"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
I was going to post and ask if you were ok. But then I saw your response on another thread. So now I'll just keep pressing F5 and hoping for the next addictive dose. <BG>
This story is at an interesting point,whence it could branch in several directions. Fel has made a home with the people of the estate, and is maturing and learning how to live and thrive in her new life.
Now then, will Cor fall in love with her too? Will Cor stick to Francine, produce an heir, lose Francine and then fall in love with Fel? Will Fel find she is part of a strong family in Dover, get free of her unconsummated marriage, and marry someone else? Will there be an uprising among the many unmarried young men to fight off the multiple-wife faction championed by Francine's rich family?
I'm very much looking forward to the next installments- this is a real winner of a story!
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Suffering here, need more please.
Sorry I'm a couple of days off posting. Hubby and I needed a little down time and we took the younger three and went to Brandenton for the day on Saturday and I hit pay dirt at a flea market produce stand. Brought home a couple of bushels worth of fruits and veggies that were just about to go off and I had to prep them and preserve them. Yesterday our church showed the movie Courageous and Hubby and I hadn't seen it. We weren't going to go but two of our girls had and we wound up going back as a family date night kind of thing. Worth it ... definitely worth it. Don't know whether I cried more or laughed more. The production company sure has come a long way since Facing the Giants.
Anyway, excuses done. Here is the next chapter and thanks so much for all of the encouraging comments. Y'all are just a real hoot. LOL!
September starts the weather change in this part of the land, or so I am told. The first of the month started as hot as August had ever been but soon mellowed and became pleasant; a welcome change from sweating out my sheets every night; forcing me to hang them up every morning to keep them from turning sour.
The weather might have been pleasant but other things were not. I grow tired of the endless parade of visitors. There is far too much work to waste time playing at all this entertaining even if I do understand the reason behind it. I just don’t understand how any of them get their work done gallivanting all over the territory. I understand that the Corman estate along with the Jackson estate are two of the most agrarian families and therefore have more work in the summer than say Acer estate that primarily operates the printing and bookbinding equipment near the fort.
For us winter is the time to relax – or at least take longer breaks – and make time for visiting. Francine has shrugged off my complaints and says that winter is the time several estates do the majority of their work. The Dunellons who work mines melt lead into bars while they also operate coal mines and an old diamond field. The Richelieu estate provides high skill in metalwork of all types and are in partnership with the Dunellons to whom they are closely related to; both families mine iron ore as well as trade for it from other territories. The Havertys are a small artisan estate that specializes in glass, clay, and specialized carpentry. The Kim and O’Reilly families are weavers of cloth and other fine textiles.
Each estate seems to have a specialty that makes them a vital part of the whole. Now that I see the bigger picture I begin to understand why that controlling Council has been so concerned with the estates that are in danger of ceasing to exist. Yes, there is a bloodline factor to it but there is also the very real worry that losing a part makes the whole weaker, of not having anyone left that is trained in the trade. But understanding their motivations does not mean I agree with their chosen solutions. I still get angry and struggle with what has happened to me; and lately it has been hard not to direct that anger at the people who are interfering with what I am trying to accomplish.
I can't demonize the whole lot of them though I am sorely tempted to. Some of the guests have been nice but most are just irritating and nosy or puffed up with their own consequence. A few like to stare down their noses at the Outland savage but I suppose I have to admit there are only a few that are quite that bad and the ones that are seem to be women with sons who need to marry. Seems to me that if they were so all fired concerned with the kind of females their sons brought home that they’d be the ones going out to hunt them up for them. But I guess that would be too logical for the likes of them.
And yes, as the Captain warned, a few men have given me attentions that made me uncomfortable. Compared to what I had to deal with back in my town all of but one or two are nothing but puppies but there were a couple that I came close to giving violence after their hands went places there was no excuse for them going. One did wake up after being dumb enough to get drunk and wander out to the outhouse only to find out he’d gotten locked in for the night. Who’s to say just how it happened; drunks are awful stupid most of the time and can’t remember half of what all they get up to when they are in that condition.
I debated but then felt forced to mention to Francine what I was dealing with.
"Yes," she sighed. "It is a problem."
Surprised I almost yelped, "They've bothered you?!"
Having some man hassle me wasn't new and I had learned from long and often bitter experience how to deal with it. She looked at me with an understanding I hadn't expected and it for a fact startled me for than a little bit. "Fel there are too few women in Kipling and the surrounding territories in general. More specifically there are nowhere near enough women for male offspring of the first families. That's the only reason they'd be so desperate they would bring in females from places as far away as the Outlands and the Southern Region where it is well known people aren’t much above savages.” I rolled my eyes at that but let it go. Her idea of what was savage and my idea were so different it almost couldn’t be measured. “One pair of brothers went clear to the Nevada Coastline to get themselves suitable brides a few years ago. It took them five years but when they did come back with a few other women besides – you haven’t met them as they are related to the Keystones who hold land in the far northeast corn of our territory. That incident is what initially encouraged the council to seek available females beyond this side of the Mississippe.”
Well it was nice to know such a cockamamie plan hadn’t materialized out of thin air. Oblivious to my opinion she added, “Just because our Kipling men are civilized doesn't mean that they don't suffer from the same urges as the men you've been exposed to. Ours are better trained but that doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally give in to their baser instincts. Men are men and very few seem capable of rising above their natural born desires. Elder Lathrop is one of the few who has always risen above some behavior - I wish you could meet him Fel as it is hard to explain to someone of your limited experience - and I measure all other men by the example he sets."
I wasn't sure what to make of that last part. I wanted to ask how Cor measured up next to her Saint Lathrop but some things are none of my business thank goodness. It was enough for me not to have to worry about Francine's honor as well as my own. Seems she knows what to look for and what to avoid. I wasn't foolish however; I asked Mrs. Wiley to make sure there was always a widow or other older lady present to be an extra set of eyes and ears.
The other unpleasant factor of having so many guests is that we were using up our resources as fast as we could set them aside, or at least that is the way it felt. That began to frustrate me to such an extent that I pulled Jonah and Mrs. Wiley aside and said, "We can't keep on at this rate. I feel like we are feeding hogs at the trough."
They both gave me tired laughs. Mrs. Wiley said, "Try cleaning up after ‘em Gilly."
Concerned I asked, "Do you need more help? I can switch some of the children off harvesting."
"Naw. Got plenty o' help; can only has so many in the house at a time. This'll stop as soon as some serious cold sets in."
I turned to Jonah. "How about you? Need to switch some bodies around?"
He shook his head. "It's going fair. Could be better, could be worse but nothing worth changing the work charts over. Do need ter lock up the tobaccy as we got ter much borrowing going on by some. Has ter keeps the spirit cellar double latched fer the same reason. Now if the harvest wasn't so good we might be in trouble but ain't ter bad for now; can't keep this up ferever though."
I nodded and sat back. "That's what I think too. We're using too much of the extra we've been blessed with in the home gardens and orchards. I have some ideas but I don't want anything to reflect badly on us."
Jonah said, "Spit it out Gilly. Can't know til you tell us."
"Ok. I say we stop serving all that fancy food at meal times and mix it with plain fare like we eat when there's no guests around. "
Jonah was uncomfortable with my suggestion. "I don't know Gilly," he said. "The Estate has always set a real good table."
Mrs. Wiley on the other hand seemed to see some of what I was getting at. "Mebbee. Give us a fer example."
"You know that fancy soufflé of greens you make with the cut greens from the greenhouse? What about instead of that we use wild greens? I doubt most would be able to tell the difference, they shovel it in like a bunch of hungry chickens anyway." As I saw that she was nodding I added, "Same thing could be done with that cream of greens dish you make."
Looking between us Jonah started to get what I had been aiming at and finally started nodding. Mrs. Wiley smiled and said, "Got me some ideas along that line too since yer bring itu p. Acorns are coming in and if you'd set some youngins to cracking' 'em and leaching the bitter out I'll use acern flour to piece out the wheat and rice flours and cornmeal. Ladies could have acern muffins up in their rooms with their morning tea and the men can eat boiled eggs since we ain't short of ‘em with acern griddle bread and cattail pollen pancakes. We can fancy it up some by putting the syrups and preserves in the pretty servin' pieces and since we still got plenty of melons, pears, and apples coming in we can have a big bowl o mixed fruit fer whoever wants it. What fruit don't get et for breakfast can be blended into a fruit sauce fer the meat condiment at the dinner table."
Really into the spirit of the game I said, "And instead of fancy cakes we can fix jam tarts, ground cherry pies and nut pies.. And if you don't already do it here I know of a way to make seasoned nuts to nibble on - like pecans toasted with chives or black walnut sticks - instead of those sugar confections that take so much time to fix."
The other thing Mrs. Wiley recommended as the weather cooled off was to have a first course of soup or broth. Cream of black walnut soup, dandelion broth, garlic and herb soup, and allium broth all made it to the table and no one was the wiser that we were feeding them what some would have called poor folks food. Whether it was or whether it wasn't there were no questions or complaints so we didn't enlighten them. Adding the broth or soup helped to control appetites in all but the most gluttonous of the guests.
I tried to leave the guests to Francine as much as possible but some seem to invariably find their way to wherever I am and will quiz me about how the estate is doing. Most were not rude. Most are just curious. For instance, they want to know why we left no fallow fields. I tell them, "We do, we simply put all of the home gardens into production this year as part of the rotation." Which is true as far as it goes but I’m not going to be laughed at for believing in old wives tails. The apple orchards and crabapples are a favorite destination for the ladies who like to go for a daily walk and I make sure they can sample the latest batch of cider straight from the press if they choose.
Pumpkins, winter squash, and sweet potatoes are being harvested every day and go into the cellar in great piles, enlivening the dark space with their bright fall colors. Along with that fruit we collected bushels of muscadines and persimmons, and baskets of the bright yellow wild maypops that are the fruit of the passionflower.
I have been collecting flowers, herbs, and wild plants ever since Docia’s medicine box arrived to remind me and this month I added chamomile, evening primrose, sumac berries, clover, and chicory root. Some of the women collected juniper berries for flavoring but we didn’t have such where I’m from so I don’t know all that much about them. Large, loosely woven bags hang from the floor joists and they are full of black walnuts, chinquapins, acorns, hickory nuts, and pecans. Ropes of garlic and onions adorn the upstairs pantry and wreaths of peppers hang like decorations on many doors.
There is a lot of satisfaction is seeing the evidence of our work. It carries me through the day and I can smile. It is only at night, alone in the cabin – supposedly mine though it is still hard for me to claim real ownership of it – when I think of Docia and Hannah and the rest of my sisters and feel so left out. I think of the lives they are living and though I’m happy for them and grateful that they have security and a chance at a better life than the Headman wanted for us, there is a part of me that is jealous.
I know it is a foolish thing to feel that way. It isn’t particularly sisterly either. And in the dispatches from the Captain I always have a letter from someone, usually more than one, and some small gift or remembrance. The Captain is nice enough to make sure my replies to them get forwarded along but it isn’t the same as having them here to hug and scold and laugh with by turn. Maybe I understand Francine’s feelings more than I’ll admit to anyone else.
But then again, maybe I don’t. It is near to turning October and I am about to have to suffer one last set of visitors. I don’t know whether to be happy these are the last or to be anxious because of who they are. The Captain sent a special courier to me to warn me as soon as he found out. This group beyond all of the others has the power to cause us trouble.
The Coastline of Nevada??? And, the Mississippi has still not gone back in its' old channel...
BTW, where do they get salt? Need a lot of salt for putting up meats...and if they have so many visitors in the fall, hunting is a good thing to put the men to, as before.
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Thank you, I needed that.
thanks for the new chapter
Thanks for the Fels fix!
It sounds like you had some lovely family time!
After the way Francine spoke of him I had imagined the man to be built like a wall, sturdy as an oak, and bright as the sun. Uh … no. Elder Lathrop reminded me a whole lot more of a banty rooster without the attitude than he did a powerful giant.
I reckon he used up all the fat that could have been on him running from woman to woman to keep them satisfied. Sounds like a dirty joke but I really don’t mean it that way. I mean it quite literally. The man has nine wives that range in age from one who wasn’t too much younger than my Gran would have been to one just a tad older than Francine. Fact is if I’ve got it right Elder Lathrop has kids older than his youngest bride. I’ve heard that happens when a man is a widower a couple of times running but having wives and children all together all the time is some kind of different.
Elder Lathrop isn’t a scrawny man precisely, but there sure isn’t a whole lot of extra to him. He might be five foot six without his boots on but if he didn’t wear boots I’d worry about him in a stiff breeze; I’m thinking they might be the only thing keeping him from blowing away.
Of course all those kids and grandkids always hanging on him might be something else that keeps him well grounded. And there is a whole bunch of them … both flavors from child to grandchild and from male to female ... though they have the same gap as many do here in Kilpling as there is a great big giant hole where many of the ten to eighteen year olds should be.
I’m told he does have a few girls of that age but they are kept cloistered on the Lathrop estate. As a matter of fact only the three oldest wives came with Elder Lathrop. For the most part I’m not sure what to make of them. They are … well … they are nice. And helpful. And … and I’m really not sure what I expected but as far as I can tell there isn’t anything wrong with those women; we just don’t share many similar experiences nor do we agree on this multiple wife thing though I don’t tell them that.
As a matter of fact I’ve been able to keep my mouth fairly well closed which has to be some kind of miracle. Maybe I am starting to be the master of my mouth instead of it being the master of me. Docia would be proud … but she would likely pass out first from shock.
There is only one area that they make me uncomfortable in and that is how easy they talk of sharing the Elder Lathrop. Well for goodness sake it isn’t like I want to hear anyone’s bedroom talk to begin with but having to listen to them give me advice on how to make sure I get my “share” of Cor sure does make me want to go find a hole and crawl in it. The problem is they do it so nicely that I can’t say anything, especially not when I’ve agreed to play this part for my sake and for Cor’s.
What is even worse is that when I try and deflect it by saying that basically Francine got there first and that Cor is in love with her and I never mean to interfere with that, those women seem to take it a lot differently than all the others that I have given that response to.
I didn’t mean to do it that’s for sure but somehow or other those women suddenly decided they needed to protect me or champion me or something else fair strange. They’d talk me up at the dinner table, about how I was so industrious and obviously doing my best to fit in and help the estate; and then turn to Francine and ask her what she’d been doing all day with herself.
Of course they knew what she’d been doing. She’d been hanging on Elder Lathrop like he was a golden calf and she had just escaped from this place called Egypt. I thought at first they were on my side because they were jealous that some pretty young thing was spending time with their husband; but I was wrong. When those women said they knew how to share they were being quite serious. And I do suppose that the Elder in his own way did have a certain charisma to him … he didn’t do anything for me but I can see how he might for others … they don’t blame him for attracting Francine’s obvious infatuation.
Nope, this was something different. Apparently since Francine was raised in a multi-wife community she should have been teaching me … what I do not want to know but she was supposed to be doing it. She should have been ensuring that I “got my share” of Cor’s attention. Somehow or other those women seemed to think that I was being cheated by Francine. I swear I never said anything to that effect but boy did they twist it around.
I’m not sure who’s idea it was to have the Elder “speak with me.” Maybe he felt it was his duty or something of that nature. Either way there is no way it could have been much more uncomfortable for me than it was.
“Elder Lathrop, I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful in your own way.”
The Elder has a deep voice that can mesmerize you if you let it. Not a bad voice but one of the type I’ve always been a little leery of since I was little and my Gramp used to rail against a peddler that would come through the area and work deals that in hindsight weren’t very good for the people he was trading with. “I am glad you view me as trying to be helpful Child. I assure you it is my fondest wish that your relationship with Francine be a productive one for you both.”
I sighed and gathered my thoughts. I had a feeling this was going to take more being civilized than I’ve normally got in me. “Yes, I do appreciate it Elder but you have to appreciate that I have responsibilities beyond who sleeps with who. And it is more than a little embarrassing talking about this with you so I’d rather not if it is all the same to you.”
He shook his head sadly. “Unfortunately my dear, I cannot simply walk away from this. I have a responsibility to my estate and those from it, and while Francine automatically falls under that heading, you do in a sense as well because you are a co-wife with her. My wives state that they feel you are … underrepresented in this household; at least in so far as what is your rightful place as a wife of the estate. I’ve noted that the people come to you and see you as someone they can trust. But I’ve also discovered that as a member of our society you aren’t being given your proper place.”
“I don’t really care that I have a ‘place’ elder so long as I don’t lose respect for myself. What anyone else thinks doesn’t matter to me too much.”
“No one? Not even your husband?”
I’d fallen into that trap too easily and I needed to be more careful. “OK, you have me there. And Mrs. Wiley and Jonah too. The Captain and Winnie and …” I stopped and sighed. “Look Elder Lathrop, I just mean that what so-called society sees me as isn’t as important as the people that care about me see me as.”
“A commendable sentiment Child.” He gave his own sigh. “I do not see Francine having the same sentiments. Underneath the gay exterior she seems like an unhappy young woman and I worry that she is allowing her … dissatisfaction … to impede the household she should be building. We must develop a plan to correct this unacceptable situation.”
I shook my head. “You cannot help someone that won't help themselves. She has been happier the last couple of months than she has been since I was brought here. I’m not averse to seeing her happy – I can’t make her be happy though – and it was my understanding that her happiness at least in part that is why I was brought here. I’ve done what I can. I have divided responsibilities so that Francine isn’t … er … anymore dissatisfied than I can help. I leave dealing with the visitors to the estate to her and I take care of the people already here.”
He did the kindly man act well enough that I almost believed it. Would have believed fully if I hadn’t known for a fact he is one of the people responsible for selling me into this sham proxy marriage for his own purposes. “The attention of the visitors will soon end Mistress Fell. Francine is lonely and will only become more so.”
I shook my head. “Not because she has to be. There are people coming and going from the house all day long. She could come to the gardens; she has been asked repeatedly, she has chosen not to. She could involve herself in the kitchen or in numerous other areas including activities in the village; she does not.”
“I have made a study of this Mistress Fel and based on my discussions with others before I arrived and then staff here I have come to the conclusion that you have Cor’s ear in estate matters. You should utilize that voice and speak to Cor on Francine’s behalf and get him to understand her needs.” Like a wise owl he intoned, “She misses her husband.”
I nodded vigorously and responded, “And he misses her I’m sure. I know for a fact he adores her. She’s all he talks about and that’s fine by me, gives me something to listen to. I know he is going on these long runs in great part for her. I’m telling you nothing you don’t already know when I say he had an unfortunate Da who died before he could clear his own debts. Cor takes his honor seriously. He has responsibilities to Francine, to the debt holders, to the people dependent on the estate and even to the position on the council he will eventually take on. You ask Cor to understand Francine’s position, how about she understands his and give him some support cause he could sure use it. She doesn’t understand how much a good word from her lifts his day.”
Seemingly gratified for some reason he said, “You love him.”
Nearly swallowing my tongue at the man’s audacity to make such an assumption I stuttered, “I ... I ... I am not romantic, I leave that for Cor and Francine.” Not wanting it to end with me sounding pathetic I said, “I do respect him and what he is trying to accomplish.”
Thoughtfully the Elder said, “I ... see.”
Well I didn’t see, not in the least. I can’t stand for people to be mucking around in my business. One of my sisters maybe but they’d always had the sense to leave off before they got silly. In my eyes Cor was as much boy as man for all that he was older than me by a bit and some. If I had to pick how I felt about him it would be sisterly. Thinking anything else made me nauseous. Those Lathrops and what they want just seem to steal my breath with the arrogance of it all. It is my life and my business as far as who I do and do not fall in love with. Maybe the Elder didn’t mean to leave me feeling dirty with his talk but he did. Cor and I have worked it out between us. Why do people feel the need to meddle?
I didn’t exactly forget the conversation, in fact I recorded it for the Captain and then sent it out with the next courier, but I didn’t exactly dwell on it either. I continued working. The harvest was coming to an end but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t still quite a bit of work to do. The last of the apples and pears were being gleaned from the trees. Jonah had left a few of the trees for folks down on their luck to pick from and they were cleaned out as fast as we were removing the last fruits from the rest of the orchard.
The last of the sweet potatoes were getting dug and stored away as well. Several rows of long season cabbage – giant heads that would have been too big for me to wear as a hat – came into the kitchen and Mrs. Wiley and her helpers shredded it into a slaw and dried it. Come the winter it would make a good addition to hot soups and fillings for fried venison pasties. Then the only thing left in the garden were some pumpkins, some winter squash and several rows of long season tomatoes.
The oldest wife of Elder Lathrop had taken a chill on a late night visit to the outhouse and I dosed her with chicken broth and garlic and within a day she was feeling much better. Francine flitted in and out of her room but she seemed to give Mistress Giselle a headache. I was sitting by her bed for a moment one night making sure that she drank what my Gran had called a posset when she caught me off guard and patted my hand. “You’re a good girl Fel. I wish there was some way I could ease your way. You seem so young to already be a wife. I don’t like to see the girls married off so young. It sometimes means later on that they get … flighty … and rebellious as to their place.”
I tried not to laugh. For all the fact that I know the Lathrops are in a sense my enemy, I couldn’t help but like Mistress Giselle. We didn’t believe the same things but she was kind and meant well. And as far as rebellious, I could likely teach any number of Lathrop women what that word really meant. Likely a few of the men too. “Thank you Mistress Giselle but I’m … resigned and content I guess you could say … to making this my life. While it is different from what few dreams I might have had, and while it wasn’t of my choosing, it is still better than where I came from and I’ve come to terms with it.”
She nodded her head and stared into the fire. “Much in this life turns out different than we dream of. I lost six children in the plague; two boys and four girls. Six of my blood. My co-wives lost their blood children as well, so many it breaks my heart to think of it. No telling how many grandchildren to bring us we would have by now except for that.” She spoke quietly, almost like her words were meant for me alone. “Francine should not have left the estate. She needs … a firm hand. That Cor … he is too … to infatuated, a bit too soft to govern her the way she needs it; he tries too hard not to be his father. He gives her everything she wants and still she can’t find it in herself to be satisfied. You must watch her Fel. I worry she is … is susceptible to … to the wrong kind of flattery.”
In her own way Mistress Giselle had shocked me as much as the Elder had embarrassed me. Trying to put her mind at rest I said, “There’s been none of that going on I’m sure. Even if Francine hadn’t told me herself and made me sure … me who has enough experience with men to last a lifetime … and convinced me she was serious that she didn’t view that kind of attention with any kind of favor, Mrs. Wiley makes sure that neither Francine nor I deal with men by ourselves.”
“Neither of you?”
I shrugged. “I leave Francine to Mrs. Wiley as she knows what to do and Jonah is never too far when I am out and about on the estate. Even if he isn’t there himself he has someone trailing me like I need leading strings or something.”
She smiled and the relief showed on her face. “Then I won’t worry so much. Cor is a fine young man or Francine’s father would never have agreed to the match but he is gone so often.” She sighed once again reminding me a bit of my Gran. “Husbands with young wives shouldn’t be away from home so much.”
“He’s got responsibilities Mistress Giselle. More than just to Francine … and me. The estate, the people … his Da didn’t leave him with much choice. Cor’s too honorable to give up without a fight. I support him in that.” I was hoping she took my words to heart. She may have meant well but I can’t fall in with folks that try and hurt Jonah, Mrs. Wiley, or any of the others on the Corman estate. “And I’m sure Francine does as well.”
She was growing tired and let slip, “Does she? Hmmmm ….”
I waited for her to finish but when I looked she was asleep. I took the tray back to the kitchen but as I passed the sitting area I noted that Francine was still up and I could hear the Elder’s voice as well as the voices of his other two wives. Again, while a little late in the evening for visiting I thought nothing of it. The Lathrops were leaving the next day so I figured they were getting their last bit of each other’s company in while they could. I was tired after a long day of work and was eager to get to bed. There was a lot to do yet.
The next day it was obvious that Francine had been crying … a lot. I mean she didn’t even try to look her normally fragile yet beautiful self. Her nose was red, her eyes were swollen, and she looked … unhealthy. After the Lathrops caravan took off I went to the kitchen and got a pot of broth thinking that maybe Francine was coming down with whatever Mistress Giselle had had. They had spent a great deal of time in each other’s company in the beginning.
I walked into her sitting room to find her crying pitifully. Not fake tears but great big ol’ boo hoos that were as real as it gets. I knew she was likely to freak out when her kin took their leave but I had no idea what was heading my way.
I took two steps into the room and just had time to say, “Francine why don’t you drink some of …”
WHAM! She was up off the sofa where she’d been drapped and knocked the tray and bowl out of my hand. She turned to come at me again and it took a lot of willpower not to backhand her. That broth was hot and it had splashed my neck and soaked the front of the simple cotton blouse I was wearing. I shoved her back and she fell into a chair.
“Have you lost your mind?!”
She came at me again and I shoved her back again. I was ready to call for some help to keep from doing her any damage and then getting blamed for it all when she said, “I hate you!!”
“Then hate me for all I care but at least tell me why.”
“You know why. You turned them against me. You … you … you Outland whore.”
I hadn’t been expecting her to act like she was crazy. I expected those words out of her mouth even less.
I gave her a look and told her as calmly as I could force myself to be, “You do not want to call me that again Francine. You really, really don’t.”
“I’ll call you anything I please.” I turned to leave the room but she screeched, “I’m not done with you!”
I turned and gave her a dangerous glare. “But I’m done with you. I don’t know what has set you off … well, yeah I do … your kin leaving. But as bad as that must make you feel, it isn’t my fault and I don’t appreciate being blamed for it.”
“You turned them against me!” she wailed.
“How on God’s great creation am I supposed to have done that?!” I know I should have left but it was like watching someone fall off a cliff … it was so bad I just couldn’t turn away.
“You told them lies. You said I was being lazy and not being responsible and …”
“Whoa right there. One, I never said anything about anything like that. Even if I thought you’ve been lazier than you needed to be I never would have said it. Hardly anyone would believe me anyway and it would embarrass Cor and the estate. And two, I said that you took care of the guests just fine as your responsibility and I stuck to the rest of it.”
“Liar! Then why did they all lecture me and lecture me and lecture me about what was right and proper?! I know what is right and proper! Didn’t I get them to get Cor another wife when he wouldn’t do it on his own?! It isn’t my fault they just didn’t get a good one. They brought you into my home and my life has been a hellish misery ever since.”
I snapped. “You’ve lost your mind. Is this how your Ma went?” OK, so that hacked her off a bit but by that time I didn’t care. “Is it so hard for you to see that you are causing your own misery?! Stop wallowing, locked up in this room you treat like an ivory tower. Get out and get some sunshine. Make yourself useful. Do some work for pity’s sake. I’m doing the best I can with what I have, trying to make a life for myself which is more than anyone else has been trying to do for me. I am not what is making you miserable. I didn’t even choose to be here in the first place!”
“And you won’t be here any longer than I can help it!” That got me quiet real fast. “I told Cor to accept you for my sake and he did. And now I’ll tell him to get rid of you for my sake and he will! He’ll set you aside and we will find someone better, someone who doesn’t terrorize me at every turn, who doesn’t undercut my authority. I might not be able set you aside until Cor comes back but I can banish you from this house and I shall! Get out! GET OUT!! GET OUT AND STAY OUT!!”
I was angry, just about as angry as I have ever been but not so angry that I was going to stand there and let her peg me with all the throwables that were in that room. I got out all right and slammed the door before she could hurt me or anyone else.
I was so angry in fact that I realized I was grabbing my knife and that shocked me. I had never gone after anyone weaker than myself and there is no way Francine can best me in a fight. She was also unarmed. For a moment I realized how close I had come to doing something I wouldn’t be able to live with. I turned loose of the knife and fled down the stairs and straight into a crowd of shocked people. I looked around and couldn’t stand it. Mrs. Wiley, all the other women, Jonah, the boys … I had to get out. I couldn’t breathe.
I ran into the forest feeling like a deer on the run. There was no place I could go. Everywhere I turned all I found was a kind of anger I thought I had put behind me and nothing and no one that I could loose it against.
But even I get tired. Jonah found me up near Tumbler’s Spring. I was about to make off when he said, “Naw Gilly. Don’t run. I’m too tired and so are you. We gots a mess on our hands and we needs ter figger out what ter do about it.”
Sullenly I said, “I never said any of those things to people. I never have.”
He nodded, “Nope. You coulda said a lot but never have. Maybe yer should have.”
I shook my head. “Said what to who? And what difference would it make even if I had?”
He sighed. “Reckon yer’ve got the right of it. But yer cain’t run away.”
Gruffly I asked, “Why not? Run before I’m thrown out.”
“’Cause ya silly Gilly, the estate needs yer. Miss Francie will play Queen Bee for a day er two but she ain’t got no sense and will lose interest as she always has before. All she has done terday is sit in that room o hers and give orders that has me sister running but not accomplishin’ nothin’.” Furitively looking around he whispered, “We finally dosed her up good. She’ll sleep through the night and give us o chance to talk things out.” In a normal tone of voice he said, “Yer need to come back and help us out o this.”
I banged the back of my head against the tree a few times. The pain felt satisfying. But only a couple of times because I also had more sense than a ram in heat. Their heads may have been made for banging against something hard, mine wasn’t. I sighed and stood up. “I don’t know what I can do Jonah. You know when Cor hears what she wants he’ll give it to her. I can’t change squat about that.”
Catching a glimpse of Jonah’s sad face I knew that he knew it too. Still he said, “Let’s cross that bridge when we’s come ter it. Fer now, just come home.”
Home. I don’t have one. If I had one I wouldn’t be in this pickle. It’s almost like being in the stocks again. Held captive and in full view of everyone else, just waiting for the real punishment to begin.
You have such a way of painting a picture with words that grabs my imagination and it makes the picture feel almost real!
Thanks for the new chapter!
I've noticed that some girls that lose their mothers at a young age, and especially in the 10-12 year range seem to 'freeze' emotionally at that age. Poor Francine, even if fictional, isn't growing up and doesn't know how to. Guess all those co-wives of her mother's weren't able to bond to her well enough to help her grow up. Now she has the position of wife herself, and can't exercise her heart or will. Her Lathrop family is realizing that she is stuck in her immaturity. She has alienated Fel, who looked for a friend or even a sister in her, and even her besotted husband is starting to see that he isn't married to an adult. You mentioned before that divorce is extremely difficult and expensive- and money is just what Cor doesn't have. Francine is a ticking timebomb.
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Yum, yum, yum. I'm not so sure that Cor will set her aside. Especially not once he sees how she's helped him and the estate. And I get the feeling that her family will slam down on her like a ton of bricks if they know that's what she is trying. Or if she succeeds. They helped her to pressure Cor into this. I don't see them helping her again if she blows it.
That was an excellent chapter Kathy, and Seraphim you are very correct in your observations. I have seen that too, and for whatever else they are it is very sad.
My oh my, The cat fight is on. Bet Cor isn't going to be very happy with his little Francine when he gets home.
Well, let's see. Fel has made an excellent reputation for herself within the Estate and gone a long way to doing the same thing in the larger community.
There are many suitable men in Kipling without mates. Fel's "sisters" are doing well within the community.
Fel even has key allies within the Kipling power structure.
So if Cor sets her loose, it seems to be that she will soon be in a better spot than she is now.
And with a chance to find true love.
Great chapters, Kathy! Thanks!! It sounds like you are just as industrious as the strong leading women you write about.
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.
more good stuff from Kathy, great chapter, thanks
“Out!!” I came out of bed as the door burst off its hinges.
Two days after the big blow up with Francine I was still struggling to get my feet under me. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. Jonah and Mrs. Wiley had started to turn optimistic and say that Cor wouldn’t send me off but I knew what my luck was and I knew what men were like except for the rare few like my Da or Jonah … and even that most likely didn’t come until they got some age on them. Most of all though I knew how much Cor loved Francine and how easy it would be for her to work him around to see her way.
I was dead asleep, fatigue from worrying and warmth from the fire sending me to dreamland to escape for a while. It was a couple of hours before dawn when the crash had me flying out of bed with my knife in hand.
“I don’t care what it takes or how much it costs I am getting rid of you!!”
I tried to stay calm. You don’t run from a charging bull but I couldn’t help but try to defend myself. “Cor …”
“Shut up!! Start packing. I want you out of here and if that means I haul you to the fort then so be it. I won’t let you corrupt my household one more moment than I have to! I can’t believe I fell for it you Outland who…”
I didn’t let him finish. I ran. I could take a lot of things but having him call me a saloon girl wasn’t one of them. I felt so stupid. So unbelievably stupid. How could I trust a man?! I ran into the night with the words “Good riddance!!” ringing in my ears.
It took a while for my panic and subsequent anger to subside and once it did I realized I needed more than a sleeping shirt and a small knife for protection. Before the sun came up I snuck back to the cabin. It was in a shambles. The rocker was broken like it had been thrown against the wall but my belongings had been stacked carefully and neatly on the still rumpled bed. I took the bow and quiver that I had been using and pulled out my old rucksack and stuffed it with my clothes, the medicine box that Docia had sent, and few other things that I had been collecting.
I slunk out feeling beaten in spirit if not in body and still having no idea where I would go. I had failed to take the time to really get to know the territory, only caring about the small part of the estate that I had wandered and the forest that surrounded it. I thought about taking food but knew I wouldn’t be able to carry enough to make much difference. And I didn’t want to take anything from the mouths of the people that I’d been working so hard to feed. I felt bad enough as it was, I didn’t want to add that sorrow on top of it. Part of me wanted to say good bye to Jonah and Mrs. Wiley but hearing raised voices at the house dissuaded me … I didn’t want to bring any trouble on anyone.
I needed to regroup and decided to fall back to a place that I knew I could hunt some dinner and fill my wine skin with water at Tumbler’s Spring. I couldn’t stay there long so I made a dash, caught a couple of frogs and then took off deeper into the forest. I stayed deep in the woods but my mind was in such a jumble that I got little done; I couldn’t even rest. I did wander around a bit but didn’t find any water source and knew I would have to go back to the spring.
Carefully I crept back. I did not want to run into Jonah who seemed to be able to hunt me down no matter where I was. I saw nothing unusual. I heard nothing out of the ordinary. Slowly I moved through the brown and dying grass and refilled my wine skin but as I corked it all of the crickets stopped. I froze and then made to sprint but something that felt huge landed on me from behind. I fought to escape but it wouldn’t let me go.
Growling a voice said, “Stop. Fighting. Now. I don’t want to hurt you.”
I froze. Cor. I was flipped over and I prepared for what I thought was coming. I had fought hard and won my freedom too many times. I knew eventually I wouldn’t be able to escape. I might not be able to stop him from using my body but I refused to give him power over my emotions or mind. When he flipped me over I spit in his face. I tried to scratch his eyes and he pinned my wrists.
“Stop Fel,” he growled using his whole body to weigh me down so I couldn’t move. “I told you I don’t want to hurt you.”
Unable to fight I used words instead. “Hurt me one way or hurt me another. Does it matter?”
He stilled and then shook his head he said, “God Fel … no, I … I deserve that don’t I? I’m not … that’s not what I’m trying to do. Uncle Rob told me you know how to fight and I’ve seen it myself in how fast you can move. But I’m a lot bigger than you and could hurt you without meaning to. I knew I’d have to get you in one move or you’d run and I might not be able to find you again.”
Still unable to move I said, “So you found me. If you aren’t going to rape me then let me go.”
I couldn’t see his face but I felt him shudder. “I’m not out to hurt you Fel. I know you don’t think so but I’m not. I ... I swear … for what it’s worth I swear on my own life. I … I’ve got to fix this somehow. I can’t … Fel … Fel I’m not like my father! I’m not!!”
God help me I heard the pain in his voice. Real pain not the pretend kind that some men use to get their way. I stopped squirming and said carefully, “Get off me.”
“I will just … just don’t run. I’ll chase you and … God Fel just don’t run.”
I sighed. “Give me a reason not to.”
“Give you a …” The shadows were so long that I couldn’t see his face but I heard surprise in his voice. Then he said, “You hold my life in your hands Fel. I can’t live with myself if I don’t fix this … I have to fix this somehow.”
I snorted in disbelief. “It’s your life, not mine. Stupid to put your life in someone else’s hands willingly.”
“Stupid or not, you have it. All I’m asking is … is you … you hear me out. That’s all. I swear it.”
He got slowly up and carefully and moved away. I sat up just as slowly and even more carefully and then put a few more feet between us but didn’t run. Cor’s voice had a deadness to it I’d never heard from him. “I shouldn’t have listened to Francine, not without talking to someone else before I … before I went off half-cocked like I did. I owed you that and I haven’t got any excuse for what I said. I haven’t got any excuse for what I did. I was wrong … wrong for what I did and said, wrong for the way I treated you.”
I’d never heard a man admit to such things. Even so, I don’t know why I believed him. I can’t point to a single thing. Frankly I had every reason not to. But I knew how he loved Francine. I knew how easily it would have been for her to wind him up with her words, had even expected it. This … this abject misery coming off of him I hadn’t expected, hadn’t even considered a possibility.
I shrugged. It wasn’t like my temper and mouth hadn’t dug me a few holes in my life. “Fine. I believe you.”
My words threw him or a loop. I could tell. “You do? But you … you can’t.”
I shook my head and didn’t know whether he could see it or not. “That’s foolish. You ask me to hear you out and then tell me I have your life in my hands. I tell you I believe you and you just say that I can’t. Does that make the least bit of sense?”
There was an uncomfortable silence that was only broken when Cor asked quietly, “You really believe me?”
I sighed. “I suppose I must.”
He leaned forward and I jumped and worried I’d been a fool again when he grabbed my arms and pulled me towards him. I put the flat of my hands on his chest to hold him off but he just said desperately, “Come back Fel. Jonah … Mrs. Wiley … so many … I can’t stand the look on their faces when they look at me. I feel like a fool. Worse … I feel like … like I’m turning into my father, like a monster. God Fel just come home.”
“It’s not my home. It never has been so don’t call it that.”
He shuddered again, like a dog that has been kicked so many times but can’t seem to stop looking for human companionship. “That’s my fault too. I … I haven’t been taking any of this seriously have I? Been so worried and making it all about me. Doing the same thing as … as …” He shuddered again and I felt bad for him. It’s hard to find out your golden idol really has feet of clay.
I patted his arm and said, “Not so tight. I don’t like bruises.”
He released me immediately and I almost fell on my rump. Setting myself right I told him. “I’m not going to ask why you did what you did because it is a stupid, useless question. Besides, I can guess. Francine got her heart pinched over something them Lathrops did or said and needed to blame someone and I was what was handiest as a target.”
“No Cor. I don’t want any explanations or reasons. I don’t want to hear excuses for her or rationalizations or justifications for what happened.”
I had learned the hard way that if I stayed calm other people did as well and this seemed to be true of Cor as well. He said, “Will you come back?”
“Back to what? Back to the next time she says something against me? I may be an Outlander but we aren’t near as stupid as people think we are. If nothing else I know when I’m being set up for an ambush.”
I could just barely make out that he shook his head. “I won’t do that. I make a lot of mistakes Fel … a lot of them … but I rarely make the same mistake twice. As much as it … as it kills me to say it, I swear I won’t take … anyone’s … words against you without …”
The struggle he was in was almost a physical thing I could feel. He’s loved Francine since he knew what love was if Luke Jackson was telling the truth. Love does strange things to people and not all of them good from what I’ve seen. I saw my Da break when he knew my Ma and Georgie were gone, that he couldn’t save them. I don’t know if he would have stayed that way, never got the chance to find out. Cor seemed a bit like that as he realized that Francine maybe wasn’t perfect … maybe a lot less than perfect … and that he had some hard truths to deal with for his own self as well.
Suddenly it seemed that all I really wanted was to see Jonah and Mrs. Wiley again. I just wanted to see them … and the other folks who had accepted me. I wanted to make sure they made it through the winter, to see if what we did has been enough. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to be with Cor or see Francine but the other was so important that I was willing to deal with it if I could just have a place even if that place wasn’t mine.
“We do this I want your word Cor … your solemn word on the life you say you are putting in my hands … that you won’t kick me out until after Spring comes. Not until after I know that the folks here have made it through winter with enough to eat.”
In a serious voice Cor told me, “Fel … I’ll never do this again. I won’t ever kick …”
“Don’t make those kinds of promises Cor. One, right now I don’t think I can bring myself to believe it and two … two I’m not sure that maybe one day I won’t want you to kick me out.” Talking to him in the dark where I didn’t have to see his face I could tell him that. The dark meant I didn’t have to see his face but didn’t mean I couldn’t sense him kind of fold in like that kicked dog I already mentioned. “Cor I’m not saying it to be hurtful though I feel like I should have a right to after what happened. I’m being honest. I don’t want anymore … misunderstandings. I’ve been holding up my end of this bargain. You haven’t been around to see it, to give me a chance to prove myself. You don’t know me from Eve and that’s fine, got it and understand it, and not too sure I want to get known that well by a man anyway. But you blow in after being gone all summer and just … just didn’t even give me a chance to say boo without even looking around. Life ain’t fair but what’s happened to me is going a bit far on the other piece of that. I don’t want to be treated like that for the rest of my life.”
“You won’t,” he said quietly. I could tell he meant it but no way was I in the mood to believe in fairy stories.
“Just forget it Cor. I’ll go back for my own reasons. But you’d best keep your word that nothing like this is going to happen until at least past Spring.”
“It won’t ever happen again.”
“And don’t try and sell me a bill of goods. I’ve seen what men can be like. Know what women can be like too for that matter. I just have a whole lot less reason to trust people than maybe you do … and this hasn’t changed my mind about that.”
He just sat there and finally I stood up. “Well, might as well go on back. I probably have a scold coming from Jonah if nothing else.”
Cor got slowly to his feet as well. “He won’t … he’s already spent it all on me. I swear Fel … I …” He fell silent as he realized there wasn’t anything he could add that would change things.
The moon was full so while we had to take it slow the trail was lit up enough that we didn’t break our necks getting back. Cor stopped me when I would have left the path to head to the cabin. “Come to the house Fel. I … I haven’t fixed the door or cleaned up the mess I made. And besides, you deserve to live in the house and I’ll tell Francine that and …”
“Oh no,” I told him. “No way are you getting me to live under the same roof as her. I may have to pull together to keep this estate going but creeping around like a mouse trying not to set her off ain’t happening. And don’t go giving me the ‘she’s sorry’ routine either. You I can believe are sorry. I’ve seen it and heard it in your voice. Her … I don’t know Cor. I’ll work with her ‘cause I don’t seem to have much choice but … to expect me to …”
“All right. I’ll stay outside so you can …”
Surprised I said, “You’ll what?! Uh uh. No. I don’t need you or any other man to guard my door like I’m some kind of prisoner.”
“That’s not what I meant. I’ve heard we’re having problems with bears and …”
I snorted. “Like you’re going to stop a grizz if it comes for me. Besides, I’ve already done for one grizz. I might not be in the mood to take on another but I’m done being chewed on for a while so if there are any grizz around they’d best just carry themselves on down the trail.”
It took him a moment to catch up. “What? A … a grizzly? You killed a grizzly bear here? When?”
“Don’t come out of your skin. It was back not too long after you left. It wasn’t a big one.” More honestly I added, “It wasn’t a cub but he wasn’t a full grown one either. Probably just kicked out by his Ma to make room for a new cub. Ask the tanner to show you, he has the skin. Either way that should tell you I can take care of myself. Now leave off already.”
He did but I found out the next morning he hadn’t really gone far as I found him sticking his head in the creek where it flowed away from the cabin. I told him, “You don’t listen very well.”
“No. If I had listened better we wouldn’t be where we are at.”
Wasn’t anything to say to that so we walked towards the house but I didn’t like the idea of walking in with him like I was something he had caught and reeled in. I didn’t get a chance to stop though because Jonah came hoofing it after he saw us. He gave me a concerned look. “Gilly?”
I sighed. I didn’t feel like going into it but knew I needed to say something. “What have we got on the list today? I don’t like getting such a late start but sometimes you just gotta take things as they come.”
I could see Jonah wanted to ask questions but with Cor there he wouldn’t. Jonah did give Cor a closed which Cor accepted with a sigh. Jonah looked at him a moment more, then nodded and said, “Lots of pumpkins that need to be peeled and dried. Need to get out and see if we can’t clear the fields of some of these geese that are flying in. My shoulder is aching and that means a weather change is coming.”
I went toward the house while Cor asked Jonah to show him the smoke house so he could see just how much meat the estate had to work with so he could figure how many of the hogs would need to be slaughtered.
That left me walking towards the house alone … it was a feeling I knew I needed to get used to but no matter how many times I try and remind myself it is a lesson I seem to have to relearn the hard way.
Thanks for the new chapter.
Exciting chapter. Eat dirt Cor, ya jerk!
Glad she can keep her wits about her in such a situation. Not sure I could. Very exciting chapter!
Good grief! That was violent and exciting! Most men don't care to be provoked into being fools, which is just what Francine did. One of these days he is going to start thinking before he goes nuts.
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
Lordy, I feel like I just got off a rollercoaster.
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
I'm waiting to see just what it will take for him to see what his wife is doing.
Too bad others have to suffer because of her.
That day was rough but I lived through it by doing what my Gran had always said was the only way to live through such times; by putting one foot in front of the other. Cor just about drove me crazy. He’d come around and make out like I was some important person and the others around me would nod and act like Cor was coming to his senses. Me? Just made me feel like he was losing his mind more than he had already. If he would have left well enough alone it would have been easier to ignore.
“Cor! What are you doing? I didn’t ask to be treated like … like … well, like whatever you are doing. Stop setting me apart and giving me so much attention. I don’t want whatever it is you are offering.”
“I’m trying to give you your rightful place as my wife. What I should have been doing all along.”
I looked around and whispered fiercely. “Have you forgotten that I’m not really your wife? Stop this right now and stop changing the rules of our agreement.”
Quietly he said, “I was wrong Fel. We’ll stick to our agreement. I … I won’t dishonor Francine or myself … or you … by taking this any further and I hope you know you can trust me on that, or at least you’re willing to pretend you can trust me until you really do. I still don’t believe they should have forced this proxy marriage on us. What they did was wrong but two wrongs don’t make a right. I owe you more than you’ve been getting. And that gets fixed starting now.”
Frustrated I asked him, “Did bugs crawl in her your ears and nibble on your brain while you were gone?!”
He tried not to but he slowly caved and gave me a small, bashful smile. “Maybe.”
I swear some people are just impossible to stay mad at no matter what the circumstances. I kept my distance but at the same time it is awful hard to beat on someone that seems to expect it at every turn. Cor’s da must have done a real number on him.
I finally sat back against the tree I was sitting under while I sorted through the mess of pumpkin seeds I was cleaning so that I could season and toast them. Changing the subject to something safer I said, “Those men that ride with you, they seem to be in a good mood. Did you do ok on this run? Make some headway?”
A genuine smile lit his face. “After all that you’re still … still interested in … in …”
Honest to pete he is three-quarters puppy half the time. “Yeah, I’m interested. What is the point of it all if we aren’t working on things from our own angles?”
“Oh.” He was quiet so long I had to ask again. “Yeah, I did …” He stopped for a minute then he got a big grin like a boy that has swiped the baker’s best pie and lived to tell the tale. “Fel, I cleared off three-quarters of the debt that was left. In a single run!”
Astonished, especially since I knew the amount, I asked, “That much?”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “We took last season’s rice thinking that we’d get an OK price for it going up to the northeast. At best they only have wild rice up that way. But they’d had a long hard winter followed by a wet spring all through the region. No one had gardens in yet despite it being so late when reached the area. They needed that rice real bad by that time. I gave them a good price for it too, didn’t gouge them like some might even though I could have. They couldn’t pay me in too much coin but I got some good lumber, gallons of maple syrup, some textiles and some ivory work. Got some whale oil too from a village on the coast. Best though was a large load of salt, about half of which I brought back to Kipling. Took what we traded to a couple of other places and traded for other things and brought in a little more coin. Coming back this way we ran into another trader group and they offered to take the remaining stock I wasn’t keeping for personal use off my hands for pure gold and silver plus a few odds and ends. And I’ve got a contract with them for a bulk order of everyday use paper. Said they might be interested in some of the specialty stuff we produce as well. Fel … I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Only have a few folks left to pay off and then we’re done … no more owing people ever again.”
When he talked of paying off the debts you could tell it was a burden coming off him. I’m actually kinda sorry it got spoiled with the mess between Francine and I. It must have really nipped at his male pride. But it did make me wonder once again what place I would have after all of the debt was gone. I had thought I was satisfied to live the life fate seemed to hand me but I’m beginning to wonder if it is going to take more work to be content with that than I had planned on.
The next morning I could tell people were starting to calm down. Things were going back to normal though folks skirted around the issue a bit or would stop talking or change the subject when they saw me coming. People wanted things to be OK between Cor, Francine, and I. They needed things to be OK. In a sense we held their lives in our hands because if our plan failed, the debt holders could come in and take things and maybe dismantle the estate. People don’t like that kind of uncertainty. Realizing that it made me feel guilty for thinking I could just run off without looking back.
At lunch time Cor insisted on sharing the noon time meal with the estate staff the way I have been doing. He kept looking at the house and then losing his concentration and after a while wasn’t following the conversations around him at all. People began to sense something was wrong. He wasn’t looking like a black thunder cloud yet but everyone that wasn’t blind could see Cor was heading that direction.
After the meal was cleared away I tugged him off to the side. “What is wrong now?!”
“Nothin’,” he said sullenly.
I crossed my arms and gave him my Ma’s best hard look. Gran could do it better but Ma always made me feel worse somehow.
He sighed in an extremely irritated way and then burst out, “I told Francine to come down and share the noon meal with everyone. Show everyone we were doing OK. She said she would. And she … she …” Quietly like he couldn’t quite believe it he said, “She lied to me. She … she didn’t come down.”
Uh oh. “Maybe she got a headache at the last moment. Queasy. Something like that.”
“No she didn’t,” he said getting wound up into a snit all over again. “I saw her at her window and she saw me see her. She looked straight at me and then pulled the curtains shut. She didn’t come down on purpose.”
“Cor, maybe …”
He looked at me incredulously. “After what she said? After the predicament she got me into? You’re going to make excuses for her?”
I shook my head. “No. I’m telling you to calm down. If she wants a scene don’t give it to her. Daphne – one of the girls that came east with me - used to like to get my goat and a lot of the time the only way to deal with her was to ignore her. You react, you make her feel like she has power and it only makes it worse.”
This time he was the one who shook his head. “This isn’t a game Fel, or a girlish tantrum. I know how I acted and I see … or I’m learning … just how wrong I was. Every minute goes by it only gets worse. I … I love Francine. I always will but I don’t understand why she turned on me like this. Why she would lie like she has … first about you and then about coming down to the meal. If she is lying now has she been lying all this time?”
I opened my mouth to try and calm him down but he kept going and asked, “And why do I feel so free to talk to you about this?! And why are you listening to me after all that has happened? Are you women all just crazy or something or is it me that’s fallen over that waterfall?”
Part of me knew how serious he was being but part of me wanted to laugh at the same time. I’m not sure why. I’m even less sure why the laughing part won out. It wasn’t a huge belly buster but I did let myself smile. “Cor, I swear sometimes everybody that is east of the Mississippi has some kind of crazy wrong with them. Being an Outlander is a whole lot less complicated. You live, you die and in between the two you fight to survive. You feed your belly, you rest your body, and you try and save your skin. That’s all there is except for small bits and pieces here and there. On the other hand you people around here get too wound up in things that in the end don’t have anything to do with anything but giving you a headache.”
He opened his mouth and I stopped him with my hand. “Listen to me. Right now for whatever reason you and Francine are like two ticks with no dog between you. Each of you are just draining the other, expecting them to provide all you need and no person can do that for another person no matter how much they want to. Let’s just figure out what set her off, fix it, and then move on.”
I took my hand away from his mouth and he opened it, then closed it, then grunted like an old razor back that was irritated. “I know what set her off. That Elder Lathrop gave her a talking to, a big one, and none of it included a blessing. Apparently it has come to his attention … and now to mine … that Francine hasn’t … er … hasn’t …”
“Gotten into the spirit of things?” I asked trying to find a polite way of saying it all in as few words as possible.
Sadly grateful he nodded. “Yeah. That.”
“There are some mules that are willing to pull and some who aren’t. Sometimes the ones that aren’t can be brought around to the farmer’s way of thinking but it takes patience and practice. Sometimes the only way is with a willow switch. Contrary to recent experiences, I still don’t think you are a hitter by nature though anyone can be pushed too far, especially when their heart is involved. That leaves trying to figure out what is going to … um … encourage Francine to pull her part of the weight we all three are under. “
Sadly he asked, “And if I can’t find out how?”
“Then we have to pull without her.”
I thought that Cor had calmed down and in fact looking back at it I know he did. Lollie Hudson told me she heard Francine egging him on when he went inside a couple of hours later to get the inventory books so we could update them with this week’s reports. Within thirty minutes they were both shouting loud enough that we could hear them out back in the garden.
We all tried to ignore it but it was hard. Thirty minutes it went on and it wasn’t anything but one of those circular arguments that never went anywhere. People started to mutter. It wasn’t angry muttering; it was concern and in some cases fear. Too many remembered Cor’s Da and how he could get. Lollie told people that it was Francine that had started it but the way Cor roared made it hard to believe.
I stood up and dusted off my hands. I’d had enough.
Jonah tried to stop me. “You don’t want ter get in the middle of that Gilly. Young Cor … well ain’t he already flayed yer once?”
“That was a misunderstanding. “
I heard someone mutter, “Some misunderstanding. Just about ruined everything.”
I don’t know who said it but everyone heard it and I had to address it. “Cor is exhausted. That’s no excuse but he’s been on that run for months trying to save the estate, does a good job, and then comes home to the mess he found. Now Francine, who he has loved since he was a boy and you all know it, is all twisted up for some reason … family has a way of being able to hurt you more and deeper than anyone else and she really took whatever it was to heart. They’re going to tear themselves apart if someone doesn’t get the guts up to stop them. I reckon two lovesick fools can’t be much worse than a cranky grizz so I might as well give it a try.”
They were still going at it when I walked into the room Cor used as an office. Things were really heating up and they had started to ask each other whether they really loved one another.
“OK, that’s enough,” I told them quietly but forcefully. “You are taking this all way too far.” They both opened their mouths but I stopped them. “You can’t control who you fall in love with. I don’t know why but my observation is that’s the plain truth of it. When you first find out it must be something really beautiful the way people carry on so, you two included. But in my experience beauty doesn’t last. Life rides it hard and sometimes it gets hung up wet and winds up wrinkled and out of shape. Newness wears off. As sad a fact as it is, beauty just doesn’t last in this world. Now love can, but it might not look the way it did when you first felt it.”
Turning to Cor I told him, “When you love someone you have to accept them for who they are.”
Looking at both of them I said, “This battling has to stop. The people on this estate need each of us in our own way and they need us together. They need you Cor because you are the head of the family. You represent continuity and security. They see you working hard and being responsible, part of the past and the road to the future.”
“Francine, you are the first lady. You can bring beauty to life and make them remember there is more to their lives than just work. You are also the connection to the other estates, the other long time families of Kipling.”
Francine asked bitterly, “And what about you? What do they need from an Outlander like you?”
I shrugged. “Me? I remind them the way I should remind you why they work as hard as they do, what could happen if they don’t. I show them, up close and personal, what exists outside the settlement boundaries. Nobody living today went through the Dark Days. It is too easy for people to forget that time. But when people see me, they see what was. I have known great loss from a battle I did not choose. I have known brutality. I have known subjugation and slavery. I am with them every day, sharing their lives, sharing their labor, working with them to secure their future so that they do not have to share my past.”
When they tried to start the squabbling again I told them, “Enough! They need each of us … responsibility, security, continuity, reminders of the past and hope for the future. We have to work together or we are not going to pull this off. Bad times are coming and in my experience bad times breed like feral cats. We have to be strong together so we can be strong for them.”
Looking at Francine I told her quietly, “I will live with whatever opinion you may have of me, but I won’t live with not doing my duty. If you can’t find it in yourself to understand anything else, at least understand duty to others means more than feeling sorry for yourself and wishing things were different. Put it aside. Cor will. I will. You don’t have to keep on at this. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you just want some comfort from Cor to make it feel better? He didn’t do anything to deserve you being so angry.”
I’d given her an out and she took it. She burst into tears and ran into Cor so hard he just about fell over into the book case. The great big lunkhead just stood there with his arms outstretched holding the account books and looking like he’d been kicked in the head by a buffalo. I shook my head and took the books out of his hands and finally he hugged Francine and I could tell that he really was willing to work things out. He looked almost as relieved as Francine did.
If love makes that kind of fool out of folks I’m pretty sure that I never want to be in it.
Mmmmmmmm, a real emotional merry-go-round!
Thanks for the new chapter!
Awww.. Kathy. I can't decide if I like Cor or not. I feel for him... but I keep hoping that she can get out of this mess and find someone else. But then Fel will have to leave the estate and Ms. Whiley and Jonah...hmm.. waiting for more.
Francine is turning in to her own worst enemy - even more so that she already was.
Thanks for the two great chapters, Kathy; I sure did enjoy them!
ETA - Oops! THREE great chapters!
seriously, maybe I'm dense, but I just don't "get" francine.
I mean, is she a spoiled "rich" girl?,is she slightly retarded?,is she just a "female dog" who's playing some twisted game for her family to gain power?.....I'm lost on this character lol
Every other character I understand their place...but not this one.
I'm not saying anything bad about the writing. Don't get me wrong. character development is always a strong point with the Story Lady's writings, but I just don't get her.
In her own way Fel is as "stunted" as Francine is, just in different areas. But as the story progresses we see Fel growing but we see Francine regressing. The question is why? Or was Francine always this way and Fel is just mature enough to see it and verbalize it in her story? Is it Fel's perception that confuses Francine's actions? I have the whole story outline written and you can look forward to a few more rollercoasters. Bwahahahahaha. (snicker, giggle)
So Cliff is handing out tickets for the roller coasters.
Does anything come of the Captains looking into Fels family?
Decisions. Decisions, which which roller coaster will arrive first!
I'm intrigued by yet another reference to feeling that bad times or a bad winter may be coming. Hangs out a carrot for all us prepper readers.
As for you, Ms. Kathy, if you are going to tease us with evil chuckles, please at least regale us with more chapters soon! Thanks for this one!
It's later than you think!
(Fr. Seraphim Rose)
I have been wondering about a bad winter coming also. Would be nice if Fel could get the bearskin from the tanner to put on her bed before winter sets in. Sometimes it seems that maybe Cor is getting feelings for Fel as he seems to keepsaying to her (or is it himself) that he won't be unfaithful to Francine.
What a wonderful tale you weave Kathy.