Category: Winds West

Winds West – 8

     Mr. Langdon returned home, and, as he had hinted in his letter, he returned with a new wife. Clara was nice enough to Liza, but made it obvious that she intended to run the house her own way and considered Liza superfluous, not to mention low class. She was too nose-in-the-air for Liza’s taste and had definite ideas about her proper station in the community. It was the first time Liza had ever met anyone with social pretensions and it amused her no end. It also made it easier to finally take the big step and strike out on her own. The differences between Clara and Liza were certainly not lost on Mr. Langdon, but he had a foot in both worlds. Coming from a background like Clara’s, he had lived many years in a world more like Liza’s and appreciated the faults and virtues of both. Now he had made his decision and Liza’s staying would only create friction in the house. It was time to close one chapter of the book and go on to the next.

     “Liza, when you came to us, I was grateful and I always will be. You were more than just an excellent housekeeper. But I think we both know it’s time for you to move on. You never had much chance to follow your own star, what with having to take over your own home, then mine. Now you can do whatever is in you to do. I’ve watched you these last two years and I’ll tell you frankly you can do anything you’ve a mind to. And as I said, I’m grateful. Anything I can do to help you get started, you need only ask. Perhaps you could become a schoolteacher. I have some influence in the town and I could arrange that. You would have no trouble getting a certificate. You’re much better read than most of our leading citizens.”

     “That’s because you let me use your library, Mr. Langdon. You don’t know how much that has meant to me since I came here. But while I appreciate you wanting to help, I think I’m going to go West. This country somehow seems to stifle me. Everything is so settled and proper. It’s like everyone here thinks their way of life is the only possible or proper way. You know the difference between folks in a big city and folks in the country. So do I, even if I haven’t been to a real big city yet. But what I want is more country, less city. Even Ohio is becoming too much like the East for me. I want to be able to stand on my own and build my own life without fretting about what other folks do or say. I can’t do that here.”

     “You’re right, of course. Feeling as you do, you would never be happy here. Different people have different views, and sometimes there isn’t as much tolerance as there should be. In some ways I envy you. It was your kind that built this country, then others came along to enjoy the fruits of that building. What I find sad is that the latecomers usually don’t appreciate what it took to build the land.”

     “I don’t blame them for that,” said Liza. “There’s no way they could understand what it took or what life was like years ago. They grow up with houses and churches and stores and all, with lots of people around. It just seems natural and normal to most folks. Somehow I’m different. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse. I just know I don’t want to stay here. If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go home next week. I want to visit Papa and the family before I start West.”

     “That’s fine, Liza. But I do want to show my appreciation for these last two years. I can give you letters of recommendation and introductions to some business acquaintances in Colorado. They might make it easier for you to get started out there, if that’s where you end up.”

     “Thank you, sir. I probably will go to Colorado. A friend of Papa’s runs a mercantile store out there and told Papa he’d help. Who knows? I may even run into the minister’s nephew!”

     “You might, at that. As I recall, he mentioned coming back here when it was time to find a wife, and somehow I think he had his eye on you. He’s a fine young man with a good chance to make something of himself. You could do worse. But Liza, don’t marry him or anybody else just for that. You’re still young and needn’t be in a hurry to wed. Indeed, it’s hard for me to remember just how young you are. But there’s a lot of life you haven’t had a chance to live yet. Give yourself that chance. Marry someone you love.”

     “I suppose I will, someday. Providing I find someone who feels the same way about me. That’s always a question, isn’t it?”

     “Not so much as you might think. Somehow, falling in love often seems to provoke the same reaction in the other person.”

     “Well, I guess I’ll just see what comes. As to Ryle Tate, I was only joshing.”

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Winds West – 7

     She didn’t know where the days went. She was kept so busy with the details of living that she seldom had time to consider what her life was all about. Now that had changed. For the past two weeks she’d had the place all to herself. Mr. Langdon had gone visiting and taken the whole brood with him. They were staying with relatives in Pittsburg while he investigated business ventures with the railroad. He had written her a letter which mentioned that he was thinking of getting married again. If so, he would no longer need her services. Papa’s circumstances had improved during the time she had been away from home and he had told her to keep all of what she earned. Mr. Langdon had let her expand the garden and sell whatever the family didn’t need. She had managed to accumulate nearly two hundred dollars. Now she faced choices she had never had before.

     She was fifteen and a woman now. Even the physical changes had arrived. She felt grateful to her mother for preparing her for that transition to womanhood. Now that she thought of it, it occurred to her that during the last couple of years before her death, Mama had been preparing all the girls for her own absence. She knew she was dying and did her best to make her death as easy as possible for the others.

     Liza began to run over in her mind the many conversations between her and Mama. Mama had talked of how she had met Papa, what it was like being in love and courting, even what it was like to sleep with a man and bear his children. Liza had not yet experienced that, but expected she would be able to put up with it as well as any other woman. It was curious, that part of the man and woman thing. On the one hand, she knew all about the mechanics of sex. One couldn’t grow up in the country and be entirely ignorant of such things. She knew it was something all men were supposed to want and women to tolerate. But in her limited experience, it seemed that many of the young men were completely bewildered and only went through the motions of pursuing the girls. Rather like a dog chasing a train…what would they do if they caught it? For herself, while she had never flt any Grand Passion for any man, there seemed to be some vague yearning deep inside, so cloudy that she couldn’t even identify the target of the desire. Perhaps that would come, in time.

     But not around here. She realized that there was really nothing to hold her in Ohio. It was settled and civilized and full of nice folks and a few fools, but it lacked something she wanted, something she needed. Perhaps that was why her folks had left Pennsylvania so long ago and settled in Ohio. Perhaps they too needed the challenge of a new country, the opportunity for independence and having the course of their lives in their own hands. She was sure that was what Papa had wanted. For herself, she wanted to build her own life, not just settle into a role prepared for her by someone else, no matter how well-meaning.

     She thought of Ryle Tate, the minister’s nephew, and wondered how he was getting along with the ranch he had planned to build. He might make a good husband if he could learn to let a woman stand beside him instead of behind him, if he could accept a wife as a partner instead of some fragile thing he had to coddle. Men seemed to be like that, she thought. She didn’t know why. But not her man, she told herself. “I won’t settle for being an ornament to some man’s life.”


Winds West – 5

     Well, dinner was over and nobody had seemed inclined to complain or had a bellyache, so she guessed it had gone alright. The minister and his wife had exclaimed over it, especially the ice cream and pies. Mr. Langdon seemed pleased and complimented her right in front of everyone. The children seemed proud of her, although she couldn’t for the life of her figure out why. The young man, whose name turned out to be Ryle Tate, was polite in a formal sort of way. He certainly didn’t say or do anything to give offence, but she admitted to herself she was a trifle miffed he hadn’t been more enthusiastic.

     She told herself she wasn’t setting her cap for him. Why, then, did it bother her what he said or didn’t say? Wryly, she acknowledged her interest had been piqued. There was something standoffish about him and she was curious to get behind that wall of social courtesy and polite conversation and find out who he really was. One thing was sure – she wouldn’t get far playing coquette. He was a serious young man, with more depth than most his age. He would want an equally serious woman. Though it would be a shame if he were so somber all the time. With a bit of a shock, she realized she had not heard him laugh at all, even when the children were joking or the minister and Mr. Langdon were swapping tall tales. He smiled from time to time, but he had not laughed. She began to feel sorry for him. That, she told herself, is your first mistake, thinking a man has some secret sorrow you can find and cure. Time to get back to reality, put the dreams away for the day. Time to do the dishes.

     With the kitchen tidied up, she wandered into the parlor, but all was neat and dusted, nothing to be done. For the first time all day, she had idle time on her hands and she began to relax and savor it. She moved to the window to catch a cooling breeze and began to leaf through one of Mr. Langdon’s gazettes. Mr. Langdon and the guests were sitting on the veranda, talking about this and that.

     “How is the Woods girl working out, John? I know you had your doubts before you hired her.”

     “She’s been fine, Reverend. You’re right about my having had doubts. I couldn’t see how anyone her age would be able to take care of my home and children, but she’s taken hold. Done everything I’ve asked and done it well. Even the children don’t seem to resent her. I was afraid they would compare her to their mother, which wouldn’t be fair to Liza. I think it made it easier that she didn’t try to replace Martha, just be helpful and concerned for them.”

     “Well,” said the minister’s wife, “I suppose she had good practice in her own home. She’s had to tend to her own brother and sisters since her mother died. Of course, she comes of good stock, pioneers. Her family was here before the Flood. But I was surprised at how much she knows about cooking and managing a home. The house is neat and clean, the dinner was very good and the children look happy. Even you, John, look a bit more portly than the last time I saw you.”

     Mr. Langdon laughed. “Yes. I loved Martha greatly, but frankly Liza’s a better cook than Martha ever was, God rest her soul. Very intelligent too. Reads to the children every night, then reads to herself, the good books. We will miss Liza when she finally decides to leave us.”

     “Is she thinking of leaving,” asked the minister?

     “I haven’t heard her say so in so many words,” Mr. Langdon replied, “but I can’t keep her here forever and wouldn’t want to. She has her own life to live and someday she’ll decide to go live it. When she wants to leave, I won’t stand in her way. Maybe I can even help her along a bit.”

     “You’re a good Christian, John,” the minister’s wife said. “And you’re right. In a couple of years or so she’ll take the eye of some young buck and you’ll be looking for a new housekeeper.”

      “Maybe she has already,” said her husband. “Ryle here seemed to be spending a lot of time and trouble avoiding looking at her. Is she so unattractive then?”

     Liza had been considering moving away from the window, telling herself it wasn’t polite to eavesdrop on folks. Now, however, she felt her feet glued to the floor and she couldn’t have moved if it came Judgement Day. She was more than a little interested in what young Ryle had to say. Had he really being avoiding looking at her? If she’d known that, she would have found ways to tweak his nose a bit, just for fun.

     “Oh, I saw her well enough, Uncle. You might say she’s the only one I saw today. She’s really very pretty, yet that’s not what struck me after the first glance. You’re right, Aunt Maude. She is more grown up than her years. You know, after church I looked over all those young ladies and she was the only one who seemed grown up. They all tried to flirt – properly, of course – except her. And you say she’s only thirteen? Remarkably serious, she seemed. Does she ever laugh? I’d like to make her laugh, somehow.”

     What a turnabout, thought Liza! He thinks I’m a somber old woman and I think he’s a gloomy young man and we both want to change each other! But maybe I’m as wrong about him as he is about me. Wouldn’t that be a joke! She inched closer to the window and told herself it really wasn’t her fault if she happened to be in the parlor when they happened to be discussing her.

     “Unfortunately, I doubt if I’ll get the chance to know her very well. I’m back to Colorado day after tomorrow.”

     “I wish you could stay longer, Ryle,” the minister said. “Since we moved out here from Buffalo, you’re the only family we’ve had visit us. Your mother and I were very close and you’re almost like a son to Maude and me.”

     “Thank you, Uncle. You both know how I feel about you two. But I’ve some money saved up and I know a nice little ranch that the owner will sell at a bargain – he’s got gold fever and is itching to get back to prospecting. That’s all I want, to raise cattle and children in some of the most beautiful country on Earth.”

     “You may raise cattle, but you won’t raise many children by yourself,” Aunt Maude said slyly. “Seems to me you’ll need a woman somewhere along the way.”

     “Yes, but I want to make the ranch a going concern before I ask any woman to share it. I couldn’t ask anyone to live in a sod hut, cook over an open fire and not have any nice things for the years it will take to make the ranch pay. Maybe then I’ll go looking. If she’s still unmarried, maybe I’ll look around here.”

     Humph! How like a man, thought Liza. Any woman worth her salt wouldn’t mind at all, as long as she was with her man, building something for their future. Her own grandparents had migrated to Ohio when it was considered wilderness. They fought the Indians, cleared the forests and raised corn, beans and children. It wasn’t til they were nearly eighty that they lived in a place that didn’t have a dirt floor. And they swore they liked their old log cabin better.


Winds West – 4

    When the closing hymn started, Liza raised her voice along with the rest, but she hoped the Lord would forgive her mind being elsewhere. Guiltily, she was running over what she had to get done after church was finished. First, she must get the younger children out of their Sunday finery and make sure the older ones were kept busy at something that wouldn’t ruin their clothes…no tree-climbing, no exploring the barn with the neighbor children. Then she had to finish preparing Sunday dinner, including baking rolls and a couple of pies, as well as roasting a pair of chickens and fixing the vegetables. If they had enough cream left, she might put the younger ones to making ice cream. This dinner had to be special, since the minister and his wife were coming and bringing a guest. Mr. Langdon was easy enough to please and preferred to live simply, but he set great store by entertaining properly and would want everything just right.

    She had been there three weeks and he seemed satisfied with her work, but he wasn’t a very talkative person and she could never tell what he was really thinking. She thought that must be the difference between kin and strangers. With kinfolk, you had shared so much living you could almost read each others’ minds, but a stranger was an unopened book. Some looked to be so boring you didn’t want to bother, while others might be exciting or interesting. The young man the minister was bringing to dinner, for example.

     Liza glanced over at him now. He couldn’t be more than about twenty-two, but somehow he had a more grown-up look than many of the men twice his age. She watched him as he glanced around the congregation, seeming to look for something he couldn’t find. He had more assurance than the other young men, who seemed to have so much trouble avoiding blushing when they accidentally caught the eye of one of the young ladies. She saw Johnny Wilson making calf’s-eyes at her from the end of the pew. It was as close as he had dared approach her since he had announced that he was going West. He had great dreams of getting rich in the silver or gold mines and Liza had figured prominently in those dreams. While she sympathized with him, he wasn’t her idea of a husband. Perhaps she was too choosy, but she wasn’t ready yet to give up her own dreams. Besides, she told herself, thirteen is a trifle young to marry. She wouldn’t consider herself an old maid until, say, the ripe old age of seventeen.

     The minister was closing the service and people were beginning to stir about, collecting their wits and children. Mr. Langdon led his family up the aisle and Liza trailed along behind. Outside, the grownups mingled with friends while the younger children stared at each other tongue-tied. The older boys whooped and yelled and ran around, trying to find some way to impress the girls, who studiously ignored them.

     Liza wondered what caused these boys and girls to suddenly one day become adults and change their whole way of behaving. It must be something to do with falling in love, although she found this hard to believe. She had once been in love with a boy for a whole week and he with her for a month, but it hadn’t changed either of them that she could tell, except to make them act silly. A voice out of nowhere asked why she seemed so different from the other girls her age, but she shook off the question unanswered. That young visitor now. He might be a different story. She saw several of the eligible young ladies casting sheeps-eyes at him. He looked straight at them, rather casually, as if they were part of the landscape. Then his eyes would drift away, looking for something else. She reckoned she would find out more about him at dinner. She gathered the younger Langdons, leaving the older ones to accompany their father, and began to walk back to the Langdon home.


Winds West – 3

     Papa was sitting in the big chair and the little ones had been shoo’d off to bed. Liza sat in the rocker and reached into the darning basket for the next pair of his stockings that needed mending. She turned toward the coal oil lantern to thread her needle.

     “Elizabeth, you know I wouldn’t let you go to Langdon`s if I didn’t have to. He offered room and board and five dollars a month. That’s good pay for someone your age. God knows we need the money, but I want you to keep one dollar of it. That way you’ll have something put by to help furnish a home of your own someday.

     “I know, Papa. I’m glad to help any way I can. I just hope you and the others can get by all right. Maybe Effie and Helen can take care of the house. I don’t know who’ll take care of you and Ryan.”

     “We’ll make out, girl. It’s you I’m thinking of. You shouldn’t have to work so hard, so young. Maybe some nice young fellow will come calling in a couple of years and you can at least be doing the work for your own family. Langdon’s is a closer to town and they have a lot of church socials and such, more people for you to meet. You’re a pretty one. Remind me of your mother when we met.”

     “Maybe. Maybe I’ll go West. They say women are scarce out there. Remember Mr. Luby saying every woman who comes into town get a dozen proposals the first day?”

     “Every woman, yes. It seems like yesterday you were just a little girl. Now you’re a woman, or close to it. You’ve had to grow up fast, Liza. Faster than I would have liked. It’s too bad you mother isn’t with us. A girl needs someone, and although I try, there are things I just can’t help you with.”

     “I’ll be just fine. I miss Mama too, Papa. I’ll miss all of you, but you and Ryan most. Mama’s dying was hardest on him. I’ll ask Helen to read to him and that will help, but he’ll need to do things with you too. Otherwise, the girls will just run right over him. Are they hiring in Columbus?”

     “There’s a man starting the hiring tomorrow. I’ll be there bright and early and I stand a good chance of getting work for at least the summer. There can’t be too many bridge construction men with engineering degrees. If they don’t need me, I may be able to work with one of Langdon’s friends building houses. Not exactly my cup of tea, but work’s scarce these days.”

     “I know. Johnny Wilson hasn’t been able to find anything for months. His mother says he may go prospecting for gold in Colorado if he can find a way to get there. They say even if you don’t find gold, there’s plenty of work to go around.”

     “I should think there would be. The whole territory is nearly unbuilt. The trouble is, those mining camps are here today and gone tomorrow. Steady work needs more. There’s more future there in ranching. When the gold is dug up and gone, people will still have to eat.”

     “I suppose so. Were you able to buy a paper today?”

     “Luckily, Elizabeth, one of the traveling salesmen at the Garnett House left this behind.” With a sly grin, he took his coat down from the rack and extracted a newspaper. “None other than the Columbus Dispatch.”

     “Mercy! I never heard of it. Is it any good?”

     “Why don’t you read it and find out?”

     “You read it, Papa. That’s more fun.”

     Papa took out his reading glasses and unfolded the paper with ponderous gravity. Holding it at arm’s length, he posed pompously and began. “The world seems much as usual, daughter. Rascality and Ignorance battle vainly with the forces of Light and Right. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.”

     “Read, Papa. Don’t orate.”

     “The Illustrious and Confabulated Senator from Ohio has today confirmed the intention of the President to bestow upon our esteemed citizenry the dubious benefit of his presence in our Capitol during his upcoming trip. While purportedly to hear the view of the natives regarding the Free Trade issue, your correspondent has it on highly questionable authority that his looming arrival is actually intended to give the local Magnates of Commerce the opportunity to contribute to the coffers of the President’s upcoming campaign. In other words, to pay their annual bribes. The President is expected to be accompanied by his wife, who will not allow him to get a word in edgewise and who will sneer daintily at such quaint Ohio customs as civility and washing one’s hands before dinner.”

     A farm laborer reputed to be one William O’Brian was arrested for public drunkenness. He was brought before Justice R.P. Bumble and sentenced to spend the next ten days at the county workhouse, gluing back together the stones he had broken into pieces during his similar stay three months ago.”

     “Western Union messages carry a tale of a fabulous gold strike in western Colorado. Sources there say that if the native tribes can be induced to allow miners to pursue the issue, precious metals may be found, amounting to as much as $37.53. Several New York moneybags are reported interested and will assuredly swallow up any profits to be had in the affair”

     Liza laughed so hard she couldn’t keep her mind on her work, as she discovered when she stuck herself with her needle.
“Seriously, Papa, I sometimes wonder what the newspapers would be like if you wrote for them.”

     “They might not have as much news, but they’d be more interesting reading, wouldn’t they?”

     “Surely they would, Papa. Probably tell us just as much of what we really need to know, too.”

     “You know, Elizabeth, there’s no way to tell folks what it’s really like out West. The country hasn’t seen the like since my grandparents crossed the Ohio. A frontier is a different world entirely. Even the people aren’t the same. Different needs drive them. Here, we’re used to everything being settled, controlled, polite. A predictable and orderly life. Out West, it’s not so orderly and certainly not so predictable, but a man’s life is what he makes of it.”

     “You liked it out there, didn’t you, Papa?”

     “Yes. It took some getting used to, but on the whole, I liked it. Liked the land, liked the people.”

     “Why didn’t you stay there? You could have sent for Mama.”

     “Well, your mother didn’t want to leave her kith and kin in these parts. And I suspect she was afraid of the West. It can be a pretty rowdy place.”

     “Did she know how much you liked the West?”

     “I suppose, but your mother was loathe to move. And she could be very loathe, when the mood took her.”

     “I still think we should have gone. We don’t often get a chance to follow a dream. Do you still dream, Papa?”

     A sadness crossed his face and he became somber for a moment. “Not often, girl, not often. Mostly for you and the others.” He sat back, pretending to read the paper, but she could see his mind was elsewhere. She wondered if things would have been different for him if Mama were alive. She promised herself she would not let it happen to her. She would follow her dreams! Whether voicing her thoughts or his own, he said, “Don’t you give up, Liza. Ever.”


Winds West – 2

     Looking out the window as she cleaned up the apple peels, she could see Ryan sitting by the gate, pretending to whittle while he waited for Papa to come home. She would ask him to make some pegs to put in the barn for hanging up the harnesses. That would please both him and Papa. Helen was not far behind but she didn’t see Effie. She’d have to make sure they did their homework. It was lucky she had finished school herself by the time Mama died. She wouldn’t have had time for the housework and homework too. If Papa wasn’t too tired and if he’d been able to get a paper, she would ask him to read it to them. He always embellished the articles to suit his fancy and kept them all in stitches.

     “Hello, Helen. Didn’t Effie come home with you?”

     “She stayed to help the teacher with some papers. So she said. I think she’s in love with him.” She threw her books on the table and began cutting a slice of bread. “Ryan,” she called out the window. “Would you fetch me the butter from the well please?” She settled down on the woodbox by the stove and contemplated the Secret Romance she was sure was brewing between the schoolmaster and her sister. She wondered if she would ever feel the way she suspected Effie of feeling. She decided not. None of the boys around here seemed civilized, much less attractive. They only wanted to get out of school as soon and as often as possible and get back to their farms. “I want someone who doesn’t even know what a farm is,” she thought out loud.

     Yes, thought Liza to herself, and you’ll never be happy with the world as it is. “What homework did the teacher give you today?”

     “He gave me three Algebra problems and wants an essay on one of the English poets by Friday. I think I’ll write about Keats.” She stuffed half a thick slice of bread in her mouth and reached for the loaf.

     “That’s enough bread for now,” Liza said. “You’ll ruin your appetite for supper.”

     “What’s for supper, Liza? Roast chicken?”

     “You know we only have chicken on Sunday. And speaking of chickens, don’t forget you have to clean the chickenhouse today.”

     “Ugh! I hate cleaning that old place. It’s smelly and dirty and the rooster always tries to peck me.”

     “That’s why it needs cleaning. And you’re bigger than the rooster. If you like chicken for supper you’ve got to help take care of them. They don’t get on the table by magic and I just haven’t enough time. You have to help out. You’ll have to help out more, once I’ve gone to the Langdon’s.”

     “I wish it were me going, Liza. They say Mr. Langdon has a whole room full of books. I’d work there for nothing if he let me read all the books.”

     “Yes, and you’d never get any work done, just the reading. It might be fine to read all the time if we were wealthy, but we’re not and you can’t. Now put on your old dress and get started on the chickenhouse. Get it done today, before supper. Otherwise, you won’t get any pie.”

     “You baked a pie? Liza, I love you! What kind?”

     “Apple. It’s in the oven now.”

     “I really do love you Liza. I’ll miss you and so will the others.” She went to her room to change.

     And Papa will miss me most, thought Liza. The others don’t understand him like I do and he doesn’t know how to talk to children. He’s going to be lonely. So will I.

     She sat down for the first time since breakfast and suddenly realized how tired she was. Tomorrow she had to do the washing, and the ironing the day after. On Friday she would finish the garden, then on Saturday she would clean the house and change the beds. After church, maybe she and Papa would have time to talk.

     She felt sorry at leaving, but wasn’t sure if it was for him or for herself. She supposed she was setting out on her own life, but it didn’t feel like that. It was just one more thing she had to do because it had to be done. She was old enough to earn her keep and ought to do so. Maybe she would meet someone and get married someday. Maybe you’ll be an old maid, she told herself, always tending someone else’s children. Somehow, she didn’t think so.

     Effie came through the door with Ryan and she saw Papa down the road talking with a neighbor. She stood up and began putting the week’s baking away. It was time to start making supper.


Winds West – One

                       Winds West
                       By R L Saunders
                       (on Kindle)

© 2012 R. L. Saunders
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

     She supposed there was no use fretting herself about it. Times were difficult and Papa had more than enough to worry about since Mama died. She only hoped Effie and Helen could take care of little Ryan when she moved to the Langdon’s. She would certainly have her hands full with the Langdon children and wouldn’t be able to do much for Ryan, though she would write to him when she had the time.

     She looked around her bedroom, trying to decide what she could take with her and what she would leave. The dresses and the work bonnet would have to go with her, but Effie could have her Sunday bonnet. She would miss it – it was the only really nice thing she owned. Mama had promised to make her a pretty dress to go with it and they had even picked out the pattern and material. Then Mama got sicker and sicker, and Liza had her hands full trying to keep the household together. When Mama finally died that winter, there was only time for a brief pause in everyone’s life.

     She would leave the Reader and ask Helen to read to Ryan every night, since he loved the stories, or perhaps just the attention. Mama’s death had been hardest on him, she thought. He was so young it was hard not to think of him as a baby, despite his independent streak. Sometimes he would be retelling some past adventure and reach the point where Mama figured in. His voice would trail off awkwardly, leaving an uncomfortable silence. None of them had really come to terms with Mama’s death, but Liza felt a particular pang at Ryan’s little-boy-lost look.

     Well, there was no help for it. He’d just have to get by the best he could, like all of them. She would take one book of poems to read to the Langdon children. They might enjoy it, and she liked reading it. It called up memories of Mama reading to them in the evenings, gathered around her in the parlor. Mama always made the poems come alive so, as though she found them an escape from the drudgery of work and illness. By the time she was six, Liza had committed dozens of poems to memory and could still hold Ryan spellbound with them.

     She let her eyes roam over the room – the double bed she shared with Effie, the little wardrobe that held all her clothes, the basin and pitcher for washing, the chamberpot for nights when it was too cold to run outside. How nice it would be, she thought, to have lots of dresses, to go to parties, to have one of those new-fangled gadgets to wring the water out of the wash, to have a pump inside the house. Why not wish for someone to help with the housework too, she asked herself, as long as you’re wishing.

     Well, wishes wouldn’t get the baking done and the dough should have risen by now. She wanted to get the week’s baking done early so she could make a pie to go with supper. Papa always loved pie and had given her a dozen Roman Beauty apples with the terse suggestion that the children might like a pie. It was so typical of him to claim everything he did was for the children’s sake. It was always “The children might enjoy a picnic down by the river,” whenever he wanted to go fishing. Or “Your mother wants to visit with the ladies,” whenever he wanted to swap Civil War stories with Henry McCardle and Ezra Hanks over big, black cigars. Tonight she would cut him the biggest piece of pie and set it in front of him and say, “The children couldn’t eat it all.” He would get her meaning and appreciate it, though he would never let on.

     She wished they still had a dairy cow so she could have made ice cream to go with the pie. Perhaps if Papa got work on the bridge they were building up near Columbus, he would buy a cow again, though he’d have to teach one of the others to milk it.

     Enough daydreaming, she told herself. It was time to get back to work, and work enough to be done. She had to finish planting the garden before next Sunday, since she was going to Langdon’s on Monday. She realized with mild surprise it would be her birthday. She would be thirteen, almost a woman.