Next Stop, Missoula, Montana (Part 4)
The Long Road Home
Location: California-Northern Rail, Sacramento to Missoula
Timeline: Early July, 1875
The blast of the locomotive's whistle signaled the imminent departure of the train from the station. The train pulled away from the station, gradually picking up speed. The private coach barely lurched as it began moving, obedient to the pull of the car in front of it. In fact, the delicate china sitting on the dining table barely rattled. Cyrus Thorne, California-Northern's owner, prided himself on the skill and competence of his railroad's conductors and engineers. As much as it was possible for humans to influence the ride and comfort of a train, it was done. Even the general passenger coaches boasted padded seats and the livestock cars offered individual stalls for traveling horses. Thorne was a wealthy man, long before he had gotten into the railroad business, and he had always loved trains. No expense had been spared in the hopes that comfort and luxury for even the common traveler would lure more people into taking the train north. The destination might be a hovel, but the trip getting to it would be a pleasure.
Harriet let the silence linger for a few minutes. She had revealed a tremendous amount of information to the two men seated at the table with her. There was within her the urge to assure both of them that Carson Tyndall did not have a legal leg to stand on, which was true, he did not. Yet she waited, studying the two men, wanting to see their thought patterns.
Jess was the first to move. He poured himself another cup of coffee from the silver coffee pot, noting with satisfaction that the beverage was still scalding hot. He took a cautious sip, glad for its warmth even on such a hot summer's day. "There are a couple of things I don't quite understand, ma'am," Jess began, almost hesitantly as he formed his thoughts into words. "If the wills were so tight and legal 'an all, how can this Tyndall challenge them or even think he can? Why'd Quentin have to get an injunction to have time to come find me?"
She actually smiled which softened her features. Jess couldn't help but notice how the dark color that encircled the irises of her eyes made their steel gray depths appear lighter and even more striking. The sweep of her long, black lashes added shadows to their depths, and he'd noticed as she spoke that they often darkened to the color of smoke. Despite that, her face gave little of what she was thinking or feeling away. Jess wished he had her control over the expression of his thoughts and emotions.
"Your brother and sister-in-law were not comfortable with the usual way of doing things. Although it is not legally required, yet, they had copies of their wills registered with the territory, just like one does with land deeds. The other copies and the originals were placed in my custody. All that was immediately available to the Judge at the time Tyndall brought suit were the letters stating there were wills and the basics of what they contained. Mr. Tyndall was, of course, able to present the old Legacy trust documents since he had once represented Caleb Harper. The injunction allowed the Judge to put off making a final decision for a reasonable amount of time while you were located and I could be notified." Harriet picked up her tea cup again, drank from it and refilled it from the pot. She wished there was a verbal shorthand when explaining legal matters, but there was not.
While Jess digested the answers to his questions, Harriet turned her attention to Quentin, "The twins and their inheritance are vulnerable until you and Mr. Harper record your own wills which should be done as soon as the estate is settled."
Quentin's eyes met Harriet's, and he watched her for several long moments. "I would think that would be easy enough. If anything happened to myself or Jess, the ranch stays in the family...I guess that family being the Hales. Wouldn't you agree?"
Jess nodded, "The Hales would do their best for the kids." He did not have to think twice on that. Ezra and Kate would fight tooth and nail for them.
"Excellent choice," Harriet stated. "We will make it legal before reaching Missoula...just in case. Fang and Josephine can act as witnesses for the document when it is ready for signing." She set her tea cup down and regarded Jess and Quentin coolly. "Regarding this coach," she gestured at their surroundings. "Since I will be handling some minor legal work for you during this journey, I suggest that I reimburse you half the fare and we share this coach." If Harriet found the suggestion distasteful, it was not apparent in her tone or expression. Her voice was matter-of-fact and businesslike. "It might even be beneficial for the two of you to have witnesses and additional allies for the duration, although Mr. Harper has already proved himself quick to react." The last sentence was uttered with sarcasm.
Jess noted the tone in which Harriet's last comment was uttered, but it amused him more than anything. Her presence and that of the twittering birds on the table near the sofa were annoying, but not a huge concern. He shrugged, "If Quentin has no objections, I don't."
Quentin looked at Harriet for several long moments. "We are not causing these encounters. There are people out there who obviously just want us dead. Jess and I are trying to do the right thing by our dead sister and brother, and out surviving niece and nephew...make no mistake, Ms. Mercer...we will deal with anyone trying to kill us in the same way you have already seen..." Quentin waved an arm to encompass the car. "All three of you are welcome to travel with us because I suspect you may have just painted a target on all of your backs because of who you are now working for." Quentin then stood up. "I will clear my things out of my berth, and you and your sister are welcome to use it." Cantrell swept around the table and headed to his room, passing through the door and banging it closed with more force than was necessary.
Harriet's gray eyes darkened, reminding Jess of storm clouds building over the Chogun Mountains. Those incredible stormy eyes followed Quentin's exit from the room, and as the door slammed, not easy to do with pocket doors, so Jess was quite impressed, she muttered, "Insufferable man!"
Jess predicted an interesting train ride to Montana.