Kathryn Albright started writing the day she realized she married into a clan where Sundays in Autumn meant football – LOTS of football. She writes sweet historical romance and is both traditionally and self-published. Her stories have won several industry awards which you can learn more about on her website. When not caught up in a fascinating story, she enjoys road trips with her husband. She lives with her family in the rural Midwest. Visit her at http://www.kathrynalbright.com.
With the release of Christmas with the Outlaw over the holidays, the Oak Grove Series
that I wrote with Lauri Robinson came to its conclusion. I loved writing this sweet series set in Kansas,
diving into the history of the land and the people there so that the stories would come alive with authenticity.
I thought I’d share some of the behind the scenes facts that helped drive and layer the plots of each book.
For example ~
A year after the 1878 setting of the first book in the series, I learned that a prominent issue in the state legislature was prohibition. Carrie A. Nation, was living at Medicine Lodge, KS at this time before she began her famous crusade against alcohol. By 1880, an amendment to the state constitution was in place that prohibited the manufacture, sale, or gift of liquor. And by 1881, Kansas had become the first state to prohibit all alcoholic beverages.
So, in Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove (set in 1878) when twin sisters, Mary and Maggie, were “railroaded” into the fledgling town as obstinate mail-order brides-to-be, it was only natural for them to try to escape their predicament. As daughters of a snake-oil salesman, and in the midst of the brewing controversy (pun intended,) they resurrected their past livelihoods and began making their meade-based family health elixir.
Flooding of the Smoky Hill River often occurred in the spring and eventually dams were built along the river to try to control the worst of it. While bridges were slowly being built along the more populated areas of the river (Salina), Oak Grove still had a ferry crossing. In the spring of 1879, the heavy rains brought intense flooding that destroyed the crops and land to the south of the river. In soddies, it wasn’t unusual for the roof to cave in. (For more on this, see Homesteading on the Prairie, a previous post of mine.)
In The Prairie Doctor’s Bride, it was this torrential rain and flooding that necessitated that independent, isolationist Sylvia Marks leave her soggy soddie and brave the river so that she and her son could survive. It also forced her to leave her comfort zone and look to others for help. Eastern-educated Doctor Nelson had a lot to learn about women and life on the prairie, and Sylvia was just the one to teach him, if he’d only put aside his prejudices.
In 1873, George Grant transported four Angus bulls from Scotland to Kansas and showed them at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition. Breeding these bulls with Texas longhorns produced a much heartier breed. (For more see my post From Longhorns to No-Horns.) In 1874 four Kansas Railroads shipped 122,914 head of Texas cattle to the east. Mennonites from Russia introduced Turkey Red wheat to the state. And the Native Americans were forced to move to the reservation in Oklahoma Territory. In 1878, the last Native American uprising in Kansas occurred in Decatur County.
In Wedding at Rocking S Ranch, Raymond Wolf is looking out for the ranch of his best friend. The ranch had once been an encampment of his mother’s people – the Wichita. He is studying the breeding of the Texas longhorns with Angus cattle. When his best friend’s widow arrives in the autumn with news that she intends to sell the ranch, Wolf’s life is suddenly upended. Amid the arduous work of branding and driving the cattle to market, they discover that the truths they have believed were an illusion, and that what matters most is far more important.
Newspaper work is dangerous! Missing fingers and long hours. (See The 19th Century Newspaper Office) It was fun gathering facts about small-town newspaper offices and touring Midway Village ~ a nearby living history museum. I was able to speak with the docent there who just happened to be a small-town newspaper man!
In Christmas With the Outlaw, my novella in A Western Christmas Homecoming, Abigail White is a straight-laced, just-the-facts, unemotional journalist. It’s safer for her heart that way. When a man from her past stumbles into her newspaper office to hide from the law, suddenly she is confronted with an emotional crisis. Should she be true to her journalistic sensibilities and report him to the sheriff? Or will her heart win out? She must learn that not all is what it appears on the surface of a person’s life.
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Researching my stories always gives my plots more layers ~ even though often I disappear for hours down the “research rabbit hole” chasing trails that are down right fun, but don’t lead anywhere productive. But then…sometimes they do!
I have been a filly in P&P’s corral for the past four years and the time has come to say an affectionate goodbye. It has been a delight to get to know each of the “fillies” and also the many women who have commented frequently on my posts. Thank you for joining in the fun here! Thank you for the camaraderie and the friendship. Saying goodbye is bittersweet and I will miss being a part of this group.
A first kiss can be quite memorable ~ whether it is anticipated, unexpected, desired…or not.
It can be fireworks and sparklers or, unfortunately, it can be the opposite ~ a bit disappointing.
Abigail, in Christmas with the Outlaw, can be a bit … prickly. It’s her way of coping, her way of staving off disappointments and protecting herself. The only one she has ever let close is her brother. I thought it was high time she had her own book and her own Happy Ever After. With this in mind, I’d like to share a scene from my story in the Oak Grove Series ~ Abigail and Russ’s first kiss.
Excerpt ~ Christmas with the Outlaw
Every moment she spent with him increased the fullness in her heart and made her aware of how special, how important he was to her.
“I never meant to hurt you.” His voice—gentle and full of remorse—melted the last vestige of hurt inside.
“I’m glad you explained yourself. Let’s put it behind us. It’s over. No more regrets.” Even though neither of them had said the words I’m sorry, Abigail felt immeasurably better. She reached for the tray, intending to carry it downstairs.
“When I left the mine, all I could think about was getting away from Barton. If the first train that arrived had been going to Denver I would have ended up there.”
“I realize that.”
He rose to his feet. “It’s important that you understand. Seeing you again after all these years—it might have been chance…” He took her hand and seemed to search for the words he wanted to say.
Her arm tingled from his touch. “I do. Russ. But…it’s difficult to concentrate on what you’re saying when you touch me.”
Amusement flashed on his face, but then he grew serious again, his startling blue eyes earnest. “I’m glad that train came here. Very glad.”
Her heartbeat sped up. “I am too.”
He drew closer. “I’ve missed you, Abby. I didn’t know how much until I saw you again.”
The deep timbre of his voice thrilled her. His words thrilled her. She swallowed. “I feel the same.”
His gaze drifted to her lips.
A shiver of desire raced through her body. “Russ…” she whispered. “What…?”
He smiled. “Must you always analyze things? Come closer and I’ll show you.”
He wanted to kiss her! Her heart beat triple time. She couldn’t have taken a deep breath if she had wanted to.
He brushed aside a wisp of her hair, his light touch sending tingles over her temple. “Your thoughts are still churning. I can see it on your face. You know me, Abby. I won’t hurt you. I promise. Not ever again.”
“You will leave.”
His eyes clouded over. “Not because I want to.”
She leaned closer.
He slipped his hand behind her neck and pulled her toward him, closing the last inch between them. His lips met hers, warm and gentle and firm. Her breathing stopped…and then started again. And she melted inside. Everywhere he touched, he caressed, causing tingles to spread through her. A whirlwind swirled inside her. This…this was right. This was wonderful!
Her first kiss…
** ** **
His pulse kicked up as he breathed in the scent of cinnamon that was Abby. She relaxed, softening against him. Innocent. Honest in her feelings. She wasn’t like the other women he’d known. She didn’t flirt. She didn’t tease. She was a breath of fresh air. And precious. Little Abby!
He dropped light kisses across her cheek and delighted when he heard her sigh. Then he came back to her lips, wanting more of her. There was no maybe about it. He was getting in over his head. She had intrigued him as a girl and now she bewitched him as a woman.
Reluctantly, he pulled away.
That stub of a pencil still balanced on her ear. Seeing it, seeing her, a tenderness came over him that he’d never known before. He cared for her. Really cared for her. And he didn’t want to hurt her. He waited for her to speak.
Her cheeks were a bit flushed, her eyes overly bright. “Uh—”
Abby? At a loss for words? It was so unlike her that he grinned.
She swallowed. “Do you mind if we don’t talk about this? I’m afraid it will ruin things. And it was rather…special.”
He grew serious. It was special, whatever this was between them, and he wanted more of it. She was the type of woman who would expect a future. His was murky at best. He had no idea what his held, but he knew in this moment that he wanted it to hold her. “I don’t mind at all.”
“I’ll just take your tray down,” she said, her face, her eyes, still dazed.
She smiled softly. “You just had it.” Then she disappeared around the corner.
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Christmas with the Outlaw (A Western Christmas Homecoming Anthology)
Composing sticks, tympans, and friskets…Oh My! What do these all have in common?
They are all parts that make up an Old West newspaper office.
When I decided to write Abigail White’s story as the last addition to The Oak Grove Series, my research into the early newspaper office of the 1880’s took me back to my local “living history village” where I was able to glean information on American small-town newspapers from our local historian and docent. As you can see — it was a foggy, damp, day in early March.
For a town like Oak Grove, situated on the Kansas plains, paper was ordered and arrived on large rolls by wagon or by train. Once delivered, it was cut to the desired size.
Type was made of a composite of cast iron and steel. The most common were Wisconsin type and Hamilton type. Type was stored in type-cases – large drawers with many different sized compartments. The higher or upper case held capital letters. The lower case held… you got it…lower-case type.
The composer stick was the width of the column that would be used in the paper. The one at Midway Village was manufactured in Chicago by the H.B. Rouse Company which was a common national supplier of these devices in the U.S. The type would first be arranged in this and then transferred to a large frame.
The compositor or typesetter (or in my story – Abigail or her brother, Teddy White) – removes a piece of type from one of the compartments of the type case and places it in the composing stick. Not so difficult until you realize this had to be done working from left to right and bottom to top, placing the letters upside-down! Can you tell what this type says? (Answer at bottom of post.)
The composer stick was the width of the column that would be used in the paper. The one at Midway Village was manufactured in Chicago by the H.B. Rouse Company which was a common national supplier of these devices in the U.S. The type would first be arranged in this and then transferred to a large frame.
For pictures, the newspaper office would purchase a few etchings from a factory, and then used them in numerous ways. For example – an etching of pine trees to be used at Christmastime or a fancy United States Flag etching to be used on National Holidays such as the Fourth of July. Local companies that used the newspaper for sale announcements would have their own etchings made and supply them to the newspapers to be used frequently over the years.
Printer’s ink was oil-based, thick and tarry. It won’t spill if turned upside down. On cold days, the ink didn’t flow well and would become so thick that it would create a blob on the letters and thus on the paper if used. A blade would be used to scoop it up and spread it on a flat plate. Here you can see the round, disk-like flat plate.
With the linotypes of the 1870s and 1880s, “printer’s disease” was a danger. It was contracted by working with lead in the linotype. The workers would absorb the lead through their skin and get lead poisoning. These types of printers were in the larger cities and so I didn’t make mention of it in Christmas With the Outlaw. The plate would be pressed against the letters and then against a piece of paper. A rhythm would start up, and if not very careful, the plate could easily smash fingers. For newspapermen, it was the middle two fingers that most often were smashed or severed.
A “galley proof” or test copy was always made before any further papers were printed. This was to ensure that the type had been set accurately. A piece of type could accidentally be stored in the wrong case and as rapidly as the apprentice had to work, it could end up being placed back into a composing stick. The metal type, being comparably soft, could also become damaged or worn.
Once the galley proof was checked and last-minute corrections were incorporated, the type would be fixed in the frame to ready it for printing.
A rope stretched across the length of the newspaper office so that once printed, pages could be placed over the rope for drying. Once the ink was dry on the “front,” the back side of the paper could then be printed upon.
It was a dirty job and as you’ve read…could be dangerous. The large paper cutters could easily cut off fingers that got in the way! Newspaper men had ink-stained fingers and they often worked overnight to get the paper out in the morning.
In Christmas With the Outlaw (in A Western Christmas Homecoming Anthology,) siblings Teddy and Abigail put out a weekly paper along with flyers for town events. They inherited their printing press from their parents and transported it by wagon to Oak Grove, looking for a fresh start in a growing new town. Abigail is also the town reporter and takes her job seriously.
Oh yes! And the answer to the above type in the composing stick is:
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and feels
as if he were in the seventh heaven of typography.
Leave a comment for your name to be entered into the drawing for an autographed copy of my just out ~
Recently, I had to research different types of cattle here in America for my story, Wedding at Rocking S Ranch that takes place on a ranch. Oak Grove was a railroad town that blossomed as a result of its location and the cattle drives from Texas. Sure, Longhorns came from Texas, but was that the kind of cattle that would be found on a ranch in Kansas? My grandfather and uncle raised Black Angus cattle here in the Midwest their entire lives and I have yet to see a Texas Longhorn this far north. So when, and where, did the switch occur? I also had to check the history of barbed wire.
1870 marked the start of the big cattle drives into Kansas. 300,00 arrived that year. The next year that amount doubled. Three-fifths of the cattle were “stock cattle” which means they were yearlings, heifers, cows and steers younger than four years old. Abilene, Kansas, Wichita and Dodge City became the towns (and later cities) that truly boomed with the transporting of cattle to market.
Many of the Longhorns didn’t immediately board the train and head to points farther east, but wintered in Kansas, existing on the buffalo-grass prairie. Although barbed wire had been invented and was in use, the sectioning off of large parcels of land hadn’t happened yet in Kansas in 1879 at the time my story takes place. Cattle still roamed free and had to be watched over by cowboys. At the Rocking S Ranch, the ranch-house and the crops had fences around them to keep the cattle out of the corn and alfalfa and off the porch. This was known as “fenced out.” Further east, a farmer would use wood and barbed wire to enclose a pasture, which was known as “fenced in.”
In my story, I have the owner of the ranch looking into crossbreeding his longhorns with another breed of cattle to make a healthier, more profitable herd. He has brought in Black Angus to give this a try. Black Angus first came to Kansas in 1873 when George Grant transported them from Scotland. Where the longhorns were hardy, they were a tougher meat and had a wild-streak and could be difficult to manage. Angus had a gentle nature but were more susceptible to extremes in weather. Their meat is more tender and has a better flavor that the longhorns. Angus weigh between 850 and 1000 pounds when mature.
When Grant took his four Angus bulls to the fair at the Kansas City Livestock Exposition that year, the local people didn’t know what to think of them. These cattle had no horns! (Called polled, which means naturally hornless.) But Grant had the last laugh when he successfully crossed his bulls with native Texas longhorns. The calves were hardier, hornless, and weighed more. They were also a bit more docile. Between 1878 and 1883, twelve hundred Angus cattle were imported to the Midwest. Cross-breeding has steadily improved the hardiness of the Angus here in America.
And there are Red Angus! Red Angus occur as the result of a recessive gene. They are the same as their black relatives except they are actually more tolerant of the hot weather. At one time, The Angus Association barred the registration of Red Angus in an attempt to promote a solid black breed. Likely that is one of the reasons they are fewer in number. Eventually, The Red Angus Association of America formed when breeders searched out and collected the Red Angus from the black herds.
Although I used a lot of this information in Wedding at Rocking S Ranch, it was sprinkled in with a light touch. After all, in historical romance it is the relationship between the two protagonists that carry the story!
* * * * * * * * * * *
And now for my New Release!
Three festive stories ~ Christmas in the Wild West!
A Western Christmas Homecoming
CHRISTMAS WITH THE OUTLAW by Kathryn Albright
SNOWBOUND IN BIG SPRINGS by Lauri Robinson
CHRISTMAS DAY WEDDING BELLS by Lynna Banning
In Christmas Day Wedding Bells by Lynna Banning, buttoned-up librarian Alice is swept away by US marshal Rand Logan on a new adventure.
Then, Welles is Snowbound in Big Springs in this novella by Lauri Robinson, where he must confront Sophie and their undeclared feelings…
Finally, rugged outlaw Russ rescues Abigail from spending the festive season alone in Christmas with the Outlaw by Kathryn Albright!
When author, Lauri Robinson, surprised me by asking if I’d be interested in writing a book with her, I had just finished my San Diego Heroes Series and really hadn’t expected to write any more stories set in the Old West. However, her enthusiasm spurred me (please forgive the pun) to accept her request. The process of collaborating has been a learning experience and also a joy. With Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove, we fell in love with the inhabitants of our fictional town and that first book propagated a series. Between Lauri and me there will be seven books by the time we are finished. You can view them all, along with a brief description, here: http://kathrynalbright.com/books/oak-grove-series
Throughout the series, I’ve gotten to know the town-folk with their secrets, idiosyncrasies, heart-aches, and joys from the moment Mary and Maggie, twin mail-order brides, stepped off the Kansas-Pacific train platform. As I type this, I just realized that the final book in the series ends with a scene on that same platform. Talk about ‘book-ends’!
I sketched out a town with buildings and stockyards, but, as I am no artist, I quickly gave up on that idea. Sketching did help me to visualize things better, but initially, I had to have a basic idea where buildings were situated so that both Lauri and I could mention them in their correct perspective without mistakes. (The smallest mistake can pull a reader out of the story.) Even shadows had to be falling the proper direction for the time of day. The Smoky Hill River had to run south of town and be within walking distance for a fishing scene (first book) and also because in the Spring (fourth book) it overflowed its banks, causing a horrific flood. (That is according to the real history of the river in 1879!) Here is the first map I made on my dining room table…
And here are some of my computer scribblings…
And then I stumbled across a picture of a real town’s Main Street that was so very close to what was in my head… it’s missing the school down by the church and Oak Grove doesn’t have a Fire Station yet. Instead, the Fire Station would actually be either the bath house or the Saloon. Still…it looks fairly close to my vision. Oak Grove…being a newly built town…would also be a bit spiffier.
What’s next for the series?
CHRISTMAS WITH THE OUTLAW is coming out NOVEMEBER 1st! This story will be the last in the Oak Grove Series and I am already sad to leave this wonderful community. It’s funny how fictional worlds and characters can become so ‘real.’ I would enjoy going to this town and meeting everyone there! I hear that from many of my readers about the Oak Grove Series and about other story “worlds.” I think that must say something about humanity. Despite the outliers – those ‘lone wolf’ independents, despite introverts and extroverts, we are all made for connection and for community to varying degrees.
What about you?
If you could travel to any fictional book world or setting, where would you like to visit?
(Does not have to be a historical western setting necessarily!)
Answer for a chance in my giveaway and your name might be drawn to win a copy (print or ebook)
of my newest release ~ Wedding at Rocking S Ranch!
(See Giveaway Guidelines at the top of this page)
Can a Widow in the Wild West …find wedded bliss again?
When Cassandra Stewart fulfills her husband’s dying wish by visiting the ranch he loved, she plans to sell it. But then she meets his best friend. As aloof, ruggedly handsome Wolf shows Cassandra the value of life in the prairies, tenderness begins to grow from their shared pain into something more… Maybe theres a future for her at the Rocking S Ranch after all…
The hero in this story captured my heart. I have a soft spot for the competent, yet brooding type and Wolf is all that. What characteristics say “hero” to you?
I also wanted to share a short book trailer…
And an excerpt from Chapter One ~
Alexandria, Virginia ~ 1879
Cassandra Stewart slipped her had through the crook in her father’s arm and leaned on him for support as she descended the grand staircase of her parent’s estate. At the bottom of the stairs, her mother stood beside their housemaid. “I don’t like this, Cassandra. Not one bit. Are you sure that you want to do this today?”
“No. I’m not sure, but I’ve put it off for far too long. It’s been ten months since Douglas has been gone.”
“You are still weak. Just the work of dressing has taxed your strength.”
She smoothed the wide silk belt at her waist. It matched the dress she had donned. How she hated the color black. “The attorney said it was necessary as soon as I was feeling well enough. Today is a good day. I feel stronger. Besides, Mr. Edelman went out of his way to travel all the way from the city to take care of things. It is time.”
Father patted her forearm—his way of showing support, both physically and emotionally. He was ready for, as he stated, “the entire disaster of her marriage” to be over and done with. He wanted his little girl back and for life to return to the way it once had been before she ever met Douglas Stewart Jr. Father simply wanted to protect her—his only child—and this was his way to do it. He had no idea that she could never go back to life as it once was. Not after all that had transpired. Douglas had changed everything in her life. So had the loss of their baby.
The house echoed with the whispers of her two great-aunts. While she’d been confined to her bed, they’d discussed her in the hallway just beyond her bedroom door. A wayward woman—tainted—they’d called her, speculating whether the death of her husband was a punishment from above because she’d blatantly gone against her parents’ wishes and the mores of decent society to marry so quickly. Most couples were engaged a year before the wedding ceremony.
Cassandra consoled herself with the knowledge that their own marriages had been long and lonely, as their husbands both sought to escape their daily harping and criticism. Her own marriage, although only a few short months, had been a wonder, and she would be forever grateful to have had that time with Douglas. Yet her great-aunts’ harsh judgment stung her conscience. She had never been good enough to suit them. A disappointment—that’s what she was.
As she walked slowly down the hallway, a chill coursed through her. She pulled her tatted shawl tighter around her shoulders with her free hand. Despite the heavy heat of the midsummer afternoon, she was still cold. The meeting shouldn’t take long. All she had to do was sign the official papers, and her late husband’s land would then be ready to sell. She might have sold it long before this, releasing the burden of a property she’d never seen, if not for Mr. Edelman’s insistence that he make sure that no will existed.
And then there had been her daughter. Cassandra had held out hope that the property would be a legacy to pass on, but her daughter had come early—much too early. Her chest tightened at the memory. She didn’t want to dwell on it yet couldn’t help herself. Hope had become despair. And a mad fury had overtaken her. Douglas had been reckless to participate in that boat race. He’d thought himself invincible in all things. The very quality that had drawn her to him had also been the death of him.
Well, today would be one more snip in the rope that tethered him to her. A rope that she both loved and hated at the same time. Her heart had ached for so very long—nearly a year now. Her hopes and dreams had all been dashed the moment the boat he’d crewed with his friends had collided with another.
As she entered the library, Mr. Edelman turned from the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the lawn and the Potomac River. He was a short, round man, with light gray hair and eyes to match. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Stewart.”
At the sound of her married name, her father’s grip tightened on her hand. After all this time, it still bothered him.
“Thank you, Father.” She released his arm and sat down in the chair he held out for her on one side of the massive oak table.
“Mr. Edelman. Thank you for making the journey today. Please take a seat.”
Her mother and father took seats on each side of her at the long table as if to bolster her for what might be coming.
“Indeed, it is no imposition. It is always a treat to get away from the city for a short break in routine, especially in the oppressive heat of summer.” He cleared his throat and took a seat across from her. “I prepared the paperwork several months ago and simply set it aside, awaiting this moment when you would be ready. All that is needed is your signature in several places.”
He set his leather satchel on the table and withdrew a stack of papers. “Most of your late husband’s finances are tied up in the property. Since he left no will, as his wife, you inherit everything. Once the ranch sells, you should have enough money to choose where you want to live and live there quite comfortably.”
Mother gave her a quick side hug. “You will stay here. As you have since the…incident.”
It wasn’t an incident…it was a marriage. But the courtship and wedding had happened so fast, and then the marriage had been over just as fast. No one’s fault, the captain had written in his report of the boating accident. If not for the months of morning sickness that followed and the lingering ache in her belly, Cassandra might have wondered if the marriage had happened at all.
Mr. Edelman placed the first paper in front of her along with a pen.
Something he’d said gave her pause. “You must be exaggerating the extent of his holdings. Douglas said it was a very small farm. He only had a few cows. Certainly not sufficient enough to keep me for more than a year.”
She picked both papers up and started to read. Halfway down the page she realized she hadn’t understood anything and started over. The inked letters swam before her, the words meaningless.
Mother leaned toward her. “I’m sure Mr. Edelman has everything in order, dear. He’s very reputable, and your father has already looked over everything.”
Cassandra stared at the line where she was to put her signature. It was all so very final—putting her mark there. She should simply sign it and let it go. There was already a potential buyer in Denver waiting for word from her. But all that she could think of was the last time she’d seen Douglas. He’d been in so much pain toward the end, but he’d asked her to do one last thing for him.
Mother leaned toward her. “Sign the paper, dear. Mr. Edelman is waiting.”
Cassandra looked up and caught the worried glance her mother sent her father. Another chill slithered through her. Why did she feel so torn about this? Had she procrastinated, not because of her health, but because of the promise she had made to Doug? Was that the real reason she had put off this moment?
“Before I sign this, I have one question.”
“Yes?” Mr. Edelman said.
“Will I be able to stay on the property after these papers are signed?”
He looked momentarily surprised. “Well…no. Any further contact with the property would be handled by Mayor Melbourne in Oak Grove. He is the attorney there. He has agreed to handle the sale upon receipt of these papers. There would be no need for you to travel there yourself.”
“But…what if I choose to?”
Father shook his head. “We’ve been through all this. You are not strong enough to go.”
“But I will be. Not tomorrow, or even next week. But someday.”
Mr. Edelman leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together over his girth. “I didn’t realize that you had reservations about selling your land. Perhaps you should explain.”
Your land. How could it be hers if she’d never seen it? Never walked upon it? “You see…after his accident and just before he…he passed, my husband asked me to go to the farm. He wanted me to live there—to stay for an entire month. I’m sure he hoped I would come to love it and stay, but of course, that is not possible. I would not want to be there without him.”
“Your parents didn’t mention any of this when they retained my services.”
Of course, they hadn’t. Discussing it in front of Mr. Edelman was their ploy to make sure she felt even more pressure to bend to their wishes.
“It would be sensible if the property were nearby, but to travel all the way to Kansas…” her father interjected.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Edelman said. “Highly irregular for a young woman of means. Not a good idea to travel on your own. There are ruffians and scallywags out West.”
Cassandra nearly smiled at the exact same words her parents had used when trying to stop her from marrying Douglas. Surely the great Wild West held all sorts of people, not just the social miscreants mentioned time and again by her family and close friends.
“Douglas spoke of the place only a few times,” she said. “He looked forward to showing it to me, but then the boating accident happened.”
“It really is for the best, Cassie,” Mother said. “You belong here. Not halfway across the country stuck on a cow farm with a bunch of rough men.”
Her mother’s words left little uncertainty as to her true feelings. Cassandra glanced up at Mr. Edelman. No doubt he’d heard of her situation, bantered up and down the seaboard by gossipy society matrons. Mother’s inference did not help the slightly tarnished, although completely undeserved, reputation that she’d acquired by marrying Douglas so rapidly.
She suddenly realized that her fingers were clenched around the pen and her teeth were clamped together. Even her chest was tight. She had loved Douglas honorably. It wasn’t fair for others to judge her otherwise.
With that thought, something in the cold ashes of her core sparked. A wisp of the determination she’d once possessed began to glow inside her. Douglas’s memory didn’t deserve to be brushed aside and forgotten as if he’d never existed, as if he were an “unfortunate incident.” Their marriage had happened no matter how hard Mother and Father tried to sweep it under the rug…and push her to forget it.
She was angry that he’d left her alone and reeling from the consequences of his careless behavior, but she still loved him. Their short marriage had been wonderful. Maybe she should do as he asked. A promise, after all, was still a promise, even after death.
She set the pen down, her movement slow and deliberate. “I want to see the grave and make sure that my husband’s interment—” how she hated that word “—was handled appropriately. I believe I will make the journey after all.”
The silence that followed her announcement reverberated like the last gong of a bell.
“Well then,” Mr. Edelman said after a moment, glancing from her to her parents. He gathered the papers together in front of him. “If you are sure that is what you want, I’ll get these in the post to the attorney in Oak Grove. They’ll be waiting there for your signature after you have fulfilled your promise to your late husband.”
“Why can’t I carry them with me?”
He looked unsure. “It’s irregular.”
“It seems sensible to me. They are, after all, my papers.”
“Very well. When you arrive in town, simply leave them with Josiah Melbourne.” He started to close his satchel when he stopped. “Oh, yes. Here’s one more item.” He withdrew a small box and handed it to her.
The crude wooden box was the size of a small rectangle jewelry case and without any decoration. She turned it over. Her husband’s initials—DLS—were burned into the bottom. “Where did this come from?”
“Mayor Melbourne said it was found among your late husband’s papers.”
She frowned. “Why am I only seeing it now?”
“We thought it an oddity,” Mother said quickly. “It’s just an ugly box. Nothing of consequence.”
“But it was important enough to Douglas that he kept it with his legal papers.” Cassandra smoothed her fingertips over the letters. The box was an amateur attempt at woodworking. Was it Douglas’s first attempt? She knew so little of that part of his life. Now, she guessed it made scant difference.
“I took the liberty of opening it, thinking it might hold something of import regarding your late husband’s estate,” the attorney said, indicating she should go ahead and open the box. “As you will see that was not the case.”
She opened the lid.
A folded piece of paper lay on top of a few small assorted items—a lock of auburn hair tied with a bow, a bullet and a leather thong with a small turquoise stone. On the very bottom was a feather. Mementos, she supposed. She wished Doug were here to explain their meaning.
She opened the paper and found a note in her husband’s script, written with a steady, strong hand.
Wáse’ekhaar’a— You will know what to do. Wira’a
“This isn’t for me,” she murmured, confused. They certainly were strange names.
“We could put it in the post,” Mother suggested. “There is no reason for you to hand-carry it all the way to Kansas. You belong here.”
Cassandra closed her eyes. “Mother. Please. I will simply take it with me. Someone there will surely know what it is all about.” She turned to the attorney. “I’m sorry to have brought you all this way only to stop short at the last moment.”
“Quite all right.” He leaned toward her, his gray eyes kind. “Your mother and father do have your best interests at heart. You are obviously still recovering from your illness, and it is an arduous journey to travel so far.” He stuffed the papers and the box carefully back in the satchel. “If you change your mind and end up staying here, then send me word and we will talk again.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edelman.”
He stood, as did her parents. At the library door, he stopped. “Please consider, Mrs. Stewart. A promise made to a man on his deathbed isn’t legally binding. God would not hold you accountable for trying to ease the last few hours of your husband’s life. Good day.” He turned and headed down the hall, followed by her mother and father.
They would, as a matter of course, hold a whispered conversation out of her hearing, trying desperately to figure out a way to keep her here. Whatever plan they hatched would come to naught. She was getting stronger. She had to do what she thought was best.
“God might not hold me accountable,” she whispered into the empty room. “But I do.”
Before Rockford, Illinois became known as Rockford, it was called Midway Village. Travelers would stop here at the midpoint of their trip between Chicago and Galena, which is on the Mississippi River. The Rock River had a rocky bottom which made passage (fording) easier than at other areas. Hence the name that stuck for the growing town: Rockford.
Rockford’s living history museum, Midway Village, hosts many fascinating events – the nation’s largest WWII reenactment, a WWI reenactment, school programs, weddings, and garden tours. The small town is made up of several original buildings along with a few replicas that portray life in the 1890s. The docents are a wealth of information about life in earlier times. In a recent tour of the general store, I learned of a few sayings that have lasted until our time.
For instance, I thought the phrase “The whole nine yards” had something to do with football, although why ten yards wouldn’t be better, I’m not sure … sigh. (Laugh if you must.) What it means is that a woman wants to purchase the entire bolt of fabric for sewing.
What about “Get down to brass tacks?” The docent pointed out a row of brass tacks that were placed every six inches on the counter’s edge near the cash register. They were used to measure fabric, ribbons, and string before cutting. You can barely see them in the picture above.
“Cash on the barrel.” The pickle barrel that is. Nothing was ever stored on the pickle barrel because it was opened so often to buy pickles. See how the lid has a flat area with a slight edge? Because of that edge, coins wouldn’t roll off. You can see the large pickle barrel in this picture too.
Most small town general stores doubled as the post office.
The docent is standing before the post office boxes.
Even though my series is set in Kansas (not Illinois), a small town general store
and its owners are featured in The Prairie Doctor’s Bride.
One other piece of information imparted was that when the first settlers arrived here from the east, they thought the land must not be any good for farming. They were used to forests that they had to cut down in order to farm the land. But here they saw grass, grass, and more grass which might be good for livestock…but not crops. Any trees they saw hugged the rivers. I guess that is a warning about first impressions! Now the Midwest is known as the world’s “bread basket” because its soil is the richest in the world and crops grow exceedingly well.
Here I am standing on a patch of natural prairie in northern Illinois! Look at the height of that grass! I cannot imagine walking beside a wagon and trying to get through it. I also cannot imagine coming upon a snake!
What is your state “famous” for?
The countdown has started for my next book ~ Wedding at Rocking S Ranch.
I will tell you all about it the next time I post.
Until then, have a safe, fun summer!