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Stefan's in Hot Water



There was no way they could count on the weather staying decent. Already it was frosting in the morning and taking longer to burn off. Momma is hard at work preparing the garden beds for the winter. The more they did now the less they'd have to do in the spring. All of the dirty straw from the barn, the manure, the vegetable scraps were all going into the garden space. All the plants not suitable to feed to the livestock were chopped up and left in the garden to compost. Aunt Laura was heating water to do laundry. Wanting to get it done while the doing is good.

Carly goes into the cabin and starts stripping beds and gathering clothing. The sooner they got them washed; the sooner they could get on the line. And the sooner they were on the line, the sooner they'd be dry. Who knew when they'd get the chance again. Dumping the clothes on the ground next to the washtubs she tells her aunt, "I'm going to flip mattresses."

Laura nods gratefully. "That would be a big help. We have to get this done as soon as possible. My elbow's been giving me fits." Laura looks over and sees that Lulu is done with feeding the chickens and is now playing with them. "Lulu, can you help me over here?"

Lulu rises from where she'd been sitting on the ground and comes racing over. "Watcha need, Mama?"

"I need you to sort the clothes out so everything is separate by color. All the white things together, all the blue things together..."

Lulu nods and starts tossing clothes into piles enthusiastically. Carly heads back to the house. It wouldn't be a spring cleaning but near enough. Everything that had been put off while they'd been busy with the garden: flipping mattresses, cleaning windows inside and out with vinegar and old newspaper, shaking, beating and airing rag rugs, sweeping out the cabin.






Up and down the valley it is the same. Not knowing when they'd get the chance again everyone works on chores around the house that had been put off while the gardens had been priority. Water being heated in the outside kettles for washing and laundry. Audrey has already formulated a plan for her herb garden the following year and how she is going to both lay it out and expand it. She'd raked needles from under the pine trees to use to mark the future paths knowing that nothing will grow thru them. Protected the plants she wanted to try to winter by piling clean straw bales around them for a wind break. That was the real plant killer in the north: not just the cold, not just the snow but the wind.

Sarah takes care of the house chores doing much the same thing as Carly is doing up at the Spencer place. Zander had started cleaning out the barn and goat pen removing all dirty straw with a pitch fork tossing it onto the garden sled and then putting down clean. He's getting kinda handy at the one legged thing. Well as long as there is a wall or one of his crutches near by for a bit of balance. Elizabeth appears periodically grabbing the sled and disappearing but returning with it empty about ten minutes later.

She is working down in the lower garden getting it ready for it's winter nap. Gram had already gotten the existing beds ready for the following spring. Elizabeth is now working on where Audrey has expansion plans. Rather than having to deal with the plow, Elizabeth dumps out the composting material from the barn onto the chosen area, spreads it out and then uses the garden fork, a four tined device that is about wider than a comfortable stance, to turn the soil. Stepping onto the back of the fork, she drives the tines into the earth about a foot and then, steps off and rocks it back using the handle bar on top thus softening the soil and mixing the compost in.






Flo has got the last of the clothes on the line and is looking at them with some satisfaction when The Cassadines come up the road to her gate and enter. They'd actually fashioned some kind of travail to one of their horses and are hauling.... "GIA! MARCUS!!!" Flo comes over and starts enthusiastically directing the men toward the smokehouse. Marcus comes on a run out of the woods and Gia from the barn. Everyone ends up meeting at the smokehouse.

Marcus looks down at the immense creature on the back of the travail. "Good gracious. So that's what y'all call an elk. They sure grow them bigger up here than back home."

Stefan climbs down from his mount and examines his watch. "We field dressed the creature in the woods of course but it still took approximately four hours to get it from where it was shot to here. I hope that will not cause any difficulties."

"We'll deal." Gia shrugs. "What exactly do you want done with it?"

Stefan and Gia step aside to discuss the disposition of the elk. Nik suggests to Marcus. "Where do you want it hung to cool? We need to get it up as soon as possible. Or Uncle's excellent shot will be for naught."

Marcus had figured that the Cassadines were going to show up with something and already has his set up ready. "Help get it angled over here." Marcus shows Nikolas what he wants done.

Flo is just shaking her head in wonder. "Now that is gonna be a project."

"You'll be able to pick up the smoked hams, roasts and venison... in about two weeks." Gia tells Stefan keeping things businesslike. "And we much appreciate you doing this now rather than in November when we would have been busy with our own livestock."

"And if we were to go get another?"

"Another?!" Gia's jaw drops. "That is pretty much gonna take up as much space as what we have in the smokehouse with not much to spare. It's gonna take about a week before we're ready for anything else."

"Very well. Mrs. Lansbury will be by to pick up the hams and venison agreed upon in two weeks. We..." Stefan refers to himself and Nikolas. "Will return very shortly after that with another. The next one is to go to The Hardy's and Mr. Smith minus your percentage of course."

"Got it." Gia nods understanding now why the Cassadines would be getting another. After all a creature of that size would have feed everyone up on the Cassadine place all winter long! And another would fix up the Hardy's the same.

"Take the hide to Zander if you will. It was part of our original hunting agreement that he would deal with the tedium of tanning the hides. If there is nothing else you need from us, Nikolas and I will return to our homesteads to... clean up."

"I can't think of anything right now." Gia admits.

"Very well." Stefan nods and goes over to where Nikolas and Marcus are working together to hang the elk. He assists them and then starts taking apart the travail. Florence goes over to her wash tub and starts emptying them out and rinsing them then brings them over to the smokehouse. Stefan and Nikolas leave.

Flo looks at the elk. "Well I'm surely glad I got the laundry done early. Don't think I'll be having time now. Gia, bring water up from the river. We're going to need plenty." She goes back to the cabin and puts on her apron and gets her knives. "It's a good thing that you brought back all those dried corn cobs from the foraging trip. I figure we're going to need them."

Marcus steps back from the hanging carcass and considers how he is going to manage this and then taking a knife from his mother starts to carefully make incisions just as deep as the hide.






"Welcome home!" Natasha greets Stefan and Nikolas. She gives them both a hug before stepping back and sniffing at the air. "You both smell as rank as the filthiest serf. Mrs. Lansbury!"

Mrs. Lansbury comes into the front room wiping her hands on her apron. "Welcome home, Master Stefan, Master Nikolas."

"They need baths prepared, Mrs. Lansbury. Immediately." Natasha orders.

"I'll start heating the water, Ma'am."

"That sounds so good." Nikolas agrees. "I'll go fill some water barrels for you, Mrs. Lansbury and bring them up to the porch. Fact of the matter, I'm about ready to jump in the horse trough clothes and all."

"If you decide to take that course of action I hope you will remove your boots first, sir." Mrs. Lansbury gives Nikolas a small smile. She bustles back into the kitchen.

Nikolas grins and laughs but then heads back outside to fill up the barrels. He'd fill them all and line them up on the porch. It wasn't like Mrs. Lansbury needed them for the garden now not with winter and even before with the irrigation system they'd set up for her.

"She is growing increasingly insubordinate." Natasha complains to her brother.

"Actually, sister, it was sound advice." Stefan counters. "Now if you'll excuse me. I believe I will get out of these garments."

Nikolas catches Mrs. Lansbury before she can start hauling the heavy tub to Master Stefan's room. "Mrs. Lansbury, wouldn't it be warmer and faster if we left the tub here in the kitchen? And easier to empty as well?"

"Yes, sir, but..."

"Leave the tub here." Nikolas picks a spot. "We'll just rig up some kind of screen. I don't know how uncle feels, but I'm more interested in a hot bath than a private one."

"Master Nikolas..." Mrs. Lansbury is about to protest and then sighs. "Of course sir." What is this family coming to? First they are eating at her kitchen table and now this?

"I'll go tell Uncle of the change in plan." Nikolas says cheerfully.

Mrs. Lansbury adds more fuel to the wood stove and puts water on to boil. She pours a bucket of cold water into the tub and then another. While she is waiting for the water to heat she goes to gather as many drying cloths as she can find and hangs them next to the woodstove so that they will get nice and toasty warm too.
Nikolas comes back to the kitchen with a Japanese style privacy screen setting up the wooden screen around the tub. When Stefan comes into the kitchen dressed only in a woolen robe, Mrs. Lansbury is adding the first kettle of boiling water to the tub. Steam rises. She sticks one finger in the tub and frowns. Then going over to the stove she pulls off another kettle of water and pours it into the tub.

It is too much of a temptation to protest or resist. Stefan steps behind the screen, sheds his robe hanging it over the top of the screen and climbs into the tub with a sigh as the warm water starts to steep around him. Mrs. Lansbury puts more water on to boil. Nikolas comes back from hauling all the barrels to the porch and takes a seat at the kitchen table. When he sees that more hot water is ready he grabs a towel to protect his hands and then dumps it in the tub at his uncle's feet. "This was an excellent idea, Nikolas." Stefan compliments. "I haven't had a bath this warm since the baths back in Europe."

Nikolas gets comfortable again at the table. He indicates a carry sack on the kitchen counter. "We dropped the elk off down at the Taggart's, Mrs. Lansbury, an eight point buck but we brought the heart and liver back for you. How long did they say it would take for the rest, Uncle?" Nikolas calls out.

"Miss Gia indicated it would take a week for the meat to age before they could even begin the smoking process and indicated she would also have the hide taken to Zander."

"How is Zander, Mrs. Lansbury?" Nikolas asks.

"You'd have to ask Miss Natasha." Mrs. Lansbury answers hmming as she explores the contents of the field bag. Liver and onions tonight with some nice boiled potatoes. And she would set the heart to marinate until tomorrow. Otherwise it would be tough. "She went to see Mr. Zander the day that you both left on your trip. Taking him books and treats to make his being an invalid easier." Natasha had by this time grown bored with being in the house seemingly alone and comes into the kitchen not shocked to see Mrs. Lansbury at her stove but very to see Nikolas at the table and if she wasn't mistaken her brother behind a screened in corner of the room. "Miss Natasha, Master Nikolas was just asking after Mr. Zander."

Nikolas had risen to his feet as his Aunt had entered. He comes around and holds a chair for her at the table. Natasha takes it automatically. Nikolas comes back around and seats himself. Mrs. Lansbury starts preparing tea. Nikolas questions his aunt. "How did you find Zander?"

"Doing quite well, I would guess. Better than I expected from your description. One of those girls had managed to fashion him a pair of crutches. He was getting about in seemingly in good spirits."

Since the water is already working on boiling, Mrs. Lansbury quickly has the tea tray set up and brought over putting it in front of Miss Natasha who pours a cup for herself and one for Nikolas. Then Mrs. Lansbury brings over a tray that has sliced meat, cheese, bread. Soup would have to wait until she had a kettle free from heating water.
By the sounds of it, Master Stefan was about finished with his bath. Mrs. Lansbury grabs half the warmed towels and brings them over to Nikolas who carries them behind the screen to his uncle. Stefan tucks one of the towels around him and dries off with the other and then puts back on his robe. He finger combs his wet hair back before stepping from behind the screen.
Nikolas sets the screen aside and then grabs one end of the tub. Stefan sees what he is doing and grabs the other end. Together they haul the tub out and empty it. As soon as it is replaced, Mrs. Lansbury starts refilling it. Nikolas takes the time to go change into his robe and then after replacing the screen climbs into the freshly heated water. He groans in delight and settles deeper into the tub. "Uncle, I believe we have two things to add to the list of things to improve the property. A proper boiler for Mrs. Lansbury and a bath house."

"I shall make a note of it." Stefan says wryly.

"If I may say, sir..."

"Yes, Mrs. Lansbury?" Stefan asks after pouring himself a cup of tea.

"The room that Mr. Roscoe is staying in would be ideal for that purpose."

"And where would you have Mr. Roscoe stay then?" Stefan asks.

"The barn." Mrs. Lansbury suggests grimly.






Taking a break for the noon meal, everyone at the Hardy's collapses around the table. They'd been working hard all morning since before the sun was up to get everything situated. Sarah had prepared a soup, the last of the fresh spinach added at the last moment so it is barely wilted in the heat of the soup and a loaf of bread. She puts it all on the table after setting it. Then brings over the pitcher of fresh milk pouring everyone a glass. "What next, Mrs. Hardy?" Zander asks.

"I'm sure Elizabeth is wanting to get up to the upper pasture." Audrey looks over at her granddaughter who nods. "I think we're about as ready as we're going to be. You know what has been worrying me though, Zander?"

"What's that, Ma'am?"

"Your apple trees. I think they really need to have wind blocks put up around them. That and checking your property making sure everything is shut up tight until you can be back there full time."

"I'll hitch up the wagon after and go with Zander." Sarah nods her agreement.






An hour later, Sarah and Zander are on their way up to his place cutting along the inside of the fence. Zander pauses at the path up to the Taggart place. "That's odd."

"What's that?"

"You'd think Miz Flo would be out in the garden prepping it for winter like everyone else. I don't see anyone. Not here or near the barn."

"Do you want to check it out?" Sarah offers.

"I think we'd better." Zander corrects the direction of the wagon and starts up the path to the Taggart place. Because of Marcus' decision to build further back than the rest of the families it isn't until they are up by the cabin that they see all the activity. Figuring time is of the essence, the Taggart's worked thru the noon hour and have made inroads on the huge buck. It has already been skinned and the carcass cut in half along the long side of the body so it will cool more quickly. Flo and Gia are rubbing a pepper oil into the flesh to preserve the meat and to also make it unattractive to bugs.

"Sarah! Zander!" Gia gives them a wave. "Good to see you out and about."

"We didn't see you which is why we came checking. I guess that means the Cassadines are back?"

"Oh yes. Dropped this off this morning." Flo doesn't stop with the pepper oil. "Mr. Cassadine said something about you getting the hide?"

Zander nods. "Don't much care for tanning as it's nasty, smelly work but I can't see anything going to waste. I cure pelts anyway on the game I catch in my traps."

"There! Now you have a project for the winter!" Sarah exclaims.

"Maybe more than one. The Cassadines are talking about getting another." Marcus finally puts in his two cents.

"I'll have to pick up my tannin barrel when we're down at my place." Zander nods. "You mind if we wait to pick up the hide on the way back?"

"Not a problem." Gia shrugs.






Lucky makes his way across the back of the properties to the upper pasture of the Hardy's. Elizabeth is in the habit of watching the sheep in the afternoon and working on whatever project she bought out with her. Sure enough. Liz is sitting on a tarp out in the middle of the field. Just out of the reach of the goats with Riley by her side stretched out with his muzzle on his paws watching the sheep with a leery eye and ready for whatever Elizabeth orders. Lucky settles in by her laying on his side his hand supporting his head. "So how are the lovebirds doing?"

Elizabeth laughs. "I don't think Gram is going to be have to try to hard to convince him to stay. You must have just missed seeing them. They were off to check on his place."

"Dad is figuring-- married by Christmas."

"Oh? And how is he figuring they'll get a preacher out here in December?"

Lucky shrugs. "So maybe they'll wait until Spring to make it legal."

"Lucky! That's my sister you're talking about!" Liz rebukes him. "Sarah would never-- And Gram would have a fit!"

"What'll ya bet me?" Lucky teases.

"I should. I really should. Just cause you and your dad are so wrong." Liz bites her lip and looks at Lucky for a long moment. "You really think?"

Lucky starts laughing and wrapping an arm around Elizabeth rolls her to the earth and on her back. He leans back again on an elbow. "Well if you think Dad is so wrong about Sarah, you surely don't want to know what he has to say about us."






Parking the cart by the barn, Zander hops down from the cart after setting the brake. He balances carefully on one foot and then reaches in the back for his crutches. He comes around the cart and holds out a hand to Sarah to help her down. "You know this really ticks me off."

"What's that?"

"I was ready. I was really ready. Had the hay up for the animals. Had plenty of wood chopped. Had plenty of veggies in the cellar and I would have been in on the hunt with the Cassadines. I'd gone out with them and helped pick out the best spot. Now I won't know."

"You will. Next year. Not even next year. Sure you'll be staying at our place until December... but that still leaves January, February, March maybe even April. You'll have plenty of time to experience a real Montana winter. What first?"

"Miz Audrey would say the apple trees. And since I'm not going to need all that straw I set aside for the horses bedding at least not right away...."

"Lets get it loaded into the cart." Sarah nods. "Should only take one load. Then you can pick up that barrel of..." She frowns.

"Tannin." Zander fills in the blank. Together they walk into the barn. Neatly bundled to the side are sheaves of straw Zander grabs some bundles and tries to control them and the crutches at the same time. Luckily it is a short trip to the cart. They climb back onto the cart after there is sufficient straw and start down the property to where the two little saplings are down by the river. Sarah has more experience than Zander with this and she carefully stacks the sheaves. Zander watches her method for a moment and then starts doing the same with the second tree.

"You know I can picture Gram's place with lots of trees... apple, plum, pear, pie cherry."

"Pie?" Zander looks up hopefully at that one.

"Oh yeah. She's already got rhubarb started in her herb garden. It takes a couple of years to really get going but then you can't get rid of it! She makes a wonderful apple rhubarb pie... sweet and tart at the same time. She doesn't do the envy thing but I could tell she really envied you these trees." Sarah looks at her handiwork then looks out at Zander's property. "You could do it too. It works for Gram because the sheep won't bother the trees once they're established. Fact is they keep the grass down. Two birds one stone: forage for the sheep and easy pickings when the time comes. But trees are something you have to think about five years in advance. Cause that is how long it takes before they really have fruit on them."

"I heard tell and I don't know how true it is, that there is a little footnote added to the Homestead Act."

"What's that?"

"That you can file for an additional 160 acres if you put in trees."

Sarah and Zander look at each other and then almost as one look across the river to the lowlands on the other side. Then back at each other. "Really. Isn't that interesting." Sarah gives him a half grin and nods.


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