A/N This has spoilers for Deadwood Season 2 & 3
This is from a project of imagining what a Season 4 would have been like.
Deadwood and its inhabitants are recovering from a fire that burned most of the town.
The Schoolhouse Leap
Ironically, the ashes and wood chips had soaked up some of the nastier puddles of the thoroughfare. Walking through town was no less filthy, but at least the ooze didn't pull at one's shoes quite as much.
Alma smoothed Sofia's hair one last time before walking her into the school. Fewer children than usual today, she noticed. Some of the older ones would still be out helping their families start to rebuild and reclaim. Some were waiting to be picked up by Mr. Udder, their parents too busy to walk them to school.
She stiffened without thinking as she saw Martha Bullock behind her teacher's desk, then made herself relax. Martha was a good woman, and had shown that she had a kind heart and forgiving nature, although Alma wondered if she knew all there was that needed to be forgiven.
Alma had no template for navigating her relationship with Martha, and she expected Martha didn't, either. Back in New York, there would have been whispered "do's and don'ts" from both of their groups of friends. Here, though…for better or for worse, the Deadwood code of social behavior had barely evolved beyond "don't shoot anyone in a place of business not your own".
"Mrs. Bullock. Good morning."
Martha ran a hand over her smoothed braids. "Good morning, Mrs. Ellsworth." She bent down to speak with Sofia.
"Good morning, Sofia. We have a special guest today. Miss Jane has agreed to show us all how to tie some knots and explain their function."
She straightened as Alma nodded at Sofia to go find her seat.
"Mrs. Bullock, I wonder if we might talk privately for a few minutes before class starts. We saw Mr. Udder on our way and it looked as though he was still gathering up children."
Martha felt a bit wary, but surely Mrs. Ellsworth had more compassion than to start anything….unpleasant right before the school day. And if she did, (not always being a paragon of good sense), Martha had it in her to firmly end the conversation.
"Certainly, for a few minutes." She guided Alma to a bench in the small back yard of the schoolhouse, reminding the children present to talk quietly while waiting on the others.
Alma felt as if she were about to leap across a wide flowing creek—probably within her ability, but not without risks.
"Mrs. Bullock, things will be very unsettled in town for a while. I know you're aware of that, as you've kindly taken in several displaced persons, as have I."
"Yes, Mrs. Ellsworth, I agree. Those of us who have lives and families intact owe generosity to those who are less fortunate." Up to a point, she thought.
"And those who—" she sighed. "Mrs. Bullock, I apologize. What I have been taught as polite discourse is often unsuitable for the circumstances in which we find ourselves out here."
Martha raised an eyebrow. "Please, Mrs. Ellsworth, speak plainly. I won't take offense to a more practical way of discussion, if it allows greater brevity."
"Very well." Alma drew a deep breath. Time for leaping. She wished she could close her eyes, but settled for looking past Martha's shoulder.
"I was in a relationship with Mr. Bullock, before you came to camp, as I believe you know. That relationship resulted in a pregnancy, which I lost, which I also believe you know."
Martha's skirts rustled as she shifted on the wooden bench. "I…"
"Please. Mrs. Bullock. I think you need to hear this."
Martha stilled, glancing once at her watch.
"I have not been…intimate with Mr. Bullock since you and William came to camp. I have no desire to ever be with him in a..physical or emotional sense again. Every tender feeling which he is capable of having, every feeling of…passion, it is my fervent wish that those be for you.
"And I know that sounds presumptuous, but I also know that his feelings of responsibility towards me may cause him to insert himself in my affairs." She knew she was blushing now, could feel her face flame. She pressed on, not looking at Martha.
"I want you to know that I will be actively discouraging him from trying to guide or protect me in any personal way. We will all need to work together as the town pulls back together, and ignoring each other isn't practical. But I want you to know that I would have all his loyalty placed with you."
Both waited silent, air heavy. There was still something left unsaid.
Alma finally met Martha's eyes, and risked reaching out her hand.
"And Mrs. Bullock, I am so sorry for my part in causing you unhappiness. You deserved better."
Alma had thought this speech would be horribly painful, and shameful, and sad. Instead, she felt lighter, stronger inside. However Martha chose to take this, Alma felt rightness to her words. She waited.
Martha took her hand in a firm grasp.
"I accept your apology."
Alma nodded, waited.
"Seth is my husband. In all ways."
"Yes, Seth is your husband. In all ways."
Both women's eyes shone with unshed tears, for different reasons.
"And we will cleave to each other, and we will forsake all others."
""And you will cleave to each other, forsaking all others forever."
It was easier than she thought, to say out loud that she would put to rest all wistfulness and fantasies.
Martha squeezed Alma's hand.
"I would have you as a friend, Alma, without doubt and old hurts interfering. I think it would be good for both of us."
Could it be this easy, both women silently wondered? The betrayals, the late-night weeping, the questioning…could all that be changed in one conversation?
Then they thought of the sacramental conversations that had changed their lives in the past. The "Will you?'s and the "I will's"". Sometimes, everything can change, with one conversation.
Alma squeezed her Martha's hand in turn.
"I would be grateful for an…unencumbered friendship with you. I accept, with a great deal of gratitude," and she surprised herself with a laugh, "and an equally great deal of relief."
Martha rose. She could see Mr. Utter helping the children to hop out of his buckboard. Alma rose as well, hoping that Martha could feel the sincerity in her heart.
"Mrs. Ellsworth, I think we could do great things together, for the town."
Alma looked at Martha's honest smile that reached her eyes. Seth has a good woman, and I can be happy for him in that. That will be my gift to him. My parting gift.
"Mrs. Bullock, I think you are absolutely correct."
A breeze swirled a few ashes around their feet. The camp rang with new beginnings and fresh wood.
Two formidable women walked, straight-backed and smiling, to their tasks of the day. Others might think it odd that they be friends, but at that moment, it made perfect sense to them.