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Clara Has a Caller


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Rating: PG-14
Content: N/A

Next Day (Following  Just the Two of Us thread - Early May 1876)

Morning

 

Clara was in such a good mood as she swept whatever little dirt she had found out the front door of their cabin. The weather was bright and sunny, warm, even warmer than usual but nothing wrong with that.  Her father had departed a some time ago and reminded her he would probably not be home until evening as he and Mr. Coltrane were determined to make some real progress on those stubborn stumps. She did not envy him the hard work that took to pry the stumps with their deep root systems out of unyielding ground.  She had a point of stressing he should take his time and not worry about the farm, she would take care of everything necessary. She had indeed already milked the cow and feed and watered the horses and chickens.

As for her little brother, Wyatt was off at school, the boy had made a new friend with some orphan lad at the dance and it seemed to have improved his mood about school then too. Not that Wyatt would ever be a diligent student, he just did not have the interest.

 

But anyhow, all that aside Clara was in such an upbeat mood because Jacob Lutz was coming to visit her in response to her invitation the day before. Yes, she realized that proper decorum stated a young lady should not have a young man in her company without an escort. But that was in civilization, back East, this was the frontier and things were different (or so she rationalized).

 

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons the girl was spending so much time sweeping by the front doorstep was because she was watching for HIS imminent arrival.

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There was something unheroic, unromantic about the hero arriving at the heroine’s doorstep in a horse and cart, so Lutz had unhitched buttercup and thrown a picnic blanket and an ancient cracked saddle over her back and fashioned up a rope bridle so that he could ride to Clara’s place in style. Buttercup, usually a surly critter, was at first surprised, but then somewhat flattered by the change in her status from dray horse to charger, and despite her heavy build, tried to act the part.

 

On the ride over, started at dawn’s crack and taking a couple of hours from the Miggins’ place, he had a chance to think about the events of yesterday and the possibilities of the coming hours. He wondered if Clara had found what he had left under his plate when he’d left the diner. He reddened a little to think of it: a small folded piece of rough fibrous paper, the low quality sort that made ink flow out and sideways in tiny spiky icicles when you wrote upon it; the words of the poem he had written the morning after the barn dance,  an embarrassed signature, so she would know it wasn’t just a shopping list or some scrap that had been discarded; a simple, but effective wax seal, made of a dripped candle and the reverse of a nickel.

 

Lucky,

To have kissed her hand.

 

JLL 1876

 

He half hoped that she hadn’t even seen it, and had thrown it in the trash with the pie crumbs. Half hoped. He certainly wouldn’t mention it unless she did.

 

It was a long ride, but he enjoyed it. He was impatient, yes, but had an appreciation of this moment of magic, of anticipation, this time when anything and everything was still a possibility. He rose and rode and rode...

 

And there she was, eyes downcast, sweeping an immaculately clean looking doorstep. He smoothed Buttercup’s mane, quieting her, hoping Clara wouldn’t look up until he was right up to her, still drawing out the moment of anticipation. She looked up, and he was now glad that she did; she was, in this rustic and domestic surrounding, more beautiful than ever.

He tipped his round brimmed hat.

 

“Mornin’ Miss Redmond.” He said like he hardly knew her “Your Pa in? I’ve brought him a sample of that barbed wire, in case he’s changed his mind.”

 

He knew that she was alone, and was keeping up this pretence not out of deference for any hidden ears, but more to draw out the painful and delicious moment before they would be, for the first time since the dance, truly together.

 

He dismounted and tied the horse to a fence post by her hempen bridle,  and walked up to Clara, his legs feeling numb and shaky, but not from the long ride. He took off his hat, which looked like he was inviting himself in, but was more to give his hands something to do. He looked at her and smiled, trying to read her thoughts.

 

“Don’t tell me he’s not home!” he joked, trying to break the tension.

 

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Clara kept her head down as if she was fully engrossed in her chore even though she had been aware of his arrival for a few moments, it was all part of her nonchalant act. It would be unbecoming to act like some giddy schoolgirl. Eventually though she had to look up, stop sweeping, and feign surprise.

 

"Mornin’ Miss Redmond. Your Pa in? I’ve brought him a sample of that barbed wire, in case he’s changed his mind.”

 

Miss Redmond? Clara blinked, she thought they had at least gotten to a first name basis already. And did he really drag along some barbwire? That's when she decided he was fooling with her.

 

"Ahh, a traveling salesman are you?" she asked then added, "And good morning."

 

He dismounted, tied the horse's reins to the closest fencepost then came back in an almost deliberate fashion, hat off and in hand.

 

"Don’t tell me he’s not home!”  he suddenly remarked.

 

"No, he is not. I had no further use for his services the rest of the day so I dismissed him," Clara said straight-faced, and she could do a convincing straight-face.

 

"But as long as you are here, I believe I could use your services. I have here a small mystery to solve and perhaps you might assist me in figuring it out," as she spoke she reached into her pocket and extracted an almost tiny folded scrap of paper.

 

"It is a poem but I do not know who wrote it," she announced then held it out to him.

 

"Since you claim to be a poet, I thought perhaps the author might be known to you. All I have to go by are some initials, presumably of the author.  J.... L.....L.....no idea,"she gave a light shrug.

 

"I will say this much it is my favorite sort of poetry -   short."   Her performance was totally serious almost solemn, not a hint of humor cracking thru.

 

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"No, he is not. I had no further use for his services the rest of the day so I dismissed him," Clara said straight-faced, and she could do a convincing straight-face.

 

Jacob looked sadly at the house and shook his head. “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley” he muttered softly.

 

"But as long as you are here, I believe I could use your services. I have here a small mystery to solve and perhaps you might assist me in figuring it out," as she spoke she reached into her pocket and extracted an almost tiny folded scrap of paper.

 

“Well, what’s that tatty old scrap of paper?” Lutz asked joining in the fun of their mock serious conversation, but turning a little pink.

 

"It is a poem but I do not know who wrote it," she announced then held it out to him.

 

Jacob shrugged and took it, begrudgingly with a sigh. “Oh, let’s have a look, if it’ll please you, Miss Redmond.”

 

"Since you claim to be a poet, I thought perhaps the author might be known to you. All I have to go by are some initials, presumably of the author.  J.... L.....L.....no idea,"she gave a light shrug.

 

“Huh!” grumped the lad “Why, that’s the abysmal handiwork of Jasper Ludovic Lumpkin, the Vermont Versifier. Even my Granny’s hogs won’t eat his stuff.”

 

"I will say this much it is my favorite sort of poetry -   short."   Her performance was totally serious almost solemn, not a hint of humor cracking thru.

 

“Phoo!” Jacob shook his head “Call that short? I’ve written ones far shorter and far sweeter. In fact, the sweetest poem I ever wrote was only two words long.” he announced in mock-boastful tones; but his eyes were serious, almost daring her to ask how that particular poem went, as if she couldn't guess.

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“Huh!” grumped the lad “Why, that’s the abysmal handiwork of Jasper Ludovic Lumpkin, the Vermont Versifier. Even my Granny’s hogs won’t eat his stuff.”

 

"Vermont huh? His work does travel a long way does it not?" she responded.

 

"I will say this much it is my favorite sort of poetry -   short."   Her performance was totally serious almost solemn, not a hint of humor cracking thru.

 

“Phoo!” Jacob shook his head “Call that short? I’ve written ones far shorter and far sweeter. In fact, the sweetest poem I ever wrote was only two words long.” he announced in mock-boastful tones; but his eyes were serious, almost daring her to ask how that particular poem went, as if she couldn't guess.

 

"Oh really? Might you then recite one of those two word poems for me, certainly they must be easy to memorize," Clara was doubtful of such poems' veracity.

 

Suddenly she realized there they were chattering away with her on the doorstep and him standing there hat in hand. Where were her manners? Momentarily forgotten in the excitement of this boy visitor.

 

"Say, come on in. And no more 'Miss Redmond', you know my Christian name. Please use it, we are friends now...Jacob," she actually smiled as she waved him to accompany her thru the threshold.

 

The cabin was nothing fancy but very homey looking. All the necessities, a fireplace, an iron stove, a wooden trestle kitchen table with four plain but quite functional chairs around it, some spread out carpets over the otherwise wood deck floor, a small table with a lamp and a large washbowl upon it. There was no full second story but it did have a small low hanging loft with a ladder leading up to it. It was where Wyatt slept. That left two very small rooms, one Aurelian's bedroom and the other was Clara's. There was certainly no such luxury as a guest room. Everything was neat and clean. Unsurprisingly to those who knew her personality, Clara was a fastidious housekeeper.

 

"It is nothing much but we call it home," she announced pausing to let him look for a few seconds at least before continuing, "Oh, I made some fresh cornbread this morning and I have some honey you can put on it."

 

She headed for the kitchen table, sure enough a baking pan was there with the cornbread and a small jar of honey next to it.

 

"Please sit," she invited.

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"Vermont huh? His work does travel a long way does it not?" she responded.

 

Jacob screwed up his nose “Yep, you can smell it from several States away.” He replied, self-depreciatingly.

 

All this banter inevitably let to Clara demanding that Jacob recite one of these alleged two word poems, and that made him cast down his eyes and fiddle with his hat.

 

“There is one I wrote - and keep in mind, I only ever usually write a poem down the once - but this one was called Clara Redmond, and that was the whole of the body of it, too. Just Clara Redmond.” He sighed “And, guess what, I wrote that poem down every place I could find, even carved it on a few of the trees hereabouts. Recited it to myself a fair bit, too. I almost know it off by heart now.”

 

He smiled sort of sheepishly and looked back up at her.

 

“Course, that was before I got to know you properly, Miss Redmond, now I can say your name in conversation with you, not just in soppy poems.”

 

She invited him in and showed him around.

 

"It is nothing much but we call it home," she announced pausing to let him look for a few seconds at least before continuing, "Oh, I made some fresh cornbread this morning and I have some honey you can put on it.

 

“Oooh! Now you’re talking!” he said eagerly. It was sort of strange the two of them being in the neat little house, alone, together like this. It was wonderful but slightly odd and awkward, too. Eating something would be a nice normal past time for the two of them to undertake. Also, he was hungry, and he knew that Clara didn’t work in a diner for nothing, she was an excellent baker.

 

She headed for the kitchen table, sure enough a baking pan was there with the cornbread and a small jar of honey next to it.

 

"Please sit," she invited.

 

Jacob needed no second invitation, but as he scrabbled onto the plain wooden chair, something went plink! on the table surface and he swore mildly.

 

“Oh darn! I meant to ask Lee to sew that button back on properly!” Indeed, one of his shirt buttons was now rolling merrily along the table surface on its thin edge out of snatching range and toward where Clara was getting the sweet snack ready.

 

“Sorry Clara, looks like you’ve got a tramp sitting at your table now!” he shrugged, pointing out the place on his shirt where two forlorn strands of cotton dangled down instead of a button being there.

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“There is one I wrote - and keep in mind, I only ever usually write a poem down the once - but this one was called Clara Redmond, and that was the whole of the body of it, too. Just Clara Redmond.” He sighed.

 

"Oh my goodness!" Clara just shook her head a bit. Well she had asked. She was coming to the conclusion he really was a very poor poet. Handsome enough, pleasant, but not a poet. She was fine with that.

 

“And, guess what, I wrote that poem down every place I could find, even carved it on a few of the trees hereabouts. Recited it to myself a fair bit, too. I almost know it off by heart now.”

 

"Gosh, you really must go around and carve those names off the trees. I do not want myself splashed all over random trees for the world to come upon," she directed.

 

Enough of bad poetry, she invited him inside and then had a treat for the boy. Freshly baked cornbread and honey to slather on should he wish. As she expected, Jacob was delighted and plopped down on the offered seat. Only to pop a button? Clara spotted it rolling and deftly snatched it right up.

 

“Oh darn! I meant to ask Lee to sew that button back on properly!”

 

"Apparently," she glanced at the small button now in the palm of her hand then back to the boy, already a thought forming in her brain.

 

“Sorry Clara, looks like you’ve got a tramp sitting at your table now!”

 

"Nonsense, you are not a tramp but a guest I invited. And it is no problem anyhow. I sew buttons back on all the time for my father and Wyatt. That boy goes thru more buttons," she replied.

 

"Alright then, Jacob, I am going to need that shirt," she suddenly announced in that no nonsense voice of hers, "Take it off."

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Sorry Clara, looks like you’ve got a tramp sitting at your table now!” 

 

"Nonsense, you are not a tramp but a guest I invited. And it is no problem anyhow. I sew buttons back on all the time for my father and Wyatt. That boy goes thru more buttons," she replied.

 

“Boys will do that.” Proclaimed Jacob, nodding. In fact, a boy who didn’t come home, after being out to play, with buttons popped off of his shirts and worms in his pockets and scratches on his knees and elbows wasn’t really much of a boy at all, in his reckoning.

 

"Alright then, Jacob, I am going to need that shirt," she suddenly announced in that no nonsense voice of hers.

 

“How do you mean?” he asked quizzically, toying with the frayed cotton ends. They wouldn’t pull out so he tried twisting them all up so they’d at least look neater.

 

"Take it off."

 

Maybe it was because she sounded just like his not-to-be-disobeyed sister when she said that, or because he was a little bit wiser to the ways of the world than he sometimes let on, the lanky teenaged boy rose and gave a laconic but obedient “Yes Mam’” and took off the shirt. And he took it off in a way that maybe explained why his buttons were in such a state of disrepair in the first place. Instead of carefully unbuttoning it, he simply pulled the whole thing off over his head.

 

For a few seconds, he was standing in front of Clara, his head muffled by a tangle of shirt, but the rest of his torso exposed to her eyes, from the bottom of his chin, down his pale, slim but reasonably muscled chest and stomach, lightly tufted here and there with the same brown hair as covered his head, the pronounced vee of his loins disappearing eventually under the low waistband of his homespun pants.

 

He frowned as his head reappeared and he turned the shirt the right way out again and tried to work out where the missing button had been on the garment. He walked round the table to her, to hand it over. “Can you fix it?” he asked stupidly, or maybe cleverly, as he looked wonderingly into her serious brown eyes. The boy and girl were closer to each other than they had been since they’d danced and walked together that night at the barn dance.

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Clara certainly was capable of sewing on a shirt button and it was an easy favor she could do for the boy. And, yes, maybe there was a secondary reason, one she should probably not have but there it was. Certainly not one she would ever admit to Jacob though.

 

"Take it off."

 

She half expected him to refuse. He might well be shy about ending up half naked in front of her but he meekly agreed, "Yes ma'm."

 

And she got her wish then as he did not even bother unbuttoning the rest of the garment but pulled it over his head instead. For some strange reason her pulse had sped up as she got a look at the boy's torso and arms.  He was skinny but she knew that already even with clothing on that lanky frame of his.  Yet somehow he did not look like a weakling though. He was a farm lad and he worked hard on a lot of physical tasks like any farmer. He had some bit of muscle to him. Hairy armpits unlike her little brother which showed Jacob was more of a man than a boy anymore.  Otherwise his chest was smooth with only a hint of fine hair just below his navel. 

 

Suddenly she snapped out of it. Oh lordy, she had been gawking at him, well the him below his face.  And there he was, his eyes on hers. How embarrassing!

 

He walked round the table to her, to hand it over. “Can you fix it?

 

Clara reached out and took the garment, "Huh? Oh...Well of course I can, Jacob. Did I not say so?"

 

"Umm, I need to go get my sewing kit though. It is in my bedroom. I will be right back," she informed him. Even to her the tone of her voice sounded just a bit shaky.

 

 

 

 

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He walked round the table to her, to hand it over. “Can you fix it?

 

Clara reached out and took the garment, "Huh? Oh...Well of course I can, Jacob. Did I not say so?"

 

“You did indeed, Clara.” Conceded Jacob, now completely exposed as he handed the shirt to her and, wondering what to do with his hands, thumbed his pockets in what he hoped was a casual looking manner.

 

"Umm, I need to go get my sewing kit though. It is in my bedroom. I will be right back," she informed him. Even to her the tone of her voice sounded just a bit shaky.

 

He followed her with his eyes, smiling happily to himself as he watched her go. Deciding to help himself to the promised cornbread and honey, he set to work, feeling a little silly eating at the kitchen table without his top on, and only worried that if anyone stuck their head in the door, they might take him for a savage. Or, even worse, if Mr Redmond returned suddenly, he might take him for a half-naked boy in a deserted house with his daughter!

 

The honey on the cornbread was sweet and delicious, just like the situation he seemed to have found himself in. He half wondered if Clara might feel guilty that he alone was all shirtless and maybe return from the bedroom topless herself. Then, drifting even further into the realms of fantasy, he wondered if he was supposed to have followed her into the bedroom. Was she waiting for him even now, wondering why he was dallying in the kitchen? He decided that if she didn’t come back before he’d finished the piece of bread he’d have to go and … oh, she was back!

 

“I started.” he stated the obvious, glancing round to see if she was still fully dressed … well, of course she would be! …. still, you never knew … better look … just in case.

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