Abe Miller's assignment to find land for building farmsteads for Mennonites on the prairies is detoured by an unlikely couple riding ahead of him on the train. Captured by the woman's beauty--and incensed by her father's calloused intentions--Abe inserts himself into a long and broiling conflict that leads him to a showdown with the Modoc Indians.
|Product dimensions:||5.47(w) x 8.42(h) x 0.56(d)|
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Abraham Miller came awake with a start. The people in front of him were arguing, their words sharp, intense, hammering in short bursts.
He unfolded himself from the train seat and tried to find a more comfortable position. His long legs had no good place to go except the aisle. He turned sideways, leaned against the cold window, and pulled his flat-brimmed hat lower over his deep brown eyes. The kerosene lamps at each end of the train car were turned low, but their glare still didn't help a man sleep.
Hours of travel had taken him many miles from what was left of his home near Goshen, Indiana. Another twelve hours would pass before he could hope to find a hotel in council Bluffs on the Missouri River. Train travel sped along very fast, but Abe wasn't so sure it bettered a good horse for convenience and pleasantness. His dad's herd had supplied many proud farmers in Elkhart County for the last 20 years. It made a good living.
At least on a horse, thought Abe as he scratched his short beard, you don't have to be around folks makin' a row. The people in front were still at it, loud enough now that Abe could pick out the words.
"You mean to tell me that Mr. Meacham is no longer the Indian superintendent? How come, Papa?"
"Simmer down, Mary. He wasn't good for us settlers."
"What do you mean, 'wasn't good?' He's been a solid friend of our family for years!"
"Humpf,/" the big man snorted. "Meacham was going to let those Modocs stay on our range."
Abe shifted again in his seat and cleared his throat loudly, hoping that the couple would get the hint. With one finger, he casually tipped up his hat and noticed that other people were also disturbed by the couple's irritating grumble. Across the aisle, the little bald man who had gotten on in Chicago scowled harder until his walrus mustache nearly drooped to the bottom of his chin. Three seats forward two ladies turned around to stare. But the man and women in front of Abe seemed oblivious to everyone else.
"Well, isn't the Lost River their home?"
"What's come over you, girl? I spend a lot of good money to send you away to school, and you come back with no respect in your talk. Those Indians belong on a reservation. And now Odeneal is gonna put 'em there."
"He's the new superintendent for Oregon -- and a good man, too. He'll listen when us settlers tell him the way it has to be."
Abe put his hand on the shoulder of the burly man in front of him. The man's head turned on his bull neck. Squinting eyes looked out from under wiry brows at Abe's hand as though it were a fly, then slowly followed Abe's arm up until they met his eyes.
"Excuse me, sir," Abe said as he quickly withdrew his hand. "But I was wondering if you would . . . well, maybe talk more softly. Some of us are tryin' to get some sleep."
"If you was wantin' sleep, why didn't you take one of them newfangled Pullman cars?" The great head under a too-small, sweat-stained hat turned back around. But the conversation did quiet to a murmur.
Abe pulled his leather case out from under the seat and jammed it into the corner, hoping to make a rest he could lean against. It wasn't much help. Seemed like his body just didn't bend in the right places for most chairs.
Funny how that girl in front reminded him of Amy. His siter had been about the same age -- 20, only a couple years younger than himself. She had the same dark, thick hair around a fair-skinned face, too. He wondered how his sister would have looked if she had ever dressed in anything brighter than their Mennonite black. Now he'd never know.
He had almost drifted off to sleep when the talking got louder again. "So I suppose you just went down to Yreka and wired Washington and told them you wanted Meacham replaced by this . . . this Odeneal fellow?"
"No, as a matter of fact. I had to do a lot more than that. I went all the way back to Washington and saw Kramer. You probably don't remember him from when you were a kid. But it just so happens that he's a squawman. Used to live in Oregon with an Indian wife."
"So, now he's got a wife in Washington D.C. . . . from very high society, too. I just reminded Kramer of the wife he left in Oregon, and he was quite ready to recommend to others in the Bureau that Odeneal get the assignment."
"Reno Bauder! That's blackmail!" How could you -- "
The man's beefy right hand backhanded the girl across the mouth. Several people in the coach screamed. A child started crying. Abe jumped up and grabbed Bauder by the back of his vest and tried to pull him away. Bauder swung around and flung Abe off, pulling back his left for a heavy blow. "You touch me again, kid, and I'll blow your head clean off."
Abe recovered his footing in the swaying train aisle. "You had no right hittin' a lady," he protested, trying to sound confident, but not knowing what he'd actually do if things went any farther.
"This is family and none of your business," growled the man. "I gotta unlearn some of the sass that college put into her."
Abe glanced at the girl. She was dabbing the corner of her lip with a handkerchief. "You okay, ma'am?" he asked, taking a closer look. She's beautiful, he thought, drinking in the dark eyes and lashes in her fair face. No young woman deserved a father like this . . . this animal.
"I-it's all right," she answered. Even in the dim light, Abe could see a blush rise in her cheeks.
"Come on . . . it's over now." The bald man with the walrus mustache stood up beside Abe. "Let's get some air," he said, taking Abe by the arm and drawing him toward the rear of the train. Abe followed, glad for the chance to back out of the situation before it got worse.