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Solitaire is most certainly NOT the Only Game in Town


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Rating: PG-14
Content: N/A

Mature Content: No.

Author: Arabella Mudd. 

With: Hiram Priest plus anyone else who happens to be in the saloon.
Location: Stardust Saloon.
When: 26 July 1876
Time of Day: Afternoon.

 

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ūüéĶ¬†"He taught me to love him,¬†He call'd me his flower
That blossom'd for him, All the brighter each hour;
But I woke from my dreaming, My idol was clay;
My visions of love,¬†Have all faded away."¬†ūüéĶ

 

No boy had ever taught her to love him, nor called her his flower, and far from fading away, her visions of love were as clear as day: but "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets" was still Arabella Mudd's favourite song to sing, in her nice bel canto voice, as the fifteen year old orphan scrubbed the floors, emptied the spitoons and cleared up the empties in Kalispell's only decent saloon: The Stardust. 

 

She was happy in her work, mundane as it was, and come the evening she would put her best dress on and accompany the watering hole's resident songstress, Miss Caroline Mundee, the Chicago Nightingale, on the piano forte. And one day, one day, she would get on a choo choo train and travel far away from Kalispell and be a star herself on the stages of the great white way in New York!

 

But that was a dream for tomorrow. Today's reality was that there was an old geezer in the corner playing solitaire with a worn-looking deck of cards who hadn't bought a drink for some time, and standing orders were to encourage such folks to lay down some coin for another drink and not use the place as a waiting room. 

 

"Howdy Mister!" the Virginian girl beamed and pointed at his almost completely empty glass "This 'n dead? Can I get you another drink? Waitress service's free, by the way, though I do accept tips! See, I'm savin' up to go to New York City and the good book sayeth 'Ask, and it shall be given you' Matthew, Chapter Seven!" she said chirpily.

 

@Preston plus any others!

 

 

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The old geezer was The Honorable Hiram Priest, former mayor of a gulchy town in Dakota Country.  Hiram wasn't full of himself, however.  Not at all.  He knew exactly who and what he was.  So the "Honorable" was dropped.  All that was in the past, though he did have a hankering to once again hang out his Lawyer shingle .. maybe wield his political prowess, run for Mayor or be appointed once again to the bench.

 

"Howdy Mister!"

 

Hiram's hand paused before placing the Seven or Spades under the Eight of Hearts, but he didn't look up.

 

The voice persisted but he continued his game.  "Red Jack on Black Queen," he muttered through a mouth filled with chaw. 

 

"This 'n dead? Can I get you another drink? Waitress service's free, by the way, though I do accept tips! See, I'm savin' up to go to New York City and the good book sayeth 'Ask, and it shall be given you' Matthew, Chapter Seven!" she said chirpily.

 

Hiram made his play then looked up.  It was that young'n' he'd seen scooting around the saloon doing menial work.  She was pleasant enough, and pretty too.   He appraised her with eyes that looked over the top of his spectacles.  "What do you know about the Bible? "  Then he chuckled.  "I guess a lot of folks know the Bible,  chapter and verse, out here on the frontier.  Faith in the Good Book is all that keeps some folks pushing ahead in a place like this."

 

Priest pointed at the glass.  "Sure," he said, indicating with this finger an imaginary line high  on the side of the glass, a "fill line".   But he was intrigued.   "Why New York City?  It's full of city slickers who take advantage of young girls like you, and it's far away from cow country"

 

@Arabella Mudd

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Arabella tipped her head, watching the moves the older man made in the solitaire game. Seemed a boring past-time to her, she much preferred 'snap!' or Old Maid or other such sophisticated card games.

 

Hiram made his play then looked up.  It was that young'n' he'd seen scooting around the saloon doing menial work.  She was pleasant enough, and pretty too.   He appraised her with eyes that looked over the top of his spectacles.  "What do you know about the Bible? "

 

"Oh, I know all about the bible, I read it every night before I go to bed. Out loud, too!" she affirmed, as if reading the holy word merely in your head was somehow less theologically potent. "An' even though Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour, I really like the Old Testament times, with Folks begatin' an' gettin' turned into pillars of salt and such all over the place. Thems sounds like real fun times to live in, not like boring old Kalispell."

 

Then he chuckled.  "I guess a lot of folks know the Bible,  chapter and verse, out here on the frontier. Faith in the Good Book is all that keeps some folks pushing ahead in a place like this."

 

"You sure said a mouthful of truth there, Mister." she agreed "Why it's so dull round here: we only had one shootin' last week and nobody's been lynched in a month. Why, it's only the nightly brawls in here that keeps the place tolerable interestin'! Er, so... you want that drink?" she asked.

 

Priest pointed at the glass.  "Sure," he said, indicating with this finger an imaginary line high  on the side of the glass, a "fill line".   But he was intrigued.   "Why New York City?  It's full of city slickers who take advantage of young girls like you, and it's far away from cow country"

 

"Oh, I ain't from round here, I'm from Virginia. And I'm no greenhorn when it comes to big cities, no Siree, I been right into Tannersville twice and I was actually born'd in Monroe!" she told him impressively. "And besides, I ain't as green as I'm cabbage-looking. Why, this feller told me yesterday that I wasn't half as stupid as I look. 'Sides, I'm gonna take my friend with me and she's from New York, so she'll know what to do and, oh, and guess what?..." The girl looked around the empty saloon as if to make sure no one was listening and then told him in a loud stage whisper "SHE'S JEWISH!!"

 

She stood back, to see how shocked the old gent might be that she was friends with a member of the Hebrew race. 

 

@Preston

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"Oh, I ain't from round here, I'm from Virginia. And I'm no greenhorn when it comes to big cities, no Siree, I been right into Tannersville twice and I was actually born'd in Monroe!" she told him impressively.

 

Priest sighed then finished his play; 4-of-Clubs atop the 5-of-Diamonds.  Then, very precisely, he slid his draw pile toward the middle of the table and resigned himself to a "visit".

 

She went on.

 

"And besides, I ain't as green as I'm cabbage-looking. Why, this feller told me yesterday that I wasn't half as stupid as I look. 'Sides, I'm gonna take my friend with me and she's from New York, so she'll know what to do and, oh, and guess what?..." The girl looked around the empty saloon as if to make sure no one was listening and then told him in a loud stage whisper "SHE'S JEWISH!!"

 

She stood back, to see how shocked the old gent might be that she was friends with a member of the Hebrew race. 

 

Hiram Priest,  his mouth awash in tobacco juice, quietly uttered, "Christ killers."  It wasn't said in condemnation, just  matter of factly. 

 

Nothing she'd said shocked him but, to be nice, he raised his brows above this spectacles in a gesture that signaled that he was mildly impressed.   Then, using his long leg, he placed his foot on the wrung of an empty chair and pushed it away from the table.

 

"Why don't you sit down, so long as your boss don't mind?"  he suggested.

 

Now it was HIS turn.


"You know, young lady, a move to New York is goin' cost you a lot of floor scrubbin' and window washin', and what for?  To be singin' on stage? Well why don't you start here in Kalispell?  Maybe I can talk to the owner of this place into giving you a chance to sing right here?  A pretty girl like you, a girl who knows the Bible and understands all that begettin' and our Lord's promise of  redemption, can make a life right here.  Maybe your friend too."

 

As with everything, the "Mayor", as people sometimes called him although years had passed since he was one, had use for the girl.  She was a pursuer, she had dreams, and it seemed as though she loved gossip or, better, chitchat. 

 

"Would you be interested in earning some extra money?" he asked her.

 

 

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"Why don't you sit down, so long as your boss don't mind?"  he suggested.

 

Arabella glanced back to the bar, where Ralph was busy with some barkeepery activity or other.

 

"Oh, Mr Flandry don't mind" she said breezily "He's just about given up mindin'!"


"You know, young lady, a move to New York is goin' cost you a lot of floor scrubbin' and window washin', and what for?  To be singin' on stage? Well why don't you start here in Kalispell?  Maybe I can talk to the owner of this place into giving you a chance to sing right here?  A pretty girl like you, a girl who knows the Bible and understands all that begettin' and our Lord's promise of  redemption, can make a life right here.  Maybe your friend too."

 

"It's funny you should say that" she frowned seriously leaning forward with her elbows on the table "I just did an audition fer a feller who's openin' a theatre right here in Kalispell. Oh, that's a secret, by the way, so don't go tellin' anybody! Course, I used to sing a little bit here, but that was before Caroline came along: she's more suitable, see, she's more kinda..." in lieu of an apposite phrase, Arabella made a sort of curvy shape with her hands in the air, to contrast with her own emaciated and ironing-board-flat figure. 

 

"I am savin' up like mad, though, I also work another job, helpin' this feller what takes photygraphs of dead folk what's passed over: I help make 'em look all nice and alive and prop 'em up next to their relatives fer family portraits. Or sometimes we keep the dearly departed party in their coffin, and I dress up like an angel and sort of stand over it lookin', well, angelic, you know. And Mr Crabbe, he... that's the feller, Mr Crabbe, he does this real clever thing called a double exposure what makes me look all sorta ghostly on the picture!" she added. "Sometimes he takes pictures of alive folk, too. But he don't like that - he says they do fidget so, compared to the dead uns."

 

"Would you be interested in earning some extra money?" he asked her.

 

Arabella's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but not enough to hide the dollar signs lighting up inside them.

 

"That depends" she replied "What kinda business are you in anyway, old man?" Despite his respectable outward appearance, there was some thing about Priest that made her think that it might be monkey business. 

 

@Preston

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Speaking of the devil, who should saunter down the stairs but none other than the just mentioned Caroline Mundee, wearing a fine bright scarlett dress with bare shoulders (gasp!) and a hint of cleavage with it's low neckline. Her hair was up, her eyes heavy with makeup, and fingernails painted like those east coast actresses  (oh and the more high class hookers back there too). It was difficult to tell just how old, or rather at this point in her life still, young she was but a guess of early twenties was probably an accurate enough one.

 

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Ralph glanced her way and nodded acknowledgement, "Caroline."

 

The young woman smiled, "Another day, another dollar huh."

 

Well, the place certainly wasn't busy..........not yet anyways. She would be performing of course in the evening, her usual song and dance routine. Looking about there was Arabella sitting with some old codger at a table, deep in conversation. No doubt the chatty girl was filling him in about all the details of her life.  Whatever.

 

Stepping up to the bar, she leaned against it, "Gimme a shot....real stuff please."

 

Ralph simply reached down below the bar and pulled up a fancier looking bottle than the usual stuff they served to customers then poured her a shot glass of it. She thanked him and downed it in one big gulp, the strong liquor going down with barely a reaction from the petite young miss.

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It seemed to Hiram Priest that little Miss Arabella Mudd was sure enough coming up with every reason not to sing at the saloon. 

 

"Lemme tell you something," he began with a bearing and dignity fit for King Solomon.  "If you think the competition is going to be less in New York City than here in Kalispell, you got another think comin.  So what I'm saying is if you can't step around some hot number like Caroline, you'll be wasting your time and money taking off for the big City .. New York City, Chicago, Saint Louis ..., cause there'll be dozen's of Caroline's just waiting to give you the bums rush.  You'll be left a poor waif a'sellin'  matchsticks on the street corner."

 

"Why there's opportunities right here in this cattle town to make some gelt." He concluded.

 

"I am savin' up like mad, though, I also work another job, helpin' this feller what takes photygraphs of dead folk what's passed over: I help make 'em look all nice and alive and prop 'em up next to their relatives fer family portraits. Or sometimes we keep the dearly departed party in their coffin, and I dress up like an angel and sort of stand over it lookin', well, angelic, you know. And Mr Crabbe, he... that's the feller, Mr Crabbe, he does this real clever thing called a double exposure what makes me look all sorta ghostly on the picture!" she added. "Sometimes he takes pictures of alive folk, too. But he don't like that - he says they do fidget so, compared to the dead uns."

 

It was clear to Hiram that Annabella knew how to hustle.  That beneath that bucolic innocence, was someone willing to take chances.

 

"Would you be interested in earning some extra money?" he asked her.

 

Arabella's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but not enough to hide the dollar signs lighting up inside them.

 

"That depends" she replied "What kinda business are you in anyway, old man?" Despite his respectable outward appearance, there was some thing about Priest that made her think that it might be monkey business. 

 

Hiram moved the wad of tobacco from his left cheek to his right cheek.   He eyed her over the rim of his spectacles but for a pause, remained silent.  Finally he asked her, "Can you keep your mouth shut?"

 

And as he waited for an answer, his baggy eyes spotted what looked like 5 1/2 feet of danger slink over the bar.  This was Caroline, from what he'd gathered from previous short visits to the saloon.  Caroline, Annabella's nemesis.

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Arabella listened to Hiram Priest's serpent-like whisperings with a frown of concentration on her little face. What he said made sense. Just like when another snake, in another time and place, had tempted another person to make a morally wrong decision, she became almost hypnotised by his assured reasoning and smooth voice, his air of sage wisdom and 'kindly intentions'.

 

She was almost gone, nodding in agreement, mouth open (almost drooling) starting to plan whether to push Caroline down the stairs to kill her or whether rat poison in her fig pudding would be the best method of removing the competition, when... He helped her. For some, miraculous reason, she became oddly aware of the plain metal cross she wore around her neck, pressing into her chest. He hadn't spoken to her for some time, but now He did 'and immediately there fell from her eyes as it had been scales: and she received sight forthwith'. 

 

"Well, thanks fer the advice, I'll sure bear it in mind." she replied to his temptations and even reached out and patted him on the hand, smiling that sickly sweet smile of beatific certitude that all good Christians wear when they know that they are in the right (which is to say: all the time).

 

She explained about how she made money to save toward her planned, and according to him, doomed, trip to New York. And the Tempter offered to give her a way of making even more:

 

Hiram moved the wad of tobacco from his left cheek to his right cheek.  He eyed her over the rim of his spectacles but for a pause, remained silent.  Finally he asked her, "Can you keep your mouth shut?"

 

Arabella shook her head and gave the simple and truthful reply.

 

"No, Mister. No I can't."

 

"Oh, I try! Oh, believe me I try! I don't know why people even tell me secrets, but they do, you'd a thought they'd a learned by now not to - cause them there secrets, why they just bubble up inside me and pop out o' my mouth 'fore I can stop them. like that stuff about that there theatre openin' up. Why, the person what told me that, they told me in the most strictest, deadliest of confidence and 'fore five minutes was up I'd told it to some old lady on the street who I didn't even know! Oh don't ever go tellin' me nuthin you want keepin' shady Mister... Mister... say, what is your name anyway?" she asked. 

 

"My names Arabella, Arabella Sumter Mudd, of the Virginia Mudds, but truth to tell, they might as well call me Big Mouth!" she chided herself.

 

And as he waited for an answer, his baggy eyes spotted what looked like 5 1/2 feet of danger slink over the bar.  This was Caroline, from what he'd gathered from previous short visits to the saloon.  Caroline, Annabella's nemesis.

 

Arabella followed his gaze and spotted Caroline.

 

"There's my friend!" she said "The one I ain't gonna poison!" She'd forgotten that that temptation had been completely in her own head - even if Priest was the one who had caused it. "I'll go get you that drink." she said, getting up and dragging herself away from the Serpent's deadly sphere of amoral influence.

 

She staggered to the bar and, tears in her eyes, threw her arms around the sexy singer. "Oh Caroline!" she cried "I love you and I will never put rat poison in your figgy puddin' or push you down the stairs, even if you never let me sing another song again!"

 

She dried her eyes and got Mr Priest's drink and then said to La Mundee "Come and meet this feller. He's sort of fascinatin'" nodding toward the strange old man whom, she was pretty sure now, was The Devil.

 

@Wayfarer @Preston

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Preston was no stranger to "strange".

When she hopped up and staggered over to the bar, he shrugged and gathered up his cards.

"9 of clubs on 10 of diamonds." he muttered.

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Even as Caroline leaned with her back to the bar, here came her youthful accompanist and off and on friend, mostly on. Now what?

 

Ara staggered to the bar and, tears in her eyes, threw her arms around the sexy singer.

 

Caroline hadn't been prepared for that, "What's wrong, hon?"

 

"Oh Caroline!" she cried "I love you and I will never put rat poison in your figgy puddin' or push you down the stairs, even if you never let me sing another song again!"

 

Caroline frowned, "What? Where'd you come up with that nonsense. And what the hell is figgy puddin' anyhow?"

 

Ralph just kept drying shot glasses and rolled his eyes. Wimmen!

 

Ara was mercurial in her moods and behaviors but Caroline could just not believe the odd child was capable of murder. 

 

The teen dried her eyes and got Mr Priest's drink and then said to La Mundee "Come and meet this feller. He's sort of fascinatin'" nodding toward the strange old man.

 

Caroline looked up from Ara over to the old codger fidgeting with cards over by one of the tables, she certainly did not recall seeing him in the saloon ever before.  And was he putting some strange ideas in Ara's head?  And why?  Well, she was not about to rush to any judgements, not when it involved Arabella, the town drama queen.

 

"Sure, fine," Caroline was willing, besides it was her job to mingle with the customers and she was damn good at it.

 

As the pair approached the old gent, Caroline whispered, "He did pay for that there drink I take it?"    Matilda frowned on customers getting free drinks.

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