Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 29

Of all weekdays, Thursday and Saturday were the most lucrative for the local businesses. Those nights all stores remained open until 10 p.m. This Saturday night was no exception, but after that hour the crowds thinned, most married locals going home to their wives. Not so for the saloons -- their hours ran until 1:00 a.m., leaving the drinkers and gamblers full sway. Charley noted all card tables in their saloon were well attended, mostly by men with money to spare. The few remaining soldiers from the fort with their meager salaries were keeping the pool tables busy.

"I see your cousin Eugene is holding his own; he's playing with some rough opposition too." John smiled as he cleared beer glasses from the littered bar.

"He seldom loses at cards, he's too darn good. He remembers every card that's played; I envy anyone with a memory like that. Trouble is, he's not much for work except for his bees -- that takes little of his time. 'Course, he never had to work before the war. His side of the family had big holdings -- all gone now, split up, sold piece by piece -- the war saw to that. 'Sides, Eugene never was a planter; he never worked at much."

"I've heard he's been organizing the Democrats in the county."

Charley smiled, "He can be mighty convincing too. We do need someone local to take over the party. He's not a politician, but he's a staunch Democrat."

"I hope we can get everyone out by closing time. I don’t need another long night. Thirteen hours is enough."

Charley glanced casually toward the poker players. "None of those gamblers do much drinking – I can't blame them. It takes a clear mind to throw money around. Tell you what, you've spent the entire day here; I was gone much of the time. We'll leave the clean up until tomorrow. I've nothing planned after church so I'll handle it."

"Swell, Hannah and I plan on taking the girls over to Emerson to visit the Casselman family. We're taking Josey Watkins' children along too. Say, how are you making out with her? Or is it any of my business?"

"Haven't seen her since the library fund-raiser. I've been meaning to stop by; she probably thinks I'm avoiding her."

"You could do worse." John gave him a meaningful look.

"You're right, she is a lovely woman." Charley shook his head sorrowfully, "Trouble is, too much water has gone under the bridge. I admit making a mistake in not asking Marguerite to marry me, but now I don't want to be pressured into another blunder. It's all too soon."

When closing time approached John rapped on the bar with a heavy beer mug, "Time! Gentlemen! Time!"

Grumbling was heard as the card players finished their final hand, but after pocketing their table stakes they gradually drifted out the door. As the last few were leaving, Charley's cousin Eugene hesitated momentarily.

"Got time for some conversation, Charley?"

"Sure, Gene, but let's do it upstairs. We can have a nightcap while we talk."

"Just wanted to gab a bit. I've sent for my Mother and sisters, they're coming soon. It took some persuading."

"I'll just be a minute, then we can go up."

After John left, Charley, accompanied by Eugene, locked up the saloon and turned to his walkup door. Inserting his key in the lock, he puzzled aloud, "Thought I locked the door when I left for supper. Guess I forgot."

As they entered the staircase, Eugene snorted and began to laugh aloud. "Charley, you clever dog, you've got a bedmate. You've been holding out on me."

"What do you mean?"

"Can't you smell her?"

Charley suddenly became aware of a faint pervading odor; he instantly knew whose perfume it was.

Eugene was still chuckling as he turned to leave. "Three's a crowd, I'll see you tomorrow."

Charley knew what Eugene suspected. Embarrassed, he said, I'll stop by your place in the morning. I don't know what's going on upstairs, but I'm going to find out!"

Perplexed, he climbed the remaining steps, hesitating momentarily to strike a match to light the living room lamp. The scent of Josey's perfume was even more pervasive here. Checking the kitchen he found the window propped open; a touch of cool air wafting in. Turning to his bedroom the faint light exposed a fully clothed Josey lying on his bed. From her slow, deep breathing and partially open mouth, he realized she was in a deep sleep.

Returning to the kitchen he lit the table lamp, then using the same match, touched a burner on the oil stove. Quietly he took his time preparing coffee, finally he poured two large cups almost to the brim.

Returning to the bedroom he bent to gently shake Josey awake, his vexation finally dissipated.

"Wake up, sleeping beauty, I've a cup of coffee in the kitchen for you."

Rising sleepily to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, Josey rubbed her eyes, seemingly bewildered. Then guilt came and she felt cheap and foolish. "Oh Charley, I feel so stupid! I wanted us to talk things out and now I've botched it all. I fell asleep. It proves I have no talent at seducing a man."

"Well, at least we can talk about it. I have hot coffee in the kitchen, it'll wake us up." He reached out to grasp her hand. "Come now, before it cools."

Obligingly she allowed herself to be led to the kitchen. There, still drowsy, she finger combed her long blond hair back from her face.

Charley looked amused. "Just what did you have in mind for us?"

Josey looked sheepish, then broke into a whimsical smile. "My intention was to seduce you, forcing you to marry me. Pretty terrible, aren't I?"

"You might have done better by getting into my bed in the nude." Charley broke into a grin.

"I planned to do just that, but that's the story of my life, I failed to follow through." She put the cup to her lips, and then set it down. "Hot and strong. Do you always make it so?"

"You're attempting to change the subject. Was this visit your idea or my Mother's?"

"Both, I guess." She shrugged, "Anyway it seems to have failed." She looked at him intently, "Charley, are we so far apart? We could have a good life. My heart still warms to you. We were so in love long ago."

"It's not the time or place. Mother has raised more hell in my life than I can stand. To face the facts, I should have asked Marguerite to marry me long ago. Now that she's gone, I realize how much I miss her."

"She's left?" Instantly grasping the situation, Josey said, "Then why didn't you go after her when you found her gone? You could have found her."

"After the insults my Mother handed her, I doubt she would even speak with me."

"Then there's no chance for us?"

"Josey, it's just too soon. It's hard to tell you of my feelings, but I think it would be wrong for us to marry. We would have to make too many adjustments. It wouldn't work out. We'd soon be at odds. I can't say I love you, although you are a beautiful, desirable woman. You admit you're really not in love with me, so what's the use of starting something that is sure to fail?”

"Well, you've made your point, you are probably right. I still believe we could enjoy life together, but you've apparently made up your mind." She put the cup down on the table.

"Will you see me home. It might be embarrassing to meet someone on the street, it's so late."

He smiled, relieved. "Certainly I'll escort you home, but it will be disconcerting for both of us if we're seen. Just imagine the talk about town, my seeing you home at two o’clock in the morning." A grin appeared on his face.

At Eliza's rear door she paused to slip her arms around his neck. "You owe me a parting kiss."

The contact was almost brief, and then she dropped her arms, silently entering the house.

Charley found himself with mixed feelings. Am I a fool, letting her go, or am I doing the right thing?

Turning the corner at Cavalier Street he met the town constable making his rounds.

"Trying to steal my job, Charley?" The man chided. "Or is it a love affair?"

"Neither, couldn't sleep, so I'm walking it off." Charley answered.

The following Tuesday, Charley was told that Josey and her children had taken the train for Pennsylvania the previous day.