Frontier General Store
As soon as they are within sight of the Taggart's Lulu breaks free of Stefan's hand and races to the cabin. "Miz Flo, Carly! I'm here to help! Mr. Cassadine and a couple of men brought me!"
Stefan, Jason and AJ stop first at the smokehouse to see what is going on there. Marcus is making short work of the butchering with Zander's assistance. Everything will be used. The feet would go into Bobbie's pickling barrel. The hocks would be smoked along with the hams. There is bacon to be cured. Some of the fatback which isn't being used for lard, or in the sausage would be smoked as well as a flavoring for beans and stews. Bones that might have been thrown away are set aside for the dogs in the valley. Roasts and ribs are set aside for immediate cooking. And everything else would be ground down to sausage. Marcus feels like he is on a time crunch wanting everything to be done by the time the sun is over head. He'd start the smoking after the noon meal. Stefan makes short work of the introductions. "You both know Mr. Quartermaine and Mr. Morgan."
Zander nods. "Right. From when Miz Flo ran a chuck wagon for you when you brought the cattle thru the last time. Much appreciate you bringing them down on the far side. Made our lives a bit easier."
"It was no trouble." Jason says calmly. He'd been looking around the place from the time they'd walked up trying to figure where Carly would be. He'd taken her for being right out here in the thick of things with the smokehouse crew but she must be in the cabin. Jason is not unfamiliar with the process of butchering even if most of his experience is with steers. He observes that there had been space for six halves of hog but there are only three hanging now.
Zander ties on a couple of hams and hands them to Marcus who goes over to the smokehouse and hangs them on iron hooks within. Zander had offered to hang the hams himself but been refused kindly. Marcus has a plan. And it might be more inefficient to have him doing the cutting and the hanging both but that's the breaks. AJ examines the smokehouse with interest. The Quartermaine ranch had many things but a smokehouse wasn't one of them. Smoking meats took a special skill. And they'd never been lucky enough to have a cook that could, would or should do it. "How much can you fit?" AJ asks curiously.
"The three hogs will fit just right." Marcus reaches in and deposits the ham. "Cassadine went hunting last month. We fit an elk in it." He moves back to the jury rigged table and starts carving again.
"How do you know when things are done?"
Marcus shrugs. "I know when they look right. Some stuff might take three days. Some stuff might take a week. All depends."
"You don't need three hogs for three people. Not even all winter long." AJ states.
"Nope. Figure some will go to others in the valley."
"And some will be for sale?" AJ suggests. Marcus shrugs again. "Talk to Miz Flo right?"
"Right. She probably won't be selling much off of this. But rather the next butchering which will be February."
Having heard they have company, Miz Flo comes out with tin cups and a pot of coffee just in time to hear Marcus' comment. She pours everyone who wants some, some coffee. And then leaves the men to talk, figuring that if Mr. Quartermaine is interested then he'll get with her before he leaves. She'll make sure that he samples one of the sausage biscuits before he does and insure a sale that way.
While Marcus is hanging the joint of meat, Jason steps up to the table and examines the tools. Picking up the implements he starts to apply them with a capable skill. Marcus comes back over and watches with some interest. "You've done this before."
"Nope. But it doesn't seem that hard." Jason shrugs.
Marcus figures the guy is pulling his leg. AJ can tell that the big guy is on the verge of getting ticked and says. "While Jason is busy there how about a cup of this fine coffee that your mother prepared, Mr. Taggart."
Marcus stalks away from the table to where AJ is standing and takes a cup. There is no use in getting pissed. He repeats over and over mentally.
"Jason was in an accident a few years ago. He doesn't remember anything from before." AJ says softly. "Before the accident, it was his intention to follow in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. He'd assisted my parents on a number of occasions and doctored every stray on the ranch. It was his last summer here before heading off to college...." AJ shakes his head at the memory. "Anyway even if he doesn't remember there are some skills that he has retained. He meant no offense. If it doesn't seem that hard to him it's because he has done something like this before."
Stefan listens with some interest. It did seem to explain the mixture of physical skill and social ineptitude that he'd observed in Mr. Morgan.
Audrey strides confidently up the valley not stopping at the Taggart's or the Spencer's on her mission up at the Cassadines. She wants to thank them for the elk and brings her own token gift... not believing in showing up without something for the hostess. In the basket are cinnamon rolls made with precious supplies of spice and nuts. Neither of which can be grown on the homestead but had been purchased from the store. She knocks on the front door. Mrs. Lansbury answers the door. "Mrs. Hardy." There is a hint of surprise in her tone.
"Good morning, Mrs. Lansbury." Audrey smiles. "Is Mr. Cassadine in?"
"Master Stefan is down at Mr. Taggart's. Master Nikolas is down in the outbuilding I believe."
"Mrs. Lansbury, who is at the door?" Natasha comes out of the library. "Hello."
"Miss Cassadine." Audrey nods. "It's good to see you again."
"Mrs. Hardy. How is Zander doing?" Natasha brings up the only reason she can imagine this woman would be coming up the valley.
"Zander is fine." Mrs. Hardy smiles. "He is at the Taggart's this morning. I was hoping to see your brother and thank him for the provisions he dropped by my place yesterday."
Natasha looks at her blankly for a minute. "Oh yes. I remember now. You'll have to excuse my distraction; we have company. The younger Quartermaines are visiting. Mrs. Lansbury, have Nikolas and Miss Emily returned yet?"
Natasha sighs. "I will relay your thanks, Mrs. Hardy." Natasha turns around and goes back into the library.
"Well I never." Audrey sputters. that woman...
Mrs. Lansbury bites her tongue. "Would you like some tea, Mrs. Hardy? The water is hot."
"I think not." Audrey says stiffly.
"Please. Master Nikolas should be back in momentarily. He will be distressed if he finds that he has missed you. I'll bring out a pot of tea. Please make yourself comfortable."
"If I want to be comfortable, Mrs. Lansbury, I think I shall accompany you back to the kitchen!" Audrey asserts.
"And you'd be welcome." Mrs. Lansbury smiles. "Besides it is the first place Master Nikolas has been stopping when he comes back to the house." Once they are back in the kitchen Mrs. Lansbury can't help but glance toward the basket.
Audrey recognizes her curiosity but knows that Mrs. Lansbury won't ask. So she opens up the tea towel to reveal the contents. "I did want to thank all of you. The elk was much appreciated and a tremendous surprise. I know it doesn't compare but I hope you will accept this thank you gift."
"Oh they smell lovely." Mrs. Lansbury takes a deep breath. "Master Nikolas is sure to make short work of them."
"I should have thought of this before." Liz mutters to herself. She looks at the prairie schooner that is parked up in the upper pasture. And really eyes it with the possibility of being stuck out there for a couple of days in below freezing weather. The tarp tent that Lucky had rigged over the top of the wagon is fine for rain. Fine for keeping the sun off or most cold winds. But it really wouldn't do much in case of snow, ice or hail. It wouldn't hold up in a blizzard that's for sure. The wheels are wedged well with rocks that would take some effort to move. Looking around she tries to figure what would make it a proper shelter. The only thing up here really is the haystacks that had been put up back in July.
Riley eyes her with some interest but stays out from underfoot as Liz starts shifting sheaves of hay around the schooner building up a thick barrier right up to the wagon leaving no sides exposed-- not even the southern side. They'd slept under the wagon often enough when they'd come across from St. Louis to Charlestown. There is room to sit up under it... barely. As soon as she has the sheaves stacked to her satisfaction she climbs up in the wagon. The floor of the wagon is made up of wide planks. She stands on one and then nods. It was wide enough. It would be a tight fit but tight fits are a good thing. Looking around for a lever, she starts prying up one of the boards of the wagon base. Once she has it up, she sucks in her breath and squeezes down into the opening. It is dark. The only light coming thru is from the absence of the board overhead. Angling around, Liz reaches up and carefully replaces the board from below. It was like creating a cellar to the schooner.
"A fire is out." Liz mutters. It's already snug under there. "Probably get by with just an oil lamp. Leave the board up a bit to create a draft." They put out a little heat with the light. It's too dark. She pops the board back out so she can see what she is doing and takes a deep breath of the chill fall air. Then starts bringing down supplies into the hidey-hole she'd created. Everything had to be critter proof-- so it is jars or tins of food. There was a rain barrel outside so that was covered. There would be enough room for her and Riley down here. The sheep...well they'd be on their own. They've got the coats to be able to withstand the weather. Hell of a lot better than a cow that was for sure and way better than a human.
Up at the Taggart's. Marcus looks
with some satisfaction down into the smokehouse. The walls are lined with hams
hung from iron hooks that had been salvaged from abandoned cabins and a few that
he'd picked up from the store in Charlestown. He hangs the last ham and then
goes into the cabin and brings out an iron bar that is strung with circles of
sausage. It would be the last thing in and the first thing out. He carefully
sets it into the notches he'd left in the construction of the smokehouse and
then puts the roof on the smokehouse.
For most it would be a two man task but with barely a grunt he settles it in on top of the smokehouse fussing with it to make sure the fit is snug. Course the test run on the elks had eased his mind some. As soon as everything is to his specification, he fires up the firebox using corncobs and and just a bit of his precious supply of hickory chips. He was going to have to have Gia write a letter to one of his pals back in Alabama to have more hickory sent out since there wasn't any out here. The corncobs would work on their own and there was a plentiful supply but the hickory is tradition.
"Time for dinner!" Flo announces to all. "We're still working on more sausage in the cabin but you're welcome to have a... picnic. Got plenty of hot sausage biscuits and coffee. And I know I'm not going to be able to get Marcus away from that smokehouse to near on dark, he fusses so. I got everything set up on the porch."
Marcus sure enough goes over to
the porch and dishes up himself a plate and refill on coffee and then carries
both over to the smokehouse firebox. He sets his tin cup on the firebox to keep
it warm and gets comfortable to have his noon meal. Sarah fixes herself and
Zander a plate and carries them both over to the firebox too. Zander had
appropriated a blanket that he'd strung over his shoulder.
It's a study watching him balance on one crutch while casting out the blanket on the little hill that Marcus had built the smokehouse into, but Sarah doesn't try to assist him knowing he'd rather do it himself. Sarah settles on the blanket and then Zander eases himself down on the blanket next to her. Sarah hands him the meal. "You're going to have a hell of a time getting back up." Marcus watches the whole process with a bit of humor but he too had made no effort to assist Zander.
"Good thing you built on a hill." Zander says breathlessly. "All else fails I can always roll down."
Stefan, AJ and Jason all fix plates and join them by the firebox. It is putting out a bit of a heat but the stack draws clean leaving not a trace of smoke cept coming from the top of the smokehouse. Stefan looks with some interest at the fare. It's of humble ingredients... rice, beans, biscuits. What he might dine on if out in the woods hunting for an extended period of time. He carefully takes a bite and his brows go up. Humble ingredients indeed-- made savory with the addition of spice and sausage.
Lulu comes running around and plops herself down between Stefan and Marcus. "You missed all the fun, Mr. Marcus. Me, Gia and Carly were making sausage! But your Mama was mean to me. She wouldn't let me run the grinder! Not even when Carly's arm got tired." Lulu pouts at that one.
"Mama doesn't believe in finger sausages." Marcus explains wryly.
AJ chokes and tolerates Jason pounding him on the back. "I'm fine." He gasps finally and reaches for his coffee to clear his throat.
"If Mrs. Taggart did not permit your assistance with the grinder... what did she permit you to do?" Stefan asks. It might be his mother's preference and even his sister's to have children seen but not heard... and preferably not even seen, but he'd always enjoyed the perceptions of youth before it has been jaded and stifled by society and life. They are more honest.
"The knots." Lulu lifts her arm out. "When the casing were stuffed this much..." She touches from elbow to wrist. "... then I'd do an overhand knot. I had to show her that I knew how. Cause she wants everything to be perfect." Lulu repeats what Flo had told her. "Gonna do something then do it right. Anything else is just a waste."
Stefan nods as seriously as Lulu had said the last. "Yes, I've found that to be true."
Jason is the first one done with his plate using the last of a piece of biscuit to wipe up the bits of gravy. Then he carries it back to the cabin. Just in time as Carly is out on the porch taking a breather. Their gazes meet. Carly slowly smiles. "You ever seen tobacco hanging?"
"I don't believe I have." Jason shrugs.
Carly takes his plate from him and takes it into the cabin. "Miz Flo, I'm going to go for a walk to cool off. I'll be back." She doesn't wait for the woman to question her but goes back on the porch and takes Jason's hand tugging him toward the Taggart's barn.
"Still think that Sheba is a funny name for a stud." Emily says over her shoulder to Nikolas as they are walking up from the barn.
"Sheba is a place; it has no gender." Nikolas replies.
"I have a mare...."
"Bring her down."
"You haven't even seen her."
"I have confidence in your judgment... where horses are concerned." Nikolas replies. He reaches in front of Emily and opens the back door to the house. Inside the warm and cheery kitchen, Mrs. Lansbury and Mrs. Hardy are still visiting. "Mrs. Hardy!"
"Hello Nikolas, I was just dropping by to thank you and your uncle for your kindness. The elk is much appreciated."
"If Zander hadn't broken his leg he would have been the one to bring down the elk. It is only fair." Nikolas denies, uncomfortable with the recognition. One of the reasons why they'd secreted the elk to the Hardy's was to avoid the comments although he knew that they would know where it had come from.
"More than fair." Mrs. Hardy presses.
Nikolas flushes. Emily gives him an elbow that he takes in relief. "Mrs. Hardy, this is Emily Quartermaine. Miss Emmie, this is Mrs. Hardy. She owns the homestead at the entry to the valley."
"Mrs. Hardy." Emily nods. Nik holds her chair for her and Emily sits down at the table with the two older women. "Nik, was telling me earlier about the way you splinted your neighbor's leg." Em makes a face. "Don't think I could have done it. That whole doctoring thing makes me..." Em makes a face.
"I too would have preferred for someone else to do it." Audrey sighs. "We didn't have the option at the time. I'm still hoping that we won't need to have a doctor. Zander refuses to have it checked saying that he is just fine."
"Doctors are a pain. I should know I live with two." Em smiles. "I'm with Zander on that one, and I've never met the guy."
Liz and Riley walk down from the
upper pasture. Riley keeps close to Liz's heels even as he checks out everything
along the path worn by the critters. His oversized ears are perked at every
sound. Liz is looking forward to having the cabin to herself for a minute or two
figuring that Sarah is still up at the Taggart's with Zander and Gram was fixing
on visiting a bit up at the Cassadines. Liz makes a face. Nikolas was okay. Even
Mr. Cassadine was okay. But that Miss Cassadine is a pill. Better Gram than her
that's for dang sure.
Liz pauses at the break in the trees when she sees the cabin. The hair goes up on the back of her neck. It didn't bother her particular to see smoke coming out of the stack. Gram would have put the dampers down on the woodstove and let it barely heat so that she wouldn't have to light it again later but there was something off. The front door is wide open.
She ducks behind the trunk of one of the trees and bends over to grab Riley before he can go tearing down to the house. Looking around she sees two unfamiliar horses in the corral. "I'm making something of nothing." She mutters. "Probably just someone come a'calling." But nuthin can convince the hair on the back of her neck. "Come on, Riley." Liz keeps to the trees and cuts along the back of the property constantly checking over her shoulder to see if she's been spotted. "Mr. Marcus will know what's what."
Marcus is the first one to spot Elizabeth as she comes up on the back of the Taggart property. His eyes narrow and he rises to his feet. "Miss Elizabeth?"
Liz blurts out her news breathlessly. "There are two horses I didn't know in our corral. The door is standing wide open. I came straight here. Gram?"
Sarah is already on her feet. "Gram was going to go up to the Cassadines. Zander and I saw her go past. We didn't know that Mr. Cassadine was coming down here. Far as I know she is still up there."
Marcus looks at AJ. The Quartermaine men were the unfamiliar presence in the valley. "Where did you put your horses?"
"At the Cassadines, We walked down from there." AJ reminds, looking toward Stefan who nods confirmation.
"And you weren't expecting anyone else?"
Liz shakes her head in reply to Marcus' inquiry. Marcus nods and doesn't say anything just stalks into the cabin and grabs his .22 rifle. Which brings both Gia and Flo out wanting to know what the hell is going on. Neither Stefan or AJ were expecting any trouble and aren't armed for what they assumed was a trip to the neighbors. Zander is swearing and hopping to his good foot, tucking the crutches under his arm. Now he feels totally useless.
AJ looks around and then calls out to his brother. "Jase!"
Jason comes out of the barn. He is fully dressed but there is an extra button unfastened on his shirt giving him a little room to breathe. At his hip is the .45 he doesn't travel without. He is already looking for trouble from the sound of AJ's voice. "What?" He sees the rifle in Marcus' hand and the tension in the other men.
"It's probably nothing." Elizabeth starts wondering if she'd set off something. She should have checked it out herself before calling in the neighbors. "I was on my way back to gram's cabin and the door was open and there was two horses I didn't know in the corral. I'm overreacting." She tries to dismiss her concerns.
Jason shrugs. "Maybe. Maybe not."
"I want to go too!" Lulu interjects trying to get in front of the guys. "I can be sneaky. I can look in the windows and they'll never see me and if I don't know them then you can come in with guns blazing and kill them and we'll bury them out behind Mrs. Hardy's house and plant flowers on them. Daddy says Carly is the best at digging holes. Where is Carly?" Lulu starts looking around.
AJ and Jason look at each other. AJ raises a brow. The kid was a Quartermaine in the making. How did she know about Lila's rose garden?
Carly had heard Elizabeth's and Lulu's comments and rushes to get the last of her clothes right before coming out of the barn. "No way, Ladybug."
"But I want to go." Lulu protests. "You never let me have any fun!"
Carly winces and wonders if that is the way she sounds when dealing with her mother and uncle. She looks at the grim faces of the five guys. "Mr. Marcus is going to handle it." She tells Lulu. "You have to run up to the Cassadines and find out if Mrs. Hardy was expecting any company and tell her exactly word for word what Elizabeth said. And you have to get there fast not stopping unless you see your Daddy or Lucky. Get going." Carly orders. Lulu takes off at a run not waiting for any confirmation from any of the guys. She's used to taking orders from Carly. It's a rule of their foraging together.
Marcus looks at Zander. "You're staying here."
Zander is about to protest until he sees Marcus look over his shoulder to where Gia, Flo, Sarah and Liz are standing on the porch of the cabin. That and the realization he will only be slowing them down. He nods reluctantly. "Nik will be down as soon as he gets the message from Lulu. I'll let him know what's what."
Marcus looks over to the other man from the valley and nods at Stefan. They start toward the Hardy's. AJ and Jason are right behind them. Carly falls in as well. "Miss Carly, go back to the house." Marcus orders.
"Nope, I'm coming. I got your back, Mr. Marcus." Mom would skin me for anything less Carly remembers her mother's instruction from the trip to the mining camp and doesn't slow down. Marcus had enough dealings to know that trying to stop her would only end up eating up time and would end with Carly following them anyway.
Jason who is used to dealing with Emily doesn't question the decision. AJ on the other hand puts in his own protest. "Miss Spencer..."
"Less talking more walking." Carly blows him off and picks up her pace so that she is right on Marcus' heels.
"Mrs. Hardy! Mrs. Hardy!" Lulu bursts into the Cassadine house without knocking. The first person she runs into is Natasha.
"What on earth!" Natasha protests putting herself in the path of the little hellion.
Lulu tries to dodge her and keeps hollering. "Mrs. Hardy! Mrs. Hardy!"
Natasha reaches out to grab the child by the shoulder but Lulu ducks under the arm and in fact kicks out at the tall woman in the grim garb. "Why you little savage!"
Audrey who'd heard the call comes out from the kitchen followed by Nikolas and Emily. "Lulu?" Lulu runs to Mrs. Hardy and turning around makes a face at Natasha and sticks out her tongue at the woman. Then she turns around and recites what Elizabeth had said running the words together. She'd been practicing it in her head all the while running up here not wanting to forget a bit. Mrs. Hardy blanches. "Oh dear."
"Guess this means you weren't expecting company." Nik says grimly. He walks over to the fireplace mantle and pulls off his rifle and tucks shells into his pocket.
"I'm going with you." Em reaches for her gun belt which is hanging on the wall tree in the entry way. They head out to the barn to get their horses.
"I have to go too." Audrey starts gathering her things. "Lulu, I'll drop you off at your place."
"I'm sure everything will be fine." Mrs. Lansbury says awkwardly.
"Yes, it's probably a false alarm. Someone who is lost." Audrey lies hopefully trying to believe it. Taking Lulu's hand, they start down the path. Nikolas and Emily are way ahead of them their horses kicking up dust on the path as they race down the valley.
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