Millie's Western Adventure
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With Boots keeping an eye on Millie, Bob felt like he could check in with the authorities. To that end, he went to the Sheriff's office. He found Sheriff Clint Miller sitting back in his desk chair, his boots up on his battered desk. There were a few faded and curled wanted posters on the walls, but in reality there wasn't much for a lawman to do in the little town of Beaverton. He was used to things being sedate, and this recent uproar had him nervous. He stared at Doc, who had just finished giving him an update on the status of the town's newest, if reluctant citizen.
"So what do you think we should do?" asked Miller.
"Hell, I don't know. Send a telegraph maybe?" suggested Doc.
"Who to?" asked Clint.
"She was on the westbound train," said Doc. "I'd guess we need to notify stations down the line about what happened."
"And admit that Beaverton is responsible for all but killing a poor, innocent woman?" The sheriff
frowned. "That could bring down all kinds of trouble on us."
"It was an accident," said Doc, shrugging. "A prank that got out of hand. Happens everywhere."
"She's a woman of breeding," said Miller. "I could tell that even without her clothes on. What if whoever's looking for her is important, and not patient with towns that let their younguns carry on like that? What if somebody shows up with a hired army, set on teaching somebody a lesson?"
"We can't just pretend she doesn't exist," said Bob.
"We could until she's healed up, and the bruises are gone," said Clint. "Who's to know she didn't just wander into town from out on the prairie somewhere ... and we took her in and took care of her?"
Bob looked at the Sheriff and shook his head. "You know better than that. What the hell's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me is that we got ourselves a problem and I don't want it to tear this town up," said
Miller. "She don't know who she is, so she don't know who to complain to. I say we make her comfortable and happy as possible, and work on finding out who she is ... but just take our time about it. I'd purely hate for somebody who cared about her to see her in the shape she's in right now. That's all."
Doc's eyebrows furrowed. "The mayor been talking to you, Clint?"
Miller looked uncomfortable. "It's the town council that pays my salary. Of course they consult with me about things
that might cause trouble."
"I thought you had more grit than to cave to the likes of Henry Robinson," said Bob, shaking his head slowly.
"I didn't cave!" said Miller, taking his boots down off his desk and standing up. "I just agree that there's no hurry,
until she's in better shape. You just take care of getting her healed up and let me worry about finding out who she is
and who's looking for her. If we get any inquiries, I won't delay in responding to them, but I see no need to go looking for more trouble. At least not until she's out of the woods and has some reason to feel beholden to people in this town."
Bob knew when he was hitting his head against a wall, but he also recognized opportunity when it knocked. If the town council and sheriff were going to drag their heels about things, they should be made to pay. He smiled.
"I'll do my part, Clint. And I'm sure that Lawrence Thistledown, John Relway and Douglas Harrow will be happy to do their part and pay her doctor bills, seeing as how their sons caused this whole mess. And if they won't, then I expect the town council to pick up the tab. I don't get paid often in this dump, but I'm getting paid this time or I may feel the need to do some investigation on my own into who this woman is. You get my drift, Clint?"
The sheriff frowned. "That sounds suspiciously like a threat, Doctor Fisk," he said heavily.
"Take it any way you like," said Bob, folding his arms across his chest. "You want her taken care of well and
proper. Fine. Somebody has to pay for that. That's all I'm saying. If the people who caused it won't do it, and the town won't do it, then whoever's looking for her might do it."
"How much we talkin' about?" asked the sheriff, still frowning.
"By the time I'm satisfied she'll heal on her own, I expect I'll have ten dollars invested in her," said Doc, thinking of the things he was short on, and what it would likely cost to restock his surgery.
"Ten dollars!" growled Sheriff Miller. "I'm supposed to arrest thieves, not help them commit the crime!"
"Take it or leave it," said Bob. "I've never had a vacation. I might just see fit to ride on over to Lincoln and find out what one's like. And while I'm there, I can see what the state of medicine is in the big city these days. Shouldn't take more than a month or two, I imagine. You and the mayor can take care of Millie while I'm gone. I'm quite sure she'll be beholden to you in no time."
"That's what we decided to call her until she remembers who she is," said Doc. "When I found out she could read and do
math, I told her the town might agree to give her room and board if she'd teach school until this can get all straightened out. So you can install her in the old schoolmarm's house. I think I'll just be on my way. The more I think about it,
the more I think Lincoln would be nice this time of year."
Miller snorted. "Just hold your damn horses, Doc. You'll get your ten dollars. You just take care of her so
she's nice and chipper whenever whoever comes looking for her comes looking for her."
"I'll expect the money tomorrow," said Doc.
"You drive a hard bargain," said Miller.
"If you didn't get paid, you wouldn't keep wearin' that badge," pointed out Bob.
Miller blinked, and then nodded slowly.
"Guess I wouldn't at that," he admitted. "Why don't we get the mayor on board, and then I'll ride out and
talk to the fathers of them boys."
Bob was surprised to see the sun high overhead by the time everything got agreed upon. Mayor Richardson had wanted Ralph Dugway, owner of the hotel, and Claude Simpson, who ran the general store, involved. They were just about the only
people in town, other than the saloon, who had much cash money, and they would also be involved in the victim's upkeep for as long as she stayed in town.
Bob smelled the odors of cooking as soon as he stepped inside his surgery. He pushed through the curtain to his living
area and was surprised to see Millie standing at his cook stove, which hadn't had a fire in it for at least three months.
She was stirring something in a pot, and it smelled delicious. Boots was leaned against one wall. She had been in the middle of saying something to Millie when he walked in, but stopped as soon as she saw him.
"Miss Millie's doin' much better," she announced, beaming.
"I guess so," said Bob, as the young woman turned to look at him.
"I remember you," she said. "You're the doctor. This is your house."
"Such as it is," said Doc.
"We been tryin' to remember things," said Boots. "'Cept it ain't working much."
"Whenever I try to think of something from my past, all I can visualize is a very dark cavern," said Millie. "It's so frustrating!"
"Perhaps things will come back to you in time," said Bob. "You're cooking, I see."
"It's not much. You don't have much food. I just whipped up some chicken and rice
"Chicken," said Bob, looking at Boots, who seemed very interested, suddenly, in a hole in
the sleeve of her buckskin shirt.
"Don't worry," said Millie, turning back to the pot. "Boots caught an old, scrawny one. I'm sure it wasn't laying
"Now that you're here, Doc, I'll just be moseying along," said Boots hurriedly, and headed for the curtained doorway.
"Nonsense!" said Millie. "You caught the chicken and brought the milk, and there's plenty for three. You must stay and eat too, Boots!"
"Yes," said Doc, smiling tightly. "You simply must stay and eat with us, Boots. I can't wait to hear about the milk,
Bob rubbed his belly, which he felt must be bulging at least six inches.
"That was mighty good, Millie," he said.
"It was just soup," she said, lowering her gaze.
They were gathered around his examination platform, which had been pressed into use as a dining table. Millie was seated on a tall stool. Bob was sitting on an empty nail keg. Boots was standing. Bob owned a grand total of three plates, only
one of which was ceramic. It was balanced on Bob's knee, served to him by Millie, who insisted that "the master of the house" got the best dishes. She and Boots were eating off of tin plates, one of which still had most of a coating of blue enamel on it. Three mismatched cups held water from the pitcher Bob kept on the dry sink.
"I'll have to get some bowls," said Bob.
"I don't think I used enough water in the rice," said Millie. "It turned out awfully thick."
"It was delicious," said Bob, smacking his lips. "You can cook for me anytime you like."
"All right," said Millie, taking him seriously.
"Mighty fine vittles," said Boots, wiping her plate with a finger and sucking it clean. "I could get used to eating
"I suppose we should get over to your new, temporary home," said Bob. "I doubt it will be suitable for habitation just yet, but at least you can see it."
"I guess that would be the best thing to do," said Millie. "This is all so strange."
"I'll work with you each day," said Bob. "We'll see if we can't uncover some of those hiding memories."
"I'll help," said Boots.
Thinking about the chicken and milk, neither of which had been discussed in full yet, Bob frowned. "I expect you've already helped more than was needed, Boots."
"She's hurt," said Boots firmly. "She'll need some help fer a while yet."
"Yes," said Doc, staring at the scout. "You and I will do some planning on that ... won't we, Boots?"
"Sure, Doc," she said carelessly. "Whatever you say. How's about we get on over to the schoolmarm's house now?"
The previous schoolmaster had been a man. Millie didn't know what kind of teacher he had been, but he was a pig at keeping house.
"This is awful!" said Millie, waving a hand in front of her face. There was a thick layer of dust covering everything. The breeze caused by just opening the door filled the air with a dense cloud of dancing motes. Trash lay strewn everywhere. There were two rooms, one large and one small. In one end of the small room the trash was piled man-high and filled almost half the living space.
"Don't see no rats," said Boots, helpfully.
What had been billed as a simple "look-see" turned into a preliminary cleaning crusade, as Millie suddenly took command and ordered Bob and Boots around. While Boots scurried off to fetch water and rags, Millie and Bob dragged the few pieces of furniture outside. When Boots returned, Millie used a rag to dust the furniture off. The clouds of
dust wafted away in the breeze and Bob got an idea. Re-entering the house, he opened all the windows and the back door, letting the breeze flow through the structure. A little experimentation with an old sheet revealed that two people waving it just so, stirred up the dust into swirling gouts of thick, choking clouds, which the wind then blew out through the open windows and doors. Initially there was much coughing as the sheet-wavers had to run from the house in order to get into air clean enough to breathe, but soon the amount of dust being raised was severely curtailed. Millie said that she'd revert to proper dusting the next day.
They looked around making a list of things that would need to be done to make the place liveable. She'd need a mattress of some kind, probably straw, for the board bed in the corner of the small room. Victuals would need to be stocked. The wood cook stove in the large room appeared to be in good condition, though a supply of wood was needed. Pumping the handle of the water pump only made clanking noises, but Bob opined that if it were taken apart, and the leather gasket oiled, it would likely pump water then. The leather hinges on the front door needed replacing and some of the floor boards were loose or warped. But the glass in the windows was unbroken, and the roof appeared sound, though one couldn't tell for sure until it rained. There was even a privy out back, though the elements had taken their toll on it, and it would need some repairs.
It was Boots who discovered the treasure hidden under the mountain of trash in the small room. She was kicking empty tin cans and other pieces of trash towards the door when her foot hit something that made a hollow booming noise. Digging under the trash, they found a copper bathtub.
"Now there's a surprise," said Bob, when it was uncovered. "I would have sworn the old schoolmaster didn't take a bath the whole time he was in town. He sure didn't smell like it, anyway."
"I had no idea people went around sniffing the schoolmaster," said Millie, a twinkle in her eye.
"Sometimes you don't have to try," said Bob. "Simply being in the same room is enough sometimes." He glanced sternly at
Boots, making it obvious he was doing so.
"I had a bath just last month," complained Boots. "I took it while I wuz takin' a message up to the Lazy B ranch. Got into the Big Platte river right up to my neck, I did, and washed up good. Ain't had one since, 'cause I ain't did nothin'. Been hangin' around town since then, an' you know there ain't no place in town for me to take no bath. I sure ain't goin' over to the hotel and paying two bits just to sit in a bunch of water."
"You may use my tub whenever you wish," said Millie formally. Her hand went to stroke the copper rim. "I wish I could offer it to you this very night."
"I don't smell that bad," groused Boots.
"I wasn't suggesting you do," said Millie. "I'd just love to have a bath myself." She brushed at her dusty clothes.
"I've got water and a stove at the surgery," said Bob.
"I ain't carryin' ten buckets of water all the way over here just so the new schoolmarm can smell sweet," said Boots.
"And I know I'd be the one carryin' all that water, so don't even try to argue."
"Wouldn't it be easier to carry the tub to the surgery?" suggested Bob. "It't not all that heavy. We can always bring it back here when this place is ready to move into."
"That would be wonderful!" squealed Millie. "And then we could both take a bath!" she said, smiling at Boots.
"But there is much to do before we can pamper ourselves. It hurts every time I sneeze, and if we don't get this place clean, I'll sneeze constantly."
Millie stood up slowly. She did everything slowly, because moving quickly brought much pain. Moving slowly brought pain too, but not as sharp. The rag in her hand was filthy - brown, almost black. But at last the house looked livable. She looked over at the strange girl who, for two days, had helped her make the schoolteacher's house decent to live in. Nobody else in town had lifted a finger to help. The doctor had helped until he was called away to a ranch, to see to an injured cowboy. He'd been gone ever since.
Try as she did, Millie could remember nothing of her previous life ... where she had come from ... who her family was ... why she had been on the train ... not even where she had been going. Doctor Fisk believed that someone would come looking for her soon. But if that was true, why were they setting her up to be the schoolmistress? There was so much she didn't understand. Yet, at the same time, she felt secure, somehow. She knew she would be a good teacher. She didn't know how she knew that, but she felt it in her bones. Somehow she also knew it would be more interesting than her previous life. After all, if her life had been exciting, wouldn't she remember it?
She looked back at Boots. What an odd name. And the woman herself was simply bizarre. Boots had taken care of her since the doctor was called away, even taking her to the hotel dining room every night. It was obvious Boots wasn't welcome there, but that wasn't odd. She was foul-mouthed, and uncouth. She threatened people at the drop of a hat and practically everyone was afraid of her. Somehow Millie knew that under normal circumstances she would have had nothing to do with a person like Boots. But the fact was, she liked the odd girl. Boots had been the only person in town, other than the doctor, who cared a whit about what happened to her. Boots was her friend, as crazy as that seemed.
She had a moment of near dizziness in which she reflected on how she shouldn't like Boots, but did anyway. That she judged the woman was obviously a product of her former life ... her real life. But whatever reasons her real life would have told her to shun Boots were obviously poppycock. Why else would she have decided she liked her? It made her wonder if there were other things in her real life that were flawed, or based on things that weren't true.
There was nothing she could do about that now, though. If she ever regained her memory, and resumed her real life, she could examine things then and make any needed alterations.
"Place looks right nice," said the strange woman about whom she had been thinking.
"It does. Thanks to you, Boots," said Millie.
"It weren't nothin'," said Boots, her cheeks tinged with pink.
"That's not true, Boots," said Millie. "You did a lot of work, and I appreciate it."
"Just don't tell nobody about it, all right?" said Boots.
"Why on Earth not?" asked Millie. "You deserve credit for good work."
"I sort of got the reputation fer bein' lazy and no count," said Boots. "I don't want to mess that up."
"All right," said Millie firmly. "But I don't understand that at all. Why would you want people to think you were lazy?"
"'Cause iffen somebody wants me to do sumthin' and I doesn't want to do it, they just think I'm lazy and leave me alone."
"Couldn't you just tell them you don't want to do whatever it is?"
"Then they want to know why I doesn't want to do it," complained Boots.
"Is that any of their business?" The new teacher frowned. "You have the perfect right to say no and not have to explain
"I do?" Boots looked amazed.
"You certainly do," said Millie. "This is America. What do you think freedom is? You do what you want to, and you don't have to answer to anybody." She looked at the straggle-haired, disreputable woman standing across the room. "Well anything legal, that is."
"I shore wish somebody woulda tol' that to my pappy and Jasper," muttered Boots.
"Who's Jasper?" asked Millie.
"Never mind," said Boots. "He's dead and gone and so's my old man, in Hell together, I imagine. I hope so anyways."
"What an awful thing to wish for," said Millie, shocked. "I'm disappointed in you, Boots."
"Well, you ain't the first and you fer sure won't be the last. Havin' the right reputation helps with that a lot too." She grinned. "Want me to clear out?"
"No, I do not," said Millie firmly. "You're my friend, even if I think some of the things you do are ... irregular."
"Well how about that," said Boots, looking shocked. "I ain't never been nobody's friend before. I don't know whether to shit or go blind."
Millie groaned at the language.
Boots immediately took a few steps towards Millie. "You all right? Did them stitches tear out?"
"I'm fine, Boots," said Millie. "The doctor has taken pretty good care of me."
"He's a good man," said Boots. "Don't you dare tell him I said that, but he's 'bout the only man hereabouts worth spittin' on. Leastwise the onliest one I ever did see."
"He is a good man," said Millie. "I notice you spend a lot of time around him."
"Yeah ... so?"
"So are you sweet on him?"
"Doc?" Boots laughed. "Hell no. I ain't sweet on no man, an' never will be."
"I have a feeling you could do much worse than picking Doc," insisted Millie.
"You want him, you can have him," said Boots. "I already know what a man is like when his balls start actin' up, and I want no part of it. Not ever. No how. No way."
Millie blushed at Boots' use of a crass word, but she had a feeling she'd never been able to have such an open and honest conversation like this, so she carried on.
"How could you know that? You've never been married. I know you haven't because I asked Doctor Fisk about that."
"And what did he say?" Boots' voice was low, and suddenly hard.
"He said you hadn't married, and something about you being a free spirit."
The western woman brightened. "Really? That's all he said?"
"So you don't know what men are like when they woo a woman."
"An' I suppose you do," said Boots sarcastically.
"Well I know..." Millie went silent. She frowned. "Sometimes I just feel things," she said.
"Oh I know what that's like," said Boots. "I felt plenty a things in my time."
Millie wasn't sure what that meant, but she explained herself instead of asking a quesion. "I mean I know it's supposed to be grand and glorious and happy and gay."
"An' mebbe it is back East," said Boots. "But this ain't East, and things is different here, Miss Millie. My advice to you is to just stay shut of men until whoever is missing you comes around lookin' fer ya. Men in these parts ain't like men back East. You just remember that."
"Men are men," snorted Millie.
"Yep, an' they just want one thing," said Boots.
"I know that," said Millie. "My problem is I just can't remember what it is that they want."
"Well, I wouldn't be in an all fired hurry to find out, iffen I was you," said Boots.
As if their conversation was able to magically summon a man, Bob came through the doorway.
"I'm back," he said. He looked around. "Wow. I'm impressed."
"You should be," said Millie. "Boots and I worked like slaves."
"Well, then, I'll buy you both dinner," said Bob. "How's that?"
"I'd rather have that bath," said Millie. "Since you got called away, we couldn't take the tub over to your office. And the pump hasn't been fixed here yet."
"Well, then," said Bob. "Let's just get that little problem solved."
Bob hadn't been talking about fixing the pump. He knew, in theory, how to do that, but didn't have the tools. Instead, they went with the original plan to move the tub to his surgery.
For as light as it looked and felt when they first lifted it, it took most of the strength Bob and Boots had to lug the tub back to his surgery. Millie fluttered around them, wishing she could help. Bob reminded her she was injured and on the mend. Finally she ran ahead to open the door and push furniture aside in the back room. That room, where Bob's bed was, was the only room where any kind of real privacy could be arranged.
While Bob started heating water on the stove, he also began putting together a stew. Boots carried buckets of hot water to the tub, while Millie "straightened up" the surgery and Bob's living area. When Bob told her she didn't have
to do that, she said she was still in cleaning mode, and couldn't help herself.
Bob watched, as she moved around. She was a delight to watch. In fact, just about everything about her was a delight.
And that, thought Bob, sighing, was the problem.
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