Sometimes folks arrive in Hellsgate, not entirely sure why they came. Or how how they got there. Or when they left home, if they had even done so.
Margaret and Charles Winslow were one such pair. Newlyweds, they had been traveling to Chicago by rail. They were roused from their sleep by the conductor, who announced their arrival at the final stop. They would find their bags outside, he said, leading them from the train.
When the Winslows stepped outside, however, they found themselves face to face with cracked and peeling Jackson Saloon. The young couple turned to object at once that this was not Chicago but the conductor was gone. As was the train and any sign of the tracks.
“Well,” Margaret straightened her shoulders and stood tall, “one must make the best of circumstances. Let’s find lodgings and figure out how to sort this out.”
“Ever the optimist,” Charles grumbled, following his wife as she marched on The Jackson, he dragging their trunk along behind him. He could feel dozens of pairs of eyes upon him though he saw no one on the street on this late afternoon.
“Barman. Barman!” Margaret called out, waving as she crossed the table-laden floor of the saloon itself. A few shady characters occupied seats. Margaret would, at this point, find it strange that she could not remember them well enough to describe even one of them later.
A withered old black man, wiping out glasses with a questionable towel, stood behind the bar. He nodded slowly as Margaret approached.
“Sir,” she threw her shoulders back once more, “could you direct us to the train station? Somehow there’s been a mix up an we need to return to Chicago, Illinois.”
The barkeep narrowed his eyes for a moment before nodding at the woman once more. Recognition dawned on him as he chewed the words, “No train station in Hellsgate, ma’am.”
“Then how did-? But we… we arrived by rail! Just now. I swear on the Holy Book.”
“Oh, that’ll happen from time to time,” the barkeep nodded. “Best just accept it – you’re residents of Hellsgate now. May as well figure out some way to pass the time and make yourselves useful to the town.”
“Why that’s just silly. Don’t folks ever leave Hellsgate?”
“Sure. All the time. But never in ways you can come back from.”
Margaret swallowed hard. A woman of the Good Book, she understood very well what the dry old barkeep meant.
“I suppose we’ll need lodgings, then, my good sir.”
“First night’s on the house for new folk,” the barkeep spat in (Margaret hoped) a vessel behind the bar. “You can call me Shoeleather. Call if you need anything.”
Charles arrived at the bar, huffing and dusty from the haul. He dropped their things, only to have them swept away by two silent young men. He watched the trunks as they were carried upstairs to a room with a yellow door. The two boys didn’t reappear immediately, causing Charles a little distress.
“Shoeleather?” Margaret blinked in surprise. “What a dreadful nickname. I’ll have none of it. What did your mother call you?”
“Oh, much worse thing,” Shoeleather smiled a moderately-toothed grin at the Winslows, eventually sweeping his hand toward the stairs to their room.
“I suppose I’ll have to contact the sheriff or whomever tomorrow and see what we ought to do about being stranded here,” Charles paced across their cramped room, wringing his small hands. “Oh, and I shall have to write to cousin Frederick about our delay. I hate to disappoint him.”
“Cousin Frederick can take his dull little shop and drop it into the ocean for all I care, Charles,” Margaret stood suddenly, stopping Charles mid-pace. “We will open our own harberdashery here in, hrmm, in Hellsgate.”
“But, wife of mine –“
“Don’t you ‘wife of mine’ me,” she scolded, “I will show this strange little town that there’s nothing a good hat cannot fix.”