12

'The French Restaurant'

By Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, are dragooned into keeping a newly arrived French cook safe.

Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.

—O—

"All I'm sayin' is, if'n ye set that there garba—er, fancy food, on a table in front o'some o'the local citizenry o'Red Flume you're mighty soon goin' ter be missin' some parts o'your anatomy you've bin, till now, mighty attached to—jes' sayin'."

With this off her chest Sally stood back, contemplating the latest citizen to arrive in the salubrious environs of the fair town of Red Flume, Territory of Arizona, on this balmy morning of June, 187-.

But Mons. Gerard de Monvaile,—for, indeed, he was French,—was not to be set at sixes and sevens by such mere ill-informed criticism; especially from a member of the, ah, other sex. The de, if judgement must be passed on reality, was we have to admit probably a judicially placed late addition; while the Monvaile owed a great deal more to imagination than to family forbears. That he had started his working life as a lowly pastry-cook in Montmatre, Paris, was something he kept close to his chest at this, the zenith of his career – at least, to date.

"Il ne compte pas. Je suis un génie et mon génie surmontera toutes les critiques. La populace va m'adorer dans deux mois; attend et regarde. Mon ascension vers la gloire sera spectaculaire."

"Is that so?" Henrietta gazed on the man as if he were something strange newly fallen from the heavens. She could speak some French herself, but liked to keep her achievements under wraps in public. "Perhaps you'd consider speaking American, here in America? It'll help the local characters t'understand ye all the easier—this not bein' France, as ye can easy see by castin' an eye around the joint."

"What'd he say, what'd he say?" Sally being no slouch in coming forward with requests of a personal nature. "Sounded mighty sharp an' stingin', t'me. Was he castin' aspersions on Red Flume? He was, wasn't he? Well, that'll get him far, I'm sure. Should we mosey round to Jake Hilbert's Undertakers, an' put his name down right now?"

"Ease off, lady." Henrietta was too engaged in trying to knock sense into the French cook to take note of her lover's ramblings. "No-one's gon'na kick against the traces yet a'whiles—"

"—unless he actilly takes an' puts that slush he's jest made on the table in front o'someone like Pete Faraday." Sally shook her head censoriously. "That'll be a one-way ticket t'Hilbert's establishment, an' no kiddin'. What is it, anyway? Smells awful; an' doesn't look much better."

"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" The question being out before Henrietta could stop herself reacting to the golden tones of the woman she loved most in all of America.

"Ah, une Dame de Qualité?" Mons. Monvaile, smiling broadly, was now in his element. "You are most welcome. What is this? One of my specialities, madame; a cassoulet, from the South of France."

"What is it?" Sally, against her better judgement, had become interested enough in the strange soup-like mixture to come closer and lean over to sniff. "I mean, what's in it? Anything good?"

Gerard, shocked by this Vandal-like approach to his cooking, paused to glance over the young woman; clearly wondering about her strength of intellect, or lack of same. Then he sighed and got down to the dirty business of explaining superior cooking to the lower classes.

"Cassoulet, madame, is a form of soup; it contains various sausages and meats, cut thin, and white beans in a rich sauce-like base—strengthened with peppers." Here Gerard, exhausted by the necessity to address such lack of knowledge, gave up. "It is a very heartening soup; very good in mid-morning, to give strength for the day's work. Please, try it if you will? Je suis sûr que vous ne serez pas déçu."

"Go ahead, baby—it's only a plate o'soup."

"Hah." Sally picked up the proffered spoon, but was obviously still less than certain of her next move.

Finally, taking all her courage in both hands; or, at least, the one free from soup spoons, she dipped it into the semi-liquid contents of the bowl and raised it to her lips. An encouraging flicker of a nod and raised eyebrows from her lover and Sally tasted the concoction.

"Wow-za, sweet yet peppery at the same time. Don't know but what it ain't pretty good, after all, though."

"Was that a yes, or a no, babe?"

"It's soup, a bit thick, but I tasted worse in the past." Sally on top form. "Not but what I'd name names, here in public, so stop worryin', dear."

"Hoi, thet ain't no way nice, gal."

"Did I mention your name, lover? Don't think I did; take me t'court an' see how far ye gets."

"Gods."

"Ladies. Is my cassoulet to the charming lady's liking? It is one of my best recipes, you know." Gerard attempting to rejoin the conversation and bring it back to the important issues. "For if you find it lacking, well, I would have no choice but to load my goods and chattels and go to Yellow Dog, you understand. In Yellow Dog I will, certainement, find a more responsive audience for my culinary genius, non?"

"Let's not jump out the frying-pan before it's necessary, friend." Henrietta shaking her head at the French cook's suggestion. "Yellow Dog can wait its turn; we here at Red Flume feels it heavy on our shoulders t'accept the great honour of sittin' down at table an' seein' what French grub's like. Open yer restaw-raw, by all means; jes' hang back a'ways in lookin' fer outright enthusiasm from yer customers. If'n they likes yer grub, they'll come back fer more; if'n they takes against yer grub, they'll tear the place apart an' run ye out'ta town wholesale; tar an' feathers, possible, havin' a not inconsiderable part t'play in same perhaps, if'n yer grub really goes down badly."

"Sacre-bleu."

—O—

"Pete Faraday."

"What about him, lady?"

"Jes', I wonders what he'll think o'the Frenchy's grub?"

"Sal, Pete's a big man; big in frame, in temperament, in willingness to join in any fight goin'; an' last, but no-ways least, he has an appetite thet actil could dispose of a roasted ox in one sittin', as we all knows."

"He also has a propensity t'take the Law in'ta his own hands some promis'cus." Sally not retreating an inch. "Ye recalls, three month since, it took you an' me an' George Hampson an' Kelly Forster t'haul Pete off tryin' mighty fine t'drown Nigel Donovan in one of his own beer barrels when Pete took agin' the quality of the beer bein' served at Nigel's Happy Hunter Saloon? Ye does remember sich, dear? I can still see some o'the bruises on yer face, as it is."

"Graa-aagh." Henrietta no way happy at the awful recollection. "He dam' near broke my arm in three places; only your hittin' him over his head with the butt o'yer Smith an' Wesson, thereby puttin' him out'ta contention, saved me."

"I does my best, I allows." Sally delighted at this mark of respect. "Anyways, he's done his eight weeks in the hoose-gow, an' is now promenadin' round town a free citizen once agin. An' Monsewer de Monvaile's openin' his restaw-raw on Gibson Street tomorrow. Reckon we should go round an', jes' in the way o'takin' Life in gen'ral, sit down an' make sure poor Gerard doesn't finish his life the same day?"

"An amiable an' sincere outlook, babe; reckon I can spare the time t'join ye in sich an endeavour."

"Mighty fine o'yer, I opines, mighty fine."

—O—

The day of reckoning dawned bright and sunny, the sky a pure fresh blue—which is to say it was a day like any other in the Territory of South Arizona. Red Flume being a township where the citizens knew how to take advantage of a good night's sleep, nothing much interrupted the odd tumbleweed whirling its way along Main Street till around 9am, when some sort of activity generally started to become noticeable. By 10am most of those now to be seen ambling about the streets had stretched to their heart's content, given their last yawn, and admitted that something useful might well be done with the new day.

Henrietta and Sally, coming up to the main door of L'Auberge Jaune, the proprietor let them in with a joyful, and wholly French, welcome. Having overcome this initial encounter with great bravery the ladies sat themselves down at a table in the corner of the large room and waited to observe the citizens of Red Flume grappling with foreign food, mostly for the first time in their lives.

"Allow me, ladies, le petit dejeuner." Gerard placing the two plates on their table with all necessary pomp, another waiter putting two coffee cups before the customers with a Gallic flourish. "Everything for you, today, is free with my compliments."

"Thanks ever so," Sally eyeing the plate with its rounded flaky pastry with something near to suspicion. "so, when's breakfast?"

Gerard smiled condescendingly, able to take a joke like any mature person then, realising she was serious, frowned dismally instead.

"But this is, as I say, le petit dejeuner—coffee and croissants; breakast, in your country—I mean, here in America, non?"

Sally looked at the sparse content of the plate before her, a single pastry, and the coffee cup by its side, then raised her eyes to the master chef with a tinge of sadness.

"Monsewer Gerard, I usually takes three cups of coffee to my breakfast, bacon an' beans, flapjacks an' honey when in season, or a little deer steak if the huntin's been good the days previous. Hell, this here ain't even a snack."

Gerard, to his credit, withstood this attack on his country's social attributes with bravery beyond compare.

"Ah, a simple difference of degree, madam." He nodded as if answering the question to his whole satisfaction. "The citizens of this resplendent community will, naturally, take some time to adjust, to accustom themselves to new and wholesome eating habits; but when they come round they will thank me for my efforts, incontrovertibly. There is honey, jam, or almond paste to spread over your croissants, ladies, if a touch of sweetness will help. Alors, I must leave you, the customers are increasing by the moment, non?"

With which apology, sensing a certain neutral outlook in the immediate air, he beat a hasty retreat.

"Almond paste?"

"Yip."

"Almond paste? On a breakfast cookie? Thet, an' a cup o'coffee, bein' the whole consarn? I allows t'bein' some unhappy with this here first encounter with Frenchy cookin', sister."

"Use the jam, instead; at least yer used ter jam, lady." Henrietta taking the High Road on the issue under discussion. "Like Gerard said, ye'll jes' need'ta get used t'sich, is all."

Sally, miffed beyond her limits, was having nothing to do with such a weak argument.

"Get used t'it; t'a cookie an' a single cup o'coffee fer breakfast? Fer breakfast? Are ye kiddin' me, lover? If'n I have'ta live on sich fer more'n a month I'll shrivel up an' die like a dog. Hell, there won't be enough left o'me ter bury decently."

"God, get a grip, gal; ye'd think it were the end o'the world, or some sich." Henrietta shaking her head in disbelief. "Drink yer coffee, smile like yer enjoyin' it all, an' jes' watch how everybody else here is takin' ter the new order o'the day."

"Huumph!"

—O—

The breakfast crowd, those who felt brave enough to forgo the delights of Maggie's Kitchen, anyway—till now the most popular restaurant in Red Flume,—filed in by ones and two, tail-ended by a couple of trios; all famished as the people in that book who spent 40 years in the wilderness. What these hungry hordes wanted, and requested in loud tones, were comestibles suited to the appetites of persons used to spending weeks out on the prairie or wild desert, accompanied by enough rotgut coffee to drown a herd of oxen. What they found served up on wide plates was thin rations, by their way of looking at the situation.

"Hey, barkeep, where's my breakfast? This here cookie'll only do fer my six-month old neffy back home; an' this cup o'coffee looks like a reffy'gee from a young gal's doll's house, an' only holds a spit."

"Yo, landlord, I requires me some food—real workin' man's food. Where's the inch thick steaks easy done, eggs sunny-side up, an' enough flapjacks ter choke a bison. An' gim'me the coffee-pot entire, an' make it a dam' big 'un, pipin' hot."

"Mine Host, this here ain't breakfast; not what we here in Red Flume calls same, anyways. If this here's what Frenchies, back in Frenchy-land, calls breakfast waal, I begins ter see how they lost thet there last war with Bismarck an' the Proosians so easy."

Stung to the quick by this last bit of friendly repartee Gerard came out all guns blazing, defending his honoured country like the hero he was—possibly somewhat unwisely, as most of his customers were tooled up with a variety of firearms, while he wielded a wooden ladle.

"M'sieu, I spit on the dam' Prussians." Gerard going redder than ever in the face as he built-up steam. "I spit on dam' Bismarck, and I tell you, yes you M'sieu, whoever you are, you could not make the croissants as I do, to my revered mother's recipe. An angel among ladies, was she; and in criticising my croissants you mis-call my mother's memory. Sir, I give you the back of the glove across the face; if you will be so kind as to wait five minutes I shall bring my old military sabre and we can discuss the matter, steel to steel, out in the street at your convenience, non?"

Both Henrietta and Sally, judging things were getting some out of hand, made their way across to the irate owner, gently stopping him from carrying out his plan of condign punishment on his customer. But not much in the way of defensive measures were needed, in the end—the customers, delighted by Gerard's staunch defence of both mother and country, fell on his side as one, laughing merrily and giving a cheerful hurrah to show their regard—even the man who had unwisely mentioned the Prussians laughing and grinning himself.

"Mighty fine sentiments, landlord. Dam' the swordplay, I figures I'll take two more o'they there croy'saint's cookies, an' some honey ter give 'em a touch o'sweetness, an' yer cain't haul along near enough coffee, even in them small cups, ter douse my thirst while's I eats them. Reckon I might well develop a pretty good appetite, after all. French breakfast, yer sez? Well, well, bring it on, brother—you got the food, an' I'm dam' hungry; reckon there's a exchange o'sentiments there thet'll do us both good, eh?"

—O—

Things having quietened down, and the customers of the French restaurant having developed an unexpected, and unforseen, taste for the exotic, Henrietta and Sally took leave of the now noisy eating establishment to go about their other duties as Deputy's of the town.

"We'll look in agin jes' afore noon."

"Yeah, Pete Faraday'll definitely turn up round about then, fer his lunch." Sally nodding wisely as they proceeded along Gibson Street under the shade of the sidewalk roof. "What d'ya think Gerard'll serve up fer thet, lover? He bein' French, an' all."

Henrietta remained silent for a while as they walked, turning this important matter over in her mind.

"I don't know, leddy; but, come midday, it'll sure be interestin' ter find out."

"Har."

—O—

The lunch menu, when its time arrived, turned out to be at once simple yet complicated—as both Henrietta and Sally had foreseen would be the case. Back once more in the wide long saloon of the restaurant, again fairly well filled with citizens anticipating they hardly knew what, the ladies took anxious surveys of every corner and table without finding their prey.

"He ain't come, yet."

"Seems thet way." Henrietta nodding slowly. "Here, thet table we had fer breakfast's still empty, let's take it agin—got a wide view o'the whole premises. What's Gerard serving up this time, then?"

Sally glanced over to the far side of the room, where the double-door leading to and from the kitchen lay.

"Seems t'be a steady flow back an forth." She turned to look over the nearby tables. "Ah, soup, I think—or somethin' mighty similar."

"An' thet lady's tuckin' in'ta a salad."

"Yeah, an' see, over there, is thet a fish dinner he's eatin'?"

"Yip, jes' thet." Henrietta's eye as sharp as an eagle's. "Those guys, t'yer left, are tunnelin' in'ta thick steaks an' onions—smell?"

"God, yeah, my mouth's waterin'." Sally feeling the pressure of an empty stomach. "I'll have a steak, too; an inch thick, covered in gravy, an' surrounded by corn an' peas. What're those white round things those guys is tearin' in'ta?"

"Figure they be potatoes, dear."

"Potatoes? Really? Well, in thet case, I'll have 'em, too—hold the corn n'peas. Where the dam's a waiter; I'm dyin' o'hunger, here."

Ten minutes later both women had left the diners around them to take care of themselves for a short while as Henrietta and Sally made short work of their own meal.

"God, this steak's juicy as all get-out." Sally really enjoying her grub. "Done jes' right, an' oozin' with beef gravy—gorgeous."

"Glad ye likes it, lover." Henrietta almost as involved with her own steak. "These potatoes has a lot goin' fer 'em, too, I'allows."

"Mmmfh wwwrph wllphaar."

"What was thet, sis? Didn't quite catch yer drift, there?"

Sally swallowed her mouthful.

"Mmph, delicious. Say, what exactly's French about this here set-up in the food stakes? I mean, what's typically French about a steak an' these here potatoes?"

"S'the way it's all done." Henrietta showing away with a confidence built entirely on shifting sand. "The recipes, the spices, peppers, an' how much salt's thrown in the basin when yer switchin' up the ingredients. Makes all the difference, y'know. French cookin' bein' different from our own entire, y'see. Ital'yan cookin' bein', itself, wholly different from French, nor Spanish, nor, er, English or Dutch. They all eats the same things, gen'ral, but made-up an' cooked different; so's they all has a variety o'dishes, country ter country, y'see."

"Hell, sounds ter me as if makin' a long journey overseas, through all they countries, will jes' end in a mighty hearty stomach-ache, I believes."

Before Henrietta could formulate an adequate answer to what she regarded as this wholly inane remark their discussion was interrupted by the appearance of the person they had all along known would finally arrive to spoil everyone's fun—the door from the street opened wide and Pete Faraday entered the establishment.

Pete was a cow-puncher; one of the few who could actually punch a steer unconscious with one blow. He stood 6 feet 3 inches tall, had broad shoulders over a strongly muscled torso that would have made Michelangelo weep with joy, if anyone within a circuit of two hundred miles had ever heard of said artist, legs like columns holding up a substantial building, fists like a blacksmiths' hammers, and a temperament mean as a bear with the toothache. He also had a finicky taste in vittles; having laid waste to two other restaurants in Red Flume over the last year, including Maggies' Kitchen, simply because their fare failed to reach his exacting standards. In short, a force of nature to be reckoned with.

"God, he's here."

"Yer pistols loaded, lover?"

"Dam' straight."

"Good, if he starts in'ta wrecking the joint try'n put a couple in his boots—thet'll take some o'the starch out'ta him."

"You hope."

"Ummph."

Meanwhile the man under this scientific discussion walked at his own pace through the crowded room, with several sideways glances as he progressed; obviously taking stock of what was placed on the tables before the various diners. Reaching an empty table, close to that of the ladies', he settled himself, perched his wide-brimmed hat on the corner of one of the vertical bars of his wooden chair, heaved himself into a comfortable position, then looked about for a waiter.

During this entrance, similar to that of one of the more formidable Roman Emperors, Gerard had been standing near the kitchen door, watching out for a pre-arranged signal from Henrietta—showing when the prime suspect had shown up. Henrietta casually raised her left hand to run through her black locks; Sally quietly put one hand down to cover the butt of her Smith and Wesson; and Gerard, duly notified of the approaching danger, sprang into action.

"M'sieu, greetings to my establishment, c'est un honneur de vous servir." Gerlad falling back into his native tongue through nervousness. "What will you have? Le steak est délicieux aujourd'hui; or perhaps, une assiette de truite fraîche? If one wishes, une salade légère?"

Henrietta and Sally, listening to this fractured linguistic salad of itself, sighed wearily and prepared for the worst. Pete, on the other hand, sat back cogitating on Gerard's words for some time before reaching a decision as to his next course of action. Finally—

"Je n'aime pas la salade." His pronunciation sounding, to those bending their ears all round to listen, perfect. "La truite est bonne pour le petit déjeuner; mais j'imagine que je vais me contenter d'un steak, avec des pommes de terre à la menthe, bien sûr."

"Mais certainement, monsieur, un excellent choix."

—O—

The atmosphere in the restaurant, having fallen almost silent from its previous noisy crescendo just before the appearance of its most famous or infamous diner, had now returned almost to that earlier high as everyone, in what they took to be mere whispers, discussed the fact they never knew Pete spoke French and seemed to know his way round said country's grub.

"He speaks French."

"I sort'a noticed, young 'un."

Henrietta followed her reply by taking her own hand off her side-arm, a mighty Colt .45, and sitting back on her chair, the better to view whatever happened next.

"Reckon he's gon'na tear the place apart, darlin'?"

"Reckon he's gon'na settle down an' enjoy his steak, by the look's o'things, baby."

And Henrietta's prophecy came true in the next two minutes as Gerard, with all necessary pomp and more circumstance than the occasion really required ushered no less than three waiters across to Pete's table, all loaded down with silver platters and trays bearing what appeared to be the ambrosia and nectar of the Gods of Old.

"Pommes de terre à la menthe au fenouil." Gerard heralding the goods with all just ceremony. "Monsieur ne s'oppose pas au fenouil?"

"Je suis le plus heureux, le fenouil est une exigence juste, non?"

"Mais bien sûr, monsieur. Le steak est légèrement cuit, avec la sauce aux champignons et au vin rouge. À votre satisfaction, j'espère?

Pete took his weapons in both hands, silver fork and knife, and cut a deep slice of the juicy steak before him. Dipping it in the accompanying thick dark sauce he raised it to his lips and chewed industriously before looking to his Host once more.

"Il est parfait, un excellent steak parfaitement cuit; une œuvre d'art. Je fais mes compliments à votre chef."

"Volontiers, monsieur, volontiers. Je vous remercie."

With which exchange of compliments, of a wholly extra ordinary and perhaps exaggerated level, the Maitre'd stepped back into the shadows to allow his customer to revel in the beauties of French cooking at its peak of excellence; Henrietta and Sally, not to mention everyone else present, astonished spectators at a children's party they had fully expected to be, instead, a re-run of Gettysburg.

"Well, I'll be dam'med."

"Me too, lover. Who'd a' thought?"

—O—

Henrietta, on observing Pete had sat back from his exertions over his heaped china plate, raised her eyebrows at her partner then rose to take the few steps across to his table.

"Hi'ya, Pete, enjoyin' the grub?"

"Sure am, Harry, sure am."

"Didn't take yer fer a Frenchie lover, myself." Henrietta leaning one hand on the empty chair by Pete's table.

"Oh yeah, worked in Quebec fer ten year, way back." Pete pushed his empty plate aside, casting a sideways glance as Gerard approached once more. "Looks like my dessert's on its way. Wan'na join me?"

"Nah, got'ta look after Sal, over there; she has a curious taste in desserts. See ya at dinner t'night, meb'be?"

"Sure as oatcakes, Harry."

"Ah, M'sieu, dessert? Crème caramel? Crème glacée? Peut-être un fruit ou du fromage?"

"Mmm, fromage, merci."

Sally was all aflutter when Henrietta rejoined her.

"Sounds almost human, don't he?" She shaking her head in disbelief. "He's really gotten into the language, ain't he? How's thet? Did he tell ya?"

"Worked in Canada fer ten year in his hot youth, apparently."

"Ah, thet explains it." Sally comfortable now she knew the facts. "Who'd a'guessed?"

"Hardly anybody in Red Flume, doll, turns out."

"Har."

—O

The rest of the afternoon went as such other afternoons in Red Flume had been used to doing in the past. Several drunks had fights in the streets; some ending in Henrietta or Sally, or both, attending the culprits to the local Sheriff's Office and jailhouse; they both being Deputies. A number of high-spirited youths riding in from out-lying ranches, feeling they ought to be treated as adults while not behaving so, rode through the town shooting-off their pistols, happily mostly into the air; the end result being further treks to the jailhouse when hauled off their mounts by the female deputies. As to saloon brawls these, considering the overwhelming number of saloons in the town, were rare; everyone being armed to the teeth, even at play—this being a community where firearms were not yet looked on as insidious to the well-being of the populace.

But finally the afternoon turned to evening and, forewarned beforehand by Gerard having made a public announcement while the midday customers were still at table, everyone wishing to eat dinner at L'Auberge Jaune wheeled-up at the entrance at 7.30pm that evening.

"Bit late fer me." Sally rubbing her checker-shirt covered belly. "Beginning t'feel the first pangs o' famishment, y'know."

"Gerard'll probable open earlier, once he gets ter know the way Red Flume conducts itself." Henrietta taking the philosophical view. "Anyways, here's the door openin', at last. Don't rush in like a starvin' prospector now, dear."

"Huh."

Gerard had dragooned more waiters into play from who knows where for the evening rush. So the ladies quickly found themselves being given printed cards with a variety of comestibles written therein—in French, of course.

"What's jambon tranché avec haricots beurre?"

"—er, er, ham n'beans, I think."

"God, why cain't they jes' say so?" Sally, flummoxed, shaking her head censoriously. "An' what in all dear Life's poisson frais avec sauce aux champignons et pommes de terre rôties? Is thet even food, at all?"

"Good grief, Sal, don't yer know any French at all?"

"Lem'me consider thet there question with all the intellec'tal power necessary ter sich a world definin' topic, lover." Sally breaking free with her entire stock of sarcasm. "Right—No, not a dam' word. Thet help, lover?"

"OK, OK, don't throw yersel' in'ta a frenzy, dear; it's only a dam' meal, after all."

Before Sally could produce a worthy rejoinder to this useless advice on the part of the woman whom she loved most in all the world, things began to go downhill. The restaurant door opened from the street to reveal the presence of some five or six young cowpokes from out of town. Young enough to have no respect for their elders and betters; young enough to be full of the joys of said youth, and young enough to be noisy as hooligans at a barn-dance.

"Hey, so this's the Frenchies' place, eh?" The tow-headed ring-leader, fairly tall but looking hardly more than 14 years of age, laughed loudly as he pushed back his hat and grinned all round. "Hoi, garson, give us all here yer best table—an' if'n it's already taken jes' tell the inmates ter get lost, OK? An' hurry it dam' up; we'all wants ter chaw-down right quick."

"An none o'yer Frenchie mush, neither." A smaller but broader youth broke in, sneering at everybody nearby. "Big fried steaks, an' beer by the dam' gallon. An', like Jake sez, put some spit in'ta it, we ain't got all dam' night."

"Here, this here table'll do." Jake commandeering one where a party of four already sat at their meal. "You'all jes' upstakes an' find yersel's another manger ter muzzle in'ta. Come on, move it."

All this took place within a single minute; thereby clarifying why Henrietta and Sally had not had time to intervene earlier. Now, making up for this lost time, both women strode across the crowded dining-room to confront the thugs face to face.

"Stay where ye be, ladies an' gents; I'll take over from here in." Henrietta gazing at the bunch of roustabouts with a cold eye. "OK, lads, the fun's over; turn yersel's around, make fer the door over by, an' use it some promiscus'; afore I an' my partner here decides ter be more specific about our requirements."

The youths, obviously being entirely new to the immediate locale of Red Flume, clearly had no idea whom they were facing-off. Jake, after a first angry glance, deciding to take his usual route with women whom he felt he could overawe.

"Yeah, really, leddy?" His tone being a mix of sarcasm and nasty innuendo as he looked both women over from head to toe. "What fer ye both are makin' like men fer, in those clothes? Wan'na be men? Well, fer yer information, ye've somethin' missin' thet ye'll find o'some importance, gals. How's about ye take time ter climb in'ta some dresses, come back, an' we'll all have a right-down party, right here? Sam'll go over ter the Happy Hunter fer some kegs o'beer, an' everyone'll be happy as ticks in a mattress."

Henrietta, foregoing any further discussion, pulled back the sides of her waist-length jacket revealing her gunbelt and holster; the butt of the Colt .45 therein showing away to all who cared to look. Sally, doing the same by her side, allowing her two Smith and Wesson .38's to see the light. This revelation had its required effect on most of the young cowboys; but Jake, possibly feeling his status was at stake, stood straighter and, though going pale in the face, gritted his teeth in a snarl pulling back his own jacket to reveal an anonymous, but obviously old, revolver in its gunbelt.

"You wan'na gunfight?" His tone rising in nervous inflection with every word. "You wan' gunplay? A'right, right now, you stupid cow—go fer it, I sez."

With this he did indeed reach for his weapon, pulling it as Henrietta did the same. He, being a fleeting instant faster, levelled it at Henrietta's chest and pulled the trigger before she could do the same. There was a click and nothing happened, except the loading lever fell down under the barrel; Jake, for an instant, looked utterly astonished then, it being a single-fire weapon, he pulled the cock back and pulled the trigger again. This time the cock refused to descend as the weapon locked-up, Jake struggling uselessly to make it fire. Henrietta, a split fraction of a second from returning fire, instead strode the three paces necessary forward and crashed the butt of her Colt against the youth's skull. He dropped like a pole-axed steer; his companions backing-off several paces themselves. These others were armed with a variety of pistols, too; but thankfully showed no wish to join their erstwhile leader now lying prone on the restaurant's floorboards. Then another interruption ensued as the door from the street opened again to reveal Pete Faraday come for his evening meal; though this time he was attired with a gunbelt holding two .45's, in addition to a shotgun held casually under his left arm.

"Waal, waal, what be goin' on here?" He took four paces forward, leaving him less than fifteen feet from the group of hooligans. "Havin' a party, were ya? Waal, pardon the fac' I'm loaded fer bear, here; jes' I'm takin' my hardware ter my room ter clean 'em all up, after my dinner. An',—pardon my intervenin' so, leddies,— you'all boys looks like ye've jes' overstayed yer welcome, Red Flume way."

The five youths, all hardly more than boys still, looked at each other, at Pete, and the two women who had shown themselves more dangerous than any of the callous youths had ever imagined any mere woman could. Then they all, as one, backed towards the door shaking their heads in unison as they made motions to leave the premises.

"Hey, you all."

The whole group of miscreants stopped as one, all looking at Sally with something close to terror in their eyes.

"Leavin' yer useless leader behind, are ye? Seems ye are; well, leave him, then; he's gon'na have ter face-up ter tryin' ter murder my partner an' Depity here, anyways. Reckon ye all won't be seein' him fer the next five year or so. Go on, get lost; the whole bilin' o'ye—scum as ye is. Go!"

—O—

The evening had wended its way to a close; the customers for dinner had all eaten their fill, showered thanks on Gerard for his delicious food and told him they would certainly be back for more. The unconscious cowpoke had been removed to a place of safety, ie, the jailhouse; and all who were left in the now cleared dining-room were Gerard himself, some waiters clearing up, Henrietta, Sally, and Pete, brushing a rag down the stock of his shotgun.

"Waal, friends, cain't say I've enjoyed a evenin' more in years." Pete grinning widely. "Usual, it's me who smashes up restaw-raw's; made a fine change when I walks in earlier ter find ye both, leddies, was aimin' ter outdo me therein."

"Very funny, Pete." Sally sat at the table, gripping Henrietta's left hand between both hers; her voice still emotional from the evening's activities. "All the same thet swine got the drop on Harry here, an' nearly blew her ter Kingdom Come."

"Pistol mis-fired, lover."

"We knows thet, leddy; wasn't we all here ter witness same stroke o'outstandin' good fortin'?"

"It was a Colt's Walker." Pete adding his professional knowledge to the conversation. "They allus was rife ter the loadin' lever fallin' with recoil. His'n must'a bin so badly maintained it fell even though his first strike mis-fired; an' he, bein' the innocent young pup he certin' is, hadn't the first idee what ter do, his tryin' ter fire it agin merely lockin' it up wholesale. Thet gun o'his probable won't fire in a month o'Sundays, do as ye may."

"Thet's re-assurin', I'm sure." Sally's tone, though, making it quite plain she wasn't. "So, by the grace o'who knows who, Harry here lives ter fight an' dance the light fandango another day? Jeez, ye'all cain't begin ter unner'stan' how frightened I was. If'n it weren't thet Harry was standin, hersel', in my line o'fire, I'd'a filled thet b-st-rd ful'la so much lead even ye, Pete, would'a needed three other helpers ter drag the remains ter the mortuary."

"Har, well, there ye be." Pete smiling broadly as he set his shotgun aside. "Reckon I likes this here restaw-raw, some; think I'll make it my reg'lar eatin' place. Reminds me o'my years in Canada, an' I can chat some ter Gerard here, in his native lingo, too; which same I finds mighty pleasin'."

"Come on, Sal, let's make tracks fer our hotel room." Henrietta extending a helping hand to her partner as she stood. "Spend what's left o'the evenin' sittin' comfortable an' jes' relaxin' some."

"Suits me, lady." Sally standing by her lover's side, though still holding her hand tightly. "Though, I got'ta say, ye sure needs some long time practice with those there Colt Forty-Fives; yer drawin' speed, as it is, would leave a dam' snail feelin' embarassed."

"God, women."

"What was thet last remark, lady?" Sally putting on an unconvincing scowl as they waved their hands at Gerard and Pete while they themselves made for the door. "Didn't quite catch same."

"I only said, yes dear, you're quite right." Henrietta knowing full-well when to prevaricate to the very limits. "Back at our room I'll get ter oilin' my piece, an' you can show how fast you can draw, eh! OK?"

"Huumph."

The End

—O—

Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.