The store closed at sundown, as soon as the twilight that came in the windows were too hard to see by. Claire glared at her brother. "I am very surprised that you expect me to actually help you here."
"Claire, please, I need the help. Father will say the same thing if I ask. Besides, what did you expect to do here?"
Claire glanced around. Bart said, "She's not here. What is it?"
She lifted her head. "Father thinks that since you had such good luck on the frontier that I would, also."
Bart passed his hand through his hair. "Aw, Claire, you're too good for these roughnecks. Most of the men here are cattle-ropin' cow boys, or ex-soldiers like Casey there. I wouldn't want my sister to be courted by any of them."
"What about lawyers? Or judges? Or shop keepers like you?"
"There's saloons, brothels, two trading posts on the opposite sides of town, and I think there's two lawyers here, a doctor for both horses and men, and the barber two doors down. I might be missing the ones who don't have all their teeth."
"I'm not kidding, Claire. This isn't New York. You're the most fashionable lady any of these men have probably ever seen. Their idea of fun is poker and whiskey."
"And Casey?" She bit her lip as soon as it was out. Bart eyed her.
"Claire, to be honest, I don't know anything much about him. I do know that he's honest, and he looks out for us. Somewhere there's a southern gentleman in there, but we've never gotten that out of him. Dot really isn't the inquisitive type."
"What about you? Didn't you ask him?"
"He said he was in the 43rd Confederate Brigade and left it at that."
Claire was escorted to the front door and Bart let her in first. With a small curtsey as a thank you, she went inside. There was no foyer, no formal parlor, no formal sitting room. Just one big room with a settee and a chair, a small bookcase with some books, and a larger case with bottles and glasses. Her father was standing, admiring the liquor. "I helped myself," he said, holding a glass with some amber liquid. "You have a lot here not opened, so I didn't want to ruin them. I made sure it had been opened first."
"Dot's a teetotaler," Bart said, as if explaining why he wasn't drinking. "I respect her wishes."
"A shame," said Joseph, and chastely kissed his daughter. "I understand we are having stewed chicken." He made a face for a moment. Claire caught it - disgust - and hoped Bart didn't. Unfortunately, he did.
"It's hard to get good meat in this area, unless you want buffalo, or elk, or muskrat."
"I found that buffalo is an excelent substitute for venison," her father began to espouse, and Claire made herself look intersted, though he merely reiterated something that a surgeon three towns back had told him. Bart gave it away by nodding a couple of times, and then Dot peeked her head in. "Dinner's ready!" she called.
All of them entered the dining area, which was inside the kitchen. Her father sniffed, knowing this was below his station. The children were seated at the table also, and her father sat as far away from them as he could. Bart served them himself, as Dot went to the other room to feed the baby. Claire eventually did take serving duties, giving food to the children. Her father ate sparingly, not enjoying the food at all, and drinking more of the brandy.
"Where is..." Claire asked, after sitting down and taking some of the very plain chicken. It certainly was not very good.
"Where is?" Bart looked up, his mouth full.
Bart shook his head. "Claire, get him out of your mind."
Her father turned to Claire. "You've met a man?"
Bart said, "He's my hired hand."
"Claire," her father admonished. "Tomorrow we are going to make sure you are introduced properly to the eligible proprietors of the town, and if they do not pass my judgment, then we will go to Dodge."
Bart frowned. "Papa, the men here wouldn't be suitable, I don't think."
"Nonsense. I have made some inquiries. A few people would be more than interested to meet you."
He motioned with his cup. "Eat up, gather your strength."
Claire fell silent, and ate the tasteless broth.