Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Starting Over, Chapter 17

Chapter 17
The next three days passed in a blur of long hours in the saddle, constant switchbacks to hide their trail, and lots of talk.  They discussed anything and everything under the sun.  Lou didn’t think she’d ever heard Kid say so much in the entire time she’d known him.  But this Kid wasn’t the same man she’d known and loved, she reminded herself yet again.  It was so obvious in so many ways.  Stealing a peak at him from beneath the brim of her hat, she smiled.  Didn’t mean there wasn’t a lot to like, maybe even love, about this version, too.
Catching her furtive glance, Lu laughed out loud, then stuck his tongue out at her.  She joined his laughter.  He marveled at how much fun he was having teasing her.  He’d never thought he could spend this much time smiling and laughing with the oh, so serious woman he’d met just a week ago.
“Hey!” he yelled, startled by her sudden retaliatory push.  She let loose with a musical chortle, even as she urged her horse into a gallop.  “I’ll get you for that,” Lu yelled after her, fighting to get the foot her push had dislodged back into its stirrup.
Soon, the chase was on.  She laughingly evaded his attempts to catch her.  He shouted mock threats after her with each successful escape.
Dick Harlow watched the couple playing from behind a distant tree.  The clear prairie air brought him snatches of their laughter and chatter.  It wasn’t enough for him to piece together their conversation, just enough for it to stir a spurt of longing deep within his heart.
He’d had a sweetheart once.  They’d played similar games.  The soft smile that had been flirting with the edges of his mouth slipped away.  That had been before.  Before the war.  Before grey-clad bushwhackers had attacked her family’s farm.  Before those rebel raiders had raped, pillaged and destroyed all he’d ever loved, including his sweet, beautiful, innocent Bethany.
Harlow stiffened as the man’s slow, southern drawl reached his ears.  IT had been men like him who’d stolen her.  And the woman he was so busy frolicking with was no innocent.  Not like his Bethany had been.  Not the way she’d been doing a man’s job.  Not the way she dressed.  Not the way she acted.  They deserved whatever they got, he scowled.  They had it coming.
“Come on,” Lou said, holding out a hand to Kid.  “We should get a move on.  If we make good time today, we can spend tomorrow night at this inn I know about in Grand Island.”
“Really?” Lu said, taking her hand and letting her help haul him to his feet.  A devilish glint entered his blue eyes as a sly smile slipped onto his mouth.  “And what, precisely, would we do with a night at an inn?” he whispered wickedly in her ear.
Lou shrugged, blushing as she turned her back on him, using the need to mount her horse as an excuse to hide her pleased embarrassment.  She’d never have thought to see Kid being so… forward, let alone enjoy it so much.  It seemed like he was constantly flirting with her, his comments full of heated overtones and hidden meanings that had her feeling like she’d been sunburned she spent so much tine blushing. 
Sneaking another peak at him from under the brim of her hat, a mischievous grin of her own burst forth.  She had to admit, she liked the more forward version of Kid…. Lu.  That’s who he was, she thought.  He was…. Lu.  There had been hints of this aspect of his personality when they’d courted and married, but life itself had been so serious back then and so had they.  She’d never dreamed he could be like this.
“They’re definitely headed for Grand Island?”
“That’s what Dicky says in this note.  He overheard ‘em talkin’ ‘bout stoppin’ at some inn there.”
The two outlaws looked at each other a moment.  The taller, burlier of the two suddenly grinned, revealing a mouthful of rotten teeth.  “Well that’s just fine and dandy.  We’ll ride on ahead…. gather up a few of the fellers at Dogtown and set a trap fer our little spy.  Ain’t no way she’ll ever make it ta trial.”
The shorter, more spindly man nodded, matching his partner wretched grin for wretched grin.  “I sure hope they enjoy that there ‘inn’.  ‘Cause it’ll be the last thing they do.”
Lou almost regretted suggesting they stop at Grand Island.  The next day they got quieter and quieter the closer they got to the city that had started as a German settlement on a large island in the middle of the Platte and Wood Rivers.  The small town they’d ridden past on their runs for the Express no longer existed.  A few years ago, everyone had moved a little inland from the river, in hopes of capturing a railroad depot, which they had.  Over a thousand people lived there now and there was talk of incorporating it into an official city.
“Git along there, girl,” she urged her horse on.  She could hear the chattering of the river water not too far in the distance and was eager to get the day’s travel over with.  Reaching the river’s banks, she slowed her mount and waited for Kid… Lu… to catch up.
Dismounting, she pulled her canteen off her saddle and began to refill it while she waited.  When he reached the river’s banks, Lu dismounted and joined her on the water’s edge.
“Lou,” he said after a moment of silence.
“This don’t need ta mean nothin’,” he said softly.  “I was just joshin’.  I ain’t tryin’ ta put no pressure on ya.  The opposite, in fact.  I need ya ta know me, want me, before we… well… you know.”
Ah, Lou almost smiled to herself, there was the uncertain, bumbling Kid she remembered.  He was still there, just well hidden underneath Lu’s more urbane exterior.  Finishing screwing the cap back on her canteen, she reached out with one  hand and put it over his.
“And if I want more?”
He slanted her a wicked look that almost took her breath away.
“When yer ready fer more with me, with Lu, then ya won’t be able ta run far enough, fast enough ta get away,” he said, turning back to remount his horse.  “Now, what say we find this inn of yers?  I’m hankerin’ fer a night in a real bed, fer a change.  I’m gettin’ too old ta be spendin’ so many nights sleepin’ out under the stars.”
Without another word, he urged his horse forward, into the river’s fast rushing waters and began to cross.
Lu followed his wife as she turned her horse down a lane bordered by several fruit trees of various types.  The lane led to a fine, clapboard sided two-story house.  Out front, a young boy, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old, was chopping firewood.  He paused in his efforts when he heard the sound of their horses’ hooves clopping along on the hard-packed earth.  Doffing his hat, he stared intently for a moment, then turned to shout something into the house.
“What was that?” Lu asked, curiously.
“German,” Lou said.  “Well, a form of it, anyway.  The Gieses are Low German, or Platte Deutsche.  About half the folk around here are.  The other half are High German, or Hoch Deutsch.  There’s a big rivalry between the two groups.  They each have their own churches, charity functions, socials halls, you name it.”
“But… isn’t it all German?”
“Not to hear them say it,” Lou laughed.
“Frau McCloud, you haf come back to see me,” a small, plump woman with fine-boned hands smiled, as she excited the front of the house.  Speaking with a heavy German accent, she asked, “And vem haf you brought vit you?  Vem… Voo is diese young man?”
The older woman didn’t give Lou a chance to answer her questions, reaching out to envelope her in a tight bear hug as soon as she dismounted and handed the reins to her horse to the young man.
Lou pulled back, smiling as she pushed her hat more securely onto her head.  “Lu, I’d like you to meet Frau Mary Giese, a friend of mine.  Frau Giese, this is my husband, Lu Mallory.”
“You haf re-mare-eet?” the woman asked, smiling as she held out a hand to Lu.  “Eet ees vonderful to make your acquaintance, young man.”
“Not…. precisely,” Lou muttered.
“Vell, come, come,” the woman demanded.  “You vill come inside.  I vill make you my gute pfannekuchen and you vill tell me all about it.”  Not waiting for an answer, she turned and headed back through the door.  “And how is zat beautiful tochter… daughter…. of yours, Mary Kate?  Vere is she?”
Lou smiled as she watched her friend disappear inside.
“Wow,” Lu said, whistling between his teeth.  “That woman is a force of nature.”
Lou nodded.  “I met her a few years back, while on a case with Sam.  We found ourselves on the run and she and her husband hid us in her barn for a couple days.  We’ve been friends ever since.  When her husband, Heinrich, died of cancer a couple years back, leaving her with this farm and seven children, the oldest only 18 years old, to raise, she began to take in borders.  I stay here anytime I’m coming through.  Mary Kate loves to play with her youngest girls, Metha and Oda.”
She held out her hand to him and added, “Come on, you don’t want to miss her pfannekuchen.”
Lu took her small hand in his, relishing the feeling of contentment it brought him.  Following her inside, he asked, “What’s pfannekuchen?”
“Vhat is pfannekuchen?” Frau Giese asked in mock-outrage.  She turned to Lou.  “Vhat haf you been feeding dees man dat he does not know pfannekuchen?  Did I not teach you to cook good?”
“You taught me to cook just fine,” Lou smiled.  “There just hasn’t been any time to whip up any of your specialties for Lu.  We’ve been a bit busy.”
“Ah, he helps you fight zee bandits?”  The woman nodded sagely.  “Dees, den, ees much more important den pfannekuchen.  So, I make for you.”
Without another word she turned to the kitchen counter and began tossing various items into a bowl and stirring vigorously, occasionally pausing to check to see if the oil in the skillet on the stove had gotten hot enough, humming an odd tune to herself the entire time.
Lu watched the entire process completely bewildered.  He still had no idea what pfannekuchen were, but they sure smelled good.  A few minutes later, Frau Giese set a plate down in front of him, filled from edge to edge with a round fried piece of … bread, he guessed, with some sort of fruit inside.
“Esst,” she said.  “Eat.  Pfannekuchen mit kirschen sind die beste.”
Turning, she got to work on another of the delicacies for Lou.  Lu turned to his wife and raised an eyebrow.  She handed him a fork and knife and smiled.
“They’re something like pancakes.  Frau Giese’s specialty is pfannekuchen with cherries in them.  In my opinion they don’t need any topping, but you can put some apple butter or jam on it if you want.”
“If you say they’re good plain, I’ll start that way.”  Taking the fork and knife, Lu cut himself a small slice of the round bread and brought it slowly to his mouth, blowing on it to cool it down before taking a bite.  “Mmmmm,” he moaned in appreciation.  “These are delicious.  And you say you know how to make them?”
Lou nodded, giggling.  “Frau Giese insisted on teaching me after she saw the oatmeal I’d made Mary Kate and myself for breakfast one morning.  She was scandalized.”
Setting another plate in front of Lou, Mary Giese seated herself at the table with the young couple and began to grill them.
“Muttie, would you leave them alone,” the young man said, coming in from the barn where he’d been stabling their horses.
“It’s alright, Henry,” Lou said.  “We don’t mind.  It’s kind of nice, actually.  Normal, even.”
“So, if he’s yer fellow, you two got any plans for havin’ some fun while yer here?” Henry asked.
“No real plans,” Lu said.  “We’re just passin’ through.  Gotta be in Fort Kearny by tomorrow night.”
“Ach, du must testify again?” his mother asked, throwing her hands up in the air.  “I like you fight de bad… but vhen you settle down?  Gif me some babies to spoil?”
Lu wrapped an arm around Lou’s shoulders as she ducked her head, blushing. 
“Soon,” he said.  Looking down at his wife, he repeated more softly, for her ears alone, “Soon.”
“Well, if yer lookin’ fer some fun, there’s a concert planned tonight at the Liederkranz Hall.  Some singer from back East is supposed ta be there.”
“Vhy you eben mention dat place?  Das ist Hoch Deutsch!” Frau Giese muttered angrily, spitting on the floor to emphasize her opinion of the last.
“Oh, Muttie, Hoch Deutsch, Platt Deutsch.  That’s the Old Country.  This is America.  Here, we all speak English.  We are Americans.”
Lou and Lu laughed as mother and son began to natter away angrily at each other in German, completely forgetting their presence.
Lu tugged at the tight collar of his borrowed suit.  It didn’t quite fit, but he wouldn’t have felt right showing up at a concert in his dirty, sweaty riding clothes that he’d been wearing for five days now.  In one hand he clutched a posy of daisies he’d picked earlier in the afternoon, while Lou had been closeted away with Frau Giese and her eldest two daughters, Bertha and Caroline.  Nervously he paced up and down in front of the fireplace in the front parlor, awaiting his wife.
“Em hm,” she cleared her throat.  He stopped in his tracks and turned to look, immediately captivated by her appearance.  She stood shyly at the top of the stairs, one hand gripping the bannister so tightly her knuckles shone white, the other pressed against her stomach in a protective stance.  “Well,” she finally said.  “How do I look?”
Shaking his head to free himself from his stupor, he smiled.  “Beautiful.  But you always look beautiful.  That dress is perfect for you.  I thought you said you didn’t have any clothes with you.  Well… you know what I mean.”
She laughed as she began to descend the stairs, the long, slim skirts of her purple dress, trimmed in black velvet.  It nipped in tightly at the waist, emphasizing its slenderness and the alluring curve of her hips and bust.  A froth of lace spilled from the wrists to play peek-a-boo with her hands while a row of carved bone buttons down the front had Lu itching to rush her back upstairs so he could start undoing them. 
“I didn’t,” she said a bit breathlessly.  “But I always keep a few things stashed here.  This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself headed to trial in Fort Kearny with nothin’ but the clothes on my back.  And it always helps to make a good impression on the judge.”
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, he reached out a hand, which she gladly took.  For some reason, the butterflies in her stomach wouldn’t let go their grip on her.  Taking the hand she’d given him, he brought it to his lips and kissed it tenderly before slipping it through the crook of his elbow and turning her toward the door.
“Um, Lu….” she spoke up, stopping him.  “Did you have somethin’ fer me?”
“What?” he asked, stopping where in mid-stride, flummoxed.
“Those are for me, aren’t they?  Or were ya plannin’ on feedin’ ‘em ta the horses?” she asked, teasingly, pointing down at the daisies in his fist.
Looking down at the flowers he still clutched in his hand, Lu chuckled.  “Hmph.  I forgot all ‘bout these.  Thought they were real pretty, too, right up until I saw you.  It’s a shame really.”
Taking the bouquet in one hand, Lou asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, see, if you carry those no one’ll ever see them,” Lu said.  “They’ll be too busy lookin’ at the pretty lady on my arm.”
Louise blushed, looking away for a moment, before quickly returning her gaze to meet his.  He was serious.  Which made her blush all the more.
“Shall we go?” he asked.
She smiled.  “We shall.”
As they stepped out the door together and he handed her up into the surrey the Gieses were lending them, she asked, “What is this opera, precisely, anyway?”
Lu shrugged.  “Dunno.  Read about it in the papers.  Heard talk of it.  Some folks back in Winchester used to talk about some opera singer called Jenny Lind that held a concert in the area back in the 50s.  But ain’t never heard any.”
Lu sat beside his wife, barely noticing the two people on the stage at the front of the room singing.  He had eyes only for the petite beauty at his side.  She, however, was entranced by the music.  Neither of them could understand a word that was said, but, he had to admit, the sound itself was pretty enough.  But not nearly as pretty as her laughter.
He’d thought himself enamored of her before.  Now?  Now he was pretty sure he was totally, irrevocably in love… with his own wife.  The question became, what to do about it.  They’d been getting closer and closer over the last few days.  But was she now seeing him for him, or was she simply seeing him as an older version of the man she’d loved in her youth?  And, honestly, did it really matter so much.
He started at the sound of sudden applause coming from around him and rapidly joined in.  But his thoughts continued with his wife.  The rest of the evening passed in a pleasant blur.  He barely remembered what they saw, what they ate, where they went.  All his senses were too tied up in absorbing everything about the woman at his side.
“Lu,” she said quietly, as they walked back to the inn from the barn after dropping off the surrey.
“Hmm,” he responded, distracted.
Louise reached up a hand and cradled his cheek to get his full attention.  “Lu.”
“What are you thinkin’ on so hard?”
He looked away from her for a moment, then back.  “You.”
“Is that so?” she smiled.
He nodded mutely.
“And just what have you been thinkin’ ‘bout me?”
“That yer just ‘bout the most beautiful, enchantin’ thing I’ve ever seen and I don’t know how I’m goin’ ta keep my hands ta myself tonight.”
“Who says ya haveta?” she whispered, leaning up on tiptoe to bring her mouth up to his. 
He stiffened at first, then relaxed.  This was what they both wanted.  Where they’d been heading for several days now.  This, this kiss, this meeting of two mouths, merging of two bodies at a single point, the delicious slide of her breath across his face, the warm reception he received, this was what love was.  Oh, not all of it.  But the part they were ready for now, needed now.
“Lu,” she moaned as she slipped her mouth along his chin, nibbling her way toward his ear.  “Let’s turn in.”
Surrendering to the moment, he slipped his arms around her, lifting her completely off the ground as they pushed through the front door.  Ducking his head, he re-captured her wandering lips, bringing them back to where he wanted them, while maneuvering them up the stairs toward their room.
With one hand, he reached out and opened the door, pulling her through it after him.  Framing her face with both hands, he kissed her deeply, sharing the hot breath of his growing desire with her.  She accepted it gladly, returning it fullfold.  Even as one hand reached up to begin fumbling with those buttons that had been teasing him all night long, the other reached out to shut the door behind them firmly on the world outside.  Tomorrow they might have to worry about outlaws, trials and gunfights again.  But tonight?  Tonight was theirs.

Historical Notes:
*Heinrich & Mary Giese were a real couple in Grand Island, Nebraska.  But, they would have just been getting married when my story occurred.  He didn’t die until the 1890s.  I moved their lives up to fit my story.  The Giese House is on the National Register of Historic Places.  So far as I know it was never run as an inn.  The couple did have seven children, six girls and one boy.  All names mentioned are actual.  http://www.nebraskahistory.org/histpres/nebraska/hall/HL06-705_Heinrich_Giese_Hse.pdf
*The Liederkranz was also real, but did not exist until later.  However, a pre-cursor to the Liederkranze was in place at the time of the story and was a center of social activity amongst the Hoch Deutsch or High German community.  The split between the two communities of German speakers was a very real issue at the time.  http://www.nebraskahistory.org/histpres/nebraska/hall/HL06-008_Liederkranz.pdf
*Opera was a favorite form of entertainment in the 19th century.  It was not unusual for opera singers, or wannabes, to tour the west in an attempt to get famous.  Jenny Lind was a famous Swedish opera singer who toured the United States in the early 1850s.  Her tour was so famous she has streets named after her throughout the country, even though she stayed in the East and South of the U.S.
*Muttie is a shortened form of the German word Mütter or Mother.  It’s pronounced moo-tee.
*Pfannekuchen are German-style pancakes, kind of like a really, really thick crepes.  They’re usually eaten with jam or pudding on top.  Some cooks like to add various fruits to them when cooking.  Apples and cherries are favorites.
*Lou’s dress for her night out on the town with Lu.  http://pinterest.com/pin/192106740325479639/

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