|We Are Gathered
Author: fragrantfields PM
Spoilers for Season 3 A town remembers a good man, each in their own way, with grieving and fondnessRated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Western - Words: 2,262 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 2 - Published: 07-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7172194
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Fandom: Deadwood Gen Rating T
Spoilers for Season 3
Summary: Al and Trixie at Ellsworth's funeral, observing from a distance for their own reasons
We Are Gathered…
"He wasn't ever rough with me or the others. Not even when he was drunk."
"Don't you get maudlin on me. I ain't here for that."
Trixie turned to look at him, sunlight making him squint and showing the deep lines around his eyes.
Al's hands looked awkward, empty of cup or glass. They were clasped in front of him, fingers twisting as they seemed to seek the missing member. He shifted a few inches to the right, trying to catch more of the shade cast by the towering pine next to them.
"I ain't maudlin. He was just a good man who didn't deserve to die like he did. He was good in ways that those who should've been closest to him didn't get a chance to know, is all I'm sayin'."
She hung back further in the shadows, drawing in on herself. Her good skirt rustled in the scrubby grass, catching on the feeble undergrowth at the base of the pine. Weeds and seedlings were at her feet, trying to grow in the good soil, but stunted, deprived of sunlight by the overpowering old-growth trees. Roots made the ground uneven near the slope of the creek bank, and both stood slightly off-balance.
Al gestured to the gathered mourners on the hillside. "Reverend Cramed seems to be doing a decent job of eulogizin' Ellsworth, what I can tell from here. He's doing more than adding Bible verses, sounds like. Spendin' more time on the deceased than he did the Sherriff's boy, but I guess that's natural at a grown man's funeral."
Trixie had been focused on Sol Starr, standing in his place as pallbearer for Ellsworth, between Mr. Bullock and Tom Nuttall. This drew her attention back to the man standing next to her.
"How would you know? You didn't go to the boy's funeral."
Al shifted uneasily where he stood. "I happened out on my balcony a time or two. Cramed's voice carries. Must've learned that when he learned to preach."
This was as close as Al had been to a funeral in several decades. And standing at the graveside…not that he couldn't have done it if he had to, but since he had reached an age that allowed him a choice, he had chosen not to be that close to coffins and mourners. Closest he'd been to a burial in years were those he had done himself, shallow and quick in whatever dirt was handy. Five dollars and the pigs had made even those a part of the past.
Ellsworth, though…he felt a connection to the man. They'd hit camp close to the same time. Ellsworth had been one of the few remaining men in camp who remembered nickel shots poured in front of a canvas tent, fifty cent pussy sold at two cots in the back, thin canvas curtain strung up between them. Al's scales had rested on a leveled tree stump in front of the tent back then. One of the first nuggets in the weighing pan had been Whitney Ellsworth's.
Wasn't the last by any means…Ellsworth had been a methodical prospector, panning and digging enough to turn a profit each day, not getting so greedy as to burn himself out on the labor and cold in non-stop frantic frenzy as some did. Those types tended to attack liquor, whores, and gambling just as frantically, fighting exhaustion and numbness. They didn't last long.
Not like Ellsworth. He had ways about him that should have led to a longer life, if events had kept to their natural course. Hearst and his need to bend natural courses to his purpose had not been interested in his ways, just in the obstacle the man presented.
It was out of respect for those natural qualities that Al came to the rise by the creek side, standing beside Trixie in the long cool shadows. Few enough men Al could have trusted in a crisis to keep their own tally of drink and pussy, or to keep a deadly secret without recompense. Ellsworth had been as square as the Gem's scales had purported to be. And for that, Al would go against his custom, stand in scrub grass and shadows, and watch him being laid to rest.
The sound of hymns, simple and trembling from voices unused to singing, carried to the pair. The deep rusty voices of miners and rough men, lawmen and merchants. The higher, sweeter voices of townswomen and whores, singing remembered hymns from earlier times. Here and there, a child's voice shimmered through, uneven but fervent as they followed a grown-up's finger in a hymnbook. Joanie Stubbs sang, voice ringing surprisingly clear and sure. Jane stood beside her, trying to follow but mostly weeping, eyes going between the unfilled hole in front of her and the gravesite nearby, where Wild Bill lay beneath the hard-packed dirt.
Trixie sang under her breath, from memory, following along from the shadows. Her breath shook and she wrapped her shawl around her tight. Besides the burden of guilt she carried for Jen, she felt Ellsworth's death solidly on her shoulders, her conscience a lone pallbearer.
She had encouraged him to marry Alma, when the biggest problem in camp seemed to have been an awkward pregnancy and a family who had deserved the image of a virtuous husband and father. She had pushed Alma to accept him, as well. Al tried to tell her that, absent her machinations, Hearst probably still would have put Ellsworth in a sniper's aim, if for no other reason than he was a loud and irritating reminder of bad mines and lost miners in the Comstock strike. It hadn't helped.
Alma's guilt had led her to tears over her part in Ellsworth's murder. Al had been able to assuage that with words and whisky, and summoning the only comfort he knew for her; the child, the man, the doctor. And the man's comforting would, by necessity, be short-lived, else new guilt would be added to the old.
Trixie, though…hot-headed Irish that she was, had tallied her part in his death in an instant, and she had blazed to square the scales without counting the cost. Shot for shot. Blood for blood. She had loosed unholy consequences for her act, and only a few could understand.
Jen's ghost didn't belong here today, she thought. She wouldn't mar Ellsworth's funeral with mourners paying her hostile attention instead of thinking of him. She could eulogize him in her mind, under the trees, a lone songbird accompanying her thoughts.
Here lies a man, she thought, who never hit a whore, no matter how drunk he was or how his luck at cards had been. Who never got mad if he paid and found you on your bleeding. A man who knew the differences between the women he paid for, and looked at them above the neck. Knew that this one favored ribbons, that one favored a kiss or two first, the other one couldn't stand kisses at all. Took time to share a laugh, to bring a smile.
Here lies a man who would offer a word of comfort for an old bruise, and would change his actions if causing an accidental hurt. And rare among the camp's men, a gentleman who, even filthy from the day's work, would allow time to let a girl wash his hands and privates first.
She hoped others who had known his kindness and good humor would also eulogize him in their hearts. His wife, she knew, had never known that side of him. He probably wouldn't have brought the white-heat passion to their bed as had the Bullock man, but he would have brought kindness and good humor.
Trixie wondered if Alma could have appreciated that. Maybe Alma was one of those women who always had to have some danger, some threatened scandal, to spice up her fucking. Trixie knew better. In absence of passion, there was still value in a friendly fuck paid for with an honest dollar. And another tear whispered down her cheek.
She heard Al clear his throat.
"Here," he said, shoving a stained handkerchief into her palm. He looked back towards the stage road in the distance as she wiped her eyes. She thought she felt a couple of damp spots ahead of hers. He took it back when she was finished.
The singing had stopped. She could see heads bowed for a final prayer. She joined them with prayers half-remembered from her childhood. A heavy warm hand slipped into hers for a second, then withdrew after a quick squeeze. As she watched Sol and the other men pick up shovels, Al put an awkward arm around her shoulder and turned her away.
"We don't need to see this part. Nothing special about dirt shoveled into a hole while women weep."
She pulled away. "I don't mind. I like seeing my Jew wielding a shovel instead of a pen for a change. Novel-like."
"Anyways, the bank's closed, store's closed…" She gathered her skirts and gracefully sat down on an exposed tree root, leaning her back against the mossy trunk. "I think I'll linger here a bit."
She'd wait until most were gone and the men were finishing with the grave, then go down and stand with Sol for a while, try to give her heart some ease. Some kind of heart's balm seemed to emanate from him when she was troubled or afraid. She didn't quite understand it, but found herself craving it more and more. They could stand for a few minutes between the graves and the pines, before walking back to camp.
Al studied her, looking like a solemn golden forest fairy he'd seen in a child's picture book once, perched on the tree, hair catching in the moss and baby branches. Bad days ahead, he thought. Hard rows to hoe, with her new to making others mourn.
He looked back at the gravesite. The mourners, the widow and child, were gone now. Bullock was angry in his work, throwing dirt into the grave, dust flying, shovel clanging against buried rock. Al could see his clenched jaw from where he stood.
Starr's shovel bit into the loose dirt with ease. He lifted his load with little effort, neatly dropping the dirt on top of the coffin. Still in his banker's clothes, he methodically did the work that needed to be done, face unsmiling but serene.
Al thought of scales and pans, weights and counterweights. Starr and Trixie might seem an unlikely pair, but he could see their differences balancing out, like solid lead could balance equally with rough irregular chunks of gold. He reached over and tugged a strand of wavy hair that had fallen out of its braid.
"What?" She looked at his hand, then back at the grave.
"Don't you be walkin' back to camp on your own with it gettin' dark. You wait for Starr to get through, walk back with him, understand?"
She balked a bit at him telling her what to do. Although she had already planned to do what he was telling her to do anyway, she found herself snappish, saying, "I can take care of myself."
She could feel his shadow falling over her. "Never said you couldn't. This would be a good day, though, to hand off some of that caring to him." He looked at Starr, now carefully smoothing the top of the grave, mounding it so the grave would be level when the earth finished settling.
"Do what you want," he said, turning to walk back to camp, " knowing that I'd feel easier headin' back to the Gem alone if I thought you were in his care."
Trixie wrapped her arms around her pulled-up knees, resting her chin on her forearms. Al would know by the absence of her footsteps that she was waiting to walk with Sol. His quicker stride, now, told her he had already noticed.
Sol looked over at the side of the creek bank. He had seen the afternoon sun shining off of her hair when she bowed her head. He saw the yellow blouse and fringe of white petticoat showing through the shadows of the trees when she sat down.
He understood her watching and waiting today. Swearengen had looked like a carved totem beside her, unmoving and, by all appearances, unfeeling. As much as he resented Swearengen's past with Trixie, he was grateful she hadn't been standing there alone, or left in her rooms, unwilling to risk mourner's judging looks.
Earth smoothed to his satisfaction, he handed his shovel to Seth, shook hands with Reverend Cramed, and walked to meet Trixie at the edge of the pines. He checked the position of the sun. They would have a few minutes to share their sorrow and respect for Ellsworth together, as a couple, before they headed back. He would explain "mitzvah" to her, and acknowledge the honor of her creek-side vigil.