Frontier General Store
Luke-- 15 years older than his wife. Traveling out for the cheap 160 acres and on the run from a bad situation, with the law and the local thugs back in New York on his tail.
Laura-- An Orphan girl who'd married young to get out of a house where there was no future to Luke... two children. She grew up in the country and wants to get her children out of the unhealthy atmosphere of the city.
Barbara Jean-- Luke's sister, a former prostitute, with one grown daughter- father unknown.
Caroline--Bobbie's child from her whoring days. Wild child.
Lucky-- Son of Luke, often man of the house as his father if off on one wild scheme or another to make money... feels this is just another one.
Lulu--Youngest child. Happy and ready for anything.
The Widow Hardy-- too many memories back in New York of her Dr. husband is heading west with her 2 granddaughters. The rules were different out there... a single woman could own her own property and have some independence.
Elizabeth-- not perfect and not proper. She'd been a poor student. No interest in being a nurse or a teacher and the guys back in New York are just too stuck on themselves to be interesting.
Sarah-- perfect and proper she'd been a schoolteacher back in New York.
The Quartermaines. Robber baron style ranchers.
Edward-- the patriarch a canny man who controls thousands of head over millions of acres.
Lila-- In a wheel chair for many years after a Carriage accident.
Reggie-- Lila's legs. He runs the house. His father did the same before starting his own place in another state.
Tracy--Runaway at an early age from all the pressure put on her by her father to conform to being a submissive miss. Not a chance in hell. Hasn't been heard from in years.
Alan-- Was sent off to college at his mother's insistence and came back a Dr. (much to his father's disgust) with a wife.
Monica-- A scholarship student thru medical school she hooked up with Alan cause he would be a good provider. Medical school was tough as one of the very few women and she was ignored by most of the teachers and staff... with Alan the only exception.
Alan Junior-- Always trying to get his grandfather's approval but has a problem with the hooch.
Jason-- Alan's bastard son from an unfortunate liaison. An earnest young man who lost most of his memories of the family after an accident out on the range where he'd been kicked in the head by a horse. The only reason he'd been on the range was covering for AJ who was off at the local saloon/whore house.
Emily-- The adored youngest daughter, who is fighting the suggestion that she be sent back east for polishing and to find a husband.
Marcus-- free black man not getting anywhere sharecropping down in the south... he's rolling the dice on things being different out in the West.
Florence-- His mother who thinks it is a mistake but is going along to support her son and to get her daughter away from a landowner that is showing too much interest... a bad memory of her youth before The War.
Gia-- his sister, who feels that she is leaving behind everything that is important to her.
Stefan-- of noble Russian blood, a younger son in search of adventure and his own path. His mother is running the family fortunes back in Russia.
Natasha-- his sister and confidante fleeing an arranged marriage.
Nikolas-- Stefan's nephew who'd stowed away on the boat to the New country and refused to return to Russia.
Mrs. Landsbury-- a family retainer brought along to keep things tidy.
Zander-- a single man in the world hoping for a piece of land and something to offer. More than he could hope for living in a city tenement and working in a factory, or hiring out as a laborer.
Charlestown, Montana. A frontier town with few amenities: a general store, rooming house, a saloon, livestock yards and a railroad station. Three days away from the homesteading territory. The Cassadines and Zander Smith have come in by rail and wait for the others to arrive to join the wagon trail to their homesteads. The Hardy's, Spencer's and Taggart's had come from St. Louis, Missouri and had already been on the trail for 2 months coming cross country in wagons filled with their remaining worldly goods. They pull in as the sun is setting and make camp on the edge of town circling their wagons as had been the habit for the last 60 days. The wagon master rides into town to announce their arrival and to check to see who would be continuing on to Oregon and who would be staying here.
"Lulu, honey, tie Foster to the wagon. We're too close to the town, Lord knows what kinda trouble he could get into." Laura Spencer directs her youngest.
"I'll unhitch the team." Lucky tells his mother. He makes his way to the team of six oxen that had pulled the wagon for the last two months. They were strong and able but not going much further. The oxen would be traded for another milk cow or horses or something more what they needed now that they'd made the bulk of the journey. He knows they are only three days away from land... their land...or at least it would be... in five years.
"I'll go check out the town." Luke says and saunters off in search of the saloon.
Barbara Jean looks after him longingly but then sighs. "I'll get the fire going."
The Spencer's had been isolated on the trail mostly because of Barbara Jean. Her manner punctuated with occasional vulgarities, not above taking a nip now and then, and the fiction of her being a widow hadn't held up to too much scrutiny considering her daughter would have had to have been born when Barbara was little more than a child herself. The "good" people made sure that their wagons were as far away from the Spencer's as was possible in the wagon train although exceptions had been made for Laura and Lulu. Laura 'cause she seemed to be a God-fearing woman embarrassed by her kin. And Lulu because she was just too darn adorable for words.
Laura looks at her husband's back as he walks away and sighs. It was always so. But there is work to be done. Going over to the back of the wagon she finds her prized possession. Or at least her prized possession as a housewife-- given to her decades ago when she married Luke by the Vining's and hauled from place to place with them even if it was the middle of the night. It is an earthenware wide mouth jar. She carefully pours a quantity of the contents into a bowl and adds cornmeal, water, a pinch of sugar and a precious egg to the mixture. With years of practice, the batter is soon formed. She greases the cast iron Dutch oven with lard and pours it in. There is a system. In the time it took for the fire to be readied, tended and reach the right steady temperature, the batter would rest and grow.
"I don't see why we can't go into town too." Caroline complains to her Aunt Laura.
"There is nothing in the town for decent women this time of night." Laura counters calmly continuing on her task. "We'll go in; in the morning, to get supplies when the general store is open."
Caroline, Carly to her friends if she was ever in one place long enough to make any, can hear the music coming from the saloon and wants to go so badly but curses and stalks away. Going into town now, with her hair a mess and her clothes filthy but the music... She grumbles but goes to help Lucky with the oxen. "What's going to happen to them now?" She asks Lucky.
"Sell them to the general store, or we will after we get settled on the property." Lucky figures. "Some came out here by rail and need a team to carry them on to Oregon. Some are packing it in and heading back east. Trade them for horses or another milk cow... put some money on our account at the store."
"Trading them for enough money to make the trip back east on the rails?" Carly says wistfully. Lucky snorts and shakes his head. "It was suppose to be different here." Carly protests. "It's just more of the same. I see the way they treat Mama."
Lucky shrugs. "Who cares what they think? We're Spencer's and we land on our feet. We'll be here in five years if we want to be... they'll be sucking it up and heading back east, broken-- with their stuck on themselves attitude with them. Aunt Bobbie is the best. If they can't see that then it's their loss."
The next morning the heads of the family gather at the General Store, the hub of Charlestown, Montana. They gather around the map to see where their land is located. Widow Hardy lets out a breath she'd been holding. She had the cash money to build a cabin if necessary but luckily their tract had been homesteaded before and there was a cabin on the property according to all the information. She signs the contract carefully after reading it. The wagon master said to plan on being out on their land for a month before coming back to the store. Which is unfortunate, sight unseen, how to know what to purchase? What would be needed to get by? She takes her list and starts examining the goods available at the general store. She knows that the weather here is probably as unpredictable as back in upstate New York.
Marcus Taggart, had examined the map with the rest, listening carefully as person after person found their property and then finally the shopkeeper had said the words he'd waited all his life to hear. "This is yours."
"Yep, in five years, if you work your hardest this will all be yours. Might as well get to know your neighbors now." The shopkeeper jokes... You'll have Mrs. Hardy and her girls on one side of you and the Spencer's on the other. All you have to do is sign right here." He offers up the contract to Marcus.
"You don't mind, sir. I just need to step outside and read this over in the sunlight."
"Course not." The shopkeeper says pityingly. Who did this negro think he was fooling? He'd seen it before. Canny smart and hardworking but book learning had never been part of the picture.
Marcus takes the contact outside where Gia is waiting on the side of the building where she'd been listening by the window. He gives the contract to his little sister. "Make sure they mean it. That in five years the land is ours, not owned by nobody else. Everything on it... everything we put into it is ours."
Gia nods seriously. In a low voice and slow she starts reading the contract to Marcus. He leans over her shoulder and follows her finger along the lines as if reading along with her. "It looks right, Marcus, but I know the game already. Instead of a landowner, you've got a shopkeeper. He's the one that will end up owning the land...or our crop. He can charge anything he likes and what will we do about it? We'll need supplies. The next town is two weeks away on the other side of the Crow Reservation. And I heard he doesn't even own the store." She hisses in a low voice. "Some cattle baron named Quartermaine, owns the store, and you know that he doesn't want us out here and to succeed."
"Is it a better deal than we had in Alabama?"
"Then give it here." Marcus takes the contract back. He hands Gia a couple of dollars. "Stretch it far; get as much supplies as you can. We ain't owin the store nothin." He walks back to the shopkeeper and puts the contract back on the counter and taking a pen from the shopkeeper writes the one thing he knows how. Marcus Taggart
"Welcome to the neighborhood." The shopkeeper witnesses the contract.
The re-provisioning done, and the farewells given to the wagon master who was charged with continuing on to the Willamette valley in Oregon. The small party, Spencer's, Hardy's and Taggart's joined by some Ruskies and a single man are lead by a representative of the store into the valley three days away that would be their new homesteads. Three days is nothing in the scope of things and the anticipation is great.
Finally they arrive. At the entry to the valley; the homesteads all front onto a river, is the first claim-- The Hardy's. They pull their wagon beside the cabin, suppose it could be called a cabin. The structure seemed sound but there were pieces missing out of the roof. Next up The Taggart's. The property is untouched with a stand of trees and clear pasture land. Then the Spencer's... like the Taggart's it's an untouched piece of land that backs up to the mountain. Then Zander Smith, a young man with big dreams for his property. Finally at the top of the valley are the Cassadines, a family of noble blood here for an adventure much different than they could find back in Russia. They'd been in Charlestown for days before the rest of the party had arrived. Long enough to contract with a local tradesperson to build their cabin and install the necessary amenities.
Those without existing cabins, make camp, the women folk start on supper while the men start walking the property to find the best spot to build a cabin, the first order of business. Here Taggart has an advantage over the city slickers. He examines the trees close to the river and keeps walking further and further back into the property until he finds the right spot. It's a fair distance from the river but on the other hand all the trees up until then had shown signs on their trunks of being underwater at one point or another-- sign of spring flooding from the winter runoff. He orients himself to the property checking to see that there is enough trees to build a cabin and still shelter them from the elements. "It's awful far from the river." Florence comments knowing she and Gia will be the ones hauling water to the cabin and livestock.
"Better far from the river now, than in the river later." Marcus quips. "What do you think, Mama? It's a pretty spot. And those willows there mean that there is water not too deep down. You'll only be hauling water until I can dig you a well." He squats down and takes a handful of earth in his hand squeezing it between his fingers "It's good, untouched, not played out by cotton."
"We'll camp down by the river until the cabin is built." Florence nods. She looks around. "I need to find out where my garden will go."
On the Spencer homestead, much of the same is going on cept before Luke and Lucky striking out to investigate their claim they set Lulu up on the river with a tin can of earthworms and a pole. Lulu had always had the best luck with fishing, and it was the few times when she'd actually sit still. Foster collapses on the ground next to her used to his primary task, protecting the little one from all comers on 4 legs, two, or no legs at all. Luke looks at the slope on part of the land and a thought occurs. Perhaps they wouldn't need four walls, if they butted the cabin into the slope. "You thinking what I'm thinking, Cowboy?"
"Half soddie/half log cabin." Lucky nods. He slaps at a mosquito absently. "The earth would keep the cabin cool in the summer."
"And warmer in the winter." Luke agrees. "Cut down on the amount of firewood we'll have to cut. Lets step it out." They work together to step out the size of the cabin they'd need. There were too many women to make it as small and tight and easy as could be. After that is done and the corners marked. "Come on, son. Lets go see where we're going to put the still."
"Dad, you know Mom doesn't..."
"What your mother doesn't know won't hurt her." Luke dismisses and then starts heading into the woods. "And if she asks... well it's for medicinal purposes."
"Oh my gosh!" Sarah comes running out of the cabin. "There are mice in there! I'm not staying in there! And the roof is half off! It's dreadful."
Elizabeth rolls her eyes. "Oh please." Ripping branches off of a sapling near the house, armed with the branches she stomps into the cabin and starts sweeping the walls and floor forcefully-- dislodging spiders cobwebs and the nest of mice. She walks back out of the cabin carrying the branches like a sword. "What next, Gram?"
"The roof I think. I really want to sleep in a house again, in a real bed." Audrey hardy says wistfully. And then she studies the wagon with it's heavy canvas cover. "So you think..."
"Oh definitely." Sarah agrees with a nod. She starts unfastening the cover from the cleats on the side of the wagon. Elizabeth does the same on the other side, folding the canvas back accordion fashion as they do exposing the ribs of the wagon. They lay the canvas by the side of the cabin. "What now?"
Audrey has already gone into her carpet bag and pulls out two balls of yarn. She ties a square knot to connect yarn and rope. Elizabeth sees what she is doing and matches the movement. They'd made enough tents in the crossing to know what they're doing. Sarah takes her grandfather's hatchet and two stakes and fastens the ties down on one side. Audrey and Elizabeth throw the balls of yarn over the roof and then walk around to the other side and hand over hand they take up the yarn with a gentle pull until they get hold of the knot and the tougher rope then they start pulling with some strength until the canvas is taunt over the roof and the missing boards.
Sarah is right there with stakes and hatchet. She pounds the stakes in most of the way with the back of the hatchet using both hands. Then her grandmother and sister loop the ropes around the notch in the stake and she pounds them into the earth. Once they complete that task they look at each other with some sense of satisfaction and then the dawning realization that they've only just begun.
"I'll get supper started." Sarah sighs.
"I'll take care of the animals." Elizabeth offers.
"I'll start unpacking the wagon." Audrey nods.
Upon reaching his property the first thing Zander does is unhitch the horses from the light wagon. Then he lays down in the middle of the field and stares up at the huge sky above him. The sounds of the river, bees, and birds are music to his ears. He's a long way from the swamps and heat of Florida, and he doesn't miss it a bit. There was nothing there for him. Nothing to lose and everything to gain here in Montana. His father had been lost in the war. His mother's health, never sound, had failed at the news and a toddler hadn't been enough to keep her tied to the earth. His mother's brother had moved his family onto the small property on the edge of the swamps and raised him... after a fashion.
The big furry dog comes over and starts licking him in the face. Zander grabs her by the scruff of the neck, pulling the dog off of him. "I hear ya, Annabelle. Daylight's wasting." He rises to his feet and with a whistle to the dog starts walking the property. The whole thing felt like home already but now he needs to find home-home.
Natasha Cassadine steps out onto the finished porch of the Cassadine cabin high up in the homestead valley overlooking the homesteads below. Her brother and nephew are seated on a bench, both of them are carefully cleaning their long guns. "For this we traveled 6000 miles? So you could go hunting? What here can compare to the bears, tigers and wolves of Siberia?"
"Sister, but we have already done all that. And the adventure will truly be... roughing it on the frontier."
"No ballet, no opera, no... conversation. How do I let you talk me into these things?" Natasha counters with crossed arms.
"Because you love us?" Her nephew Nikolas asks. "And if you didn't come then you'd be in St. Petersburg with Grandmother?"
"And still not getting any decent conversation." Natasha agrees.
"What do you think, Aunt? Isn't it... grand?" Nikolas prompts.
Natasha looks around and then back at the so called cabin. She's seen the cabins that the others were living in... shacks no better than the serfs lived in back home. "It has a... rustic charm." She says grudgingly as she looks at the large log house behind her. "And I did bring something to read."
"Dinner is served." Mrs. Lansbury announces in the doorway. The three enter the main room where there is a table set with fine linen, china and crystal.
Nikolas and Stefan put their guns up over the mantel of the stone fireplace in the living room. Nikolas offers his aunt his arm and seats her at the table. Alexis looks at the table critically. "I suppose it will have to do until the rest of our things can be brought from the rail car."
The chickens wake the citizens of the lower valley. Lucky had crashed out under the wagon. One tent has Laura, Luke and Lulu. The other tent has Bobbie and Carly. Laura rises first out of the tent hugging a blanket around her as she goes over to the water barrel to pour water into the kettle to heat for tea only to find that the water in the barrel is frozen.
She chips thru the coating of ice to the frigid water below and carries the kettle to the fire pit. Carefully she sifts thru the ashes to the smoldering coals below and stokes the fire up. Lucky groans and crawls out of his bedroll. First thing first, he goes over to the milk cow and strips her of the morning's milk then lets her loose to forage with her calf. He brings the milk over to his mother. "Thank you, Lucky." Laura says gratefully. "Did you and your father find a spot?"
"Yeah. We'll start breaking sod today. Fact is I think I'll get started now. You can have someone come get me when breakfast is ready." Lucky goes over to the wagon and pulls out a shovel. He rests it on his shoulder and starts toward the hill.
Bobbie and Carly are the next out of their bedrolls. Carly holds her chemise away from her. "If I have to wear the same thing for one more day I think I'm going to scream."
"I'm with you there, honey." Bobbie agrees. "But it's so cold." She shivers.
"And we're down to the last slivers of soap." Laura says softly. "I didn't want to buy some at the store... it was so expensive. If we wait until it warms just a little... after breakfast and the dishes. Maybe then we could do most of the clothes and bedding. The weather looks clear. If we rig a line most things should dry soon enough."
"Ugh. I hate making soap. It reeks." Carly groans wanting to postpone the chore for as long as possible.
"I think I saw some lavender growing on the hill." Laura comments. "I know making the soap will still smell but at least the soap itself will smell nice when it's done."
Carly snickers. "I doubt Uncle Luke will think so." She grins. "I think I'll go pick some now." She grabs her coat out of the tent and pulls it around her.
Bobbie shakes her head. "I swear she lives to annoy Luke."
Laura looks at Bobbie from the corner of her eye and says wryly. "One of her finer qualities?" They both crack up laughing. They both love Luke but enjoy Carly's subtle and persistent irritation of the head of the household.
"I'll get the breakfast started." Bobbie goes over to the wagon and grabs the bag of oats. "I miss having a kitchen, with a stove, a real wood burning stove with a real oven, not something you have to pour coals over to heat." She mixes the oats with water and a pinch of salt and covering it sets it over the flames.
"And a pantry where you can set up your home canned fruits and vegetables, with a root cellar for potatoes and apples." Laura dreams.
"When did you have one of those?" Bobbie asks.
"When I was living with the Vining's up in Canada." Laura reminds. She sees her baby peeking out of the tent. "Is that my little princess I see?"
Lulu runs over to her mother and gives her a hug and then her Aunt Bobbie gets one too. "Watcha making?"
"Oatmeal." Bobbie replies. Lulu makes a face at that. "If I had eggs from chickens... then we might have had pancakes... or even a fried egg... but somebody..."
"I'll go feed the chickens now. They can have my oatmeal?" Lulu suggests sweetly before running off to get a pie plate filled with chicken feed. "Here chick, chick, chick." The chickens respond quickly not to the call in particular but to the sound of the feed in the plate.
Meanwhile Lucky up at the home spot is already hard at it. The day before he and his dad had put in stakes to mark the boundaries of the future cabin. About eight feet up the hill he starts with the shovel digging and throwing aside the dirt creating a shelf two feet deep and ten feet long and four feet wide.
His movements are smooth and powerful, his whipcord lean frame deceptive. Hard labor is not unfamiliar to him. While he'd held jobs in the city, it was never that he didn't give his all while he was at them, just that he never stayed at them long as the family moved on to something else. Finishing with that terrace, he starts on the next one doing the same thing but at the four foot level.
Carly has found the field of lavender that Laura had indicated and begins gathering the leaves and blooms holding them in her apron because she hadn't thought to bring a tote of any kind. Caught up in her own thoughts and task she doesn't notice she is not alone until a shadow falls across her. She looks up startled. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Jason Morgan." The tall man on horseback answers. "And I go wherever I want."
"This is my uncle's property." Carly defends. "You're trespassing."
"You soddies come and go." Jason shrugs. "Don't you people get it? This is Montana. Ranching country. The only thing farmers get around here is hungry. You won't last the winter."
"You don't know me. Or my family. We're here to stay." Carly says defensively.
"That's what they all say." Jason turns his horse around with a casual rein and lopes back over the hill.
After a quick breakfast the Taggart's set to work. They are accustomed to hard work, backbreaking work with no or little reward and their enthusiasm is high for this task of building their cabin. Gia and Marcus leave Florence at the home site taking one of the horses into the nearby woods. Marcus takes an ax to the trees trying for trees of all the same circumference.
As a tree comes down, he hitches it to the horse and hands the reins over to Gia to take the horse and tree to the home site. Once there Florence intersperses her cooking duties with taking a hatchet to the branches of the tree smoothing the tree to a log while Gia takes the horse back up to Marcus. The process is repeated over and over, until the base logs for the cabin are in place. Then they break for a quick lunch.
After Lunch Marcus hauls water up from the river for his mother. And then he and Gia head back to the woods. Florence starts notching the logs for the first set that are going to go across, saving the shavings for the fire. And intersperses the task with preparing the supper. Such would be their life until there was a roof over their head taking breaks only to take care of the animals and to eat. Who knew how long the weather would hold. Everything else could wait.
With the immediate need of the cabin already out of the way, The Hardy's tend to the next immediate chore. Elizabeth inspects the corral to make sure that it will contain the animals and none of them will escape. Once everything is confirmed secure it's time for a garden. Grandmother had always had the best garden back in New York. Not just veggies but herbs and medicinals that Grandfather had used in his practice. Liz looks at the horse and then at the plow. But this is something that she'd only seen done, not done herself
"Elizabeth, I think right here." Audrey checks the orientation of the plot she'd selected. "I think it's been plowed before, so it shouldn't be as hard."
"Shouldn't be as hard, right." Elizabeth takes a deep breath digs the plow into the earth and calls out to the horses. "ya! ya!" The horses dig in and then pull forward. There is great resistance and then they burst out with unexpected speed as the plow comes out of the earth and skims the top of the sod. Elizabeth is pulled to the ground and dragged before she can pull the skittish horses to a halt.
"Are you alright?" Audrey runs up to her granddaughter. "Are you injured?''
Elizabeth spits grass and rubs dirt from her chin. "I'm fine. But we're going to have to find another way. I can't do the plow and the horses too. Or it will end up killing me. Here, Gram..." Elizabeth hands over the reins. "You do the reins, and I'll try and keep this plow actually in the dirt."
Just then a shot rings out in the distance followed closely by another. Audrey and Elizabeth have their hands full trying to control the already skittish horses.
"Excellent shot, Nikolas!" Stefan proclaims. "Your shot was the fatal one."
"Frankly I think it took both of us, Uncle." Nikolas says wryly as he walks up on the Grizzly bear that had come across their path as they were out tracking Elk. "If the dogs hadn't warned us..." Nikolas reaches down to pet the huge Russian wolfhounds: Wolf, Fang and Honey.
"But they did." Stefan kneels down to examine the bear. Then calls over the groom. "We will need the pelt cured to a rug. Our first souvenir of the frontier."
The groom is actually an American willing to part the crazy Ruskies with their cash money. "Seem a waste to just take the pelt."
"The rest is unimportant. Give it to the peasants down in the valley or leave it here." Stefan shoulders his weapon. "Shall we continue on, Nikolas? I believe we were in search of elk."
The shots brings Zander's head up and he looks in the direction up the valley. "What the hell?" But then he realizes where it's coming from. The Cassadine place. He'd seen them on the train out. All they'd talked about was hunting this and hunting that. Trophy this and trophy that. Not that they socialized with the real folk, they'd kept to themselves. He shakes his head. Crazy Russians. Zander's not opposed to hunting. It puts food on the table. But that's what hunting is for... food... table.
And for the Cassadines that just didn't seem to be the point. Working solo the way he was, Zander figures it's too dangerous and damn near impossible to get the right logs and get them in place. At minimum it was a two person job and he's a man short so he'd gone the other route in building his cabin. A soddie would do for now. It would be shelter and he could always make improvements as time allowed. Putting his head back down into the task he continues cutting turf into bricks, the specialized plow flips the them earth side up to dry. Four inches thick by 18 inches long by 24 inches wide.
The Groom from the Cassadine place stops at the first homestead that has someone by the river, The Spencer place. A little girl has a line in the water. "How's the fishin?"
"Better yesterday." Lulu says with a grin. I caught..." she holds up four fingers. "... and one of them was this big." She holds her hands a foot apart. Foster growls at the groom warningly.
Giving respect to the dog, doesn't stop the groom from continuing on his mission. "Well, lil bit, that's bigger than you are! I'm surprised you didn't get pulled right into the river trying to land that one." The groom puts on an impressed look. "Your mama around?"
"She's takin' water to my daddy and Lucky. You want to talk to my Aunt Bobbie?"
"I'd surely appreciate that."
"Kay. Watch my pole?"
"I can do that." The groom swings down from his wagon and sets the horse to croppin grass near the river. As soon as he takes hold of the pole, Lulu goes running back toward the tents.
"Aunt Bobbie! Aunt Bobbie! There is a man here."
Barbara Jean Spencer comes from the tents in a hurry with a hand to her hair to make sure it's not a tangle. The last bit to the river, she sashays, "Well Hello. What can I do for you?"
"More what I can do for you, ma'am. Those crazy Ruskies up the river shot a bear and were going to leave it where it lay. Seemed like a powerful waste to me."
"A Bear!" Bobbie's eyes go wide. "I thought the bears were up in the mountains."
"Spring, Ma'am. They just woke up a bit ago and are hungry. They go where they like. Point is, Ma'am, I got a carcass of meat here and I'm hoping you aren't the type to let it go to waste."
"Well we're grateful you thought of us." Lulu takes back her pole and lets Bobbie and the man go over to the wagon. "Oh my, it's huge!" Bobbie says with some dismay.
"Grizzly Ma'am. Seven, maybe eight hundred pounds. If you want it I really need to get it hanging before the meat spoils."
"Yes, yes please." Bobbie stands back out of the way while the groom finds a spot under a tree with a branch he thinks will support the weight of the carcass. With smooth easy movements, the groom hangs the bear and ties off against the trunk of the tree. Lulu is distracted from her fishing by the operation and comes over to watch. "Lulu, go get your mother and Carly." Bobbie's order sets the little girl running to the home spot.
"I have to get back up there." The groom hesitates but then gets blunt. "You single, Ma'am?"
"Yes, I am." Bobbie blushes more from embarrassment at her single status than because it's in her to blush.
"Opposed to callers?"
"Not particularly." Bobbie shrugs and looks at the groom coquettishly.
"Glad to hear it. I'll be seeing ya, ma'am. Count on it."
"I will." Bobbie waves as he leaves to go back up to the mountain.
Laura and Carly come running with Lulu. "I thought Lulu was exaggerating!" Laura exclaims. "What in the heaven's name is that?"
"Grizzly bear." Bobbie says grimly. "Shot up at the Cassadine homestead."
"There is no way we can cure all that!" Laura protests. "I don't think we have enough salt for even a quarter!"
"I'll go see if we can get some help." Carly starts down the river.
"Take a horse, Carly." Laura directs. "I need help and help fast otherwise the meat will go bad and it won't matter." With that directive Carly grabs the horse that had been left down by the river and using a stump climbs on the horse bareback and heads down the river to the next homestead. Laura sheds her coat and makes sure her apron is on straight to protect her clothes and gets to work. "Well I guess we'll have enough fat now to make soap." She says cheerfully as she pulls out her sharpest knife from her kitchen supplies. "Lulu, get me the big tub." Bobbie sees the direction of Laura's thought and grabs a knife too. Together they start stripping off the fat from the carcass dumping it into the wash tub that Lulu is rolling over to them.
Florence is soon coming up the river to join them. "My word, that is the biggest dang bear I've ever seen!"
"I can't imagine something like that running around." Bobbie shudders but keeps working. "If it had found my daughter or niece alone in the woods..."
"Well it's gonna be bear sausage now." Flo says grimly. Coming around to the front of the carcass, she rolls up her sleeves to get to work, she begins gutting the bear. Foster is right there to take up any pieces that aren't of interest to Florence. "I left a message for my kids where I was. They'll get here as soon as they get it. Y'all planning on making soap?" She notices the tub and the fact that both women had been more interested in the fat than in the meat. Not that it bothered her particularly. The only thing fat did for meat was turn it rancid faster.
"That was the plan for tomorrow." Laura says ruefully "Using the things we had on hand already. Who knew this bounty would fall in our laps. Did you mean it? Bear sausage?"
"Oh yes indeedy." Flo nods. "There's my girl now. Gia, honey, you know what to do."
Gia grimaces but takes the slippery mass of small intestine from her mother and goes a distance away from the bear. There she empties as best she can the contents of the intestine reserving just the skin Then she ties her skirts up baring her knees and wades into the frigid waters of the river and starts rinsing them out. Over and over again until the gut is clean inside and out and just a sheer white tube. Then she starts winding the casing like a rope between elbow and shoulder.
Carly has been gone for about half an hour in that time the carcass is starting to look way different from a bear. "The Hardy's said thanks much, but they're busy." Carly rolls her eyes. Sarah had turned up her nose and gone back into the cabin. Elizabeth seemed ready for anything, probably hoping to get some time with Lucky. She'd been casting cow's eyes on him since the first day back in St Louie. Audrey had been polite but firm.
Laura mutters. "This is going to take up all my salt." In her normal voice, "Carly, will you bring the barrel over?"
Carly rolls it over. The barrel is only a quarter full of meats salted in brine, covered in salt until cured. Carly pulls the finished meats out of the barrel and sets them on the plank table Laura had rigged up, brushing all the salt back to the barrel to form a coating at the bottom. Laura starts laying roasts on the bottom of the barrel. Carly comes after her laying another coating of salt rubbing it into the meat. The process is continued until the barrel is filled. Then Carly grabs the top to the barrel after salting the top layer of meats and adding a brine solution to top it off. She uses a wooden mallet to tap in the wooden top of the barrel. "Nobody is going to be able move this sucker!" Carly taps it affectionately. "Not until Lucky and Luke get here."
Marcus rides up on the women. They were starting to lose daylight and he didn't want his mother and sister walking back alone after news of the bear. "Where do you want it?" He offers.
Bobbie and Laura look at each other then at him. "The back of the wagon I guess so the guys can take it to the home site." Bobbie suggests. Bending at the knee, Taggart hugs the barrel below the widest spot then straightens and carries it to the wagon where he sits it gently on the back. "Oh my." Bobbie sighs fanning herself at the show of strength.
"We'll be heading home now." Taggart says with a nod.
"You're welcome to stay for dinner." Laura offers.
"Thank you." Florence smiles. "But as you said we have to put this up as well." She indicates the large haunches of meat that Gia is tying over the back of their horse. "We'll get together soon, I promise."
Marcus takes the reins of the horse and starts back down to their place and Flo and Gia follow behind him.
Audrey and Liz are still working side by side breaking earth on the plot of land below the house nearest to the river. Audrey has already guessed from the slow going if it hadn't been broken by the previous homesteaders that she and her granddaughter wouldn't have had a chance.
"I don't see why we couldn't go." Liz finally blurts out.
"We're busy here."
"It's not that! That was just an excuse." Elizabeth protests.
"Elizabeth, they aren't really our sort of people." Audrey finally admits.
"Gram, They're our neighbors and will be until one of us packs it in. Something none of us are planning on doing!"
Audrey is silent for a long time. "Well I do like Laura and her children."
Once back at their campsite by the shell of a cabin, The Taggart's get to work on their portion of the bear. Florence goes over to their wagon and searching carefully finds the meat grinder that she'd hidden away so that it wouldn't be cast out when the load got to heavy along the trail... like her sewing machine had somewhere between St. Louie and Montana. She unwraps the cast iron grinder fondling it as she does. It had been a long time. And if there was something she knew how to do, had won acclaim for, had even had the big mucky muckys of the Klan buying her sausage the day after they'd burned a cross in their front yard. That had been the last straw for Marcus. He'd been looking for a way out of Alabama ever since.
Gia starts cutting the meat into strips while her mother gathers her spices: garlic, pepper, a bit of salt, some molasses, and the secret ingredient, red peppers. Not bothering with a spoon or ladle after all it's probably 50 lbs of meat, Florence scrubs her hands with soap and water and then dries them off on a clean rag. She mixes the meat and spices together with her hands in an almost kneading motion. "Just the first grind I think tonight." Flo suggests. "Then we'll pack it good and set it in the river to stay cool. Tomorrow we'll do the fine ground and stuff the casings."
"It's a good thing." Marcus agrees wryly. "I'd like to get some sleep tonight. Or even some dinner."
"Oh honey!" Flo says guiltily as she looks at the half done shell of the house. Marcus had gotten so much done while they'd been up at the Spencer's. Stuff she should have helped with.
"I'm fine, Mom." Marcus shrugs. "But I hope you didn't want those biscuits for anything. Call me when you're ready for the turning. I'm going to go milk and put up the stock."
"Your poor brother." Flo sighs as she watches him go to the stock while still kneading the spices into the strips of meat.
"My poor brother? What about poor me? He ate all the biscuits!" Gia complains.
The floor is logs spread out with space between, those he'd managed. He'd lay planks down later once he got a chance to plane some boards. the goal is to not have a dirt floor. Cause when it rained you'd end up with a mud floor. Half a day spent turning turf to make soddie bricks, half a day putting up the bricks from the day before. Bit by bit the cabin was going up. The advantage of the soddie over the log cabins he is using wood to frame in windows and door as he goes. There wouldn't be the big production of cutting in the doors and windows after the fact.
After the day's bricks are in place, Zander goes to check his traps whistling to the dog to accompany him. Here or down in the swamps the premise was the same... bait and catch, clean and stew with beans and whatever greens were available. A man wouldn't starve. And if the traps were empty-- then it was a dinner of beans and greens.
Luke and Lucky come back to a disaster area of a campsite. Most everything had been put aside to harvest the bear and the women all look like they've been thru a war. "What the hell happened here? And what is that?"
"It used to be a grizzly bear." Carly tells her uncle. "Now it's a couple months or more worth of meat in the pot."
"That was the shots we heard?" Lucky asks his dad who shrugs in agreement. "Damn that thing is big, was big."
"Luckily Flo Taggart and her daughter, Gia, came up to help, or we'd be stuck." Bobbie tells her nephew. "The Cassadines shot it... on their property." Lucky raises a brow at that. "Their man dropped it off for us, and says that the bears are waking up for the spring so they'll be going wherever the food is."
Luke frowns at that one. "Nobody goes anywhere alone without the rifle or Foster there."
"Luke, I will be so happy when we have the cabin done, with a door that can be barred. If that critter had caught Lulu down by the river fishing..." Laura worries.
Luke makes a motion with his hand not wanting anymore to be said in front of his daughter. "Well I'm for the river to get some of this grime off me. Whose coming?"
"Me, me, me!" Lulu hollers. "I wanna go swimming too."
Luke, Lucky and Lulu head off to the river to get cleaned up with Foster tagging along, while Laura, Bobbie and Carly put the finishing touches on dinner. The river is cold and it wouldn't take them long. Laura gathers some blankets and takes them down to the river where she meets each member of her family with a blanket that they wrap around themselves and shed their undergarments from underneath it. Laura helps Lulu.
At the long plank table they all sit, three wrapped in blankets and three ready to jump in the river as well. As soon as the dinner, and dishes are done the three women head to the river to get cleaned up. Lucky, Luke and Lulu gather around the fire to get dry, Lucky pulls out his guitar and Luke his harmonica and they start playing while Lulu claps and hums along with the old folk tune.
Carly, Bobbie and Laura strip down to their chemises and wade into the frigid waters, everyone has their hair pinned up wanting to wait to wash hair until it was day and there would be plenty of time to dry. The sounds of the music is a familiar accompaniment to their family life the place changed but the music remained.
Luke had learned how to play piano in his Aunt Ruby's whore house but the family's finances had never stretched to a piano at home and the only practice Luke got in was in saloons or other public houses. When it was clear that Lucky had gotten his dad's music ability, Luke had taken the guitar on a bet, handed it to his son and told him to figure it out.
The women come out of the river and quickly wrap themselves in blankets and return to the campfire. As soon as they are all warmed up they'd head off to bed to start all over again.
The next day more of the same, rising with the chickens, making sure the animals are cared for first. Luke, with the incentive of the bear, is up before Lucky and kicks his son out of his bedroll under the wagon, then hollers for Carly to roll out as well. Carly starts to protest then thinks better of it, remembering the tub of bear fat/soap on the women's agenda for the day, She dresses as quickly as possible and heads out with Luke and Lucky. This morning they hook the oxen up to the wagon and take the wagon with all the necessary tools up to the home site. Once there Luke and Lucky unhook the oxen, grab axes and head into the woods to start felling logs.
The signs of the guys work is extensive The 10x10 foot bottom box (to the first terrace of earth) is already two feet high with the floor already in. The next box is going to 10x12 foot and the box on top of that one would be 10x16. From there they'd start putting the pitch to the roof. Walking up from the river, you'd eventually see a ten by ten log wall (until the door is cut in). Only when you came up from the sides would you see that the cabin has varying depths cutting into the hill.
The cabin had to be finished by first time they went to the store for provisions, Lucky had explained to Carly. That was when the oxen would be traded for the next elements of the cabin, a woodstove, glass for windows, maybe a horse or another milk cow. Hopefully, with enough left over to have some money on the books at the general store. Hell they'd have to have broken ground on the garden plot before then if they were to trade in the oxen. Carly realizes. But that is not going to be the first order of her day. Wetting her finger and sticking it in the air, she tests the wind and then grabs a shovel. Going a short distance down wind from the cabin she starts digging a hole, the deeper the better.
"Carly, what the hell you doing?" Lucky finds his cousin half in a hole and throwing shovels of dirt out "Digging a well?"
"You might be able to just whip it out and go on a tree, cuz, but I can think of four people in this particular party who are gonna wanna a privy!"
Lucky laughs shaking his head. Carly had a point. He unloads the trees he'd felled and heads back into the woods. He and his dad were working in two different angles from a common point in the woods they shared with the Taggart's, So they could alternate using the team to bring out the logs. The common point being the future location of the still.
Luke is the next one out of the woods hauling trees out, by the time he gets there he hears his niece calling for help. Taking his time and unhitching the logs he follows her voice. She is up to her shoulders in a hole. "Well aren't you in a pickle." He chuckles.
"Get me out of here!" Carly protests.
"Not thinking too far ahead were ya, Caroline?" Luke teases. He reaches down to take Carly's hand and pulls her out of the hole. "Make sure you cover that up until we're ready to build the outhouse." He is still chuckling as he takes the team back into the woods.
Carly grumbles. She hated being the butt of Luke's jokes. They were going to need the privy. So she'd shown a little initiative but did Luke ever give her any credit? Hell no. She grabs a hatchet out of the wagon and starts taking her frustration out on the felled trees stripping them of branches turning them from felled trees to logs. Once done with that she starts in on the branches cutting them into firewood lengths. As the day gets warmer and the exertion great she sheds her coat, and then when it gets too hot even then she sheds her shirt and just works in her chemise which would make her mother crazy if she saw but Bobbie wasn't anywhere around. You could bet that Luke and Lucky were already stripped down to bare chests. Otherwise their shirts would take the brunt of the damage, and clothing is scarce.
At the Taggart place, Gia and Marcus had headed back out to the woods, the sound of axes and felling trees breaking the silence between their place and the Spencer's. Florence had been left with all the other chores at the camp, feeding the chickens and then feeding and milking the cow. Taking the milk she puts it in a covered pail and anchors it in the water where it will stay cold and pulls out the pails with the ground bear meat and spice in it.
She clamps the grinder to the plank table that Marcus had put together for her and takes the intestine that Gia had cleaned the night before. She trims it into lengths about three feet long knots the end, then fastens the open end to the grinder. Ladle full by ladle full, she finely grinds the meat again, pausing, packing and tying off about every six inches or so. She continues until she has just a bit of the sausage mixture left; Flo checks the beans she'd put on to soak the night before and nods. She dumps the left over sausage mixture into her iron frying pan and quickly browns it up and dumps into the beans adding a precious can of tomatoes and an onion and sets it to cooking over the open fire.
Florence takes a trimmed slim branch and takes it down the river soaking it until it is wet thru and then carries it back to the table. She winds the links around the branch. After Lunch, the plan is to bank the fire down to hardly anything but the branch hooked up to two poles over the flame and a tent of fabric. She'd wet the fabric to keep it damp and feed leaves into the fire to create smoke. A day or two steady and the sausages would be cured by the smoke. Maybe after Marcus dug her a well he'd put in a smokehouse. Florence Taggart dreams.
The first plot is finished, as far as plowing anyway. Audrey goes into her carpet bag and pulls out her precious supplies that she'd brought from New York-- seeds. Seeds from her own garden there. She hands a selection of packets to Sarah, the quick growing spring garden to get fresh greens in their diet: lettuce, carrots, radishes, onions and peas parsley and tomatoes. The root vegetable garden would wait for a few weeks yet. Audrey looks longingly a the remaining seeds in her hand. It is her medicinal garden: chamomile, cayenne peppers, hyssop, dill, celery, garlic and rosemary.
Elizabeth catches her looking and sighs. "Pick out a sunny spot, Gram. I don't want to plow anything again for a year! So make it good." Arm and arm they walk up the property further from the river on the far side of the cabin.
Audrey tests the soil in various places. The nice thing about herbs and the medicinal plants. They seemed to like the sandy well drained soil. Finally she finds a place that she likes. "It doesn't have to that big really, darling."
"Right. Pull the other one, Gram. I saw your garden back in New York and you've been dosing me with chamomile tea since I was twelve."
"Well it does help ease the monthlies." Audrey defends.
"I know; that's why I keep drinking it."
While Sarah works on planting the front garden, Audrey and Elizabeth plow up the section that will be used for the medicinal garden. This one Elizabeth has more enthusiasm for. In addition to the healing properties of the plants many of them can be used for dying fabric or yarn, which is more of interest to her. Now that they have a method down the work goes much more quickly. By lunchtime they are ready to put the seeds in there too.
"What are you doing?" A young man asks from horseback.
"Building a cabin." Zander doesn't pause in what he is doing. His movements are constant and rhythmic. He'd already gotten the walls, double thick in a checkerboard pattern, of the cabin up to waist high.
"But it is made of dirt." Nikolas shakes his head.
Zander laughs. "What do you think brick is made out of? Or stone? Dirt is just crumbled up rocks. I'm doing this by myself so logging trees isn't as efficient."
"Why don't you just hire someone to assist you?"
"Why should I pay for something I can do myself?" Zander doesn't figure that the rich boy will understand so he changes the subject. "So what did you and your uncle bag yesterday?"
"A large bear, the guide called it a grizzly." Nikolas swings down from his horse and walks over to the soddie to examine it more carefully. "And the grass in between the layers...."
"Acts as a mortar the grass and roots grow the bricks together to make them tight. A lot tighter than a log home actually. And keeping it small, means I won't spend everyday all day cutting wood to keep the place warm in the winter." Ready to take a break, Zander turns from the soddie to his wagon where there is a jug of water. He offers a cup to the young man and then pours himself one as well.
"What is it going to look like when you're done?"
Zander squats down and picking up a twig starts tracing a picture of the soddie in the dirt.
Nikolas starts shaking his head. "Your design is flawed."
"You have drawn the roof as being flat, utilizing sod on the top as well. It will never stand up to true winter. A roof must be steep to shed snow." Nikolas looks around for an example. "You see... like your tent. If it is flat then the snow will just build on top of it, possibly many feet of snow that can weigh more than a man." Nikolas can see Zander's disbelief. Nikolas waves a hand. "This is much as my country, da? More like my home than yours."
Zander frowns. "What the hell are you saying. This is my home."
"Your accent is unlike most of the others, you are from The South, correct?"
"I have heard of this place." Nik nods. "I hear that it never gets cold there."
"Well I've been known to go fishing the day after Christmas." Zander says wryly.
"As have I." Nik nods. "But first I had to have a hole cut in the ice. It is so cold in my country, that exposure to the elements in winter can mean missing toes, fingers... nose." Nik can see his neighbor's disbelief and changes the subject. "Show me how you use this plow to make bricks." He demands. "I wish to see it done."