Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter XII

In this chapter
, we find Marguerite - Sheriff Brown's lady friend - stepping out on him. Is she playing with fire? Or, has Sheriff Brown just been too slow on the draw...?
Early the next afternoon Marguerite entered the hotel to assist with the cleanup. She found Lucien, his wife, their bartender and Paul Evans at work, the cleanup nearly completed. Tossing her coat and scarf on a chair, she shook her head, pretending disappointment. "If I had delayed another hour you four would have had everything done." She turned to Paul, "How did a machinery salesman get involved in the hotel business? Have you decided to quit McCormick Machinery?"

Paul shrugged as he smiled. "It's Christmas day and I had nothing better to do. Lucien said the dining room must be ready for tonight's supper, and I'm partial to a hearty meal."

"Yes, and when all the work is done I'm opening a magnum of champagne." Lucien was leaning on the upraised handle of a carpet sweeper.

"Marguerite, if you don't mind, would you take the remaining glassware to the bar. As soon as I'm done with the carpet Paul is going to help me replace the tables.

In the adjoining barroom Lucien's wife was busy washing glassware in a tub of soapy water. Carrying the remaining glasses to her, Marguerite remarked, "You'll want the tables set, including the cutlery, won't you?"

Lucien's wife smiled as she raised a pudgy hand to brush back a lock of errant hair. "Just put on the tablecloths, I'll finish setting the tables later." She began dipping each cleansed glass in a hot steamy rinse; water so hot that Marguerite almost winced.

As Paul walked past with an armload of empty bottles, he wryly remarked, "I'll bet there are plenty of headaches today! I've counted nearly a hundred empty bottles so far, mostly of champagne -- not many of whiskey or rum."

Lucien broke into a grin, "It was a money-maker night! Everyone puzzles why we put on a Christmas Eve party each year. Now you know my secret, but don't tell anyone."

Finally finished, Lucien procured a large bottle of blush champagne and glasses from behind the bar. Depositing them on a nearby table, he loosened the cork, striking the bottom of the bottle sharply with his palm. There was a loud pop, the cork flying across the room. Quickly he swung the frothing mass of bubbles to fill the glasses, which he had placed in a neat row. "Everyone take a seat. This bottle must be empty before anyone leaves the table!"

Paul looked across at Marguerite as they all touched glasses. "There are at least three hours of daylight left. Would you like to take a sleigh ride?"

"It would be fun, but I doubt if any of the livery stables are open."

Lucien held up his hand, "Tut tut, I just happen to have a team and sleigh in our hotel stable." He looked to Paul who was smiling expansively. "Know how to harness up a team?"

"You bet I do! We have horses in Chicago."

Marguerite smiled. "I'll give him a hand."

Lucien's wife spoke up. "Watch those horses! I've had two runaways with them. They're dangerous."

Lucien grumbled, "Ah, Mother, there's so much snow that they won't get hurt even if the rig overturns." To Paul he advised, "Take the big bobsled and keep a tight rein on the team."

His wife turned to Marguerite, "You both be careful. I still don't trust those young animals."

In the livery barn behind the hotel Marguerite put collars on the horses while Paul lifted the harness and secured the hames, belly bands and cruppers. Leading the animals from the barn they backed the pair to the bobsled and crossed the lines to the bridles. Temporarily handing the reins to Marguerite, Paul bent to fasten the tugs. When he finished, Marguerite suggested, "Now you hold the lines; I'm going to Lucien's tack room." Moments later she returned carrying two bulky buffalo robes.

"Which way are we heading?" she asked. "The snow is so deep that there are only three main roads leading out of town."

"How about Emerson; isn't it just across the border? I've never been to Canada. How far is it?"

"Only about two miles. We can go north on the west side of the river and return back on the east side. You can drop me off in St. Vincent on the way home."

With the team at a fast trot Paul guided them north toward the border. The trail was well packed and the horses frisky. He contemplated letting the team gallop on a straight stretch to tire them, but finally decided against it.

"Paul, where do you live in Chicago."

"At present I've been staying with my parents." He smiled as he faced her. "Since I'm not married I haven't found it necessary to purchase a house. But I do pay my folks rent -- that's only fair."

"Are houses expensive in the city?"

"I guess you can pay any price, depending upon your taste. Are you warm enough?"

She could feel his hard thigh adjoining hers, his nearness creating a strange feeling. He was so handsome that his presence seemed almost overwhelming. Against her will she felt her stomach fluttering and her pulse quickening. She turned to face him, finding his face only inches away. Smiling, she said, "I'm fine, snug as a bug in a rug." Inwardly, she puzzled, she couldn't explain it, for never before had she had such an aberrant feeling. It was almost unnerving . . .

As they descended the hill down to the Red River ice, Paul was forced to hold back the team. Climbing the opposite side of the riverbank the horses buckled into the harness, straining, gaining speed with every lunge.

"Turn left at the next street," Marguerite said. "We'll stop at the restaurant if it's open."

They found the town almost totally deserted, not a person or sleigh was in sight. Still, the fact that the cafe chimney cast wisps of blue smoke gave hope that it might still be open.

Guiding the horses to a hitching rail, Paul tied the team securely, not knowing their propensity to run away. He knew most teams were well paired, but these animals were hardly more then colts, barely broken to harness.

They entered the cafe to find the interior over-warm, almost steamy, with the windows heavily frosted. The pungent odor of cinnamon and fresh baked goods hung in the air as they removed their coats. Paul seated Marguerite, then crossing to the opposite side of the table, asked, "What will you have, coffee, tea or perhaps hot chocolate?" He noted the flushed cheeks as she smiled. He almost shook his head in wonder; she was so beautiful!

"I'll have hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll. I know they've got them; I can smell the cinnamon." She suddenly raised her voice, "Annie!"

An attractive redheaded woman appeared in the serving window. "Hello Marguerite. What are you doing over here?" She noted Paul and his striking looks. "Oh ho! Someone new, eh?"

Marguerite laughed, "This is Paul Evans. He's staying in Pembina for a few days. He's giving me a ride home."

"You two must be taking the long way home." Annie teased, "Don't tell me the Red River ice has gone out between Pembina and St. Vincent?"

"No, but we'd each like a hot chocolate drink and a cinnamon roll." Paul winked at Marguerite, apparently not averse to being teased.

"Coming right up!" Annie's head disappeared from the serving window.

Marguerite was glad Annie was busy in the kitchen, for it gave her time to visit with Paul. Usually the vivacious and uninhibited Annie would drop everything to sit with her.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters, Paul?"

"Not a one, sorry to say. My Mother and Father both teach at Northwestern University. I graduated from there three years ago. I don't believe either of them ever wanted children, I just happened along."

"Do you like kids?"

"Really, I haven't given it much thought." He looked at her speculatively, "I've been raised mostly in an adult world. After graduation I went to work for the McCormick Harvester Company. That was in '76, just as a major strike took place1. The company hired scabs to break the strike and the fighting that took place cost several lives. There still is a lot of resentment at the plant and I'm only too glad to be out on the road."

"If you're not happy with your job, why not change your line of work?"

"The pay is good and jobs are not easy to find. I do enjoy traveling since I meet all types of people. Some are influential businessmen. It's really another way of acquiring experience."

Marguerite realized that it was growing late. "We'd best be on our way. It will be dark in another hour."

Rising, Paul took their dishes to the serving window and paid Annie. As they left Annie puzzled over Marguerite's stepping out on Charley. Smiling to herself she thought, well, at least that Paul is sure a handsome man!

Drawing the team to a halt at the Grant home, Paul turned to face Marguerite. As she looked up at him, he gently leaned to kiss her lips. It came as a surprise, but not a disagreeable surprise. It was almost an impersonal kiss, yet it held promise, a promise of something more to follow. As Paul walked her to the door, he took off his hat. "When can I see you again?"

"I work every week day at the hotel, sometimes even on week ends. Are you sure you want to see me?"

"You bet I do!" He attempted to take her in his arms but she backed away, opening the door.

"Until tomorrow, then." His smile seemed contagious.

"Who was the gentleman that brought you home?" Her mother was preparing supper in the kitchen. "I peeked out the window when I heard the horses."

"His name is Paul Evans. He's staying at Geroux's. He lives in Chicago and he's a graduate of Northwestern University. I like him, he seems to be a gentleman."

"Have you been fighting with Charley?"

"It's nothing like that, Mom. Paul is just a new friend."

Her mother hesitated, and then said, "You're playing with fire, you know."

"Mother, I know you like Charley and so do I, but it's been two years now and he hasn't proposed. I'm twenty years old and I'm not going to end up an old maid. It's not often I meet a man like Paul. I'm going to make the most of it while I can. Anyway, he'll be leaving for Chicago in another few days. What harm is there in my seeing him?"

Marguerite had no further contact with Charley during the remaining days of December. Strange, she thought, considering they had made tentative plans to attend the fort New Year's Ball. It became apparent that Charley must have found out about her outing with Paul on Christmas day, and was attempting to punish her for disloyalty. As the remaining days of December passed by she became incensed. She and Paul became more and more a couple. They had dinner together nearly every evening. When she failed to hear from Charley on the evening of December 30, she decided to throw caution to the winds. At the time she was having dinner with Paul at Bradshaw's Pembina House. "Paul, let's attend the New Year's Ball in Emerson tomorrow night."

His eyes lit up! "That's a grand idea! But I'll have to arrange for a sleigh. I understand there is to be a ball out at the fort, so transportation might be a problem."

"That's true, but not too many attend the fort ball from St. Vincent. I think I can reserve a rig there."

"Capital! But let me check Mason's livery first. I've reserved one of their cutters to take you home this evening. Perhaps they can spare a sleigh tomorrow night."

After arriving home that evening Marguerite began to have second thoughts about attending the Emerson ball with Paul. Although she loved Charley, she deemed he was being unfair and was attempting to punish her. Her Christmas day trip to Emerson with Paul had been an innocent outing and she hadn't given it credence as anything else, that is, until Paul kissed her. She realized she had been at fault, she shouldn't have allowed him the opportunity.

Still, warm thoughts of the contact still remained with her. Another matter came to mind; the material for the gown made for the fort ball had been expensive; she and her mother had worked for hours on the dress. When she confided to her mother that Paul was escorting her to the ball, her mother had looked at her pointedly, saying, "Do you think Charley will put up with that? Aren't you still in love with him?"

She answered testily, "I haven't much choice. Charley and I were to go to the fort ball tomorrow night, but he's completely ignored me."

Knowing her mother liked and favored Charley, she added, “Paul is twenty-five years of age while Charley is thirty-three. I like Paul and he seems attracted to me, in fact sometimes I get the impression that he might even propose. He's leaving for Chicago on New Year's Day, but says he'll write often and keep me informed of his movements. The ball will be his last night in Pembina."

"Then you'll have to mend your fences with Charley”, her mother murmured.

"Oh, surely, when Paul is gone, everything will return to normal.

"I wouldn't count on it."

1 - I hesitate to contradict the author, but upon research on this fact, I could not find any 'major' strike taking place in Chicago in 1876, let alone one connected with McCormick, although there is a well-documented one 10 years later in 1886...