Bewildering Stories

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part 4

by Norman A. Rubin

Table of Contents
Part 3 appeared
in issue 142.

It seemed that when Jeb tried to clear his bleary eyes he was able to see some strange minute marking on the back of the cards. He squinted to his focus with one eye on the marks and the other on the sight of the open cards. It took him a few minutes to figure out the signs that indicated an Ace and the other royalty. Thus Jeb knew that the gambler was able to arrange the cards to his advantage and for him to bid accordingly. It was a real setup.

The gambler’s accomplice was a fine figure of a daintily dressed damsel that caught the wink of interested parties. Jeb noticed that the young girl’s trick of allowing the frilly straps to her shimmery dress to slip down her opulent breasts. The sight of her peeping rosebuds as she bent was enough to keep the player’s sight from the dealer’s hands.

Time was turning late in the hours as the dealing of cards continued in its pace. The dealer was getting low on cash but he refused to call quits. A last hand was agreed upon between Jeb and the gambler. A vast pot was in the center of the table and the bidding and raising continued to the word, “I call!” Jeb hand turned up three Jacks whereas the dealer’s hand spoke of a full house.

But the dealer was not able to gather in the hefty pot as Jeb in a final act of bravado grabbed the lovely accomplice. Despite her protests he pulled apart the stylish slit to her frilly costume. Then without a word he pulled out various cards lined under the top of her black silk stockings.

Jeb was too busy raking in the pot and he failed to notice the hubub in the confines of the saloon. He did not see the half-naked couple, bruised and battered being roughly carried to the outside. Nor was his mind open to the words, “tar and feather these ornery critters and let’s rail them to the end of town!”

* * *

The proprietor of the saloon was quite grateful to Jeb’s action in ridding his premises of the cheating couple. In his thought their presence was not good for trade, as it would the give the saloon a rightful bad name. In the eyes of the barkeep he was much obliged to the youth and nothing was spared. He even allowed Jeb’s enlarged poke to be safely tucked in his iron safe till it later found its rightful place in a bank vault.

“Here be the key to that blackguard’s room. Paid for it a couple of weeks in advance. Yer welcome to it fer the time. No charge. And I ain’t botherin’ to check if the cheater’s stuff happened to be missing along with the stuff of his gal. Yer welcome to it!”

Jeb was woozy with tiredness as he took gratefully the key from the owner of the establishment. He was quite pooped out from all the goings-on during the long tiring, yet lucrative night, and the offer of the room was a godsend.

Then with unsteady feet he climbed the stairs to the second storey and searched with bleary eyes till he found the room. With shaking hands he inserted the key into the lock and pushed the door open and staggered to the bed. Within a moment of dropping on the sheets Jeb’s eyes closed and he entered his slumber with a smile on his lips.

Jeb awoke the following morning to the heat of the sun pounding on an aching head. He moaned once or twice before he was able to open his weighty eyes and focus them to the brightness of the late morning. As he tried to lift his shaking body from the bed he felt the cool of white skin on his brows.

“The bossman asked me to look after ye! Been with ye all morning.” chirped a charming young nymph to his sight. “Brought ye a bit of breakfast. Took a notion ye be a bit hungry. Coffee be nice and hot!”

Jeb Stuart shook his head a couple of times till it stopped whirling and he was able clear his sight. Then he sat up and took a look towards the direction of the coarse voice. A pleasant sight of young girl, barely sixteen or so greeted him. She was of plain features with blonde unkempt hair above laughing blue eyes, freckled upturned nose and a smiling mouth set in a ruddy face. But her plain homespun frock and clodhoppers told of menial work.

“The name’s Lily,” she spoke as she removed her hand from Jeb’s brow and offered it to him in friendship, which the lad accepted. In turn he called out his name.

Before Jeb was able to reply further he felt the urgent need of the call of nature, but Lily understood and pointed to a decorated china chamber pot under the bed. “Don’ you be ashamed. Seen plenty of them dingle-dangles in me life! I’ll close me eyes, promise!” she called out with a tint of laughter to her voice, “Also when yer finished there be water in the pitcher to wash up.”

The breakfast was shared by the twosome as they sat on the bed with the tray of food between them. Lily was quite expressive as she spoke of her short life. Jeb listened quietly as she told that her folks were righteous, peace-loving folks that made their home in the Kentucky hills. She mentioned that she had two brothers, older and married with a passel of kids. They were earlier on the move westwards and that she had no notice of their whereabouts.

“Then me folks also got the fever to go to the rich country in the west.” Lily told Jeb how her folks packed their goods and tools along with their gal and joined a train of prarie schooners. Her voice broke and tears broke as she told of a tragic chapter.

“An Indian war party overtook the wagon train. Not real Indians but renegades as they attacked at night. We were caught with our britches down as they hooted and hollered around our wagons. It was mighty terrible with all thet screaming and all thet shooting. Me paw and maw was felled quite quickly. Only a few of us were lucky and with some hard trek of a couple of days, maybe more, we made our way back to this h’yar town. Please don’t spell out any questions as it hurts to think back.”

“Jim Peterson, the boss of this joint took pity on me an’ gave me a job in the kitchen. Slept with another kitchen gel, a real bitch. But somehow we got along. Even found me some old clothes left from guests, which I mended and cut down to size. Got enough coin for a few little things, not much.”

Before Jeb was able to reply, Lily pressed her head against his shoulder and let flow a stream of tears. The lad held her tight as she shook in her weeping. It was for a few minutes before the girl was able to settle down and lift her head from his comforting shoulder. Then to Jeb’s surprise, she held him tighter to her slim nubile body and planted an affectionate kiss upon his lips.

“Don’t worry Lily, I’ll fix everything right, “ Jeb echoed in reply without bothering to ask or know of how he would go accompishing it.

“Jest y’wait a’ second. Will go see your bossman!”

Upon those words he hitched on his boots, straighten his clothes a bit, and with a skip to his stride he left the room in search of the proprietor. There at the bar Jeb found the good man in his usual morning habit in leaning against the bar with a glass of spirits just looking about the empty saloon.

The proprietor quite understood when the question was raised. He imagined that the youth would like a bit of company in the nightly hours and he agreed to Lily’s presence in the same room. But he figured wrong at Jeb’s motives as his thoughts centered on swiving and not of understanding the need of caring.

“Yer bossman be saying ’tis all right,” commented Jeb on his return to the room, “be needing to bring your stuff h’yar. Give you a hand.”

“Then I got to be lookin’ about for me Uncle Ebenezer. Ain’t seen him since last night.”

After Lily’s few possesions were arranged, Jeb Stuart with the company of Lily went in search of the boy’s uncle. Everywhere they searched from the stables to the borders of the town, they received the same answer that “some durn critter was scared out of his scrawny life and hightailed from the town.” Jeb also understood from the gabbing that two goons accompanied Ebenezer to his mule and covered wagon; that their warning words and a couple of hefty slaps convinced him to skit and skedaddle out of town. Upon those news there was little to do as Jeb lacked the means to travel and search further.

Jeb just shrugged his shoulders and carried on, namely to adjust to his new situation. Again, with the help of Lily, they searched the belongings of the hapless gambler and his accomplice. After all Jeb’s kit and belongings were in the wagon and the clothes on his back were his only duds. But Lily’s deft fingers with needle and thread saw to the attention of the found clothes to be fitted properly and before long Jeb looked spruce in the dark suits; and Lily still looked sweet and simple even in the fashion of the times.

Yet Jeb didn’t look the part of a gambler. He features was still in the innocence of his youth even though his upper lip was covered with a slim sandy brown moustache and his long hair tied in a pony tail. But still the tall lanky feller under the shade of a black homburg looked quite threatening especially with that six-shooter strapped to his waist. But the young man couldn’t fire a shot even in anger and he remained true in his righteous ways.

Lily, despite the finery of her dress, wasn’t a fashionable courtesan, but remained simple in her ways. Yet, she was grateful to Jeb and she gave him his third lesson in courting and loving. During the cool of the evenings they would shed their clothes and on the love nest they would embrace in the white of their skins, kiss and touch, and in the heat of passion they did what comes naturally.

Within time Jeb found employment in the only work he knew and that was ‘trading’. He partnered up with an honest river man and invested his small fortune in the river trade; he was a quick learner and he was able to grasp the ropes and learn of the business, much to the advantage of both parties.

Jeb and Lily thanked the proprietor of the saloon and hostelery after their two weeks free lodging and moved into comfortable rooms at the home of a righteous widow. The poor dear would have been put out if she knew that the young couple was living in sin. “Such innocent children,” she would sigh.

But the cooing and cuddling brought astonishing news to Jeb Stuart, who still imagined that a stork had something to do with birthing. It was the gal Lily who brought him up to score on the subject as she had seen animals mating on her farm in the hills and from that knocking a little sucker was born. Well, she tried with her words, “that when a man sticks his yum yum in... Aw heck, you know what I mean.” And her parting phrase that told of missing her monthly shook him.

“You mean you be with chile?” he gaped in wonderment.

The righteous, but flabbergasted woman was a witness as the preacher of the local church tied the knot. The dearie understood and was thankful for those young people in listening to the Word and taking the right and just path...

* * *

A division of ideas was forged during the years till the days of stress and tension churned through the land. The Mason-Dixon Line separated the difference of opinions. Many a good soul had to make the decision to which side to step: the North or the South.

Jeb, then nearing his twenty-third year and quite prosperous in his ‘trading’ chose the dividing line; he decided to take the middle road between the north and south as the issues of politics wasn’t in his nature. Lily was consulted and she agreed with his decision. The rebel colours flew in the flag above the town and the time was nearing for their departure.

His partner agreed to the parting terms and they clasped their hands in agreement to the end of their river front ‘trading’, but remained true in their friendship. In the good man’s opinion, a cattle town in a border state would be a fine place for Jeb to settle his family and continue in ‘trading’. Jeb took his advice and after a bit of inquiry planned the neccessary trek. Off course Lily was put into the picture, but it didn’t take a lot of hemming and hawing on her part to accept the move to that town.

There still remained his mission in his busy life and that was in the finding of Uncle Ebenezer Stuart. For the past years he had taken long treks all about the countryside and further but to no avail. His uncle was nowhere to be seen or found. All inquiries and posting of messages simply went unanswered. A last wide sweeping search was made before the departure date but hope was dashed by no clues to his kin’s whereabouts.

Jeb Stuart and his woman Lily were quite busy in their preparations, but there was that unfinished business which left a question mark in the trader’s thoughts. Still his duty to Lily directed him to carry on. Together they went about the town and said fond farewell to their newly found friends. Jim Peterson, the barkeep joined them in lifting of glasses; he told of staying under the rebel flag. The righteous woman saw to their reasoning and wished them Godspeed.

Yet the righteous woman had one demand upon their leaving that being that Jeb and Lily should include two former slaves — now freemen — in their party. Moses a young dark-skinned man and his woman Maddy were introduced and Jeb and Lily called a welcoming sign. Beams of smiles were all about as they discussed the departure date.

Jeb led the chestnut bay hitched to a light four-wheeled buggy onto the ferry ever carefully not to jar Lily, who was holding their little Johnny, a cute little tyke of nearly two years. And the bulge under her coat was quite noticeable, which caused him great concern.

Proceed to part 5...

Copyright © 2005 by Norman A. Rubin

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