Frontier General Store
Arriving back in the valley after the May trip to the store.
While going about their chores both girls keep an eye on the road waiting for the travelers to return. It had been a week, seven days, three day there, one day in town and three days back. They should be back by now unless there had been a problem. Sarah is the first one to seem them coming up the valley. "Liz, go tell Mr. Taggart I can see them!" Sarah says excitedly.
Liz takes off running toward the Taggart place gathering her skirts up when they get in her way and not making anything ladylike about it. She sprints toward the adjoining spread. When she is within sight of the other cabin she sees Mrs. Taggart on the porch. Liz stops where she's at and hollers to get Flo's attention. When Flo looks over, Liz waves her hands and then points down the valley. Flo nods and waves back. Liz turns around and races back to their place not wanting to miss her Gram's arrival.
"Gram! Gram!" Sarah is already waving and standing along the path. Liz joins her. As Zander pulls his carriage to a halt, The girls are already there to help Audrey down.
"Let me look at the both of you!" Audrey exclaims as she hugs both girls and then steps back to look at them. "Well you're just fine! I don't know why I worried."
"Because worrying is what you do." Elizabeth teases and gives her grandmother another big hug.
"Lets get this unloaded. I'm sure the others want to be heading home too." Sarah suggests. Liz brings around the sled they use for hauling water and Zander starts unloading on to it.
"You finished the roof!" Audrey realizes.
"Mr. Taggart helped." Sarah explains. "He got it done the day before the rain started."
Luke and Gia have pulled up on the second wagon. Elizabeth goes around to that wagon. "Oh sweaters on the hoof!"
Luke shakes his head in disbelief. Wimmen!
Gia jumps down from the wagon happy to stretch her legs. "Your gram picked them up along with the goat. The sheep will follow the goat anywhere. But don't turn your back on him."
"Why not?" Liz asks.
"You take a gander at those horns? He's not mean or nothing. Just... frisky. But here see what I mean." Gia unfastens the goat from the back of the wagon and hands the lead over to Liz. Liz starts pulling the goat toward the pen up by the cabin. The goat follows right along with the sheep coming after the goat without the need of halters. As soon as everything is off loaded, the two wagons continue down the road. Moving a little faster now that the sheep are gone.
Marcus is waiting at the path when they pull into sight. He wipes his hands on a handkerchief and stuffs it in his pocket. Gia had better have done this right. Zander pulls in first. The two of them haul the woodstove and glass panes out of the back of the carriage. Then the rest of the provisions are neatly stacked on the side of the path to be hauled up to the cabin at their convenience. Zander gets out of the way and continues up the road. When Gia and Luke pull up, Marcus is already asking. "Where are they?" He looks at the wagon from up by the horses. There should be a couple of hogs at least.
"Well Marcus, " Gia looks glum. "I could only afford one; it was more expensive than I figured... and some chickens."
"You only got one hog? How the hell are we going to make it on one hog? Damnit, Gia, what were you thinking? Watcha do instead? Buy some silk purses?!" Marcus says furiously.
Before her brother can have a chance to blow his stack, Gia jumps down from the wagon and goes to the back, dropping down the gate and putting up a board for the pig to walk down. "Nope... just one pig and some chickens." She keeps a rope on the pig and leads it around so that Marcus can get a real look at it for the first time. "Just one."
Marcus slowly breaks into a grin. "Girl. You're brilliant."
"I know." Gia says smugly. "Why don't you get the chickens. I'm going to show this girl her new home." Gia leads the pig up to the pen that Marcus had built. Expecting just a couple of hogs, it's plenty big for the sow who is moving slow and cumbersomely. As soon as it's freed into the pen, Gia puts out some feed for it in a trough and watches as the mama pig gets settled in. Marcus brings up the caged birds. Gia turns to him. "I'm going to go up to the Spencer place. I really owe them to clean out the back of his wagon."
"Be straight back." Marcus nods. "Mama's making a big supper to welcome you home."
Gia walks back to the wagon, where Mr. Spencer is about ready to pull out. She swings herself up. "What you thinkin', girl? Haven't you had enough of my company?"
"No offense but yes, I have. But it's only fair that I should clean out the back of your wagon. And I'd just as soon get the chore over with directly."
Luke shrugs and yahs to get the horses going up to their new home. Since Zander has already been by, the family is waiting for him at the river. Lucky is already packing the horse with provisions. Bobbie takes the reins and leads the horse up to the cabin to be off loaded. Luke climbs down from the wagon and grabbing Lulu throws her up in the air which sets her to giggling. "How is my girl?"
"I missed you, daddy!"
"I missed you too, princess." Luke nuzzles her neck tickling her with his beard which sets her to giggling too. He shifts her around onto one hip and starts searching his pockets. "Now I know I had something here... something for a little girl... hmm where did I put it?"
"Luke, don't tease her." Laura laughs.
Luke puts Lulu down and hands her a piece of candy out of his pocket. Lulu grabs it and pops it in her mouth and grins. Luke reaches out and grabs Laura by the hand spinning her around and planting a kiss on her that wakes both of their bloods. Laura throws her arms around his shoulders. Luke wraps his arms around her waist and lifts her off the ground. "Miss me?"
"Something awful." Laura murmurs. "You need a shave." She runs a hand over his graying beard.
Luke raises his brows suggestively. "That's kinda low on my list of things to do."
Laura blushes and smacks him on the shoulder. "Put me down." She realizes that Gia is on the wagon. "Gia, hello. I expected that you'd be busy with your kin putting stuff up."
"I'll be getting back there directly. I just stopped by to clean out the back of the wagon. It got a little... messy on the trip back. You got a shovel I can borrow?"
"I'll go get it." Luke strides up to the house wanting to check out what had happened in his absence.
Laura knows they won't have much time. "Mr. Smith dropped off the provisions. I know Luke remembered the salt."
Gia nods. "He did. And I tell ya that guy running the store is a crook. He charges double for whatever he brings in. The most he would have given you was 10 cents a pound for the soap and then turned around and sold it for twenty."
"Oh dear." Laura pales. "That wouldn't have even bought ten pounds of salt let alone the makings for a new dress for Lulu!"
"So I worked a deal with some of the women in town." Gia doesn't go into specifics. "They liked the fancy smell and the way it was real soft. And I talked to a chinaman outside of town. He'll buy soap too if it's cheaper than the store... but he says it can't smell like flowers. He doesn't think that the miners will go for their clothes smelling like that." Luke comes back with a hoe and Gia falls silent waiting for him to leave before continuing. She climbs up into the back of the wagon and starts shoving out the dirty straw that had bedded down the pig and chickens. "The chinaman will take 10-20 lbs a month if you can fill that order at 15 cents a lb. And the ladies... well there will probably be a market for 5 maybe 10lbs of the fancy stuff and they're willing to spend the whole twenty cents cause the soap was better than anything that the store had."
Laura hands Gia a bucket of water she'd pulled from the river. Gia sluices it down the wagon and hands the bucket back. Laura pulls another. Gia repeats the process and figures good enough. Laura is waiting at the end of the wagon. "I really appreciate your help with all this."
"No problem. It was on my way anyway. Dang if I was gonna sell my Mama's sausage to that man." Gia reaches up to the bench at the front of the wagon and grabs her tote. "I got the fabric for Lulu's dress. You said everyday so I got the heavy stuff and a couple of ribbons to put on it." Gia hands her the paper wrapped package that is tied with string. "And I got you some more of this. I figured you'd be needing it." She reaches in and pulls out the canister of concentrated lye.
"Thank you for this but I can make my own." Laura takes the supplies.
"Didn't know if you could make enough to keep up with the order." Gia shrugs. "You'll have more of an idea next month. How much you can make as opposed to what you have to buy." Gia strings the tote across her chest and starts heading back down the river.
Up at the Smith place,
Zander pulls tiredly in next to his soddie. It was still standing despite
all the rain. One worry out of the way. Annabelle jumps down from the
carriage and starts sniffing and exploring to see what all is different
since a week ago.
He'd decided to wait on windows for the soddie until August. Wouldn't need them until it started getting cold anyway. So his only major capitol improvement is the woodstove. Flipping the hundred pounds of flour up on his shoulder he walks it into the soddie. Inside he is kinda surprised at what he finds. Well pleasantly surprised since it isn't a snake or other vermin taking residence in his absence.
Hanging from the rafters is a cloth lined basket with eggs in it. And on his table is a pile of pelts, already cleaned. The eggs he'd half been expecting seeing as how the Spencer's had offered to keep an eye on his place, but the pelts are a surprise. There is a note on the table too. Zander drops the flour in a corner and picks up the note, taking it outside to read. The cursive is fancy and well schooled.
Zander, I took the liberty of checking your traps in your absence. Sincerely, Prince Nikolas Stavrosvich Cassadine.
"Much appreciated." Zander drops the note into his coat pocket and resumes off loading his supplies.
"You girls did a wonderful job!" Audrey compliments as she sheds her coat to start helping putting things away. "The roof, the gardens, the curtains... everything looks wonderful."
"How was it? How was town?" Sarah pleads for news.
"Well I wasn't there that long. Just long enough to get the livestock and the supplies... and to pick up the mail. And a newspaper."
"Where are they?!" Liz demands.
"After dinner, girls." Audrey directs. "And I did get a present for us while I was there." Audrey pulls out the fishing basket and opens it up. Freed of their cage, the three kittens tumble out.
"Kittens! Oh they are adorable." Liz sits on the floor to play with them.
"And I don't think mice are going to be a problem anymore." Audrey comments wryly. "I named the tortoiseshell Gatsby. You can name the others." Audrey takes a low basket and puts it next to the woodstove with a small ragrug. She puts the kittens in it to let them know that is where they are suppose to be.
"I couldn't resist." Audrey admits. "Especially when I saw that the ones I wanted still had their fleece on. Girls, I think we've just gone into the wool business. We have cash reserves of course, more than I planned since we didn't have to build a cabin. But I'd like to keep it that way. Which means it isn't enough to do well here... for us... but to also make money to buy the things we can't make ourselves."
Liz gets up off the floor. "What did you have in mind, Gram?"
"This is where I'll need you, darling. I have to think that there would be a market among the single men, the cowboys or the miners, for mufflers and gloves. Sweaters if there is enough wool. But I think that the priority would have to be sweaters for us first. It's been a few years..." like thirty "...but I think I still remember how to spin. I learned as a child."
"What do we do first?" Sarah asks.
"Tomorrow we shear the sheep, the goat too. It's late enough in the year that they don't need the heavy fleece, and they have to have time to grow another for winter. After that washing and carding the fleece. And I'm going to think about a way to spin the yarn if only a drop spindle. This is in addition to the rest of our chores." Audrey emphasizes. "This year will either make us or break us." She rolls up her sleeves. "Now lets get everything put away."
The troops, invigorated by Audrey's speech, get to work putting things up, a place for everything and everything in it's place.
Laura comes up to the home site. She takes the package that Gia gave her and tucks it away. The only person who sees her action is Bobbie as Luke and Lucky are occupied with putting in the woodstove. The sucker is heavy and built to last longer than the cabin if necessary. They grunt and make manly noises as they shift it into place into the cabin. Carly is getting the additional milk cow introduced to the original in the corral. Lulu is regaling her father with everything that happened while he was gone.
"And then, Daddy, I made butter. All the way. Mama and Lucky didn't have to take over 'cause I'm a big girl now. And I couldn't fish for awhile because the river was too high after the rain. And the chickens laid five eggs. The white one was mean to me and tried to peck me when I took her egg. Mama says if she keeps being so 'onerary then she's going to end up being Sunday dinner. Carly keeps disappearing every afternoon and Aunt Bobbie wants to know where she's going."
Bobbie straightens. little pitchers with big ears But she doesn't want to get her daughter in trouble with her brother. "Honey, You know Carly is foraging. She always brings things back: mushrooms or the like. And she says she thinks she's found a bush of chokecherries. She's just waiting for them to ripen before bringing them in. And she always takes my pistol with her for just in case."
Luke takes one look at Barbara Jean. Bobbie winces knowing that there is going to be trouble. Luke has always been able to read her. Luke slowly nods. They'd talk later on that one. A long hard talk. "Princess, why don't you go check on the new chickens see if they are getting settled in alright, give them a nice snack and make sure none of the other chickens are being mean to them."
"Okay Daddy!" Lulu goes running out of the house.
Lucky moves around to the back of the stove and starts figuring out how to connect the pipes together and how they are going to vent it outside of the cabin. He roughs the pieces together and then makes a mark on the cabin wall. "Carly's been a big help." He says absently, at least he makes it sound absently. "I think we put up about three cords of wood in the week." He brushes by his dad and says just loud enough for Luke to hear. "And an additional cord up at the other place." Lucky refers to the spot where Luke is planning on putting the still.
Luke straightens. Okay so his niece probably got out of trouble this time. She is pulling her weight even if she is disappearing. But he would find out what she was up to. Carly was too much a Spencer to not find trouble and make the most of it.
Marcus takes one end of the stove. Florence and Gia take the other carrying it into the cabin. They'd had the dimensions from ordering it out of the Montgomery Ward catalogue so the fit is snug with just enough room around it to be safe but efficient to his mother's kitchen. Gia had barely had time to take off her coat and broad brim hat before being pressed into service. Her head is covered with a red bandana that holds her long hair tidy down the back of her neck. As soon as the stove is down, Gia start putting together the pieces of the pipe. Marcus gets out his wood working tools and starts chipping away the hole in the cabin that the vent would run out of. "You had me going there, girl."
"I know." Gia grins but then she gets serious. "I figured it was the best way. I know they won't be as big as getting a hog already grown, but I figured we couldn't get as many hogs as that sow was carrying already in her belly. I just hope the trip didn't make her lose the piggy's."
"That sow is just fine." Flo says confidently and hopes it's true. She is putting the provisions away in her mostly finished kitchen area. Marcus' priority had been giving her plenty of shelves. "I'm definitely going to want a smokehouse now. Figure we'll have to start smoking in October, maybe November if it's mild. Just as soon as the pigs get big enough to slaughter and before we have to take food out of our mouths to feed them. That's plenty of time to get them fattened up."
"What did you hear in town?" Marcus asks.
"The gold strike north of here is going strong. More and more miners are coming out. Darn few people coming off the train are homesteaders. The store is making money hand over fist marking things up 100% or more. I didn't sell the sausages there." Gia turns to her mother. "I sold them to the boarding house. But I figure the best thing to do would be to go up to the mine itself. The men there don't want to be away from their claims any longer than possible and they'll pay big in order to have that convenience."
"Where is the mine?"
Gia takes some brown paper that the provisions had been wrapped in and lays it out flat. She starts sketching the valley, the town with all of it's amenities, the river-- all as reference points. Then she draws in the creek that was being mined for gold. "It's up here. I figure it's actually about a day away, north of here. I think we should be trading with them rather than the store. I don't want to sell anything to that store. Maybe just buy stuff that we need but I got a plan there too."
Florence gets a resigned look on her face. "What kinda plan, child?"
"I heard at the railroad station the names of people who were abandoning their homesteads. Then I checked their names at the General Store... cause you know that map behind the counter has got all the names of the people and where their homestead is. 'Cause they're the mail station." Gia picks a spot along the river that they had to ford a creek to get on to their valley. "If you follow this creek here it leads to other homesteads." She makes a little x on three spots. "These three are abandoned now as of four days ago."
"I don't like it. It's grave robbing." Flo shakes her head.
Gia protests earnestly. "Mama, I know we're going to make it here... but if we don't-- wouldn't you rather that someone else does cause we left behind something useful? Maybe a set of curtains. Maybe some hooks to hang hams on?"
"It's grave robbing. I won't hear of it again." Flo says firmly.
Gia starts to push but Marcus shakes his head and she falls silent. Fine, Mama. You won't hear of it again.
Flo can tell Gia doesn't like being shut down so hard. "Honey, I like the idea about the miners. I think we should put our efforts there. It's an honest trade."
"Okay mama. I won't mention it again." Gia forces a smile. She goes out to the woodpile to get a few pieces of split wood to test in the newly installed stove. Tomorrow Marcus would be working on putting together the windows, she and Mama would be planting with the seeds she purchased using the sausage profits. But she'd find a way... maybe Zander Smith, or Lucky Spencer... but somehow some way she was going to check out those abandoned homesteads. What Mama didn't know wouldn't hurt anyone.
Nikolas sees the cook fire lit down at Zander's place and grabs his coat. "I'm going to see what the news in town is."
"Mr. Smith has returned?" Stefan asks.
"I see a campfire at his place."
"I think it time we met this young man. I would like to hear more stories of Florida. Invite him to dinner."
"I will." Nik goes out to the corral and too impatient to wait for the groom saddles Sheba himself. The trip to Zander's homestead is made in short order. "You made good time."
Zander laughs. "Especially since I didn't think we were going to be able to cross the last creek after all that rain. Thought sure Spencer was going to lose his back axle. He was more weighted down on the way back than on the way to the store. I wanna thank you for checking the trap line."
"It was not a problem." Nikolas shrugs. "It was either that or yet another chess game with my uncle."
"Well I appreciate it."
"Tell me of your trip." Nikolas demands getting comfortable about to take off his coat.
"Give me a hand with the woodstove, and I'll tell ya all about it." Zander offers a trade.
Nikolas buttons back up his coat. "My uncle has issued an invitation for you to dine with us this evening."
"Thank him for me, but I really need to get situated here."
"I'll look forward to it." Nik and Zander head out to the carriage and together manhandle the stove into the soddie.
The meal is over, the dishes done down at the Hardy place. Every one is gathered around the table for a few moments peace to read their letters from home. Letters that had taken weeks to get to them but are brand new as far as they are concerned. Sarah speaks up first. "Maxie Jones is getting married." There is a hint of regret there. Maxie is marrying one of her old beaus. Someone who's proposal she'd turned down the year before they'd left New York. I'm an old maid. I'll never get married.
"Cousin Tommy has been accepted to Medical school!" Liz announces. "He's going to go to the same school that Dad and Gramps went to."
"That's wonderful news!" Audrey agrees. She'd had three days to already read her mail while she'd been in the carriage with Zander. So she takes the time to check out the cabin and all the things the girls had gotten done in her absence. She'd already been out while it was still light to check the gardens and she makes notes in her journal as to what is doing well and what isn't. Audrey glances up to the newly installed roof. They really did need to put sod up on top to fill in any chinks in the logs. Hmm maybe a little chamomile seed added. The cabin would look so pretty with a roof of chamomile. You could never have too much chamomile-- not in a household made up of three women.
Bobbie brings the last load of dishes out to the campfire where Laura is already heating water. This would be the last night doing the household chores over the fire. Tomorrow the dishes could be done indoors. "What did Gia give you?"
"Some fabric for a dress for Lulu. She's growing out of her everyday and I can't let it out any further. If we were back home I would have just cut down one of our dresses but we got rid of everything but absolute necessity before traveling out. We have nothing to cut down for her." Laura laments.
"How much did she get for the soap?"
"The store was only offering ten cents a pound."
Bobbie shakes her head. "No way we'll be able to make it on that. It was a bear. How often is that going to happen? And yes, we held back some for us and to trade with the people in the valley... but really how often is it going to happen? A big gain like that?"
"I know. I know." Laura agrees with a nod. She sighs. "As soon as Lucky and Luke get the other garden plowed... I think we should suggest they go hunting. We've got the extra salt now. Thankfully they arrived just as I ran out doing that last bit of butter." She looks up at her sister in law. "Gia found some ladies in town to buy the soap so she got a better price than the store."
Bobbie can guess which ladies and winces. "I'm glad." She covers smoothly.
"And there is a chinaman that does the miner's laundry. We can sell the soap. It's just getting all the things we need for it."
"Laura, I know you don't like the idea but I think you need to support it."
Laura takes a deep breath. "Luke's plan for a still."
"Yes. It's cash money." Bobbie affirms. "And now you know that all the soap and candles and the like aren't going to be able to get us the things we need for the winter."
"Alcohol is evil; it's a sin." Laura says righteously.
"Then don't drink any." Bobbie says practically. "I don't care if they use it for sipping or mix it with other things to make medicines. It's cash money. Money we're going to need before the winter comes." Bobbie says again. "Luke says that the Taggart's are going to be raising pigs. We could be trading the spent mash for fat when they slaughter the hogs."
"I won't fight it." Laura thinks about it before replying reluctantly. "But we won't call it the still. It's the hunting camp and I don't want the girls to know about it."
Bobbie nods. too late. Carly already knows. "I can go along with that."
"And what ever Carly is doing... she needs to stop." Laura tells her sister. "Luke is going to put a stop to it if she doesn't."
"I'll talk to Carly." Bobbie takes the clean dishes from Laura and walks them back up to the house.
Gia, Flo and Marcus sit outdoors looking down toward the river. Florence has some sewing going to keep her fingers busy. Marcus is smoking a little of his precious stash of cured tobacco in a pipe. Gia is reading from a newspaper she'd found thrown away at the rail station. She'd already read it once on the road to Mr. Spencer. It's a St. Louis paper and there is no mention of the south or things going on down there. It's mostly Missouri with a little National news thrown in, and a dash of tall tales of the frontier. "There is nothing in here about Alabama." Gia says after she is finished. "It's like the whole south doesn't exist."
"Next time you go into town. Try to talk to some of the coloureds working the cars on the train." Marcus suggests. "I heard tell that they are transporting the news of the folks back home. Even heard tell of a newspaper that's written by one of us."
"This is our home now." Flo reminds putting aside her sewing to take a deep breath of the crisp clean Montana air. "And I'm happy to be here. On our own land with my family around me. We need to look forward. Not back."
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