And it’s all RL, durnit! I’ve spent the last two weeks working three or four twelve-hour shifts at the day job, with two more weeks forecasted. The complete swap-around has put a severe dent in my writing production, both the fiction and the websites.
Then I received the calendar reminder that I have a blog post due…and my monthly entry to Women & Words not long later. Yikes! So I’m taking the easy way out this month.
I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
A couple of months ago I began a new project — Skagway Bride — about a young woman in 1897 or so taking a leap into the void and offering herself as a mail order bride to a trapper in the Yukon. Admittedly, I don’t have much written, but I’ve got a couple of introductory chapters.
Let me introduce Miss Callie Glass…
Skagway Bride, Chapter Two
The ropes dug into Callie Glass’s shoulders, a familiar sensation after a half dozen years on the trap line. Behind her she heard the wooden rails of the sledge grating against rock and hard pack dirt. Occasionally she’d hit a patch of remaining ice and snow from the last spring snowfall, and the sledge would lurch forward, its load of carcasses swaying with the abrupt change in speed. Though she sweated from the exertion, she wore her jacket. She hated the fact that she’d taken after her mother, inheriting a frail-looking and feminine body that belied her sinewy strength. To counteract the initial impression of being a lightweight, a pretty little thing that needed taking care of, she tended toward bulky clothing to appear physically larger. The tactic didn’t always work.
A wisp of golden hair fell from beneath her slouch hat, tickling her nose. She puffed a breath to dislodge it from her face. The stubborn thing drifted back into place. As much as she wanted to stop and tuck the damned thing back into place, she refrained. The cabin was ahead on an uphill incline. If she halted now, she might not be able to get the heavy sledge back into motion for that last hundred feet. It would be mortifying to ask her brother for help when she was this close to home.
The scent of rich loam and pine trees gave way to the smell of woodsmoke and the sea. About a quarter mile away from the cabin the waves along the Taiya Inlet slapped loud against the shoreline. Another steamer full of miners must have recently passed en route to Skagway. To distract herself from her recalcitrant tresses and the burning of exertion in her thighs and back, she gazed over the water toward the fold of land that hid the Chilkoot Inlet. Another ship had rounded the corner and was headed landward, smoke and steam emitting from its stacks as it neared.
She sneered at the ship, stilling her face as the action brought another annoying tickle to her nose. Every ne’er-do-well and blowhard had turned up with gold in their eyes these last few months. Skagway hadn’t been her most favorite place in the world to start with but now it had swelled to bursting with the influx of Johnny Newcomes and muckmen who thought they could make it rich in the northern gold fields.
Callie put her back into moving the sledge over a rough patch of ground, focusing on home. Not for the first time did she thank God above that her brother, Jasper, hadn’t fallen sway to gold fever. Rather than drop everything in her lap and head north with the rest of the hopeful miners, he’d extended their trapline and sold the extra meat to Skagway butchers. As the town’s population bloated beyond its borders, more mouths needed feeding and more bodies needed furs to keep warm. Up in the Yukon, optimistic men grabbed up mining claims. South of Skagway and in the opposite direction of the gold fields, Jasper Glass had extended his property to forty acres so as not to completely trap it out. The Glass’s did excellent business without over-trapping their land or having to worry about trespassers and squatters. No one gave the passing hillsides a moment’s thought as they sailed past to Skagway with their fever-dreams of glory and wealth.
With a grunt of relief, Callie pulled the sledge the last few feet into the yard, a cleared area at the edge of the shore pine forest. The land here transformed from trees to scrub and meadow as it rolled down to the inlet’s edge. In the past she’d go down to the rocky shore and watch the occasional ship come through, waving at the curiosity seekers and sailors on the deck, but not any more. There were too damned many of them.
She shrugged the ropes off her shoulders, pushing her arms back and forth to ease the muscles. Pulling the wide-brimmed hat from her head, she pushed the noncooperative tresses back up onto her scalp and wiped her forehead with a handkerchief she fished from one pocket.
Three buildings squatted around the clearing. Smoke drifted from the largest one’s chimney and the front door stood open. The roof peak was barely six feet tall, the roof jutting out four feet past the threshold to create a dirt packed porch. The low ceiling inside was uncomfortable to Callie who stood only two inches shorter. Jasper was forced to duck his head while inside, being somewhat taller than her. The oilskin that normally covered the two windows had been rolled up and the shutters thrown wide. An assortment of tools and accouterments for day-to-day living in the wilderness cluttered the rudimentary porch—two wooden stools, a pair of snowshoes that needed repair, chains of different sized metal traps and two canteens hanging from hooks, Jasper’s leather pack and about a cord of firewood. Moose antlers adorned the top of the forward roof peak, high enough so as not to impale anyone attempting to enter.
The smallest building was the smokehouse. A cord of mostly cedar wood was stacked to one side. Between the two stood a sturdy shed used to store and prepare meat and furs to be sold in town. The shed had been built with thick walls and a single door to prevent the carnivorous wildlife from receiving a free meal and it showed. Deep gouges had been dug into one corner, still showing white against the weathered logs where a hungry bear had attempted entry. Callie had received three hundred dollars and a healthy fear of charging grizzlies for that skin.
“Ho! Jasper!” Callie called, turning to the sledge. “I’m back!”
She saw movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced at the cabin to see her brother duck out into the late afternoon sunlight. Like her he was tall and slender, his blond hair cut short and thinning at the temples. He smiled welcome from beneath a meticulously shaped mustache that curled ever-so-slightly at the ends, looking more and more like their father every day. “Looks like a fine haul.” His trousers were stained but serviceable and the top three buttons of his butternut shirt were open. Brown suspenders dangled from his waist.
“Not a bad ‘un.” Callie untied the tarp and pulled it free. “Mostly marmot and hares, but we had a lynx and a couple of red foxes on the line.”
“Bully.” Jasper circled the sledge and helped her sort through the day’s catch. “Supper’s almost ready. I can put this up in the shed if you want to go eat.”
As much as she desired to do exactly that, Callie shook her head. She prided herself in not shirking responsibilities. She detested the “little woman” syndrome into which most men fell. The less ammunition she gave anyone for that kind of thinking, the better. “Naw. It’ll take less time if we both work.”
Jasper knew better than to argue. Between the two of them, they unloaded the sledge and hanged the carcasses inside the storage shed in good time. As they toiled, he kept up a running conversation, filling her in with news from his trip to Skagway that morning.
“And can you believe that lily-livered Billy Quinn? Sucking up to every skirt that sways past like God himself has put him on this earth for all woman kind?” Jasper shook his head in disgust. “It’s a wonder he ain’t been shot. He doesn’t care if a woman is married or not. He just barges right in with his innuendo.”
“Billy Quinn’s a deadbeat. I don’t think he’s worked a day in his life.” Callie folded the tarp from the sledge as her brother bundled the rope. “Besides, he hangs with that Perkins fellah. You need to stay away from them. Rumor has it that all them are running from the law.”
Jasper shrugged, tying off the rope and tossing it onto the already disordered porch. “I know. I ran into him at the post.”
Callie frowned. Neither of them had family to speak of so why would her brother be checking the mail? He hadn’t mentioned contacting the government about expanding their property again. Not that she’d mind if he did, but he normally discussed business propositions with her. She hauled the now empty sledge to the side of the shed, grunting as she hoisted it up. Jasper came to help and they tipped it over to rest at an angle against the side wall. Dusting off her hands, Callie turned to study him. “What’s at the post?”
A blush spread across Jasper’s fair face, alarming in its brilliance. “I—I got a letter.” He pulled the trimmed but long edges of his bushy mustache into his mouth, hands on his hips as he stared out over the water.
Suspicions growing, Callie cocked her head. For the life of her she couldn’t think of anyone who’d send Jasper a letter. All their family had been dead and gone for years. Unless there’s something about the property in Oregon. But he sold that, didn’t he? “Who’s it from?”
If anything, Jasper became even more flustered. He gave a half shrug and rubbed at his mouth and chin, muttering into his palm as he answered.
“What?” Callie stepped closer. “What’d you say?”
He dropped his hand, the gesture sharp as it resumed its place at his hip. Lips curled in exasperation, skin flushed, he said, “A woman. I got a letter from a woman in Boston who wants to come marry me.”
Callie stared, unable to comprehend his words. She puzzled over them, repeating them in her head in an effort to make some sense of it. A woman? Marry Jasper? “Wait…what?”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph! I ain’t getting any younger, Callie! If I want to start a family, I need to be getting on with it.”
His irritation sparked the same emotion in her. She mirrored his stance, glaring back at him. “How’d she know to write to you? Huh?” He looked away and she shifted to recapture his gaze. “That newspaper man three months ago, right?”
Jasper nodded. “Yes. When I sent you to pick up the beans from Hank Sheraton.”
She recalled the man they’d met during a supply run, thinking him a slimy weasel at the time. “Did you pay him money?”
He rolled his eyes. “You know I did. How else could I get an advertisement?”
Scoffing, she threw her hands up in the air before slapping her thighs. She turned away. “You had no way of knowing if he was on the up and up. He could have been lying. Didn’t I say I saw him talking to Soapy?” she said, referring to Skagway’s local crime boss. If there was a shady way to make a dollar off an unsuspecting soul, the con man Soapy Smith could find it.
“But he wasn’t lying. See?” An envelope crackled in Jasper’s hand as he waved it in front of Callie’s face from behind her.
She snatched it from his grasp, twisting with long practice to avoid his immediate grab to get it back. Two quick steps took her out of his reach, but she checked to make certain he didn’t follow. They’d had years of playing keep away though he was a full twelve years older than her. When he didn’t chase her down, she relaxed and opened the envelope, the scent of lilac wafting from the paper. She paused as she inhaled the aroma, both enjoying the smell and scorning at the hussy’s use of perfume to lure her unsuspecting brother. Another quick peek showed Jasper blushing and resigned, hands in his pockets. Callie opened the letter.
I confess I am nervous as I pen this missive for it has never before occurred to me to seek matrimony from the pages of a public newspaper. I hope I do not portray myself as a shameless harridan—I do not even have the pleasure of knowing your name. Nevertheless I have found your entry most intriguing.
My name is Clara Stapleton. I am single, aged twenty-two and seeking a husband. I live in Boston, Massachusetts, but do not let my metropolitan origins sway your rudimentary opinion of me. Though I am born and bred a city girl, I have had the opportunity to spend summers out of doors, fishing and camping with my family in the Green Mountains. I imagine your property must be splendid beyond words. Grand mountains, forests and rivers… Living in such magnificent beauty every day must seem a gift from God Himself!
Though I have no experience with the trapping lifestyle, I’m more than willing to learn. I would like to provisionally accept your offer of matrimony if you’ll have me. I only ask that any marriage will be annulled should we discover that we are unable to coexist.
Please contact me posthaste with your answer. I breathlessly await your response.
The handwriting was delicate with flowing lines, and the letter was dated a month ago. Callie reread it, picking out the details, already disliking the woman who wrote it. “Boston? Really?” She handed the letter and envelope to Jasper who snatched it quickly from her hand. As he carefully put it back into the envelope, she crossed her arms over her chest. “You want to bring a city girl here?”
“She’s been camping and fishing during the summers.”
It was Callie’s turn to roll her eyes. “Well, so had I before Ma and Pop passed on. That didn’t mean I was experienced enough to live up here in the bush.”
“You’ve done well enough.” Jasper tucked the folded envelope into his pants pocket.
“Because I’m not a normal girl.” Callie shook her head. “You really want to do this?”
Jasper gusted out a sigh. “Look. I know you don’t want kids or a husband. That ain’t your way.” He held his hands up to stop her as she opened her mouth to argue. “This isn’t about you, Callie! It’s about me. I want a wife, kids. Can’t you just imagine a passel of young’uns playing out here in the yard? You’d have nieces and nephews to spoil rotten.”
A sense of loss fought with wistful yearning. She’d always liked children, just didn’t want to have her own. The idea of bedding down with any man disgusted her. “There’s not enough room for three in the cabin, let alone a bunch of kids.”
“I know that, silly!” Jasper laughed, jerking a thumb behind him. “I thought we could build another cabin over there, a bigger one for me and the missus.” He pointed to the short cabin. “You can keep the homestead.”
Callie brought both hands up to her head, knocking her hat back and scrubbing at her temples. Things were going to change, and all Jasper could see were his imaginary children frolicking in the yard. She couldn’t blame him—he was right that it was past time for him to get started on a family if he was of a mind. He was strong-willed, handsome and a decent man. He’d make a fine husband to some lucky woman. That didn’t mean Callie wanted to be around to watch it happen.
She hated change with a blind passion.
Jasper sighed, drawing her attention. He stared at the ground, grimacing. “Look. If you’re that dead-set against it, I’ll tell her no. In fact I just won’t answer the letter.” He punctuated his words by kicking at the dirt with a toe.
“You’d do that?”
He shrugged, peering up at her. “You’re the only family I’ve got, Callie. I don’t want to lose you over a woman I don’t even know.”
Damn it. She hated it when he capitulated like this. His reasonable reaction always made her feel like a cad. She was jealous, plain and simple; she had no right interfering with him finding someone with whom to settle down. Just because she didn’t feel the urge to get hitched to a disgusting hairy bastard who’d make the rest of her life miserable didn’t mean Jasper couldn’t get married.
Jasper had already turned away, taking her silence as agreement. He trudged toward the cabin.
“Wait.” Callie closed the distance between them, taking his hand in hers. The bones of their fingers and their fingernails were identical despite the difference in size, echoing their familial ties as strongly as the shared blood pumping beneath the skin. “You’re right. I’m the only family you’ve got, but that’s because you need to get to work on it.” She smiled, squeezing his hand. “Write her back. Tell her to come.”
His face lit up. “Are you sure? I don’t want to—”
Scoffing, she released his hand and pushed him away. “I said it, didn’t I? What more do I have to do? Write her a letter myself?”
Jasper’s smile faded. “About that…”
Immediate suspicion leeched the forced levity from Callie’s spirits. “What?”
“Your penmanship is much better than mine,” he began.
“Aw, you’re joking! You want me to write the letter?” Callie punched him in the arm.
Jasper grunted with the force of the strike, stepping out of reach and rubbing the injured area. “Would you? Please? I don’t want to frighten her with my chicken scratches.”
Callie didn’t like the brassy woman as the situation already stood. That dislike wouldn’t take much to tip over into active hatred.
When she didn’t answer, Jasper wiggled his eyebrows. “I’ll run the trapline all week,” he offered, his expression one of hopefulness.
“You’re damned lucky I love you,” Callie said, pointing a finger at him.
Jasper laughed with relief, knowing that was sister’s way of saying she agreed with his request. “Come on. I have a pot of blackstrap on the stove. I know just what I want to tell her.”
Callie allowed herself to be dragged into the cabin, half pleased by Jasper’s high spirits and half disgusted by the cause of them. Whoever this woman was, she’d better be the best thing in the world for her brother. If she wasn’t, Callie was prepared to make her life a living hell.
Callie is definitely a handful. Clara is no slouch either. There are going to be major sparks when these two bump heads, guaranteed.
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