It was the fifth time in as many nights that he had had the dream. Preston lit a candle and found with distaste that his hands were shaking.
He did not know how long he could go on like this. Clearly his mind was not strong enough to control his wild imagination. By the dim glow of the night lamp, this begged a question that he would almost never ask himself in daylight – who could he turn to? If I stay like this or get worse, who can I turn to?
With no answer presenting itself, he could do nothing but refuse to give the nightmare another chance to find him again. Preston found a robe and made his way to his desk, hoping that working on his correspondence would calm him. Business was going well this month, but what better time than now to personally remind wealthy former lodgers that here was a place where they could recuperate from their hard work?
The first letter to a banker in Denver came out a bit shakily. He would have to decide come daylight if it needed to be rewritten. The second letter became formal and short enough that the same message might fare better if sent by telegraph.
By the fourth, Preston’s hand no longer shook. Nightmares or not, I have the bank and I have the Chateau. People always need rest and money.
Forsaking his responsibilities in town was not an option. He left before Andrew arrived, while even the Thistletwaites were still in bed. Letting his horse trot as it wanted, he could not help wonder what he had narrowly avoided voicing to himself the day before. Will anyone be able to gather that my sleep is… continues to be… troubled? It would do no good at all if people saw Preston A. Lodge III rattled. The name was the man was the bank.
Thus it was with a healthy sense of trepidation that he inclined his head to the Sheriff and entered Mr. Bray’s shop to see if the morning train had brought his new hat. The man’s, “Preston, how are you today?” was perfectly amiable with none of the mischievous observer’s barb behind the question.
“Perfectly fine, thank you, Mr. Bray.” Judging from Mr. Bray’s face Preston must have managed to keep his tone and expression sufficiently composed. No skeptical look crossed Mr. Bray’s face as it would have had anything about Preston struck him unusual.
Taking the hat, which had indeed arrived, into his hand and looking into the mirror the old man held up, the face peering back at him looked tired. Hopefully it is because I know there is something to look for. The hat however fit him as perfectly as he had thought when he had placed the order. If the man underneath was a little under the weather, well, then the evidence would be obscured.
He handed Mr. Bray the ten dollars the workmanship was absolutely worth and pointedly tipped the result of self same, receiving a smile at a transaction well done. The customer who came in as Preston turned to go hardly spared him a glance.
Perhaps there is nothing to be seen.
Diverting from routines was out of the question and so Preston spent several hours at the bank before he went to inspect the Gazette offices as he did every other day. “I am giving the article on the alleged extortion case front page space,” said Dorothy with a weight put to ‘alleged’ that clearly expected his protest. “I spoke to the man’s wife. It is my responsibility to inform the public that the story has more sides.”
It took Preston longer than it should have to recall what she was even talking about. Another sign that he was not quite himself. I should have remembered this. She asked me for information on the man’s financial standing two days ago.
“I am certain our readers will appreciate your integrity,” he said and remained unconcerned at her suspicious look. If she was irritated, believing he mocked her, he could conclude this meeting without having her probing investigator’s eyes turned on him.
“As well they should,” she sniffed. Preston held up his hands in an officious show of supplication.
“How much do you imagine it will pull up the sales?” he asked. A furtive smile slid across Dorothy’s face. I might miss this once she has finally bought out all my shares.
As he walked out, he was amazed that, going by the Gazette at least, five armed robbers holding up a train had already been replaced in people’s minds.
Preston was back at the hotel by the time the mid-day train arrived. Being at the station to welcome them to Colorado Springs was appropriate when expecting select guests, but with a party of five crowding the coach, being greeted by the proprietor at the ‘Springs Chateau and Health Resort’ itself would have to suffice.
Andrew met him outside. They had been forewarned that the newly and rather abruptly retired Mr. Ment might require immediate medical attention.
Preston had on his new hat and a smile on his face as he bowed over ladies’ hands and shook hands with the men. All but two rooms occupied for the foreseeable future.
“This is the first time in twenty years we have gone on so strictly a vacation,” confided Mrs. Ment, which explained partway why she and her in-laws seemed so gratifyingly taken in by their surroundings.
Her brother and his wife chatted with Preston while Andrew led Mr. Ment into the clinic, likely recommending daily walks as he had to the Thistletwaites. Looking for it as he was, Preston was certain the newcomers had no suspicion that the man promising them the stay of their lifetime was something of a nervous wreck who had hardly slept in a week. Good.
Andrew had not looked at him particularly inquisitively, either. Preston told himself it showed the man was focused on his actual patient, and it was just as well he had not shown weakness in front of his staff.
Back in bed that night, he found himself incapable of sleep. He contemplated finding a bottle of brandy but dismissed the idea quickly enough. His tendency to have unpleasant dreams without further provocation on those rare occasions he overindulged greatly diminished the chances of solace being found that way. It doesn’t bear thinking about where my mind might take me if it’s already in a state.What was more, even on his worst day Preston judged himself a better man than Jake Slicker. He would not risk being called out for the convenience of one of his guests – however unlikely that was to happen – and be caught drunk. I will not allow myself to sink that low.
Perhaps it was because he was shying away from a vice that he briefly thought of seeking out Reverend Johnson for guidance. At least I could be reasonably certain he would keep my business to himself. Yet there had been too much strife between them for Preston to feel comfortable at the idea. Asking about something he read in the Bible as a way to make a point? Certainly. Inquiring for the deeper meaning behind something one of the Reverend’s sermons referenced, surreptitiously distancing himself from a perceived slight against his profession? Every other month. Revealing a deep, personal fear? No donation I could issue would be charitable enough to erase such a moment.
Giving up on sleep, he lit a candle and sought out his desk once again. Might as well start my bi-weekly letter to Mother now.
Including the fact and the reason he was writing in the middle of the night was unthinkable. Causing her worry could only jeopardize her health.
’It pleases me to report that Mr. Nunham is continuously satisfied with the Chateau’s location and comfort,’ he wrote instead, then recounted a conversation he had had with Mr. Thistletwaite at dinner. There was a chance that the absence of any real news about himself might alert her that something was wrong, but Preston had long since outgrown revealing most personal matters even to her. She had not read that he had been genuinely scared for his life, did not even know about the now faded bruise above his left collarbone. He would not make himself a little boy now. If word somehow got back to Father… He would never be able to call himself a Lodge again.
It took effort to get up and go about his day in the morning. The Thistletwaites had already gone on one of their walks. Preston ate breakfast at the Chateau and after a brief conversation with Andrew agreed to take Mr. Nunham and Mrs. Allerby into town in the coach.
Driving himself turned out to be a good decision. Mrs. Allerby had been here long enough to no longer expect a tour guide, and so Preston was hardly required to participate while the other two talked between them. Since Horace Bing rarely looked at him most days, he still expected his facade to hold when he went to see if there had been any messages.
“Preston!” a voice called out as he exited the telegraph office. Preston looked up to see the Sheriff walking toward him. He took care to step away from Horace’s doorstep enough that they would not be overheard.
“I thought it might interest you that the date for the trial has been set,” Daniel informed him. “Seems the only reason they didn’t before is they wanted to see if the bastard survived.”
Preston let an unpleasant smile cross his face, careful not to seem too invested. “Well, it will be good for the driver’s widow to see the gentlemen hanged.”
So far nobody had asked for Preston to come to Denver and publicly repeat his testimony. Daniel made no mention of it now. This rather confirms what I have believed this last month. The Sheriff did not know what had happened to Preston on that train, only that he had been on it.
Leaning back in Jake’s barber’s chair in hope of feeling invigorated after a haircut and a shave, he thought he might have told the man of Daniel’s news had he been a stranger. Aren’t real barbers supposed to listen to anything that takes their customer’s fancy?
Even though Slicker no longer owned a share to the Gold Nugget, Preston had no illusion that Jake respected him enough to preserve his privacy from a rival. “How is your house coming along?” he inquired to ward off the risk of Jake picking a topic or worse, falling asleep. It could never hurt to appear interested while subtly reminding Jake that he owed his future to the now paid-off loan from the bank.
As he re-donned his hat, he entertained the thought of going to see one of Hank’s girls now that he was all freshened up. Not that he would ever mention aloud the leap his mind had made while talking about Jake’s wife. However, being on somewhat civil terms with Slicker is one thing, giving any kind of business to Lawson is quite another.
Besides, some of the girls were still in contact with Myra. While Preston certainly was not responsible for any unwise financial decisions the Bings might have made when the bank had first opened, nor for Horace’s trouble with being married to a working woman, pretending that he did not know her friends loathed him seemed like too much effort.
Prompted by a faint trace of hunger, he decided to talk to Grace and see if she could be persuaded to take a commission for the special birthday meal he might have already promised to Mr. Nunham.
In the afternoon Preston joined the Thistletwaites on their day’s second walk in the hope of fresh air equaling better sleep. Another failure, he predicted, approaching the Chateau in time for dinner. As he was sitting in on the evening’s musical diversion and bestowing gallant attention to Mr. Ment’s elderly sister, thoughts of the trial and whether he ought to attend or not started filling his mind.
He dreaded the solitude of his own rooms. The place by the piano that he retook after the guests had retreated to their chambers was only marginally better.
Preston had thought that Andrew had left as well, after seeing to Mr. Ment one last time, but as Preston was about to doze off despite himself, Andrew was suddenly there, lowering himself opposite Preston with two of the Chateau’s crystal tumblers.
“Something my father wrote had me consulting my books and do you know what I discovered?” he asked. Preston, far too tired to be proper company to someone who was after all an employee, shook his head. Andrew smiled ruefully. “Mr. Ment is the two-hundredth patient whom I have treated since coming to Colorado Springs. That is, without taking over treatment from or consulting with Dr. Quinn. Or working jointly with the future Dr. Cooper-Cook.” If possible, the warmth in his voice upon mentioning his fiancée was even more apparent than Jake Slicker’s had been. “Considering it was you who gave me the opportunity to start out on my own, I thought it appropriate to ask for a toast.” He nudged the amber concoction a little closer to Preston’s hand.
“To independent work, then,” Preston said, letting his glass hover in the air for a moment and then taking a sip.
Cognac, one of the best Mr. Bray has on hand. Is there something else in it? Preston took another sip to confirm – yes, he was certain of it. So the good doctor has found me out. Two sips. Three. Already he felt his nerves calm.
He waited for Andrew to pry, to make guesses or ask outright questions, but the man merely, if belatedly, repeated “To independent work,” expression pleased and perfectly guileless.
They finished their drinks in companionable silence.