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A Man of God, and his Vices


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Mature Content: No

With: Father Thomas Reed, and anyone who happens to be present
When: Late March, 1876
Time of Day: ~11AM

 

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It was a fairly mild morning; a high fog light on the breeze, as Thomas first rode his way down Kalispell's main road. Though the full swing of spring was underway, and the thaw had most certainly come to these territories, there was an unquestionable chill in the air. His coat lay heavy on his shoulders, hat low on his head, and he kept mostly to himself as he scanned the little town with the wanderer's critical eye. He had passed through plenty of settlements the past winter, though none so well-kept as this; Kalispell. The structures all looked to be in good shape, and those outbuildings that ringed the main road were present in a respectable number. It was a modest place, certainly, but it had that frontier charm he had come to appreciate. If the ranches, fort, and creek he had passed were anything to go by, it would appear that it was making a fair amount of money too, enough so that it was attracting both settlers and raiders. Yes, this would be a good place to hang his hat for a time.

 

The clip-clop of Myriam's horseshoes on the road shifted down as he pulled in on her reins, coaxing her from a trot to a walk, and allowing Thomas ample time to take in the environment. Store, hotel, law, and there, at the end of the road, a saloon. The first port of call for any traveler. He pulled right on the reins, easing his mount towards the establishment, before making to dismount. One leg over the saddle, and he dropped to the ground with practiced ease. The mare snorted, tossing her head as though to express her delight at the conclusion of the morning's travels, and Thomas gave her an affectionate pat on the flank.

"Well done, lady." he whispered, before pulling the reins over her head to hitch them at the saloon's posts. He shook his legs, getting the saddle-stiffness out of his body, before turning to regard the establishment in all it's glory. It looked to be a well-loved building, with the scuffing of many boots upon it's threshold. A sign above the door declared it to be the Stardust Saloon, and the faint murmur of sound came from inside.

 

Thomas glanced down at his coat, the dust of the trail still settled lightly upon his shoulder, and gave himself a quick brush-off, before straightening his collar and stepping up onto the threshold. He raised an arm to push open the doors, and was met with that comforting, warm scent of foot and drink that all taverns seemed to exude.

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The place had just opened at 11:00, while there were no signs telling of the operating hours the locals just knew. It also stayed up til all hours of the morning, not unusual to finally turn out the lights at 2 or 3 AM. So the newcomer pretty much had the place to himself for now at least.

 

There behind the bar, manning his usual spot, was a fully bearded man dressed in his usual garb with grey  suit and a rather loosely arranged  black neck tie. And leaning up against the bar was a petite young woman in a fine dress. Both of them glanced over as the doors swung open and a customer entered.

 

"Good timing! We just opened,"  Matilda smiled at the fellow, Ralph just gave a nod of acknowledgement.

 

91e6713d9a721080f7ec52dd194db07e.jpg   Matilda-again.jpg

 

Letting the newcomer reach the bar, Ralph then spoke up, "What can we get for ya, mister?"

 

Matilda blinked, "Or should we say, Reverend?"

 

She'd never had a man of the cloth step thru those doors, this one was the not local pastor, she had seen before at socials and funerals and such. Not like she ever went to church.

 

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Arabella had been dawdling, as per usual. Indulging in idle daydreams. Sometimes she was a beautiful Confederate lady spy, sometimes she was a delicate medieval princess, sometimes whe was some biblical heroine, sometimes she was just herself, but caught up in an exciting situation involving Indians or Bank Robbers or Saloon Singers. Either way, all of a sudden, she realised that she had been gone for over half an hour, just to clean out a spittoon! She high-tailed it back into the main part of the saloon, her clumpy boots thumping on the planks of the floor, and hoped that neither Ralph Flandry, the tough barman whom she loved like an ersatz father, or the permanently hard-to-please owner, Mrs Devereau, had noticed how long she had been at the task.

 

She skidded into the main bar-room, but her half baked excuses died on her lips as she beheld the antediluvian figure before her. The dog-collar singled him out as a member of the clergy, some clergy or other but, more importantly, he had the craggy aspect of some Old Testament prophet. It fair stopped the imaginative and religious fifteen-year-old in her tracks.

 

“I’d a been quicker but there was a great big lump o’ plegm… Ooop!” She stared up at him, spittoon in hand, just like Rachel holding her amphora when she met Jacob at the well, when she came to water her father Laban’s flock of sheep, in the Book of Genesis.

 

She didn’t need to see him order a drink to know this Man of God was not a Methodist like herself. He was nothing like Pastor Evans. Pastor Evans was like a pair of comfy old pair of slippers, this man was more like the claws of the Eagle of God. He looked like he’d just been in the desert for forty days and forty nights wrestling with the Devil and resisting his temptations. He was somehow awe-inspiring, earthy, elemental.

 

Her eyes were round and her mouth already open as the virgin thusly spake: “Howdy, I’m Arabella, you want I should play some hymns on the ‘pianna’?!”

 

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"Good timing! We just opened." came a voice, and Thomas glanced up to see the place uninhabited, save for a man and woman, presumably the proprietors. He reached up to take the hat from his head, placing it upon his chest as he gave a polite nod to the two figures behind the bar.

"Sir. Madam." he greeted them in turn, taking in the saloon's ambiance. Both man and woman were dressed quite well, matching the relatively clean nature of the place; a far cry from some of the more... rough-and-tumble hovels he'd visited in the past three years. So too did they seem to give a sincere welcome, enough so that when he unlooped his gun belt to remove his coat, he did not feel the usual sense of vulnerability. These were honest people, doing honest work, and he intended to consider them with the trust they warranted.

 

Hanging coat, belt, and hat by the door, Thomas crossed to the bar, straightening the hem of his waistcoat as he went. His outerwear had managed to spare it the worst of the trail's assault, and even the whites of his shirt showed few marks. Thankfully, he'd been able to launder the garments down by the creek, lending him a presentability that he might have felt rather silly without.

"What can we get for ya, mister?" 671484066_ScreenShot2021-03-28at10_16_43AM.png.2027d747f0bac1f1358642bad55940b7.png

"Or should we say, Reverend?"

Thomas gave the woman an amiable smile as he leaned against the well-loved bar, folding his arms across the surface.

"Only if you are so inclined, madam." he replied. He'd been called a fair few things of late, and Reverend was among the more polite.

"As for the drink, I'll take a gill of bourbon, should you have any."

 

“I’d a been quicker but there was a great big lump o’ plegm… Ooop!”

Commotion to the side as a young woman, maybe fourteen or fifteen years of age, skittered into view, carrying a sizeable spittoon. Rather than the composed neatness of the bar-tending pair, she instead had an air of teenage liveliness; that sprightly sense of energy nigh-manifested in human form, and the Reverend could not help but inwardly chuckle at her entrance.

“Howdy, I’m Arabella, you want I should play some hymns on the ‘pianna’?!”

"Good morning, Arabella." he responded, turning to face her and ever-so-slightly leaning down, to bring their heights closer. "That would be wonderful, I'm sure. In fact..." he reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, and drew out two pennies, handing them to the girl. "There's a tip, for you."

 

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The newcomer hung up his coat, he showcased a most presentable wardrobe, especially if he had traveled far. It was the wrong time for a stagecoach arrival so most likely by horse then. Or he showed up last night and slept in the hotel. No matter, he was here, in their place.

 

"Only if you are so inclined, madam." 

 

"As for the drink, I'll take a gill of bourbon, should you have any."

 

The bartender nodded, "We got bourbon, it ain't cheap though."  He then turned to find the appropriate bottle from the maze of bottles on the shelf behind him.

 

Matilda was about to introduce herself when Arabella came racing in. Actually the girl never simply walked anywhere, she was always running hither and yon, as if everything in life was one big drama. By now Matilda was fond enough of the girl but she could be a bit.....wearing. Oh great, now she offered to play hymns? Before Matilda could shut that idea down, the minister found the offer to his taste and even gave her a few pennies.

 

"Very well, Arabella, but play just two at the most and play them softly," she addressed the girl first.

 

Then turned to the minister, "I'm afraid most of our customers don't really want to hear hymns in here, no offense. But right now you're the lone customer so..."

 

"By the way, I feel a few introductions are in order. This here is Ralph, bartender, part-owner, bouncer, and long time friend of mine."

 

Ralph nodded even as he poured a glass of bourbon for the customer.

 

"And I am Matilda Devereau, owner of this here place. You already met Arabella."

 

@boshmi @Javia

 

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"Good morning, Arabella." he responded, turning to face her and ever-so-slightly leaning down, to bring their heights closer. "That would be wonderful, I'm sure. In fact..." he reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, and drew out two pennies, handing them to the girl. "There's a tip, for you."

 

Arabella looked down at the two red cents. Not much, to be sure, but she could not but remember the parable of the Widow’s Mite. Perhaps that is all the craggy patriarchal figure had in the world, and here he was giving it away just to hear the joyous music of the Lord. She hadn’t heard the part where he’d ordered a bumper of the most expensive grog in the house!

 

She took the money with a look of pious beatitude about her smudged face (she’d been doing the oven flues before the spittoons) and gave a simpering saintly smile “I shall take it Father, but for the poor. We have a poor box at our chapel where we do such wonderful work for the needy.” She had noticed a few scratch marks on the box lately, where Pastor Evans had been trying to open it with a screwdriver, but she had hidden the key carefully someplace she knew that he would never look.

 

"Very well, Arabella, but play just two at the most and play them softly," she addressed the girl first.

 

“Yes, Mam.” She curtsied politely, putting on a good show in front of the Reverend Minister.

 

Then turned to the minister, "I'm afraid most of our customers don't really want to hear hymns in here, no offense. But right now you're the lone customer so..."

 

"By the way, I feel a few introductions are in order. This here is Ralph, bartender, part-owner, bouncer, and long time friend of mine."

 

Ralph nodded even as he poured a glass of bourbon for the customer.

 

"And I am Matilda Devereau, owner of this here place. You already met Arabella."

 

Arabella went over and started playing one of the latest religious hits, What a friend we have in Jesus, singing softly along in her pretty bel canto soprano and occasionally looking over and smiling at the priestly figure, as he knocked back his booze. It was so wonderful to play religious music on the relatively in-tune saloon piano, rather than the wheezy and flatulent church harmonium.

 

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"We got bourbon, it ain't cheap though." warned the bartender, and Thomas felt a twinge in his stomach. Money was always an object of personal contention these days, for it would not be long until his savings were depleted. Still, he'd been on the trail for a time, and could afford to part with a nickel or two for the sake of recuperation.

 

“I shall take it Father, but for the poor. We have a poor box at our chapel where we do such wonderful work for the needy.”

Arabella's obsequity was charming, coming from a girl of her age, and Thomas would have played right along, were it not for the strained plea of the woman behind the bar for her to 'play quietly.' He was a newcomer in town after all, and it may well be that this Arabella was known to take advantage of his ilk in some way. Ah well. In any case, it would be nice to hear some music, even if he may well have been buttered up in the process.

He watched the girl take her place at the piano and open up with a rolling tune, lyrics and all to go along with it. She had a fair voice, though the instruction to play quietly clearly held merit, for any louder and the song might have crossed from 'pleasant' to 'just tolerable' quite quickly indeed.

 

"I'm afraid most of our customers don't really want to hear hymns in here, no offense. But right now you're the lone customer so..."

"Ah, no offense taken. I understand completely." he reassured her. "Young Arabella merely seemed quite... enthused."

"By the way, I feel a few introductions are in order. This here is Ralph, bartender, part-owner, bouncer, and long time friend of mine."

Thomas turned his attention fully back to the bar, the notes of Arabella's song in the air, and gave Ralph a grateful smile as he placed the glass of corn whiskey in front of him. The reddish-brown liquid smelled strongly of spirits, and the priest lifted it to his lips to take a quick sip. The warmth seemed to wash the dust from his mouth and spread heat through his chest; the comfort of a familiar drink, and Thomas gave a nod of approval as he set the glass back down.

"And I am Matilda Devereau, owner of this here place. You already met Arabella."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintances." he replied. "My name is Father Thomas, a simple servant of the Lord, though recent events have left me without a congregation to speak of- ah, how much do I owe you?"

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Matilda fully realized much of Arabella's saintly act was just that but then the girl did attend Sunday services so that did make her more religious than either she or Ralph.  Still, the child was laying it on a bit thick. Oh well.

 

"Ah, no offense taken. I understand completely." the minister reassured her. "Young Arabella merely seemed quite... enthused."

 

"Yes, she is most often....quite enthused," Matilda shrugged then went on to introductions for the newcomer's edification. In return they got one back.

 

"A pleasure to make your acquaintances." he replied. "My name is Father Thomas, a simple servant of the Lord, though recent events have left me without a congregation to speak of- ah, how much do I owe you?"

 

Now Matilda had to wonder. Was that the man's Christian name or family name? She wouldn't pursue it though as he asked a question.

 

"Ahhh, I see....well, not that it will make a bit of difference to saving my soul when it's my time to meet your God, I'm gonna do you a little act of charity. The drink is on the house," she smiled.

 

"Ain't there been rumors our current parson might be up and leavin'?"  Ralph heard lots of things like that in his job as bartender, some of it gossip, some of it fact.

 

Matilda just shook her head, "I haven't heard that."

 

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"Ahhh, I see....well, not that it will make a bit of difference to saving my soul when it's my time to meet your God, I'm gonna do you a little act of charity. The drink is on the house."

Thomas frowned, shaking his head. "Oh come now, don't be silly. Here-" he said, once more reaching into his pocket. He drew out a handful of coins, from which he selected four nickels, and carefully counted them onto the counter. "If you won't take them for your two selves, pass them on to the needy, or... Arabella's donation box. As Our Savior Jesus Christ once said; 'it is more blessed to give, than to receive."

He pocketed the remainder of the change, before picking up his glass for another sip. Another rush of the hot, comforting liquid, and he placed the glass back down.

"Apologies, Ms. Devereau, I did not mean to preach. I'm sure you'd rather not have a sermon this early in the morning."

 

"Ain't there been rumors our current parson might be up and leavin'?" said the Bartender, to which Thomas tilted his head with mild surprise.

"Whatever for?" he asked Ralph. Kalispell seemed a nice, prosperous town, even if the frontier way of life may not be for everyone. Certainly it had greater prospects for growth than many of the other settlements he'd passed in the area.

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Her goodwill gesture was not accepted and Matilda was then given twenty cents. If the man thought that covered the drink, it certainly did not but she and Ralph refrained from informing him of that fact.  As for giving it to charity, Matilda never went to church to put it in a box for such things. Yes, Arabella could take the coins then and do her Christian duty this coming Sunday.

 

"Very well," Matilda nodded graciously.

 

"Apologies, Ms. Devereau, I did not mean to preach. I'm sure you'd rather not have a sermon this early in the morning."

 

Actually she would rather not have a sermon at any time of the day or night but she certainly wasn't going to admit to that, Matilda was not a religious person. Nor was Ralph. Their careers were ones which did not foster a sense of piety or deep seated belief. But in no way did that make her hostile to those who did choose to believe and practice.

 

"No apologies needed," she waved it off.

 

Ralph then brought up some rumor he had heard about the current minister. Ralph heard rumors all the time. One learned not to put much faith in them.

 

Thomas tilted his head with mild surprise,"Whatever for?"

 

"I have no idea, I never spoke with the man in my life. Just what I heard," Ralph shrugged.

 

"Would you perhaps entertain any thought on staying in Kalispell then and perhaps replacing him? I mean should it be true," Matilda had to be curious.

 

The man was drinking liquor in her saloon, at least he wouldn't be against the saloon. Parson Evans made no secret of his distaste for the Star Dust as a den of iniquity.

 

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