Sumner T. Langmore shuddered at the plate set before him on the crudely constructed table. As the woman in the worn apron shouldered past he held up his hand to catch her attention. "Ex- Excuse me, madam."
She stopped short her eyebrows raising high into the fringe of unruly hair on her forehead. "I ain't no madam."
"I'm sorry," he stumbled over the apology that was both unconscious and unfamiliar, "I just wanted to ask-"
"I run a good clean place, here."
His expression belied his stilted nod. "I was merely inquiring-"
"I don't know them fancy words." Her tone and expression brooked no argument.
Sumner, as comfortable as a fish out of water, had no idea what to do. "I ah… the food."
Her foot started to tap a steady rhythm as she waited, plates of food tipping and dipping in her hands.
He swallowed hard at the look of the brown goo covered mess. "Is there anything else that I might order?"
She didn't answer him, but whirled on her heel as she shouted. "I need a pipe."
Left staring at the empty space the woman had occupied just moments before, Sumner was again at a loss.
"I think you made her mad."
He looked at the older man sitting across the table and blinked. "I'm sorry."
"This here's a stage station, son." There was more than a bit of amusement in the man's expression.
"Yes, but surely there's to be something more palatable available for the more discerning guests."
The older man pounded a fist on his chest to dislodge a stubborn bit of food into his stomach. "Dis-earning? You ain't got money?" Sumner shook his head rapidly and held up his hands. "No… no… dis-cerning… for patrons who would like something a bit more palatable." He held up a finger for a moment's respite and clarified for those who might wonder. "Tasty."
The young blond man sitting beside the older man stopped, still as a statue with a full spoon an inch from his mouth. "What's he sayin', Teaspoon? This stew's real tasty." To punctuate his assessment, the young man stuffed the dirt colored goo into his mouth and munched heartily.
"As Cody here mentioned," the older man began as he lifted his napkin with great pomp and ceremony and tucked it into the slightly stained collar of his shirt, "the stew's good here. Just doesn't look too appetizing, but you can get over that if you just shovel it in past yer eyes and give your neighbor across the table a big ol' grin." Lifting his pinky finger off of the stem of the spoon he dipped the bowl of the spoon into the mass of food on his plate and lifted up the full utensil with a flourish. "I, by the way, am Teaspoon Hunter, at your service."
"Sumner T. Lagmore, of Boston, at yours, sir."
The man sitting across from Teaspoon seemed to turn a shade of green in the oily yellow of the station's lanterns as Teaspoon gulped down the spoonful. "I suggest you dig in before there ain't no more and you'll never have a chance at seconds."
"'Specially with me around, Mister."
Sumner could only nod weakly.
Teaspoon took a long drink from his cup and eyed the man as he set it down. "Somethin' wrong, son?"
Words seemed to war within Sumner's head for a minute. "It must be the exhaustion." He took a drink of water and nearly choked on it. "And the seats… they're hard as stone."
The young blond man named Cody looked up from another spoonful of brown slop. "Got a sore bee-hind, eh?" He shared a grin with Teaspoon. "Teaspoon here's got a tin of bear grease in his saddle bag, you aughta see if he'll let you try some."
"Be…Bear grease?" Sumner's complexion took another dip into green from white. "What would I do with that?"
Cody stared back at him as if he'd grown another head. "Why, it helps with the chaffin' and the sore spots. Teaspoon's bear grease is legendary around these parts."
"I do appreciate the thought son, but-"
"Oh it don't matter to me if you do or you don't, mister. I only offered it meanin' to help."
Sumner was thoroughly flustered. "I'm sorry there young man. I guess… well, I think it may just be the heat out here that has me out of sorts. You see, I've come to the West to strike out on my own… to make my fortune as so many others have. Enjoy the adventure of the West and meet up with rustics along the way."
He sobered considerably when the young man across from couldn't even hide his laughter.
"You find this funny?" "Forgive my young friend," Teaspoon began, giving Cody a stern look, "but he's young and a sight too silly for his own good half… most of the time. And while we're Marshal and Express Rider by vocation, we are prime examples of what you call 'rustics'."
Suddenly the grandeur of Sumner's idea seemed to fade in his mind. "Oh, really… I-"
Old Sam Poppins shoved his head into the open doorway and hollered. "All aboard the stage that's goin' West!" The room became a flurry of activity and while the stage passengers nearly tumbled out the door to get their seats. Teaspoon made a beeline for the privy.
Cody nodded in the direction his boss had taken. "You might wanna consider a stop there yourself, mister."
Sumner shrugged off the idea. "I'm fine." He continued to stare in the direction that Teaspoon had gone as the younger man performed some sort of odd stretching and bending regimen.
Seeing the man's curious look Cody slowed his movements and grinned. "It helps to move around a bit before getting' back on… helps keep a body relaxed when everyone's squished into the stage like pickles in a barrel."
"No thank you… I'm fine." Sumner watched the short little man that served as 'security' on the stage climb up into his seat beside the driver. "Your friend certainly is… well,… I guess the word is 'country.'"
Sumner tried to explain. "His ways… they're on the 'rough' side. I doubt he's had a new suit of clothes in… well in awhile, and his manners and 'apothecary' skills… it's all quite…" Seeing Cody's half-cringe Sumner gave a little shake of his head. "He's standing behind me, isn't he?" Turning on his heel, Sumner began to 'gather-up' the words to express his embarrassment. "Mr. Teaspoon , I-"
The white-haired gentleman waved off the apology. "Now don't you worry yerself, Mr. Langmore. No sense tryin' to call a turnip anythin' other than a turnip." Teaspoon considered the other man's words for a moment before he spoke again. "After all, I believe that's the nicest thing you've said since you got here!"