Frontier General Store
The next day, much like every other day: chickens, cows, chores. There is only a few different projects in the works.
On the Hardy place, while Sarah milks the cow. Liz holds the sheep on top of a tarp while Audrey takes the scissors to them cutting and cutting on the fleece trying to bring it off the sheep in as few pieces as possible. The last one to be shorn is the goat. The conversation between Liz and Audrey is general. Things that happened while she was gone. The trees Marcus had felled for them. The rabbit in the garden.
"If there is one rabbit..." Audrey says grimly.
"There are going to be more." Liz agrees. "And I really want him for dinner. A nice rabbit stew with the rice you brought from town. Maybe rabbit and dumplings. Rabbit fricassee. Either I'm going to have to try to shoot the little vermit, or when Zander comes to Sunday dinner maybe he could set some traps. Oh Gram, they look so embarrassed with no fleece." Liz laughs as she releases the goat.
"It'll grow back." Audrey shrugs. "Okay next step. Cleaning the fleece. We have to get all the dirt and dung out of it but leave the oils. The oils will make whatever is made out of the yarn water repellent. Three water baths... not too hot or the wool will shrink. First with a little bit of soap. Next with no soap at all, and again with no soap at all as a rinse. Then we let them air dry. After the fleeces are cleaned everything that needs to be done with them can be done when we have time in the evening." Audrey gathers the four corners of the tarp with the fleeces of the ram, two ewes and the goat in it.
At the Spencer place, Carly and Bobbie are milking the two cows side by side to get the job done that much faster and because Bobbie wants to talk to Carly. It takes a bit for Bobbie to get up her nerve. "I don't know what you're up to in the afternoons, honey... but it needs to stop."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Mama."
"Don't lie to me, Caroline. You're too much like me to get away with it. Whatever you've ever even thought about-- I've already done."
"I'm just out gathering stuff: greens, berries... you know something other than damn beans again." Carly protests her innocence.
Bobbie finishes up with the cow she is working on and sets the milk aside and then put out the feed for the cow. "If you say that's what you're doing... then I hope that's what you're doing when Luke checks up on you. Cause if he catches you with some cowboy there is going to be hell to pay."
Carly silently curses as her mother hauls the milk back to the house where it will be used, skimmed and then the remainder set in the river to cool in it's component parts-- milk and skimmed off cream. How in the hell did Mama know? She finishes up with her cow and does the same.
Laura and Lulu have made up a daubing paste of river sand, water and purchased lime and using trowels are filling in the space between the logs of the cabin. Lulu takes the lower ones and Laura the higher ones. As the cabin is cut into the slope of the hill they can get an angle on the back portion of the cabin but they men would still have to bring out a ladder later to do the portion that couldn't be reached between the both of them. Once the exterior is done then they'll start on the inside.
Luke and Lucky break sod on the larger garden getting the soil prepared for the women to do the planting. While the women are planting they can head off to the woods to chop a few more trees for firewood... and build the still.
At the Smith place, Zander saddles up his horse, whistles for Annabelle and heads into the woods. He'd finished the routine chores around the soddie and is looking forward to getting back in the woods to check his trap line for anything caught since the last time they'd been checked by Nikolas. Ideally the traps should be checked daily, and there weren't enough traps out there for him to spend all day about it. After he checks the traps, he'll haul a tree out of the woods. Then after lunch start in on plowing for his crop. Potatoes would be a nice change from beans come fall.
At the Cassadine place, Natasha is bored with the indoor activities of cataloging her books into the shelves put up for their storage and decides to accompany the men on their hunting trip. They'd seen an elk... a giant creature and a worthy animal of the hunt. She gives directions to the staff regarding the evenings meal and then goes out to the corral, leaving behind the supervising the routine tasks of the household. They had a man to chop wood and cultivate the lands behind the house. And Mrs. Lansbury would take care of the domestic animals as part of her duties.
At the Taggart place, Marcus comes into the kitchen where Gia is cleaning up after breakfast. "Looks like you got back just in time."
"Come on down to the pen."
Gia puts the last dish up to drain and hangs the iron frying pan beside the stove to dry. She wrings out the washcloth and hangs it on a peg over the counter. Carrying the dirty water in the basin out with her she tosses it aside and then joins Marcus and Flo at the pen. Leaning against the top rail she checks on the sow. She grins. "Just in time is right."
"She just wanted to be in her new home. I figure." Flo suggests.
The sow is resting on her side and there is a line of piglets suckling on her swollen teats. "How many are there?" Gia asks.
"Ten." Marcus says proudly as if he had birthed the piglets himself. "Ladies, we're in the hog business." He gives them both a kiss on the forehead and sets about his chores.
Florence starts gathering branches she hadn't hatcheted down to kindling yet. She starts pressing them into the dirt at the base of the pen. Gia watches her. "Watcha doin', mama?"
"Don't figure they're in the mood to be straying too far from mama there. I really don't want to lose any once they do start getting their legs under them." Flo says happily.
Gia leaves Flo to it and heads over to Marcus. She puts a hand to what he is doing-- stacking the firewood as he splits it and waits for him to start the conversation. "I know." Marcus finally says with a sigh.
"We have to do it, Marcus. It's finders keepers. The folks took everything that they wanted with them, everything they could sell to the store. If this place had been homesteaded before us and there was a cabin on it... should we not move into it? Should we have to build our own? It doesn't make sense."
"Gia, we have to be extra careful out here. There aren't many coloured folk out here. Anything we do is going to draw attention to us. The nail that sticks out is going to get hammered." Marcus puts a little bit more emphasis on his concern with the swing of his ax.
"I'm not saying go alone. Take Lucky Spencer with you or something. And it wouldn't be a lie. Y'all would be hunting too. You'd just be hunting up by the abandoned home sites."
"We've got the pigs now. I have to get a field of corn in to fatten them up."
"Mama and I could take care of a tilled field for three days. We could chop wood for three days. Come on, Marcus."
"Let me be, Gia."
Gia know she's done as much as she can and goes down to the river to start hauling water for the stock and early garden. Marcus needed to think on it but he'd come around.
Two days later, Marcus brings out the map that Gia had drawn and lays it out on the back of the Spencer's wagon. He points out the landmarks and indicates the abandoned home sites. Lucky checks out the map with interest, there are no names on the map that has everything drawn in from the town all the way to the Cassadine place. Each of their homesteads is marked with a single letter-C, Z, S, T, H. The major landmarks are what are drawn in with care. The rivers, the creeks, the mine. It's just like the map he'd seen at the general store but with a lot more physical detail. "How did you find out about these places?" Lucky finally asks.
"Gia overheard a conversation down at the rail yard last time." Marcus explains. "Gia's good at hearing things." He adds wryly. "She figures that everything these people could sell back to the store, they already did. Everything they wanted to take with them... they did. The rest is just going to waste."
"As my mom would say... waste not, want not." Lucky says cheerfully. "Lets get going." He adds eagerly.
"There might be nothing there." Marcus warns.
"We won't know until we look." Lucky sees Carly coming down to the river. "Carly, Mr. Taggart and I are going on a little hunting trip. We'll be back in three days."
Carly looks from one to the other and grins. "You're up to something."
"Hunting trip is all anyone needs to know. Check up on Mrs. Taggart and Gia now and then while we're gone." Lucky climbs up in the wagon. Marcus swings up next to him tossing his tools and his rifle in the back.
"I want to go with you!" Carly protests. "I never get to go anywhere."
"Next time." Lucky promises. "If the hunting is good. If Dad kicks up a fuss just tell him I needed a break. We'll be back by Sunday."
He yahs the horses to get them moving back down the river toward the creek which will be their jumping off point. They follow the wagon rutted path up to the first homestead. The silence is eerie. Lucky has a little shiver. "I know why they went bust."
"How you figure?"
"Too isolated. I mean a little isolated is good, but there is nobody else out here. Down in our valley we've got each other." Lucky checks out the homestead. The doors and windows are boarded up. There is an empty corral. He examines a root cellar to check the design. He and Dad were going to have to put one in. He opens up the root cellar and goes down in it. He comes out carrying wooden boxes that are well ventilated and once back out of the cellar knocks the sawdust shavings out of them. He puts the boxes in the back of the wagon. Then goes over to the cabin and starts taking off the boards so he can gain access. Marcus comes in after him. The major finds in this cabin is a fiddle hanging on the wall, some cooking pots, empty canning jars. Lucky climbs up in the loft. "Anyone at your place need a bed frame?"
"Nope, took care of that first thing even before we moved in." Marcus starts pulling iron hooks out of the ceiling rafters. The hooks could be used to hang hams or other items.
Lucky tosses down clothes, blankets, quilts and even a feather bed from the loft to the space below. "I can't believe that they left this stuff behind. It looks like they were here for a couple years before packing it in."
"I'm going to go back out to the outbuildings. See if there are any tools left behind." Marcus leaves the sad cabin and goes back into the sunshine. They are soon done with that cabin, board it back up and move on to the next abandoned homestead.
There they move more efficiently already familiar with the routine after the first cabin. Here there is a pair of rocking chairs, a spinning wheel, more canning jars, some piping, books and a heavy steamer trunk with the lock still on it. By this time night is falling and they decide to make camp outside of the homestead. Lucky takes care of the horses. Marcus puts on a pot of coffee and pulls out a couple of sausages that he'd taken from his place. Lucky pulls out some sourdough bread and cheese. After the meal, they lay down on their bedrolls and crash out. Daybreak would come soon enough.
The next morning, Taggart is up first. He waters the horses and starts making adjustments to the load tying it down. Lucky rises and starts rolling up his bedroll tucking it into the wagon right behind the seat. After a last look around they move on to the final abandoned homestead. Here the find is medicine bottles all neatly labeled. Some with a little left in it. Some empty. Lucky finds some earthenware jugs. His dad would like those for the still and a ragdoll for Lulu. There is an oil lamp, some rag rugs. Taggart finds an axe head that just needs a new handle and a good sharpening and a couple of sickles that would come in handy come haying time. But the real find is corncobs already dried. Marcus grabs a empty flour bag and fills it with the corncobs. Then another. He hangs them off the side of the wagon. They'd be good for smoking meats. The wagon is about full and they decide to head back to their valley. The weather is with them along with the lengthening day. They make good time arriving back in their valley just as the sun is about to go down.
They stop at the Hardy place. Lucky spies Elizabeth with the sheep in the distance. "Sheep, and Elizabeth said on the trail that her dad and granddad were doctors." He goes sorting thru the wagon load in back until he finds the spinning wheel and the medicine bottles.
Audrey has noticed them from the window of the cabin and comes down to the river. "Mr. Taggart, Lucky."
"Evening, Mrs. Hardy." Lucky replies. "We found these but I think you'll have more use for them than we will." He pulls out a wood crate with the medicine bottles in them and sets the spinning wheel on the ground next to the wagon.
"Where did you find them?"
"Up the creek while we were out hunting."
Audrey wants to protest but she sees the spinning wheel and bites her tongue. Instead all she says is. "Thank you for thinking of us."
"No problem, ma'am." Lucky and Marcus continue up the river. By the time they get to the Taggart spread it is already getting dark.
Marcus swings off of the wagon and grabs the bags of corncobs. "Gia will be by tomorrow to check out the findings."
"The wimmen are going to have a blast with this." Lucky nods. "Talk to you later." He yahs the horses to get them moving on up the river. Once at his own place he pulls the wagon right up to the home site and unhitches the horses. He puts the horses up.
Carly comes down to the corral wrapped in a blanket carrying an oil lamp. She eyes the full wagon. "Hunting hunh?"
"Yeah, it was a good trip." Lucky replies after the horses are fed and watered. "Come on. You, Mama and Aunt Bobbie can go thru it in the morning when Gia gets here."
"Tomorrow, Carly, it isn't going anywhere." Lucky says tiredly.
As soon as her chores are done the next morning, Gia heads over to the Spencer place on foot. Carly greets her. "I thought you'd never get here! Lucky, was a real pain about us not going thru the wagon until we were all here."
Laura, Bobbie and Lulu too all come out from the cabin. Laura rolls up her sleeves and and rubs her hands together. "Lets get to it." She says eagerly. "It feels like Christmas. I don't think I've slept all night wanting to unwrap presents." They start unloading the wagon sorting everything onto the ground to be div'ved up later: tools, kitchen, clothing, rugs and quilts, furniture, miscellaneous doesn't fit in any other category.
Luke comes up from where he'd been checking the fields. He spies the tubing and the earthenware jugs straight off. "I think I can find something to do with these." He sets them aside. He sees Lulu trying to open the steamer trunk. "Stand aside, Princess, let Daddy take care of that for you." Luke pulls out his pocket knife and takes to picking the lock. As soon as the lock is picked, he picks up the piping and earthenware jugs. He strings them over one of the horses. "Laura, honey, I'm going to go out to the woods... to the um... hunting camp."
"Hunting camp?" Gia inquires curiously.
"Don't ask." Bobbie replies. She is sorting thru the clothing to see if any of it fits anyone in the family and what kind of repair it is in. Some of it is in good condition, some of it is worn in spots and only good for tearing to pieces and working into a quilt.
Gia figures she'll find out later anyway. She continues to sort the rug pile into rugs, blankets and quilts. "This all needs to be washed."
"Some of those rugs should probably go to Mr. Smith." Laura suggests as she goes thru the kitchen supplies and the canning jars. "I doubt he'll have thought to make rugs or even a quilt."
"He probably wouldn't know how." Carly says wryly as she supervises Lulu going thru the miscellaneous pile of books, the fiddle, and the contents of the steamer trunk. "But you're right, Aunt Laura. His place is really bare. All he has is a bedroll stretched out over a bedframe." Carly looks over at Gia. "Lucky took care of his chickens while you guys went into town."
"That poor man." Bobbie comments. "It's got to be hard for him being out here on his lonesome with only a dog and horse to talk to."
"He goes over to the Hardy's for Sunday dinners." Gia points out. But she pulls out a couple of rugs, a quilt and a blanket out of the piles she is managing to send over to Zander. Then she splits the rest evenly between the Spencer's and the Taggart's.
Bobbie does the same finding some shirts and maybe even a pair of pants that would fit the young man. "There isn't a darn thing here that would fit your brother." Bobbie tells Gia.
"What else is new?" Gia shrugs. "He hasn't fit in store clothes for as long as I can remember. Not that we could ever afford them. Mama has always had to make his clothes. She and I can trade clothes between us now and then but Marcus..." Gia shakes her head.
Bobbie starts a fire in the outdoor fire pit. "I guess wash day is coming early. Everything is sorted so lets get it clean and dry."
Laura takes her new wash tub and sets it by the fire. "Lulu, why don't you start bring up some water to heat." Laura goes back into the house and come out with a bar a soap. She starts slivering it into the wash tub. They set up an assembly line. New wash tub used to wash manned by Laura, old wash tub used to rinse manned by Bobbie. Carly and Gia wringing out the clothes and hanging them on the line.
As soon as everything is hanging on the lines, Gia glances up at the sun. "I really should get home and get some chores done over there. I need to get some water to the garden. I'll be back later after I get them done."
Bobbie grabs an empty flour bag and starts putting items in it: books, tools, canning jars. "Here you go. I think this is about all you can carry. You can get the clothes and such after they dry."
"And when you return, Lucky will carry back one of these rocking chairs for you." Laura offers.
Gia tosses the bag over her shoulder carefully not wanting to break any of the jars and starts back down the river. As soon as she gets within sight of the Taggart place she hides the bag of goodies and strolls up to the home site. She ducks her head in the cabin to see what her mother is up to. Working on the noon meal and baking bread in the new woodstove. "Mama, I'm going to start on the garden."
"How were the Spencer's?"
"It took longer than I thought cause I stayed to help with some wash. They are really good neighbors and I want to keep it that way." Gia starts hauling water from the river to the thirsty plants in the garden keeping an eye on the house at all times. She had to get her mother out of the house so she could get the booty and hid it in the cabin. But Flo shows no sign of leaving. After the noon meal, Gia starts to dropping hints. "You know, Mama, I bet that Mrs. Hardy is really missing having someone not her granddaughters to talk to." That one doesn't seem to be work. "Just seems neighborly to visit now and then."
Marcus shakes his head and gets blunt. "Mama, Gia will take care of the dishes and get the beans to soaking for dinner. Why don't you go down to the Hardy place and see if there is anything that they need. Check out their woodpile. I might need to go down there later and fell a few trees for them and I'd just as soon not surprise them. They are going to need some help if they are going to get thru the winter. One of the things Lucky told me on this hunting trip is how brutal the winters can be here up north. But there is no need to embarrass them."
Florence clucks. "Let me just get my hat then." She collects her bonnet and starts down to the Hardy place.
"I figure you got about an hour. And don't forget to put the beans to soak." Marcus shakes his head returns to his chores.
As soon as Flo is out of sight, Gia runs to her stash and hauls it up to the house. Quickly she hides the books under the bed, puts the jars down in her mother's kitchen and takes the tools out to the corral for Marcus to deal with. Once that is done she puts a pot of beans to soak and starts heating water to wash the dishes and the jars. She washes and dries them swiftly putting the dishes away and the jars stashed in a box on the floor out of sight in the kitchen.
Florence calls out a greeting as she nears the Hardy place. The girls are working in the garden industriously weeding and watering. "Hello Mrs. Taggart!" They call out and wave.
"Is your Grandmother around?"
"She's in the cabin."
Flo keeps on walking up to the Hardy cabin. She knocks on the door. "Hello?"
"Florence!" Audrey rises from the spinning wheel that she'd been threading. "It's so good to see you."
"My kids wanted me out of the house for some reason." Flo says wryly. "I hope you don't mind company."
"I'd love some company. Let me put on a pot of tea." Audrey fusses with putting the kettle on and preparing the teapot with a spoonful of leaves. She sets out the good cups and saucers.
"I interrupted you."
"I couldn't believe it. Yesterday Lucky Spencer and your son dropped this on our doorstep. Isn't it lovely?" Audrey pats the spinning wheel. "It's been so long since I've done any spinning but the girls and I sheered the sheep as soon as I got back from town, the fleeces are clean and dry now. And I just can't wait to try my hand at it."
"Well let me see. I've done my fair share of cotton. Can't be that much difference." Together the two women start threading the wheel with yarn that has already been carded and combed. As soon as Audrey has the wheel going and makes a sound of delight as the fleece is turned into yarn wound onto spindle. Florence pulls up a stool and grabs a piece of fleece and starts carding it with smooth strokes. They start companionably working, Florence handing Audrey the carded wool as she runs short and gets up to pour the tea. The tea grows cold as they chat and work. "Your garden looks amazing already." Flo compliments.
"I shouldn't be.. but I'm proud of my garden. I always had a huge garden back in New York. So I brought the seeds with me cross country. There are so many things that you just can't get at a general store. Especially the herbs. They'd rather sell cures where you have no idea of what is in them. My husband used to use my herbs in his medicines. That way he'd know exactly what was going into them. The girls and I have already figured that hunting is going to be a weakness in our homesteading plan so it's double important that the garden do well."
"Well I'm a firm believer in not buying anything that I could do better." Flo nods in agreement. "Why buy vegetables when they taste so much better out of your own garden?"
"Exactly." Audrey nods.
"Have you met the Cassadines yet?"
"No, they seem to keep to themselves although Mr. Smith speaks of the younger one on occasion. He's been coming down to help Zander. But it doesn't seem to be really neighborly more to relieve boredom."
"Boredom?" Flo laughs at the concept. "I think I'd like to try that once in my life."
Bobbie finishes packing the steamer truck with things for Zander Smith. Another set of clothes, a couple of rag rugs, a quilt, some of the tools, the oil lamp and the last of the books. Lucky heaves the trunk up onto the bed of the wagon. Bobbie goes into the kitchen and wraps a loaf of bread and hunk of butter in a cloth and sets it in a basket. She climbs up on the wagon next to Lucky. "Lets go."
Lucky yahs at the horses and sets them to walking up the river. The trip is made in short order. Zander sees them approaching and stops to put on his shirt. "Lucky, Miz Spencer."
"Zander, we um... found a few things and figured you could use them." Lucky announces.
Zander is startled by the comment. "Really?"
"Lucky's mother and I thought that perhaps your cabin could use a woman's touch. I hope you don't think we're presuming." Bobbie explains further.
"No, that's very kind of you to think of me."
Lucky swings down from the wagon and helps Bobbie down. "Here why don't you give me a hand with this." Lucky indicates the steamer trunk. Zander takes one end and Lucky the other. They carry it into the soddie.
Bobbie follows carrying the basket. She sets the basket down on the plank table and opens the steamer trunk. "You boys just go do whatever you have to do--chop some wood or something. I'll have this set up in no time." Bobbie waits until they leave and then she gets started. Didn't seem right to put a nice clean rug on a floor that needed to be swept she starts there and keeps on going, sweeping, straightening up not that there is much there to get messy, laying the rugs. She remakes Zander's bed with the new blankets and quilts.
Zander has been busy. He'd whitewashed the interior of the soddie with lime. Which would kill whatever bugs had been in the sod and lightens up the interior of the cabin greatly. There is only one shelf in the whole place, so Bobbie lays the books on it. Once the steamer trunk is empty she hauls it to the foot of Zander's bed and folds his clothes into it.
She sets the oil lamp on the plank table with the basket of bread and butter. Then thinking about it she pours a little water into one of the canning jars and sets it on the table too. She goes outside to a field that has been untouched by Zander's plow and gathers some wildflowers. Bobbie makes a bouquet of them and stuffs them in the jar. She stands back to get the whole affect. Much better-- definitely homey.
Out in the field, Lucky and Zander are walking checking on Zander's plantings. "Sorry about this, man. If it had just been my mom, or my aunt Bobbie, or Carly... but they all teamed up on me. Sometimes I envy you. Dad and I are seriously outnumbered. Whoever said it's a man's world has never lived with women."
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