This week we’re moving into my Western Series that takes place at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory in the mid 1840s. Here’s an excerpt from the first book, The Officer and the Bostoner.
Here’s the first chapter:
Allison Pierson willed her breakfast to stay in her stomach where it belonged.
Unfortunately for her, neither her breakfast nor the stagecoach driver cared about her stomach’s revolt. She pressed her hand over her churning stomach and squeezed her eyes shut. Just a few hours longer.
Beside her, a blonde-haired woman wearing a pale yellow cotton dress with a dirty and torn hem, who’d spent the majority of the trip from Boston mending one article of clothing or another, ransacked her bag, causing the stagecoach to jerk and sway more than it had before.
“Mama, I’m squished,” the sewing lady’s young son pouted, kicking at Allison’s shins as if that would make her move over and allow him more room.
“Reuben, stop that,” his mother admonished for no less than the hundredth time since leaving Boston and at least the sixth time just today. There was no doubt about it, by the time she arrived in Santa Fe, her legs would be covered with the most lovely mural of blue and purple bruises.
“Hold me!” he demanded.
“I can’t hold you just now,” his mother explained.
The boy pushed out his lower lip and crossed his arms. “But I can’t see out the window!”
“Oh, all right.” His mother put down her sewing and pulled him up onto her lap.
One might think there would be a little more room for Allison on the seat now that the little boy was sitting on his mother’s lap; but one would be wrong. Instead, Allison had less room as she pressed herself firmly against the side of the stagecoach to avoid being kicked in the thigh—or worse, in her stomach—by the little boy’s dirty, bare feet.
But it didn’t matter. The stagecoach was too small and the boy so wiggly, those feet hit her anyway, leaving her pale pink traveling dress covered in brownish-gray smudge marks and her tired body aching more with each blow.
Had she still been in Boston and about to see one of her friends, she might have cared how she’d appear when she arrived. But as it was, she was in a stagecoach rolling over the uninteresting terrain of Kansas, moving ever closer to her destination: Santa Fe.
A picture of what awaited her there flashed in her mind. Nicholas Parker, her intended, had sent her a drawing of the house he’d bought for them when he’d moved to Austin more than six months ago. During those months—especially the last two weeks, while traveling—it had been that drawing that had gotten her through.
A horse’s whinny rent the air and Allison snapped her eyes open. She breathed a sigh of relief. The stagecoach was pulling to a stop in front of a little red and white stone building.
Allison nearly knocked the stagecoach driver to the ground in her hurry to disembark the torture device she’d become all too familiar with these last few days.
“Miss Pierson!” Mary, her maid and traveling companion, called in a high-pitched, nasal tone so loud even the poor stagecoach driver winced. “I insist you get back into the stagecoach this instant.”
Allison ignored her. Mary and Allison had never gotten along very well, and following Mother and Father’s deaths, Mary had become less discreet in expressing her dislike. She’d only agreed to accompany Allison on this trip because Father’s close friend, who Allison had grown up calling Uncle Liam, had paid Mary a year’s worth of wages and promised to terminate her employment upon Allison’s safe arrival in Santa Fe with a letter of highest reference.
Still ignoring the shrill demands rolling off Mary’s tongue, Allison shook out her wrinkled skirt and lifted her hand to shield her brown eyes from the bright sun. With only one road, several large fields and not more than a handful of stone buildings, this township looked remarkably different from all the others they’d stopped at. She dismissed the thought. As long as she could find a general store to buy some mint for her stomach and a privy, the town would do just fine.
Squinting, she read the sign on the building closest to her: Commissary. Excellent. She walked over and grabbed hold of the doorknob. It didn’t turn. But her stomach did. Grimacing at the pain in her gut, she made a fist and banged on the door. Thankfully, her bangs were loud enough to drown out Mary’s angry commands and condescending reprimands. Truly, who had a care if Mary made a spectacle of herself in the middle of this town? In ten minutes, they’d all be gone; and in a matter of a few days, Allison would never see any of the other travelers again, either.
A minute passed. Then another. It was becoming quite clear that nobody was going to open the door, so she took a step back and scanned the little row of three buildings closest to her. If her nose was to be believed, the next building over was a bakery. Allison took a few steps in that direction, and with each step, her roiling stomach only confirmed that, indeed, the next building was a bakery.
With a deep breath that did nothing to settle her stomach, Allison opened the door and was immediately greeted by a cloud of snowy white flour and the slight shriek of a flour-covered baker.
“Pardon me,” Allison said with a slight cough. “Can you tell me when the commissary will open?”
Not stopping in his work, the heavyset baker continued to knead his dough. “If you need to buy something, you need to go to the sutler store. It’s back that way.” The baker jerked his head backward as he continued to knead the large ball of dough in front of him.
Allison’s eyes shot to the window directly behind the man and looked for the store he’d suggested, but all she saw was a wide field and a long row of what looked like connected log cabins with two story towers on the corners. “Thank you,” she murmured to the humming baker before excusing herself.
With a sigh, she started across the thick field that led to where the baker had indicated she’d find the sutler store, taking note of the oddly placed buildings between here and there; a little stone building here and a wooden cabin there. All around was tall, thick, itchy grass. She gritted her teeth and picked up her pace as best she could to get through it. Heaven only knew what lurked between the blades.
Fortunately, the ground closer to the buildings didn’t have such high or thick grass. In fact, most of the grass was gone or only appeared in patches.
The exterior walls of the buildings showed nothing but long, dark logs with single two-paned windows set eight to ten feet apart. Most of the windows were open, allowing a slight breeze to blow against the tattered, uneven curtains inside. Not that it would matter too much, she thought. It was hotter outside than she imagined Hell would be; she could only imagine how hot it must be in those rooms.
Spotting a little alley between the two-story building and the long building to her left, Allison slipped through, then paused. A long log cabin with dozens of windows and half as many doors was on either side of her. Each was connected to other long cabins, so that together they formed a perfect square. She shivered. From now on when someone spoke about the city of Jericho and its mighty walls, she’d know exactly what it might feel like to live within such an enclosed fortress.
The long cabins to her immediate left and right had only one story, while the two far rows that made up the other sides of the square were two stories high, each with a set of two staircases positioned between every set of doors. Each row of what could only be termed as apartments was joined to the perpendicular row by a giant square tower that was taller than the rest of the buildings and had several odd-looking platforms just under the eaves. They almost looked like the lookouts that castles in the middle ages had from what she had read.
But the strangest thing about the sight before her was that right in the middle of what she could only consider to be “town square” was a cannon! She did her best to close her unhinged jaw and shook her head. What kind of people were these to have a cannon on display in the middle of their town?
A sharp whistle to her left jerked her from her state of shock. She licked her lips and turned her head to the man who’d whistled, only to have terror steal over her at the sight that presented itself: a man with dirt and mud all over his face and unkempt hair, wearing only a pair of stained, tan trousers, was standing in a room that had a grid of bars for a door and was leering at her.
He reached his hand through the bars as if to touch her, and instinctively, she took a step backwards. Then another.
The dirty man laughed, revealing a row of missing and rotting teeth.
Not wishing to see any more of this vile man than she already had, Allison clutched her purse as tightly to her chest as she could and, keeping herself as far away from him as possible, walked past the jailed man and in the direction of what she hoped would be the sutler’s shop.
The unmistakable sound of the husk of a broom scraping a wooden floor stopped Allison mid-step. She looked to the right and relief coursed through her. The little room to her right looked exactly like the general stores she’d seen in Missouri.
“Sir,” Allison called, stepping inside his store.
A graying man with a tanned and wrinkled face looked up from where he’d been sweeping the floor and blinked.
Odd. “Sir, I’d like to buy some peppermint, please.”
“How did you get here?” he asked, his gray, bushy brows knitting together.
“On the stage.” She pointed in the vague direction of the stagecoach.
“The stage?” Frowning, he set his broom in the corner, walked to the window positioned at the back of his store, peeked his head through the hole, and looked in one direction, then the other. “I don’t see no stage.”
“My peppermint,” she prompted.
The man came to stand behind his counter, then crossed his arms and quirked a brow. “And what will you give me for it?”
He chuckled, then reached for a little glass jar of mints on the shelf beside him. “Yer in luck. I have fifty cent’s worth left.”
“Very well, I’ll take a nickel’s worth, please.”
“No trade.” The old man shook his head and set the jar of peppermints down on the counter in front of him.
“What do you mean, no trade?”
He shrugged. “I mean I ain’t sellin’ ya a nickel’s worth. That’s what I mean.”
“Because I ain’t. The price is fifty cents.”
“Fifty cents for all of it?”
“Very well, I don’t want all of it. I just want five.”
“All right, ya can have five—for fifty cents.”
“That’s thievery,” she exclaimed. Were she in Boston, this wouldn’t be a problem. She’d just pay the swindler his price, then remember never to return to his store again. But this wasn’t Boston, and she had only eight dollars and fifteen cents that had to pay for all of her meals and lodging until she reunited with Nicholas in Santa Fe next week. She couldn’t afford to spend fifty cents on a few mints.
The old man shrugged. “Man’s got to make his livin’ somehow.”
“And stealing is your method, is it?”
“Selling,” he corrected, idly spinning the jar of her much-needed peppermint in front of him—taunting her with it. “I’m a trader, ma’am. You give me what I want and I give you what you want. Seems an honest profession to me.”
“Unless what I want to give doesn’t match what you think I ought to give. Then you refuse to trade, thinking I’ll relent and agree to pay that horrendous price you’re asking. But that’s where you’re wrong. I won’t.”
The shopkeeper shrugged and, much to the dismay of Allison’s lurching stomach, put the jar of peppermint back onto the shelf along the back wall by his window. “Say, isn’t that the stage ya said ya rode in on?”
Allison craned her neck to see out his window just in time to glimpse the coach she’d come in on rolling down the road.
Terror shot through her, and pushing aside the queasiness that was threatening to overtake her and reduce her to nothing more than a boneless heap, Allison ran out of the back of the store, along the row of rooms, past the jail where the shirtless, leering man was licking his lips and making kissing noises at her, past a man on a horse, and in the direction of her coach. “Wait! Wait!” she yelled as loudly as she could.
A cloud of dust filled the air in front of her, but she didn’t stop her pursuit.
Lungs burning and eyes stinging from the dust, she ran after the stage. “Stop!”
But the stage kept rolling down the dirt road, heedless of her commands. The only sign that someone had even heard her cries for help was the sight of a hand—likely Mary’s—as it reached out the window and waved to her.
Desperate and tired, but not going to give up without a fight, Allison bent down and grabbed a stone from the middle of the dirt road and hurled it at the stage. She missed. She scooped up another and continued her run after the coach, waiting for just the right moment to throw it.
Energy waning, Allison threw the rock.
Breathing heavily, Allison stared with wide eyes as the rock flew through the air. With every second that passed, the rock got farther from Allison and closer to the stagecoach. And then… And then… Then, it hit…the ground.
Allison sank to the dusty, rocky ground, defeated. Tears she’d somehow managed to suppress until now filled her eyes as silent sobs wracked her body.
“Don’t be so glum. That was an excellent throw,” a stranger drawled from the direction of the commissary. “Keep practicing and I’m sure you’ll be good enough to join the first official rounders team when we start one here at Fort Gibson. We’ll be able to beat the boys at Fort Supply in short order with you on the team.”
His casual tone and glib remarks were enough to spark her anger. Taking to her feet and steeling herself to look every bit the Boston lady her mother had raised her to be, Allison inclined her chin and said, “You may find this laughable, but I do not.”
His easy grin didn’t fade a bit. “I’m sure that if you were me, you’d find it quite humorous, indeed.”
She pursed her lips at the way he mimicked her accent and speech. She shook her head. He was a southerner, likely one who could not be confused for a gentleman. To him, she was nothing but someone to make sport of. Not that she cared overmuch. He could have his fun at her expense now. That was fine. She’d be gone from this abominable little town soon enough. She just needed to get her fare from the shopkeep and book a seat on the next stage.
“I’m not the most educated man in town, but I don’t think you’re going to catch them by walking in the wrong direction,” the insufferable man said, falling into stride beside her.
It was moments like this Allison wished she had her parasol. This infuriating man might benefit from a tap on the head.
“Sir,” she called to the shopkeeper as she stepped inside his little shop.
The swindler closed his cigar box and looked at her companion. “Mornin’, Wes.”
The handsome, brown-haired, blue-eyed man next to her tipped his wide-brimmed hat and the swindler bit the end off his cigar, then spit the tip on the floor with a disgusting pffft. Then, without a single word, he wet his lips and brought his cigar to his mouth.
“Sir, I demand you book my passage on the next stage,” Allison said, as the older man struck a match and lit his cigar.
A puff of smoke filled the air in front of her. “And just how do you expect me to do that?”
Allison closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the words of her mother repeating in her head: Don’t get angry in the presence of a gentleman; it’s not proper. If he or anyone else provokes you, smile and rephrase your request. Remember to keep your voice quiet, calm and even. And if that doesn’t work, use big words to trick him into doing what you want him to do, she would always silently add to herself, recalling how her Aunt Thelma had manipulated Uncle Liam.
“Sir, please retrieve your stagecoach log book and pen my name, Allison Pierson, on the register for the next departing stage; thank you.”
The old man pursed his lips together, held up one finger, then bent down to reach for something under the counter. Straightening, he dropped a large, chapped leather book onto the counter, causing a small cloud of dust to fill the air in front of her.
The store owner then flipped the book open and licked his fingers. Using his damp thumb and forefinger, the man casually flipped through the pages, humming as he went. About halfway through the book, he stopped and retrieved the broken quill lying in the middle of his counter. Licking the end of his quill first, for whatever reason, he then began scratching out what appeared to be the sloppiest version of her name she’d ever seen.
“Very good,” she said, beaming. “And just when can I expect the stage to be here?”
He shrugged. “I don’t rightly know, but when it arrives, you’ll be the first one on it.”
Beside her, the man the store owner had referred to as Wes guffawed.
Allison pursed her lips at him. He would find that statement humorous. At the sound of the store owner clearing his throat, Allison turned her attention back to him and his outstretched hand. “Yes?”
“That’ll be ten dollars, miss.”