Frontier General Store
A carriage comes down the backside of the Cassadine estate. There are three people in it and a horse hitched to the back. The passenger in the back jumps off to open the gate then waves AJ through. AJ pulls up to the house and setting the brake comes around to assist his other passenger from the carriage. "Thank you, Mr. Quartermaine." Natasha steps from the carriage and folds down her parasol.
"It was a pleasure having your company up at the house, Miss Cassadine. I haven't seen Grandmother so happy in quite some time."
"She is a fascinating woman." Natasha counters. "And very patient with my... greenhorn status."
AJ grins. "A month ago the phrase greenhorn wouldn't have passed your lips."
"I hope you will come in for some refreshment." Natasha offers. "And you too, Emily." Natasha turns to the young woman who'd just walked up from the gate.
"I need to be heading up to the summer grazing." Emily hesitates.
"I am hoping to negotiate with the people in the valley to provide tucker when the herd is passing thru." AJ reminds her. "If you could wait until after I talk to Mrs. Taggart you will have more information to relay to Jason and the crew."
Natasha leads them into the house. "Mrs. Lansbury?"
Mrs. Lansbury comes in from the kitchen. "Yes, Ma'am?"
"Please see that refreshment is served in the living room. My bags are in the carriage as well as some cuttings from Ms. Lila's roses that will winter in the new greenhouse."
"The greenhouse is still under construction, Ma'am."
"I'm sure you'll manage." Natasha gives a dismissive wave and then walks into the living room. AJ follows her.
Emily looks at the both of them with a dropped jaw and then shakes her head. "You have to be kidding me?!" She says grimly. "I'll bring everything up to the porch, Mrs. Lansbury."
"I can get them, Miss Emily."
"Oh I don't doubt you can. But I figure if they don't get their refreshment it will open up a whole new can of worms." Emily says grimly.
Inside the living room, Natasha bustles around the room stripping off her coat and gloves and making note of all the changes in her absence. Out of the far window she can see the beginnings of the greenhouse. "It's hideous."
AJ comes over to the window. "It's actually a very efficient design. The tall brick of the Northwest walls will protect from the worst of the winter snows and drifts."
"Brick. That is not brick." Natasha refers to the high thick walls of sod reinforced with cast iron supports.
"The closest that we come to it in Montana." AJ smiles. "And since it's thicker than the bricks of the east it is actually more sheltering to the tender plants."
"I was expecting more..."
"Crystal palace?" AJ refers to the grand British conservatory. "Perhaps your brother has that planned for next year. Where are your brother and nephew? I was hoping to meet them."
"Masters Nikolas and Stefan are out scouting future hunting sights with Mr. Zander." Mrs. Lansbury interjects the answer bringing in a carafe of river chilled cider. "Will there be anything else, Miss?"
"That will be all, Mrs. Lansbury." Natasha goes over to the tray and pours a glass of cider for herself and her guest. Mrs. Lansbury nods and leaves.
Emily comes into the living room rather impatiently. "Look AJ, I'm out of here; I got places to be. Whatever deal you make send someone out."
"Emily... excuse me." AJ follows Emily out to the front porch. "I can't believe you were so rude. Grandmother likes her."
"Grandmother likes everyone. That ain't saying anything. And I bet you Grandmother would love Mrs. Lansbury and treat her a hell of a lot better than..." Emily takes a deep breath. "I'm outta here. Give her my apologies. I'll make my own to Mrs. Lansbury."
Emily gathers the reins of her horse and walks over to the kitchen garden. "I'm heading out to the range. We'll be back with the herd in a week to ten days. AJ says he's going to talk to Mrs. Taggart about setting up a chuck wagon for the men. He was impressed with her cooking up at the mining camp."
"Miz Florence has an excellent reputation in the valley." Mrs. Lansbury nods. She bites her lip.
"You got something to say."
"It would go a long way to getting her agreement if you would agree to bring the cattle down on the far side of the river away from the homesteads."
Emily nods. "I'll tell Jason. There should be a good crossing point this time of year. His priority is the well being of the herd. If he can do the crossing and not compromise the herd, it shouldn't be a problem." Emily swings up on to her horse and heads down to the gate reaching down easily to unlatch it and the ride thru and refasten it. She follows the barbed wire fence up the valley past Mrs. Lansbury waving as she does and following the river bank up thru the woods toward the summer grazing. She hasn't gone far when three men come out of the woods. All of them have rifles at their shoulder which gives her a moment's pause until she recognizes one of them and sees the two turkeys that are being carried out.
"Miss Emmie." Nikolas nods. "This is my uncle, Stefan Cassadine, and our neighbor, Zander Smith."
"Pleased to meet you." Emily nods. "Just brought your Aunt back on the way to the summer grazing. We'll be swinging back thru in about a week."
"It's good to know." Zander's face goes a little grim figuring he's got a week to make sure everything is secure at his place and ready for the winter.
Emily rests and elbow on the horn of her saddle. "Mrs. Lansbury already clued me that the Quartermaines are more likely to get Mrs. Taggart to do a meal for them if we bring the herd up on the far side of the river. I'm going to pass that along to Jason." Emily sees the other man just exiting the woods and automatically reaches for the butt of her gun.
Nikolas spies the move and looks where Emily's gaze is to see what the danger is she perceives. All he sees is the hired man. "Miss Emmie, this is Mr. Roscoe..."
"I know Roscoe." Emily's voice is grim and hard. "I'll see you in a week." She gives her horse firm pressure with her heels that sets it off into a trot.
Nikolas looks back again at Roscoe. Well isn't that interesting.
Everyone is working down in the
lower garden today, Audrey, Elizabeth and Sarah. Instead of using the sled to
haul water to the upper herb garden, it is being used to haul potatoes to the
root cellar. The women carefully examine each potato for flaws or breaks in the
skin before putting it in the sled knowing that is the way to put rot into the
cellar and ruin the whole winter's provisions. They'd use quickly anything that
wasn't suitable for the cellar... and Elizabeth wanted to experiment with drying
potatoes figuring it might work if they were sliced extremely thin. The root
cellar is starting to fill.
By the time they got the potatoes, turnips and parsnips in... the only thing left in the garden would be cabbage, squash, spinach and a few rows of carrots. The cabbage and carrots would be last in. Squash didn't like the humid conditions in the root cellar and are better stored in the house. And spinach... well it could stand a frost just fine without turning bitter. They'd eat it fresh until Audrey figured it was the last possible moment and then can the rest for greens to last the winter. If they could find more space for jars. Zander or Mr. Marcus would no more put up another shelf in the cabin and they'd fill it with produce.
The corn crib is already filled with ears of corn drying, corn that would be used for the chickens or being hand milled down to flour once it was dry. The cats patrolled the corncrib heavily only leaving there at milking time when they figured whoever was milking would be generous and send a squirt their way.
Audrey had already picked where they'd be expanding the lower garden the following spring and had cast out rye seed. It would winter well and then come spring the soil wouldn't be as hard to plow under thanks to the roots of the rye breaking it up. A section of the rye she'd allow to mature to gather up the grain. Rye made a nourishing flour and a dense chewy bread that tasted wonderful toasted and topped with butter or cheese. Audrey is distracted from her thoughts by Zander walking up the path. "Zander, hello!"
"I know it's not Sunday but I did bring dinner." Zander holds up the turkey he'd shot while scouting for the best sites to find elk and deer come the following month. "And I have news about the Quartermaines coming thru. Looks to be about a week."
"Let me take care of this." Sarah comes over and takes the turkey from Zander. "I'll have it plucked and cleaned in no time."
Zander looks around for what he can do to help and sees that the sled is full. Grabbing both handles he starts dragging it to the root cellar. Elizabeth hurries and grabs one of the handles leaving the other to Zander. "You said a week?"
"Yeah, the girl that was traveling with them before met us coming out of the woods and let us know. Nikolas calls her Miss Emmie?"
Liz nods. "Sarah told me about her. Nikolas and Lucky met her at the saloon the time they all went to town. Figured there couldn't be more than one traveling with the Quartermaine herd when they came thru." Once at the root cellar, they start loading the potatoes into boxes and then carrying them down to the cellar.
Like the Hardy's, the Taggart's are hard at work getting everything put up knowing they are on borrowed time. Winter could come any time according to the Spencer's and the Hardy's. Gia and Flo work in a skilled tandem filling the cart with produce from the garden. Marcus had taken a break to check on the tobacco crop. Ideally he'd wait until next month to harvest but he might have to pull them earlier. He'd already prepped the barn ready to hang the plants to dry and cure over the winter. The corn crib was set up by the barn too. They'd be able to shell corn over the winter months at their leisure.
Flo straightens rubbing her back. By the time everything is in she'd have a tough time straightening and feel every one of her years. She sees a carriage coming down the path and waits to see who it is figuring it to be Mr. Cassadine as she'd already seen Zander head down to the Hardy's. Her eyes narrow as she realizes who it is. "Mr. Quartermaine."
"Mrs. Taggart." AJ pulls the carriage to a halt. "I was hoping to get to speak to you."
"If you're wanting someone to go up to the mining camp. 'Fraid I'm a bit busy here." Flo indicates her garden.
"While I realize that the cook I have up at the mining camp is barely adequate and the only thing he has going for him is that he hasn't poisoned anyone..."
"Yet." AJ agrees with a laugh. "No, This time I'm planning on bringing the guests to you. The Quartermaines will be bringing the herd back thru in a week. I'm hoping you'll be able to put on a dinner for them."
Gia interjects there. "No. Not if it means that the cattle will be staying here even a moment longer. They are too much of a risk to our fences, to our winter preparations. No amount of money is worth that."
"And if I could arrange that they would not be a risk to your properties?" AJ really sees Gia for the first time and it's like getting punched in the gut.
"Then we'll talk." Flo nods.
"You mind if I use your place for a turnaround? I'll be staying with the Cassadines before heading back to the homestead."
Gia nods and goes over to the gate. Anything to get this guy gone as soon as possible. "There you go."
AJ pulls through and the turns the carriage as tight as possible but having to use the path up by the cabin. On his way back down he pauses by Gia. "Convince your mother. It would be in your best interests."
Gia stiffens since that sounds
like a threat. "Then make the deal worthwhile. Otherwise it's in our best
interests to pass." She pats the gate significantly and impatiently. AJ pulls
thru and back on the path heading back to the Cassadines. Gia shuts the gate and
hooks it shut.
"I'll be back."
"Don't bother unless you got something different to say." Gia says tersely.
AJ yahs to the horses and starts up the path making sure he slows at the next property. According to Natasha, this is the Spencer property. He should see Miss Caroline. That would be just the thing. What happened back there... well that had just been... maybe something he ate.
Laura and Bobbie are working in
the front garden just like everyone else in the valley. The Spencer's unlike the
rest of the valley have two corn cribs: one by the barn and the other by the
still. Carly is working by the still corncrib. She'd confiscated one of the
washtubs and is cutting the kernels of corn into it. It's a selfish gesture. Not
really helping Uncle Luke but rather something to keep him busy and out of her
hair. If she prepared the mash then he'd have to get the still going. Not only
that but in the shade of the lush trees between here and the Taggart's it's nice
and cool. Unlike down in the garden.
Carly throws a cob aside to dry for Mr. Marcus. As soon as Carly has the corn off, molasses and water added she starts mashing the kernels of corn grinding it to mush.
Luke and Lucky show up just as Carly is about to start heating the mash. "You got a caller up at the house." Luke tells her.
Carly's eyes light up and she takes off at a run.
Lucky shakes his head. "You know she's gonna think it's Jason Morgan."
"I never said it was Jason Morgan." Luke shrugs. "Lets get this show on the road." He gets comfortable around the still for the not difficult but time consuming chore of converting grain to alcohol.
Carly runs until almost clear of the woods and then slows to a brisk walk. She isn't gonna look like she's anxious or in a hurry. Coming up to the house she recognizes her caller and swears under her breath. "I'm going to kill him no matter what Mama says." She mutters before calling out in her normal voice. "Mr. Quartermaine. What a surprise."
AJ rises from the rocking chair on the porch setting aside the cup of tea that Bobbie had offered him. "A pleasant one I hope, Miss Spencer."
"An unexpected one." Carly shrugs. "So what brings you to the valley?"
"I'll be staying with the Cassadines until the herd is brought thru in about a week."
"How nice for you." Carly steps away from the porch.
AJ steps down from the porch and draws near. "I think so. We didn't have near enough time to get to know each other when you came up to the mining camp. I'm hoping you'll allow me to change that."
"Zander, you can't keep helping us get our stuff in." Sarah helps Zander bring up another sled of potatoes to the root cellar. "That's it. Tomorrow I'm going to help you with yours."
"I won't turn down the help." Zander admits. "But I think I'm the one that is getting all the perks here. I really appreciate the way you and your Grandmother have been so welcoming to me and I don't want to wear that out."
"You couldn't. And since we want you to still be our neighbor next year that means we have to stop taking advantage of your generosity. Zander, you've done everything to get us ready and I feel like it's been at the expense of your own homestead. It's time to let us help you for a change." Sarah gives him a glance out of the corner of her eye to see if he's taking this in the way intended.
Zander is silent for a long moment. "I do see your point. I have been spending a lot of time not on my homestead. But it's not just your family." Zander says quickly. "I've been spending a lot of time up at the Cassadines too. Time out in the woods when I could be working on my own place."
"One thing I think I've figured out about you, Zander. You're a sociable man. I know from the way you talked about Florida that you did spend a lot of time on your lonesome but it's not your preference."
"True." Zander takes a crate of potatoes down to the Hardy's cellar and Sarah's words hit home. It was starting to look like a true life version of the fable about the ant and the grasshopper. He is definitely on the grasshopper side. But there are plenty of crops in the fields. And the root cellar was dug and ready. It was just a matter of getting the harvest in. He comes back up ready to take another crate from Sarah.
"Have you thought of what you're going to do all winter long?"
"Well I haven't cracked any of those books that Miz Bobbie left for me from the first foraging trip. And I figure that I can borrow some from the Cassadines too."
"Sounds like a plan." Sarah nods handing him another crate, the final one from the sled. "And there will be a lot more opportunities for hunting with the Cassadines come winter." Once Zander has it placed he comes out of the root cellar carefully latching the wooden handle and the takes the sled and starts dragging it back to the cabin. Sarah follow along. They both wash up with water poured from the rain barrel into a basin before going inside. Once inside, Sarah announces to her grandmother. "Gran, I'm going to go over to Zander's tomorrow and help him get his crop in."
Audrey pauses in mid stir of the gravy she was making off of turkey drippings. "I should have thought of that myself." She agrees with a nod. "We are definitely on a time crush now with the news of the herd coming back thru. I'm glad to have it on the horizon. Before it was just a worry now it's a reality we can deal with. Zander, could you go down to the cold box and get some milk?" Audrey hands him the pitcher and waits until he is gone to talk to her granddaughter. "He's been putting our homestead before his own."
"I think so."
Audrey bites her lip and nods. "You check out his homestead while you are there then too. Tell me what you think he needs. The boy is from Florida... maybe he needs an extra quilt or something. He's been so kind to us..."
"I'll take a look around." Sarah falls silent as Zander returns with the milk and occupies herself with setting the table. Elizabeth is the last to return to the cabin having spent the time with the sheep up in upper pasture and having just got back with Riley from putting the sheep in the pen. If they had more sheep then they'd stay up in the pasture all the time. Course if they had more sheep then somebody would have to be staying with them up in the pasture at night.
"Zander, could you bring this to the table please?" Audrey asks stepping away from her big platter the only dishware she had grand enough for the turkey. Since she hadn't known there would be a bird to be stuffed coming to the evening meal it had instead been stuffed with onions, herbs and basted with it's own juices. As sides there is a serving bowl of potatoes and carrots and a plate with tossed greens, late tomato in a vinaigrette dressing. As soon as everyone is seated they all join hands while Audrey gives the blessing.
AJ rises early as is his custom in
a strange bed, the only one awake before him is Mrs. Lansbury. After heading out
to the facilities, he pauses at the front porch to look down the valley.
It wasn't the same as when his grandparents had settled out here in Montana. They'd started in a cabin as small as that Zander Smith fellow down the valley and built a dynasty from there. Had to deal with hostile Indians. Everything had been done by scratch and hand to mouth back then. But Edward Louis Quartermaine wasn't one to be held down or back, every year they'd expanded their holdings-- some years just a little, some years by thousands of acres, hundreds of head of cattle.
There had been losses, personal losses. Aunt Tracy had been sent back east for school to her mother's people and never returned. His father, Alan, had brought back his mother having met her in school back east. He'd been a long time in returning staying away until he completed medical school. Even then he would have stayed away if Lila hadn't injured her back. Then he'd brought his wife, AJ's mother, to Montana to run the family property. Only thing... nobody had checked with his mother on that one. The early years of his parents marriage had been one fight after another with his father spending a lot of time in Charlestown... sometimes the whole winter.
Then there is his brother, born of one of the town women nine months after one of those winters. She'd been killed by one of her other gentleman callers, a jealous man, and the baby brought back to the homestead to be raised as a Quartermaine. His brother had been a family favorite a good and loving boy always ready to pitch in and help and with his father's skill in doctoring... until he'd been kicked in the head by a range bull. He'd been in a coma for weeks. His own father had drilled a hole in his brother's skull to relieve pressure on his son's brain but it had been too late the damage had been done. When his brother had woke from his long sleep, he'd been a different man-- cold and angry, more comfortable on the range than in the company of other people.
And then Emily. Her father had been killed in some of the last skirmishes with the Indians when Em had been just a baby. Her mother had tried to make a go of it in town... might have made it too if she hadn't taken sick. Emily had been running wild with no father's influence to keep her in check and her mother too sick to know everything Emily was up to. Monica had been the one to give Emily's mother the cursed diagnosis.... cancer. It would only be a matter of time. Paige had pleaded with Monica to take Emily in so she wouldn't be alone in the world.
After Paige Bowen's death, Emily had been moved out to the homestead. There had been wars then. Wars between Emily and Monica. Alan and Edward had, had an easier time dealing with her since Emily had no memory of her father only the recollections that Paige had shared with her. But she knew exactly who her mother was and had no interested in having another one. Grandmother was the only one who could soften Emily, her and his brother. Em had returned the favor by softening his brother after the accident-- as much as was possible.
Mrs. Lansbury comes out to the front porch surprised to see someone else up. "Mr. Quartermaine."
AJ turns to the woman. "Mrs. Lansbury. I was just... surveying the accomplishments of the Cassadines and their neighbors. You do know that one in three of you won't succeed? We've seen it over and over again-- each year soddies come and soddies go. Some rather than abandoning Montana all together move to town. But most head back to wherever they are from, their tails tucked between their legs. Broke from the hardships or mad and starved from the long winters."
"I think the people of the valley will beat those odds, sir."
"We'll see, Mrs. Lansbury." AJ compromises. "We'll see."
Sarah had been excused from her chores around the homestead to go up to Zander's and arrives early. Zander is already up and feeding the animals when Sarah arrives. She walks past his garden on the way up to the homestead. He'd already broken apart the hills of potatoes and they'd been drying for the last few days. Now it was just a matter of getting everything into the root cellar. "You ready?"
"Let's get to it." Zander nods as he casts out the last of the grain. Together they walk out to the far side of the garden space set to the task of harvesting working back toward the homestead side by side with the practice of the day before up at the Hardy place making their actions comfortable.
They ignore the passage of time just focusing on the rows. It isn't until Elizabeth arrives with a kit filled with turkey rice soup do they stop. They collapse onto the grass next to the soddie. Sarah pulls the kerchief off of her hair and dips it into a bucket of cold water running it over her face and neck and then ties it around her neck. Zander pulls his handkerchief out of his back pocket and does the same. Elizabeth goes into the soddie and dishes up the lunch and brings it back out before settling on the grass next to the other two. "So how is it going?"
Zander looks at the garden space and then at Sarah. "Bout half done with the potatoes?"
Sarah nods in agreement. "Should have all the potatoes in tonight and then be ready to start on the rest."
"Gram figures you aren't going to want to stop to fix supper so she's cooking tonight. Just come on down whenever you're ready for another break."
"Thanks Lizzie." Sarah sighs as she reaches for her bowl of turkey rice soup. She takes a quick sip. "Oh this is so good. Zander, feel free to drop a turkey on Gram's doorstep anytime."
"I'm just gonna cover up the rest of this inside." Liz says with a wink to Sarah. While she is in the soddie she does a quick inventory of the soddie to see if there is anything that Zander needs.
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