Friday, May 09, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter XIX

Tuesday, May 20, l881

A faint glimmer of light began to show in the east as Josey examined her watch in the dim light of the coach. It appeared to be 5:35 a.m. although she couldn't really be sure. Looking across the aisle she noted her blanket-covered children, both were sound asleep.

Her son, George, now 14 years, was a quiet, studious boy; he took after his lawyer father. Lucy, nearing 13, was much like herself. She needed close supervision, too prone to be free with her thoughts and actions.

Their trip to St. Paul had been untroubled, almost pleasant, the new Pullman cars offering both sleeping and dining accommodations. However, since leaving St. Paul at 5 a.m. the previous morning, the trip had been wearing; the constant shaking and rocking of the day-coach almost making her ill. Coal gases that managed to enter the car were an added complication, causing an occasional coughing spell. According to the porter who hawked oranges, apples and sandwiches every two hours, they were traveling almost thirty miles per hour.

Josey briefly reviewed their trip since leaving Philadelphia. She had written Eliza that she was scheduled to arrive in St. Vincent, Minnesota on Wednesday, May 20. It had taken only 3 days to reach St. Paul, but the further trip to St. Vincent, traveling on the Saint Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad, had required another 26 hours of journey. The children had taken to the cars eagerly, watching the changing countryside roll by, greatly disappointed at not seeing Indians and buffalo.

Hearing a sudden, loud rush of air and noise, she noted the conductor entering the car. He swayed from side to side, balancing to the roll of the car like a drunken sailor. Making his way toward her, he saw she was awake. Stopping to chat, he tugged out and opened his watch, announcing importantly, "We should be right on time -- have you at the St. Vincent depot at 7:10." Looking down at her, he asked, "It'll be quite early. Have you someone to pick you up there? If not the railroad agent there will likely find you transportation. Are you visiting, or planning to move to the area?"

Josey was confused at her own thoughts, but felt the information required was an invasion of her privacy. Smiling graciously, she said, "I'm sure we're expected. Someone will be present to greet us." To avoid further conversation she turned to the window, toward the now partially visible features of the prairie.

Rebuffed by her action, the conductor continued on through the car, the spring-loaded door at the vestibule making a crashing sound as it closed.

A half hour later she reached across the aisle to shake her son awake. "George, it's time to get up! We'll be arriving in St. Vincent in less than an hour. Awaken Lucy, we want to look our best when we arrive. I'm sure Eliza will be there to pick us up; she must have gotten the telegram I sent yesterday."

At 7 a.m. the train stopped just short of St. Vincent to enable the brakeman to turn a switch, shunting them onto the spur leading to the depot. By that time Josey and her children had freshened up, she, deeming their appearance presentable.

Upon stepping from the train Josey instantly sighted Eliza who came forward to take her in a warm embrace. After hugging Lucy and shaking hands with George, Eliza asked, "Where is your luggage?"

"It's in the baggage car. We'll have to gather it up. George, will you see to it? Here are the baggage checks." Turning to Eliza, she asked, "Where is your buggy? Do you have plenty of room?"

"My, yes! A friend provided me with a two-seater and driver. Just a moment, I'll ask him to assist George."

Lucy looked in awe at three Indians seated near the express door. She could hardly take her eyes from them. "Aunty Eliza, are those real Indians?"

Eliza expressed her distaste, "Yes, dear, and not very clean ones either."

Crossing the Red River on the ferry was a novelty for the youngsters. The operator, Trudo, made a fuss over them, allowing, even encouraging them to help him turn the drum that propelled the barge across the river.

Upon their arrival at Eliza's home, Josey remarked upon its size. "You certainly have a large house. Are you living alone -- or does Charley live with you?"

"Charley found the house for me, but if you'll notice, I've had an outside staircase built. I rent out the upper floor. Still, we'll have plenty of room. There are two large bedrooms downstairs and the porch is fully screened. It has a day-bed that can be used for sleeping; also it has canvas roll curtains for privacy." She smiled, "It'll be most comfortable, especially when the warm weather comes."

"Where does Charley live?"

"He and John Kabernagel have a sample store." She smiled, "I guess you know what that is. They sell liquor and wines."

Josey smiled, "I'm not completely naive. I gathered that from your letters. Still, you haven't told me where he lives."

"Oh, he has quarters over the store. The original store burned last August during a vicious lightning storm, but they've rebuilt anew. Charley also has a farm and other interests. He and other investors have land in Hamilton, so I'm told."

"Has he changed much -- in appearance I mean?"

"No, he's still straight and tall, but he's broadened out like his father. He's made his place in town, he's quite well thought of."

"I expected that," Josey mused, "He always had charm."

"I'll ask him over tonight if I can locate him. He's out of town a good deal, and might be out at his farm. It's seeding time you know."

George entered the room to ask, "Mother, can Lucy and I look over the town?"

Josey glanced to Eliza, who answered the boy, "Certainly George. The town is civilized, but be back in time for noon lunch."

As the children left, she remarked, "By noon they'll have covered the entire town. It won't take them long."

"I didn't want to bring it up before the children but haven't you something in mind? Are you trying to push Charley and me together?"

Eliza took the challenge lightly. "You're single and Charley is single. You were both in love at one time in your lives. Your children need a Father; what could be more practical?"

Josey began to smile. "Eliza, you're a romanticist, a born match-maker. I have had thoughts of Charley, in fact I thought about him all the way out here, and many other times back at home. I don't know how he'll take to me now -- it could be embarrassing. Will he forgive me for marrying Arthur?"

"Nonsense! You've matured into a beautiful woman. Charley will be pleased at what he'll see."

"I hope you're right. When Father forced me to marry, I was heartbroken. Actually my husband was kind and after a time I grew accustomed to him. He was a good provider, but both he and my Father were deeply involved in illegal trading during the war. They were lucky not to have been caught."

"Let's get you unpacked in the east bedroom. The children can decide who sleeps where. I hope you're going to settle in for a long stay. I know you'll enjoy my friends. There will be several parties hosted for you."

Charley had just stepped from his door in preparation for a trip to the farm when he met the two youngsters. Both were nattily dressed as if ready for Sunday church. As they approached the boy noted the sheriff's star that peeked from the edge of Charley's vest.

"Sir, are you Sheriff Brown?"

"Yes, I am. What can I do for you?"

"We've heard of you from our Mother. I'm George Watson, and this is my sister, Lucy." He offered his hand to Charley.

As Charley turned to the girl a strange, bizarre feeling came, a haunting feeling that brought back years of long ago. It was as if he knew this girl. Perplexed, he turned back to the boy. For seconds there was no connection, then recognition set in. Lordy! These must be Josey's children! She married a man named Watson. A sudden feeling of relief came when he realized Lucy's face was the face of Josey, of long ago.

He shook George's hand. "Wherever did you come from? How did you get here?"

"We arrived on the morning train at St. Vincent. We're visiting at Aunt Eliza's. Oh, she's not really our true aunt but she likes it if we call her that. Mother has told us so much about you, when you were both young."

"Where is your Mother?"

"Oh, she's over at auntie's house. We're visiting there for a few weeks."

A sudden feeling of foreboding came to Charley. Is this some more of my Mother's scheming, her surprise? If it is, why doesn't she leave well enough alone?

Hesitating momentarily, he knew he could not just walk away from these children. "I was on my way to the farm, but I believe I've time for a soda. Why don't we step into Wilkens' drugstore and have a treat? It's the least I can do for two visitors to our town."

Seated inside, Mrs. Wilkens served up ice cream sodas while Charley studied the pair. He judged George to be still growing, but evidently well schooled, as his grammar and manners were correct. Lucy's facial features tore at his heart. She was a dream of that same beauty he had lost just after the war.

It was the spirited Lucy who took over the conversation. "Aunt Eliza is going to hunt you up for tonight. She wants you to come and meet our Mother. Will you come? Please! Oh say you will, Mother will be so pleased!"

Charley hesitated, not wanting to run at his Mother's beck and call. Temptation finally overruled caution. "I'll stop by after supper for a few minutes. Meanwhile, I have to leave. I've work to do on the farm."

His promise to visit his mother and Josey that evening plagued him the remainder of the day. He weighed the pros and cons, remembering his rage and disappointment at Josey's marriage. Yet he reasoned, his mother had written that Josey’s father had forced her into the arrangement.

Unharnessing the four mules used to harrow that afternoon, he killed time by saddling his horse while waiting for the crossbreeds to cool. After watering and graining the animals he tossed a few forks of hay into the feed bunk. On his way back to town he found himself looking forward to a much-needed bath and shave; he must look presentable for his meeting with Josey. Heavens! It's been all of 15 years!

It was nearing 7 p.m. when he knocked on the door of his Mother's house. It was opened by a smiling Lucy. She teased, "Can I call you Charley, or must it be Sheriff?"

He realized this girl was precocious; she had spirit! Grasping his hand, she led him into the parlor saying eagerly, "Mother will be out in a moment. Aunt Eliza is busy in the kitchen; George is helping with the dishes. It's his turn, I did the noon ones."

At that moment the bedroom door opened and Charley froze in surprise. Josey was no longer a teenager; she had developed into a mature, regal beauty. Long, honey-colored hair hung in soft curls about her shoulders. Her smile warmed the room; it appeared a caressing smile, she seemed almost blushing.

"Hello, Charley," she said softly, "It's been quite a few years."

All of Charley's intentions of being brusque and curt fell by the wayside, for her beauty struck him. It was all of the glory he remembered, and more! Sensual!

Closing with him she spoke softly, "Well, don't I deserve a hug or kiss. Will you ever forgive me?"

The sudden frog in his throat finally eased. "Time has a way of healing things. You look just as gorgeous as ever, even more so."

His brief hesitation allowed the magical moment to fade. Obviously disappointed at not being taken into his arms, Josey motioned to the settee. As she sat in a nearby chair, he moved to the couch. Lucy sat beside him, taking his hand in hers.

Josey smiled demurely, "It appears you've already captured Lucy's heart. She mentioned that you treated them at the drugstore today."

"I think he's handsome, Mama, don't you?"

Charley felt a brief moment of embarrassment. "It was the least I could do. Honestly, I was puzzled when I met them on the street, since they looked dressed for church.”

"I should have made them change clothes before allowing them to ramble about the town, but Eliza and I wanted to talk over old times."

At that moment Charley's mother entered from the kitchen. Having heard the voices she knew Charley had arrived and was with Josey. "Isn't Josey even more beautiful than ever, Charley? The years have enriched her."

He stood, "The years have been kind to her, but not to me. I've put on a lot of weight."

"Oh, Charley," Josey protested, "You have a distinguished look now. You were always too thin; now you have a certain dignity."

“Last January he nearly died of pneumonia. He was in Detroit at the time; we didn't hear from him for weeks. Charley, you'll have to tell Josey all about your trip."

"Not much to tell, in fact I don't remember much. I was too darn sick to care."

"Why don't you and Josey take a walk about town. You can show her your store and Eugene's house. She knows Eugene quite well. He often visited us at Martinsburg. In fact at one time I believe Eugene was more than a little interested in Josey."

"Oh, Eliza, that's not so. Eugene and I never saw eye to eye." Smiling, she turned to Charley, "Your cousin will never settle down. He hates responsibility. The girls back home were after him but he never gave any of them a tumble. He was always more interested in horses."

"Yes, and jumping them over every high stone fence in sight." Eliza added.

Charley smiled, "Well, apparently he's finally settled down. He has homesteaded a quarter of land to the south and bought a house just two blocks from here. I think he plans on bringing his Mother and sisters out to the territory. I've heard there's not much back there for them. Didn't most families lose much of their property?"

"What the Union troops didn't take during the war the carpetbaggers plundered after Appomattox." His mother's voice had turned bitter.

"The war is over, Mother. Most people living here came from Canada and the East. It's been years since the war. The subject seldom comes up now."

"That's just as well," said Josey. "Unfortunately, back in Virginia, and other Southern states, it's still a cause for fighting and killing."

Charley motioned toward the door, "Would you care to see the town? We've still an hour or so of daylight left. We can walk over to Eugene's. He's building a new shed behind his house. I'm fairly sure he'll be home."

Lucy smiled up at him. "Charley, can I come too?"

As Josey arose, she said, "Lucy, Charley and I want to visit together. You and George can see Eugene tomorrow; you've days and weeks ahead of you.

Turning to Charley, she asked, "Will I need a wrap?"

"It's a warm evening. We'll only be gone an hour or so." Patting Lucy's shoulder, he said, "I'll introduce you to my partner's daughters tomorrow. He's got two peppy ones just about your age. If George wants to see my farm he can ride out with me in the morning."

"Will you teach me to ride a horse?" Lucy asked.

He looked down at her fondly. "Why certainly, but I'll have to find a sidesaddle."

"Why can't I ride astride? Some ladies do."

Josey approached the door, beckoning to Charley. "That's enough pestering, young lady. Come Charley, let's go before it turns dark."

As they began a slow, casual walk to the corner, Josey tucked her arm through his, squeezing his arm possessively. Charley was unnerved at her action, but felt unable to detach her arm. She's taking advantage of me. What will it look like if I meet friends? Marguerite is sure to find out. She'll misunderstand.

"Are your duties as sheriff time-consuming?"

"Not so very, why do you ask?

"Well, I plan on staying for a month, perhaps more. I was hoping we would have some time together. We were so close at one time. I know I was unfair to you, but I was forced to obey my Father."

Charley smiled wryly, "Yes, I remember your sudden disappearance, and then I was told you married that lawyer. I could hardly believe it, still can't in fact. You were sixteen at the time, hadn't you any scruples?"

"That was the trouble. I was only sixteen, not of age. I was forced into the marriage."

"Well, it's water under the bridge now. When did your husband pass away?"

"Three years ago -- it's been difficult, raising two children by myself."

Reaching the corner they turned south, Charley using the excuse to take the street side, dropping her arm and moving to the outside. She again reached to take his arm intimately. Reaching Eugene's corner, he was surprised to find the house newly painted, in a blue-gray shade. Hearing hammering in the rear, they crossed the street to find the framework of a fairly long shed in the rear of the house. Eugene was busy nailing a piece of lap siding on the end wall, supporting it with his knee. Looking up, he said, "I'll be darned. Charley, and with Josey, no less! Josey, wherever did you come from?"

"The children and I got in on the morning train. We're visiting Eliza."

Eugene glanced at Charley quizzically, and then he said to Josey in a sardonic tone, "Bet Eliza was lonesome for her old friend. Did she tell you that Charley was still single?"

Josey blushed, but had the temerity to say, "Why, Eugene, are you jealous?"

He laughed. "No way. You and I never hit it off. Where are the kids?"

"We're all staying at Eliza's."

"Send them around to visit -- they're good kids." Bending over, he picked up a long piece of lap siding and looked to Charley. "We can talk while I work; mind holding up the other end for me?" Turning to Josey, he pointed to a work stool. "Help yourself to some ease. How is everyone back east? Haven't heard from Mother or the girls for weeks. I wrote them the other day, told them to get train tickets and come out here. The house is ready, I just finished the painting."

"It looks grand," Josey conceded. "I believe they'll enjoy it here. You do have long winters though."

Charley spoke up, "Back home winters weren't as cold, but they were wet and miserable. I remember the malaria only too well. We don't have it here, and when winter sets in, it's dry and the ground is firm." He moved toward Josey, extending his hand to ease her rising from the low stool. "I should be getting you back to Mother's. I promised John I'd work tonight."

Turning to Eugene Josey said, "The children will probably be over to see you tomorrow. We should be getting back to Eliza's, it's nearly dusk."

While crossing the street, she asked, "Charley, how late do you work?"

"We lock up the bar at 1:00 a.m. usually, but sometimes it takes a bit longer, especially on a Saturday night."

"Do you work every Saturday and Sunday? Don't you have entertainment on weekends, like some time off, to do something for fun?"

"Sure, there's lots of entertainment available. In the summer we have theater groups, dances, ball games, swimming, picnicking -- just about anything goes. In the winter we have skating, skiing, curling, parties, dancing and so on. As far as I'm concerned, most of my summer is spent at work. I have occasional duties as sheriff, farm a quarter of land along the border, and share in the profits of John's and my saloon." He smiled, "But I work my share of the hours in the saloon too."

She nudged him, squeezing tightly against him, all the while smiling, “That's not what I meant and you know it! What do you do for fun? You don't work on Sunday, do you?"

"Are you hinting?" He looked at her.

She smiled, squeezing his arm with a coy look, "You bet I am!"

They were turning into his Mother's yard when he finally said, "We'll have to talk about that in the future. I'll have John ask his daughters to call upon Lucy tomorrow. If your son George wants a tour of my farm have him stop by my place about 7:30 tomorrow morning. We'll take the buggy out. I haven't much harrowing left to do, so we should be back in town by noon."

Josey felt disappointed when he turned to leave without a show of affection. She sighed deeply, knowing another magic moment was lost. Entering the house she was confronted by Eliza. "How did it go?"

Josey smiled, "He's changed a lot but he was pleasant. I'm glad he likes the children. I worried that he wouldn't accept them. I used to love him and I think I still do." She sighed, "There are problems though, mainly 15 years of his being a bachelor."

Eliza had made further plans. Tomorrow, she would notify Editor Gatchell of the Pembina Pioneer Newspaper, that Mrs. Watson and children, personal friends of Sheriff Brown, were visiting him in town. She knew that would stir the pot.

On his way back to the saloon Charley puzzled over his Mother's action. It was apparent that she and Josey had been corresponding regularly and that his Mother was now scheming to break up his intimacy with Marguerite. Somehow, it seemed like years in the past. From the frying pan into the fire!

Would his familiarity with Josey's children give Josey hopes of more? It was obvious she had no ties; was she reaching out to him? Her possessiveness when she took his arm bothered him. Whenever he had offered his arm to Marguerite she had always taken it cheerfully, but casually. Perhaps he should take Marguerite more seriously. They had always hit it off so well. Although both women were beautiful, something deep inside seemed to eat at him. He had never been a coward in combat; he had loved the excitement. But now, a feeling of caution seemed prudent.