?” at which she gave him a terrified stare and quite rightly ran to join her parents.

 

"Well, well, Lorenzo Crabbe! You're lookin' your usual self, dapper as always. So are you here to stick up the stage or just waitin' for little ol' me?" she teased with a grin.

 

“Oh, we just happened to be passin’” he teased back “– you remember Charlie?” he indicated the Chinaman, who gave her a little oriental bow and uttered an ingratiating “Miss Caroline.” It looked like he wasn’t even going to bother introducing the redhead but following Caroline’s gaze remembered her.

 

“Oh, ‘n’ that’s Bridget. She ain’t a whore.” He said matter-of-factly, just because he knew that the singer would assume she was, being with him. “ She’s more of a… erm, well, kind of a, urm…”

 

“Waif and stray” offered Mr. Fa, and Lorenzo seized upon the phrase gratefully.

 

“Yeah, that’s it, ‘waif and stray’: I ‘ve come over all charitable in my old age” he laughed “Why we even help disreputable saloon singers with their luggage” he added, taking her arm and walking her back to where Addy had unloaded the various trunks and valises onto the ground from their perch atop the stagecoach.

 

“Which ones are y… oh, they’re all yours, ain’t they?” Crabbe frowned, looking at the pile of stuff in dismay. There was an extremely heavy trunk, which they piled with other baggage and which Crabbe and Fa lifted with a grunt, one at either end; a few other odds and ends Caroline had to carry herself, and Bridget ‘helped out’ by lifting up a single, quite light-looking hatbox. To be fair, she was already carrying her own paraphernalia: parasol, clutch purse, and a large china-faced doll whose overwrought dress matched her own.

 

Still, the hat box itself made Lorenzo double take - one of Mundee's little quirks was that that she never, ever, wore a hat or bonnet of any sort and, when he had known her, hadn't even owned one. The girl was virtually allergic to the things. The hat box must contain something else, or he was a Dutchman.

 

As they trudged to the saloon, Crabbe, lifting his end of the trunk a little higher, (so Fa got the brunt of the weight), warned Caroline: “Listen Mundee, I can’t come in the saloon, persona non grata, but [pant] I wanted to tell ya, there’s a girl that works there that plays the … Jesus Charlie lift it will ya?! … plays the piana pretty decent, stage-struck type, y’know: if you can get her on side it’ll save ya having to pay a percentage out for an accompanist.” He panted and looked like he was going to collapse in a heap by the time they got to the swing doors of the saloon.

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Lorenzo did have quite the memory as he dramatically announced her presence using all the old names from Helena. Just then the Emdens were alighting the stage and they took in this scene with a mix of shock and disgust. Lorenzo tried to be friendly but he might as well have been trying to smooze with a pack of rabid coyotes for all his chances. The Emdens rapidly departed, Caroline just rolled her eyes. Folk like that were best ignored in her opinion.

 

They embraced and exchanged air kisses on the cheeks followed by some teasing on both of their parts. And then introductions.

 

"Hello Charlie, you can just call me Caroline, none of that Miss stuff," she nodded to the chinaman then looked over the red haired gal. The way she just stood there gawking and holding a doll too, she looked...well, odd and something about her expression too. Lorenzo was quick to point out she was not a whore. Good heavens, Caroline hoped not. The girl was not all there.

 

"Hello Bridget, I like your dress and ....nice doll," she flashed the other young woman a very bright and genuine smile.

 

Lorenzo professed he was being charitable by taking in this waif. Caroline eyed him dubiously for an instant, "Well, you better."

 

He also offered to carry her luggage, something he seemed to almost immediately regret once he caught sight of it all. Caroline wasn't about to let him out of that offer though.

 

"Oh splendid. How gentlemanly of you, you're a dear," she boldly reached out to pat his cheek.

 

“Which ones are y… oh, they’re all yours, ain’t they?” he swallowed.

 

"Well, not all...........just the big trunk...oh and that one, that one...and that one also," Caroline carefully pointed to each item.

 

The procession to the saloon then began, needless to say at a rather slow pace as the men struggled with the trunk. Caroline could have taken one of the carpet bags but too much enjoyed their misery to do so. Instead she gawked around the town as they trod the boardwalk.

 

"Oh there it is, the Stardust saloon. Looks nice enough on the outside," she announced but then listened to Lorenzo fill her in on what he apparently believed she needs know.

 

"Honestly, you got thrown out of the joint? What, did they catch you cheatin' at cards? Will you ever learn, hon?" Caroline huffed a bemused tone.

 

"Oh good they have a piano player. You know I ain't able to play a note. So some girl huh? What? Some hooker who escaped you otherwise why you so interested in her? Don't give me the line you just are looking out for my profit percentage either," Caroline liked Lorenzo, she really did, but trust him to tell the truth. Only when it was to his benefit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Hello Charlie, you can just call me Caroline, none of that Miss stuff," she nodded to the Chinaman.

 

“Thank you, Miss Caroline” he bowed again. ‘Call me Caroline’ indeed: these Western barbarians might not be civilised, Mr. Fa could never forget that he was a gentleman at home, a Mandarin, 3rd Class to boot.

 

"Hello Bridget, I like your dress and ....nice doll," she flashed the other young woman a very bright and genuine smile.

 

Bridget nodded excitedly with a big smile too, and wanted to stammer out that her doll’s name was Dolly (all her dolls were called Dolly, a fact that lead to much derision from Arabella, and who had renamed them Martha, Jenny, Lucia and Clara-Anne), but she was too overwhelmed at meeting the famous and glamorous singer from Helena, and returned to staring open mouthed at the girl who looked even more dolly-like than her dollies.

 

Between them, they managed to carry all of Caroline’s junk over to her new place of work.

 

"Oh there it is, the Stardust saloon. Looks nice enough on the outside," she announced but then listened to Lorenzo fill her in on what he apparently believed she needs know.

 

“As you can see, it’s already built, so there was no need to pack all these bricks!” grunted Lorenzo, dropping his end of the enormously heavy trunk with a thud and what sounded like the muffled tinkling of breaking china. “Don’t worry about that” he grinned sheepishly “There’ll be another one inside, under your bed, no doubt.” He looked at the place. “Well, I’d like to drag this ten ton weight in for ya Mundee, but what with bein’ barred from the place…”

 

"Honestly, you got thrown out of the joint? What, did they catch you cheatin' at cards? Will you ever learn, hon?" Caroline huffed a bemused tone.

 

“Oh no, they thought I was trying to steal their piana-playing pot girl and put her on the game” he explained without batting an eyelid “I’m laying off all that now anyway, for a while, I’m opening up a Pho-tography business instead, that’s where the money is!” he announced, but the songstress was more concerned with her own schtick.

 

"Oh good they have a piano player. You know I ain't able to play a note. So some girl huh? What? Some hooker who escaped you otherwise why you so interested in her? Don't give me the line you just are looking out for my profit percentage either," Caroline liked Lorenzo, she really did, but trust him to tell the truth. Only when it was to his benefit.

 

“No honest, I just wanted her to play the ivories at the time, mind you, she has modelled for me since. Nothing ornery, of course.” She might have waited for the ‘yet’ but it was not forthcoming. “Say, if you want any nice publicity plates making, I’ll give you good rates, what with you bein’ a pal. Yeah, wear one of those high cut, low cut numbers like you did in Helena and I bet I could sell them pictures by the bundle.” His magnified eyes became almost glassy at the prospect. "Or maybe some more 'artistic' poses..."

 

There was a noise within.

 

“Ooh! We’d better go! Listen, drop in and see me some time and we’ll talk about them pictures!” he said hurriedly. “We’re situated down at the old Funeral Parlour, down there” Crabbe pointed as he got ready to skedaddle.

 

"And remember, don't tell 'em that you know me!"

 

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"Ha! Those aren't bricks in there, it's gold nuggets. I did me some prospecting during my stage ride," Caroline joked.

 

Lorenzo tried to explain to her the reason he had been banned from going thru those saloon doors but it didn't make a lot of sense to the girl. Just how good a piano player was this gal? More likely she was beautiful and he wanted her for a business Crabbe oft engaged in, running a brothel. Despite his declarations of doing a good deed with the brainless redhead, Caroline was still a bit worried that poor thing might be part of the man's scheme. That just wouldn't be right, using a half-wit like that.

 

“No honest, I just wanted her to play the ivories at the time, mind you, she has modelled for me since. Nothing ornery, of course.”

 

Modelling? Sure, right. The gal had to be a looker then or at least possessing a pair of impressive attributes. Caroline kept listening which is not to say believing.

 

 “Say, if you want any nice publicity plates making, I’ll give you good rates, what with you bein’ a pal. Yeah, wear one of those high cut, low cut numbers like you did in Helena and I bet I could sell them pictures by the bundle.”

 

"No thanks, I want menfolk to have to come into the saloon to ogle me not be able to stare at some photograph. It's all about drumming up business for the saloon afterall," Caroline pointed out, quite the sharp mind when it came to anything involving saloons.

 

"Or maybe some more 'artistic' poses..."  he continued.

 

"Artistic huh, sure I'll do it if you spend enough money on drinks in the Stardust," she smirked.

 

The way it worked is she would get customers to buy another drink and then of course one for her too.

 

There was a noise within.

 

“Ooh! We’d better go! Listen, drop in and see me some time and we’ll talk about them pictures!” he said hurriedly. “We’re situated down at the old Funeral Parlour, down there” Crabbe pointed as he got ready to skedaddle.

 

"Funeral parlor? That's a perfect place for your schemes," she laughed.

 

"And remember, don't tell 'em that you know me!"

 

"Of course, we're old friends ain't we?  And new ones now too, see you later, Bridget - I might even have a dress for you," she smiled at the dim young miss.

 

And with that, Caroline took a deep breath, steeled herself, assumed a confident air and strutted right thru those batwing doors like she owned the place. It was time to get a job!

 

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Arabella had been scrubbing the floor in the saloon when she heard voices outside. It sounded like Mr. Crabbe and she wondered if Bridget was with him. Also, she had a bone to pick with him. Sure, he’d taken that nice photey-graph of her in her cantinière uniform and even given her some copies gratis, but he’d also put an advertisement for his services up in the Undertaker’s which included the picture. It read:

 

“Mr Lorenzo Crabbe is pleased to offer his services, producing a loving memorial to your departed.

 

Expertly and lovingly captured Memento Mori portraits.”

 

Then there was the picture of Arabella, and the legend underneath read, in surprised tones:

 

“Why! She looks nearly alive!”

 

But before she could get out there, a rather gaudily dressed, bonnet-less creature came in from outside. She looked like a hussy or, maybe more like a floozie. She definitely looked a bit like Jenny, Bridget’s yellow-haired dolly, except Jenny’s smile was a mite more genuine. Either way, Arabella didn’t much like the look of this unwelcome ingénue as she invaded her saloon.

 

She looked the blonde piece up and down and then bent over sideways and saw the pile of luggage through the gap under the swing doors.

 

“Hotel’s over there!” she pointed in the general direction of the Belle-St. Regis before folding her arms and frowning at the interloper. She had a bad feeling about this.

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 Caroline took in the place, noting the long bar with a not to be scoffed at selection of bottled liquors displayed on the shelves behind it then the dozen or so tables scattered about.  Ahh yes, and even more crucial at least regarding her future employment, there was a piano in the far corner and a small stage too. Perfect! She liked it already.

 

Now there were a few customers within. At one table two old men were playing cards, half drained beer glasses keeping them company as they studied their cards. Another man, a cowpoke, leaned up against the bar, conversing with a bearded bartender. Could that be Mr.....Mr...Flandry, yes she was pretty sure that was the name. As for the woman owner, no woman was currently in sight.

 

Not quite true, there was a girl now eying her, she had paused in scrubbing the floor. At least the business tried to keep their place cleaner than some joints she had been in.  The young missie did not look pleased for some reason.

 

“Hotel’s over there!” she pointed in the general direction of the Belle-St. Regis before folding her arms and frowning .

 

"I know, I can read signs, child," Caroline smirked.

 

She then turned to address the bartender who by then was aware of her presence as apparently were all the men in the place. She was used to be gawked it, didn't bother her none.

 

"Excuse me, mister but is the owner of this fine establishment present? I am eager to tell her the good news," she smiled confidently.

 

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Ralph paused then replied, "She is upstairs. Good news you say, miss?"

 

"Oh indeed, I can't wait to meet her. Her search for an entertainer is over. I'm here! " Caroline announced.

 

Ralph had to break into a bit of a smile himself at this bubbly and bold young woman, "You don't say? And you would be....?"

 

"I am Caroline....Caroline Mundee, and if I wasn't so modest I would add 'simply the finest saloon singer west of the Mississippi.' And if you don't believe me, you will once you hear me sing."

 

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“Hotel’s over there!” she pointed in the general direction of the Belle-St. Regis before folding her arms and frowning . 

 

"I know, I can read signs, child," Caroline smirked.

 

Child?! Hmph!

 

You can read?” asked Arabella, sounding surprised. But the woman dodged the potgirl with all the skill of a Yale football player, and  had moved toward Mr Flandry at the bar.

 

Arabella gave a hard stare at all of the fellers staring at this up-town fancy girl, some of them looked like they’d about twist their own heads off, the way they were craning their necks around. Arabella waved her hands at them, teacher like, to indicate that they should get back to their drinks and cards, and followed after the interloper.

 

"Excuse me, mister but is the owner of this fine establishment present? I am eager to tell her the good news," she smiled confidently.

 

Ralph paused then replied, "She is upstairs. Good news you say, miss?" 

 

"Oh indeed, I can't wait to meet her. Her search for an entertainer is over. I'm here! " Caroline announced. 

 

Ralph had to break into a bit of a smile himself at this bubbly and bold young woman, "You don't say? And you would be....?" 

 

"I am Caroline....Caroline Mundee, and if I wasn't so modest I would add 'simply the finest saloon singer west of the Mississippi.' And if you don't believe me, you will once you hear me sing."

 

There wasn’t much room between Caroline and the bar, but Arabella managed to somehow sidle into it and get between the hussy and poor innocent Ralph, who, not seeming to have much to do with women, in her opinion, might be taken in by this painted lady.

 

“Not today, thank you!” she announced brightly. “We already have an entertainer, and that’s called me!” she told Caroline, jerking a thumb at her flat chest. “Singin’, Dancin’, Piannerin’ Cartwheels and telling funny jokes. And also, I’m an orphan, so the management don’t have to pay me one red cent!” she explained. "You look kinda pricy!"

 

“But don’t give up.” she continued, in mock helpful tones “There’s a town called Whitefish, just down the road, I hear the saloon there is looking for some…” she looked the curvaceous bimbo up and down “… ‘ singers'.”

 

Then she turned and shook a warning head vigorously at Mr. Flandry, as if to say Don’t be tempted by the pleasures of the flesh my son, even if there is a good deal of it on show!

 

But he wasn’t even looking at Arabella, he was staring at the demi-monde, polishing the same glass, with a stupid silly grin on his bearded face the like of which she’d never seen before. Maybe this entertainer did hypnotism, too, she thought; that’d explain it.

 

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Caroline had just tossed one of her best lines at the bartender who was certainly giving his full fledged attention to her when the scrub girl squeezed between the bar and the newcomer.

 

“Not today, thank you!” the child announced brightly. “We already have an entertainer, and that’s called me!” she told Caroline, jerking a thumb at her flat chest. “Singin’, Dancin’, Piannerin’ Cartwheels and telling funny jokes. And also, I’m an orphan, so the management don’t have to pay me one red cent!” she explained. "You look kinda pricy!"

 

Caroline eyed the brat, "You want the best, you need to pay for it. But I'm well worth it when it comes to bringin' customers in."

 

Then she returned her gaze to Ralph, "Is she always this annoying?"

 

Ralph chuckled, "Mostly."

 

The little harpie wasn't done yet though, “But don’t give up. There’s a town called Whitefish, just down the road, I hear the saloon there is looking for some…… ‘ singers'.”

 

The cowboy leaning on the bar now jumped into the conversation though not really taking his eyes off the pretty stranger, "Now girl, you know Whitefish is a ghost town now. From what I hear you was there even when it burnt up."

 

"So.....add deceiver to your list of talents then?" Caroline smirked at the girl, now at times saloon work could be competitive too for those women who made it their trade. Rivalries cropped up, personalities clashed, Caroline had seen it all. She'd be damned if she was gonna lose this job thanks to this scrawny devil-child.

 

Ralph snapped out of it with a sudden frown, "Now Arabella, you git back to those floors. Especially the far corner where that salesman fella threw up last night. And behave yerself."

 

"Miss Mundee, you wait right here and I will go get the owner. She will want ta see you...that I'm sure," he informed her.

 

Reaching down below the bar he came up with a bottle of whiskey and set it in front of the cowboy, "If you want another shot, pour it. Put the dime on the bar."

 

And with another sharp glare at the troublesome Arabella, he turned then headed up the stairs bellowing as he did so,  "Matilda!"

 

Caroline spared the child a Cheshire Cat smile,"You heard your boss. A good employee does what they're told. "

 

Just then the cowpoke spoke up once more, "Ummm, Miss Mundee, can I buy you a drink?"

 

Caroline turned to the man and her smile instantly switched over to innocent sweetness, "Oh? Why you are such a gentleman, hon. You most certainly may, my throat is parched from that long hard stagecoach journey."

 

 

 

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