Love those last two chapters! What a hoot Fel is going to be!
Love those last two chapters! What a hoot Fel is going to be!
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.
This week started out … anticlimactic. I could have called it a lot of things but that is the word that describes it best. I was ready for a fight or challenge but I wasn’t given one which left me a little disappointed I admit, especially as I was looking for a brangle to get into.
Cor did leave to go to the fort as planned but I don’t think he got any making up from Francine. He looked like a thundercloud was riding his shoulders; angry and trying not to show it but doing a poor job of it. Francine was all stiff but trying to act cut up at the same time. I could have told her that was the worst way to handle a man with a hot temper but she probably would have played sad or dumb and told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about or that I just didn’t understand. Cor slammed his hat on his head and rode away with most of the men that had been hanging around – the rest having departed going to their other destinations earlier in the day – without a word to anyone after Francine wouldn’t even look at him properly. Not that I personally expected a word from him but at the same time I would have liked to have told him I planned on giving them a couple of lumps for him.
What made me a little angry was to watch Francine drift into the house acting all pathetic and tragic but then within the hour she was all bright and happy with her aunts. I wanted a target for my anger and was coming up with plots but I never got the chance to implement them because it was like I didn’t exist. Well, not that exactly but they would stare at me blankly for the most part if they couldn’t ignore me.
For a few days this continued and even the Captain was getting a little bent out of shape about it. He asked me to come with him and visit for a spell with Winnie. While we were up there in the rooms they shared the Captain and I explained what was going on and at first I thought Winnie was having a fit of some kind.
She was hunched over going, “Ow. Ow. Oh … don’t.”
The Captain and I both jumped up to see what we could do for her but then she leaned back and we could see she was holding her stomach and laughing of all things.
A little shocked the Captain asks, “Winnie?! My dear, are you …”
“Oh, I … I’m sorry,” she finally sputtered. “I didn’t mean to worry you but I would have given a lot to see what you described and then be a fly on the wall when neither one of you reacted the way they are obviously expecting you to.”
“Huh? Winnie,” I said. “Are you sure you aren’t suffering from heat exhaustion or something? Maybe a cool bath would help.”
That set her off for a moment again. “Oh my Dears … you are both … oh …” She finally stopped chuckling again and explained, “They are giving you the silent treatment.”
I had a hard time believing that. “The silent treatment?! You’re joking. They just about talk the color off the walls and you call that silent?”
Well that set her off again and the Captain must have finally understood because he was getting a laugh out of it as well. I wasn’t. I still didn’t get it.
Trying to explain Winnie said, “Fel this is their way of showing they disapprove of you in some way. They are … hmmm, what’s the best word … well, to put it bluntly my Dear they are being deliberately discourteous as a form of punishment.”
I just looked at her and then said, “Their adobe is over-baked if they think that is going to work with me. The more they ignore me the happier I’ll be. What, did they think I was going to suck up to them or something to get them to pay some attention to me?”
Winnie smiled and said, “Let’s just say they have a rather high opinion of themselves and are rather more used to managing girls like Francine than Outland girls. Peer pressure can be a powerful thing. What they do not understand is that you do not consider them your peers and therefore could care less what they think.” Wiping her eyes she added, “The Captain told me of your suspicions as far as what they intended. The Cinderella effect sounds exactly like something they would do; it would leave them looking and feeling like benefactors rather than the manipulators they in reality are striving to be.” After a brief hesitation and in a said voice she told me, “I must admit that I am a bit disappointed in how she and Cor were unable to settle things before he left for the fort. It is unwise to separate in such a fashion. The Captain and I are very careful to never close our eyes for the evening while there is a problem between us and certainly never part on such terms. One never knows if the last time you say good bye to someone is the last time you’ll ever get to say good bye to them.” She shuddered and suddenly seemed depressed.
Alarmed and trying to figure out some way to make her feel better I said, “Winnie why don’t you and the Captain have a nice private dinner up here. I’ll arrange it and you can have some quiet time together. What say you Captain? I’ll make your excuses to Francine. She won’t think it unusual.”
The Captain, looking more than a little relieved to get out of being the only male at a table full of females said, “I do believe Winnie would be better for some company. Make our excuses to the ol’ … er … just give Francine my apologies.”
I did better than that. I found Francine and the buffalo heard in the parlor and told her, “The Captain sends his apologies as he needs to remain with Winnie for the evening.”
It wasn’t Francine that answered however as it appeared that she had abdicated her position of authority in favor of her Aunt Muriel. “Should a healer be sent for? Or perhaps a midwife,” she asked with high interest.
“No ma’am, she be fine … just tired like and needing the comfort of her husband with her time so near.”
When she didn’t respond with more than a regal bob of her head I said, “And begging your pardon but I expect having me in the middle of yore gatherin’s has interfered with yore time together. I’ll be taking my supper in the kitchen with Mrs. Wiley after I put everything on the long table in the dining hall so that the lot of you ladies can have some quality family time.” I said the last phrased like it was something I had memorized based on what someone else had told me.
One of the others, a woman named Hazel who was quite handsome when she wasn’t staring down her nose at you, said, “It is called a buffet.”
“Yes’m. A boo-fay. I’ll remember that ‘un.”
A twitter from around the room from everyone but Francine that was looking at me strangely was followed by Hazel saying graciously, “Close enough.”
As I left the room I could hear a confused Francine tell her aunts, “You must really overwhelm her. She isn’t normally this bad. I mean she’s very … mmmm … rustic, but usually she tries harder than this.”
Francine hasn’t figured my game out yet but she is certainly less stupid than she’s given credit for being. I’ll have to watch how thick I lay it on from here on out.
With that excuse firmly in place I went to tell Mrs. Wiley of the change. “But don’t worry, I’ll do the fetching and carrying.”
She shook her head. “The boys can bring the dishes in from the dining hall but yer’d best handle the breakables for the Captain and his missus. I don’t trust them mischief makers on the stairs. I can see them tumbling down and breaking both the dishes and their heads.”
I asked if she wanted me to help and she said, “No, everything is under control. I’ve got the boys on the porch peeling taters now. But you’s best go find Jonah. Him was around looking for yers earlier and hims got some bee in his bonnet about somethin’.”
I found him out in one of the larger gardens stringing netting over several beds and some trees and some bushes. “Jonah, Mrs. Wiley said you wanted to see me.”
He wiped his face with an old square of cloth and then nodded. “That I did Gilly. Strawberries are in and what do yer mean ter do with them? Lookin’ like a bumper crop this year.”
I looked at him blankly. “What do you mean what do I mean to do with them?”
“Well, someone needs to decide what’s ter do with ‘em.”
Suspiciously I asked, “Who normally decides what to do with them?”
Innocently he says, “The lady of the house only Miss Francie never has given much care to anything like this. I do hate ter see it all go ter waste again this year. It’s like picking money out a Young Cor’s coin bag.”
I crossed my arms and said, “Jonah, I only have a vague idea what a strawberry is. I mean I’ve seen them in books and my Da told me about them, but …”
“Well that’s soon fixed,” he said and before I could do much more than jump he’d stuffed one in my mouth. It’s hard to explain how something tastes when you don’t have anything to compare it to but all I knew is that I fell in love right then and there.
“Oh,” I said quietly. My mouth was so full of juice and spit it just about leaked out of the corners of my mouth but I wasn’t letting any of it escape it was just that good.
Looking at the large round and tiered beds I couldn’t believe how many red berries I was seeing. I would have started to graze like a cow if something hadn’t struck me as strange. “Jonah, are you telling me that this all goes to waste every year but you plant a new crop anyway?”
“Aw, well as ter that, I’m not saying they alls go ter waste zactly. Mary used ter call a couple of women up from the village when Miss Winnie gives her the say so but Mary’s not here and Miss Winnie ain’t in no fit condition to be worrying at it.”
I just looked at him and realized he was trying to get me to do something again. “Jonah, if you want me to do something then just say so. I trust you.”
And I did but when I said it I suppose I surprised us both. His face lit with pleasure and he said, “Well then Gilly, if it was me I’d be making plans because we’s gonna have problems shortly if someone don’t.”
“What … what kind of plans?”
“Wellž doing all that cleaning and women’s work in the main house was needed, no doubt, but this here estate be more than jus’ a house. And there be more than just cleaning ter keep up with everything. And feedin’ people means more than jus’ cookin’. That foods gotter comes from sum where.”
Looking around I said, “You don’t mean that all the food for the estate comes from these gardens do you?”
“Naw, uh uh. The grains and sech are mostly handled at the farms … estate and free. O’ course every farm has its own gardens for private use. The houses down in the village der too. What yer see in these gardens go fer two purposes Gilly. First off they gots ter support the house and those in and working fer it. Now days that ain’t ser many as once twer.”
“You said they served two purposes. What’s the other?”
“Well, the ways things are suppose ter work is that the extry from the gardens goes to support the widders and orphans and the old folks too bad off to do for themselves or that are takin’ care o’ youngin’s what ain’t got anyone younger that can or will take ‘em.”
I heard something in his voice. “Supposed to?”
He nodded and I could see in his face a deep disappointment. “Last few years Young Cor’s been off trying ter save the estate fer the people. What he fergot is the estate is the people.”
I put my hand on his arm and said, “You call him Young Cor for a reason Jonah.”
He sighed and nodded. “I know it. We kept waiting fer him ter figger things out. Then when he brung Miss Francie home we was sure that even if he didn’t know what was supposed ter be done that she would coming from a big fancy place like the Lathrops run. But she … she don’t seem up fer the job. We thought all was lost … now here yers is here and we’s gots another chance to do right by the people.”
I was appalled, sympathetic, and outraged all at the same time. “Why didn’t someone tell Cor? How was he supposed to know with a Da like he got? And the Captain didn’t know either; he said himself that he never really knew anything about estate management.”
“Young Cor wasna home during the right times ter show him.”
“Then why didn’t someone talk to Francine the way you are talking to me?”
“Mary tried. Miss Winnie tried. She wus jes …” He shook his head unwilling to speak ill of someone that was supposed to be the lady of the estate I suppose.
I felt a horrible weight. A frightening weight. When I had come to understand that there was not escape for me from being a second wife I thought all I would have to do was survive that. Then I found out that there was a type of feud that caused my situation and I thought to survive that. What Jonah was causing me to face was something completely different. He made me realize that it wasn’t just about me, or about Cor, or about Francine nor even the Captain and Winnie. The people that depended on the estate were real and they were getting desperate. They had to be to think that an Outlander nobody like me was their last hope.
I looked at Jonah and suddenly I wasn’t seeing him but Docia and Hannah and Nel and the other girls that first winter after the feud when we had all lost our parents. The Headman, new at the time but known to us by his brutal reputation, made sure that what food was left was pieced out to the men first and then their families. The rest of us, weaker and younger or weaker and old, that served no purpose or had no connection were left to make do the best way we could. So many died that winter that it was nearly as bad as replaying the feud all over again but the enemy wasn’t the Lakesider tribe but cold and starvation. I vowed that I’d never sit back and let that happen again and when I was taken from the town, even though it was against my will, I thought never to have to do face that type of thing again. But here I was. And there was Jonah staring at me like I was something that I wasn’t.
“I … I don’t know what to do Jonah,” I told him quietly. He sighed in defeat and turned away but I grabbed his arm and tugged him back. “I don’t know what to do right now … but … I can learn. If someone will tell me and teach me, we’ll see if we can’t put what has gone wrong back on track … put the order of things back the way they are supposed to be. I’m … I’m just going to need some help. I don’t think I can do this alone.”
“Well … that I can help yers with. We got lots o’ bodies that would be willing ter work it out. As fer the rest, me sister knows a thing or three ‘bout what’s ter do with what’s comes outta the gardens so they lasts the longest. She’s also friends with the preacher man’s wife and mother. Them women should be able to say who is in the most need right now and the rest can be set aside the way it used ter fer the hard times down the road.”
He patted my shoulder and I was left standing in the middle of it all. Part of me wanted to scream that it was too much, too frightening and part of me was thinking about how lonesome and without purpose I had been since my sisters no longer needed me. Then I recalled something my Gran would say every once in a while. “Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.”
I had prayed to find some way to survive the fate I had been handed. I knew the feud between the Lathrops and Cormans couldn’t last forever, that eventually something would end it one way or the other. I saw the empty and lonely years stretch far off into the future after that with me growing old and alone trying to make something out of the nothing of my life. This … this need that Jonah had shown me … it offered me purpose. For how long I wasn’t sure but even if it was just this one season I suddenly decided to grab it in both hands.
Fel is maturing and stepping up to her role. Inspiring!
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Thank you, Kathy.
I truly enjoy reading your writings.
There you go, Woman; get that estate whipped in to shape!!
Sure do appreciate you sharing Fel's story, Kathy!
Thanks for another chapter Kathy. It just keeps getting better and better!
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
this is a great story!! whhooohhoooo!!!!!
"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
When Jonah said that Mrs. Wiley knew what to do with things from the garden he was not exaggerating. I was amazed at what she could do with the sweet, red berries. We were as industrious as beavers and frugal as church mice, not a single berry was allowed to go to waste.
Women from the village came early the next morning and we picked all the ripe berries on the plants. After it became too warm to pick the berries we would take them to great tubs on the kitchen porch and cut the green caps from them and then slice them for whatever Mrs. Wiley decided we needed to do next. First came the strawberry preserves that used honey to sweeten it; some went home with the village women but most of it went down into the coolest park of the cellar.
Next was dried strawberries on the great drying screens that Jonah pulled from the barn and cleaned. We made strawberry pulp leathers and put them down into the cold cellar for later use as well.
After we had been at this a couple of days I came out of the field to a surprise. Francine and her aunts were in the kitchen helping Mrs. Wiley who is never one to turn away a willing hand. I don’t know if Francine’s hands were willing but they were certainly working under her aunt’s strict guidance.
Muriel, addressing me, said, “I am glad to see that you are willing to learn the art of housewifery. I am afraid I had begun to despair of seeing you take your place as a wife. Dear Francine should not be left to do all the work.”
I nearly choked and if I hadn’t had a mouth full of strawberry I might have said something unwise. Instead I gave the woman a vacuous smile and she seemed content with that as a reply.
It was a couple of days later that Cor returned. He was absolutely amazed at finding Francine working away and believed everything the aunts fed him hook, line and sinker … and I suspect as much because he wanted to as because he is a lunkhead where some things are concerned.
At dinner that night the two lovebirds were all smiles for one another. I was happy to be ignored as I had sliced my thumb open capping strawberries and then gotten salt in it where I was stirring a batter of strawberry break. The thumb was thumping like a drum and I was eager to be away from all the noise … what was at the table and what my thumb was making. Then Hazel who had taken some strange delight in trying to whip me into shape said, “Cor Dear.” He looked at her and then she looked down the table towards me. I had no idea what she was up to but I wasn’t biting.
She kept looking at him and then looking at me pointedly. When none of us seem to be getting it she finally sighed and said to me, “Fel … Dear … please don’t worry. You will get your turn with Cor. I am sure that he brought you something from the fort as well.”
I nearly swallowed my tongue in quick and had a hard time coming up with a reply until my humor kicked in. “Aw Missus Hazel. I wouldn’t feel right taking time away from Francine. She was here first and when Cor left things in such a pucker. I won’t hold it against him none. Cor’s just glad she’s forgiven him and ‘tis only right that they have some alone time down there at the other end of the table. I know you wouldn’t think so as I’m a little hard headed but I have learned some manners since I was brung out of the Outlands.”
Mrs. Wiley was carrying out the leftovers from the strawberry cake she’d made for a treat and she nearly dropped the platter. I jumped up to save it and her … and in point of fact myself. I turned and said brightly, “Reckon this here is my cue. Thank you so much Missus Hazel for thinking of me so kindly but you folks should be able to talk amongst yourselves without having to worry whether you are leaving me in the dust or not.”
I followed Mrs. Wiley out to the kitchen carrying half the dishes while she carried the other half. After we sat the dishes in the tubs and the boys commenced to washing them Mrs. Wiley took my arm firmly and steered me to the two rooms that she had for her personal use. “I want ter see that thumb o yers.”
I started to say, “It’s fine …”
When she said, “I’ll have that thumb or I just might paddle yore behind like it deserves. Yer knows yer got more sense thens the way yer acts around them. I nearly dropped the dishes at that antic yer just pulled in thar. Why do yer hide yer brain like that?”
Trying to think of a truth that wouldn’t reveal the rest of my lie I told her, “Because they are meddlesome. They’re trying to force Cor to be some way he isn’t. They’re bossy and I … I just don’t want to give them any idea that their bossing will work on me.”
“Then jes tell ‘em that Gilly. What’s ter use of all the games?”
Then I told her, “Because I don’t necessarily want them to know they can’t boss me around.”
She stopped at gave me a searching look. “Yer don’t trust ‘em none.”
I shrugged as she turned my thumb gently this way and that. “Let’s just say that I’ve got reason to believe the Lathrops want to have more say in what goes on around here than they should.”
Another pause and she asks carefully, “You think Miss Francie is in on it?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know what to think of Francine.”
“Thet’s not a yes er no.”
I shook my head again. “But it’s the only answer I can make that comes close enough to the truth that it isn’t a lie. I won’t try and set Cor against Francine and I won’t say something that makes people take sides when doing so will surely hurt someone real bad one way or the other. All I care about right now is making sure people have enough to eat this winter.”
She asked me no more questions. I said goodnight. And then I headed off to the cabin, but not before giving her a wicked look and snitching a couple of strawberries which made her laugh and shake her head.
Once in the cabin I decided to let myself relax. I was shaking my skirts out after washing up in a basin of cool water and putting on a long shirt that doubled as my sleeping outfit. Since my family died I had been used to sleeping in the clothes that I stood up in all day … both because that was all I had and because it was another layer of protection against our occasional night time “visitor”. But every time I turned around something was just sort of appearing in my laundry and for once I was grateful not to have to deal with threadbare breast bands and loin cloths and the few other underlinens that I put up with.
There was a unexpected knock on the door and I grabbed my knife from the small table where I had set it. By the time I turned around the doorway was filled with male and I was fit to be tied.
I hissed, “Cor! Are you looking to get gutted?!”
“Shhh! I wouldn’t put it passed those cacklers to be watching and listening in.”
He leaned against the door to close it in relief and then after a solid glance in my direction that left his jaw open and swinging in the breeze he slammed his hand over his eyes. “Put some clothes on!” he yelped quietly.
“They’re damp you loony. I’m not going to catch sick over something this silly, not even for you. Hang on if the sight of me is burning your eyes out of their sockets.” I pulled my extra quilt off the end of the bed and told him, “You can uncover your eyes now.”
He carefully peeked and then dropped his hand. I couldn’t help it, I laughed at him. He was embarrassed then angry and then quickly shook his head and said, “You don’t have to rub it in you know. You just caught me off guard.”
“Well maybe next time you knock you ought to way until you are invited in.”
He nodded and said, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He looked a little big for the cabin and he started looking uncomfortable again. I said, “Did you have some reason in particular to be here?”
“Huh? Oh … yeah. Francine and her aunts, they … uh … they don’t think I was … uh … sharing …”
When he sputtered to a stop I asked, “Sharing what?”
He sighed and then said, “Me.”
I couldn’t help it. The look on his face was just too much. It was a good thing Daphne had cured me of personal vanity long ago. Instead all I could do was laugh … and laugh and laugh. I hadn’t laughed like that … well, in a long, long time.
With my eyes streaming I finally stopped and saw Cor sitting in the rocker trying not to laugh himself. He looked at me and he said, “And you call me a loon.”
Wiping my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt I said, “Seriously, why are you here.”
“Seriously, I’m here right now because that’s what they expect. I was going to wait until the morning but I might as well give them to you now.”
“Give me what?” I asked.
He picked up a sack he had set inside the door that I hadn’t noticed. He offered it to me but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. “Go on Fel, take it … it’s yours.”
“That’s not my rucksack.”
“I know it. You waiting for me to upend it for you or don’t you want your letters?”
“My letters?” I asked trying to hide my disappointed. “Didn’t you get to see Docia?”
He smiled and said, “Saw her and then went back to pick up her return letter for you. She said she’s sorry if the letter is a little stained but she was crying buckets and buckets for finally hearing from you. She also was able to get letters from a couple of the other girls you call sister and stick them in there too.”
I looked at him afraid to hope. “You better not be fooling me.”
He finally realized how important this was to me and said quietly, “I wouldn’t fool about this Fel. Here, take the sack … the letters and a couple of other things are in there too.”
Kathy, I'm so glad I found you again. Followed your writings through several forums for a few years. Looks like this might be the one to stay with!
I'm always amazed by the way you develop characters' personalities, as well as your extensive volabulary.
Of course, we want MORE!!
Thank you Kathy for the bedtime story tonight. Your writing always puts a smile on my face.
I can't wait to see where you take this
I took the sack and opened it cautiously. I trusted Cor but only up to my memories giving me reason to be cautious. The Headman had handed me a rucksack full of snakes once and if I had just stuck my hand down in the bag I would have been black as a burnt log and deader than dead … in fact without the caution that my Da taught me was the first survival skill you needed I would have been dead several times already in this life.
I carefully opened the sack over near the fireplace where I could peer down inside it first. When all looked OK I plopped down onto the floor and carefully upended the sack in front of me. Several pieces of folded rice paper were tied together with a piece of rough, gray yarn. There was also a few paper wrapped bundles but it was the letters that I was after first.
With shaking hands I untied the bundle of papers and they fell loose in my lap. The first one I picked up was from Hannah and was typical. She was a good speller but she hated writing because she was so slow and because she had a hard time forming the letters in the right directions.
Fel, I miss you so much. I just want you to know I am good with life. I enjoy being married. I hope you do. Carter and his brother are fine men. Nel says she enjoys being married too. They don’t hit. Carter killed a small bear with only his hands when it charged me while I was getting water from the creek. He shook for two hours and would not let me out of his sight. I am big but he treats me like I will break. I like being married real good. I will tell the others things and they can write more. Your sisters, Hannah and Nel
I refolded it slowly and carefully and the next letter I picked up was from Daphne of all people. I was very surprised as I didn’t know that she could read or write.
Fel, I am shure u r suprized to here from me. I am suprized to. I nevar thot that I wuld miss u but I do. I culd uze sum help with the she cats a round here. Lem sayz thay r jellus az thay did not git picked to be wifes in the furst famalys. I told Lem it waz stoopid because I did not care so long as I got to be hiz wife, it did not matter if he was furst or not. He smiled at me. He smiles at me all the tyme. He is diferant from uncle. I am very glad to no that not all men r like uncle. I am going to have a babee. Mona is surprized that I tuuk so soon. Lem and I want to hav many babes so hiz ma will hav a lot to keep her buzy and not b so buzy with him. She is nice, better than ant but do not tell hur I sad so. I do not think peeple here no whut it iz like in the Outlands. Sum r soft. Sum jest do not want to believe thet stuf still hapens even tho the dark dayz are over. Lem’s ma buyz me to much stuf. She spinds more coyns now thet a babe will be here. Lem sad I kan send this to u az I hav more then I kan ever ware. Docia cryd wen she hurd frum u. She axed us to rite to u becose you r far away and will be lonely with no wun to take car of. I wisht u were here to hep me with the catz. Ur sister, Daphne
There was a paper covered bundle that I knew was from Daphne because it was labeled “Frum Daphne” in the same blocky lettering she had used to write the letter. She seemed to have changed but not so much that she wouldn’t want me to know exactly what came from her. It made me smile for old times sake. The edges of the paper had been folded so that you didn’t need string to hold it closed which I thought was clever. I went from smiling to laughing at what I took out after I figured out what it was.
Cor made a strange noise and I looked up to find him staring off at anything but the silly, frilly things I had in my hands. “Cor, for you to be a grown, married man you sure do act like a boy that hasn’t even gotten fuzzy yet.”
He gave me an irritated look and then shook his head. “You aren’t the least embarrassed are you?”
Shaking my head I said, “I refuse to be embarrassed of silly things and certainly not because I’m female. I don’t know why you would be either. Surely you’ve seen Francine prancing around in things like this since it seems this is what women here wear.”
Stubbornly he said, “That’s not the point.”
Conceding some of the point I told him, “OK, maybe it would be a little different if you saw Francine in them but this is just me and we both know there’s nothing between us.”
“That’s not the point either. I mean it is but …” He stopped for a moment then gave me a quizzical look. “It really doesn’t bother you?”
I shook my head at his silliness. “Cor I’m not asking you to do my laundry. It is just plain foolish to pretend I am not a female. If I wasn’t we would not be in this fix. They are just under things though I’ve never seen the like in all my life. They wouldn’t hold up to much from what I can see and all of that ribbon and lace has to be itchy.”
He had no comment to that so I moved on to the last letter, from Docia.
Sister, I cried and cried and cried to finally hear word of you. I will try to make you proud of me and use good words but I am sorry that the page is all messed up from me crying. I am just so happy. I will tell you right away that I am very well because I know that is the first thing you will want to know. Robbie is like no one I ever imagined, even better than Prince Charming. He is not like the Headman or my brothers. He does not yell and shout. He smiles a lot and he even smiles at me. When I asked him why he said it is to make up for all the smiles I didn’t get. That is a strange thing for him to say but it is not the strangest. He is bashful and moves real slow when he wants to spend time with me. I do not know whether to tell him that he does not need to, that if he will keep me he can ask of me anything and I will not stop him or complain. If Missus Uhl was not his Ma I would ask her but she is so I won’t. I may not be smart but I do not think Robbie would want his Ma to know about such things as him being bashful like that.
Another strange thing is that I am not scared. Not hardly of anything except Robbie sending me away. There was a horse that went loco. I just roped him and tied him to a tree like you taught me and waited for him to tire himself out. Then when he was finally too tuckered to hurt me I went to find out why had acted like he did. He was a stallion but even stallions do not act like he acted. He still tried to nip me when I found it. He had been stung by a giant wasp that had somehow gotten caught in the poor things saddle blanket. I put a poultice on it to ease his pain and take the poison out of it and did not think anything of it. But when I thought to look all the boys in the yard were staring at me. I thought I had done something wrong. I was very scared to even come out of the orchard where I had run and hid. Robbie and Mister Uhl found me and explained that no one was mad at me, that I had surprised them by being so strong and smart about what to do for the poor horse. No one but you has ever called me smart. I do not know exactly what it all means.
I know your life cannot be what you want. I know that being a second wife has to twit your pride and hurt your feelings. I know you Fel like I know my own hands. I would take your place if I could even if it meant leaving Robbie because you would do the same for me. It makes me mad that you have to do this thing when you never asked for it or had the choice and the rest of us get so much better. I tried to explain it to Robbie but it is hard when that Cor is his cousin. I think even when they mean well men will stick together and never understand women. I think God did that on purpose though I can’t think why because it makes life very hard sometimes.
There is a thing that I spoke to Missus Uhl about and she said she understood. She is a woman too. I made you a medicine box. I put what I think you could need that might take you a while to collect if you had to make one for yourself. I have found that some of the plants that we used to use do not grow here and Robbie is teaching me what they use for the same purpose. Inside the box is a paper with notes for everything to make sure you remember and will know about the ones you have never seen. Robbie says I draw beautiful pictures and he has me helping him to make books up that can be used in the midwife and healer schools. I like that kind of learning and I am practicing my reading and writing and Robbie is very pleased and says that he is proud of me and amazed that I did not let the men stop me from learning. He has heard stories from our other sisters of why some of them cannot read or write or cypher the way the women here can. I think he heard most of it from Daphne who still likes to talk too much when he went to visit her mother in law who seems to enjoy getting lots of attention like that.
Daphne is with child. She is almost crowing about it as you can imagine. But she is not as bad as she used to be. I think she was very lonely and just did not know how to join in our games when we would play and work. I do not think her aunt would have let her even if she had tried. And she told me a surprising thing. She said that she learned to read and write by sneaking and listening to you teach us. If her uncle had found out he would have had her stripped in the square and beaten and then sold her off to another settlement as a lesson to the rest of us. I did not know that Daphne was that brave. She is turning into a real sister though she can still be Daphne.
Before I forget, in the box you will even find dried willow bark to make tea with for those times when the moon comes and you are miserable. I know you never let it stop you but some days you were very sick and this is better than trying to chew it like you sometimes had to.
I miss you Sister and Robbie has promised that we will see each other again. I do not know when and I do not know how but I know for a fact that we will. Do not lose hope. No one here will ever think of you as a saloon girl. I will love you forever. Your sister, Docia
I did not realize it until Cor put a finger on my cheek but my face was wet with tears. I jumped up and brushed the useless tears away then turned so he could not see them.
Softly Cor said, “You miss them.”
It was a simple statement of fact so I gave him a simple fact right back. I said, “They were all I had that made life bearable.”
Regretfully Cor said, “I would take you to the fort Fel, I really would but there are only a few days before I have to leave on another run. It is an important one and could mean a lot for the estate and there are things I must take care of here on the estate before I can set off.”
I shook my head, still not looking at him. “I don’t expect you to do anything like that. You have to do what you have to do. Life is just like that.”
He waited a moment and then asked, “Don’t you want to look at your other packages?”
I’d finally gotten myself under control and turned around and smiled; it may have been small and watery but it was still an honest one. “I’ll wait until after you leave. Knowing Docia she’s put something in there that might make you uncomfortable.”
“Oh … uh … well … wait to open hers but … but there’s one in there from me.”
For a moment I almost didn’t realize what he said but when I finally figured out he wasn’t fooling I asked him, “Why? Because you are sorry you can’t take me to see my sisters?”
“Well no … I mean yes I’m sorry for that but … well …”
Then I remembered. He couldn’t get something for Francine unless he got something for me. “You didn’t have to do that Cor. You could have just said you did … I’d never tell Francine our business.”
Then he grumped a loud “No.” But then he shook himself and said, “No … I mean that’s not why I did it. This whole second wife business wasn’t my idea or yours but just because we’ve got it worked out between us doesn’t mean I expect you to be a slave to the estate or get treated like you are a piece of farm equipment. Go on and open it. I want to make sure they’ll work.”
He was so insistent that I picked up the one he pointed at and opened it. Inside were partially finished moccassins that had leggings that were attached to them. Cor took one and inspected it. “Jonah said the cobbler can’t come for a while as several of his children have the spots and those that haven’t he expects to shortly. I asked Aunt Mona and Docia about shoes for you and Docia said that you would prefer something like this and it would be better for you too until the skin of your foot stops being so tender. Aunt Mona agreed. I know they are not exactly like the ones you had but the way these are will keep briars and vines from tearing up your legs like you seem to let them do. Docia said that you would know how to finish them.”
I nodded, amazed that he would think of something like this and doubly amazed he would ask Docia and Mona about it. Too intrigued by the design to really look at him while I talked I said, “I’ve been making or helping to make my own clothes and things since I was a very little girl. Ma and Gran said it was a mark of growing up when girls could do things like that and my Da taught me things because he said I wouldn’t be dependent on others for my needs so much. I think he always worried that if something happened to him or Ma I might get stuck under the thumb of some mean man and if I had the skills to take care of myself I might escape that fate. More than one had already come to Da and wanted to trade a few horses for me.”
“What?! I thought you said you were only twelve when they died.”
“I was.” Then his tone of voice registered and I really looked at him and then sighed. “Cor, the Outlands are a hard place. The people here … they can be brave and strong. I’ve seen ‘em. The Captain and a man named Carter that now has Hannah for his wife showed me that first and it kept me from going completely savage on them. But brave and strong often means that you’ve got what my Da called scruples. I think it is the same as that honor that you go on about sometimes. The Outlands are mean Cor, they scrub the honor and scruples out of people and often leave nothing but mean and brutal behind. Being taken as a wife at twelve and thirteen isn’t unusual where I come from. Sometimes … sometimes being taken younger just out of pure meanness isn’t unusual either. It isn’t good to be alone in the Outlands. The places and people and animals don’t care about life all that much … or at least about nobody’s life but their own.”
I could actually hear him swallow twice before he asked quietly, “Did … did that happen to you?”
“The bad stuff? No. My Da was a strong and clever man and would have killed any man that tried to hurt me or Ma or Gran several times over. Gramp did put the bones of a few men in his forge ... my Ma had a sister that got stolen and ... and hurt so bad she didn't live. Gramp hunted them down and gave them ... well, there's no justice in the Outlands but he sent them to their Judgment as Da would tell me after one of Gramp's stories. Docia got caught when she was a little girl and that’s part of the reason why she is the way she is I think. I hope Robbie is nice to her. Her letter says he is and that he is gentle … but maybe you could tell him he doesn’t have to be quite so gentle with her. She seems afraid that … well … if I know Docia she is afraid he’s gonna get frustrated and then send her away so that he can find one that he doesn’t have to worry about breaking. Docia won’t break. If the life we lived and the things she had to endure didn’t break her, a nice man like Robbie isn’t going to.”
“What about … you said … you said the Headman had you punished because …”
I sighed and looked at him. Cor was a nice man and I know it hurt him to have to hear about things that were so different from the way he would like to believe things should be. “Cor, I’m a strong person. Not just on the inside either. My Da taught me to take a life and I have of my own free will done it. And of my own free will I’ll do it again if need be. There’s not much that I let hurt me. Even if something like that had happened to me I wouldn’t have let it stop me. That doesn’t mean that I’ll just lay it all aside to continue to draw breath. I have never wanted to be a saloon girl and you know what I mean by that. I’d rather starve to death or die slow and hard than willingly take up such a life as that. And that is what made the Headman so mad. He was out to break me and he couldn’t. And because he couldn’t break me and make me cry he couldn’t … get manly with me which made him even madder and was the real reason her threw me in the stocks the way he did. If I died then he could forget … I wouldn’t die because I didn’t want him to ever forget that there was someone he couldn't break and that one day someone might come along and break him.”
Looking away from his too kind face I added, “There’s been a few close calls. I know what a man looks like whether I want to or not. But for whatever reason whether it was because I was stronger, smarter, faster, or just ‘cause God said that wasn’t my fate that day …” Turning back I said, “I could give you more details but I don’t think that is what you want. Mostly I think you want … or need … to know that I’m ok, that some man hasn’t scarred me for life. Well I’m fine. Life is hard. Sometimes the memories you make are good and sometimes the memories you make aren’t. I’m lucky. For every bad memory I have at least one good. It balances out.”
He got up out of the rocker and turned to face the fireplace. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never met a man aside from my Da that felt bad because he couldn’t protect females from life happening and even my Da had been a realist. I don’t know if he’d started out that way though. Ma used to tell stories of how silly Da could be when she first came to know him.
“I keep forgetting.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. “Huh?”
“I’ve been going on runs since I was a boy with my father. We’d go to places and dig around looking for pieces of old tech for him to bring back home and play with in his lab. Some of those places were in the Outlands and some were in the old cities in the east. I saw some horrible things. But every time I’d come home it was like all of the bad stuff was a … a dream. That it didn’t really happen, that it couldn’t be as bad as I remember it. I’ve seen it but … I’ve never really had to live it. And I was always sure that even if it had happened, that it was as bad as I remember it, it could never happen here … that here was a … a safe place … a sacred place. My father was a rotter Fel, I admit it, but he was a civilized rotter; his tongue was his weapon not his fists. Growing up and the plague that killed so many took some of that idealism away but …” He sighed. “When I’m here I can forget about how bad it is in other places.” He turned and looked at me. “I never even thought to ask Fel. I never even thought about it period. I’m sorry for that. I never even thought to ask you if you were afraid of me like you would be afraid of the men in your old place.”
I crossed my arms and gave him an impatient look. “Don’t you start. You’re as different as night is from day from all of them others. You’re like my Da … hard times haven’t rubbed out your scruples, instead they seem to have made them dig in even harder and deeper. As a result you’re silly about some things that you don’t need to be. I’m not like Francine Cor. Just because someone sees my underthings or even my skin doesn’t mean I’m gonna faint or throw a hiss fit like some old rattler. Now stop feeling bad right now or you’ll make me feel bad … and I don’t like feeling bad for telling the truth.”
His eyebrows went up and the higher his went up mine came down until my face felt as scrunched up as an old woman’s. Then he smiled. “OK, I give. Just promise me if anyone … er … bothers you that you’ll say something. To me … Uncle Rob … Jonah … somebody. You don’t have to take care of yourself by yourself now that you are here.”
I gave him a noncommittal answer because I wouldn’t lie to him but I don’t think he noticed. He just seemed to be relieved to get beyond the topic. “There should be a couple of other things in the paper. The storekeeper is a friend of mine from boyhood and I asked his mother what some of the other women have been coming in for and she put together the things in there. I’ll leave coin for you and if you need anything Mrs. Wiley or Uncle Rob should be able to help you get it.”
With that he jammed his hat back on his head and made to escape but then froze, staring at the door.
“What?” I asked him perplexed at this new bit of strangeness.
He muttered, “They’re probably watching and keeping time, the old battle axes.”
I spluttered a laugh. “Honestly Cor. If they say something just tell them that you took their words to heart but that you are concerned for Francine’s well-being and that you didn’t want her ill from worry so you thought it best to spend some time at her side.”
He gave me a suspicious look. “You are awful good at this lying business.”
I shrugged. “You are concerned about Francine and want to sit with her, just not for the reason you are telling them. The Lathrops have lived this way since the Dark Days and seem to be invested in it in a way that we can’t understand. I don’t have to like what we are doing Cor, but if we are going to do it then best to keep it as close to the truth as we can and just make it something they can understand at the same time.”
I got him half way through the door before he said, “Francine is going to …”
Continuing to push him out like he was a stubborn pig that didn’t want to go to slaughter I told him, “When Francine starts to say something you say that while you admire her aunts and would like to honor them, her beauty has been preying on your mind for days and all you can think of is her so it wouldn’t do you any good to try anything with me.”
I shut the door on his squawk and then threw the bolt that Jonah had installed. It was a relief to have his over large self out of the cabin so I could reread Docia's letter in peace. But as I sat down I thought that if my brother had had a chance to grow up it would have been nice to have had him turn out like Cor though maybe not quite so silly about females.
Last edited by Kathy in FL; 02-06-2012 at 04:33 PM.
Excellent chapters, as always! Thanks for sharing your talent with us
Another twist and turn in the story!
Gonna be interesting to see if Francine reverts to her old self when Cor is gone and she doesn't have to play-act any more, or maybe she will have to wait until the Aunts leave, then she can become a lady of leisure again. Maybe she will go with them so Fel can run the place herself. Will be interesting to see which way you take this.
Very, very amusing way to handle a man. Heh, heh.
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
thanks for another great storyline
"I did not realize it until Cor put a finger on my cheek but my face was wet with tears. I jumped up and brushed the useless tears away then turned so he could not see them.
Softly Cor said, “You miss them.”
It was a simple statement of fact so I gave him a simple fact right back. I said, “They were all I had that made life bearable.”
You know it isn't too often that I find a story so good that it puts me to tears, but yours just did. I read that part and the tears started flowing as I continued to read on. Hubby thought something was wrong. He said "Are you okay hon? Why are you crying? Is it the kids?" and I told him everything was great! He just shook his head at me and said "Women!" LOLOL But I always thought the mark of a good writer was their ability to put your own emotions into their story...so far your batting a thousand! Please keep up the great work!
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.
Cor wasn’t kidding about having to leave in a couple of days; he and the Captain were so busy that we didn’t even see them at meal times. In fact the whole estate was a twitter and it was turning into a huge ruckus. I thought it strange but Jonah said it was normal and I would see why the next day.
I sure did see. Before luncheon the men arrived that were going out with Cor bringing with them the midwife that Mona sent to care for Winnie. With their arrival all of the supplies they would need were pulled together and then separated into individual portions as well as the portion that went into the wagons that would go on the run with them. And this work was on top of all the regular chores that had to be done including the gardening.
And then they were gone and it was so quiet that the whole estate felt deserted for a couple of days until people could get used to all the men being gone. No sooner had that happened than Francine’s aunts prepared to return to the Lathrop estate. I worried about it and even took the aunt named Hazel aside.
“Er … Missus Hazel … uh … I don’t know how to ask this except to just do it. Will … will Francine be alright when you women leave?”
Hazel was in the middle of folding her clothes to put in her trunk and stopped in mid fold. Slowly she stood erect and then turned her head to look at me. I thought she was going to bite me at first until I realized the reason she was showing all of her teeth … the good ones in front and the bad ones in the back … was that she was smiling.
“Fel … perhaps I have been too harsh on you. It is simply amazing that someone from the Outlands would have the sensitivity to see that Francine is more fragile than she lets on.” I nearly told her that her precious Francine wasn’t near as fragile as she pretended and that she was twisting them a clanker of a tale but I didn’t. It might have been the truth but it didn’t suit my purpose to tell it so I kept the words behind my teeth.
I wondered how much to play it but I finally just said in all honesty, “She is better with you here. She seems more clear headed.” Looking around to make sure no one else heard me I told her, “I accidentally overheard Cor explain to Francine that there wasn’t any coin for her to go over to the fort and shop with and that he had rescinded the letters to the merchants there. She seemed … upset.”
Hazel asked in snooty voice, “And you would not be?”
I shook my head and in all honesty told her, “I wouldn’t expect it in the first place. Cor is trying to pay off the estate debts so that he can provide a better life for those that are dependent on him. And anything we need can come from the estate or worst case the surrounding farms. Plus it takes outriders to ensure safe travel and with the harvest seasons starting men are hard to spare except for emergencies. And then there is Winnie.”
“Ah yes, Winifred. That is a huge consideration.”
“Yes’m. I don’t mean to be uppity but … just in case Francine … that she …”
She looked at me then sighed. “Her mother was much worse. If her megrims are mild a tea of chamomile or lavender may prove helpful. If she is slightly more … upset … a tea of passionflower would be my recommendation. If her nerves are very taxed then a tea of valerian or black cohosh will be necessary. However …”
When she gave me what my Gran called “the eye” I acted like she had poked me with something sharp though in reality I could pull it off better than she could. “Yes’m?”
“Do not use the black cohosh if there is even a slight possibility that she is with child. Do you understand me?”
The last was said with gritted teeth. “I would never Missus Hazel. Never ever.”
She sighed and said, “Very well. I will make sure that a supply is left with Mrs. Wiley if the estate does not have any on hand.”
As I walked downstairs I considered her solution. While I’m not against using such teas my concern is that I don’t believe Francine is really the hysterical type … at least not now having observed her for weeks on end. It is possible that she saw the attention it brought her mother and she is merely replicating what she learned by example. Plus Docia had told me that some such teas were addictive if you take them too regularly. It was a quandary that I would continue to be in over the coming days.
After Francine’s aunts arrived they kind of …well … whipped her into shape is the phrase that comes to mind. She wasn’t hard to be around. She didn’t sigh and mope. She actually participated in the work though I did note that she got a lot less of it done than her aunts did. It almost made me like her aunts … well, maybe respect the old buffalo herd would be more correct. It would take a lot to get to like them as a group though I could stand some of them on a one on one basis without too much trouble.
In fact those feelings made me even more leery. The Captain kept reminding me they were “the enemy” but I had a hard time seeing it. I could imagine it but they weren’t acting like my enemy, at least not while they were in my presence. And they could have done a lot more to try and get me to their side. I didn’t give them a lot of chances because I kept busy but still, they could have made chances and they didn’t.
I think they would have manipulated me if they could have but I was beginning to think that maybe I had kind of turned that plan on its ear and they were returning to the Lathrop estate to regroup. It could have been anything. All I know is it gave me a headache to think about and I was more than glad to see the last of them as their carriage pulled away even though they also took with them a lot of extra hands that were nice to have around.
The first two days after her aunts left Francine remained as they had left her. Perky and more than willing to help. She even made a few jokes that were actually funny. The work was hard and the days were long and on the third day I noticed her getting where she would just stare off into the trees or have to be asked something twice before she would respond. The fourth day it was nearly noon before she joined the rest of us women even though I tried to fetch her earlier. By the time a week was up she point blank refused to come down due to a recurrence of her “sick headaches.”
The midwife at first tried to do what she could but within a couple of days threw her hands up and told me in confidence, “There’s nothing wrong with that girl that a good swift swat on the behind wouldn’t cure. I’d offer to do it in the name of health and medicine but she’s twenty not twelve for all that she acts it.”
I could see why Mona had chosen the woman to be midwife to Winnie. She was in her fifties and looked it. She also had a ready smile that could light up a room. But you didn’t let the smile or age fool you because she was strong in both body and mind. I watched her manhandle Jonah into letting her look at a boil on the back of his shoulder. I didn’t think anything could move Jonah unless he wanted to move. I liked Rubine on short acquaintance. She reminded me a bit of what my Gran must have been like before age and sorrows got to her.
I was happy to leave Winnie to Rubine and Francine to her sick headaches. June was here and with it came the furnace blast of summer and just in time to make all the work that needed to be done that much more difficult.
The garden was busting out all over in a way not even my Ma’s garden had ever done and all she had to look at something and it would grow. The beans that ran on their trellis reminded me of that old story of the giant and the beanstalk. The vines seemed to grow by the foot each night and we’d no sooner clear them off then they were ready to be picked again.
Jonah was happy as a drunk pig. He said, “Been many a year since the gardens have give so well. Must be all the purty ladies whats tending ter ‘em.”
I thought he really was drunk after that until I saw him giving the eye to one particularly still-buxom widow. I had to stifle a laugh and run behind a bean pole a couple of times to keep him from knowing I was looking. Mrs. Wiley caught me at it once and gave a small smile. “Reckon Jonah is tired of spending his winters cold and lonesome. Tish seems a likely arm full though Jonah would be smart rememberin’ that she’s has outlasted three husbands now. Seems she might like to fill her winters up with something besides rocking and knittin’ too as I hear all three of the men died with a smile on their faces.”
I whooped with laughter loud enough that it drew attention and I had to haul my sack of beans to the kitchen to keep anyone from asking me what the joke was. I tried to explain to Winnie and the Captain about it but they only smiled wanly and changed the subject. I was confused as I had found it hilarious then Rubine caught me as I left the room and explained.
“Dear Fel, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. God created us to be one with another so long as it is marked by a covenant.”
“Then why didn’t Winnie and the Captain find it funny if there is no harm in it?”
Rubine smiled and sat me down and started brushing the tangles from my hair, something she seemed to enjoy doing. She said it reminded her of her daughter that had been lost to the plague. “There are different types of people in this world and they tend to stick together. It has nothing to do really with whether those people are good or bad but more with what they see as proper and not.”
“So you’re saying they think I’m not proper.”
“No, not the way you mean it. They see it as a matter of propriety.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as proper?”
“Not really. Propriety is how people like to see how they act. It isn’t that they don’t see you as proper Fel, just that their own propriety gets in the way of them seeing the joy in the simple things that you can see.”
I thought that over and then said, “You make it sound like I’m still a child and I’m not. I’m an Outlander that has lived rough and done things that …”
She stopped me, “I’m well aware of the life you led. I’m not judging you Fel. As a matter of fact I understand better than you think. You aren’t making fun of two oldsters getting up to antics, you are finding the joy in it that they still want to and can.”
Sighing as she finished braiding my horse tail I told her, “I know I’m rough. I know I’m crude. I shocked Cor all to pieces a couple of times teaching me that you actually could make a grown man blush. But I thought I knew where to draw the line and protect them from what I am. I thought I had it all figured out. What you say makes me wonder if I have anything figured out. Or maybe what I figured was all wrong. Maybe instead of being embarrassed Cor was just disgusted.”
She put a friendly arm around me and said, “Now don’t think that. You shouldn’t have to protect people from who you. If they can’t accept you Fel then that is their problem and not yours. And where is that horse sense you usually have? I shouldn’t have to tell you this.”
I sighed and then shook myself. “Being silly. I get the megrims sometimes when the moon is coming but usually only when it is going to be a bad time of it. I hope that isn’t it. I have too much work to sit around drinking willow tea or chewing the bark like snuff.”
“The moon? Ah, you mean your womanly cycle. Too much willow bark isn’t good for you. Before you resort to it let’s try a tea of angelica or black haw.”
Relieved that there was something besides the nasty tasting willow I asked her, “What are those?”
From there I got a lesson in a great many herbs for womanly afflictions from scant menses to late menses to menses too heavy to all of the other things that can come with the moon time. I wound up having to ask the Captain for more rice paper to keep all of my notes on. I know I’ll have to ask for another bottle of ink soon as well. Quills were easy enough to fashion but it wasn’t yet the time of year for the fall nuts and berries that I could get my own inks and colors from.
The heat seemed to go higher each day and I was surprised I suffered from it so much. It was sensible Jonah that explained. “Been out ter the Outlands a few times when I were a young and adventuresome man. Can’t say I cared fer it over much. But the thing I do remember is the air weren’t near so wet as it is here. Out there the wind would dry yer ter hard leather and yer’d never even noticed the heat because yer never seem ter sweat. Here, it fair spills from yer like a spring on some days.”
After a moment he looked over at Mrs. Wiley and said, “Speaking of springs, yer reckon the berries out ter old Tumbler’s Mill be ready?”
Mrs. Wiley, more than a little exasperated at the hijinks the two kitchen boys were getting up to snapped, “How am I ta know. How about yer head on out in the morning and find out. And while yer at it, take those two menaces with yer. Maybe a day long hike will take some of the wiggles out of their britches.”
That night I casually mentioned that Jonah was taking the boys to see if the berries were ready for harvesting when Winnie moaned. She startled me so bad I nearly turned my plate over jumping up to see to her.
“Oh Fel, I’m sorry Dear, I didn’t mean to frighten you. It’s just when you mentioned Tumbler’s Spring into my head popped the frog legs that Mary would fry. Remember Captain? I’d go to the spring and bring back a bucketful and oh …. They were the most delicious thing.”
I looked at Rubine and asked her, “Can she still eat ‘em or will they make that baby jump around in her stomach?”
The Captain harrumphed but in the end tried to hide a smile at Winnie’s outrage. Rubine answered, “There’s no reason why she can’t.”
Turning to Winnie I said, “Well, if it is hoppers you want then if there are hoppers to be had you’ll have them. The hot weather may have driven them to swim deep but I should be able to catch a few. I’ll check with Mrs. Wiley and Jonah.”
They both said they didn’t see a problem with me going to the spring and that I’d probably keep the boys from being left in the woods by Jonah if they irritated him too much. I noticed the boys listening and I could see mischief in their eyes that I intended to stop. “More like I’ll tie them to a tree and just walk away and let the forest have them. It makes me irritable to have a lot of tomfoolery going on while I’m trying to hunt. Ask my sisters if you don’t believe me. I left more than one of them to make their own way home when they wouldn’t shut up and walk quiet.”
That gave the stinkers something to think about and Jonah gave me a wink where the boys couldn’t see.
We were already on our way as the sun came up. I wore my new moccasins and was glad I did. My skin is as tough as old whang leather so the saw briers and such didn’t bother me overly much, but the skeeters and gnats like to chew me to ribbons. The spear I had fashioned from an old plow hoe that I had straightened and the ax I carried in my belt helped us to cut our way through the very overgrown trail.
A two hour hike brought us to a cool place hidden in the forest and it seemed like everywhere you looked ripe blackberries and blueberries hung in clusters with gnats going after the sweet juice. Jonah made a face and said, “They’re in early, way early. Never saw so many in all my days. Don’t like it at all.”
Not sure why he was upset I told him, “We haven’t missed the season completely Jonah. We get people out here and we’ll get gallons and gallons of them.”
I popped a fat juicy blackberry in my mouth that was far bigger than any I had found around my home and then licked the corner of my mouth to keep the juice from being stolen by an annoying bug. Jonah, still looking around at what I thought of as vast abundance, shook his head. “Not that Gilly. Been thinkin’ on it and don’t like the signs that keep ter addin’ up.”
My Gran used to talk of signs and since she was right more often than wrong I listened to him. “God don’t give abundance like this unless he means ter send a hard time. We gots the gardens givin’ plenty. We gots the grain fields all over doing so well we likely won’t get a good price for it come the fall. We gots us more heat than we know what ter do with but we ain’ts got no drought ter go with it. Tis all a blessin’ true … but it leaves yer wonderin’ if God thinks yer need a blessin’ like this then what might He be sendin’ next.”
I shrugged. “Well I’m not stupid. If God’s offering then I’m of a mind it would be a good thing to accept. I can’t change the weather but I sure know how to put clothes on and take clothes off.”
Jonah nodded and set the boys to filling the packs we had brought with us while I took my bow and quiver and the small net that Jonah had found for me and went to investigate the spring with Jonah’s word of caution ringing in my ears. “Mind why theys call it Tumbler’s Spring Gilly and watch where yer puts yer feet.” As soon as I got near the spring I understood even better. Because of the way the vegetation grew around the spring.
The frogs were indeed staying deep and were of no mind to come to the surface to get scooped up and they just swam away from the net since I couldn’t get close enough to them without causing a racket. I was beginning to get a little irritated by the croakers when I had the idea to tie a string to my bow and treat it like I was fishing. Soon enough I was pulling frogs out an arrow at a time. I was just thinking of teaching the boys the skill when I heard a shriek and then a roar.
Now normally I wouldn’t run blindly into a situation but when I heard Jonah yell in pain and then a great bit of crashing I took off like an arrow. I skidded around the spring and then faced near about the only thing I fear … a grizz. I hadn’t seen one in years; the drought and poor harvest had run them out of the area. Guess I know now where they run to … or at least where this one run to … or it’s ma anyway.
It was a grizz and male but not as big as I was used to seeing them so it couldn't have been more than a year old, maybe two. This one was big enough though and it looked like it had already took a swat at Jonah and the boys were cornered against a big shaft of rock that rose from the ground. I needed to distract the grizz or it would go after the unconscious man on the ground or the small boys that could escape.
“Hey you mangy ol’ thing. Want to chew on somebody then why don’t you try chewing on me!”
Grizz bears are not particular with their meals. If you are going to offer yourself up they are not going to say no. I figured being on my menses probably struck its nose as interesting too. I should have thought of that and been more cautious. Stupid mistake. We might have been what passed for civilization but that didn’t mean that there were still things in the forest that wanted to eat you.
I didn’t have but a split second to set myself. Grizz are fast but this one had never run up against a hunter that knew how to handle them. The butt end of my spear was braced against the ground and the sharp end split the fur and skin beneath easily. The bear had impaled itself. But the grizz had long arms and it still managed to send me tip or tail knocking the wind from me.
The boys screamed and I scrambled trying to get out of the bear’s way. When I did turn I saw that the bear was just kind of lumbering like it was trying to figure out what happened. It looked at first like it was going to leave and come back another day but couldn’t because the spear was in deep. It even batted at the stick in its chest twice after it sat down. Then it made a grunting groaning sound and lay over.
I knew from experience it might still get up so ran over to Jonah. He had a serious gash on his head that the bugs were already swarming in and a bad gash on his arm that I tore my shirt to close up. I nearly came out of my skin when something thudded into my back but the noise they were making soon told me it was bear but cubs.
“Hush now,” I told them. “We need to get Jonah back to the house. I need you to sit with him and stay quiet. Only call if he starts to do something.”
“Miss Fel … don’t leave us!”
Trying to be calm for them I said, “I’m not leaving you. I need to cut a couple of saplings and fix a travois so we can pull Jonah because he is too big for me to carry.”
The bear was already drawing flies when the travois was finished and I was able to secure Jonah to it. He had moaned a bit but didn’t wake up. I was worried about running into something else that would eat us and I was aggravated at being unable to save my spear but it was too deeply imbedded for me to pull out and Jonah was too important for me to take the time to cut it out. I grabbed my bow and quiver and the hatchet and started pulling the travois.
Thank you, Thank you..
Thank You. Such a good story.
Kathy, as usual.. This one just gets better and better.... Thanks :-)
A new forum - quiet - homesteading on the cheap!
Come visit today and join some friends you might already know.
Ack! Bears,oh noes!
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
really good storyline, one of your best, thanks
Kathy -- Once again, thanks for the stories --- as all your others, it's keeping me captivated.
"When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled"
My nerves were telling me to stop and to hurry and go faster all at the same time. As I pulled the travois back down the trail I tried to keep an ear out for anything bad but I was feeling the bruises I knew I had and worried even if I did get a heads up I would be in no position to fight whatever it was. By force of habit I ignored my fear, Jonah and the boys needed me to keep it together.
Then I heard something vaguely familiar from down the trail. For a moment I froze and then I prayed that I wasn’t causing us more trouble and gave the piercing whistle that I learned from the Captain’s men so long ago. All was silent and I was set to whistle again when I heard someone blow a strange off-key horn but it sounded like they were going the wrong direction. I whistled again as loud as I could. Another blast from the horn sounded closer that time. I used almost the last of my breath, even falling to one knee, to whistle one more time and then I could hear them clearly on the trail.
I heard the creaking and jangling of the saddled horses hurrying up the trails as fast as it was safe to do so before I saw the riders. It was the Captain, Robbie, and two other men I didn’t recognize. I was shaking, trying to hold the travois up because we were on an incline heading down and I didn’t want all the blood to rush to Jonah’s already abused noggin.
It was a real mash up as I tried to explain what happened between their sharp and pointed questions they threw at me. The boys’ babbling only made things even more like a dream powder sniffer’s confessional. Robbie had dismounted and was checking Jonah and the boys over and then finally said he could do nothing more until he got them back. The travois was attached to Robbie’s horse and one of the outriders took the boys up with him while I took the Captain and the other outrider back to the spring.
The next couple of hours only come to me in flashes. I do remember getting mad and telling the Captain that I wanted my spear back when the outrider wouldn’t give it to me. The Captain’s patience was understandably strained at that point and he snapped, “You can have the blasted spear back Fel when we get you to the house and checked out. It would have been more helpful,” he gritted. “Had you informed us that you had been injured.”
At first, as I led them to the spring they thought it was only nerves that was causing me to act loopy. They found out otherwise when the Captain took me up on his horse while the outrider hauled the bear carcass back on another travois we had built after having field dressed it and carting the innards off into the woods a ways. I kept almost sliding off the horse and it was then that the Captain discovered that all the blood on my clothes didn’t belong to just Jonah and the bear. To say he was highly annoyed didn’t quite do it justice.
I hadn’t been thinking too clearly and must have passed out myself at some point because I came to in the cabin in my bed. I couldn’t place the time or location though because all I could see was the angel with Docia’s face.
Robbie had indeed promised her that she would see me and when it became so obvious to him how important it was and how much she trusted him to keep his word he determined to do it sooner rather than later.
“Oh Fel. Oh Fel. When are you ever going to learn not to take on things that are so much bigger than you are?” After assuring myself that I wasn’t going mad and that Jonah and the boys were well I went back to sleep from one of her concoctions and didn’t wake up until the next morning.
For nearly a week after that you couldn’t separate us by more than a few feet. We laughed. We danced and pranced around. And in general acted about half our age. It made even Jonah, who at first was in a great deal of pain, smile and shake his head at our silliness. Robbie didn’t even mind when Docia slept in the cabin with me and he in the main house.
Jonah’s injuries were serious but not life threatening. He was fine, just knocked around more than was good for a man his age. The buxom widow became his shadow and helped Mrs. Wiley manage her brother who was not at all pleased to be told it would be a couple of weeks before he had the full use of the arm back.
Mrs. Wiley got fed up with him only once but once was all it took. “Jonah! If yer don’t do as the healer says yer are going ter think that bear tapped yer with a feather. A cause when I’m done with yer …” She didn’t even have to finish the threat. The fact that she was brandishing a meat clever didn’t hurt her case either. I think it is a good thing that Jonah decided to mind Mrs. Wiley otherwise his hide might have joined the bear’s hanging on side of the tanners shed.
As for my injuries, I was bruised and some of my muscles were strained but that was all. I only had two punctures wounds from a claw rather than rips in the skin and they were soon cleaned and patched up. I refused to be kept abed much to everyone’s consternation. Docia explained that I’d only go into a nasty pout and do what I wanted anyway if I wasn’t allowed up to at least try and help so everyone gave in though none too gracefully. I couldn’t do a lot that first day but with Docia helping I was at least able to cut the last of the cabbage and set them for pickling.
Francine took to her bed again as a result of a nightmare she claimed was induced by the bear and the ruckus afterwards. I heard by way of Docia that Robbie was rather surprised at how she was acting and then when he had spoken with from Rubine he came to see me directly.
Docia and I were pitting cherries on the small porch of the cabin. Mrs. Wiley and the other women had shooed me away after I had nearly tumbled from one of the ladders up in the fruit tree. The kitchen boys – their names finally revealed to be Topher and Benji – tattled. They’ve become rather enamored of me I am afraid, especially after I had the tanner drill a hole in two of the bear claws which I then turned into necklaces for the boys.
Robbie asked if we could go into the cabin for a moment. “Sure. But it is going to be hotter than blue blazes in there.”
He gave me a grin. “I know it and I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want some privacy for this.”
I balked until he said that he had no secrets from Docia if I wanted her to be there as well. Docia smiled brightly when he said that and she sidled up to him but waited until he made the move to show her some affection.
As we sat, me on the bed and them in the only two other places to sit besides the floor – the table chair and the rocker – Robbie got a very serious look on his face. “Fel, how often is Francine like this?”
“You mean the megrims?” At his nod I answered, “It comes and goes. When her aunts were here they pretty much had her day planned out for her and we got along very well and she was helping with the estate work. Within a week of her aunts leaving it was like all of it was too much for her, or too much to be bothered with, and she’d slid back into her old habits of moping if anyone is looking and eating sweets and reading when she doesn’t think anyone is … looking I mean.”
“Hmm.” He looked like he was trying to find the right words to ask something.
“Robbie, ask me a question straight out. If I don’t know the answer I’ll tell you. If it is just my opinion I’ll tell you that and why I think it. I won’t rat on you if you have to ask me something … delicate. And I won’t make Francine look any worse than the truth already does.”
He lips twisted in a small humorous smile. “Thank you for that. I’ll be honest and it is the carrying tales that I’m most concerned with. I’ve never had quite the same opinion of Francine as Mother has. And Father only thinks that she is immature for her age. I lean towards father’s diagnosis of the problem but there are other things that lead me to believe that there are other issues in play.”
“Your Da might be right,” I told him. “At the same time she is a grown married woman and I too think knows more than what she lets on.”
“OK, let’s start with that then shall we. You seem suspicious of her … er … condition.”
I nodded then shrugged. “Look, Francine is OK … not my cup of tea but Cor truly loves her and it would hurt him bad should something happen to her. I think he is going to get a wake up call one of these days and I also think he already knows that things aren’t always as she tries to make them seem … at least when he isn’t nursing a real affection for her … uh … assets. The thing is I’m not sure that Francine isn’t doing anything but replaying what she learned as a little girl. One of her aunts revealed maybe more than she meant to when she told me that Francine’s mother’s fragility was more mental than physical and that she was dosed regular with relaxing teas of various strengths depending on how she was acting. I don’t think the aunts did it to Francine while they were here but they seemed prepared for it just in case. Francine may be playing her role the only way that she thinks is expected of her. And face it, if she was used to some great estate with lots of people doing for her and such and coming here may have been a bit of a shock.”
Thoughtfully Robbie said, “Then you concede that Francine’s behavior may be legitimate, just not for the reasons she ascribes to them.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know if concede would be the word I would use. I think it is possible that Francine is wound too tight and having trouble playing her role. I also think that making people believe that is how it is could be part of her act. Either way it isn’t healthy or helpful. She doesn’t do anyone any favors; especially not herself or Cor.”
He remained thoughtful and then asked, “Has anyone brought this up with Cor that you know of?”
Unwilling to give chapter and verse of our private conversations I told Robbie, “Let’s just say he isn’t a stupid man. But he is in love and that makes him a lunkhead about certain things. He isn’t completely blind, he just isn’t around enough to have to deal with the full consequences of it. People have been enabling Francine for a long time. Here it was Mary or Winnie or her aunts when they visit. Even Mrs. Wiley and I do our share by not making a fuss … it is just the fuss isn’t worth the effort because nothing you do for her makes her move any faster or do the job right. Underneath all of that pretty blonde hair is a mighty stubborn woman. You cannot move her if she does not want to be moved. We all work around her the best we can without doing anything that would be hurtful to her on purpose. Or that would hurt Cor when he suffers enough as it is.”
He asked a few more questions but they always came back to the same thing. He was trying to figure out why she acted as she did and I really just didn’t care why, it was results that I had to deal with.
I had to say goodbye to Docia a few days later but it wasn’t a sad parting. “Oh Fel, Robbie said that we’ll come back when we can. He has to get back because his father asked him to teach a course at the school to the very youngest students and I … I …”
I hugged her as her face started to crumple. “Don’t you dare cry Docia. Now you listen here and this is for your ears alone. If … well … if someone cared for me the way Robbie cares for you, I don’t think I would want to leave them either.”
Docia looked at me with a troubled expression. “I haven’t wanted to ask. I haven’t wanted to spoil things. Is … is it … very bad being a second wife?”
I bumped her with my shoulder. “Naw. Not the way you’re thinking. We’ve worked that part out between us but I’m asking you not to say a word about that, not even to Robbie … understand?”
Her eyes were wide then she whispered, “You mean …?”
I whispered back with my head close to hers, “Neither one of us wants what people seem to expect from us. We’ve worked it out and it is only between Cor and I, not for anyone else to chew over. It’s important you remember that. I trust you Docia, but I couldn’t stand for anyone else to make it their business. I’m … content I suppose you could call it to have it this way. He does love Francine and is miserable thinking he is being unfaithful. And he is as strange about some things as Da was.”
Docia remembered my father and nodded her understanding. Then, like she had given it quite a bit of thought she told me, “Maybe it wasn’t your Da that was strange but the other men where we came from.”
I gave it some thought of my own and then said, “That might explain it but that doesn’t mean that Cor isn’t strange all on his own.” I told her the story of the fancy under things and we both wound up laughing so much her worries were wiped away.
For a day or two after she left my heart felt like it had been carved up, so much so that I thought to give being a sister to Francine one more try. She was flat out nasty in her own way saying that I hadn’t been interested in her wellbeing before so why should she believe it now. I couldn’t deny it but couldn’t explain to her either that it was because I just didn’t trust her and the reasons for those feelings; I didn’t know whether she would carry the tale to her aunts or not and from them to the Lathrops we really needed to worry about. The thing that made me give up though was when she said, “Besides, what on earth would we talk about? You are only civilized half the time and only because you have to be – fighting a bear of all things instead of having the sense to let the men do that – and cannot possibly understand the finer points of conversation.”
That brought me to my senses and I realized I was lonesome but that I didn’t need to let my lonesome make be stupid. I had continued to work in the gardens and help Mrs. Wiley and the other women set things aside for after the season was over even when Docia was with me but now I threw myself into the work as hard as I ever had in the beginning. I refused to sit around feeling sorry for myself. Even if I had still felt a little sorry for myself after that, all the tasks that were set before us would have stolen time from that useless past time.
The cherries were a lot of work but a lot of reward as well. I had only had a few cherries in my life and those had been dried and something Da had received in payment for some fancy smithing he had done. Fresh, ripe, juicy cherries was a different thing all together though I did like them dried as well. However I did note due to my folly that eating too many just plain lacked good sense as I spent most of one night dealing with the results and being glad that the outhouse wasn’t all that far off from the cabin.
Cucumbers and potatoes were the two largest crops that month though summer squash came in a close second. The potatoes were a welcome change from having rice at almost every dinner. I also showed Mrs. Wiley how to bread and fry sliced cucumbers and we added a new dish to the menu that everyone seemed to like. Most of the cucumbers though went to pickling in the giant crocks down in the cellar.
And I feasted on two more new foods as well; nectarines and plums. It turns out I had tasted plums, but in dried form from the traders that would come through. Gran had them in her medicine box and while they tasted fine they had a foul result that ruined even the thought of nibbling on them. Gramp liked them when he had a stomach problem. After he ate the dried plums we all avoided the outhouse as much as possible though it was never exactly a good place to set up housekeeping.
The flavor of nectarines was something I couldn’t describe except that I knew it was fruity. As I’ve said before, describing the flavor of something you have never tasted before is difficult when you have very little to compare it to.
It was only the end of June and Mrs. Wiley was very pleased to be able to tell me that the cellars were filling up nicely. To make room we had to reopen the old spirits cellar – not spirits as in spooks and haunts but as in fancy liquid courage and the like – which hadn’t seen use in over a decade.
In the middle of cleaning the place out I came up with another bucket of dust and cobwebs to find a commotion in the yard. Topher and Benji saw me and ran over. “Oh Miss Fel … that midwife is asking for you.”
Winne’s time had finally come.
Really enjoyed the new chapter; thank you!
Thank you for not demonizing Francine, but also not letting her get away with her stubbornness and little nastinesses. Fel is so strong and sensible, yet she can make mistakes like eating too many cherries! Your characters are very real because each has good points and gnarly aspects- makes me want to keep getting to know them better!
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
oh yay, a baby! I hope Winnie makes it through the delivery ok.
another good one, thanks for the chapter
A bearskin? Does she get to keep it?
This is really neat!
Another little chapter number glitch? Went from Ch. 22 to Ch 24, anyway I can't find 23.
Great story, glad this one came up for you to write!