05. January 2013 · Comments Off on Chapter from The Quivera Trail · Categories: Uncategorized

(Another chapter from The Quivera Trail – the sequel to the Adelsverein Trilogy, wherein are followed the lives of Dolph Becker’s English bride Isobel, and her young ladies’ maid, Jane Goodacre. In this chapter, the new ranch in the just-opened-for-settlement Panhandle region is established, and Isobel meets some disquieting characters … and makes an unsettling discovery)

Chapter 18 – The High Wide Lonesome
The matter of hanging the two cattle thieves was not mentioned by anyone – not Isobel, or her husband, not after the morning of the funeral for Daddy Hurst. Isobel worried for days that her husband and Peter Vining, and the hands who knew of it might be prosecuted by the law. She was haunted by a vision of a very proper English Bobby in his blue coat and peaked helmet, suddenly appearing in the middle of the prairie, saying that there had been an incident and would Dolph be so kind as to accompany him to the station to answer some questions. But it never happened, and some seven or eight days later the two wagons and the herd arrived at the site of the as-yet-to-be-established ranch.
To Isobel the proposed site looked like many another that her husband had selected as a night-camp during their journey, save that this one was somewhat sheltered from the north by a line of flat-topped hills – hills that in certain lights seemed to be striped like ribbon candy in shades of rose, honey and rust. Where the new ranch was to be built was a level stretch of high ground ground, sprinkled like a current bun with rocks of all sizes, offering a commanding view over the tumbled canyons to a distant thread of green which Isobel knew meant a watercourse of some sort, fringed by grassy meadows. There were few trees taller than a man on horseback, and those were gnarled and misshapen things, their leaves the grey-green color of furze. As was promised, there was a tall cairn of stones piled up around a tall pole bearing a banner of yellow cloth. They reached it at midday, having seen the yellow cloth from a considerable distance; the clearness of the air deceived them into thinking it was closer to them. Seb Bertrand and Dolph rode next to the wagons for the last few miles.
When Dolph remarked laconically, “This is it, Seb – your home, sweet home,” Seb looked around with an expression of dismay and no little horror.
“There’s nothing here at all,” he exclaimed. “Surely Mr. Richter’s surveyors were misinformed! This must be some kind of mistake.”
“No mistake, Seb,” Dolph reached up to assist Isobel down from the light wagon. “Of course there’s nothing here. There won’t be, until we build it.” He held one arm around Isobel’s waist to steady her, and buffeted Seb on the shoulder. “Put a smile on your face, Seb – or are you having second thoughts about starting a ranch in the West?”
“Not so much,” Seb answered, but Isobel could see the effort that it took for him to put a pretense of good cheer on his young face, even with the set of scruffy whiskers that adorned it, somewhat. “How far is it from here to the nearest outpost of civilization?’
“Six day’s journey on a good horse,” Dolph pointed to the southeast. “Fort Worth, on the Clear Fork of the Trinity River – but don’t you worry, Seb. Cuz is bringing some of Uncle Hansi’s wagons, loaded with everything we’ll need. It won’t be the Langham Hotel,” he tightened his embrace of Isobel, “But it will be home – an’ better than a bedroll under the stars. By the time winter sets in, we’ll be under a good roof, and a deep well dug. Uncle even sent the parts for a patent Halladay windmill pump … and over the winter, all those heifers we brought up from the RB will be making themselves a whole lot of little calves. You’ll be a richer man before you know it, Seb.”
“There will be much work involved for us, though,” Seb observed, and Dolph chuckled.
“Seb, your arms and legs ain’t painted on!”

Isobel thought again, of how her husband and his cousin worked alongside the men, and how in India – and even at home, this would have appeared as something unseemly, but here it was only right and proper. That night, and for several nights thereafter, they did spread their beds under the stars, in the sketchy shelter of canvas strung between the wagons, but within a very short time the space around the wagons looked less like a trail camp and more like a building site. On the first day, she and Seb had worked out where the proposed house was to be – in the place which would offer the most striking views from its windows. They marked the corners with small piles of stones, and the lines of the walls with lines drawn in the dirt with stout stick, Isobel feeling very much as if she were a child at the seashore, outlining sand-castles. Cook-house, a bunk-house for the hands, and a stable for the horses were outlined by similar methods. The cattle scattered into the meadows and lowlands – as Dolph explained it to her, he and the hands, and the other ranchers would round them up in the spring, and brand the new calves.
“How many other ranches are there in the vicinity?” Isobel asked curiously. She had seen no one but their own people in what seemed like months.
“Mr. Goodnight at the JA is the main one,” Dolph answered. “On the other side of the Palo. He has a partner – some Englishman, so I hear. Seb might feel right at home. You and Mrs. Goodnight are the only white women within three hundred miles of this place. If you see a white woman coming to call, Bell darlin’ – you’ll know it’s her.”
“I have no parlor in which to receive callers,” Isobel answered, demurely. Strangely, the prospect seemed of no moment. She was as free as one of the circling hawks, as the dog-wolf of her vision the night after the stampede. Should this Mrs. Goodnight appear and pay a call, Isobel would simply invite her to sit on the cotton-stuffed mattress by the wagon, and that would do very well. But it appeared that such would not do for long. Some ten days after their arrival, the second herd arrived, scattering like their fellows to the meadows in the lowlands. More importantly, they arrived with Peter Vining – who had in his charge no less than four freight wagons heavily laden with lumber and supplies. The teamsters, their wagons and horses would have to return as soon as was possible, so the crates of goods and stacks of lumber were piled up here and there so that they might return south. Peter Vining and many of those hands who had only been hired for the long drive itself would go with them. Only a dozen would remain at the new ranch over winter; to Isobel’s relief one of them was Wash Charpentier.
“Your Uncle Hansi has thought of everything,” Isobel marveled, awe-stricken at the variety of useful goods and supplies – even a few luxuries – which had been crated carefully and stowed in the wagons for the journey into the Palo Duro country. “Everything – stoves and furnishings, even windows, ready-made!”
“No, it was Onkel Fredi,” Dolph answered, scratching his jaw. “He worked as a freight-driver on the overland to California … among other things. He’s a man of all trades, and master of most of them. But one of the things he knows best is what would be needed out in a place like this. Cuz and I laughed at him once, because of his everlasting lists of necessaries. But he was right about those things, and you’ll note, Bell – I do not laugh at him now. If there’s a requirement for ten chamber pots at this ranch of Seb’s – Onkel Fredi will have packed fifteen, with a note to trade the extra five to whoever might have a need and be willing to exchange something you value for them.”
“Chamber pots! He didn’t really, did he?” Isobel exclaimed, and her husband laughed.
“He might have … but you see – Onkel Fredi has a head for trade out here. Odd folk wander through, he says. You never know.”

The cook-house went up first – with a rapidity which astonished Isobel, although it was a simple shed of milled planks, roofed with canvas and then tarpaper, and the largest of the iron stoves installed within it. To her vague disappointment, the trail cook who had come with Peter Vining’s party was also established in it as the cook for the hands. ‘Cookie’ Benson was what they called him; an unkempt and uncouth little man, who always had a chaw of tobacco in his bulging cheek; Isobel did not think how anyone would have had faith enough in his cooking – not to mention his standards of cleanliness – to eat it with any relish at all, especially after she saw him methodically pounding cutlets of beef to tenderness with the butt of a revolver.
“They care that it is hot, tastes familiar and there is plenty,” Peter Vining explained, when she mentioned this to him. “And they do not puke their guts out after one of his meals. Sorry, Cuz Isobel. That’s just the way of it. The hands have simple tastes, after all. But,” he added, after a moment. “They do still talk of that pudding of yours – the dried-apple and and bread thing you dished up after that big stampede. They all would relish that for a special occasion. If you fix it for them sometime – you might have their devotion and Old Cookie would not gripe too much about having his cooking overruled by your recipes, just this now and again.” Her husband added, “Seb and I would prefer yours, though. Just one of our peculiarities. You did very well, Bell, filling in for Daddy.”
“How long will it take for the house, then?” Isobel asked, a little nostalgic for the evenings spent as they were doing now, the men smoking their pipes as they lounged by the fire, while Sorsha and Gawain slept curled up next to Isobel and now and again twitching as if they dreamed of a hunt. Still, it would be good to sleep under a roof once more, and have a place to sit other than on the ground or a wagon-seat.
“Another week or so,” Dolph answered, yawning. “Digging the well … now that will take weeks longer. And I hope we find water soon – we’re down thirty feet already, and it’s as dry as a bone.” They had begun that work even before the cookhouse was done; chipping away with shovels and pickaxes. The nearest water was in the creek bottom; rain-fed and seasonal. They sent the light wagon with empty barrels every other day or so, to fill them from the creek. At the height of summer, Dolph and Peter feared that it would dry up entirely, and so the well was necessary. Only one man could work at the bottom, sending buckets of dirt and stones up in buckets by a windlass erected over the well-shaft.

It did indeed take longer to finish the well than the house, although Isobel was certain that her family and the servants at Acton Hall would consider it the meanest patchwork shanty, not even fit for the dogs to live in. “I should like to call it Acton, though,” Isobel confessed on the day that it was finished enough that she, Dolph and Seb could move in. Seb agreed and Isobel thought that Fa would be pleased to know that his beloved Hall had a namesake, half a world away. This new Acton had three rooms only, of thin wooden planks and with a floor of canvas pegged down over packed and leveled earth. But all the rooms had glass windows, and a stove stood in the largest, which served as parlor and kitchen – when winter came, that stove would warm the entire house. Two smaller rooms on either side were bedrooms; one for Isobel and Dolph, the other for Seb. Isobel owned it a relief to actually unpack her trunk. Both Seb and Dolph shaved off the beards they had cultivated along the trail – although Seb’s was a rather sparse affair. Both of them also resumed the regular habit of of clean shirts. Seb even went to the extent of a cravat in the evenings – a gesture to the habit of dressing properly for the evening meal.
To Isobel’s amusement, every scrap of the sawn lumber left over – even that which had been used to make crates for the stoves, and the glass windows was put to use in making crude tables, chairs and bedsteads. What a contrast to the Green Parlor, the Yellow Salon, and the statuary hall. ‘Why,’ Isobel thought, ‘You could put it all, with the bunkhouse and the cook-house into the Great Hall and have room left over!’ But however plain and rough, Isobel took great pride in the little house, adorning it insider with bunches of wildflowers in tin cups, and planting whole plants themselves outside. She also studied Mrs. Beeton’s with great attention. That was about all that she could do, as little of Mrs. Beeton’s advice for household management applied. Still, Isobel took enormous pride in keeping the floor swept clean, the window glass polished, and the little stove clean of ash and cinders.
The bunk-house took about the same amount of time to build as the house; one large room to house the remaining hands, and a small lean-to shed against one side as private quarters for Jim Holt, now the foreman of the ranch. Late in summer, the well-diggers struck water – to their infinite relief and that of Dolph. But that did not mean that work ceased; they moved on to erecting a timber tower for the windmill pump over the well shaft, and a cistern of stone, sealed with pitch and plastered on the inside with Portland cement. With the various buildings completed, care of a little house not being all that much of a burden, and freed from the labor of cooking for all the hands and wranglers, Isobel found time hanging heavily on her hands, and decided that she would amuse herself with taking long rides and exploring the deep canyon. She unpacked her black riding habit, which now was an exceedingly tight fit around her waist. She had to draw her corset very tightly so that she could even fasten the skirt waistband – but dressed so, in the elegant English-cut habit, she explored the ranges of hills and canyons, the rolling prairie which made up this new-world Acton with delight and wonder. The effects of wind and water had carved some canyons and cliffs into the most amazing, vividly-colored towers and palisades – the streambeds which still contained water were often lined with tall cotton-wood trees, whose leaves the slightest breeze set a-tremble. Often she saw wild deer, browsing peacefully in the mornings. Once or twice she saw the native bison; huge, hairy-humped creatures they were; Dolph said regretfully that they once were more common, in herds of thousands; his Onkel Fredi had seen them just so, on the plains to the far, far north. But the Indians had depended on them, just as the white men depended on their cattle – and so it had become the policy for the buffalo to be reduced. Usually, she went alone with the dogs, although sometimes Seb Bertrand or Alf Trotter accompanied her. She never perceived any danger in these expeditions, although her husband insisted that she take her revolver, just the same.

On one of those days when Seb rode with her, Isobel suggested that they ride out to where a bend in the watercourse had eroded the cliff into a free-standing tower, almost the shape of a lighthouse. Isobel wanted to show it to him, for she had never seen the like before – and she was certain that he had not, either. They set off at mid-morning, soon leaving the sight of the new rooftops – all pale and un-weathered fresh-cut wood – behind them. But the turning blades of the windmill remained in sight for a good while, as Isobel and Seb’s horses picked a careful way down-hill. Sorsha and Gawain romped alongside them, with occasional forays into the low brush.
“I think that autumn is here, at last,” Seb observed. “Some of those aspen-trees are beginning to take on a golden color to their leaves. I wonder – m’lady, d’you think it will be as cold here as it is in England during the winter?”
“I think that it might,” Isobel answered, for Dolph had expounded on this topic several times. “We are a good way north of the Hill Country – and there is nothing to break the winter storms coming down from the north. My husband says that this land – this land from here for hundreds of miles to the north and west – is as flat as a platter. When the winter blizzards strike, there is nothing for the storms to break against … only this canyon provides shelter – the only shelter indeed for hundreds of miles in any direction … which is why the Comanche Indians used it as a winter encampment.”
“A practical reason,” Seb answered. The flat-topped hills around them seemed even more spectacular today, when the last of the mist rising from the deeper canyons diminished as it rose, and the sunlight of mid-morning threw bars of shadow across it. “And perhaps they had an appreciation of harsh natural beauty such as this … so alien, Lady Isobel – but I find myself beginning to love it. Mr. Richter was wiser than he knew at first, in partnering with me and advising that we should put our joint resources into establishing this ranch here …”
“And entrusting you with a share of management,” Isobel added.
“After a suitable apprenticeship to an experienced master,” Seb added, with a wry expression, which softened into affection. “Still – I expect that Mrs. Becker had much to do with me even being considered to such a position of trust, even if I am not bound to serve seven years as Isaac did for his Sarah. They have guided me very well, Lady Isobel – for which I am more grateful than I can say.”
“I think that you have begun to love this place,” Isobel ventured, and Seb laughed.
“I did not think that I would, in the beginning. But … now I do. And it is something more than love – a hold on my heart that I do not think will ever let go. Just as Lottie has such a hold on it…” Seb blushed a little at that- he was still boy enough to be embarrassed by admitting such emotions. Isobel had begun to think of him as a younger brother in blood, as he would be in law and marriage in a few years. The fact that they were both alien transplants to this place had drawn them close over the months of the journey and the toil and isolation of building the new Acton.
“It is a splendid land,” Isobel looked around, appreciating the harsh and irregular beauty once again. “And Lottie is a splendid girl…” Just then, Sorsha gave voice, barking just the once. At Isobel’s call, she and Gawain came bounding back from where they had been exploring. The dogs had gone a little way farther down the track which had been worn down the the distant stream of water by the hooves of Isobel’s horse and the daily journey to fetch barrels of water until the day the well began to run. The track – a pair of wheel-ruts worn though the sketchy leaf-mast and patches of near-dead grass – was the only sign that anyone had ever been there at all; that and the distant windmill, ceaselessly turning.
“There’s someone coming up the track,” Isobel said, as a flight of birds erupted in panic from a thicket by the side of the track. It was of some pride that she had spent long enough in the wilderness to – as her husband said – read trail-sign, even if only in the most rudimentary manner. She drew rein as did Seb, and waited for the other party to approach, while the dogs watched with curiosity, and a breeze rustled the leaves of the trees on either side. It did not take long for them to appear; a tall man on horseback, in advance of a younger man and a lanky boy, who led a heavy laden pack-horse and lingered some distance behind his fellows. All three and their horses appeared tired and trail-worn. The tall man approached to within a short distance, and removed his battered hat, evidently being nominated as spokesman.
“Morning, ma’am,” he ventured. He was older – very much older; in his fifties, perhaps, as his face was weathered to the appearance of leather, and the hair that hung past his shoulders was braided into a pair of plaits and entirely snow white. The younger man also had dark hair in braids – and Isobel could not help but think that they looked as she had always imagined Indians to appear, even though all three were dressed as white men. Like many another in Texas, Isobel saw that the old man wore a belt with two heavy pistols and a large knife in a fringed sheath hanging from it – as well as another long rifle-sheath on the saddle of his horse. Isobel noticed that the old man’s horse was one of quality, although shaggy and unkempt. It stood several hands higher than the usual mustang ponies favored by her husband and the hands for work with cattle.
“Good morning, sir,” Isobel answered, before Seb did – although a male, he would let her take command in this instance. Something about this stranger – his appearance, his fine blooded horse, and the manner in which his younger companions held back – all aroused a sense of unease within her, although she was hard-put to place a finger on what caused it, precisely. There was a faint air of menace about them, especially the old man, although his manner and words remained perfectly respectful. Taking counsel of her fears, Isobel decided on the spur of an instant to be open and polite in return; firm without without giving offense. “You are on the trail to Acton ranch lands – may I know what you seek?” She watched his face carefully. The stranger maintained an expression as bland as her own.
“Me and my grandsons – we are looking for work,” the man answered, although he did not sound nearly as submissive as Isobel thought a true seeker of worthwhile labor would sound. But this was Texas – no, this was America, where even the beggars commonly sounded the equal of propertied men. Isobel shook her head and put the timbre of thoughtful regret in her voice.
“I am sorry, my good man – we will have no work here until spring round-up. All the labor of establishing our herd and building the necessary structures has already been done. If you still desire work, come back in time for spring round-up.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You have been kind … you are not from these parts, I take it?” Instead of turning his horse and riding down the trail, the old man looked boldly into her face.
“No, we are not.” Isobel answered, “We are from England, just this year past. We came as investors in cattle and land, following the advice of men such as …” it was on the tip of her tongue to make mention of Mr. Richter as kinsman as well as co-investor. But what if this man – who truly looked like the veriest kind of brigand, should think to take them captive, hold them for ransom? Seb was hardly more than a boy, herself a woman – both of them readily overpowered by the three who faced them on the trail; even with her revolver, and Sorsha and Gawain sitting obedient to her command, flanking her horse. “… Mr. Goodnight,” Isobel threw in the first name which came to mind – their closest neighbor in the trackless acres, six days hard ride from the closest established town. No, she did not like this man; neither did Sorsha and Gawain. Every line of their shaggy bodies was tense, alert and eying him with wary displeasure. “Yes … Mr. Goodnight. We were well-advised. My husband told me that Mr. Goodnight was the first to see the possibilities in this place.”
“Cap’n Goodnight is a sharp-eyed man, ma’am,” the old man answered. To Isobel’s infinite relief, he pulled on his horses’ reins, making as if to turn around. Isobel let out her breath; unaware until that moment that she had been holding it. “Good day, ma’am. If me and the boys are still looking for work, come spring – we’ll be back.”
“We’ll welcome you at Acton,” Isobel answered. “I am told, we will need good hands for the spring roundup.”
“Thank ye kindly, ma’am,” the old man answered over his shoulder. He shot an appraising look at Seb, who had been quiet and wary during their exchange. “Your man ain’t got much to say for hisself, does he?”
“Good day, sir,” Isobel answered, consciously mimicking her mother’s most forbidding tones. She and Seb watched until the old man and his companions vanished around a turn of the trail, and Isobel sat looking after them for a long moment. “No, we will not welcome you and your grandsons!” she whispered under her breath. Seb fiddled with the reins of his own horse and ventured, “I did not like the looks of them either, m’lady. I think that their story of seeking work was a pretext of some kind. Shouldn’t we return to the ranch at once? I fear that they might be laying in wait for us, farther on.”
“No,” Isobel answered. “But I think we might take another way to the Tower that I wished to show you. But when we return – I will tell my husband about strange men seeking work … as if they did not know there would be none until spring! Why are you laughing, Seb?”
“Because that man assumed that we were husband and wife,” Seb answered. “If I read his last words rightly – should I fear that Mr. Becker will be jealous?”
“No more than Lottie would be, if she might infer from them that I have alienated your affections,” Isobel answered. They laughed companionably together, while the dogs fidgeted in impatience. Presently, Isobel brought to mind an alternate path towards the weather and water-carved stone tower, one which would avoid the direction in which the three strangers had ridden.

She did tell Dolph of them, privately, as they were preparing for the night’s rest. The weather had changed suddenly that very afternoon, as her husband had warned her that it would at this time of year. She and Seb and her husband had enjoyed their evening meal together, laughing over the small venison roast which Cookie had set aside for them, in an iron pot over the cookhouse fire. Isobel and Seb had returned in time for Isobel to dash into the cookhouse and sprinkle a few of Mrs. Huckaby’s recommended herbs over the roast, while Cookie was not looking. The results had been flavorful, but the meat rather tough. Even so, their supper had been a merry one, as Seb and Dolph teased Isobel – but with affection, even as they ate it with gusto. Now, a chill wind whistled around the eaves of the little house. Even with a good few dry logs burning down to coals in the stove, the icy drafts could not be banished, merely beaten back for a few hours. A bed piled high with blankets and quilts and a heated stone wrapped in a towel at the bottom would provide the only comfortable warmth for the hours of darkness. Isobel hastily shed her outer clothes, petticoats and undergarments, and washed in water warmed in a tin pitcher over the stove. Her hair hung in a simple braid down her back; she pulled on her long nightgown and blew out the flame in the single kerosene lamp that lit the tiny room. In the darkness, the bedclothes rustled as Dolph held them up long enough for her to slip between. She settled into the warmth of the bed, and of his arms around her, as they lay spoon-fashion, while the bitter-cold wind howled in the eaves. Her back was pressed against the length of his body, and their feet against the warmth of the stone.
“I meant to tell you about those men that Seb and I saw,” she ventured presently, as his arm curled around her, pulling him towards her under the covers. She felt his breathing, stirring her hair, as they lay close-curled in the shelter of bed, and his hand wandered down to her waist, cupping her belly gently.
“What men?” Dolph did not sound very interested at all. Isobel answered, “Three men, who met Seb and I on the trail down to the creek this morning. They said that they were looking for work … but something about them did not ring true. One was old – the age of your uncle. They said that they were looking for work … but the one, he did not look the sort of man to be seeking ranch labor. And not at this time of year. The dogs did not like him – and neither did Seb or I…”
“All kinds of men look for work out here,” Dolph answered. He did not sound very concerned, and so Isobel’s worry lessened somewhat. It was just that the three men were strangers, and one of them rode a finer horse than his circumstances could account for. She and Seb did not really know this country or the tenor of men who lived in it. Her husband continued, “If they come in spring, seeking work for the round-up – then Jim Holt and Seb and I will make our own judgement.” He was quiet for some little time, and Isobel thought that he had gone to sleep. And then he said, “I thought you had something else to tell me, Bell.”
“I can’t think what. “Isobel was honestly confused. What could he possibly mean – and then she felt him sigh a little.
“You’re in foal, Bell. Couldn’t you read the signs? I could. I thought women knew about things like that.”
“I am?” Isobel’s voice rose to a squeak, out of sheer astonishment. “A foal – you mean to say that I am with child? I never …” And her first honest indignation died away in the face of her husband’s certainty and her own relative ignorance of such things. The question instantly sprang to her mind; how long had it been since her last monthly course? She couldn’t recall precisely, only that it had been while they were trailing the cattle, some few weeks before arriving in the Palo Duro and beginning to build the ranch. She had not had the regular spasm of bleeding since – and all this time she had never contemplated what that might mean. “How could you know such a thing if I did not?” she demanded indignantly. Dolph pulled her closer into his arms.
“Bell, darlin’ – we’ve been sharing a bed for ever since our wedding and I wasn’t raised as a fool. There are things that I can’t help noticing – and one of those is that you are fatter here,” his hand on her belly tightened, “And thinner in your face. I saw it in Cousin Anna, and Aunt Rosalie after they wed – I was purely surprised that others couldn’t see it until they were told, but there’s a look to a woman with her first child that can’t be mistook.” He sounded faintly exasperated with her, and Isobel rolled over under the covers until she faced him in the darkness.
“I think that I am,” She admitted, feeling a sudden stab of fear and uncertainty. What might happen now? They had been nearly four months in this place, or longer as now it was nearly mid-winter. “How very curious – I have felt amazingly well, all this time. I thought that being with child would be – almost an incapacity. I should not have gone on all those long rides, knowing now what I do.”
“Oh, Bell,” and as she had expected, his arms embraced her again, and she felt the reassuring laughter in his chest, as she tucked her head into the curve of his chin and shoulder. In her confusion, she sought comfort from the only reliable source of it her life, aside from Fa and dear Kitty-cat, who were so far away! “To your gentle English ladies it must be an incapacity … but not to women here. Nor to the dogs, or the heifers! You are well, so the child is well … so, why not do as you wish. But …” and his voice turned serious. “I think that you should stay with Aunt Liesel and Onkel Hansi in San Antonio, after Christmas – rather than return here with Seb and I – until the child is safely delivered.”
“But I don’t want to be away from you – or from here!” Isobel cried, in her horror and astonishment. “No – I have been well, why should I not continue so? I love this place, and am perfectly safe…”
“No, Bell – I will not have it,” her husband answered gravely. “There is no doctor within three hundred miles, and no other women that I know of, other than Mrs. Goodnight, god bless her. But I don’t think she has any more familiarity with delivering babies than I do, and my skill largely lies with dogs and cows. I won’t take that risk with my wife and my first-born son. Papa made Mama stay in Fredericksburg when she was within a month of bearing me, I won’t do any less for my own wife. You must stay where there is a good doctor to hand. There is none better than Dr. Herff.”
“I want to stay here!” Unaccountably, Isobel burst into tears. “I don’t want to be apart from you. I am not sick, why can’t you let be return with you after Christmas?”
“Bell, darlin’,” Dolph’s voice sounded as if he was trying for patience and restraint. “Now you are carryin’ on as if you are bearing, and making up for lost time. I won’t have you here alone, which is what you will be – especially during the spring round-up. It’s not your decision, Bell – it’s mine, and it’s for your own good, and the baby’s good as well. I promised your father – and I promised you too – that you would be safe and that I would always protect you.”
And Isobel knew that once again, he had made a decision that she could not gainsay, however much she might wish it; and he might even be right in it, for it would be as perilous for her to return, and often be alone in the little ranch house. Still, she couldn’t help wishing that he might have talked it over with her, first.

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