I have refreshitis....
I go clean 30min, stop & hit refresh..... but no story... no break... boo hoo
I have refreshitis....
I go clean 30min, stop & hit refresh..... but no story... no break... boo hoo
Lynn mom to 10 and counting
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. — George Bernard Shaw
He got up off the ground where he’d been sitting and then started to come towards me. I wasn’t born with half a brain no matter how I sometimes acted and tried to move out of his way.
In frustration he said, “Enough. Just … just let us sit over there. We need to talk and I mean to have my say.”
“Over there” was an old log that had been split in half long ways and made into a bench. The wood was so old and hard that not even the bugs bothered with it so the only thing I had to deal with was the damp and lichen that covered the flat surface like puffy cushions.
When we were both sitting, him on one end and me on the other, he said, “I did not choose this.”
“So I’ve been told by the Captain and Winnie. They even said you’d react like this. I think they were hoping you wouldn’t but they’re smart enough to know that hope ain’t enough to make something so.”
This time it was a question. “You didn’t chose this either?”
“Choice? I had no choice in this all the way back to when my town used me and my crèche sisters to pay the debt they had built to your Kipling. The way it was told to me maybe even before that as your Council worked it so that no one else would help my town and that they would have to pay at least some of their debt in marriage aged women.”
In a disgusted tone he said, “That certainly wasn’t my idea.”
“No. The Captain told me you were smart enough to fix it so you’d not have to do such a thing on your run to the Southern Region.”
He looked at me sharply. “And you believed him?”
I shrugged. “The Captain has never given me a reason to think him anything other than an honest man.”
Cor fell silent again for a few moments. When it looked like he couldn’t find the path he wanted to take I just sat there and let him take his time but was ready to move if he turned on me again. “You really don’t know what this place is do you?”
“This cabin. It is was used for …” He stopped and sighed. “Every wife is supposed to have their own living space. The early Corman men found it was better if their wives were separated not just by walls but by land, that each would have some bit that was theirs and theirs alone. Dotted throughout the estate are the remnants of cabins built for the other multiple wives … some seemed to need more space than others. This is the only one that still stands and it just happens to be the one that is closest to the main house.”
My pleasure in the place was lost. I doubt I would ever be able to come and find the same kind of peace on this spot again. It must have showed on my face because he said, “It’s a likely spot no matter what it started out being. Other members of the family have lived here over the years. There used to be a lot more children and they needed places to raise their own families.”
I shrugged. What was I supposed to say? I knew the history, I just didn’t want to be a part of a repeat. I looked over and saw him hunched over his hurts like he had a belly ache and suddenly felt something I hadn’t expected to feel. I didn’t pity him, he annoyed me too greatly for that, but I realized I could feel a little sorry for him. “Do you mean to fight or give in?” I asked.
In a voice dripping with sarcasm he said, “I have a responsibility to the family. I’m the leader.”
It was obvious the Captain had already been at him. I shrugged, “That don’t tell me nothing.”
Sitting straighter and snapping his said, “I have higher responsibilities than my own desires. If it was only me you could rot for all I care but a lot of people are dependent on the estate and surrounding farms for their sustenance and support. If I don’t allow this to happen there are some that will use my father’s debts to destroy the Corman family, I’ll lose control of the estate, and in the process other people that depend on me will get hurt.”
“We both know that for a fact but that’s still not what I’m asking.”
“Then stop your prattling and spit it out,” he snarled.
I sighed. The man was even more prickly than I was and that was saying something. “There are things we can’t change. There are things we can change but to do so would hurt others unnecessarily. There are things that are completely out of our control through no fault of our own. It’s not fair but neither is life. But …”
“But that doesn’t mean we have to just roll over and let them turn us on their spit and cook to their pleasure. They tell me you’re smart … real smart, not just book smart. If I’ve thought of ways to get partially around this situation surely when you slow your anger down you can think of some more.” He looked at me with distrust. I told him, “No need for that. It was Winnie and the Captain that explained things and you know they wouldn’t do you harm. I know what your father was and the grief it brought. My own Da was some different than yours but that don’t mean I can’t understand some of what you must have gone through.”
“We’ll not speak of that,” he told me firmly.
“Fine by me. What your Da would do if he were here doesn’t have to have anything to do with what you chose to do. What we chose to do if we were to … to … well … be friends of a sort.”
When he got a disgusted look on his face I did as well. “I ain’t talking about that kind of friendship. As sick as it obviously makes you imagine me at the idea of being the ‘other woman’ when the first one is your little Francine. She’s so weak she can’t even seem to take care of her own underlinens and the way she is would make folks taking her part want to burn me at the stake.”
“Do not malign my wife.”
I chose my words with extreme care. I had my opinion of Francine and her tricks but if Cor was blind to them nothing I could say would make him see. But we had to get a few things out of the way or nothing would come out of this whole mess but more mess.
“It ain’t maligning if it’s the truth,” I told him. “I don’t want to fight over it but you have to see the only reason they were able to put me here is due at least in part because of the way she acts.” The shake of his head was only half-hearted and I decided it would have to be enough and let it go.
After a moment of staring off into the trees he finally turned his gaze on me and asked, “So what am I missing that you see? How do we get out of this … situation?”
“We can’t, not all the way. Not if you are going to save your family and your place here. We are both being used as chew toys by you Council. On the one hand we got people that are turning too ambitious to make things comfortable, ambition that if not curtailed will change the face of the whole region. On the other, we have those that are set on maintaining the status quo; some because it keeps the balance and some because they are simply afraid of being lorded over by someone with too much power.”
“Then what are you proposing woman?” he asked showing his frustration again.
“Well, it can’t be too dramatic or it will draw notice where we don’t want it. But we have to be strong enough that those that want to manipulate you can’t gain a purchase and cause cracks to grow and weaken your plans which is what I think the Lathrops might be after as much as they are after to make their ways the ways of the whole region.”
“Even if I concede the points to you, what you’ve said still doesn’t say how we do this.”
It was now or never to make the leap. “Well for one … well … they can call us whatever they want but … but that doesn’t mean that … that we have to be what they call us.”
Irritated he asked, “And what by the Great Conflagration is that supposed to mean?”
I knew I could ruin this with one wrong word. “They already call me your wife but we both know … even Jonah has mentioned … that you … er … haven’t bedded me.” I could see the anger in his eyes again so I rushed on. “It doesn’t sound like that is what you want and not to hurt your feelings any but the idea of it makes me want to run and go puke in them bushes. But it’s been my experience that people pretty much think what they want to think no matter what the facts really are. When someone calls you a wife they pretty much think there is a husband in the picture and that the husband is being … husbandly if you get my meaning. So we let ‘em think what they want … but keep the true facts to ourselves.”
He didn’t exactly look like I’d hit him in the face with a pan but it was close. “So you’re saying we should lie about it.” Rearing up he said, “I’ll have you know I made a vow of faithfulness to Francine. I won’t ruin my honor by word or deed.”
I shook my head. “You know if I didn’t know you were a man fully growed I’d wonder at your naiveté. Your Francine is one of the ones that has been pestering the life out of you to take another wife and don’t bother to deny it, I’ve heard it from her own lips what little she actually speaks to me.”
Not wanting to admit the truth he said, “It’s the only life she has known.”
I shrugged. “So? She married you and said she agreed to take on your way of life but since day one she’s been trying to force her way of life on you. And she worked with her family to get her way and don’t think she wasn’t part of it. Had she objected it would have been a lot harder for her family to have done what they did.”
Shaking his head he said, “She’s too sweet and loves her family too much to deny them anything. It’s just that she knows that … that … Look, she’s not blind to the fact she was never taught to do some of the things that have been expected of her as my wife. If the estate was better off she would have never been put into the position she’s in.”
There are none so blind as those that will not see. I told him, “Even saying you’re correct it doesn’t make what she’s done right. The road to hell is paved with lots of good intentions my Gran always said. I won’t judge her but it wouldn’t have been all that hard to get Mary or Winnie or even Mona or someone else to teach her what she needed to know. She made the choice not to learn. And quite frankly it has left you in a fix.”
He fought the truth but it surprised me some that after a few moment he gave a short nod and admitted, “Aye, it has. She’s like a child at times and it makes it even more important that I protect her.”
Grrr. Two steps forward and one step back. Whatever, it was his choice. “So at least you can see letting people call me your wife isn’t going to hurt her feelings since she is one of the ones that wanted it in the first place. And the rest we can just keep to ourselves.”
He looked at me and I could see he was trying to control his disgust which should have made me angry but in reality made me want to laugh. He had no idea that I felt much the same for him but at least I had the sense to know that sometimes you just had to take what life dished out.
“Do you even know what you are saying?” he asked. “They’ll expect me to … to spend nights in your bed. Even Francine has said …”
He trailed off but I didn’t say anything. I had the sudden impression that more than anything had caused him some confusion and hurt since likely the idea of sharing her with anyone made him want to tear something and make it bloody. Quietly I answered, “No one said it would be easy. Not for you. Not for me. We just let them think whatever their desires lead them to think … and instead we read or play chess or sew the holes up in underdrawers or something like that.”
A bark of surprised laughter was his response. It was loud enough to scare a grouse out of the brush and without thinking I threw the knife I had and then limped over to wring the bird’s neck so it wouldn’t suffer. I was tired of dried beef and pork and grouse pie sounded pleasing for supper.
I turned to find him looking at me in a strange way. “You’ve had that knife the whole time?”
“Well sure. Don’t tell me you walk around alone and unarmed.”
“That’s not the point.”
Then I wondered. “The Captain never said there was a rule against females carrying blades.”
“There’s not,” he admitted.
“Then what did I do wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing. But you could have used it against me at any time.”
“Oh is that all. Honestly. Look, my skin and the Captain’s good opinion is worth more to me than what they would have done should I have killed you dead.”
He gave me an even stranger look and asked, “You hunt?”
“I’ve only had time to do a little; that house of yours has been a right awful mess to clean not to mention all the cooking and washing. But Jonah’s passing strangeness has helped with some of it.”
Curious against his better judgment he asked, “You see Jonah as strange?”
“Oh sure. My Da taught me that if you kill a beast it is your responsibility to clean it for the cook. I tried to explain that to Jonah but all he’ll say is that my Da isn’t here and to give it to him and stop fussing. He says that about a lot of things.”
Cor sighed and nodded, “Strangely enough Jonah used to say much the same thing to me once upon a time. ‘Your Pa’s no here lad so stop yer noise.’”
I turned away so he wouldn’t see how surprised I was to feel like smiling. I’d come into the woods expecting a fight at the least and possibly getting hammered on. Smiling just didn’t seem like the right way to end it.
It was his own confusion that saved me from showing mine. “I … I need to think … and see Francine. She’s is probably worried sick.”
I nodded my relief that our first meeting was soon to be over. To add even more reason I said, “And knowing the Captain he is waiting for a full report and if he doesn’t get one soon he’ll come in after us.”
We didn’t exactly walk back to the main house as friends but at least we weren’t ready to give each other a knife in the ribs either.
Thanks so much for the new chapters!
This story is Grrrrrrrreat!
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
Wonderful story! Keeps me wanting more and more.... Thank you!
If we aren't showing a little love, His love, then what are we doing calling ourselves Christians?
Psalm 73: 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
Awesome story. I need more----soon---please.
Once back to the house it didn’t take long for all of my optimism to evaporate. It wasn’t just Cor who was home. He had brought about two dozen men with him … big, loud, noisy men. And though not a single one was outright mean, not a single one of them acted like their opinion of me was higher than the mark left on the ground where a frog bumped its butt when it hopped. I honestly can’t say they were like the men I grew up around … there was no pinching or name calling or trying to back you into a corner and manhandle you, no slapping or back handing or tripping to make all the rest of the menfolk laugh … but I can’t say they impressed me as being all that much better either. The menfolk fell all over themselves for Francine and even to a lesser degree for Winnie but me they treated like a slattern only born to fetch and carry.
Four days I was up before the sun had even started thinking about taking the curling rags from its hair, working all day as fast as I could move and still not keeping up, and then not putting the last clean dish away and trying to find my bed until well after the clock struck the first morning hour.
The men lay all over the place like hounds too lazy to do their master any good at all. They’d move for the Captain, whoooboy would they move. They’d even move for Francine and Winnie though they were rarely about those first days, both claiming to be feeling off. In Francine’s case I had my doubts but Winnie truly did get green every time one of the men lit up a smoke or puffed on a pipe. The only thing that would soothe her was mint tea and it was so hot that all she could do was lay around with her private bits barely hid behind a sheet; all splayed out trying to let as much of her skin get some breeze as possible. She was so miserable she wasn’t the least embarrassed about it at all when I’d bring her cool well water to bathe with.
That fourth night I was so tired I was stupid. Mostly it is my own fault for not being more careful. The stew was finished and on the stove staying warm, the dishes and such were out in the room they called the dining hall just waiting for the dinner bell to be rung, and then I remembered I needed to bring a couple of jugs of mead up from the cellar. I’ve got eyes like a cat for seeing in the dark for all they’re the color of a wolf’s but right then they were gritty with fatigue.
I had noticed one of the steps had been squeaking more and more but just never took the time as I should have to see why. That night I stepped on it and there wasn’t a squeak but a loud crack and suddenly I went flying. I don’t even remember hitting bottom.
Next thing I remember is Jonah’s voice saying, “You ain’t gonna find her room up there Young Cor. She sleeps on a cot in the pantry.”
Someone said something else and then he said, “Well, why else? You ain’t give her a space as her own, all you care about is getting under Miss Francie’s skirt to get yourself an heir. You seem to fergit you got another wife to take care of too.”
Some time must have passed because the next thing I remember is sensing I was in a different place and the Captain was telling me, “Hush Fel, Allow Mrs. Wiley to tend you without fussing. She needs to see how badly you are injured.”
Still later I finally came to and almost wished I hadn’t. I felt like I did that time I had when the Headman’s son had caught me and after he’d tried to give me slobbering mescal laced kisses I told him that I didn’t want his porky fingers on me ever again and then shoved my knee where it would do us both some good. I barely crawled away from that beating and I was half of a mind that I must have done something like that again.
My tongue was the texture of felt and tasted like clabbered milk. I tried to roll over and then someone was there trying to put a cup to my mouth. I pushed the hand away and said in a voice that didn’t want to stay on key, “Enough. I can tend myself. Leave me be.”
“Uncle Rob warned me you would be hard headed.”
With that I found my fight. Nothing hurt so bad that I couldn’t push and claw him away from me until my bad foot dragged across the bedding letting me know someone had taken the bandage off. My body went stiff and I bit the inside of my cheek hard enough to draw blood to keep from screaming.
“The fight gone out of you yet or do you wish to continue doing damage to yourself?”
All I could do was pant and mutter, “Go find a well to fall down.”
“I’ll consider it if it means I don’t have to listen to Uncle Rob giving me a lecture like I haven’t had since I sprouted hair on my chin.”
“When was that? Yesterday?”
An odd noise that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle preceded the words, “I suppose I deserve that … and worse. Jonah seems to think so anyway. I got a dressing down from him too. He’ll be relieved to know you are awake and aware at last.”
I was too tired to fight and didn’t want to talk so I just turned my face away but all it did was tell me that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I hissed, “How did I get all the way up here in the nursery?”
“Where else were we going to put you with the rest of the house full? In that mouse hole you made for yourself between the dried fruit and the cheese wheels?” After a moment he said, “Uncle Rob asked me why you didn’t have a bedroom of your own and I couldn’t give him an answer. You could have had your pick and saved me the embarrassment.”
Still refusing to look at him I answered, “Where’s the sense in that? All it would mean is traipsing that much further when I had to get up and cook and clean and there would just be more bedding to wash.”
I was trying to understand why I was where I was and why I hurt and most importantly why that man was there with me in the dark. I nearly slapped him when he put his hands on me to settle me back on the bed right. Would have too if I hadn’t felt like I had taken a dunking in the pond in the middle of winter. I started to shake and I felt another sheet pulled over me.
I groaned as I smelled fresh lavender. “Noooo. I just got the washing done yesterday. Don’t make any more work for me.”
“Hush, you’re shivering from shock and not thinking straight.” After I stopped fighting, more because the warmth felt so good than out of any kind of real obedience he asked, “Do you remember what happened?”
I tried to think but everything was jumbled. “I … I was cooking dinner. The stew … yes, the stew was done. I needed to go to the cellar for something … mead I think …” Irritated I said, “That’s all I can recall right now.”
“A stair broke near the top. You were laying there … a couple of hours. Some one finally asked when dinner would be served and that’s when it was realized you were missing. We looked all over for you but it wasn’t until Jonah thought to open the door that we finally found you.”
I sighed, “Well that’s a relief. I thought maybe I had said something to …”
“To what?” he asked.
“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” I heard a raven and groaned again. “Move. I need to get up. I’m sure there is a mess left in the kitchen from last night and I’ve got to get breakfast started.”
“Whoa, you aren’t going any place.”
“And just how do you expect the Captain and Winnie to get something to eat? And I guess Francine and your men as well. You? Sorry, just not seeing it.”
He snorted in impatience. “One, it wasn’t last night you fell but the night before. Two, the mess was cleaned up. And three, Mrs. Wiley is organizing some help for here at the house.”
“Who’s Mrs. Wiley? More than likely she is just one more person that thinks I don’t belong here but it would be nice to know for sure.”
“Mrs. Wiley is Jonah’s widowed sister and doubtless my skin will grow back eventually where she’s lit into me more than once for not doing my duty. I’m here instead of in my bed just to keep her tongue from wagging any more than it already has. My head is sore from having to listen to Uncle Rob, Jonah, and that old beesom tell me I should know better. Tell me how I’m supposed to know better when no one’s been telling me just how bad things have gotten?!”
“I don’t know. I’m a newcomer to these parts. How am I supposed to know what you consider bad? The only thing I’ve heard is that it’s been like this for a long time.” After an embarrassed moment I said, “I didn’t ask them to say anything and didn’t ask you to sit with me. All I want is to be left alone.”
“Too bad, you’re stuck with me here. I’m not going to disturb Francine trying to climb back into my bed this early in the morning. She’s been upset enough as it is.” I would have given a lot in that moment for the strength to toss him from the room.
I was nearly asleep again when he said gruffly, “You could have explained about your foot. I’m not some monster, I would have had someone look at it when you hung it up in the root.”
“I don’t want anyone to look at it. There’s nothing that can be done. I’m not thickheaded enough to think there’s magic enough in this world to grow toes back once they’ve been chopped off.”
“Francine nearly fainted when she heard the story. Did you really have to …”
“Yes I did but if you expect me to talk about it all flaming day you can think again. It happened. It’s over with. And it isn’t your concern so leave off.”
“Ask me if I care what you think.”
He shifted in his chair and said, “I’m almost afraid to know what you think.” A moment passed and he said, “This could have been handled better … I could have handled it better.” He sighed like an old man. “We need to talk.”
“We’ve already talked.”
“Then we need to talk again. Things are moving faster than I expected. Trust me, I’d leave you alone if I could but there’s no time.”
My foot was starting to ache again which made me short tempered. “What have I done now?”
The chair scraped where he pulled it closer to the bed. “You’ve done nothing wrong Fel. This whole thing is a ridiculous mess but I can see now that not because you designed it to be that way.”
I muttered darkly, “Maybe I should have fallen down the stairs in the first place and saved us all the trouble of the other day.”
“No. I had my ears closed and wouldn’t have listened even had I been the one to take the tumble down the stairs. My anger is sometimes like that and it is nothing I’m proud of. And I’m sorry to say all I’m about to do is heap coals on top of the trouble you’ve already had.” When all I offered him was silence he said, “Francine was trying to be helpful I suppose when she did it.”
“Did … what … ?”
“She sent a runner with a note to her Aunt Muriel. I’m told the woman should be arriving tomorrow to take the estate in hand until Francine is up to it.”
I swallowed dryly. “And what does that mean exactly? Have they changed their plans? Will … will I be turned out?”
“No,” he said firmly. “That old dragon is mistaken if she thinks I’m simply going to hand the keys to the house over to her.”
For the first time I heard real steel in his voice. “No. She will not.” After a short moment he asked, “Did you truly mean what you said? Before? When we … er … talked the first time?”
“About being allies rather than enemies?”
“I suppose I must have.”
Quietly he asked, “Have you changed your mind?”
I sighed. “I suppose I haven’t.”
In the shadows that were beginning to form as the sun rose I saw him get up and pace. “Things must be different around here. The estate can’t afford to build you a new house but it can support repairing the cabin by the stream.” When I stiffened he said quickly, “I know Fel. But you said yourself that just because a thing is called something doesn’t mean that is what it is. Just because the cabin was something once upon a time doesn’t mean it has to be the same thing now.”
I really dislike having my own words used against me.
He continued. “People will expect it and I expect you’ll be more comfortable in that cabin than on a cot in the pantry. It will also make it easier to … to carry on our … our playacting.” He cleared his throat and then added, “And it will be easier if when I must spend time with you it isn’t under the same roof as my wife.”
I really, really wished for the strength to toss him from the room.
More than a little irritated I asked, “And exactly what am I supposed to do? Keep myself out of the way and hidden?”
He either didn’t hear the sarcasm in my voice or chose to ignore it. “No. People will expect you to be seen and take part in caring for the estate. We can work out the details when you feel better.”
“And what of the visit from the Lathrop spy?”
He paused. “I suppose that is how we should few the woman. Just use care when dealing with her. I do not wish to upset Francine any more than she already is.”
Outraged I said, “This second wife business was her idea. She has no business being upset.”
“Perhaps¸ but I suspect the reality of the situation is going to be more difficult for her than she realizes.”
Oh I’d give her some difficulties all right but I wasn’t going to tell Cor that. I was going to have enough problems to deal with without him getting so riled up he played right into their hands.
“Fine. But for now give me some peace if I have to take on the dragon sooner rather than later. I don’t need babysitting, go hold Francine’s hand. Likely she has another one of her sick headaches.”
He looked at me like a man that was fighting an uncomfortable truth. “I’ll leave, but only because Uncle Rob will wish to hear that you are awake. I’ll also send Mrs. Wiley up to you as she will no doubt want to see how you fare.”
Before I could tell him how I faired was no one’s business but mine he had already left the room. I could have been offended but in truth I needed the time; I had a lot to think about and a gorgon to prepare to face.
please......... I need a decluttering break.....
Lynn mom to 10 and counting
Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. — George Bernard Shaw
My refresh button does not seem to be giving me the results that I am wanting... This is yet another gem of a story
Thanks for the new chapter, you have more twists to keep me guessing!
Kathy - another great story....but...are we missing Chapter 11 or just miss numbered? And, yes, I have been told that I am anal retentive...a common fate among engineers. LOL!
As my Aunt Flossie used to say...Good night shirt - this is some story!
I'm astounded and very much enjoying this tale; nice title by the way :^) Thanks again Kathy! What a treasure you are!
....and good luck with the insurance!
All that is gold does not glitter....
Not only could I feel all my bumps and bruises as I levered myself off the straw tick I had been laying on, but once I managed to get up I could see them too. Most wouldn’t keep me from getting around but two came close. The shin on my good leg had a rainbow-colored goose egg on it as well as a couple of deep scratches. It meant putting more weight on my bad foot which was also more tender than it had been in a long while. The other bruise was so black it almost looked burnt and was right on the meatiest part of my hip, not that I had a lot of padding back there; Daphne had always been quick to point out I didn’t get the right kind of attention because I didn’t fill out my clothes very well front or back.
I had a feeling I wasn’t going to find any comfort in standing or sitting for a while but it couldn’t be helped. Hopefully no one would pay too much attention to me and I’d be able to make do without looking like a fool.
I was tying my skirt on when there was a brisk knock on the door right before it was opened to reveal a woman that reminded me a lot of Jonah … and as I was to learn, in more ways than one. “Tsk. Tsk. Do you want to give Young Cor the idea that he can act like he has air between his pitcher handles and there be no pains from it?”
Cautiously I said, “You must be Mrs. Wiley.”
Her nod was as brisk as her knock had been. “I am. And you be Young Cor’s new wife.”
I opened my mouth then closed it. If I was going to let people think what they wanted I couldn’t go around denying things at every turn. I didn’t like it. The dishonesty of it went against what little better nature I had. And even if I didn’t mind the lie – for a lie of omission is what it was – it went against the grain to let people think that I’d let myself be sold into bondage without a fight.
She must have seen something on my face because she softened a bit and turned me around and efficiently retied the horsetail that I kept my hair in. “Ye’ve a fine thick mass here. Most as has had a hard life has it show up in their hair and their skin. You don’t look sickly; yer skin and hair both are as brown as a hickory nut though yer skin be a bit cut up in places. Like yer foot.”
I shrugged not sure how to respond. Some of my skin tone came from my Ma but most of it was just always having to work outside. She didn’t seem to really expect me to and when she was through with my hair she asked, “Any of yer bang ups poking at yer partically?”
I shook my head feeling that she’d managed to get my hair bound tight like I preferred it. “I’ve been worse. If I spoil any of them too much they’ll only poke meaner.” I paused and then said, “I’m sorry that all for want of watching where I put my feet you got stuck with my chores.”
She sniffed and I wasn’t sure exactly what that was supposed to mean but then she said, “About that. Jonah said that there might be an opening here in the big house. ‘Twere you to offer I wouldn’t say no. I hear that Mary is needed at her daughter’s place. The daughter had twins this time - two more boys and her with a houseful of them already - and is doing poorly. Not a girl in the bunch to help out and her sister who lives next door is in the same shape. They’ve both asked Mary to stay but she won’t abandon Miss Winnie.”
“I’ll … I’ll ask Cor about it.”
“Who will leave it to Miss Francie who will leave it to Miss Winnie who isn’t in any shape to do anything even if she could. That leaves yer self. Yer be the only one what can put her foot down and straighten up the order of things.”
Oh glory, there’s that order business again. Then she asks me, “Do yer really think yer can keep up with everything alone? Young Cor comes and goes several times a season – has to though it grieves him to be away from the work here so much. Mayhap if he were home more he’d see things clearer. The Captain is a good man but is trying too hard not to meddle in Young Cor’s business and he is gone for good pieces too though with Miss Winnie so close to her time I doubt he’ll stray this season or next. And now I hear tell that Miss Francie has done sent for one of her aunts. Yer gonna let the running of this place slip away from the fambily? Let us all become thumb-screwed holdings of the Lathrops rather than free under the Cormans as it should be?”
Giving into my curiosity I asked, “Does it really matter to people? I was told that the relationship between the area farms and the estate aren’t the best.”
As honest as her brother she told me, “Sure and they could be better, and it wouldn’t take much. Most do like Young Cor, they just can’t abide the chaos his sire left behind; it still be leaving a bad taste in folkses mouths. And strength is needed after some get fond of having their own way for so long. Everyone is pretty sure Young Cor has the strength for it, he just ain’t around enough to use it on the ones that need it. When a man has got to lead it be best if he get about the business of doing so. ‘Nother problem be since he brought Miss Francie here some folks have begun to doubt he’ll ever be able to set his house to rights. It’s becoming worrisome and causing quarrels.”
I wasn’t going to get caught up in something I didn’t understand so I asked, “Why do they say that?”
“Yer ain’t a stupid Gilly, just look around. Yer’ve done more in the short time yer’ve been about this place than the whole six seasons that Miss Francie has been here. She be a sweet thing but she has no stuffing to her. She ain’t took the time to get to know folks, like she be afraid ‘cause they be different from what she knowed … or maybe she just don’t like the rough ways of the folks ‘round here when hers be so different spoken and uncaring of what we be so caring about. Instead of making a place for herself here she lets herself get lonesome and goes to visit her family for long stretches when Young Cor is gone. Not so bad when she goes to stay on one of their farms but when she goes to the fort she winds up spending coin that Young Cor ain’t got to waste. And the few times she has tried to take on the reins as she ought, it left a bigger mess than what was there to start. What she needs is a babe in her belly ter keep her occupied so’s those that can lead ain’t gotta be entertaining her like all the time.”
Well that was certainly an earthier take on the subject than I’d heard so far. I start to wonder what they must think of me though they say you never hear anything good about yourself when you eavesdrop.
“I was making do before Cor brought all those men home with him. Does he do that often?”
“Sometimes less but sometimes there’s even more of ‘em. They be young men that have no wives to keep ‘em busy so’s they gets up to stuff if they don’t have enough work ter do to wear ‘em out. Yer making do won’t cut it when groups of ‘em get locked up here when the snow flies. It was getting so that Mary almost feared Young Cor coming home ‘cause it always meant so many more mouths ter feed and all t’ other housework and cleaning up the tomfoolery they get into. They usually stay smart ‘cause of the Cap’n being around but there’s been a few to get fresh with Miss Winnie and Miss Francie. Jonah said they’s been sizing you up to see what they got to work with.”
“Humph. They try and ‘work’ me and they might just find they won’t ever ‘work’ again.”
That got me a cackle. “Jonah said yer had stuffing to yer. Glad ter see he was right.”
It was slow going but I made it down the three flights of steps and into the kitchen. There I found Jonah and the Captain glaring balefully at Cor who was trying to ignore them while he sucked on what smelled like a mug of rye coffee.
All three jumped up when they saw me but it was Cor that snapped, “What are you doing out of bed?”
I was in no mood to be tongue lashed. “You want to drink that coffee or wear it? I’ll get up when I please. No way am I going to roll around in misery when the heat of the day is already rising to the roof. It gets roasting up there even with the windows open as wide as they’ll go.”
“Humph. Well at least sit down. I don’t want people thinking worse of me than they already do. I’m not going to let people think I’m forcing you do get up and cook and clean. And, you look awful.”
“You don’t exactly look as fresh as a dew dressed dandelion yourself. You should get into the habit of sticking your head in a bucket of cold water in the morning if you’ve got no bottom for breaking the dawn.”
The Captain tried to hide a smile behind his mustache and drink mug. Jonah beamed and said, “Well, you don’t sound like you cracked yer noggin none Gilly. I was a might worried you had. The house was a fair too quiet without you letting the world know what’s what.”
I looked at him and with a smile said, “I hear you’re the one to thank, that you found me.”
A little riled he said, “Shouldn’t a taken so long. Sum body should have noticed yer were missing sooner.”
From the look on Cor’s face that wasn’t the first time Jonah had said that. I shook my head but was careful not to jar my neck that felt like it wanted to stiffen up. “Well, it’s over and done with. I’ll be glad to get back to work.” After a pause I said, “I know Mary was supposed to be back soon but the … the thing is I hear that she is caught in a bind.”
The Captain sat his mug down. “Mary? Our Mary? Is she in trouble?”
“Uh uh, not trouble exactly. Her daughter had twins and is down for longer than she thought she would be. Boys again and I’ve been told she already has a house full of them.”
Jonah had an interested look on his face as he did like a bit of gossip now and again; and the Captain was eyeing me like he was trying to figure out where I was going with this. Cor on the other hand appeared to be smarter than some were giving him credit for being. He put his mug down on the table and said, “If you are asking, you can forget it. I won’t turn Mary off. She’s been with the family forever.”
I shook my head. “Don’t be knuckleheaded. No one is asking you to.”
“I won’t let anyone else do it either.”
“That’s an even bigger act of knuckleheadedness. Why would anyone want to do that? No one really complains and she’s been loyal to you since you were a baby.”
I didn’t know whether it was loss of sleep or worries or if he was really that big of a chucklehead or just what but he was losing patience again and said, “I don’t have the time for this. Just spit it out already.”
I sighed. “You know, it isn’t necessarily everyone else that is making this so hard. It’s as plain as the nose on your face that you don’t want Mary to be hurt and not have any support. It’s just as plain that this has been too much for her for a while but that she’s not wanted to say anything because it would leave you – and in particular Winnie – in a pickle if she did. Two people wanting to do for the other for the best of intentions, but look where it has led. Mary gets overworked and stuck here when her family needs her somewhere else which I am sure pinches at her and you wind up getting pecked at all the time because it is obvious things aren’t getting done like they used to and that people see how poor Mary is struggling. You’ve both done it just as long as you can but now there is a better solution for both and no one has to get their feelings hurt or nose out of joint.”
Cor cautiously sat back and said, “And that solution is?”
“Mary’s daughters want her to come live with them. They need her more than we do and if she managed to put up with you for all these years all those grandsons should be a piece of cake.” Cor got an outraged look on his face so I rushed on before he could muck things up. “Mrs. Wiley has kindly informed me that she would be willing to step in and take over for Mary if the position became available. She’s local, knows the right people, and she’s Jonah’s sister and if she is anything like him she’s as trustworthy as they come.”
Still stubbornly clinging to the way he thought things should be run he said, “Francine should have the running of the house. I can’t believe you are already trying to disenfranchise her.”
The Captain said, “You are being unjust Cor. Fel is not trying to disenfranchise Francine. You know it whether you’ll admit it or not that Francine has never shown the least bit of … er … interest … in taking over the reins the way they must. She was brought up for entertaining but not for running a house that has … er … some necessary economizing to do.” He turned to me and said, “Fel, disenfranchise means …”
A little insulted I told him, “I know what it means. I’m not completely ignorant you know.” Trying to put away my feelings I turned to Cor and treading carefully I tried to bring him around. “You’ve tried to wait on Francine to get her feet under her. I can understand that. But it isn’t working. She’s had six seasons to find a way to work it out. Perhaps Francine is … is …” I didn’t dare say what I really thought what Francine was so I picked another phrase. “Perhaps Francine is like you … too worried that Mary will be left out in the cold. People can be too nice you know.”
I’d given him an out that left Francine looking sweet and innocent and not what I suspected she really was. It took a bit of grasping at straws on my part but it left enough wiggle room that Cor might just take the bait and be willing to be managed. Something told me though after he gave me a hard look he knew what I was doing, or at least suspected something was going on. He steepled his fingers and continued to stare for almost a minute and I was starting to sweat it. Then he suddenly just flopped back in his chair and said, “Fine. As long as Winnie isn’t upset by the solution you can ask Mrs. Wiley if she would care to come work here … assuming that is that you don’t have a problem with it Jonah?”
The man in question kept an innocent look and said, “Me? Naw Young Cor. Seems providential. Mary gets ter be with her people. Miss Francie doesn’t get worried ter bits about … er … things Me sister gets a place out from under that dragon what was her husband’s sister. And a few strings get tied up before you get yer … er … yer visit from some of Miss Francie’s people on the morrow.”
“Fine,” Cor said resigned. “Uncle Rob, could I ask you to make sure the papers are in order? And Jonah, make sure that Mary gets what she needs. With that many grandkids maybe she would appreciate a cow … or two … as parting gifts from the Corman family. And keep an eye on her. If it looks like she is going in want tell me and we’ll work it out.”
That surprised me a little as I hadn’t expected him to really see such things. Frankly I hadn’t thought of it either and I felt bad about it. I suppose those things were done differently here than they were in our town where you were expected to look after yourself as soon as possible and that didn’t end with old age.
I stood to go help Mrs. Wiley in the kitchen but Cor stood with me and said, “I want to talk to you before people start coming down for the morning meal and I get pulled away.”
“I should help …”
“Mrs. Wiley has it all in hand. This needs to be done.”
“Fine. What do you want to talk about?”
“Are you up to a short walk?”
Jonah nodded encouragingly but added, “Just calls me if yer gets ter feeling poorly Gilly. I’ll bring the push cart and tote you back ter the house.”
“I am not going to be hauled in a cart like refuse for the compost pile!”
“Well, it’s that or get hauled back like a sack a taters over Young Cor’s shoulder. Yer can take yer pick.”
I hadn’t even shut my mouth before Cor was guiding me out of the back door and down a side path away from the main house. I was aggrieved to note he was trying not to laugh, but not trying very hard.
Very Nice, going off to sleep now with a chuckle thinking about it.
I love the new story Kathy! And now that I reached the last part so far, think I will go back and start it over while I keep hitting refresh LOL...
Being PC will be the death of us all yet!
"But we've got to have faith or we have nothing. We have to have faith in our God, our resolve, our cause and our brother patriots."
Black, Leo - The Last Stand on Earth.
This story has a great sense of humor showing through! It is keeping me checking back a lot, and I already reread it twice.
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Wonderful! Btw, I've been meaning to tell you that the play on words in the title got a chuckle too.
If we aren't showing a little love, His love, then what are we doing calling ourselves Christians?
Psalm 73: 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
I'm tickled that everyone is enjoying the story!
“I won’t,” I told him. “I’d rather crawl through muck and scum. I didn’t resort to it last winter and I won’t now.”
No longer laughing Cor asked, “Last winter is when you lost your toe?”
“I didn’t ‘lose’ it. I know right where I buried it after I cut it off.”
He made a face like he’d bitten into something spoiled. “The place you came from sounds a real dream vacation.” He shook his head. “I know there are a lot of brutal places like that in the Outlands but none that I heard of would leave a woman helpless and alone in such condition.”
“I wasn’t helpless.”
He snorted, “Are you saying you found the experience pleasurable?”
I shook my head. “Of course I didn’t … but it didn’t break me and that is what the Headman was after. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. And for that matter I wasn’t alone either. My crèche sisters helped when they could at great risk to themselves. And Docia even sewed my foot knowing she could have wound up in the stocks for it, maybe even put on the strapping post and beaten for all to see. It might have meant her death but she wouldn’t abandon me.”
“Docia … she’s the one that married my cousin Robbie.”
I hadn’t even thought about that he was Robbie’s cousin. “Yes.”
I tried to keep the hopefulness out of my face but he must have seen it and told me, “I met her … it was before I found out about you. She … she seems …”
I nodded. “I know she’s a light weight sometimes in the thinking department but she isn’t stupid or silly and she’s a pleaser if folks give her half a chance. She’s good at doctoring … well, not the sort of doctoring that part of your family does but she was just about the only doctoring those of us in the crèche saw. Her grandmother was the town’s yarb woman.”
“Mmmm. Aunt Mona has already taken to her from what I can tell, says she’s good with the older folks. Aunt Winnie said that you might like to write to her. If you can’t write I’m sure Francine will help you.”
“Do you take me for …? Never mind, looks like you might. Yes. I can write, and more than just putting an X for my name. I can read and cypher as well. Da made sure of that even though I had to keep it hid for the most part. I taught my sisters what I could, it was one of the few ways we had to get back at the men.” Refusing to let the chance get away I asked him, “Did you mean it? About me being able to send a note to Docia? She was anxious about us being parted. Did she seem …”
When I got stuck looking for a word he said, “Happy?”
“No, happy is something that seems too much to hope for. I’m more interested in if she seems well. Your cousin didn’t strike me as a hitter but …”
“Of course Robbie isn’t a …” His outrage faded and then he said, “No. Docia won’t find that here in Kipling. And certainly won’t find it with Robbie. His mother would skin him like a savage. But to set your mind at rest, write your letter and I’ll take it with me to the fort when I leave in a few days. While I’m there I will stop in and perhaps be able to bring you a note back when I come.”
“You’re off on one of your barter runs again?”
He shook his head. “Not yet. I’ve some paperwork to file with the record keepers and … and a few other things. I hope to only be away a few days.”
We fell silent again and I tried to keep to my normal pace and ignore how tight and pain-filled my body felt but Cor walked slow which forced me to walk slow or look stupid, as if I was trying to run away from him.
Out of nowhere he says, “Mrs. Wiley says you need new shoes.”
I shook my head. “There’s nothing wrong with my moccassins. I wouldn’t mind the use of a piece of leather so I could patch the worn side but …”
“Talk to Jonah about having the cobbler out.”
Aggravated I asked, “Did you hear what I said?”
He looked at me and said, “The whole valley can hear what you say when you get agitated. But now I think of it I’ll simply tell Jonah myself so you don’t … forget.”
We had reached the destination I had realized he’d been making for. The cabin. “Sit before you fall. Your face is looking like moldy cheese again.”
“And yours is going to if you don’t stop making comments on what’s none of your business.”
I sat because it suited me to but instead of sitting on the bench as he had during our other talk he leaned on the trunk of a nearby tree. “Fel, I’ve given some thought to your proposal. I’ve also been told a few things by my uncle that I was not aware of when I first returned and was presented with this … this situation.”
Cautiously I asked, “What sort of things?”
“That my wife’s family is seeking more influence over the governing of the Council which could create threats of civil war. We haven’t had that since the Dark Days and that could be very dangerous for everyone as Kipling is already in a weakened position because of the things that were already explained to you.” He paused and then added, “Uncle Rob said that you were quicker to grasp the problem than I have been.”
I shrugged. “Well, they did kind of give me all the facts in one fell swoop rather than me having to gather them as I went. And it sounds like you’ve been busy trying to repair the damage that your … a … I mean that your family suffered from your grandfather dying so young. I saw it because that sort of thing is common where I’m from. Maybe not on a grand scale like you’ve got going on but it amounts to the same thing. There’s always going to be people that think they can do a better job at something than the next person can. Here people seem to inherit their … their power and position. I suppose that is OK if the person inheriting it knows what to do with it for the good of all rather than just his or her family or even just themselves. It sounds like Kipling has been lucky for the most part and that you balance out the rule by birth with a system of checks and balances so that everyone in Kipling has some say in things no matter what family they’re in. But where I’m from the Headman is elected by the elders and rules absolutely. When things are going well Da used to call it a popularity contest but when things go bad, it is more the strongest and wiliest that will be the one that gets picked to run things.”
Trying to explain I told him, “Our old headman that started the feud that cost my family their lives was popular for a while because he could be charming and make good treaties with other groups in the area; but he liked too much to have the women stroke his ego … among other things. It caused problems when he started doing it with the wives of other headmen. The headman that was elected after him is strong and finished the feud but he is stupid and unnecessarily brutal … the elders will have a time getting rid of him unless someone sees that he has an accident.”
I shrugged. “No one will call it that but I suppose that is what it amounts to.” When he continued to lean on the tree instead of talk I made to get up.
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t sit around all day Cor, I’ll get stiff and there’s more than enough work to help Mrs. Wiley with. Winnie’s babe can’t be much longer in coming and we need to prepare for that too.”
“I know. One of the reasons I am going to the fort is to see if Aunt Mona will send someone out. The plan was original to send to the village for the midwife when her time came but … Uncle Rob is worried. She’s suffering a lot more than she is letting on.”
I nodded. “I haven’t liked to go exploring too far in case I was needed.”
“You’re a midwife?”
“Me? No. Docia taught us all a few things and my old Gran knew a thing or three about birthing babes whether they were animal or human and expected me to carry it on after her. I helped my Ma with my brother and she had bad trouble with him … he came feet first. That was the only time I ever saw my Da cry, he was that thankful to God it just poured out of him. He never got the chance to cry at what the Lakesiders did to them … but I suppose I did enough crying for both of us when I realized I was left behind and alone.”
I hadn’t meant to be so free with my past. I tried to get up again but this time he stopped me by putting his hand on my shoulder. “Sit Fel. We really do need to talk.”
“Your place here. It has been brought to my attention rather … er … forcefully that I … I’m letting my … emotions rule my head.”
I looked at him and saw an uncomfortable man that was carrying a load of responsibility that was bowing him … but not breaking him. He was still young enough he should have been able to enjoy being silly as young men are wont to be without it meaning life or death. Instead he had the care of not just himself but of a lot of other people as well and he had to learn how the long hard way as his Da didn’t show him how to be the man for the job. I had no idea just how many people he took care of but the way Jonah talked quite a few and even if the farm families were not directly part of his responsibility, what he did and how he acted influenced their lives greatly.
“You love her,” I said simply.
He sighed. “I do. But … but as Uncle Rob has pointed out love doesn’t fix everything and the people we love are rarely perfect. I love Francine. She’s not perfect but neither am I. I won’t see her hurt and I will not be unfaithful to her and no one can make me … but …”
I didn’t know what to make of that “but …”.
He straightened his shoulders. “I’ll ask once again if you are still willing to act … act … as …”
I didn’t like feeling bad for the man but I did. I certainly didn’t want him as my enemy but I wasn’t sure if I wanted some man, and him in particular, as my friend. I wasn’t the only one caught between a rock and a hard place. “Us being allies? Yes. Even if we get on like oil and vinegar I still think it is the only way to do this, to prevent those Lathrops from mucking things up for you and yours.”
Carefully he said, “I would like to know what you think you will get from this … this … treaty between us.”
Now that was a hard one. But it was pretty easy at the same time. “I hope to come away with my life.”
He arched a disbelieving eyebrow. “Your life? That’s all?”
“All?” I asked incredulously. “My life might not mean much to you but it does to me. And my life is more than I would have gotten had I remained in my town.” Letting him see some of my anger I told him, “I didn’t have a choice of being sold. I wasn’t given a choice between being a real wife to someone and this … this situation they handed me. I was told just to suck it up and too bad that what few foolish dreams I’d managed to hang onto despite it all would never come true. I certainly didn’t pick you to be in this situation with. And when I got here part of me wondered if my life was worth living anymore. But I’ve had time to think. I like the Captain … and Winnie too. Jonah is passing strange but he’s turned into someone I trust even if he is a man. He doesn’t lie to me and in his own way he is kind to me. I think I’ll like Mrs. Wiley too for she and Jonah are a lot alike. Maybe over the years, if it is years I get, I’ll meet others like that and I’ll get to see or at least hear from my sisters again and know that they did get a good life. I think that that can be enough. To you that might not be much but it is more than what those raiders left me and it is more than what the Headman wanted for me. It will have to be enough for it is all there is for me.”
I’d made him uncomfortable again and a little angry besides but I didn’t care. I might have cared if I was going to get hit but as prickly as he could be I haven’t seen any signs that he’d punch me just for giving him a little lip.
“What am I supposed to say to that?”
I told him, “I ain’t asking you to say anything. You asked a simple question and I have you a simple answer. Unless I’m as cross-eyed as a drunk porker I’ve seen you ain’t exactly had a lot of choice on this either. I swear sometimes it is enough to make me feel like walking into a hot zone to get away from all the people that want to order my life when they can’t even manage their own without making a mess. But now that they put me here I don’t plan on letting them make it worse. I know them Lathrops are the family of your precious Francine but I already don’t like ‘em at all.”
He just stood and stared at me.
“Sometimes you talk like … well you talk better and then sometimes you talk like … like …”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh fine, I’ll try and remember I have some education … but I can’t promise you it won’t come and go when I get aggravated or irritated. Da kept telling me I had to learn to speak properly so that when he took us back to his home I could make a proper marriage. He didn’t talk as fine as the Captain does but no one around here would look crosswise at his speech. It just seems sometimes I don’t feel like being his idea of what a lady is supposed to be. Sometimes I just can’t get my head to think any other way than how the words that come out.”
He shook his head. “You might want to watch that when Muriel arrives. She can be a stickler.”
I muttered darkly, “She better hope I don’t stick her.”
“Stickler not …”
Impatiently I told him, “I know what you said … and you heard what I said. I haven’t met her and I already know that I don’t want to spend any more time in her company than I have to. Now is that all you wanted?”
“No cranky, it isn’t.”
“Then what already. I feel like we do nothing but talk in circles going over the same ground time and again.”
He sighed. “Then let’s not. We need to talk about settlements.”
“Settlements? Is there more of them that just Kipling?”
“Huh? No no, not that kind of settlement. Settlements … if you are to be … be my …”
My embarrassment made me more belligerent than I might have otherwise been. “You know, if it sticks in your craw so much you can’t even bring yourself to say it …”
He hit the innocent tree with the flat of his hand in irritation. “Well, how easy is it for you to say it?”
“Not easy. And what’s worse I have to let other people call me something that I’m not and it makes me feel like a liar. But better a liar than a whore. So … husband … what kind of settlements are we then talking about.”
He calmed when he saw I didn’t like it any better than he did and answered, “For your care and upkeep.”
“For my what?!”
“Hush you looby! I came out here so no one would listen in. You start screaming and you’ll bring them running.”
Considerably more quiet I hissed, “I wasn’t screaming but if you think I’m gonna take money like some saloon girl you can think again!”
Well now!, Ain't this a pickle! Another great story to keep up with!! WWWHHHHOOOOWWWEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."---- Robert A. Heinlein
“Lord you are touchy,” he muttered.
“And that’s another thing … if we do this …”
He looked like he was thinking about being offended then he sighed. “Whether you know it or not I’m trying to do the right thing but I suppose after all you’ve been through I shouldn’t be surprised that you wouldn’t see it that way.” He shook his head. “Let’s not get off track here. We really do need to speak of settlements if for no other reason than to get Winnie to get off my back and calmed down.”
“Winnie? What’s she got to do with it?”
“She’s female, which is to say she’s making it her business; and if Mona was here it would be even worse. The women of Kipling take that sort of thing very seriously. Look, I might not want any part of this second wife business – and I know neither do you so stop looking at me like I’m wearing manure – but it worked in a fashion once upon a time and still does for some. I don’t agree with it and don’t know if I ever would have but this is what I’m stuck … what we’re both stuck with, at least for a good long while, maybe the rest of our lifetimes. People are funny about the multiple wives thing around here. The rules were established back in the Dark Days and are still the law today.”
“The law. The law?”
He nodded. “This isn’t just a thing that affects you and I but has to be based on precedent. The Lathrops won’t want their plans to go awry. I always knew that they preferred the ways of the early days and have resisted every change that has come since but I had no idea they wanted everyone forced to go back to those days and ways.”
“Explain would you? I feel like I’m walking around in the dark.”
“I don’t have time to give you chapter and verse but the short version is that the Lathrops have always wanted to … to dominate the land and the people around here with tech and fuel has been part of that. It is one of the reasons they chose to specialize in that industry. My … my father was of a similar mind when you could get him to pull his nose out of his books and his lab to have a conversation on it.” The way he stumbled over talking about his Da told me he wasn’t comfortable with the subject. “That’s really how I started keeping company with the Lathrops; he hoped some of their industry would rub off on me.”
He shrugged. “Not everything they do is bad any more than everything my father did was bad. The Corman estate isn’t completely dependent on the Lathrops for our fuel because of some of my father’s experimenting. And there isn’t anything wrong with the old tech, what remains of it and still works.”
I nodded, “I can see how that could be so. But … don’t you think that fuel thing might very well be part of why they want to take you over to begin with?”
“I have considered it now that Uncle Rob and I have spoken. And I don’t intend on it happening. I don’t like that they are trying to manage me through Francine and the estate. I don’t like that they consider me so weak that I could be manipulated like that without even a fight.”
“Have … have you thought that is why they … er … encouraged you to make a match of it with Francine.”
He wasn’t happy that I’d brought it up. “Let’s just say I’ve considered a great many things in the last couple of days and few to none of them have made me comfortable. Poor Francine, what a position to be in.”
I swear I start feeling kindly towards him and then he acts like such a lunkhead. But I suppose a man in love has to be the worst sort of lunkhead there is and being the honest woman I am I suppose that had things turned out different having a man be a lunkhead over me might have been pleasurable.
“Francine is your business, not mine so as my Da used to say, skip to the chase.”
“Hmmm,” he said. “I assume you mean let’s get back to business and I agree. And I wish I could leave Francine out of this and unaffected but the law prevents me. When I told you that all wives get an equal portion I meant that by law all wives MUST get an equal portion from their husband.”
“I’m not your wife and you’re not my …”
“In the eyes of the law I am.”
Feeling mulish I said, “I never even said any vows.”
He snorted, “Neither did I. It was all done by proxy. It can’t be undone at this point. In the future we might be able to make some kind of arrangement but there is a large cost to it and the estate can’t handle that nor would it help with the Lathrop issues.”
“Oh,” he mocked before shaking his head. “Sorry. I have to keep reminding myself that this is not your fault. Intellectually I know it isn’t but … it will still take me some time to stop jumping to conclusions.”
Feeling a little mollified I said, “Well at least you’re being honest enough about it. Just don’t chew on me when it pinches because I’m being honest right back when I say this is cutting at me more than taking my toe off did. That was a simple enough thing that I knew would soon be over and healing would begin. This feels like I’m going to be sawed on for the rest of eternity.”
A troubled look met my words. I don’t think he much cared for my analogy but I wasn’t in the mood to care very much whether he did or not, it was the way I felt. And then he said, “Settlements are pieced out by law. I can give nothing to Francine that I do not give to you unless it involves the care and well-being of an heir.”
“Well that’s fair stupid.”
He shrugged, “Don’t blame me. The first generation of Kipling women are the ones who worked it out and wrote it in the stone of the laws and attached harsh penalties to go with it. I already have a hard enough time making sure there is enough coin for Francine after I’ve paid what is due to each of the estate’s creditors. This is going to cut her portion in half.”
I’d already heard that Francine spent more than she should but I wasn’t going to take that up with him. “Why would I need anything?”
“You might not but Francine is used to finer things than what she has gotten here. Now she’ll have even less.”
I could see he was getting agitated and I told him, “Cor, I wouldn’t even know what to do with coins. I’ve seen no place to spend them and I already have what I need. I know it takes a lot to care for a family … my Da never hid that we sometimes barely scraped by despite being one of the only smithies in a wide area. And you are trying to repair things leftover from …” I sighed. “Left over from before you were a grown man.”
“You mean my father’s debts.”
“You said you didn’t want to speak of him.”
“No, I don’t. But I’m not hiding from the truth either. And … and I appreciate that you … understand the situation and that I don’t have to explain it all. I’ve tried to explain the seriousness to Francine but I don’t believe she has the training to really understand what it means.”
I didn’t think she was that stupid and I begin to wonder if she isn’t doing it a bit at a time to try and keep him in debt. I asked, “Wouldn’t it be a fine joke on them if you took this half that you say I have to have by law and applied it to the debt to pay it off faster?”
He gave me a sharp look and I thought at first he was mad. Instead he asked, “You would honestly do that?”
I shrugged and then had to stop as it pulled at a sore muscle. “It just seems to me that the faster you get out from under them nasty bills the faster we can figure out the rest of what life is going to be like and can settle to it. It would also mean them Lathrops had less they could hold over your head … and therefore mine.”
Carefully he said, “The law was meant to protect wives from that sort of thing.”
“Protect them from having it done without their say so. What if I say so?”
He gave me a considering look. “It … it may not come to that. Let’s just … not talk about it. Do you know how to handle coins?”
I rolled my eyes. “Well I want eat them or shove them up my nose if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Fel, please don’t make this any harder than it has to be. I can’t assume …” He sighed and I felt a little bad.
“Yes Cor, I know how to handle coins though I suppose Kipling’s coins will be different from those that were used in the Outlands. Gran was a bear about getting the best bargain at the markets and when I was a little girl she started having trouble with her bones so I went with her. For a woman who could neither read nor write she managed better than most with the merchants. She wasn’t against paying a fair price for something but she would make your life a misery if you tried to cheat her.”
“So you can handle coins. That’s good. I have to leave letters of credit with the merchants because Francine was always misplacing what I would leave for her.”
I had a nasty thought pop into my head but caught it before it could leave my lips. “What kind of coins do you have here?”
“Kipling uses silver ingots with a simple weight stamp on them for the most part though the council treasury keeps gold for the use of the settlement. Bars of lead and iron are also used though not in the same way silver coins are.”
“There was some silver coins that crossed my Da’s hand but most folks weighted out copper and gold in the market if they had it. We usually bartered. I know coins have their uses – sure is better than carrying around a sack of chickens or a bushel of corn – but they also can cause problems.”
“They are the primary means of commerce at the markets.”
“Well I don’t need a letter or the coin, if there is something I need I’ll make it for myself. I helped to feed and dress my sisters by hunting, and doing only for myself would be no great problem. Unless you’re saying that I’m not allowed to hunt.”
“I have no problem if you like to hunt. Aunt Winnie does … or did … and liked to see the fruits of her labor on the dinner able. That brings something up that Mrs. Wiley mentioned. I see you prefer hides; would you not like some cotton? It is cooler.”
“Cotton costs. I used to have some linsey Woolsey things but they wore out. Leather wears better for what I need and doesn’t tear so easy. Of course I see the women here don’t dress the same, is that what you mean?”
An honest man he nodded. “Some but there’s no need for you to get offended. I prefer leathers when I’m on a run but they do get hot and this year has been a scorcher and it has only now just turned May. How you could abide it in the Outlands year round is beyond me. The estate has several cotton fields and the rice you’ve seen in the pantry come from our fields as well. It is one of the things that the ArKanses territory exports to other regions. We used to have to compete with Louseanne territory but after the Mississippi moved they haven’t been able to keep it up as well.”
“Da told me of the great earthquake that made that happen. He said whole cities disappeared under the mud leaving barely a trace behind. They just sunk like they’d been built on quicksand.”
He nodded and said, “It happened when my grandfather was a boy; he wrote about it in his journal. And the river still hasn’t corrected to where it once flowed. Which comes back to the fact that if you have no trouble taking your portion from the goods the estate sells …”
“And there is no way for me to get out of being beholden?”
He shook his head. “The law makes it so the estate is … er … ‘beholden’ to you, not the other way around.”
“Well I don’t see it like that. What would I be expected to do with … with this portion you expect me to take?”
“I would like you to take it so I can continue to give to Francine what she deserves as my wife.” I wasn’t even touching that one. “As for what you can do with it, I have no say. That is part of the law too.”
“This law you keep talking about sounds loopy.”
He gave a sarcastic chuckle. “You aren’t the first to mention it but if I had to guess you would be the first woman to feel that way.”
“Fine. Do what you must and let’s get this over with.”
“Very well, I’ll draw up the papers. Next thing …”
“There’s more?” I asked aggrieved that we couldn’t leave the uncomfortable subject behind.
very good..but what the heck is a looby? - that was a fun chapter to read.
"loopy" = "nutsy"
Thanks for the delightful new book to read. Just got caught up on it and it is an exciting story.
I'm just so enjoying this story; thank you, Kathy, for sharing it with us!
“Yes. You need to let Jonah know what your preferences are for the cabin. The work will start as soon as supplies are pulled together.”
I had been inside the little house before just out of curiosity. “Mostly it just needs a good cleaning and some bedding. And some roof work along the eaves.”
Impatiently Cor added, “And furniture and windows and the chimney repaired and …”
I shook my head. “The place was never meant to be a palace, don’t try and turn it into one. If that aunt of Francine’s is going to be here for a while I’m not going to turn my nose up at a place to hide out in no matter what shape it is in.”
He tried not to snicker but in the end he did. “I usually find urgent business that needs tending to someplace where ever she's not going to be.” He looked at me like he was surprised we’d been able to talk so long without coming to blows but then he sighed and got serious. “There are other things and if we don’t work them out between now us Muriel will work it out for us while she is here.”
“What … what kind of things?” I asked suspiciously.
He got all stiff and stared off into the trees. “The nights I’m to spend with you and the nights I’m to spend with Francine.”
I tried to stand up too quick and my leg gave out and I sat back down too hard on the bruise on my hip. I couldn’t hide the pain no matter how I tried. Cor surprised me by asking briskly, “How badly are you hurt?”
Thinking a bit I said, “Sore enough that maybe you could tell this Muriel woman that my health prevents … er … her from getting into our business.”
He wouldn’t be put off. “Seriously Fel, neither of us might like it but you are my responsibility. Do you need a healer?”
“No!” Moderating my voice so it wasn’t so sharp I said, “No. I’m fine, just bruised. But not so bruised I’d be willing to be toted like a sack of potatoes.”
Unwilling to be put off with a bit of what he’d been laughing at early he said, “And you’re sure. I could find a female healer …”
“I said I’m sure already. I’ve seen a real healer only once in my life and that was because I got snake bit when I was a squirt just learning to toddle in the yard and there wasn’t a thing he nor anyone else could do about it. I was either going to live or die by God’s grace. I lived. End of story.”
“Very well. Just … Fel, people will think … what they think. I cannot show you less … less favor than I would Francine.”
“Francine’s pale and frail, the opposite from what I am and people with any sense at all will see that. If you want a healer, send for one to deal with those sick headaches of hers. Personally I think if she would get out in the sun and fresh air more she wouldn’t have so many of them.”
“Winnie has told her the same thing as did Mary.” And that was it. That was as close as he would come to admitting that Francine’s headaches were of her own making … or her own making up.
He was quiet so long I finally had to ask, “Is that everything Cor? I’m about as full up of this stuff as I want to get. I’m … I’m gonna try and not blame you just like you are gonna try and not blame me but I’m on the edge here of having more than I can take.”
He sighed, “It isn’t but I’ll try and get the rest over with as fast as we can. Winnie said that you have to understand that as my wife you have some rights … and some claim on my time. If you need anything you need to know you can come to me. If people get wind that you’re scared to …”
“I am NOT scared of YOU,” I growled.
He looked at me and then snorted. “Yeah. You’re like a bobcat … keeping to yourself and not interested in overlapping your territory, small but I wouldn’t want to tangle with you when you’re upset.” Then he sat down on the bench for the first time. “I am not saying you ARE afraid of me, I am saying people might get that idea if they didn’t see that we … that we …”
I thought I finally understood what he was trying to get at. “You mean that if we let people think that we’re really … um … really married then we have to make sure they get the idea all the way through. That it isn’t just about … uh …”
I’d never had trouble calling something what it was. Crudeness simply was with a Headman like we had around but somehow talking about things like that when I was alone with a man was a different story all of a sudden. Cor didn’t exactly look like he was too comfortable with it either. I guess for him he was afraid it looked like he was being unfaithful, I’m not sure what he thought about me having the problem.
Finally I gave up. I rolled my eyes while he just sat there with his arms crossed getting angry. I told him, “This is stupid. Let’s just be done with it. We know what we are going to let people think. We know why we are going to let them think it. What they have to think is that it isn’t just about the time you spend with me that you don’t spend with Francine but about the whole enchilada.”
Caught off guard he asked, “What’s an enchilada?”
I snorted, “I take it you haven't been to the Outlands too much.”
“Not the part you’re from. I’ve been around the Northern Outlands but not the Southern Outlands.”
“I’ll make you one some time, they’re good. A Mexi woman taught my Ma and it turned out that Da liked them well enough we had them regular. They gave Gramp indigestion thought if they were too spicy."
“Er … OK.”
“I just mean that we can’t just let people think what they want to think, we have to … uh … guide what they think with play acting sometimes.”
He relaxed. “Yes, that’s what I mean. I … Look Fel. I know you think you’ve seen the world and experienced it all, and maybe you have had to live through some bad experiences and know more than most people your age would … but you’re still pretty young. All of this … this playacting acting might be necessary but it still turns my stomache. I just don’t want you to get any idea that … that …”
Surprised I asked, “Are you trying to be nice?”
I'd caught him off guard in the middle of a thought again. “Huh?”
“You are aren’t you? You honestly don’t want me to start believing that the play acting is real. Huh. Who would have thought it?”
Now really offended he asked, “Is it so hard to believe that I would want to avoid seeing you hurt?!”
“Wellll,” I said giving it some thought. “I suppose not. But why would you think that I would ever start believing such a fairy story like that? All you do is go around with a moony long face telling me how much you loooove your Francine and how much trouble this is going to cause her and how you’ll never be unfaithful to her, how you don’t want to see her hurt, and all sorts of other sickly sweet clap trap. I would have to be stupid or a fool to listen to all that and turn right around and ignore it. Best we can hope for is … well, I don’t have nothing to hope for in that department. It is what it is. That’s my life but I am not crazy enough to make it worse by snorting the amount of dream powder it would take to believe that there could ever be anything like what you are trying not to talk about between us.”
He looked relieved which didn’t do much for my ego but at the same time told me just how right I was. “Well, at least that is out of the way. You have to understand I just don’t want to see you hurt. I do have some honor left. You are so young too.”
“Oh yeah, and you’re as old as Methuselah’s training pants.” I shook my head. “I’m not stupid you know. Just because I’m from the Outlands doesn’t mean that I’m a complete know-nothing. When my family all died I had to decide whether I was going to live in daydreams or if I was going to survive in the real world. I picked the real world. It might not be so rosy and pretty as daydreams are but it lasts a lot longer … sometimes more’s the pity.”
When he sat there looking like he was trying to figure out how he was supposed to feel about that I asked, “Are we finished NOW?”
He nodded. “As long as we’ve got that straight.”
“Any straighter and it could be used as a plumb line. I’m going back to the … Oomph.”
I had tried to stand up but wound up relearning the hard way that when you’ve gotten banged around you need to move slow after you’ve been sitting for a while.
Cor was bent down, offering me a hand to get up on the ground. “Are you all right?”
I mumbled, “If you so much as think about calling Jonah or potatoes or anything close you’re going to be awful sorry.”
mmmmmmmmmm...the addiction was waning due to the low dosage levels. But this new story has it going in full again. I love the new chapter and I pray that this story keeps moving this fast. It was hard to overcome the addiction to your stories over the past few months.
I really don't know why but for some reason I cannot tear my self away from your stories once they get going. I have read each of them multiple times and appreciate your point of view in the stories. One of the reasons is that you take perspectives that are completly foreign to me and keep them clean. I enjoy the fact that I can count on your stories to make me think in different contexts but never have to worry about any of the graphic perversions that are so prevalent in 'popular' literature these days. Thank you, your stories really are treasured.
Last edited by Landcruiser; 02-04-2012 at 12:36 AM.
Getting back to the main house wasn’t pleasant but I did it … and not over anyone’s shoulder either. I was moving as slow as my old Gran had there at the end but it was under my own power and I wasn’t leaning on Cor even if he said I could. “No thanks. I might have to let people think I’m a ninny for putting up with this other mess without complaint but when it is just the two of us I’m going to exercise my pride as much as I feel like.”
“Maybe … but I can’t see you leaning on me if we traded shoes.”
Moving slow also gave us a few more minutes to take care of one last thing. We agreed that our “arrangement” was between the two of us and that’s it. We weren’t even going to tell the Captain or Winnie. They wanted so badly for this mess to turn out for the best we figured they wouldn’t be able to keep from meddling when they saw how we felt about certain parts of it.
I was relieved on the one hand and uncomfortable on the other. I didn’t want to lie to them – they’d both of them treated me fair from the very beginning when they really had no reason to – but at the same time I had a feeling that they just wouldn’t be able to not show how disappointed they were that “good intentions” failed again. They’d get to feeling guilty and give something away.
I didn’t have too long to think on it though as the next few days were very full. First off Mrs. Wiley and I learned how to work together. It wasn’t as hard as it could have been. She wasn’t like my sisters; she was a little territorial in the kitchen but mostly because she didn’t think it was “seemly” for me to be working there all the time for some reason. I put it down to the same strange starts that Jonah would have about me working in the gardens. Both were a little silly considering I was capable and experienced but Winnie told me that I was to let it be, that they might be worried we didn’t need them if they didn’t do their work and they both needed the job. I butted out but I always made sure that Mrs. Wiley knew that I would do my fair share and I was always around with two extra hands when she needed it.
Her taking over the kitchen didn’t leave as much empty time on my hands as I thought it would because of other stuff starting with Jonah taking his job of “rejuvenating” the cabin seriously. That took up almost a half a day and a piece of one every day after that as he insisted I come and have some say over every little thing it seemed. I was worried about all the work that Jonah seemed to be planning until he said, “It’s all right Gilly. Everything will come from Corman land and no out of Young Cor’s coin bag except fer the new roof shakes. But even that there’s OK because them Filburtons owe fer some help rebuilding their barn after the main beam gave way in a storm and their boy is a dab hand at making good ones; and fast too. And Young Cor has said yers ter have the pick o’ the house fer furniture.” When I opened my mouth to object he said, “I know Gilly, most o’ that stuff in the big house be too fancy but there’s some good, sturdy pieces stored in the old assayer’s office yer likely ain’t seen.”
“What is an ... that word you used and why would it need an office?”
He shook his head. “An assayer isn’t a what so much as a who. It is a man what’s got the job of measuring and weighing silver, iron, lead and the like. The Corman estates has some mines but most have been played out. Still get a little bit come in here and there but Young Cor uses the assayer up to the fort for the valuation of it.”
When I wasn’t doing what Jonah asked of me I was writing notes to all of my sisters. I was going to send them all to Docia and hope that she was able to pass them along. I figured that with her living with the folks she did that she more than even perhaps Daphne would be able to keep track of where everyone was and perhaps be able to pass things back and forth.
And not that I wasn’t really glad to write to my sisters but it was the first excuse that came to my mind to escape from Muriel Lathrop and her all seeing eye. But that was later after that first day.
The morning she arrived there was a fog that didn’t seem to want to lift. Francine had us all dressed and waiting like some kind of royalty was about to visit. Winnie and the Captain got out of it because of her condition. Some of the men took off at a run when they heard the woman was coming which gave me some idea that her reputation was known and what I feared of her was probably close to truth. Those men that hadn’t been smart enough to escape early were lending Cor their support I suppose but good Lord they all looked about as happy as if they were heading to an appointment with the tooth puller.
“Fel … Dear … are you sure you wouldn’t like to borrow one of my blouses?”
Trying real hard not to roll my eyes I told her, “Francine you’ve asked me that about ten times now. I’m sure a woman of your aunt’s … er … stature is well aware that I come from the Outlands. I don’t want to give her the impression that I’m trying to pull anything over on her. I’m pretty sure she’d see right through it.”
I might not have rolled my eyes but I caught Cor doing it after he heard my excuse of why I absolutely refused to wear that silly, frilly looking excuse for a piece of clothing called a shirt that Francine expected me to put on for ol’ Muriel. That didn’t even cover the fact that I’d have to stuff the thing full of apples just to keep it from gapping open at the top and showing what little bit I had to the world. Francine might have given the impression that a good stiff breeze would knock her over but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t built with more cushion than I was … quite a bit more cushion in that department. We were about the same on the other end but I had an idea that hers would spread as the years went by if she didn’t get up off of it more so I wasn’t too put out.
Finally we all heard the creaks and clomps and rattles that precede a wagon – or in this case a carriage – and out of the fog she finally came. Oh glory when first one woman then two and then … for a moment I lost count … it was like being bore down on by a heard of buffalo. I was sorely tempted to run for the nearest tree to avoid the stampede. Seems like as a surprise not only Muriel had come but several other aunts and cousins. I wasn’t the only one that looked like they’d like to get out of the way; Cor’s eyes widened in near panic and I swear I saw horror written across the faces of some of the other men.
What got to me is how Francine burst into tears and all but fell in their arms. You would think she hadn’t seen them in a month of Sunday’s but I knew for a fact it had been less than two months as she had been visiting them when I had originally been taken into Kipling. Then she has to make everything that much worse when she stops, draws a breath and then dramatically announces, “Aunt Muriel, he finally did it … he took a second wife.” Then she falls into this kind of faint thing and I didn’t know whether to puke or howl with laughter.
Of course Cor, the big lunkhead, swoops in like the hero in one of those nauseating stories I used to read my sisters and picks the ninny up and carts her upstairs in his arms. She’s all pale and her hair is artfully curled and falling down his arms and her bosom all but tipping out and I would give another body part to know just how she rigged that to happen and have it look like a story book picture rather than just plain silly. Had I tried to pull something off like that I would have looked like a sack of sticks with a horsetail; probably would have drawn flies before someone got around to picking me up and hauling me off someplace … and it wouldn’t have been a soft feather bed if I don’t miss my guess.
And not only did she have her little dramatic scene but when the other men took high tail it out of there it left me to deal with eight of the most terrifying females I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. The women from the Lakesider tribe had nothing on these behemoths. And when they all turned to look at me I was wondering if I was the appetizer or the main course.
Then my wicked side rose to the surface as it sometimes did when I was under duress … and not so under duress if I’m honest … and I said, “Well, that was predictable. Francine has worked herself into another one of her sick headaches. I suggest we leave her to Cor. He’ll tuck her up and one of those long quiet naps she’s so fond of will fix her right up. I’m sure you ladies must be parched. If you’d care to come along I’ll make sure that you’re taken care of since it seems to be beyond Francine at the moment.”
I set them all in what Winnie had told me was called the parlor. I could tell I was not at all what they expected and I was going to keep it that way. The more on their heads I could keep them the less likely they would be able to work whatever mischief they were out to make. Right now about half of them looked like they smelled something that came in on the bottom of somebody’s shoe and the other half were trying to look friendly and failing miserably at it.
“If you ladies would excuse me just one moment I’ll be right back. There’s a fair breeze that comes through this window – assuming there is any breeze to be had of course – so hopefully you’ll feel a little cooler.”
I barreled into the kitchen and Mrs. Wiley asks, “They have you hopping already Gilly?”
“Uh … uh no. Um, you didn’t happen to move … ah, there it is.”
She stopped kneading the bread she had her hands buried in and then slowly looked up at me and said, “Gilly …” like my ol Gran would sometimes say when she suspected I was about to get up to something. Mrs. Wiley just shook her head and then went back to kneading the bread and I made my escape with what I had come for.
I had originally meant to make this for Cor and his men friends. The previous afternoon they’d hauled a bedstead from the assayer’s office to the cabin and even helped to set it up. Despite a few comments that turned Cor’s ears pink and turned my eyes inside out trying to find any place to look but at them, they were good natured enough and didn’t complain. I figured they deserved a treat and on top of that they were getting cooped up in the house when I knew every one of them would have been out for a gallop given have a chance.
I’d found the bottle when I had done all the cleaning in the cellar. I’d also found the jug of dried staghorn berries down there as well. It had immediately brought to mind something my Gramp would do every now and again when he got a bottle. I had made a batch of staghorn tea early that morning and then had set it to cool in a bucket of well water down in the cellar. The bottle was given the same treatment.
I remember when I found the bottle – along with the others of its kind – and had asked Jonah what it was. “Gilly, that there is rice lightening.”
“Don’t yer worry about it none. I best not ever catch yer drinking that stuff. It’ll turn yer tip over tail in no time.”
“You mean it is liquor made out of rice? Like mescal is made out of agave?”
He shook his head. “Not sure what mescal or that agave yers talking about is but like I said, better not catch yer drinking this stuff. This is a man’s drink and is meant to put hair on her chest.”
My Gramp used to take staghorn tea and lace it with mescal and make what he called “hard lemonade.” My Da said it wasn’t really lemonade but I wouldn’t know as I have never seen a real lemon much less tasted one. All I know is if Gramp had a glass or two of that mix of his, he slept really well. I was just going to give the Lathrop ladies a drop … or two … because they were bound to enjoy a nice long nap after the harrowing trip they must have experienced.
I took the tea pot and dumped the cool tea in and then tipped the bottle of rice lightening over in it so that some good sized splashes thinned the tea out a bit … or more than a bit if you were wanting to be exact. I took the tea service that Francine had cleaned up and took it and put that on a tray and away I went.
As soon as I walked in the door I found Cor being grilled. One old gudgeon was saying, “You really must let us send some help to you Cor. It wouldn’t be a problem. Consider it a late wedding present.”
“That’s all right Aunt Beulah, really. You know how I feel about such things. The Corman estates will stand on their own.”
Another biddy that looked like she sucked unripe persimmons to improve her disposition intoned, “Pride goeth before a fall.”
When he heard someone enter he turned quick in a flash like he was hoping to be rescued. Putting on my most eager to please face I said, “I am just so sorry I wasn’t quicker. I’m still learning all of these new things here at Cor’s home. I know if Francine was herself she’d be here to take care of you but since she isn’t please allow me to offer you some refreshments.”
I got a suspicious look from Cor but he was knocked off track when the head buffalo caught him a good one in the ribs with her elbow and said, “Cor dear, aren’t you going to introduce us?”
“Uh … well … that is … Hmmmm.” He stopped and cleared his throat looking like he’d rather be roasting on an open spit than doing what he’d been asked to do. “Aunt Muriel, may I present Fel … er …” I nearly snickered. He’d just realized he didn’t even know my Da’s surname.
“Fel … such an … unusual name.”
I would not have my goat gotten so easy. If they wanted to pick at me they’d need to sharpen their claws a little more. “My Da named me. Seems a lot of women in his family are called that including a sister and an aunt and his grandmother before that. Fel McConnell at your service ladies,” I said with a flourish as I handed dainty tea cups around. “I’m sure the trip must have been a taxing one but could you please, oh please tell me about it. There is still so much for me to learn and ladies such as yourselves I’m sure have a lot to teach. How did you dare travel so far alone? When the Captain … that would be Captain Uhl … brought me here we traveled with a large troop of men and it was ever such a rough trip; there were pirates and bandits and rough men, oh my.”
Aunt Muriel had just taken her first sip of the “tea” when she said, “Oh, what an … an unusual flavor. Quite tart, yet sweet.”
“I set it cooling early this morning. I knew the heat would be horrendous and wanted to make sure you had something proper to greet you. Francine was so antsy that I feared she might do herself some damage so I thought to try and alleviate at least some of her burden.”
All this time I could feel Cor staring at me hard enough to poke holes but I could not look at him for fear of giving the game up and laughing myself silly. Finally I’d seen that the aunts were ready for their second cuppa and I added to the fun. I had refilled everyone’s and then blinked hard and heavy at the tray. “Oh … oh dear. Cor I’m … I’m so sorry. You must think I’m the silliest thing with feathers where my brain should be and no manners at all. Next time you’d best say something even if it leaves me in for an embarrassment; mayhap then I’ won’t forget.”
“Huh?” I think he thought I’d lost my marbles.
Finally turning to him but not really looking him in the eyes I said, “I forgot all about your cup. Here you go.”
I didn’t give him a chance to do anything but take the cup from me that I nearly shoved into his chest. He raised the dainty thing to his lips and when he finally registered the taste of what he was drinking he set his cup back onto the saucer in such a way that I had to turn back to the ladies or it would have been all over right then.
Four cups and then finally I was able to lead them all sloshing up to their rooms. It wasn’t a very straight line mind you. They were already weaving a bit. Then once in their rooms I was oh so pleased to help them get comfortable and that they really should rest after such a strenuous adventure as they must have had. A couple of them were snoring before I left their rooms and then I returned to the parlor to clean up the mess.
The Captain had joined Cor and I caught them peering down into the tea pot. They both looked up as I entered the room. “What are you doing just standing around. I doubt we’ll see them again before supper. Far be it from me to make suggestions but now might be a good time to get Jonah to go see what he can find out from their wagon driver and perhaps you Captain could speak with their outriders on pretext of hearing if they had any problems at all. Cor you might want to see if Francine would like a bit of this tea to calm her nerves. It certainly appears to have loosened her aunts up a bit.
I had gathered everything up and was going back to the kitchen when Cor caught up with me and grabbed the teapot and peered inside it again. “I didn’t poison them you know.”
He gave me a suspicious look.
“You drank it too.”
His suspicious look got deeper and I decided to battle it with an innocent look in return.
He asked, “What is it?”
“Oh this? Tea.”
“That is not just tea.”
I shook my head and said, “Of course it is tea, but I never said it was just tea.”
Smiling I continued on to the kitchen, sat the tea pot down and was going to wash it but Mrs. Wiley said, “Leave it be Gilly. No sense in good drink going to waste. Jonah will want a spot of it I’m sure. Just set it in the cellar so it stays cool.”
“Yes Mrs. Wiley.”
I was going to make my escape but she caught me as I was leaving and said, “You’ll get away with that this time but you’ll have to come up with something else for next.”
I gave her a bear got the honeypot look and said, “Oh I will.”
ROFLMAO. Fel will be just fine. I'm just wondering about the what the Captain knows about her family. I remember his reaction when she told him about her Da.
“Being allies does not mean you make my life harder than you already have!”
I slapped a mosquito that was out here in the twilight and then in a reasonable voice I told Cor, “If you wanted to talk here at the cabin so other people wouldn’t overhear us then I suggest shouting loud enough to be heard in the Outlands is not going to accomplish your goal.” Cor looked like he had been through a real pile on. The sleeves of his cotton shirt were rolled up to his elbows but unevenly, his leather vest was all askew, the tail of the shirt was half in and half out, and his hair looked like he’d been struck by lightning. There were also some pink splotches where none belonged.
Sighing I asked, “Francine really pulled out the waterworks huh?”
“What?” Then looking suspiciously at me he said, “How did you know? Is that what you were going after?”
“No, I wasn’t going after Francine you lunk, she’s nowhere up to my weight in this fight no matter what her aunts might think … and from what I’ve seen so far neither are they. It’s just that her coloring pots are all over your front.”
He looked down and then starting wiping at them. Snarling at me he said, “Look what you’ve done. If this is how you behaved no wonder you had to worry about men where you are from beating you.”
He knew immediately he’d crossed the line; my body language must have been screaming it even if I wasn’t. “Wait! Dammit!! That came out wrong I didn’t mean literally …” More quietly he said, “Damn Fel … don’t look like that … I’d never …” Then he fell silent as a lot of the fight just went out of him. After a moment of both of us trying to jigger around, me looking for a way to escape that wouldn’t cause me to break my neck in the dark and him trying to be careful not to set me off in a run but making sure that if I did his much longer legs would catch me before I got too far, he admitted, “That was uncalled for. I told you sometimes my anger caused the words coming out of my mouth to get ahead of my brain. This … this is one of those times. I … I didn’t mean it.”
He sounded ashamed. I shouldn’t have let him off but I suppose everyone deserves at least one second chance. I’d been given a few and it was time to pay it forward. Still I told him quietly, “You did mean it … you just don’t understand what your words really mean. For all you are a grown man Cor with more years than me – though not as many as you act - for all you’ve been all over the place and have lots of experience with both the good and the bad life can throw at you, you’ve never had to live like I have. You’ve never been that far down the pecking order. You’ve always been someone special, someone people want to know or be able to say that they are friends with the heir of the Corman family. You meant what you said … but this time I’ll also accept that you didn’t mean for it to come out of your mouth.”
He reached out with his hand out palm up for I don’t know what reason but I wasn’t biting. I backed up and he sighed, shook his head, and then dropped the hand slowly. He turned away and then said quietly, “Why would you do something so … so … hare brained? They had barely gotten in the door and you got them drunk?! They missed lunch and then when they didn’t come to check on her like she expected Francine went to look for them. At first she just thought they were exhausted from their journey but when they finally woke for dinner all bleary eyed and they all figured out …” He shook his head again. “Then the way you acted all through dinner. They couldn’t tell whether you were having a joke on them or not. First you’d act cool as a cucumber and then you would act feather headed. Francine was hoping for an evening of entertainment and company and instead your hijinks sent them all to bed early to finish recovering. Even I was getting a headache trying to keep up with your nonsense. Then when I wanted Francine and I to … er … retire a little early for the evening since it would be the last chance for a while we wind up in a fight because she said that you are spoiling everything.”
I said, “I hope you reminded her that I wasn’t your choice, that it was her own doing that brought this situation on.”
Frustrated he banged his fist on the side of the cabin and said, “That’s what started the fight. Francine and I never fight. I’ve never seen her this upset. She was being completely illogical. First she said she hadn’t wanted this second wife business at all which is a fairadiddle because she most certainly did; she even mentioned it when we were honeymooning. Then she said you were my fault and I reminded her I hadn’t even known about you until I got back from my run down to the Southern Region and I was expected to just accept it all without a fuss because all the proxy paperwork had already been filed and approved by the Council. Then she tried to make it out like the council was doing this and I reminded her that her family was part of the necessary unanimous vote on all proxy marriages. I also told her that I’d heard nothing but this second wife business being what she needed to be able to handle the ‘less than optimal’ conditions she faced here on the estate. Then she really blew up and said I was trying to blame her aunts for this whole mess when all they wanted what was best for her and she went back to blaming you. Then I …”
“You what?” I prompted since he seemed to need to bleed off some of his shock from his sweet little Francine finally showing that she had some teeth and claws to her.
He hunched his shoulders and said, “Then I asked her if she was up to helping around the house yet or not since supposedly that is what this whole second wife business was supposed to do, ease her burdens.”
“What did she say to that?” I asked pretty surprised that he’d actually been angry enough to let it slip out.
“She said that I had only married her to have a housekeeper and the stress and strain of it all was why she hadn’t … hadn’t …”
“It’s her aunts you see.” I didn’t see so I kept my mouth shut and waited a bit until he finally said, “They keep bringing up the fact that she isn’t … isn’t … er … pregnant yet. Normally by now – though they’ve been more … er … distracted than they normally are - they are complaining that I travel too much and poor Francine isn’t receiving the … er … attention that is her due and that I should have been able to … er … provide her some … er … comfort by now.”
I snorted in disbelief. “From the way you make things out to be you and Francine don’t have any problems in the … er … comfort department.”
Outraged he stood back up and snapped, “We don’t!”
In a calming voice I told him, “Then Francine will get caught when she gets caught. For some it happens the first time and for others it takes a while is all. Fretting about it isn’t going to make it happen any sooner and might actually make it worse.”
“That’s what Winnie has said.”
I nodded even if he could see me in the dark. “And Winnie is full of good sense. Besides, given what she has had to go through with babes she ought to know … she and the Captain both.”
His only answer was a noncommittal, “Hmmmm.”
“Now that you’ve got that off your chest what say you go back to the house and get some rest since you intend to be off to the fort tomorrow.”
“I will as soon as you explain what kind of game you are playing.”
I figured if he wasn’t seeing it that I had no choice but to explain it to him. “Remember how you said you couldn’t even guess how I was going to act from one minute to the next?”
“That’s not exactly what I said. I said you were acting hare brained.”
I could hear a bit of relief in his voice that I wasn’t holding onto a grudge from what he said which I suppose I should count as a good thing. I was learning that Cor could roar and be nasty about it but that he wasn’t fond of that part of himself and felt bad afterwards; probably leftover Da issues where he didn’t want to turn out like his old man had done. Not wanting to be forced to manage him but suspecting that I would have to on occasion I decided to use a bit of humor right to put him more at ease. “Good eye ‘cause that was the effect I was going after. Reckon you’ve hunted a few hares have you?”
“A few,” he agreed.
“Ever watched them evading something that was out to eat them? How they seem to move this way and that so that they are always as many jumps ahead of what is after them as possible?”
He snorted in the dark and said, “And I’ve seen a few bloody carcasses where the strategy didn’t work.”
“Oh well, nothing in life works every single time. They missed my cotton tail this ‘un.” I heard him swallow a chuckle and I finished by saying, “It worked this time Cor because they weren’t expecting it. They had some idea that I was just some dirty, uneducated Outland female. I can guess exactly what they thought they were going to do.”
“They were going to show up like a bunch of fairy godmothers and by the time they were done turning me from Cinderella into a princess I’d be so grateful and so in their pocket that I’d be the perfect tool for whatever use they put me to. They still think they can but Da didn’t raise me to be a fool for man nor woman. If this is the best the Lathrops have to offer then we’ll have no troubles.”
Finally thinking and being serious rather than furious Cor said almost to himself, “So Uncle Rob is right, the Lathrops really do mean to try and add the Corman family to their side of the equation. I still don’t believe that Francine understands what it all means but her aunts surely must.” Turning more directly to me he added, “But a word of warning Fel, it isn’t really these women that we need to worry about but the heads of the family on the Council. And not just the heads of the Lathrop family. If they truly are trying to build a coalition and had enough power to force a proxy marriage on me while I wasn’t even around to defend myself from it, then it has to be more than just one family in on this. The Lathrops provide most of the fuel for the settlement and have quite a bit of old tech still in working order that they will lend out … at a cost and not always of coins. Their currency includes favors and influence as well.”
“And you married into this family? Willingly?”
Quietly he said, “Not everyone in the family is like that. There are some good people there that treated the young boy I was with a great deal of care and kindness. Francine’s mother was a gentle soul, even more fragile than Francine is. She died when Francine was barely into her teens. Her father is a good man even if he and I don’t see eye to eye on the issue of multiple marriages. He works his fingers to the bone to provide for all of his wives and children equally and fairly.”
Just as quietly I said, “I never said they were demons from a hot zone. But what they want to do is wrong even if, in their eyes, they have the best of intentions. And the way they are going about having their way is even more wrong. Realizing they would do this to you, doesn’t it make you question everything else you thought you knew about them as well?”
It was obvious he wasn’t ready to go that far with it when he said, “There has to be something salvageable from this mess. The Lathrops and Cormans have been friends for generations. Both of our estates have too much to offer the other. Some of the rice straw that is leftover from our harvest time goes towards their biofuel production. We also have the largest paper mill in Kipling where we turn some of the rice straw into paper rather than clear cutting the forest like they did in the old days and because we do it they don’t have to; they’re estate is much more barren of trees than ours being almost exclusively devoted to silage crops for the biofuel production. The rice and cotton we produce gets traded directly for biofuel, and in fact we are one of the larger contractors because of the size of our fields that require farm machinery to keep in production. The only thing that separates our estates is the ridge you can see to the north and the independent farms that exist between here and there. We’ve lived in harmony since the Dark Days. I can’t understand why they would seek to change things and certainly not like this.”
“Who knows why people do what they do? All we know is that they are doing it and it’s up to us to stop it since no one else seems interested in doing so.”
“Uncle Rob says we have allies on the Council so we aren’t completely alone.”
“And those others don’t seem too willing to put their own neck on the chopping block yet.”
He sighed and then admitted, “True.”
“Cor my ways might not be your ways but that don’t mean I’m using them for anything other than your benefit … and in the process mine. If they don’t know me, aren’t sure of me, then they won’t know exactly how to handle or manage me. And if they can’t do that then they won’t be able to manipulate me as easily. I’m not saying they won’t still do it, but they’ll have to work harder and take longer to do it and that will give us time to create a counter strategy.”
There was a little bite of cynicism and disbelief to his words when Cor asked me, “And what would you know about strategy?”
Trying to remember that most people didn’t expect Outlanders to have too much intelligence above a sand lizard and not get offended by it, “Da said it was the bread and butter of his folks. He just didn’t want the life they had planned for him until he’d gotten out and experienced a little of life on his own terms. His own terms just kind of led him down an unexpected path. Just because he didn’t use it the way his people did didn’t mean that he wasn’t good at it and that he didn’t teach those same lessons to me.”
“Is your name really Fel McConnell? Uncle Rob didn’t seem to believe that it was when I explained what had happened to Francine’s aunts.”
I said a little snappy because I disliked being thought a liar, “Well if he doesn’t believe me he can come ask me himself. That’s the name my Da gave me and my Ma agreed to. If he doesn’t like it that’s just too bad.”
“No need to get bent out of shape Fel. It’s an honest question.”
“How would you like it if someone asked if your name was really Corman?”
“Point taken … Prickle Burr.”
He seemed to be making that a sort of nickname for me. I’d never really had one before … at least not one that you’d hear in polite company though the Headman had been fond of calling me a few things on a regular basis. Da and the rest of the family had just always called me Fel.
Cor shook himself like he was getting rid of the last of whatever was riding him and said, “Let’s go back to the house, I still have a few things to take care of with Uncle Rob so that I can leave tomorrow. Do you have those letters written you wanted to send?”
“Yes. I’ve given them to the Captain already. He said he’d put them in with the packets you were carrying. But I’m not going back to the house.”
“Fel, it isn’t safe wandering around in the dark on a nearly moonless night like tonight.”
“I can see better than you think but I don’t plan on wandering around. I’m staying here at the cabin.”
“What?! It’s not even finished.”
I told him, “It’s more finished than the place I used to live.”
He tried a different tact. “There’s no bar on the door yet.”
It met with the same result. “And all we had was a hide to cover the doorway into the long house and that didn’t keep the wind out much less anything more substantial. Stop fussing Cor. The plan was for me to move here so that Francine could have the house. What is the sense in putting that off? Especially now that her aunts are visiting? They’ll see that she isn’t being … what did the Captain call it … oh yeah … they’ll see she isn’t being disenfranchised and that you still hold her in high esteem and aren’t more interested in your new toy.”
He squeaked, “Of course I’m not!”
I chuckled at his predictable reaction. “You know it obviously, and I’m smart enough to know it. I’m still not sure exactly what the Lathrops mean for me to be within their plans, but this way I’m not quite so close and underfoot and can maybe get a better idea of it. Let’s see what they make of it while you’re gone. Look, just go make up with Francine … you know that is what you want to do. Leave me to live my life the best I can. It is what we agreed to.”
There was a little grumbling on his part but not much. He really did want to make up with Francine.
I like a heroine with spunk and Fel has it aplenty. Will be interesting to see how Francine and her Aunts try to manipulate her when Cor is gone.