Summary: A different view of the episode “The Julia Bulette Story”
Word Count: 8800
Joe Cartwright’s eyes popped open as the stagecoach bounced over an exceptionally rough spot in the road. He rubbed the back of his head as he peered at the familiar scenery lurching past the window. “Ow! I’m gonna’ have a knot for sure. What’s Charlie’s hurry? He never gets the five o’clock stage into Virginia City by five o’clock any other time. I’d like to get home all in one piece.”
“One more knot on your head won’t hurt you a bit.” His brother, Adam, grinned at him from the opposite seat. “I was just about to wake you up, anyway. You were snoring like a buzz saw.”
“Hey! I don’t snore! You’re mixing me up with another brother of yours.”
‘Then you were doing a mighty good imitation of that brother.” Adam laughed. “We’re almost home, anyway.”
“I can’t wait to see Pa’s face when he reads that contract. That’s the best price we’ve ever got for cattle, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I believe it is.” Adam smiled. “Well, if I’m supposed to be teaching you about negotiating cattle prices, I might as well make it a good lesson.”
“Watching you dicker with those cattle buyers was better entertainment than that opera you dragged me to. But, at least, this German opera was better than those Italian ones. Those women wearin’ the horned hats and carryin’ swords were pretty lusty.” Joe giggled at the memory of one particularly loud and busty singer. “Why can’t they sing in English? People might enjoy them better if they could understand what everybody’s singin'”.
Adam rolled his eyes and settled back into the seat corner, arms folded across his chest, and sighed dramatically. “On second thought, go back to sleep. Why do I even try to expose you to culture? It’s a lost cause.”
“Doggone five o’clock stage is always late. I don’t know why the stage line just doesn’t post it as the six o’clock stage.” Hoss Cartwright grumbled to himself and looked down C Street for the tenth time in the half-hour he had been waiting. The street was teeming with buggies, buckboards, freight wagons, horses, and pedestrians, but no stagecoach.
Jake Canfield, the stage station manager, stuck his head out of the open office door and glared at Hoss. “Charlie will get the stage here same as he always does. Pacing and wearing a path in the boardwalk in front of my office ain’t going to get it here any sooner. Why don’t you just light yourself on that bench there, or go wait over at the Silver Dollar? Your pacing and muttering is driving me crazy! Who are you waiting for, anyway? The Queen of England? Or you expecting a letter telling you that you inherited a million dollars?”
“Just my brothers.” Hoss shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “Adam sent us a telegram form San Francisco with some good news in it. I’m kinda anxious to hear the details.”
“They’ll get here soon enough. Pacing and wearing a path in the boardwalk ain’t going to make that stage get here any sooner.”
Hoss laughed and pointed down the street. “Oh yeah, Jake? Well, here it comes now!” Sure enough, the coach lumbered into view as the driver expertly guided the team through the crowded Virginia City street.
Hoss jovially slapped each brother’s back as he stepped from the stage. “’Bout time you fellows got back. There’s a passel of chores waitin’ for you at home.” He grabbed two of the four carpet bags handed down to him by the driver.
Adam patted the bag he was holding, “Considering what I have in here, I don’t think Pa would consider it amiss if we had a little celebration before we head for home. Here, Joe, make yourself useful.” He thrust his bag into his brother’s hand. “Take our bags into the stage office and tell Jake we need to leave them there for awhile.”
“Here, little brother, don’t forget these two.” Hoss patted Joe’s shoulder after her slipped the other two bags under Joe’s arms.
The two older brothers exchanged a grin as they watched the younger one maneuver through the stage office door, loaded down with carpet bags.
“Say, Adam, how much a head are we gettin’ for the cattle, anyway?”
“Let’s just say that it’s the best we’ve ever done. You can see the contract when Pa does. What do you think Hoss? Little brother ready to see the inside of Julia’s Palace?”
“Julia’s Palace? Adam, I thought you said a little celebration?” Hoss draped his arm across his older brother’s shoulder. “And maybe the question is, is Julia’s Palace ready for our little brother?”
There were many saloons and gambling parlors located on Virginia City’s main thoroughfare. However, it was because of the other reputed business conducted in the upstairs rooms of Julia’s Palace, that some of the newly rich, newly respectable, and newly hypocritical, citizens of the community wanted to relegate the notorious establishment to the red light district of D Street.
“Hoss, you should see these Viking gals in that opera older brother dragged me to. Anyone of them would be a match for you. Maybe you should wait outside the stage door and take your pick. But, be sure to be extra polite, those gals carry swords.”
“I don’t know, little brother. Old Adam probably already has dibs on those gals, since he likes that opera stuff so well.”
Catching up after being apart for the better part of a month, the brothers laughed and bantered with each other as they made their way to the other end of C Street.
They stopped abruptly at the sound of a shot, then joined the throng of men rushing towards Julia’s Palace. In front of the saloon, a man lay on the boardwalk, bleeding from a shoulder wound, his gun still in his hand. A handsome, swarthy man stood above him, smirking as he holstered his pistol. “I warned you to stay away from Julia Bulette.” He glanced contemptuously at the crowd, then turned and strode arrogantly into the building.
The crowd broke up and the spectators drifted away, leaving the wounded man where he lay. Hoss bent over the man who was struggling to get to his feet. “Take it easy, fella’. We’ll get you to the doc. Joe, go find Roy Coffee and have him meet us at Doc Martin’s.”
The man shook his head grimly as Hoss and Adam pulled him to his feet. “Don’t bother with the sheriff. I drew first. Moline goaded me into it, but I drew first. All I was doin’ was talkin’ to Miss Bulette. That Frenchman thinks he owns her. Don’t want even the payin’ customers talkin’ to her. I was warned about him, how jealous he is; but when I saw her, I just had to make her acquaintance. Damn, but she’s the prettiest woman I’ve seen in a month of Sundays.”
“Have it your way, but she was almost the last woman you ever saw.” Adam raised an eyebrow in Hoss’s direction and shrugged. They positioned the wounded man between them and guided him towards the doctor’s office.
Behind them, Joe, left on his own at Julia’s Palace, grinned and sauntered in the door.
Joe barely noticed the elaborate crystal chandeliers, the plush maroon carpeting, the rows of gaming tables, or the paintings of scantily clad women on the walls. His eyes were drawn to the scene taking place at the long, highly polished bar. The shooter from the fight outside; whom the wounded man had called Moline, was standing at the end of the bar, arguing with a women. The woman slapped his face and Moline retaliated, sending her reeling. Joe launched himself at the man, knocking him off his feet. Moline bounced right back and proved to be as good with his fists as he was with his gun. It didn’t take long for Joe to be the one on the floor. Dazed, Joe watched him reach for his gun, when suddenly, Moline toppled over, out cold. Standing behind him, wooden mallet in hand, was the woman he had slapped.
She smiled at Joe and reached a hand down to help him to his feet. “I’m Julia Bulette. Welcome to Julia’s Palace, Mr…?”
He scrambled to his feet and found himself face to face with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, despite the red mark on her cheek. Tall and willowy, her black hair, set off by a streak of white, was piled on her head. Her brown eyes sparkled, rivaling the diamonds in her hair and at her throat.
“Cartwright. Joe Cartwright.”
“Oh. One of the Cartwrights from the Ponderosa?”
“Yes ma’am. Nice place you have here. Sorry I messed it up.” Joe smiled sheepishly.
“No need to be sorry. You were defending my honor, after all.”
“I’ve never been here before.”
“You must come back again, as my guest. I’d like to repay you.” Julia pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the slight trickle of blood from Joe’s lip. Joe’s fingers lingered on hers as he took it from her.
The bartender appeared at Julia’s side, handing Joe his hat and jacket. Joe took them reluctantly, but realized that it was best that he leave.
“Supper here, tomorrow night?” Julia asked as he turned to go.
Partway down C St., Joe stopped, looked back at Julia’s Palace, and fingered the lacy, white handkerchief he had slipped into his jacket pocket.
“Julia Bulette?” Adam stared unbelievingly at his father. “You’re going to let Joe have supper with Julia Bulette? At Julia’s Palace?”
“It’s hardly a question of letting him. Joe’s eighteen years old; a grown man,” Ben shot back. He leaned back in the leather chair and smiled ruefully at his oldest son, who was perched on the corner of the desk. “I don’t like it anymore than you do. Especially after you telling me what happened between Moline and that cowboy. I’ve heard a lot of stories about Moline’s jealousy. But if I try to forbid Joe from going, he’ll be at Julia’s come hell or high water. I’m going to try a different tack. I’ve been invited to a meeting of Virginia City’s so-called leading citizens, tomorrow evening. I’m going to suggest he go along, that I’d like him to be there with me.”
“And you two can wipe those expressions of your faces!” Ben glanced sharply from Adam to Hoss, who was sitting by the other corner of the desk. “I’m not being conniving. He should be attending his share of these functions. I really would like him to go along.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” Adam raised a skeptical eyebrow at his father.
Ben couldn’t help but smile; his eldest son knew him all to0 well. “You and Hoss will be keeping an eye on things. Discreetly, of course. Don’t let your brother know you’re there, unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Which I hope it doesn’t. He probably won’t be there very long; just long enough to eat supper. Despite what I said about Joe being a man, Julia Bulette will look at him as a boy who wouldn’t have money to throw away at her gaming tables and on the expensive liquors she stocks. He’ll have his supper with Miss Bulette tomorrow evening, and that will be the end of it.”
Father and son rode companionably side-by-side, each thinking of the evening ahead. Ben tried to keep his mind occupied with the town meeting. Paul Martin had kept the reason for the gathering to himself; only telling him that it was a meeting of the leading citizens. However, Ben’s thoughts kept straying to where his son would be spending his evening.
They were almost to town, when Joe broke the silence. “Miss Bulette’s from New Orleans. Do you think she might have known my mother? They’d have been about the same age.”
Ben weighed his words thoughtfully, before answering. “Not likely, son. They might just as well have lived on opposite sides of the world. Being from New Orleans, and their age would be the only things they would have had in common, apart from both being women.”
“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
“Yes, she is very beautiful.”
“Well, come on, Pa! You don’t want to be late for that important meeting!”
Ben knew Joe’s hurry to get to town wasn’t on his account. But, he had to smile to himself at his son’s impatience and youthful exuberance as he urged Buck into a trot.
“Are you sure, you don’t want to come to the meeting?” Ben urged one last time as the pair prepared to go their separate ways for the evening. “I don’t know what it’s about, so I can’t promise it will be as exciting as spending an evening at Julia’s Palace, but it might prove interesting.”
“No thanks, Pa. I’ve got a supper date to keep.”
“All right, son, you keep your date.” Ben clapped his son lightly on the shoulder. He watched Joe saunter down C Street in the direction of Julia’s Palace, then reluctantly turned in the opposite direction, and tried, unsuccessfully, to focus his thoughts on the upcoming meeting.
Joe arrived for his date to find out that Julia had been invited to the mysterious town meeting at Doctor Martin’s. As he waited for her return, he nursed a beer and reveled in the exciting atmosphere of the establishment. Men of every walk of life crowded the mahogany and marble bar. Glossily polished boots rested side by side on the gleaming brass bar rail with the dusty boots of cowhands and the grime-encrusted boots of miners. Poker games were in progress at many tables. At a few other tables, women in colorful, low-cut dresses were dealing blackjack. Faro tables, dice tables, and a roulette wheel were doing a booming business. Joe watched, fascinated, as men fed coins into a row of slot machines. This new-fangled invention to part a man with his money was newly arrived in Virginia City. Joe had watched quite a few of his coins disappear into the maw of the one Cosmo had installed in the Silver Dollar.
Every man’s eyes were drawn to the door as it burst open and Julia flew in, her eyes flaming in anger. She pushed through the crowd at the bar and grabbed a bottle of her best brandy. “Gentleman! There’s a rumor going around Virginia City that we have a very wicked town! While the bluenoses up on the hill sit around and cry about it, there’s something that we here on C St. can do about it! The first thing they will need is money. What will you bid for this bottle of fine, old Virginia City brandy?”
A miner opened the bidding at one-hundred-dollars. Joe watched in amusement as Julia pushed the bidding up to two-hundred, then bought it herself for five-hundred, and donated it back to be auctioned again. Caught up in the action, Joe soon found himself the owner of a five-hundred-dollar bottle of brandy, which he also donated back.
Embarrassed, Joe fingered the twenty-five dollars he had pulled out of his pocket, as Julia deposited five-hundred-dollars cash in a large glass vase. “I – I don’t carry that kind of money around; can I give you a note for it?”
Julia reached into her handbag and deposited five-hundred more into the vase. “No, you saved my honor, now I’ll save yours. Now, we’re even.”
“So, your daddy forgot to give you your allowance?” John Moline stood at Joe’s elbow.
Joe turned to look Moline insouciantly in the eye. “Look, Moline, just because you shot up a few miners and cowboys, you think it makes you the most feared man in town. I’m not shakin’ even a little bit, so don’t get in my way.”
“You don’t think I can make you shake like the others?”
“I think you only stay alive ’cause no grave will have you.”
“John, you better go,” Julia broke in.
“Are you coming outside, my friend?” Moline gestured towards the door.
Julia took Joe’s arm and pulled him to the steps. “He’s coming with me. We have a supper engagement.”
“Some other time,” Joe answered.
“That is a promise, M’sieur”.
Julia and Joe ascended the stairs to Julia’s rooms, Moline’s eyes boring into their backs.
While the plush saloon and gambling rooms had a touch of gaudiness, the furnishings of Julia’s private quarters showed a quiet elegance. Two delicate cream brocade arm chairs flanked a lace covered mahogany table, a matching settee graced the corner of the room, colorful bouquets of fresh flowers scented the air, and a painting, that Joe assumed to be a younger Julia Bulette, hung over a white marble fireplace.
Julia pulled the lilac-colored damask drapes closed over the wide window. She settled on the settee and with a smile, indicated to Joe to sit next to her.
“Why did you ask me up here?”
“John Moline might have killed you.”
“Is that the only reason?” Joe asked softly, looking into her dark brown eyes.
Julia locked her gaze onto his. “No, it wasn’t.” She leaned forward and her lips brushed Joe’s. Their kiss became more intense as Joe drew her closer. As if by their own accord, her fingers tangled in his hair and her mouth pressed tighter against his. His hands slid over the smooth fabric of her dress, then fumbled with the tiny buttons on the bodice. Julia moaned softly and tugged at his curls, but then abruptly pushed him away and stood, back to him, her hand over her mouth.
Alarmed, Joe went to her and turned her to him. “Is anything wrong?”
“Oh, no. Quite the contrary.” Julia had a catch in her voice, and her face was flushed. She had hastily buttoned her dress.
“I’ve always wanted to visit New Orleans. My mother was part French, like you, and came from New Orleans. And like you, she was a very beautiful woman.” Joe tried to draw Julia to again, but she gently rebuffed his attempt.
Keeping hold of her hand, he touched it to his lips. “All right. Tell me about New Orleans.”
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be as your mother saw it. A mountain doesn’t look the same from different sides.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Goodbye, Joe.” Julia handed him his jacket and hat. “Go home, where you belong.”
To her amusement, Joe stole a quick kiss on his way out the door. “I’ll be back.”
Julia slowly closed the door, then leaned back against it; her heart thudding in her chest and her head swirling in confusion. “What just happened? I’m old enough to be his mother! Mon Dieu!! If John even suspects how I feel, he’ll kill Joe! I’ve got to put a stop to this, right away. I’ll leave instructions that Joe Cartwright is told to leave if he comes in. This is insane.”
At the top of the stairs, Joe spotted John Moline waiting at the bottom, his jacket pulled back so he could draw his pistol. “Now for that promise, uh?”
“Take it easy, Moline,” a deep, quiet, voice interrupted.
It was joined by another. “I’d do what he said, if I was you.” Hoss Cartwright relieved the Frenchman of his pistol, while Adam covered him. “We figured you boys might have somethin’ to settle. Why don’t you do it like gentlemen.”
“Hoss will hold your coat.”
Hoss took Moline’s coat and gunbelt, while Adam got Joe’s.
Moline threw the first punch, sending Joe hurtling over the banister. Prone on the floor, Joe flung Moline flying over his head. The battle moved into the saloon, Joe getting the worst of it.
Adam leaned on the bar and looked at his brother in a heap at his feet, then to Hoss. “I’ve told him a thousand times, keep those elbows in.”
Hoss looked up from taking the bullets from Moline’s pistol. “Joe’s got to learn to fight a lot dirtier then that.” The older brothers turned, apparently unconcerned, to the bar. “A couple of beers, Tom.”
Moline pulled Joe to his feet, then with a final punch, sent him crashing into the wall. Joe slid down the wall, out cold. His brothers strolled over and Adam slung him over his shoulder like a sack of grain.
“Ya know,” Hoss said with a touch of admiration, “that kid’s got a lot of grit. One of these days, he’s gonna whup that Frenchman.”
“Yep. But this wasn’t the day.” Adam walked out the door, Joe still slung over his shoulder, tipping his hat wryly to a wary Moline.
“Jumping Jehosaphat, Joseph! Five-hundred-dollars for a bottle of brandy!”
Joe cringed deeper into the leather chair and clutched the cold compress he was holding to his bruised, swollen face. “I’ll work it off, Pa. I’m sorry. I got caught up in the excitement.” Joe suddenly found the floor engrossing. “And I admit it, I wanted to impress Julia. Show her that I’m not just a kid.”
Ben’s voice softened at the sight of the pathetic look on his son’s battered face. “It’s not the money.” He slowly shook his head. “I’m planning on making a substantial donation. The town needs its own police force to back up the sheriff. ”
He took the washcloth from Joe and rewet it in the basin of cold water. He gently returned it to his son’s battered face. “In Julia Bulette’s eyes, you are just a kid.”
Joe started to protest, but his father firmly pushed him back into the chair. “Now just sit and listen. She’s twenty-some years older than you, and seen so much more of life.” He laid his hand on Joe’s knee. “You know I don’t judge how people live their lives. Lord knows I’m not a saint, and I’ve never pretended to be. Not to you and your brothers, nor to anyone. You’re not a naïve child. You know there’s more to Julia’s Palace than the saloon and gaming tables. I had my reservations about this supper date, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good for me to try talk you out of it, or to flat-out forbid it. I told myself that you would have supper with Julia, and that would be that. Then here come your brothers tonight, hauling you home in this condition. I’m not asking — I’m telling you to stay clear of Julia’s Palace, Julia, and John Moline, especially, Moline. I don’t want to hear a word about it from you. That’s it! It’s late. We should get to bed. Come on, son.”
Joe knew better than to argue with his father, right then. Besides, his face hurt too much to say anything. He obediently followed up the stairs. His dreams, that night, were of warm New Orleans nights and a dark-haired woman.
Joe leaned, elbow on the bar, chin in his hand, watching Julia descend the steps to the saloon. It had only been two days, but it seemed like years, since he saw her last. She greeted customers and her girls as she made her way to the bar. She stopped beside Joe, took his arm, and drew him away from the bar to a private corner by the staircase. “I almost gave instructions to Tom that you weren’t to be allowed in here,” she began without preamble. “I’m glad I didn’t.” She laid a finger against his lips to silence the words that she knew were coming. “They can spare me down here for awhile. John left for San Francisco this morning, by the way.”
“I told you and Moline, both. I’m not afraid of him”
“You’re being foolish, Joe. But, we’ll talk about John later.” Julia glanced back over her shoulder as they ascended the stairs, hand-and-hand. “Tom, please send up a bottle of my special stock of champagne and one of those tins of caviar that were just delivered from San Francisco. Just leave it outside the door.”
Julia’s room was dimly lit by the lamp she had left burning low, the drapes closed against the encroaching night. Julia hadn’t said a word since they entered the room, and following suit, spell-bound, Joe allowed her to lead him into the sleeping alcove at the far end of the room. The tinkling notes of “Aura Lee” drifted up through the floor.
“Why were you going to keep me away from here?”
Julia looked into the young face on the pillow beside her, and stroked his cheek. The scant whiskers reminding her just how young he was.
“For your own good. John has picked a gunfight with every man who’s shown even casual interest in me. He’s killed several. He’ll kill you.”
Joe took her hand and lightly kissed it. “You worry too much. I’m good with a gun. My brothers taught me well.”
“You thought you were better with your fists than you turned out to be.”
Joe laughed and pulled her to him.
“I have to get downstairs to my customers, and you have to get home.” She slipped from his arms and pointed to his clothes on the floor.
“Will you let me see you again?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know. I shouldn’t. For your sake.”
“Julia, I love you!”
“Oh, cheri, you only think you love me. You haven’t met anyone like me before, and you’re intrigued. I should put an end to this right now, but I don’t know if I’m unselfish enough to send you away.” Julia turned her back so Joe wouldn’t see the tears in her eyes.
The grandfather clock by the front door announced two o’clock as Joe stealthy entered the house. The only light in the darkened house seemed to be the glow of the banked fire. As he rounded the corner from the entrance way, he stopped in his tracks and turned toward his father’s office. The lamp on the desk was still burning.
Joe winced at the sound of his father’s voice. He knew why his father was waiting up for him.
“Sit down, son.” Ben indicated one of the two chairs in front of his desk.
Joe dropped into the chair, where he slouched sulkily, nervously twirling his hat.
“You were at Julia’s tonight.”
It was not a question. It was a statement that Joe knew he couldn’t deny. “Yes, sir.”
“After I specifically told you to stay away.”
Joe straightened up in the chair. “After you forbid me like I was a child!”
“Joseph, don’t use that tone of voice with me!” The lamplight reflected in his father’s eyes seemed to amplify the heat of his statement.
Joe dropped his eyes to his lap and forced himself to control himself. “I’m not a child, Pa. You wouldn’t do that with Adam or Hoss.”
“Adam is a lot older than you, remember. That makes a difference. Also, he knows a lot more of the world than you do. And, there would be no reason to forbid Hoss. He’d have more sense.” Despite himself, Ben found his voice rising with each word.
Joe leaned forward in the chair, his hands gripping the edge of the desk. “More sense than what? Say it, Pa! More sense than to get mixed up with someone like Julia Bulette? That Adam’s too worldly wise to let himself be trapped by someone like Julia Bulette? That only your dumb, impressionable little boy can’t see what a bad woman Julia Bulette is? Tell me what kind of a woman you think she is? You told me the other evening that you don’t judge people. Well, that’s what you’re doing now! You, of all people! I remember listening to you and Adam talking, when I was a little kid, about how people held it against my mother because she was different than other women here. That her manner was gracious and gentle, that she was city bred, that when she talked to people they stared or shied away because they thought her French Creole accent was strange. People who didn’t know anything about New Orleans whispered that because she was French Creole she had to be a …!”
Before Ben realized what he was doing, he was on his feet, the palm of his hand connecting with his son’s cheek. “Don’t you dare compare your mother to Julia Bulette!”
Joe sprung from his chair and stood glaring wide-eyed at his father. Without saying a word, he strode to the door.
Ben could only stare at his stinging hand as he heard the door slam angrily behind his youngest son. “What have I done?”
“Pa? What’s going on? Is everything all right?” Adam asked, struggling into his robe as he descended the stairs. Hoss followed, his night shirt billowing around his bare feet.
Ben shook his head as if to clear it, then sank slowly into the chair behind his desk. “Your brother just came home from town. He was with Julia Bulette all evening and most of the night; and no, everything is not all right. I did something tonight I have never done in all my years as a father. I raised my hand in anger to one of my sons.” He went on to tell Adam and Hoss of his argument with Joe, and its outcome.
“Do you want us to go look for him?” Hoss asked, his hand clasping is father’s shoulder.
“No, I think it’s best that we leave him alone to think things through and cool off. I have some thinking to do, myself. You two go back up to bed.”
Adam glanced at Ben, then nodded to his brother. Silently the pair retreated up the stairs. Hoss hesitated at his bedroom door, then followed his brother into his room across the hall, visibly upset. “We’ve all had our share of tannin’s, but Pa’s never slapped any of us, like that. He must really be mad at Joe. Pa should know that Joe wouldn’t say anything disrespectful about his Ma. Not on purpose, anyway. He’s all the time sayin’ things he don’t mean. Then bein’ sorry, later.”
“I don’t think Pa did it out of anger, and if he did, it was anger born of fear.” Adam settled onto the side of his bed.
“Fear?” Hoss was puzzled. “Fear of what? That Joe’s gonna’ run off with that woman or somethin’? Come on, Adam! Joe’s not gonna’ do that. He’s just sowin’ some wild oats with her.”
“I know that, Hoss, and Pa does to. He’s known Julia a long time. Ever since she came to Virginia City. Deep down, he knows she’s not going to let the kid get serious about her. No, Pa’s afraid of Moline, and his insane jealousy over Julia. He beat the crap out of Joe the other night. What if his next challenge to Joe is with pistols? Joe’s quick, but he wouldn’t have a chance against Moline, and the fool boy is cocky enough to think he could win. Pa’s afraid of losing Joe, all right. Permanently.”
Hoss looked up from the fence he was mending in the south pasture and watched the horse and rider approach.
Joe hitched Cochise to the back of the wagon parked near where Hoss was working. “Hey, brother. Need a hand?”
“Yeah, I do. I seem to remember that both of us were supposed to be workin’ on fence mendin’ today.” Hoss voice took a softer turn. “And speakin’ about fence mendin’, are you goin’ to go home and talk to Pa? He feels awful bad about what happened last night. Believe me, Joe, that smack hurt him more than it did you. ”
“Are we gonna’ work on this fence, or ain’t we?” Joe turned to the fence with the wire cutters.
For over an hour, the brothers worked in an uncomfortable silence. Hoss decided to try another tack with his sullen brother. After taking a swig from the canteen, he handed it to Joe. “Where did you spend the night, last night?”
Joe immediately sprang to the defensive. “Not where my family assumes I spent the night! I slept at the south line shack!”
“You can pull in your horns, little brother! I just asked, is all! We’re worried about you.”
“Yeah, well, none of you need to worry; I can take care of myself!” Joe clenched his hands into fists at his side. “Damn it! When’s it gonna stop? Gotta protect the little boy ‘til he grows up and can make his own decisions! Well, I got news for you, and for Adam, and for Pa, too. I’m not a little boy anymore! I don’t need protected! I’m capable of making my own decisions, and deciding if I’m gonna see Julia! And my family is just gonna have to accept that! ”
Hoss took a step toward his brother, who had raised his fists to a fighting stance.
“Dadburn it! You don’t want to do this to yourself, little brother. You better cool off before you bite off more than you can chew, with me.”
Joe dropped his fists. “Doesn’t look like you need any help with this fence, after all.” He glared angrily at Hoss as he swung onto his pinto.
Hoss sighed and slowly shook his head and watched as Joe galloped out of sight.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve been here. I thought you forgot where Julia’s Palace was.” Julia Bulette slipped up to stand beside Ben at the bar.
Ben gazed at her appraisingly. “Julia, you’re just as lovely as ever.” He swallowed the last drops of brandy, and set the glass on the bar.
“Why don’t we go up to my rooms? We can talk there without being interrupted.” She smiled and offered Ben her arm. “You know, you never have been up there.”
Neither spoke as they ascended the stairs. The rustle of Julia’s satin gown seemed to dominate Ben’s hearing, covering the tinkling of the piano that stood at the foot of the stairs. The scent of her perfume hung in the air. Ben unconsciously compared its musky heaviness to the subtle hint of roses that had been part of Marie.
Julia ushered him into her parlor and gestured to the settee in the corner of the room. She went to a mahogany sideboard and poured brandy into two crystal snifters, then settled next to Ben on the settee. She handed him one of the brandies. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.”
“This is excellent,” Ben acknowledged. He sipped it distractedly, his thoughts on the reason for his visit. “I assume you know why I’m here? He’s just a boy, Julia. You can have your pick of just about any man in the territory. Why Joe?”
“He’s quite a handsome boy. Gentle and sweet.” Julia met Ben’s eyes over the rim of her snifter. “After that first evening, I was going to tell him not to come back, that I wouldn’t see him if he did. I admitted that to him. I even thought of telling Tom to physically throw him out, if need be. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
Julia rose and went to the window, her back to Ben. “I know it sounds ludicrous, but I’m coming to care deeply for him.” She turned to again look Ben in the eyes. “I’ll let him down as gently as possible. I don’t want to hurt him anymore than I have to. You can believe that or not.”
Ben sat his barely touched brandy down and stood. “I believe you. You hurting Joe isn’t my main concern. A young man can bounce back from a broken heart. He can’t bounce back from a bullet through it.”
“John’s in San Francisco. He’ll be there awhile yet. Joe will be here this evening. I’ll make sure that it’s for the last time.”
Ben gently took Julia’s hand and lifted it to his lips. “Thank you”.
After she closed the door behind Ben, Julia refilled her snifter with brandy and curled in the corner of the love seat. Soon, she was lost in thoughts of another time and another dark-haired young man.
The rising sun shown eerily through the fog that morning in New Orleans. Mist rose in swirls towards the Spanish moss-draped trees as the two young men counted off paces. At the tenth, they turned face to face, their pistols pointed. Two shots rang out simultaneously, and two men crumpled to the damp ground.
“Non! Alexander! Nooon!” burst as a shriek from her as she watched from her hiding place. She ran screaming towards her lover only to be barred from him by the towering figure of his brother.
“Get away from him!” Phillip deLoren tossed her aside like a piece of trash kicked from the gutter. She could only huddle miserable and alone while she heard the doctor pronounce her beautiful Alexander dead.
That evening, two men in the employ of the wealthy deLoren family forcibly escorted her aboard a riverboat bound for St. Louis, and her future.
“Well, Cooch, looks like we’re going to get to town earlier than Julia is expecting me.” Joe patted the pinto’s neck as they cantered towards Virginia City.
“I’m sure glad I didn’t run into Pa or Adam when I was at the house cleaning up. One argument today was enough.” Joe sighed and shook his head. “Darn it. I didn’t want to argue with Hoss today, or with Pa the other night. Why can’t I see Julia without my whole family jumping all over me? I know she’s a lot older than me, and I know what her reputation is. And I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me that I do about her. But, she must feel something. What happens when we’re together has to be real. It’s not like I want to marry her; I just want to spend time with her.”
Joe tied his pinto to the hitching rail and entered Julia’s Palace, smiling in anticipation of the evening to come. “Hey, Tom. Give me a beer,” he greeted the bartender.
“You’re here early tonight.” Joe missed the uneasy look Tom gave him as he drew the beer and set it in front of him.
Joe took the first sip of his beer when the sound of a familiar laugh caught his attention. Joe turned to the gaming room where the laughter was coming from and stopped, his glass halfway to his lips.
A tall, rugged-looking man with iron grey hair was sitting at a poker table, counting a stack of bills, Julia Bulette on his lap. “Here’s to my good luck charm!” the man whooped, and kissed her lustily while stuffing a handful of bills down her bodice.
Joe stalked into the room and grabbed Julia by the arm. “What’s going on?” His jaw was clinched in anger. He pulled her from the man’s lap.
“Hey! Just a minute sonny-boy! What do you think you’re doing, manhandling the lady like that?” The grey-haired man jumped to his feet.
“It’s all right, Clayton.” Julia touched his arm, familiarly, and pushed him back into the chair. “I’ll be back later. I want to have a word with young Mr. Cartwright.”
Julia dragged a seething Joe into her office behind the bar. She lit into him before he could say a word. “Who do you think you are, grabbing me like that? Acting like you own me! I’ve had enough of that with John!”
Her harsh tone took some of the wind out of Joe’s sails. “I don’t think I own you! I’m sorry.” He removed his hat and ran his fingers nervously through his hair. Hurt and angry as he was, he pushed on, his voice raised. “But the way you were acting with that fellow got to me. Hanging around his neck and letting him paw you and kiss you, and stuff money down the front of your dress like some kind of floozy!” Joe threw his hat to the floor. Then he stopped, his face white, at the realization of what he said.
Julia’s eyes blazed fire as she slapped his face. “That makes me a floozy if I let any man but you touch me? Well, then, I’m a floozy! You knew what I am the first time you came in here. You seem to like my talents, Mr. Cartwright. So do a lot of men. They’re not for your exclusive use! Now, I think you better go. Don’t come back here. Tom will have orders from me to throw you out on your ear if you do.” She turned her back so Joe wouldn’t see the tears that started in her eyes. She stood there silently crying as the office door slammed shut behind Joe as he walked out of her life.
Julia didn’t realize that another man had witnessed her performance with Clayton MacKenzie. John Moline wouldn’t just slam a door and walk away.
Ben looked up from his ledger as Adam perched on the corner of his desk.
“Did Joe say anything to you about why he stopped seeing Julia Bulette?” Adam asked
“No, he didn’t. I have to say that I’m glad he did.”
“I think we all are. You went into town all dressed up the other day. Does that have anything to do with Julia?”
Ben folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. “Yes, I paid Julia a visit.”
“I thought maybe that’s where you were going. Let’s just hope that Joe doesn’t find out.”
“I don’t think there’s any danger of that. But I couldn’t take the chance of it going on much longer. A young man being infatuated with an older woman is a common situation.” Ben looked meaningfully at his oldest son. “If it wasn’t for Moline, and Julia’s occupation, I would’ve been inclined to have let it play itself out. But under the circumstances….”
“Well, I got over Gwen.” Adam smiled crookedly at his father. “He’ll get over it soon. You know how he is.”
“I hope so, Adam. I hope so.”
“Is anyone going to answer the door?” Ben looked from his breakfast to his sons. All three seemed oblivious to the sound of someone knocking.
Adam laid his fork down and looked pointedly at his youngest brother who had been distractedly stirring his cup of coffee for several minutes. Hoss, also, gave Joe a pointed look, then went back to his plate of ham and eggs.
“What are you looking at me for? Neither of you two have a broken leg!”
Ben locked his eyes onto Joe. “Joseph! That’s enough! Answer the door, please!”
“Yes, sir.” Joe immediately got to his feet and went to the door. He was surprised to find Tom, the bartender at Julia’s Palace, standing on their porch. And even more surprised by the disturbed look on Tom’s face.
“Joe.” Tom shuffled his feet nervously. “Uh, Julia sent me. Wait! Listen to me a minute!” Tom pushed against the door that Joe was closing in his face. “Julia’s been hurt. Bad. Somebody broke in her private rooms and was waiting for her when she went up after closing this morning. Whoever it was, stabbed her. Doc Martin’s there, and he says she’s not gonna last much longer. She’s asking to see you.”
“See me? Why does she want to see me?”
“I don’t know. Look, she could barely talk. I should get back. Should I tell her you’re on your way?” Tom untied his horse’s reins from the hitching rail as he spoke, anxious to be on his way. “The palace is locked up. Bang on the door; I’ll be listening for you.”
“Pa?” Joe turned to his father who was standing behind him in the doorway.
“I think you should go, son. Do you want me to come with you?”
Joe nodded numbly, then turned back to Tom. “Tell her I’m coming.”
With Ben right behind him, Joe hesitantly approached the double doors to Julia’s Palace. The ornately carved doors customarily stood open and inviting. Today, however, they were tightly locked with blinds pulled down over the etched glass panes. Joe turned to nod at his father and knocked on the door.
At the first knock, the blind was pulled back and Tom peered out the window. He opened the door and silently ushered Joe and Ben into the barroom.
Joe looked around the unusually quiet room. Normally, Julia’s Palace would be filled with customers from opening time at noon to closing time when the whistles at the mines heralded the start of a new day. Today, there were no men lining the bar, sitting at the gaming tables, or crowding around the roulette wheels and slot machines. There was no clink of glasses, rattle of dice, or men’s voices placing bets Several of Julia’s girls sat scattered around the room talking and quietly weeping. A golden-haired girl sat alone in a corner absently shuffling a deck of cards. The piano player listlessly plunked out a sad song of lost love.
Tom moved to the steps and leaned heavily on the banister. “Doc Martin left. He didn’t want her to have any visitors, but he said you could go up for awhile, since Julia was insisting. Sophie’s with her.” The bartender shook his head and struggled to hold back a tear. “Sophie’s the only one of her girls that she’s let herself get close to. She told me that Sophie reminded her of herself. Her and you are the only one’s she wants. Go on up.”
Joe hesitated with one foot on the bottom step. He gazed up into the shadowy hallway, then quickly took the stairs two at a time.
Joe tapped softly on the locked door which was opened by Sophie, the winsome black-haired girl who Joe knew was Julia’s particular favorite. She quickly wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and nodded in the direction of the sleeping alcove, then stepped into the hallway. She quietly shut the door behind her.
Julia lay propped against a pile of pillows. Her face was as white as the satin pillowcases underneath her tangled, dark hair. She struggled to keep her eyes open and focused on the young man who settled hesitantly in the bedside chair.
“You did come. I knew you would, mon cheri.” Her words came out breathless, as she stretched her hand towards him
Joe took it and gently pressed his lips to her fingers. “Shhh. Yes, I’m here. Just lie quiet. Don’t try to talk.” Joe silently stroked Julia’s hand.
Her eyes closed, then fluttered open, and she mumbled softly in French, “Si seulement il pourrait avoir été différent. Un temps différent, un endroit different” **
The melancholy strains of the piano drifted up from downstairs as Juliet Bulette again walked under the Spanish moss draped trees with Alexander deLoren.
“Well, the posse found Moline. Tom was right, suspecting it was him. Moline had Julia’s diamond necklace and ruby bracelet on him.” Adam wearily dropped his gun belt and hat on the credenza.
Hoss followed his brother in the door. “How’s Joe?”
Ben looked up from the book he was reading. “Better, I think. At least I got him to realize that it wouldn’t have been a good idea for him to ride with the posse. For awhile there, I was worried that he’d take off on his own after Moline. He’s upstairs. He wanted to be left alone for awhile.” Ben turned to Hoss who had turned towards the stairway. “You two look all in. I’ll get you some coffee and sandwiches.”
Hoss settled onto the settee beside Adam and looked at him uneasily. “Are we gonna tell Pa what we heard in town?”
Adam glanced at the stairs, then back to Hoss. “Yeah, we’d better do it now, while Joe’s upstairs.”
“Joe’s gonna find out sooner or later, and he’s gonna be fit to be tied. And I can’t say that I blame him any. I don’t care what she did for a livin’, Adam. It just ain’t right.”
“What’s just not right?” Ben set a tray of sandwiches and coffee on the sturdy plank table in front of his sons.
Hoss took a sandwich and looked to his older brother.
“The good people of Virginia City don’t want the likes of Julia Bulette buried in the town cemetery with the respectable citizens. Tom’s the executor of her will. He was told this when he went to buy a cemetery plot. Julia left the town quite a bit of money in her will. Tom said she specifically bequeathed the fire department money and money to the Miners’ Widows and Orphans Fund.” Adam shook his head in disgust and absently picked up a coffee cup. “And the righteous citizens of Virginia City are begrudging her six feet of rocky soil. I’ve seemed to have lost my appetite. Night, Pa. Hoss. See you in the morning.”
“Good morning, Harvey.”
“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright. What brings you here?”
“I want to purchase a cemetery plot.”
The caretaker of the Virginia City Cemetery looked up from his desk in surprise. “Cemetery plot? Not for anyone in your family, I hope?”
“Oh, no, no! We’re all well. In any case, we, uh, have a family cemetery at the ranch. No, this is for a friend.”
“Must have been a mighty close friend, if you’re buying him a cemetery plot.”
“Never mind that, Harvey. Just get to the paperwork. Put the plot in my name.”
Harvey paused in confusion over the paperwork. “I have to have the name of the deceased; regulations, you know, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Of, course, Harvey.” Ben pulled out his wallet and handed some bills to the caretaker. “This will take care of the plot and a headstone?”
“Oh, yes, sir. Very adequately. Here’s your deed. Now, the name of the deceased, and the information for on the headstone?”
“Julia Bulette. A Mr. Tom Bellamy will be here later with the information for the headstone. Please have the grave ready for burial tomorrow.”
Harvey McDuff dropped his ink pen and stared at Ben in horror. “Julia Bulette? Mr. Cartwright, she can’t be buried in the town cemetery!”
Ben’s eyes smoldered as he pulled himself to his full height, and stared holes into the diminutive caretaker. “Mr. McDuff, I have in my hand a deed to a cemetery plot in the Virginia City Cemetery. Can I or can I not have anyone I see fit buried in that plot?”
“Ye..ess, of of cour..se, Mrrr. Caarrtwrright,” Harvey McDuff stuttered, quaking under Ben’s steely glower. “Buuutt, the the town cccouncil….”
Ben tipped his hat and strolled out the door. “Good day, Harvey. I’ll be around in a few days to make sure that everything is in order.”
Ben next made his way to the St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church, and knocked on the rectory door. He was ushered in by Father Patrick Monaghue. “Ah, Mr. Cartwright. You’re back Come in, come in. I was just having a cup of tea. One of my parishioners brought me some delicious oatmeal cookies. Would you care to join me?”
“No thank you, Father. I must be getting back to Mr. Bellamy. He’ll be anxious to hear how everything turned out. The cemetery caretaker, Harvey McDuff, isn’t very happy, but the arrangements are taken care of. I’ll tell Tom Bellamy that if anyone gives him, or you, any problems, my sons and myself will be there at the burial. I’m sure he’ll want to thank you in person for consenting to say a prayer at Miss Bulette’s grave.”
“Mr. Cartwright, I’d be a poor priest, and a poor Christian if I refused. And a terrible ingrate. Miss Bulette didn’t attend Mass, but every Christmas she had a generous contribution delivered to the church. It bought many a meal and many a warm coat for the destitute members of my parish. Not to mention the remembrance of the church in her will.”
“Until tomorrow, Father.” The two men shook hands. Father Monaghue watched Ben go down the hill, then with a smile, returned to his tea and cookies.
** “If only it could have been different. A different time, a different place.”