The liveryman looked back at Cotter’s large form disappearing into the house. He opened the palomino’s saddlebag and took out Cotter’s gun. He hefted it for balance and rolled the cylinder. He found four more loaded cylinders in the saddlebag. The pistol was well-oiled. He tested the single-action by cocking the hammer and releasing the trigger slowly so as not to fire the weapon. He looked at the horse and spoke softly to him in the empty barn after he replaced Cotter’s gun back in the saddlebag. “This is the gun of a shootist.” His smile made an opening in his black hairy mouth and he stroked his moustache. He looked at the horse again. “Just like mine.” The man laughed and the palomino moved back nervously.
“Please enter and be so kind as to use the foot scraper,” The house valet said.
Cotter moved his boots back-and-forth through the bristled foot scraper which removed road residues of mud, straw and horse droppings. When the domestic was satisfied he beckoned Cotter into the combination open foyer and living room. A fireplace to the left of the airy hall was clean from non-use during the summer months. A 12-lantern chandelier provided adequate lighting.
“You may proceed to the dining area. Please follow me, sir.”
Cotter followed looking the place over as he passed dark brown-brocaded parlor furniture. The dining room contained a long rectangular table with seating for twelve but tonight had place settings for only six. Five people were standing with small stemmed crystal glasses half filled with dark red liquid. They turned to face him as the servant announced his presence.
“Mr. Jacob Cotter,” He said with a slight bow to his employers. He turned around and left quietly.
After a short period of mutual inspection, a comely woman in her late thirties walked to Cotter and embraced him. She gave him an almost impalpable buss on the cheek. Her dark blue flounced floor-length dress prevented closer contact.
“Welcome back, Jacob dear.” She turned to others. “Everyone, I want to introduce my brother.”
Nancy Cotter Locke introduced Cotter to her husband Robert and proceeded to facilitate hand shaking between her brother Mathew and his wife Elizabeth Kindle Cotter. Nancy approached the remaining person with a cordial declaration and left them alone.
“Pamela Skyler? I just can’t place the name from when I was here last or growing up in New Haven.” Cotter looked into her black eyes admiring her pretty face with its slightly upturned nose.
“I’m from Boston. I moved down with my husband in late ’63–just before you and your father went into the Army. Otherwise I’m sure we would have met.” She sipped her glass of port wine and raised it slightly in silent toast to his presence. A similar glass of wine had been given to Cotter by the domestic upon his arrival.
“And where is Mr. Skyler tonight, may I ask?” He looked at her maroon dress. It was form-fitting in the front with a moderate bodice and the standard-style large bow behind which merged into a waterfall of flowing maroon fabric.
“He was killed in ’66 during the ‘disputes’.”
Cotter noticed the lack of emotion with the statement. The grief reaction is over. Well, it should be, it’s been over two-years. He sipped his port and swallowed. “Did you say ‘disputes’? I don’t understand. I’ve been away.”
“We came to join Mathew and Robert in consolidating the vineyards to our company, ‘Van Haven Wineries’. Most of the small wineries either joined or sold their places to us but some entered into a ‘dispute’ over losing their independence and identity of their brand name. A sort of war developed for a short time. Some of the vineyards succumbed to fire and a few owners met with accidents. My husband had an accident during a meeting to coax the residual vineyards to join us.”
“What kind of accident happens in New Haven?” Cotter followed her slow walk to the dining room table.
“He was struck down by falling timbers and an anvil during one of the fires. It was really an accident. He’d been meeting with one of the owners when a fire broke out and he ran into one of the buildings to help put it out. His head was struck by the falling roof beams and his head hit an anvil when he fell.”
“What a strange thing–falling beams and an anvil?”
“Indeed. It was unexpected and of course I was overcome with shock for a time. I decided to continue my husband Rockland’s business and stayed on.”
The seating seemed to happen naturally. Mathew sat opposite Nancy and Robert sat opposite Elizabeth. The arrangement left Cotter facing Pamela Skyler. As they became settled at the dining table, Mathew clinked his wine glass to begin an introductory remark for the dinner.
“I would like to formerly welcome you back to New Haven, Jacob. Shall we raise our glasses to reunion and prosperity on Jacob’s return and his endeavor to finalize his training as a physician?”
Glasses were raised and met across the table in short tinkling sounds. Mathew continued his monologue. “Jacob, we are indeed glad to have you back. When we heard father was killed and had no word from you we thought you’d been killed also. Nancy and I invested the family fortune in the land and in some local businesses. As you know from our letters right after the war, we had no money for you to continue your education.” Mathew paused and made an eye signal across the table to Nancy.
“We offered you a place in our wine business, Jacob. Why did you not take it?”
“Father and I discussed what I would do if I survived the war. The plan was to continue in medicine. During our travels we both became concerned in seeing the quality of medical care decreasing as towns and villages distanced themselves from the big city medical centers. Our plan was to leave the big city after completion of my training and set up a modern medical practice for the developing outlying communities. The amount of money you offered would not permit finishing my MD training nor see to the future father and I projected.”
“So what did you do Jacob Cotter?” Pamela Skyler intertwined her fingers on upright elbows resting on the table.
“I worked in law enforcement and was successful in collecting rewards from criminal apprehension.”
“I had no idea being a policeman was so lucrative.” Pamela smiled and her pause was a cue for him to continue.
“I wasn’t a policeman. My job was to track down criminals and bring them back to the arresting and prosecuting authorities.” There. It’s said. The ice is broken and life goes on–I hope.
“Do you think you’ll have difficulty getting back to medicine after an almost 3-year hiatus?” Robert Locke changed direction.
“I’ll find out in a few weeks. I resume my third year at Yale next month. In the meantime I’ve just about been living in the Yale Medical Library catching up. It’s coming back fast plus the changes and advances in surgery and medicine seemed to have paralleled what I learned and adapted to during the war when father and I were taking care of the sick and wounded.”
“Shall I begin serving, madame?” The interruption by the female domestic was welcomed by Cotter. Her remark was directed to Nancy.
“Yes, please.” Nancy looked at the approval nods from her guests.
Bread and cheese appeared very quickly along with a change of wine. Cotter moved the conversation to local politics and business in New Haven as the main course of cured ham and vegetables was served.
“New Haven is still a city full of Democrats, I see.” Cotter looked at Mathew for a response.
“The Republicans were okay in war but the Democrats are entrenched in New England,” Mathew said. “Small land owners and upper classes are needed for the large labor force. The labor group performs well if we’re also allied with the Democratic electorals.”
“I want to know where Jacob is living.” Pamela Skyler smiled at Cotter.
Cotter put down his fork and looked at the expectant faces. He knew his brother and sister were aware of his probing the purchase of available vacant farms. “I actually just bought one of the old vineyard places.”
“Are you going into the wine business? I thought you told us it wouldn’t pay.” Elizabeth Cotter sipped her wine after her question.
“No. I’m still going to Yale. I wanted a place that wouldn’t lose money when I graduated. It’s an investment property. I’ll clean it up, make it livable and in two-years sell it. In the meantime it offers privacy and solitude–the things required for me to delve back into my medical studies.”
“That’s good to hear.” Nancy also sipped her wine. “We were concerned about you being competition.” She looked up. “Oh, here comes dessert.”
The young woman set the tea service on a side table and poured for everyone. She came from the kitchen with two large apples pies. Both pies had blackened edges and sunken middles. There were seeds and parts of the cores still in the body of each pie. No one completed the dessert.
Nancy looked at her cook and server with disdain. She turned to her guests after the woman disappeared back into the kitchen area. “I must apologize. I had to get a new cook and housekeeper at the last minute. The woman I had was the best kitchen domestic and housekeeper I ever employed. She just up and resigned yesterday.”
Too bad, that’ll be the least of your problems now that I’m here. Cotter moved his chair back.The evening was over and everyone stood up. His coat appeared with the male servant as he got to the door. Pamela Skyler stood next to him as he waited for his horse.
“I enjoyed our evening Jacob. I hope we shall see each other again.” Pamela Skyler touched his hand.
“Yes, it was a more pleasant evening than I’d anticipated. I think your presence had something to do with the success of the get together.”
Cotter received his palomino and removed his holster and gun from the saddlebag. He put a finger into the trigger frame and lifted the pistol out three-inches and spotted the telltale fingerprints of trespass on the oiled gunframe. He strapped the rig on, tied down the holster around his right thigh and mounted his horse. Cotter looked over to the stable where the liveryman was standing. Their eyes met and Cotter sensed this man was a foe not to turn his back on. He gave Pamela a last farewell nod and rode off.
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