Wednesdays in Whippercreek

Ch. 17: Tattered Words

mountain2

“Well, well…shall we get on with it?”

The men gathered at the mine entrance to finish adding support beams to the opening. Mr. Edgerton marched between them in a finely tailored suit, sweating through its woven threads. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at beads of moisture pooling on his forehead.

“Steady now men! Let’s take up the final logs,” he said, as each man heaved up under a solid pine.

Cade and his fellow workers might have felt spite towards the man if he hadn’t such a jovial nature.

For even now, Edgerton turned from them. “Mr. Barton! Mr. Barton, a pleasure to see you.”

“Heave!” Cade and the other men clambered under a second log, but Cade’s gaze followed Edgerton’s footsteps. How much longer would his business partner linger?

Mr. Edgerton waved his hand toward them, as if they had no other duties for the day. “Men, men…set that log and and greet Mr. Barton.”

Cade noticed several of the men roll their eyes, as they held the beam steady. Others hammered it into the mine’s foundation. If set correctly, it would open in the coming weeks. Their work felt tedious, but essential to the survival of Whippercreek. Once finished with the beam, the men laid their hammers aside and tossed off gloves to approach Mr. Edgerton’s guest. They would not refuse him. Mr. Edgerton paid their wages and had suffered alongside them. His jovial mood made the man hard to dislike, even if he impeded their progress.

While the other men shook hands, Cade slipped a dipper in a wooden pail of water. He leaned against the fresh set beam, sipping on the water’s contents. All the while, he eyed Mr. Barton over the tip of the metal rim. The man had no reason to leave. He appeared to relish in the company and attention. His haunting laughter even now echoed through the mountains above.

Suddenly, Mr. Barton looked past the others. Cade cast his eyes elsewhere, hoping to quell the man’s attention. “Sheriff, is that you? Please, come over with the others. Let’s engage in some civilized talk, shall we?”

Cade wiped his brow, set his hat low over his forehead, so it cast a shadow across his eyes and marched over to the man. His pistol rested across his side, but he would not use it unless provoked.

“Sheriff, do you believe that beam is actually fit for holding up an entire mountain?” The wiry man prodded him in the chest.

Sometime ago, Cade would have broke the man’s hand for such an affront, but instead, he cleared his throat. “I do. With the other beams bracing it from inside, the mine should be fit for a man. We’ll carry out the inspection just to be sure.”

“Ah, I see.” Barton’s mustache twitched. “And do you believe it is time I move on to Bannack, then? Edgerton seems to think there is no reason for me to remain. He says it will only cost me money out of my own pocket. Something about there’s nothing else to be done for the old mine. Seems to think it shall pass your inspection just fine, I might add.”

“Well, it will.” Edgerton boomed. “We’ve set things right. Now don’t you fret none, Mr. Barton. You’ll have your money, you will.”

Barton glanced at Edgerton as if annoyed by the man’s presence. “I’m asking, Mr. Stevens, Edgerton. Now if you’ll stay out of this. What would be the best course of action in your opinion, Mr. Stevens?”

“I don’t rightly think I’m the person to speak of such. Perhaps, Mr. Edgerton has better advice.”

“Ah, my boy, don’t be shy. Word around town has it that you’re the reason no one died in the last collapse. We have you to thank for that, and I hear you’ve been to other mining towns. Perhaps, some insight will help me make decisions for my other mines or future endeavors. Do speak up boy. I know you have something more to say.”

In truth, Cade didn’t know what to tell the man. Barton would spot Cade on a wanted poster in Bannack. However, returning to Whippercreek, would require Mr. Barton to miss the stage. Only on horseback could the man return, and even then, the route between the towns discouraged such a journey. His lingering in Whippercreek only put off an inevitable future.

“I would move on, sir. There is nothing more for you here,” Cade said, reluctance entering his voice even as the words left his mouth.

The whiskers below the man’s chin lifted. “Oh, but I beg to differ. Every mine I put money into reaps me some profit, even one in a forsaken place like this. It may not bring much, but, mark my words, I shall fill my pocketbook with the returns, my boy. Now, Mr. Stevens, what say you, is a pocket full of gain worth remaining in this town?”

Cade resisted the tension line, frustrating its way through his cheek. “I wouldn’t know, Mr. Barton, nor am I a man to trifle with such gains, as you refer to your pocket change. I rather prefer the simple things in life, including this forsaken place.”

“Ah, my boy.” The man laughed a snake-eyed smile taunting him. “I didn’t mean to quarrel with you. Don’t get me wrong, with a touch of civilization, this land would be admirable indeed. A lawyer, such as myself, just has no reason to find pleasure in such a place. Now, with your beginnings, I’m sure it is splendid to you, boy, so anyhow, I shall take your word. Perhaps, in the morning, I shall move on to Bannack. I hear tale the town is in need of a lawyer’s services anyhow.”

“You best do that, Mr. Barton.” Cade stared at the man out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t bare one more snide comment.

Barton smiled at him in an amiable manner and moseyed past.

Edgerton waited a few brief seconds before rushing over and shaking Cade’s hand. “And thank goodness, we shall be rid of him.” The man smirked a toothless grin.

Cade glanced behind his shoulder. Barton now marched down the slope away from them. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but if you didn’t approve of the man, then how did you come into partnership with him?”

Edgerton leaned back and cast his eyes upward, as if trying to remember. “Well, now if I do recall, the mine doesn’t produce much. I fell into a bit of a pinch, and wired some old friends in the east. The long and the short of it, Mr. Barton stepped forward and offered a friend of mine a good sum for a share in the mine. With it not being that valuable, I accepted the offer, readily, of course. But Mr. Barton has been like a fire in my side ever since. If it hadn’t been such a sum, I would pay off his portion and continue on by myself.”

Cade patted Edgerton’s shoulder. “May he travel fast and far.”

Edgerton laughed a belly-up, stomach wrenching laugh and wandered past.

****

A saddled horse with luggage hanging from both sides rode away from town, just as Cade entered the church. The last of his past dangled precariously from the saddle horn. He only hoped it traveled fast and far.

The sermon started with much in his mind and heart. The worries and fears released several nights past now haunted his waking moments. As Reverend Whitley spoke on, Cade opened the Bible from the pew. Surely, something inside would tell him what to ask of God. He flipped through the pages aimlessly. Strange stories he’d never heard jumped to life, but nothing told him what to do next. He closed the book with a deep sense of frustration. Parting its middle he began to search again.

Finally, he happened upon it. “Do not remember the sins of my youth,” he murmured.

“Shh…” someone urged him from behind.

He mouthed the words once more, this time in silence. As the preacher closed the service, he prayed his own prayer to God, the words pounding through his heart. He walked from the building towards his horse, hoping that somehow God would see fit to grant such a request.

****

“Cade, Pa wants to have you for dinner.” Ella rushed out of the church, hollering at him.

He stopped tightening the girth on his saddle and stared back at her.

Her pupils widened. “Would you mind? I know our last discussion wasn’t the most cordial.”

Cade froze, staring into those eyes. Somehow he had done wrong by her. “Of course I shall come.”

“Excellent.” Ella’s eyes lit, and she turned to leave.

Cade touched her shoulder. She stopped mid-step. “I know you have no reason to hear me out, but I’m sorry for the way I treated you the other night. There was no call for it.”

He heard a breath escape from her lips. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and left him without a word.

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