Echo of Another Day (Part 4) [Moved]
Location: Family Room, Blackbird Lodge, Lost Lake Ranch, Montana
Timeline: After Dinner / Evening, Sunday, 07/11/1875
After dinner was over, Kate left the other adults to put away the leftovers and do the washing up while she escorted two very tired and cranky children to bed. Dinner had been served later normal, and it was well past the twins' bedtime before it was finished. Once she had them tucked into their beds, Kate returned to the family room to send Shade and Quentin upstairs to read bedtime stories and tell them goodnight. It was the first step in getting Cody and Nettie adjusted to their new living situation and the new adults in their lives. While the two men dealt with their uncle duties, Kate put on a pot of water for tea and a fresh pot of coffee to have with dessert. She expected it to be a later than normal night for all of them.
Shade and Quentin returned to the family room after reading the obligatory bedtime story just as Ezra was carrying in a large silver tea and coffee service. The large coffee table was already set up with the fresh blackberry cobbler, cups, napkins, and silverware. Shade liked the way the two long sofas were arranged, facing one another with the coffee table in the center. Situated in front of the hearth and facing into the room with their backs to the fireplace were two large, cushioned rocking chairs. A small, gray marble-topped table was positioned between them. Underneath the furniture and taking up a good portion of the floor was a beautiful Navajo rug. Despite its large size, the small groupings of furniture made it seem cozy.
Ezra and Kate settled on the sofa that had its back to the windows, so Shade dropped into one of the rocking chairs, sighing as he leaned back into the thick cushion. Kate passed the dessert dishes of blackberry cobbler topped with fresh thick cream around, leaving it up to each person to choose coffee or tea. Shade, naturally, chose coffee, carefully setting the cup on the side table next to his chair. He was almost too tired to eat the delicious looking dessert, but the enticing scent won out. His body might be tired, but his sweet tooth wasn't taking no for an answer.
Having formed the habit while on the trail, Harriet automatically poured two cups of tea as she settled on the sofa that faced the rear windows. Realizing what she had done, she blushed slightly and said, "I hope you wanted tea, Quentin."
Quentin smiled in response and picked up the cup as he moved over and settled on the end of the sofa opposite Harriet. "You thought correctly. Thank you for doing so. I am going to end up owing you a whole case of this flavor." Quentin set the cup down and dug into the cobbler. "This is amazing. Now I remember why I found excuses to drop by when in the area. I never ate this good when on the trail."
Harriet took a bite of her cobbler and sighed, "Even Mildred didn't cook like this," she sighed. "The tea is actually from the same plantation in Brazil as the coffee here. It's grown and blended by the de Sylvas. Mrs. de Sylva is Shade's Aunt Celeste, John Caleb Harper's sister."
Kate smiled her appreciation for the compliments. She enjoyed cooking and was generally considered quite good at it although she was not in the same class as Mary Hannaford, the lodge's cook. "I'm glad you're enjoying it," she said to Quentin and Harriet. Smiling, she settled her gaze on the other Mercer sister, "Would you like cobbler, Miss Josephine?"
"Oh, no thank you, Mrs. Hale," Jo stated, realizing she'd been spoken to directly. She'd been fairly quiet during dinner and after. "I'm afraid I'm a little too tired to eat anything more tonight." She explained, giving the older woman a soft smile. "Dinner was wonderful, however, thank you." Being around this family, sensing the love they seemed to share even if it had been some time since they'd shared a meal together, it made her homesick for San Francisco. Mildred was a wonderful cook, and Jo suddenly missed the way the house used to smell when she'd bake bread or her infamous biscuits. What she wouldn't do to have one of them right now. She didn't belong here, sitting down to tea and dessert with this family, whom, unlike every other person in the room, she had no connection to. No one had treated her unfairly or spoken an unkind word, but this was not home, not for her at least.
Shade polished off his cobbler and poured himself another cup of coffee, leaned back in the rocking chair and sighed slightly. He wasn't sure yet if being here was a good thing for him, but he was glad for the warmth and something other than the ground, rock, or a log to sit on. Seeing the Hales again brought back good memories of his childhood and early youth on the ranch. Ezra and Kate had been surrogate parents back then and treated him much the same way now, only adjusting the way they interacted with him a bit to allow for the fact that he was now thirty, not thirteen.
"Anything we need to know about the ranch before the hearing on Tuesday?" Shade asked after taking a sip of his coffee.
Harriet finished her cobbler and carefully set the dish on the table. She leaned back into the corner of the sofa, her twilight gray eyes watching Shade. She had several questions about the confrontation between Shade and Deputy Marshal Hannah Cory, but they needed to be asked in private. There had been several witnesses, and if the opposition became aware of them, the entire incident could come up in court and negatively impact her case. Harriet loathed surprises. As a child, surprises had rarely been pleasant, and in her work, they could be downright disastrous. There would be time tomorrow to interview Shade and do final preparation on her arguments for the court.
"We have a few contracts for beef coming due. Will need to put out a flyer for extra drovers," Ezra said, "preferably some men that can handle a gun as well as a cow. We need to deliver fifty head to the Fort Rossville up on the border." Ezra went on to give them the details.
Fort Rossville was a small garrison shared between Canada and the United States. There was also a decent sized settlement and, Ezra informed them, a new stockyard had recently opened. The stockyard was beginning to attract buyers from all over the northern territories and nearby locations in Canada. The problem, he told them, was that the trail took them too near Eureka which was even more lawless than the legendary Tombstone. It was a haven for outlaw gangs, rustlers, and gunslingers. Sheriffs and marshals did not last long in Eureka.
When Ezra finished speaking, Kate looked from him to Shade and then Quentin, "The Steelgraves bought up several small spreads about five years ago and turned them into one big ranch. Its border runs along our northern boundary. Last year, Case Steelgrave became the town marshal in Whitefish. The word is, he's cleaned it up, drove all the bad actors out of Whitefish."
Quentin muttered to himself. "Well, that's just great. The Steelgraves get legitimacy, a town to call their own, and their own legal dirty tricks department if needed..." Quentin exhaled. "And that new 'ranch' helps them flank us...it keeps us looking in more than one direction all the time now."
~ To be continued in Part 5....