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    • "Ain't hardly nothin' to do but hunker down till she blows herself out." The man squatted, "Rance, is the name. Been watchin' you, doin' a fine job. You'll do Wheeler, you'll do. Try and get some rest, might end up bein' a long night. Least you won't be ridin' drag come daylight, there's a plus for ya."   He stood and made his way to his shelter to await the grub that was coming.   @Bongo
    • Meanwhile, in the main house, Reb Culverson was visiting with his old friend Fightin' Joe Hooker, who was the ramrod for the fledgling Montana Territory Stockgrowers Association, Northern District. He was there to convince ranchers to join and support the organization, hoping it would take root.   "And just what good is this here association ya got started?" Reb asked.   "It'll give us a voice in the territorial government, Reb, that's what it'll do. Once that happens we'll be able to git us some sortta range police to protect the herds, and the ranchers." Hooker responded. "Rustlin' might not be the threat it was, but you know as well as me, it can come back."   "You get anywhere with Lost Lake, 'er that cow thief on the Evergreen?" Reb asked.   "Can't say as I have, startin' with the smaller spreads an' workin' my way up to them two. I'm well aware of both spreads, and the men that own 'em."   -------------0------------   They swept down out of the trees whooping and hollering and firing off a couple of shots as they closed on both sides of a big group of cattle, just as they had planned. The  lone night hawk knew he had no chance of stopping the raiders, or of saving the cattle while he watched the chunk of the herd moving toward and then into the trees at a run.  He emptied his Colt at the raiders, the whipped out his Winchester  and levered several shots in the area where they had disappeared.   He could not know that one of his shots had found its mark. A man that had just joined took a slug in his back and toppled from his horse. Toole and the men continued to drive the cattle toward the dry riverbed as planned. It was an acceptable loss.   The sound of the shots, mere pops at the distance to the main house and the bunk house alerted everyone, and men boiled out of the bunk house guns in hand, only to watch the night man shooting after the rustlers.
    • Out on the boardwalk they stopped, "So we managed ta git a deal right off, thet's good, it is. Now all we gotta do is convince ol' Wentworth to free up the money so's ya don't have ta use yers right off." Amos commented, "Seems a fair deal but like you say, minin's not no sure thing."   "John and Mary are good folks. It's not a sure thing, but you saw the vein, went to the floor and it looks rich," Speed responded. "And it looks to be wider where they stopped digging. I can't wait to get it assayed to see what we've really got our hands on."   "And it should assay out pretty good from the looks of it, though I know so little about copper ore." Alice admitted.   "Well, you saw the copper ore, which is clearly distinguishable from the surrounding rock due to its reddish, mottled appearance. And that surrounding rock is granite which is not easy to work, but it can be done, and, if we have hit it, the veins could be as much as a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep!" Speed explained with a grin. "With that equipment we'll be able to not only dig deeper, we'll be able to tunnel, and we have the property to do just that."   "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!" Amos exclaimed. Might oughtta buy up what ground ya can aound 'er, jest ta be certain!"   "First things first, let get on up to the bank." Speed suggested.
    • Justus was more than happy to have a chance to get out of the bulk of the wind, although he knew this was far from over.  And he knew they'd be hacking up dirt for days.     With the picket lines set, he moved over to help put up the shelters for the night, pretty quickly deciding that it was a fool's errand...they were all going to be miserable until this let up.   Squinting, he looked out toward the herd, not able to see but a few in the dust, it looked like they had been swallowed by the big, dirty cloud, and weren't even there.  In fact, he had the eerie sensation that all that was left in the world was this small circle of men and horses.   "Ya need me ta do anythin' else?" he called over the din of the wind.   @Flip
    • Doc Gilcrest walked into the bunck house to see Carson on his feet, dressed. "I may not be able to ride, but I can darn sure walk some. Tired of layin' in that bed."   "I reckon you kin do thet, sure 'nough. No body said ya had ta lie there if'n ya didn't want to. Yer stitched up plenty good. Jest leave thet hog leg where she's hangin' fer now, don't need the weight in thet wound."   "So anybody come sniffin' around?" He asked.   "Not so's you'd notice. There's four men down there keepin' watch, but it don't look like Lost Lake's lost any sleep over their man, that is if'n they even know he's gone." Gilcrest offered.   "He seen that brand an' went ta shootin'!" Carson reflected. "I jest shot straighter. Had no choice in the matter. Fool could'a rode on, but, well, that just ain't what happened. Hell of a mess."   "Oh I dunno. So far nobodies come huntin', the boss ain't upset over it, neither's Granger, so you got nothin' ta worry on 'cept gettin' better."   "I should'a been more careful, but maybe there just wasn't no way to be more careful. Up on the side of that mountain is the purdiest view a man could look at. You can see fer miles, see right where they got them cows of theirs. Now that ain't gonna be no easy matter to get to any of 'em. They're deep on Lost Lake range. Gonna be hard to get at, an' worse to get out. We'll lose some men tryin' this one, that's for sure!'   Gilcrest rubbed his chin. It wasn't like Carson to go on about the prospects of a job.

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.

 

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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.

 

“YEAH, YOU – STRINGBEAN!!”

 

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.  

 

@Nova

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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.

 

@Nova

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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.

 

@Nova

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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…

 

@Nova

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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.

 

@Nova

Edited by Javia (see edit history)
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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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“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.

 

This was her out: she should have taken it. But like many of us, her frail moral compass was the mere imagining of what others would say of us and our actions in the future. It wouldn’t make a very good story in the history books: Arabella Mudd was about to jump off the roof but someone asked her not to, so she didn’t. It was a limp and lame fizzling out to what was supposed to be a dramatic and heart-rending conclusion to her ‘tragic young life’. After all, confused and depressed as she was, the girl had some self-respect!

 

She turned again, nearly at the main roof now, James suddenly seemed very far away down on the ground. She wanted her final words to be sad and soft, but she actually had to speak up a bit to make sure she was heard. “Don’t worry about me, Jim. It’s all up with me.” she bellowed, giving what she hoped was a touching little sad smile and a shake of her head.

 

“I’m all wrong and this is the only way out. Just … tell my friends that I’ve gone to a place where I am happy, and all my troubles soon forgotten.” She had a feeling that she might have stolen that last line from somewhere, but there was no copyright law in the great beyond, so tough luck, original author.

 

She continued with her plan. She knew she was far too much of a coward to look over a precipice and jump, so she contrived to walk along the peak of the roof, eyes closed, pretending she was just off for a happy stroll along the street (a somewhat strangely angled street, to be sure, but she had picked the flattest roof in Kalispell to aid with the plan). This was it. She took one last look at the beautiful Montana country beyond the town, the mountains, the sky, and the blue of the horizon: that’s where she was headed: and maybe there was Heaven and maybe there was Hell, but right this very second she sort of felt that she was going to somehow just dissolve and melt into that blue.

 

She closed her eyes and began to walk, affecting as nonchalant a gait as she could, and singing in her pretty voice to drown out the cries in her head:

 

🎶 I'll twine 'mid the ringlets of my raven black hair 🎶

(I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die!)

🎶 The lilies so pale and the roses so fair 🎶

(Oh God, this is gonna hurt when I hit the ground!)

🎶 The myrtle so bright with an emeral hue 🎶

(What about all my friends, they’ll be so sad and hurt I did this!)

🎶 And the pale aronatus with eyes of bright blue. 🎶

(Please James Vaughn with the strange accent and the crazy hair, please get up here and stop me!)

 

But she sang louder: it worked, she was suddenly in a fugue state where all she could hear were the words of the song she was singing, and thinking of the girl of whom she sang.

 

🎶 I'll sing and I'll dance, my laugh shall be gay

I'll cease this wild weeping, drive sorrow away.

Tho' my heart is now breaking, she never shall know

That her name made me tremble and my pale cheeks to glow... 🎶

 

She was footsteps away from the edge of the roof, but in her mind she was with the one she loved, closer than she had ever imagined she could be.

 

@Nova

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“James.”  He correctly almost without thinking about the absurdity of correcting her calling him Jim rather than his real name in this situation.   “It can’t be.”  He insisted, trying to inject conviction into his words.  “I don’t believe that.  There has to be more.”  He swallowed uneasily before latching onto the last thing she’d just said.  “How can I?  I don’t know who your friends are.  I’m new in town you see.”  
 
If she came to harm, by her own hand after he’d helped her up onto the roof, James knew that he would never be able to forgive himself.  So it was with great difficulty that he scrambled awkwardly and ungainly up onto the roof in pursuit of the young girl.  “Ow!”  James muttered as a splinter jabbed deep into the fleshy part of his left hand.  Lucky he was tall and skinny or his meager strength would never have been enough to get him onto the roof after Miss Arabella.  He wasn’t that strong so it was only his height, thin build and the railing he’d seen people tie their horses to that enabled him to haul himself up onto the rooftop.  James would be glad that she was singing for her voice helped to mask the sound of his footsteps as he hurried towards her, his thoughts all a whirl though mostly a plea that he would be able to prevent her from going through with what he’d unwittingly helped her to do.
 
Keep singing….  James thought as he started slowly and awkwardly up the side of the building’s roof.  He was trying to hurry but his shoes were old and worn so their soles no longer provided him with that much traction.  Please keep singing.  He needed the noise to cover the sounds of his somewhat less than stealthy approach.  When he was on the peak of the roof, he let out a sigh of relief then hurried in her wake as she drifted ever closer to the edge.  Reaching out in desperation he snagged a fistful of her skirt and tried pull her back from the edge.

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It wasn’t having her behind grabbed that made Arabella scream, it was that the motion made her open her eyes: and what she saw was terrifying! She had reached the edge of the roof and was about to go over, in fact, had her needlework been any sorrier than it was, the seams on her dress would have given and, already tipping forward at a 45° angle, she would have gone plummeting to her death in a flurry of torn smock and less than reputable looking pantalets. The sight of the ground so far below, and the death it represented, made her faint with a sigh as she was tugged back from the abyss and into James’ arms.

 

Meanwhile, the owner of the building, a disgruntled old seaman called Tobin Bendix who had some years ago moved as far inland from the hated element as he could, came charging out of the door below. He had travelled the Atlantic enough times to recognise the English accent of one of the interlopers onto his beloved tiles: which place seemed to be the favoured playground of every kid and cat for miles around. He had a double-barrelled shot gun, a bad temper, and a stomach full of roof hopping kids!

 

“I’ve had just about enough of you damn…” he started to shout as he rushed out of his abode and aimed upward. However, the sight that met his old salt-crusted eyes astounded and appalled him. How many times had he seen this horrifying, acrobatic, rooftop-skipping monster on the cover of yellow paged penny dreadfuls in Britain and France and the civilised Eastern parts of their own U.S. of A.?!

 

He dropped his shotgun on the ground and shouted out a warning for anyone near to hear:

 

“Run for your lives! Hide your daughters! He’s here!! It’s Spring-heeled Jack, the Terror of Old London… come to Kalispell!!”

 

He recovered his wits, the foul creature must die, immediately. Throwing himself to his knees, the old sailor scrabbled for his shotgun.

 

51A9c+OENKL.jpg

 

@Nova

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  • 2 weeks later...

James’s arms trembled from the weight of Arabella as he pulled her back from the edge of the roof.  He had grabbed hold of her skirts to prevent her from coming to harm not from any lecherous designs on her person.  Luckily for them both her skirts, despite having seen better days held, allowing him to pull her back from the edge of the roof.  “Here now…”  He murmured, ears ringing from her piercing scream of a moment ago.  “You’re safe now.”  He patted her back awkwardly, arms closed loosely around her slight frame.  Their current predicament was about to get much worse, though James was unaware of it, his only concern being how on earth they would get down from the roof.  He was dressed in trousers, but Arabella was in a dress which he suspected would hinder her ability to climb down from the rooftop as easily as he.  


The mention of London caught his attention, but the rest of the old man’s warning came as an unwelcome surprise to the young Brit who was still standing on the other gentleman’s roof.  Seeing the older man drop to his knees, his weathered hands groping through the dirt for the weapon he’d just dropped, James gaped for a moment before regaining his wits and tongue, crying out.  “No wait!”  He cried out, “I’m not the terror of anything!”  He was still holding on to Arabella, that was true, but his hold was a loose one and faced with the threat of gunfire, his arms dropped away from her body, extending to either side to show that he meant no harm.  "I was helping the young lady!"  Looking down at Arabella, he whispered, "Tell him.  Please."  Fear had driven his voice up a couple of octaves.  

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Arabella recovered her wits (what wits she had) pretty rapidly and found herself protected in the gangly arms of the peculiar, but palely handsome, Englishman. Again the thought impacted her that now, if at any time, she should be feeling something romantic: she rummaged around in the bran tub of her emotions to make sure, and found an interesting admixture there: extreme gratitude was predominant, with a good smattering of fear for what had almost just happened, a strange aftertaste of frustrated curiosity (what DID happen once you died?) and finally a misplaced feeling of modesty that the man on his knees below pointing a shotgun at them might be able to see up her skirts. 

 

Hold on!

 

“Run for your lives! Hide your daughters! He’s here!! It’s Spring-heeled Jack, the Terror of Old London… come to Kalispell!!” came the man's terrified cry, the shotgun he had picked up wavering in his shaking hands.

 

“No wait!”  He cried out, “I’m not the terror of anything!”  He was still holding on to Arabella, that was true, but his hold was a loose one and faced with the threat of gunfire, his arms dropped away from her body, extending to either side to show that he meant no harm.  "I was helping the young lady!" 

 

"Whoa!" Without the support of James' hands to steady her, Arabella wavered a good deal on the high rooftop, her head was spinning and she staggered around a little while she redressed her balance. 

 

Looking down at Arabella, he whispered, "Tell him.  Please."  Fear had driven his voice up a couple of octaves. 

 

Hmmm! The man on the ground seemed pretty certain that James was this Terror of London feller, but either way, he'd saved her life and for that she would be eternally grateful. She decided to give the jasper on the ground a piece of her mind for pointing that gun at him.

 

"Hey! Springheel-Jack done saved my life, so go p'int that thing someplace else! Like at your own head!" she yelled, then gasped as the man cocked the weapon. She seemed to have annoyed him somehow. "I'll get ya, Jack and Jill both!!" he snarled as he took aim.

 

"Quick, Jack, slide down the hill!!!!" she admonished James pulling him down onto the roof surface and starting to slide down with ease, despite the shallow angle of the tiles. The first part was easy, but Arabella's "Weeeeeeee" soon turned to a "Whooooooah" as she shot the gap to the lower roof and half slid half tumbled over and off the end , taking part of a gutter with her: she'd lost hold of James long before that.

 

 

 

 

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As much as the man with the weapon below frightened him, James had climbed up after Arabella to keep her from harm so when she wobbled on the roof, he caught her shoulders to steady her, while doing his best to appear even more harmless than he was.
 
James gaped at her, since he had been hoping she’d tell the gun wielding man that he was not this Spring-heel Jack person, that he was this other fellow, even if she did point out the fact that he’d saved her from falling, or more accurately pitching herself from the rooftop.  Eyes flared wide as the weapon’s barrel was turned upwards, clearly with the intent to fire, James ducked, suppressing a yelp as the sudden movement coupled with Arabella’s tug on his sleeve sent him off balance.
 
Half sliding and half rolling, James followed in Arabella’s wake down from the roof.  When he hit the lower section of the roof, the impact jarred his shoulder, wringing a pain cry from his lips.  He tumbled off the edge of the roof, clutching at his hurt shoulder, but fortunately was otherwise limp when he landed or he’d likely have suffered worse injuries than merely knocking the wind out of himself.  He lay flat on his back, his face nearly white as he struggled to draw air into his lungs again.  His eyes were wide and panicked at least until he managed to draw breath again.  Deep in the back of his mind, James knew that they needed to move before the gun wielding maniac came around the corner of the building in pursuit, but rational thought was drowned out by his instinctive and all consuming need for air.

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Tobin Bendix was perplexed. Except for that girl standing in the way he had a clear shot of the snarling legendary creature on the rooftop, he fancied himself a tolerable good shot with the smoothbore shotgun and thought he'd take a chance: the idea of of the fame and fortune he would earn, and the picture in his mind of having Spring-heeled Jack's stuffed an mounted head hanging proudly on his wall, overcame any qualms about perhaps accidentally winging the girl in his arms. 

 

Click! Damn, misfire. He looked down to see that, in his haste, he hadn't cocked the hammer. He quickly remedied the oversight and looked back up to take the shot again. Both the monster and his nubile young victim had disappeared! Bendix scanned the surrounding rooftops: the creature had no doubt employed his supernatural powers of acrobatics to leap to another roof. He set off down the street back towards the centre of town as fast as his old legs would carry him, peering at each and every building top to spot his quarry.

 

Meanwhile, at the side of the building, and now quite safe from the shotgun wielding octogenarian, Arabella allowed herself to drop a couple of feet gently to the ground from the ruined guttering she was dangling from. She immediately ran over to where poor James was lying: eyes open but completely inert. In wild panic that she might have caused his death while he had saved her life she threw herself down at his side.

 

"Oh Jim, Jim! Talk to me!" it seemed no use, like so many who had cared for her before, he was going to die. "Don't worry, I'll do the kiss of life!!" she yelped. She didn't really know what that was, she'd merely heard the phrase and assumed it was just a great big kiss. This first aid she administered immediately, stooping over and giving him the biggest, longest, sloppiest kiss on the lips that she could muster. 

 

She sat back to survey whether that 'Frenchie' had saved his life or made him shuffle off this mortal coil for good.

 

@Nova

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If it hadn’t been so ridiculous James might’ve been amused by the notion that he was anything like the snarling legend of penny dreadful publications.  But he was a quiet, retiring sort, who had never in his life gallivanted over the rooftops before.  Only his desire to prevent Arabella from hurting herself had gotten him up on this one.
 
Due in no small part to the fact that he’d been born far from here, raised with a different standard, James would’ve been appalled by Tobin’s cavalier attitude in regards towards Arabella’s well being when he’d been shooting at them, trying to kill the monster he believed James to be.  
 
It was just before her lips dropped to cover his mouth that James finally managed to suck in a fortifying breath of air again.  Though he lost his breath again immediately from her unexpected kiss.  As much as he hated to admit to anyone that this was his first kiss, that this was not the way he’d ever dreamed his first kiss would happen.  
 
James coughed weakly, still breathing hard and fast though as oxygen flooded through his blood.  Arabella’s ‘kiss of life’ hadn’t been necessary since he would’ve gotten his breath back regardless.  It did have the benefit of being a story that he could talk about when he was older, regaling the youngsters with his life’s stories.
 
“James.  My name is James Vaughn.”  He croaked finally, offering her a sheepish little smile as he levered himself up, first onto his elbow then drew his legs up under him and stood.  “I think we should make haste from here before that fellow with the firearm returns.”  James gave her a half bow, offering her his arm with a slight flush on his cheeks since his height had never seemed so great as when she was beside him.

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Arabella was delighted that her sloppy Kiss of Life had worked so well, but did not feel they were even by any chalk: she had clearly saved his life with that medical procedure, but it had only been required because he had so bravely saved hers, a complete stranger! He was gasping for breath now, and trying to say something.

 

"What it is it, Jim?" she asked rubbing his hand to help him revive.

 

“James.  My name is James Vaughn.”  He croaked finally, offering her a sheepish little smile as he levered himself up, first onto his elbow then drew his legs up under him and stood.

 

"That's right, Jim: 'James Vaughn'" she confirmed, he obviously wanted to keep his alter-ego as the romantic and misunderstood  derring-doer 'Spring Heeled Jack' under his hat. Except he didn't have a hat. In fact, the clothes he did have had become all tattered and torn during his tumble from the roof. The fact that the biggest rip was in a place where folks shouldn't be rightly looking in the first place probably wouldn't be much of a comfort to him when he realised it was there, she thought.

 

“I think we should make haste from here before that fellow with the firearm returns.”  James gave her a half bow, offering her his arm with a slight flush on his cheeks since his height had never seemed so great as when she was beside him.

 

"Make haste?! Oh, you mean we'd best git! Right you are, let me just get mah boots... Oooh! An' mah shawl! .... Oooh, and mah bonnet! Ooooh... an' mah basket!!!" Arabella yelped as she collected up the odd assortment of impedimenta that she had discarded on her climb up the roof. She led James away from the main street, where Tobin might have been waiting with his shotgun.

 

"Come this-a-way!" she said, taking the tall feller's hand "I know a short cut. I wanna take you home and fix up them rips in your togs you got a-savin' me, it's the least I can do!" she said, craning her neck and smiling up at her saviour.

 

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Looking back on this whole incident James would laugh, touched by Arabella's efforts to help him, showing the kind heart that beat beneath the young lady’s breast.  But that was not in the cards for James just yet, since he didn’t really know her as well as he would come to know her.
 
Why she kept calling him Jim, baffled James, but he gave up correcting her for now, too shaken from the recent fall and the horrible feeling of having the wind knocked out of him.  If he never felt the panic of not being able to draw breath again, it would be just fine with him.  The rip in his trousers coupled with his lack of gainful employment would great trouble the impoverished young Brit, though he would be glad he’d chosen to wear the oldest of his remaining trousers for his expiration today, rather than his best.  
 
James tried to help her gather up her scattered belongings, since they really did need to leave the vicinity before the older man returned with his shotgun.  James followed her, since he was still new in town, learning his way around.  Trusting that she, being a native to the small community would know the short-cuts and ins and outs of the town than he.
 
“Rips in my togs?”  James echoed feeling even more bewildered than ever as she snagged his hand in her tiny one, pulling him along in her wake like a baby duck.  Her smile was so endearing that James had to smile back down at her.   “I…  Thank you.  You’re too kind.”   He left his hand in hers, but his head swiveled this way and that as he followed her down the dusty street, keeping a wary eye out for any sign of Tobin.

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“Rips in my togs?”  James echoed feeling even more bewildered than ever as she snagged his hand in her tiny one, pulling him along in her wake like a baby duck.  Her smile was so endearing that James had to smile back down at her.

 

"Sure! You got a bigger cotton-tail pokin' out your stern than a jack rabbit!" she informed him picturesquely "Come on back to ours 'n I'll fix it for you."

 

“I…  Thank you.  You’re too kind.”   He left his hand in hers, but his head swiveled this way and that as he followed her down the dusty street, keeping a wary eye out for any sign of Tobin.

 

But there was no sign of the deluded old seafarer as Arabella pulled the young man along until they reached the prominent Stardust Saloon which dominated the Main Street of Kalispell. However, instead of entering the eponymous swinging 'saloon doors' at the front of the building, she dragged him down the side of the building and toward a very domestic looking door at the rear. Here she stopped, though, and swivelled, looking up at him seriously.

 

"Now listen here, Mr James Vaughn, I gotta take you up to my bedroom so I can get them pants off of you an' fix 'em right, see? But I don't want you to feel all nervous and think your honor might be all compromised without a chaperone, I ain't about to radish you or nuthin'. See..."

 

She looked about the back yard area, to make sure nobody could hear her.

 

"See... when I was jumpin' off of that there roof to kill myself, it was cause I got this kinda sickness about me, I'm ill and poorly in my heart: I can't get worked up about boys: not even handsome, nice mannered and brave... oh so brave... fellers like yourself, so you'll be all safe with me, see? Even with y' pants off!" She looked up to see if he looked suitably convinced about his safety, should he enter her threadbare and ramshackle boudoir.

 

@Nova

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“Cotton-tail?”  James echoed yet again, beginning to feel very foolish indeed, since all he seemed capable of doing was to repeat little bits of her speech back to her.  Perhaps because she was American rather than British, there were phrases she used that baffled him to no end.

Had she led him up to the doors of the saloon, James wouldn’t have known what to think so it was fortunate indeed that their destination was to the rear of the building that housed the saloon.  James had never darkened the door of such a place, though he was worldly enough, if only just to have a fair idea of what happened in those sort of places.

When she informed him that she was taking him up to her bedroom, James’s cheeks immediately turned crimson as he gaped down at Arabella, shocked despite her assurance that she had no intention of ‘radishing’ him, since there was no one to chaperone them.  He was more concerned about her reputation than he was his own, indicative of the double standard between men and women.  Flustered by the blunt way she assured him she wasn’t going to assault him, he stammered, “Errr…  Yes, well that’s good to know.”

A myriad of emotions passed over James’ face, shock, embarrassment, surprise and his skin turned crimson and paled in quick succession, since he hated the idea that anyone could feel so low as to want to take their own life.  She was young, with the world before her.  Why on earth did she feel she should kill herself?  The blush was a direct result of being called both handsome and brave, since he really didn’t believe that he was either.  But the notion of being without his pants in her rooms caused him to turn redder than he ever had before.  "It's fine."  He mumbled, striving to compose himself, "I trust you."  He followed her, feeling the seat of his trousers as discreetly as he could while walking. 

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But the notion of being without his pants in her rooms caused him to turn redder than he ever had before.  "It's fine."  He mumbled, striving to compose himself, "I trust you."  He followed her, feeling the seat of his trousers as discreetly as he could while walking. 

 

When they got to the top of the stairs, Arabella turned to James and held her finger to her lips, nodding to the penultimate room on the landing. "Shhh... that's Caroline's room: she's probably still snoozin'!" she whispered.

 

She let James into her room which was basically a storeroom with a bed in it and a tiny window that faced onto a wall opposite. The furniture was meagre and dominated by a big King James bible on the bedside table; but it was her home sweet home. 

 

The strange girl clomped over to the wardrobe where she kept all her worldly possessions, including a somewhat depleted collection of thread, darning wool and needles for repair work on her scanty collection of duds. "You pull off your pants and I'll get threadin' ma needle!" she instructed him gaily. "Take yer boots off, it'll be easier." she added, helpfully.

 

Her head reappeared from inside the wardrobe and she held up some dark thread and a big needle proudly. She made a downward gesture, indicating that he should drop 'em as soon as possible, while she plonked down on the creaky bed and licked the end of the thread before holding it up and trying to thread it through the eye of the needle, her tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration. 

 

@Nova

 

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A few steps behind her, James nodded in acknowledgement of her whispered words, doing his best cimb the last few steps as quietly as he could in case she was right and this Caroline was still asleep.
 
The young man looked around with interest, though he did his best to hide it from her, not wanting to make her uncomfortable.  The room he had was a little bigger than hers, but his collection of books seemed to grow everytime he turned his back on them.  He couldn’t imagine his life without them and was confounded by the fact that she only had the one.
 
James’ gaze dropped to the battered shoes, a tiny smile curling his lips.  “Very well.” His earlier study of her living space had revealed that there was no dressing screen for him to hide behind so he tugged his shirt free of his pants, intending to use it’s length as a makeshift barrier.  That coupled with the space between them would hopefully suffice.  Long fingers undid the fastenings of his trousers as he toed off his worn leather shoes.
 
A faint chuckle escaped his lips despite everything as he eased his pants off.  The sight of her earnest expression and the tip of her tongue poking from the side of her mouth as she threaded her needle.  Feeling shy, James stood quietly in the corner of the room, his ripped pants clutched in both hands.  When she looked ready he would shuffle forward and hand them over to her.

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A faint chuckle escaped his lips despite everything as he eased his pants off.  The sight of her earnest expression and the tip of her tongue poking from the side of her mouth as she threaded her needle. Feeling shy, James stood quietly in the corner of the room, his ripped pants clutched in both hands.  When she looked ready he would shuffle forward and hand them over to her.

 

"Well, don't be a standing over there, I don't bite y'know! Oooh, and don't sit on that chair: it's just fer show. The leg falls off. Come an' sit next to me on the bed and we can have nice talk while I sew up yer britches!" Arabella beamed, happy to have gotten that pesky needle threaded. She tied up the ends of the thread in a nice thick knot that'd catch and keep the mending secure and reached out her thin arm for his rent garment.

 

She hummed musically while she turned his trousers inside out and found the seam that had split. She peered at the label inside the pants.

 

"Flambard and Flambard, Bespoke Gentleman's Outfitters, Saville Row, London." she read slowly, before glancing up at him with an excited grin on her face. "Say, you ain't really this here 'Springfield Jack' feller are you, what goes round aductin' women off of rooftops?"

 

Just in case he was, she added.

 

"Well, anyhow, don't go trying to radish me cause I'm armed..." she held up the glinting bobbin-like needle "... and you got a chink in yer armour!" she giggled. Indeed, James' button-up under-drawers, now he was sat down, were rather gaping at the front.

 

@Nova

 

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