WICHITA a Gunsmoke story
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, but I have a better idea what to do with them than those who do. As always, this is offered for my own satisfaction. "Gunsmoke" and all parts of that property belong to Viacom; I intend no copyright infringement and the only profit will be a comment or two from readers. Well, also the satisfaction of a story told.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is set around late season 17 or early season 18, after "The Bullet" and before "Hostage!", 3 to 4 seasons after "Exodus 20:21". If you haven't read the story recently, I highly recommend a review of chapter 5 (at least).
Wichita chapter 14 Been Here Before
Kitty Russell brushed the sleeve of the handsome new coat as she had the pants hanging from the hook, removing imaginary lint and reassuring herself that the items were free of imperfection. It was a routine she had repeated several times over the past few days.
Following their luncheon days prior, Frank had escorted her to a local dress shop. They had each been caught up in the urgency of time. Frank had apologized for having to leave so abruptly; Kitty had assured him that she understood. Frank had promised to return in time for the Spring Fling. An atmosphere of excitement had swirled around them as they made hurried plans.
Frank had planned to travel light. He needed to hurry and had no time to waste on changing clothes or cooking on the trail. When he had mentioned leaving his extra things with the clerk at the small rooming house where he had been staying, Kitty had suggested that she would send someone around to collect his things later. No need for him to pay the clerk for storing them when she had a perfectly good suite with plenty of room. Frank had hesitated, but Kitty had persuaded him it was the thing to do. They knew that Frank would be rushing into Wichita at the last minute on Saturday and Kitty convinced him that she would be able to prepare things for him.
As they had settled their plans, Kitty had told Frank to be careful; his safety was more important than the hour of his return. Frank had once more promised to be back to escort her to the party. She had thanked him again, her elegant hand resting on his forearm. Frank had been nearly lost her eyes, seeing the look of gratitude and hope, mixed with something more tender. Once again he struggled to keep from pulling her into his arms and instead, he had leaned over and placed a gentle kiss near the corner of her mouth. Never one to live in the past, Kitty had taken the initiative, kissing him full on the mouth, adding a much deeper dimension to the promise.
Kitty had entered the shop and had earnestly perused the dress offerings and she had been pleasantly surprised. All the times she had visited various shops since arriving in Wichita she had found no dress that even tempted her; she had seen no fabric to inspire her to hire a dressmaker; she had gone numbly though the routine of looking without really seeing.
This time, though, her eyes and her fingers swept over delightful colors and styles. Some, she could tell, had been imported from the east coast or farther, others were more likely locally made. Each was a treat. Many created the desire which had been missing and Kitty had spent the remainder of the afternoon indulging that desire. She had looked in several shops and spoken with three seamstresses. She had tried on several dresses.
The third seamstress had been in a small shop. Her selection was small, but each piece was a work of art made from wonderful fabrics with skillful additions of ribbon or lace or tucks and gathers. Kitty had wanted to try each dress, every shirtwaist and skirt, but she kept her focus on finding a dress for the festivities on Saturday. She had tried three which were lovely and fit her size, or would with minimal alteration. Two she had thought might do, but weren't quite what she wanted; it was never easy to find a special dress, especially at the last minute.
It had been late in the afternoon when she had gotten to the shop. Only one other customer stopped in, to check on a dress order, and Kitty was sure the owner would be eager to close up. As she prepared to change out of the last dress, however, the woman had called to her. She and Kitty had exchanged pleasantries, the woman, Frances, learning that Kitty was new in town and that she was looking for a dress suitable to wear to the Spring Fling.
Kitty had learned that Frances was a second generation dressmaker, that she had opened her shop in Wichita just eight months earlier, that she had spent some time in the east, and that she was an artist who worked with fabric and tread.
"Pardon me, I don't mean to be forward, but there is a dress which you must try." Frances gave Kitty a friendly and hopeful look. "I have watched as you have looked at the dresses; you have an eye for fashion and style. Please, let me get the dress from my workroom." With that, the young woman hurried off toward the back of the shop, not waiting for her customer to reply.
Kitty was in no hurry; sure that other shops in town would be closed by now, she resigned herself to another day of searching. She could take the time to look over what the woman was offering; she seemed unusually excited.
Frances returned to the fitting room. Kitty's eye was immediately caught by the fabric draped over the woman's arm. The deep, rich, emerald color was enhanced by the soft, silken texture. It was clearly an expensive fabric. Kitty's mind flitted over the thought that perhaps Frances was hoping to make a substantial sale late in the day. Her enthusiasm, though, quickly dispelled the thought.
"As soon as I saw you, I knew this would be perfect. The color, with your wonderful hair and beautiful skin, will be exquisite!" Her sincerity rang in her voice. "Please, let me show you. It is not complete, but if you like it I can have it finished by Friday afternoon, in time for the Fling on Saturday." France gently shook the dress out and held it up for Kitty to inspect.
It was immediately clear that the piece was far from complete, but there was enough form to see some general design. Kitty let her fingers caress the fabric, held it up to look at a few spots, trying to get the full look of the dress.
"Well, this fabric is certainly lovely." Kitty smiled as her fingers lingered over the jewel green expanse.
Frances moved suddenly to place the soon to be dress over the back of a chair. "Oh, yes! I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it last year in Charleston, before I traveled out here. I knew it would make the most beautiful dress. I worked out the design, but never started on it until two weeks ago." The seamstress told her story with a breathless excitement, changing direction again as she held the work in progress up next to Kitty's shoulders. Urging her customer to hold the dress up, Frances pulled and adjusted, then stepped back to look.
"Oh, I knew it! I just knew it, as soon as I saw you!" Turning Kitty to face a full length mirror standing by the wall, the younger woman clapped her hands and gave a little hop of delight. "The size is right; the color is perfect; yes!" She seemed to be talking to herself as much as to her model.
Looking at her reflection in the mirror, Kitty Russell had to agree; the color did a wonderful job of setting off her natural coloring; the fabric was exquisite; the design, from what she could tell, was flattering. She used one hand to hold the dress against herself as she adjusted some of the pieces in an effort to get a better look at the style.
"I am so glad that you're tall!" Frances continued to manipulate the drape and folds of the elegant fabric. "We won't have to cut much of the fabric before hemming; I don't think I could stand to waste a bit of it."
Kitty held her tongue, but smiled to herself as she realized the young woman was talking as if Kitty had already agreed to purchase the garment. The smile brushed her lips as she watched the mirror. "There seems to be quite a bit of work still to do on it." She commented, curious to know just what was left and if it could possibly be completed in time. "This," she fingered a drape of fabric, "is this in the right place? Is it..." She wasn't entirely sure what the finished look would be.
"Yes, ma'am. That piece will be here," Frances attempted to demonstrate as she spoke, but with the dress being just held up she struggled to make the pieces do what she wished. "Oh!" she expressed her frustration with a little stamp of her foot as the fabric slipped once more from her hold. "If you had it on..." she let the thought fade as she looked at the offending creation. "Wait, wait. I'll show you..." and she once more dashed to the back room. Kitty let her arms relax and she stepped away from the mirror to place the partially made dress over the back of the chair, wondering what the dressmaker would show her next.
What the young woman had brought out to show was her drawings of the dress design. She had explained each detail with loving enthusiasm. She clearly had put not only much work, but her heart and soul into the design. Kitty listened, but with only half an ear because, once she had seen the drawings, she had known that she would buy the dress, whether or not it would be possible to have it finished by Saturday. Frances had a definite talent for design.
Kitty had completed all the preliminary steps to getting ready for the evening; following a refreshing bath she had arranged her hair in a simple, but elegant upsweep, held in place with a few combs which sparkled and matched the color of her dress. Her face was ready, her powders and tints done to perfection. She had donned her undergarments and topped it all with a light touch of fragrance before slipping into her robe. There was nothing left for her to do but to put on her new dress and slip into her shoes.
If she were to stand at the sitting room window and look out over the park, she knew she would be able to see the top of the building just past the far end of the park, the large hall where Wichita's Spring Fling would be held tonight. She knew she would also see the sun slipping toward the horizon. It was getting late.
Kitty tried to not think about the time. She tried to maintain the same expectant attitude she had kept all week, but after the third time she realized that her attention was not on her reading she snapped the book closed and set it on the tabletop next to the upholstered chair where she was sitting. She methodically smoothed the dusty blue robe, she crossed her legs, she uncrossed her legs. She looked again at the discarded book.
In frustration she finally stood. She moved around the room lighting the lamps before walking to the sideboard where she poured herself a drink. Holding the glass in her hand she looked down into the dark amber liquid. She was not ready to put thoughts into words, but she knew this feeling. She had been here before. So many times she had been here, waiting.
Kitty took a short drink from the glass and walked to the window. Not looking would change nothing. The sun would still set, the lights would still grow bright at the hall, the evening would begin. She took another swallow before setting the glass on the window ledge.
She had not agreed lightly to the plans for the evening. Though she had made her decision quickly, she had been very aware of the implications. True to her nature, she had made the decision. She had never been one to live in the past, but rather, she tended to live in the present while looking to the future. It wasn't that she turned her back on the past, she simply did not let it control her. She knew all to well that holding on to the past could disappoint just as sharply as looking to a future which might not happen.
As with her business plans, Kitty had realized it was time to open herself to possibilities. Now, standing at the window, sipping the whiskey, she struggled with self recrimination. She knew she had been too quick to set expectations and had, all on her own, set herself up for disappointment. She briefly wondered if she didn't have some deep seated internal flaw which led her to put herself into such situations.
She never thought to be irritated with Frank. Irritated, yes, but not with Frank. She believed he had genuinely intended to make it back in time, even though the Spring Fling was not his first idea of a good time. She knew that he had wanted to do it for her and she had been grateful to him for that. He had already delayed the trip in order to spend some time with her. She knew he had planned to leave soon even before they had been invited to the Fling and he could hardly have put it off for another week. Kitty caught her lower lip between her teeth as her mind voiced the next thought. Why had he not returned? Knowing that he had intended to, she had to examine the possibility that something had happened to prevent it. Here, too, she had been before, so very many times. She was practiced enough to know she had to acknowledge the thought that something could have happened to Frank. She knew he had planned a hard trip, riding hard and fast, alone. There were so many possibilities.
Once examined, the thought would stay, but again, she had experience. She would put the thought to the back, as a pot set aside to simmer, but she would look forward. What now? She had no real reason to look into Frank's absence. It was not unreasonable for the trip to have taken longer than planned. She would have to live for awhile with that simmering worry.
First things first, she thought. Tonight, what about tonight? She knew the Spring Fling would be an irreplaceable opportunity for her and, if she intended to stay in Wichita, the introductions and connections made at an event like the Fling would be invaluable. She should go.
Alone? Unescorted? This was a problem. This was Wichita; not the biggest city in the world, but a city with an eye toward society. Had Frank not been with her, she could have made plans to arrive with Veronique and Franklin Saunders. That would have been not only acceptable, but beneficial to her purpose. Of course, it was far too late for that now. This wasn't Dodge and she wasn't known here. To show up alone would be unheard of.
She wouldn't enjoy it. Here, too, she had been before. It was one thing to be part of such an event when you had planned to do it without an escort. It was quite a different experience when it was not planned. She could put on the public face, act the part. She would even enjoy meeting some new people. She knew, though, that this required a level and type of energy that she would not easily come by. It would extract a price she was not ready to pay.
Kitty leaned her forehead against the now dark window pane, closed her eyes, and let the decision settle upon her. She knew she would not go. With only a glance toward the lights beyond the park, she moved away from the window. She took a slow drink from the glass, emptying it. She made a detour past the new suit hanging by the bedroom doorway, giving the suit jacket just a gentle brush of her fingertips as she passed on her way to the sideboard. She would not go. She would give the evening over to the past, sharing it with another glass of whiskey. She would cry a little; she would sleep. Tomorrow she would reach deep inside to find what she needed to once more look to the future, to tend the simmering worry, to move forward. She had been here before.
end chapter 14