Echo of Another Day (Part 1) [Moved]
Location: Blackbird Lodge, Lost Lake Ranch, Montana
Timeline: Early Evening, Sunday, July 11, 1875
"Ezra will see to your gear and get the horses taken care of. We'll sort out introductions inside," Kate said firmly, "I don't want to let dinner burn."
Before Kate could disappear inside, Harriet gestured to Adalwin, "Please, could we get Mr. Stahl sorted into a room? I think he may have taken cold during our journey."
"Sorry to hear that. We'll get you settled immediately," Kate said and turned to call out to someone inside the house, "Mary, could you show Mr. Stahl to the lower guest room and get him some tea." She smiled at the man, "We'll send you a dinner tray when it's ready."
Stahl gave the young woman that came outside, presumably Mary, a smile and thanked Harriet and the silver-haired lady. He muffled another cough and followed the young woman across the courtyard, disappearing through a door set into the breezeway.
Shade lingered on the front terrace, watching as Kate Hale took charge of Harriet and her sister. Quentin followed, holding the hands of the two small children which he assumed were the twins, Cody and Nettie Harper, his niece and nephew. It was Kate's voice calling his name from the doorway that finally got him moving. Until then, Shade had not realized how reluctant he was to step inside the house.
It was almost a relief to see that things had changed. Not the big things, of course. The walls of the foyer were still plastered and painted a pleasant cream color. Exposed timbers and ceiling beams added a rustic touch. The floor was made from knotted white pine, stained a golden hue, and polished to a high shine. Colorful rugs added warmth to the room. To the right was the main staircase that spiraled up to the second floor. Across from the foyer was the formal great-room, but Kate led them to the left, down a short hall and into the less formal family room. The main thing Shade noticed was that the decor had improved. The portraits of his mother's ancestors that used to adorn the walls were gone. Shade had always felt that their sole purpose was to stare disapprovingly at small boys. In their place hung oil paintings and watercolors depicting the local flora, fauna, and scenic landscapes.
The family room was dominated by a massive fireplace on the left. A huge oil painting of Lost Lake hung over the fireplace. It was so well done, Shade could almost feel the wind blowing off the mountains and across its waters. Inset in the rear wall were huge plate glass windows interspersed by doors leading out to the rear terraces. Dark wood shutters hung from iron tracks like the ones often used to hang large barn or warehouse doors. Duplicate shutters were attached to the home's exterior walls and provided protection during inclement weather. Well-made but comfortably worn leather and wood sofas and chairs were scattered around the room, including a grouping in front of the fireplace. A large heavy wood dining table and chairs, worn by many years of use, stood to the far right. Just beyond that was the kitchen. On the other side of the kitchen was the formal dining room. Shade was pleased that a smaller dining area had been added to the massive family room. It somehow made it seem warmer and cozier.
Shade's fear of familiarity gave way to a feeling of comfort as he looked around. It was the same, yet Chance and Regina had put their stamp on it and in the process made it more of a home than he remembered. Being home wasn't nearly as unsettling as he had expected it would be.
"Kate, this is my sister, Josephine," Harriet was saying, introducing her sister to the older woman. "I am sorry to bring unplanned guests..."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Josephine. I'm Kate Hale. Don't fret about it, Harriet," Kate gestured into the family room, "the more, the merrier, although I am sure you both would like to wash the trail dust off. There's a washroom at this end of the breezeway, just across the hall, and another one down the hall on the right, just past the main stairs."
Harriet smiled. She had been sure of Kate's non-nonsense welcome, but she was happy to hear it anyway. "I know where the one in the breezeway is. Josephine, there are clean towels and washcloths in the cupboard." She directed her sister down the hall and headed for the other washroom, discreetly giving Kate time to introduce the children to their new uncle before overloading them with more strangers.
"Cody, Nettie, this is your uncle, Shade. You know how your Uncle Quentin is your mother's brother?" Kate waited until she got identical, simultaneous nods before continuing. "Well, Shade is your father's brother."
Two pairs of blue eyes looked up at Shade. The girl's eyes were light blue and intense like Chance's had been, but she had her mother's golden brown hair. The boy's eyes were deep blue, like Shade's, and his hair was raven black. Although their hair differed in color, in texture it was thick and wavy with a tendency to curl at the front. Both children wore matching haircuts although Nettie's was not cropped quite as short and was brushed into a much more feminine style. With the delicate features of the extremely young, it was difficult to tell which of their parents they favored the most. Shade found both of them disconcertingly beautiful children.
Shade kneeled so that he was at eye level with the children, "Howdy," he said, tipping his hat to Nettie before pushing it back, so it didn't shadow his face and eyes. "It's good to meet you both."
Cody shrugged closer to Quentin's leg and gripped his hand tighter. His dark blue eyes were a bit baleful as he spoke, but his voice was polite, "Hello, sir." He refused to offer his hand to shake. Shade didn't push.
Nettie, on the other hand, was obviously the bolder of the two, at least in the current situation. She stepped closer to Shade and tilted her head to study him. "You need a bath." Her statement was made calmly and matter-of-factly.
Shade chuckled and grinned, "You're right, Tigress. Been a long spell on the road."
The little girl pointed to a heavy timber that ran to a ceiling beam providing support for the upper floor. Shade could see pegs driven into it. "No guns at the dinner table," Nettie stated firmly.
Shade's lips twitched, "Yes, ma'am."
Quentin grinned. "You heard her..." He slipped his hand from both children and unbuckled his Schofield and slid off his jacket to be able to shrug off the rig for his smaller Colt. Quentin checked the hammer loops and then turned around to see Cody standing behind him with both arms outstretched. He gently draped both belts over his arms, watching him grunt and show some effort with his determined expression as he held them. Quentin nodded and then scooped him up, walking over to the pegs and leaning so Cody could hang both from a pair of pegs at the end. He moved back to let Cody free his arms and then set him back down. "Good job, Trooper."
Under Nettie's commanding gaze, Shade rose to his feet and unfastened his gunbelt. Like Quentin, he checked that the loop was fastened over the gun's hammer before hanging it on one of the empty pegs. He looked over at Kate, "Guess the little'un is right about needing clean up too. Where do you want us?"
Kathryn pursed her lips, regarding Shade and Quentin steadily. She was well aware of the terms of Chance's and Regina's wills. They had sat down with the Hales since they wanted them to know they were being included in their final wishes. To her way of thinking, there was no time like the present for handing the job of running things over to the children's guardians. "Well, I don't know, boss," Kate drawled, dark eyes sparkling, "Where do you want to be." She relented slightly at Shade's worried expression, "Chance and Regina kept the upper suite of the guest house exclusively for Quentin's use. Miss Harriet usually stays in the front guest room upstairs when she doesn't stay at the Belle-St. Regis in town. By rights, you should take over the master suite upstairs, Shade."
Shade paled slightly and shook his head, "No...I couldn't."
Softening her voice, Kate stepped closer, easing the two children slightly out of earshot. She placed her hand on Shade's arm, "Ezra and I have been staying in the middle room upstairs, near the children. I took the liberty of packing up everything in the master and putting them in the storage barn where they'll stay safe, cool, and dry. They aren't there anymore, Shade."
He shook his head again while his mind raced. He gave a rapid mental review of the lodge and its available rooms. They needed the Hales nearby. The children were used to them and very attached as well. It would be cruel to make another major change to their lives so soon after losing their parents. Shade slanted a glance at Quentin as he made the decision, "We need you and Ezra here, Kate. I'd count it a great favor and an honor if the two of you took the master suite permanent-like. Since Quentin and Mr. Stahl are in the guest wing, the Mercer sisters can take the other two rooms upstairs. I'll take my old room down here."
"Then it's settled," Kate said. "In anticipation of your arrival, Mary and I cleaned all of the rooms, changed the linens, and put clean towels in the bathing rooms. There's one attached to each bedroom now. When Chance had the house remodeled to put in the whole-house heating and plumbing, he cannibalized some of the extra bedrooms to make closets, water closets, and bathing rooms. It's all very posh and grand now with galvanized iron and copper pipes, even if the boiler breaks down more often than it works." She didn't mention that she'd also packed up her and Ezra's things and left them in the schoolroom, ready for them to move back into their comfortable home in the valley below the main house.
Shade smiled and visibly relaxed, "That's good then. Quentin and I will get everyone's bags sorted and get cleaned up ourselves." He nodded to the older man as Kate stepped over to where the twins were chatting in low voices with one another.
"I'll get these little monkeys cleaned up for dinner and let the ladies know where they are staying in case they also want to change clothes." Kate ushered the children out of the room and toward a door across the hall which hid the shallower stairs that had always been called the children's stairs. The door could be locked, and there was a lockable wrought iron gate at the upstairs entrance as well. Several of the stairs on the winding main staircase had been engineered to squeak loudly, making it next to impossible to sneak up and down them. The only other stairs were located in the south hall, just off the guest wing.
Shade and Quentin headed toward the foyer where Ezra and one of the hands had dropped their gear and bags. With the two of them carrying everything, it would only take one trip to get everything sorted.
~*~ To be continued in part 2...