F-Troop ~ "The Gal from Fort Courage"
by Dash O'Pepper
Based on the first season episode "The Girl from Philadelphia" (#1.07) by Arthur Julian.
Author's Notes: I always felt that while this episode was the seventh to be aired, it should have been the second episode of the first season, because the relationship between Captain Wilton Parmenter and Jane Angelica Thrift had still not been developed within it. In this episode the Captain is still oblivious to Jane's feelings for him; yet by the second episode "Don't Look Now but One of Our Cannons is Missing" (#1.02), they've already had their first date and first kiss. So, consider this an AU, and that "The Girl from Philadelphia" is the second episode in this alternate universe.
Jane Angelica Thrift sat behind the counter of her Trading Post, angry tears threatening to erupt from emotions she'd never felt before. With the door open, she had a clear view of who was waiting for the stage.
He'd gone to Lucy Landfield, not to her. As a matter of fact, Wilton had avoided her since the tea party two days earlier, and she was the one that Philadelphian vixen had humiliated in front of half the soldiers and pea hens in Fort Courage.
Wilton…No, she thought, from now on it'll be Captain Parmenter. Until O'Rourke had her show off her shooting and riding skills, the Captain barely knew she existed. He'd never looked at her much beyond that gal who delivered the mail, anyway; it wasn't like he ever noticed the young woman who pined for him since his arrival at Fort Courage nearly six months ago.
Jane looked at the ruins of the prettiest dress she ever owned; the plaid taffeta hung limply on a dressmaker's dummy. It wouldn't take much effort on her part to repair it, but some things just couldn't be mended with a needle and thread.
She heard the beat of the horses hooves as the stage coach pulled up to the depot, effectively blocking her view of the touching, heartfelt farewell that the Captain was giving his fiancée. No doubt telling her that he'd miss her and that he couldn't wait to return to Philadelphia. When his orders came through, she was sure that he'd up and leave in a heartbeat; his time at Fort Courage being a footnote in his military career.
Jane stepped from behind the counter; closed and locked her shop's doors; pulling down their shades; and leaned heavily against the door frame, not wanting anyone to see the unbidden tears that flowed down her cheeks.
It had been about twenty minutes by the time Corporal Agarn and Sergeant O'Rourke helped their Captain extricate his sword from the moving stage and hiked back to the Fort. While none the worse for wear, all three were tired and dusty from their travail.
O'Rourke was the first to speak, "Captain, how about an ice cold—" he caught himself just in time from saying beer, not certain how Parmenter would react to officers and NCOs imbibing together. He already stopped the Captain from returning to Philadelphia with that Landfield woman; he'd no intention of ruffling the feathers of his golden pigeon. "Sarsaparilla. An ice cold sarsaparilla will hit the spot nicely."
Agarn looked at his Sergeant with a mixture of surprise and distaste. He'd been looking forward to that beer, not the cloying sweetness of a sarsaparilla.
The Captain half heard him. "That sounds like a good idea…" his voice trailed off. He looked at the "closed" sign on the Trading Post door. "That's funny," he said more to himself than his companions, "I could have sworn Wrangler's shop was open not more than half an hour ago."
Agarn shrugged his reply, "Maybe she's taking inventory?"
"It's awfully hot to be working indoors with no ventilation," he replied.
"You know, Janie, sir—"
The Captain replied quietly, "No, Corporal, I don't."
Captain Parmenter thanked his two NCOs for their help, and let them go off to the saloon for their beers; he was well aware that sarsaparilla was not likely their preferred choice of beverage.
He looked at the still closed doors of the Trading Post, debating whether propriety allowed him to speak to Wrangler directly after what happened on Saturday, or if he should return to his quarters, and formally write her a note asking for permission to call on her. He could have his orderly, Dobbs, deliver it. But Fort Courage was a long way from Philadelphia, and things out West were often handled very differently. A note, no matter how heartfelt written, might be construed as indifference or worse. Whereas calling on her directly without an intermediary might be interpreted as forwardness, and having just extricated himself from Lucy's designs on him, Wilton wasn't certain he was ready to stoke the embers of even a cordial friendship.
Deciding to allow matters to fall into place on their own, he took one last look at the Trading Post, and turned on his heels to head back to the Fort.
Before he could cross the street, two of the townswomen who attended Saturday's fiasco, and had been intently engaged in animated conversation, turned in his direction. He needn't be clairvoyant to recognize that they were looking for the latest gossip, and hoping that he would provide them some.
"Oh, good morning, Captain Parmenter," said the younger of the pair, a handsome young woman in her mid-twenties. Her brown eyes crinkled, as her mouth broke into an overeager grin.
"Captain Parmenter," began the slightly older woman, "it's so good to see you again."
"Ladies." He tapped the brim of his uniform hat to signal a polite hullo, and hoped that would be the end of their conversation, but they already had him outflanked.
"We just saw you saying au revoir to your most charming fiancée."
He winced at both the mangled attempt at French and the word fiancée. "I think you're under a slight misapprehension, Miss Mills."
"Really?" The younger woman asked eagerly.
"Miss Landfield is a dear friend of mine from Philadelphia. A long-time acquaintance of my family."
Both were already anticipating the words they hoped the Captain would say.
"The announcement of our engagement was simply a misunderstanding."
Both women tried desperately to mask their joy at this latest bit of news. Handsome, well-bred men were a rare commodity at a small outpost like Fort Courage. And Wilton suddenly felt like a piece of meat caught between two hungry lionesses.
"Then, we'll definitely need to order those new dress patterns from that Wrangler girl, won't we, Clara?" asked the one called Miss Mills.
"Oh definitely, Almira. Unless you want to buy a used taffeta gown." She tried to stifle a giggle.
Wilton wanted to get away from these two gossips as quickly as possible, but decorum—and a strange feeling of protectiveness over what they were saying about Jane—made him stand his ground. "Do you have an issue with Miss Thrift, Miss Cook?" Wilton attempted to keep the tone in his voice tactful, but wasn't certain he succeeded.
Miss Clara Cook saw this as an open invitation to confide her concerns with an interested party. "Well, I'm not one to talk, of course."
Wilton nodded politely, knowing full-well that this was a sport women from Philadelphia to Denver enjoyed playing: gossip. "Of course," he replied en galamment.
"Well, you've certainly seen the way she dresses."
Miss Mills continued, "And she barely behaves as a young woman should. Buckskins, no bonnet."
His reply was measured: "She does run that Trading Post all by herself. It's difficult work to do alone"
"That's another thing," added Miss Cook, "she's been on her own since she was sixteen. Lord knows what she's been up to in the last four years. Running around the Fort like a—"
"I've even heard her grandmother was a dance hall gal in Dodge City," interrupted Miss Mills, with all the shock and disdain she could muster.
Wilton heard enough, and was having a difficult time keeping his own temper in check. He never liked idle rumour and gossip, and what was worse was that these two young women were doing all they could to insult and humiliate someone who he felt had already been hurt enough: caught in the middle of Lucy's marriage scheme; his men's desire to keep him as their commanding officer; and his own blindness in not seeing what was right in front of him this past half year.
With a smile that could turn water to ice, Wilton interrupted the two women, "Ladies, I must thank you for your time. I was torn over a decision I needed to make, and you've both helped immensely."
They both smiled at his compliment.
"If you'll excuse me." He tipped his hat toward them, and headed in the direction of the Trading Post.
Though the "closed" sign was still in the window, he tried the doors. Perhaps the Corporal had been right, and she was just taking inventory. But the locked doors at this time of day told another story.
Knocking on the doors, he called to her, "Wrangler?… Jane?" He called her Wrangler so often that using her Christian name sounded as though he were being too forward with her. "Are you there?"
She'd cried herself dry, now sitting Indian-style on the floor of her shop, her back to the door. There were no more tears left to shed when she heard the knock and the Captain's calls to her. She wanted to tell him exactly where to go—and the Fort wasn't one of those places. She wanted to tell him to leave her alone; her chest ached so from her sobs.
If she sent him away now, though, she'd never know what he wanted to say—even if it was simply good-bye. Worse, she'd never have the chance to wash that man right out of her hair, and send him on his way.
Agarn said that her feelings for Captain Parmenter were those of first love, and even Wild Eagle, the Chief of the Hekawis, said those emotions never went away unless she was strong enough to end them herself. Funny, at this moment she didn't feel strong enough to do much of anything, even standing up and unlocking the door to let the Captain in would require all her physical and emotional strength.
"Yes, Wil—" Her voice was hoarse, and almost a whisper. She gathered herself together before replying again, "Yes, Captain Parmenter?"
"Wrangler, are you all right?"
"Yes. I'm fine…just a little tired," she said through the door.
"May I…" he hesitated. "May I see you?"
She wanted to say no, but that wasn't what came out: "Sure. Just give me a minute." She tried to think up a reasonable explanation as to why she had closed and locked her store. "I'm just takin' inventory, and don't want to lose count."
Finally finding the will to stand, she raised the door's shades, while unlocking and opening it. "Won't you come in, Captain?" She tried to remember to speak to him in a more genteel fashion, the way that O'Rourke and Agarn had coached her the previous week.
Wilton looked at her carefully. Her eyes seemed puffy and red, and there were dust streaks running down her cheeks. "Are you all right, Wrangler," he quickly corrected himself by adding "Jane" to finish his sentence.
"I-I'm fine. It just gets hot and very dusty in here pretty darn quickly." She rubbed at her eyes for emphasis, and to cover up any traces of tear streaks.
"If I may, I'd like to discuss Saturday—"
She smiled, none too convincingly, "There's nothing to discuss. It's over and done with."
He looked across the floor of the store, and saw the dressmaker's dummy with the gown's remains pinned to it. "I had no idea of the proper etiquette after what Lucy did. I thought it best to leave things alone between us—uh—that is between you and I until after she left for Philadelphia."
"And when will you be returning to Philadelphia for the wedding?" Jane managed to keep her voice level, and not reveal the world of hurt she was feeling.
Wilton physically jumped at the word wedding, for the first time realizing just what a close call he had. "Jane, Lucy and I are not getting married. We're not even engaged."
"But the tea party? The announcement?" The ache in her heart was quickly being replaced by anger; she wasn't sure at whom, though: O'Rourke and Agarn for their conspiracy in using Flying Sparrow as a back-up plan in case she failed at getting the Captain away from that hussy; Lucy Landfield for purposely humiliating her; Wilton Parmenter for waiting two whole days to even talk to her?
At the moment, the Captain was the nearest target for her fury. But she couldn't form the words she wanted to say, at least not to him. "Then, why didn't you say anything to me before now?" she asked.
There was no easy answer to her question. He'd have tried to avoid Lucy, too, following the party, if he'd been able; she was still his guest, and propriety demanded he treat her as such. Though, she and Jane had both gotten in their licks, when they'd slapped his face and left the party.
"A gentleman gives a young lady whose been aggrieved some time before attempting to call on her again.…And you do pack quite a wallop." He rubbed his cheek thoughtfully, and smiled.
She shyly returned his smile, recalling just how hard she had struck him in the anger of that moment.
He liked her smile, even if it was only a little one. It lit up her face, revealing not for the first time in the past few days just what he had missed in taking her for granted since being posted at Fort Courage.
"I'm sorry about—"
He cut her off. "You have nothing to be sorry about. If anyone should be apologizing, it's me to you." For a lot more than this weekend, he thought.
"I don't know the rules out here, Jane. This is all so very different from Philadelphia."
"What do you mean, Cap—" she quickly corrected herself, "Wilton." For the first time in days, she couldn't feel the ache in her chest; the anger and hurt had finally dissipated. "What would you do if this were Philadelphia?"
"The first thing I'd do would be to ask your father if I might call on you sometime?" He had no idea of her parents, except for what the town gossips had told him, in confidence of course.
"Shucks," she replied, "you don't need to do that here." She felt that she would bust that he thought that highly of her.
He looked at the floor and his boots, suddenly feeling like a schoolboy and knowing what he might be committing himself to. "Would you like to have a sarsaparilla with me?" he mumbled.
Jane was floating now, wanting to shout for joy. "Is this where I'd say, 'I'd be delighted'?" she asked, wanting to be the genteel young lady that he seemed to prefer.
"Then, what would you do?"
He'd always been shy around women; but Jane was different from any woman he'd ever known. There seemed to be no guile in her. She was far different from someone like Lucy, and the other young ladies of quality he knew back home.
"I'd ask if I could take your arm, and we'd walk together for our sarsaparilla."
She was a bit confused if it was proper for her to wrap her arm in his, or his in hers; so, she allowed him to take the lead. Jane felt her body tingle at Wilton' gentle touch; it was something that she'd waited half a year for.
"Is it all right for you to close the store at this time of day? What with your inventory and all?" He suspected he knew the answer, before she did.
"Uh-huh." She nodded. "The inventory can wait."
Jane felt ten-feet tall having Wilton's arm entwined in hers, as they walked down the street of the town. By the stares they were getting from some of the town's harpies, she knew tongues would be wagging soon enough. But she didn't care, having Wilton at her side was all that mattered.
"How long have you been running the Trading Post, Janie?" he asked to make conversation.
"'Bout four years now. It was pretty run down 'til I took it over." Her tone told him that she was proud of her accomplishments.
"So, you've lived in Fort Courage all your life?" In his studies at Fort Riley, he knew that both the town and the Fort that protected it had been in existence for nearly twenty years.
She hesitated before replying. "We moved around a lot when I was a kid." Wanting to change the subject, she turned the question back on him. "What was it like in Philadelphia. I ain't—" she quickly corrected herself, "I've never been to a city bigger than St. Jo."
"Compared to Fort Courage, it's huge, noisy, and crowded," he said truthfully. "There are some things I miss, but I like it here much better."
Wilton stopped in front of the saloon.
Jane was taken aback at their destination; in the years she'd lived in Fort Courage, she'd never been in the saloon before. "If I was from Philadelphia, would you take me here?" she asked, unable to disguise the hurt in her voice.
Wilton wanted to kick himself for his error in judgement. He could have taken her to the restaurant in the town's hotel, but he had too easily taken Jane for granted. While enjoying the pleasure of her company, he was still treating her like one of the boys, instead of a young woman he'd like to know better. To say he wasn't thinking, he felt would have been worse than a straight up apology, and even that he felt would be inadequate.
"No," he answered simply. "But then if you were a girl from Philadelphia, I wouldn't be walking here beside you now, either." He hoped that she understood exactly what he meant.
She smiled at him, "Then, it's a good thing I'm a gal from Fort Courage."
~ Finis ~
© 2015 Dash O'Pepper
Disclaimer: This work of fanfiction is in no way meant to infringe on the rights of AOL-TimeWarner, Inc., or any of its subsidiaries.