Frontier General Store




May 1883

First trip to the store three weeks after arriving in the valley.



Audrey, Gia, Zander and Luke make the monthly trip to the General Store in Charlestown. Zander drives his horse and carriage. Audrey rides up front with him and Gia rides in the back. Luke follows with the ox driven prairie schooner wagon without the big canvas top. The trip to town takes three days following the same route back as they'd taken in.
Zander and the women pull ahead with the faster horse and carriage but then break each night to set camp. An hour or two later Luke would pull in.
Gia makes sure she stays distant but cordial with the others. Marcus and Mrs. Hardy had made a deal where he and Mama would check on Mrs. Hardy's girls while they were gone while Mrs. Hardy would make sure she came to no harm.
What nobody else in the party needed to know is that the day before they'd left, She and Mama had traded some bear sausages for soap with Mrs. Spencer. Mrs. Spencer had pulled her aside and showed her five pounds of soap prettily wrapped in 2 ounce packages. Seems that Mr. Spencer forgot stuff sometimes. Not the big stuff, like the woodstove, or the really little stuff, like a penny's worth of candy for Lulu, but the practical stuff in the middle, like salt or fabric for a new dress for Lulu. Her tone had been apologetic and Gia could tell Mrs. Spencer would have much preferred sending her son than her husband to the General Store. But that was nobody's business.





The final morning bright and early, the party wakes. Mr. Spencer has already left to get a head start. Once they arrive at the General Store Zander comes around to help Mrs. Hardy down and then Gia. Gia walks into the store checking carefully the prices of necessities: flour, beans, coffee and the like. She also checks the offers of dollars for goods: fresh vegetables and such. Gia frowns. This guy certainly believed in making a profit. "Mrs. Hardy, I have to check out the livestock yard before I make any decisions here."

"Oh course, dear. You're absolutely right. I'll come with you." Audrey pockets her mail and leaves with Gia. Together they go down to the livestock yards down by the rail station which are teeming with cattle and in separate pens: hogs, sheep, goats, chickens, horses, oxen. Luke Spencer is already there examining a couple of horses.

Gia gravitates toward the pigs remembering Marcus' orders and looking for something specific. But she keeps her ears open and hears some of the people there talking about packing it in after getting too in debt to the store and planning on heading back east. All of the saleable were there in the livestock yard. Everything had been sold back to the General store at a steep discount leaving them with barely enough for passage back east. She makes a note of the names. Then she sees what she wants, what she needs. "Excuse me, sir. Can I ask you a question?"

Meanwhile Audrey has found the pen with the goats and sheep in it. Most of them are fuzzy little lambs with their mothers, already sheared. But then she sees them and makes her way over to the other side of the pen to examine what has caught her interest. It is a Romney ram with it's fleece long and nearly dragging on the ground. One of the livestock handlers sees a potential customer and comes over to Audrey. "Something I can help you with, ma'am?"

"The ram." Audrey points him out. "How much?"

"Ten dollars."

"Oh that is much too high." Gia says from behind the man. "Mrs. Hardy, I don't know what you want a nasty ole sheep for. This is cattle country right? And it's full on grown which means it would be tough and stringy when you butchered it. I doubt it's worth five dollars."

"But..." Audrey catches Gia shaking her head. And changes her demeanor. She sighs. "I suppose you are right; there are other things the girls and I need more..."

"Ma'am, just cause I'm in the mood to deal... I'll sell you that ram there and that goat too all for ten dollars. They came off the same homestead and are always palling around anyway." The handler refers to a long haired goat that has huge curling horns.

"Deal!" Audrey says in a rush before Gia can interfere anymore. "Show me the ewes too please."

Gia covers a grin. She eases up on Audrey and says in a low voice. "I'm going over to the rail station and the rooming house too. I'll meet you back at the General Store."

"I don't think that's such a good idea." Audrey protests.

"I'll be there before noon." Gia walks over to Luke who is in conversation with another wrangler. "Mr. Spencer, Will you keep an eye on Mrs. Hardy." She pulls Luke aside. "I don't think she knows how to dicker, and they'll rob her blind. I have a few errands I have to run but I'm going to meet her at the General Store."
At the rail station, Gia keeps her ears open for all the gossip the comings and goings. Hears all about the silver mining camp up in the mountains. She checks the schedule to see when the next train is coming in. Then she heads over to the kitchen door of the rooming house. She smoothes back her hair in it's long braid and straightens her clothes before knocking on the door.

"We don't serve colored folk here."

"I'm not here for a room or a meal." Gia smiles any way keeping it to business. "I'm here because I have a deal for you. I was just over at the General Store and saw the prices, decided that we both need to cut out the middleman."


Gia reaches into her rusack and pulls out a length of bear sausage. She pulls out a small knife and cuts off a piece of it. "Try this."




Meanwhile at the stockyards Luke is finishing up his business. He'd traded the six oxen that had brought the prairie schooner across from St. Louie and their harnesses back to the stockyards and turned around to purchase two draft horses and their harnesses. The horses should be enough for the day to day work not involving the moving of an entire household. The net difference puts $80 dollars in his pocket. Sounds like a fortune but it wouldn't go far after buying a woodstove, windows and provisions to last a month. And what was he going to sell next month? He had to get the gear together for the still. He sees Mrs. Hardy finishing up her deal and walks over. "Gia told ya she'd meet you at the General Store."

"Her leaving is so inappropriate." Audrey worries.

"I get the feeling the little gal can take care of herself." Luke comments. "I've got the wagon so I can give you a lift back to the store."

"It's not that far. I think I'll walk." Audrey says in a hurry.

"Suit yourself. I think I'll walk with ya. The wagon can stay here until we're ready to head back." Luke shrugs and falls in next to Audrey. "I don't think Zander boy's carriage is going to carry all the supplies for all the families back."

Audrey realizes he is right. "Oh dear."

"Not a problem. It's why we brought both wagons." Luke shrugs.




At the General Store, Zander has already completed his business, the furs he'd cured off of his traps had been well received. The rest of his order is being filled by the storekeeper and his son, So Zander steps out into the sunshine and pulls up a plank on the bench. He rises to his feet as Audrey approaches. "Mrs. Hardy."

"I hope we haven't kept you waiting." Audrey worries. "Is Gia here?"

"I haven't seen her." Zander replies.

Luke looks around. "There she is."

Gia comes up practically on a run. She really didn't want Mrs. Hardy looking for her. Or she would have found out that she'd found a better market for Laura's soaps with the working girls over the saloon and a standing order from the china men outside of town who did the miner's laundry, but he didn't want the lavender scent. She goes into the store with Audrey and Luke. Luke hands his shopping list to the store clerk. Who calls off all the items to his son who starts staging them by the door. Gia breathes easier when she sees that Luke remembered the salt. The only thing he'd missed was the fabric for Lulu's dress. Laura had enough to cover that. After Luke is finished, Audrey puts in the rest of her order. That is soon filled and Gia steps forward. She squeezes every nickel of Marcus' order. Once that is done she puts in her own order with the monies from the sale of the sausage. Stuff her mother wanted.
Zander starts loading up his carriage with the items for all four families from the general store: three woodstoves and piping, panes of glass carefully packed, barrel of nails, lime for making daubing between the logs on the cabins and whitewashing the interior of the soddie, flour, sugar, coffee, salt, dried fruit, lard, rice, beans. As soon as the carriage is filled to safe capacity and a little beyond, Luke goes to get his wagon to pick up the excess but there isn't much room in his wagon after everything from the stockyards is attached or put in the wagon. Gia's sow, many chickens, a ram, a goat and two ewes with their lambs, another milk cow with her calf. "I can't decide if I'm running an ark here or if I shouldn't have gotten rid of the oxen after all." He says wryly.

Audrey looks at him guiltily. "Mr. Spencer..."

"Oh what now?" Audrey holds out Zander's new fishing basket. Luke can hear the mewling from where he is sitting on top of the wagon. "Oh you have to be kidding me."

"The little boy said that his mother was going to make him drown them."

"Little boys always say that. I bet he had sappy little puppy dog eyes too, wimmen!" Luke stalks over to the General store and starts grabbing more of the provisions. Zander joins in to make short work of it. "I thought I'd be moving along a little faster on the return trip, maybe even cut off a day but now I'll be going as slow as if I was still drivin those damn ox!" Luke swings up to the drivers seat of the wagon. Gia doesn't wait for him to assist her up because she doesn't think it's coming. She climbs up next to him. Luke pauses after pulling off his gloves and reaching into his pocket grabs the treat he'd bought himself at the Store, a cigar all the way from St. Louie and beyond. He bites off the end and lights up with a quick couple of puffs. Then taking up the reins, he yahs at the horses to get them moving out of town. Gia grins at him. "What?" Luke demands.

"You and my brother are going to have to talk."

"Why's that?"

"Cause if you're real nice to him, he might show ya the tobacco plants he's been babying for the last month. How much did you pay for that cigar? Enough to buy another five pounds of bacon from the store? Do you know how many cigars I can roll off of one plant?" Gia doesn't wait for the answer cause she already knows.

Up in Zander's carriage, Audrey waits for Zander to say something. "Well aren't you going to say it too? That, that little boy manipulated me?"

"Nope, not going to say a word, Mrs. Hardy."

"While I don't appreciate Mr. Spencer's comments, I do appreciate his honesty." Audrey sniffs and looks straight ahead.

"'kay. You got suckered. But it's all good. Fact is if I didn't have Annabelle, I'd probably take one of them off your hands. Once they get their growth, I'm sure they'd make short work of any mouse that tried to get in my supplies."

"Mice. Yes, that's the reason why I got the kittens. To make sure that there aren't any mice." Audrey finds her rationalization after the fact. She peeks into the basket and pulls out one kitten. "This one. I think he looks like a Gatsby. Does he look like a Gatsby to you? Ouch! You little rascal!" Audrey drops the kitten back into the basket and shuts the lid fastening it. Then brings her hand to her mouth to suck on the wound inflicted by the kitten.

"Yep, going to of a mouser. Gatsby there has already got attitude."





"It's kinda cute. Mr. Smith did a good job." Carly looks around the soddie. Luke and the others had been gone for four days but this is the first time she'd been over to the Smith place. Normally Lucky is the one to go check on the property and Zander's few chickens "But dark with the canvas covering the window openings and the door. It's like a cave."

"Yeah, well considering that we're getting tons of light in our place... it's called space between the logs and it's damn cold. We're not here for that. Just feed the chickens and lets get going. I still got chores down at the house and so do you."

"If you're going to be so pushy why didn't you just bring Lulu?"

"I was planning on it until you invited yourself along. You'll do anything to get out of watering the garden."

"Yes, I will." Carly admits then counters. "Including help you split wood. Didn't see you protesting that one!"

"Nope." Lucky grins and then puts his cousin in a headlock. "Now lets get the chores done around here and get back to our own place."




Marcus rigs up some ropes to create a pulley system and then hooks it around the log he'd split in half and chinked at measured intervals to fit the cross beams. Sarah takes one rope and he takes the other. Elizabeth is up on the roof ready to move the log into place once it's levered up. "Slow and steady now." Marcus orders. "And go." The half log is heaved up onto the roof and the people below hold it steady while Liz moves it into place.

"There!" Liz hollers. "I got it."

Marcus hurries up the ladder. He pounds in the log on one end into the support beams while Liz works on the other and they work toward the middle. "There. On to the next one." He climbs back down and starts in on the next log.

"Gram is going to be so happy." Liz calls down. "I'm sure she thought we were going to be living in a log tent for the whole winter!"

The process is repeated until the roof is tight again. Liz climbs down the ladder and is relieved to be back down on the ground. "What are we going to do with that?" She refers to the canvas covering that is laying neatly on the ground next to the cabin.

"Y'all have it from here?"

"Yes, Thank you, Mr. Taggart. We really appreciate your help. With this and also in felling those trees so we can chop them into firewood. You've really given us a head start." Sarah says gratefully.

"If you need anything just come on up the river." Marcus nods. He picks up his tools and starts heading back up to his place.

"Rock, paper, scissors?" Liz offers her sister as soon as Marcus leaves.

With three quick motions of their hands, Sarah then covers Liz's fist with her open hand. "Paper beats rock. I'll take the lower garden."

"You would." Both of them head to the river to start hauling water to the gardens. The lower garden is bigger but also closer to the river. The lower garden is the food garden with the lettuce, spinach, radishes beet and carrots. Those had gone in first. As there had been time the other veggies have gone in: potatoes, onions, cabbage, turnips, squash.
Closest to the river are the water loving plants like melons, zucchini, cucumber and the like. They'd get water directly and the run off from the top of the garden. On the far side of the garden, Audrey had planted the bows of the prairie schooner creating two large arcs. then run twine up and down from earth to the points on the arcs then woven strings across to give the climbing plants something to grow on: peas, pole beans and tomatoes.
Sarah calls out to her sister who is using a sled like devise to haul the water barrel up to the herb garden. Most of the herbs liked sun and just a bit of water. Liz stops and goes back to the main veggie garden. "What is it?"

"Look at this." Sarah indicates the shoots of lettuce that are just beginning to bush out.

"Oh man." Liz kneels down to examine the plant. "We haven't even gotten to eat any of these yet!"

"What do you think it is?" Sarah already knows the answer but wants confirmation.

"Just like back home." Liz says grimly. "Rabbits. And if I catch one it's gonna be stew!" She stalks back to the sled and starts pulling it up the path her mad givin her the strength to make the trip short. She starts examining the herbs to see if the rabbits had gotten into these too. Here Audrey had put the last of the wagon bows and planted hops at the base of it. Even with the extra distance the garden is small enough that Liz finishes the watering first and goes down to the lower garden to assist Sarah with the final rows.

After the gardens are tended they take a break, munching on bread and hard cheese. Sarah starts the beans on the stove for dinner, making sure that they are bubbling at a low heat so that they don't have to be attended constantly but rather just checked on occasionally. Then they both put on their heavy work gloves and take an end of the big crosscutting saw to start chopping the three extra trees that Mr. Taggart had felled for them into sections just long enough to fit in the woodstove. As soon as that is done, Sarah runs inside the cabin to check on the beans and to add a little more water, the slivers of ham, and spice that will flavor them. Elizabeth grabs the ax and starts splitting the rounds into firewood. This gives her a head start so that when Sarah comes back; she starts stacking the wood on the growing pile. Seasoned wood smoked less than the green fresh cut wood. The sooner they could get the winter's wood done the better.





Laura looks up at the sky and sniffs the air. "Rain coming in." She announces to her sister in law.

Bobbie who had been working beside Laura in the Garden hoeing out weeds looks up at the sky. "Well hell. Why couldn't it have rained before we hauled all that water to the garden! How long you figure?" Bobbie looks at the dark clouds on the horizon.

"An hour maybe less." Laura starts gathering up her tools and hollers. "Lulu! Up to the house now!" Lulu pulls in her fishing line and she and Foster start back to the cabin.

"Here take these too." Bobbie hands over her implements. "I'm going to get the wash in. Oh I hope it's dry." She races over to the line that is strung near the river. The wash was done down there to save steps. She flings the laundry over her shoulder, one piece after another and then carries it all back to the finished cabin. Laura is already putting down the canvas coverings over the window openings to keep the rain out. Luke and Lucky had made her a proper door so that could stay open until the rain actually came. Bobbie tosses the laundry up onto her and Carly's bed in the loft and turns right back around to go out to check on the cow and her calf.

"Foster, go get Lucky. Get Lucky." Laura orders the dog. Foster takes off at a lope up into the woods where Carly and Lucky are working.

Laura goes out to the chicken house to make sure that the door is open for the chickens. They'd start coming in to roost as soon as darkness approached.

Carly and Lucky come down out of the woods riding the horse double with Foster running alongside. "What's up, Mom?"

"Storm coming in but at least it doesn't smell like snow, not like before." Laura points and then worries. "I hope your father is alright."

"Well he is for now." Carly points out practically. "It'll hit Uncle Luke after it hits us." She slides off the horse and goes to help her mother while thinking to herself that she hopes Jason understands about her not meeting him. There was no way she was going to meet her feller looking like a drowned rat.

Lucky leads the horse over to the corral with it's lean-to shed on one end for the animals to get some shelter. He makes sure that there is plenty of feed in the trough and water too. Then he checks the rain barrels at the corners of the front of the house. This is actually the first rain since they'd finished the cabin. Before this they'd still been living in the tents, and early on it had even snowed. The blessing of that was that they'd been so hard at work on the cabin that they hadn't gotten the seeds in the ground yet. There was no crop lost because of the snow.

As it's close enough to evening milking time, Bobbie milks the cow. Carly takes the milk up to the cabin to Laura. Then she adds some firewood to the campfire to speed up the cooking of their dinner in the cast iron Dutch oven. She looks up at the sky. "Not going to make it. Not going to make it. Aw hell." Carly breaks from what she is doing and races to the cabin as do Lucky and Bobbie. Then the deluge starts. Laura lights the oil lamp and hangs it over head on a hook. It casts a light over the main portion of the cabin. What now?

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