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Trouble Ends (Out Where the Blue Begins)

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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.



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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.





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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.



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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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