Frontiers

Frontiers

by Colleen L. Reece
     
 

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781577486435
Publisher:
Barbour Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
01/28/2000
Pages:
480
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.25(d)

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Chapter One


Puget Sound and the forests surrounding Seattle brought an involuntary "Sure, and if a body were to settle, it'd be here" from Brian O'Rourke when he first arrived early in 1865. "Captain Haines said it right. It's for being almost as green as Ireland."

    The years at sea had added muscle. At twenty-five, his blue eyes remained bright as ever. So did his flaming hair, although his freckles had faded. He stood a proud five-foot ten-inches and weighed in at one hundred and seventy pounds of catlike grace and the strength of a modern Samson. Within hours of reaching Seattle, he found work in the woods. Before long, he could pull a saw or make chips fly with the most seasoned logger. The older hands grudgingly showed respect for the way he took to the work. The younger crew members also respected him, chiefly for his flying, deadly fists.

    One old-timer drawled, "You'd never think that cocky grin of his could change so fast when there's an underdog to be defended. Why, I thought he'd break Miller in two for mopping up the floor with that green kid who couldn't do anything but take it!"

    "Yeah," another agreed. "Funny thing. He joshes and gets along with 'most everyone. I've seen him laugh when the rest of us would come out swingin'. But just let a feller look crosswise at someone who ain't a fighter, and good-bye Hannah!"

    When Brian overheard "Blarney O'Rourke's feats" being discussed, he grinned to himself and his eyes sparkled with fun. Even to himself, he couldn't say why something in him demanded that he stick up for the more helpless.He suspected it had something to do with Captain Haines regretting his own life hadn't counted more for God. Now and then Brian dipped into the old Bible. He fastened onto the verse, "And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Until the time came when he could resolve his mixed feelings about God and Jesus, he'd try to help a few along the way who needed his fighting Irish skills.

    Early one spring evening, his day's work done, Brian plunged into a faint trail not far from camp. The many shades of green rested his eyes: hemlock and cedar, fir and spruce, giant sword ferns, the green of bracken. A lone eagle sailed overhead. Squirrels scolded and bluejays raucously blended their cries with the sweeter birdsong of robins and little birds the meandering logger didn't recognize. A touch of the rolling gait acquired by trodding heaving decks remained in his walk. He liked his fellow loggers, but something within cried out for solitude now and then, a time to be away from the laughter and cards, inevitable arguing and loose talk. Brian had never seen himself as a loner, yet he hadn't grown close to any man since Captain Haines died. He also avoided entanglements with women. Always courteous to the hardy loggers' wives who courageously made homes in the wilderness for their men, he refused to degrade himself as some of his companions did on their trips into Seattle. Their boasting of conquests made him soul-sick.

    Now he sat on a huge stump left from cutting, a good four feet across the butt. "Wish I'd had a brother. I guess I'm a bit lonely." His confession sounded loud in the quiet forest. From habit he took the Bible from his shirt, where he'd placed it before starting out. He also made sure the rifle he carried leaned near. Bears and cougars abounded in the woods. They usually shied away from the loggers, but no man ever left camp without a rifle.

    Brian read until slanting shadow warned dusk would overtake him before he got back to camp unless he started immediately. He stood, stretched, and picked up his rifle, at peace with himself and the forest that surrounded him.

    He hadn't realized how far he'd come. Only a glimmer of light remained when he reached the final fork in the little-used trail. He speeded up. Just around the bend he'd be able to see the lights of camp. His stomach grumbled and he thought of the bowl of apples the cook left set out for hardworking men who wanted something between their prodigious supper and breakfast meals.

    Head back, gaze straight ahead, Brian didn't notice the obstruction in the path until the toe of his boot caught on something. He tried to right himself, but the momentum from his rapid stride sent him plunging forward and down. His rifle fell to the ground. His outstretched hands touched the inert form beneath him. He recoiled, leaped to his feet, and backed off a step from sheer horror. He shook his head and squinted, hoping against hope he'd find himself waking from a nightmare.

    His hope faded with the last of the light. A body lay crumpled in the path, one hand pitifully outstretched in a mute appeal for help.

    "God, is he dead?" Brian knelt, groped until he felt a belt buckle, then moved his hand upwards and laid his ear over a rough-jacketed chest. A faint, distant, thunderlike beating brought a sigh of relief, and Brian's callused hands sought for what had felled the man. When he touched the head, his hand came away warm and sticky.

    A furtive movement from the side of the trail alerted him. Had the attacker come to finish his job? Brian felt for and found his rifle, cocked it in one motion, and called, "Come out with your hands up or I'll be for shooting."

    A curse and the thrashing of undergrowth answered him. Brian raised the rifle toward the sky and shot. Not unless his life or the victim's depended on it would he kill. Another curse and pounding footsteps sounded, farther away. Brian fired again. Waited. Fired a third shot. "You dirty skunk," he cried.

    "Is that you, Blarney?" The sound of men running from the direction of camp drowned out the retreating steps.

    "Here. Someone's bad hurt." He recognized the straw boss's voice when the man shouted, "Bring a lantern. And a stretcher." Dark shapes burst around the bend in the trail. A lantern bobbed and grew brighter. Angry loggers muttered and crowded close.

    "Hold the light down so we can see. Aw, it's a kid." A string of curses profaned the air.

    Brian looked at the pallid face of a boy hardly out of his teens, ghastly looking in the steady glow of lantern light. "I don't think he has any broken bones," he ventured.

    The straw boss nodded. "Good, but I'll be a spotted dog if he ain't got a skull fracture. Move him real careful-like."

    The Irishman marveled as he had so many times before at the incredible gentleness of the rough loggers with a hurt or wounded comrade. They got him to the bunkhouse, undressed him, and stood back muttering while the straw boss, who had a rude understanding of medical knowledge, examined him, then barked, "Miller, drive to town and get a doctor. Make him come if you have to shoot him in the leg. This boy's hurt bad."

    The big logger, who surprisingly had never held it against Brian for interfering in his harassing the kid, leaped for the door. "Right, boss." He slammed out and in an incredibly short time the sound of wagon wheels on the skid road echoed and died.

    Hours later Miller and the doctor arrived, a grave-faced man whose countenance grew stern when he examined the boy. "Lost a lot of blood. Skull fracture, probably, but doesn't seem to be any displacement of bones. Best thing for him is rest and what food you can get into him. How much blood did he lose? How long before someone found him?"

    "I don't know," Brian admitted. "I'd say not too long. The jasper who did this either heard me coming or was on his way back to finish the job."

    "Anything on him to show who he is?" the doctor barked.

    "No. His pockets were empty." The straw boss shot a significant glance at the doctor, who shook his head in disgust.

    "There's a lot of yay-hoos around with mighty taking ways," he snorted. His quick glance around the circle of watching men sent a chill down Brian's spine. Surely the doctor didn't think—

    "You sayin' it was one of us?" Miller bulled his way to the doctor, face black with anger. "We ain't no Sunday school saints, but we don't strike down our own and steal from them."

    A murmur of assent swept through the bunkhouse and Brian relaxed. The thought of being part of a group that housed a killer made him sick.

    "So who's gonna play nurse?" Miller wanted to know.

    "I will if I can be spared," Brian volunteered. "You can dock my pay, if you like."

    "Huh, like to see anyone try." The straw boss grinned and his eyes gleamed. "I reckon since he shouldn't be moved, the kid's our responsibility. Doc, you'll be out again?"

    "Soon as I can." A long sigh escaped. "We could use a dozen doctors and three times that many nurses in this cussed land. Never saw such a place for folks getting hurt and sick." He complained all the way out but Brian sensed every man present knew that beneath gruff exterior lay a dedicated physician.

    Miller confirmed it by saying, "Grumpy old sawbones but none better. If any of you fellers pound my noggin 'til I need a doc, fetch him."

    Late the next morning, long after all the men except Brian had gone into the woods and the cook and his helpers busied themselves in the cook shack, the white-faced boy opened hazel eyes, licked his lips, and tried to speak.

    "Don't talk," Brian warned. "You're at the logging camp. I found you hurt on the trail. Here, drink this." He fetched cool water and gently raised the tousled brown head until the patient could eagerly drink. A little later the boy's eyes cleared of fuzziness and his nurse brought rich broth. By the time the men swarmed in, sweaty and laughing, Brian had given in and propped pillows up behind the bandaged head. Yet they didn't get the story until after supper. Brian had eaten early and carried a plate of steaming potatoes, gravy, meat, and vegetables back to the bunkhouse. It vanished like mist over Puget Sound flees before the sunlight.

    "Now, young feller." The straw boss parked himself on a chair drawn up next to the patient while the others lounged on their bunks, in the open doorway, and just outside, where they could hear from the long, covered porch. "Want to tell us what happened? Who are you, anyway, and what're you doing here? How old are you?"

    "Twenty." A ripple of surprise ran through the listening ranks. A wan smile crossed the boy's face. "I know. I don't look it, but I am. I mean I will be, June first. I've been in Seattle for almost three years, working on the docks and in stores." His smile disappeared. "Haven't been able to save fast enough to bring my sweetheart out, even though she's wild to come."

    A thrill went through Brian. What must it be like to have a sweetheart, a girl who could bring such a tender look to a man's face?

    "My name's Harry Templeton." He restlessly moved his head and grimaced. Exploring fingers gingerly touched the bandage and an expression of pain crossed his face. "I heard you needed men and paid good wages. Got a ride partway with a man who's built a cabin in a clearing not far away, but it grew dusky before I could get here." He wrinkled his forehead. "I can't remember anything except thinking I'd take a shortcut the settler talked about."

    "We wondered about that," Miller interrupted. "No one 'cept Blarney ever walks on that old game trail." The other men laughed at his wit.

    "Blarney? I though he said his name was Brian."

    "Sure, and he's for bein' an Irishman and the son of an Irishman," Miller mimicked in an atrocious Irish accent. "Niver saw such a one for talkin' the birds out of the trees."

    When they settled down again, Harry continued. "I though I heard something alongside the trail. Didn't know but what it might be a wild animal, so I walked faster. The next thing I knew, I woke up and Br-Blarney told me not to talk."

    "There's something mighty fishy about this," Miller bluntly said. "We know it wasn't none of us. We ain't mean and we ain't thieves." He puckered his face into a fearsome sight. "Boss, I reckon we better pay a leetle visit to that settler. Templeton, did you happen to mention you were savin' to send for your girl?"

    "Why, yes. But I don't carry the money with me."

    "Did he know that?" Miller relentlessly questioned.

    "No." Harry admitted, hazel eyes beginning to show understanding.

    "What did he get from you, if you don't mind my asking?" the straw boss put it.

    "Couple dollars I carry for jingle."

    Miller walked to the door, black anger in his face. "And he almost killed you for that! Come on, boys. We're gonna catch ourselves a murderin' varmint." A stampede followed.

    "You stay," the straw boss ordered Brian. "I'll just see the settler gets hauled to town and jail." He gave a sour grin. "I don't want the boys getting carried away with justice and holding a necktie party with the settler as guest of honor."

    "I don't want anyone to get hung on account of me," Harry Templeton told Brian when the others had gone. "A few dollars isn't worth a life. Besides, we aren't positive he did it." His faithful attendant agreed, but they both changed their minds when the disgruntled crew returned.

    "Feller has cleared out. Cabin ain't finished and no sign of crops. Looks to us like he weren't no settler a-tall," Miller said. "Wonder how far he'll get on your money? 'Course, he could be one of them slick gamblers or someone hidin' out. Anyway, he's gone. Anyone want a cabin? It's shore in a pretty spot." He grinned at Harry. "Say, the way I figure, the cabin's yours, bought and paid for. Think that gal of yours would like living in the woods with a bunch of no-good loggers for neighbors?"

    A thoughtful look crept into the clear, hazel eyes under the thatch of light brown hair. "Alice said she'd be willing to live anywhere to be with me," he told them. "If I finished the cabin, it would mean I wouldn't need as much money to get a house and she could come a lot quicker. You really think I can lay claim to it?"

    "I'll check on it in town the next time I'm in," the straw boss promised. "Now, let's get some shut-eye. Morning comes mighty early."

    Long after the even breathing mingled with snores and proclaimed the men slept, Brian lay wide awake. He'd taken a liking to Harry, seeing in the game kid something of himself in his teens. What if he worked out a deal where until Alice came, they could fix the cabin and live together? It would give him privacy and, in turn, he'd help Harry get the cabin ready. The more he pondered the idea, the better he liked it. Even on shipboard, he'd never enjoyed living with other men twenty-four hours a day; as soon as he could, he'd sought out quarters a bit apart. Now the opportunity loomed as a godsend. Besides, until Templeton fully healed—and the doctor said it would take weeks before he regained his energy—Brian could tone down the boy's eagerness that could result in overtaxing himself.

    The next day Harry insisted he was able to look after himself and proved it by taking a few steps before triumphantly sagging back on his bunk. "I'll holler for the cook if I need anything. Go on back to work," he impatiently ordered Brian. A week later the doctor pronounced the boy well on the mend and the camp rejoiced. That evening after supper Brian asked Harry to take a walk.

    "To my cabin?"

    "Sure. The boss says it's yours, all legal-like." He didn't add that the men had chipped in and paid a small fee to ensure no one could take the land, which it turned out had never been filed on by the bogus settler.

    Harry strode along, showing no sign of his injury. He topped Brian by an inch in height, appeared just as strong, and had a cheerful attitude toward life that made friends easily. Now he told his new friend and rescuer how he happened to be in Seattle at such an early age. "I had a great family," he said. "Until Mother died five years ago. It did something to Father. Heather, my sister, took care of us. She's a wonder." His face clouded over. "A year later Father remarried, a woman just a few years older than Heather and me." He fell silent and added irrelevantly, "I once read the name Adelaide meant noble and kind. She wasn't." The succinct summarization dismissed the stepmother's attributes. "She goaded Father to push me into the Union Army, using flattery and women's wiles. I refused to fight a war that could only end as it has, with brother against brother, state against state." A bitter cast of his lean face told Brian far more than the words. "I ran away, but not before Alice promised to marry me. Her folks don't know it, only my twin—"

    "Twin! You didn't mention him."

    "He's a she. Heather and Harry, actually, Harrison Templeton the Second, twins." Regret filled his eyes. "I can't even imagine how hard it must be for Heather. She isn't strong like I am. She's gentle and tries to please. She used to shield me from Father when he got angry. Then it was Adelaide. I miss her almost as much as I do Alice. Twins share something no one else can. When they're apart, it's like half is missing." He looked sheepish. "You probably think I'm crazy, babbling on like this. You wouldn't, if you knew Heather." Doubt crept across his clearly defined features. "Maybe I should have stuck and protected her, but when it came to either fighting or fleeing, I left."

    "Do you hear from her?" The plight of the unknown twin sister touched Brian's melted-butter heart.

    "A lot. She doesn't complain much, but I know she's unhappy." Harry buttoned his lip and didn't say anything more until they reached the clearing, decided it could be made into a real home, and started back. Then he said, "There's money involved. Some ancestor left Father a ton of it. Too bad he wouldn't pass on some to me when I came out here! Anyway, Adelaide's doing everything she can to turn him away from Heather as well now that I'm out of it. She's tried to marry her off ever since I left. Once Heather's driven away, Adelaide will have every chance of seeing the money is diverted to her." Worry made him look old for a moment.

    "Sometimes I'm afraid Heather will up and marry just to escape. I've been over it in my mind until my brain ached but don't know what I can do. The windfall of getting the cabin and land means I can send for Alice, maybe by next spring." He, hesitated, then lowered his voice. "I've prayed that God would send a miracle, something to bring in enough money for Heather to run away and come to me. She'd always have a home with Alice and me."

    Brian stopped short in the trail. His blue eyes flamed. His heart pounded. "Harry, I don't know much about miracles, but I'm for being sure things will work out. I have an idea and I want you to listen hard. If you'll let me live in the cabin with you until Alice comes, I'll help you get it ready. I have a pouch of savings, not a lot, but enough for a good start on your sister's passage money. If we work hard all summer and fall, we can spend the winter when the logging camp will be shut down for snow making furniture and the like."

    A burst of glory lightened Harry's countenance. A big drop formed and fell unnoticed. "You'd do that—for me?" he choked. "It's more than my own father ..." He bit off the rest of the sentence and clutched Brian's arm until it ached. "Why? You barely know me."

    Brian turned and faced southwest, thinking of a burial at sea. "Ten years ago the captain of a gallant ship, the Cutlass, gave a fifteen year-old stowaway a chance when that boy stood sick and frightened. I think he'd be happy to know I can pass on his kindness."

    "God bless you," Harry cried, then lunged down the trail out of sight, leaving Brian to follow. That night the redheaded sailor-turned-logger dreamed of a strange young woman, whose face was an exact replica of her brother's except for its sweetness. He awakened before dawn, his ears filled with her whisper, "God bless you, Brian Boru O'Rourke," and even the whine of saws and the warning call "Timber!" could not erase the lingering blessing.

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