Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 24

Walking downstairs to the saloon, Charley found John busy sweeping and rearranging tables and chairs in the rear of the bar. Turning toward Charley, John noted the troubled look on Charley's face. He suddenly said, "You must have heard Marguerite has left."

Charley was slow to answer, "Well, I've heard she left town."

"My daughter Flossie told me at supper last evening. Then Ian dropped by the bar about 8 p.m. last night, saying Marguerite left to marry that salesman, Evans." He hesitated for moments, and then added, "Charley, I hate to say it. You may be older than I am, but you've really blown it! You've let that grand girl get away; she would have made a wonderful wife for you." Seeing the stolid look on Charley's face, he added, "Guess you've enough problems on your mind with those prisoners on the loose without me rubbing it in."

"John, it's over and done with. I've lost her and it's my fault. I'll live with it!"

His partner walked to the icebox to open the lower door. Reaching inside he retrieved a paper bag containing the previous night's receipts. Turning to the cash drawer he slid it open and began sorting coins and bills. Looking to Charley who appeared to be daydreaming, he shook his head wonderingly, "Say, did that woman who is visiting your mother have something to do with Marguerite leaving?"

"Not that I know of. Criminy! Marguerite and I weren't at odds. Just three nights ago we had supper together; there was no indication that anything was amiss."

"Well, repeating what Ian said, she's left town to marry that Evans."

"Something had to set her off. I'll see Ian sooner or later. Maybe he can tell me why she left." Charley was beginning to have a suspicion. Is my Mother behind this?

His thoughts turned to Murray. No doubt he was well on his way to Winnipeg and safety, but he might have knowledge of the whereabouts of the other two men.

"John, I'll take the train north tomorrow. Murray shouldn't be too hard to find. When I locate him, I'll shake the information out of him; he'll know where LaRose and Godon are."

"How come you don't take the stage. It'll put you in the city by supper time. The train gets you there at midnight, and worse, you'll be on the wrong side of the river, over in St. Boniface."

Charley seemed pensive, and then broke into a smile, "Maybe you're right. I'll probably find Murray celebrating in one of the saloons; it'll be dark and he won't be expecting me. Sure hate to leave you stuck; you may have to hire someone Monday night."

"No problem! There won't be any big crowd." He glanced out the window, "Judas, its slack, only a couple of wagons on the street."

Upon leaving Mason's livery, and after purchasing his stage ticket Charley almost collided with Josey who was passing by on the narrow boardwalk. She stepped back in confusion, as she smiled uncertainly.

"Oh, Charley, I was on my way to see you. I'm looking for a favor. The women are giving a social to raise money for a library. I'm told that mostly couples will be attending. I'd feel out of place going alone; could I prevail upon you to escort me?" She had an entreating smile.

Charley looked at her with a wry grin, thinking, this is the old Josey, twisting my arm again as she did long ago. "When is this momentous occasion to take place?"

It's to be held at the Wardwell school1 on Wednesday, at 6:00 p.m. Supper will be served."

"I'm not sure if I'll be back by then; I'm leaving for Winnipeg early Monday morning. It all depends upon my finding a certain party. Hopefully I'll be back by Wednesday. If so, we'll go together."

She took his arm possessively, all the while looking up at him with a mischievous smile, "You've time to have coffee with me haven't you?"

He hesitated momentarily, suspecting something in the wind. "Sure, I've time. Wilkens drugstore is just across the street."

She made a face, "There must be somewhere with more privacy. That woman listens in on every conversation."

"Then we can stop at Bradshaw's Hotel, it's just a bit farther." He looked puzzled, "What's so private all of a sudden? Has my Mother been up to her old tricks?"

Josey knew well what he meant since his mother had admitted her plan to unite she and Charley. "Yes, she schemed to bring me here with the children in hopes you and I would get together again." Stopping on the boardwalk she turned to face him with a wistful look, "Would that be so bad, Charley?"

For long moments he failed to respond as she wanted -- she could have bitten her tongue.

He seemed resigned when he finally answered, "There's a lot more at stake than just the two of us. I'll admit we have a lot to talk over, but I don't want to make a decision based on my Mother's scheming."

Painful memories were coming back, reminding him of his anger and frustration at Josey's sudden marriage. Now the situation had come full circle with Marguerite leaving him. Arriving at the hotel he reached for the screen door handle, "Let's go in, we can have coffee or tea in privacy. Maybe we can settle some of the issues."

Finally seated with refreshments, Josey could feel the gulf between them, and was uncertain how to begin the conversation. She had heard Charley was having an affair with a Métis girl, but she wondered how far that had gone. Also, how far she could go without risking total rejection herself.

Dropping a sugar lump into her coffee she stirred it stoically while Charley sipped cautiously at his steaming cup. Feeling as though she was walking a tightrope, she finally said, "The children have both taken to you. It was good of you to take George out to your farm to entertain him, also to have the Kabernagel girls come over to visit Lucy. The girls have become fast friends. Gene has taken George under his wing too. He has him interested in the apiary business."

"They're both fine children Josey. You've done a wonderful job raising them."

She reached over to cover his hand. "Yes, but they need a man's guidance. Charley, wouldn't it work out between us? I'm not a poor woman. I'm well fixed financially. We could live comfortably together."

Charley looked both embarrassed and confused, "Josey, as it stands now,I'm hardly able to think clearly. My first priority is to recapture my escaped prisoners, perhaps then we can discuss the future. I truly don't know about the morrow.”

As she sat beside him she had a nagging fear that something was settling heavily on his mind. Something she knew nothing about. She feared he was retreating into lonesome channels, seeking something lost to him.

After a brief time lag, Josey attempted to draw him out. "You must live a lonesome life; does bachelor life really appeal to you?"

Charley failed to take the bait, but finally said, "Josey, why don't we let bygones be bygones and see how things work out between us. There is no reason for either of us to make a hurried decision."

1 - FRANCIS A. WARDWELL (1844-1928) Taught first public school in North Dakota 1876. Editor Pembina Pioneer Express. Was a seaman in his youth, serving in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Trivia: Ship named after him - SS Francis A. Wardwell Liberty ship 1944-1962 World War II