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 A Stranger In Town

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Silverkelpie

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Posts : 1374
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 56
Location : Over the rainbow

PostSubject: A Stranger In Town   Fri Aug 07, 2015 9:48 pm

“We’ve been workin’ for him for a month now, Heyes.  You’ve broken in and examined his books, we’ve followed him every time he went for a drink – that makes twice now, and we’ve spoken to almost everyone in town.  Albert Charlesworth seems to be a dependable, moral, stand-up fella.”  The Kid rested his hands on his hips and fixed Hannibal Heyes with a questioning stare.  “We’ve found nothin’ wrong at all.  It’s time for us to go and report back to his prospective mother-in-law that we can’t find any reason why her daughter shouldn’t marry this man.  That’s our job, and I reckon we’re done here.”


His cousin shrugged and folded his arms.  “I dunno...”


The Kid gave a hiss of exasperation.  “What have you seen him do?  Help too many old ladies across the road?  Is twice a week at church not enough for you? What’s the problem?  He spends every night sitting quietly at home.  His housekeeper is the only other person there and she’s old enough to be his mother.”


“I dunno; call it instinct, trusting women’s intuition, or just following your gut.  Something told Mrs. Rudgard that the man courting her daughter isn’t to be trusted.  She’s sure he’s just after her money.”


“And you’re gonna listen to a woman’s fancying?  We’re done here.  We need to go back and make our report that Charlesworth is a model citizen.  We ain’t found a thing and he ain’t put a foot wrong.  She’s just an over-protective mother.”


“As far as I could see she’s a level-headed, sane woman.  I listen to your instincts all the time.”  Heyes arched a brow.  “Nobody is so perfect that they have no vices at all.  He’s got to be hiding something.  He’s just too perfect.  That’s his tell.”


“Yeah?  Well you tell me what that is, because I can’t see it.  The man lives a routine life, with his finances in order, no gamblin’, minimum drinkin’, and he doesn’t mix with women except in church,” blue eyes glanced over to the house.  “The only woman he ever mixes with is his middle-aged housekeeper.  The man’s almost a saint.  He’s just too darn borin’ to spend any more time on.  He’s too good to be true.  He never even cussed when he stubbed his toe.  I swear he sits in that house every evenin’ knittin’ mittens for poor kittens.”


“You’re right, Thaddeus.”  Heyes nodded, firmly.  “We’ve wasted a month.  It’s time for us to do something positive.  Let’s go and give a week’s notice.  It’s make or break time.”


oooOOOooo


“Well, if it isn’t the stranger’s who’ve been asking about Mr. Charlesworth all over town?”  The housekeeper pinned them with a harsh look.  “Mr. Charlesworth isn’t at home.  He’s at church.  He’s helping paint it along with a few of the congregation.”


Heyes nodded.  “Yeah, that sounds like the man I know.  We need to be moving on, Ma’am.  I wrote a letter to give notice.  Can I leave it with you?”



She reached out.  “Sure, I can take that for you.  What, precisely, did you hope to find out?”


“We’re very devout men.  You may have seen us go to church every Sunday.  We like to know that we’re not in the employ of a scoundrel.”  Heyes looked down at the proffered palm and smiled.  “You have lovely hands, Mrs. Williams.” 


The matron blushed and dropped her gaze beneath her round glasses, and turned it to examine it.  “Why, thank you.  I try to take care of them by applying a fard my mother taught me to make.  It’s just one of my little feminine vanities.” 


Heyes beamed at her.  “Well worth the effort, Ma’am.”  He stepped back as he handed it over, straight into his partner.  The Kid stumbled and Heyes swivelled around to catch him, but his foot caught behind the gunman’s ankle, and Kid Curry would have staked his life that the hands reaching out to him were pushing him, not catching him.  He hit the ground with a thump.   “What the...”  The Kid felt a sharp toe in his side to cut short the exclamation as Heyes rushed to his aid.  Irritated blue eyes glared up the dimpled grin full of silent meaning. 


“Mrs. Williams, I think my partner here has just turned his ankle.  He’s always doing this.  He’s a martyr to it.  Are you alright, Thaddeus?”


The Kid flexed a muscle in his jaw and decided to go with whatever scheme the ex-outlaw leader had decided to spin this time.  He looked straight into the brown eyes.  “There’s a real big pain, that’s for sure.”


“Any chance of a glass of cold water for him?” Heyes asked.


“Of course,” Mrs. Williams opened the door fully to allow Heyes to assist the ‘injured’ farmhand inside.  “Put him over there, by the table.  Let’s get that boot off and have a look at it.”  She frowned at the emerging limb, not noticing the evil looks emanating from the fair haired man rolling up his trouser leg.  “No, maybe it’s just turned a little.  Would you like some coffee while we see if he can walk it off?”


“That would be most hospitable,” nodded the Kid.


“You’re church goers?  What denomination are you?”


Heyes hesitated.  “We’re Methodologists.”


“Methodologists?”  The crescent lenses sparkled.  “I don’t think I’ve heard of them.”


“Yes, it’s an English movement.”  Heyes paused.  “We like to worship through hard work.”


A pair of blue eyes widened in surprise before glancing over at the woman pouring out the coffee.  “You could definitely say that our actions speak louder than our words, ma’am.”  He glowered at his cousin.  “Especially mine.”


A tray clattered over to the table.  “It’s very refreshing to meet such devout men.  I knew there was something different about you.  Cream?  Sugar?”  She indicated a heavy pottery jug which looked incongruous alongside an elegant sliver sugar jug.


“Sugar?” the Kid grinned.  “I’ll have sugar.”


“You seem to have brightened up, Mr. Jones.”  She raised a pair of delicate tongs.  “One or two?”


“Three, please.  If that’s alright, Ma’am.”


She pursed her lips and plopped the chunks of the precious commodity into the cups before stirring furiously.  “Mr. Smith?”


“As it comes, Mrs. Williams,” the long fingers reached out to the sugar bowl.  “A lovely piece.  Silver?”


“Georgian.  It belonged to my mother.  It seemed a shame not use it.”


“It’s been part of a set, I’ll bet.”  Heyes raised it up to peer at the bottom.  “It’s hallmarked.  It’s the real thing.”


A firm hand reached out and grasped the sugar bowl firmly before clattering it down on the table.  “I do not care what it is worth.  It was my mother’s and I like to use it.  It makes me feel close to her.”


Heyes gave the woman a smile of appeasement.  “Of course.  Did she lose the rest of the set?”


“She never had it.  She was a maid for some lord in England and it was given to her as a gift when she emigrated.”


“Really?”   Heyes eyes sparkled with devilment.  “Your mother got something like that.  Didn’t she, Thaddeus?  A silver snuffbox, I think.  She always laughed when she observed how many of the gifts were given to people leaving the country conveniently fitted in a pocket, compared to the people who kept working there and got nothing.”


Hard blue eyes burned into his partner.  “I don’t remember.”


“You must remember.  She kept your baby teeth in it.”


“Nope,” daggers of blue ice reiterated.  “I don’t.” 


“What are you suggesting,” spluttered the housekeeper.  “Are you calling my mother a thief?”


“Nothing.”  Heyes shook his head innocently.  “My folks came from England.  I know what went on.  The poor servants had a hard life.  They deserved something.”


The grey eyes behind the spectacles froze.  “I think you’d better go.”


Heyes gave a smile of contrition.  “Yes, ma’am.  I’m sorry.  Sometimes my mouth just runs away with me.  Get your boot back on Thaddeus.”


“I never wanted to take it off,” the Kid protested.  “I’m real sorry, Mrs. Williams.  There’s a reason I try to keep him workin’ on horses, and even then he only does the back end.”


“Just go,” she snapped.  “I’m not amused by his slight against my late mother.”


Heyes stumbled and bumbled his way to the door supporting the supposed cripple all the way.  “I really am sorry.  I didn’t mean anything by it.” 


They staggered out to the porch and into the caustic sunshine and heard the door slam behind them.   Heyes whispered hoarsely in his partner’s ear.  “Keep acting.  You never know if she’s still watching.”


“Acting?  What were you up to?” the Kid hissed.


“It just struck me that we checked out everyone around this man but the woman who lives in his house.”


“The next time you’ve got a plan, how about lettin’ me in on it?  That fall hurt.”  The Kid swung an arm around Heyes’ shoulder and limped theatrically back to the bunkhouse.  “You might as well help me.  You ‘twisted’ the ankle, you get the extra weight.  If you wanted her to talk why did you annoy her so much?  That was just plain dumb.”


“Dumb as a fox, Kid.  Did you see her hands?”


“Sure I saw them, what of it.”


“What I mean is did you notice her hands?”


The Kid scowled.  “No.  What about them.”


“Nothing, I guess, but I think I’ll have what Mrs. Rudgard wants by the time our week’s notice is up.”


The pair arrived at the bunkhouse.  “Take me in and put me on a chair.”


Heyes frowned.  “But there’s still the feeding to do, and the animals need to be bedded down for the night.”


Self-satisfied blue eyes fixed on the dark-haired man.  “Nu-uh.  I’m hurt.  It’s gonna be better tomorrow, but you’d better do my share for tonight.”  Kid Curry’s smile spread into a smirk.  “I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning, but ya never know.  The housekeeper might see me if I do any work.”  He watched Heyes’ mouth open to reply, but cut him off.  “Smart as a fox, huh?  Meet a coyote.  I’ll be sittin’ with my foot up if you’re lookin’ for me.”


oooOOOooo


The horse looked patiently ahead as the saddle bags were thrown over his back.  “Ya got everythin’, Joshua?”


The dark head nodded glumly.  “Yeah, I guess.”


“So, you didn’t get anythin’ on Charlesworth after all?  We’ve worked our week’s notice and you’ve got nothin.’  What were you expectin’ to find anyway?”


Heyes shrugged.  “I dunno.  For him to comfort her maybe?”


“What difference is that gonna make?  She’s gotta be nearly sixty.  I can’t see Mrs. Rudgard is gonna see comforting a servant as a reason why her daughter shouldn’t marry the man.”


Heyes kicked at the dust in frustration.  “I know.  I was hoping for...”


“Well, maybe you’ll get it after all.  She’s headin’ this way and she still looks real mad at you.”


“How do you know she’s mad at me?” Heyes demanded.


“Well, she met ya, didn’t she?” grinned the Kid.


The retort was cut short by the irate matron storming over to them.  “Mr. Smith!  I need to speak to you before you go.”


“Why certainly, Mrs. Williams.”  Heyes beamed his most innocent smile.  “There’s no need to pay us.  Mr. Charlesworth already saw to that.”


“Well, maybe I’ll want some of that back?”  Heyes’ eyes widened in faux shock at her words, but the gunman leaned casually against the nearby fencepost to watch the entertainment unfold.  “Don’t look at me like that,” she continued.  “Cow’s eyes won’t get you anywhere with me.  I want it back.”


The ex-outlaw leader’s smile became even more virtuous.  “’It’, ma’am?  Want what?”


“My mother’s sugar bowl, Mr Smith.  I haven’t see it since you two were in my kitchen last week.”  She propped her hands on her hips.  “I demand its return before you two leave here.”


The Kid watched the devilment spiral in the dark eyes.  “You’ve lost it.”


“You know I have.  Give it back or I’ll call the sheriff to search you both.”


Heyes pursed his lips pensively.  “A sheriff?  Is that a good idea?  Are you wanted anywhere?”


The blue eyes slid from his partner to the woman with renewed interest. 


“Wanted?  How dare you?”


“Dare?”  Heyes pushed his hat back with a long forefinger and fixed the housekeeper with a determined stare.  “It’s not a dare.  You and Charlesworth are in this together.  You’re married aren’t you?”  He raised his hand to stop the words before they tumbled from her opening mouth.  “It’s obvious that you are much younger than you look.  Flim flammers can fake all kinds of things, but a woman’s hands are a great indicator of her real age,” he nodded down at the angry little fists.  “I’m guessing that under that wig, glasses, and make up you’re pretty close to him in age.”


Her eyes became mute pools of hate.  “Rubbish.”


“Sorry, but you picked the wrong heiress to mess with.  Mrs. Rudgard hired us to investigate the man courting her daughter.  You’re married to him.  Women will only use their mother’s things in their own kitchen.  They won’t use it in an employer’s kitchen.  You couple that with a disguise and it’s fairly obvious that you’re his wife and that he’s pretty much under your thumb.  He spends all his time in that house with you.  Just how long do you think he’ll be able to keep that up once he’s married?  I think he clears out what he can from an heiress and you move on to the next target.”


“You have absolutely no evidence for any of this,” she snapped.   “Some make up and using my mother’s sugar bowl don’t amount to a marriage.  I could simply be wearing it to help me get a job.  Most employers trust an older woman.”  She pulled off her glasses to look Heyes straight in the eye.  “Please don’t give me away. I’m begging you.  I need this job.  You’ve no idea how hard life is for a lone woman.”


Heyes turned his back on her and walked back to his horse.  “You aren’t alone.   You’ve got a man.  Nothing tells me that you’re not a servant more than bringing out family heirlooms to use in the house.  Call the sheriff.  We’re working for the Governor of Wyoming.  He’s a friend of Elizabeth Rudgard’s mother and he wanted Charlesworth checked out.  He only moved here six months before he started courting her and by all appearances he’s as pure as the driven snow,” Heyes back to her with a knowing grin, “except for his housekeeper.  He spends long intimate evenings with a woman who disguises herself to make her look much older than she is.”


“I’ll leave.  This is nothing to do with Bertram...Mr. Charlesworth!” she protested.


“Do what you want.”    Heyes mounted his horse, swinging a long leg behind him.  “We’re just the strangers in town passing through.  I’ve got what I came for.  I’m here to stop a wedding, not to get you arrested.”


“Elizabeth loves him.  She’ll never believe any of this.  It’s not Bertram’s fault if I’m not what I appear to be.  You can’t blame him.”


“No?  You can tell Mr. Charlesworth that he needs to find another mark.  I know flim flammers when I see them.”  Heyes watched the Kid mount up beside him and gathered his reins in his hands.  “It’s sure his call who shares his bed with him.  Goodbye, Mrs. Williams.’  You can stay or you can go, but if I were you I’d be outta here faster than you can find a new wig.  There are two bedrooms in that house and if you’d been sleeping in your own bed for the last week you’d have found your sugar bowl a week ago. ” 


Historical note:  The word fard is a very old English word for pastes used for female beauty, primarily used in the face.

_________________
Na sir 's na seachainn an cath - Neither seek nor shun the fight      Old Scottish proverb
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