Arthur, Dutch and John ventured out that next morning to meet the infamous Angelo Bronte.
Mary Beth and Tilly were mending and washing clothes under Miss Grimshaw's glare, when not consoling a distressed Abigail. Without them loneliness quickly settled in. I was reaching my fifth lap around the manor when Hosea waved me over. Lenny, Pearson, Strauss and him had occupied a game of poker since morning. His invitation to join was unexpected and quickly declined in a stutter.
"I've never actually puh – played," I murmured.
"Hosea's a fine teacher," pressed Lenny and gestured towards the open chair between them.
"Trust me, dear, I've taught a variety of fools," he convinced.
I took the unoccupied chair as Pearson shuffled the deck from across. After sliding each of us two concealed cards Lenny didn't delay with contributing to the pot. Strauss followed, and then Pearson . Reaching him, Hosea folded with a sigh.
"Not feeling lucky today, are we?" quipped Pearson.
"Hosea knows I need all the help and attention I can get," I spluttered.
Lenny pitied me with a soft grin, while the rest remained silent. I glanced back to Hosea, while flashing him my cards; a four of hearts and a five of clubs. He hesitated, only to nod for me to continue. Perhaps I would be blessed with a case of beginner's luck, he thought.
"Don't worry, Miss Cornwall, certainly if men like Mr. Williamson can manage to win, you will prove lucky at least once," assured Strauss. "He still believes my home country of Austria is where kangaroos live."
Pearson presented a nine of hearts into the center of the table.
"Let's not forget Arthur either," reminded Lenny who, to Pearson's elation, folded.
"How do you gentlemen think they're getting on in Saint Denis?" Strauss queried, while adding another chip into the pot.
"Well, Mr. Morgan's never been one for the cities," Pearson chuckled.
Hosea nodded. "That he hasn't. But when I saw Dutch coming back to camp, wide eyed and ambitious, and Arthur following behind dumb and angry, I knew we were going to be here for a while."
Talk continued with the game. I was never daring enough to raise, but optimistic enough to call. I had lost Hosea's guidance to the exchange of stories, leaving me to my own untaught devices. At the flip of the final card, seven of hearts was already bent across the table collecting his winnings. Pearson was not humble with his victories, I learned during that round and the next several. He proposed dominoes with one of the women was a game better equipped for me once I busted out, leaving Lenny's promise of a future game dreaded.
Dusk had come by that time.
Through shadows festering over the nearest forest, the obscured, faint sound of voices riffled through the trees. Horse reins jingled, while their hooves pattered against the ground. Bill was the first to spot the men emerging from the dark. In front of John, secured in his arms, was Jack. His frayed end pants and marred, stained shirt were replaced by a navy coat with white cuffs. Save the new attire, several new stories, and a small grasp on the Italian language, Jack had returned unfazed.
Songs were sung that night. Crates of alcohol spread around camp. The celebration left a mirth in all of us. Even after Javier's finger grew tired from brushing the strings of his guitar and his throat strained from singing, Dutch retrieved his gramophone from the upstairs quarters to continue the moment. Placing the needle upon the disc, a feminine voice bellowed out a foreign language. To find pleasure in it first took adjustment. Soon after, he ushered Miss Grimshaw close into a slow dance, that made unable to resist cracking a smile.
"I never thanked you for helping us in Saint Denis." Arthur took to my side, as I watched from the outskirts.
I sarcastically laughed. "Yes, my moral support certainly carried us all."
"You helped with the Braithwaite women," he pressed.
"You don't have to patronize me, Arthur," I admitted, though there was an ironic appeal from it. "It was you and the others who got him back. You're good men, despite how the law sees you. Despite how you see yourselves. You're much better men than those I've known."
Before he could object, I blurted out, "Also, may I borrow a dollar?"
Seeing the obvious confusion, I shared my losses at poker, leaving me defeated, ashamed and penniless. With the humiliation still fresh I couldn't face him. I could only watch from the corner of my eye as his hand wrestled into satchel and produce two tattered dollar bills.
"Sounds like I'll win these back anyways," he mocked.
"No doubt," I admitted. "I just hope you don't gloat like that enormous ass, Pearson. I mean enormous in sense of his attitude, uh, not his waist."
"Sure, you are," he agreed with significant doubt.
Following his wandering stare I noticed Mary Beth timidly approaching. She bid me a hasty greeting, one I returned, but kept her attention on Arthur.
"Care to dance, Arthur?" she inquired.
Arthur cleared his throat and attempted to readjust himself. "Uh, well…Maybe next time."
"That's what you said last time," reminded Mary Beth, with a short sight, leaving him guilty and defeated. She looked jovial when he finally murmured a yes, while he looked unsettled. I stood there dumbfounded for a moment, watching them scuttle off to the gramophone and grow close against each other, but never truly understanding what was happening. The needle was still bobbing, up and down, feeding life to the voice screeching out from the machine. As it spun around, so did Arthur and her. I was left to watch and when I couldn't watch anymore, when the realization suddenly hit, I staggered back to the front entrance of the manor, succumbing to a physical pain brewing in my chest.
Dutch's voice echoed from behind. So often I welcomed his attention. In any other moment, I would spring towards his direction and beam like an animated child. Now I only welcomed my cot and a night filled with self-pity.
"Mr. Van der Linde," I whispered and brushed away an escaping tear.
"Dance with me," he proposed.
The imperative, confident tone made me shift towards him. He stepped forth with a hand stretched across the distance between us.
While I wanted to accept, the weight of sadness forced me to reject. "Maybe another night. Thank you, but I'm tired."
Yet, I lingered with his hand.
"You should dance with Molly," I insisted. "She'd love that, and I expect her to be a finer dancer than myself."
He looked weary at the mentioning of her. "I have more to worry about than Molly and her childish antics. Besides this…. This celebration and finding young Jack, came through your help. Celebrate that!"
"Forgive me for saying things above my station," I murmured, "but for the sake and sanity of all of us, you should ask her. She's been, she's hurting, Dutch. She just wants your attention."
That restless expression dimmed.
"I think I like you most when you act out of your station." He strode forth again. "This night is to honor what we've done. Don't waste it on talk and pity for the irritable O'Shea. Arthur and Mary Beth certainly aren't."
His words, so manipulative, so vindictive, left me stammering. A surge of heat swept over me as I reeled closer to him. I drew in a shallow breath, one more and then another, only to find them feeble and useless. My words came slowly, while my movement fleet. As my trembling fingers slid between his I was taken back. His attire and pose, often prim and proper, left me perceiving him as a man doted on his appearance. Yet, his hands were chapped and rough.
"You are an artful bastard," I chided as he guided us towards the gramophone.
"Indeed, I am," he agreed.
I bounced at the feeling of his hand gliding across my back. He chuckled at each twitch I made before assuring me it was alright. And I was. Dutch was gentle as he was charming. We swayed to a new crackling melody bellowing from the gramophone and in that time, I felt a foreign security in his embrace, one I had never known. One, I thought, I would never know. I granted him control over me as I grew closer against him. Every movement I made was authorized by him. A different me in a different moment would have been fretting her steps, insulting her own posture and apprehensive to the judgment of those watching. But worry didn't exist when in his arms. His touch brought upon a tranquility, that made concern powerless.
"That…. that wasn't so bad," I giggled as the recorded came to its end and Dutch withdrew.
"I told you. Now, you need to learn the other way we celebrate." His eyes floated over my shoulder, to catch Bill ambling towards the others. Two bottles of whiskey, one he had nursed throughout the night, the other untouched, were secure in his clutch. Being so loyal, his steps shifted direction the moment of Dutch's call. "The bottle, please."
Bill's loyalty faltered for a moment.
"Bill." Dutch's tone firmed.
After a moment of hesitation, followed by murmurs and a sigh, Bill surrendered. As he shuffled away, Dutch took a long swill from the bottle. Then he handed it to me, in which I accepted it with more concerned compared to him.
My nose hoovered over the bottle's top, attaining a pungent scent that flamed down my throat.
"I don't like it," I said, with a shake of the head.
"Come on, Dutch, you know she won't be able to handle it." Arthur strode closer.
"I think you're doubting Miss Cornwall too harshly, Arthur," objected Dutch.
Another whiff of whiskey had me quiver. Usually a glass of champagne in hand during dreaded parties were a conformed accessory, not a drink. Any sip I took was either lifeless or bitter. If I could not handle such a feeble liquor, I could accept drinks like whiskey and beer, the drinks of men, were beyond my limit. I couldn't accept Arthur's doubt though, nor could I reject Dutch. The scent was burning my nostrils as the bottle touched my life. Gradually, I lifted it higher and higher, before slipping from my grasp and releasing a gulp of bitter, charred wood into my mouth.
"I….I think," I choked; my words broken by my stifled coughing. "I think this is a horrible way to celebrate."
Details of the rest of the night only waver.
In one moment, I was giggling and gossiping with Karen and Tilly. Karen was inviting under the power of alcohol. I was plentiful with words. They offered me a beer. The taste was foul, worse than champagne, but pleasurable compared to the wooden taste of whiskey that still lurked in my mouth. Talk was obscured, drawn and dull, and still I found amusement in every word they said. In my blurred eyes and fuddled mine, I saw pleasure in conversation before fear. I expected happiness before disappointment.
Somehow and sometime, with that fabricated confidence, I abandoned Tilly - Karen had taken sick, before my departure – and staggered towards the table where Hosea, Bill, and Lenny sat. Javier continued to pick at the strings of his guitar nearby.
"Gentlemen," I addressed, while collapsing into the unoccupied chair. "I never got to thank you…. Remember, remember that time we set that old crone's mansion into flames! What a horrifying, beautiful night that was!"
"I told you Dutch gave her some whiskey," Bill said.
"Usually it only takes a strong drink to loosen one's tongue" murmured Hosea.
"But as I was saying, gentlemen…." I reeled towards Lenny. "What was I saying?"
"The Braithwaites," he directed.
My arm collapse onto his shoulder. "Yes, goodness, what a hag! But thank you boys, for not leaving me to die when I got shot. I would have left myself, but all personal preference I suppose."
"Well we don't leave anyone behind, Miss Amelia," Lenny affirmed. "You're kind of one of us now."
"Ha! Ain't that the truth," I blurted, and my hand collided with the table, creating a soft thud. From my coat pocket, which I quickly stripped off to surpass another wave of heat coursing through me, I retrieved my cigarettes. My quivering hand presented one to each of them and all accepted. "You know, I remember the day my father came back from…somewhere. Devil be damned, if I ever knew where he was half the time. And he came in, cursing, something about his personal train being rob. Guarded heavily too. But some damn, vile outlaws just came in and took all his bonds. Oh, I loved it! I wanted to shake that hands of those men and hot damn, here you all are in front of me!"
Hosea nodded with Bill. "We made some good money with that one too."
Bill took a swill of whiskey before glancing towards me. "If you want to cause some more problems in Cornwall's life, the kid and me may got something for you."
I shifted towards him. "Do tell!"
"Someone in Valentine was telling me about the payroll wagon arriving at the end of the week for the oil field workers," he begun. "Most of the time they aren't heavily guarded."
"Then there's the times they are," recalled Javier.
Bill's brow furrowed. "But usually, they aren't."
"Sometimes we take one of the women as distraction," divulged Lenny. "Seeing how Karen's holding up about Sean – "
"And Tilly screwing up last time," grumbled Bill.
"Well, we thought you might want to come."
"It being personal and all."
My eyes widened at the request. Perhaps it was the whiskey and its power stronger than fear, or attaining the interest of men, daunting like Bill and sharp witted like Lenny, that made me quickly accept. They were pleased. Conversation continued, though I remember little of it. Unexpectedly I found myself more of fond of the men's company compared to the women's. Karen was intimidating. Tilly and Mary Beth were kind, but I couldn't help but wonder if their kindness was a deceptive smoke screen. The men, though, were blunt. While that bluntness sometimes was accompanied by insult – the mentioning of my lack of shooting skills was tossed around – I enjoyed them.
Arthur came to collect me as the camp begun to settle in for the night. Dutch join soon after. I bid a slurred goodnight to the men before tumbling towards the manor. The route to Arthur's room remained a blur mystery. The only thing I can recall was reaching the staircase; the first step I conquered, yet to the second one my balance faltered, and I stumbled back to the landing. At the time, the strength of whiskey and beer flowing through me left the pain minimal, if not quickly forgotten. I fell into a giggling tirade as Arthur and Dutch's modified expression loomed over me.
"Miss Cornwall, are you alright?" Dutch queried, as they hoisted me back to my feet. The sympathy in his tone made me swoon.
"Well, of course, I am, Mr. Van der Linde! Of course! How could I not be? Look at where I am," I assured and reattempted the steps, now with Arthur's hoovering assistance. "We should celebrate! Another drink of whiskey!"
"No," Arthur grumbled.
"We finally agree on something," retorted Dutch.
In a blink I was in Arthur's room – a paltry section of the house, nearest to the balcony. It was like every other room. The wallpaper tattered, the floor chipped and colored by foreign stains and the smell vulgar. He had preserved the feeling of home with a few photos spread across. Trinkets and ammo occupied the table. I never paid those things heed in that moment. My intoxicated mind made them nonexistent. The only thing I saw was the cot across the room, set against the wall. I didn't want that abnormal tranquility I felt to end and yet the want to protect it subsided as I shifted into his bed.
Sleep didn't come as easy as I expected. Somewhere between out of place phases of laughter, readjusting myself and the hundredth thought wandering in my mind, I peeked up to find a blanket over me. Dutch was gone. The lack of illumination from the candle and my obscured vision left only the sight of a dark figure concealed in the far corner of the room. A floating ember stood in the middle of its outline.
"Try to get some sleep, Amelia." The figure rouse to its feet and from the dim, Arthur lumbered out with a cigarette firm between his lips. A letter, one he quickly disregarded at the sight of me, occupied the clutches of his finger.
I propped my head up into my hand as my elbow pushed deeper into the cot's fabric.
"May I have a whiff?" I murmured and welcomed the cigarette into my hand. "So, who is that love letter from?"
"The one you just tossed aside, dumbass. Is it from Sadie?"
"You got the wrong idea about me and Mrs. Adler."
"Ha! Well ain't that the kettle calling the kettle…. How does that saying go again?"
Arthur shook his head, like an elderly man viewing the deviant behavior of a younger generation and retrieved his cigarette. "Look at you. Can't ride. Can't shoot. Now we learn you can't hold your liquor either! And still thinks you can handle this life."
His words came quick, but I registered them slowly. And when I understood them, they initiated something in me; a familiar, aching dismay that tightened my throat and made me choke on the air I breathed. The alcohol was no longer in my favor. The gullible bliss and childish antics withered. It was only sadness now.
"I – I – I never thought I could," I breathed.
"Calm down," he said, his tone now gentle, "I was only kidding. They like you. Well, most of them like you. And only a few of them like me, so if we're comparing popularity –"
"They don't like me. They pity me. Do you really, really believe I am that stupid that I think Mary Beth and the rest of those tramps talk to me out of interest? Out of likeness?" I prattled. "Or that I think Dutch's behavior towards me is anything more than just a ploy? As if a man like him could ever care for me? Just….just like you could ever care for me."
I rearranged my position to fight the prospering discomfort.
"I know I'm weak, Arthur. I know I serve little to no purpose. I know I'm too timid to be interesting, too afraid to be interesting as well, and I know you all see me as a pathetic rich girl, whose problems could never compare to yours. And none of you are wrong. Cigarette, please." I took another puff as the stick trembled between my fingers, only to find no relief. "Maybe in my own idiotic way, lying to Dutch and you about Saint Denis and knowing how to shoot and accepting those drinks, it was me trying to disapprove the rest of you, along with myself, that I don't belong. But the reality has always been that I will never belong, here, or anywhere else. The only reason I even came to Saint Denis was because my father was tired of arriving home and seeing his pathetic, aging daughter too tired, too unmotivated, too broken to even dress in the morning, who relied on books of adventures she never go on and people she'd never be to fulfill whatever little life she had. He says it was for my sister and myself to experience the world, but it was only to pawn me off that goddamn mayor, so he didn't have to see the ugly sight of me anymore."
"For hating your daddy so much you sure seem to care a lot about how he sees you," observed Arthur.
My shoulders limply shrugged. "I suppose so. I suppose I don't even hate him seeing as all the things I've done to try to gain his approval. He was my father after all. Approval shouldn't even be something I had to fight for. Makes you think, how awful, how pitiful someone must be that their own father can't even love them. At least he stayed, though…Mama didn't."
"What happened to her anyway?"
"I don't mean to pry, I just – "
"She shot herself with a pistol." Again, my shoulders shrugged. "He was unfaithful with my governess, well I wouldn't call her that, she wasn't qualified, she was just hired due to her appearance. It was the main gossip with the servants and quickly, it was the main topic among all the elite businessmen and their wives who claimed to be my mama's friends. They pitied her to her face but laughed behind her back…. like all people do. The humiliation and anger and sadness had deteriorated her at that point she couldn't speak. She never ate. She didn't bathe. I tried to care for her…. but when she looked at me, I saw this hatred, this resentment as if the disappointment I caused my father had left him disappointed in her.
"And one day, when he had forgotten to slip her the laudanum him and doctors were deceiving her with, she just walked into his study, pull out one of his pistols and died. She saw me at the doorway, I asked her if she wanted to go for a stroll through the garden and uh…. she pulled that trigger and uh, I should have done something. I should have stopped her, they all said I should have. If I had just done something." I paused for a moment and begun to laugh. "If I had just been better, if I just had tried to be someone else, maybe – You know, I think, I like to believe for her, living with the pain of knowing her husband never loved her, his choices were meant to humiliate her, living with that every day would have broken her heart. So, she broke mine instead."
I was the perfect imagine of that mortifying, pitiful women the others portrayed me as in that moment. There I was doling selfishly over my own past problems while steadily sobering from a night of drinking. I wept like a child, crying over something so petty, something I should have moved on from. The vivid memory wavered in my mind, narrated by a foreign voice assuring me it was my fault. I had forgotten Arthur, I had forgotten everyone, in that time, due to my own tactless behavior.
His voice rippled through the relentless thoughts. "Hey, Amelia, come on, look at me. I didn't mean what I said. Hell, we took you from your home and you still have done more for us than most of the others. Molly and Swanson, sure their situations are different, but I don't think Dutch would ever go to them for help. Bill, wouldn't take Molly as bait."
"I think that's because Swanson is too ill and Dutch, well he despises Molly," I objected.
"Sure, all I'm saying is Dutch wouldn't keep you if he didn't see something in you," pressed Arthur. "He sure as shit wouldn't be letting you come with us, especially with him struggling to get more money. I just want you to be careful. You'll learn a lot more about Dutch in time, about all of us, and we're not as good as you may think. We've done a lot of bad things. A lot of things we're running from now. You get wrapped into those kinds of things and you're not going to get out."
"You…are." Seeing Arthur's expression twist, I laughed. "You're as good as I think. Dutch wouldn't have endured listening to me, no less any of the others. You're sensible. Kind. A bit angry and reserved, but your situation warrants for that… I don't know what you've all done or been through, but at least you did something with it. I've wasted a lifetime locked away, burying everything inside until I was only those things. You put the rest of them out there before you, always have."
His head quickly bowed, shifting his gaze in a new direction. In only a glimpse I saw a faint smile break through his vacant stare. "That might be the whiskey talking. But thanks, I, uh, thanks. And while I don't know why you would want to, you do belong."
For a third and final time, I shrugged. Yet, despite my careless appearance, his words delighted me. They fulfilled the void I had carried. Looking at him made the emptiness subsided. He was no longer daunting. Nothing was. Life wasn't a narrow path of colorless uncertainty anymore. It was open, filled with opportunity and freedom. It was the first time in my life I truly felt alive.
Arthur drew to his feet with a sigh. "You should really get some rest. We'll talk more in the morning."
I slunk farther into the cot and succumbed to the teeming weariness. His exiting footsteps muffled as I dozed off. The last ounce of energy I maintained opened my eyes at the sound's sudden halt. Lurking at the doorway, Arthur's glanced out to the hall, only to peer back at me.
"You…you really doubt I care about you?" he inquired after a silent delay.
"…. No. Not anymore."
Yes, I have finally returned, my beautiful readers! I was busy on an 8 month soul searching, intense cleansing experience...No, not really, I was actually at home most days watching Springer and eating HoHos. I had a bit of a dry spell in my writing, to be honest, as in I wanted to burn every word I wrote because it was that horrible! But I noticed I was gaining some more followers and we're all bored as hell in this really strange time and I love you guys, so here's a chapter...that sucked. But it's here nonetheless. Yah! Okay, well until next week, you guys stay safe out there in this crazy world. Remember, you're harder to kidnap when you're fatter. Stay safe, eat cake! Oh, and follow, favorite or review if you want to blah, blah, blah!