Topic #17: Word List - quilt, blind, rash, molasses can, & tobacco pipe (use at least 3)
|Too Old for This...
||The Remedy by: Micki
|The Shopping Trip
||Telluride by: Lori
|Humble Pie by: Sameena
||Going Home by: Cindy
|As Luck Would Have It
||Pieces of the Past by: Jill
He threw the *quilt* off, certain that he’d only covered himself a few minutes ago. The *rash* all over this body itched incredibly, but certain areas simply hurt. Hot and cold from the fever, thirsty but not wanting to drink, Jimmy was miserable. The rash was even on his eyelids, swelling them so that he was almost *blind.* His right eye wouldn’t open at all.
He’d come home from a ride only the day before, with a light headache and feeling ‘not quite right’, and headed straight to bed. By morning, he was covered in spots, and Emma took him up to the main house so that she could care for him.
“Don’t let any of the others get this, Emma. It hurts,” Jimmy said.
“I already asked them, Jimmy. They can’t get it; they all had it when they were little, even Buck. I only brought you up here so’s you could rest.”
“I’m too old for this,” he complained. “This is a kid’s disease. Why didn’t I get it when Serena did? She never suffered like I am.”
“Doc said you’d be better in a few days, Jimmy,” Emma soothed. “But you’re right, having chicken pox when you’re grown up is no fun at all.”
“Stop scratching, Cody. You’ll only make it worst,” Rachel admonished.
“Can’t help it, Rachel. It itches somethin’ fierce,” Cody complained, continuing to scratch madly at the **rash** along his arms.
“You’re gonna scratch the skin clean off if you’re not careful,” Lou said as she helped Rachel fold the **quilt** that had hung on the line.
“How can I stop?” Cody asked, horrified by the thought of all of his skin coming off of his arms.
Rachel finished folding the laundry then glanced over at Cody, “I might be able to help, if you’re willing,” Rachel said with a mischievous smile.
“Anything, just make it stop,” Cody pleaded.
“Okay. I’ll meet you in the bunkhouse shortly.” Rachel picked up the laundry and went to the house, followed closely by Lou.
“What do you have in mind, Rachel?” Lou asked.
“Oh, just a remedy I’ve come across for poison ivy.” Rachel turned towards Lou and smiled. “You’ll see.”
Rachel and Lou entered the bunkhouse, armed with the things Rachel needed for her preparation. “Alright Cody, come sit at the table and I’ll fix you right up,” Rachel said, setting her supplies down.
“What’s that for, Rachel?” Kid asked as he sat down next to Cody.
“It’s to help Cody’s itch,” Rachel answered.
“Buttermilk, vinegar and salt?” Cody asked skeptically. He looked up at Rachel and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yep.” Rachel poured all of the ingredients in a bowl and mixed it thoroughly. When she was done she set the bowl down in front of Cody, “Here you go, Cody. This should do the trick.”
Cody wrinkled his nose at the smell but if it was going to stop the itching he was willing to try anything. He picked up the spoon and closed his eyes as he brought it to his mouth, making him **blind** to Rachel’s appalled look.
“No!” Rachel yelled and smacked the spoon out of Cody’s hands before he could eat it.
Lou started laughing, “You’re not suppose to eat it, Cody.”
Kid glanced over at Lou and asked, “What do you mean, Lou? What’s he suppose to do with it?”
“He’s supposed to wear it,” Rachel answered as she cleaned up the mess from the floor.
“Wear it?” Cody asked a bit confused.
Lou continued to laugh, “Yep,” she said.
“And how am I supposed to do that?” Cody asked.
“You rub it on the rash,” Rachel said.
“Oh,” Cody said then he scooped up a handful of the stuff. “Like this?” he asked as he rubbed the gooey mess over one arm. The minute the concoction touched Cody’s inflamed skin, he closed his eyes and sighed with relief, “Ah. That’s heaven.” He glanced at Rachel and smiled, “Thanks, Rachel.”
“You’re welcome, Cody. Now as soon as that stuff dries you can go finish your chores and leave the rest of us in peace.”
Rachel patted a disheartened Cody on the shoulder then followed Kid and Lou out as Cody whined, “Aw, Rachel.”
Cody stood, half blocking the main aisle in Tompkins' store, mulling over the items on display in the glass enclosed case. One by one the other riders pushed their way past him, heading toward the counter. As they gave Tompkins the items in their hands, he would tally the amount on a notepad.
"We got everything?" Kid asked Lou as he set yet another armful of cans on the counter.
"I think so," Lou replied. "No, wait, Emma said to get something else." She paused and looked around until she spotted what she'd remembered. "Jimmy, you're the closest. Will you pick up a *molasses can* off the shelf there?" she called out.
Jimmy gave her an irritated look but it went unnoticed as she had moved to another section of the store.
"Will you hurry up there, Cody? We're almost done," Buck told him as he headed toward the door, with a crate in his arms.
"Hey, a man can't be rushed with this kind of decision," Cody firmly stated.
"What man? I don't see a man," Buck remarked to Ike who followed him out to the buckboard. Ike shook his head, grinning, and would have made a comment if his hands weren't full.
"Just what kind of decision are you trying to make anyway?" Kid asked Cody as he walked around him to meet up with Lou. He grinned at her as she seemed entranced by a selection of items at the back of the store. He noticed her gently running her hand over a blue patchwork *quilt*.
"I am trying to pick out a birthday present for Teaspoon if you don't mind," Cody retorted.
"You still haven't done that?" Lou asked in a deeper voice than normal, trying to cover up the fact that she'd temporarily forgotten she was supposed to be a man and had instead acted like a woman shopping for housewares.
"I've narrowed it down to two things but I just ain't sure which one to get," Cody muttered, biting on his nail in concentration.
"The rest of us had no problem pickin' out gifts. Look, Cody, it ain't his real birthday, heck, he don't even know when it is. We're just trying to do something nice for the man to show how much we appreciate what he's done for us," she said as calmly as she could. "Now I'm only gonna say this one more time - it's the thought that counts so pick out ANYTHING!!"
She shook her head as he ignored her then turned as Kid kept tapping her on the shoulder. "What?"
"What's up with him?" Kid asked, pointing to Jimmy. Jimmy hadn't moved from the row of cans in front of him and was now holding his hat in one hand and was busily scratching the side of his head with the other.
"What's he got? A *rash*?" Kid joked.
Lou tried to hide her smile as she went to him. "What are you *blind*, Jimmy? It was in front of you the whole time," she told him as she reached and grabbed a yellow can off the shelf.
Jimmy's eyes followed the can as she brought it to Tompkins.
"I knew that. I did," he assured her.
"Uh huh," she said, staring at him. "We're leaving, Cody," she called out as Kid took the last crate off the counter and they headed for the door.
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he said. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and pointed his finger at the case. He opened one eye then the other to see what he'd picked out. He grinned, pleased with his decision. "I'll take that. A *tobacco pipe* sounds like a great gift for Teaspoon. A man like him must enjoy a good smoke every now and again," he said to no one in particular, since the others were standing on the sidewalk waiting for him in frustration.
As Tompkins took the selected gift out of the case, Cody said, "Oh, and could you wrap it for me?"
I was wakin’ up in that sleepy little town
Another sleepless night, another night sitting in the chair by the fire. There was no storm raging, just a quiet tranquility. No letters to write, no thoughts to distract him, his mind was caught in the same loop it had been since the letter to Lou.
He was married, she was married, and yet…she would always hold a place in his heart no one would ever touch. She hadn’t asked for it, he hadn’t intended for it to happen. She’d saved his life that winter, and he would love her in a way that sometimes he didn’t even understand.
He never knew what brought her there. If she’d known where he was, or if she was just passing through and had decided to stay. The war had claimed her husband, and she was looking to rebuild her life. The war had devastated him in ways he would never admit to anyone. Too much death, too much destruction, too many lives altered, and too many bodies mangled forever. It wasn’t the way he’d envisioned it when he’d joined up.
Ashamed to admit he’d made a *rash* decision in the bravado and cockiness of youth, he drifted after the war. Refusing to go back, refusing to accept the solace and comfort he knew would come from the ones who had shown him what family was all about, he let himself get lost, not caring where he went. He gambled to have money for whiskey. It was all he cared about, the only thing that kept the voices quiet and the visions at bay.
She found him one day, *blind* drunk at 9 in the morning. And just like Lou, she wouldn’t take no for an answer when she insisted on taking care of him. She got him out of town, washed him, fed him, cared for him like he was a child, and he fought her. He didn’t want to be sober. He didn’t want to remember. But she persisted.
The first few days were a haze as his body rebelled against the sudden deprivation of liquor. She got him through it, and then slowly, she began to get through to him. Never giving up on him, she pushed only to remind him that he was better than being a drunk in an alley before he was even 25.
It wasn’t until that night…the night she lay beside him and spread her *quilt* over them that he allowed himself to truly feel. As they lay together beside the dying embers of the fire she entered his heart, and reminded him of his dreams. And in the night as she slept, he remembered.
When he was ready to leave, he asked her to come with him. She turned him down, claiming she couldn’t raise her brother and sister in the life he wanted to have. She had lived in her grief long enough, it was time to remember her responsibility to her family. He understood, but couldn’t stop the hurt that filled him. He had come to love her, but knew she would never be his to have.
Author’s Note: This is the end to The Cold, there is, however, still a middle, waiting for inspiration.
“What is that racket?” Cody said, rising to his feet. He was more than glad to have an excuse to walk away from the meal Hickok had prepared. As he glanced out the window, he saw Teaspoon riding into the yard, a string of *molasses cans* trailing behind him. The cans were clattering loudly.
Lou came to stand beside Cody and the two of them exchanged puzzled looks.
“I thought he was teaching school today,” Lou said. “But Rachel doesn’t usually come home this early.” She knew Rachel had been too ill to go to school and Teaspoon had gone in her stead. Lou had offered to go along, give him a helping hand, but Teaspoon and rebuffed her, saying he had dealt with thieves and murders, how hard could it be teaching a few innocent children.
Cody shrugged. He moved toward the door and called out to Teaspoon, “You okay?” He heard Teaspoon mutter in response.
Both Cody and Lou went to him. Lou held the marshal’s arm as he slithered off his horse. “Come on,” she said soothingly. “Let’s get you inside.” She led Teaspoon to the main house and settled him in a rocker on the porch. Rachel came outside and tossed a *quilt* at Teaspoon. He looked startled as the thick blanket hit him in the face.
Lou looked at Rachel in surprise. But she did not say a word. She simply shook the quilt out and placed it in Teaspoon’s lap. “Should I get you some tea?”
“Yeah, Grandpa,” Rachel added, sniffling slightly. “Should she fetch you some tea?”
Cody came out, carrying Teaspoon’s *tobacco pipe*. He tried to hand it to Teaspoon, but the marshal waved him off. When Cody looked at him in surprise, Teaspoon explained, “My stomach is a mite queasy.”
“So how was school?” Rachel asked brightly and when Cody glanced at her, he found her looking better than she had in days.
“Don’t ask,” Teaspoon answered with a grimace.
“Oh, I’ll ask,” Rachel said. “In fact, I wanna hear every detail.”
“The only thing I’m gonna say is that you are the bravest person I know,” Teaspoon said, chuckling as he settled back in his chair.
Rachel beamed at him when she heard those words.
The trail narrowed and Buck dropped back to follow his riding companion. He watched as Jane guided her horse around a bend, seemingly unfazed by the sheer drop-off to her right. Of course, after all they’d been through these last few days, it really didn’t surprise him.
He followed her on the trail, keeping his concentration with his horse during this trickier part of the ride. But as the trail widened out a bit and dropped to flatter ground again, he began to look for a good place to make camp.
Fresh from their success at rescuing Amanda and Lou, and breaking up Frank Pike’s band, the group had retreated to the bank of the river to make camp for the night. They could have had shelter at Frank Pike’s stronghold, but none of them had been keen on staying where so much blood had been shed. They’d broken camp this morning, with the whole group starting out together. But that had only lasted for the morning. After lunch they had split up with Jimmy, Cody, Ike and Noah heading back for Sweetwater. Teaspoon, Amanda, and Hack headed for Benton, taking Kid with them to find a doctor to check his bullet wound. Lou went with them to stay close to Kid.
Buck and Jane had ridden with the Benton group for a while, then they had headed off toward Falls Church. The plan was for Buck to escort Jane safely home and then join up with the others in Benton.
Right now, they’d been in the saddle a long time, and he could see from the way Jane was riding now that she was feeling it. Combined with everything else that had happened, it was time to stop.
They topped a small hill and he saw what he was looking for. A stream meandered across the plains just to the west, and they weren’t far from a grove of trees taking advantage of the water. They could make the trees and still have a little daylight left to make camp.
Buck hurried his horse forward to catch up. “Jane?”
She turned to look at him. They’d talked a bit on the ride, but for the most part he’d let her have her silence. So much had happened, and she needed the time to figure it all out. “What is it, Buck?”
He pointed toward the river. “That looks like a good place to make camp for the night.”
She followed his finger, and she had to agree. The peaceful stream looked invitingly cool. And she really needed to get out of the saddle. “All right.” Then she grinned and added, “Race you!”
He laughed as she sped away. “Not fair!” he called as he urged his horse into a run to follow. With a horse built for speed and superior riding skills, he could have caught her – but he didn’t.
It was good to see her smiling.
Jane reached the river and stopped, turning back with a smile. “Maybe I’m the one who should be riding for the Pony Express,” she suggested.
“Yeah, you just talk to Teaspoon about that,” Buck answered, grinning. She could have her little joke at his expense. He dismounted and led his horse along the bank of the river. It wasn’t long before he found what he was looking for. The clearing wasn’t large, but it was more than big enough for the two of them, the horses, and a nice fire. And the trees circled around, protecting them from the wind. He was unsaddling his horse when Jane joined him.
She dismounted stiffly; the soreness she’d felt while riding seemed to be multiplied now that she was on the ground. She eyed the water longingly, then sighed and turned to her horse, reaching for the cinch strap.
Buck caught her hand gently and pulled it away. “I’ll take care of your horse and set up camp. Why don’t you relax?” He nodded toward the river.
Jane glanced toward the river, then back at Buck. “I should really help,” she said.
He turned her toward the river and gave her a soft shove. “Go,” he said. “I’ll call if I need help.”
Well, she had offered . . . Her conscience appeased, Jane headed for the stream.
Buck turned his attention back to the horses. In short order he had them both unsaddled, and he led them downstream of where Jane was to drink. He gathered wood on his way back to the clearing, taking advantage of the last of the daylight to stockpile enough for the night. And then he opened the packs, setting out the supplies they had picked up in a small town that morning. Dinner wouldn’t necessarily be exciting, he decided, looking at the items – salt pork, a bag of beans, a *molasses can.* But they’d make do.
With a fire going, he went to the stream to get water, smiling as he watched Jane kicking her feet just downstream in the cool, clear water. He set a pot of water to boil, added the beans, pork, and molasses, and stirred everything. Then he walked down to the stream.
Jane watched him approach from her perch on a fallen tree. She’d washed the day’s dust off, and now her bare feet were dangling in the water. Probably not very proper, she realized – but she really didn’t care. “Done working?” she asked.
“For now,” he answered. “Dinner will be ready soon.”
“Let me guess . . . beans?”
Jane laughed, tossing her loose hair back. “I’m sure they’ll be great – and I am hungry!” She paused noticing that he was watching her intently, a smile on his face. “What?”
He shook his head. “It’s just good to see you smiling,” he answered. “And I haven’t seen you with your hair down like that. It looks nice.” In fact, with the golden light of the setting sun behind her, she looked beautiful.
Jane blushed and looked away. “Thank you,” she said softly. Then she indicated the log next to her. “You could join me.” She held her breath, hoping he would – and that he wouldn’t consider that too forward.
Buck considered the offer for a moment. The water certainly did look inviting. And why not? He sat down on a rock and pulled his boots and socks off, rolling his pant legs up as high as possible. Then he stepped into the water – and stopped quickly. “It’s freezing!”
Jane just laughed. “It’s invigorating,” she countered.
Buck scowled at her briefly, then he took a deep breath and waded to where she was. He pulled himself onto the log, leaving just his feet in the water. It didn’t feel quite as cold now, but he wasn’t sure if he was getting used to it, or if his feet were just losing feeling. He glanced over at Jane, who still seemed to be smirking. “What?”
“I was just thinking, I haven’t seen you smile much either.”
“I have had a few things on my mind. Like tracking killers, finding Amanda – keeping you safe.”
“I didn’t make that very easy, did I?”
That did make him smile. “No, you didn’t.”
“I just knew I had to do . . . something.”
“I know you did.”
“I’m glad you were there to save me . . . from myself, if nothing else,” Jane said. Then, fighting a grin, she added, “I just wouldn’t have figured someone who could stand up so bravely to killers and guns would be so afraid of a little water.”
“It’s COLD!” he objected, though not without a twinkle in his own eyes.
“It’s just water.”
“Just water,” he repeated, nodding. It looked to be about two feet deep next to where Jane was sitting – just about perfect. “So you wouldn’t mind if I dumped you into that ‘just’ water.”
Her eyes went wide. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“Oh, wouldn’t I . . .”
Buck dished up the beans and poured two cups of coffee. He handed a plate and a cup to Jane – trying not to laugh at the sight of her sitting by the fire, totally drenched. Of course, he was pretty wet himself, so he probably shouldn’t laugh too much.
Jane took the plate and sniffed the food. “Mmmm, it does smell good.”
“I told you it was my specialty,” Buck pointed out. He took his own plate and cup and sat down next to her to eat – and dry off.
They ate in silence as the fire warmed and dried them. Then Jane got up and poured another cup of coffee for each of them. Before she sat down again, she retrieved her small pack. She opened it and pulled something out, holding it tightly in both hands.
“What’s that?” Buck asked.
She opened her hands. “My father’s *tobacco pipe,*” she answered. “It’s one of the few things I salvaged from the fire – this, a *quilt* my mama made, a few odds and ends.” She held the pipe closer to the fire, letting the flames illuminate it. “I remember so many times, sitting with papa near the hearth. He’d smoke his pipe and tell me stories, so this is special.” She looked up at Buck. “You were right. I need to think about the man I loved, and not about Emory Pike.” She paused, then added, “I need to think about the future, not the past.”
Buck reached for her hand. “It won’t be easy, not for a while,” he said softly. “But I’m glad you’re going to try.”
“I just never thought about losing papa like . . . well, like that.”
“Of course not.” He squeezed her hand a little tighter. “So what do you plan to do?”
“Well, Amanda offered me a job with her in Benton.”
“With Amanda?” He cast a skeptical glance in her direction. Amanda ran a saloon, which was fine for Amanda, but for Jane . . . “Doing what?”
Jane had to fight not to laugh at the look on his face. “What? Don’t you think I’d make a good lady of the night?” Her look turned to a pout. “You don’t think I’m pretty enough.”
“Jane, you’re plenty pretty. But . . .”
She couldn’t hold it in any longer, so she laughed. “Oh, Buck, don’t worry. The saloon has done so well, Amanda’s adding a restaurant. I told her I was a pretty good cook.”
Buck just nodded in relief. “A cook. That’s great.”
“I think it’ll be exciting, and it would be too hard to stay in Falls Church.” She paused, moving slightly to look into his eyes. “Do you really think I’m pretty?”
“Of course. You’re very pretty.”
She looked into his face, watching as the light from the flames flickered across his strong features. A girl would have to be *blind* not to realize how handsome he was. Handsome, kind, brave . . .
. . . and very close.
She leaned forward, her lips seeking his. When they touched, it seemed there was a spark, warmer than any the fire was throwing off. And then there was just warmth, and pleasure.
The kiss surprised him, but it also felt right somehow. Buck closed his eyes, giving in to the feeling without even thinking. But as he felt her hand in his hair, holding his head, conscious thought finally returned and he pulled away gently. He took a deep breath, held it a moment, then sighed. “Jane, we can’t do this.”
“I thought you liked me.” Now she was really confused.
“I do like you,” he said quickly. “I like you very much. But you’ve been through an awful lot – too much to be making a decision like this now.”
Jane sighed and looked away. “So, don’t do anything *rash* that I might regret later.”
She looked back and smiled. “You sound like my father.”
Buck smiled. “I guess he was a pretty smart man.”
Jane just nodded. “Yes, he was.”
“You’re sure you’ll be all right?”
Jane glanced down the street. The burned-out shell of her father’s shop stood out amongst the other buildings. The sight made it hard to answer – but it also strengthened her resolve to leave Falls Church. “I’ll be fine,” she finally answered. “It’ll just take a little time. And I think it’ll do me good to be in Benton.”
“The others will be in Benton for a few days,” Buck said. “I could wait if you’d like, and ride there with you.”
It was hard to deny the part of her that wanted to keep him close. But in the light of day, she also knew that wasn’t the best way for her to heal. “Thank you, Buck. But there are things I need to deal with here – memories I have to face before I can move on. And I think I have to do it alone.”
He studied her eyes for a moment, then he smiled. “Well, if you’re sure.”
“I’m sure,” Jane replied confidently. Then she took a deep breath and added, hopefully, “But maybe you’ll come to Benton to visit sometime?”
“Maybe,” he answered with a smile. “Or maybe you, and Amanda, will come to Sweetwater for a visit.”
“Maybe,” Jane agreed. In fact, it was an idea she’d have to talk to Amanda about.
They stood there in front of the boarding house, engulfed in that awkward moment of saying goodbye. Jane finally broke the silence. “Buck, thank you for everything,” she said. Then she leaned forward and up and kissed him – on the cheek.
“You’re welcome – for everything,” Buck said. He returned the kiss, brushing his lips lightly against her cheek. “I’m glad I met you, Jane Benedict.” Then he walked toward his horse.
“I’m glad you met me too,” Jane replied. She watched him mount, then added, “You take care of yourself, Buck Cross. And don’t go tackling too many other strangers!”
He grinned and shook his head. “I only tackle the special ones,” he assured her. “I’ll see you around, Jane.” Then he turned his horse and started off.
Jane watched as he rode away, finally realizing that she was holding her breath. She took a deep breath, but kept watching. The horse and rider finally became a speck on the horizon, and then they disappeared, before she finally turned to go inside.
Yes, she’d definitely have to talk to Amanda about a trip to Sweetwater.
Teaspoon Hunter wrapped the *quilt* tighter around his shoulders. The cold winter air, along with his dripping wet clothing, was doing a good job of keeping his simmering anger from turning into a *blind* rage. He’d know those two were going to be trouble from the first day they’d met, but he’d hoped that with his guidance they’ put aside their *rash* behavior and grow-up. As he sloshed away from the barn door to his room, he grumbled under his breath about how he was going to get Mr.s James Butler Hicock and William F. Cody for this latest incident.
When his door closed behind him, a sound of expelled breath could be heard coming from the hayloft. “Guess we need to go warn Jimmy and Cody,” said Lou as she quickly adjusted her shirt.
“What for?” asked Kid as he reached up and pulled her down beside him.
“Teaspoon’s gonna kill them for getting him all wet,” Lou said pushing away and sitting back up.
“They did put that bucket up there,” replied Kid. “We saw them do it; that’s why we put the blanket nearby.”
“But it wasn’t supposed to get him,” said Lou. “It was meant for us.”
“That’s their problem. They should have been more careful,” smiled Kid. “It’s not our fault that we were already up here when they set their trap.” He again pulled Lou down beside him. “I suggest we wait until Teaspoon leaves before we go anywhere. He’s plenty mad, and I don’t want to get blamed for it.”
Lou sighed and snuggled into Kid’s embrace. There was no point arguing with him when he was so obviously right. As luck would have it, this was the last time they would be alone together for along time. She might as well enjoy it while she could.
“Emma, remind me again why we’re in town at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning when we could be still asleep.”
“Because this is a special occasion, Jimmy. You know it ain’t everyday Sweetwater hosts the territory fair. We’re low on supplies and I wanted to get there early before everything’s been picked over. ‘Sides, it does you boys good to get out and socialize with people, make new friends.”
“Most of the folks in Sweetwater ain’t too big on making friends with us, Emma,” Buck muttered quietly from his horse next to the buckboard.
Emma Shannon sighed at the young man’s comment. It was a crystal clear September day with just enough of a breeze to make it pleasant, but not chilly. Jimmy, Buck, and Cody rode lazily on either side of her, keeping pace with the slower buckboard. Next to Emma on the seat, Ike loosely held the reigns, having offered to drive. She’d hoped the four boys would enjoy the day and the outing; it’s not often Sweetwater had more to offer in the way of entertainment than the local saloon, which she didn’t want her boys frequenting anyway. Buck and Jimmy’s pessimistic attitudes were putting her plans on the fast track to disaster, however, not something she was going to let happen.
“Boys,” she said sternly, giving each rider a pointed glare, “we are going into town to enjoy the fair. I don’t care one ounce what the other people of Sweetwater may think and you shouldn’t either. Just ignore them and try to stay out of trouble, please!”
Three chagrined “yes ma’am’s” and one nod made Emma smile with satisfaction. Perhaps this would be a good day after all.
The large yard behind the church had been completely transformed overnight. There were booths with people peddling everything from miracle cures to old *molasses cans.* The livery stable had been turned into a small zoo; stalls now housing the cows and pigs and chickens that farmers had brought in from miles hoping to sell. The four riders stood clumped together, just taking it all it. Emma had shooed them off with an order to have fun and leave her be, and now they don’t know what to do.
“There’s a guy over there selling rifles and gun belts. Let’s go see what he’s got,” Cody suggested offhandedly. Jimmy and Buck shrugged and started to follow him, but Ike stayed put.
“You comin’, Ike,” Buck called back to his friend.
*No, I think I’ll look around for a while. I’ll meet you at the lemonade stand in a bit.*
“Kay. Stay outa trouble,” Buck said with a wink.
Ike simply shooed him off with a wave. He watched him go for a few seconds, then turned back to the sights of the fair. Why look at gun belts when there was so much else to be seen? Enjoying the sights, Ike wandered aimlessly for a while. He smiled as he passed an old farmer napping lazily among his hogs, an old *tobacco pipe* dangling loosely from his lips. The next booth held only ladies finery, so Ike hurried by. He passed a tinsmith, a fortuneteller, and an apple stand without much interest, and was just about to go find the others when something caught his eye. Up ahead a round little man was selling second-hand household goods. Draped haphazardly over the edge of the cart was a crazy *quilt.* The early morning sunshine caught the worn fabrics and bright colors and set them dancing like a kaleidoscope.
For several long minutes, Ike stood rooted to the ground, unable to breath. The sights and sounds of the fair receded from around him; only he and that quilt existed. His mind told him it was not the one, it couldn’t be! Ten years, hundreds of miles, and countless sorrows stood in the way, but his heart still beat faster. Unbidden, his feet moved him closer, drawn by an irresistible force he couldn’t fight. Reverently he reached out, his fingers caressing the scraps of cotton and wool, lovingly tracing the lines of stitches.
“That’s a mighty fine quilt, there. You have a good eye.”
Ike jumped at the sudden voice intruding into his thoughts, noticing for the first time the little old man standing next to him. Smiling kindly, the cart owner continued as though he hadn’t noticed Ike’s surprise.
“Picked that one up years ago when I was traveling through Missouri. Man seemed awful hurried to get rid of it, although I can’t understand why. It’s such a lovely peace of work. I put it out now and then, but I just never seem to find the right person to sell it to. I can’t sell a quilt like this to just anyone, you know.”
Ike stared at the quilt, only half listening to the little man’s words. The scraps of fabric and fancy stitches formed patterns that leapt straight from Ike’s memories. The faded blue with sprigs of yellow became a woman’s work dress, the sun glinting off it as she tended her garden. The red woolen plaid was a man’s overcoat, keeping him warm as he chopped firewood in the night. The dusty pink with small roses was a doll’s dress sewn by tiny fingers. And the bits of checkered red were the scraps left from a scarf made to cover a very frightened young boy’s head. Every piece and every stitch was just as he thought he remembered it. Still it was so long ago and memory sometimes warps to fit the present. There was only one way to tell.
Hesitantly, Ike turned to the man, asking with halted signals if he could spread it out farther.
“Of course, just let me help you here. We wouldn’t want it to fall in the dirt.”
Gently, they picked it up and each grasping a side, spread it open. It wasn’t very large, but it was beautiful. Taking a deep breath, Ike glanced down at the lower right corner and his eyes filled up with tears. There, in elegantly embroidered stitches, was written MaryAnne McSwain, 1849.
Abruptly, Ike was drawn back to that awful day so long ago. After the men had finished murdering his family, they ransacked his house, taking anything and everything they could carry. When sheriff finally arrived and found him two days later, Ike hadn’t moved from his hiding place. The sheriff kindly went into the house and found a few trinkets missed by the robbers. After the funerals, he gave them to Ike to remember his family by. Those few items were all Ike ever saw of his family’s belongings again.
Trying not to let the tears spill over his cheeks, Ike carefully gave the quilt back to the peddler. He reached into his vest and pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil stub. Quickly he wrote, showing the man his note.
“Well, it’s one of my best items and I’ve grown rather attached to it, but I can tell by watching you that you’d take good care of it. I could let you have it for $25.”
Ike’s heart sank into his shoes. Twenty-five dollars! There was no way he could afford that. It seemed so unfair to have a warm memory from his past come into his life again, only to have it snatched away again, but there was nothing else he could do. To him the quilt was priceless and he would have gladly paid the twenty-five dollars for it if he had it, but he didn’t. The only thing he could do was quietly let it go.
With a sad smile, Ike lovingly reached out and brushed the familiar fabrics again. Then he let his hand drop and shook his head no. Giving it one last look, he turned and walked away.
Emma waited until Ike was out of sight before she approached the peddler. Something about the way Ike had looked as he touched the quilt made her curious. He had seriously considered buying it, but why? She had plenty of quilts lying around the station, why would Ike need to buy one?
“Excuse me sir,” she said, drawing the old man’s attention, “could I see the quilt that young man was just looking at?”
“Of course, Ma’am. Help yourself.”
Carefully, Emma unfolded the quilt, admiring the bright colors and stitching but not finding anything that would have caught Ike’s eye. Then her gaze fell on the neat letters and a small cry escaped her as she covered her mouth with her hand. Tears spilled lightly down her face and her heart nearly broke in two as she thought of the boy who had just walked away from this treasure.
“Ma’am, are you alright?” the man’s concerned voice broke into her thoughts, and she quickly composed herself.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Funny, you’re the second person today that’s been touched by this quilt. That boy seemed awful drawn to it as well. Do you know him?”
“Yes,” Emma answered simply.
“Strange. Most ordinary young men wouldn’t look twice at a quilt,” the man said with a puzzled frown.
“Ah yes, but this is no ordinary quilt and that was no ordinary boy. Now, I have a question for you. How much is this fine quilt?”
“Twenty-five dollars, Ma’am.”
Twenty-five, that was a lot. She didn’t have that much money, but she had a pretty good idea where she might be able to come up with it.
“Well sir, are you going to be in town tomorrow?”
“Yes, I was planning on staying through ‘til Monday, why?”
“Because if you are willing, I have a proposal for you. . .”
Exhausted, Ike closed the barn door quietly behind him and slowly walked toward the bunkhouse. The dust from the other rider’s horse had long since settled and all was still and quiet. Wearily, he climbed the steps and slipped through the door, trying not to disturb the other sleeping riders. This last ride had been a long one. He’d left the afternoon of the fair and been gone for nearly two days. Now he was tired, dirty, and just glad to be home.
In the light of the single lamp, Ike slipped out of his clothes and went to climb onto his bunk when his breath stopped. Spread neatly over the bed was a quilt; a brightly colored, lovingly stitched quilt. Almost *blind* with tears and disbelief, Ike couldn’t do anything but stare for minutes, maybe hours. Then a small white piece of paper caught his eye. Hands shaking, he reached up and took the note. Unfolding it he read:
To Ike, from your new family to help you remember the old.
With a smile that was both sad and happy, Ike read the note again, gratitude welling up inside his heart. Then, just incase anyone was awake, he quietly extinguished the lamp so no one could see the tears that he finally let flow; tears of grief and of hope.