Author's Note: A Letter of Confrontation
The advent of the telegraph hadn't meant a complete end to the Express, the mail took a little longer, and they didn't run the mail at all hours or risk life and limb every moment, but the mail still went through.
Word came down from Russell, Majors, & Waddell that hiring was frozen until they said otherwise, so the men they had on hand was the staff they'd have to make do with.
Rachel had remained with the Station even after Teaspoon had stepped down as the Station Manager. Russell, Majors and Waddell hadn't appointed anyone to replace him. The remaining Express riders had some time on their hands every so often and it wasn't unusual to see them around town working odd jobs and helping out where they could.
Kid heard the burst of laughter in the street and stood up from his chair. Making the necessary steps to the counter, he peered out the window. Noah, Jimmy and Buck were making their way along the street keeping Cody behind them no matter how much he tried to get around them. After a while Cody gave up his efforts and jumped on Jimmy's back, knocking the man down into the dirt. That did it. Jimmy turned and knocked Cody back with a well placed shove and scrambling to his feet, Jimmy ran off with Cody's hat in his hands.
Standing there in the telegraph office Kid shook his head at the childish display, but there was a little part of him that wanted to be out there horsing around with the others. The telegraph machine sent out a quick tattoo of sound and Kid quickly sat himself down in the chair and signaled that he was ready to receive the message.
He wrote the incoming message down on a piece of paper and sent the closing message to the other operator on the line. With a fresh piece of paper he re-wrote the message, taking his time to make sure the message was legible and correct.
Waiting a moment to make sure that there wasn't anything else to the message, Kid reached out and tucked the paper into a box for delivery a little later. He was just about to sit back down at the desk when the door swung open and Rachel stepped inside. "Oh, Kid!" She immediately flushed and gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry, I keep forgetting to use your name."
"Kid is fine," he reassured her, "what can I do for you, Rachel?"
"Well," she gave him a winning smile as she reached for the pencil on the counter top and a piece of paper, "I'd like to say that I just stopped in to say hello, but I need a telegraph sent to St. Jo."
"Saint Jo, huh?" Kid felt a tremor in his middle when she said the name. "Is it for Lou?"
Rachel's smile brightened. "Yes, it is." Setting down her pencil Rachel turned the paper around so Kid could read it, placing the fee on the counter in coins between them. "Will that work?"
Kid read the message aloud as there were no other people in the room to overhear. "From - Rachel Dunne -Rock Creek to Louise McCloud - St. Jo. Louise - stop, will arrive on the 12th - stop, see you soon, Rachel - full stop."
He looked up at his old friend. "Going for a visit, huh?"
"It's been a few months," Rachel admitted, "and the letters just aren't enough for me." She adjusted the shawl on her shoulders, "I really want to see for myself that she's settled there."
"So what," Kid fiddled with the paper in his hands, "what is she doing in St. Jo? Does she have a job?"
"You know, Lou," Rachel started, "if there's work, she'll do it. She's never shied away from a little effort."
"Yes, of course," Kid shrugged, "if there was something, that she needed, you'd tell me, right?"
Rachel looked up suddenly at his question. "She's fine, Kid. And I'm sure if she needed something, she'd let us know."
The door of the telegraph office swung in suddenly framing Ike in the late afternoon sun.
After a few words Rachel nodded. "You're right, Ike." Looking back at Kid she reached out and grasped his upper arm. "I'm sorry to run, but we've gotta get supper on the table before Cody starts eating one of the other riders." She moved to the door pausing for only a moment. "You should come by some night for supper and bring Samantha with you."
Kid brightened at the thought. "That sounds like fun, Rachel… I'll ask Samantha and we'll find a day to stop by."
Rachel waved as she walked away trying to keep pace with Ike. Kid waved until she disappeared beyond the window. Walking back to his desk he looked over the message another time before actually setting it down and prepping the telegraph for the message. Lou. She'd moved on with her life and was in St. Jo and here he was happily married. He sent a call through the line and waited for a response from the other end.
Catching site of his reflection in the glass of the door Kid smiled. Things were working out for everyone. He couldn't ask for more.
Judging by the lack of activity at the General Store, Kid started to walk a little faster since he was probably late. The house that they'd rented sat at the end of one of the streets in town. There was rumor that the man who owned the existing houses was planning on selling his property and moving back East. It was a bit of a strain for him to think about it. If he was able to purchase their home that would make it easier, but the existing structure was a little… small. He'd have to add onto it soon, especially with Martha living with them. The money to build onto the structure would put a dent in his account at the bank, but building a new house… that wasn't possible right now, or for the foreseeable future.
Samantha fairly bolted from the door when he turned the corner, she smiled and he felt his heart lighten and his own smile color his cheeks. She never failed to have that affect on him. "You're home!" She reached for his free hand and wrapped it in hers.
"Samantha! His fingers are probably covered in ink, you'll be a mess."
Looking back at her mother through the open doorway, Samantha only raised her eyebrows. "He's a telegrapher, Martha, not a newspaper man… he's doesn't use ink."
"Well, he's late regardless and unless you want to share your supper with the flies you'll come inside and close the door."
"Yes, Martha." Samantha's tone was indulgent and she gave Kid a wink. "It's about time you came home, Martha was about to toss your supper out into the street."
He wasn't quite sure if she was telling the truth or if she was joshing him, still he didn't want to take a chance. Supper was a grand opportunity to spend time with Samantha, but Martha's presence always seemed to give the meal a somber tone. He surrendered his empty lunch pail to Samantha and moved quickly to the wash basin to clean up for the table. He didn't want to give her any opportunity to find something wrong about him tonight.
Tonight, he had to talk to Samantha.
Louise reached out to grab the dress form before it toppled over onto the display she'd just set up along the side wall. With a small groan she cursed her skirts, much wider than her hips, they seemed designed to swish about and knock things to and fro.
She turned a severe look to her sister when she heard the resulting giggle. "Teresa!"
Her younger sister only managed to swallow part of her reaction. "I'm sorry, Louise… it's just funny. You're like a bull in a china shop, always knocking something over with your skirts."
"Well, a bull in china shop would be much more expensive. Thank goodness we've got soft things that we sell. They don't break when they fall on the floor."
"No," Teresa scrunched up her nose in distaste, "they don't even get dusty, seein' as you have me sweeping up three times a day."
"It's dusty this time of year, sweetie. The door opens and half of the street comes in. Just wait until the winter, then you'll be sweeping up the snow that blows in."
Teresa groaned. "Then we'd better make enough money to hire someone by then."
Louise lifted the pinned bodice of a burgundy travelling dress into her lap and looked over at her sister and her pleading expression. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?" She winked and smiled at Teresa. "You've got those petticoats to finish and then we can close up."
"Right, the petticoats." Teresa plucked the needle from the cushion with a little bit of a flourish to show her sister that she was doing what she was told and then jammed it back into the calico covered notion when the door opened up. "Oh, look… company."
Her attention focused on the garment at hand, Louise could only manage a flicker of a glance at the doorway. Her smile grew when she was able to discern the tall silhouette of her younger brother filling the entry. "Hello, Jeremiah."
"Lou, Treesa," he ruffled his little sister's hair and dodged her claws as she tried to score his arm for the insult, "you'll never catch a man acting like a mountain lion, Treesa." The childish nickname never got old for him.
"You'll pay for that later, Miah." She sing-songed his name in retaliation, please when his expression soured.
"I stopped by on the way to the boarding house to deliver a telegram." He lifted the paper out of the way of Teresa's grasping hands. "Don't be a pain, this is for Lou."
"Louise," Teresa reminded him, "Lou is so… boyish."
Jeremiah walked around her and made his way to the counter, leaning over to see what she was sewing. "That was the point, right? Boyish?"
She rolled her eyes as Teresa threw up her hands in frustration. "Stop pestering each other. I don't have the time to play peacekeeper."
"You want me to read this to you?" Jeremiah waved the paper back and forth as Louise continued her work.
"I take it that you've already read it?" She didn't look up as she made another sequence of stitches along the side seam of the bodice. "And that it won't be embarrassing if read aloud?"
"Give me credit for havin' a lick of sense, Lou."
She couldn't help but smile at the deep scratch of his voice. "Fine, Jeremiah… read me the telegram. I'm curious about what it has to say." Louise listened intently as he read the short missive. "Wonderful. I've missed Rachel dearly." She blinked back the sudden mist of tears in her eyes. "It's been awhile since I've seen her."
Teresa was settled back on her stool, the lengths of fabric of Mrs. Olsen's petticoats obscuring her legs. "It will be fun putting a face to the name… you've talked about her enough that I think I'll recognize her on sight."
"I think you will, Teresa," Louise smiled as she set a knot in her thread. "It'll be nice for the two of you to meet."
Samantha's hand faltered mid-stroke as she brushed her hair. "Why I had no idea, Harmon. Why would I have any idea of such things?"
"I just-" He leaned against the doorframe and looked at her, momentarily distracted by the perfection of her hair, raven curls falling about her pale shoulders. She was truly a sight to behold and he had to force himself to remember what it was he had started to talk about. "The bill is quite large, Samantha."
She turned on the seat, her hands settling prettily in her lap. "Don't we have enough to cover it?"
"Sure," he was eager to reassure her when he saw the hesitation in her eyes, "but with the possibility of buying a house comin' up… we need to be careful how we spend our money."
"Oh, of course, Harmon. I only had to get a few necessities."
"Necessities?" He felt the muscle tense in his jaw and took a breath to calm himself. Necessities to him didn't mean scented waters and soaps or a new bonnet, but as long as she was going to be careful… "Besides, I talked to Mr. Tompkins and he said they need a teacher here in Rock Creek."
"Oh?" Samantha turned back toward the mirror and took up her brush again. "Who?"
There it was that pang of dread in his middle. He didn't quite understand why it was there. "Oh, Mr. Tompkins says the job is yours… you were hired in Sweetwater and that's with Tompkins on the Town Council. He's also on the council here and they don't see why you couldn't just step right in. After all," he gave a little chuckle remembering the strange color that had crept over Tompkins' collar, "he got that order of books in that you wanted and he brought them here with the new teacher in Sweetwater didn't know what to do with them. He said that the cost alone was-"
"Surely I can't take the job now." She didn't break her rhythm at all as she continued to brush out her hair.
"Why not?" Kid tugged at his collar, suddenly searching for air. "That's why you came to Sweetwater in the first place and it would really-"
"Harmon?" Samantha swiveled around again and gave him a sweet smile as she instructed him in her reasoning. "I'm married… and married women do not teach. It's just not done." She lifted her brush and gave him a nod. "Surely you understand that it wouldn't be proper for me to spend my time caring for someone else's children."
She drew the brush through her long hair and smiled with a beguiling expression on her face. "Besides, I hope that we'll soon be expecting our own child and I couldn't spend my time on any pursuit beyond that of caring for my family and our standing in the community. That is how it should be."
Setting the brush down on her dressing table she stood, smoothing the invisible wrinkles from her gown. "Now it's time for you to come to bed, Harmon. It's been a long day and you have work in the morning."
She turned her back on him, drawing back the blankets on their bed and slipping beneath them. She gave him a smile and closed her eyes. Kid pulled the letter out from his pocket and looked down at it with a sigh. He'd pay the bill, of course, but then he'd need to find a way to save more money for a down payment. Maybe, he'd ask Mr. Tompkins about the clerk position that he had open. If he could work out his schedule… then maybe, just maybe things would work out for them both… well, all three of them.
To be continued...