13) Forty Niner

By Calico

DENVER … c. 1867 (Sometime after Valparaiso, Sometime before ‘The Split’)

A lanky blond kid– showing the knobbly display of wrist and ankle bones common to teenage lads with no loving mother to let down their hems – swings sacks from a wagon onto the boardwalk before a livery.

He works with both a will and a cheery song upon his lips.

“In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excava.a.a.a.ating for a mine…”

His companion – currently eyeing, though NOT swinging sacks – winces.
The wince is not wholly unjustified. The song, though cheery, it not entirely on key.

“Dwelt a miner, an old timer…”

A frown appears between a pair of dark brown eyes. A questioning glance is thrown at the singer.

“And his dau-au-aughter…”

The active one notices neither wince nor frown. His own blue eyes linger on a youthful brunette inside the mercantile next door, currently having her purchases wrapped and placed in a wicker basket.

Is she…? Is she…? YES. It is not his imagination. She IS watching him.

He puts a little more oomph into both the next swing and the next note.

“…Hi-is dau-au-aughter, Clementeeeeeeeeeen!”

“Jed! For Pete’s sake!”

Jed tears his gaze away from the girlish charms.

“What?!”

His companion meaningfully massages his ear. “Leave howling for coyotes, huh?”

“Why?” Jed eyes his friend’s sweat free state. “It ain’t as if I’m puttin’ you off your stroke.”

“I’m assessing the load. Planning the optimum order in which to…”

“Han, this ain’t math class. Pick the sack closest to ya, heft it down.”

“Nah, ‘cos then the sacks at the back are the last ones out – leaving the longest trip for when you’re tiredest. There’s a formula for ev’rything, Jed.”

Rolling his eyes, Jed gives up the argument. He heaves a sack onto his back.

“Oh my darling, oh my darling…”

His eyes flick sideways. She is still watching. With a hint of smugness, Jed squares his shoulders and flashes her a grin.

“Oh my da.a.a.a.arling, Clementine!
You are lost and gone foree.e.e.e.e.ver.
Dreadful sor.r.r.r.r.y, Clemen…”

The diminutive charmer has finished her shopping. She exits the mercantile and…
She IS. She is coming over.

Jed’s smile widens – wavers – fades.

‘Coming over’ does not quite cover it. She stomps up the wagon, ringlets bouncing, face flushed. Her hands go to her – admittedly already shapely – hips.

“Do you think that song is funny?!” she fumes.

“Well…” Jed blinks. “Yeah.”

Han moves to the front of the wagon next to Jed, takes in the feminine fury confronting them both. He exchanges a confused glance with his friend.

“It’s s’posed to be funny, ma’am. It’s a comic song.” he offers.

“Well I don’t find it funny!”

“You reckon Jed’s singing is beyond a joke, huh?”

“Hey!”

“I don’t find it funny when my brother sings it. I don’t find it funny when the boys at schools sing it. And I DON’T find it funny when some – some…”
Her dark eyes take in Jed from the tip of his unbrushed curls to the toes of his much scuffed boots. She visibly searches for a suitably scathing descriptor. “…Some hobble-de-hoy of a livery-hand, thinks it amusing to tease a lady while she is about her – her legitimate business!”

Jed’s mouth hangs open.

“You don’t even sing it right!”

“She’s got you there, Jed,” chips in Han.

“It isn’t an old timer. It’s a miner, Forty Niner!”

“She’s right. With you having so many problems with the tune, I didn’t like to say. Being picky on the lyrics too seemed kinda…”

Han is rounded upon, wrathfully.

“YOU’RE not funny either!”

Chagrined brown eyes blink.

The wrath returns to its original target.

“As for YOU! If you had an ounce of proper feeling, you’d know it is most – most ungentlemanly to bandy a lady’s name, let alone make fun of it! How would you like it if I made fun of YOUR name?” She frowns. “What IS your name? Jed, did he say?”

“Uh huh,” Jed nods, seemingly flummoxed by the sudden switch from tirade to enquiry.

“Short for Jedidiah,” supplies Han.

“Well, there you are!” triumphs feminine logic. “Would you like it if I made fun of you for being called…,” She takes a deep breath, draws out the syllables, mockingly. “Jed-ee-diiii-ahhhh. If I started singing songs in the street about it? Would you like that?”

“I guess not.”

“Then why make fun of MY name?”

“I didn’t!” protests Jed.

“We don’t even know your…” Han stops short. The penny drops. “Oh! Are you called…?”

“To you,” she interrupts with great dignity, “I am called MISS Hale.”

“OH!” The penny drops with Jed, too. He gives her a shy smile. “I think Clementine’s a pretty name.”

“Me too,” agrees Han.

“If you’re a citrus fruit, maybe,” she pouts. Then, “So, you didn’t know – you weren’t making fun?”

They both shake their heads. They smile.

Slowly Clem smiles back. She looks from one buddingly handsome face to the other. She traces an arc in the dust with the toe of one dainty boot.

“And – you really think Clementine is a pretty name?”

“Sure do,” says Jed.

“Real pretty,” dimples Han.

“So,” she turns to the dark haired youth. “What’s YOUR name?”

Jed’s turn to be helpful. “It’s Hann… OW!” He rubs his ankle.

“It’s Heyes,” says – Heyes.

THE END

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