- Reader from Oregon
All Together in One Place: Book One of the Kinship and Courage Seriesby Jane Kirkpatrick
One of the incidents that made a profound impression upon the minds of all: the meeting of eleven wagons returning and not a man left in the entire train; all had died, and been buried on the way, and the women returning alone.
-from the journals of Ezra Meeker, 1852
Their lives would be tempered by adversity, expanded by faith, polished by… See more details below
One of the incidents that made a profound impression upon the minds of all: the meeting of eleven wagons returning and not a man left in the entire train; all had died, and been buried on the way, and the women returning alone.
-from the journals of Ezra Meeker, 1852
Their lives would be tempered by adversity, expanded by faith, polished by perseverance.
For Madison "Mazy" Bacon, a young wife living in southern Wisconsin, the future appears every bit as promising as it is reassuringly predictable. A loving marriage, a well-organized home, the pleasure of planting an early spring garden--these are the carefully-tended dreams that sustain her heart and nourish her soul.
But when her husband of two years sells the homestead and informs her that they are heading west, Mazy's life is ripped down the middle like a poorly mended sheet forgotten in a midwestern storm. Her love is tried, her boundaries stretched, and the fabric of her faith tested. At the same time, she and eleven extraordinary women are pulled toward an uncertain destiny--one that binds them together through reluctance and longing and into acceptance and renewal.
Based on an actual 1852 Oregon Trail incident, All Together in One Place, Book One in the Kinship and Courage series, speaks to the strength in every woman and celebrates the promise of hope that unfailingly blooms amidst tragedy and challenge.
- Reader from Oregon
Read an Excerpt
Mazy bacon's place
Mazy Bacon embraced her life inside a pause that lacked premonition.
Warm sun spilled on her neck as she bent over seedlings she'd nurtured in walnut shells and pumpkin halves through a blustery winter. Humming a German song her mother'd taught her, she celebrated the plants' survival and the scent of sweet earth at her feet. Pig, her dog, lay beside her, his black head resting on paws, his brown eyes watching plump robins peck at worms in the newly tilled garden soil. She relished her life. Everything smelled of promise.
Around her legs, the wind whipped the red bloomers her mother had given her for Christmas the year before.
"Red? Mother," she had said, pulling them from the string-tied wrapping. "Hardly anyone wears them at all, let alone ones as red as radishes."
"You was needing some seasoning in your days," her mother said. "A little spice now and then, that's good. You're young. You can wear 'em."
Today, for the first time, Mazy'd donned those loose folds that billowed out at her hips, stayed tight at her sturdy ankles. She didn't wear the jacket, choosing a cream chemise instead. Her muscular arms, laid bare to the sun, already showed signs of spring freckles. And her hair, the color of earth and as unruly as wind, fluffed free of its usual braid.
Her wooden spade cut the soil. Mazy thought of the fat rattlers that moved lazily in summer sun, pleased they'd still be sleeping in the limestone rocksand caves and not surprising her. She disliked surprises. She knelt, planted, and pressed dirt around her precious love apples. Tomatoes, some called them now. They'd be fat and plump earlier than ever before.
Finished, Mazy stood, brushed dirt from her ample knees. Ample. Ever since she was twelve years old and stood head to head with her father's five-foot-nine-inch frame, she'd thought of herself as ample. By the time she turned seventeen and married Jeremy Bacon, a man twice her age and exactly her height, the image of herself as large was as set as a wagon wheel in Wisconsin's spring mud.
Jeremy, her husband of two years, said she was "like fine pine formed from sturdy stock." Mazy loved him for that and for his melting smile and for treating her as fine china. He'd been gone two weeks, but he'd be back anytime, today for certain. It was their second anniversary.
Mazy longed for the stroke of his smooth finger at her temple, the brush of his unbearded cheek against hers. She sighed. She'd prepared for him the perfect anniversary gifta newly planted garden with the promise of abundance. His gift to her would be the Ayrshire seed cow, the "brute" Marvel, as Jeremy called him, and with it, an expansion of their herd and home.
"I am richly blessed, Pig," Mazy said.
The big dog lifted one eye and thumped his tail, then yawned. A Newfoundland, with a bearlike head, Pig had tiny ears that prompted his naming when Jeremy'd brought the ball of fur home to his wife. Mazy liked the word "Pig." Not the image of a coarse-haired shoat, but the sound itself: a light and airy word that puffed off her tongue. "Pig," she said out loud, "they should have named bubbles `pigs.' We'd say `Look at that baby blow pigs! Pig, pig, pig.'" Mazy laughed as the dog cocked his head from side to side at the repeated sound of his name.
Mazy stood, stretched, her fingers spread at her hips, bare toes wiggling in warm earth. A breeze dried the beads of perspiration at her temples, and she lifted the bonnet hanging loose at the back of her neck to let the air whisper it cool. Blackbirds chirped as they darted toward earth.
"The Lord knows my lot," she said aloud. "He makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places." She'd read the Psalm the day she arrived at this site not far from the Mississippi River near Cassville, Wisconsin; had found it again that morning. The verse read "lines" where Mazy had remembered "boundaries," but both meant limits to her, the safety of places secured by fences of faith.
"I won't say anything to Jeremy about fencing in the garden until after he finishes the scarecrows," Mazy told Pig. She brushed her hands toward birds trying to steal her newly planted seeds. Pig startled and took chase as the flock of intruders soared over bluffs that shadowed the house. "Good work, Pig!" she shouted as she watched the dog disappear from sight.
Later, she would be filled with ifs, the stuffing of regret, but at that moment, Mazy Bacon rested inside contentment.
An unfamiliar sound made her stand and turn toward the wooded trail. Anticipation preceded puzzlement. Was it a woman's voice? A shout or grunt? She couldn't see anyone and no one used her name; a neighbor would have called her name. Her skin prickled at her neck. She felt large and exposed in her bloomers.
A breeze washed through the pines, gave no answer.
Suddenly, something slashed through timber, loud and unruly. She caught a flash of rust and white, braiding through the shadow of birches, poplars, and pines. Her eyes followed the sound as it shifted in the wooded thickness. She willed herself to see what she heard. She couldn't.
"Jeremy? Is that you?" She shaded the sun from her eyes with her hand, aware that her heart pounded. Sweat dribbled at her breast, her hands felt damp, her body responding to danger before her mind could make sense.
A sound behind her didn't match with the clatter coming from the timber. She twisted in the dirt. Spiders of fear inched up her spine as the truth of its source stung clear.
* * *
Jeremy Bacon cursed the branches swiping at his face. How had the animal gotten away from him? So close to home but the cow brute wasn't familiar with this corral, so he wouldn't head home on his own. He would frenzy himself in the trees, move out and be lost forever, Jeremy's investment, gone, unless he could catch up the cows and hope the brute would come to them. With all the ruckus, the milk cows had bolted too. The hemp lines trailed behind them, threatening to catch in the trees and the brambles.
If only Mazy had agreed to come along! She could have helped. Instead what he had was misery, multiplied by frantic stock. He had to get them to the corral. His eye caught something through the trees near the meadow and he stopped. What was Mazy doing in those blasted bloomers? He shouted but she turned from him. He strained to see what took her attention. When he caught sight of it, his heart thudded to his knees.
* * *
The cow brute shook his wide mahogany head weighted with horns that arched upward like parallel arrows. His nostrils and mouth sprayed foam and saliva in the air. Tilled earth spewed over his back as he pawed at the ground she'd just planted. His eyes bore into Mazy's.
Mazy's hands and feet were stumps of thickness, too heavy to move. Cold, like the dangerous place of the river, coursed through her. Her head screamed to run.
Instead, she backed away, as careful as a herons lift and laying of limbs. She stared at the ground now, her beloved soil, the seedlings both frail and exposed. The brute snorted and then lunged. Mazy sank to the earth as though dead.
Had she read that somewhere? Had Jeremy once told her? Remembered advice from some wounded patient her father had treated? She couldn't remember. Her face fell into the seedlings, her cheek gritty with dirt, just as the brute rushed ahead.
Horns gouged the ground beside her, launched pebbles of earth to her back, pelting her like snowballs on the calves of her legs, her bonnet, her head. Spray from his nose dribbled, foamed on her arm. She could see it there, the clear bubble, wondered if it was the last thing she would see. Her eyelids folded closed on their own.
She heard and smelled and felt everything as though cut with her mother's sharp scissors. Agitated weight shook the ground beside her head. The brute's breathing labored raspy, yet he bellowed, and Mazy knew that if she opened her eyes she would see the wide, wet nose inches from her head. More dirt, then his sweated scent, and she heard the thin chemise rip at her side from the scrape of his hoof as he twisted and jerked.
Help me, help me, help me. Keep me still, don't agitate him more. Her mind journeyed then, searched for pleasant places, the things she loved: her Lord, her husband, her mother, the land. She drifted above the timber to the far corners of the boundaries of the Bacon place, to the land that bordered on bluffs cut by a year-round stream that rushed through the meadow in the hot Wisconsin summer and froze over, hard as a horseshoe, in winter. Stands of pine surrounded the meadow, spearing the sky so high nothing grew beneath them on the forest floor: shelter for deer, high perches for eagles. The cleared meadow gave up stacks of hay for wintering the Bacons' stock. At the edge of the one hundred sixty acres rose the log house Jeremy's uncle had built and when he died had leftalong with the farmto his nephew.
Mazy loved this place. She relished the routine of her days, the high vistas and views. She hoped to spend her life here, to live and till and plant and let herself be nurtured by home and the love of her husband. Wind wove through eagle's wings soaring above her.
Her mind jerked back with the grunt of the brute.
He'd gore her next, gouge her with his arched horns, throw her over his back and then stomp her, and she'd be dead at the feet of a longed-for dream. Her passing would wound her husband, grieve her mother, the two in her life she loved most. Jeremy would bear the blame; she was sorry for that when this was her doing. She shouldn't have worn the bloomers, she should have gone with him, she should have, she should.
The brute twisted then. She could tell by the spray from his nostrils and the rumble of earth beneath her head. He pawed and bawled. She smelled dirt and manure. Then fury propelled him just as the piercing pain of his horns jabbed her side, the force of it lifting her, pushing, then rolling her over. She lay on her back, the blue ribbon of her bonnet caught at her throat. Her arms were like dolls' arms, stiff and exposed. A place at her side burned like the stab of a poker.
She heard the crack the moment the brute lunged, the solid bone of her arm breaking while her elbow sank into earth. A wail formed at her throat but she held it, swallowed it, still as a new-planted seed; amazed but committed to living. The sound of wind she recognized as blood rushed through her ears, her heart pounded. Her mind willed the sounds into stillness.
Pig barked then. A clatter from the timber broke her drifting. She heard splintering in the trees and what sounded like a woman's voice and then gunshots, a lead thud close to her in the dirt. A bawl, the brute snorted, and Pig barked, standing between her and the seed cow. Earth struck her like pelts of soft rain. She heard another shot, recognized it as Jeremy's cap-and-ball revolver, heard the animal bellow but farther from her now, closer to the corral. She knew in that instant what Jeremy was doing and that she, Mazy Bacon, would live not from her husband's crack shots but from her stillness, her wit, lying dead like an uprooted plant.
She heard her husband shouting directions to the dog, then to her. "Mazy! Don't move, no sounds. We'll have him in, just hang on."
Pig barked in the distance. Mazy risked opening her eyes. White, fleecy clouds drifted above her. She pressed her left hand over her stomach and stuffed part of the bloomer against oozing blood. Her arm throbbed and burned, and when she tried to move it, she felt a thousand bee stings all at once. She panted. The bull roared in the distance.
Now all was a blur, not precise. Someone ran toward her. Relief and pain touched her stomach; a prayer of thanks pressed into her mind.
"I am so sorry, so terribly sorry," Jeremy said, scooping her shoulders to lift and pull her to him. She cried out as he rocked her, then his hand held her head while she retched. "O, Mazy! The brute ... it got away from us. The cows got tangled up with the ropes and we"
"Mazy, Mazy." He wiped her forehead with his soft fingers as she buried her face into his shirt smelling of perspiration, fear, and relief. The dog bounded over and tried licking her. "No, Pig," he said. His fingers made a feathery probe in her side. "You'll be sore. Badly scraped. And the arm ..." He cradled the bone of her arm, the movement forcing a gasp. "Let's get you inside," he said. "You're starting to shake."
He squatted as though to lift her, and the pain of the action and the thought of his trying to carry her and the relief she felt at being alive, at seeing him, and the dog's licking at her toes, forced a strangled sound from her throat. Parched joy she felt, mixed as it was with the rhythm of living and pain.
"I'm too big," she said. "Don't try to carry me. Just help me stand." She heard the thump of footsteps thudding across the ground. The brute bellowed. She tensed. "He's corralled," her husband said. "It's all right."
"Who's there?" Pointed shoes stopped in the dirt beside the dog. "Mother?"
"I waddle like a duck when I'm hurrying," Elizabeth Mueller said, breathless.
"Here, I got this side of her, Jeremy. Let me hold the arm steady. Is it broken? We was so worried, baby," she said, kissing her daughter's forehead. To Jeremy she said, "Got the cows in too?"
"Cows?" Not just a bull? It didn't make sense what her mother was saying.
Mazy's teeth chattered. She wobbled between Jeremy and Elizabeth as cobwebs smothered her mind.
* * *
They set her arm, the rub of bone against bone making her sick in her stomach. They splinted it, held it firm to her chest with a sling formed from a strip of her petticoat; Mazy's swollen fingers fisted over a pair of Jeremy's gray knit socks, something soft to steady and grip. They gave her dark laudanum. It turned her mind to sleep.
"Can you wrap my arm in a poultice of fresh mullein leaves? It'll cut the swelling," Mazy said through a thick tongue when she woke.
"Tomorrow," her mother told her, the back of her palm soothing her daughter's hand. "We'll make a turmeric-and-water paste to stop bruises. Just like your papa used to."
Jeremy adjusted the sling. "We've a good supply of milk now," he said. He patted her arm. "That'll help the bones heal."
"I don't like milk," Mazy said.
"Essential for bones. Take it like medicine."
"Some chamomile tea'll help you sleep," her mother added. The older woman tugged at the tiny sticks and dirt still clinging to Mazy's hair. "Got your own little woods right here among your curls. That nose of yours'll have a bruise too, looks like. Don't look broken, though. So lucky, child."
"`Lucky' isn't the word I'd have chosen," Mazy said. Every part of her body felt riddled with rawness, and just as she wondered if she'd find sleep again without throbbing, she dozed.
"Fright," Mazy heard her mother say later when she awoke to a candlelit room. Shadowy light flickered against a framed sampler hung on the log wall. "Afterwards, that's when you worry. Folks get through their pickles and then die of surviving. That's what her papa always said." Elizabeth Mueller's bulk obscured Jeremy until she moved and Mazy saw her husband seated at the table.
At forty-eight, Elizabeth Mueller was barely ten years older than Jeremy Bacon and sometimes Mazy wondered if he didn't have more in common with his mother-in-law than with his wife. She watched them now from her refuge on the bed, the low fire flickering against their faces. Jeremy read some sort of drawing laid out before him. Elizabeth Mueller leaned over, spoke in a low voice, then returned to the hickory rocker that creaked as she lowered herself into it. Mazy felt clammy and wondered if she had raised a fever.
"Doctoring all those years, her papa saw his share of death," her mother said.
"We all go eventually," Jeremy said.
"Some folks ain't ever prepared, though. When they see how close they come, that's when they shake."
Both Jeremy and her mother turned. "Hungry?" her mother asked.
"I'll get it," Jeremy said, standing. He filled a wooden bowl from the caldron at the fireplace and, kneeling beside her, spooned her a thin soup of beef stock and potatoes. She lay on the goosedown ticking, letting him take care of her there in the great room, close to the warmth of the heated rock hearth.
"The cows weren't ... well, weren't part of the plan, you know," Jeremy began in his explaining tone.
"I did wonder if I'd missed that part," Mazy said. "It must've been them I heard in the timber first. I didn't notice the brute behind me until it was too late. If only Pig'd been around. Or if I'd realized sooner what was happening."
"Quite," Jeremy said. With a neckerchief, he dabbed at a soup dribble on her chin.
"So, the cows. How did they happen to show up in Grant County?"
He looked away from her, stood, pulled at the belt that tied his woolen pants. "Lucky for us, I'd say."
"That interesting word again," Mazy said.
"See, the original buyers failed to appear at the dock. Someone said they'd chucked everything. Headed west, I guess." He blinked his eyes, cleared his throat. "I thought it would work fine to take them all. Cows're purebred. Knew someday I'd want some, but I thought later." He paused, coughed. "I would've preferred to research their bloodlines."
"And you paid for them, how?"
He glanced over at Mazy's mother before answering. Elizabeth squinted at the cream chemise she was mending. "Did you see what good straight backs they have?" he said, turning back to Mazy. "Nice udders. Should give us quite a start on a prize herd. Good coloring, like white mushrooms inside brown ones there at their hindquarters."
"Color wasn't what I was tending to," Mazy said.
Jeremy scraped the wooden dish with the spoon and set the bowl on the table as he sat down on the floor beside her, his eyes level with hers. He reached for her, twirled a strand of her hair around his finger, lowered his voice to a whisper. "You're looking more rested."
"Some prize herd with a mad cow brute at the head of it," she said.
"He just got agitated." He pulled his finger from her hair, smoothed a wrinkle in the sling. "All the newness. Long trip. They're stout animals, Maze. Calmed down now. All of them."
"Resting peacefully, are they?"
"Quite." He took a deep breath, stood. "Not much of an anniversary for you, is it? I am sorry about your garden."
"We salvaged what we could," her mother said, looking up from the needlework spread at her lap. Mazy marveled at her mother's hearing, able to listen to conversations meant for private. "'Fraid the love apples look the worst. Still not sure it's safe to eat them. I covered what's left, case it freezes."
"Aren't you always telling me to be adventurous, Mother? I planted something new with those tomatoes, which is, by the way, what they're called."
"Advice I always thought fell on deaf ears," her mother said. She smiled then. "Excepting for them bloomers."
"Quite possibly a sign you're not to have a garden this year," Jeremy said.
"After all the work of the winter? Be forced to depend on our neighbors' success? Go hungry? No. A gardens the sign that life keeps going on, Jeremy, that people are home and happy to be there. This year more than any other, I should celebrate that. I'll replant, soon as I'm able."
"Came close to losing you," Jeremy said. He pushed the muslin sling back and bent to kiss her swollen fingers curled over his socks.
"The worst part," Mazy said, reaching for her husband's hand, "was wondering where you were and if you were all right."
He coughed. "You were quite smart to drop down. How'd you know to do that?"
"Something just said to."
"And for once," he said, "you didn't argue."
* * *
It must have been near midnight when Jeremy slipped into the bed beside her.
"Would you rather I slept on the floor, so as not to bother?" he asked.
"I'd like you beside me on the anniversary of our marriage vows," Mazy said. "Lie next to the wall, though. Watch my arm."
He gentled himself over her, slid under the comforter, and lay on his side, his back to the logs, his arm arched over her head. He stroked her forehead with his fingers. He smelled of sweat and tobacco.
"Maze," he began in a whisper. "I meant to tell you."
What was that tone in his voice? Tentative?
"About the cows," she said.
"Yes. And ..."
No, something different, something cool, a threatening thread that wound its way from the weave of his words to her heart.
"You were the one who had them shipped in all along, weren't you? The cows."
She felt him relax.
"You knew." He sniffed now, reached beneath the pillow for a handkerchief, and blew his nose. He rested his hand back on the rise of her hip, his fingers fisted around the damp cloth.
"I didn't want to say so in front of Mama." She whispered the words, not sorry they sounded like a hiss. "Think our business should be ours and not a part of hers." She glanced to see if her mother still slept in the rocker. Mazy turned onto her back, and Jeremy adjusted the sling. "Surprised me you brought Mama back with you. She doesn't like to travel all that much, I never thought."
He didn't respond, and she waited so long she thought he'd fallen asleep, but his breathing never slowed.
"Your mother was wanting a change," he said.
That tone again, of reeds beneath the surface.
"Cassville's a change of scenery from Milwaukee, all right."
"Now she'll have a story to tell her grandbabies when they arrive," Jeremy said.
"About their mother surviving the mad cow brute named Marvel and how their grandma chased the cows?"
"Something like that." He drew a circle in the thickness of her hair, twisting it around his finger. "She didn't want to be left behind," he said, "when we ..." He mumbled something that sounded like "new place."
"She's found a new place?" She turned to face him in the dark.
He coughed and cleared his throat, blew his nose. "Our new place, Maze," he said. "She wants to see our new place."
Mazy lay still, stared at the mud chink in the ceiling, confused by his words, holding firm to familiar. "But she's visited here before."
Her husband took a deep breath, and even before he spoke, she felt struck in her stomach, empty of air. Her heart pounded loud in her ears. "Guess the time's come to tell you," he said. "I've sold the farm."
Every tendril of her hair ached. Her throat burned. Her soul felt shriveled and sliced as though the brute's horns pierced afresh. "A new place?" Her voice was tiny, distant to her ears. She tried to sit up on her elbow, couldn't, lay back down. Something heavy sat on her soul, kept her from taking a filling-up breath. "You didn't talk with me?"
"You don't like change, don't handle it well," he said. His words sounded clipped, rehearsed now. "Didn't want to alarm you unless everything went through. And it did." Jeremy's words tumbled out faster now. "I was never cut out to farm, you know that. Wouldn't have come to this place without Uncle's leaving it to us. The manure makes my hands break out in bumps, and the dirt"he rubbed his nose"aggravates my head. But the Ayrshiresthey challenge."
"Plenty of manure and dirt where cows are."
"I can hire people to do the dirt work. I'll manage the breeding program, the matching of people and animals, building the herd. That's what I'm meant for."
"You haven't managed so far," she said. "You were aimless as a stray until your uncle left you this place. Drifting, a dockworker, not saving coins or moving toward a future. That's what you said when you met me, remember?"
"I've done this. Nearly two years."
"But no love of the earth? No loyalty to our home?"
"Dirt's dirt," he said.
Tears pressed against her nose, thickened in her throat. Had Jeremy hated this place and she'd never known? How could that be?
"We have a good life," Mazy said, her heart thudding, even in her swollen fingers. "Can't we get what you want where we already are? I love this place, Jeremy. The bluffs, the eagles ..." She heard the wail in her own voice, the piercing of tears. "I'll milk the cows." Her voice broke, but she kept talking. "We can build the herd here. I'll do the work in the dirt, Jeremy, you"
"Where did you think the money for the brute came from? Think that grew on your love apples?"
"I thought the timber, I ... don't know. I don't think I can live anywhere else. I don't want to live anywhere but on this place."
"This place." He spit the words. "It would take years on this place. Denniston's `Big Brick' hotel stands empty, acts like the plague for keeping folks away. Cassville's stagnant, Maze, done, almost folded. Titles are so messed up for most, they can't even sell no matter how hard Dewey works to clear them. We're lucky that way."
"But the ferry, the iron ore, the button factorythere're reasons to come here, to stay."
He shook his head. "It'll never lure others who'd invest in dairying, nor the people who need it."
She sank back into the down, lay there, longing, bruising from loss.
He took a deep breath. "You don't need to agree with this, Mazy. It's done. It's my responsibility to provide for us. I am, my way."
"I'll stay here, then," she said after a time.
"You're not listening. I've sold it. People are coming to live here. It's done and I'm going."
He hadn't said we, just I.
"Where then? Back to Milwaukee? Or to Chicago where there're people like ... yellow jackets over trash? Why buy the cows, then? And why did my mother know, before I did?"
"I wanted you to come along, remember?" he said. He sat up in the bed, arms folded across his chest, his neck stretched, jaw pushed forward. "This, your ... wounding wouldn't have happened if you had come."
"You're the wound," she said.
"It's a wound for a man to care for his wife, to invest his money in a future and not gamble or drink it away? Some wound. I know a dozen wives who'd jump at the chance to live with the pains you think I've given. And they wouldn't argue about it, not one. A dozen who'd make a good life in the west."
"My life is good. Or was." She felt sluggish, her thinking as mixed up as the dog's food. Her side throbbed. "You've sold the bluffs. The meadow. My garden. My life." She paused, her words muffled by swallowed tears. "What the brute did today was nothing."
"If you'd have been with us ... three could have handled the animals better. You could have driven the wagon instead of my having to. I could have herded them. The brute wouldn't have bolted."
"You bought another wagon, too?"
He said nothing for a moment, then, "Going through Iowa, I'll need a sturdier wagon. After I cross the Missouri at Kanesville, maybe I'll join with an overland train, maybe go west alone."
Lying flat on the floor, Pig yipped in his sleep, shook, then quieted.
West. Leave this place.
"You let me plant the garden," Mazy said, staring at the ceiling, "knowing I wouldn't be here to ever see the harvest? You sat there at the table, hour after hour looking at Ayrshires, finding a brute to buy and never said you planned to take him west?"
He lay back beside her, kept his arms crossed over his chest. "I didn't want to upset you."
Hotness flushed over her. "It never occurred to you that I'd be upset left out of the choice? You never thought I might want to have a say in my own life?"
"I haven't wanted to say this, Maze, but you are just a child in many ways." He paused, twirled a curl of her hair around his finger. She could almost see his lazy grin trying to slip over her emptiness. "Running around in your bloomers."
"Now what I wear bothers you?" She yanked at the comforter, pulling it from him, brushed at his hand in her hair. "Nothing I do suits you."
"It might have been someone else coming through the trees," he lectured. "Exposing your ankles won't be wise where we're going, Maze. If you're going with me ..."
"What if I go back with Mama and live in Milwaukee. What then?"
"Your mother's going too, so I need you to drive a wagon. Load up and drive and no arguments."
"My mother is ...?" She stared at the woman who slept through her husband's betrayal.
"That was thoughtless, what I just said, about needing you just to drive."
"It must be the laudanum." She threaded her hand through her hair. "Why would Mother leave home? She's"
"She wants adventure. She told me. Look." He dabbed at Mazy's eyes with his handkerchief, softening her resolve, engaging her in that way he had. "We'll find another place with boundaries that take in mountains and rivers and timber and meadows, too. You'll see."
Shadows from the hearth danced against the chinking. Her mother snored, a ruffled nightcap framing her round face that lolled back against the rocker, mouth open in the sleep of the innocent.
"And if I don't go?"
"I'm thirty-six years old, Maze. If I don't take aim now, I'll be angry with myself for however long I live for having missed this shot."
"And my choice," she said, "is to do the most foreign thing I can think of. Watch my husband walk away, maybe even my mother, or step out into a cloud of the unknown and hope I don't fall through."
"You'll have your mother with you."
She swallowed a sob and turned her face to the down. Jeremy reached to hold her, but she pulled away. "I don't understand why things need to change," she said. "I don't understand!"
The dog stirred and came to the side of the bed, his face bumping against hers as he sniffed.
"Will you come, Maze?"
She couldn't answerher thoughts too heavy, so choking.
They lay silent beside each other.
"I know what a beaver feels like now," Mazy said as the night stepped aside for the morning. "Pushed into a trap. It's not the dying he fears. It's the change, made without choice. And knowing he'll never see home again."
His lips brushed her forehead. She stiffened and turned away.
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