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    • Having a second thought, to bolster the findings he sent for Fairchild before he could leave for New Orleans, and in the vicinity of Elinor Steelgrave, that could be done at another time after this meeting with Elias himself.   It was like hedging his bet on the situation. He wanted Elias to meet the man who could explain what was in the file in detail, much better than he himself.  might be able to. Nothing like being prepared. Elias could be unpredictable when upset, if a man like Fairchild explaining what he had found could manage to keep Steelgrave manage-ably clam then the expense was worth it to all concerned.   He had to congratulate himself on the idea. It just might work!
    • List in hand, they made their way back to town and to the Anderson's Mercantile where they laid out their list of needs. John and Mary Agnes looked over the list and began adding prices, plus shipping where it was warranted.   "So, you're in the mining business Marshal?" John asked.   "We are." Alice replied with a wide proud smile on her face. Speed just looked at her.   "Amos here found a property to good to pass up, so I bought it myself." Speed said, "Actually two properties, the other on is off to the west, but this one is just north of the Evergreen Ranch a couple of miles."   "Ah that would be the Henshaw mine. Sad about his wife passing on so suddenly. Life can be hard out here, it was just too hard for Martha Henshaw, though she tried as hard as anyone could." Mary Agnes said. "Most all of what you have here we have in stock. Most all of this was on Henshaw's list as well, he just quit before he paid for it. I believe we can give you a good price on the machinery out back. Right John?"   "Yes we can, The fact is Speed I'll let you have it at our cost, plus the shipping expenses, of course. Be good to free up that room back there. Let me see here at my cost, yes, well, it looks to be just under three thousand dollars, without the things we have in stock that wasn't Henshaw's."   Fair enough John, and we appreciate it. Now, if you'll let me get up to the bank, we want to use their money until we get started, and then we'll settle up."   "Makes sense to me, it's what we did. Hated those monthly payments, but it worked for us." John agreed.   "We'll be back." Speed promised.
    • The single shot was loud, even with the traffic, the jingle of the trace chains and the people on the boardwalks conversing. It had been some time since that had been gunfire in town,  especially in the middle of the day, he was up, pad in hand and heading for the door. "That was a gunshot!" He said to Sarah. "I have no idea what it's about, but I intend to find out!"   He stepped out the door to see a crowd gathered and Marshal Guyer leading a man away, a man who looked familiar, but one he could not identify right off. He started down the street to see who belonged to the body laying on the boardwalk. There should be a story in this, it would appear someone had been murdered in broad daylight!   When he arrived at the body, it was of a man he did not recognize, not that he was aware of every drifter that passed through town, but the one being led off was familiar enough, he just could not place him at the moment. But clearly Chester and  Myrtle McIneery stood close behind the body, Chester steadying his wife who splattered with blood, no doubt from the dead man.   He then saw Arabella Mudd scurrying across the the street to the Municipal Building. He would be over there in a few moments himself but just then, the slower moving Mister Jolly and young Raymond, his other assistant, arrived on the scene. "Mister Jolly." He greeted, "Raymond. I see Miss Mudd is already at the Marshals office." @Javia

Clara Has a Caller


Clara Redmond Lutz
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Next Day (Following  Just the Two of Us thread)

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.

 

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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.

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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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It did not take long, Clara was, as in most things, well organized in her possessions all of which had to be in specific places. The little wood box was under her bed in an aged trunk and soon she was back to her company. The boy....no, young man she decided...was enjoying the cornbread and honey, she was pleased to see. He looked up almost like he was expecting someone else?

 

“I started.” he stated the obvious.

 

"I see that," she nodded, though she wasn't concentrating on the plate of cornbread but Jacob's ...err, well, again obvious.

 

She moved right to the table and sat down across from him, opening the barely fist size box to extract a good needle and some thread that at least closely matched the color of the shirt.

 

"This will not take me long. I hope you are not uncomfortable like that," she spoke as she began to prepare the process.

 

"I mean it's nothing to be embarrassed about....I live with two males. Naturally I have seen bare chests and arms before. It is part of family life," she assured him but perhaps she was making a bit more of the issue than needed for he had said nothing at all about any embarrassment.

 

 

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"This will not take me long. I hope you are not uncomfortable like that," she spoke as she began to prepare the process.

 

A week ago he would have been, because he’d had a big red pimple on his chest which looked like a third nipple. But with that gone, he was sitting pretty.

 

“Oh, I’m all right, although it would be a little awkward if Pastor Evans happened to walk in right now” he joked. “As long as you don’t find having a half-naked boy sitting within touching distance too embarrassing.”  

 

"I mean it's nothing to be embarrassed about....I live with two males. Naturally I have seen bare chests and arms before. It is part of family life," she assured him but perhaps she was making a bit more of the issue than needed for he had said nothing at all about any embarrassment.

 

“Well, sure.” Rejoined Jacob. “I’ve seen my sisters in the nudie, too, when I was younger. Like you say, just a part of everyday life. Nothing to be writing home about.” He philosophised. “That said, if I’d, say, arrived a mite too early this morning and happened to have caught you in the bath or undressing I would, of course, have averted my gaze.” He lied, with a little catch in his voice which indicated he knew that she knew what a whopper that was!

 

A sort of dreamy grin on his face indicated that he was imagining that, rather than thinking about whether to have more cornbread.

 

He watched her sew: she was efficient, neat and quick, despite a slight shake to her hands: well, nobody liked being stared at while they were doing a fiddly task. Too quick. He liked this, this partial nudity: there was a palpable frisson of sexual tension in the air, so thick you could have cut it with a knife. He couldn’t help but feel that donning his shirt again would mask their more natural passions once again in a thick velvet curtain of civilised decorum, instead of the thin veil it wore now.

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"Well, sure.” Rejoined Jacob. “I’ve seen my sisters in the nudie, too, when I was younger. Like you say, just a part of everyday life. Nothing to be writing home about.”

 

"You have?" she was surprised and almost stabbed herself accidentally with the sewing needle. She had to wonder how old these sisters were? But not like she was going to be so bold as to ask.

 

He continued,  “That said, if I’d, say, arrived a mite too early this morning and happened to have caught you in the bath or undressing I would, of course, have averted my gaze.”

 

He would have? That would show a strange lack of curiosity in her opinion but just maybe he was that kind of gentleman? Or he was lying.

 

"Oh, I see. Well, you would not get in anyhow because I would take the precaution of barring the door prior to this bath of mine," she pointed out as she started the actual sewing process now on the button.

 

While mostly concentrating on the task before her, she once looked up and her eyes went right to his bare chest again before realizing he was looking right at her so hastily she averted them back down to the button and clothing. Desperately she sought for something to say to break the silence.

 

"Well, when I am done with this, I suppose I can show you my books like we talked about. Or....I could give you a quick tour of the farm?"  She realized the second topic might not be all that interesting to a fellow farmer, he no doubt had his fill of farm sights.

 

"Unless you can think of something specific you would like to do? Or see?" she suddenly decided to include him in on this planning. Even as she talked, she kept the needlework going.

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"Oh, I see. Well, you would not get in anyhow because I would take the precaution of barring the door prior to this bath of mine," she pointed out as she started the actual sewing process now on the button. 

 

“Ah, that’s true!” Jacob replied, remembering to agree with Clara as much as possible. Women liked that, according to his sister. He was quite happy then to sit quietly watching the pretty brunette at work on the sewing, but she, on the other hand, wanted to plan the day.

 

"Well, when I am done with this, I suppose I can show you my books like we talked about. Or....I could give you a quick tour of the farm?"  She realized the second topic might not be all that interesting to a fellow farmer, he no doubt had his fill of farm sights.

 

Lutz nodded genially. “Oh, I’d like to see your books and the farm. Specially that North field. See if it’s as prone to flooding as it looks.” He ruminated, having a necessarily keen professional interest in agriculture.

 

"Unless you can think of something specific you would like to do? Or see?" she suddenly decided to include him in on this planning. Even as she talked, she kept the needlework going.

 

He frowned, as if deep in thought, before casually mentioning something that had actually been on his mind since the night of the dance.

 

“Say, if we’ve got time and it’s not too far, maybe you could show me that swimming place you mentioned. I thought I knew this section pretty well, but I can’t think exactly where you mean.” He said, as if on a whim. He wasn’t sure whether his acting skills were up to making it sound like a sudden idea of no particular consequence. He wasn’t even really sure if it needed to.

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Lutz nodded genially. “Oh, I’d like to see your books and the farm. Specially that North field. See if it’s as prone to flooding as it looks.”

 

"Of course. The books will not take long though, it is not like I have shelf full, though I might wish it were so," Clara replied, "And fine, you can see that field."

 

She thought seeing a field would take all of .... a minute once they got there. But if that was what he wanted, she would go along with it. However - just in case.

 

"Unless you can think of something specific you would like to do? Or see?"

 

Seemed he did have an idea of his own.

 

“Say, if we’ve got time and it’s not too far, maybe you could show me that swimming place you mentioned. I thought I knew this section pretty well, but I can’t think exactly where you mean.”

 

She once more looked up from her sewing (she was almost finished too) and raised one eyebrow. And she forced herself to look at his face and not that bare torso of his.

 

"It is a lake. You do not even know where the lake is and you say you know this area pretty well?" she found that strange alright.

 

But very well, she had asked for his input and it would be simply rude to then disregard his one suggestion.

 

"I can show it to you. I love it there, I found a secluded part of the shore and I just love to swim. So does Wyatt. Sometimes I swear he has gills, he does not want to get out of the water."

 

 

 

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"It is a lake. You do not even know where the lake is and you say you know this area pretty well?" she found that strange alright.

 

“Oh the lake!” Jacob looked a little surprised “I think  know where you mean, thought that might be a little exposed.” He nodded wonderingly about what a feller could do with a bit of lucky-timing and a pair of field glasses.

 

"I can show it to you. I love it there, I found a secluded part of the shore and I just love to swim. So does Wyatt. Sometimes I swear he has gills, he does not want to get out of the water."

 

If he was swimming with Clara, thought Jacob, neither would he! It was frustrating to think what that unappreciative little kid had seen that Jacob hadn’t, what a waste!

 

The farmboy managed a shaky “I’d really like to .. see it.” The thought of Clara swimming about undressed was having its usual unfortunate effects, and he’d have to stand up in a second to put his shirt back on. And what if she helped him on with it and tried to tuck it in for him?! She might accidentally… no! Don’t imagine that! Imagine something or someone totally horrible … damn, he could only think of other girls.... er...  Anaesthia Orr, yes, she was horrible … oh oh, that was making it worse … Arabella! … yeah, think of Arabella, phew, yeah, that was working… he felt things relax.

 

He must have looked totally in a daze to Clara as he dared to look at her once more.

 

“Oh look, nice warm day like today and I’ve got goose-bumps!” he laughed lamely, rubbing his arms.

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The farmboy managed a shaky “I’d really like to .. see it.”

 

"Then we will do that then. You're my guest and I want to be a good host," Clara assured him.

 

"Oh look, nice warm day like today and I’ve got goose-bumps!” he laughed lamely, rubbing his arms.

 

"You do?" she looked up, it gave her a perfect excuse to look at his shirtless self once more.

 

And she was done with the button! Setting her needle and scissors down she picked up the shirt and stood up holding it out to him, figuring he would have to stand up to put it back on. And, of course, give her yet one last opportunity to gawk at him.

 

"Wouldn't think you'd be cold but here you are, good as new...well almost."

 

 

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"Wouldn't think you'd be cold but here you are, good as new...well almost."

 

Oh oh! It was time to stand up and, although thinking of the unattractive Arabella had helped him avoid any immediate crisis, there was still an ungodly bulge in his suddenly too tight pants. He could only console himself that if Clara was the lady he thought her to be, she wouldn’t be a-looking down there anyway.

 

So, he stood up and took the shirt with a sheepish grin and a thanks and in a reversal of the previous operation stretched his arms up to pull the now-mended garment over his head. In his haste to cover up his embarrassment, he botched it and somehow ended up with his head trying to enter the right sleeve, so the whole thing took a mite longer than normal.

 

“Ooops” he said as his head eventually popped out of the appropriate opening.

 

“Sorry, I’m making a show of myself here!” he smiled.

 

“So, these books of yours…” he began, hoping to direct his own mind onto higher things, things that were more intellectually stimulating.

 

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Jacob decided not to unbutton the shirt, perhaps he was worried more buttons would pop, but once more decided to use the over the head method.  Clara wondered if that was why his buttons were not lasting but she would not make that opinion known. She watched then, fascinated as he then botched a smooth redonning of the article of clothing. No complaints though as it gave her more time to ogle his torso without even worrying he would notice.

 

“Ooops” he said as his head eventually popped out of the appropriate opening.

 

“Sorry, I’m making a show of myself here!” he smiled.

 

"Oh, I am quite enjoying it," Clara replied then realized that might not be what she should have revealed and quickly added, "I mean...because of, well, it was funny. Watching you wiggle into your shirt, you know, funny."

 

Well, sadly the show was now over and it was time to move on to other things, Clara nodded as he then asked about her books.

 

"Yes, let me show you," she declared.

 

***

 

Clara owned a baker's dozen volumes so it did not take her long to show them off, such as they were. A few of the books were in rather rough shape, the bindings weakening or covers worn. She was quick to point out they were like that when she got them. Most were fictional classics or histories. She did have one dime novel about an native American Indian princess and her rather harrowing adventures among white civilization. Some of it was rather lurid, for the times. Clara had no doubt the local minister would not approve of such books. Still, she enjoyed it even if it was rather predictable in parts in her literary opinion.

 

Jacob took the time to sift thru them all, skimming a few pages in some, and was quite impressed with her cache. She did not offer any of them to the boy though because he had made it quite clear he had a horror of borrowing anything especially books.

 

Then it was on to the farm tour. Honestly it was nothing Jacob was not already most familiar with. The barn, the chicken coop, the farm animals such as the milk cow, chickens, and workhorses (they had two but one of them, Lizzie, Clara rode into town quite often when she had to work in the diner), all of this the Lutz farm must have had in one way or the other too.  She skipped the outhouse though.

 

And then it was out to the back and she presented the large vegetable garden she proudly oversaw with much effort and good results.  Then came the fields, it was mostly just walking past them at a leisurely pace and her answering what crop questions he did have. As for that north field she pointed out that indeed it was not necessarily prone to flooding and promised to tell her father of Jacob's suggestion to plant beans.

 

"Well, that is the Redmond empire in all it's glory," she concluded, then pointed with a wave of her hand toward the direction of the lake, now out of sight due to a sizeable stand of trees and low scrub.

 

"So I guess all that is left then for me to show my swimming spot, it was a most fortunate discovery by Wyatt to be honest when we first bought the place. But I loved it immediately," she explained as she began to head in that direction.

 

 

 

 

 

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"Well, that is the Redmond empire in all it's glory," she concluded, then pointed with a wave of her hand toward the direction of the lake, now out of sight due to a sizeable stand of trees and low scrub.

 

Jacob nodded appreciatively. He’d enjoyed looking around the farm almost as much as he’d enjoyed examining Clara’s book collection. Now that was a treat, just handling the books, examining them, each and every one: the binding, the verso, the recto, the font, even the quality of the paper each was printed on was a strange exotic pleasure for the book starved boy. He actually wanted to lift each volume up and smell them too, but realised that such a sight might make Clara think him totally unhinged.

 

"So I guess all that is left then for me to show my swimming spot, it was a most fortunate discovery by Wyatt to be honest when we first bought the place. But I loved it immediately," she explained as she began to head in that direction.

 

“I want to memorize all of your books!” he announced as they walked to the lake, Clara as the guide. It was fun as he remembered the first half dozen or so with ease, but then struggled with the rest: Clara giving him clues, and he kicking himself when she had to tell him the couple he forgot. He didn’t like her owning thirteen books, and he started to think of a way to get her another, so that she would own a luckier number of the precious objects.

 

“So if you could get your hands on a new book, what would…” his voice broke off as the water came into view “… oh Lord, Clara. That’s beautiful!” he cooed, stopping in his tracks at the sight. A genuine grin of happiness spread over his face; happiness at the beauty of nature and the wonders that God had wrought with His hand.

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Most of the lake shore had either low scrub or reeds almost up to the water but there was one spot where it seemed to carve an almost U-shaped outline. A pair of oak trees gave the shore some shade and there was a jumble of stones then leading right into the water. It wasn't easy to tell until you actually entered the water but the water was actually fairly deep for swimming. She should know, she and Wyatt spent enough time in the summer swimming in it.

 

"Here..." Clara stopped and let him take a gander when they reached the place.

 

“So if you could get your hands on a new book, what would…” his voice broke off as the water came into view “… oh Lord, Clara. That’s beautiful!” he cooed, stopping in his tracks at the sight.

 

"Do not mind the rocks, once in the water, it is deep enough you cannot even stand, you have to swim," she quickly explained.

 

"Well....that is it then. You want to head back now or do you maybe want to sit and look out at the water?"

 

To her even that activity was a pleasant one, gazing out on the usually placid lake was peaceful and quiet, calming. On occasion she even came there to read. However this was a first, bringing a boy out to her most treasured spot.

 

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"Do not mind the rocks, once in the water, it is deep enough you cannot even stand, you have to swim," she quickly explained.

 

Jacob simply nodded his comprehension as he took in the lovely spot. In his mind it was exactly the sort of idyll he imagined the Greek poets of old had gazed upon before writing their ageless verses: there was even a beautiful water nymph beside him as he stood and came to a decision.

 

"Well....that is it then. You want to head back now or do you maybe want to sit and look out at the water?" 

 

He looked at her, almost disbelieving, and then back at the still surface of the clear, pure lake.

 

“Head back? Sit and look? M’am … I’m getting in!” he took off his round hat and with a cavalier flourish sent it spinning. “Miss Clara Anne Redmond, avert your gaze, these duds are coming off!” he warned her, and deaf to all entreaty, started to yet again pull off his shirt, and more, his haste only assuaged as he took care not to damage the button that she had sewn on … for that was a treasure beyond all others.

 

The time it took him to strip completely and dive, with a whoop, into the welcoming embrace of the cool lake water could be counted in seconds, and before you could say ‘Jack Robinson’ he was bobbing up and down in the beautifully transparent water, calling to her, his modesty only protected by the refractive properties of the medium, which made his pale form shimmer and warp and he splashed the surface into little waves.

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Clara had, as was her wont for his visit, given him a pair of options but the one Jacob chose she had not expected, not at all.

 

"Head back? Sit and look? M’am … I’m getting in!” he took off his round hat and with a cavalier flourish sent it spinning.

 

Now him calling her M'am would have normally sparked off her annoyance but it was the rest which took precedence. He was going to swim?

 

"Now?" was all she could stammer.

 

“Miss Clara Anne Redmond, avert your gaze, these duds are coming off!” he warned her.

 

"You are not serious!" she went wide-eyed as he already began unbuttoning his shirt. Which was not in itself not such a bad thing, she had enjoyed the view earlier. But he did not stop there. He kicked off his shoes then by holding up one leg at a time, he rather impressively it must be admitted pulled off one sock at a time. She knew she did not have that kind of balance.

 

"Jacob, what has gotten into you?" was her plaintive and turned out unanswered question as next he unbuttoned his trousers.  It was plain as could be the boy had no intention of stopping until he was as naked as a jaybird. Oh my lord! As his trousers dropped to pool up at his ankles, exposing drawers and very pale long legs, she finally spun about so as not to watch the obvious next part. Though she was certainly tempted. But her natural curiosity warred with her proper upbringing and the latter won out.

 

"I cannot believe you would do this, Jacob, you are simply......" she almost said 'crazy' but tempered it to, "bold to the extreme."

 

She now heard rather than saw the splashing of water as he charged in. And then she heard him call out.

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It was funny being in the water, naked, completely submerged, looking back at Clara only a few feet away on the shore: she had been right, it didn’t take long to get out of standing depth, and he was treading water to keep afloat. It was strangely unembarrassing, too. It just felt sort of natural somehow.

 

“It’s wonderful!” he called “Why don’t you come in?” he laughed, trying not to swallow water as he did so. He didn’t expect that she would in a million years, but who knew: this whole day had been so wonderful and strange and unexpected, who knew what would happen next.

 

“I want to see what’s under here!” he yelled, preparing to dive under the calm, crystal clear water. “Have you ever seen the bottom?”

 

If Clara hadn’t seen the bottom before, she saw one now as he flipped over in the water to dive under and his buttocks broke the surface for a brief second, and then he was gone – his body just a white shape dimly perceptible swimming downward in the enormous pool of water. Then even that was gone, the quickly settling residual ripples and the pile of clothing on the bank being the only indication that the boy had ever even been there.

 

It was a seeming age before his head suddenly broke the surface. He couldn’t see for wet hair in his eves, and was panting for breath, but he managed to cry “You won’t believe it, but there’s a great city down there, with mermaids and seahorses and Old Neptune himself sitting on his throne, you should come and see it!” he lied with obvious enjoyment, it was just so much fun to be in the water. He pulled the hair out of his eyes to see if Clara was still even there!

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"It’s wonderful!” he called “Why don’t you come in?” he laughed.

 

"I am not going to jump in with this heavy dress on, I might well drown," she pointed out, it was one thing to swim, quite another to try and do it with the heavy material soaking all that moisture and becoming  an anchor.

 

That did not mean a part of her really did want to join him. He was so happy, having such a grand time and she was standing there upset and fretting.  She wanted to enjoy life sometimes too. Life had to be more than work, work, and duties.

 

I want to see what’s under here!” he yelled, preparing to dive under the calm, crystal clear water. “Have you ever seen the bottom?”

 

"No, not really. I like to swim, I am not a turtle," she retorted.

 

That she knew of it was just a muddy lake bottom. Why did he want to do that? And just then there he went as she realized she had just caught  a fleeting glimpse of his white  butt. Gosh. And then she stood there expecting him to resurface any second. But he did not. Though chiding herself not to worry, she already was and promptly sat down to undo her shoe laces.  Please, dear lord, she did not want to have to go in there and save him from drowning. Could she even do that successfully?

 

But just as she pulled one long stocking off he once more broke the surface.

 

“You won’t believe it, but there’s a great city down there, with mermaids and seahorses and Old Neptune himself sitting on his throne, you should come and see it!”

 

"Alright, so now you are just being foolish," she scoffed as she stopped with her undressing, both hands about ready to pull down her other stocking.

 

 

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