"Pack up your paints and bloomers, Ashley, we're heading west!" Sammuel bellowed as he slammed open the backdoor to their pale yellow little house and stomped into the kitchen. His coat was wide open, exposing a blue plaid shirt crossed by red suspenders.
About to set a kettle on the stove, she hesitated, swinging her gaze to focus on her husband of six months. The sight of him nearly always set her twenty year-old heart to thumping, and not only because he was just about the most handsome man she'd ever seen. However, at this moment there was every temptation to bop the kettle she was holding against his head.
"What did you say?" she whispered hoarsely.
"We're going to start a new life out West."
"Does that mean you don't like the idea?"
"Have I ever said that and been favorable?"
"Well, no, not that I can think of." He gave pause. "But you haven't seen the glory of the West."
"Haven't seen the glory of the inside of a privy hole, either. I don't need to have a look to know I don't want to go there. What's wrong with Kentucky, Sammuel Smite?" She had a feeling her day had just been ruined.
"We're going to start over, away from the crush of civilization." They resided in rolling forest land, and Barth, the closest town, had all of three hundred and fifty-seven people living within rock throwing distance of it. "I've sold the house and bought us a covered wagon. Why aren't you packing yet?"
Thunking the kettle onto the Franklin stove eased a teensie, weensie bit of frustration. However, there was a whole lot more where that came from. "You might be leaving, but I'm not!" Ashley countered defiantly, glaring at Sammuel for all she was worth. She didn't care if every other woman she had ever heard of allowed their husband to make all of the decisions. It wasn't in her to be treated like a cowering pet, rather than as a person.
Sammuel grinned knowingly. Two axe handles wide, his shoulders were capable of carrying heavy burdens. Keen of wit, he wasn't above challenging the world to attain his goals. Reserved, yet bold, he wasn't satisfied to be a store clerk in a small town, nor did he want to move to a city, so he had let Matthew, his father-in-law, talk him into pulling up stakes and heading westward. To homestead, for certain. To perhaps raise mules as Matthew's partner, or to have his own carpenter shop. Ashley was not going to change his mind. He'd married her because he loved her deeply, because he was certain they could make each other happy. Which was exactly the opposite opinion that his friends had shared with him. They'd warned him that he was only infatuated with Ashley and it wouldn't be long before misery set in. Sammuel was as stubborn as the mules Ashley's Pa raised. He hadn't been about to change his mind back then, and he wouldn't change it now.
Sammuel was well aware that there were problems. Pretty Ashley was not your run-of-the-mill anything, artist included. As a matter of fact, it was amazing to him that she was an artist at all, let alone a very good one. Long fluffy chestnut hair was constantly drifting across her eyes, making it difficult for her to see what she was attempting to put on canvas. Lacking a sense of humor, her way of coping with distractions was to grumble rampantly. On sunny days, he could find her standing before her easel, in the middle of a clearing, telling off a raccoon that refused to stand still, while slopping colors left and right. There was, thank the Lord, a mild side to Ashley, however much she hated to admit it. Their home was cluttered with silk flowers, stuffed dolls and lacy doilies that she had traded her paintings for. Often, without recognizing she was doing something silly, Ashley did just that. Then she would ponder why those around her were often thrown into fits of laughter.
The light of Sammuel's heart was also content to remain living where they were till hell froze over. He wasn't about to put up with that, anymore than he'd like to tell her Pa she'd flatly refused to head west.
"Tell you what," Sammuel now dared suggest to his glaring wife, "come west with me and I'll grow a beard."
Her eyes widened, but she wasn't to be convinced that easily, even if she had been nagging him to grow a beard. With his coal black hair and light skin coloring, she figured he'd be well beyond handsome, which might attract single women along the trail west, should she decide to let him convince her to go. "What about if, instead, you quit trying to make me see the funny side of things?"
An unfair compromise if he'd ever heard one. "Well..."
"You know I'm not the type to laugh," Ashley reminded him sternly, picking up a wooden stirring spoon from the table and shaking it at him. A fly got in the way and was clobbered but good.
Sammuel struggled to contain a cheer of laughter. This was definitely not the time to risk irritating her. "There's a chance that you'd see the humor in me trying to help our team, by shoving a fully loaded covered wagon..."
"Covered wagon? Did you say covered wagon?"
"Folks quit going anywhere in covered wagons over thirty years ago!"
Correct, and exactly why the wagons were selling for dirt cheap. The trick had been to find one that hadn't rotted apart, he mused. "Not everyone has stopped traveling in them."
"Wouldn't you like to see me trying to help our team, by shoving a fully loaded covered wagon over the top of a mountain," he wryly continued saying what she'd interrupted, allowing himself to break out into a face expanding grin.
No where near close to chuckling, she could picture him in her mind, doing what he'd said and succeeding. Since she was determined to change his mind, and knowing he'd refuse her request, she asked, "Can we take the chickens? You know I won't go without the chickens. I hatched them right here, in this very kitchen. I wouldn't even consider going anywhere without them!"
Beaming successfully, leaping forward to grasp his wife by her upper arms and begin dancing her in a circle, Sammuel said the words that could come back to haunt him a lot sooner than he'd like to think about.
"Chickens, dolls, the stove. We'll make room for everything you want."
Yetch! she spat inwardly. "Something I want," Ashley declared, stiffening her legs to halt the dancing, "is a confession. You let my Pa talk you into headin' west, didn't you?"
"He wants to see the west. What's wrong with that?"
"Pa is blinder than a bat. He can't even see the end of his nose."
"Doesn't slow him down. He raises the best mules in Kentucky."
"Yes, with help. Pa's always had help since his accident, and it's been that pansy, Thomas Galagher, helping him of late."
"What's wrong with Thomas?"
What wasn't wrong with him? Ashley asked herself. In another life, the twenty-two year old man had to have been someone's daughter. Not an especially attractive one, either. Far too muscle-bound. Too tall. Voice too husky. However, he wore Sunday go to meeting clothes all the time. His after-shave smelled like perfume, and he was practically scared of his own shadow. He knew squat about guns, rode a pinto mule, and hated it when his hands got dirty. Shoes instead of boots. Worst of all, he refused to stand up for himself, and was prone to apologize even when he hadn't done anything wrong. But her Pa liked Thomas, the mules liked Thomas, the Belgian broodmares and Belgian/Morgan cross broodmares liked Thomas, Sammuel liked Thomas.
"Maybe it's just me," Ashley admitted. "Only, he's worked for Pa nearly five months and never caused no trouble. It isn't natural."
"Folks aren't all the same, like the slats of a picket fence. Everyone is different."
"I know that."
"If Thomas wasn't Thomas, who would you want him to be like?"
Ashley smirked. "Doesn't matter what he's like. Pansy, daisy, or dandelion. You and me'll be out west, and he'll be shoveling mule dung on Pa's farm here in Kentucky." She grinned happily.
"Ohmylord!" she gasped, grief overtaking her happy expression. Hands flying to press against her flushed cheeks, she smacked her own head with the wooden spoon, but ignored the blow. "I might not ever see my Pa again!"
"Sure you will. He's going west with us..."
Now she knew why traveling would be done in wagons, instead of on a train. Pa hated trains.
"...and his mules will be pulling our wagon. The Johnston's paid him for his farm already. I got him a covered wagon just like ours with his money." Sammuel hooked his thumbs behind his braces and alternately stretched the red straps and eased them back. He was prideful because he'd been the one to find a buyer for their house, who had friends with two wagons to sell. From the moment of agreement to head west, till the arrangements were a done deal, only two secretive days, four hours, and twenty minutes had passed.
"Ohmylord!" Ashley gasped.
"You're sure 'Ohmylording' a lot today."
Her hands finally lowered to her hips. "I'm being given reason! When you started telling me about heading west, you were meaning that Pa was going, too."
"Yup. Wouldn't expect you to break ties with your Pa. I guess you forgot that I said he wanted to see the territories. You even told me he couldn't see the end of his nose. What's the matter with you, honey? Did your brains get scrambled after I left the house this morning? Or is my good news exciting beyond sensible words?"
She closed her eyes tightly, then raised one lid just enough to squint. "Putting up with the likes of you and my Pa is enough to scramble anyone's brains. Maybe it'll all soak in, this business of pulling up stakes, once I talk to the person leading the wagon train."
It would be embarrassing to have his wife speak up like a man in public. He'd be sure she didn't get the chance. "Have to wait a mite for that. The train is forming in St. Louis."
"St?" Ashley winced. "Louis? Yetch! That's awfully far away. How are we going to get to St. Louis, when we don't know squat about what you're insisting we're going to be doing?"
"By the time we get that far into Missouri, we'll know everything there is about handling wagons. They'll have to let us join up."
"Sammuel!" Ashley took her wooden spoon after him, running in hot pursuit when he turned and bolted out the open door. It instantly became obvious to her that she'd never get close enough to thwack him a good one, so she threw the spoon.
The spoon seemed to be moving in slow-motion as it performed a couple of loop-de-loops, impacted against a support post of the back porch, then picked up speed in a direct line toward a jar of mint jelly cooling on the railing. That end jar was knocked over, and began what equated to the fall of a row of dominoes. A grand total of eighteen jars of jelly toppled off the railing and onto the flagstone porch floor.
The noise of breaking glass was louder than the wail of despair emitted from the woman who'd spent many hours of the morning canning mint jelly.