Friday, July 19, 2013

first 7 of Mountain Junction

** Chapter 1 ** André It was a quiet little town nestled in the brown, pine covered mountains of California, but the location of the town is not really important. It could have been anywhere; a small community of people on their way to somewhere else. In fact, that was the nature of this town. There was an eclectic group of people there. Some had been there at its inception, cutting out a place for themselves in a new wilderness. Others had stopped on their way to follow their dreams, only to find themselves drawn to this burgeoning frontier. Others came and quickly went. Many found peace or disaster, depending on their frame of mind when they entered. Whatever the reason, the town grew or shrank with alarming regularity, but refused to give up its place in the world. André Jermond was one of the original members of the community. He had stepped off the train at the small station one bright morning and never left. He had taken one look at the small bustling trade station, nestled in a valley surrounded by a ring of mountains, and could smell the possibilities. He saw the railway workers and the supply men loading up their buckboards with boxes and knew that the valley would someday thrive. He was an astute businessman and set about carving out an empire for himself. The success of this venture was clear for all to see. His clothing was of the best quality, he owned some of the finest land in the area, and his home was large, comfortable, and filled with fine furnishings. When André walked into town, he was noticed, not by his six-foot two-inch frame, but by his bearing. All who looked into his startling green eyes saw not the starbursts that had at one time been the attraction, but the hardness behind them. André was handsome, but it was this hardness and purposeful demeanor that made him who he was. While everyone liked him, this self-reliance separated him from the rest of the town. In the beginning, he had not cared how people saw him. He was not a great lover of people. He saw them more as a means to an end. This quiet disdain took many forms. His first establishment, the Viscosité Buvette, while sounding very proper, was exactly what the name implied, a tacky saloon. While the facade of the building had been refined when the town grew, the interior goings on remained the same. It was a place for the men to go and get drunk, play cards, and talk in a manner that would have sent “civilized” people running into the church with a shudder. So many murders, thefts and brawls had taken place that many of the townspeople would not walk by the swinging doors when the sun went down over the mountains each evening. His other business, Une Maison de Champagene was located on the outskirts of the town, in a large building with the look and feel of its name. This was yet another of André’s “little jokes.” The building was not a Nobleman’s House; it was the town’s house of ill repute. The name was the means to an end as well; the men of the social elite came to indulge themselves in the opulence; to pretend that they were the Lords of the Manor, with the right to such frivolity. The lesser-classed men would come to mingle with the upper crust (in limited fashion, of course) and indulge themselves as well. André was prudent. He didn’t care who came to his establishments, as long as their money held out long enough for him to get his hands on it. The way he built this empire also revealed another eccentricity. When he was building the saloon, he lived over it, in two small rooms that would eventually house a couple of barmaids. Because of this, he talked and moved among the men there as an equal. He had a better vocabulary than most to be sure, but he would drink with the railroad and dock men, tell stories about his life in France or his adventures back East, and listen to the other men tell their stories. When he built his noble house on the southern outskirts of town, he moved into an upstairs portion of that establishment, taking on the demeanor of the town gentleman. The local upper class, new to the area, and not knowing of his time at the saloon, simply thought he was one of them. The rougher men of the town may have known of the deception, but would not dare say anything; they would not have been believed anyway. At the House, André was all smooth manners, casually throwing out French phrases and talking about the finer things. It was as if the man who talked at the saloon had disappeared. To the girls of the house, he was handsome, charming, and cordial; he let the discipline and warnings to the girls fall on the shoulders of the Madame he employed. When the House began to pay off, he quietly moved into another gracious home on the opposite side of the town. Once there, he assumed the role of the social businessman. He went to church, town meetings, other people’s homes, and social events befitting his position. This created a mystique around him. He wore a different face for everyone he met. At first, this did not bother him. The time would come, however, when he would want to reveal his true self to someone, and find he could not fully remember whom that person was. While he was busy with his business dealings, other people began to come and fill the town of Mountain Junction. One of the first of these people was Anna Smith, a motherly type who had originally moved to the town with her husband, a blacksmith who died two months after they moved to the town. Anna was likeable, but had a tendency to turn on people when angered like a hawk on a field mouse. Because of this, she had worked several jobs, but was not successful at keeping them for long. André, however, liked Anna. When the time came for him to employ girls at the House, he knew he would need someone to oversee them. Anna’s personality was not seen as a flaw, but an asset. She quickly became the foundation for the success of Une Maison de Champagene. The girls employed there were expected to behave with dignity and class more befitting a French courtesan then a rough barmaid. Anna taught them with subtle kindness and a soft voice, talking to them more like her daughters then her employees, and offering advice like a mother hen. When they fell out of line, however, she ruled over them with an iron fist, until they either left in frustration, or towed the line. Either way, Anna was a success in her position, and made the Mansion, as most people of the town called it, the success it was. Girls came and left frequently at the Mansion. Many came in desperation. Unable to find employment in the little town, they offered up the only service left to them. Sometimes, Anna would see that the women were not suited for positions normally needed in the house, and would place them elsewhere in positions such as maids, cooks or singers. Morgan was one of these women. She had blown into the town one day, full of life and expectation, but no real ambition as to what to do with herself. When it became clear that she was not going to fall into good times, she set off for the Mansion. As usual, the wild eyed and excited Morgan was not paying attention to what she was doing, but living an adventure in her imagination. The tree-covered road to the Mansion had become a dark forest, full of highwaymen and danger. Because of this, she never noticed the huge brown stallion and rider bearing down on her. By the time she did see the animal, she barely had time to leap out of the way. Landing squarely on her well-bustled backside, with her hair falling out of its loose sweep, she turned her blue eyes up and found herself facing one of the handsomest faces she had ever seen, his green eyes searching her face with concern. After making sure that she was not suffering any serious injury, André gently lifted Morgan to her feet. A small smile lit up his face as he watched her attempt to put her hopelessly tangled tresses in order, and brush the dirt from her well cut, but obviously worn day dress. He asked her what she was doing, walking down the road and not paying attention, and was quickly hit with a barrage of answers. Many of them were too quickly spoken to keep up with, and he soon lost track of the subjects as they skittered like bees around a hive. She did eventually get to the point, and soon found herself sitting in the kitchen of the Mansion, between an amused André and a stone-faced Anna, drinking strong coffee between bouts of endless chattering. By the end of the afternoon, and against Anna’s better judgment, she was upstairs in one of the spacious, lavish quarters of the girls. By the end of the first two weeks, when it became clear that the stringent codes and rules of decorum frustrated her free spirit, she was moved to the quarters of the servants. By the end of the following month, she was out of the house, and in André’s office begging him for help. His fondness for her and his admiration for her moxy moved him to put her to work as a barmaid in the saloon, believing that her personality would encourage the men who frequented the place to spend more money. It was a decision he would one day regret. Others came to the house in search of escape. Stella was one of these women. She had left her husband thousands of miles away in Maine, coming to California and staying in the town when her money ran out. The men of the town loved Stella. She was beautiful, but it was her inner soul that constantly drew them to her. She was gentle, kind, quick-witted and intelligent. She was well suited to the life in the house, often finding men crowded in the large salon, simply for the chance to talk to her, and get one of her customary hugs. Anna felt a special bond with Stella. It was common knowledge that Stella would one day become the new Madame. No one knew that deep in her heart, Stella wanted desperately to escape the house, and find a place for herself on her own terms. Another who owed his existence to André was Hawke. No one knew his last name, or his first for that matter. He was dark, dangerous, and most people steered clear of him. At one time, the rumor of his being the infamous “Yellow Monster” who had decimated more then a few mining camps up north spread through Mountain Junction. No one, however, was willing to ask Hawke if this were true. Because of this, the townspeople were simply more resolved then ever to steer clear of him. Everyone that is, except for two people. The first was the town barber, Joshua “Money” Hamilton, a local who frequented both the Mansion and the saloon. Money was fond of the cards and the bottle, a lethal combination that often left him with bruises and an empty wallet. Most of the bruises and black eyes had come from the fists of Hawke, and all of his money often went into the pockets of André. The undercurrent of animosity grew each night he frequented the saloon, especially after Hawke was hired to run it. André hired Hawke for two reasons, the first being that the big man would be able to not only handle any brawls that occurred, but also make a man think twice before drawing his gun. The second reason was similar — no one would dream of not paying his tab. The arrangement suited everyone but Money. He was notorious for not paying his bills, and the constant reminder of the balance due by Hawke made him seethe every night. Others came and went over the years, in a steady pace that mirrored the economic dips and falls of the rail town. Mountain Junction began to look like any other town, with its mixture of good and bad elements; the nice areas subtly separated from the worldlier ones by both physical boundaries such as parks or the railroad tracks, and the whispers and warnings from the people who lived there. Over time general stores, dress shops, restaurants, doctor’s offices and other business ventures began to fill the valley. At first, the church had shared a building with the school, but in time a steeple rose over the roofs of the town, signaling that at last, the town had found its center, and could truly be called a community. Years passed, and André watched as the possibilities he had sensed in the early morning so long ago came to fruition. He was still the wealthiest man in town, still owned the most land, and had added to his business holdings another saloon and music hall. He had his hand in some of the nicer establishments as well, although these dealings were mostly silent partnerships. But, as the town grew and the upper class began to emerge as the political power, he felt his position shift. He was still considered one of the founders of the community, but he could feel the subtle change toward him. He could have sold off his original ventures and gained back the ground he lost, but that was not his way. He liked his knowledge of the seedier aspects of the gentle life the town, and better still, he liked knowing where all the secrets were hidden. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:34:00 AM Mountain Junction ** Chapter 2 ** Julie Around the fourth season of the town’s existence, two more people came to be known in the little town. The first was Julie Belsom, a complex combination of gracious lady, astute businesswoman, and playful spitfire. She took one look around the town the first week and could sense that this was a town full of promise. She had come with her own wealth, and her own spirit. At times, she was all lady, her blouses and skirts made of the finest materials, her hair expertly coiffed. But she could also be unconventional, often riding into town astride her horse, dressed in fringed Delaware buckskin blouse and vest, her black hair hanging in a thick rope down her back. From the moment she entered the general store, purchasing items for her new home, tongues has wagged, but her kind heart, and sunny nature soon won people over. She was soon the favored guest among the ladies who went “calling.” Every afternoon they would put on their finest dresses, and set off in carriages to the other ladies homes for lengthy chats about fashion or to gossip about the towns many characters. Invitations to her gracious farm became the highlight of the ladies calls. Julie was being far more then a gracious hostess however. These calls allowed her to learn first hand the layout of the town, the personalities of the businesspeople there, and gained her foot in the door when she began to build up her business holdings. She soon knew far more then anyone realized; the gossiping tongues of the ladies gave her a leverage that baffled many of the men she did business with. One of the first women she met when the calls started was Nancy Carmack, the wife of the owner of a hotel on the main strip of the town. Her husband David had fallen on hard times, and Julie soon found out that while the Carmacks were living as though their finances were healthy, they were in truth very much in need of cash. This was partly due to Nancy’s bad habit of racing her carriage around the town at top speeds. She had worn out so many carriages one year, that her husband refused to allow her to drive anywhere anymore. What he didn’t know was that whenever the women went calling she always managed to talk them into letting her take the reigns. It was on a day of driving that Julie found out that David wanted to unload his hotel and a small building adjacent to it. Letting Nancy take the reigns, the two women set off for the center of town. One look at the run down building, and Julie knew that she wanted it. Within a week David had cash, Nancy had a new carriage (with the promise that she would slow down), and Julie had started construction on the Mountain Inn, a combination hotel and restaurant. She used the building next door as the restaurant, connecting it to the hotel. It was a study in refinement and good taste, and soon the Inn was one of the most successful businesses in town. All the church socials were held there, and when there was an epidemic running through the town, it was often used to house the sick. As a result of this, Julie was considered one of the most influential voices in town, both by the women who loved drinking tea and exchanging gossip in the restaurant, and the men who were impressed with the success of the hotel. The calls and social conversations would eventually turn to the discussion of André, as colorful, successful people are often commented upon at such events. Most of the women spoke of his good looks, his proud manner and his bank account. As with most successful, unattached men, many of the ladies had attempted to put their daughter’s in his sight. These women told Julie of the courting in harsh words. André, being as intelligent as he was, took an interest in the giggling, fawning girls, but would grow quickly bored, driving their mothers to distraction. Julie listened to the barrage of observations and bit the inside of her cheek as the ladies commented on everything from his strange accent that seemed to come and go depending on who he was talking to, or his large vocabulary that sent most of the mothers scrambling to their dictionaries, sure that their daughters had been maligned in some way. Most of the town commented on his strange last name, which no one was really sure how to pronounce. Most would call him Mr. Germon, adding that when they did, they would get an abrupt correction from him. For all his frustrated attempts to get people to pronounce his name correctly, however, they always seemed to revert to the wrong one. These stories interested Julie, but it was his business holdings that really attracted her interest. As time passed in the town, she had increased her holdings beyond the Mountain Inn, to include a boarding house, a general store, and part ownership in a dressmaker’s shop. Soon, the town seemed to be divided into two distinct parts, with André owning the prominent business on one street, while Julie owned the ones on another. There were other business owners to be sure, but the majority of the economy was theirs. In some instances, their holdings were divided among the streets themselves, as in the case of the Can Can Napoleon, which was kitty-corner from the Mountain Inn. The boisterous noise from the dance hall often seeped into the restaurant in the late hours, disturbing those who came for a late, romantic supper. No one seemed to be able to stop this from happening. The Can Can (sometimes completed with Nepoleanne), as most of the locals called it, was one of the most popular places in town, so any complaints were met with a resounding silence or worse, loud protests at the curbs. In time, most learned to ignore the rowdy whoops and hollers. For Julie, however, it was a constant thorn in her side. Julie knew of his other ventures. She had often seen the Viscosité Buvette, but ignored it. It was the Une Maison de Champagene, whispered about in the calling circles that fueled her imagination. None of the women had ever actually been in the Mansion of course, but they all seemed to have stories to tell about the grounds, furnishings, and goings on there. One morning, after an evening where stories were again whispered, Julie found herself putting on loose buckskins, pinning her hair tightly, and jamming a large, floppy brown hat on her head that covered her face as well as her hair. She mounted her mare Delilah and headed out towards the southern edge of town, through the center where her hotel and other businesses were located, across the railroad tracks, past the shabbier homes, and saloons and gambling houses. She told herself that she was simply going to get some exercise, and to look at the newest of Andre’s holdings. She soon found herself at the end of a lush tree-lined road, gazing at the magnificent building. She slowed Delilah down, but kept moving, marveling at its graceful facade and lush gardens, amazed at the fact that it was a bordello. She was so intent on the beautiful building, that she barely noticed the tall man riding the huge brown stallion. As he passed her, she instinctively lowered her head in a nod, looking, at least in passing, like any other cowboy out looking for a good time, and he barely noticed the rider as he returned the nod. It was a good thing that he was in a hurry to get back to town. André never saw the deep blush that crossed the young “man’s” face. Like Julie, André heard of the woman long before he met her. Men who came to his office in town would talk about the woman who not only ran her own business, but also was so good at it that her investments were beginning to rival his. Anna had talked about this woman in awe, having met her in the general store one day under the watchful stares of the shopkeeper. If Julie knew of Anna’s role at the Mansion, she had said nothing, but had given Anna small suggestions on purchases, subtly snubbing the angry glares from the shopkeeper's wife for delaying what was usually a quick departure on Anna’s part. He also heard about her from Morgan, who one morning found herself in the kitchen of the restaurant, laughing over hot tea about how she had come to the town, and how she had met André. Morgan and Julie had become fast friends; the small refined dark haired woman a startling contrast to the tall, wild blonde. Julie seemed not to care that Morgan worked in the local saloon; all she cared about was the kind, playful spirit of her friend. As a result, Morgan loved Julie almost as much as she did André, and for much the same reason — they both gave her respect, when others had not. André’s interest began to grow regarding the newest whirlwind member of the community, but he had not made any attempt to actually go to the Inn and see for himself. He listened patiently as people talked about her, and quickly forgot about it, until the next person told him of a conversation or meeting with her. The last straw for him however, came one morning when he went to the saloon to go over the books with Hawke. The big, burly man sat down at one of the tables, and laid down the books. But instead of talking about the bar, he asked André if he had ever met the new owner of the Inn. What Hawke told him was an amazing story. One morning, as he was walking back to his room after an evening of revelry at the Mansion, he had seen a woman in braid and buckskin starting to cross the dirt road on the way to the hotel. At first, he thought she was simply the after effect of overindulgence from the night before. But, as she crossed the street, he saw an oncoming stagecoach turn the corner and make its way down the street toward her. Her arms had been full of packages from the post office, and she had stopped for just a moment to steady the top package. She did not see the coach, and would have most certainly been struck, but for the quick movements of Hawke. His head may have been throbbing, and his brain not sure if she was real, he told André; but he was not about to let her be struck by an oncoming stagecoach. He ran into the street, grabbed the startled woman by the waist, and pulled her to safety. After the coach passed, he released her, and went back to the street to gather the scattered parcels. He followed her into the kitchen of the restaurant, and set down the packages on the table, turning to make a quick retreat. She grabbed his arm silently, and sat him down at the table, simultaneously putting a cup of coffee in his hand. She then began to talk with him while she opened the rather shabby packages. The last one she picked up made an ominous noise, like feet treading on glass shavings. Hawke stopped talking, worried that the content of the package was ruined, and that he had upset her. She looked at the writing on the package, and a smile lit up her face. She opened one end of the package, and pulled out a broken piece of porcelain, with its garish, ornate, obviously oriental design. She looked at the broken piece, then at Hawke. And burst out laughing. Seeing Hawke’s confused face, she showed him the return address on the paper, telling him that the package had come from her Mother. It had contained a soup tureen that had been her mother’s favorite piece of china. When Hawke mumbled to her about how sorry he was that it had been broken, she laughed even harder. She looked at him for a moment, and trying to keep a straight face finally managed to tell him that it was her mother’s favorite piece. She had always thought it the ugliest thing she had ever seen. Hawke finished this story with a laugh, fully expecting André to start laughing as well. Instead, he was met with a stone-faced, impatient stare. Rolling his eyes, he simply slid the books over to be inspected, thinking to himself that André really needed to learn to see the humor in things. What Hawke did not know was that his boss was actually thinking back to his own mother, and how she too had prized many an ugly possession. It was not the books he was thinking about. It was a wish that someday a carriage might run over some of the things she owned as well. He kept this light hearted thought to himself as he ran down the numbers on the pages, quickly assessing the profits for the week, and deciding that it was time to meet the dynamo who was quickly becoming his equal in business, albeit in the “nicer” ventures. She was starting to intrigue him, and any escape from boredom was always welcome. What André did not know was that Julie was just as eager to finally meet him. She had heard the stories of his exploits and adventures, from both the men and women of the town. She knew of his kindness toward Morgan and other “girls” he had helped, and of his fondness for Hawke, even though it was masked behind a facade of gruffness. Unlike a man, however, Julie could not simply walk two blocks down the street, enter his office and introduce herself. She was caught behind a wall of propriety, for all her eccentricities concerning her wardrobe, and riding habits. She may have been a respected business owner, but part of that respect was gained by her knowing just how far out of place she could step. André never frequented the Inn or restaurant, preferring to eat at the dance hall or one of his other establishments. She never met him at the Church either, as there were two services, and each of them went to the one that suited them best. Julie went in the mornings, while André preferred the afternoon services, so that he could sleep late. The opportunity soon arose, however, that would allow them to finally meet. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:35:00 AM Mountain Junction ** Chapter 3 ** Clyde For many years, the town’s church had been run by a kind, older man named Stanton. Reverend Stanton was jolly and a popular man in the town. He never ate in his own home; he was always invited to some parishioner’s home for suppers and lunches. As a result, the trim middle-aged preacher who had founded the church now found that his waist had expanded along with his years. At 57, with a bad heart and failing legs, he needed to retire. No one was happy to see him go, and the ladies auxiliary and many of the business owners had taken a collection and built him a nice home in one of the nicer neighborhoods, away from the hustle and bustle of the center of town. This kept him in the community, and freed up the parsonage behind the church for the new Preacher. He was due in town soon, and many of the ladies had been working for days getting the parsonage cleaned up for the new Preacher, Clyde. They were not sure if Clyde was his first name, or a shortened version of his last name; the telegram had simply been signed Reverend Clyde. The only thing they knew for sure about him was that he was in his early 30’s and unmarried. His arrival had caused a huge amount of excitement for the ladies of the town. For days now kitchens had been the warmest rooms in most of the homes, as food for his arrival party was prepared. Julie had enlisted many of the men in the town to rearrange the furniture in the large lobby of the Inn, to accommodate dancing, musicians, and the large amount of milling townspeople. Her restaurant staff had been driven to distraction by the amount of food arriving at the door by parishioners eager to make sure that their “specialties” would be prominently displayed on the tables in the dining area. It was to be quite the social event; one that would rival the annual New Years ball held every year. For Julie, it was the biggest event she had ever had at her Inn and one she wanted to be remembered for a long time. Two days before this event occurred, Reverend Clyde arrived in Mountain Junction. He was early, so no one met him at the train station, but this did not bother him. He preferred to get a feel for this new town privately. If anyone had seen Clyde that morning, they would not have recognized him as a preacher. He was not dressed in the traditional black garb of a man of the cloth, but had decked himself out in fringed Delaware buckskin pants, red shirt, and a Buffalo Bill jacket with long fringes in intricate patterns in the back. He wore his preacher’s collar, but it was hidden beneath the high rounded collar of the coat. His brown hair reached to the lower edge of the collar, and he wore a short, well-trimmed beard. He was the very image of a mountain man, not a preacher. The only thing that hinted at the fact that he was not long into the life of the mountains was the fact that the coat, buckskins and shoes were not scuffed, dirty or worn. Clyde was just too new to be a true mountain dweller. He walked down the main street in the early hours of the dawn, before the streets filled with people and the smells of the day. He watched the diffused sun rise into the gray clouds overlooking the eastern mountains, turning the undersides of the clouds a brilliant orange, while the upper skies, in the small pockets where the clouds had not yet gathered, were colored a pale, dusty pink. This site was invigorating to Clyde, who had not seen a clear vista for years, due to his preaching in the cities. The smells were new to him as well. The smell of oncoming rain combined with pine needles was enthralling to a nose that had too long been assaulted with the odors of industry and large masses of people. To Clyde, this was paradise. Paradise was soon lost however, as he walked past the Viscosité Buvette. It was early Friday morning, and Money had spent a good portion of the night gambling away his week’s profits, and drinking. He had finally passed out around four o’clock in the morning, leaning back in his chair against the wall next to the piano in the saloon. The banging of the keys and the singing of the saloon singer Ronny had not kept him awake; he had simply pulled down his hat and blissfully drifted off into a drunken stupor. Morgan, who had been supplying him with drinks, had thankfully left him and gone to bed, after giving Hawke a quick flirtatious wink. Hawke, however, had not been pleased with Money. As soon as he was sure Morgan was asleep, he had walked over to the wall, and with a swift kick to the chair sent Money sprawling to the floor, Money hitting his head on the side of the piano, where it had been resting. Money stumbled to his feet, fists up and ready to do battle, until he saw Hawke's face and thought better of it. Prudence came too late, however. Hawke, tired and sick of Money, grabbed him by the back of the neck, and with a full boot to the backside crashed him out of the swinging double doors accompanied by a loud string of profanities. Money flew out of the saloon, landing face first at Clyde's feet. Shocked out of his revelry, Clyde dropped his bag and helped Money to his unsteady feet. Realizing that he was in no condition to go anywhere alone, Clyde simply steadied Money against himself, and walked as quickly as he could away from the big, sour faced man with the curses still spewing from his lips. It was no easy task, and since Clyde could not get a coherent sentence out of Money as to who he was or where he belonged, he just kept walking toward the center of town. Eventually, as the clouds that had been coming together in the early dawn began to mass and turn a darker gray, they reached the hotel. They were almost there, when the skies opened, and the downpour began. Dragging Money by his collar now, Clyde finally managed to get him into the lobby and dropped him unceremoniously on the nearest chintz couch. He dropped his bag at Money’s feet, and looked for someone to help him. It was then that he saw a smiling woman emerge from the hallway that separated the restaurant from the hotel. Her dark hair was in a soft sweep, and her brown dress was modestly cut, with puffy sleeves and buttons down the front of the bodice. One look at the drunk on her couch, however, quickly killed the smile. The anger that flashed from her green eyes gave Clyde pause. But, to back down from anything, even a woman as lovely as this one, was simply not in Clyde’s nature. He quickly explained what had happened, ending with a brief introduction of him as the town’s new reverend. Julie’s eyes grew wide at the last statement, and the anger in her eyes quickly changed to a twinkle. She stood there, giving the unlikely looking preacher the once over, thought about his story, and tried valiantly not to laugh. She was only slightly successful. She just could not suppress a giggle. The sudden change in mood was answered by an appreciative laugh from Clyde. Leaving Money to his sleep on the chintz, she guided Clyde to the large kitchen, where she put a plate of eggs and bacon, and a cup of tea before him. They spent the rest of the morning together, chatting away about her life in the town, and his life in the city. Clyde enjoyed watching her move gracefully around the kitchen, quickly giving orders to the cooks, often helping them with the cooking as the breakfast crowd began to stream in from the train depot. He knew it was her business, but there was a quality about the kitchen, and the way she treated her staff, that reminded him more of home. As he ate his breakfast, and drank his coffee he listened as she spoke of her mother, the town, and the unlikely friendships she had made. He found himself watching her animated face as she told him these stories, loving the mirth in her eyes, and the laughter that was constantly making its way into the conversation. When he had finished his meal, and taken the plate to the sink, he noticed her leaving the kitchen. He silently followed her into the hotel lobby, admiring the swish of her skirts, the line of her neck and the purposeful way she walked. She seemed oblivious to his presence, as she walked to a closet and pulled out a blanket. He watched as she approached the sleeping form of Money, tucked the blanket around him, and carefully removed his hat. She was so focused; she never saw the smile on Clyde’s face. When she returned to the kitchen, he was sitting at the table exactly where she had left him. By midday, Clyde was on his way to the Parsonage. Money had long since awakened and abandoned the chintz couch; the blanket rolled in a ball under one of the legs. Inevitably, news of the new preacher began to spread through the town, and the townspeople began to fill his porch and yard. He was soon being introduced to the wives, daughters and other members of the town, and invited to their homes for meals. By the day before the party, he had met most of the townspeople, including André, who had come to the parsonage quietly the afternoon of Clyde’s second day. The two men had shook hands and talked a bit, but it was clear that André was gauging just how much money he would need to tithe to the church to keep the preacher off his back. Clyde, more astute then his laughing demeanor implied, immediately picked up on this. The result was an association that was not quite amiable, but not exactly aversive either. When André left the parsonage with a grin and a wave, both men wondered how they would feel about each other in the future. Sunday morning, the church was filled to overflowing, partly out of curiosity as to what the new Preacher would be wearing, and partly because the party that evening meant only one service. Clyde wore the traditional black and collar, bringing relieved sighs from many of the ladies who had thought him a bit un-preacher like. The men liked his sermon, which was not the pulpit thumping, fire and brimstone delivery they were used to. Ronny, who played the piano at the church on Sundays, loved the hymns that were selected, and even Money was present in the back of the church, freshly shaven and looking uncomfortable in his suit. For most, it was a wonderful morning, full of the feeling of community and anticipation for the evening’s festivities. For others, like Morgan, it was a day of fear. Julie and Nancy had promised to “make her look like a lady” for the evening, and Morgan had already taken nips of Julie’s wine to fortify herself for the evening. André was his usual calm self, but was looking forward to finally getting the chance to give Julie the once over, although he would never have admitted that to anyone. Julie was excited about the party, but as any good hostess, was worried that the evening would not go well. Clyde was not fond of people making over him. He just wished the day were over. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:36:00 AM Mountain Junction ** Chapter 4 ** The Welcoming Party The evening was beautiful. The clouds that had opened up the day before had dwindled to sprinkles in the morning, and had completely disappeared by the evening. The result was a crisp cool evening, with a velvet sky full of twinkling stars. The street in front of the Inn was brilliantly lit with white and blue lanterns, their soft glow illuminating the gardens and porch. The Can Can, while open, was quiet, as only a sparse few chose the dance hall over the church social. Carriages and wagons drew up to the front of the Inn in a line, as people made their entrances. Inside the lobby of the Inn, streamers with flowers lined the walls, the floors shone, and tables of fresh mountain flowers lined the hallway separating the lobby from the restaurant. A band played from the corner. This was after all a country town. But the musicians were in their best attire, and could play a variety of music, from a waltz to the more country style music. The guests found themselves surrounded by a comfortable, homey elegance. Julie had outdone herself. All who entered felt welcome, comfortable, and happy. Clyde was already in the lobby. As the guest of honor, he thought he should be at the hotel early, and had hoped to talk to Julie. Nancy, who had arrived early to help with the transformation of Morgan, had quickly dashed his hopes. She was in a hurry as usual, but told him that Julie would not be seen until she descended the staircase that evening to head the receiving line. Nancy never heard his reply, as she ran up the stairs amidst rustling skirts. Her husband David pumped his hand, stuck his cigar in his mouth, and proceeded to tell him about his newest venture as co-owner of the lumber mill. David's preening was getting to Clyde, however, and he was noticeably glad to see people starting to enter the Inn. Reverend Stanton greeted him with a jolly handshake and a quick joke. As more people began to come into the lobby, Clyde relaxed. He was even glad to see André strolling into the Inn in characteristic good taste. His tall frame was covered in a fine black French suit. Gone were the smooth eastern leggings and suede vest. He was every inch the gentleman; suitably dressed down for a country evening, but elegant all the same. André, surprised at the pleasant reaction from the preacher, smiled as well, especially when he saw Clyde's relief when Carmack was drawn away into a fiery political discussion with some of the other business owners of the town. André, Clyde and Stanton were soon discussing the cities that they once had lived in, cautious but genuinely enjoying the discussion. All three men heard soft cursing coming from the front entrance, and immediately turned to see who was responsible. Their eyes widened when they saw Hawke lumbering in, hands pulling at the new, starched collar of his shirt. He stopped short when he saw Clyde in his preacher's attire. It was not Clyde, however, who spoke. André, embarrassed at Hawke's lack of civility, quietly but sternly reminded him that he was at a town social event, where ladies were always within earshot. Mumbling an apology to the preachers, Hawke couldn't seem to stop pulling at himself. He was so uncomfortable, that even André found it hard not to laugh. When Clyde told Hawke that he too hated starched collars, and pulled at his own, André let out a laugh that caught everyone in the room by surprise. It was a sound full of genuine humor that not many had head from him before. Conversations stopped, as people looked toward the entryway, and then animatedly continued talking. Stanton, seeing the widow Grimsbe, left the trio of laughing young men, to try and catch her ear and maybe a dance later in the evening. The remaining three men stood together smiling, laughing, and wondering how on earth anyone got pleasure out of dressing up like pall bearers for social occasions. Upstairs, Julie and Nancy were busy trying to steady a tipsy Morgan, who had been tippling since before church that morning. They had managed to keep her away from the sherry, and were now busy attempting to dress her for the evening. Her nervous chattering had stopped, replaced by a surly annoyance with having to endure the seemingly endless ministrations of Nancy. Julie, still in the buckskins she preferred was bustling around the room as her assistant. Nancy was taking the two women in stride, although silently she wished she had brought along her ladies maid. Julie, whose heart was in the right place, was just not up to her high standards. "Morgan, if you don't stand still, I can't get this tight enough!" Nancy scolded, as she pulled at the lacings of her friend’s stays. Morgan, more interested in getting to the sherry decanter on the dressing table, would not stop wriggling away from her assailant. "Well, I always did hate these damn things!” she said in exasperation. "That's why I never wear them. Can't you just tie them off and be done with it?" "Not if you want to fit in that dress! Now please, stand still!" "Whose idea was it to make the waist a size smaller then normal?" Morgan growled as she managed to get away from Nancy long enough to pick up the decanter. Julie moved quickly, and took the delicate crystal from her hands. "That would be you," she said as she crossed the room. "You said you wanted a small waist, to accentuate the skirts." She put the decanter in the closet, out of the reach of her persistent friend. "Oh, and you chose that moment to actually listen to what I was saying?" "Well, that was the one thing you said that made sense, and we wanted to make you feel better." Nancy laughed. "Up to that point you had chosen a scandalous bodice, and bright red silk." "Regina Irribane almost fainted," Julie chuckled as she arranged the brushes, combs and pins on the dressing table. "If the new preacher had seen it, he would have," Nancy quipped over Morgan's shoulder. "Hawke would have liked it," Morgan pouted. "And so would André." Taking advantage of the fact that her friend was now standing still, Nancy gave the stays a sharp yank, and quickly tied the strings off. "John too, dear. But that's not the kind of "liking" you want, remember?" Morgan, breathless from the tug, just nodded. Julie quickly sat her down at the dressing table, and attacked her impossible mane of curls. Within minutes, she gave up trying to smooth them down, instead using a packet of pins to pull up the sides and work with the curls to form a pretty mass of curls on the top of her head with long pieces falling down her back and shoulders. "Do you go through this everyday?" Morgan sighed. "How can you stand all this cra— … I mean, fuss?" "You get used to it," Nancy said simply. "No you don't," Julie laughed. "I give up on both of you. I mean really, you are both hopeless! One never wears stays, the other one always wears buckskins," Nancy huffed. Julie looked down at her soft buckskin trousers and blushed. "I do wear dresses, too." "Only when you absolutely have too, and then I bet you complain as much as Morgan." Julie stayed silent. Nancy was right, but she was not about to admit it. Standing Morgan up, they helped her into the blue ball gown. All three women gasped at the reflection in the mirror. Morgan had never looked more beautiful. Nancy quickly moved Morgan to the chair in the corner. "Don't move. Don't breathe." "Don't worry," Morgan said, gasping for breath. Nancy turned her attentions on Julie. "Now you. Get out of those ... things." "Yes mother," Julie laughed. "I'm sorry my friend. But if you want to catch the eye, you have to look like a woman." "Catch the eye of who?" Morgan asked, bewildered. "No one," Julie quickly said, shooting Nancy a long look. "Oh Lord," she said rolling her eyes." Just let me survive these two." Finally, all three women appeared at the top of the stairs to the strains of Mozart. The people in the lobby looked up at the landing with appreciative stares. Nancy stood on one side of Morgan, Julie on the other, trying to steady her between them. The three women were visions. Nancy wore a Pink dress, lower cut, with white piping that reached points in the front and back, across a modest bustle and plain skirt that stretched out in a train. Morgan was in deep blue, the puffed sleeves gently hugging her arms below the elbows, the modest bodice covered in pale blue lace, and the skirt gently reaching the floor in soft folds. Julie was dressed in Green, shoulders bared, with flowers at the waist and threaded throughout her long black hair, which had been pulled into a soft sweep. Her full skirt was actually two, the green overskirt split up the center to reveal a soft ivory underneath. As they descended the staircase, the four men at the bottom could do nothing but stare. David held his cigar loosely in his hand as he watched his wife come toward him looking more beautiful then she had on their wedding day. Hawke, his collar forgotten, gaped at Morgan, who he had never seen in anything but the clothes she wore to work in at the saloon, and her church clothes. André and Clyde, while appreciating the other two women, watched Julie as she seemed to glide down the stairs toward them. André, who had only seen her from a distance, and usually in her buckskins, was having trouble believing that the woman he had seen, and the one he was seeing now, were one in the same. He could not help but stare up at the small women before him. Julie too, could not seem to take her eyes off the handsome Frenchman. It was as if she was a magnet, and he the iron. Green starbursts looked up into emeralds, drinking in each other. He was so focused on her that he did not even notice his own voice as it exclaimed, "Mon dieu! A émeraude entré perles!" It did not bother him to say that, however; the partygoers were all used to him throwing French phrases into his speech. They never understood what the phrases were, so he was not concerned with his uncharacteristic outburst. Until much to his surprise he heard Clyde reply, "Oui. Parfait!" André slowly turned to face the preacher. He was astonished. Julie was momentarily forgotten, as he and Clyde faced each other, one in stunned disbelief, and the other with a mischievous grin. Each man was secretly turning over the knowledge that they both knew French. André felt as if he was losing the one thing that allowed him to express his true feelings, when under normal conditions he could not. Clyde on the other hand, simply found it amusing to have stopped the elegant gentleman in his tracks. He silently thanked his mother for forcing him to learn French when he was a boy. Finally, all three women arrived at the bottom step. Still surprised at the revelation from Clyde, Andre stole a glance around the room, to determine if anyone had noticed their exchange. Clyde took advantage of the momentary loss of attention, walked toward the women, and offered Julie his arm to escort her to dinner, followed by David and Hawke. Julie, who had not heard the exchange between Andre and Clyde, could not help herself, and turned to glance at the face of the Frenchman. Suddenly realizing that he was now standing without an escort, and that the crowd was assembling to go in to dinner, he bowed deeply to the three ladies, and made a hasty retreat into the crowd. Dinner was a success, the townspeople all talked and gossiped together like the old friends that they were. Morgan and Hawke, still safely encased between Clyde, Julie, Nancy, and David managed to get through the ordeal with little mishap, except when Hawke wiped his hands on his trousers, rather then use his napkin. Both of them went lightly on the wine. Morgan did this partly out of discomfort from her stays, Hawke because he did not want to wake up believing that his escort was some kind of alcoholic apparition. André was seated with the school teacher Mary, who everyone called Kitten, her date Ron, who he knew from the dance hall and saloon, Evelyn Grimsbe and her sister Mackenzie, and Reverend Stanton. While he listened to the conversation, and was much more lively a talker then usual, he could not stop himself from looking toward the center table at Julie. Their timing was off; he never saw her subtle glance his direction every time a laugh from his table broke out. He did see the looks that Clyde gave her; and for a moment felt a stab of pique. Because of this he never noticed the quiet way that Stanton studied him, watching the glances with a mixture of pleasure at a side of Jermond he had rarely seen, and unease with a potential romance emerging. Stanton moved his food around his plate, pondering the latter, until a flirtatious comment from Evelyn pleasantly diverted his attentions. Finally, the dinner was over, and the dancing could begin. Everyone returned to the Inn's lobby; it was time to dance and mingle. It was the custom, at a ball or social event involving dancing, that the host and hostess dance the first dance together. Since Julie was a widow, she danced the first dance with Clyde, the guest of honor. As they whirled around the floor, she looked up at him with a smile and a twinkle that set off his own grin. As the others joined in, all were soon lost in the music and the dancing. Everyone found himself dancing as the musicians alternated between the more customary dances and the country ones. All danced, had punch, and were having a glorious time. Even Hawke, who had never done much dancing, was grinning. It didn't matter to anyone, especially Morgan, that he was not very good at it. André stood on the sidelines watching, as was his custom. Leaning against the frame of the hallway separating the lobby from the dining room, he watched Julie and Clyde as they broke into a reel. As he watched Clyde twirl Julie expertly around the room in the country dance, he plucked at the flower garland that hung along the side of the wall. Picking out a long strand of greenery, he watched and plucked at the leaves. As Julie giggled and smiled, the plucking became more frequent, his expression not as disinterested as he thought it was. He was not used to feeling overlooked, and he definitely felt that way at the moment. The leafy strand he had plucked from the wall was soon reduced to a green, leafless stalk. Morgan, who had taken a break from dancing in order to give her trod-on toes a rest, noticed him watching the new preacher with Julie, and smiled. With Hawke safely away from her toes and getting punch, she gingerly walked over to where André stood. "Why don't you just ask her?" She whispered. 'Humm?" He looked down at the blonde in surprise. "Ask who what?" Morgan couldn't help but laugh. "André, you should move before someone notices that you're shedding leaves faster than oak trees in the fall." He looked down at his feet, and saw the small collection of plucked leaves at his feet. Turning to her, he said simply "Can you stand to dance with a man who won't step on your toes?" Smiling wickedly, and looking out at the room she said, "Oh, I think I could suffer through it.” They took to the floor, just as the music changed again. It was a slower dance, where everyone eventually danced with someone else's partner. Morgan and André found themselves separated, and Morgan noticed immediately that both he and Julie seemed to be gauging when they would eventually end up face to face, and smiled. She soon found herself in front of Clyde, who seemed to be doing the same thing. As they moved around each other, she asked him how he liked the town. "It has definite possibilities," was all he said, as he continued to circle. "Some better then others," she said pointedly. Clyde smiled and bowed. "I can see that." Refusing to take the bait, he asked, "How are your feet holding up?" Morgan chuckled. "They are fine. He is fairly light on my feet." Clyde was about to say something else when he felt a tap at his shoulder. Turning, he saw Hawke glowering at him. Smiling pleasantly he asked, "Do you plan to dance with a cup in your hand?' Hawke, unused to the decorum of formal dancing just grunted. Morgan, seizing the opportunity to get off of her sore toes and effectively get Clyde out of the dance, walked past him to take the cup of punch from Hawke. "How did you know I was parched, sugar?" she said as she kissed his cheek. She quickly thanked Clyde for the dance, leaving him no choice but to sit the rest of the dance out. As he moved toward the punch table mothers who were anxious to point out the many attributes of their daughters soon surrounded him. David Carmack, seeing the uncomfortable preacher's situation, soon interjected and pulled Clyde into a group of local businessmen who were talking about the need for a fire department in town. With Clyde out of the way, André smiled to himself, and continued to dance, chatting away with each woman as he silently wished they could just move on to their next partner. He swayed and moved with the music, with all the gallantry his upbringing had taught him, but silently wished that the musicians would speed up a measure or two. Finally, he stepped back and turned to the left, and when he turned around, he was face to face with a pink-cheeked Julie. Putting his hand out, he said, "Madame Belsom." As she put her hand up to his, he couldn't help but notice how that small hand seemed to get lost in his, and how hot his palm became at her light touch. "Mr. German." "That's Zhermon," he said more out of habit than annoyance, as he moved towards her. "But," he smiled as he looked down, "You could always call me André. It's easier." Julie looked up at him with a twinkle. "I think I can manage Jermond," she said perfectly. "But you may call me Julie if you like." Andre expertly turned her to the outside of the circle, and she turned back to him again with a smile. André was intrigued and slightly annoyed at the possibility of yet another person in the town knowing French. Putting his arm around her waist and circling he looked down at her again. "You speak French?" Julie was having trouble concentrating on the question. The feel of his arm around her waist, and the melodic tone of his accent caused a flush inside her that seemed to radiate right down to her shoes. Gaining some composure, she simply said. "No, but I can imitate most accents. It's kind of a ... talent of mine." She looked down at the floor then, feeling rather foolish for not having a better retort. He chuckled as they pulled apart, and as he bowed he silently thanked God she didn't know French. As she curtsied, and pulled back to turn to the left again both felt disappointment that they had to move on. They turned to their new partners, but their eyes kept looking back at each other. When the dance was finally over, they were on opposite sides of the room, and when he tried to find her for the next dance she was gone. The duties of the hostess had pulled her away from the dancing temporarily. André continued to dance with some of the less giggly girls he knew, rekindling the hopes of some of their mothers, but his eyes continued to scan the room for Julie. He never saw that she was doing the same thing. But others did. At one point, the music changed to a waltz, and again Julie and Clyde began dancing. As they turned their way across the dance floor, André could stand it no more. He was dancing with Nancy, who noticed with a giggle that his eyes were always looking elsewhere. After teasing him that any good Frenchman knows it is impolite to stare at another's partner, she softly suggested that he cut in on the preacher. At first, André was adamant that he would not, but as the strains of the music built to a crescendo, it seemed to mirror his own struggling emotions. He thanked her, and moved to the center of the room where Julie and Clyde were dancing. Julie saw him walking toward her, and attempted to will her beating heart from leaping out of her chest. Clyde felt the light tap on his shoulder, and turned to see whom he would be handing his partner too. Grinning, he turned to Julie and lifted her hand to his lips for a moment, before releasing her to her new partner. He looked at André, and for a split second, saw annoyance cross his face before the affable smile returned. As André took her hand, he bowed low and said her name. It came out "Jewlee," soft, and musical. She curtsied to him, saying his name in a whisper, and entered his waiting arms. The music had slowed during their exchange, but swelled again as they began to waltz. They swirled around the room, each matching each other's steps perfectly, eyes never leaving each other. The room seemed to disappear for both of them. This came as quite a shock to André, who had never before felt quite this drawn to a woman. They hardly spoke, having lost themselves to the music. Julie had never lost herself in a dance before, even when she was married to her husband. The air between them seemed to crackle. They looked at each other in wonder, knowing that something had started this night; something that neither of them were prepared for. The social continued on into the early hours of the morning. Every one danced with seemingly endless energy and joy. Nancy danced with David, and Mary and Ronny seemed to be tireless, as they swirled around the room. Even Reverend Stanton managed to get in three of the slower dances with the widow Grimsbe before the pains in his limbs began to wear him down. Clyde danced with many of the mothers and their eligible daughters, and once with Morgan. It was Julie and André, however, who continued to dance and become more entranced with each other, never noticing that they were fast becoming the center of attention. Their rapt attention to each other was not lost on Clyde, who stood watching them from a corner of the room, scratching his beard and attempting to ascertain the depth of their relationship. He tried to look as if he was simply watching all the dancers, but the slight look of disappointment in his eyes was not lost on the widow Grimsbe, who whispered into Stanton's ear. Stanton looked toward the new Preacher, and after a few struggles to get out of his chair, walked toward the other side of the room. Clyde never noticed the approaching former pastor, and was surprised when he felt a hand gently rest on his shoulder. He turned from the dancers, and looked at Stanton tentatively. Stanton looked past him, to the swirling, oblivious pair of dancers, and back to Clyde. “They are charming together, aren’t they,” he said quietly to him. "Who would have guessed?" Clyde, being new to the community had believed the couple to be much longer acquainted. He broke into a smile, and looked at the wheezing older man with a twinkle in his eye. Stanton, seeing the interest in the young man’s eyes, smiled back, glad that years at the pulpit had allowed him to hone his gift for reading people, easily forgetting that it had been the widow who had suggested he speak to him. He guided Clyde to an empty couch, and proceeded to tell him about the pair on the dance floor. Clyde was soon informed of the business holdings of both the dancers, along with the knowledge that a union between the two would not be welcome by many in the town. "If Jermond and Julie came together and married," Stanton told him, "They would be control most of the Mountain Junction economy." After hearing this, Clyde looked carefully around the room. He began to notice expressions. Many of the men watched the pair of dancers with stony faces, turning back to each other and talking animatedly. The men like David, who were dancing, watched André out of the corner of their eyes, with pasted smiles at partners who were chattering excitedly about the pairing of the two with romantic glee. For the mothers in the room, they were busy clucking among themselves over the fact that the unconventional widow had succeeded where they're own daughters had not. For the daughters, they were watching Clyde with growing interest. He was so deep in thought that he noticed neither the daughters nor the wide grin of Stanton, who was immensely pleased with himself. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:37:00 AM --4- Mountain Junction ** Chapter 5 ** Sunrise In the early hours of Monday morning, the sun rose again over Mountain Junction. The inky black velvet of the night sky slowly began to lighten, the stars fading away one by one as the night gently surrendered itself to the day. The sunbeams slowly expanded, turning the sky a soft pink, then a deeper yellow, as the day strained to begin. The eastern peaks glowed under a rush of color as the sun finally emerged in an explosion of orange heat and radiating luster. For the people of Mountain Junction, the new week had begun. For most of the community, dawn came much too early. After the revelry of the night before, all they really wanted to do was sleep. The sun did not waken Hawke and Morgan, whose lives were largely lived at night. They slept pleasantly, with limbs entwined. Morgan’s beautiful blue dress, so lovely a few hours ago was now a crumpled heap in the corner of her small room. The stays, once laced tightly, were now thrown carelessly over a chair. Hawke’s uncomfortable stiff collar was somewhere down along the street below having been torn off and thrown out the window in a fit of frustration. Yet, in the small sanctuary, this chaos was overpowered by the peaceful breathing of the happy lovers. Across the street in the white clapboard building with the red and white striped pole, Money’s day was starting out marvelously. All the large leather barber chairs held customers, and the bench that lined the wall opposite the large wood-framed mirrors was also full. There were even two men huddled by the small round stove that stood near the entrance. Money felt wonderful this morning. He had gambled at the almost empty Viscosité Buvette, and had won more then he lost. He had stayed most of the night winning and drinking, free of Hawke and his dour stares and angry shouts. The only downfall had been the absence of Morgan. Money loved to watch the blonde, blue-eyed beauty saunter around the saloon. He had wanted her to notice his gazes for a long time, but so far she had never treated him any differently then any other customer. The customers in the shop that morning filled his ears with news of the social the night before. Most of the time Sunday socials simply meant good business for Money, and a recap of the intense political discussions that had gone on while the ladies had chatted away. The men usually danced as little as possible, preferring discussions with each other. To his dismay, he was listening not to news of Indians, or the continuing search for the Yellow Monster, but of love and romance. This may have been tolerable, had it not been for the comments on the beauty of Morgan and her leaving the party on the arm of Hawke. As he shaved and cut the hair of the men in the chairs, he became more and more angry. This was not good for the customers, considering that he held a sharp razor at their throats. Doctor Henson, who was the one being shaved at the time, could feel his agitation. “Careful there, Money,” warned Doctor Henson. “You wield that razor like I do my scalpel.” “Sorry, Doc,” apologized Money. “Just trying to get close.” Lucky for the Doctor, David Carmack entered the barbershop, followed closely by his eldest son Steven. Money and David liked each other. They were both fond of gambling, although David gambled at the Mansion, in an upstairs room for high rollers that many in the town never knew existed. Like Money, much of the cash lost by Carmack went directly into André’s pockets. Unlike Money, David’s dislike of Jermond was not well known. He kept it to himself, waiting for the day when he could bring the Frenchman down a peg or two. Money already knew what had happened between Jermond and the Belsom woman, and his black mood lightened as he waited for Carmack, already puffing up in politician’s delight, to start a discussion of his opinion of the night before. David, like most “important” citizens, was not shy about stating his opinion, and soon the other men who attended the social were as animated as they had been the night before. Each of them seemed to have a story, either concerning the Mansion or a business deal with Jermond. Some of these men had gone to him for financial help, only to find that they were now partners with him. While “silent” to the townspeople, he was rarely silent with his partners. He was as diligent with their books as he was with the books of his exclusive ventures. This practice kept their businesses solvent, but also built resentments when he refused to let them handle their business themselves. All of them were in awe of Julie, with her soft voice that disguised a business mind that made her as wealthy as Jermond. The prospect of a union of the two bank accounts was remarked upon with grave significance, as they realized that Jermond would be the wealthiest man in town and with a wife like Julie, very likely the strongest political voice in Mountain Junction. With the two of them in control of most of the largest business ventures, they could easily keep everyone else from ever being as successful as they were. In the cozy little kitchen of the simple clapboard parsonage, Clyde busied himself brewing coffee and fixing a quick breakfast for Reverend Stanton, who had spent a pleasant night on the new couch in the parlor. Both had been nearly the last ones to leave the Inn the night before; Clyde because he was the guest of honor; Stanton because he had become so involved with Clyde that the widow Grimsbe left in a huff without him. Clyde quickly realized that Stanton was too frail to go far and had offered him his couch in the parsonage. They did not, however, leave the party with the other guests. Clyde had witnessed André’s reluctance to leave the Inn, realized that he wanted to escort Julie home, and had been determined not to leave before him. This posed a problem for Stanton, who finally sat down on one of the chintz couches and dozed until Clyde decided to leave. When André finally walked off the porch with a nod and a smile into his black Heiss buggy, Clyde found Julie and softly thanked her for the wonderful party, and the two of them eased the sleepy pastor into a waiting carriage. He and Clyde left the quiet street behind them, finally able to go home and sleep. Stanton gingerly joined Clyde in the kitchen, and as he watched the big man use both hands to lower his aching frame to the chair, he was overcome with remorse for keeping the elder pastor waiting the night before. After placing a cup of tea and breakfast in front of his new friend, he apologized with a red face. Stanton smiled, and waved the apology off, telling him that “all was fair” and not to worry. Having already discussed Jermond with Clyde, Stanton now felt that the young man needed to hear about Julie. Stanton obviously liked Julie; he spoke of her helping him on numerous occasions, as well as his respect of her business acumen. He told him of her unconventional behavior when she first came to town, of her kindness to others that allowed everyone to overlook her eccentricities, and how she deflected any man who had attempted to woo her. Clyde was dumbfounded — he had only seen her in her kitchen and at the ball. He sat and sipped his tea, wondering if the Frenchman had ever been in the kitchen of the restaurant, watching her move efficiently around the room, fussing over coffee and suppressing giggles as she spoke. He was suddenly struck with that image, and hoped not. He had no idea that the woman in the ball gown had been as alien to André as the woman in Buckskins was to him. In André’s stately ranch house, he sat at a window table in his bedroom, partially dressed in his smooth Eastern buckskin leggings, and unbuttoned shirt drinking coffee and attempting to read the newspaper. He was not having much success. After reading the same sentence on the continuing search for the Yellow Monster four of five times, he gave up. He was contemplating going downstairs and into his small French side cabinet for a drink, when his eyes rested on a small pink bud on the table. Smiling to himself, he picked up the delicate little mountain flower and turned it in his long fingers. She had lost the little flower from her waist bouquet late in the evening, when they had taken a short respite from dancing. When she excused herself to go see to some hostess duty he couldn’t remember, he had seen the tiny bud drop to the floor. Checking quickly to make sure no one was watching he had walked to where the flower lay, dropped something out of his pocket, and nonchalantly picked up the flower with the item. By the time Julie returned the small flower was safely hidden in his breast pocket. André had lingered at the Inn until almost the last guest had left, hoping to offer Julie a ride home. Unfortunately, the new preacher had refused to leave with the other guests, thwarting his chances at asking her to join him. He felt that she would have been receptive, had it not been for the two preachers staying as long as they did. When it became clear that the younger clergyman had no intention of leaving, he walked back into the dining room to find Julie, gave her a kiss on the hand and a promise to come calling soon, if she was agreeable. She had not said anything, just blushed and smiled. He had bowed low, said goodnight and left the Inn, smiling broadly and nodding to Clyde as he walked down the porch steps and into his waiting buggy. He now sat at the sunny window, trying not to admit to himself how much that answering blush and smile had pleased him. Finally, exasperated at himself, he slammed his hand on the table with a “Zut!” Leaving the bed unmade and the paper on the table, he stomped downstairs to his kitchen. He grabbed the coffeepot off the stove and decided to attack one of the other two newspapers that were lying on the kitchen table. As he sat down, he realized that his other hand was in a fist. Opening it to pull the cup toward him, the small flower fell to the table with a plop. Ignoring it, he poured himself a cup of coffee. He took two or three large gulps, glancing around his kitchen at anything but the small bud on the table. His hand finally put down the cup, and picked up the little flower again. He brought it close to examine it. It was crumpled a bit, but its intricate petals and center were undamaged. He marveled not only at the little flower’s resilience, but also at the hold the wearer still had on him. He spent a long time at the table with the coffee and the flower, wondering how on earth someone he had just met, and knew next to nothing about, could have so completely captured his imagination. He knew he could no longer sit, or he would go crazy. Perhaps, he thought to himself, he was already crazy. He got up purposefully, buttoning his shirt as he grabbed his boots off the mud porch. Shoving his feet swiftly into them, he grabbed his Taos Jacket and banged his brown suede hat on his head. He trudged with long strides across the yard to the stables behind his house. His stallion Seizemain was already snorting and whinnying, as if he knew André was approaching. In the quaint blue and white farmhouse on the western slopes of the mountains, Julie awoke in her bed from a wonderful dream, and snuggled deeper under her eiderdown quilt. As she stretched and smiled, she found herself looking at the ball gown from the night before, neatly hanging on the press beside her wardrobe. She sat up, pulling her arms around her knees and thought about the night before. It had been such a surprising night. She had expected to spend most of the evening fussing around the guests, or worrying about Morgan’s nerves and catching an occasional dance with Clyde, as any good hostess would do. Instead, she had spent most of the time dancing with André, the hotel staff and her nervous friend forgotten. She had managed to do her hostess duties a few times, leaving him reluctantly to see to the wine, or the clean up efforts of the staff. She had spent little time with the details, however, hurrying back with the hope that he was waiting for her. Finally, as the last of the guests trickled out the doorway, all she really wanted to do was go home and sleep, spent from the emotions of the evening. She was faced, however, with a dilemma. Three of her guests seemed determined to stay. She knew that André was waiting to see if she would allow him to drive her home, and Clyde was waiting around seemingly to find out if she would accept. As for the poor reverend Stanton, he seemed to be sleeping soundly on the couch. Finally, in desperation, she had fled to the kitchen, hoping that all three men would simply give up and leave. When she had turned around to find André behind her, she had been shocked. When he had asked her if he could call, she was so happy that all she could do was blush in response. As she sat on her bed, her eyes fell on the buckskins lying neatly over a chair. Seeing them and thinking about the blush, her nose wrinkled in disgust. She had stopped blushing years ago, intent on showing the world that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She shook thoughts of that annoying blush away, focusing instead on the fact that Clyde had needed her help getting the large, painfully stiff Stanton to the carriage. She liked the thought that he needed her help. “Weaker sex indeed,” she thought to herself. Still, she had to admit that the attentions of André had been exhilarating, something she had never experienced in her marriage. She looked again at the ball gown, and sighed. The sigh brought her out of her revelry with a start. Throwing back the eiderdown, she strode to the small table by the wardrobe, poured water into the delicate white porcelain bowl and washed her face. The cold water helped, but it did not fully clear her head. She stared at the dress and buckskins, so different and yet so much a part of her. On the press behind the gown, was a simple brown skirt and white blouse that she had planned to wear to work this morning. Suddenly, she did not want to go to the Inn. She dreaded facing the people who would be commenting on her dancing at the social, but she also knew she could not stay at home. Staying home would mean the incessant clucking of the “ladies who called.” Thoughts of the gossips, lying in wait for a misspoken word or an accidental revelation were even less appealing then innocent comments at the Inn. As she looked at the corner of the room it became clear what she wanted to do. She pulled on the buckskins, a plain blue blouse and fringed jacket. Running a brush through her hair, she didn’t even bother with the braid, she simply pulled up the sides with two combs, leaving the rest to stream down her back to her waist. Bouncing quickly down the stairs and into the kitchen, she grabbed her hat, stuck her feet in an old pair of shoes and sprang out of the back door. The sudden warmth of the sun hit her face. Smiling, she ran to the barn where Delilah and freedom waited. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:37:00 AM -5- Mountain Junction ** Chapter 6 ** Tabletop Tearing out of the barn astride Delilah, Julie instinctively turned away from the road toward the center of town. Crossing the pasture, she headed out toward the open country that led to the mountain she loved. She barely noticed the spring flowers of the lowlands. She felt only the wind in her face, and the power of the silver Arabian mare that was gaining speed with every gallop. She gave Delilah her head, as she had so many times before when she was upset, angry or, as she was today, unsettled. The small horse seemed to be in tune with Julie’s mood, and headed toward the base of the mountain. As Delilah galloped, Julie slowly began to feel free again: free from the gossips, free from the stress of business, and free from the feelings that André had stirred within her. On the mare, she was again free to fly and enjoy the power of being alive and herself. The smile on her face said it all. Julie had found herself again. Reaching the base of the Mountain, Delilah slowed down. Walking now, horse and rider slowly followed the path to the top. Small brush and brown shrubs gave way to lush pine trees and greenery. Julie loved the slow progression from ugliness to beauty that mountains in California provided. The heat of the lower valley floor slowly gave way to the cooler temperatures of the higher elevations. Beauty soon surrounded her and the smell of the pine and recent rain filled her mind with peace. Emerging through the trees at the top, she was rewarded with a view of the town in one direction, and the vast open desert of the valley below on the other. She quickly dismounted, took off her hat and walked to the rock formation known as Tabletop; a series of rocks that looked as if some Giant had erected himself a large dining table in which to enjoy his evening meal. It was on this rock that Julie sat, crossed her legs and stared out toward the desert. She exhaled and smiled, drinking in the view. The ride and the view soon brought about the clarity of thought she had not been able to find in her room. It allowed her to think about André without feeling disgusted with herself. The truth was, she had been interested in him for months. The stories about him fueled her imagination, and the interest she had seen in his eyes the night before had mirrored her own. Surprise at his interest, coupled with the intensity of her own had upset her. It was not a feeling she had ever experienced before. She thought back to when she had met Michael, her late husband. A friend of her fathers, Michael had been older, and reserved. He had treated her with respect and courtesy from the beginning. His love for her had been subtle and quiet, even in the privacy of their bedroom. Julie had respected Michael, and been very fond of him, but passion had never been part of their lives. This fact had never bothered her; he had been a good husband, and had made her his partner in business as well as marriage. Michael had made her into the businesswomen she now was. Clyde had reminded her of Michael from their first conversation in the kitchen of the Inn. André on the other hand, had made her feel alive in his arms, off balance, and totally out of control of her feelings. It had been exhilarating, but also unnerving to a woman who prided herself on her self-control. Thoughts of what to do now that André had expressed his desire to call on her filled her mind as she sat looking out over the view she loved so much. She knew that she welcomed his advance, but thought to herself that she was not equipped with the skills needed to show him. Coquetry had never been something she had bothered to learn. She was direct and honest; a trait Michael had found refreshing, but had also tried desperately to curb. He did not mind her being direct with him, but frowned on her being that way with his associates. She never did learn to stop herself. She liked being direct with people. It kept them off balance, and kept her in control. As she looked at Delilah picking grass delicately, she knew that she would have to learn how to handle herself with André, and soon. She was soon lost in the anticipation of their next meeting. She was so focused on the possibility of seeing him later in the day that she never noticed the movement of the trees behind her. Like Julie, André had allowed his Stallion to have his head. The horse had taken off, as he knew he would, to tabletop, one of his favorite spots. Unlike Julie, however, he never walked up the mountain; he galloped. André liked to feel masterful: of his life, his business, and any task he undertook. Getting to the top of the mountain was no exception. He liked the fact that he and his mount could navigate the trees, underbrush and rocks that covered the mountainside. He loved to burst through the trees at the top, like Julius Caesar overtaking any obstacles in his way. Once at the top, he rarely looked toward the empty desert floor to the south. He looked north, toward the town, feeling exhilaration every time he noticed another expansion. Here at Tabletop, André was king of the mountain. This morning as he burst through the trees was no exception. Expecting to be alone, he was already thinking of the view and not what was in front of him. His horse, seeing Delilah grazing calmly beside the rocks, was startled and reared up. At sixteen hands, the horse pulled his tall rider right into the lower branches of the trees. André, as startled as the horse, soon felt himself hit the pine branches, and then quickly descend to the ground with a thump. He was momentarily stunned, lying on his back with the wind knocked out of him. Closing his eyes, he lay there for a moment, dazed and desperately trying to draw breath. As he came to his senses, the string of French words that exploded from him raised the birds out of the trees. He was still cursing when he opened them and looked up into the greenest eyes he had ever seen surrounded by a long cloud of wild black curls. At first he thought he was dead and in the company of the most alluring of concerned angels. This thought stopped the Frenchman dead in its tracks. It took him a few minutes to realize who was checking him for broken bones, and then the only word he could think to say was “You!” “Yes, Mr. Jermond, are you all right?” Julie asked with concern. “Can you stand?” She pulled him up to a sitting position, fully expecting to get him up on his feet. The realization that she was going to try and stand him up made him grab her arms to stop her. The fact that she had perfectly pronounced his name went unnoticed. “I will be fine in a moment, thank you,” he replied with more annoyance than he would have liked. “I ... fell.” The laugh that burst from Julie annoyed him even more. “Yes Mr. Jermond, I can see that.” She said with a broad smile. “My apologies for startling your horse, perhaps he was feeling too much of his oats and was a tad edgy this morning.” “Seizemain is never “edgy,” Madame.” André said with a gruff huff. As he watched her eyes lose their humor, however, he was immediately sorry he had said it. He watched with regret as she stood and walked stiff backed toward her little silver horse. He couldn’t help but notice with appreciation the lines of her muscles within the fringed buckskins she wore, and the line of her neck as she fought to put her impossible mane of curls beneath her hat. As she prepared to mount, he spoke again, this time softer. “Please Mrs. Belsom, don’t go. I ... I’m sorry.” This Julie was not the little woman in the ball gown. She was all business, and seemed taller to him this morning. She looked toward his sitting form, and he could see the looks that crossed her face. Part of her wanted to leave him there on his wounded pride, while the other part of her wanted to rush over and help him. She did neither. She just stood looking at him, making it clear that she would stay, but that he was going to have to get up on his own. Andre stood stiffly, testing himself slowly to make sure he would not embarrass himself further by stumbling. He quickly walked to Seizemain, silently fighting the need to limp, and led him sheepishly over to where she and Delilah stood. Julie smiled to herself, relieved that he seemed to have hurt nothing more then his pride. Taking up Delilah’s reigns, she began to walk toward the trees where he had fallen and walk down the path. André walked silently beside her, relieved that she had not mentioned the fall or his need to walk the stiffness out of his sore legs and back. Respect for her began to grow and replace the feelings that had clouded his mind that morning. This was the woman he had watched for months in the town, the one he was used to hearing about. This was the type of women he preferred, a self-sufficient spitfire who was not afraid to let him know when he crossed the line. He found himself enjoying the walk down the mountain, in spite of the ache in his back and joints. After awhile she spoke. “What does the name of your horse mean, in English?” André smiled. Seizemain was a favorite subject. He told her of how he had visited the Perrin Ranch in Canada when he first came to the East. He spoke of his friend John Perrin, the youngest son, who wanted so badly to leave the horse ranch and travel west to join the cattle drives as a cowboy. His dream was so well known, that people had begun to call him Outwest, rather then John. Seizmain had been a thorn in Outwest’s side for many months. A perfectly formed quarter horse, he had been purchased with the idea of racing and stud. The animal had other ideas; no one at the Perrin Ranch could break him. André had taken one look at the huge brown stallion with the white stripe down his nose, and had seen a kindred spirit. He liked the fact that Seizemain did not like people, or other horses. He made an offer to the Perrins, who were only too glad to rid the farm of the biting, bad tempered animal. He had taken the stallion back to his father’s farm in New York, where again the animal made his presence known and his temper felt. Although Mr. Jermond had his doubts about the purchase, he said nothing, allowing his son to try and break the animal. It had taken sixteen men, André explained with pride, to finally subdue and halfway tame the stallion. He and the rest of the men had been bruised and bandaged for weeks afterward. André explained that when finally broken, the only name that came to mind for the stallion was Seizemain, in recognition not only of his sixteen-hand height, but also of the men who had the mettle to stick with his breaking. “Sometimes we measure energy by a number of horses,” André smiled, “Seizemain measures it by men.” By the time his story was finished, they were halfway down the mountain. Julie stopped, partly to let André rest, partly to take a long look at his stallion. As she moved closer to inspect the large animal, she felt André stiffen with concern. She calmly reached into her pocket and pulled out one of the apples she had grabbed in the barn before she left that morning. She offered up the small apple to Seizemain, who amazed André when he took it from her as delicately as his mother would have picked up a teacup. When she stroked his nose, André finally spoke. “Mon Dieu! I have never seen him do that!” He was not exaggerating; his mother had once tried to feed the stallion a carrot, and the bite marks had been visible for weeks. She never went near the horse again. Julie smiled, gave the horse another stroke, and once again began to walk down the mountain. It was André’s turn to ask. “Your little horse, what is her name again?” Bristling at the remark of the mare’s size, she shook off the long practiced need to retort with sharp words. “Her name is Delilah. It was some insufferable Middle Eastern name when my father first bought her for me, but I soon changed that,” she said as she smiled up at him. “I don’t doubt that for a second,” was the first thought that crossed André’s mind, as he smiled back. She told him of her father’s love for Arabian horses. When Julie had begged him for a horse, he had gone to one of the best horse farms in the Midwest to purchase one. Del was a perfect Arabian, from her silver coat to her perfectly shaped legs and head. It was those delicate legs that often led to disparaging remarks from the boys Julie knew when she was young. Many was the time some dullard boy with no real knowledge of horseflesh made some off handed comment about Delilah’s not being able to run without breaking those “pretty” legs. Julie told André about these races with barely suppressed mirth and pride. Most of the boys were surprised to learn that not only could Del run fast, she could run far longer then many of their stock horses. Arabians were bred for endurance she went on to explain. They could run harder for far longer than many other breeds. It was also during these races that she began to ride astride, much to the dismay of her mother. It was far easier to ride Del in a race with no saddle, rather then the bulky, uncomfortable side saddle her mother had insisted her father purchase for her. By the time Julie finished her story, they were at the base of the mountain. They were both pink cheeked and relaxed from the walk and the simple conversations about the horses. Smiling at each other, they both took to their saddles, laughing that they seemed to have the same thought at the same time. Seizemain stretched his nose out toward Delilah, who pushed her nose back at him. Laughing, the two riders each remarked on the fact that their horses, normally unfriendly, seemed to like each other. Neither paid much thought to the therapeutic affect their horses had on each of themselves. As they looked into the sky toward the sun, both were surprised to realize that it was almost noon. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:38:00 AM -6- Mountain Junction ** Chapter 7 ** The Race For both André and Julie, the morning had passed far too quickly. They were discovering that they liked each other, beyond the first flush of physical attraction that had passed between them. The idea that they could be friends as well as physically attracted was a pleasant relief to both of them. Julie found herself anticipating the lively conversations and the fun they could have together. For André, the sudden understanding that they thought in the same manner brought with it that same anticipation. He liked smart, adventuresome woman, and this one was both. She was also unconventional, a thought that appealed to him more then he liked to admit. This woman, he thought to himself, would never bore him. On impulse, he asked Julie if she would like to have lunch together at the Inn. Julie looked at him for a long time, weighing the decision. She wanted to continue with the pleasant morning, but also was keenly aware that she was not dressed to dine, and that would send tongues wagging in town. She was also aware that those same tongues had most likely been wagging all morning. The dark looks that crossed her face were not lost on André, who mistook them for disinterest in him or worse, distaste because of who he was and what he owned. It was the first of many times he would misunderstand her, but this time she stopped it before he did anything rash. She gazed at him for a moment, seemed to make up her mind, and agreed to lunch at the Inn, provided he allow her to go to her office and change first. This was not an unreasonable request; he was used to women wanting to look their best. Smiling, he agreed to her terms. As they turned their mounts toward town, André said the worst thing he could possibly say. “Delilah really is the perfect horse for you. A small horse for a small woman.” To Julie, this innocent statement set off two responses. First, she was angry that everything she had told him about her youth had gone in one ear and out the other. Second, it was so similar to the things that all those idiot boys had said to her in her youth, that she could neither curb her irritation nor the need to prove him wrong. Smiling a smile that, had he known her, would have immediately put him on his guard, she walked Delilah around Seizmain and stopped briefly at his rump ... and gave it a sharp smack with the back of her hand, along with a loud “HA!” Seizmain, startled by the slap, took off running, catching his rider completely off guard. André’s back throbbed, as he was jerked backwards. His feet, loose in the stirrups, flew out to the side as his long limbs flailed uncontrollably. He struggled for control as he watched Julie and Delilah cross the flatland at full gallop. He was also positive he heard a loud laugh as they drew up the dust on the valley floor. Finally gaining control of Seizemain, André lay forward against the neck of the stallion and took off after Julie. The sound of their hoof beats thundered across the valley floor. Dust flew in large clouds behind each horse as they raced full gallop toward town. André found he was enjoying himself more then he had in months as he closed in on the Julie and Delilah. He smiled broadly, as he realized that he now had his chance to regain some of his lost honor from his earlier fall and her getting the better of him before she took off riding. He was closing easily on her; sure he would win the race. He would need to make her pay for her blatant cheating when she lost. He was thinking on a number of lessons he could teach her as he drew closer. Julie turned her head to the side as he closed in next to her. She could tell from the look on his face, that he thought that Del was going as fast as she could. Feigning a surprised look, she looked forward again as if she was riding at top speed and was a bit worried. André took that look at face value, smiling broadly as he passed her. She watched the magnificent animal pass her, drawing up billowing clouds of dust, and leaned closer into Delilah’s neck. As she matched André again, she flashed him a brilliant smile as the mare burst into her true speed. This time, it was she who heard a laugh. He was appreciative of a good race, and she could almost feel him urging Seizemain to really give all he had. The stallion did not disappoint. The race went on this way for several more miles. Julie knew she could beat him, even though they were evenly matched, if she could only find a way to gain the upper hand. Looking around for something, anything that might give her an advantage, she spied a small stone fence that stood on the outskirts of town, about four streets away from its center. She pulled Del off to the left, making a straight gallop toward the fence. André ignored the movement, not seeing it for what it was, and continued toward the path into town. He watched, stunned, as Julie galloped Delilah straight for the fence. He was aware of his mistake too late. He watched horse and rider soar over the fence and disappear into town. Not giving up, he galloped harder toward the street that was now visible from the meadow. Knowing she had won, Julie slowed as she got closer to the center of town. By the time she reached the street behind the church she was walking along, pleasantly thinking about the various ways she could collect her “winnings.” She was smiling at these thoughts as she came up on the parsonage. She looked into the yard and saw Clyde busy with a hoe, and Reverend Stanton sitting pleasantly in the shade with a glass of lemonade. Clyde looked up from his work, smiled and waved. Not really wanting to be pulled out of her revelry, but not wanting to be rude, she walked Delilah to the fence to say good morning. Clyde was excited to finally have a garden. Having lived in the city most of his adult life, gardens had been almost impossible to grow. When he accepted the post of reverend of Mountain Junction, one of the first thoughts had been the pleasing idea of having his own vegetable garden. He had grown up in the farm country of the Midwest and the memory of his mother’s vegetable garden filled his thoughts when he had received his confirmation letter. The garden was something he wanted to start on right away. He knew that the day after his welcoming social would be a slow one, so he had attacked the small area of earth directly after breakfast. Stanton had come out to join him eventually, although the only thing he had offered was advice on where to plant certain vegetables. Clyde had been surprised to see Julie. He had thought she would already be in the kitchen of her restaurant and seeing to setting the Inn back in order. He was even more surprised to see her riding astride her horse, dressed in buckskins. Thinking back on the two times he had seen and talked to her, the woman in front of him seemed to be a stranger, one that he was not sure he liked. Memories of the motherly woman who had placed a blanket on Money and the vision in the ball gown did not seem to fit with the red faced, manly dressed women on the small silver mare. When she smiled and spoke, however, she was the same woman he had met and laughed with, and he relaxed. They stood at the fence, talking about his garden and his excitement over it for a few minutes. “I planned on this garden from the moment I got this assignment,” Clyde said. “I used to help my mother with her garden at home. I love to work with the soil, and I did not get the chance to do that in the city.” “No, I suppose not,” Julie said distractedly, looking over her shoulder. “I was thinking of planting vegetables. Any ideas on what would grow best?” He could not help but notice that she kept looking toward the end of the street. He wondered why she kept looking off, but said nothing. “What were you thinking of planting?” Julie asked as she turned back to him. “Vegetables,” they both said at once, and laughed. “Oh I am sorry, Reverend,” Julie quickly said. “Vegetables are a marvelous idea! The ones that come in on the train — Yuck! I don’t know how many heads of lettuce, and broccoli I have thrown away at the restaurant. There are times when half the crate is useless.” “Please call me Clyde, and yes I know from the city that broccoli from the train is as limp as a willow bough most of the time.” Julie had to laugh at the description; she had thought the same thing many times. “You know, Clyde,” she said, “If you grow enough of both, I would be willing to buy them from you for the restaurant and the store, as would others I am sure.” “What about horseradish?” “Horseradish? Oh my, I have not had that in so long, and I could use that at the restaurant too!” Julie said excitedly. “It’s nice to finally meet someone who actually likes to use it. So many think it sounds so bad that they wont try it. But,” she added with a mischievous glint, “I don’t have to tell them until after they taste it, now do I?” Clyde laughed, thinking to himself how much like his mother she was. His mother never told anyone she used horseradish until after the guest had eaten two or three helpings. By that time, they were hooked. “You are welcome to lemonade, if you like,” he said, “You look a bit ... done in.” Julie couldn’t help but laugh at that remark. If he only knew, she thought to herself. “Oh no Clyde,” she said instead. “I am on my way to the Inn. It can wait until I get there.” Clyde was disappointed that she did not seem to want to join him, but hid it behind a smile. Not wanting to let her leave, his mind raced in an attempt to find something that she might like to talk about. Finally, inspiration came to him as Delilah shook her head and moved a bit restlessly. “Your Arabian, is she Ayer stock?” He asked. Julie looked at him in surprise. “Why yes, she is. How on earth did you know that?” “Oh, My Father was friends with Old Mister Ayers, the owner of the farm for many years. I used to travel with him every summer to look at the new foals. I recognize the lines.” Julie looked at Clyde with new interest. This man was an intriguing one. He knew horseflesh, was an accomplished dancer, quick witted, and polished. Yet there was a quiet serenity and hominess about him that she could not help but find appealing. He reminded her of Michael. Michael had also liked to work the soil; he had always said that he liked to feel as if he was part of the earth. Somehow, she knew that Clyde felt the same way. She could not help but try and envision André with a hoe, or pulling up weeds. The image just would not come. He would never get on his hands and knees to pull a weed, or a carrot from the earth. Julie looked at Clyde with curiosity wondering how else he would surprise her. Clyde said with a grin, “I love Arabians. They are beautiful, fast and can keep going when many other horses would drop. And,” he added slyly, “most don’t realize that, until it is too late.” For Julie, that last remark was the best revelation of all. Remembering the expression on André’s face as she passed him on the meadow made her laugh out loud. “To true. What do you ride?” “At the moment, nothing.” Clyde sighed. “I sold my horse when I got this assignment, it was cheaper then bringing him with me. I am looking for a good mount, though.” He moved closer to Delilah at the fence and was surprised when she backed up slightly. “Bit skittish. What’s her name?” Julie stiffened at the remark. “Delilah has never been fond of new people.” Or any others, she thought to herself. “She is a bit standoffish, but she is perfect for me,” she added pointedly. Clyde chose to ignore the last remark, instead focusing on the mare’s name. “Delilah, eh? Brings down all the stallions does she?” The bells in the church steeple suddenly began to loudly toll the noon hour. They drowned out the loud laughter that came from Julie and Clyde over the joke that had hit so close to home. They also kept them from hearing the approaching hoof beats of Seizemain. When André suddenly appeared at the fence, both were surprised to see him. Julie looked at him with laughing eyes. “Took the long way, did you?” She asked with a grin. “You madam, are a cheat and shall pay for that,” André quipped, feigning irritation. Clyde watched this exchange with a smile that hid an irritation he had not felt in a long time. He knew he was somehow out of the conversation, and was not pleased at the apparent ease the two had with each other. It was different than what he had seen the night before. It was too friendly, too comfortable. He suddenly realized why she had been so distracted when she first spoke to him. His chin went up a bit as he looked at André, who had moved Seizemain closer to Delilah. “Nice horse,” he said simply. André looked at Clyde for a moment, attempting to read his blank expression. Finally deciding to take the compliment at face value, he answered in his usual way. “Seizemain is the finest, fastest mount in the valley, Sir.” A small cough came from his left. “Not anymore.” Clyde could not stop the laugh that burst from his lips. Suddenly the entire situation became clear to him and he understood the laugh his earlier comment about underestimating Arabians had elicited. He was secretly admiring the quiet way that Julie had put André in his place as well. This woman, he thought to himself, is not one to be trifled with. André, too, smiled at the joke. He leaned toward Julie as if he was going to say something quietly only she would hear. She instinctively moved closer to him, eager to hear his remark. “You were eating dust for so long. You have a smudge,” he said as he moved in closer to her. The thought of touching her cheek brought a pleasant rush to his fingertips. For Julie, the thought of his touching her cheek put pink across her cheeks. For Clyde, the thought of that touch brought stiffness to his lips that he was glad his beard hid. Suddenly she felt the brown floppy hat being pushed back from her head and fall to the road below. Her long unruly black curls came down and spilled across her shoulders and down her back, and her large green eyes seemed even bigger from the surprise. The effect was very captivating, and the look of desire that momentarily crossed Clyde’s face was not lost on André, or Julie. Looking quickly away in embarrassment at her reaction to Clyde, Julie turned her eyes on André. He was sitting on his horse, looking quite pleased with himself at showing his playful side. So pleased, in fact, that Julie could not help but roll her eyes in mock exasperation. She was about to say something to him, when Clyde moved around the fence and handed her hat back up to her with a smile. A renewed pink crossed her cheeks as her fingers grazed Clyde's when she took back her hat and placed it back on her head without bothering to put her hair back up. From the corner of his eye, Clyde watched amused as André’s eyes narrowed slightly. André was disappointed. He had expected at the very least a gruff huff from Julie as her hat hit the ground at Delilah’s feet. Instead, he had seen a spark between her and the new preacher. Never quite comfortable with playful banter, he knew that somehow the joke had taken a wrong turn, and he did not like it. He was still expecting her to make a clever retort, but was only rewarded with “I believe you owe me lunch Sir.” He hid his disappointment well, but secretly he could have throttled the preacher who had distracted her from the joke. It never occurred to him that the joke would have not pleased her had they been alone. “You Madam owe me, and I never forget a debt.” André replied. He trotted Seizemain next to her. “Unfortunately I have an appointment that can not wait. I was ... longer away this morning then I planned to be.” “Good day, Reverend Clyde, Stanton.” She said simply, as she turned Delilah toward the center of town. The two walked along in silence toward their respective business in the center of town. They were thinking about the events of the morning, glad that they had felt the urge to ride to the mountain they both loved. They were deep in thought as they walked down through the center of town together, and never noticed the looks from the faces of the people in the streets or looking out of the windows of the shops. They reached Andre’s office first. Julie stopped as he dismounted and tied Seizemain to the front post. He walked to Delilah, and held her by the reins as he looked in Julie’s eyes. Delilah stood placidly next to him, and nickered. “I hope to see you again soon. Madame.” Julie looked into his starburst eyes, seeing the hardness in them but also warmth that was barely visible. “You may call me Julie, if you like, Sir. And I look forward to our meeting again.” André released Delilah and turned toward the sidewalk. He never looked back, but entered his office building. Julie rode to the Inn, handed Delilah to an employee and walked in to start her day. Neither of them saw the broad smiles of the other. But others did. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:39:00 AM -7- Mountain Junction ** Chapter 8 ** Missed Lunch David Carmack was the perfect model of a politician. Smooth as glass in speech and decorum, he could hold any room’s attention, in spite of an ever-increasing paunch and receding hairline. He had come to Mountain Junction four years earlier with his wife Nancy and their five sons. Within months he had opened a lumber mill and a hotel, establishing himself as a force in the town. The lumber mill had been so successful that people from as far away as Randsburg on the other side of the mountain came to him for lumber rather then buy from their own dealers. The hotel had been popular as well, but had catered to the railroad workers. Unlike the posh establishment it had become under Julie’s care, the Junction Palace (as it was then known) had offered up two selections: Arizona strawberries (red beans), and breakfast: Chili beans and Whiskey. To be sure, it had modernized the menu in its later days to include lunch and dinner, adding biscuits to the food list. Carmack had thought himself quite secure and prosperous. He had been in the beginning, but his proclivity for certain entertainments soon began to wear at his bank accounts. David was fond of gambling and women. Once he “discovered” the Maison de Champagene, he began to frequent the establishment with quiet regularity. It was there that he had met Jermond, who quietly ran a high roller gambling room in a secluded corner suite on the top floor. It was not long before David’s losses at the poker table began to affect his prosperity. This fact did not stop him from gambling; Jermond had been most accommodating in offering credit. Once the losses became more numerous, however, the credit stopped abruptly. Unable to pay off his debt, David had no choice but to sell half of his lumber business to André, who had promised to be a silent partner. André, while quiet about the arrangement to the town, was never silent with David. He was as involved with the lumber mill as he was with the Maison; a fact David resented. To make matters worse, Julie had arrived a few months later, and had bought not only his hotel, but also the lumber for the expansion. Had she arrived earlier, Jermond’s partnership would not have been needed. David stood at the window inside André’s office watching the exchange between the two with narrowed eyes. As he watched the tall man hold her little horse’s reigns like a smitten schoolboy, his teeth bit down on his cigar, raising it up in his mouth like a spear. His eyes wandered over Julie in a combination of lust and disgust. As he felt himself tighten, he became angry. “Didn’t even bother to put her hair up,” he muttered. He resented Julie for more than her bad timing. She had turned out to be as good in business as any man, and that had irked David to no end. What’s more, she had known lumber. When he had tried to steer her towards the more expensive woods, she had simply ignored his suggestions and sauntered over to the wood she preferred. He had not been able to dissuade her, nor was he able to charm her into another selection. David did not like woman who did not fall for his flattery. Julie did not know it, but David disliked her almost as much as he did Jermond. Perhaps more. André had not insulted his manhood. As he stood by the window and watched her smile and obviously flirt with that damned Frenchman, he thought about the discussion earlier in the morning at the barbershop. He did not like what he was seeing develop, and as he stood there watching, he knew that somehow it would have to be stopped. His biggest problem was his wife Nancy. She considered Julie her best friend, and had not stopped talking about the possible romance developing since the previous evening. He had finally stopped her incessant gushing the only way he knew how: by keeping her busy in their bed. Although this was a pleasant enough diversion, he knew it would not work forever. He was going to have to do something and soon, and he would have to keep himself separate from the outcome. Prudence was needed both for his marital happiness and his political career. André entered his office with a light step and a broad smile. The smile quickly faded as soon as he was in the door. Near the window stood Carmack, full of himself as usual, and stinking up the tasteful office with his cigar. In the brown leather chair opposite his huge oak desk, lounged Carmack’s son Steven with his feet up on the edge and thumbing his way through one of André’s prized leather bound books. This sight was too much. Quietly he crossed the European carpet and silently pushed the gangly boys feet off the desk. Steven’s feet hit the floor with a thump. They stared at each other for a few seconds, before the youth got up off the chair and replaced the book carelessly on the shelf. He turned to glower at the irritated Frenchman again, opening his mouth as if to say something. The look from the hard green eyes stopped him from saying anything, and he quickly crossed the room to his father’s side. Carmack whispered something to his son, and Steven looked again at André, nodded to his father, and left the office. “You really should teach that boy some manners,” André said as he put the book back in its rightful place, “and how to put things back where he finds them.” David ignored both remarks, intent on getting the meeting over as soon as possible. “I have to get back to the lumber yard. Can we just get this over with?” “Yes. Sit.” André sat down, and immediately scanned the ledgers. Within seconds, he spoke again. “Very nice. Where’s the rest of it?” David’s cigar glowed red as he drew in his breath. Exhaling, he never missed a beat. “That’s it, right down to the last nickel.” André was used to animosity from David. He expected it. But he also knew that David had been up to some new tricks. André missed nothing; for years he had perfected his ability to find things out, either from listening, or gentle nudges in conversation. It also helped that most tongues loosened with a few drinks. The very nature of his businesses allowed him to learn the most intimate of details. This was not unlike Julie’s use of the ladies calls to glean information. It was simply not as civilized. Obviously Carmack was not going to admit to what André already knew — that he had been padding the books. Silently, he wondered what he wanted to accomplish besides keeping Carmack from padding the books to keep his own hands from the profits. Rising from his chair he looked at the smarmy man before him, contemplating just how to handle him. Carmack’s defiance was evident; it was not going to be an easy task. He did not want to lay all his cards on the table right away; that would only put the slick politician on his guard. André didn’t like the direct approach anyway. It was much more fun to wheedle information out of people. André walked to the liquor cabinet and picked up the whiskey decanter. Looking at the beautiful glass, he considered offering David a drink. He quickly decided against that idea as he poured himself a drink; plying David with spirits wouldn't work, he was in too much of a mood for spirits to be effective. It would be a waste of good liquor, and accomplish nothing. David heard the whiskey decanter open behind him. Fully expecting Jermond to offer him a drink, he relaxed, believing that André was going to offer him whiskey in an attempt to get him to tell him the truth. He knew that would not work. He had been drinking whiskey far too long for that to have any effect, and he was too mad for it to go to his head anyway. He put his hand to the cigar, drawing a long smoke and smirked as he exhaled. Jermond was barking up the wrong tree, he thought to himself. He was surprised, however, when Jermond simply lounged against the desk in front of his chair, crossed his legs and took a drink from his own glass. He was equally surprised when he was not offered a glass of his own. André took in everything from Carmack. He saw the smug smile disappear from his face, and knew that keeping this man off balance was the best strategy. Not only that, watching him try not to squirm was a scheme to good to pass up. “I notice that the lumber for the Mendoza homestead is far less then what I would have expected him to pay.” “He didn’t need as much as he thought.” “Funny, I could have sworn I saw enough lumber in his wagons for a barn as well as a home,” André said taking another drink. “In fact, I distinctly remember being told at the Can Can, that he was excited that the barn could be bigger then he first anticipated.” Carmack shifted in his chair, finally taking the cigar out of his mouth. “Mendoza decided against the barn.” The shift did not escape the notice of André and he got up from the desk, silently pleased. “David, I rode by the Mendoza place this morning. The house is finished, and there was enough lumber piled outside for a barn.” As he crossed to the window, he quietly added over his shoulder, “I looked at the lumber and it’s not very good. One good Santa Ana wind, and the sides will snap like twigs.” At this revelation, Carmack turned the color of a ripe plumb. Turning toward the window, he glared at André. “He paid for the lumber Jermond. Lumber he chose for himself.” “At your urgings, I have no doubt. But quality issues aside, Carmack,” he said as he turned a cold stare on David, “where is the money he paid for his barn?” “Its right there!” Carmack insisted, rising from his chair. Andre strode over to the desk and tossed the ledger at David. “That total would barely pay for a house, let alone a barn. Even if he bought the least expensive lumber in your yard, it would still be more then the total you have here! Andre walked around the desk and stood towering over the stiff backed politician. “Now suppose you come back tomorrow, with the ledger reflecting the correct total, and the bank account statement to back it up? Or I could,” he added with derision, leaning over the desk, and narrowing his eyes, “have my own man come to your office every day, making every entry, and making sure that every transaction was properly documented.” David could not contain him self, he had finally hit the breaking point. The desire to shoot André Jermond was so strong that his fingers itched. “You will not bring in your own man! You were supposed to be a silent partner, and I would appreciate it Sir, if you would stay silent!” “I will not stay silent, Carmack, while my investment gets pilfered away due to irresponsible accounting practices! I expect to see the correct totals and the corresponding bank account statements tomorrow,” André hissed, stressing the plural, “or my man comes in bright and early Wednesday morning.” David was seething, his cigar burning bright as he inhaled and tried not to show his fury. He moved around the desk and stared at the Frenchman with a look of indignation. “You know that this lumber business was to be left to my sons so that they would be taken care of! If you keep taking from the business, you will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs! Then there will be no business left!" André, while surprised at the man's blatant use of his sons, stood at the desk, his face impassive. “You should have thought of that, Sir, before you lost your shirt at the poker table. It is not I who appears to be taking more than honest profit.” David’s face went white with rage. "Jermond, you swindled me to get your hands on my business! I will not stand idly by while you whittle the business away by sticking your fingers into the till as you see fit!” André knew this argument would come up, it always did. He brushed past David, smiling in self-satisfaction. He knew he had the politician in line again. “I did not need to swindle you sir. You're simply bad at cards. You ... bluff badly.” David stomped toward the door, the smoke from his cigar wafting in a thick ribbon behind him. At the door, he stopped and glared back at André. “This is not over, Jermond, not by a long shot.” Suddenly, inspiration hit him again, and he strode over to where André stood. "Jermond, we may be partners in this venture, but be forewarned. I am the one running this business. I am the one who knows the mill. I am the one knows how to sell the product. I am the one who knows how to repair the mill, keep it running, and,” he added pointedly, “I am the one who knows the customers. You could never run this business without me!” André’s grin was condescending as he bore down on Carmack. He finally had the edge he needed. “And I am the one with the money that allows you to do all that,” he hissed as he backed David toward the door. “I am the one who knows the various business contacts you depend on for your largest contracts, and ….” David found himself backing up to avoid being stepped on. “I am the one you come to when you can't pay the bills.” David’s back hit the front door; he was trapped. “You, sir, could not keep your business without me.” David was sweating, the cigar limp between his fingers. As he looked at the calm face of his adversary, years of being the smooth politician suddenly brought another inspiration to him, one he thought would give him both the last word, and quite possibly put a wedge in the burgeoning relationship with that Belsom woman. “If you want your 'contacts' to remain loyal to you, Jermond, I suggest that you avoid that piece in the buckskins who calls herself a lady." André was caught off guard by this remark, and his face went red. "That lady is more man then you will ever be!" he jeered as he ripped the door open. “Good day, Sir!” The door slammed hard enough for people on the street to look toward the stately building in surprise. They watched as David stomped down the street toward the Barbershop. Inside the office, André went back to the whiskey decanter and poured him self another drink. The remark about Julie bothered him, and he was glad that Carmack had not seen how much. He was not, however, worried about his contacts; they could be placated easily enough with a few dollars. He hated David calling her a “piece.” He had thoroughly enjoyed the past evening and morning with her. The fact she could hold her own not only in business, but with him, was extremely appealing. Her unconventional manner was something he found to be most fascinating, and her quick wittedness was equal to his own. She was a perfect foil for him, but she also had a level of legitimacy within the community that he did not have. That was as alluring to him as her spirit. André emerged from the office minutes later, taking off in the opposite direction from Carmack on Seizemain. The ease and peaceful look that had been on his face an hour earlier had completely disappeared; replaced once again by a stone expression that revealed nothing. He passed by the Inn at a trot, glancing for a moment at the large bay windows of the facade. Julie emerged from the front door, holding a small wicker hamper, dressed in a green skirt and simple white blouse. She was back to being the businesswoman. André smiled at her as he remembered the freedom he had experienced earlier in the morning, but the smile lasted for only a few seconds. As he recalled Carmack’s parting remark, he frowned. He turned away from the porch, and continued toward the Viscosité Buvette. Julie had changed into her work clothes, and knowing that André had missed his lunch was preparing to walk to his office and deliver the promised meal. She smiled to herself, as she thought of the taunts she could give him over beating “the best mount in the valley.” When she saw him from the porch of the Inn, she had smiled at him. She was surprised when he seemed to lose his smile when he saw her with her hair up, looking like any other woman. After he turned away from her and rode quickly toward the other end of the street, she looked down at the hamper in disgust. When the widow Grimsbe and her sister Mackenzie walked out of the hotel following a good gossip with some of the other ladies in the town, she offered them the hamper, which they took with surprised (but delighted) faces. As she went back inside, she never heard their excited clucking, as they walked quickly to their green buggy. They had seen the exchange between the couple from the window. Now all they needed was someone they could relate the story too and Grimsbe knew just the person to tell. -- Posted By ra_8secs to Ra8secs at 10/26/2009 09:40:00 AM -8-