Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change -- Spring, part 7 of 13

Eerie Saloon: Seasons of Change – Spring, part 7 of 13
By Ellie Dauber and Chris Leeson © 2014

Sunday, May 12, 1872

“Before we sing a final hymn to our Savior,” Reverend Yingling began, a benevolent smile on his face, “the president of the church board, Mr. Horace Styron, has asked to say a few words.” He turned to glance at Horace, who was sitting behind him along with the other board members. “Horace, if you would…”

Styron rose and stepped up to the altar as Yingling walked over to his own seat. “Thank you, Reverend, for that introduction and for the fine service you‘ve led us in this morning. I’ll try to be brief, so we can all finish that service and go out to enjoy this holy day of our Lord.”

“Folks,” he continued, “the month’s come around, and the next meeting of the church board of elders is this Wednesday. You all heard me thank the Reverend for what he’s given us in this service today. You’re all invited to come to the meeting on Wednesday and thank him yourselves by supporting my motion of continued support for his petition to wrest control of that magical potion from Shamus O’Toole.”

He paused for the round of applause that followed. “And you can also make your voice heard in the matter of an errant member of this congregations whose actions show that she no longer deserves a seat on the board –”

“What!” Trisha leapt to her feet. “Horace, you’ve got no right to say things like that.”

He turned to face her. “Please, Trisha, I promised to be brief. You don’t want to waste a lot of these good people’s time with your ranting.”

“Ranting? Why, you… you --”

Yingling hurried back to the altar. “Thank you, Horace… and you, too, Trisha. I’m sure that the meeting will be a most interesting one. And now,” he said, barely cracking a smile, “please turn to page 109 and join with me in Psalm 3, ‘Peace in the Midst of the Storm.’”

* * * * *

On pleasant days like this one, the congregation of Eerie’s Catholic Church generally milled around in the churchyard for a while after services. Friends caught up on what had happened to each other in the previous week; men, as well as women, shared the latest gossip; and young people engaged in the sort of casual flirting that young people always did when they were together, even if their parents were watching.

Father de Castro walked over to a group of teens who were happily so engaged and tapped one on the shoulder. “Pablo, may I speak with you for a moment?”

“Is something wrong, Padre?” the young man asked.

The priest shook his head. “No, I just wanted to talk to you about that… odd job you did for me a while back.”

“You see how important I am, Raquel,” he boasted to a pretty girl standing next to him. “Even the Padre comes to me for help.”

She smiled. “I will remember that the next time I need some odd job done around my house.” She giggled then added. “Will you be very long?”

“Only a few minutes, Raquel,” de Castro answered, “and he will be yours once more.”

She gave a quick nod. “Then I will wait.”

Pablo grinned as he followed the priest back into the church. They went through a doorway near the front of the room and into Father de Castro’s office.

“Don Luis,” Pablo said in surprise when he saw a man rise from a corner chair. He turned to the priest. “Padre, I will wait outside while you and Don Luis talk.”

Luis Ortega shook his head. “No, Pablo, you’re the one I wanted to talk to. I just asked the Padre to bring you in here, so we could speak in secret.”

“Secret? I-I don’t understand.”

“You were a great help in warning us about that conversation Horace Styron had with Clyde Ritter. I wanted to thank you for that.”

Pablo gave him a slight bow. “You are most welcome, Señor. I was glad to do it. I did not like the way that they were talking about us.”

“I don’t like it either, and from the way Styron and Reverend Yingling – and others – acted at the town council meeting last Wednesday, you were very right to tell us what you heard.”

De Castro interrupted. “How did Mr. Ritter act on Thursday, after the meeting?”

“He was not happy,” Pablo replied. “He snapped at everyone, especially Nando -- Fernando Hidalgo – and me, and I heard him muttering about ‘those damn sneaky Mex’ all day.” The boy shook his head. “He didn’t get much better the next few days, either. He is still mad.”

Don Luis nodded gravely to the priest. “Just what we thought.” He turned to face the boy. “Pablo, I don’t want you to risk your job, but could you… keep listening to your boss, especially if he’s talking to Reverend Yingling or Señor Styron? If you hear them say anything about the Padre or me, or talk about the potion and what they want to do with it, get word to us as soon as you can.”

“Be careful, though, my son. I do not want Señor Styron to get mad and fire you over this.”

Pablo smiled. “Do not worry, Padre; I will be careful.”

“See that you are,” Ortega warned. “But if anything does happen, know that you will have a job – just as good a job – with me. I promise you that.”

The boy’s smile grew into a grin. Something about the vaquero life appealed to him. Such men had dignity that stable boys lacked. “Thank you, Señor. Are we done now? I do not mean any disrespect, but Raquel Gonzales is waiting, and I do not want her to get mad at me either.”

* * * * *

“Hey, Mr. Slocum,” Red Tully said, walking into Doc Upshaw’s small ward. “How’re you doing t’day?”

Abner carefully put down his spoon next to the bowl of porridge on his tray. “Not too bad… considering, but I am glad you came in.”

“Why’s that, sir?”

“I wanted to ask if that offer of yours, that you’d go east to Philadelphia with me, was still good?”

“It is. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“Because taking care of a… a cripple like me for the two weeks or so that it’ll take to get me there is a lot of work.” He chuckled. “I was afraid that you might’ve come to your senses and decided you didn’t want to be stuck with me for so long.”

“Like I said, I’m still willing. When d’you wanna get started?”

“As soon as we can. Do me a favor and get the Doc. I think he needs to be a part of this conversation.”

Red nodded. “Be right back.” He left, returning in a short time with Dr. Upshaw.

“Are you all right, Abner?” the physician asked. “Red said that you needed to see me about something.”

Slocum shook his head. “I’m fine – fine enough, anyway. Red’s agreed to go to Philly with me. I wanted to know how soon we can start, and what you think we’ll need on the trip.”

“The first part of that’s the easiest; you’ll probably be able to travel by the end of the week. I should have Vogel’s letter by then, and I expect that it will be very useful in letting us know how to treat and how to transport you. I can teach Red how to best care for you on route in the meantime. He probably knows most of it already from his Army days.”

Red mumbled a word of agreement.

“The tricky part,” Upshaw continued, “is how to get you from here to Ogden, north of Salt Lake City, to catch the train east. It’s a long, bumpy road, and that can’t be good for your spine.”

Red glanced over at his employer. Abner was in a hospital bed, his upper body raised by the top half of the bed and supported by a number of pillows. “I’ve been thinking about that, Doc. You ever hear of a Rucker ambulance?”

“I have,” the physician replied. “We didn’t have them on our side during the War, though. I hear they were very good at keeping Union Army patients comfortable during transport, as good as our own Chisolm ambulances.”

“That they were. The first ambulance my unit had back in ’62 was so bad that men fought not t’be stuck in ‘em. An officer even tried t’pull his pistol once and make us take him out of it, the damn thing bounced him around so much.”

Abner raised a curious eyebrow. “And this Rucker ambulance is better?”

“A lot better. The wagon has a real good suspension, and the patient’s on a platform supported by more springs.”

Abner studied the younger man. “You sound like you know a lot about these things.”

“I do. Us orderlies had t’keep the thing working ‘cause there wasn’t always a mechanic or a blacksmith around t’do it. I was thinking – if you want – I could talk to Mr. Caulder and Sam Braddock, the carpenter. I’ll bet you they could rig us up something that’d work near as good outta one of the wagons we got at the ranch.”

“How long do you think it’d take?”

The cowman shrugged. “A few days; maybe a little more.” He grinned. “We probably could have the thing ready right about the time the doc here says you can go.”

Abner frowned. “Not if we stand here jawing about it. Get started, Red. Bring Arsenio and Sam in to see me if they have any questions. I'll make it worth their while to give the job priority.”

“They should talk to me, as well,” Upshaw added. “I’m going to want to make sure that thing is as comfortable as Abner needs it to be before I let him ride through a few hundred miles of countryside in it.”

* * * * *

“I have been watching you these last few days, Wilma.” Cerise took a sip of coffee and leaned back in her office chair.

Wilma was sitting across from Cerise. She looked up from her own coffee and gave the other woman a mischievous smile. “Oh, have you now?”

“Mais oui, and I have been most pleased to see the return of the Wilma of old, the cheerful, wanton demimonde that you were… before Ethan. I am pleased that you have gotten him out of your head.”

“He ain’t outta my head. He’s sorta locked away in a closet in here…” She tapped the side of her head with a finger. “…where he can’t do no harm.”

“Why have him in there at all?”

“I know what I am, Cerise. I’m a whore, but I like being a whore. I’m damned good at it, and I ain’t gonna let that skunk ruin it for me.” She hesitated a moment. “But there’s some things I gotta figure out yet, and having him around might just help.”

“What are these ‘things’? Perhaps I may also help.”

“I-I liked being in love, the way it made me feel inside. It felt so good that I never noticed that Ethan didn’t feel the same way about me.”

“It is easy for the heart to fool the head in such matters.”

“It surely fooled me – and I don’t like being made a fool of, even by m’self.”

“That is the risk one takes for love.”

“Maybe it’s a risk I don’t wanna take. Maybe I should do like Beatriz says, ‘n’ make my heart hard – stay away from love from now on, maybe forever.”

“Forever?” Cerise waited for Wilma’s grim nod before continuing. “Forever is a long, long time. That advice may be right for Beatriz, but I it right for you?”

“You are young right now, Wilma; beautiful. Love is there, eager for you to find it. But in twenty… thirty years what will you be? Time, they say, is a woman’s greatest enemy. It steals away her proud breasts, her round derrières, and leaves her a hag, with no man seeking her favors. Where will you be then, Wilma Hanks, a poor old woman with no one to care for – or who will care for you?”

“Is that what you say I’m chasing, if I take that road?”

“I am. Do not lock the door of your heart to love; that would be a plus tragique a most tragic waste.”

“What do I do then?

“Examine closely each man who knocks on that door. Is he worthy of you? Does he want more of you than a quick romp? Do you want more of him than a quick romp? When you are sure – and only when you are sure – then you let him in. You still tread carefully, then love, the love you want may blossom between the two of you.”

“That sounds like a lot of work.”

“It is, but the results – mmm – they are worth it. That is how I found my Herve and – I think – how your sister found her Paul Grant.”

Wilma considered what her friend had told her. “I’ll have to think about that for a while.”

“While you think about it, think also what would have happened had you applied this advice to Monsieur Thomas.”

“That’s real good advice,” Wilma grinned. “I do believe that I will.”

“Bon, and now that we have solved the problem of your love life, let us get back to the running of my House.”

* * * * *

Nancy Osbourne walked into the Saloon, carrying a brown valise tied with a darker brown leather strap. Ramon and Maggie followed behind her. He was toting a second valise, while Maggie had a bushel basket tucked under her arm.

“Is Mr. O’Toole about?” Nancy asked R.J.

The barman glanced upward. “He and Molly are up in their room having a bit of lunch. They eat up there sometimes on Sunday, while she changes out of her going-to-church dress.”

“Would it be all right to interrupt? He said to bring my things over today. I-I’m taking a room here, part of my pay for working as his waitress.”

R.J. nodded. “I know. They knew you were coming and – hey, Dolores, did Molly give you that key?”

“She did,” Dolores said, hurrying over to the bar, “and you do not have to shout.” She turned to Nancy and smiled. Since Nancy had been working at the Saloon, the two women were becoming close friends. “Molly asked me to take you up to the room and help you get settled in.”

Nancy looked behind her. Ramon and Maggie were sitting at a nearby table. The valise was at Ramon’s feet, and Maggie had set the basket down on the table. “Dolores has the room key; if you two don’t mind…”

“Lead the way,” Ramon said as he and Maggie came to their feet.

They all followed Dolores up to the second floor. There was a set of four small rooms at the top of the stairs. She led them to the third of the four. “That’s Bridget’s room right across the hall there,” she told Nancy, pointing to a door on the opposite side where the hallway turned left and led to a second set of rooms. She unlocked the door, “and Shamus and Molly’s apartment is just beyond it.”

“It’s… nice,” Nancy said, as she walked it. ‘A bit larger than the one I had at the Carsons’,’ she thought, ‘but no window.’ She set her valise down on the bed and looked around.

There was a two-drawer dresser set against one wall, with a white porcelain pitcher and bowl resting on a matching linen cloth. A narrow closet was built into the wall next to it; a bar hung within it held four wooden hangers. An overstuffed, green chair was angled into the corner, with a small table set on one side. An oil lamp was positioned on the table.

“Where should I put this?” Maggie asked, shifting the basket on her hip.

Dolores took the basket from Maggie. “How about on the dresser?” When Nancy agreed, Dolores walked over and put it down where she had said. “Sonnets from the Portuguese ,” she remarked cheerily, picking the book up and out of the basket.

“Do you know the work?” Nancy sounded more than a little surprised.

Dolores nodded. “I do, but my copy is back in Mexico City.”

“You can borrow mine sometime if you’d like,” Nancy said, smiling.

“Thank you; and, maybe, we can talk about the poems sometime when Shamus is not working us so hard.”

Nancy felt herself relax. She hadn’t been certain that moving out of the Whitney’s guesthouse was a good idea, but she didn’t want to impose any longer than she had to. Already, though, she felt a sense of satisfaction, occupying a place where she would earn her own keep. So, it seemed, the move had been worthwhile. It not only forced her to face up to starting a new life, but it also had brought her a new friend.

* * * * *

Teresa came into the house with a basket of newly dried linens. “Can you give me a hand, Arnolda?”

“Si, Mama.” Arnie had ceased to flinch when her mother used that name. She walked over and took the basket, setting it on the worktable.

Her mother took out the top item, a large bed sheet. “Hold the other end and help me fold this, please.” She waited till Arnie had grasped the other end of the sheet. “And while you are helping, you can tell me what happened yesterday.”

“What do you mean?”

“You came home much earlier than you usually do from the Spauldings’, and you had the same unhappy look on your face that you have even now. Do you not remember what your Papa used to say, ‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara’ [To bad times, good face].”

Arnie gave her a sad sort of smile. “Is this any better?”

“A little; now, tell me what happened.”

“Señora Spaulding, she… she knows about potion girls, and she knows that I-I am one.”

“Who told her? What did she say to you?”

Arnie looked down in embarrassment. “I-I told her about the potion earlier – but I did not say that I…” She sighed. “…am one who took it. Someone else – I do not know who – told her that.” She frowned suddenly, wondering it had been Pablo. He was such a serpiente.

“What did she do? What did her children do?”

“She said that she wanted to think about things. I do not think that Hedley – or Clara – know, but she will tell them sooner or later.”

“Que cría cuervos [You bred crows], Arnolda, and now, as your Papa always said, nos han robado los ojos [they have stolen your eyes]. Did she say anything about how she felt or what she was going to do?”

“No; mostly, she was mad that I lied to her about who I was.”

“That may be to the good. They may like you enough to want to get over being mad.” She smiled, just a little, to encourage her. “At least, they still gave you laundry to be washed. When is it due back?”

“Tuesday; she said that she would talk to me, then.”

“Bueno, I do not want you to lose your friends any more than I want to lose their business.”

* * * * *

Rachel Silverman looked up as soon as she heard the bell over the front door jingle. “Molly,” she greeted her friend, as she hurried over from behind the counter where she’d been sitting. “What can I do for you today?”

“T’be telling the truth, Rachel, I ain’t sure.” She glanced over at a long rack of women’s clothes. “I need some… dresses, special dresses for me two new ladies.”

“Special? What sort of thing exactly are you talking about? Ain’t what you got them in now fancy enough for you?”

“The dresses they’ve got now are just fine – fine for everyday, anyway. But – ye know that we made ‘em into dancing girls, don’t ye?”

“Do I know?” She pointed to the store window. “Ain’t that one of your flyers right over there?”

“Aye, it is. If ye know that they’re dancing girls, then ye should be able t’guess that they needs t’be wearing something fancy when they do thuir dancing.”

“And what sort of shmatas – excuse me, outfits are they in now?”

“Lylah’s wearing a yellow corset and petticoat and Flora’s in bright red drawers and a matching jacket and cap. We didn’t want t’be buying no fancy costumes for ‘em till we was knowing that they was a success.”

“And now you know?”

“Aye, we do. We got back a lot o’the business we lost to Sam Duggan and his Dancing Darlings. So now Shamus ‘n’ me want t’be getting some regular dancehall girl outfits for ‘em. You got anything like that?”

“In a little town like Eerie, we should stock such things? No, we don’t, but you come in the back with me. Catalogs, we do got, and it seems to me that we got a couple from some big dress company out in San Francisco that’ll have just the sort of fancy-shmancy dresses you want.”

“Sounds good. I’d like t’be ordering a couple of extra sets. We're hoping to hire a girl or two more, but who knows what sizes they’ll be?”

Rachel nodded amiably. “You order what you need now, and you can change your order later, when you hire them new girls. In the meantime, I’ll put on the teapot and get out some of them rugalah you like.”

“Rugalah, that’s them little roll-up buns with the honey and nuts, ain’t it?”

“I thought you’d remember them. We can have some tea… talk… eat some rugalah; you can even look through the catalogs, maybe even order something. You will have to give me some idea how respectable you will want those outfits to be.”

“Well…” Molly said, letting herself be coaxed. “No less respectable than the costumes I wore on the Barbary Coast meself. Have you seen any of those posters advertising the dancers over at the Lone Star?”

“Oy, those are wicked! And you being a church-going woman,” said Rachel, but with a smile and a playful shake of her head.

* * * * *

Monday, May 13, 1872

On Monday mornings, Thaddeus Yingling liked to catch up on his leisure reading. He looked up from his copy of Scribner’s Magazine when someone knocked on the half-opened door to his study. “Milton,” he cheerfully greeted his visitor, “what brings you in here today?”

“I… We came to ask a favor, Reverend.” He walked into the room, leading a nervous-looking Jane by the hand.

Yingling studied the woman for a moment. The face was Laura Caulder’s but this woman was decidedly not pregnant. “You’re… Jane, aren’t you, Mrs. Caulder’s twin?”

“That’s me, Jane Steinmetz.” She gave him a quick smile. “How d’you do, sir?”

The reverend rose and leaned across his desk to offer her his hand. “I am pleased to meet you, Miss Steinmetz. I am the Reverend Thaddeus Yingling.”

“And I’m right pleased t’meet you, Reverend.” She took his hand and pumped it eagerly. “Especially ‘cause of why we met.”

Milt chuckled. “What she means is that we want to get married, and we’d like you to perform the ceremony.”

“As soon as possible,” Jane quickly added, blushing as she spoke.

The minister frowned. “Am I correct that you are one of those so-called ‘potion girls’, Miss Steinmetz?”

“Yeah, I am,” Jane replied. “Why’re you asking?”

“And where do you propose that I marry the two of you?”

Milt raised a suspicious eyebrow. “I had originally thought we could do it in the church, perhaps, next Sunday after the service, but we sort of promised Shamus O’Toole that we’d get married in his Saloon. Is there a problem with that?”

“I got a problem,” Jane protested. “I don’t wanna wait till Sunday t’marry you.”

Yingling shook his head. “You two have a bigger problem. I do not intend to sanction your marriage in any way, either by performing the ceremony or by permitting it to take place in my church, had you asked.”

“What!” Milt looked shocked. “How can you say something like that?”

The reverend scowled. “Because I do not approve of Mr. O’Toole, his potion, or anything associated with it – or with him. I feel that my participation in any way in your wedding would be seen as my accepting Mr. O’Toole’s previous actions while he was in control of the potion. You’ve done a great deal of good work for the church, Milton, but you seem too personally involved to view the matter of Mr. O’Toole’s potion clearly.”

“You don’t seem to have any trouble accepting Laura Caulder’s marrying Arsenio,” Milt chided.

“I do have concerns, and I would not have performed the ceremony for her and Arsenio, had I been asked. However, she seems to have risen above her past. The two of them have attended my service almost every Sunday since they wed. She has become a dutiful daughter of the church, and I believe that such actions have redeemed her in our Lord’s sight.”

He shook his head and continued. “I can hardly say the same of you…” He looked directly at Jane. “…young woman. You have not attended my church, have not shown me any remorse for the crimes that led to your… transformation. For all I know, you’re behavior – and morals – have worsened since that time.”

“No they ain't!” protested Jane. “And how much remorse d'ya want? I said I was sorry to Jessie and Laura. If they don't hold it agin me, how can a man of the cloth?” She was shocked, indignant, and her tears had begun to flow.

“Reverend Yingling!” Milt took hold of her shoulders, a sign to let him do the talking. “You have no right to say such things, no right at all.” He shifted and put his arm around Jane. “This woman is worth ten, worth a hundred of you. And, after what you’ve just said, we wouldn’t let you marry us if you got down on your knees and begged us.”

Jane seemed to want to have another say of her own, but Milt pulled his kerchief from his pocket and wiped at her eyes as he gently steered her from the room.

* * * * *

“G’morning, Mr. Quinlan,” Obie Wynn greeted Milt as he and Jane walked into Judge Humphreys’ outer office. The clerk was searching in the top drawer of a file cabinet. “The Judge is busy just now,” he told them in his thick Kentucky drawl. “You ‘n’ your lady friend’ll have t’wait a bit.”

“This is Jane Steinmetz,” Milt said, “my…” He grinned and gave her hand a squeeze. “…fiancé. Are you sure I can’t talk to him? It’s very important.”

“Fiancé? Well now, congratulations. Lemme go see if he can squeeze you in.” Obie took two manila folders from the top of the file cabinet, closed the drawer, and walked to an inner door. “Your Honor,” he said, knocking on the door, “can I bother ya fer a minute?”

The Judge’s deep baritone could be heard through the door. “It better just be a minute, Obie.” The clerk, a short man, smoothed back a mass of unruly brown hair before he scurried in, closing the door behind him.

He was back out a moment later. “He’ll see ya.” He opened the door wide for the couple to come in.

“Milt Quinlan and fiancé, is it?” Humphreys walked out from behind his desk. “Congratulations to you both. And what can I do for you?”

“Can you marry us,” Jane said quickly, “just like you done for Laura and Arsenio?”

“Of course, I can, and I shall be most happy to do so. When and where do you want the ceremony to be held?”

“Today, if you can, and it’ll have t’be the Saloon, seeing as we can’t use the church.”

The Judge raised an eyebrow. “Why can’t you use the church?”

“That ba – ‘scuse me, Reverend Yingling, he said we couldn’t ‘cause…” Jane blinked, trying not to cry. “…’cause I’m a-a… sinful potion gal.”

Milt put a comforting arm around her. “We just spoke to him, and that’s the gist of what he said.”

“Absurd.” The Judge shook his head. “I think the good reverend is acting very foolishly, with all this nonsense about Shamus’ potion, but that’s neither here nor there.” He looked at his pocket watch. “It’s still fairly early. I see no reason why I couldn’t perform the ceremony today.”

Jane gave him her best smile. “That’d be great. We could do it – oh, shit; we can’t.” Her smile faded.

“What’s the matter, Jane?” Milt asked.

She looked down, not ready to face him. “I can’t get hitched t’you today – much as I want to. It wouldn’t be fair t’Maggie.”

“What does Maggie have to do with it?” Milt inquired. “She seemed more than pleased when we told her the good news about our getting married.”

Jane shook her head. “I know, but we didn’t say when we’d be doing it. She needs time t’find somebody t’take my place while I’m…” She blushed prettily. “…while we’re on our honeymoon. You are gonna take me on a honeymoon, ain’t you?”

“I have every intention of taking you… on a honeymoon.” Milt leered for a moment before his expression changed to a loving smile. “But Maggie may already have made some arrangements. Let’s check with her.” He turned to the Judge. “Your Honor, I’ll get back to you with the specifics, but it will be tonight, tomorrow evening at the latest.”

The Judge nodded. “I shall be happily available to you either night.”

“Today,” Jane said, blushing at her eagerness. “I wanna do it today.”

Milt shrugged and put his arm around her waist. “So do I, but we’d better be married first.”

“Milt!” She giggled and felt a blush come to her cheeks. Her body tingled as he pulled her close, and she knew just how much she did like the idea of what was going to happen to her – to them both, possibly that very night.

* * * * *

Clara used the edge of her knife to push the carrots she’d just finished slicing onto a plate. “Mama,” she asked, “will Annie be coming by tomorrow?”

“I expect that she will,” Mrs. Spaulding replied. “She’s always been punctual, bringing back the laundry she picked up on Saturday the following Tuesday.” The woman studied her daughter’s expression. “Why do you ask, dear?”

The girl took a breath, not at all sure how her mother would react. “I-I’m not really asking if she’s going to come. I’m wondering if she’s going to… stay, like she usually does, for lunch and to give us a Spanish lesson.”

“That I… I don’t know.”

“What happened on Saturday, Mama? Everything seemed fine until the two of you went into your bedroom. Then she came rushing out. She grabbed the bag of dirty clothes and ran for the door. I saw her face. She looked so sad, too, like she was ready to cry.”

“Did she?” The woman felt a pang of guilt. But it was a brief pang. ‘I don’t like being lied to,’ she thought, ‘especially for so long a time.’

“Mother, what do you know? Why was she so upset all of a sudden?”

Mrs. Spaulding drew in a deep breath. “Did it ever occur to you that I might be the one who was upset, that Annie did something that I didn’t like, and that was why she left?”

“I – no, I-I didn’t think… what did happen?”

“I don’t believe that I wish to explain to you – or Hedley – what happened. Perhaps tomorrow, if I decide that she deserves the chance, I’ll let Annie explain herself to you both; to all three of us.” She looked sternly at Clara. “Now toss those carrots into the pot, so they can be ready for our lunch.”

Clara cast her mother a glum look, but she obeyed.

* * * * *

“Good morning, Milt,” Abner greeted his lawyer. “What brings you in today?”

Milt set his briefcase down on the empty bed next to Abner’s. “Paperwork, I have your will and the partnership agreement here for you to look at.”

“I thought you were going to be bringing them in tomorrow. What’s the rush?”

The younger man grinned. “I’m getting married at two this afternoon, and, frankly…” His smile grew even more broad. “…I’ll have better things to do the next few days than your legal work.”

“Well, now, congratulations, and I don’t blame you one little bit. Put the paperwork down and get out of here.”

“Do you have any questions before I go?” He placed the papers on the wheeled tray to the right of Abner’s bed.

“Just one, when will you be back?”

“Thursday… I’ll come in Thursday morning to talk to you. I promise.”

“And I’ll be waiting. Cap should be back on Wednesday, so he’ll be here, too. In the meantime, go – and give Jane a kiss for me.”

Milt laughed. “I may… eventually. I plan to be busy for a while, kissing her for myself.” He winked at his client as he headed for the door.

* * * * *

“I got it,” Molly shouted in triumph, bursting into Jane’s bedroom. “Laura loaned ye her blue petticoat.” She held up the garment that she’d carried, folded, under her arm.

Jane was sitting on her bed, wearing only her best white drawers, a matching camisole, and a pale blue corset. She looked up and gave Molly a wan smile. “Thanks, Molly. Is she gonna be able t’get over here for my wedding?”

“Aye, she told me the only way she wouldn’t make it was if that baby o’hers decided t’be born t’day.” She waited a moment. “Arsenio went over to Doc Upshaw’s t’get one o’them wheeled chairs, so she wouldn’t have t’walk.”

“Good; I was worrying about that. Much as I want her t’be at my wedding, I don’t want her to hurt herself. She’s gonna be the – what you call it – the matron of honor.”

Jessie was sitting on the chair near Jane’s bed. “And I’m a bridesmaid, me and Maggie. Now that we know who we are, let’s get to it. A bride don’t need t’worry about nothing on her wedding day.”

“Except maybe the wedding night?” Molly said, a chuckle in her voice.

Jane blushed and looked down at the floor. “I ain’t worried about that – not too much anyways.” She smiled enthusiastically. “I remember being up in Colorado, under Pike's Peak. I was looking for some place to warm up…” She caught herself. It wasn't a story that fit the occasion.

“From the way you ‘n’ Milt keep looking at each other, I don’t think you got a thing to worry about.” Jessie glanced over at the small clock, ticking away on the wall. “Now, you better get that petticoat on, ‘cause it’s time for you t’get down there and get hitched.”

* * * * *

“So you’ll be my best man?” Milt asked.

Arsenio shrugged. “Might as well, I’ll be standing up front with Laura, anyway.” He waited a beat. “Besides, we’re going to be brothers-in-law in a few minutes.”

“That we are, de facto brothers-in-law, if not de jure.” He saw the confused look on Arsenio’s face and quickly added, “Never mind, it’s a lawyer’s observation.” He offered his hand. “Welcome to the family.”

They shook hands. “The same to you. Say, does this mean that I have to make a toast to you and Jane at the dinner after the ceremony?”

“It does. Do you want me to write something for you to say?”

“No, it has to be nice things about you, and I can lie well enough on my own, thanks.” He winked.

Just then, Judge Humphreys sat down at their table. “If I can interrupt you two liars for a moment, I need to talk to Milt about something… something official, sort of.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Arsenio asked.

The Judge shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. I just wanted to remind Milt that the church board of elders is meeting this Wednesday night.”

“That’s right,” Milt said unhappily. “I-I’m sorry, Your Honor, I forgot.”

“Milt, if I had my choice of whether to think of the church board or a girl like Jane, I don’t think I’d be able to remember the meeting, either. I just wanted to see if you were going to be there as our parliamentarian.”

“Probably not; I’ll still be on my honeymoon and –”

“And it won’t be board motions that you’ll be concerned about. I understand. I’m just sorry that you can’t be there. Between reconsidering the Reverend’s petition again and the motion about Trisha –”

“That’s right; they’ll be trying to throw her off the board, won’t they?”

“I’m afraid that they will. It’s not going to be an easy meeting. I can act as parliamentarian, but some people – Cecelia Ritter, for sure – are going to complain of bias.”

Arsenio chuckled. “You’re trying to make him feel guilty, aren’t you, Judge?”

“Yes, I’m afraid I am, and I’m sorry for that.” The Judge gave a hearty sigh. “Look, Milt, if you want to show up Wednesday night, show up. If you decide that you’d rather spend the evening with your new bride, then no one – least of all, me – will blame you.”

Milt studied the older man’s face for a moment. Humphrey seemed sincere in what he’d just said. “Thanks, Judge. I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Now that we’ve settled that point, we’d best get started.” Arsenio pointed at Shamus’ clock. “We’ve got us a wedding to do.”

* * * * *

“What are you doing, coming in here?” Maggie asked, sounding angry.

Jane startled. “I just come in t’see how you’re –”

“You chased me out of the kitchen on my wedding day, so I get to do the same to you today. Get out of here.”

“Only if you come out like you promised when it’s time for things t’get going, okay?”

“I will be there.” Maggie’s eyebrows narrowed in mock anger. “Now, go!”

Jane nodded and left.

“That was not nice, mi corazón,” Ramon said. He was sitting at the worktable, waiting for Maggie, once the wedding meal was prepared. He thought for a moment. “By the way, has Jane told you where they will be going on their honeymoon? I know that Milt doesn’t have a house. He lives in the back room of his office.”

Maggie nodded. “That is where they will be. It was either that, or stay in Jane’s room upstairs.” She sighed. “I do not think that his room has much more than a bed, but how much more than that do they need?”

“It was enough for me. Any place would be enough, so long as you were there with me.” He walked over and kissed her on the cheek. Then he shifted and kissed her on the side of the neck.

Maggie shivered. “Ramon, if you kiss me like that I will… oohh!” She stopped as he kissed her again. “Please, I-I… much as I love what you are doing, I must finish with the cooking.”

“I will stop – for now, but after the ceremony and the meal, we can start again.”

“Mmm, I hope so.”

“So do I, but just now, I need to take care of something. I will be back as soon as I can.”

“Where… oh, never mind, just be back for the ceremony.”

“I will try. Adios.” He gave her another kiss, this one much more chaste, and hurried out the back door.

* * * * *

“Here they come!” R.J. yelled, pointing towards the second floor.

All eyes turned to see Jane walking along the landing towards the steps. Shamus walked with her, very much the father of the bride, holding her arm in his. The Judge stood in front of the bar. Milt and Arsenio were in front of him on the left, Molly Maggie, and Jessie stood on his right. Laura was with them, sitting in her wheelchair.

As they started down the steps, Jessie grabbed for her guitar and began singing.

` “Here comes the bride dressed all in white,
` Radiant and lovely she shines in his sight.
` Gently she glides, sweet as a dove,
` Meeting her bridegroom, her eyes full of love.”

` “Long have they waited; long have they planned.
` Life goes before them opening her hand.
` Asking G-d's blessing, as they begin
` A life with new meaning, a life shared as one.
` Entering God's union, bowed before His throne,
` Promising each other to have and to hold.”

` “Gently she glides, sweet as a dove,
` Meeting her bridegroom, her eyes full of love.
` Here comes the bride dressed all in white,
` Radiant and lovely in her true love’s sight.”

Jessie timed her singing, so that she sang the last line just as Jane and Shamus reached her. Shamus smiled and stepped back, as Jane stepped up, to stand next to Milt. “That’s my present t’you ‘n’ Milt,” Jessie whispered to Jane, moving back.

“Thanks, Jessie.” Milt reach over and gently lifted Jane’s veil, borrowed from Maggie. “Hello… wife,” he greeted her.

“Not quite yet,” the Judge said softly. Then, speaking in a loud, clear voice, he began, “Dearly beloved…”

* * * * *

Arsenio slowly rose to his feet, tapping his glass with his knife as he did. “Folks, when Milt asked me to be his best man, he said I had to make a speech. Of course, he asked me all of forty minutes before the ceremony, so I hope he isn’t expecting much of a speech.”

“Milt, congratulations, you just got married to the second prettiest woman in town – maybe in the whole country. I know Jane is my Laura’s twin, but Laura’s been Laura longer than Jane’s been Jane, so Laura has more practice at being so beautiful. And she’s -- we’re -- gonna have a baby, so that makes her even prettier, at least to me. Of course, you and Jane can do something along that same line, and I expect you’ll be trying to as soon as we all get finished here. I guess that means I better not make this speech too long, so you two can get started.”

“Like I said, Jane’s a very beautiful woman, and, best of all, that beauty isn’t skin deep, it goes down into her soul. She’s a sweet, caring, woman, and she’s one of the best cooks in town – hello, there, Maggie; great meal, as always.”

“Milt’s a good man, too, even if he is a lawyer. He’s smart, a real hard worker, and, as we all found out a few days ago, he’s got a real nice singing voice.”

“And, speaking of his singing in public, Jane, my Laura’s told me how you used to fret that he was ashamed of you because he wouldn’t kiss you in public. I think – just to show her how wrong she was – he should get up and kiss Jane right now, in front of all of us. What do you say, folks?” He started clapping. “C’mon, everybody… Kiss her… Kiss her… Kiss her!”

As he chanted, he motioned with his hands for the crowd to join in. They did. “Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!”

“Well, I suppose… if we have to.” Milt stood and offered his hand to Jane. “Mrs. Quinlan, if you would, please stand up.”

Jane blushed. “Here, in fronta everybody?”

“Now who’s embarrassed?” Milt said with a chuckle. He took her hand in his and gently pulled her to her feet and into his arms. “Great speech, Arsenio.”

The couple embraced. Jane’s arms snaked up around his neck as their mouths met in a kiss.

“To the happy couple,” Arsenio said, raising his glass. “And may you always be as happy and as in love, and as loved as you are right now.”

Everyone else clinked glasses, and more than a few applauded, but Jane and Milt were far too busy to notice.

* * * * *

Bridget sat, alone, at one of the tables, finishing a piece of the wedding cake.

“How’re you doing?” Laura asked. Arsenio pushed her wheelchair in close, so that the two women could talk.

Bridget frowned. “Not too bad. It was a nice wedding. I was glad to see you show up. How’re you feeling? Do you expect to be back here any time soon?”

“I don’t know. It’s more up to Doc Upshaw – and the baby – than it is to me. In the meantime, I’m stuck in bed at home.”

Arsenio took Laura’s hand in his. “And I’m stuck having to take care of her. That’s the only good part.”

“It is nice, having him hovering over me all day long.” She smiled up at him. “I’ll miss it when I come back.”

“Then I’ll just have to be more attentive.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek.

Before Laura could say anything, Flora came over to the table. She was wearing an apron and carrying a large tray filled with dirty dishes. “Are you done with that, Miss Bridget?” She pointed to the remains of the cake, still on the plate.

“No, Flora,” Bridget answered. “You can come back for it later.”

The waitress curtsied. “V-very good, ma’am.” She grimaced as she said it and hurried off.

“What was that about?” Laura asked.

Bridget smiled. “Flora was ragging at Jessie and me about how pretty we looked and asking when our weddings were going to be. She… she got to me, I guess. I got all upset and started to cry. Molly said she had to be extra polite to me – to us both -- for the rest of the day. She has to call us ‘Miss Bridget’ and ‘Miss Jessie’ and curtsy and act like she’s our lady’s maid.” She giggled. “I wish I could think of a way to make it permanent.”

Laura smiled, but only politely. “I'm just glad nobody had me curtsying and gushing when I was a convict,” she said.

* * * * *

“Congratulations, Milt,” Davy Kitchner said. “I guess you’re Jane’s partner now. You're gonna love putting aside those lawyer books and laying to with that ol' pickaxe.”

Jane interrupted before Milt could answer. “Davy, you ‘n’ me’ll always be partners in that mine. Milt…” She clenched her new husband’s arm. “Milt ‘n’ me’s a whole different kind of partners.”

“I know that, gal. I’m just having a little fun with you.” He shook her hand, then Milt’s. “I heard you was getting hitched, and I had t’come down and say congratulations.”

“I’m glad you could come, Davy,” Milt said. “When are you heading back up to our claim?”

“I ain’t gonna try t’find my way back up in the dark. I gonna spend the night… down here with… with a friend.” He didn’t want to mention that he’d be spending it – happily – with Edith Lonnigan. Not that many people knew of their relationship.

Jane did know, and she looked around. “Where is Edith, by the way?”

“Over there.” He pointed. “Talking to Laura. I better get back over to her. Congratulations, again, to you both.”

Milt smiled. “Thanks, Davy. I know how far you and Jane go back and what the two of you have been through, so I’m very happy to hear that you approve of our getting married.”

“Yeah, like you wouldn’t have married her if I’d said no.”

Jane laughed. “There ain’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of that, partner.”

* * * * *

“Where’d you find that song, Jessie?” Laura asked.

“It’s from some fancy opera called Lohengrin,” Jessie replied. “Hanna Tyler, that little gal I rescued down near the border, she’s getting married in June, and she asked me t’come and sing it at her wedding. I figured I’d get in some practice singing it for Jane.” She paused a half beat. “What’d you think of it?”

“It’s… beautiful. I wish you’d been around to sing it at my wedding.”

“If I’d been here t’sing it at your wedding, I wouldn’t have been there t’stop them commancheros from taking Hanna to Mexico.”

“In that case, I’m glad you weren’t here.”

“My not being here surely didn’t slow you and Arsenio down from getting married.” She gently touched Laura’s belly. “Or from anything else.”

* * * * *

Ramon and Maggie came over to where Milt and Jane standing. “I hope that you will be as happy as Ramon and I have been,” Maggie said, hugging her friend.

“We’re gonna be.” Jane hugged her back.

Ramon shook his head. “Perhaps, but you are not getting off to the best of starts.”

“What do you mean, Ramon?” Milt asked cautiously.

Ramon continued. “Where are you going when you leave here tonight?”

“I live in the back room of my office,” the lawyer replied. “We’ll be buying a house soon, but until then…”

Maggie shook her head. “That is no place for a honeymoon.”

“Why not,” Jane said quickly. “It’s got a bed and – “ She stopped, blushing at what she had said.

Ramon tried very hard not to laugh. “If your marriage is going to be as happy as ours, then it should start out as ours did.” He took a large and rather ornate brass key from his jacket pocket. “This is the key to my former quarters, the guesthouse at Whit and Carmen’s home. I spoke to them a little while ago, and they agreed. It is yours for the next three days. Call it our wedding present.”

“Ramon!” Jane all but threw herself at him, giving the man a generous hug.

“We’d better pull them apart, Maggie,” Milt teased her. “Your husband and my wife are enjoying that hug far too much.”

Ramon and Jane separated, each turning to their own spouse. “You have nothing to worry about, my friend,” Ramon replied. “Jane was just practicing on me what the two of you will be doing tonight,”Jane nodded, blushing in happy agreement.

* * * * *

Tuesday, May 14, 1872

Molly opened the bedroom door a crack. “How’re the two of ye doing this morning?” she asked Flora and Lylah.

“We’re getting there,” Lylah answered.

Molly opened the door and walked in, closing it behind her. “So I see. I want the both of ye t’be hurrying up getting dressed.”

“Why,” Flora remarked, sarcastically. “Breakfast won’t be done any quicker.”

The older woman frowned. “As a matter of fact, it will, ‘cause it’ll be the both of ye down there helping Maggie t’make it.”

“How come?” Lylah asked. “All we ever had t’do before was t’set the table.”

“That’s because ‘before’ Jane was down there t’be helping Maggie with the cooking, and today she ain’t.” Molly looked at the pair. “Lylah, ye’re the furthest along, so as soon as ye get that dress on ye, I want ye t’go down and see what Maggie needs ye t’be doing.”

Flora laughed. “Yes, Lylah, you go down now, and I’ll be down directly.”

“Aye, ye will, Flora, and after breakfast, it’ll be ye that clears the table and does all the morning dishes.” She chuckled at the sudden shock on Flora’s face. “Now get moving, the both of ye.”

She started for the door. “Ye can switch off tomorrow if ye want, but it’ll be ye two that do the extra kitchen chores till Jane comes back here on Thursday.”

* * * * *

“Having fun?” Rosalyn asked.

Flora looked up from her place on the back steps of the Saloon. She wore a large muslin apron to protect her dress, as she worked to scrape out the dry chaw from inside the spittoon on her lap. “Not in the least. Care to join me?”

“I should say not. Chores like that are far below a woman of my station.” She grimaced. “I don’t know how you can stand them.”

“A man can stand a lot of things when he doesn’t have any choice in the matter.” Flora sighed. “And I don’t.”

Rosalyn noticed, but said nothing about Flora calling herself a male. “Ah, but you do have a choice… if you want to take me up on my offer.”

Flora paused in her labor. “I've been thinking about that. I’m very tired of the shit O’Toole throws at me. The dancing, prancing around in next to nothing in front of all those…” She shivered. “…men, is horrible, and doing things like this…” She held up the spittoon. “…is even worse. They –They enjoy humiliating me, and all because they love that Irish card cheat so much. Yesterday at that stupid wedding, they had me behaving like a damned maid. I had to call that bitch Kelly, ‘Miss Bridget’ and curtsy while she ordered me about.”

“How terrible. They’re trying to break you like some kind of animal.”

“Only I don’t plan to let them, and I think that your idea is about the best option I have. I remember how mad it made me when I couldn't make Wilma Hanks' face turn red. Two can play at that game, if both of them are mean enough. They'll find out what Staffords are made of. No matter how much you train a lion, sooner or later it's going to rip your arm off.”

“Good, can we start now?”

“I’ve got to get these finished before they start the Free Lunch. I’ve no time for lessons.”

“I wish you could visit me at the Parisian.”

“Fat chance of that. O’Toole won’t let me out of the building unless he or his wife tags along.”

“I’ll come back tomorrow, then.” Rosalyn thought for a moment. “How’s one o’clock? I’ll join you for some of that Free Lunch, and we can talk while we dine.”

Flora frowned. “We don't want anyone to hear us talking about such things. It would spoil everything.”

Rosalyn reassured her with squeeze of her hand. “In my business, a woman learns how to be discreet.”

“Thanks.”

“My pleasure.” To herself, she added, ‘though it’ll be your pleasure soon enough, I suspect.’

* * * * *

Arnie parked the laundry cart next to the Spauldings’ back steps. She was wearing the prettiest of the dresses that her mother had pinned up to fit her, rather than wearing her old, male clothes for doing laundry deliveries and bringing a dress to change into at the Spauldings’ home. She picked up the three packages of laundry and the Spanish textbook and started up the steps. ‘Be calm, Arnolda,’ she told herself. ‘Be calm.’

“Annie,” Hedley opened the back door just as she reached the porch. “I’m glad you decided to come back.”

Arnie held up the packages. “I-I had to. I have your clean laundry here.”

“Yes, but I hope that’s not the only reason that you came back.” He smiled and reached out to take the packages from her.

“No…” She felt a pleasant tingle run through her, as she handed him the laundry. “I came for your momma’s lunch. And to see Clara, too,” she quickly added.

He seemed to consider her words. “I suppose those will do.” He winked and gave the door a quick kick. “If you don’t have any others, I mean.” The door popped open a bit. Hedley caught it with his right foot and pulled it fully opened. He stepped quickly in to hold it open and gestured with a tilt of his head. “After you.”

“Good afternoon… Annie,” Mrs. Spaulding greeted the pair from her place at the stove. “Hedley, Clara’s in her room. Would you please go and tell her that Annie’s here?”

“Certainly, Mother, I’ll be right back.” He put the parcels on the kitchen table and headed for the door into the front room.

Mrs. Spaulding waited until the door shut behind him. “I’ve given the matter some thought, Annie – or do you prefer Arnie?”

“A-Annie is fine, Señora Spaulding.” She looked carefully at the woman’s face for a clue of what she was about to say.

“Annie, it is then. I’m still somewhat hurt at being lied to, but I believe that I can understand why you did it.”

“Thank you. I am sorry that I lied to you, to all of you.” She took a breath. “What did Hedley and Clara say, when you told them about me?”

“Nothing, because I haven’t told them. I leave that to you.”

“T-To me? I… I do not know how to tell them.” Her voice caught. “C-Can you help me… please. I-I do not want to hurt them.”

“Well… you will have to tell them, but I don’t want to hurt my children either, so I’ll give you some time to think of a way to do it. We’ll say nothing more of this today, but I will expect you to tell them who you really are when you come back on Saturday with those clothes over there.” She pointed to a pair of Annie’s laundry bags, both stuffed full, sitting on a chair over in the corner.

Arnie felt as if a massive weight had fallen from her shoulders. “I-I will. I swear that I will, and thank you for the extra time; thank you very much.” She let out a sigh. “And you owe my Mama $3.75 for the laundry I brought back today.”

“Very well.” She fished in her purse for the money, pulling out a silver half-eagle. “You’re not entirely off the hook though,” she said, handing Arnie the money. “I still expect you to join us for lunch today, with a Spanish lesson afterwards.”

Arnie gave her the change. “Of course, Señora Spaulding.”

* * * * *

“Cecelia,” Grace MacLeod said, “this pound cake is lovely.”

Cecelia took a quick sip of tea before she answered. “Thank you, Grace. Does everyone have a slice?”

“We do,” Lavinia Mackechnie answered for the others. “But you didn’t invite us over here for an afternoon tea. What did you want to talk to us about?”

“Couldn’t I have just wanted to throw a little party for my friends?”

Hilda Scudder shook her head. “Frankly, no; what’s going on, Cecelia?”

“Well… tomorrow night is the May meeting of the church board, and we have to be ready. Not only is there going to be another vote to support the Reverend Yingling’s petition --”

“I wish we could be finished with that,” Zenobia Carson interrupted. “I’m getting tired of all these games.”

Cecelia frowned. “They are most decidedly not games, Zenobia. We are supporting our spiritual leader in his battle to rescue the town from the un-Christian influences that have held sway here for so very long.”

“You make it sound like some sort of heavenly crusade,” Grace said.

“As far as I am concerned, it is, and I had thought that you – all of you – agreed with me.” She glared at Grace.

The other woman took a long drink of her tea. The cup clattered just a bit when she set it down on her plate. “I-I do. I just… oh, never mind. Of course, I support the man.”

Lavinia tried to smile. “We all do, and we’ll all be there to show it.”

“Be prepared to do more than just fill a seat, ladies” Cecelia told them. “Some of the members of the board are foolish enough to oppose the petition, Judge Humphries and Dwight Albertson, to name two.”~

“And Trisha O’Hanlan,” Lavinia added. “One would think that she’d be the most eager to take that potion away from the man whose carelessness changed her into a woman.”

“I can hardly forget Miss O’Hanlan, but I don’t expect her to be voting on the motion. It’ll be my Clyde casting that vote.”

Hilda looked puzzled. “Clyde? I’m afraid that I don’t understand.”

Cecelia gave what she hoped sounded like a sympathetic sigh. ‘Stupid cow,’ she thought to herself. ‘All the blood is going to her belly and none to her brain.’ Aloud she said. “It’s understandable, my dear, what with the baby and all. Tomorrow night, we finally vote to throw Trisha off the board for her scandalous behavior at the dance.”

“We need to get that done, first,” she continued. “It’ll put those others in their place, and it’s one more sure vote for the Reverend.”

“It won’t be easy,” Zenobia observed. “A lot of people enjoyed that dance – I know that I certainly did. Everyone knows that it was Trisha’s idea, and they’ll be thankful to her for it.”

Cecelia thought for a moment. “I’ll readily admit that I enjoyed myself as well. But the success of the dance was due to many, many people besides her, and, maybe we can get them thinking that she’s hogging too much of the credit.”

“Besides…” She gave them a malicious smile. “We all enjoyed the dance with our husbands, dancing with them and talking to each other. But who did she dance with? Any number of unmarried and less than honorable men, if I may say. And… what else besides dancing did she do with them by way of enjoying herself?”

Grace blushed. “Cecelia, you don’t mean…” Her voice trailed off. Hilda looked equally shocked.

“I most certainly do. Trisha O’Hanlan is a woman of very low morals, and the sooner she’s of the board, the better we’ll all be for it.”

Lavinia took up the thread of thought. “And that’s the message we have to deliver -- and deliver in force -- at tomorrow’s meeting.”

* * * * *

“A nickel for your thoughts, Jane,” Milt said, smiling at his new wife and stepping up behind her.

Jane smiled back at his reflection. She was sitting at a dressing table in a bedroom in the Whitney’s guesthouse. She had been gazing into the mirror on the wall behind it, as she brushed her long, light brown hair. “Ain’t it supposed t’be a penny for my thoughts?”

“Usually, but your thoughts are worth more – at least to me.”

“Well, now, thank you for that. If you gotta know, I was thinking ‘bout Laura. I hope it wasn’t too much for her, coming to our wedding getting all dressed up like she done, being a part of the ceremony, and staying there for so long after.”

“I’m sure that she’s all right. Between Arsenio and Molly – and you, for that matter – watching her the way that you all did.”

“You’re right, I guess, but that don’t stop me from worrying about her.”

“I’ll tell you what; later on today, you and I go over to her house for a quick visit?”

“You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not really, not when I see how concerned you are. In fact, I’ll trade you a visit for a visit.”

“What d’you mean, ‘trade’ visits?”

“Tomorrow night is the church board of elders’ meeting. It’s got a lot to deal with. I’m… I’m parliamentarian, and I should be there – if you don’t mind, of course.”

“Can I come with you? I wanna show that… show the good reverend how happy I am t’be your wife.”

“You can. But right now, I’d like to show you how happy I am to be your husband.” He leaned over and kissed the side of her neck.

Jane rose and turned to face him. Her hand moved down to cup the large bulge in his drawers, the only garment he wore. “I can see how happy you are.”

“Likewise.” He tugged at the bow that held the collar of her camisole up tight, just below her neck. The ribbon came undone. He gently pulled the cloth down, until it dipped low, freeing her breasts. Her nipples were erect, tight, and long as his little finger above the top knuckle. They were ready, eager, to be touched.

He leaned in and ran his tongue across the left one, relishing her scent and her soft moan of delight. His lips closed around it, and he began to suckle. At the same time, his left hand spider walked across her right breast, and his right hand reached down to her crotch. His index finger traced the outline of her nether lips through the thin material of her muslin drawers.

“Mmm, v-very happy,” her voice was almost a purr. She trembled, dazed by the heat building within her, consuming her. She pressed her loins against his hand, while her own hands cradled his head to hold it in place at her breast. The arousal grew and grew in her. She was weak, overcome by it. Then suddenly, the feelings burst forth, like a river swollen with spring rains breaking through the wall of an earthen dam. “Ohh, yess,” she whimpered, “yes… Yes!”

Milt straightened up and put his arm around her waist. “We’ll go over to Arsenio and Laura’s place later, okay?”

“Much later,” she replied in a soft voice, barely more than a whisper, as she took his hand in hers and they hurried to the bed.

* * * * *

“Okay,” Judge Humphreys said, “how are we going to go about tomorrow night’s meeting?”

The group gathered at the O’Hanlan kitchen table: Humphreys, Dwight Albertson, Rupe Warrick, and Liam O’Hanlan, all turned to look at Trisha. “Umm… ahh,” she stammered. “You know more about running meetings than I do, Judge. What do you think?”

“Well,” he started, “the motion to… to expel you should be the first order of business – if, for no other reason, than to keep you from voting on the motion about Shamus’ potion.”

Rupe raised his hand. “You think Horace’ll do that, put the motion about Trisha first?”

“He should,” the Judge replied, “and if he doesn’t, I’ll make a motion to that effect. It’s what we did back in December when we had to vote about keeping Trisha on the board. So it should pass without any problem.”

Rupe nodded. “Okay, then what happens?”

“Then the fun starts,” Humphreys continued. “Since Horace was one of the people to sign the petition against Trisha, he shouldn’t preside over the discussion. Rupe, as vice president of the board, you get to preside.”

Albertson frowned. “Horace won’t like that.”

“If he fights,” Trisha said, “I’ll make a motion for him to let Rupe run things.”

“I’ll second it,” the banker replied, “but we’ll still need four votes.”

Trisha shrugged. “We won’t get Horace’s, but Willie’s a possible, and Jubal – you all know that he hired my Emma as a helper, don’t you? After she graduates in June, he’s going to train her to be a surveyor.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Albertson asked.

“He talked to me about hiring Emma before he did it, and we’ve talked a few times since. I may not agree with him on a lot of things, but I’d judge him to be a fair man. If we put the question in terms of fairness, I think he’ll vote with us.”

Humphreys thought for a moment. “I believe you’re right. And once Rupe’s got the gavel, we can start on our real plan. “

* * * * *

Kirby Pinter walked into the Saloon. He glanced around before he headed over to intercept Nancy on her way back to the bar. “Good evening, Miss Osbourne.”

“Mr. Pinter,” she said, not a little surprised, “what brings you in here tonight?”

“I wanted to talk to you, if I may.”

“Pick out a chair, and I’ll bring you a drink momentarily.”

“Beer, please, and bring one for yourself, as well. As I… uh, understand things, you’re allowed to sit with me for a while if I’m buying you a drink.”

“Very well, I’ll be right back.” She headed off to the bar, while he took a seat at a nearby table.

She was back almost at once, carrying two beers on a tray. Pinter rose to his feet. “The way it works, Mr. Pinter,” she told him, “is that you sit down, and I serve you.”

“Force of habit, I suppose.” He sat down. She set the tray on the table. She moved one glass in front of him, and then seated herself opposite him. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“I-I’m afraid that I don’t get out very much. I only just heard that you refused the chance to regain your teaching job, and I wanted to ask about it -- if you don’t mind, that is.”

“I suppose I don’t. I was exonerated on the charges against me, but too many people didn’t care. I was guilty in their eyes, and they would have just kept looking for more of what they considered improper behavior on my part. I just couldn’t stand the idea of having their eyes on me every minute. As long as I was teaching, they’d be twisting everything I said and did into something vile and ugly.”

“I don’t necessarily agree, but I will concede the possibility. Mrs. Ritter and her… cronies – if you will excuse the pun – gave ample evidence of how they operate when they disrupted the party at my store.”

“Yes,” she smiled. “I remember that. I’m grateful for your support in that matter.”

“You will always have my support – if you wish it, Miss… Nancy… and a place in my store as a clerk, should you wish that, too. This saloon is hardly the sort of place for a woman like yourself.”

“Thank you… Kirby. I am grateful for the offer, but I suspect that you're making it out of charity, rather than true need. I feel that I am actually needed here. Besides, the O’Tooles and their employees are good, kind people, and I have no qualms about working for them.” She shook her head. “The way some people talk, all saloonkeepers are criminals. I used to be nervous just walking past the door.”

“Very well, but consider the offer open, anytime you choose to accept it. I’ll have to defer to your judgment on Mr. O’Toole's character. I’m hardly a regular patron.” He gave her a wan smile.

And she returned it. “Not in the past, perhaps.” She gently placed her hand on his arm. “But am I correct in assuming that you’ll be in here more often in the future?”

He nodded and covered her hand with his own. “You may, indeed. At least I won't have to worry about all those strange looks I would have gotten if I'd dropped in to visit over at the schoolhouse.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, May 15, 1872

Cap knocked on the door of Doc Upshaw’s ward room. “Uncle Abner, are you awake?”

“Sure I am, Cap,” Abner answered. “It’s well after 9 AM; too late for a man to be sleeping.”

“I have to say, you sound a lot more chipper than you did last week.”

“I could say the same about you. I gather that things went well at Camp Grant.”

“Pretty good, the Army took a hundred head at $8.50 a head. The Indian Bureau took the rest, another 87 head at the same price. You made out pretty good.”

“That is pretty good, Matthew, only you should have said that we made out pretty well.”

“We, Uncle?”

“I can’t run the Triple A very well, while I’m stuck on my back in here, and I certainly can’t run it all the way from Philadelphia. Someone has to be in charge on the spot. Someone I can trust, and who I know can do the job, and that’s you, Cap.”

“Me? What about Luke? Here’s already the foreman.”

“And he’s a damned good one, but he’s… a Negro. The men listen to him, but he couldn’t very well deal with outsiders; they’d never accept him as the one in charge. Since everyone knows you're my heir, they’ll accept you. I could just make you my manager, but it’d be easier – and fairer – to make you my partner.”
He chuckled. “Besides, I was planning to do it soon, anyway.”

“Even when you were feeling fit?”

“Even then. I was planning to talk to Milt about drawing up the papers as soon as we were done with the branding.”

“I’m very flattered, but are you sure I’m ready to be your partner?”

“I am. Like I said, I was going to do it anyway. This just moves things up a little.” Abner studied his nephew’s expression. “Of course, if you don’t think that you’re ready...”

“I… to tell the truth, I’m not sure. Can I think about it for a little bit?”

“You can, but not too long. I’m planning to leave for Philly in a few days. They’re making a special wagon for me to travel to Salt Lake City in. Then it’s a train all the way to Philly. I figure to leave as soon as it’s ready, and the Doc says I’m fit enough to travel in it.”

“Sounds good – that you’ll be able to travel so soon, I mean.” Cap considered the situation. “Can I ask you what sort of a partnership deal, exactly, you’re offering me?”

“You can read it for yourself. I asked Milt to draft up an agreement. It’s in the top drawer of the table next to my bed. Take it home and go through it paragraph by paragraph. Milt’ll be back from his honeymoon –”

“Honeymoon; when did he get married – and to who, as if I didn’t know?”

Abner laughed. “Jane, of course. Who else would he marry? The Judge married them at Shamus’ place on Monday, and they’re off honeymooning somewhere around here. He’s supposed to be back Thursday afternoon.”

Cap shook his head. “Last time I left town, Bridget… well, you know what happened then. This time, I leave and Milt and Jane get hitched. I think I’d better stay around for a while.”

“I don’t blame you, boy, especially when you’ve got Bridget to keep you company.”

* * * * *

“G’day t’ye, Miss Owens,” Shamus greeted Rosalyn near the swinging doors of his Saloon. “Ye’re getting t’be something of a regular over here.”

Rosalyn gave him a genteel smile. “Is that getting to be problem, Mr. O’Toole? You don’t object to my visiting Flora, do you?”

“If I did, I’d be telling ye. It don’t seem t’be doing her no harm, and I never stopped any of me… prisoners from talking to people.”

“Thank you for that, sir. I see that she’s having lunch just now. I believe that I’ll join her. Would you be so kind as to bring over a couple of beers for us?” When he nodded, she walked past him and over to the Free Lunch table.

Rosalyn filled a plate with a few slices of leftover chicken and some coleslaw. She picked up a fork and napkin and headed for the table where Flora was sitting. “May I join you?”

“Sure,” the other woman said. “Don’t you want something to drink?”

Rosalyn took a seat. “Mr. O’Toole is bringing over a beer. I took the liberty of ordering one for you, also.”

“It’ll be beer for you, but some sort of near beer for me. He doesn’t let us drink the real stuff.”

“How sad. You keep watch, and I’ll switch them.”

“That’d be great. I’ve missed the taste of a real drink. He keeps me on a really short leash.”

“Well, then, let’s see what we can do to lengthen that leash. That is, if you still want that help we talked about.”

“I do. You just give me the chance to spit in his eye, and see how fast I take it.”

“Speaking of fast, here he comes.”

Shamus came over to the table. He set down the tray he was carrying and handed Rosalyn the beer on the left of the tray and Flora the tray on the right. “Here’s the beer for each of ye t’be drinking.”

“Thank you, Mr. O’Toole.” Rosalyn took a silver dollar from her reticule and tossed it onto the tray.

Shamus gave a quick nod. “And thanks t’ ye, Miss Owens. I know ye’ll each enjoy the beer I gave ye.” He winked and started back to the bar.

“Now,” Rosalyn whispered, “while his back is turned.” She quickly switched her glass for Flora’s.

Flora smiled. “Amen to that.” She reached for the beer in front of her. She was about to pick it up, when the voice in her head began, forcing her to reach across the table for the beer in front of Rosalyn. “That dirty…”

“Whatever is the matter?” the other woman asked.

“He… ordered me to enjoy the beer he gave me. That means that I have to drink that one, even if you switched them so I could have the other.” She growled under her breath. “If I had any second thoughts about your offer, that killed them.”

“I should say so. Let’s begin then.” The demimonde took a breath. “You first have to learn how to flirt. Flirting is a way of showing a man that you’re… interested in him and would like him to be interested in you in the same way.”

“How do I pick the man to flirt with?”

“You don’t – not at first, anyway. You flirt with every man you can. Later on, when you’re ready, you pick a man -- or two or three – to really go to work on. You decide that on the basis of who can do you the most good.”

“But how do I flirt with so many men?”

“There’s lots of ways. For instance – umm, does O’Toole have you dancing with the men on Saturday nights?”

“He does, damn his eyes.”

“At some point between the dances, try sitting like this.” She turned sideways on her chair, crossed her legs, and arched her back sensuously. “And when you do, run your fingers through that pretty hair of yours.”

Flora chuckled. “That’ll get their attention. It would have gotten mine.”

“Gets their peckers at attention, too -- but I guess you know all about that. There are other things you can do to, ah, work a whole crowd. You look a man in the eye – just pick one at random -- while you’re dancing as a Cactus Blosom, and wink at him, smile and run your tongue along your upper lip. That man – and every man near him – will think he’s the one you’re flirting with.”

“Anything more?”

“Lots; you can actually be looking square away from him, but still be flirting. But I’ll save most of the moves for my next ‘class’, if you don’t mind.”

“Most of them; that means you’ll tell me a few more today?”

Rosalyn nodded. “You ought to have a few principles ready to go for those Saturday dances. When a man comes up to hand you his ticket, smile and look at his face for a few seconds, then turn away, but glance back at him with your eyelids lowered a little.”

She gave Flora a quick demonstration of what she’d just described, watching the new woman’s reaction.

“I've seen that done to me a million times,” the latter said.

Rosalyn nodded. “Your own memories will be your best teacher. While you’re dancing a slow dance, lay your head on his chest and hum along. Run your hand slowly along his arm or on his chest. And when the dance is over, you smile at him.”

“And thank him for the dance, sure, I know that.”

“I expect that you do, but you’ll get better results if you say something like…” Rosalyn lowered her voice, “I had so much fun dancing with you, Joe.” She brought her hand up to her bosom. “I do hope that you’ll ask me again.” She looked away, over to the left, and when she looked back, her eyelids were half-closed. “See what I mean?” she asked.

Flora laughed. “I do. I most surely do, and I can’t wait to try it, just to see that old bastard’s reaction when he thinks I'm having a good time, in spite of everything he can do.”

* * * * *

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Cap said, gently tapping Bridget on the shoulder.

She turned at the sound of his voice. “Hello, Cap, what’s the matter?”

“I was wondering if you knew where I might find the prettiest girl in town, but I seem to have found her.”

“My, you’re certainly in a good mood today.”

“Why shouldn’t I be? It’s a bright, sunny day; I’m talking to a beautiful girl; Uncle Abner’s making me his partner…” He let his voice trail off, while he watched her face.

“He’s what?!” She jumped to her feet. “Oh, Cap, that’s… that’s wonderful.” She raised her arms to hug him, but stopped, her expression changing from joy to worry. Would he want someone like her to hug him? “Con… Congratulations.” She reached out and shook his hand. “I guess that means he doesn’t think of you as his ‘idiot nephew’ anymore.”

“Well, now, fancy you remembering me saying that.” Cap had to grin. “He may still think that way, for all I know, but he doesn’t have much of a choice. He needs somebody to run his ranch, while he’s in Philadelphia getting his back fixed.”

“Yes, but it didn’t have to be you. He could have left his foreman in charge. And even if he wanted you to be running the place, he still didn’t have to make you his partner. He did it because he trusts you, Cap.”

She sighed and bowed her head. “I-I wish I could trust somebody – anybody -- that much.”

“Bridget...” Cap gently, slowly put a finger under her chin and lifted, so that her face was raised, and she was looking into his eyes. “You can trust me, Bridget.” He took a breath. “Please, please try.”

He could read the sadness in her glance as she answered him, “I-I don’t know if I can – yet, Cap, but thank you, thank you so very much for offering.”

* * * * *

` DANCERS WANTED!

` The Eerie Saloon is Looking for Young Ladies

` To Join the Eerie “Cactus Blossoms”

` Must be of Good Character and

` At Least 18 Years Old

` If Interested: Contact Molly O’Toole

` At the Eerie Saloon

Shamus put the sheet back on the top of the stack. “These’re just what we wanted, Love. I’ll be sure t’be getting them posted all around the town.”

“Ye might want t’be posting one in here, Shamus. Ye never know who’d be seeing it.”

He nodded. “Might as well. A quite a few women come in to eat at Maggie’s table, like that Rosalyn.”

“She'd be a handful,” Molly replied.

The bartender shrugged. “I just hope we get a lass or two t’be applying for the job. The ones most likely to be interested are already making more money than we can pay working in cathouses like Wilma.”

“Shamus O'Toole! Who says that only bad girls want to dance? Was I such a bad girl when you first met me?”

Her husband tried to mollify her with a smile. “Molly, me love, ye set me right on that score the instant ye dumped that beer over me head for asking, and I’ve loved ye for the angel ye was ever since.” When his wife's look remained dubious, he decided to stop talking. Peeling two of the flyers out of the stack, he left the bar to tack them up.

One was posted outside near the door; the other on the wall by the bar.

* * * * *

“Is there any Old Business?” Horace Styron asked the other members of the church board of elders.

Willie Gotefreund raised his hand. “Ja, der petition about Trisha ist come due. We vote on if she stays on der boardt or not.”

“He’s right, Horace,” the Judge added. “The thing is… you signed the petition for her removal, as I recall”

Horace glared at Humphreys. “I did. What about it?”

“You can’t run the meeting while we’re talking ‘bout your motion,” Rupe Warrick replied.

The Judge nodded. “Rupe’s right, Horace. Give him the gavel.”

“Is this some trick of yours, Humphreys?” Styron glanced around the room. “Where’s that damned Quinlan to make a ruling?” Then he remembered. “Oh, yeah, he’s off with that potion tramp of his.”

Milt and Jane had been sitting quietly in the back of the hall. He rose and walked quickly forward. “Mr. Styron, if you say one more untoward word about my wife, I will beat the living shit out of you and sue what little is left for every penny you have.”

“There… there’s no need to make threats, Milt.” Styron took a step back, keeping the table between himself and Quinlan. “I-I apologize.”

Milt stopped. “I’ll accept it… if Jane will.” He looked back at her and smiled. She blushed and gave a quick nod. “She does,” Milt continued, “but my threat stands. As far as parliamentary rules go, Mr. Warrick is correct. The Chair can’t preside if he’s one of the makers of the question under debate.”

“Thanks, Milt,” Rupe said, reaching for the gavel. “And best wishes to you and Jane.”

“Glad to be of help.” Milt walked back to Jane and sat down beside her.

She took his hand in hers. “Thanks for that ‘beat the living shit’ part, Milt.” She giggled and kissed his cheek. “I liked it a lot.”

“You’re my wife, Jane, and I won’t let anybody say a word against you.” He squeezed her hand. “And when this damned meeting is over…”

She blushed. “We surely will.”

* * * * *

Rupe pounded the gavel once. “All right, there’s a petition on the floor that Trisha O’Hanlan be removed from the board because of…” He took a quick look at the copy of the petition. “…unseemly behavior. It doesn’t say what she did, exactly, but whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad if five of you think we have to kick her off the board for it.”

“Can I say something?” Trisha raised her hand.

Horace smirked. “What lie have you got cooked up for us, now, Trisha?”

“Nothing as bad as the lies you and the others have cooked up about me.” Trisha rose to her feet. She took a deep breath and began. “I ran for the board because I wanted to make things better. I wanted to help the congregation help itself to grow into a caring family that served itself and the rest of our community. We’ve made a start at that with the creation of the building fund and with the dance that so many of you helped with and even more of you enjoyed.”

“When I was elected, I looked forward to serving a long time, to years of bringing our congregation together to do good works. That’s not possible now. The Bylaws say a woman can’t be elected to the Board, so I’m out as soon as my term is up in September.”

“If not sooner,” Cecelia Ritter yelled, and several of the women cheered.

Trisha gave her a wry smile. “Thank you, Cecelia, for making my point. I’ve tried very hard to work for the congregation, the entire congregation, but some people haven’t been interested in that. All they’ve wanted was to get me off the Board. I don’t like it, but I’ve come to see that my being on the Board has become a divisive issue. I don’t want that to continue.”

“Are you resigning?” Horace asked hopefully.

Trisha shook her head. “No, Horace, I’m not. A couple years ago, Tom Rhodes was one of the Board Members-at-Large, the same as I am now. He had to go back to Ohio on some family business, and he got stuck there for almost six months. As soon as he knew he wasn’t coming back anytime soon, he took a leave of absence. He was still on the Board, but somebody else went to the meetings in his place. That’s what I’m asking for now, a leave of absence.”

“Second,” Dwight Albertson yelled.

Styron stared at her in surprise. “A leave of absence, somebody else’d take your place, have your vote?”

“Yes,” Trisha said, looking down at the table.

The man smiled. “Then I second it, too.”

“All in favor?” Rupe asked. When the other six Board members all raised their hands, he did the same. “Passed unanimously; I guess the gavel is yours again, Horace. There’s no sense voting on the petition, seeing as Trisha isn’t really on the Board anymore.”

Styron rose, a toothy smile of triumph on his face. “No, there isn’t. And I nominate Clyde Ritter to take --”

“Sorry, Horace,” Trisha interrupted. “As the person taking the leave of absence, I get to pick who fills in for me.”

“What!” Styron practically howled.

The Judge nodded. “That’s the way the Bylaw reads – doesn’t it, Milt.”

“It does.” Milt held up a small, leather bound notebook. “Article 8, Section 10. I can show it to you in my copy of the Bylaws if you’d like, Mr. Styron.”

The man grimaced. “No, that… that won’t be necessary.”

“Glad to see you agree,” Trisha remarked, sounding almost casual. “My nomination is my brother, Liam O’Hanlan.” She made a sweeping gesture. “Liam, get up here and take over for me.”

Liam was sitting about halfway back, next to Kaitlin. He clambered to his feet and started for the stage. “Not that we really need to,” Judge Humphreys said, “but I move that we formally accept Trisha’s nomination of Liam as her substitute for the remainder of her term.”

“Can I second that?” Trisha asked.

The Judge shook his head in agreement. “You can. You’re still on the Board until your replacement takes over.” He leaned over. “Now, you ask, ‘all in favor’, Horace.”

“All in favor?” The man watched as Trisha, Humphreys, Dwight Albertson, and Rupe Warrick all raised their hands.

A moment later, Jubal Cates also raised a hand. “Seems only fair to honor the lady’s last wish.” Styron and Willie Gotefreund raised their hands slowly, as if in surrender.

“Passed unanimously,” Horace said, not really trying to hide his disgust. “We’ll take a five minute recess while everybody catches their breath and tries to figure out what just happened.”

* * * * *

Styron watched the stragglers come back into the schoolhouse, as the meeting resumed.

The O’Hanlans were all standing together near the window, talking. “I better get up there,” Liam said. “Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Liam,” Trisha told him, shaking his hand. “And thanks for your help.”

Kaitlin leaned in and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Something extra for luck.”

“I feel lucky already.” He smiled and walked over to take the seat Trisha had used. He turned to the board president. “Do I need to get sworn in or anything, Horace?”

Styron gave him a sour look. “No, you’re only a ‘substitute’, so you don’t count for that much.”

“Thanks, I’ll try to live down to your expectations.”

Styron pounded the gavel a couple of times to get everyone’s attention. “We’re starting again, folks. Does anyone else on the Board have any Old Business?” He waited a moment, but there was no response. “Okay, then, is there any new business?” He looked at the other board members, but, again, no one spoke.

“In that case,” he continued, “I understand that Reverend Yingling has something to say. Reverend…”

Yingling stood slowly, his hands at his lapels, as if preparing for some great oration. “Thank you, Horace and you other Board members, for giving me the opportunity to speak. As many of you know, I have been concerned about Shamus O’Toole and that amazing concoction of his. I have asked the Town Council to create a committee which would take control of whatever amount of potion now exists and any more that he might produce in the future. A petition has circulated in support of my request, and this board has also voted its support toward that end.”

“In spite of this overwhelming support – for which I am truly grateful – the Town Council has repeatedly postponed its final vote on this matter, often relying on the most trivial of excuses for doing so. The Council will meet again a week from tonight, and I have come to ask that our church board of elders reaffirm their support of these efforts by a second vote of confidence in the rightness of these efforts. Thank you.” He nodded to the Board and resumed his seat.

“So moved,” Jubal Cates said quickly.

Styron seconded. “All in favor…”

“Hold it, Horace,” the Judge quickly cut him short. “I think that we need to talk about this a little before the vote takes place. Right, Milt?”

Milt nodded. “He’s right, Horace.”

“All right,” Horace said. “Who wants to start off?”

Humphreys raised a hand. “I will.” He flipped his lapel to revel a pale blue ribbon that was pinned to it. “For those of you who can’t read this ribbon, it says, ‘Trust Shamus.’ I trust Reverend Yingling implicitly in matters of Faith. He’s a good man and a good minister, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. But in matters of the potion, which isn’t a moral issue as far as I can see, I trust Shamus O’Toole. He’s done a pretty good job so far. He dealt with the Hanks Gang, saved a boy’s life, and, right now, he’s got two more former men that he’s looking after. Making the potion, giving it to people, and taking care of them after they drink it is all part of the same job. Unless somebody else wants to take over all of that job, then let’s let the people who are doing it so well now just keep on doing it.”

“Panderer,” Cecelia Ritter yelled, jumping to her feet. “I think Mr. O’Toole isn’t the only one who should be losing a job. We’ll be voting on Board members in September and on your judgeship in November, and after that you may not have either job.” A few members of the crowd cheered loudly.

A few others were pinning on their own “Trust Shamus” ribbons. Styron frowned. “Thank you, Cecelia, but it’s the members of the Board who are supposed to be speaking now. Still…” He paused for effect. “…this Board was elected to do the will of the Congregation. So, if no one minds…” He glanced at the others at the table. “I’ll ask those in favor of giving continued support to the efforts of our spiritual leader, to rise for a serpentine vote.”

“A what?” someone yelled.

Milt stood up, still holding Jane’s hand. “I’ll explain, Horace. Everybody in favor stands up. Horace points to someone to start. They say, ‘one’ and sit down. The next one standing says, ‘two’ and so on, until everyone’s sitting, and we have the count. Then, those opposed do the same thing.” He quickly took his seat, placing his arm around his new wife.

“Do like Milt said,” Horace told the crowd. “If you support the Reverend, stand up.” When everyone who did, was standing, he pointed to Clyde Ritter, sitting next to Cecelia in the front row on the left.

Clyde shouted out, “One” and sat down. Cecelia said, “Two” just as loudly. The vote swept from row to row, finally going up to the members of the Board. Willie Gotefreund took his seat last after calling out, “Forty-five.”

“All right,” Styron said, hiding his disgust at the low count. “Those opposed, you stand up now.” He waited for them to get to their feet. “Trisha,” he told the former board member, “you start this count.”

Liam was the last, this time. He sat after saying “Forty-one.”

“According to the poll we just took, the Congregation supports the Reverend,” Horace said.

“Not by much,” Jubal Cates added, nervously. “Maybe we should hold off on this?”

Styron shook his head. “No, I’m calling the vote now. Board members in favor raise your hands.” He looked around. “Willy… Jubal… anyone else… Dwight, thank you, Dwight, and myself. Those opposed. Judge… Rupe… and Liam, no surprise there.” He smiled. “The vote is to 4 to 3 in support of Reverend Yingling. I’ll draft a letter for you in the name of the Board, Reverend.”

“Thank you, Horace,” Yingling said, appearing to smile. “And my thanks to you loyal members of the Board.”

The gavel sounded once more. “Any other New Business?” Horace asked. “No, in that case, I declare this meeting adjourned.”

* * * * *

Thursday, May 16, 1872

“’Morning, everybody,” Jane said, as she walked through the back door and into Maggie’s kitchen.

Maggie slid the frying pan of scrambled eggs over to a cooler back burner. That done, she hurried over to hug her friend. “Jane, welcome back. I did not expect you so early.”

“Why not? You come back from your honeymoon ‘round breakfast time.”

“Yes, but it was my restaurant I was coming back to. I was worried about it the whole time, no matter how good I knew you were or how much Ramon tried to distract me.”

Jane giggled. “I bet he was real good at… distracting you.”

“Mmm, he was. He still is, I am happy to say.” Maggie looked at the newlywed. “And I think it is the same with Milt and you.”

“It is,” Jane giggled. “It truly is, and the only reason I come back this early is ‘cause he needed t’get back to work on something for Mr. Slocum.”

Maggie shrugged. “That is the problem in being married. Sometimes, the men have to leave before we want them to leave.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

Flora picked that moment to come in from the Saloon. “Well, now, look’s who’s finally come back.”

“G’morning, Flora,” Jane replied.

Flora set the empty tray she was carrying down on the worktable. “Lylah’s set the table, and I just took out the coffee and the bread. I guess we’re done, now that she’s…” Flora pointed at Jane. “…back.”

“You and Lylah are done, when I say that you are done.” Maggie answered firmly. “Jane, will you finish with the eggs while I find something else for Flora to do.”

Jane just managed not to laugh. “Sure, Maggie.” She reached for an apron. ‘That one’s still putting her foot in it,’ she thought, as she went over to tend the eggs.

* * * * *

“Roscoe,” Trisha said cheerily, “what brings you in here today?”

Roscoe Unger walked over to the counter. “Good morning, Trisha. I came over to interview you – you and Liam, both, actually, about what happened at the church board meeting last night.” He studied their faces. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

“Why not?” Liam answered with a shrug of his shoulders. “Things are quiet right now, so it should be all right.” He glanced over at a tall Mexican who was stacking 50-pound sacks of dried corn meal. “Mateo,” he called out. “Trisha and I are going into the office for a while. Take care of anybody that comes in, okay?”

The man nodded without looking up from his work. “Si, Señor Liam.”

“Thanks,” Liam replied. “Okay, Roscoe… Trisha, let’s go.” He led them over to the office and opened the door. “Ladies first,” he told her, making a broad gesture with his other arm.

As Trisha walked into the office, it occurred to her that she’d never really agreed to being interviewed. ‘Well,’ she thought, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound. And I’ll do most of the talking once we get started anyway.’

Two desks, hers and Liam’s, were pushed together to form a common workspace. She took her own seat and pointed to a nearby wooden chair for Roscoe. Liam shut the door and sat down at his desk, turning the chair to face Unger.

“Let’s start at the beginning,” the newsman said, taking a small pad and a yellow pencil from his inside jacket pocket. “Trisha, why, exactly, did you quit the board last night?”

She smiled. “I didn’t actually quit. I took a leave of absence. Strictly speaking, I’m still on the Board. Only it’ll be Liam sitting there at the table during the meetings, speaking and voting instead of me.” She couldn’t help sounding sad as she spoke.

“Okay, then, why did you take a leave of absence?”

“Because I was too much of a distraction; the Board and the congregation were stuck in a rut, spending way too much time talking about me, instead of the important work they should have been doing. And it wasn’t just talking, they were arguing about me. That’s not right. A congregation’s supposed to be a family, with the board at its head. People can’t be spending all that time yelling at each other, arguing with each other like Cecelia Ritter – no, don’t mention any names, please. Please. Just say like so many of the people were doing, arguing about me, and then arguing about the people who were disagreeing with them about me.”

Roscoe waggled his head in agreement. “Okay, no names.” To himself, he added, ‘besides Cecelia Ritter’s head has already gotten too big from seeing her name in the paper.’

“Why didn’t you take this leave of absence back in December, when Horace Styron and the others tried to get you off the board?”

“Because I thought that it would blow over, that it was more a case of folks not being sure how much the potion changed me. Heck, I wasn’t sure of that myself, but I thought that I could do the job, and I wanted a chance to try, to prove it to myself and to everybody else.” She chuckled. “And I did. The dance was a great success.”

“It was, and you deserve a lot of the credit for that.”

“I’ll take a share of it, but it took a lot of work by a lot of people, and they all deserve a share of the credit.”

“The petition that Horace Styron and the others wrote up claimed that you behaved improperly at the dance. That was why they wanted you off the board. Would you care to comment on those charges?”

“No.” She stared down at her desk for a moment before she raised her head again. “But I guess that I have to. I don’t think I did anything that was so very wrong. I danced with a few men and ate and drank and generally enjoyed myself, just the same as everybody else.”

“The petition claims that you walked off into the woods with someone, a Rhys Goodwyn. What do you say to that charge?”

“I danced with Mr. Goodwyn. Then he was kind enough to accompany me, while I walked around looking at the decorations and such. I don’t know why people made such a fuss out of it. I saw a number of couples strolling around during the evening. I wasn't a wallflower when I was a man, and I'm not one now.”

“Are you and Goodwyn a couple?”

“There were two of us. That’s a couple, and that’s all there is to it.” Damn, she was getting tired of lying, but she could hardly admit that he’d gotten her drunk and seduced her. Or how much she’d wanted him to seduce her. No, she couldn’t say that any more than she could say that she’d been with two other men besides Rhys and that she was pregnant by one of them. ‘Especially,’ she suddenly thought, ‘not to Roscoe – and why am I so concerned about telling him? It’s telling Liam that I should worry about.’

He seemed to see the pain in her face. “I guess that is all.” He shifted in his chair. “Liam, now that you’ll be sitting in for Trisha on the meetings, do you have any plans on what you’ll be doing?”

“I’ll be supporting the Building Fund she started. She and I agree on most matters, and I agreed to take her place to protect her ideas. Neither of us wants to see them dismantled by whoever else might have taken her seat.”

“Is that all you’ll be doing, protecting your sister’s ideas?”

“No, I’ve a few ideas of my own that I’d like to see done.”

Trisha raised a curious eyebrow. “Oh, do you, now, Liam. And what sort of ideas are they?”

“For one thing, I’d like to see the church run some events jointly with the Mexican church. Some of the things that were said at the last town council meeting tells me that there’s still a lot of distrust between us and them. We’re all neighbors here. We don’t have to love everybody, but we have to learn to treat each other with respect.”

Roscoe quickly wrote that down. He glanced back up and asked, “What sort of thing are you talking about?”

“There isn’t much time, but I thought the board and the church could co-sponsor a Fourth of July town picnic.” He took quick look at the calendar on the wall. “The Fourth is a Thursday, a workday, but we could have it on Saturday. Maybe we could even have a two-day party, one day at the church and the other at the field by the schoolhouse. We could have Mexican food and things like those pinyatas they celebrate with and fireworks the first day. Then have fried chicken and sports – baseball maybe – and more fireworks the second.”

Trisha frowned. “That’d be kind of expensive, wouldn’t it?”

“Not too expensive,” her brother replied. “We could sell tickets, maybe have a raffle with prizes that merchants could donate. The ladies from both churches could pack picnic baskets, fix them up real nice, and we could auction them off. Folks do that all the time. Some of the money’d help pay for the picnic, and their church and our own building fund could split whatever’s left fifty-fifty.”

Roscoe considered what Liam had just said. “Those’re pretty good ideas, Liam. Do you have any more?”

“I sure do, and not just about the picnic. I’ve a notion or two about other ways to raise money for our building fund, ideas about how to get people to support the whole idea of what the building fund’s there for. They might not help make us any money, but they’d make it harder for anyone to kill the idea.”

The newsman leaned back in his chair. “Tell me more.”

“Sure.” Liam began talking. He and Roscoe went on for more than an hour. They got so involved that they barely noticed Trisha leave, or noticed the frustrated look on her face as she did.

* * * * *

“Damnation!” Thaddeus Yingling thundered, slamming his pencil down onto his desk.

Martha was dusting in the parlor, close enough to hear him. “Are you all right, dear?” she asked, hurrying into his study.

“Yes – no, blast it! No, I’m not. I’m so mad about what happened at the board meeting last night that I can’t get any work done on my sermon.”

“But you told me that the board voted to support you. Wasn’t that what you wanted?”

“It was, but the vote was 4 to 3, the narrowest of victories. And the congregation, they were even worse.”

“What do you mean, the congregation was worse?”

“Horace Styron called for a straw poll. I believe that he wanted to show those disloyal members of the board how strongly the congregation supported me.” He snorted. “That certainly went wrong. The poll went 45 for me and… 41 – for-ty-one…” He pronounced each syllable separately. “…against. Those ungrateful souls voted against me, their minister, and against the holy work I am trying to do.”

“Perhaps,” she said softly, gently placing her hand on his shoulder, “perhaps you’re trying too hard. All this business with the potion, I think it’s… confusing people, making them forget all the wonderful things you’ve done for them.”

“No!” He pulled away from her. “I-I have to do this. I can’t allow any chance that… that some innocent might be harmed by that foul brew. It's happened before.” He took a breath, as if steeling himself for a fight. “I have to try even harder. I have to succeed. I am the shepherd to these folk, and I shall return my sheep to the fold.”

“The potion will be mine,” he went on, “and when it is he – they, they will all see the error of their ways, and there will be no more rebellion against G-d’s Will.”

* * * * *

Abner Slocum finished reading the last page and shifted it to the back of the set of papers he was holding. “This looks fine, Milt. How soon will you have the copies ready for Matthew and I to sign?”

“I have to make those changes we’ve discussed; there aren’t many of them. I should have them done by late Friday afternoon.”

“That should do it. He’ll be coming into town Saturday morning, and we can sign them then.”

“I’ll have those changes to your will done, too. You can sign it at the same time.”

“That will be even better. Red tells me that the wagon they’re fixing up for me will be done by tomorrow. The Doc wants to try it out. If it works, I can leave right after everything’s signed.”

“Are you sure about this trip?”

“No, but I’m sure that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life lying on my back with only one working arm and no working legs.”

“I can see your point, and I wish you all the luck in the world.” He put the papers back into his briefcase. “I’d better go, if I’m going to get these documents back when I promised.”

“Goodbye, then, and give all my love to your new wife.”

Milt chuckled. “Thanks, Abner, but I’d rather give her all my love. I like to think that she prefers it.”

“I’m sure she does; now, get going on my legal work.”

* * * * *

` “Informed by Eerie School Board of your firing for unseemly behavior.
` Your name removed from our accredited teachers list. Do not use
` Hartford Female Seminary as reference in future.”

` H. Louis Dewey,
` Director of Teacher Placement

Nancy stared at the telegram again. “Of all the deceitful…” She crumbled it up and shoved it into her apron pocket. If one of the town council members had actually told this lie to the Seminary, she was never going to get her job back. If someone else in town had sent it, ‘The more likely case,’ she told herself, then she was still going to have a very hard time getting her job back. “And an even harder time holding onto it,” she muttered under her breath. “And I don’t have the credentials anymore to get a teaching job anywhere else.”

Now, just to get a new teaching job -- anywhere -- she'd have to first get involved in an ugly haggle all the way across the country.

‘I’ve known those people for years,’ she thought, ‘and they’ve known me just as long. How could they believe a lie like that so easily? Was everything they told me, every kindness they ever showed me – was everything I ever believed in been just another lie?’

It made her angry and made her feel alone. Nancy had been thinking of giving up teaching anyway, but she wanted it to be her choice, not someone else's. She didn't want to leave both it and her good name behind.

‘Maybe I should ask Mr. Whitney and the others to write Mr. Dewey. Let him, let everyone know the sort of despicable people who would do such a thing. No,’ she realized, 'that… that would just drag things out. I-I might not win and it would hurt so much worse if I lost.’

“All right,” she growled. “If they want to keep calling me a tramp, that’s what they'll get. They've done their best work on me; let's see how much they like the results!” She all but stomped over to the bar. “Molly, may I talk to you for a minute… upstairs?”

The older woman noted Nancy's angry flush and nodded. “Sure ye can.” She came out from behind the bar, where she’d been stacking glasses, and followed the waitress to the second floor.

* * * * *

“Now what is it that ye had t’be getting me up here t’talk about?”

Nancy pulled the telegram from her pocket. “This!” She thrust it into Molly’s hand.

“Oh, my,” Molly said, after a quick look. “Ye don’t really think any of them on the council wrote ‘em, do ye?”

“No… no, I don’t. Whit wouldn’t have let me stay in his home if he felt that way, and Arsenio’s not the sort of man who’d do something like writing to the Seminary after all the help I’ve been giving to Laura.”

“That still leaves Aaron Sil –”

“That darling, old man – never, not the way he’s been such a gentleman to me. I know I haven't been too good at seeing hypocrites for what they are, but I don't think anyone on the board is that kind.”

“Then who d’ye think done it?”

“If I had to make a guess, Cecelia Ritter. Or Zenobia Carson; her husband runs the telegraph. But, to tell the truth, Molly, I don’t care. Whoever it was, he – or she – settled something for me. I'm giving up teaching. I was thinking about it before, but now, much as I loved the main part of it, I won’t go back to being the timid little schoolmarm under the scrutiny of such narrow minds.”

“What’re ye gonna do then?”

“Well…” She clenched her fists and set her jaw. “I saw that flyer you put up yesterday. I don't know why, but I started thinking of myself up on stage and I couldn't get that thought off my mind all day. Flora and Lylah don't seem to like what they've been doing, but to me it looks like a lot of fun. Now I suddenly realize that I have nothing left to lose. It should be frightening, but it makes me feel free. I can actually try being a dancer.”

Molly looked truly surprised. “Why a dancer?”

Nancy shrugged. “They make a lot more money than a waitress, don't they?”

“Aye…they do,” Molly answered slowly. She studied the woman for a moment. “Ye’re surely pretty enough, but I don't think it's the money yer thinking about right now. If this is only about getting revenge on people for name-calling ye, think again. As much as we love ye, Nancy, the saloon business is serious, and we need a serious-minded girl to help us stay in business. I'm just afraid that you'll quit the first time yer actually asked to go out on stage and show off your knees.”

“I am serious. You can trust me, Molly. I've never been a quitter. If I'll say I'll do something, I'll do it. I'm going to become the best darned --” She took a determined breath. “Best damned dancer this town has ever seen! And it will be good for business. Think of all the customers who'll come in just to see the school teacher they know doing the cancan.”

“Ay, that would be a novelty attraction for a little while. But do ye really want to be looked at the way men are going t'be looking at you? Do ye want to advertise that yer some sort of a fallen woman?”

Nancy's eyes flashed and that expression Carl sometimes used rushed to her lips. “Damned straight!”

Molly regarded her skeptically. This hardly seemed to be the same young lady who had offered to fill in for Laura Caulder only weeks before. “Even if ye really want the job, Nancy, it won't be any stroll down the lane. It takes hard work and a lot o'practice. How well do ye move? Can ye do the dancing?”

“I'm as good at dancing as the Cactus Blossoms are.”

“Let’s see.”

“See what?”

“Let's see how much ye know how to do already.”

They were standing in the back hallway where Molly rehearsed with Flora and Lylah. Nancy didn't seem quite sure about what Molly was asking. To lift her skirts to the knees and start kicking? Then her face brightened. She turned, faced the open floor, and took a few steps. Then, stretching her arms out over her head, she suddenly lunged forward. Her hands touched down on the floor solidly and her body formed a “T” with her legs. The momentum of the roll carried her sideways. First one foot, then the other, touched down. It took her only a couple seconds to collect herself. “Ta da!” she said cheerily, her arms raised over her head like a circus performer.

“Bravo,” Molly said walking over. “Yer just full o'surprises today. And where did ye learn t’be doing a cartwheel like that?”

Still a little breathless, Nancy replied, “I was quite the tomboy, when I was younger. Carl and I grew up on a farm back in Pennsylvania, with only each other to play with. I learned to do cartwheels and climb trees just to keep up with him.”

Molly put her hands on her hips and took a good second look at Nancy. “I’d never o’guessed it. Ye’ve always been the perfect lady.”

“You can thank my aunt and uncle for that. We went to live with them in Hartford after my parents died. Aunt Clementine still refers to my first years with her and Uncle Nathaniel as her ‘Time of Great Trial’, but eventually, her lessons took hold.”

“They surely did. Can ye do other stunts like that?”

“I used to be able to do a double cartwheel, but I’d want to practice before I tried that one in public. I can do somersaults… tucks and rolls, too.” She took a breath. “At least, I used to be able to do them.”

“And ye will again, I’m thinking.” Molly spat in her hand and held it out for Nancy to shake. “If ye won't mind wearing a dancehall costume and kicking yer heart out, welcome to the Cactus Blossoms.”

Nancy laughed. She spat in her own hand and shook hands with Molly. “Thank you… boss.”

* * * * *

Kaitlin poured fresh hot water into her teacup. “Would you like some more tea, Trisha?”

“Yes, please.” Trisha replied, holding up her own, almost empty cup.

Kaitlin filled Trisha’s cup and set the pot down, covering it with a tea cozy. Then she walked over and sat down across from her transformed ex-husband. “Have you decided when you’re going to tell Liam… and Emma? You did promise, you know?”

“I know.” She sipped at her chamomile tea. “I-I was thinking… how about tomorrow night? Liam will be by for his usual Friday night supper.”

“Tomorrow? That’s a rather nasty birthday present for Emma, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but you’re the one pushing me to tell. It’s just bad luck that tomorrow is her birthday.” She looked hopefully at Kaitlin. “We could put off telling them for a while.”

“No, and I don’t think we should tell Liam, without telling her as well.” She gave a wistful sigh. “Maybe she’ll like the idea of finally having a little brother or sister enough not to mind that it’s you who’ll be the mother.”

“Oh, sure, and may we can go outside after supper and watch the pigs flying by.”

* * * * *

Nancy was standing at the bar, waiting for a drink order, when Clyde Ritter walked over. “Good evening, Miss Osbourne.”

“Mr. Ritter,” she said with a sigh. “The last thing I need is more trouble from you. Please go away.”

“I was just being sociable… Nancy. You were a boarder in my house last school year.”

“I remember. I also remember why I left. You’re a married man, and I’ll respect that even if you won’t.”

He smirked. “Your loss, and, for the record, you weren’t the reason I came over here tonight.” He pointed to Flora, who had just come out of the curtained off “dressing room” under the stairs, where she’d put on her blouse and skirt after her early evening show. “She is.”

“That’s her misfortune, then.” Before he could reply, R.J. put the pitcher and five glasses down on her tray. She lifted it quickly and headed over to Bridget’s poker table, as fast as she could walk through the crowd.

Ritter shrugged and hurried over to the mass of men forming around Flora. “You were enchanting as always, Flora,” he told her, once he was close enough.

Flora glanced at the mustachioed speaker. ‘Let’s just see if Rosalyn knew what she was talking about,’ Flora thought. “Why thank you, thank all of you boys.” She smiled broadly and looked down, her eyes half-closed. When she looked up a moment later, she flashed her lashes at them. “I just love dancing for all you handsome, handsome men.”

From the way the crowd ate up the slop she’d just fed them, Flora decided that Rosalyn certainly did know how to handle men. Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. Rosalyn knew how to mint the coin of the realm, but did she know what could be bought with it?

* * * * *

Friday, May 17, 1872

Carl strode a few feet into the Saloon and walked over to where his sister was sitting. “G’morning, Nancy. You on break or something?”

“Carl,” she returned his greeting. “What brings you to town today?”

“Arsenio and Sam got that ambulance done this morning, the one they was rigging up for Mr. Slocum – at least, they think it’s done. Before the Doc’ll let the boss go off in it, he wants t’test it out. So he’s laying down in the back, where Mr. Slocum will be, while Red Tully drives the thing all ‘round, especially over that bumpy trail up to Chiricahua Mesa outside o’town.”

She considered this information. “What happens if he says it’s safe for Mr. Slocum to ride in it?”

“Then Red’ll use it to take him up to Utah t’catch a train east. Angel Montero’s gonna go along, to t’drive the thing back here t’Eerie. Mr. Slocum says he wants the Doc t’have it.”

“That’s very good of him.”

“He’s a good man. What’s new with you, Sister?”

“Nothing good.” She fetched the telegram out of her apron pocket. “I got this yesterday.” She tossed the envelope across the table to him.

Carl took out the sheet of paper and read it slowly. “Tarnation! Now who the hell wrote and told ‘em a lie like that?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think that it was any of the actual members of the town council, not after they’ve all told me that they wanted me to come back and be a teacher again.”

“You gonna do it? You gonna take up the job again?”

“Not after this! Somebody in this town hated me enough to send a fake letter to the Seminary. If I take that job, she’ll be waiting to do even worse.”

“She? You know who done it, don’t you?”

“I’ve a good idea who did it, and her initials are Cecelia Ritter -- that, or Cecelia and Zenobia Carson. Tom Carson is the town telegrapher, after all. He’d know that the telegram to the Seminary was a lie, but he’d probably send it anyway, if his wife asked him to.”

“So, what’re you gonna do about it?”

“I’m not going to go scraping and bowing to the sort of people who’d send such a lying letter, to beg them to let me be a school teacher again, that’s for sure.” She paused for a moment, bracing for the argument she knew she was about to start. “I’ve talked to Molly O’Toole.”

“About the telegram?”

“Yes, but I mean I asked for a different job.”

“You want to cook or clean instead?” Carl asked bemusedly.

She was looking to one side, at the light coming in over the batwing doors. “I’m the newest member of the Cactus Blossoms.”

Her brother staggered half a step back. “The Cactus Blossoms! You mean to tell me that you’re gonna be up there with Flora and… and Lylah, strutting around in your underthings?”

“Actually, I expect to be doing some specialty dancing. I auditioned for the job with a cartwheel.”

Carl grimaced and scratched his head. “The schoolmarm’s gone, then, and the tomboy’s back.”

“She is.” Nancy rose to her feet and folded her arms in front of her. “You got a problem with that, Big Brother?”

“A problem? You're damned right I do!”

“I was just taking your advice,” Nancy averred with a smile, almost a laugh, and a sparkle in her eye.

“What are you talking about?”

“You said I shouldn't think about making a long career of waitressing, but that I should be on the lookout out for better opportunities. I'll be making a lot more money dancing.”

Carl felt so exasperated he could barely find words to speak. “You know I never meant for you to do anything so...so...”

“So what?” Nancy had asked that while driving a hard stare right into his eyes.

He knew that look, her “taking a stand” look. She had had the nerve to take it even before Reverend Yingling, and he had seen how much trouble it had gotten her into. “Since you asked, here's what I think.” He raised a hand and began to count off on his fingers. “First off, you ain’t never gonna be able to be a teacher again, if you do something like this, but I guess whoever sent word back to Hartford fixed that, pretty much, anyway.”

“I'm glad you realize that. Anything else?”

“We both know,” he continued, “that I’m gonna get a lot o’grief from my buddies at the ranch about you dancing. Hell, you actually taught a couple of the younger ones!”

She chuckled. “Tell them to drop by and see the show. If they come in on Saturday, I can teach them something new, how to dance with a woman.”

Carl scowled. “And we sure as all get-out won’t be telling Aunt Clemmie and Uncle Nat what you’re doing. They'd probably come all the way out here just to nail your hide to the wall, and then string me up for letting you do what you're doing.”

“Brother, it's not up to you to let me do things. I know that ladies aren’t supposed to take jobs like that, but my lady days are over!”

Carl looked like he'd argue more, but instead he stood there like a cocked hammer, towering above her. He studied her expression for a moment, then gave a sigh of resignation. “…I suppose if you’re gonna be stubborn as a goat – and that ain’t nothing new for you – you might as well be prancing around like one. But before you do, I hope you realize what a mistake you're making.”

“Don't be so sure, Carl. Maybe my real mistake was trying to be something I wasn't. Maybe I'm just catching up with the life I was meant to live. Who knows that some angel didn't write, 'Nancy Osbourne: Cancan girl' in the Book of Life, when I was born?”

Her brother gave a throaty noise and touched his Colt. “If he did, I'm going to shoot down that scrawny old angel like he was a turkey buzzard.”

* * * * *

Phillipia Stone looked down at the small clock ticking softly on the corner of her desk. “Children,” she said, clapping her hands to get their attention, “Please put your arithmetic books away. We’re going to end classes early today, so you may have a little treat.”

“Emma O’Hanlan’s birthday is tomorrow, and she brought cupcakes and lemonade to share with you all by way of celebration.”

Hermione’s hand shot up. “Mrs. Stone, did Emma’s mama make that food and bring it over, or was it her sister, Trisha?”

“What’s it to you, Hermione?” Emma stood at her desk and glared at the other girl.

Mrs. Stone tried to step in. “Yes, Hermione, why are you asking? I’m sure that the cupcakes and lemonade are delicious regardless of who made them.”

“I was just curious,” the girl replied. “I thought that Trisha O’Hanlan’d have the time to bake cupcakes, seeing as she got throwed off the church board Wednesday night.”

Phillipia shook her head. “I’m afraid that you have been misinformed Hermione. She’s still on the board. She just took a leave of absence –”

“But my Mama said,” Hermione interrupted.

“I have no idea what your mother told you, but if she said that Trisha O’Hanlan is no longer on the church board, it was… untrue.”

“Is so true; Mama wouldn’t lie!”

“I was at the meeting, Hermione, and I saw and heard what happened. However, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss church politics.” She took a breath. “The food is on the table in the back of the room. Please help yourselves when I call your group… first grade children, you may go ahead.”

* * * * *

“What was all that stuff about Emma’s… umm, sister?” Yully asked Hermione as the eighth graders walked towards the table. “Who cares what happened at the church meeting? It don’t mean anything.”

Hermione smiled, pleased to start up again. “It means that she realizes that there are some things a female – even a fake female like her and her ‘sister’ -- shouldn’t do. Women shouldn’t be on the church board, and Emma shouldn’t be playing that ball game with you boys.”

“Seems t’me that ain’t up to you, Hermione.” The girl looked up to see Bert McLeod ahead of them with the other seventh graders. “I wasn’t so sure that Emma should play, when she first showed up, but she’s done pretty good since then. Heck, she helped my team win a couple o’weeks ago.”

Emma beamed. “Thanks, Bert.”

“Why are you defending this freak, Bert McLeod?” Hermione looked daggers at the younger boy.

By this point, they reached the table. “He’s just being honest, Hermione,” Emma said. “You should try it yourself sometime.”

“I beg your pardon,” she said haughtily.

Emma chuckled. “You should. And you should tell the truth about things, too. For instances, tell me true if you liked these cupcakes my Ma made.”

“I will not! If I was to say anything true, it’s that you and Trisha are horrid potion freaks and have no business being around regular people.”

Emma clenched her jaw. That was it! She picked up a cupcake from the small tray they were in. It was a white cake frosted with light blue icing. “In the meantime, try one of these.” Smiling, now, she mashed the pastry in Hermione’s face.

“Mrs. Stone,” Hermione screamed, “did you see what Emma just did to me?”

“I’m afraid that I didn’t Hermione,” the teacher replied, covering her mouth with her hand, “and you really must learn not to make such a mess when you eat. Try to be a lady – like Emma.”

* * * * *

“Honey or lemon?” Lavinia Mackechnie asked.

Cecelia Ritter considered the choices for a moment before replying, “Honey, if you please.”

“Honey, it is.” Lavinia used a honey dipper, a small, wooden rod, with an egg-shaped piece of wood at the end. She dipped the egg in a jar of clover honey, then held it over Cecelia’s cup. The honey dripped out of concentric grooves in the “egg” and into the hot liquid. “It’s such a pity the church board meeting didn’t go better last Wednesday,” she said, as she finally handed her friend the tea.

Cecelia took an experimental sip. “Ahh… lovely,” she said by way of approval. She took a longer sip and added, “Actually, I thought that things went pretty well for us Wednesday night.”

“Whatever do you mean?” Hilda Scudder asked.

Cecelia smiled, confidently. “For a start, we finally got rid of that horrid Trisha O’Hanlan. Oh, I know… her brother will be filling her seat for the rest of her term. But that’s only till September. He can’t cause us much trouble in that short a time.”

“What if he decides to run for the spot in the fall election?” Zenobia Carson asked.

Their leader shook her head. “He’s never shown any interest in the board before this. Why should he start now? He only took the seat – I expect – to help Trisha out. Besides, if he does run, I’m more than sure that my Clyde can beat him.”

“You should ask Reverend Yingling to come out for Clyde in the election. The Reverend owes you a lot for all the work you’ve done supporting his petition.”

Grace MacLeod spoke softly. “I’m not sure that he would. I’ve heard him say that he never takes sides in church elections because he has to work with whomever wins.”

“A wise notion, I’m sure,” Cecelia responded, “but after all my -- our -- work on his petition, I just know that he’d consider my husband as a special case.” She picked up one of the treacle tarts from the plate in the center of the table.

She took a bite, wiping her mouth with a napkin before continuing. “That’s another thing. The board may have voted a second time, last Wednesday, to support that petition, but the vote was much too close for my taste.”

“It was that foolish serpentine poll they took,” Zenobia said. “That and those dreadful ‘Trust Shamus’ ribbons some people were wearing.”

Cecelia nodded. “Indeed, and we cannot let that sort of thing happen at the town council meeting.” She hoisted her massive reticule onto her lap and opened the latch. “Before I gave the signed petitions to Reverend Yingling, I made a list of all the names. Now where…?” She rooted through her purse for a few moments before she pulled out a few sheets of paper. “Here they are. I split the list into five parts, one for each of us. We want to get as many of those people as possible to next week’s town council meeting.” She chuckled. “Then we’ll see how little harm to the Reverend those ribbons of Mr. O’Toole’s can do. Or those dumb, yammering Mex.”

* * * * *

“Move it, waitress, move it,” Bridget called out. Flora was walking slowly towards the poker table holding a tray filled with glasses and the second pitcher of beer of the evening. “There’re some thirsty players here.”

Flora reached the table and positioned the tray near Stu Gallagher, who sat across from Bridget. “I guess you aren’t having one, then, Miss Bridget, seeing as you’re just the dealer and not one of those players.” She chuckled. “How many weeks has it been since I… had you, and you aren’t over it yet?”

She smiled and headed back towards the bar before Bridget could react.

* * * * *

“More cake, anyone?” Kaitlin asked. When no one responded, she picked up the plate with the remains of Emma’s birthday cake and carried it over to the work counter by the sink. She placed a glass cover over the plate and walked back to the table and sat down.

Speaking in a firm voice, she said, “It’s time, Trisha.”

“I suppose that it is,” Trisha said. She took a long drink of lemonade, wishing that it were much stronger.

Emma looked over at her mother. “Is this an adult discussion, or do I get to stay?”

“It’s adult, all right,” Kaitlin answered, glancing over at Trisha. “But it concerns you, too, so you should stay.” She sighed. “You, too, Liam.”

He studied the faces of the two women. “This sounds serious.”

“It is,” Kaitlin said. “And before we go any further, I want you both to promise that you won’t tell anyone about what we say here tonight.”

Liam raised his right hand, as if he were in court. “I promise… so help me G-d.”

“Cross my heart and hope t’die,” Emma said, making the gesture over her heart.

Kaitlin nodded gravely. “Very good; tell them, Trisha.”

Trisha stared down at the table, not wanting to meet anyone’s eyes. “The reason – the real reason – that I had to quit the Board is that I-I’m…” She took a deep breath, bracing herself. “…pregnant.”

There was about three seconds of absolute silence.

“You’re what!” exclaimed Liam, rising to his feet.

Trisha’s voice was soft, almost a whisper. “Pregnant.”

“Who did it?” he shouted. “I’ll… I’ll kill the son of a bitch.” He glared at his sister. “Or is there more to this than what meets the eye? Are you involved with him? Do you want to marry him, and have him make an honest woman out of you?”

Trisha shook her head. “No, I don’t want to marry anyone.”

“So he gets off scot-free, whoever he is,” Liam said with disgust.

His sister closed her eyes. “Yes. I-I just want to get on with my life.”

“There’s not much chance of that,” Kaitlin said. “You can’t hide a pregnancy.”

Liam frowned. “That’s why you gave up on any chance of keeping your seat, isn’t it; because you’d have been thrown off the board as soon as you started showing.”

“It is,” Trisha admitted. “I won’t let Horace Styron kill off what I’ve already gotten through.” She took a breath. “And regardless of what happens to me, you’ll still have a good chance of keeping the seat after the election. All you have to do is be the good board member I know you can be.”

Liam stalked to the middle of the parlor. “If I want to keep it.” He took a moment to consider things. “Good night, Kaitlin… Emma.” He walked briskly to the door and left, slamming it behind him.

“That went well,” Kaitlin said.

Trisha sighed. “I’ll talk to him about it at the store tomorrow.” She looked over at Emma. “You’ve been very quiet through all this, Emma. Do you have any questions?”

“This is ‘cause of the potion we drank, ain’t it?” She spoke in a soft, not quite steady voice.

Trisha shrugged. “That’s the only way I could have gotten pregnant.”

“Is that gonna happen to me, too?” Emma’s eyes were wide as saucers. “Am I gonna have a baby?”

Kaitlin shook her head, trying to look serious. “No, dear, just drinking that potion won’t do it. You have to… be with a boy. I explained all that to you back in January.”

Emma frowned. “If you just kiss a boy, does that make you pregnant?” she asked, feeling guilty – and scared – about what she and Yully had done.

Trisha looked across at her ex-wife. “That couldn’t have been much of a talk you gave the girl before.” She gave her daughter a wistful smile. “Kissing’s a good start, but you have to do a whole lot more.”

“Trisha!” Kaitlin shouted. “That’s enough from you.” She turned to face her daughter. “Why don’t you go upstairs and get changed for bed? You can bunk with me tonight, and I promise that we’ll stay up as late as you want, so I can answer all your questions.”

That pleased the girl, but she had one concern. “Trisha, too?”

“No.” Kaitlin glowered at her former husband. “Trisha just volunteered to sleep down here on the settee tonight.”

“Are you sure that would be good for the baby?” Trisha asked with an arched eyebrow.

* * * * *

Saturday, May 18, 1872

Milt Quinlan sat in one of the visitors’ chairs in Dr. Upshaw’s ward, his briefcase positioned on his lap. “Do you have any questions, Cap?”

“Not really,” Cap replied. “This is very generous of you, Uncle Abner.”

Abner Slocum nodded in agreement. “Yes, but it’s nothing that you didn’t earn. You’ve come a long way from that haggard, debt-ridden young man who showed up at my door three years ago.”

“If I have, it’s because of your help, sir. Thank you.”

Milt gave a small snort. “This is all very nice, gentlemen, but I do have other things to attend to. Are you ready to sign?”

“I am.” Cap picked up a pen from the table and quickly signed the three copies.

Once finished, he carried the papers over to Slocum. “Do you need any help, Uncle?”

“Yes, dammit,” Abner spat the words, “but not with this.” He picked up his own pen and signed the first copy.

As soon as Abner signed, Milt removed the copy and put another in its place. “Thanks, Abner. It’s easier for me to just give each one to Red as soon as you sign it,” he explained diplomatically.

“Bull,” Slocum said, finishing the third copy, “but thanks, anyway.” He looked up at his nephew, while Red Tully signed all three copies as witness.

Red signed the last and handed them all back to Milt. “Here ya, go, Mr. Quinlan.” Milt nodded and put the copies into his briefcase.

“Well, Mathew,” Slocum said, “The Triple-A is now – forty percent of it is, anyway. Just make sure that it’s still there when I get back from Philly.”

Cap smiled. “I’ll do my best, Uncle Abner, but it won’t be as good as you’d have done.”

“No, but it’ll be damned close.”

* * * * *

“That will be $4.57,” Arnie told Mrs. Spaulding, putting the three packages of clean laundry down on the bench.

She turned to her son. “Hedley, would you please place these in the house – oh, and bring out my change purse, too, if you would.”

They were all on the Spauldings back porch. Clara sat in her wheelchair at a nearby table that was set for lunch. “Annie,” she said, patting a chair beside her. “Annie, you come sit here by me. We can start lunch as soon as Hedley comes back, so Mama can pay you.”

“No,” her mother said. “There is something that Annie must do first. Isn’t that so, Annie?” She spoke firmly, as if giving an order. It was a tone that any military wife learned very quickly.

Hedley picked that moment to return. “Here you are, Mother.” He handed her the purse and waited while she counted out the money owed. The Spauldings’ dirty laundry was already packed away in Arnie’s wagon.

“You may as well sit down, Hedley,” Clara told him. “Mother says that Annie has to do something before we can eat.”

He shrugged. “I’ll stand, thank you.” He leaned back against the wall of the house. “I can see her better this way. Go ahead, Annie.”

It was a full five seconds before Arnie was able to open her mouth, but then the words just spilled out of her. “I-I've been keeping a secret that I shouldn't have. But… but I didn't do it to trick you. It's just that it's something so…peculiar… that I didn't want to mention it to strangers.”

“I didn't know that we'd become friends,” she continued. “When we did, I didn't think I could tell you. It would let you know that I wasn't telling you the truth up to then. And also, it would make you think of me in a whole new way.”

“I was afraid that you two might want to stop being friends. I knew the day would come when you found out about it, but I'd hoped that we'd be such good friends by that time that you could forgive me.” Her voice trailed off.
~
“Annie, what are you trying to say?” asked Clara.

Arnie took a deep breath. “D-Do you… remember what I told you… a couple weeks ago, what I said about the potion Mr. O’Toole makes?”

Clara thought for a moment. “Yes, you said that it was magic, that it could change people.”

“That is what you told us,” Hedley added, “though I’ve never been much for that sort of fairy story.”

Arnie sighed. “It is not a story. It… it is true. I-I am… proof of that.”

“Proof?” Clara looked frightened. “What do you mean proof?” Her eyes grew wide. “You… you didn’t drink it, did you?”

Hedley smiled. “So it’s some sort of beauty potion, then?”

“In a way.” In spite of herself, Arnie warmed at his compliment. “Before I drank it – and I drank it by accident, I must tell you that – I… I was a… boy. My name is really Arnie Diaz.”

Clara shook her head. “No, I-I saw you… when you…” she suddenly coughed. It was deep, wracking her body. “…wh-when you changed clothes. You’re a girl.”

“I am now.” Arnie answered, not willing to face her, to face any of them. “But I was a boy.”

Mrs. Spaulding cut in. “It’s true, I’m afraid. She was a boy.”

Clara raised her head indignantly. “I finally get a – cough! cough! – a friend, and it’s a lie. It’s all a lie! And I almost let you see me in… in….” She spluttered and pushed herself away from the table. “H-Hedley… Mama, please help me into the house.” She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped at her mouth.

Hedley walked over and guided her towards the door. When they were close, he turned around and kicked the bottom panel of the door. It popped open and he caught it with his leg. “Please wait for me to come back… Annie.” He said to her in a soft voice, as he walked backward through the door, pulling his sister’s chair after him. She was still coughing.

“Is she all right?” Arnie asked, as the door slammed behind Clara. “I-I did not want to hurt her. You… she must know that.”

Mrs. Spaulding put an arm on her shoulder. “I don’t believe that you wanted to hurt her – to hurt any of us, but I’m afraid that you did. Her consumption is at its worse when she’s upset like this. I had best go to her.”

“Should I leave?” Arnie started for the steps without waiting for an answer.

She gave Arnie a sad smile. “Lunch is certainly spoiled, and I doubt that we’ll be having a Spanish lesson today, either. I’d suggest that you to leave right now, but Hedley did ask you to wait. Just don’t take too long. I may need him to go for the doctor.” She patted Arnie’s hand and hurried into the house.

Arnie sank down into the chair next to where Clara’s wheelchair had been. “What have I done?” She could feel the tears filling her eyes.

“Annie?” Hedley had come back onto the porch. “Or should I call you Arnie, now?”

She slowly rose to her feet. “C-Call me whichever you want.”

“Annie, it is. It’s a pretty name, and I think that it fits you so much better.”

“Is Clara all right?”

“Her consumption gets rough at times, and this was, unfortunately, one of those times. Mother is with her, and I’m sure that she’ll be up and about in no time.”

“You must all hate me.”

“No, I think Mother is a bit upset with you, and Clara feels, well, you reminded her of how some… people weren't honest with her when she first got sick. I think she’ll – I think that they both -- will get over it eventually.”

She tried to gauge how he felt and decided that he had a very good poker face. “And you,” she finally asked. “How do you feel about me?”

“I’m not sure.” He took her hand. “Of late, I’ve had very mixed feelings.” He took a step closer.

Her body felt odd, warm. “You have?” She felt a blush run across her face. “Are any of the feelings bad ones?”

“I always thought that there was something magical about you. Maybe I can see things better than the womenfolk can, but it seems to me that if this happened to a boy, he wouldn't want to talk about it with people he didn't know. I’m a little hurt that you felt you had to keep hiding the truth, but I can understand why you did. Mostly, I…” He stopped speaking, as if there was something important he had to do first. He leaned in close: his hands reached up to hold her head steady. And he kissed her. Arnie gasped and looked up with big eyes wide open.

“I'm not so worried that I'll start thinking differently about you,” Hedley continued, “but I would like to know what you've been thinking about me all this time. Do you..?” He seemed at a loss to find the right word.

Arnie gave an uncertain sigh. She wanted to say yes to whatever he was asking, to say that…

But these unspoken thoughts shocked her. “No!” She pushed him away, startled – no, terrified! -- at what she had allowed him to do.

He looked as surprised as she was. “Annie, what… what’s the matter?”

“We were…” She shook her head. “But we can’t.” She stumbled out the door, down the back steps, and grabbed for the handle of her wagon. “I... I will bring your laundry back Tuesday. I hope that Clara is better by then.”

Hedley stood, watching her swiftly push her gear out of the yard and down the street, trying to understand his own thoughts, his thoughts on Annie, on his mother and sister, and on many other things.

* * * * *

Dwight Albertson came out of his office to greet Jane and Milt. “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Quinlan. What can I do for you on this fine Saturday?”

“You don’t have to be so formal, Dwight,” Milt replied, “though we did come in here on business. We want to buy a house.”

Jane nodded. “Yeah, that back room of Milt’s office just don’t work for the both of us.”

“I can understand that,” the banker said. “Come into my office. I’ve got a list of what we have available.”

He led them back through the tellers’ cages to his office. While they took seats by his desk, he retrieved a thick folder from the top drawer of a nearby file cabinet. “Let me start with a couple questions,” he told them as he sat down at the desk. “How big a place do you want, and do you want to rent or buy?”

“It doesn’t have to be that big,” Milt answered. “I’m keeping my office here on the second floor of the bank building, though I wouldn’t mind a small room to use for when I have to bring work home with me.”

“I’d like a good sized kitchen,” Jane added. “A parlor for sitting and a… a bedroom, of course. There’s gotta be a nice bedroom.” She blushed at the last, as she realized what she’d implied.

Milt chuckled and took her hand. “A very nice bedroom, if you please, Dwight. And I think that I’d rather buy than rent.”

We’d rather buy,” Jane said. “It’s gonna be my house, too, and I was figuring t’kick in some of the money I got here in the bank.”

Milt nodded. “I don’t want you to spend your investment money on the house, Jane.” He gave her hand a squeeze. “After all, it’s a man’s place to provide for his wife.”

“And for the wife t’provide for her husband, too.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Besides, I ain’t got no investment in this world that’s more important than you ‘n’ me.”

Milt kissed her back. “I can’t argue with that. I feel the same way. Okay, Dwight, what’s on the market that we can buy?”

“Let’s see. The Carlton house – where that picture of Jane and Laura was painted – is available, now that the artist has left town, but the Carltons expect to come back to Eerie in the fall, so they only want to rent.” His eyes scanned the list. “There are three – no, four – other places that might suit you. I’ll make up a list, and you can go check them out.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “You gonna come with us?”

“Normally, I would, or I’d send one of my tellers along, but you’re my lawyer, Milt, and I think I can trust you with the keys.” He pulled a large flat box from a desk drawer. When he opened it, Milt and Jane could see a large set of separate keys, each with a code number attached by a string.

Dwight glanced at the property list again and took four keys from the box. “Here you go. Take your time, but please remember that the bank closes at 5 PM, and I’ll need the keys back by then. So don’t take too long, if you know what I mean.”

“Spoilsport,” Jane said, with a giggle.

* * * * *

Teresa and her younger children were sorting laundry when Arnie burst into the house. Teresa looked up with at start at the slam of the back door. “Arnolda, what are you doing back from the Spauldings so early?”

“They… I… I brought their laundry.” She dropped the sack she was carrying and rushed into the bedroom she shared with her mother. The door slammed shut behind her.

Teresa stood quickly. “Ysabel,” she said to her second daughter. “Take charge. I will be back as soon as I can.” She hurried over to the door Arnie had just gone through. She walked into the bedroom, closing the door afterwards for privacy. She leaned back against the door, silently watching her daughter.

Arnie was slipping her dress off over her head. Arnie tossed it to the floor and began fumbling with the ribbon that held her petticoat tight at her waist. She finally pulled it loose, and the garment fell to her feet. She stepped out of it and kicked it away, growling as she did, as if angry with the female garments.

At that moment, Arnie caught sight of herself in her mother’s mirror, standing in its frame a few feet away. She froze, staring at a beautiful young woman, a week or so shy of her 17th birthday, her long, straight hair falling down around her shoulders, framing her heart-shaped face with wide, gazing eyes. Her body was slender, dressed in a white camisole beneath a pale blue corset that emphasized her narrow waist and pert breasts. The drawers were soft, white muslin, stretched over her wide hips and running down her shapely legs almost to her knees.

“They hate me!” she exclaimed.

“Did they ask you to leave?”

“No… No!” Arnie said softly in a voice filled with pain. “But… but I started feeling… things… I-I wanted Hedley to think of me as a girl.” She paused. “Is that because I am a girl?” Tears flowed down her cheeks.

Teresa came over quickly and took her daughter in her arms. “You are what you are, Arnolda. Think about it, accept it as your fate, and go forward with your head held high.” She patted the girl on the head and shifted, so that they both sank down onto the bed. Still hugging Arnie, she began to croon softly into her ear.

“I… do not w-want to… to be…a girl.” Arnie answered. Her voice was almost a whisper. “Please…” Teresa realized that the young woman was not speaking to her.

Teresa kept her arms around Arnolda. She began to sway, to rock her like a small child. After a time, Arnie’s crying grew softer. She nestled her head on her mother’s shoulder. The sobs were replaced by a soft snoring.

'The poor thing,’ Teresa thought. ‘She must have lain awake all last night, worrying about what she was going to say to the Spauldings.’ Teresa held her daughter for a while longer, before she lowered the girl gently to the bed. She lifted Arnie’s feet and carefully removed her shoes. It was a warm day, so she let her sleep uncovered.

Arnie was still asleep when Teresa tiptoed out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her.

* * * * *

“Yully,” Ysabel said, “please get the lamp.”i

The boy rose and turned down the wick in the oil lamp hanging above the table. The room grew dark. Ysabel turned and walked to the table. She carried a square cake, blue frosting, with “Happy Birthday” written on it in yellow icing, Emma’s favorite colors. The cake was covered with fourteen flickering candles, burning brightly in the dim light. Emma and her family had decided that she was fourteen, and who were her friends to argue?

As she walked, Ysabel began to sing, with the others quickly joining in.

` “For she’s a jolly good fellow, for she’s a jolly good fellow,
` For she’s a jolly good fe-ehlow… and so say all of us,
` And so say all of us, and so say all of us.
` For she’s a jolly good fellow, for she’s a jolly good fellow,
` For she’s a jolly good fe-ehlow…, which nobody can deny!”

“Congratulations, Emma,” Yully told her, as Ysabel set the cake down in front of her. “Let’s see if you can blow ‘em out.”

Emma stood in place and leaned over the cake. She drew in a breath and shifted back and forth, blowing out all the candles. “Got’em,” she said.

“So you did,” Yully said. He reached up and turned the small wheel that controlled the lamp wick. The room filled with light as everyone sat down. “Now that we can see the cake, how ‘bout cutting us all a piece?”

Emma pulled out the mumbly peg knife she still carried, hidden in her shoe. She flipped it open and began cutting as soon as Ysabel had removed the candles. “First piece for me.” She took a corner piece – she loved the extra icing – and put it aside for herself. “And one for you, Yully.” It was the piece next to hers.

“Thanks.” As he reached in for the piece, he tilted his head and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

The memory of Trisha popped into her head. She jerked her head back. “N-No!”

“What’s the matter?” he asked, confused at her reaction. “Was I too forward? I-I didn’t mean to be.”

“No, it’s… I can’t explain. I-I don’t want a boy – any boy -- to kiss me.”

Penny giggled. “I hope you don’t mean that you want girls to kiss you.”

“No… nobody. I – ohh, let’s get on with this party.”

Tomas slipped over next to her. “Si, there are more important things to do. Like… like I didn’t get my piece of cake yet.”

“Here you go, Tomas.” Emma cut him an extra big slice. She was grateful for the change of subject. “And I didn’t get my presents.”

Everyone laughed. The party went well after that, but the ghost of Yully’s kiss – and her reaction to it -- still lingered in the back of everyone’s mind.

* * * * *

“Now that was a long day,” Trisha said, locking the front door to the Feed and Grain. She turned the sign hanging down in the window from “Open” to “Closed” and walked back towards the counter.

Liam closed and locked the cash register. He pocketed the key and put the order book on the shelf underneath the countertop. “It’s going to get longer, Trisha. I want to talk to you.”

“What about?” she sighed. “As if I didn’t know.”

“You said last night that you weren’t going to marry Rhys Godwyn. If that’s the case, can you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill the son of a bitch for what he did to you?”

“I never said that it was Rhys.”

“No, you haven’t, even if half the town thinks that the two of you were off doing -- whatever you did -- in the woods during the dance. Was he worth it?”

“I… I don’t want to talk about it. Why all the sudden interest now? You left quick enough last night.”

“I didn’t want to say what I was thinking, not in front of Kaitlin and – certainly – not in front of Emma.” He waited a beat, looking around. “But we’re alone now, and we can both say what needs to be said. I’ll start. Who did this to you, and why shouldn’t I beat the living hell out of him for doing it?”

“I-I can’t tell you. Honest, I can’t.”

“Why not? Do you love him? Do you really want to marry him? Or… or is he already married?”

“I… I can’t…” Her voice wavered. She looked down at the floor, not wanting to see his face.

“You can, Trisha. And – so help me G-d – you will. Or you can forget about my working for you on the board – or on anything else.”

“Please, Liam, please, don’t ask me.”

“I have to ask, Trisha, and you have to answer. You are going to tell me who got you pregnant.”

“I can’t tell you...” She closed her eyes. Her whole body seemed to clench, to try to stop her from what she was about to say. “…Because I… I don’t know… I don’t know who it was.”

“What? Did somebody rape you in a dark alley or something?”

She rapidly shook her head back and forth. “No. I knew who I was with… each time.”

Each time? My Lord, Trisha, how many men have you slept with?”

She was still looking away from him, and her voice was low, but he still heard her answer, “Three… three men.”

“Three?” he spluttered. “Who are they – no, on second thought, don’t tell me. If I know, I may still want to take on all three of them.” He cupped her head in his hand and slowly lifted until she was looking him in the eye. “I should tell somebody what I do know. Reverend Yingling, maybe, or Horace Styron –”

She panicked and spun about. “No, Liam… dear G-d, please don’t. You gave your word!”

“I said that I should tell somebody, but I won’t. I’ll just do what any older brother would do. I’ll try to protect my foolish little sister -- from herself as much as from anyone else.”

“Th-Thank you, Liam.” She felt as though a fifty-pound sack of feed had just been lifted off her back.

“You’re welcome, but you don’t get off that easy.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if you expect my cooperation, I’ll expect you to mind your older brother from now on. You seem to be too foolish to run your own life these days. And I’ll expect you to stop butting in between Kaitlin and me.”

Her head jerked back as if he had actually hit her. She was about to argue when she saw the look on his face, eyes squinted, jaw firmly set. His hands were balled into fists and rested on his hips. It was exactly the way Patrick O’Hanlan had stood, when he refused to give way to anyone else.

Almost before she realized, the words were out. She replied, “Y-Yes, Liam.”

* * * * *

Jane burst into the kitchen through the back door. “Hey, Maggie… Molly, we found it. We found our house.”

“Ye did, and where is it at?” Molly asked.

Milt stepped into the room. “Second Street, number 19, about a half block from the Carlton house and a five minute walk from here.”

“We wanted t’be close enough so’s I could get t’work easy.”

Maggie smiled, knowingly. “That way, you can get home in a hurry when you need to, also.”

“How soon are ye gonna be able t’move in?” Molly asked.

Milt shrugged. “Monday, probably. I don’t think we can get much done on the Sabbath.”

“It’s ‘bout half furnished, though” Jane added. “There’s a nice big stove and worktable in the kitchen – there’s plenty o’ storage room, too -- and there’s a couple chairs in the parlor. It’s got two bedrooms, and one of ‘em, one of ‘em’s already got a bed with a mattress rolled up on it.”

Molly chuckled. “All ready ‘n’ waiting for ye.”

“It surely was – is.” Jane said, lifting her hands to her face to cover her sudden blush.

Shamus had just come in to join them. “Aye, but that’s for later. Right now, it’s time that Maggie and ye was getting changed and ready for the dance.”

* * * * *

“My turn,” someone said.

Flora looked up to see that tall man with slicked-down black hair standing before her again. He wore a dark blue, expensive-looking suit. She gave him a modest smile. “How do you do, Mister…”

“Clyde… Clyde Ritter.” He smiled back. “Please call me Clyde, Miss Stafford. I’ve admired your artistry for some time, and I wanted to dance with you very much.” He held a ticket in his hand.

She rose and took the ticket, sticking it with the others in her apron pocket. “Yes, I’ve seen you watching me.” She thought again of Rosalyn’s advice. “You’re one of the most handsome men in the house. I’m so glad that you like me.” She said the words softly, trying to add a hint of coyness. “But you have to call me… Flora.” Ritter seemed to beam at her flattery, his eyes brightening.

‘Rosalyn was right. This is easy,’ she told herself, as she let him lead her out onto the floor.

“With pleasure...” Still smiling, he put his hand on her waist. “…Flora.”

Her own smile broadened. “It will be, I’m sure,” she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear.

* * * * *

“So I was correct,” Nancy said smugly.

Kirby gave her an odd look. “What do mean, Nancy?”

“You said that you seldom came in here, and I told you that you’d be back.” She chuckled. “And here you are, about to ask me to dance.”

He handed her his ticket. “So I am.” He shrugged. “I never was much of a drinking man, but now I have a reason to come in.”

“And what would that reason be?” she teased, offering him her hand.

He took it and helped her to her feet. “You work here now. We can… talk, get to be friends in ways that we couldn’t when you were a teacher.”

“I think I like that,” she admitted, both to him and to herself.

But there was one thing that she couldn't admit. It would spoil the moment. Kirby would find out about it all too soon.

And would his reaction be as bad as Carl's?

* * * * *



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