Gil Favor sat in the saloon, nearly empty of patrons and for good reason – a late autumn storm of truly monumental proportions had closed Salinas down. Nothing and no one came in; nothing and no one went out, including trains traveling east – east to Philadelphia.
Luckily, Gil had sent his Christmas gifts on ahead. In fact, Gil didn't think he'd be able to make the holiday trip to Philadelphia this year. The final drive of the season had been less than profitable, due mainly to a severe drop in beef prices. It was only recently Favor was able to scrape up the funds for the much anticipated trip to see his daughters. Now, it seemed, he'd waited too long.
"Boss?" Pete Nolan pulled up a chair and sat down, helping himself to the nearly untouched bottle of whiskey sitting in front of Favor. His offer to top off the Boss's glass got him only a doleful frown.
"Okay, Mr. Favor. Have it your way, but a shot a good whiskey, or two," Nolan grinned wickedly, "sure helps beat back the cold." Pete tossed back his first drink and poured a second.
Gil grunted in reply, and continued to stare fixedly at the drink before him, not at it exactly, but in it, figuring if he stared deeply enough he might be able to conjure up the faces of his daughters. When nothing appeared within the amber liquor but a single tiny bubble, Favor closed his eyes. Perhaps he might find their sweet countenance within his mind's eye.
"Boss?" Nolan questioned softly, his hand on Gil's arm.
If only Pete would stop bothering me. "What?" Favor replied a bit too quickly and with too much venom. After all, Christmas was only days away and none of this was the scout's fault. "Christmas," he murmured sadly, shrinking down into his loneliness, shoulders slumped, head bowed, hands wrapped around the full shotglass as if to garner warmth from the fiery liquid within.
"Happy Christmas, Mr. Favor." Pete said. "I…"
Just then, from somewhere off behind where the two men sat, a piano player audibly cracked his knuckles before getting down to the business at hand, that being a slam-bang rendition of "My Darling Clementine," to which he added his own lyrics, those being of a bawdy nature and very much unChristmaslike.
Nolan snorted in disgust at the choice of music. From out of his vest pocket he pulled a pale gray envelope which he laid flat on the table and slid within Gil Favor's line of sight.
Gil took one hand from the shotglass and brought the envelope closer. He traced the precise, feminine handwriting which addressed the missive. It was the type of handwriting taught at prestigious schools for young ladies in places like Philadelphia. His gaze traveled up to the left hand corner and sure enough, the return address was indeed Philadelphia, the sender, a Miss Gillian Favor.
The gloom lifted from Gil's heart and although the world didn't look exactly rosy, it did most assuredly seem several shades less gray. With great anticipation and the most gentle touch, Gil opened the envelope, praying this wasn't a dream and the contents wouldn't vanish in a puff of smoke; happily, they didn't. He raised his gaze to Pete, not the least embarrassed that his gaze was somewhat teary-eyed. "When"? He questioned. "How long?"
Pete smiled. "Oh, that came in just this mornin', on the last stage to make it through 'fore the roads got shut down. I still can't make out how that driver got through at all. Must a known he had something mighty precious on board."
Gil held the opened envelope tightly. "You don't mind if I…if I read this alone?"
"Shucks, no, Boss. You go right ahead. I'll just step on over here."
Pete rose from the table and sauntered to the piano. After he conferred for a moment with the musician, the strains of Silent Night filled the saloon. Accompanying the piano player was a voice Gil Favor couldn't help but recognize – he'd heard the exceptional baritone lulling the cattle into peaceful slumber often enough. Pete Nolan leaned up against the upright, his voice raised in heartfelt song.
Gil carefully eased the foolscap from the envelope.
Dearest Daddy, he read.