14. December 2007 · Comments Off on Literary Treatsie! · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Literary Good Stuff, Old West, World

An extra and generous Christmas treat for a Friday, an early chapter from Book 3 of “Adelsverein”, better known around here as “Barsetshire with Cypress Trees and a Lot of Sidearms”, which gets into the adventures of the second generation of the German settlers, the rise of the Texas cattle baronies, and diverse other dramatic and interesting matters.
Chapter Two: The Death of Dreams

Peter Vining’s patience with his sister-in-law Amelia Stoddard Vining lasted approximately three weeks; a period of time rather longer than he had expected immediately upon his return. He ate heartily of Hetty’s good cooking at every meal, and slept deep and restfully at night in his own room. He was only a little troubled with bad dreams and the wistful conviction that he would step out of his room at any moment and encounter his mother, Doctor-Papa, or his brothers. The memory of their voices, their footsteps, echoed all the more loudly in the empty house where they had lived. For quite a few days his ambitions went no further than that, and to do nothing more strenuous than to put on some of his old suits of clothing which Hetty laid out for him. They still smelled faintly of the herbs and camphor in which they had been stored away.
He had wondered why Hetty and Daddy Hurst remained, when they obviously got on so badly with Amelia but a visit from Margaret’s lawyer and executor for her will provided a partial answer: his mother had provided them with pensions, and the right to live on her property for as long as they cared to stay. Margaret had seen to that in her usual efficient manner; the will was air-tight and her bank account and investments secured, although—thanks to the war—pitifully smaller than they would have been otherwise. No wonder Amelia was on edge—Margaret had boxed her in very neatly, leaving her with no other place to live unless she wanted to return to her father’s house.
On a morning about two weeks after he returned, Peter bundled up the tattered coat, shirt, and cavalryman’s trousers he had worn home from the Army. He intended to tell Daddy Hurst or Hetty to burn the filthy and ragged things. Amelia intercepted him at the bottom of the stairs, popping out of the doorway to the dining room like a dancing figure on an ornamental clock at the sound of his descent. Lately she had begun doing that, turning up unexpectedly no matter what room of the house he was in.
“Oh, they shall do no such thing!” she exclaimed heatedly, upon cross-examining him over what he had planned for what remained of his uniform clothes. “How could you think to do so! They are relics—sacred relics of our gallant struggle for liberty and rights! Burn them, indeed. Give them to me, Peter!” She took the bundle from him, and to his astonishment, held the unsavory things to her as if they were something worthy of protection. “I will see to it they are mended and suitably preserved, dearest brother, in memory of our cause!”
“Fancy talk for a bunch of rags,” Peter answered, nonplussed. He went out to the kitchen, shaking his head and thinking that Amelia was being damn sentimental over something he wouldn’t have given to a tramp for charity. Daddy Hurst and Hetty were the only sensible people in the house, it seemed like.
Daddy Hurst chuckled knowingly when he said as much. “Miz Amelia cain’t never do enough for the cause,” he said, “‘Specially now.”
Hetty sniffed as if she disapproved. With a pointed look over her shoulder as she laid a place for breakfast for him she added, “You best beware, Mr. Peter—there are causes and there are causes. Once Miss Amelia sets her sights on sommat, she does not take no for an answer.”
“Most assuredly, I do not,” Amelia herself announced with enormous satisfaction, appearing in the doorway—again just like one of those mechanical dolls. Everyone started as she stepped into the kitchen, her skirts rustling indignantly. She looked at the single place at the kitchen table. Her lips trembled with crushing disappointment. “Oh, Hetty,” she added, “I thought it was understood—we take our meals properly, in the dining room!”
“I’d rather eat in the kitchen,” Peter answered mulishly. His sister-in-law only laughed, a pretty tinkling laugh as she took his good arm.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Peter. One can’t take meals with the servants—even those who have ideas above themselves. It’s just not proper!” Over her shoulder to Hetty she added, as she escorted Peter towards the dining room, “Another place—in the dining room, Hetty.”
On the whole, Peter would have preferred the kitchen to the all-but empty table in the dining room, where young Horrie kicked his heels against the legs of a chair too tall for him. He and Horrie exchanged sympathetic looks. Horrie dogged his footsteps also, but it did not annoy Peter in quite the same way. His young nephew craved attention and he was lonely for company, over and above Hetty and Daddy Hurst who treated him with considerable affection. But they were old, and had their own work about the place. Peter wondered why Amelia did not want to send him to school. Privately he thought she wanted to make a constant display of her maternal devotion, for she really seemed to care little for the boy, other than as an intelligent pet who talked. Horrie did not seem to care all that much either, to judge by the way that he squirmed out of Amelia’s lap when she took him up onto it, or the way he turned his cheek away from her kisses, enduring such demonstrations with a stoic face.
“You should rightfully sit at the head of the table,” Amelia added, as a tight-lipped Hetty carried in a tray with a fresh pot of coffee and another place setting on it. “You may move my place to the right, Hetty.”
“It seems very dull without any boarders.” Peter took the chair at the head of the table from which his mother had always presided, feeling as though he were usurping a place to which he had no real right. Behind Amelia’s back, Hetty’s lips twisted soundlessly in agreement, with a silent Gaelic imprecation added for good measure. “Had you not considered continuing as my mother did? It always made for the most interesting meals.”
“Oh, really, Peter,” Amelia laughed, that irritatingly sweet tinkling laugh. “I couldn’t possibly engage in a business as vulgar as running a boarding house! Imagine—all those strangers and their impositions! It’s just not suitable for a respectable woman to do!”
“It was respectable enough for my mother,” Peter answered.
Hetty added spitefully, “Aye, so it was, Miss Amelia—an’ what d’ye say to that?”
“Hetty!” Amelia sounded desperate. “I am talking about family . . .”
“And we’re not family?” Hetty answered crisply, and set down the coffee pot with a decided thump. “Sure and the mistress did not think herself too good to work in the kitchen next to me, or bargain with the tradesmen, while some as I could mention sat in the parlor, all airs and graces an’ la-te-dah! Not family! ‘Tis why herself did what she did, leaving Hurst and I our lifetime in wages and said clear that we should live here as long as we liked! No one otherwise would do a lick of work, Miss Amelia, while the house fell down around ye!” Horrie listened, round-eyed and wary. Peter wondered of he had often observed this kind of scene, while Amelia’s eyes filled as if being berated by Hetty were the greatest tragedy imaginable.
Peter cleared his throat and asked, “Hetty, might I have some breakfast now?”
Hetty’s ill-temper vanished magically, and she beamed fondly at Peter and Horrie, “Of course you may! Here I am, forgetting myself again, with you and the little lad waiting on me!” She bustled away.
Amelia dabbed at her swimming eyes. “She does so forget herself,” she quavered. “I know that your dearest mama carried on so bravely . . . under such a tragic loss! But times were so different, Peter. No one thought the tiniest bit ill of her, then. But times have changed and I am helpless . . .” And quite willing to remain so, Peter thought cynically. Mr. Stoddard’s gently raised daughter would rather sit in genteel poverty in the parlor of an empty house than carry on from where Margaret had been forced to lay down the labor of caring for her family.
He reached across the tabletop for the coffee pot. Amelia touched his hand and raised her eyes winsomely. “But now that you have returned, you shall be able to look out for our interests—all of our interests,” she added. It took Peter more than a moment to take in the implication. “Mother Williamson reposed such confidence and trust in you, Peter. She had such hopes of you returning safely, and of all of us being a proper family again.” Peter gently slid his hand out from under hers, carefully keeping his face utterly blank. Amelia, setting her cap at him? Good God, what a thought! He poured himself coffee, while Amelia continued artlessly, “I would so much rather be guided by someone stronger and wiser. I have no head for such worldly matters.”
“There’s always your Pa,” Peter pointed out. He was amused to see a flash of irritation in Amelia’s lovely eyes. “Man of business— none better to look after your interests.”
“Not like a husband would,” Amelia said.
Peter thought with annoyance, As if her looking at me with eyes like a cow would make me change my mind—how much of a malleable fool does she think I am? That worked with Horace, but I’m damned if it will work with me!
“No, probably not,” he answered agreeably. “So promise me one thing, ‘Melia: let me look over any of the suitors you are thinking serious about. I am Horrie’s uncle, after all.” On the whole, he thought later, he was lucky she didn’t throw the coffee pot at him. She was that riled by him deliberately missing all the hints she scattered like handfuls of chicken feed.
But Amelia swallowed her considerable fury, saying only, “I shall be sure of consulting you, Peter—being that you are the nearest to a dear brother left to me,” which said much for Amelia’s powers of ladylike self-control. Still, Peter didn’t think she would give up the matter entirely. His brother’s wife was single-minded that way.

The largest portion of Margaret’s property was left to him, including the house. Amelia was the second beneficiary. She was a widow with a small son, and with little inclination towards managing her own affairs. Looking around for someone who would masterfully take all these burdens from her, Amelia’s eyes couldn’t help but fall onto Peter. Against all those practical considerations and what she perceived as her overwhelming need, his disinclination was merely a small obstacle to be overcome. No doubt she thought it would be only a matter of time before she wore him down as she had worn down his brother, with tears, tantrums, and pretty displays of forgiveness and reconciliation. Peter had observed this from afar, indulgently thinking his brother could be forgiven that kind of soft-headedness; Horace had loved her, after all. But Peter did not, and he had no intention of being maneuvered into doing as Miss Amelia wished.
In the end, he took counsel with Daddy Hurst. He correctly figured that Daddy Hurst’s little cabin, at the back of the house, behind the stables and the vegetable garden, was one place he was safe from Amelia’s ambush. He went down in the evening, after supper. There was still light in the sky over the weighted boughs of the apple trees, and the sun went down in a dark red smear of sky and purple clouds behind them.
Daddy sat at ease on his porch, slapping at an occasional late-season mosquito. Peter waited below for permission to enter and said, “I’ve come for that drink of whiskey you promised.” It was one of his mother’s rules, instituted firmly when he was small and adventurous: ‘Wait until you are invited,’ Margaret told him sternly. ‘But why, Mama—he’s jus’ an old nigra slave.’ ‘Nonetheless,’ Margaret said, ‘Hurst or anyone else, black or white, is due the courtesy of deciding when and whom he might invite into his home.’
“’Bout time,” the old man chuckled richly, “Come on up, set a spell.” He gestured casually at the other chair, before fixing Peter with a shrewd and stern look. “How long you think befoah Miz ‘Melia, she track you down?”
“Don’t much care, Daddy—long as I can face up to her with a couple of drinks in me first!”
Hurst shook his head, rising painfully and in several stages from his chair. “Marse Peter, it don’t do you no good a’tall to pour sperrits on your problems.”
“I guess not,” Peter agreed with a sigh, “but it does render them temporarily more amusing!” He settled into the other chair—surprisingly comfortable it was—as Daddy Hurst vanished into the dim doorway of his little house. He emerged with a dark glass bottle and a pair of battered tin mugs, silently pouring out a tot for each.
“To home,” Peter lifted the tin cup in a mock toast, and the old man echoed it. Peter savored it in silence.
After a long moment, Daddy Hurst added, “It ain’t the place, so much as dey people in it, Marse Peter.” Peter made a noncommittal sound, for Daddy Hurst had unerringly put his finger on it. He might be home, but the people who counted in it most—Margaret, Papa-Doctor, Horace, Johnny, and Jamie—they were all gone. Of all those who had fixed his mother’s house in his memory, and for whom he cared, only Daddy Hurst and Hetty remained. And little Horrie was the only one of his blood family left.
“It’s not as if I can send her away from here,” Peter said, a little surprised to find himself thinking out loud. “She was my brother’s wife, after all. And for Horrie, this is all the home he’s ever had.” Daddy Hurst nodded thoughtfully in the twilight. He silently topped up both of their tin cups, the bottle clinking gently against each rim, while Peter continued, “Suit me right down to the ground if she sets her cap at some other fellow. Let him marry her, the poor bastard.”
“Meantime, thayer Miz Amelia be, like a cuckoo in a nest.” Daddy Hurst sounded like he was savoring the whiskey. “Mebbe you might have some bizness of yo’ own, tahk you away for a time. Might give Miz Amelia a notion that you ain’t so much interested.”
“Something that would keep me way for a while,” Peter mused, thoughtfully. After a long moment he said, “I like that thought. I could say I’m looking for work, got itchy feet.”
“Mmmm,” Daddy Hurst topped up the cups again. “Got me jest the idee, now! You could say you wuz goin’ up to Friedrichsburg, to see ‘bout Marse Carl’s fambly. They wus lef’ in a hard way, Miz Margaret she felt real bad ‘bout that. Don’ know if they is all dat better, even if de war is ober.”
“If they’re still in a bad way, I can hang my hat there for a while and help them out,” Peter ventured slowly.
Daddy Hurst chuckled again and nodded. “An if dey ain’t—wal’ dey yo’ kin! Jes’ stay wit ‘em for a bit, and Miz ‘Melia, she’ll nebber know de difference.”
“Any port in a storm,” Peter agreed philosophically. The more he thought on that, the better the notion sounded; get away from his mother’s house, haunted with the memories of old happiness. His uncle’s children should not have been orphaned and left in penury. Peter cast his memory back to Horace’s wedding, the last time he had seen Uncle Carl, the only time he had met his cousins. Rudolph—that was the oldest boy, they called him Dolph. He had been about twelve then, now he would be close to a man grown. But the younger boy, Sam, and the daughter, what was her name? Hannah, that was it. They had been a little older than Horrie was now, an age where they might still need help, and from one of their kin. He could not recall much about Uncle Carl’s wife, only that she was dark and plain, nearly as tall as he was. But his mother had liked her very much, so there must have been something to her. He doubted very much that widowhood would have left her as helpless as it did Amelia.

“You can’t be serious!?” Amelia exclaimed in horror the next morning when he broached the subject over breakfast. “Why should you pay the least mind to that foreign woman and her brats! Horrie—leave the table at once,” she added. Horrie had barely begun eating, and he cast an apprehensive glance at his uncle. Peter nodded reassuringly. Without another word, Horrie slipped down from his chair.
As soon as the door closed behind him, Amelia continued, her voice rising with an edge of hysteria in it. “As for him—I’d think he had shamed us enough! He was a traitor to the cause, to everything that we fought against! I remember very well how he made a scene at our wedding! If you ask me, he got everything he deserved! My Papa said they didn’t hang enough of those filthy traitors when they had the chance—” She continued for some moments, while Peter crumbled a piece of toast in his hand, not particularly listening but waiting for her to be finished. He felt nothing but a sense of weary distaste; mostly for her, but a little for himself and the hot-tempered fool that he had been. His Uncle Carl had been kind, a soft-spoken and honorable man. He had not deserved what had happened to him, he did not deserve this spiteful calumny now, and his family deserved better consideration from his kinfolk, even if his politics had differed from theirs.
“Are you done?” he asked when Amelia had quite run short of breath in mid-tirade. She nodded tearfully, and he spoke in that soft, dangerous voice that might have deceived someone who didn’t know him well into thinking that he wasn’t angry. “She was his lawful wife and his children are my blood kin. What I will do as regards their welfare is my own business and none of yours. Do not presume to lay down any rules for me, Amelia. You were my brother’s wife, not mine. For which I thank God, several times daily.”
Amelia sprang up, sending her chair falling backwards to the floor with a clatter. For a moment, he thought she would throw the coffee pot at him for sure; instead she flung down her balled-up table napkin. Her face was pale, distorted with fury. No one who saw her at a moment like this would ever have thought she was pretty, Peter noted with a sense of calm detachment. Her mouth worked as if she were trying out words vile enough to express what she felt, at war with how she had always schooled herself to appear.
“You—you are horrid!” she finally spat, almost incoherently. “A horrid, horrid man!”
“Most likely,” Peter agreed, in a voice flat with indifference. That was the final straw for her. She burst into a storm of tears and ran out of the room, throwing the dining room door back so violently that it fairly bounced off the wall as she went by. Peter flicked the crumbs from his fingers, and found another piece of toast. He laid it on his plate and was laboriously spreading it with butter when Horrie peeked around the doorway.
“May I come back now?” he asked in a plaintive voice. “She . . . Mama . . . is upstairs.”
“Best place for her,” Peter remarked, heartlessly. “Now the both of us can have breakfast in peace. Have some toast, but you’ll have to butter it yourself.” With only one hand available, applying pressure to the butter knife sent it skidding all over the plate; he had not quite worked out a means of holding it steady. Amelia had always made a big show of offering to do things like that for him—another reason for being uncomfortable around her.
Horrie scrambled up onto his chair again. The two of them crunched toast in companionable silence. At last Horrie ventured, “Are you really going away, Uncle Peter?” Poor little lad, he sounded terribly dejected.
Peter sighed. “I’m afraid so, Horrie.”
“Could I go with you?”
“I don’t think so,” Peter answered gently. “The place for little boys is at home, and this is your home.”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Horrie replied, stoutly. “I don’t like it much, anyway. ‘Cept for Hetty and Daddy, an’ Gran-Mere.”
“Well,” Peter thoughtfully chewed the last crust and ventured, “If you liked, I could see that you went to school. You could board at the Johnson’s. That’s where I went to school sometimes, over on Bear Creek—that’s a mite south of here. The Professor, he runs a fine school. There’d be all kinds of other boys and girls to be friends with you. I’ll fix it with your Mama that you should go there, if you like.”
“Could I?” Horrie beamed, his face instantly transformed to cheerfulness. Horrie wanted to be away nearly as much as Peter did. Peter could only think that his mother must have had the greater part of raising her grandson into such a sensible and fearless little lad.
“There are a lot of older students,” Peter warned, “and you might be one of the very youngest. But if you really want, I’ll see what I can do.”
Amelia put up no resistance to his suggestion that Horrie board at the Johnson school; cynically Peter concluded that having missed her immediate marital target, she was indifferent to what either of them might do now. He and Daddy Hurst saw Horace’s son happily settled at school.

The very next day Peter took the stage for Friedrichsburg. He tugged at his shirt collar and neck-cloth and thought how, sartorially speaking, he had been more comfortable living the tramp’s life. But riding in the stage was several leagues above walking and hitching rides on freight wagons. The stage stopped just long enough in New Braunfels for passengers to get out and stretch their legs and admire the pretty town with its wide streets and the gardens in front of the tidy plastered houses. Plants in pots hung from the eves of porches, and there was a smell of good bread baking and a general air of comfort and well-being.
“’Pon my word, it looks as civilized as any town back east,” said one of Peter’s companions. “How long has this part of the county been settled?”
“Hardly twenty years, if that.” Peter answered the man as shortly as possible. He was not much in the mood for talk. The sound of German speech from the folk in New Braunfels reminded him uncomfortably of his grandfather Becker. And some of them also looked too long at him, or quickly looked away from his pinned-up sleeve, another reminder that he was not a whole man. As if he needed reminding, or anyone’s swift and unthinking pity.
The place did look peaceful, though, bustling and prosperous in a way that he had nearly forgotten existed. New Braunfels was a place that the war had seemingly left untouched, at least on the surface.
On the final leg of the journey he sat in the corner of the swaying coach, leaning back with his hat pulled down over his eyes, and pretending to doze as he thought about how he would go about finding his uncle’s family. How would be introduce himself, and what could he say, after all this time? Feelings still ran pretty bitter about the war, if Amelia was any indication. The German settlers had been on the other side, if Hetty spoke true—and Peter had little doubt she did. He might, with a bit of effort, put the war behind him, put it away with the ragged uniform that Amelia made such a show of cherishing. But things like a stump and a scar, or the brothers he had once—those things pulled him back. He needed something new to do, something that would fill the day with interest so that at night he could sleep without dreams. He needed to put a thousand of those days between himself and the things he had seen in Tennessee and Virginia.
The journey was tiring enough that eventually he slept for real, during the last miles into the hills. He woke to a land of rolling limestone hills, quilted in green and gold. Meadows of autumn grasses and wheat fields, some in harvest and some still luxuriantly long, were stitched with oaks and rivulets of clear green water. Cattle grazed in the river-bottoms, or stood switching their tails in the shade. Once there was a herd of sheep, drifting across a distant hillside like a ragged cloud. The steeples, rooftops and chimneys of the town ahead were embedded in more green trees, like raisins in one of Hetty’s sweet rolls. The coach bumped and swayed through a creek crossing, and there they were: the houses of Friedrichsburg closing in on either side, pretty little plastered houses like New Braunfels.
The coach crossed a single wide street and pulled up next to a sprawling ramble of bigger buildings, set in a garden of roses and green vines growing over standing pergolas.
“This is the Nimitz place,” cautioned the stage driver. “Last place in 2,000 miles for clean sheets and a good meal.”
“And a hot bath,” added one of the debarking passengers. Peter jumped down, and scanned the street. It looked like a big town; not as large as Austin, but large enough that it might take some time to find Carl Becker’s family, or someone who knew of them. He took up the grip with his things and followed the others back along the street. A huge tree overhung half the road and a stable-yard. Beyond was a large bathhouse; even in late afternoon there were plenty of bathers making use of it. May as well get a room, and spend the next day searching town.
The hotel owner, Captain Nimitz, was a wiry, fair-haired man of middle age. His eyes looked as if he was accustomed to viewing things farther away than the scattering of dusty visitors in his tidy hotel lobby. He seemed a jolly sort, welcoming his guests in German and English. Some of them seemed to be well-acquainted, from the laughter elicited by his remarks. After Peter engaged a room for the night, he ventured the question uppermost in his mind. “I’m looking for some kin of mine—the family of Carl Becker.” Captain Nimitz looked at him quite skeptically, and Peter hastened to add, “My mother was his older sister. She’s dead now, but her friends all thought that Uncle Carl’s family was living here in Friedrichsburg, or nearby.”
“You’re very much in luck,” Captain Nimitz exclaimed. His whole mien had changed to one of genuine rather than professional welcome. “They are here right now, around in back. The wedding is tomorrow, you see. When I first saw you, I wondered what suddenly put young Dolph in mind! The two of you look like brothers. If they’re finished loading dishes and gone already, I’ll send you after them in the trap.” He turned and called into a doorway behind the hotel’s simple desk, “Bertha, komen sie hier, bitte,” He rattled off what sounded like directions to the pretty girl who emerged from the back room like a doe emerging from the woods and added, “I’ll see that your bag is put into your room, if you care to leave it with me.”
“Komm,” whispered Bertha shyly. She led Peter down the hallway, past the counter, past what sounded like a busy taproom, through a kitchen just as busy, and out the back of the Nimitz Hotel to a yard with a hitched wagon standing in it. Two young women and a small girl about Horrie’s age hovered around a pair of young men carrying a heavy wicker hamper between them. The men lifted it with much effort into the back of the wagon. Peter waited by the back door and, as they came back for a second load, he saw that one of them was the German teamster lad who had given him a ride, weeks ago. The other had to be his cousin Dolph, grown nearly as tall as his father, with something of the same self-contained look and the same clear blue eyes. The girl, Bertha, said something in German to the two women, and they turned towards him, curiously.
Peter stood dumbstruck, for the taller of the two was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in the flesh, a veritable goddess with a riot of red-gold curls around a perfect, heart-shaped face and eyes as dark as morning glory flowers. He could not help himself, staring at her and searching for something to say for one long moment. It did not escape him that his cousin and the others noted this with amusement, as if it happened often. Well, of course it did, he chided himself.
He tore himself away from contemplating the glory of her eyes, as his cousin Dolph gravely observed, “Cousin Peter? Peter Vining? It is really you? Been a while, hasn’t it?” Dolph’s eyes went very briefly to Peter’s empty sleeve, as if it was noted but as something that did not matter very greatly. He spoke briefly, a quiet murmur in German to the others, evidently explaining who he was, before he continued in English. “This is my cousin Jacob—he says you’ve met already— Cousin Anna, and my Aunt Rosalie, and my little sister Lottie. I don’t think you have met them at all. What brings you into Friedrichsburg?”
“Long story,” Peter answered, still unable to look away from the beautiful woman. Aunt Rosalie? Whose kin was she? She looked as unlike Uncle Carl’s wife as it was possible to be and still be female, and she was scarcely his own age. The little girl clung to her hand, neither bashful nor bold. Oh, the child was one of the Beckers all right; blue eyes, the color of the sky and hair so fair as to be nearly white. “I just got back from . . . from the east and thought I’d look for you. I was told that my mother thought you’d been left in a bad way.”
“Not so much,” Cousin Dolph shrugged, guardedly. Hetty was right; he wasn’t one to give much away. “We’re doing all right now. It’s a bit scrambled at the moment, with the wedding tomorrow.”
“Our little Rose is marrying her brave soldier boy,” the other young woman explained, the one to whom he had paid hardly any notice, while the beautiful Aunt Rosalie blushed. “We have hardly enough plates for the multitude, so Mrs. Nimitz is lending us sufficient.” She spoke English with a decided accent; a tiny woman with skin as pale as cream, and sleek brown hair. Anywhere else but next to Miss Rosalie, she would have drawn every male eye.
“I think my heart has just now been broken,” Peter bowed gallantly over Miss Rosalie’s hand and then Miss Anna’s, “to know that Miss Rosalie has been here all this time, and now it is too late. Her husband to be is one very lucky man, but at least I have the chance to admire both of you!”
“From a distance,” Miss Anna observed, tartly. Peter thought that Dolph and Jacob exchanged a look of amused commiseration. He quickly dropped Anna’s fingers.
“I’d ask you to supper,” Dolph said, “but that the house is in such an uproar—I think it would take a buffalo stampede to get any notice tonight or tomorrow.”
“I don’t wish to be a bother,” Peter replied. “I’ve a room here for tonight, and no hurry at all to be anywhere else. There’s no taskmaster standing over me, these days.”
“Good for you,” Dolph said. He looked at Peter with one swift summing-up glance. “We’ll have nothing but cold meats and dry bread for supper tonight! Everything is for the celebration tomorrow—but you’ll come to it, of course.”
“I will, if Miss Anna will save a dance for me,” Peter answered, boldly. He thought that Cousin Jacob shook his head in mock dismay, just as the little girl plucked at Miss Anna’s skirts. She ventured a question in German but Peter had no need of translation. She was looking at his empty sleeve just as Horrie had. Cousin Dolph looked a little embarrassed.
“Tell her it was to save on the cost of shirts,” Peter said.
Before Cousin Dolph could do so, Miss Anna opened her eyes very wide and replied, “Think of what you could save at the shoemakers if they had cut off one of your other limbs!”
Peter laughed in unfeigned delight. “A practical woman who keeps accounts,” he said. “My mother would have liked that, Miss Anna!”
“She does keep accounts,” Cousin Dolph remarked, “for the store.” He hesitated as if he had just had a thought. “And the business in freighting that Jacob’s father runs.” He spoke in German to Jacob, and the two of them took up the second hamper of dishes and set it in the back of the waiting wagon. “Might I stay and talk with you, Cousin? We can go around and sit in the hotel garden for a while. Have you ever been to Captain Nimitz’s place before now? He claims that it is the equal of any in Texas. Jacob and Uncle Hansi will come back and talk business for a while, if you don’t mind.”
“Not a bit of it,” Peter answered. He saw with a faint pang of regret that Miss Rosalie and Miss Anna were already taking their leave, as Jacob capably gathered up the reins. A long-limbed brindle-colored hound dozing underneath the rear axle roused itself and sauntered over to Dolph, who absently petted the top of its head.
“Anything for a bit of peace and quiet,” Cousin Dolph observed. “This is m’dog, Pfeffer; means ‘pepper’ in German.” He whistled for the dog to follow, and led Peter around to the side of the hotel, opposite the bathhouse and stables, where roses and the last of the summer hop-vines hung from rough cedar pergolas and tables and benches scattered in the shade underneath. “And you can tell me of your real purpose, Cousin.”
“Do I need one?” Peter asked, as they sat down. Pepper settled at their feet, underneath the table. The two of them sized each other up in silence, and Peter had the unsettling thought that there was appreciably more to Cousin Dolph than one might at first think. He couldn’t be much more than seventeen, if that, but he bore himself with such an air of capability that he seemed older. According to Hetty he had gone off in the last year of the fighting with Colonel Ford’s company of boys and old men. Probably saw a fair bit of the old elephant, Peter thought. He had the look of someone who carried responsibility and kept his own counsel. For himself, Peter found it curiously comforting to look across the table at his cousin and see the likeness and temper of Uncle Carl, or Horace and Johnny and Jamie, to see that and know there were still those of his blood alive in the world.
“Most men have more than one reason for doing what they do,” Dolph answered. “The reason that they tell everyone and the real one.” He gestured unhurriedly at a white-aproned waiter who appeared in one of the doorways leading out from the taproom into the garden. In a moment, the waiter appeared with a pair of tall stone-ware mugs.
“Let’s just say that the home hearth no longer appeals,” Peter said at last. His cousin sank a few gulps of beer and regarded him skeptically over top of his mug.
“And . . . ?” he prodded gently.
Peter continued, “As a former Reb, I can’t do much of anything. I’ve been advised by a practitioner of the medical arts to work in the outdoors, at nothing too strenuous; plenty of fresh air, so the man said. You offering me a situation, Cousin?”
“I might,” Dolph replied. “You know much about farming?”
“Not a lick.” Peter shook his head. “And I thought you all had lost your land, anyway.” That brought up another uncomfortable thought. Uncle Carl’s wife would have no reason to look kindly on a fighting Rebel.
“We did,” Dolph answered with utterly calm and unshakeable assurance. “But I’m going to get it back. I’m not sure how, but with the war being over, it’s just a matter of time until I do. And I’ll rebuild the house and go home. They didn’t burn all of it, you know; just the barn and the outbuildings. It was my father’s house, his land, and I will have it back, one way or the other.”
Peter drank of his own mug; he found his cousin’s certainty rather unsettling. “It must have been something prime!” he ventured and his cousin nodded.
“Rich bottom land, in the valleys,” Dolph answered, as if he savored the taste of the words, as if he was looking at it instead of Captain Nimitz’ beer-garden. “Oak trees on the hills and cypress along the river.”
“Someone just might beat you to it,” Peter said. “Some rich man with connections might have taken it up already.”
“No,” Dolph shook his head. “It’s deserted—too dangerous for anyone to take a family to, the way the Indians have been raiding again. I’ve kept my eye on it. I thought of just going out and living on it alone, never mind it being upright and legal-like, but my mother and Uncle Hansi need help with the business. I’m just biding my time, hauling freight.”
“Sounds no worse than anything else,” Peter observed, and his cousin smiled, the same serene and confident smile that had been his father’s. After some moments of companionable silence, he was bold enough to ask the foremost question on his mind, “How will it set with you, and the folk hereabouts, that I took for secession and served in the Texas brigade?”
“War’s over now,” Dolph answered curtly.
“That’s not the answer to the question, Cuz.” Peter watched as Dolph looked down at the table between them, drawing his finger through a ring of spilt beer. “Everyone knows about the secesh lynch mobs, and how the military governor looked the other way. How will your mother take it—me working at your farm, knowing that your father and I had words, before it all began? Or was she a secessionist, like my brother’s wife?”
Dolph shook his head, and answered as though he were thinking it out very carefully. “Mama loved the farm because Papa loved it. And she was for the Union because it was what my father believed in. She was a stranger to this country; she took his word on matters like that. It’s Waldrip and the Hanging Band that she hates like poison, and not because they were secesh. That was just the excuse they used to murder Papa.” When Dolph said the name Waldrip, his face had looked hard and grim. Seeing Peter’s confusion, he added, “He was a low-life horse thief and troublemaker who used to live close by our place, once. He and Papa had words—nothing to do with the war—‘cept that when everyone went off to fight, the ones that stayed behind here in the Hills were scum like Waldrip. I don’t believe Mama cared two pins about secesh or Union, otherwise.” A renewed smile broke like a sunrise on his face. “After all, Mama’s brother, Uncle Fredi—he enlisted in the Frontier Battalion at the very start and I joined up with Colonel Ford’s company. You could say we both wore the grey if we’d had any uniforms at all!”
Peter acknowledged the truth of this with a short, grim chuckle and Dolph continued, “Aunt Rosalie’s man that she’s marrying tomorrow? He was in Terry’s company, up to the end. My other uncle went out to California and joined the Union Army and Opa was mad for abolition. So make of it what you will, Cousin Peter—but it’s over now. Papa said once that slavery was like a boil and once it was lanced, all the pus would come out, and things would start to heal. Me, I don’t propose to start picking at scabs. I got better things to do.” He drank a good few swallows of beer and Peter did likewise, reflecting that his young cousin had an astonishingly level head—sober and impartial, more like that of a professor of fifty than that of a boy only just beginning to shave.
That was good beer, too; no wonder the Germans were inordinately fond of it. He set down his tankard and asked, “So, what do you plan, Cuz?”
“To ask Uncle Hansi if he’ll take you on, for now. If you can’t drive one-hand, you can handle a double barreled shotgun, can’t you? Some places, Uncle Hansi likes to carry an extra man, someone to stand guard beside the driver.”
Cousin Dolph looked beyond Peter, nodding cordially at three men who had just come into the garden by the street gate, and stood looking around for someone: Cousin Jacob had returned with another boy who looked about Dolph’s age, and a burly dark-haired man with shoulders like a bull-buffalo. At first the man looked like just another thick and hard-working Dutch farmer, but this Uncle Hansi had a shrewd spark in his eyes. His demeanor commanded instant attention. Peter found himself standing up as if in respect to a senior—which Uncle Hansi undoubtedly was.
“Good day,” he shook Peter’s hand, briskly. He spoke with a thick accent, but fluently enough and serenely uncaring of the fact that to Peter, he sounded like a comic Dutchman. “Hansi Richter. Our house is a madhouse today. We come to Charley’s for peace and quiet. Maybe there will be a brawl over a chess game or some other matter. Will still be more restful than home. My nephew told Josef you might like to work. I know who you are, one of Becker’s nephews. You have the look, indeed. Rudolph has spoken for you. No need for that. He was a friend to us.” At his uncle’s elbow, Dolph winked broadly and lifted his tankard again. His uncle added, “You will come to the wedding feast tomorrow. I will send the lads if you do not come willing.” The big man’s face brightened and he exclaimed “Aha! Charley! Four more!” He lapsed into German with the hotel proprietor. They sounded like very good friends.
So this was the formidable Anna’s father, Peter realized; they had the same forthrightness, as well as the same dark eyes. Jacob and the other boy brought up more chairs, and they settled around the table, beaming expectantly at Peter.
“You said you wished to admire and dance with their sister tomorrow,” Dolph explained, with much amusement.
He laughed when Peter answered, “Do they have any apprehensions about my attentions towards Miss Anna?”
“Not about your attentions to her,” Dolph began to cough as a mouthful of beer went down the wrong way. “About what she might do to you!”
“An untamed Kate?” Peter asked.
His cousin grinned. “You’ve no idea.”

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