Frontier General Store




The cattle drive

Third week in June 1883



Gia steps out into the lane from the gate and stares down the valley. She squints her eyes to stop the rain from running into them and blows out the rain that pelts her face. "Oh gees." She sees that the width of cattle coming is forcing some into the river. Gia races to the cold box and throws it open. She starts pulling things out... the milk can, the cream, the butter, the cheese-- everything has to come out. She relays the items to inside the gate. The heaviest items first and then grabbing things two at a time. She glances over to see the steers heading in her direction and doubles her pace grabbing the last items. Tossing them to the grass beside the fence she wrenches the gate closed and fastens it down. Just in time. The first of the huge steers pulls next to the gate. Gia steps back and then back forward again. "Move cow. Just keep moving." She calls out but her hands are shaking. Her whole body is shaking.





Bobbie pulls on her gloves and adjusts her hat. "Flag me if that Jason Morgan fellow is on the drive." She tells her nephew.

Lucky nods and takes his place on the gate of the Spencer place. Bobbie heads up to the far corner. His mother starts hollering at him from the cabin pointing to the river. He looks at her blankly and then realizes. "Oh shit." Whipping the gate open he starts pulling things out of the cold box. This was something that hadn't occurred to him. Fence yes, protecting the garden and house yes. The cold box- no. Getting as much as he can inside the protection of the fence he closes it and fastens it down just as Foster starts going nuts up at the cabin. "Mom!" Lucky calls back pointing at the dog.

Laura grabs hold of Foster by the scruff of the neck and looping a rope around him ties him down but then she stays right by the big dog. If any of those steers got onto the property then she'd set Foster loose. Better that the dog got kicked than one of her kids. Lulu tries to go running by her and Laura grabs her by the scruff of the neck too. "Oh no, Baby. You're staying right here."

"But I want to help Lucky!"

"You need to help me right here. If one of those steers get thru I need you to protect the house." Laura tells her earnestly. "You have to get in the house and shut all the windows and doors. You have to protect the house, Lulu."

Lulu can tell how freaked out her mother is and nods seriously. "Nothing will get in the house, Mama. I'll make sure."

Luke leans on the corner post closest to the Taggart's property. "Big sumbitches, aren't they?" He says companionably to Marcus who is a few fence posts down. Marcus had already walked the fence testing spots to make sure it's taunt. There is nothing to do now but wait and look out for trouble. "Happen to have your tobacco on you?"

Marcus shakes his head but then heads over to Luke. He pulls out his pouch and hands it to Spencer. "Think it will hold?"

"Oh yeah. Not worried about the cattle. I'm worried about sabotage. Course this would be a lot messier if the weather were decent. We'd be choking on dust then. Got to figure they moved them on purpose in this crap."

Marcus angles himself so he can see down the valley and the herd approaching. "Tearing up the river something fierce. The water is going to be nothing but mud until it settles out."

"Another good reason to appreciate the rain. Got the barrels out." Luke shrugs. "It'll settle."

"You are just a ray of sunshine." Taggart rolls his eyes.

"Never been called that before." Luke grins. He lights up a cigarette and cups his hand around it to keep the rain off. Then he hands the pouch of tobacco back to Taggart.

Marcus isn't embarrassed to be shirtless around Luke. They'd cut enough trees together to know that Spencer has a matching set of marks on his back. Both of them had gotten them about the same age. Luke had made the mistake of running away to sea when he was twelve. The discipline on the seafaring vessels is just about as harsh as anything that would be found on a plantation down in Alabama. And even as a lad, Luke had never been one to follow the rules. "Where's your hat?"

"Niece stole it." Luke shakes his head running a hand over his brutally short grey hair. "She's up at Zander's place after putting the word out."

"Here they come." Marcus moves down the fence line and stands behind the fence. His arms are crossed and his legs are about a foot apart. He gives a mean glare to the cattle and to the riders but doesn't say a word. Just watches.





Jason Morgan and Emily Quartermaine bring up the drag on the herd of cattle moving thru the valley. "These people are crazy." Emmie tells her brother. She slaps a lasso against her leather clad leg to keep the cattle moving.


"They are totally clueless. I mean come on. 160 acres. 160 acres ain't shit. What the hell can you do with 160 acres?"

"Don't swear." Jason says absently.

"Putting up their damn fences. Next spring they'll be gone but those stinking fences will still be there to tear up and tangle."


"Jase, I'm not talking to myself here. I want to know what you really think." Emily turns in the saddle.

Jason shrugs. "I think they're crazy. And some of them might be gone in the spring. One or two might make it the whole five years. You went to school back east in the city... you know exactly why they came out here."

"Couldn't breathe. It was awful." Emily shudders at the memory.

"Guess Monica and Alan taught you to stay away from the wranglers. Caught you playing in the barn with that one and sent you off to boarding school to teach you some manners."

"Juan wasn't a wrangler."

"So his step father owns a big spread down in Texas among other things and Sonny's boy made the trip up here with those longhorns to mix in with our angus. He barely made it out of Montana in one piece after Johnny, Francis and Rinaldo got done with him."

"I can take care of myself."

"You'll never convince Alan, Monica or the Old Man of that. If Grandmother hadn't spoken up for ya, you would have been put on the next train back east after you snuck back to Montana."

"There are some pretty girls here. They might stick around. If any of the wranglers get a notion to settle down and open up their own spread." Emily tries to change the subject. "I should mention that to the Old Man. He's got two grandson's that show no signs of settling down. Get the pick of the litter before they bug out."

Jason glares at her. "Keep your yap shut."

Em shrugs but falls silent. Their grandfather is one to meddle and she wasn't kidding. Wouldn't surprise her if once word got to him that there were young women in the valley that he came to check them out looking for something suitable for his grandsons. Edward is a stickler for family and figured that Jason and AJ had been single long enough. Em sucks in air and her eyes go wide when she gets a look at Marcus Taggart standing still as a stone on the other side of the fence. As soon as they clear him she can't contain it. "Did you see that big black guy?! He looked like he might even give Rinaldo a run for his money. I'd be torn not knowing who to bet on in a fight. He is huge."

"I saw him." Jason falls silent. They were moving along Carly's place now and he has his eyes peeled for her even though he's trying to not look like he's looking. He gives a nod to Lucky as he passes. Lucky raises an arm waving it over his head and nods back to Jason. The woman on the far side of the Spencer property isn't Carly. From the description that Carly had given it could only be her mother with that fiery red hair. "Ma'am." Jason says politely meeting her stony glare.

"Mr. Morgan." Bobbie says coldly. She can see what the attraction would be for her daughter. Lucky had called this man trouble on two legs and she could believe it. If she were a few years younger she'd be attracted to him too with his piercing ice blue eyes.

"You know her?" Em asks after they pass.


"She knew you."

"The Spencer kid must have mentioned my name." Jason shrugs.

"The one you were playing cards with in town." Em nods. They are half way thru the valley. She senses her brother's distraction. She'd always been able to read him better than anyone else in the family 'cept grandmother especially after the accident.

"Keep them moving, Emmie." Jason directs her as he reins his horse to a stop.

"Jase?" Emily sees a woman standing on the opposite side of the fence. One hand on a post and the other hanging on to the reins of a horse.

"Keep them moving." Jason orders swinging down from his horse.

Em shakes her head but yahs and slaps the lasso against her leg.

"Who is she?!" Carly demands in a low hiss.

"My sister."

"Oh." Carly is mollified. She glances down the fence line and doesn't see anyone from her side of the valley looking.

Jason reaches across the top wire of the fence and pulls Carly into a long slow deep wet kiss. Their bodies are separated by the barbed wire. "I'll be back in about a week after I get the herd settled in the summer grass."

Carly shrugs playing it cool. "I might be around. Thanks for the heads up, Jase."

"Yeah, you owe me." Jason bites her lower lip playfully. "Be around." He steps back from the fence and swings up onto his mount and with a powerful squeeze of his thighs sets the horse to a lope quickly catching up to the herd.

At the far corner of the valley, Nikolas Cassadine watches as the final head of cattle move beyond their border. The cattle had immediately spread out after reaching the back fence line. He studies with interest the action. It reminds him of the Cossacks back home or even the reindeer herders of the Lapland's but he could see where the huge steers would cause considerable damage. Perhaps not to their log house but certainly Zander's soddie would not have withstood the onslaught.

Stefan who'd been at the other corner of their property watching from horseback rides up on his nephew. "I actually believe there was a young woman with the.. cowboys."


"You know this young woman?"

"Met her in town. She is the granddaughter of Edward Quartermaine. Commonly referred to as... The Old Man. It appears he allows her to run wild. Drinking in the saloon. Going on cattle drives and the like." Nikolas answers. "She is... interesting."

Stefan notes the tone and the way his nephew is playing it cool. "Really." perhaps I should investigate this family further.





Elizabeth wades into the river as soon as the herd has passed and they are just a rumble at the other end of the valley. She grabs at the cream pitcher that is about to float down the river. She is already soaked to the skin from the rain. When she'd gotten back from the Taggart's she'd only had time to put on her coat before starting to man the fence line. The cold box has taken some heavy damage. The far side of it was kicked out by some stupid steer and the top is crushed to splinters. Elizabeth starts handing items to Sarah on the bank. "Stupid cows."

"It could have been so much worse." Sarah puts the items in the sled that they used to haul water to the garden.

"Stupid cows." Elizabeth says again. She hands up a wheel of cheese that has a hoof print in it.

"We'll know better next time." Sarah counters.

"It's going to take days for the river to get settled back down and running clear. And look at the road up the valley. I swear every one of those stupid cows took a dump right in front of our place. It's going to reek."

"The rain will wash it away."

"Yes," Audrey agrees coming over to take one of the poles of the sled after Elizabeth has finished handing things to Sarah. Elizabeth climbs out of the river. "It will wash it right into the river. Nobody drinks river water for at least a week. Milk or from the rain barrels only. Right now the only thing that water is good for is watering the garden." Sarah takes the other pole of the sled. "Lizzie, run up to the house and get out of those wet clothes. You have to get dry so you won't get sick." Shivering, Elizabeth nods and takes off for the cabin.

"Gram, if we hadn't had the fence..."

"I know." Audrey says grimly. "As soon as we get these things under cover, I want you to ride out and find out if everyone is okay. Take my bag with you in case there are any injuries. Ask Zander if he can come down here at his convenience and fix our cold box. I have to make sure your sister is okay."

"Yes, Ma'am." They concentrate on pulling the sled into the cover of the shelter that they have set up for their animals. Sarah runs into the house to get her grandmother's tote and strings it across her body and then saddles the horse. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Just be careful." Audrey directs. She wipes back a strand of hair that had worked it's way free of her bun. Everything is put away and the animals are finally starting to settle down from the excitement of the morning. She waves as Sarah leaves. "I need a pot of tea." Audrey sighs and then goes into the cabin. Elizabeth had started shedding her soaking wet coat and nightgown right there by the woodstove. Audrey gets a wool blanket and wraps it around her granddaughter rubbing the blanket against her to restore circulation so that Lizzie will stop shivering.
Hooking a stool over with her foot she presses on the young woman's shoulders to get her to sit down right by the woodstove. "You just stay here and get warm." Audrey climbs up into the loft to get a change of clothes. Maybe it had been lucky that Lizzie's night gown had taken the brunt of the damage rather than her day clothes. Audrey brings the clothes down to Elizabeth leaving her to get dressed while she hangs the wet items on pegs behind the woodstove to dry including her own coat.
Audrey puts the kettle on for tea. "Darling, you need to stay in the house. At least until it stops raining. We need to get you dry." Picking up a comb she starts combing Elizabeth's hair separating out the tangles and fanning out the hair. Once her hair is straight and falling to the middle of her back, Liz turns so that her back is to the woodstove. Audrey runs the back of her hand over Elizabeth's forehead. "You're still chilled."

"I'm fine, Gram."

"You will be. Just as soon as I get some tea in you to warm up your insides."





"Is everyone alright here?" Sarah calls out as she rides up.

Gia is putting everything back into their cold box which is only missing one plank from the top where a steer had stepped on it and broke it. "We're fine. The fence held. I've never seen something so big as those steers." She shudders.

"Gram says to not drink the river water for at least a week. Goodness knows what those steers stirred up in the river. It's only good for the gardens for right now."

"I'll tell Mama and Marcus." Gia nods seeing the sense of that.

"I'm going to ride on check on everyone else."

"Let us know if everyone is okay."

Sarah nods and then with a yah to the horse continues up the valley. At the Spencer place everyone is up at the cabin. "Is everyone alright here?"

"We're fine. Come in and have a cup of coffee." Laura invites.

"I can only stay for a minute." Sarah agrees wanting to get out of the rain. She swings down from the horse and leaving it cropping grass by the cabin. Once inside she takes off her hat and coat hanging them on pegs inside the door and hangs her grandmother's tote from it too.

Laura recognizes the tote. "Your grandmother is worried that someone might be injured but she didn't come herself."

"Lizzie spent too much time out in the rain and then in the river trying to get our supplies from what was left of the cold box before it floated down river." Sarah shakes her head. "Sometimes Lizzie just doesn't think. She went running off to the Taggart's when she heard the cattle coming not bothering with her boots let alone a coat. She got soaked to the skin."

"Well we do appreciate the warning." Bobbie hands Sarah a cup of coffee. It's strong, dark and hot. "Gia came and told us."

Sarah wraps both hands around the mug to warm them and takes a grateful sip. "Gram says that the river water isn't going to be good for anything but the crops for a week or so. Definitely not safe for drinking."

Luke nods from where he is kicking back. "Definitely foul. Figure even swimming in it is a risk on getting the trots. But that river moves pretty fast. It'll clear up. Problem is going to be in the fall when they bring the cattle back down. The river will be low then. Moving slow. It'll take a lot longer to recover."

Sarah nods seriously. "I'll tell Gram what you said. Hopefully we'll get the same warning and be able to have some water set aside for next time." She sighs. "I can't believe I'm already talking about next time." She hands the cup of coffee back to Bobbie. "I'm going to check on Zander and the Cassadines." She puts back on her coat and hat, stringing the tote across her body.

"If you see Carly tell her to head home."

"I will."





"She's lucky she didn't lose an eye." Carly tells Zander as she examines the dog.

"I thought I had her tied up firm up at the house. Wanted her up there to start barking if any steers got thru." Zander brushes a hand over his dog. Annabelle licks at his hand. "She must have busted the rope and wanted to get a piece of those steers. If she hadn't gotten tangled up in the fence..."

"Then we'd definitely be figuring out which is worse. Running into a barbed wire fence or the business end of one of those steers hooves."

"Everything okay here?" A voice calls out from outside of the soddie.

"That's Sarah." Zander gets up and goes to the doorway. "We're fine. Annabelle got tangled in some barbed wire."

Sarah swings down from the horse and reaches into her tote. "Is she okay?"

"Bloody in a few spots and feeling kinda stupid."

Sarah laughs. She comes into the soddie. "Hey Annabelle. How you doing dog?" She takes a close look at the dog and tsks. "Bet you stay off the fence from now on." She sees an empty tin cup sitting on Zander's table. She carefully pours a little witch hazel into it and finds a square cotton bandage in the tote. "Zander, if you just clean the punctures with this. She should be just fine. If you think any of them are getting infected then Gram will take a look at them on Sunday."

Zander nods. "Everything is okay down at your place?"

"The cattle destroyed our cold box. Lizzie will be lucky if she doesn't come down with pneumonia. Gram is keeping an eye on her. She was running around barefoot in the rain like a chicken with it's head off as soon as she heard the cattle entering the valley."

"As soon as the rain lets up I'll be down to look at the cold box." Zander offers.

"Thanks. Carly, your mom was asking after you."

Carly nods and grabs her coat. "I'm going to see what the damage is over at our place. Great working with you, Zander."

"Thanks for coming up, Carly."

"No problem. Worked out just fine for me." Carly grins and taking Luke's hat off of the peg slams it down on her head. She shrugs her shoulders in anticipation of the cold rain and then run out into it.

"Worked out just fine for her?"

"Seemed like she knew one of the cowboys."

"But how?" Sarah asks curiously. "She hasn't been to town since we moved into the valley."

"I didn't ask."

Sarah brushes a hand over the top of Annabelle's head. "I have to head up to the Cassadines. See if they did alright." She stands up and starts to leave. "Oh... Gram says don't drink the river water. Mr. Spencer says don't even swim or bathe in it. Not until it's had time to settle out."

Zander nods and then going out with Sarah gives her a leg up on to the horse. "If there is any kind of problem up at the Cassadines let me know. You might notice something that they don't."

Sarah nods and waves to Zander as she rides off. It's the first time she's been all the way up the valley to the Cassadine place. But she'd heard stories about it from Zander at the Sunday dinners. "Wow." The Cassadine place isn't a cabin. It might be made out of logs but it is a house complete with plenty of windows and lace curtains. Hitching her horse to a post outside of the front door she straightens her coat and runs a hand over her hair before knocking on the door.

"May I help you?" An older woman answers the door.

"I was wondering the same." Sarah replies. "My name is Sarah Webber. My grandmother, Audrey Hardy, sent me up here to make sure everyone is okay after the cattle went thru. That there are no injuries."

"Other than a splitting headache from all the commotion, we are well." Natasha comes out from her library. Sarah can see the rows and rows of books behind the woman. Her eyes widen. There were more books there than even her Grandfather had collected and books were his passion. How had they managed to get them all this way to Montana? This must be the aunt. She is dressed in the height of fashion in silks and laces although the colors are rather grim.

Sarah swallows hard. This lady is intimidating and made her conscious of the fact that her boots were muddy and the bottom foot of her dress soaking wet. That she'd barely had time to brush her hair that morning let alone put it up. "I guess a little chamomile tea would fix that right up." She says with a stutter. "The headache I mean. It's good for most upsets."

Mrs. Lansbury nods in agreement. "I have the kettle on already."

Nikolas comes down from the stairs. He is dressed in a snow white shirt and black pants with polished black boots. "Sarah."

Sarah is relieved to see someone she knows. "Hello. Looks like everything went smoothly up here. I'll let my grandmother know."

"Thank her for her concern." Nikolas nods. "You are staying for tea?"

"No, really I should get back down the valley." now Sarah starts backing away grabbing the door knob and twisting it going out onto the covered porch.

Nikolas follows her out. "You should stay for tea. Mrs. Lansbury makes excellent scones."

"Thanks, Nikolas, but really. I need to let my grandmother know that everyone is fine and check on my sister." Nikolas starts to follow her out into the rain to give her a leg up to her horse. "No, don't. You'll get all wet. I'm already wet. I'll see you later." Sarah quickly swings up on her mount and starts back down the valley.

Nikolas stalks back into the house. "What did you say to her!" He demands of his aunt somehow knowing that she'd been the problem.

Natasha waves a hand. "That filthy little peasant? Nothing. I said nothing to her." With a delicate shrug of her shoulder she turns and returns to her library.

"Mrs. Lansbury..."

"It's not my place, sir." Mrs. Lansbury shakes her head and goes back to the kitchen to prepare a pot of chamomile tea.

Nikolas' hands close into fists and all he wants to do is break something. Stefan comes out of his rooms after changing into dry clothes. "Nikolas, you are distressed."

"Aunt has managed to scare off Sarah Webber."

"The young woman who accompanied you into town." Stefan recognizes the name.

"She couldn't get out of here fast enough. Sarah came up here out of concern... to be... neighborly and Aunt Natasha was rude to her! How will we ever fit in here, in the valley?"

Natasha who'd heard pieces of the argument comes back out of the library. "Why do you want to? These people are not our sort, Nikolas."

"Don't hold your breath, Aunt, waiting for our sort to come calling. We are not in Russia anymore."

"Nikolas, apologize. Your tone is disrespectful." Stefan demands.

"I will not! I will apologize when she does."

"As you said, nephew. Don't hold your breath." Natasha dismisses her nephew's concerns and goes back into the library this time shutting the door.


"I will speak to her."

"Suggest to her that if she doesn't make an effort to make friends in the valley that she can always return to Russia. Grandmother would be so pleased to see her!" Nikolas slams the front door after him as he stalks out to check on Sheba and the other livestock.

Stefan winces at the slam and rubs the point between his eyes. Nikolas is correct in assuming that the threat of returning to Russia would be enough to bring his Aunt around. His mother would not be pleased to see Natasha and his sister knew it. Natasha had only lived this long because of his intervention and before him, his father's. Natasha had been raised Cassadine, called Cassadine but her mother hadn't been. A fact his mother never let anyone forget. Unable to kill Natasha because of the promise she'd made to her husband, his mother had found a loophole in the promise and arranged a marriage between Natasha and an Austrian named Cesar Faison. A thoroughly unpleasant little man whose first wife had died under suspicious circumstances.





How does one define normal? Everything out here is new. There is always something happening. Maybe constant would be better. Caring for the animals, tending the fields, preparing for the winter these are constants. Could anyone really say after the cattle had been driven thru the valley that things were now returning to normal? Maybe after five years in the valley they'd be able to say it was back to normal. Zander whistles to Annabelle who is investigating every new smell along the path. Quite the chore after the cattle drive the day before. Annabelle comes running to him and they continue down the valley to the Hardy place.
Zander greets people as he goes by. Bobbie is out working in her garden. Marcus is up by their cabin working on the smoke house. Zander shakes his head in amazement at the stones he is moving as if they were pebbles into place in the growing smokehouse. It was getting to be quite the project. Before the firebox had arrived it appeared big enough for one hog maybe two to be smoked. At the rate that Marcus is giving it height there would soon be room for a couple more hogs. He'd have to mention to the Cassadines. If they went hunting elk come fall, some smoked venison would surely be tasty. Zander kneels down at what had been the Hardy's cold box. "Sonofabitch." He shakes his head. It was tore up.

"Quite the path of destruction." Audrey comments behind Zander ignoring his swearing.

"Yes, Ma'am." Zander agrees with a nod examining the boards that Elizabeth had managed to salvage.

"Why do I think that once again we... dodged a bullet. It could have been so much worse. The only injuries were to our cold box and Annabelle."

The dog hears her name and her ears perk up and she grins at Audrey with her tongue hanging out. Zander rubs the back of the dog's neck. "Well she didn't take much to that witch hazel that Sarah left behind but doesn't seem the worse for wear."

"I'm happy to hear it. What do you think, Zander? How bad is it?"

"You know how bad it is, Mrs. Hardy. It's half gone. But it didn't take that long to build. Elizabeth saved me some time salvaging the boards. I'll be able to fix you right up."

"We really appreciate your help with this, Zander. You'll be staying for supper. The milk won't be as cold as you like..." Audrey says wryly. "But the coffee will be hot."

"You'll have cold milk again soon enough, Mrs. Hardy." Zander laughs. "I got it from here."





"You have got to get that map back from Cassadine." Carly hounds Lucky in the woods. "The one with all the abandoned cabins on it. I want to... go foraging."

"I have a list of things to get done here." Lucky finally snaps. "And getting the map back isn't one of them. If you want it so bad go get it yourself! I'm busy here."

"Don't think I won't!" Carly snaps back. She stalks to the gate and unlatching it starts up the valley with a full head of steam. She slows down as she gets to the Cassadine place. She really doesn't want to go knocking on that door. Luckily she spots Nikolas out grooming his horse. "Where's your guy? I thought you had somebody that was doing all the chores for you around here?"

"He decided to seek out his former employers." Nikolas admits.

"Former employers?"

"He had worked for the Quartermaines before and has returned to them."

"Bummer. Guess that means you guys are screwed. You're going to have to do it yourself."

"It will be difficult to hire someone."

"It will be impossible to hire someone. Everyone in the valley has their own thing going already. You're going to have to get someone from town. And they're all transplants like us, clueless. They came out cause of gold fever not to chop wood for the prince on the block."

"That has occurred to me." Nikolas finishes up with Sheba and puts up the grooming materials. Grooming the horses is no hardship for him and he finds it relaxing. "And I already know you well enough to know Miss Spencer, that you didn't come up here to chat."

"You still got that map... the one Lucky gave you?"

"It's up at the house."

"I want it back." Carly says baldly.

Nik slowly grins. "You do, do you? I suspect you want it back for a specific purpose. Something to do with the X's on it."

"You don't need that map. I want it back."

"I'll give you the map back..." Nikolas gives a long pause. "...after you tell me what you want with it. What those X's mean."

"Prove you have the map first." Carly demands.

"Lets go." Nikolas pats Sheba once more time and then walks back up to the house. He walks into the house and Carly hesitantly follows after him. She waits in the front room examining the furnishings, the bear skin rug, the oriental carpets, the lace curtains. Nikolas comes back with the map. "Here it is." Carly flattens the map on a table and runs her hand over it smoothing it. Nikolas examines it over her shoulder. "If the proportions are correct then this place here is only a few hours away. Up the first creek before you hit the valley. What is it? A mining site?" He'd heard enough talk from Mrs. Taggart about trading with the miners to jump to that conclusion.

Carly shakes her head. "Abandoned homesteads. I want to see what they left behind, if they left behind anything useful. And I want to do it now. Not a week from now." I got plans for next week. "Thanks for this." Carly goes to snag the map but Nikolas is there first.

"I'm going with you."

"You?" Carly laughs. "Right."

"I have the map. I have a carriage. And I have the time, who else in the valley can say the same?! I'm going too or you're not going."

Carly stretches her hands out from the fists they'd become. "Be ready to leave after the noon meal. Pick me up at the back of my property." She stalks out of the house. She doesn't stop walking when she gets to the Spencer spread but instead keeps right on walking down to the Taggart's place. She finds Gia in the chicken coop putting out grain. "Nikolas Cassadine has the map."

"Well screw." Gia stops in the middle of what she is doing much to the chickens annoyance. She finally just casts out the pie tin of grain and lets herself out of the coop. "What now?"

"He invited himself along."

Gia shakes her head. "That isn't going to work."

"Tell your mother that you're spending the night over at our place. Laura needs help with something or other." Carly waves a hand. "He's going to pick us up at the back of our spread. Or rather he thinks he is going to pick me up. We're just going to have to put up with him. He's got the carriage and the map."

"Fine." Gia makes a disgusted sound. "But you know we'd get a lot more done if we had your uncle, Lucky or Marcus going with us. I'll meet you. But make sure Miz Laura is going to cover for me. I'll bring some of Marcus' tools. You know Cassadine isn't going to have any."

"I'll bring the food supplies." Carly nods. "See you in an hour at my place."

"I'll let Marcus know what is going on. This is going to have to be a fast trip, Carly. Mama can't do all the chores around here."





After the noon meal, Carly gathers what she figures will be needed for three people overnight and puts it in her tote along with the other things she figures she'll need and her mother's pocket pistol. Gia arrives, her tote jangling with the sound of Marcus' tool bumping up against each other. Laura had already been informed and after the booty that had been brought back from the last trip she is more than willing to cover for Gia.
Lucky walks with the girls up to the back of the property. Nikolas soon arrives with the Cassadine carriage. It's a fancy number with shock absorbers and the whole works. Lucky hands over the supplies. Nik takes them and puts them in the carriage. Lucky holds the wire so the girls can climb thru. "Anything happens to my cousin or Gia and I'm going to have to kill you." Lucky says flatly. "You're going along to protect them not cause any problems."

"We will be back tomorrow before dark." Nikolas doesn't comment on Lucky's threat. It isn't unexpected afterall. He assists Carly and Gia into the carriage and then climbs up front. Yawing to the horses he sets the pace going along the back of the properties until he reaches the feeder creek. He finds a safe place to cross and then heads up the creek.

Carly and Gia talk as if Nikolas isn't there but knowing that he is listening. "Cassadines hired man ran off." Carly tells Gia.

"To bad that."

"They'd better get their butts in gear or they won't have enough seasoned wood for the winter. Figure they have about half of what they need. It would be plenty for our place but their house is so grand... they have more to heat. And they better get a hired guy next time in town or they won't have enough feed for their horses over the winter."

"Maybe they can make a deal with Zander. He doesn't have all that many critters and plenty of field."

"But he is only one guy. Sure he's got plenty of hay but how much can he cut all by his lonesome?"

"He's already worked a deal with the Hardy's. They are going to help him with his haying here and there when they have time from their own. He is going to help them with the harvesting their crops. Mrs. Hardy went plumb wild with her garden but I figure that's cause she doesn't have a man to go hunting for her. One elk would feed those wimmen all winter long." Gia counters planting the suggestion for Nikolas. "Specially if Marcus smoked it for them. Figure he won't do the first slaughter on the hogs until November or so."

"Mrs. Lansbury has a nice garden." Carly comments. "It looks a little dry though. Got to figure she's probably trying to do whatever the hired man was supposed to be doing. Too many chores and just two hands you know? It would be so much easier on her if someone was hauling up some water barrels for her. How is Marcus' tobacco doing?" another seed planted

"Oh he has been babying those plants-- built a container tray for them and all. Still bringing them in when it's cold at night. Finally figure it'll be warm enough to set out the plugs. He's got a spot all figured for them. He wants to put in about half an acre. I don't know. Don't think they'll grow as well as down in Alabama. It's just not hot enough here. But even if the plants are smaller there should be enough for him and your uncle Luke to not have to be buying cigars from the store after October or so. I hope they do well. It's something we could be selling to the miners after it's had a chance to cure up nice."

"Saw that trough that Marcus is building out by the hunting camp." Carly comments.

"Figured it was efficient." Gia nods. "You can put the spent mash in the trough. That will keep the hogs happy once Marcus sets them loose in the woods. And the cobs left over you can bring over to our place. As soon as they dry, Marcus can use them to fire the smoker. Nothing will go to waste."

"Hunting camp?" Nikolas asks not looking back.

"Uncle Luke's still." Carly answers. "Don't figure we'll be hauling grain into town. Too much of a hassle. Corn whiskey will be much easier to transport to town. I'm sure it'll be a huge hit at the saloons. If Uncle Luke doesn't sample it until it's gone." Carly adds wryly. "He does like a nip now and then with his coffee."

"For purely medicinal purposes, of course." Gia says with a nod and a grin.

"Warms those old bones." Carly winks at Gia. And so the trip goes. Nikolas getting to know his neighbors much better by listening to the gossip from the valley. And making a mental notes of everything he ought to know but didn't about his own homestead.

Nik pulls into the first abandoned homestead. "It's a shack. How did anyone manage to winter in that."

"Might explain them packing it in." Gia climbs down from the carriage not waiting for Nik to come around to help her down.

"You aren't going to find anything there." Nikolas dismisses. "This is a waste of time."

"You might be surprised." Carly climbs down too and pulls on her leather work gloves. "Lets have a look around."





Back down in the valley, the Hardy's are sitting down to their evening meal, for the first time in months there isn't a bean in sight. Sarah is the last one to the table after putting the night's milking into the newly repaired cold box. After grace, Elizabeth starts handing around the basket with the bread in it. "I saw Carly and Gia leave with Nikolas Cassadine. They were heading out of the valley."

"When did you see that?"

"A little after noon, along the backside of the valley. I wonder what they are going to find?"

"Oh?" Audrey asks.

"Last time it was Lucky and Marcus that went looking for stuff. You know the spinning wheel and the medicine bottles. Anything useful."

"That is what Lucky was doing!" Sarah realizes.

"What do you mean?"

"When we were in town. While Mrs. Taggart and I were at the rooming house. Nikolas and Lucky were exploring the town. According to Nikolas, Lucky was spending a lot of time just standing around the stockyards and the rail station. You have to figure he was finding out who was coming and particularly going."

Audrey wants to protest but looks at her spinning wheel and bites her tongue. Finally she warns. "That could be a dangerous occupation. A lot of people would think of it as thieving."

Elizabeth winces wondering if Sarah had just gotten Lucky in trouble. "I don't know, Gram. When I think of everything that was dropped on the trail between here and St. Louis when people lightened their loads. We saw a little bit of everything getting left behind. Not just on our wagon train but from previous ones as well. It's kinda sad."

"Very sad." Audrey remembers the tears that she swallowed when she'd pared the number of books she'd planned on bringing out to just three: bible, a book of common ailments and their cure, and an herbal.

"If it helps someone else succeed then isn't that a good thing?" Elizabeth says practically.





"Drop me off here." Gia says on the return trip the following day.

"I will drop you off at your gate." Nik counters.

"Oh no you won't. My mother doesn't know where I've been. And I'm going to keep it that way. Drop me off here." Gia demands. "I'll cut thru the back of the properties to my place." Nik pulls the horses to a halt. Gia climbs down. "I'll get Marcus' tools back from your place tomorrow." Gia tells Carly who is sitting up in front beside Nik. The carriage is packed to the top with items they'd found. Many things that Nikolas thought were junk but that the girls thought could be used or fixed up and sold back to the store or to the miners.

"Same deal as before." Carly nods. "Nobody will go thru the stuff until you're there in the morning." Gia waves and ducks between the wires of the fence being extra careful to not catch skin or fabric on the barbs. "And make sure you come in to your place from the Spencer side or your mom will figure it out for sure."

They continue on coming into sight of the front of the Hardy's spread. Elizabeth is down by the river and sees them coming so she waits until they pull even. She sees the carriage and raises a brow. "Been busy?"

"Come up to my place tomorrow morning." Carly invites. "We'll be going thru the stuff."

"I'll be there."

At the Spencer place, Carly jumps from the carriage and unfastens the gate waiting until Nikolas has cleared it to shut the gate. Nikolas continues up to the house. Foster has already announced their arrival and all the Spencer's are out front waiting. As soon as he pulls the carriage to a halt, they descend on the carriage unloading everything onto a tarp. Carly arrives from her walk up from the gate. "Nik put dibs on all the barrels. Mrs. Lansbury needs them for her garden." She announces to the family. Nikolas had done no such thing but Carly had seen him eyeing them when they'd been found.

"We'll have them emptied out and ready for you tomorrow afternoon. Whenever you want to pick them up." Bobbie nods her agreement. It only seemed fair. Specially since Carly had said Mrs. Lansbury. That poor put upon woman needed all the help she could get.

Lulu is already searching thru all the items to see if there is anything interesting in there for her. Laura reins her in. "Baby, go get the gate for Mr. Cassadine."


"Tomorrow we'll go thru the stuff. Not tonight. Get the gate." Laura turns to Nikolas. "We appreciate your help with this."

"It was interesting." Nik climbs back into the carriage. "I'll be back tomorrow afternoon." Turning the carriage around he goes back down the path to where Lulu is already waiting holding the gate. He waves to the child. Lulu waves back standing on the gate and waiting for him to pull thru so she can shut it and get back to exploring. Nik continues up the valley, Zander is out walking the fence. Zander waves and Nik pulls to a halt.

"Didn't see you yesterday." Zander opens the conversation.

"I was off... foraging with one of the Spencer's." Nik says discreetly covering for Gia. Zander groans. "Is there a problem?"

"No, just that last time one of the Spencer's went foraging... Miz Bobbie descended on my place and gave it a feminine touch. Quilt, feather bed, books, a steamer trunk for a dresser, mason jars one filled with wild flowers."

"Sounds like a hardship." Nikolas grins.

Zander grins back. "Not really."

"I didn't think so. I have to head home." Nik sighs. The tension between him and his aunt had not eased after their last argument.
Zander steps back from the fence with a wave of his hand sends Nikolas on his way. The gate at the Cassadine place is already open and left so. Nikolas pulls thru and brings the carriage to a halt then goes back to shut the gate.
He pauses before going up to the house examining the property with new eyes. Or rather different eyes, Carly's eyes, seeing what she'd commented on. The stacked fire wood which had seemed so significant now appears lacking. Mrs. Lansbury still out in her garden alone and working toward dark. She'd already have served the evening meal and had returned to the garden. He sees with fresh eyes the fact that Mrs. Lansbury has grown thin and worn in her endless labors around the property in the last months.

Mrs. Lansbury sees Nikolas approaching and removes her gloves. "Master Nikolas. I set aside a plate for you. I'll get it ready." She starts walking toward the house.

"Mrs. Lansbury, a moment of your time please. I would walk with you."

Mrs. Lansbury is startled. "Of course, sir." She waits patiently. After Nikolas has put up the horses and the carriage he comes back to her still standing by her garden.

"How far does a barrel so high..." Nikolas indicates the size of the barrel. "... go in watering your garden?"

Mrs. Lansbury frowns and considers the question. "About three rows. Depending on how thirsty the plants are. Why do you ask, sir?"

"Because as of tomorrow, I have come into possession of six such barrels."

"I can only work one barrel at a time." Mrs. Lansbury shakes her head. "I'm sure that the barrels you have will be well suited for another purpose."

"They are for your garden." Nikolas insists. "I will figure out a way for you to... work them. Now you said something about dinner?"

"I will bring it to the dining room, sir."

Nikolas waves that off. "If it will not be a bother to you... I would prefer to eat in the kitchen."

"The kitchen, sir?"

"Yes, I discovered on my last trip to town with Mrs. Taggart that the food is hotter and even more delicious when fresh from the stove. As hungry as I am right now... I don't want to wait for you to bringing it to the table."

Mrs. Lansbury shakes her head. The young master seemed out of sorts and she wonders if he is ill. "As you wish, sir." After she gets Nikolas settled with a plate of food and making sure he has plenty. She pours a small port and sets it on a tray carrying it into Stefan who is seated by the fire. She sets the glass on the table next to his chair.

"Thank you, Mrs. Lansbury." Stefan says absently. When the servant doesn't move off he looks up from his reading. "Yes?"

"Master Nikolas is back. He is in the kitchen having his evening meal."

Stefan frowns. "Thank you." Mrs. Lansbury nods and then leaves. Stefan goes back to his reading but he is distracted waiting for Nikolas to make his appearance. Nikolas when he does come in greets his uncle but then gets out journal and a pen and starts scribbling. Stefan recognizes that Nikolas is not going to speak of his over night trip with the people down the valley and closing his book goes over to where Nikolas is drawing something in his journal. "What has your interest?" He inquires.

"I am designing an irrigation system."

"An irrigation system." Stefan raises a brow.

Nikolas points to the drawing. "Mrs. Lansbury indicates that one barrel of water can water three rows of plants in her garden. With seven barrels if ditches are properly constructed..." Nikolas shows Stefan his plan.

"Yes, that appears very efficient. Just a matter of closing off each ditch to funnel water to the next row of plants and allowing gravity to do the rest." Stefan nods. "And how is Mrs. Lansbury going to manage to fill these barrels and get them to the garden?"

"I'm going to fill them for her every morning until a new man is hired." Nikolas states his intent. "Uncle, did you happen to notice when we were down at the Spencer's that their winter supply of fire wood is exactly the same size as ours?"

"I didn't. But if you say it is... then it is." Stefan says indulgently.

"But our house is at least twice as big."

Stefan's eyes narrow and he says grimly. "That would appear to be a problem."


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