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Whither Thou Goest

Posted on Wed Sep 6th, 2017 @ 5:48pm by H.G. Mercer & Adalwin Stahl

Episode: The Long Road Home
Location: Wadi's Well, Kalispell Trail, Montana
Timeline: Early July 1875

The rock formation known as Wadi's Well rose from the vast meadow in a far less threatening manner than the Devil's Watchtower formation. It provided a good, safe spot to set up camp amongst the scattering of small trees at its base. A small copse of trees would shield the camp from the road while also keeping the coach hidden. They also provided a place to picket the horses.

Harriet had been the one to pull the carriage into the shelter of the trees at the place Jess Harper indicated. She and Josephine would utilize the custom fold-out seats inside the coach for their beds later that night, so Harper had not wanted it left out in the open. She and Stahl had just alighted from the driver's box when Jess walked over. He paused and glanced out over the meadow to the Watchtower where Quentin could be seen still poking around. Harriet heard the younger man sigh slightly as he turned to her and Stahl.

"I've strung a picket line in that copse of trees just beyond the front of your team. Close enough that we can hear the horses if there's trouble and far enough away to not interfere with our camp." Jess walked past to the rear boot of the carriage, pulled up the tarp covering it and reached in. Harriet watched as he pulled out a shotgun, leather game pouch, and a box of shells. He broke open the breach, opened the box of birdshot and loaded two into the gun before tucking some extra shells into the pocket of his vest. "Going hunting. With luck, I can scare us up a game bird or two for dinner. Don't let the gunshots alarm you."

With that, Jess headed off past the rocks and toward the gently undulating meadow beyond. Harriet watched him go, a cross between a frown and expression of puzzlement on her face. Mentally, however, she wished him luck. She could certainly use a meal that did not consist entirely of bacon and beans. Harriet knocked on the coach's door and let Josephine know they were stopped for the night and then joined Stahl at the head of the team to help unhitch the horses. She reached up to pull Manny's head down and rub the big white star on his forehead before setting to work on the harness.

When Jess left, Stahl turned to work, not quite sure what to think. "Off to hunting dinner..." he said softly to himself, not commenting any further directly, but as he too turned to helping unharness the horses, he softly began to hum the tune of the "Three Gypsies."

Harriet and Stahl worked in silence for several minutes, getting the two lead horses settled on the picket line. When they returned for the wheelers, Harriet stopped and said, "I'm glad we are stopping early tonight. I could use a few hours on the ground." She arched an eyebrow at the other man, "Is it too impolite of me to ask if I may call you Adalwin instead of Mr. Stahl. I prefer H.G., but do not mind Harriet." It might not be intensely ladylike to ask an employee to call her by her first name, but too much of Harriet's life was spent being formal with people. In private, she tended to be somewhat more casual.

Miss Mercer's stopping had interrupted their work, and her question somewhat surprised Stahl. Miss Mercer by appearance, her highly educated speech, and demeanor was certainly not a woman that he had expected to allow familiarities. He could not help but notice how she made clear how she'd like to be called, which quite distinctively said that there were ways she would not like to be addressed. "Adalwin or Stahl, both will be fine H.G." he replied. It felt strange calling her like that, but Harriet felt strange too, the weirdly modern version of the more familiar Henrietta. A small smile showed Stahl's slight amusement. "I too have a middle name I do not use: Georg." He still could not manage to pronounce it the English way. "So I will stick to H.G. if you permit it."

Harriet carefully copied his pronunciation of his middle name, then shook her head, smiling, "I would find it hard to think of you as Georg or George, for that matter. I am named for my maternal grandparents, Harriet and Gene Grace. Too many people want to call me Harri which I simply cannot tolerate." She finished stripping off Flint's harness and looked over to where Adalwin was working on Dancer.

The opening of the coach's door interrupted Harriet's train of thought. She glanced around to see Josephine stepping out, carefully carrying her parakeets' cage. Harriet gestured toward the area where they were camping. She also pointed toward the rock formation looming behind the trees and gave her directions to the spring along with a reminder that the pool was a hot mineral spring, good for washing up in, but not for drinking. To Harriet, her sister seemed less than interested in what she was saying. Her sister's slow progress in her traveling dress and heels reminded Harriet that should offer to loan her pants and a shirt. She sighed as the younger woman turned without a word and walked toward the camp.

"Georg was my father's name," Stahl replied, understanding how one might feel reluctant about using an inherited name. "my brother ended up with the grandfather part: F├╝rchtegott which literally means fear God in German. I should be grateful." He noticed how H.G. stopped speaking when she saw her sister exit the coach. There was something about those two - not just the cool way they treated each other, but the way he had noticed H.G. become tense and watch like a hawk when her sister moved about, while it seemed that Miss Josephine was somewhat standoffish with H.G.

Harriet tilted her head and smiled at Stahl, enjoying his brief lesson in the German language. She practiced pronouncing F├╝rchtegott and shook her head, laughing, "Thank heavens your parents chose Georg. I stand a chance of pronouncing that!"

For a moment Stahl slowed on the treatment of the horse, though his hands went on by long habit, as his eyes strayed over to the rocks again. There were many unsaid things here. Too many. And he hoped that all Jess intended to shoot this evening was some poached dinner. It seemed the best way to approach all this, was taking the harmless route. "Your sister seems rather cold towards you, H.G, though it is obvious that you worry about her," he observed, returning his attention partially to work he could do in his sleep, and more to his partner of conversation. "Is there someone after her?" The last question might explain half the violence on the way. Many men would not accept no in this world.

The question from Stahl took Harriet by surprise making her pause in the process of stripping the harness off the big horse. "My sister and I do not always see eye-to-eye on many things. This trip was one of them. Josephine dislikes being dragged away from our home in San Francisco." For now, that seemed the best answer, and it was mostly true. Harriet had only left out the reason for forcing Josephine to make the journey involved an attempted elopement with a most unsuitable young man. Her sister was not a legal client of Harriet's, but she owed her the respect of keeping her private affairs confidential.

Stahl's question had also been logical. The tension and distance between herself and Josephine would naturally lead someone to assume her younger sister might be in danger. She was stunningly beautiful and had enjoyed quite a following of young men in San Francisco. Danger came in many shapes and forms. Harriet knew she needed to encourage Harper and Cantrell to share the reasons for their journey. It had reached the point where keeping it completing confidential was no longer feasible. Harriet would address that issue over dinner later. For now, she simply shook her head in response to Stahl's second inquiry, "Josephine and I are not directly in danger, but we could become collateral damage. I will try to have more answers for you at dinner. So much of what is happening falls under the purvue of my clients' business. I hope you understand?"

It made sense, in a hard and dangerous way. The younger lady might be averse for traveling, but as her older sister had taken on a dangerous assignment in her profession, it made sense to keep them together. Together and moving might mean more defensible, or it could be, depending on the circumstances. "I understand that you must not tell me more, you are bound by the law," Stahl replied, understanding that she was under oath. "And with Jess's reaction, his knowing the lay of the land, the reaction to the caravan..." He let his voice trail off. "I will not ask any further. Knowing that you are in danger and that we need to be careful who comes after us, or meets us by accident is enough." It would mean being more watchful, and being thrice as careful when they reached their destination. "How likely is it that their adversaries are long ahead and await us at Kalispell?" The Witches' House trap was an old strategy, the simple rule was: the witch is always inside. As an enemy, one caught the safe destination of an adversary, made it appear normal and waited patiently hidden inside until the prey arrived. Stahl had seen it utilized in several intrigues and affairs of state in the Prussian capital, but it could be as easily pulled off by a smart highwayman.

There seemed to be no harm or betrayal of confidences in answering, so Harriet shrugged her shoulders, "If things are as I suspect, my clients will be in danger for the foreseeable future, but I do not think we'll come under attack again soon."

Stahl looked at her, for a moment their eyes met, then he shook his head. "H.G. forgive me for being blunt, but if a man is in danger, no matter the reason why. The only chance for not being attacked is either a truce or that the enemy has something to gain by waiting. We were attacked, back in Missoula, we might be attacked again if someone stands to gain something by taking down your clients." Either one was in danger, or one was not, and Missoula had not been an attempt at capture. He forced himself to soften his voice, to not speak as sternly as before. "I do not say this to accuse you. We are in danger, it's alright. I will do what I can to help us through this."

This time Harriet shook her head, "I understand your concerns, Adalwin, but I think you misunderstood me. There are reasons why I believe we will not be attacked outright again. Should my clients agree to me explaining everything at dinner, I can tell you why I think this to be true." This time she chuckled softly, "This is one of the many times that I find client-attorney privilege to be an onerous chore even if it is a necessary ethical requirement in the practice of law."

Adalwin could see he had overstepped boundaries. "I apologize, H.G., I should not have presumed," he said earnestly. "And I understand and respect that you are following a code, under oath. I can work with not knowing what is going on. You say we are in danger, but not of immediate attack. I can work with that. Again, I apologize for pressuring you."

"No apology needed, Adalwin. It is difficult to work without being able to see the road ahead of you," Harriet said and smiled to let him know he had not been out of place.

He was glad that she had not taken exception to his words. Whatever it was that haunted the steps of her clients, they'd see it in time. "Let us see the horses settled and then find out what Mr. Harper intends to drag out of the bushes for dinner," he re replied, returning to the work their words had interrupted.

Harriet nodded her agreement and actually grinned, "Meat that is not bacon flavored will be a welcome change. I know we've not been on the trail that long and beans and bacon are standard cowboy fare, but I dislike both." She laughed softly at herself. Over the years, she and Fang had made many trips to Kalispell. They had seen the logic in bacon, beans, and biscuits. The food items were easy to transport, easy to prepare on a campfire, and filling. Harriet even enjoyed the smell of bacon frying, but she loathed camp-style beans. She ate them without complaint because nourishment on the trail was important.

Flint nudged her and gave her a reproachful look from his big, gentle brown eyes. Harriet laughed and rubbed his velvety muzzle. The horses had worked hard and were ready for their dinner. She made quick work of removing the rest of the harness and hanging it over low-hanging tree limbs to keep it off the ground and untangled. Jess had found an ideal spot to string the picket line and had even added a shorter one that was a short distance from the main one. Adalwin's horse, Wilhelm, was ill tempered. Jess didn't want to take a chance that he'd kick or bite one of the team or the other saddle horses.

Harriet quickly finished with Flint's grooming, making sure his black coat had been brushed free of dust and dirt, so it gleamed in the late afternoon sun. She had picked his big hooves clean of debris, made sure his shoes were in good shape and still firmly attached. She then led him to the picket line and fastened his lead rope to the picket line. Finally, with all four of the horses cared for and watered - Jess would feed them later.

There was already a campsite. Over time, other travelers had created a nice area with a rock lined fire pit and large logs situated around it for seating. The bulk of the rock formation rose up behind it, and the trees sheltered it from being easily spotted from the road. She had made camp there with Fang and, on occasion, with Chance and Regina when she traveled with them from Kalispell to Missoula.

Harriet turned to Adalwin and pointed toward the rock formation behind them, "That little trail leads to a beautiful grotto-like area. There's a natural artesian spring that flows down. Good, fresh cold water. The pool it flows into is a hot spring and deep enough for a bit of a bath, but of course, the water can't be used for drinking or cooking. There's not much to do for the camp itself, maybe get in firewood, sharpen some sticks to use as skewers for the meat, and set the pots to boiling for tea and coffee. I intend to make use of the hot spring and have a good scrub. The accepted method of warning people the pool is in use is to hang a sock where it can be seen."

Adalwin nodded his understanding and they headed off to take care of the other chores involved in setting the camp to order.

 

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