(I am pulling ahead full-bore on this WIP for now, as my partner and I at the Tiny Publishing Bidness are planning on using one of my books as our first venture into working with the printer-distributor Lightening Source. Enjoy!)
Every evening, sundown lingered a little later and a little later more, and for a week, Mama had been waiting. She never said as much, but Margaret knew. Papa had said he would return and take them all into the far west to Mr. DeWitt’s colony, and so when Mama finished reweaving the red-wool blankets, she did not start another weaving, for what would be the use of that? As soon as Papa returned, they would take apart the loom, re-pack the wagons and resume the journey. For several weeks, she and Margaret had occupied their afternoons, when school was done and she and Carl had finished whatever studying had been required, by firmly stitching a narrow binding of calico cloth around the raveled edges of the blanket-lengths. After supper every evening, she and Mama picked up their sewing once again, until it was too dark to see, and the swifts had begin their darting, almost unseen against the darkening indigo sky.
Margaret never forgot the day when Papa returned from the farthest west, cheerful and invigorated, as if all of his fury and disappointment with Mr. Austin had been but a bad dream. He was still resolved upon removing to Mr. DeWitt’s settlement, which news sent Margaret’s heart sinking down into her toes. He and Rudy arrived on an early evening in late April in company with a handful of other horsemen, when the trees had finally put out all of their tender green leaves, and the meadows around San Felipe were deep in rich grass, all touched with gold by the setting sun. Two of them were Mexican; young men clad all in black, their trousers and short jackets trimmed with many bright silver buttons, with sashes of brilliant silk knotted around their waists. There was silver on their horse’s saddles and bridles too; the men all waved farewell from the roadway, as Papa and Rudi tied the reins of their own horses to the rough-hewn wooden fence rails which marked the boundary between the street and the dooryard. Margaret and Carl had just come home from an errand bearing a message to Mr. Robbins, telling him that Papa would soon return. They were walking hand in hand from Mr. Robbins’ establishment, when they saw the three horses and the other men of a party departing, Papa rushing exuberantly towards the house and Mama, leaving the horses still burdened with saddles and blankets, although the third horse bore a large pack. Rudi was dismounting a little more slowly from his mount: he appeared tired, yet excited.
“Papa has a grant from Mr. DeWitt!” he shouted, “I have seen it, M’gret – and it is truly ours. Papa has a brand for our cattle and all – the Spanish governor an’ Baron Bastrop said so. It is ours, and Papa says we will live like lords . . . “
“We have missed you!” Margaret hugged her little brother and ruffled his hair – boy-like, he made a face at her. “Your neck is filthy, Rudi – did Papa not make you wash the back of your ears, ever?”
“What for?” Rudi answered, “Esteban an’ Diego say that I am a now a true buckaroo – that is what they call a vaquero, a horseman . . . I should see to my horse before I see to myself.”
Margaret sniffed disdainfully, “Than your horse would be nicer to sit next to at dinner. “And where is Rufe . . . did he remain at Papa’s new holding?”
Rudi’s face suddenly looked most somber.
“He’s dead, M’grete. We were coming along the road towards Bexar – Papa had him ride ahead a little way, to see if we were near to water for the horses. He was only out of our sight for a few moments . . . we heard a sound, as if he tried to shout to us. Then just silence – and when we came upon him, he was lying in the middle of the track, with two arrows sticking straight up out of his chest and the hair skinned off the top of his head. The other men – the men with us – said they were Comanche arrows. They steal horses, you know.”
Rufe dead, and so abruptly? Margaret felt cold chill, as if a winter draft had suddenly crept up on her. Papa had said nothing of this in his letters to Mama, as if he had not put any thought towards their hired man at all. Rufe had uncomplainingly come with them as a drover, all the way from Pennsylvania. He never had much to say for himself, but now he was dead. Obscurely Margaret felt now guilty for never having paid much mind to him.
“What did you Papa and the men do then?”
“They put his body over the pack-horse saddle, and took him to be buried in Bexar. Papa gave a priest a few silver coins, and Esteban swore that for all he knew, Rufe was a Catholic, so that he could put into a grave in the proper cemetery.” Rudi looked down at his feet, shuffling them wretchedly in the dust. “And then we came straight to San Felipe. Papa says he must hire another drover, of course – as if the Comanches killed Rufe just to spite Papa, or that Rufe was careless and caused Papa special trouble!”
“It wasn’t your fault, Rudi,” Margaret soothed her little brother with another hug, for he truly looked quite wretched, “And it wasn’t Rufe’s, either. Go to the well, and wash up – Mama will have supper soon.”
“I must see to the horses first,” Rudy answered, stoutly and repeated, “A vaquero always takes care of his horse – Esteban said so.” So there was nothing else but for Margaret and Carl to do, but to set their slates aside and help Rudi to unsaddle the horses, and turn them loose to graze behind the house, where the grass had grown lush and tall in the months that Papa and Rudi had been gone. Margaret lugged the first of the two deep willow-baskets to the log house, while Rudi and Carl dragged the other, full of the bedding and gear which Papa had taken with them. The pack-horse had born the baskets, lashed to the sides of a wooden frame, which sat on its back atop a thick sheepskin pad cinched twice around its belly.
In the porch between the two rooms of the house, Papa was taking bites out of some bread and cheese, as he talked excitedly to Mama about the new holding,
“Along the river, which runs deep and fast between tall banks,” he was saying. “The bottom lands are rich and well-watered . . . I have found a good site for a house, for we must cultivate within two years. I have been advised to herd cattle as well, on the uplands. Young Mr. Menchaca and his brother were most kind, to advise me. Alas, the DeWitt grant adjoins the tracts where the Comanche are accustomed to hunt . . . it is in my mind that you and the children should live in the Gonzales settlement for a time, as my lands are only at a short remove. Until some kind of peace can be made with the Comanche, as has been with the Karankawa and such – that would be best, I think, Marichen . . .” He appeared to notice Margaret and her brothers for the first time, embraced them with something of an absent air, as if he were already thinking of other matters. “Grete, my angel – are you ready to help your mother with the packing? We should leave by the end of the week, I think. I must speak to Robbins, for I sent a message that we would return and need our wagon…”
Margaret kissed Papa on the forehead, saying
“Must we depart so soon, Papa – Carl is doing so very well at school that . . . “
“There is a school established in Gonzales,” Papa answered, his attention already on those matters involving moving his family on towards his holding in the DeWitt grant. “And now I must hire another drover – perhaps Robbins can recommend a man . . .”
“What of Mr. Tarrant?” Mama asked, looking swiftly from Papa’s face to Rudi’s dolorous one. “I do not understand, Alois – did he not come with you?”
“He’s dead, Mama,” Rudi answered first, and almost tearfully. Mama’s mouth rounded into an ‘o’ of shock and sorrow, and she abruptly sat down. “The Indians killed him.”
“Alois,” Mama said then, sounding as stern as if she wished to admonish Papa and Rudi both, “You said nothing to me of this in your letters.”
“I did not wish to worry you, my heart,” Papa answered, “It was merely one of those sad things which happens out here, if one does not take sufficient care. And of course, I shall always take care – the boy and I were never in danger. We saw that Rufe had a proper Christian burial – the very least that I could do for him.”
“You should write to his father,” Mama said at once, and her lips tightened. “You should tell him at once, Alois – and before we depart this place.”
“Marichen, my heart, must there be such a hurry to write this? “ Papa remonstrated, “for it will take months for a letter to arrive back East . . .” but Mama repeated,
“You should write to his father at once, Alois. It is only fitting. His family – his parents – they are friends of long-standing to my family and yours.”
Margaret’s gaze went from her mother to her father; again, she felt that ‘standing aside’ feeling, as if she were a stranger watching them. Carl’s hand crept into hers, seeking reassurance, and Rudi looked as if he were close to tears, for Mama was angry at Papa. Mama was almost never angry at Papa, but in this instance she was, not just for his thoughtlessness in leaving that intelligence out of his letters, but in seeming to regard Rufe and his death as a matter of little importance. Papa was, Margaret realized then in a flash of comprehension, as hasty and careless about Rufe as Mr. Sullivan or any of the other slave-owners in San Felipe were, concerning the least of the slaves they owned – as if they were nothing more than a not terribly valuable tool, which once broken could be set aside without a second thought. And she wondered then, with a little flicker of foreboding; what kind of man would Papa be, if Mama was not there to anchor him to his better nature, to remind him of what was good and right, and to make amends when he had spoken hastily or in anger to men like Mr. Austin? Margaret tried at first to put this unsettling thought aside. Of course, Mama would always be there; she was the fire on the hearth, the calm presence that made this bare little log room their home, the center and core of the family.
“Shall we be returning to school, then?” Margaret asked. Before Mama could answer, Papa said,
“No, little Grete – we need to begin packing at once, in the morning. You and the boy will not miss any lessons, as there is a schoolmaster in Gonzales.” Margaret’s heart sank, at her fathers’ words. She had expected something like this upon Papa and Rudi’s return, and thus had taken care with the blanket that she had marked out as Schoolmaster Vining’s special gift. Still, she had nurtured some faint hope that Papa would not act so precipitously, or even that he would amend his quarrel with Mr. Austin. No, she accepted and facet the inevitable: they would leave San Felipe immediately – as soon as they could repack the wagons and Papa could hire another drover. Unconsciously, Margaret squared her shoulders.
“Mama,” she said, “Then I should go to the schoolmaster’s house and tell him of our departure. I should also take our gift to him; may I then?”
“Of course, my duckling,” Mama answered, and it seemed to Margaret that Mama spoke with tender sympathy, “And take Carlchen with you also, to convey our appreciation for the schoolmaster’s teaching, all these months.”
“Yes, Mama,” Margaret went to the large willow basket which held hers’ and Mama’s sewing. The one blanket which she had stitched the binding around entirely by herself was on the bottom, carefully folded into a neat square and tied with a narrow length of woven cotton tape, with which Mama secured all of her household linens. She tucked it under her arm, and took Carl’s hand with her other. He went with her obediently, although he looked back at Papa. Papa, now having stuffed the last of the bread and cheese into his mouth, was pacing up and down restlessly, as was his habit when deep in consideration. He did not spare any glance after Margaret and Carl as they walked away from the little log hut.
“Choo sad, M’grete?” Carl asked warily in the English that they used at school, as soon as they were out of earshot.
“I am,” Margaret answered, with a sigh.
“Because I liked living here – even in a little house not our own. I liked our lessons – and I very much liked the master of the school.”
“I like too, M’grete,” Carl confided, with the air of someone confessing a great secret. “He ver’ nize.”
“I think I will miss our school here,” Margaret hugged the blanket to her chest. Yes, she would miss it very much. She would miss Edwina, and walking down the road with her brother every morning. San Felipe was safe, she felt certain – for Mr. Austin had made a kind of peace with the Indians, all but the Comanche, and they were far away in the west. Which, alas, was where Papa was going to take them.
The schoolmaster’s house looked very different, when school was not in session in the breezeway. All the benches were moved to one side, and the doorway to Mr. Vining’s parlor stood open. It was always closed, during school hours, and so Margaret and the other children did not know what the schoolmaster’s house was like, on the inside. She knew that he had a horse in a corral at the back of his town-lot, for he rode as well as any other man in San Felipe. She walked through the school-yard, half eager and half-hesitant. It sounded as if Mr. Vining had visitors, for there were several more horses in the corral, and several saddles piled in the breezeway. The sound of men’s voices and laughter came from within the parlor. She could see a little, through the opened window: a young man who looked like one of the Mexican men who had ridden with Rudi and Papa. With a firm hold on Carl’s hand, she walked across the porch and stood for a moment in the doorway, thinking to herself that the schoolmaster’s parlor looked quite pleasant. In one of her ‘thinks,’ she had considered very carefully the matter of what one could tell of a person by looking at their possessions, or conversely, of what you could expect someone to own, just by studying them. Schoolmaster Vining had very much the things she had expected of him. Although the furniture was no finer than any other household in San Felipe, there were several elements which Margaret found most pleasing, chief among them, a quantity of books. A very fine glass-shaded lamp stood in the middle of a round table in the center of the room, and the chairs in it appeared both capacious and comfortable. The lamp shed a good light, on the books lying upon the table. Schoolmaster Vining and one of his friends were taking turns, leafing through the largest of them, while the other friend leaned back in his chair, with a pipe in hand. The schoolmaster looked up, at the sound of Margaret’s gentle rap on the door-frame, and sprang up from his chair.
“Why, Miss Becker,” he exclaimed, in pleased surprise, “And young Master Becker, too. Good evening! I was not expecting a call at this hour. I thought your family would be enjoying your reunion. My friends tell me that your father returned with them from Bexar with them, and that he has a fine property now, in Mr. DeWitt’s land-grant.”
“Yes, sir,” Margaret answered, “Good evening, sir.” Suddenly, what she had wanted to say, those things that were proper for a young lady, went entirely from her mind. “Papa says that we will leaving soon, so we will not be coming to your school again. So we brought you a parting gift – this is from our family, of my mother’s weaving.” She held out the blanket, suddenly miserably aware that she had sounded childish. “We are grateful for your teaching, sir – especially for teaching Carl.”
“Convey my gratitude to your family, Miss Becker,” Schoolmaster Vining accepted the folded blanker, although he looked slightly puzzled. “I find teaching to be rather a pleasure, especially with willing and talented pupils.” At Margaret’s side, Carl tugged at her hand, and whispered,
“I t’ink school very nize, M’grete.”
“I am gratified,” Schoolmaster Vining answered. “Would you like to meet my friends? I think they are already somewhat acquainted with your father. Miss Becker, Master Becker – may I present Senor Esteban Menchaca de Lugo, and Senor Diego Menchaca de Lugo, gentlemen of Spain, and San Antonio de Bexar. Miss Margaret Becker and young master Carl Becker.”
“I am honored,” replied the young man with the book, who set it aside. The spurs on his boot-heels jingled musically, as he came towards the doorway. “And to make your acquaintance is my pleasure as well, senorita.” He bowed over Margaret’s hand very correctly, and smiled as if it really was an honor and a pleasure. Carl stared, wide-eyed as an owl. “We traveled with your father and brother, I think. Diego, recall your manners,” he added as an aside, over his shoulder to his brother, who took his pipe out of his mouth, and drawled,
“My head remembers my manners . . . but alas, the rest of me is telling my head that it does not wish to move a muscle out of this very comfortable chair. Consider that I also am most pleased, so on and so forth.” Senor Esteban said something chiding in Spanish, over his shoulder to his brother, who only laughed sardonically and puffed again upon his pipe.
“Forgive my brother, senorita, for he is a lazy swine . . . “
“Who has ridden a very long way,” Senor Diego retorted, while Schoolmaster Vining laughed, and confided to Margaret,
“They are both my very dear friends, but sometimes they put me into the mind of some of my younger pupils . . . but I am most grateful for this gift, Miss Becker. I confess that I will regret your departure from my school, and from San Felipe. If business or friendship ever takes me near to Gonzales, and your father’s new holding, might I presume to pay a call upon your family?”
“Yes, of course,” Margaret answered, and immediately regretted sounding so hasty. She should have sounded dignified, as Mama had in response to Mr. Austin. But Mr. Vining smiled, so that the deep creases on either side of his mouth appeared; by that Margaret knew that he was quite genuinely pleased.
“Then I shall live in anticipation of that pleasure,” he answered. Carl was still staring at the Menchaca brothers, rapt by the splendid display of silver buttons on their coats and trousers, and the pleasant jingling sound of the spurs on their boot-heels. “Good evening, Miss Becker.”
“Good evening, Mr. Vining,” Margaret did a small, and awkward curtsy, and fled, tugging Carl behind her.
That night, as she lay in her pallet-bed in the loft, she thought about that brief visit, and concluded that perhaps it had not been all that disastrous. He had looked on her and smiled, and promised to visit them in their new home. Margaret reposed tremendous confidence in the witch-woman’s prophecy. Mr. Vining was the man that she would marry; philosophically, Margaret set aside what the witch-woman said about two husbands. It would be enough, she decided, to settle the question of the one, the one which she would have ten years and one of happiness with. Ten years was forever-long, Margaret decided. Ten years was almost as long as she had been alive.
Out in the breezeway, on the porch, Mama and Papa were still conversing. They would begin packing the wagons again in the morning. Mama had already taken down the delicate parts of her loom. It made Margaret sad to see that. When she considered her feelings, she had quite liked living in this little place. She had a friend in Edwina, a comfortable place and rhythm to the day – school, and chores, helping Mama with the weaving, supper, and then sitting on the verandah of an evening, doing schoolwork or sewing, until the light faded. The birds returned to their roosts, and the bats to their lair, and the stars wheeled in their orbit, white-silver in an indigo sky, the sun set in a smear of orange and purple, then the moon rose to take its place, pale and milk-colored as it waxed and waned. There was a lot to be said for that, Margaret decided. She had one of her ‘thinks’ about it; no, she had decided regretfully – she did not like days of constant adventure, of seeing a different aspect to every morning. She preferred a set place, under the sky, the march of the regular seasons and days. There was a joy to seeing things unfold.
“M’grete?” Rudi still lay awake, also. She could hear him turning over. The straw which stuffed the pallet upon which he and Carl slept crackled as he did so.
“Rudi – what is the matter?” she asked, for he sounded deeply unhappy.
“I’ve been wondering about something, M’grete. Do you think it would hurt to be dead?”
“You are thinking about Rufe,” Margaret answered. Of course, he would have been. He would have seen Rufe’s body, afterwards, seen everything but the Indians actually killing Papa’s hired man. “I can’t see how anything that happens after someone is dead can hurt their body. Their spirit is gone to heaven, anyway.”
“Are you sure?” Rudi still sounded unhappy.
“Of course I am – do you think that the pig objects to being cut up at butchering time, after it is dead? Can you imagine the fuss about hanging up the hams in the smokehouse if the pig was still squealing and wriggling?” That coaxed Rudi into laughing, at least a little bit.
“He looked . . . surprised. Rufe did. As if he couldn’t believe it had happened. Do you think that it hurts to die, M’grete?”
“I guess it depends on how fast it happens,” Margaret answered, carefully. “And I think it probably does hurt at least a little – but not for long at all. And then you go to heaven, if you have been good. I think I would like Heaven. Opa Heinrich always said Heaven was like a garden where there were never any weeds.”
“I wouldn’t like to be dead,” Rudi said, after a bit. “I would miss Mama and Papa, and you and Carl, and all my friends.”
“And we would miss you too,” Margaret replied. “But nobody else is going to die, Rudi. It’s late – go to sleep, now. Here’s my hand – hold it, and I’ll hold on to yours. Remember, Mama and Papa will always keep us safe.” But, thought Margaret to herself – Texas is large, and a wilderness. Papa and Mama are only two, matched against it. Best to not say so to Rudi or Carl; my brothers are still children, and children must believe that everything will be all right. I am twelve and will marry the schoolmaster someday. I am all but grown up.”
Five Years Later – Gonzales, in the State of Coahuila y Tejas
“Mama,” Margaret ventured one late summer afternoon, as Mama worked at her loom, which sat in the outdoor room of the house that Papa had built for them when they finally settled in Mr. DeWitt’s colony. “There is to be a roof-raising for the Darsts, on Sunday. Mrs. Darst and the Dickensons and their friends are planning to have a fiddler for dancing, afterwards. I promised that I should bring some pies and Benjamin said that he would like to dance with me.”
“Young Mr. Ful-fulka?” Mama garbled his name, as she usually did. Benjamin Fuqua and his brother Silas had arrived a year or so ago. He held a quarter-league of land in his own name. “But certainly, Margaret,” she flashed a quick and impish smile over her shoulder towards her daughter, although her hands had never stopped their rhythmical motion, sending the shuttle flashing back and forth. “Since your Papa is not here to withhold his permission, I give it very freely.” Margaret returned the smile. She and her mother had grown ever closer in the years since coming to Texas, united in a gentle conspiracy to bend Alois Becker into more sociability with his fellows. Most recently, Mama must work to soften or thwart his dictates, regarding Margaret and those young single men who had begun to flock to the Becker household, as soon as Margaret put up her hair and began wearing womanly longer skirts. His horror at suddenly realizing that Margaret had grown tall, as slender as a young willow-tree, and gravely pretty – and was indeed of an age to marry – was almost comic, if somewhat embarrassing to Margaret. Suddenly, Alois regarded every single man come to visit his household with wary suspicion, even if they were truly his own friends and had no intentions towards Margaret. But every admiring glance in her direction, or word spoken to her, even on the most mundane matter seemed to inflame his temper. Lately, Margaret was glad that Papa had reason to travel with his wagons, for he had gone into partnership with several merchants in San Felipe and Gonzales to haul goods arrived at the port of Anahuac upcountry, leaving Mama to see to household and social matters.
“How Papa can expect me to marry well, but yet never be courted, or even converse with a young man …” she sighed. “I think Papa just expects a husband for me to grow on one of the apple trees. And that one day, he shall pluck it from the branch, present it to me and say, ‘Here, Grete – a husband for you to marry, this very afternoon.’”
“Your Papa wishes only the best for you,” Mama answered, “Like all men – he thinks that only he may make a decision on such matters as affects the family.” She smiled again, over her shoulder, “I permit him to go on thinking that. It spares his feelings.”
“And then you work on him, so that he will do rather what you wish,” Margaret said, with another sigh. “But it takes such a long time . . . and the Darst’s roof-raising is Saturday.”
“Your Papa will allow it,” Mama answered serenely, “I will see to that. For most everyone will attend – how can we keep ourselves apart? He will see the sense in that. Do not worry, Margaret – your Papa will not be able to keep you as cloistered as a nun. Your Mr. F-fulka may accompany us to the Darsts, of course.”
“Thank you, Mama,” Margaret bent, and kissed her mother’s cheek. She had been seventeen for four months, having put up her hair on her sixteenth birthday. There were always more unmarried men, and adventurous young men in Texas than there were women of marriageable age; within the last few years, Margaret had begun to loose that conviction that she would marry Schoolmaster Vining. Now she considered the witch-woman’s prophecy something akin to a fairy tale for children. The schoolmaster had passed through Gonzales once or twice with his friends, the Menchaca brothers, on his way to San Antonio. He had paid a call on the Beckers, although he had not done such in a year or so. Rudi had heard from one friend or another that the Boston schoolteacher in San Felipe had returned to the East, and there was another schoolmaster there now.
Margaret wistfully hoped that he had taken the red Mexican-wool blanket with him, to keep him warm in the Eastern winters.
“I think the beans are ready for picking,” she said to her mother, “I will go and tend the garden for a while.” She took a wide straw hat down from a peg, and tied it over her head. The Texas summer afternoons were brutally hot – but she felt the need to be by herself for a while. Her father had bought several town lots, besides the one allotted to him for the family home in Gonzales. He and the men he had hired had built a log house very like one they had lived in at San Felipe, save that it was larger – and of course, the Beckers had all of it to live in for themselves. It sat on a low rise of land, a little east of most of the other houses and business concerns. A narrow creek watered what Papa had begun planting as an apple orchard. Most of the sapling trees were still now only a little taller than Margaret. An open space between house and orchard was plowed and planted in garden vegetables, of corn and squash and row after row of beans. From the veranda of Papa’s house, Margaret could see nearly all of Gonzales – split-shake roofs either new and dark, or weathered to silvery-grey, interspersed with trees and chimneys. A few threads of smoke rose into the sky; beyond town, a line of darker green trees marked the river. The river, pale green and deceptively placid, ran so deep and swift at Gonzales that it had to be crossed by ferry. Margaret had grown first accustomed to the town, and then to love it; for now it was home, and overflowing with friends. There were days when the sky was a pure, clear blue, arching overhead like a bowl. In spring, the meadows were starred with flowers, of colors that dazzled with eyes with their intensity – pure yellow or yellow and red with dark, coffee-colored centers, lacy clusters of tiny lavender florets, or those dark blue spires stippled with white that some of the other settlers called buffalo clover, or blue-bonnet flower. But now, the flowers had faded from the heat, all but the stubborn pale-yellow mustard, and the green meadows were burned dry by the summer heat, brown and lank, unless it were close to a water course, or a small spring, bubbling out from the ground.
“Where are the boys?” Mama asked, and suddenly the shuttle paused in it’s ceaseless back and forth journey, “They should be helping with the garden, instead of taking every excuse to play in the woods.”
“Benjamin was talking of going hunting along the river today,” Margaret answered, “He had seen a large herd of deer, so he and Silas and some of their friends were going. He talked of it to Rudi – and so I suppose they let Carl tag along.”
“Those boys,” Mama resumed weaving, “They should take care.”
“Don’t worry, Mama,” Margaret stepped down from the verandah. As soon as she moved from the shade, the hot sun struck a harsh blow. “They were going in a party, and they all have rifles and plenty of bullets. Rudi wouldn’t let anything happen to Carl.”
Her littlest brother had turned ten, just a few weeks ago. He was tall for that age, and so most took him for older. Rudi was tall now also; at fourteen nearly the height of shorter men, although still a stripling, next to Papa. Carl was quiet, Rudi outgoing and lively – very different in character, although still much alike in looks. Margaret wondered absently why Papa had not taken Rudi with him to Anahuac. She didn’t think Rudi particularly minded not going with Papa on that journey, for he would much rather have gone hunting with the older lads and the young men. She looped up the corners of her apron, and tucking them into her waistband, began plucking ripe green beans for supper.
When she straightened from picking beans, she could see her brothers and Benjamin walking towards the house; the two older boys were ebullient, although covered with dust. Rudi had taken off his hunting coat, tying it around his waist by the arms. He and Benjamin carried a long pole over their shoulders, from which hung the carcass of a deer, already roughly cleaned and gutted. Carl followed after, with a large turkey-cock slung over his, the head of it swaying limp and loose with every footstep.
“Dinner for tonight, and smoked jerky for winter,” Rudi called, as soon as the three had come close enough to the house. He was smiling, jubilant – as if they had just experienced the most wonderful adventure. “And Little Brother made the most amazing shot! You should have seen it, M’Gret! They all bet that he couldn’t do it, but he did – a wild turkey, gobbling up old corn, clear across the creek it was.”
“A regular leatherstocking, ma’am . . . Miss Margaret,” Benjamin added, with enthusiasm, “That’s what he is. Natty Bumpo couldn’t have bettered it, nor my grandfather in his young days – and he was a champion-shot. They say in the War, he shot a British soldier right in the place where his belts crossed at a distance of fifteen hundred yards.”
Carl only looked pleased, half-smiling as he ducked his head. Margaret thought it was as if he were unaccustomed to such praise. Perhaps he was, as he certainly got little of it from Papa. Papa had never really warmed to his youngest son, for all of Mama and Margaret’s efforts. Carl was still a quiet youth – and Papa often and cruelly upbraided him to his face as an idiot. Mama’s face had lit up, rapturously,
“Such clever boys,” she exclaimed, “And we thought to have nothing but a little bacon with our dinner tonight. Tomorrow, then – we will butcher the deer and hang it to smoke . . . as for the bird, we shall dine like the royalty do, tonight and for several nights hereafter.” Mama got up from her loom. “Come help me clean and singe it, Carlchen, Rudi – and then fetch water from the creek to clean yourselves with…” She collected the boys with a meaningful look, leaving Margaret and Benjamin for a brief moment alone. Benjamin touched the brim of his hat to her, saying hesitantly,
“Miss Margaret . . . did you speak to your parents about dancing with me, at the Darst’s roof-raising? Have I their permission …”
“Most certainly,” Margaret replied, and his countenance lightened immediately. “And you may escort us to the Darsts, as well.”
“Thank you, Miss Margaret!” he made as if to kiss her hand, as Margaret added, wryly, “We will be bringing some dried-apple pies with us – and you might have to help us carry them!”
“My duty as a gentleman, and my most sincere pleasure,” Benjamin added, looking inordinately pleased with this development. Margaret rather warmed to him then, for he was a handsome young man, clean-shaven but for a generous mustache. Indeed, he was almost as handsome as Schoolmaster Vining had been – only now, Margaret thought with a pang of regret, Benjamin Fuqua was here, and Schoolmaster Vining had returned to his home in the East, long since. And she did wish so much that she was not wearing a plain dress, and with a quarter-bushel of green bean pods bundled up in her apron. “I will call for you on Sunday, then, Miss Margaret.”
(This is in some ways, the prelude to the Adelsverein Trilogy, and most likely be available early in 2011. And if you have read and enjoyed the Trilogy, could you post a review at Amazon? The Texas Scribbler just did, and he lamented how few reviews there were for such a ripping good read!)