Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Part Two, Chapter Thirty-Five

Cold settled over the valley. Without Will and Donovan, the sisters reverted to old ways. Amalia finished mulching the fields, shivering in faded clothes, her hair pinned up under a cap. Carina roamed the house and grounds, enjoying her animals and the knowledge that for at least a week, she wouldn't have to feel the burden of her and Donovan's unspoken desires. She sang as she milked the goats and cooked simple meals that were never intended to feed the bottomless appetites of a working man and growing boy. The women spent an entire day working up herbs, to Tasha's delight. The evenings were relaxed and cozy without the scrutiny of a man. They sprawled in undignified fashion on the sofa, neglected their hair, said whatever they pleased, and who was to notice? One night they ate nothing but sweets and called it supper. For Amalia and Carina, it was like old times. Tasha was both shocked and delighted.

But after a week and a half had gone by, a restlessness came over them. They scanned the horizon as they went about their chores. They paused at windows. They exchanged worried frowns across the dinner table, and Amalia's voice faltered and trailed off at odd times during their evening readings. Tasha grew petulant, plotting the days until Will's return on a calendar. She appropriated the binoculars and carried them everywhere, even to the outhouse. The women would've liked to have used the binoculars themselves, but the sight of Tasha's neck scraped raw from the strap gave them pause. She didn't understand all the ordinary reasons for delay. She lacked the resources of patience that they had.

At the end of the second week, someone had to break the silence. "I hope one of the jennies didn't go lame," Carina offered. "I packed bandages and liniment, but if one of them got a ruptured tendon or something..."

"Donovan would send Will home on the good jenny to get Cordelia, don't you think?"

"One would hope."

The next day, "You don't think the wagon broke down do you?" Amalia stared out the window. "He would send Will for help, wouldn't he?"

"I'm sure of it."

And the day after that, with still no sign, Carina blurted out at dinner, "You don’t think he got into trouble, do you?"

Amalia pushed her plate away, the worst of her fears having now been put into words.

After they put Tasha to bed, they sat up late into the night talking. Had he been arrested for pick-pocketing, or for his tricks at the card table? Or worse, had he been shot? Higdon was a rough town. Maybe his tricks were no good there. Or perhaps they had been set upon by raiders. Their bodies could even now be mummifying in the desert sand. Or perhaps Donovan had decided to move on to other places, other ventures. This was Carina's suspicion, but that didn’t explain why Will hadn't returned.

All their hopes centered on Will. In spite of everything they had been through with Donovan, they still didn't think of him as their own. But the boy, with his honest, resourceful ways, would surely return if he were alive to do so.

Illness. They had caught some sort of sickness in town and when they were better, if they got better, they would return. Nothing else made sense. Even if cart, goods and animals were stolen from them, Donovan would find a way to get money and some form of transport home. And if Will had somehow been left on his own, he would draw on his resources as a runaway and find his way back. So yes, they must be ill.

The next question was what to do about it. One of them could take Cordelia and go in search, or maybe borrow a horse. But then, if Will and Donovan were still alive, they must be on their way back by now. And if there really was some terrible danger out there, the sister who went looking would expose herself to it and the one who remained behind would be left no wiser. The only thing to do was stick together and wait.

By the third week Tasha had become whiny, clingy and an all-around nuisance. In aggravation and above Carina's weak protests, Amalia dosed Tasha into lethargy. "It's better for her and God knows it's better for us," she said. "It's either that or I lock her in the barn where she'll only annoy the animals."

The nightly readings stopped. Chores went undone. Meals went unprepared because no one could stomach the thought of food. The women spent their time pacing floors, staring out windows, knitting, or working the drop spindle in such desultory fashion that nothing seemed to come of their efforts. Yarn broke, stitches were dropped and they were constantly re-doing.

They forgot about Christmas and were surprised to realize it had passed. Tasha moped and Amalia and Carina moved in a fog from lack of sleep. But each time Carina shut her bedroom door and tried to rest, memories flooded back. She felt vaguely responsible, as if whatever had happened were somehow her fault. The thought kept her awake at night, sitting up in bed, knitting by touch in the dark.

One night Amalia opened her door after spending several hours drinking, trying to find comfort in her Bible and not succeeding. She stumbled into Carina's room and sat on the bed. "You don't need to knit in the dark. You do a lousy job of it and I know you're up, anyway." She lit an oil lamp. "That's better, isn't it?

"I guess so." Carina looked at her knitting. Her sister was right. It was awful.

"That's a pretty necklace."

Carina's hand flew to her neck. She wore the blue necklace always, but until now she had always worn a shirt or sweater with a high collar so she wouldn’t have to explain it. She had wondered what she would do when spring came, but now in her low-necked nightgown, it looked like she would need an explanation sooner than she thought.

"I don't think I've ever seen it before." Amalia leaned forward for a closer look, and Carina could smell the alcohol on her breath. "It looks expensive."

"I got it in Jonasville."

"Jonasville." Amalia turned away. "You never did say much about that trip."

"There wasn't much to say."

"You got a pretty necklace out of the deal. That's an odd thing to hide from your sister."

"I forgot."

"Forgot," Amalia scoffed. "A person doesn't forget a thing like that. Least of all, you." She was silent for so long Carina thought maybe she was through speaking. But as she reached for her knitting, Amalia said, "It couldn't be from Alvi or you would've said so. Donovan got it for you, didn't he?"

Their eyes met. Carina looked away first.

"You slept with him."

Carina hesitated long enough to run out of any other option except the truth.


Amalia didn't react at first, and simply stared at the floor in silence. Carina scarcely dared to breathe. Finally Amalia spoke. "Have you slept with him since you've been back?"


"But he wanted you to."


"I see." She got to her feet and left, shutting the door behind her. Carina wilted against the pillows and closed her eyes, her heart pounding as if she'd been running. There would be no point in trying to sleep tonight.



  1. Oh dear when Donovan does get back he's going to hear some yelling. Poor Amalia. great turn in the story I too hope Donovan didn't get arrested.

  2. How things can fail and fall when human nature and feelings and love get in the way of what could be a simple, fulfilling life...i love the contrast between the beginning and end of this chapter

  3. Well this time had to come. I was hoping Carina could come out with "I was in such a state, I just needed comfort then; I am truly sorry, please forgive me."
    Now there is another week to wait!

  4. That came out smoothly. I'm glad there hasn't been any bloodshed. But where's Will?

  5. An intriguing tale with building tension I'm looking forward to what comes next!