Frontier General Store
The sound of a carriage approaching brings Natasha to the front door of the house. As the sun is setting she believes it to be Stefan, Nikolas and Mrs. Lansbury returning from down the valley and is surprised to see Emily and AJ Quartermaine in the company of another man. "Hello!"
"I hope we haven't come at a bad time." AJ climbs down from the carriage and helps Emily down.
"No, of course not; you are always welcome." Natasha looks over AJ's shoulder to the other man who had been driving the carriage.
AJ sees her glance. "This is Jason Morgan. Jase, this is Miss Cassadine."
"I'll take care of the horses." Jason says tersely. This visit had not been his idea. The only reason he is here is because of the information that AJ and Emily had relayed about their former employee having found a job working for the Cassadines. He wasn't happy with the way that Roscoe had left-- would have rather had the man carried off Quartermaine property in a box.
"Come in. Come in." Natasha steps away from the door to usher in her guests. "I'm afraid that my hospitality is somewhat limited. Mrs. Lansbury is down the valley with Stefan and Nikolas for some gathering." She waves her hand dismissively. "But I can offer you a warm fire and a glass of cider?"
"That would be great." AJ helps Em with her coat and hangs them both on the hall tree inside the door.
"A gathering down the valley?" Emily asks as she follows Natasha into the front parlor.
"Yes. The Taggart's, I believe, are having a party to celebrate butchering some of their livestock." Natasha shudders. "Nikolas and Stefan went down early this afternoon. I expected them back by now I can't imagine them finding that type of entertainment... edifying." Walking over to the table behind the couch, Natasha pours everyone a glass of cider into cut crystal goblets.
"To each their own." AJ shrugs wondering if Carly is there. "I'm sure any reason is a good reason for a gathering before the weather turns." AJ looks around. "You've made some changes since last I was here." You'd never believe that the house hadn't been there forever. It is fully furnished with antiques that would have been better suited to the finest parlors on the continent. The floors are covered with oriental rugs of various sizes. The walls have pictures of grim looking people dressed in clothing of years past.
"Yes, the furnishings." Natasha looks around automatically. "Our things were in a later ship and were then forwarded to Montana by Stefan's agent in New York. Only our immediate necessities traveled with us in the train across. It took quite some time for everything to be in place. Stefan made arrangements with the proprietor of the General Store in Charlestown to have them brought out by wagon as they arrived. It's proven some distraction for... The Others."
"I'll bet." AJ laughs. "There must have been a different delivery coming every week. Between this and the greenhouse..."
"The roses your grandmother gave me now have a safe place to winter." Natasha tries to bring Emily into the conversation.
"That's great. I'm going to see what is keeping Jason. Please excuse me."
"Em..." AJ protests.
"AJ, it's really not a good idea for Jase to run into... I'm going to go check on him." Emily departs.
"Why is your sister so interested in the actions of your staff?" Natasha asks curiously.
"Jason isn't just the ranch foreman. He's my half brother." AJ admits. "It's a long story and not a particularly pretty one. I know he seems a bit... rough but he's a Quartermaine." AJ grins. "Ask and he'll deny it. But he's the one of us that is most like The Old Man." course it took getting kicked in the head to make it that way.
"I didn't get to meet your grandfather when I visited. I believe he'd taken the train into Helena on business."
AJ nods. "He goes every couple months to check on things. He has an agent there of course to take care of the Quartermaine interests but sometimes he likes to go over to keep them on their toes. You haven't been back to town since you've been out here."
"I haven't seen the need." Natasha dismisses. "Stefan's agent sends out all the latest books as they are published. The dressmaker in New York that was recommended to me by my dressmaker back in Paris sends regular shipments of supplies. After the spring thaw perhaps I'll head back east for a few weeks. It is more important for me to be here to support my brother and nephew."
"It can't be easy." AJ hesitates before adding. "Miss Cassadine, I hope you won't take offense but... I've seen it before. Isolation kills out here. Are your books and your supplies going to be enough?"
"Mr. Quartermaine, as long as I have the company of my family and your grandmother of course I'm sure I shall do just fine."
"Damnit, Emily!" Jason comes stalking into the house in front of his sister.
Em rolls her eyes. "It's history, Jase. Let it go."
"I should have shot that bastard when I caught him the first time rather than just putting him off the spread." Jason snarls as he strips of his leather gloves. They hadn't totally protected his hands when he'd gone a few rounds with the Cassadine's hired man and while the skin isn't broken on his knuckles they are red and angry.
"You can't just go around beating up other people's hired men."
"Jase!" Emily goes over to the refreshment table and pours Jason a glass of cider, handing it to him. Her brother's large work calloused hands dwarf the crystal goblet. Jason looks at it and rolls his eyes.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Morgan?" Affronted by her guest's language and demeanor, Natasha asks coldly.
"There sure as hell is. You don't get rid of that snake with two legs you got working for ya and there is going to be lots of problems."
"Are you threatening me, sir?"
"Warning you. Fair warning. But don't worry. When you and your kin figure it out. I'll be happy to come back and clear the snakes out. More than happy." Jason adds grimly.
"I wonder if St. Patrick sounded like that?" AJ says wryly. "You'll have to excuse Jason. He spends more time on the range than in polite company. Only grandmother can remind him of his manners and even then it's an iffy proposition."
"Don't apologize for me." Jason snarls.
"Wouldn't dream of it." AJ holds up both hands.
It's already dark when the Cassadines return from the Taggart's. Their path is lit by the moon and the lamp in the windows in the distance. Mrs. Lansbury has their portion of both black pudding and sausage. A nice boiled supper... She decides. ...wouldn't take too long. And they both ate heartily down at the Taggart's. Just a little something for Miss Natasha.
"We appear to have company." Stefan announces.
Oh Dear. Mrs. Lansbury's plans go out the window. And her brain goes into overdrive. The spare rooms are made up as they always are.
Nikolas frowns. Anyone down the valley had been with them. And anyone coming from Charlestown wouldn't have been able to pass unnoticed. "The Quartermaines."
"I believe you are correct." Stefan agrees. He has a frown of his own when he pulls the carriage around to the barn and Mr. Roscoe isn't there to greet them.
"I'll take care of the horses, Uncle." Nikolas notes the same deficiency.
Stefan assists Mrs. Lansbury from the carriage. She hurries from the outbuilding to the backdoor, setting down her basket of goodies from the Taggart's and immediately sets to work stoking the stove and putting on water to boil. At minimum hot water bottles would be needed for when the guests retired for the evening. Only after that is done does she take a moment to take off her coat, bonnet and gloves. She runs a hand over her hair to make sure it's smooth and then puts on a crisp white apron over her serviceable black dress. Moving silently, Mrs. Lansbury enters the front room taking in at a glance who is there and what they are doing. Miss Natasha has brought out the cards and the foursome is playing although she can tell by the flat expression that one young man is not having a good time.
Mrs. Lansbury waits to be acknowledged before speaking. Natasha looks up from her cards. "Mrs. Lansbury."
"Master Nikolas is putting up the carriage and Master Stefan will be..."
"...Here presently." Stefan interrupts. "Good Evening." AJ and Emily reply. Jason just nods. "A bottle of port please, Mrs. Lansbury, for our guests." Stefan suggests softly.
"Of course sir." Mrs. Lansbury hurries off.
AJ sets down his cards. "I understand you were down the valley..."
"The Taggart's are harvesting a portion of their livestock and needed the assistance of their neighbors. You are of course already familiar with Mrs. Taggart's skills. It is beneficial to stay in her good graces." Stefan picks his favorite chair and has a seat. "Directly after building their cabin they began construction on a smokehouse-- the only one in the valley. We in fact arranged our hunting to coordinate with their schedule. I believe it is the plan of the rest of the other citizens of the valley as well." Mrs. Lansbury comes back out to the front room with a tray and a bottle of port. She pours Stefan a small glass and then offers a glass to the rest. "Nikolas?"
"I'll check, sir."
Nikolas knocks on the other door off the kitchen where the hired man stays and then enters. Roscoe has his back to the door and is focusing on a small shaving mirror. "Mr. Roscoe..." Nikolas beings disapprovingly. With company present, there is no excuse for staff not being up to the tasks. Roscoe turns around and Nik draws in a breath. Their hired man's eye is already almost swollen shut, has a fat lip and a cut in one eyebrow. "What happened?!"
"Ran into a door." Roscoe says bitterly. Any other answer would open up a can of worms and screw this job. And he wasn't ready to move on just yet.
Nikolas raises a brow. "Perhaps you should avoid... doors in the future. Have Mrs. Lansbury take a look at that for you." Nikolas backs out and closes the door going over to the kitchen door and entering.
"Master Nikolas, Master Stefan was just inquiring about you."
Nik nods. "In addition to everything else, Mrs. Lansbury, Mr. Roscoe has... run into a door and is need of... patching up."
Mrs. Lansbury frowns. "I'll see to it, sir."
At the crack of dawn Mrs.
Lansbury is up and getting on with her chores feeling like she hasn't been to
bed. First things first getting the stove heating up and then the outside
chores. With the company and being away from the house the day before she'd
been up long after every one else in the house had retired for the evening.
With the shorter days the chickens are laying fewer eggs... not enough light
and getting chilly. Luckily the two milk cows are still producing.
Normally one of the cows milk was set aside for making cheese but right now it looks as if all the milk will be needed to address the household increase. After bringing in the milk and few eggs into the kitchen, Mrs. Lansbury puts the water on to boil.
Master Stefan normally had just tea and toast for breakfast. Miss Natasha the same. Master Nikolas was a hearty eater. Even more so since arriving in the valley and occupying himself with the tasks at hand. The household would soon be waking, so she goes into the front room and starts a small fire in the fireplace. Bustling back into the kitchen, she starts mixing up a batter for pancakes. As soon as there is a sign of people stirring, she'd be ready.
Down at the other end of the valley, there is at least one person awake and already hard at work before the rooster makes his first call at each of the homesteads. Elizabeth is up down at the Hardy's, restoking the woodstove and heading out to do her chores. Marcus is up at the Taggart's replenishing his mother's wood box and then heading out to the smokehouse. Laura is up at the Spencer's; water already boiling to make oatmeal and using the time while she is waiting to grind enough beans for the day's coffee. Bobbie climbs down from the loft dressed for the day with a yawn and a hand to her hair to make sure it's all secure, she greets Laura. "Good morning."
"It's not looking too bad so far." Laura looks over with a smile. "I'll have coffee ready in just a bit."
"I'll be ready for it." Bobbie takes her coat off a peg just inside the door. She opens the door and shivers. "I think I can just bring the milk up to the porch! I don't think we'll be needing the cold box so much anymore. Definitely getting chilly." Not wanting to let any heat out Bobbie quickly goes out shutting the door behind her and heading down to the barn. When they'd left the Taggart's the night before they'd brought back most of the fat from the slaughtered hogs with them. They'd render it down here rather than imposing on the Taggart's an extra day. Marcus would be busy with the smokehouse today, cutting up the meat into smokeable sizes. Gia and Flo would be busy making sausage from any meats that Marcus isn't interested in.
But that was down the road. Here they'd start with the snowy white fat back and render that down first to fill the valley's lard tins. The tins are big enough to last until the next time Marcus butchers. After that would be rendering down all the rest of the fat for making into soaps. There is a project that would keep them busy for quite some time. Lucky is the next one down from the loft above. "Morning, Mom."
Laura glances over her shoulder. "Morning, Lucky." Lucky heads out to take care of feeding the animals and start the fire outside that would be used for heating the fat before coming back in for breakfast. Luke wouldn't be up until the smell of the coffee woke him. Luke had been the last one to bed the night before making sure that everything was shut up tight for the evening and ready for the next day. It was his way. Expecting Luke to be up early... well that's expecting him to be up all night. He just isn't a morning person.
The cabin is already warming when Flo and Gia make their way down from the loft. The first sign that Marcus is already out and about getting ready for another big day. Other than the daily chores the only thing on the family agenda is getting the meat put up. Which meant that Marcus would be busy out by the smokehouse and they'd be busy making sausage. Flo starts the preparations for breakfast and Gia heads out to the barn to take care of the milking. Marcus is already down at the barn. He'd released the horses out into the small corral so that he'd been able to clean out the stalls in the barn and is waiting for Gia to get finished with the cow to do that portion of the barn. "How long have you been up?" Gia asks as she gets settled in on her stool next to the cow. She leans in close giving the cow a pat to let her know that she is there.
Marcus shrugs. "Awhile. Want to get everything out of the way so I can start smoking after breakfast."
"Mom is already on that." Gia nods. The process of milking is methodical and easy, soothing to both her and the cow-- a good way to start and finish the day. If things go as normal, then by the time she'd finished milking and taking care of the cow and calf, Flo would have breakfast ready. "You figure we're going to have company again today?"
"Maybe." Marcus says absently. "But not as many. The Spencer's are going to be busy up at their place same as us. Might get one or two of them but not the whole clan. Same with the Hardy's."
"I would have loved to seen the look on Mrs. Hardy's face when she got home last night." Gia grins. "It was kinda fun sneaking that elk in on her. The only one who knew ahead what was going on was Elizabeth."
"Zander should have known." Marcus counters. "He's the one that has been hanging with the Cassadines the most."
"Kinda surprised to see the way Mr. Cassadine was helping out. He did really well. Didn't figure him for one to get his hands dirty." Gia finishes up and steps away from the cow carefully bringing the bucket back from the cow so that nothing is spilled. She transfers the milk from the bucket to the milk can. Marcus takes the can from her and takes it down to the cold box where he gets a pitcher of chilled milk from the previous day to take up to the house. Gia scrubs out the milk bucket and feeds the cows. As soon as she is done she heads into the cabin for breakfast.
Sarah grabs the kettle off the stove and pours the boiling water over the tea leaves in the teapot covering the teapot to retain the heat and give the leaves time to steep. Elizabeth comes in from the outbuilding after taking care of all the critters and letting out the dogs. She brings in a pitcher of milk from the cold box and sets it on the counter at the front of the cabin. She sheds her coat and scarf. "I don't think Riley and Annabelle have forgiven us for locking them in yesterday before going up to the Taggart's." She says cheerfully.
"The stuff you brought back that the Taggart's couldn't use will go a long way toward their forgiveness." Zander says wryly. "Nice thing about dogs... they don't hold grudges."
"Unlike cats." Audrey adds. She brings over the pot of oatmeal to the table. Sarah starts dishing up while Audrey finishes off the sausages and brings them to the table. Liz takes a seat at the table and is soon joined by the others. The conversation is casual over the meal and it isn't until they are sitting around the table with a cup of tea in front of them that the plans for the day are made. "Zander and Sarah, why don't you go back up to the Taggart's again today. Flo said that today was going to be their actual sausage making day."
At her sister's nod, Liz chimes in. "I'll go to the upper pasture with the sheep. I kinda want to get the wagon up there set up for emergencies... a couple of days worth of supplies. If something comes up unexpected."
"I think that is a very good idea, Darling." Audrey nods.
"You're up to something, Gram." Sarah realizes. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to do a little baking today." Audrey informs the children as she thinks of them. "I want to call on the Cassadines and thank them for the elk." She glances toward the rafters. She looks at the others. "I think we're ready. The only thing left to do is to make sure that we all have plenty of projects for the next few months and I don't just mean stripping the dried grain from the corn cobs."
As soon as breakfast is over at the Cassadines, Stefan ushers the guests from the dining room to give Mrs. Lansbury time to clear. He offers distractions for his guests. "Miss Emily, I understand that you are interested in horses and take charge of their care on the Quartermaine estate."
estate Emily grins at that one. "The cattle are the bread and butter of the ranch of course but yes, I do try to make sure that we have the best horses in the area."
"Emily is being modest." AJ interjects. "We may ship cattle all over the West and Midwest but we have people from all over the territory coming out to the house to specifically see her horses. There is a waiting list whenever one of our mares come into foal."
"Nikolas, why don't you take Miss Emily out to the barn. I would like to know her opinion of our mounts." Stefan turns back to Emily. "The horses were brought out with us from the east. We were unaware that there was someone with your skill out here and didn't want to risk relying on the local stockyards for decent mounts." Emily and Nikolas leave. Stefan knows of the conflict between Jason and the hired man although not the root of it and wants to keep as much distance as possible between the two of them. "Mr. Morgan, I was going to take a morning constitutional down the valley. Would you care to join me?"
"Walk?" Jason shakes his head. Why anyone would walk when they could ride but... "Sure. Whatever."
"I'll accompany you." AJ says in a rush. This is the opportunity he'd been waiting for and he wasn't about to let it slide by.
It's never far out of the
women's mind that this is both a necessary and dangerous chore. Every chore
on the homestead has an element of risk. Hell Zander had just been out
riding and ended up with a broken leg. But cooking down the fat, the worry
is more about burns. All care is taken to make sure that the fire is just
right and the kettle's aren't too full to leave plenty of room for the hot
liquefied fat. A splash of that could burn all the way to the bone. Bobbie
and Laura keep Lulu out of the mix, giving her a list of chores to do around
the property while they are busy with rendering.
After morning chores, Luke and Lucky had decided to go bird hunting. They'd be getting a portion of one of the hogs from the Taggart's but with everything else there had only been an afternoon here and there to go hunting since they'd finally finished the harvesting. Scoring a turkey would go along way to feeding the family for a couple of days. Dinner one day and soup the next. They'd hunt big game too but that would have to wait until after Marcus got the hams out of the smoker... at least a week from now.
Carly heads back down to the Taggart's to help with the sausage making. It's as messy as rendering down the lard but not as smelly. On her way to the Taggart's she cuts thru the woods topping briefly at the hunting site to gather up some more dried corn cobs figuring that Mr. Marcus would be needing them, if not now then eventually for the smoker. It's one of the not so great thing about being up North. A lot of the woods couldn't be used in a smoker. The resin and saps in the wood would taint the smoke and thus the meats. It was okay for the woodstove, although it burned faster than a good hardwood, because the firebox and the smoke are kept very separate from the actual baking and cooking surfaces.
"Good Morning, Mr. Marcus." Carly says cheerfully. "I brought you a present."
Marcus looks in the satchel. "That's you, Miz Carly. Always thinkin'." He grins at her. He empties the satchel into the crib of corn cobs by the smoker and stirs it up from the bottom.
Carly looks at the six halves remaining from the previous day. "You need help setting up a table?"
"Sounds like a plan." Marcus goes over to where there is a large planked together surface carrying it over to where the actual carving would be done. Carly grabs some sawhorses and sets them up getting out of the way to that Marcus can set the table on top. Marcus takes down the first half and starts making the gross cuts with a bone saw and hatchet. It takes a certain amount of strength to do the work even though it is easier now that the meat has cooled. This is a task to get done before the day heats up. Marcus works from his own internal plan knowing what would be best for sausage and what would be best for ham. He already has a mental picture of the smokehouse and what will go where.
The first that Gia and Flo know that Carly is there is when she comes in with a gathering of meats suitable for sausage. "You ready for this?"
"Oh yeah." Florence takes the meats from Carly and setting them out on her counter starts cutting the large portions down to chunks that will be more easily ground.
Gia sets up one of the washtubs that has been scoured and rinsed well at the end of the table so that the meat coming from the first grind will fall into the tub. Also on the table is the large container where the pepper, garlic and miscellaneous spices are added gradually to the tub as more meat is ground. The spices and the meat would be ground together on the second grinding. That would be the one when the casings were attached directly to the grinder. Now it is basically assembly line work with the three women at the different stations trying to get the first grind down. Periodically one of them would go out to check on Marcus and bring back more meat to be ground and so there is a rotation of tasks that keeps the process moving.
Once Sarah and Zander show up, Zander goes out to help Marcus by the smoker. As long as the table is there he can balance on it and doesn't need the crutches quite so much. Sarah goes into the cabin where there is a hub of activity. "Hello Mrs. Taggart, everyone."
"Sarah." Mrs. Taggart greets her with a smile.
"What do you need me to do?"
Flo thinks for half a second and then decides. "Honey, why don't you start making some biscuits. We're going to want to taste test this sausage before we put it in the casing." She finishes up the meat she is working on and gives it to Carly who starts feeding it into the grinder. Flo heads out to see Marcus' progress carrying a bowl in case he's got suitable meats for them.
"Good Morning, Mrs. Spencer, Ms. Bobbie." Stefan calls out a greeting as he is walking down the valley.
"Mr. Cassadine." Laura calls back with a wave. "You have company this morning."
"Mr. Morgan and Mr. Quartermaine." Stefan introduces the men to the women.
"We've met." Bobbie says tersely. She ignores Jason. "Mr. Quartermaine, how are you this morning."
"Doing well, Miz Bobbie. And you?"
"Up to my elbows so to speak." Bobbie refers to the wooden paddle she is using to stir the renderings. "You missed all the fun yesterday."
"Where's Carly." Jason says flatly. This polite crap was just that and a waste of time.
AJ looks at his brother. How did he know Carly?
"Busy." Bobbie says equally flat. "And staying close to home."
Lulu comes running up to Bobbie and Laura. With her childish tunnel vision she doesn't even see the men. "Mama, I want to go over to Miz Flo's and help Carly make sausage too. I'm all done with my chores."
Bobbie winces. Cat out of the bag there.
Lulu sees the men for the first time. She peeks out behind Laura's skirts. "Hi Mr. Cassadine."
"Good Morning, Miss Lulu. How was the fishing today?"
"Haven't gone today. I got skunked day fore yesterday." Lulu says glumly.
Stefan doesn't catch the reference and frowns. AJ steps up to explain. "She didn't catch anything. In other words, the fishing stunk like a skunk."
"Ah." Stefan nods. "Yes, a colorful colloquialism. And we were busy down at the Taggart's yesterday so you didn't get a chance. And yet you'd rather go down to the Taggart's than to go fishing today? I must make a note of this in my journal."
"You make notes about my fishing?!"
"No, only on days when you don't want to go fishing." Stefan replies. "Quite the unusual occurrence."
"Daddy and Lucky went hunting so they'll catch something." Lulu shrugs. "It'd be a waste." Lulu repeats a phrase she's heard plenty.
Bobbie winces again. Great now Jason knows that Luke isn't around.
Stefan shakes his head. "Miss Lulu, if you should ever catch more fish than your family needs or you think they will go to waste... I hope you will bring them up the valley. Mrs. Lansbury always enjoys preparing a nice trout."
"You fooling?" Lulu asks suspiciously.
"Not at all. In fact I'd be will to compensate you for your assistance."
Lulu looks up at her mother for an explanation of that one. Laura tells her. "He'd pay you for the fish."
"I get a dime an egg. How much would I get for a fish? A fish is a lot bigger than an egg." Lulu gets a cagey look.
"I think we can come to a fair agreement." Stefan nods. He looks over at Laura. "We were going to walk down to the Taggart's. Would you like us to accompany Lulu?"
"Please, Mama!" Lulu pleads.
Laura sighs. "Fine. But you be good for Miz Flo and don't get in her way, Or Mr. Marcus either."
"I'll be good. I'm ready now." Lulu demands of Stefan.
"Then let us be on our way." Normally at this point Stefan would be offering his arm to escort a lady but as his companion is so short he just offers her his hand. Lulu takes his hand and starts tugging him down the path toward the Taggart's.
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