Frontier General Store




June 1883



"Rock, Paper, Scissors?" Sarah offers. With three quick motions who is going to the store is decided. Scissors beats paper. "Don't worry, Lizzie, you'll get to go next time." Sarah says cheerfully. She climbs up the loft to gather a few things.

"I really hate that game!" Liz mutters stalking off to do her chores. She especially hates the game when she realizes which of the Spencer's is going to town. "Gram, it's not fair!"

"Darling, If I had known Lucky was representing the Spencer's, you still wouldn't be going."

"But Mrs. Taggart is going too!" Liz protests. "It would have been fine."

"It would have been inappropriate." Audrey says flatly. "Now lets review the provision list. My memory isn't what it used to be."

"Your memory is fine. You write everything down!"





Marcus looks at the pile of rocks on the Spencer side of his property consideringly. Some of the stone had been put under the cabin between the base logs and under the planking for circulation and drainage. But the plan for the smokehouse has been in the works since the first week when Cassadine dropped that bear on the Spencer's. Every rock large and small had been hauled out of the tilled fields to the a clearing on the wooded side of the cabin. Gia and Mom took a tarp with them wherever they went to haul rocks from where ever they were: the upper pasture, down by the river, in the woods. There hadn't been a single comment about digging a well but plenty of looks at the rock pile.
And the way the rock pile is growing, he had a sneaking suspicion the Spencer's were dropping their rocks on him too. There was a clearing in their mutual woods which he figures is just the size for a still. Course the brass tubing, washtub, and earthenware jugs couldn't have been a clue. He thinks wryly.
Marcus thinks about the way that the Spencer's had cut into the hill behind their house and eyes a little hill, little more than a mound off the back of the cabin. He'd built the cabin by it figuring it would be a natural wind break.
He paces off from the hill down to where he'd put the iron firebox, run an angled chimney to the smokehouse so only smoke would touch the hams. Then put a small chimney on top in the middle of an iron disk that would be the lid of the smokehouse. Marcus takes up his pickax and begins to make short work of digging out the side of the hill.
By the time Gia calls him in for the noon meal a semi circle has been cut out of the hill: five feet in diameter by two feet deep. The hill continues up to give more depth as needed.
Until the piglets are weaned at about twenty-eight days Marcus decides to keep them penned. He's altered the males so they'll fatten up and notched their ears with his mark. Not that anyone in the valley had pigs but just to be on the safe side. It would be another month or more till the corn was even knee high in the fields but all they have to feed is the sow to keep her milk coming in. Once weaned they'll be set loose in the woods to forage for themselves, but there would be a trough set out, and corn put out daily to keep them coming around regular. Only when they are near on grown would they be caught and fattened up on a steady diet of corn until they were about 200-250 lbs.

Gia checks on the piglets but doesn't touch them. There's nothing meaner than a mama pig. She slops the trough with leftovers from the noon meal and a scoop of grain, making sure there is plenty of water. She brings a bucket of water to Marcus too. But doesn't interrupt him. With Mama gone to town, there are double chores or rather the same amount of chores and only half the hands.





Audrey pats the side of her jersey cow. Maybe a matter of personal taste but she'd take a jersey over the Spencer's or the Taggart's bigger Holsteins. The milk is just richer, even if there isn't as much of it. How much milk did three women need anyway? Enough for meals, baking and butter. And now with Sarah off to town there would be even less demand. Zander stops by on Sundays and that boy could drink a quart of milk at a sitting if it was ice cold from the river. Having a man around the house is something she misses.
Setting the milk aside, she scoops out some grain for Bossy as a post milking treat then starts lugging the milk down to the cold box in the river. "Oh dear." Audrey realizes the milk can is nearly full, and the cream container set aside for butter is getting there too. Having Sarah gone and Zander not due for another three days.... "Oh dear." Sighing Audrey takes the milk back up to the cabin and covers the milk to keep the flies and kittens out of it. Making cheese had just been added to her list of chores for the next day. The first month the need to make cheese hasn't come up. There have been other priorities and the limited diet of spring demanded the full supplement of fresh milk.





At the back of the Spencer property, Carly smells what she wants to forage for and starts tracking it down... where is it, where is it? Finally she finds in a warm exposed sunny spot what she has been looking for... mint; a small low bedding plant. Sitting down in the middle of it, she takes a deep breath. There probably wasn't enough for jelly, maybe flavoring a jelly later on in the year.
But there was definitely enough there to mix in with the bicarb and water paste they used to brush their teeth. Baking soda might keep your teeth clean but tastes disgusting. She starts snipping leaves off of the small plant but then thinks about it and pulling a trowel out of her basket starts digging up the plant root and all. The Hardy's had chamomile growing on the sod roof of their cabin... maybe mint would grow on theirs! Carly hears the sound of a horse approaching and looks up hopefully.

"Watcha doing, Niece?" Luke demands from atop the horse.

Disappointed since it wasn't who she was hoping for, Carly covers quickly. "I found some mint."

"Time for you to be heading home, Caroline. With Lucky gone, there are enough chores around the house to keep you busy. This is going to have to wait." Carly hadn't covered quickly enough. Luke knows she was expecting someone else. He might not have caught her this time but he would be keeping a close eye on Carly. He looks around. The back of their property butted up against the Quartermaine range-- ranchers. And where there's a ranch there's cowboys.
Luke spent some time down in Texas. Lucky had even been born in Texas. He knew all about ranching and running steers. They'd moved back to New York after Laura had started missing the seasons. Although why anyone would miss snow is a mystery to him. Course Laura had a sense about things.
When they'd gotten back to New York he'd discovered that Bobbie had been in a world of hurt with the fella she'd hooked up with. He'd complained mightily about moving from Texas right up until he'd realized the situation his sister was in. After that he'd never said a word. Neither had DL Brock, his sister's so-called protector. Nobody had ever heard a thing from Brock ever again and never would. Luke had solved that problem but he'd just as soon not press his luck by having to bury yet another body. Luke reaches down his hand. "Come on, Caroline. I'll give you a lift back to the house."

"I'll walk."

"Don't make me come looking for you." Luke warns. He reins the horse around and starts back toward the homestead.

"Don't make me come looking for you." Carly says mockingly to herself after Luke has already left, making a face. "I'm not Lulu, you know, Uncle Luke." But she knows Luke is a man of his word. His carefully given and shaded word, but a man of his word none the less. She gathers up the mint and tools and puts them in the basket. Carly looks longingly back to the range and then starts down to the cabin. Jason hadn't said he'd be there. He never said he'd be there. He just always was. Or near enough.

It's a short walk back down to the cabin. Carly goes into the cabin where Laura is kneading bread. The Spencer's go thru a lot of bread. Laura would make 6 loaves at a time, every other day. Carefully nourishing the starter she'd brought from New York every time. Laura takes one look at her face. "Luke found you."

Carly snorts. "I found some mint." She puts the basket on the plank table. "There would be more, but Luke made me come back."

Laura brushes her hands off and then wipes them down using her apron. She comes over to the basket and opens it up. The aroma of mint fills the kitchen. "Oh it's wonderful." She sniffs. "I'm soaking the salt off of a roast for supper tonight. This will taste so good cooked with it. Carly, I really appreciate the things you find." Laura knows that Carly is ticked at Luke. Not a new occurrence but tries to make a bit of peace. "I put some jelly jars on the list of things for Lucky to get and wax too after you told me that you'd found some berries..."

"I checked them. They're still too green." Carly takes the plants she'd harvested and separates them from the leaves. "It'll be a couple weeks or more before they're ready."

"I used to love going hunting for berries when I was Lulu's age. Course half the berries never made it home." Laura smiles.

Carly reluctantly smiles back. Her aunt tries so hard sometimes, all the time. They didn't have much in common... just family but that's enough. She picks up the mint plants. "I'm going to go plant these on the roof. Maybe they'll take."

"Be careful." Laura warns but it's a waste of words where Spencer's are concerned. She pats a little flour on her hands and starts back to the business of making bread. She divides the dough into the baking pans and sets them aside for the second rise covering them with a tea towel to keep the flies off.

Carly goes back outside. Mama is working in the garden. Lulu is down by the river with Foster. Luke was out in the woods probably, doing whatever he did out there but always coming back with a couple of trees to be chopped into firewood. The firewood should be done for the whole year by the end of this month to give plenty of time for it to season. After that they'd just be chopping as much as they used. July and August are about harvesting and putting up the garden. Which is why the provision list Lucky took to the General Store had been heavy on the sugar, salt, and canning jars.

Luke couldn't be going hot and heavy on his still production until the corn crop came in. And even then it would be after what they needed was taken out. All he'd get was the left overs. If he was going to be making anything now, it would have to be from purchased items... which defeated the purpose as a cash making proposition.

Carly sees what her mother is working on and decides she can most help by filling the water barrels to be hauled up to the top of the garden and then used to irrigate the garden. As the days get longer they'd spend more time on watering than anything else, but that was 'cause Bobbie's a demon for plucking out any weed daring to plant itself in her garden.





The next day after standard morning chores are done including watering the gardens, rather than taking the sheep up to the pasture behind the house, Liz feeds them some grain. She's going to help her grandmother with the making of the cheese. Audrey had set aside five gallons of milk to make cheese. They'd end up with five pounds of cheese! Some of which would surely get eaten before it could properly age or sharpen.
Audrey had already started the process the night before adding a little something to make the milk sour and gel but she needed help with the cutting and separating part. Five gallons is a lot, and it's heavy-- definitely a two person job. The first separation involved pouring the whole five gallons into a old clean pillowcase and twisting out most of the liquid until only a ball of nearly cheese was left.
By mid morning though she should be free to go with the sheep up to the pasture for a couple of hours, Gram could handle the second pressing of the cheese herself. That's just a matter of adding increasing amount of weight to the cheese to press out any liquid There she would stake out the goat on a long lead and be able to relax and knit. Taking a clue from her grandmother, she'd already taken hand prints from Zander, Mr. Spencer, and Mr. Taggart figuring that would work for Medium, large and extra large gloves.
Mittens are easier to make, and warmer to wear but weren't much good for trying to work in. And then matching scarves for the sets of gloves. If she could make the gloves fine enough they'd fit inside a pair of work gloves... that way they'd be liners... and additional insulation and wouldn't get as tore up as if they'd be worn on their own. The goat fleece would be better for that. It spun up really fine and super soft. Or maybe to make stockings. Gram had set aside the best fleece after cleaning figuring they'd dye it once they'd figured out what color. So far all of her knitting had been done in the natural color of the sheep. Which is really boring, so she'd added some decorative stitching to the scarves to make them more interesting and individual.

"Darling, I'm ready here." Audrey interrupts Liz's planning.

Together they carry out the heavy enamel pot with the five gallons of soon to be cheese in it. Audrey holds the pillowcase open while Liz carefully pours the pot into it. The liquid has mostly risen to the top making the pour swift in the beginning just gathering a few loose curds in the mix. But finally the pot is emptied into the pillow case, the bottom scraped of the curds. Audrey holds the pillow case away from her to stop it from dripping on her dress. Liz starts twisting the pillowcase above the balled mass at the bottom of it. Tighter and tighter wringing out more and more liquid. She holds it tight while Audrey gets a string and ties it off next to the ball. Then they hang the ball from a low limb of a tree to let gravity do the rest of the work until they are ready for it to be salted, formed into molds and pressed. Gram had decided on two molds. One to eat as needed and one to age.

"I'm going up to the pasture, Gram." Liz informs as she wipes off her hands. "I'll be back around sunset." She picks up her tote that has her knitting supplies and adds a snack.

"Be back by dinner, Darling." Audrey starts collecting the pots that she'd need to scrub clean for the next major project. Only after everything is back in it's place would she be able to get out in her garden.





There is no excuse for boredom. Stefan thinks to himself and yet... he is. Nikolas is off to town. Natasha had closeted herself in her room with her needlepoint and her books. As long as she had her studies or projects she was satisfied. They could be home, here or the salons of London it's of no interest to her. And she has always been a poor chess opponent anyway preferring to play cards with her friends back home. He orders the groom to saddle a horse. He would go down the valley to speak with Mr. Smith. Perhaps some of his tales would liven the day.

Zander is in the middle of his garden, checking his plants when Stefan arrives. "Mr. Cassadine."

"Mr. Smith, you are occupied; I have no wish to detain you." Stefan says politely.

"I'd be pleased for the company." Zander suggests. "Walk with me. But tell you what. Why don't you tell me about Russia for awhile. Specially the winter. I figure I'll need all the info I can get to get ready for the winter out here. The only information I've been getting is from Mrs. Hardy and the Spencer's. Taggart is as in the dark as I am and definitely preparing for the worst case."

"I've always found that to be prudent." Stefan nods. "If one prepares for the worst then one is seldom surprised."

"Why are you here?"

"Excuse me?"

"You're rich, educated. I don't get it. Why homesteading? You could have gone hunting anywhere. Hell they probably would have stopped anywhere you liked all along the rail lines. 160 acres is nothing to you."

"As I said... preparing for the worst. Things in my country are... unsettled. And I believe it better to have some distance from the fray."

"I didn't get much news of what was going on in Russia back in Florida."

"Then you could not know that two years ago, after two unsuccessful attempts, the last tsar, Alexander II, was blown up by an anarchist." Stefan says wryly. "Like your Garfield, there was little reward for leadership. I have had my fill of war and wish Nikolas to be as far away from the coming fray as possible. It might happen next year, it might happen thirty years from now, but the Royal line of Russia will fall." He foresees grimly.

"If you're right and this might end up being your home rather than just a place to go hunting and fishing for the next five years... don't you think it's time you met your neighbors, all your neighbors?"





The travelers approach Charlestown Friday afternoon, making good time from the homesteads. The roads had been clear and rather than two wagons this time they'd only brought one. Nikolas Cassadine rides his own horse; Sarah is on her own horse as well. Lucky and Mrs. Taggart brought along the wagon for carrying supplies back. On occasion over the last three days Lucky and Sarah had switched off riding the horse just to give each other a break.
Since the Spencer's and the Taggart's have teamed up on many projects in the past, Lucky and Flo have had plenty to talk about while Nikolas and Sarah play the getting to know you polite conversation. Nik thought they would have little in common until Sarah had talked about her grandfather, father and uncle-- the doctors. That had put her in a different category.
Not royalty of course, the closest thing to royalty in the United States are the industrial barons of the east coast. The closest thing to royalty here in Montana are the cattle ranchers who control thousands of acres. On the crossing from Europe to America, Stefan had provided him a reading list of the political thinkers of America-- Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Lincoln among others. They'd explored New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington DC.
There had been a round of parties in each place where he'd been introduced to the movers and shakers of the country. The implementation of the Industrial revolution had gone more smoothly here than back in Russia. But Stefan had explained that was because there was a more educated populace here than in Russia and a broader middle class. Stefan had also used the American civil war as an example of a conflict between Industrialization and an Agricultural/serf based system.

Lucky comments to Mrs. Taggart as soon as the town comes into sight. "Well we're going to see what this town is really about now."

"How do you figure?"

"Friday night? Come on. I betcha there are a lot of cowboys and miners who are in town spending their earnings, getting a bath and blowing off steam."

"My lands." Florence realizes with some dismay. She checks the position of the sun. There is no way they can conduct their business and get back on the road. They'd be spending Friday night here and starting back the next day. This could have been better planned but from the look of anticipation on Lucky's face.. this is exactly what he'd planned. "Lucky..."

"Mrs. Taggart, its an opportunity to make some cash money. Rather than having to make a trip up to the mines with our goods, We've got a day in town to make cash money and to get what we need from the store. Besides Gia wants to know what the miners needed. Now we'll get to find out."

"I want a campsite out of town." Flo says grimly. "You and the Cassadine boy check out the town. Sarah and I will stay at camp."

"Mrs. Taggart..." Lucky protests.

"There are situations a good woman avoids, Lucky. Friday nights with a bunch of men with their sap on the rise is one of them."

Lucky thinks about it for a moment. "Yes, ma'am. I see your point. And looking it over I think the worst thing would be isolated just outside of town. Lets try to find something by the store on the far side away from the saloon. That way help is within hollering distance. This might all be for nuthin'. Making trouble where there is none."

"We'll see." Flo temporizes. She falls silent as they pull into town. Lucky pulls up to the store and sets the brake. Coming around, he assists Florence from the wagon. Sarah and Nikolas have already hitched their horses and wait just outside the store. Florence goes into the store and waits until it is only the four of them and the manager there, then she gets blunt. "How crazy is this place going to get tonight?"

Sarah and Nikolas look at her questioningly looking up from the merchandise they are examining. The store manager sighs and nods. "Crazy. But only on the far side of town. Down by the tracks and the saloon. The Quartermaine's cowboys got paid and most of them are in town. Some of the miners are here. The ones who work the Quartermaine claims. The independents are staying on their claims. They have to be out of supplies all together to make the trip to town."

Flo and Lucky mentally tuck away that little piece of information for later. Lucky asks. "Would it be okay, and safe, if we camped on the far side of your store back in the trees? We'll be on our way back to the valley in the morning."

The store manager contemplates Flo and Sarah. Flo wouldn't be able to get a room at the rooming house and Sarah wouldn't be able to get a room there either if she wasn't part of a family party. They never rent rooms to single women, not wanting to get a reputation as a bawdy house. "Come with me. I'll show you the best spot. No charge. I know you'll be excellent customers." The manager calls his son over to watch the store in his absence. As soon as the party is settled in and the horses unsaddled and cropping grass in the woods, Sarah and Flo team up and Lucky and Nikolas go their own way. Florence leaves Sarah in the family room of the rooming house having tea while she conducts her business at the backdoor of the saloon, the chinaman outside of town, then finally at the backdoor of the rooming house.

The owner of the rooming house, Mr. Scott, is pulling his hair out. "My wife is sick! Who is going to cook dinner for all these people? I have a full house. If they wanted beans and mush they'd have stayed on the trail or out at the mines."

"Well, sir, you surely do seem to be in a pickle." Flo says calmly. "I'm real sorry your wife is feeling poorly."

"You made that sausage before. The ones your girl brought last month."

"I did."

"You could help me out here."

"I could." Flo shrugs.

"How much?" Mr. Scott gets down to dickering. In the end, The owner is feeling a little burned but not as burned as he'd be if he started having to refund money or send business down to the saloon.

Flo is satisfied that she'll be able to make this a profitable trip and be able to buy some fabric to make Marcus a warm set of long johns for the upcoming winter. "Now, sir, I need to speak to your wife and find out what she had on the menu for the evening."

"Come in." He invites Flo into the kitchen. "Our rooms are up these stairs." He leads the way. Knocking on the door, he tells his wife that he has hired someone to do the dinner.

Florence takes in the situation at a glance. The woman isn't really sick. She's tired and plum worn out. Flo shoos the owner out of his own bedroom. "You needed a day off, and he wasn't hearing it." She says with her voice low so it won't carry outside of the room. The woman looks guilty and defensive. "And that works just fine for me." Flo grins.

"Every day without a break." Hannah Scott protests. "And it isn't just cooking for a family. It's cooking for twenty sometimes thirty people. Every spring it gets worse as more and more people come out-- cowboys, homesteaders and now the miners. He doesn't understand. And it's not just cooking, it's picking up after all those people too! Look at my hands!" The woman holds up hands that are red and chapped.

Flo tsks. "You're using soap with too much lye in it. My neighbor out in the valley has a fine hand making soap. But when you're milking... Rub some of the balm you put on the cow's udders on your hands. I know it smells nasty but it works. Now. You tell me what you were planning for dinner. I'll take care of the it and you get rested up. I'm not going to be back in town for another month. Maybe we can come to an arrangement."

Meanwhile, Lucky and Nikolas explore the town each with a different agenda. Nik to see something different, to experience a frontier town without the watching eye of his Aunt and Uncle. Lucky to discover different opportunities. Like Gia, he stops by the rail yards to find out who is leaving and who is arriving and when. He stops by the stockyards to see if there are any good deals there. Zander had given him his provisioning list. While he'd been all buddy buddy with Cassadine, Zander knew that the Cassadine wouldn't know a good deal if it bit him in the ass. And didn't know if Sarah would or not.
It's nearing on the time they were all suppose to meet up at the General Store so Lucky heads back. When he gets there he finds a note posted on the board outside addressed to him and Nikolas. He reads it quickly. Mrs. Taggart and Sarah are at the rooming house and the guys are to meet them there for dinner. Nikolas walks up about the same time and Lucky hands him the note. They walk together to the rooming house. "We're looking for Mrs. Taggart and Miss Webber."

The harried owner points in the direction to the kitchen. "They're in the kitchen."

"Excuse me?" Nikolas questions.

"Thru there." The owner insists.

Lucky shrugs and strolls thru the dining room to the kitchen. There is a hub of activity going on as Sarah and Flo work together to put a meal on the table for thirty single men. Half of them were staying at the rooming house and half were just there for dinner before heading off to the saloon. "Something smells good."

"Y'all will be having dinner here." Flo says as she stirs the huge pot of stew on the stove. She'd been hard at it in the hours since making her bargain. "I made a deal with the Mr. Scott and meals for us were included in the bargain: Beef stew, greens with bacon, buttermilk biscuits, apple pie with a bit of cheese for dessert."

Lucky pulls up a seat at the kitchen table, the best seat in the house in his opinion. "Sounds good to me."

"Don't be getting comfortable there, mister." Flo warns. "I don't want Miss Sarah around those miners. You'll be helping me serve." Having spent enough time around hardworking men and not imagining that cowboys or miners would be any different from farmhands, Flo grabs one of the apple pies fresh out of the oven and cooling on the counter. She walks out to the dining room where men are already starting to gather. She waves the pie around so that the aroma is even stronger. She can see the covetous eyes on it. When she has all of their attention she states her demand in a clear loud voice. "Anyone with dirty hands ain't gonna be putting their boots under my table. And as long as I'm cooking, it's my table. Dinner is in fifteen minutes." There is a rush from the dining room.

"You can't talk to my customers that way!" The owner protests.

"I just did. And I didn't hear any complaints." Flo says smartly. "Those boys know better than to sit down at a woman's table with dirty hands. They've just gotten forgetful out there on their lonesome." Flo walks back in the kitchen. "Sarah, you have ten minutes to get that table set. Mr. Cassadine, help her."

"Help her?" Nikolas says blankly.

"I got it, Mrs. Taggart." Lucky rolls his eyes. "Come on, Sarah. Fancy man may know how to eat at a table but he doesn't know how to set one." Sarah and Lucky leave.

"I apologize." Nik says stiffly. "I am unaccustomed to..."

Flo waves a hand to stop the comment. "There is milk out in the ice house. We need four pitchers filled. And four pitchers of cold water too. You take care of that. Just set them out at intervals along the tables. The men will take care of the rest."

After the table is set and the biscuits and greens put out, Flo makes up a tray. "Here honey, take this up to the missus. It should perk her right up." That and not having to do the dishes. "Lucky, will you carry this out for me?"

Lucky picks up some potholders and grabs the huge stew pot off the stove. Flo grabs her ladle and starts serving up the stew to the miners who are sitting politely but with great anticipation at the two long plank tables. Florence makes a little comment to each one as she serves up knowing that these boys need a memory of a woman's touch. Noticing things like a fresh hair cut, or a wedding ring, or even someone growing out of their clothes. She ladles a little extra into those she deems too bony for their height. The men lap up the extra attention as greedily as they eye the steaming stew, with it's potatoes and carrots. As soon as everyone has been served, Florence pauses at the kitchen door and gives the directive. "Watcha all waiting for? Dig in. Y'all gonna insult my cooking by just sitting there?"

There is a rush of picking up spoons and grabbing for biscuits from the center of the table. With a satisfied nod, Flo goes back into the kitchen and starts portioning up plates for Sarah, Lucky, Nikolas and herself. Midway thru her own bowl of stew, she rises and grabs a second pot of stew off of the stove. This time she just brings the pot to the foot of the table and fills plates as they are handed to her for seconds. When the pot is about half way empty she moves over to the other table and starts refilling there. By the time the pot is emptied and she goes back into the kitchen, Sarah has already cleaned out the big pot and has water on to boil for cleaning the dishes and the pot of coffee already on to perk. "I figured coffee with the pie?"

"Just right." Flo agrees. She quickly finishes her own dinner and then starts cutting pieces of pie and putting them on small plates with a wedge of cheese. Nikolas sees what she is doing and takes over the slicing of the cheese. Lucky goes out to the tables and starts clearing dinner plates off reminding the men as if they didn't know already that coffee and pie is on the way.

Sarah and Flo kicked the guys out to check on the horses to finish cleaning the kitchen. The guests had lingered over coffee and pie, even bringing out the tobacco and rolling their own over a second cup. By the time the last two guy have finished their coffee and left, the kitchen is put to rights. Flo finishes clearing while Sarah quickly sweeps the floor. It's definitely different. She'd assisted in planning dinner parties with her grandmother back in New York but they'd had help. It's a totally different style of cooking.

The missus of the house sneaks down the back stairs bringing her tray. Sarah takes it from her and start washing them with the final coffee cups. "The kettle is still hot, if you would like another pot of tea?"

"Only if you two will join me." Mrs. Scott counters. "It's been so long since I've had real sit round the kitchen table company."

Flo nods. "We seldom have time for it either out in the valley. How does the saying go? Have to make hay while the sun shines? By the time you can take a breather..."

"It's too dark to go visiting." Sarah chimes in ruefully. She carefully pours the boiling water from the kettle to the teapot and lets it steep, carrying the teapot and three cups to the kitchen table and taking a seat. "Now this is really nice."





Lucky and Nikolas stride into the saloon. Lucky with more confidence than Nikolas. This is practically home turf. He's been in and out of saloons since before he could walk. Putting his nickel on the bar, Lucky tells the bartender. "Beer."

The bartender nods and looks toward Nikolas. "The same." Nikolas shrugs. when in Rome...

Lucky checks out the saloon. Someone had put a bit of time and money into this one. Everything is polished and painted. There is a huge mirror hanging behind the bar. Lucky uses it to watch the crowd that is gathering including the quiet table toward the back where the serious card game is. "You like this every night or just on weekends?" Lucky asks the bartender as he drops off the beer.

"Depends on the train schedule but weekends are best." The bartender keeps moving. "You'll see the draw soon enough."

"What did he mean by that?" Nikolas asks as soon as the bartender moves away.

Lucky shrugs. "Guess we'll find out."

About that time a hush falls over the crowd, only the poker players keep on. When four of the fanciest women in town make their way down the stairs from the rooms above. Three of them start working the tables slinging drinks and flirting with the customers. One of them goes over to the piano and joining another man who starts limbering up his fingers. Waiting for her music, Dara Jensen smiles at the crowd. As soon as the piano player kicks it into gear, Dara starts singing. Lucky starts tapping his toe in time with the music. The piano player sucked, but Dara... now she could sing. Fact is she is about the best singer that Lucky has ever heard. Didn't figure he'd be going anywhere. At least not until he'd heard her whole set. Lucky gets comfortable at the bar. This is going to be fun. But it doesn't stop him from keeping an eye on the poker table in the corner. He had a few dollars set aside for just this occasion.

"She's quite good." Nikolas comments. "Although I am unfamiliar with the tunes. Very skilled."

"Better than her piano man." Lucky agrees. "My dad could do better."

"You didn't mention that your father played piano."

Lucky shrugs. "It never came up. Dad plays piano. I play guitar. Everyone in my family loves music."

"My family has always supported the arts: opera, ballet and the like."

"Yeah, those that can, do. Those who can't... pay someone else to do it." Lucky picks up his beer and heads over to the poker table. There is a seat opening up.

"Hey handsome, buy a girl a drink?" A blonde comes up beside Nikolas and runs a hand up his back. Her long blonde hair is up in an elaborate do of curls and ringlets. Her vivid blue dress is cut low exposing most of her chest and her skirt while full ends at her knees.

"Of course." Nik says politely to the woman with a nod in the direction of the bartender.

"You're not like them." She announces. "My name is Miss Kitty."


"Katherine really." She leans in closer. "So... what's your story? Mine owner? Railroad? Business man passing thru?"

"Homesteader actually."

Katherine recoils in disgust. "You're a soddie?" She looks him over from hat to polished boots. "You're pulling my leg right?"

"My family owns the requisite 160 acres down in the valley."

"Thanks for the drink." Katherine picks up the small glass of whiskey and moves down the bar.

Nikolas shakes his head and smothers a laugh. The bartender comes up with another beer and sets it in front of the young man. "She's kinda predictable but old man Quartermaine likes her."

"Money grasping females are the same the world over." Nikolas lifts a glass in salute.

"Oh no." The bartender starts shaking his head seeing a familiar face behind Nikolas. "No, no, no. You can't come in here. Your grandfather will shut me down!"

"Gimme a beer." A voice too high for a man demands. "And you know he won't shut you down as long as you keep Kitty Bell around."

Nikolas turns around. There stands what appears to a be a young man dressed entirely in leather from broad brim hat to dusty boots. The fiction of a young man ends when the person tips their hat letting it fall to her back held only by a string. Two caramel brown braids fall along with the hat.

"Miss Emmie." The bartender pleads.

"Either gimme a beer or I'll shut this place down. Don't think I can't or that I won't." Emily threatens.

The bartender shudders in horror but then gets an idea. Going to the far end of the bar, he pulls a beverage and brings it back setting it at the place at the bar next to Nikolas. Emily steps up to the bar and takes a big drink of the glass and then spits it across the bar. "What the hell! This is ginger beer!"

"And that's all you're getting, Missy." The bartender says calmly. "And if you kick up a fuss then I'll just have your brother come around. He's right upstairs."

Emily growls at the bartender but simmers down. She notices the guy next to her eying her. "What?!" She snarls.

Nikolas holds up both hands. "Just wondering where you fit. I'm... new in town."

"I fit where ever I want to fit." Emily says shortly. It was a question she'd asked herself a few too many times and none of this greenhorn's business. "And right now I'm listening to the music."

"As am I." Nikolas nods and falls silent.

Lucky puts in his ante and takes his cards examining them carefully. The time spent at the bar had been useful. He examines the other players just as carefully as his cards looking for tells. Little nonverbal cues of what they're holding. He'd been playing cards since he could hold five of them between two little hands. And he's good. Not as good as his dad of course, but then Luke has had an extra couple of decades to work his brand of poker magic. Right now he'd play conservative to stay in the game and see the pattern of betting. Don't win too many hands. Not enough to tick anyone off. And make his five dollars stretch as far as it could. Know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em. Know when to pick up your money and walk. Know when to pick up your money and run like hell.

Over at the bar, Emily Quartermaine stiffens beside Nikolas Cassadine. She waits for the ration she is about to get. A tall, leanly muscled, man with piercing blue eyes walks down the stairs to the main room of the saloon and walks directly to Emily at the bar. "Monica is going to skin you, Emmie."

"What Mom doesn't know and you don't tell her won't hurt her."

"It won't be a secret for long." Jason looks around the room. "Over half of the guys here work for the Old Man."

"So I don't see what the problem is with me coming to listen to the music." Emily protests. "Nuthin is going to happen to me here. Hell you keep a room here for when you're not out on the range. How am I ever suppose to see you if I don't come into the saloon?"

"You see me often enough." Jason doesn't buy that argument. Jason spots a face that he'd seen from a distance when he'd run into Carly out on the range. "I think I'm going to play a few hands of cards."

"You hate cards." Em protests.

Jason waves her off and walks to the back table. He taps a man on the shoulder who'd just folded. The man looks behind him and seeing who it is collects his money and drink and moves off quickly. One of the women comes by and brings Jason a whiskey without asking and leaves the bottle.





The next morning Lucky and Nikolas come dragging out of the saloon wincing at the sunlight and running hands thru their hair. They make their way over to the camp they had set up by the General Store. Sarah and Mrs. Taggart are already up. Mrs. Taggart had grown impatient with the wait and started to harness up the horses to the wagon. She'd planned on leaving without the boys and letting them catch up. She'd blister their ears but good when they did. Lucky breaks into a run. "Mrs. Taggart, wait!"

"Drinking and carousing with loose women." Mrs. Taggart mutters.

"Wait I found out something important."

"What's that?" She plants her hands on her hips.

"The ranchers are going to be moving their herds to the summer grazing in two weeks."


"They're moving them thru the valley. Hundreds of head of cattle driven straight up our valley."

"Oh my land."

"Not as far as they are concerned. Anything that ain't fenced is considered free range. And evidently they have a habit of making sure that the fences don't get in the way either. We've got to get a fence up. We've all got to get a fence up. That many cattle will destroy our crops. Hell they'll probably knock over Zander's place."

"What are we going to do?"

"Well luckily I had a good night at the table. And one of the ranch hands, Jason Morgan, was kind enough to tell me the score." Lucky strides into the General Store. "Barbed wire. I need enough to fence in four..."

"Five." Nikolas interjects.

"Five 160 acre spreads."

"And I'll pay a portion." Nikolas tells Lucky in a low voice.

"Lucky, Gram didn't send me with enough money for that." Sarah protests.

"I'll get it from her later." Lucky says grimly. "Same with you, Miz Taggart. We don't have time. If we don't have a fence up by the time the cattle come thru we might as well pack it in and head back east. There ain't going to be nothing left." Lucky dickers the price with the store owner and once he has a deal hands his cash money over to Nikolas. "I have to rearrange the load to make room."

As soon as the money changes hands Nikolas, the store owner and his son all come out with the huge wheels of barbed wire. The wire is set in the back of the wagon. "Mr. Spencer, is really going to regret not keeping those oxen." Mrs. Taggart shakes her head. "Lets get on the trail. Mr. Cassadine, you're the best rider on that fancy horse of yours; ride ahead. Let them know we're coming and what the situation is. You might be able to shave a day off and let them know that trouble is coming."

Nikolas helps load the last of the barbed wire and then climbs on his horse. Sarah dumps out her tote and fills it with bread, cheese and dried meats along with two canteens of fresh water. She hands it up to Nikolas. "Don't break a leg." She warns.

"I'll see you there." Nik says confidently. He wheels his horse around and takes off at a canter. Sheba's powerful hooves kicking up dust and carrying him from sight.

"Miz Sarah, you tie your mare to the back. You're riding with me." Flo orders.

"You going to make me walk?" Lucky says wryly. "I know you're ticked with me..."

"You're going to catch some shut eye on top of the load. We're burning daylight, children, and we ain't stopping until I see home." Flo waits until everyone is situated and then yahs to the horses and sets them down the trail.


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