Authors: Jane Kirkpatrick
Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Fiction, #General, #Christian, #Religious, #Historical, #Western Stories, #Westerns, #Western, #Frontier and pioneer life, #Women pioneers
His “Amen. Name's Schmidtke,” sounded like one word. Eyes lifted and he gazed across the group. “Antone Schmidtke Late of New York. Got three wagons, a hundred head of cattle, four ox teams, some horses and mules, a boy, Matt, and one teamster, Joe Pepin. Good men, they are. Wave your hats, boys. Yah, then. Been farming my life long. Hope to keep doing it West. We're civilized folks, the Schmidtkes are. Know that men need rules to make it in a venture like this. Enforce ‘em fair I'd make you a good captain. My teamster's been this way once before so we've got trained eyes.”
“Ya left out yer wife,” someone yelled from beyond the firelight. “Ya got one a those, don't ya?”
“What? I did?” A few men chuckled. “Where you sitting then, Lura?” His eyes stopped at a small, straight-sitting woman quietly clicking knitting needles and wearing a lap of yarn. A slender lookalike girl sat beside her. “Wave then,” he said and she did, a shy smile flashing across the woman's face before she dropped her eyes. The firelight flickered against her bodice laced with sewing needles and pins. She wore pearl combs in her hair and chewed on a smokeless clay pipe.
“Left out his daughter, too,” Mazy whispered, leaning to her mother.
Ruth Martin returned, perched her nieces on her lap. “You have a daughter as well. What's her name?”
“I forgot my girl? Mariah, she is,” Antone said, his thumb and finger massaging his chin, eyes scanning but not stopping. “If we can get past the ancestral count…now to business. Don't need to be blabbing all night, then.”
“Looks like you're the only one blabbing,” someone shouted— Mazy couldn't tell who—and the group burst into guffaws. The darkness offered protection so people didn't have to own their observations or ideas unless they stood closer to the light for recognition.
Antone Schmidtke opened one button of his high collar. He was a broad man, and the green striped vest he wore widened him like a watermelon. “Yah, yah,” he said, irritated “Is there any out there who thinks someone else should lead this group of ragamuffins west, then?”
Mazy felt Jeremy move to stand, and her mouth dropped open in surprise.
“Jeremy Bacon. Grant County, Wisconsin.” He wiped at his nose with his ever-present handkerchief. “All due respect, Mr. Schmidtke—”
“Antone First name's good enough”
“Harder for the law to catch you that way,” someone shouted and people laughed. Mazy noticed that Ruth Martin didn't.
“If we need a leader at all,” Jeremy said, “he needs to be someone who's reluctant, someone who wants to let folks do on their own as much as possible.”
Mazy gazed up at her husband, wondering what he was truly thinking. They'd argued just hours before. He'd insisted they could go it alone, just the two wagons. Now he was describing what kind of leader their group ought to have?
“A fair number of us had no leader, yet here we are.” He lifted his arms to take in the gathering. “Seems foolhardy to turn over our scheduling to someone who doesn't know each family's quirks and ways. Me, I can't see the benefit. All we need is folks willing to listen to each other. Ask for help and the rest of us give it.”
Mazy's mouth dropped open, but she snapped it shut and
exchanged a look she couldn't name with Ruth Martin who stared at her from across the circle.
“Got what, fifteen, twenty wagons right here represented,” Jeremy continued. “Now me, I've got Grant and MacDonald's guidebook that any who can read can look at with me. Just loosely head out in the same direction, stay on the North Platte road. Can't imagine we'd need anything more.”
“Outdated, that book is,” Antone said. He scratched a shaved cheek “Lot's happened since
I tell you, we are all going to have situations where a firm hand is welcome as water. First time you decide to stop and I pass you by and take your grass, you'll be saying I should have listened to old Antone.” People chuckled. “And there's Indian threats. Lone wagons, just one or two stopping to pick flowers'll make those folks think we're all daft. Can't risk vexing Indians, yah that's right.” Mazy watched heads nod in private chatter across the circle. “Got to at least look like we defend ourselves, yah? Getting cattle across rivers, circling stock, would all be better with cooperation. Don't need lots of rules.”
“We must decide about the Sabbath.” It was Sister Esther. Mazy wondered who the woman traveled with. No one had come forth to claim her as kin, though two men sat on either side of her. Behind her clustered several young women whose faces were shadowed by straw-woven hats that looked liked mushrooms pulled to a point at the top.
“Best we decide on our own for that as well,” Jeremy said, “about whether to stop or go on. We don't need rules for everything.”
“But if An tone s cattle should go on ahead and I stay behind, then his cows'll get the goods.” This from a ferret-faced man who had eased into the firelight.
“Push a little harder the next day. Pass him to get the better feed. Think for yourself, man,” Jeremy said.
“Seems like it'd be better to have some rules we could vote on. Matt Schmidtke,” the newest speaker said, introducing himself as he came to
stand beside his father. His voice cracked in its youthfulness. “Be un-American to vote and not know what you're voting for.” He had a streak of white in his hair though he couldn't have been more than fifteen. She guessed him to be the same age as Tipton. Mazy wondered if she noticed him. Mazy leaned forward to look at her, but the girl still sat staring without a flicker of recognition.
“What does Scripture say of it?” It was Sister Esther again.
“Are women going to be allowed to speak? I mean if women are, we'll be here all night.” Another man's voice.
“We've been here long enough to be ate up by mosquitoes and bewitched by the dancing music with men doing most of the talking.” It was a voice Mazy recognized well—her mother's.
“Guess we could vote on whether or not to have a leader at all. Bryce Cullver, here,” the man said to introduce himself. He wore little wire-rim glasses. A shock of brown hair slipped over one lens. “Then let our chosen leader decide about women and dogs and the Sabbath stops and such after that.”
“I ain't turning over my rights ‘til I know who's voting. I wont follow someone I don't know,” said the ferret-faced man, arms crossed over his chest.
“Who gets to vote on whether to vote?”
“You see the kettle of worms you've unleashed, Antone,” Jeremy said. He sat back down. A few applauded. He shook his head, paused, and stood back up. “All right. I'm in for election. I stand for limited rules, independent thinking, and making decisions based on essentials. We stay together only so long as we agree. Disagree and we move out on our own, join up with others more to our liking.” He sat back down, and Hathaway patted his back.
“Well, can women vote?” the ferret man persisted.
“Who'll stop us?” Ruth asked.
“I rest my case,” Jeremy said. “We're all too independent to form up a kind of congress way out here.”
“I rest mine, too,” Antone said. He lifted both palms in the air as though to say, See? What did I tell you? “If we cant decide even who will vote, then howre we going to figure out how to cross a mountain together?”
“I suggest we take the matter up later, after people have had a time together. Once we cross the Missouri and see each other in action, we might know better who'll be a qualified captain or if we even need one at all.”
“Whose wise counsel is that?” Jed Barnard, the former solicitor, spoke across the circle. Heads turned.
“Mazy Bacon, wife of Jeremy,” Mazy said. She swallowed and didn't look at her husband, but she felt him turn to stare.
“All in favor ofthat sage advice say aye,” Jed finished. The resounding response reminded Mazy of thunder.
“Good. Let's dance,” shouted a youngish voice, and the crowd began taking sideboards from the wagons and laid them in the dirt. Several other people disappeared, walking toward distant fires. The Schmidtkes huddled near their wagons.
“You might have waited,” Jeremy said. His voice was stiffer than a new leather stirrup, and he spoke low. “Could have had this decided tonight if you'd have kept your counsel to yourself.”
“People need time to consider things, Jeremy. This gives it.”
“Just because you can't make a decision until it's been wrestled to death, doesn't mean others can't and shouldn't.”
His words stung. “Giving things a little time often reveals a right and perfect answer,” she said.
“Or none at all,” he said. “It's human nature to want to do things on our own. It's what this heading west is all about. Self-sufficiency. That's what's essential”
“Is it?” she said. “And here I thought marriage was a yoked team ” She stood, turned her back to him, stared at the dancers beginning to assemble. She heard him blow his nose, stand up, and stomp away
“I apologize for sounding critical of your care of our Tipton,” Adora said, coming up behind Mazy who wondered how much she'd overheard just now. “I remembered her with more flesh. But she says she's solid as an iron horse”
“Whatever made you decide to come?”
“I told Hathaway here,” Adora poked a finger to her husband's chest, “I just could not take it, I just could not. Every night was a row up a salt river. I woke up more beaten than when I went to sleep.”
Tyrell strode across the disbanding circle and faced Tipton, flanked by her parents. His hands gripped his suspenders; his eyes held Tipton's. Adora said, “Your daddy said if I was going to mourn you so, we'd best go west, too.”
“All the way? To Oregon?”
“I believe our plans include California,” Charles told his sister He towered over the girl, tight curls around his head giving him a Roman look, even with his hat pushed high, exposing his smooth forehead. Mazy detected an edge to Charles's words. “More promise there, Papa says ” He flipped coins, their clinking hitting Mazy's ear like an annoying whistle.
“Figured you'd be grieving Tyrell if we took you home, so we'd only be exchanging one sad female for another,” Hathaway said. His eyes looked tired and lacked their usual sparkle.
Mazy wondered at the finagling that had gone to bring them here. Their decision to leave Cassviiie would have followed within days of the Bacons’ departure for them to have made it to Kanesville so quickly.
“Did you sell the store?” Tipton asked.
“Oh yes,” Charles answered before his father could “Nothings too good for you, now is it, little Tipton.”
“Aren't the men in our lives just too wonderful?” Adora gave her daughter a one-armed hug while she looked up into the eyes of her husband
“So we're all going…west?”
“Looks like it, daughter,” Adora said, high pitch to low. “Aren't you just pleased as pickles?”
It pressed against her chest, pulled then stretched until she thought she'd burst with the weight. Tipton thrashed about, strangled, gasping for breath. She heard sobs and Mrs. Muellers voice calling her name and she wondered who was crying and then realized it was herself.
“A bad dream,” Mrs. Mueller said in tones as soothing as a kittens purr. “Just a dream, child.” She untangled the light linen that had wrapped itself around the girls thin chemise and laid it lightly over them both. “Mazy used to cry in her dreams.”
“I don't dream, Mrs. Mueller,” Tipton said and pulled away from the older woman. “I'd sleep better if I were outside where the air mills around instead of trapped in this wagon like a badger.” She couldn't imagine how she'd survive these suffocating spaces when they reached the hot plains. “Men are so much wiser sleeping under the stars. We could drag the quilts out and—”
“Drier in here. Besides, Tyrell needs his rest,” Mrs. Mueller said.
“Tyrellie never entered my mind,” Tipton said. “It was a suggestion of comfort, yours and mine A tent's a must, I'm thinking.” She struck at the feather pillow, rolled it to fit beneath her neck. Her body dripped with perspiration.
“I've a suggestion for comfort,” Mrs. Mueller said. “Would you please call me by my name? It's so formal to share a bed with someone who can't even say my name”
Tipton felt herself blush in the night. Silence hung like a sparking board between them.
“Care to speak about the dream, child?”
“I told you It was the linen, that's all. I…don't like things tight around me. I'm fine now. I'm sure I'll sleep.”
“Could always hightail it to your parents’ wagon,” Mrs. Mueller said.
Tipton stayed silent
“Guess you will after we cross the river. Rearrange everything after that. Course looks like you got rearranged as it is, I'll ponder that.” The woman chuckled. “Look at it this way—you wont need to milk that cow no more.”
After that, the wagon grew silent and Elizabeths breathing changed. Tipton thought she might have fallen asleep. She could hear the pelt of raindrops against the canvas that stretched over the wagon top. “That Martin woman milked cows before, she tells me,” Elizabeth said. “Interesting, that one. She doesn't say much to tell you who she is, though she lets on like she has. Gets you talking about yourself, and you forget she hasn't said anything about herself. She rolls that whip pretty good too, I hear tell. Got herself a fine herd of horses. Wonder myself how she did that.”