The Online Writers’ Guild prompts this week are: Hitched up his trousers; There are no rules; Oh, I have tea, too
Alfred stepped out of the stage coach into the blaring light of midafternoon. Shading his eyes from the sun, he looked up to the driver and asked where they were.
“And, where, exactly, is Pinewood Gulch?”
“A regular stop on our way, mister. Gotta rest the horses. Tomorrow’s a long day before we reach the next town. Plus, I gotta pick up delivery for Eugene City. We’ll be here for the night.”
Alfred surveyed the street. All the buildings looked brand new. Three more were under construction.
“I do not see a hotel.”
“No, not yet. One of them buildings they’re building yonder will be the first.”
Alfred’s traveling companions, a Mrs. Harold and her two children, gathered their bags and started walking across the road. “Where are they going?” Alfred asked.
“I made arrangements for them to bed with the owner of the general store,” the driver said.
“And, me, sir? What arrangements have you made for me?”
“Well, none, mister. Figured you could fend for yourself. You can stay with the coach if you like, but I recommend asking for accommodations at any of the saloons. They got beds.”
“I am most certain they do,” Alfred muttered. He turned back to the driver, “So, is that where you will be staying? In a saloon?”
“No, mister. I stay with the coach, of course.”
A saloon was not the sort of establishment Alfred was accustomed to patronizing. He preferred a hotel. Or, his club, naturally, but those days were now long past him. He wondered once again at the wisdom of his decision to move to the west coast rather than take his cousin’s offer in England. On a ship he’d have guaranteed accommodations, three meals a day, and a place to wash up, to say nothing of the other gracious amenities of a trans-Atlantic crossing. The rough, kidney-bruising ride across country in a stage coach without a particular itinerary other than “final destination, San Francisco,” and in the company of a nervous mother with two constantly bickering brats was turning out to be Alfred’s undoing.
Alfred picked up his satchel and began walking. Every other business seemed to be a saloon. God knows, he had his pick, but none seemed appropriate for the older man, nevermind a gentleman, such as himself. All of them had loud, banging music, inevitable gaming, heavy drinking and hysterical carrying on, arguing and brawling. Of course, every last one of them teemed with harlots. Not a single place appeared clean, strictly reserved for men, nor dignified with soberness.
As Alfred concluded he would have to go without dinner and spend sleepless night in the coach, he passed by a demurely penned sign hung on a freshly painted green door that read, “Mr. & Mrs. Chatsworth Haines’ Tea Emporium, Upstairs.” He straightened his tie, smoothed his hair beneath his cap, hitched up his trousers, and flattened his waistcoat before proceeding upstairs. At the top of a narrow staircase was another freshly painted green door with another sign that read, “Open for Business. Please, Come In.”
Alfred walked into a large, cheerful, sunny parlor. Not a soul was in the place. The smell of baking bread filled the air. Various reading chairs were situated all about the room, each with its own area rug, side table, ash tray, spittoon and small kerosene lamp. The windows were covered in lace curtains, and elegantly framed in green, velveteen drapes with gold-trimmed valances. A gargantuan silver polished pot-belly stove commanded a far corner, around which were several dining chairs. Two kettles with wisps of steam coming out their spouts sat atop the stove. Not since the last time Alfred visited his parent’s graceful home was such a sight more welcoming.
“Hello there. I say, is anyone about?”
A petite young woman, impeccably attired and groomed, hurried out from a room in the back. “Oh, hello! Yes, so sorry. I did not hear you come in! I’m Mrs. Chatsworth Haines. How’d you do,” she said with an extended hand, which Alfred politely took with a nod.
“Alfred Johnston Farris, ma’am.”
“Welcome to our tea room, sir. Please,” Mrs. Haines continued, gesturing to the room, “have a seat. Any you find suitable.”
“Might I inquire if you offer rooms?”
“Oh. I am sorry, no. We do not take in boarders.”
“It would be just for the night. I’m here on the stage, and the driver tells me we are to stay the night.”
Mrs. Haines smiled. “Please, won’t you take a seat? I will bring you tea, of course, and biscuits, if you like. We also have sandwiches.”
“Of course. Thank you. I’d like a sandwich, very much.”
“Help yourself to any of the books in the library,” Mrs. Haines pointed to the wall of books, “and I will fetch you your tea.”
Alfred arbitrarily selected a book from the shelf and sat in a chair by a window. He gazed out at the sky and foothills beyond, wondering what he should do. He hoped, at the least, his hostess would agree to let him stay in this comfortable parlor until it was time to say goodnight.
He opened the book, and as he began to read, the unmistakable foot fall of a large man made Alfred reflexively turn to see who had entered the room. The jolly face of a giant brut smiled at him. The man had wild, ungroomed curly red hair, a long, full beard, and was informally dressed in rolled up shirtsleeves, no collar and an apron. He gave his hands a couple of wipes against his trousers before holding one out to Alfred. Alfred hesitantly rose to greet him.
“Haines’ the name, Chatsworth Haines, like it says on the door. My missus says you go by Johnston Farris.”
“Pleased to meet you. Yes. You have a lovely place, Mr. Haines.”
“It’s all the missus doin’. She says to me, ‘if I has to stay in this place, I need someplace civil,’ that’s how she put it: civil.”
Alfred nodded, not sure how else to reply.
“I own the saloon two doors down. Missus says you’re lookin’ for a bed for the night.”
“I am, but, ah, yes, well, forgive me, but, I was hoping to find some place a bit more…”
Haines interrupted, “Civil?”
“Quite. I mean no disrespect.”
“Well, old son, ‘fraid what you seek ain’t for the taking ’round here. Least, not as of yet. Me and some others are going in on the hotel being built other end of town. It’ll be the toast of the county when it’s done, I tell ya. Meantime, ‘fraid you’ll have to make do with what we got.”
Mrs. Haines came in carrying a large silver tray with a plate of sandwiches and full china tea service. She set it on Alfred’s table.
“Husband, can we not accommodate the gentleman, for just this one evening?”
“Where, exactly, my dove? Only rooms are in the saloon and Mr. Johnston Farris tells me that sort of thing ain’t to his liking.”
“I well understand the gentleman’s predicament, so could we not…”
“Now, before you go askin’, the answer is no. Not in our home.” Haines turned to Alfred, “No offense, but a man’s home is his sacred castle. Just for me, my missus and our bairn.”
“Here, then,” Mrs. Haines said. “In the parlor. I’ll ask Elsbeth to set up a cot by the stove.”
“I’d be most obliged,” Alfred said. “And, I will pay whatever rate you name.”
Before Haines could reply, his wife said, “I’ll have my husband send up a plate for your supper, and, I’ll fix you a proper breakfast in the morning,” Mrs. Haines offered. “My husband’s establishment doesn’t open the kitchen for business until noon, so I’ll be happy to put up and extra plate of eggs and muffins for you. Besides, the saloon only offers coffee.”
“Such service,” Alfred stammered. “I don’t know how to thank you.” He pulled out his wallet from his waistcoat, took out four large bills and handed them to Haines.
“Well, sir. I reckon that’s settled, then!” Haines pocketed the bills. He shook his head and gave his wife a squeeze about her shoulders.
Mrs. Haines whispered to her husband as they left Alfred to enjoy the rest of his stay in Pinewood Gulch, “I told you there’s more than just one kind of customer in this world.”
Two of three prompts, though “there are no rules” can be attributed, I suppose, if you stretch the imagination.