The Trunk: I
The train station overlooked a valley, in which spread the small village, most of it settling at the base of the valley in the form of several small streets branching out from the main thoroughfare. These small streets pooled in the center of the valley and trickled upslope in small rivulets at the edges of the town.
Once the train stopped, cargo and post were unloaded by men tossing them out of the doors of the rearmost cars. A few people stepped out of the passengers cars in front with a few others stepping on. Flint who had been sleeping was jilted awake by the stopping of the train. He was nestled in the straw of one of the freight cars in the back and shivered in the mountain air under worn, ill-fitting clothes. As he began to awake he immediately started to panic when he noticed the train stopped. Was this his stop? Was this Cripple Creek? How long had he been asleep? He poked his dirty face out the side to try and see a sign, but he saw nothing on the platform. He couldn’t tell where he was just by looking. He stepped out and ran down the platform hurriedly to ask a passenger, “What city is this?” The passenger pretended to ignore the unpleasant vagrant and moved away.
Flint approached the conductor, who hastily told him, “This is Deep Spring,” waving to the far end of the platform and stepping on the train as it began to pull away. Flint swore angrily. Cripple Creek was still more than an hour away, and he ran back towards his car.
As he ran, the conductor called after him, “What are you doing?” Flint tried to get on the train, but a station agent had emerged to restrain him. The station agent admonished, “Whatever are you doing there? You trying to get hurt? You can’t do that. You want passage, you got to get in one of the passenger cars, while the train is stationary.”
Flint broke free of the station agent and tried to run and catch the train again once he realized he’d left his bag on the train, but the train was already too far ahead. He slowed down and watched the train recede, swearing again with frustration as he stomped his foot and threw his hat to the ground. He had little in the way of possessions, but it was still just as bitter to lose all he had.
He walked back to the train station, and he asked the station agent, “When’s the next train coming through here?”
“The next passenger train is scheduled for tomorrow, 09:42,” the agent replied, “This is the only line.”
Flint swore again, now picking up his hat and asking the agent, “Where can I get a place to sleep the night here?”
“There’s a hotel down there in town. They can set you up real nice. I believe there’re a handful people advertising for boarders too. Go ask the postman.”
“I can’t afford none of that,” Flint said shaking his head, “I was traveling somewhere to find work, so I could earn some chink, which I don’t have.”
“That’s between you and yourself, then,” the agent said walking away, “I can’t help you.”
Flint started on his way into town. The road curved down to Clark Street, the main thoroughfare, which formed the heart of the village. This wide, dirt road saw a modest amount of foot traffic walking along its edges. In the center of the street, a covered carriage trotted forward while, in the opposite direction, a man led a packed horse. Several storefronts crowded into the center of town, fronted by garish signs and canvas awnings shading the wooden boardwalk. The many houses spread outwards from here in small meandering streets which extended up the slopes at the edge. Along one of these slopes, a small smelting plant discharged black smoke out of two tall stacks extending from its roof. Away from the city center, three major avenues radiated outwards, one towards the mines just to the east, another south towards the railway station, and one towards the village’s one great estate, where a large mansion looked from above over the village.
Two dancing girls waited out in front of a saloon called The Bugle Post beckoning Flint and everyone else who passed by. Flint was tempted to go in, but with nothing in his pocket he knew it would do no good.
He entered the small post office where a slender man asked in clipped words, “Can I help you?”
Flint approached the man meekly with hat in hand and explained to him, “I have to holdover in the city for the night. I was heading through to Cripple Creek, you see, where I heard there were some mining jobs and got trapped here. You reckon there’s a place around here where a feller could work himself for a night’s board?”
“Sorry sir. I don’t know of such a thing,” the postman said, “There is the hotel, The Clark House. And the saloon, The Bugle Post, has rooms. If you want something on the cheap, I believe Sam, who runs The Bugle Post, lets people sleep on the floor of his billiard room for a few bits. Better than a stable, I reckon.”
An older man entered the post office. “I have come here to collect Mr. Eberling’s mail for today, if you please,” the older man interrupted, speaking with fluid articulation. The man was dressed in an immaculately clean suit, a difficult feat to achieve in a dusty mining town like this. His tie was precisely tied, his hair crisply combed and fixed, without a strand astray.
“The train’s not as consistently on time as you, I’m afraid. I just got the mail, and I’m still sorting it. It’ll only be a couple of shakes,” the postman replied courteously, turning back to his mail sorting.
The older man remained there, stiff and motionless, but through the corners of his eyes he looked in Flint’s direction. Becoming more curious he started to turn his head towards him, looking at him with his full eyes, inspecting him. Flint noticed the leering stare and began again to fidget uncomfortably.
“Here you go Horatio,” the postman said as he turned back around and handed a few letters and a small package, “Say hello to Mr. Eberling for me.”
Horatio grabbed the mail and left, but he gave Flint another hard look as he walked away.
“Who was that?” Flint asked the postman.
“Horatio,” the postman said, “He’s Mr. Eberling’s man. Always punctual. Mr. Eberling hired him to keep things in perfect order, like a secretary-butler portmanteau. He’s very good at it. As for the rest of us, since we don’t have our own Horatio, we’ve got to do that ourselves, which is why I’m afraid I can’t sit here and talk with you.”
“Who is Mr. Eberling?” Flint asked.
The postman rolled his eyes with impatience, “Flush man who lives in the big house on the hill. He owns the mines and most of the land around here.” The postman then suggested, pointing in the direction that Flint had arrived from, “Look fella, how about you try going down to The Bugle Post. See if you can do some cleaning for Sam in exchange for him letting you sleep in there. That’s all I can say.”
“Thanks,” Flint said and he left the post office.
Flint followed down the boardwalk until he came once again upon the saloon with the two dancing girls in front. The two women smiled at him as he walked by, saying “Welcome, good sir.”
Inside was a modest tavern, with a lean man tending the bar. The man wore a white, striped button-down shirt with a pair of sleeve garters around his upper arms and an apron around his waist. Above his head three stuffed heads, of two elks and a moose, with large racks of antlers protruding from them, decorated the wall along with several framed photographic portraits spread at eye-level along the wall. A billiard table and a faro table were set up, both currently unused, along with several small, round tables, some occupied, arranged around the small stage opposite the bar. There was an upright piano next to the stage, where a man sat at the bench taking a break by gulping down a beer. And near the center of the room an enclosed stove with a black pipe extending up to the ceiling provided the only heat.
The lean man behind the bar looked Flint up and down and asked immediately, “You got any money?” Behind him several bottles of hard liquor were arranged in a row in front of a mirror, in which Flint caught a glimpse of his shabby appearance.
Flint sat down at the bar and looked up at the man and said, “No. You Sam?”
“Yeah,” Sam said. But as he got a good look at Flint he remarked, “Do I know you? You look like someone I know.”
“I’m looking for a place to sleep the night. I’ll work for a night’s lodging if possible,” Flint said.
Sam, though, didn’t seem to hear him. He was still thinking about how familiar Flint’s was and scrutinized it carefully. After a few moments, he shouted, “Crimany! Jasper! That’s who it is. Indeed! This is the most amazing thing.” And he reached across the bar and grabbed his hand to shake it vigorously, “Jasper, my boy! You’re back! Since when? It can’t be. You look so different. That beard does not become you.”
Flint recoiled a little in surprise and was at a loss to speak, but he replied honestly to the question, “I just arrived today. Fresh off the train.”
Flint tried to conceal the fact that he was more than a little confused.
“Take a drink!” Sam said, pulling out a glass and pouring out a glass of warm lager, “Do you want to take one of my girls upstairs? Dip your prick? All new lineup since you last came. The Jasper I remember could never say no. Though, you do smell like the first thing you ought to be dipping into is a bath, don’t you agree?” Flint hesitated uncertainly and didn’t say anything before Sam continued, “You do remember you’re pal Sam, don’t you?”
“It has been a while, but I remember,” Flint smiled and laughed uncomfortably, “Do you have a place for me to sleep tonight here?”
Sam looked at Flint oddly, asking, “What? Did your father kick you out of the house?”
“The house?” Flint asked, reluctantly.
“The house. Yes. The mansion would be more accurate. Where you live. That is, used to live.”
“Actually, I haven’t been up there since I arrived. Just here and the post office. I saw Horatio there.”
“Let me guess. He didn’t recognize you,” he said excitedly, “Ha! I knew it. It takes a keen eye, you know? Especially since it’s been so long. But give him another chance and he’ll recognize you. Particularly if you were to shave off that mangy beard. I’m sure he’ll recognize that clean cut smock-face of yours.”
Flint didn’t react in exactly the way Sam expected. Sam added, “I’m getting the sense that you’re hesitant. You really needn’t be. Whatever it was that caused you to leave in the first place, whatever bad blood it was, I’m sure it’s easily forgotten. Your dad has missed you. I know. Though that teetotaling mugwump never comes here, everyone says so. He’ll be glad to see you. Really! In fact, you ought not be here talking to me. Your dad has only so many days left in him. I’m proud that you decided to visit me before your father, but now that we’ve met, you really need to get up there.”
“Up there?” Flint asked, pointing in the direction of the mansion he’d seen.
“Yeah, up there,” Sam said with a laugh.
“Yeah. I reckon I’ll do that,” Flint said, still reluctant and uncertain, but trying to look sanguine, “But we’ll talk again soon.”
“No problem, Jasper,” Sam said, “I’m glad I could be of help.”
Flint couldn’t leave behind a full glass, and he picked the beer and gulped it down. He walked out the door, again passing the two dancing girls, who again smiled as he moved down the main street in the direction of the mansion.
Clark Street looked directly up towards the mansion, which rose on a hill above the rest of the city. It was a stately building--tall walls of red brick with white trim and a black roof, numerous large windows, multiple chimneys, and a many-gabled roof. To one side was a veranda, located beneath a second-story terrace, which was supported by a row of wooden, Corinthian-style columns. The driveway encircled a fountain edged by flowers and shrubs, and a porte-cochere extended over this driveway.
Flint entered the property through a tall, wrought iron gate. Flint crossed the drive and ascended the steps up to the large oak door hung with a great bronze knocker. He lifted the knocker to knock on the massive door, and a deep echo passed through the house.
Very promptly Horatio was at the door and in his prim manner, he asked, “May I help you, sir?”
Flint had quite expected, after having talked to Sam, that Horatio would’ve reacted differently, immediately recognizing him as this Jasper person and taking charge from there. At that, he was caught on his heals, and stammered uncomfortably, “I was looking for lodging for the night, if you could offer it to a poor vagrant such as myself.”
Horatio gave not the least visible sign of any acknowledgement, but he did say, “If you please come in, you may address your request to the master of the house.”
It was encouraging to Flint that he wasn’t immediately kicked out, which is the response he suspected would probably be the norm of a rich servant to a filthy beggar.
Flint followed Horatio as he led the way up a wide, curving stairway to the second floor. At the top of the stair a lanky, dark-haired female servant was hunched over, scrubbing the floor with a brush. As she saw a stranger approaching she stood up, lowering her eyes and holding her hands in front of her respectfully as she waited for him to pass. But as he got closer, she looked at him out of the corner of her eyes. After staring at him for a few moments she abruptly froze. She then for a moment forgot all decorum and reached out and pulled his filthy body against her for a hug. She pulled him against her and held him there silently. She had a small face with the milky skin of an indoor laborer and long straight hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Horatio gave her a minute. Then he cleared his throat and gently separated them, saying, as if in excuse, “Mr. Eberling needs to see him.”
Horatio found Mr. Eberling seated in his study, while a wealthy socialite from the women’s social club wearing a billowing dress leaned over his desk and laughed heartily as she talked to him. They had just finished discussing a charity fundraiser that Mr. Eberling intended to support and Mr. Eberling had injected some friendly banter in at the end before she was about to leave.
The woman straightened up as soon as she saw Horatio and the stranger at the door. She politely said goodbye to Mr. Eberling with a warm smile and curtsied quickly to Horatio as she passed him.
She said to him “I’m in a hurry, so I’ll ask Patrice to see me out. Good day,” and quickly left the room.
The study had wood paneled walls, decorated with oil paintings and topped with intricate crown molding. On the walls were several shelves of books inset into the wall, and on one side was a large fireplace. In the middle of the room Mr. Eberling’s large wooden desk strewn with papers sat between him and the men entering the room.
Mr. Eberling followed the woman out with his eyes and then looked to Horatio, now approaching with an enshadowed stranger behind him at the threshold. Horatio whispered into Mr. Eberling’s ear.
Mr. Eberling gestured for the stranger to come forward, telling him “Let us see you.”
Once Flint came closer and stepped into the light, Mr. Eberling rose feebly from his chair and looked on in amazement.
“Jasper?” Mr. Eberling asked incredulously. He examined the face as he walked towards Flint and said, “Is this Jasper finally returned?”
As he approached, looking at Flint more carefully he said, “I know this face. It is yours.” He smiled and laughed a little. He shouted excitedly. “It can’t be you. I never thought I’d see you again.”
Flint held back still stiff and uncertain. After waiting too long for Flint to speak, Mr. Eberling burst out, “Well, say something.”
After a moment of hesitation Flint said cautiously, “How can I deny it?”
Mr. Eberling leapt forward with an eagerness unbecoming the old man, pulling Flint entirely towards him with a huge hug, and grasping him with all his strength.
“This is so wonderful!” Mr. Eberling said quietly, looking up into Flint’s eyes, “How I’ve missed you. I thought you’d never come back.” Turning facetious, he added, laughing “You smell like you haven’t bathed since I last saw you. We’ll have to attend to that.”
After a pause, the smile fell and Mr. Eberling stepped back, admonishing, “Why did you come like this? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? And why’d do you leave me guessing all this time? Couldn’t you have sent a message? By wire, post, carrier pigeon. Anything, rather than leave me in the dark.”
He leaned back waiting for Flint to say something, “Well speak up boy! Don’t you have something to say to your father?”
Flint warmed up with a big smile and looked at Mr. Eberling and said, “It’s great to be here.”
“That’s all you have to say?” Mr Eberling asked. Then he sighed and conceded, “I’ll leave the questions for later. Don’t think you’ll be avoiding them. I have many. But let us have you cleaned up first. Unless you’re famished. We can eat now. My God, you’re so skinny. Maybe you ought to eat first.”
“I’ll bathe first,” Flint answered, supposing that this would be what this Jasper person would say in this situation.
Flint tried to walk away, but Mr. Eberling continued to hold onto Flint’s hand and still examined him carefully. “I’m hesitant to let you even out of my sight lest you run away again,” He admitted. “But I’ll let you alone while you bathe,” he conceded, releasing his hand, “As soon as you’re ready we’ll meet in the dining room and parley.”
Just as Flint was leaving, Mr. Eberling stopped him and looked at him again and said, “I thought I’d never see you again. It’s really you.”
Horatio led Flint out of the study asking, “Are you certain you want to bath before we dine?” Flint’s stomach grumbled fiercely, but he nodded. Horatio added, “I had thought I recognized you when I first saw you, but I was not certain. It was absolutely necessary that I present you to your father first. He would not be mistaken. Especially since it has been several years, and you are so pale and slender. And with that beard you have, you look quite altered. I’m used to a clean-shaven stout man in his sparkling suits. That being said, it is really wonderful to have you back. Like your father, I am immensely eager to hear what has happened to you in the interim.”
Horatio led him to a tiled bathroom, where a tub was set in the middle. Over the course of several trips from the kitchen, he filled the tub with water, bucket-full by bucket-full. Flint stepped into the warm water and, upon settling into it, felt as if months of grime peeled away.
Horatio offered to shave his face, but Flint declined. It felt like a mask to Flint, something that if trimmed away would surely reveal to these people that he and this Jasper person looked completely different. Horatio insisted that he must at least trim it, since it had become overgrown and haggard. Flint allowed this, and Horatio trimmed the beard with scissors and touched the razor to the edges, sharpening the lines. Horatio insisted that he must trim his hair, which was overgrown and knotted. Flint permitted him to trim it a little, even as he felt that the closer they brought his external appearance to the Jasper they knew, they more evident the differences would start to become. Horatio brushed through the wiry hair and trimmed the long curls that puffed outwards atop his head, laying his hair flat.
Thank you for reading my JukePop serial! It’s readers like you that help keep my serial alive.
If you enjoy it, also check out my other novels, The Elixir of Flesh and The History of a Secret, available at Amazon.