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LONE STAR TRAIL
By DARLENE FRANKLIN
Copyright © 2011 Darlene Franklin
All right reserved.
Chapter One Near Victoria, Texas, December 1845
Wande Fleischer could hardly see the road in front of her through the slashing rain. Her shoes sank in the mud with each step; the hem of her came filthy. If the rain continued, her hair would be drenched; dirty as leaves in the fall instead of its usual bright blond. So far Texas—which was promoted by the Adelsverein back in Germany as the "land of milk and honey"—was anything but sweet. Her fingers curled into a fist that she longed to raise to the sky. But only a child would do that. Even her little sister, Alvie, the family songbird, hadn't lifted her voice since they left the plain pine box at the port of Carlshafen only three days ago.
They could have made it to Victoria in one day, but Papa decided to take it easy for his wife's sake. Wande looked forward to reaching the town, one of the oldest in all of Texas, which had an established German community. She was cheered by thoughts of a dry roof, pleasant conversation in the only language she knew, and a chance to rest her feet.
Alvie tugged at Wande's sleeve and pointed ahead to the wagon piled high with the family's belongings. "Was ist los?"
Mud sucked at the wheels, bringing the wagon to a standstill. The harder the two oxen pulled, the deeper the wheels slipped into the ruts. Papa had insisted they take all the crates, instead of leaving some in storage in Carlshafen. Before they had traveled a mile, the wagon groaned under the weight. The tired oxen lacked the will to pull the extra load.
Mama sat on the seat of the listing wagon. She glanced over the side and clutched the edge. Papa had insisted that as weak as she was from her recent illness, she should ride. Everyone else walked.
"Gather around." Papa climbed down and called the family together. Georg and Drud stood beside Papa, and Alvie huddled next to Wande.
"Wande, you take Georg's place beside the team. Alvie, child, go in front to lead. I need you to signal the oxen while we push the wheels. Now, wait until I tell you."
Papa placed his hands on the right wheel, while Georg and Drud braced the left. At Papa's signal, Wande called, "Hu!"
The boys pushed. Alvie waved her arms. The oxen strained, but the wagon did not budge.
They moved a short distance, then slid back into the rut.
Wande yelled "hu" once more. The wagon budged a couple of inches before the wheels sunk to their hubs in mud. Papa rested his back against the wheel, sighed, and wiped his forehead.
In the distance, a wagon carrying three people approached from a side road. As it neared, Wande made out a tall man driving the horses. He was seated next to two women, one quite a bit older than the other, all as blond as any German, but with skin deeply tanned. Wande hoped that God had sent this man and his family to their rescue.
The younger woman gestured to the man holding the reins. She pointed out the Fleischers' plight. The man ignored her, frowning at the obstacle the Fleischers' wagon created in the road. He flicked the reins and turned the wagon while the young woman continued to plead. They rode past on the far side of the road—splattering Wande with mud.
"Dummkopf ..." Wande mumbled to herself. She glared while the wagon headed toward the horizon. The younger woman looked back over her shoulder. Apology was written in her expression.
Papa waited until the wagon disappeared. He sighed. "Let us try again."
This time, the wagon lurched forward. An ominous crack sounded as the wagon gained momentum. It tipped. Crates and packages tumbled and broke open. Their precious bags of flour spilled across the soggy road.
"What happened?" Mama twisted to see, and the wagon's balance shifted more. She slipped sideways and teetered over the edge of the seat for a long moment before she landed on the ground, covered in rain-soaked earth in a perfect sitting position.
Alvie reached her first. Mama's face was still and white. No sound passed her tips, but Wande could tell she was in pain.
"Where does it hurt, Liebchen?" Papa bent next to Mama and ran his hand lightly along her legs. "Did you break any bones?"
"Nein." Mama tried to rise, only to crumple with a sigh of pain. "Perhaps I twisted my ankle a little."
Wande recognized Mama's understatement. She saw Georg stare at their wagon, frowning. She agreed: another problem for them to overcome. Mama could not walk, and the wagon they depended on had broken. In December, the sun would set early. They needed to take action.
"Do not worry, Mama," Wande said. "I will go ahead to Victoria and find someone to help."
Georg squared his shoulders and glared at his sister.
Papa shook his head. "No, daughter. Your mother needs you here—and besides, you do not know much English yet."
"But there are Germans in Victoria. You said so." She hesitated to mention her hope of finding a letter from Konrad waiting for her.
"And there are also Mexicans and Amerikaners. We do not know whom the good Lord will send to help us. I will go."
"I will go with you." Georg took off his hat, shook the rainwater from it, and plopped it back on his head.
"You are needed here, to defend the family. Drud will accompany me."
"Let me come, Papa." Alvie twirled in a circle swinging her skirt. "I speak English almost as well as you do."
"And you would charm everyone, I am sure. But no, little one, you will stay here. Cheer up your mama for me. Can you do that?"
Alvie looked down the road, and Wande allowed her imagination to run along. Perhaps a hot cup of coffee or even a strudel ... little things would bring joy in this miserable land.
"Take heart!" Papa said. "I will return before you know it. We can take comfort that the winter season is less harsh here in Texas." Papa took a walking stick and gestured for Drud to join him. "Let us get going."
Papa turned to survey his family among their possessions scattered along the road—and smiled. "Back in Germany, I might have had to leave you in a snowdrift."
Wande watched as they walked toward Victoria, then she turned to Alvie and Georg. "Let us pick up what we can." She reached for a damask tablecloth that had fallen in a puddle.
* * *
As the wagon approached Victoria, Jud Morgan was glad he was wearing a hat. Otherwise the harangue by his mother and sister would have roasted his ears.
"You should go back and help those poor people." Marion picked at the threads on her sleeve, a sure sign of her displeasure. Jud's sister couldn't kill a rabbit that was destroying their garden, let alone bypass someone in need just because they had pressing business in town.
"If we had stopped, we probably wouldn't have made it into Victoria today." Jud knew his excuse sounded weak. "You said you needed to go shopping."
"'He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?' The apostle Paul asks that question in the New Testament." Ma was at it again, quoting Bible verses.
"It's a sad thing, to pass them by when we are celebrating the birth of the God who is love."
With each word, Jud's scowl deepened.
"We'd better stop fussing at him, Ma, or else my brother might turn into a stone pillar." Marion poked his arm. "If we keep it up, he might decide to help us with the baking, and then he'll eat it all before Christmas day."
Jud put a lot of energy into keeping his scowl but didn't succeed. One corner of his mouth began to lift.
"Be careful, or I might think you're smiling." Marion leaned against him. "You do, however, need to let go of your resentment of our new neighbors."
Their arrival into town spared Jud the familiar argument. "Where do you want to go first?"
"The mercantile," Ma said. "Drop us off while you go about your business."
Several wagons crowded the streets, and he had to wait before he found a spot in front of the mercantile.
"Business is brisk today," Marion said. "People must be getting ready for Christmas."
Snatches of "O Tannenbaum" floated through the air, as well as shouts that weren't in English or Spanish. The speakers must be German. But Jud kept his irritation to himself. "I'll leave the wagon here while I see if the blacksmith can come out to the ranch after Christmas."
"You just want to have a word with your friends over there." Marion nodded at a group in front of Sally's eating place. Men drifted in and out of an ongoing game of checkers and passed around a week-old newspaper.
Jud shrugged. "A man has to keep up with what's going on in the world." Marion's laughter followed him as he joined the men on the porch.
"Hello there, Boss. I didn't expect you today." Tom Cotton, the youngest of the bunch, scooted to the side of the bench and patted the space beside him. "Take a load off."
"Thought I'd sneak in a game of checkers while my womenfolk do their Christmas shopping." Jud took a seat next to Tom and studied the game. Without asking permission, he skipped a black piece across the board and said, "King me."
"It was my turn!" Jimbo Rawlins said.
"Were you red or black?" Jud tapped the crowned playing piece.
"Black." Jimbo arched his back against the chair. "I was gonna make that move next."
A boy, still too young for long pants, scurried up the steps and stared at the checkerboard. A man stepped up behind him. Jud had learned to play by watching the men, like this boy was now. The man apologized for the intrusion, nodded to the silent group, and steered the boy across the street to the mercantile.
"That's Herr Gruber." Jimbo let out a long breath. "I met him at the saloon the other night. He was looking for beer. Couldn't believe we didn't have any." Jimbo shrugged. "But he seemed nice enough. Said 'danke' pretty as you please and walked out."
Jud supposed that was something in the German's favor.
"Did the rest of you see this?" Tom dug a square of paper out of his pocket and flattened it on top of a barrel.
Jud leaned in. He could read only a handful of the words—"Adelsverein," the word they had come to associate with the onslaught of Germans invading Texas—and even "Neu-Braunfels," the community started by Prince Carl of Braunfels in Germany.
"They're describing Texas as 'the land of milk and honey,' or so the newcomers say." Jimbo stretched his hands over a small fire blazing in a pot. "Coming in by the hundreds. A passel of them came through yesterday bound for that Neu-Braunfels."
"I can't believe they plan on building a 'New Germany' here in Texas." Tom gazed down the street as if seeking out strangers to send back where they came from.
Bile rose in Jud's throat at the thought. His father had died to make Texas free from Mexico—and now these Germans wanted to make it over in their image.
"But one thing is true, Tom," Jimbo said. "Unless you're part Indian, all our ancestors came here from Europe sometime or another. And the government leaders in Austin have been begging for settlers. Not their fault that more Germans took them up on the offer than anyone else."
"Then let them get on up to that land grant in the hill country—and leave us alone down here," Jud said. "Every time a group goes through, seems like one or two stay behind and decide they like Victoria just fine."
Some of the foreign words on the flyer were enough like English that Jud could guess at the meaning, like "neu" for "new" or "frei" for "free." But most was unintelligible. Someone was offering free land in a new Germany—his Texas. He crumpled the flyer and dropped it in the fire.
"You won't stop them that way." Jimbo chuckled. "Want to play a round of checkers?"
"I need to get along to the blacksmith. I'd best be going." Jud trotted down the steps, anxious to work the frustration out of his limbs. On his way to the smithy, he saw one strange face for every familiar one—all of the newcomers were speaking German. He could have been in Germany, except for the brown Texas dirt beneath his feet and the pungent odor of frijoles.
After consulting with the blacksmith, Jud returned to the mercantile. His mother and sister stood in the doorway, their backs to him, speaking to someone inside. Jud started up the steps, ready to help with the packages.
Before Jud reached his sister, she motioned for him to stop and gestured to someone coming out of the store. The burly man Jud had left stranded on the road came through the door, carrying a box full of packages and foodstuffs marked for the Running M Ranch.
Chapter Two The man saw Jud at the same moment Jud recognized him, and both stopped. He gestured to Ma as if to ask, "Is that your son?"
Jud closed the distance in one long step and grabbed the box from the stranger. "Ma, I'm here. You don't have to trouble this gentleman to help you."
"Mr. Fleischer wanted to help." Her cheerfulness dared him to say a word. "They had an accident after we saw them. His wife hurt her ankle, so I offered to take his family to the ranch with us. Mrs. Grenville has already sent for the doctor."
Jud bit back a groan. Dr. Treviño was as bad as the preacher when it came to welcoming the newcomers. Between him and the two women, Jud feared the ranch would be saddled with unwelcome guests for the foreseeable future.
"Climb aboard." He nodded for the stranger to get in their wagon. Jud had already forgotten the German's name.
"I ride with the things. My son, also. Thank you, Herr Morgan."
Jud swung the box into the bed of the wagon. A young teenager Jud had not noticed jumped in and extended his hand to his father.
Doctor Treviño climbed into his saddle. "I'll take my horse, so I can come back when we're finished. Straight down the road, you say?"
"You cannot miss it. Thank you."
Jud helped Ma onto the seat of the wagon first, followed by Marion. He took his seat, said a brief prayer for patience, and flicked the reins.
* * *
Tears spilled from Alvie's eyes. Wande wanted to cry with her, but held back. Bags of precious flour and sugar had torn, spilling their contents into the mud. In their short time in Texas, Wande discovered flour was scarce, whether wheat, oat, or rye. Sugar was available but costly. Corn grew in abundance, explaining the ever-present cornbread and tortillas.
But to Wande, bread meant a loaf of bread, leavened with yeast, baked a crusty brown. By the looks of it, their store of wheat was cut in half.
Wande thought of Jesus' words, "I am the bread of life." He taught the crowd after He fed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. The bread He offered wasn't what they wanted, but it was what they needed. Foolish girl. Crying over flour. Wande smiled and pulled Alvie next to her. "Come now, little sprite, let's sing something for Mama."
"Please do that, Liebchen." Mama smiled, although pain formed lines around her mouth. "Sing to me about the cat in the snow, a cat like Mittens." She clucked and the cat approached close enough for Mama to rub her head.
Alvie giggled and began to sing. "ABC, die Katze lief im Schnee." ABC, the cat ran in the snow. She added the same motions she always did, illustrating the white boots the snow gave the cat and the way the cat shivered and licked its paws.
"I wonder if it ever snows in this place." Mama looked across the land that rose and fell around them like sea waves.
"Snow will surely fall before Christmas." Alvie looked into Wande's face. "It will not seem like Christmas without snow." Her voice quavered.
"There was no snow in Bethlehem when Jesus was born," Wande reminded herself as much as her sister. "We celebrate our Savior's birth, not the arrival of winter."
"And there will be presents and good things to eat." Mama shifted position and spotted a rider and horse approach.
Wande prayed again that Papa would return soon. The man on horseback slowed and dismounted. He wore a long brown frock coat and carried a black doctor's bag. His kind face put Wande at ease. He first spoke to Georg, which made her feel better about him. He was doing things the right way.
"Do you speak English?" the man said.
"Enough." Georg shrugged.
"I'm a doctor, Dr. Treviño. Herr Fleischer sent me. May I examine your mother?"
Georg stepped aside and let the man pass.
Excerpted from LONE STAR TRAIL by DARLENE FRANKLIN Copyright © 2011 by Darlene Franklin. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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