Frontier General Store
This is the month that will make or break me. Zander Smith. September 15, 1883
Zander walks his kitchen garden. He looks back over his shoulder at the the soddie. The morning sun glistens on the windows that had been installed just the month before. Everything looks fine but he doesn't say so aloud not wanting to jinx anything. The tops of produce all look healthy, and he hopes that the roots are thriving equally well.
Sarah strolls up the road pausing by the fence across from Zander. "It's looking good."
"Any word on Mrs. Spencer's elbow?"
"Well she's decided to do laundry so I think you're in the clear." Sarah says wryly. Mrs. Spencer's elbow had taken on legendary proportions in the valley for it was seldom wrong.
"What brings you out this direction on this fine day?"
"I'm off to the Cassadines to talk to Mrs. Lansbury. Last time she was down at our place she agreed to save her spent onion skins for Elizabeth. Lizzie's getting antsy to dye that final fleece so Gram will spin it up for her. She's running out of yarn."
"Elizabeth has already used up the other three fleeces?! When?!"
"By keeping her projects small, she's been able to take them with her up to the pasture in the afternoons when she keeps an eye on the sheep with Riley. Frankly she could have handled twice as many fleeces." Sarah says wryly.
"Well hopefully she'll get her wish come spring."
"The Taggart's are getting ready for a trip to the mining camp. Anything you want to send along you should probably get to them. It takes less than a day there and back but they are going to stay a week. Selling whatever we give to them and then running a... chuck wagon? Gia explained it as being what her mom does for Miz Scott in town only from the back of a wagon. With all the fixings coming from the wagon. Kinda like we did on the trip cross country from St Louis to here."
"Sounds smart." Zander nods. "I heard tell that in the gold rush over in California in the '40s that a camp cook could make 30 dollars a day or more."
Sarah's eyes go wide at that. A month's provisioning in a single day?
Zander grins. "But those were crazy times. She probably won't make that much but it will definitely be profitable. Stop by on your way back. I have a few onion skins for Elizabeth too."
Sarah steps back from the fence. "See you in about an hour then." With a wave she continues up the path to the Cassadine place. She unhooks the fence and then closes it behind her and starts toward the house.
"Well hello pretty thing." Roscoe leans his forearm on the horn of his saddle as he eyes the trim blonde coming to call.
Something in his tone gives Sarah a shiver but she ignores it. She smiles politely at the man. "Hello. Could you tell me where Mrs. Lansbury is this morning."
"Sarah!" Mrs. Lansbury calls from her garden coming from behind the tall corn at the back of her garden.
"Nevermind. Thanks." Sarah walks up to the garden. "Hello Mrs. Lansbury. Oh my word look at those squash! We're going to have to have a canning party at your house!"
Mrs. Lansbury laughs. "They did turn out rather well. Careful there." Mrs. Lansbury indicates the ditch that surrounds her garden. The water is lower than a month ago when Master Nikolas put it in but there is still a flowing trickle surrounding her garden. Sarah examines it with interest seeing how each row had a mound of earth at the end of it that could easily be moved with a hoe allowing the water to come down each row to the thirsty plants.
Sarah hops the 18 inch trench and comes into the garden. "Oh how lovely. You and Grandmother are truly gifted."
"I did get hit hard by the hailstorm. But everything that could recover did. And I think it actually knocked off enough blooms on the squash that those that remained grew even bigger." Mrs. Lansbury starts showing Sarah the highlights of her garden. "I've asked Mr. Roscoe to build me some boxes to put produce in down in the root cellar."
Sarah glances over at Mrs. Lansbury's disapproving tone. "You don't like him."
"He always seems to be busy but he has a... slipshod manner. He has no pride in his duty." She shakes it off. "But that is not why you stopped by, Miss Sarah."
"Oh right. Elizabeth was wondering if you'd been able to save any onion skins for her. She's getting anxious to do that last fleece to have it ready for the winter."
"Yes, they are in the kitchen." Mrs. Lansbury moves around the garden to the plank that Master Nikolas had put in the middle not wanting the older woman to risk breaking an ankle hopping the trench. Sarah follows her into the kitchen. It is just as grand as Miz Hannah's in town. Capable of doing a heck of a lot more than take care of the Cassadines. And there is a separate pantry that opens into the kitchen, inside it Sarah can see the amount of stores that Mrs. Lansbury has put up.
"If you and Miz Cassadine ever need help with your canning you do know you can call on us, right?"
"The Master's sister doesn... I will keep that in mind. It's a very sweet offer."
"It's a selfish offer; please do take me up on it." Sarah counters. "I know that Gram is an excellent homemaker but everyone does things differently. I'd just as soon learn it all."
Florence examines the wagon. She
and Gia had modified it with compartments and drawers that would store supplies
using the leftovers from the kitchen that Marcus had built. It would be like a
general store on wheels. One of the drawers had been set aside for Elizabeth's
gloves and mufflers. Another with bits and pieces that had been salvaged from
the abandoned cabins and repaired. Another long box filled with tools that had
been salvaged and repaired.
A drawer of clothes and blankets that had been mended and cleaned. Gia had figured out all the prices... charging a bit more than what the general store in Charlestown did. The miners would be paying for the convenience of having the items brought to them. Around the property all they really needed was the cart. The wagon was too big and unwieldy for the routine tasks of the homestead.
She'd talked to Miz Bobbie just that morning. Bobbie was planning on making the trip with her. She'd do laundry and mending while Flo cooked. Knowing hunting season was starting next month after the final harvest, Laura is giving up most of the remaining bear roasts that had been supplementing their diets since that first week in the valley, trusting that the men would be able to reprovision her. Bobbie had also not canned up the last of her pickles but rather left them in the two five gallon barrels. They would be sold individually to the miners.
On the day before they left, everyone would be bringing their eggs down to be taken off to the camp as well. That and whatever bushels of produce they'd been planning to take off to the store anyway.
The Spencer's draft horses would pull the wagon as they were the most powerful in the valley. Marcus would run the team not wanting the women to be alone with all those miners. Carly would come over and stay each night with Gia in their absence and Audrey had volunteered to check on her as well.
"It's looking about ready, Mama." Marcus leans on the side of the wagon after filling the sling beneath the wagon with firewood.
"Already loaded with goods, just need to put on the perishables." Flo straightens. "Figure we'll leave tomorrow."
"I'm not so sure about leaving Gia..."
"There is no better time, Marcus. She can handle anything that comes due while we're gone. And next month we'll both be busy with the smokehouse and your tobacco. Zander can't leave. The Spencer's are up to their ears in the corn crop." Marcus groans at that one which sets Flo grinning before she gets serious. "It's the best way."
Elizabeth wraps the gloves and
mufflers together in brown paper and ties it with string: Twenty one pairs of
various sizes. The only ones she'd kept back were those already spoken for in town
and her samples sized to fit Mr. Taggart, Mr. Spencer and Zander. She'd give them
as presents later. Gram had decided rather than sending vegetables with
the women she'd instead send along some dried herbs. Anything over a one quart
jar she had already in her herb cabinet was in excess. That and cheese. Every
wheel of cheese had been marked with a grease pencil the day it had been made.
They'd been able to put up quite a bit. Figuring even with some extra set aside
for Zander, they'd be able to send along about ten pounds of cheese. Gram was
down in the cold box now sorting it aside. The herbs were already boxed and
ready to go. As soon as Mrs. Taggart appeared at their gate they'd be able to add
their contribution in five minutes or less and not delay them on the road.
That chore being done, Elizabeth goes over to the almost finished root cellar. Between Zander's efforts and Mr. Taggart's help, it was looking very nice. But it wasn't enough to look nice. Elizabeth mixes up a pail of whitewash making sure there is just the right amount of lime in it. Now they had to make sure that they'd done everything to make sure that the bugs would avoid the place. That meant whitewashing the interior, but giving it plenty of time to air out afterward. And then after the shelves and bins were put in to sprinkle wormswort along the back of each and every shelf. It was one of the few herbs that Gram grew that you couldn't eat. But it was sure handy for keeping the bugs out.
By the time Sarah gets back, Elizabeth is nowhere in sight and Audrey is down by the cold box. Sarah opens the tote she'd fashioned from an old flour bag. "Do you think there are enough, Gram?"
Audrey examines the onion skins. "Maybe in combination with what we have but it will be just barely."
Sarah nods. She'd thought the same. "The Taggart's are about ready I figure. They'll be leaving tomorrow for the mining camps. Mrs. Spencer got her laundry done cause she is sending her wash tubs along with Miz Bobbie. At ten cents a pound, Miz Bobbie will surely be able to make good money doing laundry for the miners. She figures they will be wanting to get all their bedrolls clean before the winter comes."
"That does sound smart." Audrey agrees.
The last of their laundry on the line, Bobbie collects the washtubs and empties them. Then she nests them carefully together. They'd accompany her to the mining camps along with soap they'd made. The last bars of soap that Laura had made were scented with the mint Carly had planted on the roof of the cabin. Bobbie adds the washboard and a spool of rope that could be used for a clothes line.
"What's this?" Bobbie asks.
"It's Uncle Luke's shaving kit. He's already growing his beard for the winter but there might be some who aren't and would like a nice close shave that they don't have to give themselves."
"He's not using it. And the honing strap is there too."
"Whatever you're going to say isn't going to change anything. Unless you're planning on letting me go the mining camp instead I don't want to hear it. It's not like Jason is going to be there." Carly shrugs. "He's probably at the Quartermaine summer grazing and planning on moving the herd back thru."
Bobbie bites her lip. Then hands the kit back to Carly. "Go to the mining camp tomorrow with Miz Flo."
"Do you mean it?" Carly holds her breath wondering if her mother is funning her.
"I mean it. You can go."
"Oh thank you, Mama! Thank you!" Carly swamps Bobbie in a hug that takes her mother's breath away.
Bobbie grabs her by the arms. "Do not make me regret this. You stay within eyesight of Miz Flo at all times."
"I can take care of myself, Mama." Carly protests.
"I know you can. Cause you're taking my pistol with you." Bobbie adds. "Carly, it's a sad fact of life. There are some people who don't like black people. And some who might be okay with black people but won't like a white woman traveling with them-- why do you think Marcus hasn't gone to town in all this time? Marcus cannot protect you or even his mama against a white man... he'd get lynched for sure. They wouldn't ask why or even care-- just go for a rope. And Marcus knows it. His size keeps most from even trying or testing him and that's a good thing. But if anyone pushes it..." Bobbie pushes a finger into Carly's chest. "You handle it. Do you understand me?! You keep Miz Flo and Mr. Marcus in sight at all times. Do you understand me?! You handle it."
Carly's spine is stiff, her face cold and her eyes hard. It's a Spencer trait. Clan first and everyone else can go spit. The people of the valley are clan. She might not care for some... thinkin' them too stuck on themselves but that didn't mean anyone outside the valley got to mess with them. "Consider it handled."
Bobbie eases up on Carly and gives her final instruction. "Don't go lookin' for trouble. It'll find you. We're in this for the money. Make all the money you can and then come home."
The next morning Zander wakes to find Mrs. Lansbury at his door. "Good morning." He yawns then apologizes.
"I was hoping you'd take these down to the Taggart's for me." Mrs. Lansbury hands him a basket of eggs. "Just a little pin money." She says awkwardly.
"I'll take care of it." Zander nods taking the basket. Mrs. Lansbury nods and heads back up to the Cassadine homestead. Zander adds all his eggs to the basket. Gathers the bushels of produce he can spare to the back of his carriage and heads on down to the Spencer place.
Carly is already up and dressed. She starts handing Zander everything from the Spencer place that is going on the trip: Bushels of produce, the five gallon oak casks of pickles. "I'll be right along. I just need to walk the horses over."
"If you want... you can take my carriage and I'll bring the horses."
"Thanks for the offer but they're used to me." Carly shakes her head. "Harnessing up the horses needs to be the last thing before we leave. Otherwise they'll get antsy."
Zander nods and once everything is loaded heads down to the Taggart place. They are already loading up the wagon with produce. He starts handing everything to them. Florence takes the time to add the eggs to the barrel that she'd already carefully packed to save from breakage. "Carly is on the way with the team."
That gives Flo pause. "Carly?" Zander nods. "But I thought Miz Bobbie..."
"Don't know about that. Just know that Carly is bringing the team over."
"Then we best get this wagon packed." Marcus shrugs. He carefully loads the items into the wagon. Everything in it's place. By the time Carly arrives with the team, he is ready for her. Taking the horses from Carly he hitches them to the wagon. Then he gives Carly a hand up to the top. Florence rides in the back making sure the load stays situated. At the Hardy place, all three women are waiting at the gate with the items they are sending along, They hand them to Florence in the back who begins packing everything away in drawers, bins and barrels.
"I'll make sure Gia has everything she needs." Audrey tells Florence. "I thought Miz Bobbie was going?"
"So did I." Flo says softly then shrugs. "It'll be fine. I'm just along to cook." She laughs.
"Right." Audrey walks around to the front of the wagon. "Caroline?"
"Sarah tells me that you'll be doing laundry to make money on this trip."
"Yes, ma'am." Carly says impatiently.
"One of the jars I sent along. I labeled it. It's called wormswort."
Audrey can tell by Carly's face that she recognizes the herb. "I get it. Any of those miners make any mention of bed bugs or start acting itchy twitchy around me..."
"Just make sure you tell them they can't eat it." Audrey nods.
"Everything is on, Gram." Elizabeth calls from the back of the wagon.
"You all stay safe." Audrey looks from Carly to Marcus.
"Be back in a week latest. Sooner if we sell out." Marcus tells her. He waits until Audrey steps back away from the wagon and then yah's to the horses. Audrey comes back and stands between Elizabeth and Sarah waving to Florence in the back of the wagon.
As soon as they are out of sight of the Hardy's, Florence hands Carly a journal book and a pencil. "Hope your handwriting is better than mine." Florence starts calling off the additions to the inventory of the wagon along with naming who'd sent it. Carly adds the items to the list that Gia had already started. Carly notes that Gia had put in parenthesis by each item what the General Store in Charlestown charged for the item.
Thanks to their early start it is only about noon when they pass the first miner's camp along the creek leading to the Quartermaine mine. Florence makes Marcus stop the team and climbs down from the back of the wagon. She walks along the side of it calling out to the miners as she goes by. Recognizing some from Miz Hannah's rooming house she renews her acquaintance asking after family. Then before she moves on tells them to bring their kits for as soon as she found a good spot she'd be setting up a chuck wagon. The news that they are there spreads like wildfire.
At the midway point, Marcus makes a bargain with one of the miners... free dinner and, at Carly's quick interjection, free wash done if they were allowed to set up there. The offer is quickly accepted and Marcus starts making camp. The horses are set to graze. He half unrolls the tarp from over the stays of the wagon. Carly sets up two different fires. One for Florence to cook and the other closer to the water for her to do laundry. She starts on their host's laundry straight away wanting it to be hanging on the line before the others came for dinner. That way they'd be there bright and early the next day with their own laundry.
Marcus flips the blankets that are for sale over the edge of the wagon. And sets out the bushel baskets of produce along the side making sure there is a nice stone under the back to tilt the produce up to be seen. He hangs braided strands of dried chilies and okra, the braids of onions and garlic from the exposed stays of the wagon. As soon as he has the wagon set up to his satisfaction, he calls to Carly. "I'm going to go up the river a bit and let the miners in that direction know we're here."
Carly nods and waves barely pausing in her scrubbing of the laundry. She's on guard but figures that there won't be any trouble since they just got there and everything has gone fine so far. Doesn't mean however that she doesn't keep the pistol within arms reach. As soon as she has the laundry hanging on the line, Carly goes over to help Flo. Flo had put the bear roast to soak that morning when they left to get most of the salt off of it. What was left would season the stew. The water in the cast iron kettle is already boiling with onions and a spice bag bubbling in it. Carly sees the turnips, potatoes and carrots that Flo has set aside and starts peeling them and cutting them into bite sized pieces adding them to the boiling water when she is done. Flo does the same with the bear using the gate of the wagon as her work table. Putting a dab of lard in the bottom of her cast iron skillet Flo starts browning the chunks of bear meat and then throws it in the huge iron pot too... drippings and all.
Marcus continues up the creek stopping at claims along the way. One miner seems especially jumpy and actually calms down once he sees Marcus. The reaction gives Marcus some pause. The guy breaks into a slow grin. "Are you Miz Flo's boy?"
"I'm her son." Marcus replies a tad too calmly.
"Knew you had to be. She said you was as big as a mountain. She with you?" At Marcus' nod, The man hops to his feet. "Hot damn! Tell me she's cooking! I don't care if it's marsh grass and dirt!"
"Stew, johnny cake, fresh greens..."
"Hot damn!" The man starts pulling his gear up from the creek.
"Mama says to bring your kit. There is a neighbor lady who'll do your laundry if you're needing it done. How far to the next claim?"
"Just a hoot and a holler." The man nods. "The one after that is down a piece." The man races to his shack and bundles all his clothes together tying everything into a blanket then grabs his kit: a tin quart sized covered container that holds a coffee cup and silverware.
When Marcus gets back after extending his last invitation, there is a gathering of men down by the river with the happy disposition of a party going on. They've found a shady spot and somebody had brought along a jug. Carly is hard at work doing laundry but there are plenty of volunteers to help her wring things out before she hangs them on the line. As soon as the last of the clothes and bedding have been hung on the line, Carly goes back to assisting Flo. Marcus finds a shady spot by the miners and doesn't say much just keeps his eyes and ears open.
When Flo is finally satisfied with the preparations. She looks over to the group. It's satisfying to see Marcus being part of the group. Their end of the valley has the men woefully outnumbered. If it weren't for Luke and Lucky he'd be plumb henpecked. "Y'all know the drill, boys. I hope your hands are clean!" Those that do are already lined up. They have their money ready to put in a mason jar that Flo had put aside for that purpose. A few stragglers have to head to the creek first and then back up to the line. Flo carefully portions up the stew into each man's kit making sure there is plenty for everyone and even some left over. Then she takes a minute to catch her breath keeping a close eye on the miners who are digging into her stew like starving dogs. It's pitiful and she doesn't interrupt them just goes to put on a huge pot of coffee.
Marcus comes over to the cook fire. "Don't think they'll be leaving until after dark if then."
"Wouldn't surprise me. Boys needed a break." Flo agrees. "And I'd just as soon they be drinking coffee than whatever is in that jug." Marcus takes the hint and grabs the coffee pot with a pot holder and takes it over to the gathering. Flo calls out to the men. "Anybody going to be buying seconds of this to take home for tomorrow?"
"Aren't you going to be here tomorrow, Miz Flo?" One of the miners asks as he come thru the line for the second time.
Marcus is the one that answers. "We'll be heading up the creek stopping along the way. Last point is the Quartermaine mine. Then we'll be heading back down. So if there is something you need for your claim... fresh vegetables, cheese, blankets, warm wool gloves or scarves. You'll be needing to get them tonight or tomorrow morning before we pull out. There's no guarantees they'll be there on our return trip."
That gives the miners pause to study the fixings of the wagon. Cause they know that once the wagon got to the Quartermaine mine... there would be nothing left. But on the other hand, if they bought supplies then they'd have to take them back to their claims and nobody is ready to leave just yet. Carly climbs up into the bed of the wagon to answer any questions that someone might have. And that ends up being the draw. Kinda on the sly, a miner will slip away from the gathering to go over to talk to the pretty blonde girl, and buy things he didn't know he needed.
One of the older miners comes over to Marcus. "You be careful and keep your eyes open."
"Been some trouble on the creek. We got bandits that have been raiding claims. Come in at the dark of night breaking equipment and such."
Another miner hears the comments and adds. "Hear Smitty got plum blown off his claim. Somebody blew up his bend in the creek changed the whole direction of the creek."
"And ole Levi..." Another speaks up. "He ended up having to go back to Charlestown and head back east. Somebody showed up in the middle of the night and told him to sign over his claim or else."
"Or else what?" Carly asks curiously.
"Or else he'd be learning how to write left handed." The man tells her. "Which is exactly what ended up happening. He signed his quit claim left handed. His right hand was a mess of bandages from where someone had taken an ax handle to it."
"Who is doing it? The Quartermaines?" Carly asks.
Most of the miners shake their head, a few shrug. "Don't know for sure, Miss. But I'm not thinking the Quartermaines. They don't want the claims particular; they want what's in them, and would just as soon have us dig it out. This is somebody who wants to own the whole creek. Figure there is a new player in town who is gonna challenge the Quartermaines and we're all kinda in the middle." The rest of the miners nod agreement with that assessment. "Now if you had guns or ammunition in that wagon. You'd already be sold out."
"Can't eat a bullet but once and a gun won't keep you warm in the winter." Flo interjects. "I know each and every one of you men is going to succeed and be here come spring. But that means you're going to be needing the things on that wagon just as much as bullets or guns."
As soon as Carly has talked to each of the miners individually, making notes in the ledger and taking money in exchange for goods, it is getting on to twilight so she goes over to check the clothes on the line. Thanks to the beautiful day, they are dry and she starts folding them into neat bundles according to what she was given. The men who'd brought laundry reluctantly pick it up and the goods they'd bought and head back to their claims. The more lonely of the miners stay up around the campfire talking and drinking coffee.
Third day into the trip, coming on noon, Marcus pulls into the Quartermaine camp at the top of the creek. Here the mining operation is different. More businesslike, there is a bunkhouse where the miners live as well as an office that has a big fancy sign on it- ELQ Enterprises. Marcus pulls up to the office. Carly tells him. "Let me handle this one." Carly climbs from the wagon not waiting for Marcus to help her down.
Marcus tells her in a low voice. "If they give you any problem we'll got back to the last independent. We've had no problem setting up with them."
Carly nods. She straightens the collar of her dress and throws her shoulders back as she sashays into the mine office. There are two men inside. One has the look of a pencil pusher and the other the look of doing nothing much. "Like to speak to whoever is in charge, please."
The fancy man had risen from his chair as soon as Carly entered. "AJ Quartermaine, Miss..."
"Spencer. Caroline Spencer. My neighbors and I have come from the valley..."
AJ interrupts. "Selling produce, serving supper and doing laundry. News of your presence has preceded you. But I was told a black woman..."
"Mrs. Taggart. As I said, my neighbors." Carly returns the favor interrupting the man. "Will there be a problem with us setting up by the creek..."
"A percentage of all sales made on Quartermaine property..." The pencil pusher indicates.
Carly lifts a brow at that. "Now that would be a sorry mistake on your part. We're doing you a favor by coming on up here. We can turn right back around and go back to the last independent." Carly has the confidence of the trip under her belt and knows that where Flo is the miners will come. Fact the second day of the trip had been bigger than the first cause some of the miners from the first leg had come up for dinner on the second leg. And this AJ fella had already given her a leg up on the negotiation by knowing who Miz Flo was.
"I don't see there being a problem." AJ shrugs.
"Mr. Quartermaine, Your grandfather..."
"It's not a problem." AJ cuts the man off. "I look forward to seeing what I've been hearing so much about."
"Thank you." Carly says sweetly and turns sharply to leave. AJ beats her to the door and holds it for her. Carly gives him a little nod then goes out to the wagon. "We can set up on the creek."
"Who is getting the free dinner and wash?" Marcus asks.
"None of them." Carly says her
voice hard. "Fact is there are a couple I wouldn't mind charging double." She
steps back from the wagon to let Marcus ease it up on the very rare empty space
on the creek. The top of the creek is crowded with miners and the equipment
practically on top of each other so that every bit of creek bottom is sifted for
As soon as Marcus gets situated Carly starts unhitching the horses and they settle into the routine that has served them so well on this trip. Flo climbs from the back of the wagon, dropping the back to form her work counter. Marcus hands her down the bushels of produce that are very much depleted. Flo sets them up. Marcus rolls back the canvas of the wagon top and starts handing the braids of produce: onions, garlic, chilis, okra. The braids are much shorter than they had been at the start of the trip.
Then Marcus climbs from the wagon with the heavy cast iron kettles. Carly has already staked out spots for the cooking fire and where she'd be doing laundry. Marcus gets the fires going while Flo starts drawing water. Carly hangs her clothes line and a bag of pegs. Until someone showed up to get their clothes done she'd be helping Miz Flo with the dinner prep. Marcus as is his custom starts walking drumming up customers and letting them know that the wagon has arrived.
The first person to show up is a grizzled old man who works as the cook for the bunkhouse. He grunts and frowns as he checks out the remaining produce. He normally got his goods from the General Store down at Charlestown. Because of the size of his standing order, they delivered. And being affiliated with the Quartermaines, there was plenty of beef on the menu of the miners. He'd fallen into cooking cause his old bones couldn't handle spending 14 hours in the saddle anymore and not cause he had any real aptitude. "Don't see the need for you to be here. I run the chuck wagon 'round here."
"Pleased to hear it." Flo says calmly. "Seeing as how we're just here for the day. I'm getting just about tuckered out from this trip. Nobody shows up for dinner and it's less work for me."
"Don't see the need to get all fancy. Fillin' food. That's the ticket. Fill'em up and move 'em out." The man says defensively.
"Yes, exactly." Flo agrees. Carly is just shaking her head and biting her tongue while chopping up an onion into the water that would still take a little bit to boil. She drops in the spice bag Flo had prepared as well. Then she starts peeling and chopping vegetables to go into the pot. Flo transfers the roast that had been soaking to take off the salt into another bucket of cold fresh water she rubs the meat some more taking off even more salt. Then starts chopping the roast down to bite sized pieces.
"And I'm not just talking beans and flat bread. My guys eat beef. All the time." The old fart brags.
"Been a long time since I had beef. Remember it fondly." Flo nods in agreement.
"What's that?" The man blurts out.
"This?" Flo indicates. "Bear. Got a nice taste too it. Salt cured but the meat itself... tell this ole boy was filling up on berries and honey 'fore he got caught on the business end of Mr. Cassadine's rifle. Figure serve it with some nice fluffy melt in your mouth biscuits. Some greens with fresh tomatoes and carrots with a spicy homemade vinegar dressing..."
The old man harrumphs and stomps off. Carly laughs and comes over to Flo. "Now that was just mean."
"Got you out of your funk." Flo counters. "What got you in a foul mood earlier."
"They wanted a percentage of everything we sold."
Flo stops in mid cut on the roast then continues. "And you said..."
"That we'd go back down the road. Fella named AJ Quartermaine set pencil neck straight."
"There is a Quartermaine in there?" Flo looks at the office with some suspicion.
"Yep." Carly nods. "Seemed kinda slick but I haven't really had a chance to tell."
"It would be good to know who we're dealing with seein' all the stories we've heard over the last two days." Flo suggests.
Carly agrees then she sees a man heading their way with a bundle of laundry on his back. "That's my cue."
From the rooms over the mining office, AJ watches the blonde by the creek.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The Quartermaine mining cook had finally given up in disgust when nobody had showed for dinner, grabbed his own kit and headed down to the creek. There the line to Miz Flo's big iron kettle runs past the little blonde who is filling the kit lids with fresh greens, tomatoes and carrots tossed in a dill vinegar dressing while she collects the money in a mason jar for the dinner and keeps count of the number of miners coming thru. Marcus uses Carly's fire to heat up the big coffee pot.
By the time the miners get to Flo
they have already finger picked thru their salads nibbling first on the fresh
tomatoes and then onto the rest. Flo takes their quart sized tin from them and
fills it with stew, keeping a steady conversation going with the miner as she
does so. Catching up with those she remembers from Miz Hannah's. Once they have
their salads and stew they head off to a shady spot to sit down and eat. Marcus
comes over and fills coffee for those who want it once the pot is done.
Flo recognizes pencil neck when she sees him... and the way that the miners treat the person in line behind him. Looks to be a strong good looking man but his hands are soft without scars or calluses. Kinda like young Mr. Nik when he first came to the valley. The fancy man doesn't join the other's in the shade but rather goes over to sit by Carly. Watching her as she works. Flo catches Marcus' eyes and looks over toward Carly. Marcus nods and going back over to Carly's fire sets the coffee pot on down, grabs a bucket and starts refilling her kettle of hot water. He manages to find a lot of little things that need to be done in the vicinity of Carly and this Quartermaine fussing with things on the wagon.
Carly rolls her eyes. Oh that is not obvious at all! Finally she calls out. "Mr. Marcus, you are making me crazy! Will you please pour yourself a cup of coffee and sit down!" Marcus does as she suggests pouring himself a cup and pulling up a rock across the fire from the Quartermaine fellow. "Mr. AJ Quartermaine, this is Mr. Marcus Taggart, my neighbor from the valley, Miz Flo's son and the backbone of the valley."
"Taggart," AJ doesn't quite dismiss the man but Marcus isn't the reason why he's sitting there. The food even though it is excellent isn't the reason he is sitting there. If it were just the food he would have collected his portion and gone back to his room. AJ turns back to Carly. "And if Mr. Taggart is the backbone of your little community... what are you?"
Carly grins. "Oh ain't that a question. I'm sure you'd get a different answer from anyone you asked." But then her face gets serious. "And I got another question for ya. What do you know about these bandits that are harassing the miners on the lower creek?"
AJ's eyes narrow at the girl's almost accusing tone. "It's not just the lower creek. And I've already called for the Pinkertons. I'm waiting for a telegraph back from James McPharland himself down in Denver."
Carly's eyes go wide on that one and she should have known. If a mining company was having trouble then their first call would be to the Pinkertons. They made the papers over and over again in their sneaky tactics to break strikes and to discover who was cutting into company profits. They'd built their reputation first before the civil war protecting President Lincoln and then after the war breaking up the Mollie McGuires in Pennsylvania, and being employed by banks and railroads. If the Pinkertons were coming then the bandits better hightail it out of Montana.
Just as AJ is about to make his move to get to know the young lady better Carly's attentions are distracted by a miner who is checking out the wares of the wagon. Without a word to him, she walks off. AJ turns to Marcus. "Shouldn't you be handling the financial matters?"
"I just drive the team, Mister. Found that life is a hell of a lot easier, hell of a lot smoother, if I just keep my head down and let the wimmen run the show."
AJ quirks a brow at that. "Really? I have never found that to be true. But then the women in my family are either preoccupied with roses, medicine or horses and have no interest in financial matters at all except as it pertains to those hobbies. So if I were to induce you to stay an extra day..."
"Talk to my mama." Marcus gets up taking his cup of coffee with him to the pot and then grabbing the pot goes back over to the circle of miners who have brought out their tobacco and are rolling cigarettes for an after dinner smoke. Refilling everyone's coffee, he brings out his own pouch. He stuffs his pipe and takes a long drag. "Come spring, I won't be buying this from the store no more. Put in half an acre down at my place. Figure next month I'll be hangin' it to cure. By spring it will be better than any of this trash leaf they've been selling."
"You grew tobacco. In Montana. You grew tobacco in Montana?!"
"Yep and a bitch it was too.
Plants are all smaller than down south but I figure that will just intensify the
flavor in the leaf." Marcus says confidently. He can feel the eyes of more than
a few of the miners on him. And knows by the time the night is over he is going
to have more orders than he can fill for the trip out in the spring. "Reckon
that I'll have some to sell after I take care of me and my neighbor, Miss
Caroline's uncle. She's been making a list in that book of hers of anyone I
should be bringing smoke out to come spring."
Five or six of the miners get up promptly from the circle jostling each other to get to the front of the line trying to get Carly's attention. "Probably shouldn't mention this around here...." Marcus looks both ways like he's got a big secret then leans in and keeps his voice low. "Miss Caroline's uncle... well he's got himself a little still he's going to be starting up. Figure he's harvesting his corn crop as we speak." Even more of the men excuse themselves.
"You got any more pretty girls down in that valley of yours?" One of the miners asks. "Miss Carly says she has a beau already but I figure if she ain't married..."
That's news to Marcus. "Well lets see, Mrs. Hardy who is a widow has two granddaughters. Miss Elizabeth is the one who made the gloves and scarves. And Miss Sarah well she's the one who made that fine cheddar cheese. And then Miss Carly's mother, Miz Bobbie, she's a widow. She made all those fine pickles." Marcus doesn't mention either his mother or sister. Knowing that mixing would get you nuthin' but trouble and trouble he'd rather not have.
AJ walks over to the cooking fire where Flo has dished out the last of the seconds for the miners to take back to the bunkhouse. "Stay for an extra day."
"Excuse me, sir?" Flo lifts a brow. There was no please or thank ya kindly just an order to stay. "We got things we need to be doing back in the valley. Can't be dilly dallying. Besides I already sorted out dinner tomorrow to those who were wantin' it."
"Thirty dollars and my cook will provide the beef."
Flo shrugs. "I made as much today."
"No, you misunderstand me; thirty dollars in addition to whatever you charge the miners."
Now that gives Flo pause. why? Then she looks over at the wagon and sees Carly talking to one of the miners, trying on a pair of gloves and fastening a muffler around his neck. Her tone is on the cool side. "All thirty dollars will be buying is dinner."
"Of Course." AJ agrees. dinner and time "Do we have a deal?"
Flo slowly nods. "Then I reckon we can stay an extra day."
Later that night Carly and Flo are
in the back of the wagon ready to crash out for the evening, while Marcus keeps
company with the miners around the campfire swapping stories. Carly takes the
pins from her hair and starts brushing it out sitting Indian style on the floor
of the wagon. Sitting up any higher on the wagon, what with the lamp in the
wagon would be the same as giving the miners an illumination show. "We did well
today." Carly tells Flo. "It's been a profitable trip so far. If we can get
back to the valley without running into those bandits."
Carly rebraids her hair loosely to get it out of her face. Then she slides one of the boards in the wagon that Gia had designed as a secret compartment. Carly takes the two mason jars... one from the laundry and one from the dinners and removes all the bills sorting and combining them with the bills in the locked box. The money would be split out later based on the ledger of the trip. Carly doesn't say a word or count the money not wanting to be overheard. Instead she makes sure that Flo sees the fanned bills, waiting for Flo's nod before she puts it and all but the least amount of change away.
"That bossman, Quartermaine, says he'll pay $30 for us to stay an extra day."
"Great." Carly nods. "We'll sell out for sure, we're almost there now. Probably won't lose any time either. Cause it would take only a day with no stopping to get back to the valley. It took us three days to get here cause we chose stopping spots."
"Miss Caroline, that man is after more than my cooking." Flo says flatly.
"But that is all he is getting. He starts asking and I'll tell him I have a beau already."
it isn't a lie "Sure. Cause it will save us trouble in the long run." Carly snuggles down into the bottom of the wagon and tries to get comfortable in her bedroll.
Flo shakes her head and then leaning over turns off the lamp and settles in for the night as well knowing that Marcus wouldn't be rolling his bedroll under the wagon until the last of the miners had headed back to the bunkhouse.
The next morning seeing as how they are staying an extra day, Carly starts heating water and rehanging her clothes line. She casts an eye to the west looking for any sign of rain. They'd been lucky so far and while the cooking business would go on in the pouring rain... didn't do much for the laundry business. Carly also sets out a wash basin and her Uncle Luke's shaving supplies. Might get a few shaves and haircuts in on the side too.
"Morning, Miss Carly."
"Morning!" Carly says to the miner off to his spot and gives him a wave. "Miz Flo is cooking again tonight. Hope to see you there."
"Be there with bells on!" The man waves cheerfully as he continues on his way.
"So in addition to your talent with running a business on wheels... you are also a barber?" AJ interrupts Carly honing the straight razor on a strap.
"Saying I haven't had any complaints ain't saying much." Carly laughs. "You want a tooth pulled I can't help ya. Shave and a haircut..." Carly shrugs. She hooks a stool over. "Have a seat."
With a little trepidation, AJ does. He'd wanted to get close to this woman but offering up his neck to a sharp object wasn't exactly on his plan to start the day.
Carly takes a hot towel from the wash basin gingerly wringing it out. Then supporting AJ's back and tilting him back along her leg, she lays the hot towel on his face to soften his beard humming much the way she does when dealing with Lulu. Not until she feels him relax does she take the towel off and start to brush the shaving foam onto his face and neck.
"Smells good." AJ murmurs with his eyes closed.
"Mint. My aunt makes it. I think there is some still on the wagon." Carly runs her thumb along AJ's chin and holding his skin taut as she takes the razor to his throat.
"How did you learn to do this?"
"My mother taught me. Figures it's a good way to keep a man faithful and kind."
"Smart woman." AJ swallows hard.
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