“Don’t tell Maria about Ethel.”
Don’t tell mam how Ethel went silent one night. No longer crying, no longer wanting mam. She was sleeping, they would say to her when mam was trapped in her own bed. Little Joshua would watch afar as her breathing slowed with each ticking seconds.
"Come along, Joshy." Nina ushered him away from the door. They never allowed him to get too close to mam nowadays and he didn't understand why. Nina crouched down to his height and brushed his curls out of his face, "Let's go read a book, okay?"
"Ethel is okay now, right?" He dared asked. He clutched a shabby doll in his tight grip.
The girl sharply inhaled, her face got a pinched look before she smoothed it away. She pulled him into an embrace and patted her back, "Yes. She's alright now. E–" Her voice broke off briefly but she easily continued on, "She's taking a long rest." Nina held him away as she looked at his face, "Let's get you to bed, okay?"
Joshua only nodded and then he was ushered away from the room that held his mam. Ethel wasn't in her crib when they reached his room. His eyes lingered momentarily as Nina took the doll from his grip and placed it in the crib before tucking him in.
"Don't tell Maria about Ethel." She whispered, caressing his cheek. He didn't ask why, even though he wanted to. But he was tired of everything. He closed his eyes as she gently opened a ragged book and begun to read.
He didn’t ask where Ethel went. But he knew that mam will search for her soon.
Faraday gave his smoke a few more puffs before he discarded it. How many years has it been? He would say he didn't know, but that was a lie. He did know, he was good of keeping count after all.
He stared down at the patch of ground he knew by heart. He supposed he was a horrible son and brother to not have brought flowers. But he was never known to plan things beforehand. They could forgive him for that.
He was brought out of his brewing when an elderly lady came up beside him and placed flowers on top of the grave.
"Curious, aren't you, son?"
Faraday glanced up at her, taking in her features before humming nonchalantly, "I s'pose so. This place looked like it got an interestin' story." He looked back at the burned down establishment behind him.
The woman cracked a dry smile, "Ain't much of a story really. Just an incident a few years back, couple of drunk sapheads didn't like how the Madam there spoke to them and toss them out. They ended up setting fire to the building at the late of night."
"What happened after?"
She sighed wistfully at a memory as she rubbed one of her hand. He noticed that it was partly covered by burned scars, "The Madam was the first to be alert of the fire and managed the feat of getting everyone out. Except for one lass. The Madam went back inside to fetch her and by the time she found her, the fire had already eaten its' way up the stairs. She threw the lass out the window, she did and thankfully, the people caught her. The Madam was about to jump out herself and she ended up falling through the floor." She shook her head, "She didn't make it. And no one dared touch this place since."
"And what happened to the bastards that started the fire. Did they go free?"
She snorted, "The last I've heard, a bounty hunter that goes by the name of Sam Chisolm got to them, couple months back. July Bully and Powder Dan, heard of those folks?"
His lips curled into a knowing smile as he shifted on his other leg, "I s'pose I may have heard of them upon passin' the very town one of 'em was in."
"Serves them right." She nodded, "Deserve to rot above land for their sins." The woman set down another flower at the new looking grave beside the other two.
Catching his stare, she shook her head as she pointed to the other two graves, "Now those two, they died a long, long time ago. Sickness is an ugly thing. A ma and her baby, poor things."
He let out another hum of acknowledgment as he watched her add more flowers to the grave, "I don't know much, but m'sure these folks are gratefully to have you visit them."
She let out a little laugh, "Ain't no one else gonna do it after all these years."
He was about to respond when a voice called for him. They both looked back to see a figure waiting by the stables. Faraday tipped his hat at the woman, "That's my cue to go. Nice chattin' with you, miss."
"Hold on there, son!" She called out before he walked away for good, "I haven't caught your name."
He stood there pondering for a moment and then broke out into a mischievous grin, "They call me the World's Greatest Lover!"
Abigail watched as the man rode away with other men by his side with a knowing smile. She turned back to the graves and picked up her basket. Giving them one last look before she headed back home.