Currently reading: Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 5
Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 5
Posted on 12th September, 2017 - By Jonathan Hezzlewood
A long and trying journey has led The Stranger, Ricochet, Jayne and James; from the dangerous, unlawful barrens of White Venom Pass through to the town of Salt-Crum Bluff.
The world of The Stranger; welcomes your return…
By The Fire (a tall tale of Stranger times): Chapter 5
Before supper, the stranger had stabled the horses for the night and made haste back across town, hunger fuelling his pace. Upon his return, he entered the dining room to a wholesome meal of corn bread, roast mutton with cranberry jelly; boiled cauliflower and carrots. The smell was most welcome, a properly cooked meal having long been absent in recent times. Jayne had asked to wait for ‘Mister Jones’ to return before the meals were brought to their table. A courtesy James would have happily skipped, having eagerly started without further thought on the matter.
Albin watched as the young serving girl brought the meals out, before disappearing back into the kitchen. The stranger took note that the serving girl had glanced at him, giving a gentle smile as she placed the plate in front of him.
Other than themselves, the dining room was empty. Albin appeared for a fleeting moment or two as they ate, asking each time if everything was okay with their meals and as to whether they required anything else.
Some more water and a bit of peace and quiet while they ate were the only things the stranger said they needed. Albin had the serving girl fetch another jug of water and set about making himself scarce.
To finish, a small serving of stewed plum pudding was brought to the table. Having cleared their plates of food – given the lack of any real nourishment endured over the past day – they all felt a little better, both Jayne and James appeared more relaxed and ready to welcome sleep.
As the stranger scooped the last of a plum into his mouth, Albin interrupted once more. “I’ll be over at The Dry Stein, Mister Jones.”
The stranger – still leaning over his plate – looked up from beneath his brow, and continued to chew his food. Albin, realising the lack of patience in those serious grey eyes, finished. “Miss Pibern,-” He pointed toward the kitchen, to where the serving girl had gone “-will be able to see to you, should you require anything else.” He turned and walked back into the lobby, adding. “We have plenty of coffee, should you like before resting up for the night.”
The echo of the front door coming to a close travelled through the empty room.
Wiping his mouth on a napkin, the stranger lent back against the chair, his mouth empty and stomach full. The children were still finishing their plum pudding. He needed to ask a question. A question that had hung in his mouth on their journey from White Venom Pass through to the town of Salt-Crum Bluff.
He looked from James; who was eagerly shovelling food into his mouth, to Jayne, sat there, very much a lady in the making. Taking small half-spoonfuls, and every now and then looked up at her brother. The stranger took a drink of water and swallowed, before looking around the room.
A dozen or so tables occupied the dining area, each covered with white cotton sheeting. The only form of table decoration; a small bowl in the centre of each, with the sole purpose of collecting ash from those who liked to smoke whilst eating. The room had the same décor as the lobby. Hardwood floors meeting white wooden panelling that ran midway up the walls, before stopping with fancy ribbed beading. Above which were the same powder blue walls – this time with several portraits dotted around the room in-place of the landscapes. His interest in the room stopped there, having no desire to see who the portraits were of, and why they deserved a place on the wall of a hotel dining room.
He found the whole idea of paintings of people looking out at others eating to be downright absurd, if not even a little creepy.
He’d never liked portraits. They never held anything true to the character of a person. False. Cold. Dead.
He rubbed his arm, easing the goosebumps that had prickled his skin. He felt eyes gazing upon him. A watchful dread.
He looked to the table to find Jayne still eating daintily away. James had finished, and was now sat back himself, looking at the stranger. The boy smiled, and he returned the gesture, before asking “You feel better now?”
“I do much, thank y’ Mister.” James replied.
The stranger looked from the boy to the girl, who had just finished the last of her plum pudding.
Jayne touched her lips with her napkin. Her voice croaked as she attempted to speak. “It wa-as-” she cleared her throat, putting her hand to her mouth as she did, and tried again. “It was very nice.”
Still not sounding quite right, Jayne took a drink of water from her glass.
The stranger looked at them both, and – not wanting to come across as insensitive – asked the question that needed asking.
“Do you have any other kin to stay with? To look after you?”
Jayne spoke. “Our Pa’s the only real family we have. Had.” She fought back the tears, continuing. “We had an Aunt. Vessie, sister to my Pa.”
“She live locally?”
“Married a Mister Stillwell and moved to the North. Darkwell or Redwater Ridge, not sure which, but near there. She’s older than my Pa. Last I seen her was before James was born. Visited our Ma. She never had children of her own. ’Least she hadn’t when I last saw her.”
The stranger sat there, realising the distance to travel before reaching a home for the late Mister Clanton’s children. Not that he had a set route he planned on travelling. He had someone to find. Someone he’d lost track of. Someone who had taken everything from him.
The trail may have gone cold, but burning embers still lit the way, drawing him closer. He would put out that fire once and for all.
“Well, we’ll head out after breaking fast. I’ll get supplies from the merchant in the morning, to see us through to the north.” The stranger stood. “Best get some rest.”
James got to his feet and stretched, before pushing his chair back under the table. Jayne did the same, less the stretching.
They walked through to the lobby when the stranger turned to them and said. “Head on up to the room. I’ll join you shortly. You two have the bed, I’ll have the floor when I come up. There is no lock on the door, but there is a pistol tucked into my bedroll on the side table. There is also another in my left-hand coat pocket over the chair. Both loaded.” Mimicking with his fingers he added. “Pull back the hammer, point, and squeeze.” He made his way to the door.
Both Jayne and James made their way up the stairs, “Goodnight Mister Jones.”
The stranger turned to see Jayne smiling at him. The girl has a sense of humour. He smiled back, his cheek raising on his left side. “Goodnight Miss Clanton.” His eyes switched from Jayne to James, “Mister Clanton.” He tipped the rim of his hat with his thumb and finger, and stepped out into the street.
The dirt on the ground glowed a pale blue in the moon light. The sky dotted with countless stars.
Walking past the hotel towards the saloon he noticed a figure stood in the window of what was the hotel dining room, where they had dined. It was the serving girl; Miss Pibern. She turned sharply to the side, attempting to step out of sight, drawing her eyes to the curtains that hung at the side of the window-frame. She smiled, realising that she had been spotted and at how ridiculous she must have looked at that moment. The stranger looked at her and nodded, acknowledging her, and continued toward the saloon.
To Be Continued…