Friday, August 3, 2007

Prologue: Bought with Blood, Part III

At Matthew's left, Martha stood and peered into the night. "Where is Jonathan? He should have been back by now."

"He's fine. He's probably off sulking somewhere. Leave him be. A night out there alone might do him some good."

She turned. "You can be a cruel, heartless man sometimes. That is your own flesh and blood out there. He could be hurt or lying in the river, for all you know. I'm going to go find my son." She stepped out of the firelight and called back over her shoulder. "And get my brush."

"Have it your way," he muttered and waved dismissively. I don't know why she can't listen to reason. He jabbed the fire with a stick.

A muffled scream from the direction of the wagon brought him to his feet. Abigail moaned and rolled over in her blanket. A quick check showed she was still asleep.

"Stay here, honey," he whispered and grabbed a burning stick. "I'll go get Mommy."

Flames flickered above his head as he waved the torch back and forth. It illuminated the ground a few feet around him, but not as well as he expected, as if the night fought banishment. Shaking his head, Matthew dashed to the wagon.

Martha wasn't there. Neither were the horses. The ropes ended in a frayed mess a few feet from the knots still tied to the wagon. He hurried to the other side, still with no sign. His foot kicked something that rattled. Matthew bent down and picked up a battered pot. His wife's hairbrush lay inside. Where is she? Where's Jonathan?

He spun in a circle and started north. His path took him through camp. As he passed his daughter, Matthew slowed and halted. Martha and Jonathon were missing, perhaps injured. He needed to find them. But could he afford to leave his little girl all alone? Coyotes and Lord only knew what else stalked these lands, and most hadn't learned to be scared of men yet. His head swiveled from the night to Abigail and back. What do I do? Weeping, he tossed the branch back on the fire and collapsed on the ground beside it. I've got to keep her safe, if nothing else.

Of course, he had failed at that, as well...

Sunlight fell across his face. Matthew blinked several times, scrubbed a hand across his face and stood. He moved slowly, as if in a trance, his head moving back and forth as he scanned the ground. No trace of his family remained, not even Abigail's doll. He shuffled to the wagon outside the grove. It remained intact, but the canvas cover had been shredded and their belongings scattered. He picked among the ripped clothing like a buzzard moving through a battlefield. Shirts and pants that had survived the onslaught went into a small bundle in his arms, along with a few that looked repairable. Martha would kill me if she saw this mess. Fresh tears flowed down his cheeks.

His gathering complete, Matthew tied the clothing in the remains of one of his wife's dresses and faced south. It would take him a couple of days to walk to Paris, but he'd best get started now. Hopefully I'll be far away from this place come nightfall. Matthew turned back for one last look at the pecan grove. The Indians were right. We should have stayed away. From this vantage point, the place where they had camped looked like a perfect spot for a house. Martha was right; it really is a pretty place. But who could live here or lay claim to it?

His expression hardened. He could hear his wife chiding him for giving up so easily. I have laid claim to it. This is my land. How much blood had been spilt for this plot of earth? He'd shot and stabbed scores of Mexicans in battle for the right to come here. His family was gone, swallowed into the night that lived in this place. If it wasn't his, then by God, it wasn't anyone's. There's no bodies, he thought abruptly. Who's to say they're really dead? Perhaps if the night took them, it can give them back. I'll never find a way if I leave. I made it through one night; I can make it through another.

Setting his bundle on the back of the wagon, Matthew grabbed an ax. He walked among the trees and cut marks into the ones that would need to come down to make room for the house. He chose carefully. Martha didn't want them all removed. About noon, he stopped and collected a huge mound of firewood for the coming night. He started the fire well before sunset and lay down to sleep.

In the morning, Matthew Jennings would begin to build his new home.


Part I of Chapter 1 coming Monday!

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