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Trouble Ends (Out Where the Blue Begins)

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Mature Content: Yes (Suicidal Feelings).

Author: Arabella Mudd

With: James Vaughn.
Location: The Roof of the Building next to the General Store.
When: Mid May 1876
Time of Day: 9.46am.




Arabella had made up her mind.


It would be easy.


You see, the building next to the General Store had a low annex with a gently sloping roof; once upon it she could walk her clomping boots up and onto the main roof with ease and there, from that great height, carry out her sombre plan. However, either the ‘low’ annex was higher than it looked from the street, or maybe she was just a lot shorter than she’d expected. But either way, this plan was falling apart at the seams already.


She looked about for something to stand on and, instead, saw a tall young man walking down the street. Most boys that tall tended to stoop rather, as if to avoid the undemocratic stain of standing head and shoulders above their peers; but this fellow, though of somewhat diffident aspect, held a certain upright and commendable bearing which both drew and gladdened the eye. His clothing was unusual too, tatty but clearly of a fine cut once upon a time: had Arabella possessed the phrase shabby genteel in her ramshackle vocabulary, she might well have applied it.


She looked up at the annex roof and then back to the young gentleman … yes, that was it! Washington once famously said that you couldn’t define what a gentleman was, but you knew one when you saw one, or words to that effect. She was seeing one right now she felt, slightly care worn though he might appear.


“HEY, YOU!” she shouted, standing hands on hips, poke bonnet on her head and shawl around her shoulders as per usual, looking more like a 75 year old rather than her true 15.




What… was he deaf?!


“COME OVER HERE, GRAND-DADDY LONG LEGS! YEAH YOU!” She waved her hand and beckoned him, like some kind of spare and scruffy siren of the rocks.  



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The first few days of his residency in the frontier town of Kalispell had been spent hiding out in the little room he’d rented at the boarding house, truth be told.  James of course had put a pretty spin on it, telling himself that he was “settling in” not hiding out.  After a few days however he had to face facts, there was only so much space in the little room and had forced himself to venture forth and explore his new home.  Which was why he was now ambling up the  side of the dusty main road that led through town.

Never in his wildest dreams would James have ever thought he’d one day end up assisting a young lady with the goal of ending her life.  During his years at school James had of course attended church every week, but he’d never really believed himself to be overly religious, so he didn’t fully subscribe to the idea that suicide was a mortal sin, one that would keep one’s soul from heaven.  God, when he thought about it at all didn’t seem that, wouldn’t be that cruel.

The sound of the young woman yelling had the desired effect of drawing James’ focus out of his head and back to the world around him.  Not that he dreamed she was speaking to him…  At least not at first.  He glanced this way and that wondering who on earth she might be yelling at when his gaze met hers as she called out for the third and final time, beckoning him closer.  

Bewildered as to why she was calling him of all people, since they’d never met, James nevertheless changed direction, making his way towards where she stood, hands on her hips, watching him.


“What can I do for you, miss?”  James asked, once he was close enough to speak normally.  He’d never been one for shouting and saw no reason to start now.  Blissfully unaware of what her comment about daddy long legs were or he’d have been blushing hotly.  James smiled albeit shyly down at her standing a respectful distance away.

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As he got closer, Arabella was able to study the feller’s attire a little more closely. She tipped her head in curiosity: it was … different. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it wasn’t quite normal. And when he opened his mouth, well that was definitely not normal. He musta’ come from Mexico, or Wisconsin or the Moon or someplace, way he spoke! Still, she was too polite to mention his funny way of talking, especially as she needed his services.


“What can I do for you, miss?”  James asked, once he was close enough to speak normally.  He’d never been one for shouting and saw no reason to start now.  Blissfully unaware of what her comment about daddy long legs were or he’d have been blushing hotly.  James smiled albeit shyly down at her standing a respectful distance away.


“C’mere, son!” she bid him, five years her senior “Don’t worry, I won’t bite!” When he was close enough, she looked up at him (boy was he tall!) and then the low roof, and then back at him. Her face was about level with his chest. Nice vest.


“Listen ‘Stretch’” she said, looking up at his soft hazel eyes “you’re big and tall, see? And I’m just a little titch. Now, I need to get me up onto that there roof, see?” She pointed to it, just in case he was slow. “I gotta … er… I gotta fix something up there, see?” Well, that wasn’t exactly untrue: she was going to fix herself. Fix her problems, permanently. Pity she’d never get to find out more about this slightly odd fish, with his intriguing accent and his somehow unamerican garb and his amazingly eccentric hair.


“Now…” she grabbed the cuff of his fancy, but slightly worn-out jacket, and pulled him toward the place where the eaves of the annex sloped down to about his head height, maybe six foot and a couple inches above the ground.


 “… I need you to gimme a boost up there, y’ get me?” He didn’t reply with sufficient alacrity, so she mimicked what he had to do. “Like this!” Arabella knitted the fingers of her two hands together to form a stirrup and crouched low like she needed him to do, if she was ever going to be able lift her foot high enough to get into his helping hands. Then a thought suddenly struck her.


“Well, come on! And … er… well, no lookin’ up my dress!” she warned him with a frown.



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James’ suit was beginning to show signs of wear, since his wardrobe like himself had endured quite a journey.  The last time he he’d gotten anything new was shortly before his father had died and his older brother had cheated him out of his share of their inheritance.  

James listened to what she was saying, his eyes widely fastened on her face, puzzling out what she meant by what she was saying.  He was still new enough in America that most of the colloquialisms were lost on him.  He was smart so it didn't take him very long to figure it out.  She was right in that he was not from around here and in many ways was a fish out of water.

The grip of her hand on his cuff was certainly unexpected and James stumbled a step before catching his balance and followed in her wake to stand beside the building on the side of the main road through the small community.

James blinked, looking at her then up at the roof where she said that she needed to go, “Why?”  He blurted in some confusion, since in his experience young ladies did not climb up on rooftops.  James himself had never done so either.  But he was a gentleman, so if she truly had some reason for getting up there he was duty bound to provide her with his assistance.  He eyed her shoes suppressing a grimace since she had been walking over who knows what that was all over the road.  He wasn’t exactly happy with the notion of getting whatever might be on the sole of her shoes all over his hands.

This entire encounter had James feeling as if he were dreaming but the last words out of the young girl’s mouth had his face flaming, jaw dropped as he gaped at her.  "I would never.”  He sputtered, too stunned to be indignant over what she’d just said about him looking up her skirts.

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The Englishman had shown no little intelligence in his comprehension of Arabella’s speech. Fellow American’s might find her accent hard to fathom, even Virginians from the East of that enormous, if now truncated State would frown at her Appalachian dialect. To add to the problem, she would throw in any fanciful bit of jargon picked up from the variegated denizens of the saloon or even just words she would make up herself, like the Duc de Saint-Simon two centuries before, when a proper one from Webster’s wasn’t easily to hand.


His all too obvious reticence at sullying his hands with the bottom of her scuffed and somewhat muddy boots was also a sign of considerable brainpower. Arabella followed his gaze down to the offending items of footwear.


“Oh, don’t you worry, I was gonna take them off anyways. They is kinda filthy!” she offered brightly. “’Sides, I might go through the roof with ‘em on!” she bent down and unlaced the sturdy looking boots and then started hopping around trying to get them off.


“Phew, my dogs is barkin’ today, hope they ain’t too smelly!” she informed this very proper seeming fellow from across the Atlantic “Should be all right, I’ve only had this pair o’ stockin’s on a few days.”


The said items of hosiery, once exposed to the light of day, were not an edifying sight. They were about nine parts darning to one part original material, and some of that darning was in an eccentric cherry red yarn from when she’d run out of black. The were also a number of holes in the black wool that showed little round glimpses of white foot and leg, and her right big toe had made its escape completely.


“Sorry about the spuds!” she apologised, lifting said foot for the anticipated lift up, and grasping his shoulders for support: she didn’t want to do a backward flip like a circus tumbler.


Her warning for him not to look up her skirts (no just for the sake of modesty, but also to avoid him seeing some even more disastrous experiments in darning on her pantalets) was met with a horrified reaction.


"I would never.”  He sputtered, too stunned to be indignant over what she’d just said.


“Why not?!” Arabella frowned, standing down the proffered foot “Ain’t I pretty enough? I mean, I know I’m kinda plain, but boy you should see some of the girls in this town: Ug-leeeee!” she looked at him again, the eccentric hair, the fancy duds, the fragile beauty of his face. Well, if she was like she was, then maybe … “Say, you ain’t one o’ them funny fellers is you?” There was no pejorative note in her voice, more just curiosity.



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Given the differences in the way that Americans spoke, James struggled with the varied accents he encountered since his arrival.  Things had gotten more difficult after his departure from the larger cities that dotted the eastern most edge of America.  Arabella’s made up words certainly didn’t help, though they did confound him since they were just that, created by the young lady he was trying to help.

James hadn’t intended for her to know what he’d been thinking in regards to what might’ve been on her shoes and was mortified when she brought it up, revealing that she’d noticed his brief flash of dismay.  More over the idea that she might have animal feces on her shoes, than because of the mud smeared on the soles.

Dismay shone in James’ gaze when she chirped that she would take her shoes off, then bent to do just that.  “Allow me.”  James offered, cupping her elbow when she began to struggle with removing them.  “Don’t want you to fall now do we?”  He managed a smile for her, despite his crimson cheeks.   He felt like a heel for his insensitivity.  He hadn’t intended for her to know what had been crossing his mind.

At the mention of dogs, James’ brows drew together, furrowing over the bridge of his nose, his gaze flitting all around since he was only slightly less terrified of dogs than he was of horses.  Distracted by this he barely noticed what she said about how long she’d been wearing this particular pair of stockings.

“No need to worry.”  He told her quietly, offering her his cupped hands, though he still wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do once he helped her up onto the roof.  Never having done this before, James moved slowly once she laid her hands on his shoulders, curling her fingers to maintain her balance. 

James’ cheeks were hot and this entire conversation had him discomforted, given his lack of experience with the opposite sex.  Spending most of one’s life at a single sex boarding school was hardly conducive to being at easy with women.  At least not in James’ case, though his brother and classmates hadn’t seemed to be quite so ill at ease.

“No true gentleman would ever dream of  doing such a thing.”  James said once he had an opening to do so.  Not that he thought she was unattractive, since she was pretty enough, but she was very young.  When she asked if he was a funny fellow, a wry chuckle escaped his lips.  “No one who knows me has ever considered me particularly humorous.  Generally they say I’m far too serious.”  The other meaning of her question went completely over James' head.

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“Allow me.”  James offered, cupping her elbow when she began to struggle with removing them.  “Don’t want you to fall now do we?”  He managed a smile for her, despite his crimson cheeks.   He felt like a heel for his insensitivity.  He hadn’t intended for her to know what had been crossing his mind.


Arabella’s face tickled a little when he mentioned falling, the nearest her pale cheeks ever seemed to get to blushing: that was exactly what she was planning to do, just from a somewhat greater height. And why? WHY?! Because she couldn’t fall in another way: for him. He would have been perfect for Arabella, too; so attentive; fascinating accent, unusual clothes, a fragile beauty about his face which made you think of a lost angel who had somehow found themselves stranded on this sinful earth. And the hair! The hair alone!


Oh, and he was a good listener.


But no. That lurch in the tummy just wasn’t there. And if she couldn’t fall for this feller, she couldn’t fall for any man.


“No need to worry.”  He told her quietly, offering her his cupped hands, though he still wasn’t quite sure what she was going to do once he helped her up onto the roof.  Never having done this before, James moved slowly once she laid her hands on his shoulders, curling her fingers to maintain her balance. 


“I know” she said looking up at him, her smile tempered a little by sadness at what might have been had not God cursed her with this terrible sickness. “I trust you.” She uttered, feeling that she would like to reach up and touch his ruby red cheeks to see if they burned her fingers.


“No true gentleman would ever dream of doing such a thing.”  James said once he had an opening to do so.  Not that he thought she was unattractive, since she was pretty enough, but she was very young.  


His comment about looking up her skirts though, did make her genuinely chuckle. She was pretty sure that some of them gents that tried not to glance at a glimpse of a feminine ankle or leg, still used to dream of them! Ah, but who could blame them? The attraction of the ‘great unknown’! That’s why men clambered up previously unscaled mountain ranges; forged their way into arcane African jungles; and went to the theatre to see the Can Can danced.


When she asked if he was a funny fellow, a wry chuckle escaped his lips.  “No one who knows me has ever considered me particularly humorous. Generally they say I’m far too serious.”  The other meaning of her question went completely over James' head.


Arabella gave a deep gurgling chuckle at this. Wrong kind of ‘funny’.


“Oh no, you’re real funny!” she smiled. What was also funny was that she could laugh at a time like this. But depression about her situation wasn’t all black and white. It was more like layers, and the base layer was the dark desperate despair over facing a future where she could never know real, deep happiness, never fall in love with ‘the one’, or at least never be loved back by that person. There were no other women out there who felt like she did. That was always there, hanging in front of her eyes. She could be distracted for a few seconds, or minutes, or even hours - as she was now being distracted by this odd but kind young man’s unintentional ability to tickle her funny bone – but always it was there, hovering in the background, ready to bring her down.


“All right, let’s do it!” she said, getting ready to really go for it this time…



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Looking back on this incident, James would be appalled at himself.  The idea that he’d provided aid to anyone who wanted to end their life would be a burden for him and haunt him for the rest of his life.  His own life had been a far cry from sweetness and light, but even in his darkest despair he’d never thought of ending his pain by taking his life.  And he’d had more than his share of dark moments despite his relative youth.  He stole several glances at the petite girl before him, not wishing to be rude and stare but while she was clearly still a few years his junior, she was close to grown enough that he could see the beauty emerging from childish cuteness.

His shyness meant that he would rather listen than to talk, which was true of most shy personalities.  They would listen to anyone if they didn't have to carry their end of the conversation.  All his life James had loved to read, but he’d never really believed in the notion of love at first sight so common in fairy tales he’d been read as a child, by his Irish nurse.  Moira had certainly seemed to, and while he still harbored great affection for her, he’d never been able to believe.
“Oh…”  James said faintly, his lips curving in a slow sweet smile when she looked up at him telling him that she trusted him.  Especially on so short an acquaintance given that they’d just met and hadn’t even been properly introduced.  Though that was one of the many differences he’d come to accept from his native England.
Because he was still a virgin, and hadn’t had very much interactions with the opposite sex, James had never fantasized about feminine anything.  One day he expected to marry a good woman, but his shyness made it hard for him to befriend anyone. If climbing mountains and trekking through jungles were requirement, James would die unmarried and a virgin to boot.  
“Are you alright?”  James turned his gaze her way, concerned for a moment before realizing that she was laughing rather than choking.   “Thank you.”  James replied, ducking his head a little but maintained eye contact with her, even though he didn't really get what it was he’d supposedly done or said that was so amusing to her.  He didn’t think she was laughing at him, at least not in a mean way.  That he was all too familiar with, since he had not been treated very kindly by his boarding school classmates.  In hindsight he would wonder how on earth she had so easily convinced him to lift her up onto that roof.  
The young woman’s enthusiasm made James smile wider as he bent down, her small foot in his cupped hands as he straightened slowly, lifting her higher from the ground until she could grasp the edge of the roof and scramble onto it should she choose. 

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It was quite a scramble to get up onto the roof, even in her loose workaday smock: suddenly her shawl seemed to be trying to strangle her and she pulled it off impatiently, and it floated to the ground below. Well, it wasn’t cold where she was going, she wouldn’t need it again. At one point she was aware that she was actually treading her foot on top of the kind stranger’s head (or worse, his face!) but eventually she was up. And what a different spectacle Kalispell presented from up here.


Now, although she’d grown up on the side of a mountain, Arabella was useless with heights, so she stayed seated on the tiles for now. She looked down quizzically at the young man who had helped her.

“Phew, thanks, er… say, what’s your name anyway, Mister?”


“My name’s Arabella!” she said brightly, by way of introduction. Normally she would have given him the whole Miss Arabella Sumter Mudd, of the Virgina Mudds! treatment. But this felt more intimate, just her first name. Whoa! This was it: this was the last time she would ever introduce herself to someone. The last time she would look at a new person and say ‘Hey, look at me, I’m Arabella, please pay attention to me: I’m all alone in the world, Please like me!; Do you think I’m pretty?; Please laugh at my jokes; Please cry along with my sad times; please be my friend; please love me.’ like she always did. A tear of self-pity nearly welled in her eye. When she was dead, they’d all be sorry they hadn’t been nicer to her but, more importantly, she wouldn’t have to worry about her sickness anymore. Oh, she was so tired of it all: the worry and the sickness and the way she always messed everything up: especially with those she loved.


To a modern cynical eye, this ‘suicide attempt’ would be dismissed as a mere cry for help, an adolescent girl’s call for attention, for someone to notice her troubles and solve them for her. But that made the event no less scary for the would-be jumper and in no way diminished the potentially lethal situation in which she was placing herself. Still, she now started to drop hints heavily about what she was about to do, subconsciously hoping that James would stop her.


As Arabella stood up on the roof, the tiles felt hard and oddly warm under her stocking feet, especially where her bare big toe touched the slate. “Won’t be needin’ this any more!” she stated, untying her bonnet and casting it down below to where James was standing.


“Goodbye and thank you.” She said giving him a brave little smile which in the back of her mind she hoped would convey the complicated message of ‘hey, look, I’m obviously about to try and kill myself here so don’t you think you’d better clamber up here and stop me?’


“I’ll remember the way you helped me today for the rest of my life.” She added, glancing backward as she started to walk up the tiles.



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James had never done anything of the sort before and he was feeling awkward over how difficult it actually turned out to be.  As he lifted her to the roof, her foot came down rather solidly on his left shoulder in her mad scramble up onto the top of the building.  When his hands were empty, James lifted them to her ankles, trying to keep her steady, not wanting her to fall and hurt herself.  He was still blissfully unaware of just what she had planned.  
“Um…  James, my name is James Vaughn."  He bowed slightly, stooped for the shawl that she’d let fall, shaking the dust from it and moving closer to hand it back to her.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance Miss Arabella.”  James replied politely.  He’d have tipped his hat to her, but he didn’t have one.  It’d been one of the things he’d come to learn weren’t the fashion here.  There were some similarities between the petite girl on the roof and the young gangly man on the boardwalk below her.  Like Arabella, James was alone in the world, one far removed from his native land.  Not that he’d ever had any true friends there.  As for love, that too had been in short supply most of his life.  Because his mother died giving birth to him, James had never known a mother’s love.  Resented by his father and brother for her death, James’ character had been shaped largely by the Irish nanny who had raised him.
James looked confused, since he could see no reason why she wouldn’t need her bonnet.  He managed to snag it from the air as she tossed it away.    “I beg your pardon…”  He started, then fell silent, horror flooding his gaze when she told him farewell.  “Wait!”  He cried, looking up at her pleadingly, heedless of the fact that her bonnet and shawl were still dangling from one hand as he half reached up towards her.
“Don’t do this, please.”  James looked quickly around but found that no one was close by.  Arabella had chosen her rooftop well, it was on the outskirts of town, just his luck that he was walking by when he did.  James offered her his hands, “Please…  Let me help you down…  We can talk about this.  I...I’ll buy you lunch.  We’ll talk.”  He stammered, anxiously, praying she would listen to him.

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