Authors: Jane Kirkpatrick
Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Fiction, #General, #Christian, #Religious, #Historical, #Western Stories, #Westerns, #Western, #Frontier and pioneer life, #Women pioneers
Mazy looked back only once. She saw Mrs. Malarky, round as a pumpkin, waving from her doorway, two boys like short stakes on either side. In the distance, Mr. Malarky already strained behind a mule tilling soil. She felt a rush of blood come to her face, a feeling of envy so pro-
found it made her ache. She memorized this last look of their place, inhaled it, vowing to remember every detail, every nuance, every smell and touch and taste of where she'd first known contentment and independence braided together as peace.
“What s that? You bringing weeds along?” Jeremy said glancing at the bucket of dirt pushed up against the dashboard that kept mud from the mules’ hooves from flying at their feet.
“Wisconsin soil and a tomato plant,” she said, prepared to counter a challenge. “I intend to plant them in our new home. Who knows, maybe I'll even come back here to do it.”
Jeremy said nothing, slapped the reins on the mules’ backs.
Ahead, Pig chased after rabbits, checking back in from time to time, and Mazy could see his black tail pointing to the sky as he flushed quail. Tiny white flowers pushed through the dark forest floor reaching up for light. The land bloomed lush and green and the air felt balmy, just a light breeze lifting the leaves of sumac and oak. Before long, the morels would expose themselves beside blue columbine in the shade of the elms. It was such an early spring. Mazy bit her lip. Her garden would have been so bountiful.
What was that racket? It sounded like chickens playing marbles with the dogs. Tipton pulled the linen over her head. Hadn't she earned a good nights sleep? Hadn't she done all the Bacons had asked and then some? Milking those cows ‘til her hands ached, and from behind, too. Whoever heard of such a thing? And she'd endured for days the chafing of damp clothes after the hailstorm and Mr. Bacon refusing to stop long enough for things to dry out. Had she complained? Not once, not that she didn't have cause.
She'd thrown things out of her trunk to lighten the load while Miz Bacon hung on to that bucket of Cassville dirt! It didn't seem fair. Mr. Bacon was a stern and driven man, even if he did help his wife hang the cauldron over the fire without her having to ask. Still, Miz Bacon said Tipton s was the “attitude that needed buttressing.”
What attitude? She'd rarely said a word these past six weeks. She was sure she didn't roll her
as often as Miz Bacon did at her very own mother, especially when the older woman mentioned her aching “backside” fifteen times a day, which she did. Tipton counted.
Six weeks they'd been on the road together, jostled and bounced across Iowa's rutted roads until Tipton's neck ached more than Mrs Mueller's behind, not that she'd be so rude as to say it. Iowa was nothing but mud sketched through the shadow of tall, towering, blocking-out-the-sun trees. Tipton felt constantly cool. Snow had sometimes spit
at their faces. Snow! Only the presence of Tyrell beside her gave her warmth, that and the memory of stolen moments when he'd kissed her as Mrs. Mueller pawed for something in the wagon, or the evening she'd crept to his bedroll and he'd held her briefly before he whispered her back. Stealing the experiences made them the sweeter.
With effort, they'd reached and forded the Desmoines River in what Tyrell told her was record time. Still, they'd rarely had a day without some happening to make Mr. Bacon complain that they weren't moving fast enough or far enough or paying enough attention to “essentials.”
“We're required to be in Kanesville by May fifteenth,” Mr. Bacon said, tapping his finger to his temple in that way he had. The delays hadn't been anyone's fault, not that Mr Bacon would say so. No, someone always had to be at fault with him. A broken king bolt? Mules gone lame? He blamed that on “too many worthless things being carried.”
They got oxen, unruly ones, from a settler, and she'd heard Mrs. Mueller say they had to lay out cash, too. Tyrell told her they should have had oxen to begin with. But Mr. Bacon set his own pace and didn't much listen to the wisdom of others.
But Tyrell was so easygoing, such a gentleman, he always let Mr. Bacon have the last word Tipton hoped that wasn't a sign of weakness in her future husband. She wished he'd spoken up when the women asked for time to hang clothes on a bush to dry or look for berries to supplement biscuits and flour gravy.
“We keep moving,” Tyrell told her later, his mouth surrounded by that red beard. “Not much worthy of bickering over. You got to get clear about what matters and then have the courage to do it.” He picked up her hand and rubbed the tips of her fingers as he talked. She loved to watch him talk.
What mattered to Tipton's way of thinking was time with Tyrell, when her feet weren't so sore from the walking, when her hands weren't so red and dry from the water and wind.
She had dreamed of making this journey together. Except for the
first day out, there had been little to dream about, just long hours of riding, then walking, and sometimes just waiting while Tyrell pounded on iron to repair the wheels. They moved fallen trees from trails, crossed rushing streams. Her days were filled with the clang of Mr. Bacons orders and Miz Bacon refusing while he brushed off dust and focused on “essentials.” Tipton heard that word in her sleep.
Then last evening, they'd rattled into the valley cupping Kanesville or what some called Council Bluffs. Rounded mounds on either side marked this gateway to the Missouri, and campfires twinkled across the area. Tipton was sorry she was too tired and sore to explore. Mrs. Mueller set her sights on meeting people, invited her too. “Mazy says you can sleep past dawn tomorrow. Shell look after the cows in the morning,” Mrs. Mueller told her
Instead, Tipton did what Tyrell planned to do: crawled into bed early
Now it was morning and the cackling and barking and what sounded like the chattering of children tore her from a dreamless sleep.
Her supple fingers with tapered nails clutched her chemise at her throat as she crawled over Mrs. Mueller. The older woman didn t budge. Tipton wrinkled her nose at the snores, the smells of old sleep. She cringed at the closeness, the assumption of intimacy.
The whispering outside grew louder. Tipton folded back the wagon flap and startled as a child's dark blue eyes peered straight into hers. They both screamed at once. Tipton jumped, and the small boy clambered off the low step, tripping over another boy, sending them both sprawling to the ground. Then they fled, kicking up dirt as they left. One was thin as a hairbrush handle, the other as round as crossed buns.
Children! Tipton prepared to scold, but what she saw outside stopped her cold.
Tents and wagons and people moved everywhere. New people, cooking next to painted wagons. Women in white aprons bent over low fires, pushing their skirts back from the flames. Dogs lounged about, some sniffing close to cackling, caged chickens. Cows and oxen bellowed
in the distance. The boy who'd peeked into their wagon, his hair slick and parted in the middle, turned to pick up his cap and then slipped beneath a tethered horse that hadn't been there when Tipton had told Tyrell good night.
Her eyes sought out Tyrell's bedroll in its familiar place beside their wagon. It wasn't there.
“Got us more company,” Mrs. Mueller said behind her through a yawn. “Looks like a town exploded and dribbled people everywhere. Thought you'd sleep late.”
“So much to see,” Tipton said. She forced her voice into lightness, Tyrell's missing bedroll an ache behind her eyes.
“Guess kids don't need no sleep to wind them up. Heard a good-size group came in from Wisconsin in the night.” Mrs. Mueller stretched. “Hear ‘em?”
“We've got delays crossing the river, too,” Mrs. Mueller told her, cracking her knuckles. “A thousand wagons ahead of us.”
“Truly? A thousand!”
“Should have been here last week, Jeremy's saying.”
“His precious Ayrshires'll be ‘diluted of grass,’ I suppose,” Tipton said, pouring tepid water into a bowl. “Worries more about them than us.”
Mrs. Mueller didn't answer.
Tipton splashed water onto her face. In silence, she plaited her tawny hair into a long braid, then twisted it on top of her head. She stared at the dark blue eyes gazing back at her from the section of broken mirror. Her mother said they were the color of Lake Michigan in a cold October. She pinched her cheeks and smoothed her blond brows with a wet finger. Her mind returned to Tyrell's missing bedroll. Where could he have gone? Her fingers shook as she tied on her skirt hoop.
“What's your hurry, girl?” Mrs. Mueller said, her head cocked to one side.
Tipton said nothing, trying not to look fretted
“With additional womenfolk around now, we'll finally have a few more skirts to circle with in our necessary times,” Elizabeth continued.
Tiptons cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. Why must she speak of such a private thing as if it were nothing more than washing dishes?
“Don't tell me that talk of ladies’ latrines puts a blush on that pretty face,” Mrs. Mueller told her “You best learn to loosen up—hey, I made a joke,” she said, “or your old bowels'll be packed like a cannon.”
Tipton buried her head in a bachelor-button blue lingerie dress. When she reached Mrs. Mueller's age, she'd never talk about her bowels with others, not ever. She pulled the line-dried folds over her head, settled the waist, then sat to pull on her stockings and slippers, keeping her head low. When she sat up, she tied on a satin ribbon hat, wiped glycerin on her hands to soften them from the dry air, and pretended the pink on her cheeks came from the dot of rouge she rubbed there, not from the subject at hand
“I'm a bit grieved by Jeremy's talk of going it alone,” Mrs Mueller said. “You ask my noggin,” she continued, undoing her own long braid laced with gray and snubbing her fingers through it to untangle the plaits, “shouldn't be on one of these overland trips without at least five women. Six'd be better. We've had trees for our necessary circle so far, but come the prairies, you'll be pleased as pigs in heaven to have the backs of women's skirts to hide you while you squat.”
“A lady doesn't, squat,” Tipton said. “She
herself, which I intend to do right now.” She felt her neck blotch hot. “I mean, relieve myself. Of this conversation.”
Tipton stepped backwards down the steps, one hand managing her hoop skirt and the other grasping the side of the canvas for balance. She heard Mrs. Mueller's hearty laugh as she left.
It was one thing to lack privacy with personal hygiene and quite another to have it openly discussed. Tipton inhaled a deep breath just as Tyrell had said to whenever she felt rattled or flushed
She looked up. Wispy clouds streaked across a blue canvas. Tipton stood a moment, savoring the light over the misted river, distant dust rising with sun streaks like gold thread woven through it. Deciding to risk continued conversation with her bedmate, she stepped back up, leaned inside to get her parasol, and plucked the pink silk from beneath the straw tick. Mrs. Mueller never even saw her. She stood with her back to the opening, one hand rubbing her hip.
Outside, Tipton scanned the wagons and the men standing in clusters, listening to the hum of conversations broken by an occasional burst of guffaws, the clank of iron against cauldron, the chatter of children at play. She smelled crackling cookies frying, felt the wetness of mud seep into her slippers. She decided to stand right where she was and scan until she found him. Now her breath came in short gasps.
She wondered why Tyrell hadn't thought to find her this morning. Maybe he wanted time away from her. Perhaps with others around now, he'd find more amiable companions, older and wiser.
She felt the familiar sensation press against her chest, the sense that air would not come through, and then the tingling numbness beginning in her fingers. Where was he? Why couldn't she see him? Maybe he and Mr. Bacon had had words. A buzz formed at the top of her head. If Tyrell left the train, she would run away with him. He wouldn't take her willingly, she knew that; he'd given his word to her parents. But she'd never be left with the Bacons. She'd escape to follow him on her own. She swallowed, her throat dry. She couldn't even make her saliva go down when she wanted.
“Did you sleep all right?”
Miz Bacons words startled her from behind. She was light as a bird on her feet despite being as tall as most men. Tipton's eyes flickered, tightness stretched across her temples. No, it couldn't happen, not now, not here with all these people, not with Tyrell nowhere around to ease it away.
“Have some cornbread and sweet cream. Fixed it fresh this morning.”
Miz Bacon put her good arm around the girl and eased her toward the Bacons’ fire. There was no resisting the firmness. Miz Bacons apron smelled of cabbage and something sour Tipton couldn't place. Still, the woman's arm felt comforting as a quilt. “Set a spell and keep me company,” Miz Bacon said, and it sounded like a sigh.
Lonely, that's what she is. Loneliness could happen married to a man like Mr. Bacon; that and her being already so old with no children. Why, Miz Bacon must be almost nineteen.
Tipton let herself be helped to the milking stool set beside the embers.
“Haven't had enough of me yet?” Tipton said. Her voice sounded wispy even to herself. Her fingers felt so numb. She lowered her head below her knees. Sometimes that helped. She pretended to be gazing at the fire, blotting dampness at her slipper.
“We've a long way ahead of us to be tired of each other,” Miz Bacon said. Her voice was always so gentle when she wasn't talking at her husband. “I've written a good report to your mama.” The woman rubbed at the wrapped arm she now moved without a sling.
Tipton took a breath and held it. Sometimes if she did that, the tingling in her arm went away.
“Have you seen Tyrellie, Miz Bacon?” She exhaled it as a blast of air.
“I'll bet his mother named him that specifically so no one could add an
at the end. Mothers'll do that, you know,” Miz Bacon said. “Not want someone calling their six-foot-tall boy ‘Mikie’ someday, so they name him ‘Jeremy to begin with or something solid like Isaac or Tyrell. Then some sweet thing comes along and rearranges it. Tyrellie.” She rolled her eyes.