Reverend Williams' sister lived someplace back east; the same place the Reverend came from.
"Rockport, Cape Ann," explained Mrs Williams once at a Ladies Aid Society meeting when she was describing their journey west to follow the Reverend's Call. "It's in Massachusetts, right on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It's so pretty there, so green… and the sea…"
Mrs Williams had sounded sad as her voice faded away, and she'd looked out onto the dry dust blowing along Main Street and sighed, before shaking her head and brisking up as if nothing had happened. She sounded cheerful again as she told of the voyage from Boston to San Francisco and everything that she and the Reverend had seen on the way. But Dorrie had thought that, maybe just for a moment, Mrs Williams had wished the Reverend had never had a Call at all. But it would be a wicked thing to set yourself up against the Lord's will and Reverends' wives didn't do wicked things.
Dorrie had never heard of Rockport or Cape Ann. She had some memories of the world east of McCall's Crossing, but not so far as that. The farthest east she knew was over the mountains to Utah where she'd lived when Ma and Pa had first moved west, but her Pa's Call had been for land, not the Lord. She'd been born farther east than that, too, but the south-east corner of the old Minnesota Territory was too far back in memory to be more than a vague sense of trees and water. She'd never seen an ocean, though the Pacific was a few days' journey the other way, west over the Diablo mountains. She figured it had to be something like Lake Utah, but bigger.
Twice a year, Reverend Williams' sister sent a missionary barrel from the Reverend's old church back in Rockport. Dorrie was at the Williams' house one time when a barrel arrived. She was helping Mrs Williams with the sewing. Five children all under the age of ten sure took it out on their clothes, and Mrs Williams was always glad to pay Dorrie a dollar for a day's work, having shirts made or pants mended, tucks let out to lengthen hems or bodices taken in for narrower chests, or just turning sheets sides-to-middle. Dorrie came at least once a month to work her way through the sewing basket.
Now and again when she was there, Mrs Williams would bring in some of the other girls from church and they pieced gaily-coloured blocks together and quilted them, stretching the joined blocks out on the wide wooden frames, chattering and laughing as a cheerfully-patterned quilt took shape under their skilled fingers. Dorrie loved the patterns and the names: Churn Dash, and Storm At Sea and Pharlemina's Favourite, all made with scraps of cloth from worn out curtains and dresses and quilted over an old blanket to make something new and bright.
"There's a sermon in there somewhere," said the Reverend once, when he came in for his tea, and saw Mrs Williams had a quilting bee. He was smiling and kind, as always, and the girls blushed and fluttered because he was a tall and handsome man, and he was the minister and important. He had a fine education. He read Latin and Greek, even.
But all Dorrie cared for was the laughing and the stitching and knowing that when the winter came, the Williams children would sleep warm. Dorrie liked stitching. She was a good plain sewer; nothing fancy, but she was proud that her seams were straight with tiny stitches that could hardly be seen without Old Widow Tracy's magnifier on its polished mother-of-pearl handle, proud too that she could set a sleeve and that her gathers were the neatest of any she'd seen. Ma had seen to all that, patiently ripping out bad stitches and resetting the calico practice strips until Dorrie learned to get it right first time. Dorrie made her first nine-patch quilt before she was ten; its blue and red and green squares still made her narrow bed bright and homey.
She was grateful to Ma for that patient teaching. She sewed for more people than the Reverend's wife. Most weeks she spent one or two days in town, making shirts with the Widow Tracy for the Widow's son to sell in his General Mercantile store, mainly to the local ranch-hands who had no womenfolk of their own to sew for them. Dorrie liked to work and the money she earned was a help to Pa when times were hard.
Times were mostly hard, it seemed.
So Dorrie was there that one time when the two men from the stage company came with the big barrel held between them, the lid nailed down tight to keep it safe on its long journey west. Reverend Williams pulled out the nails with a claw-headed hammer. She was surprised that he did it any old how. Pa wouldn't have done that. Pa would've pulled them straight and clean if he could or hammered the bent ones straight if he couldn't, setting them aside to be reused. Nails cost more than Pa liked to pay or had to spare.
The Reverend didn't seem to care about that. He pulled the nails quickly and prised the lid off with the hammer's claw, stepping back to let Mrs Williams set out all the good things his sister had sent. Mrs Williams unpacked the barrel onto the table near where Dorrie sat in the window, her sewing angled towards the light. Mrs Williams' mouth was tight, and although she made her face not say anything at all, Dorrie knew something was wrong. There was a sort of patience around her eyes that said so.
"It's very good of Jane," said Mrs Williams, her voice a little high, like it was forced out of her; and Dorrie ducked her head to hide how hot her face had got, wishing she was someplace else. She thought that her being there made it worse for Mrs Williams, who had to be grateful for the missionary barrel and show Dorrie—and herself too, maybe—humility and how to receive the Lord's bounty with a grateful spirit.
Most of the things, clothes for the children, Mrs Williams set on one side with a murmur about which child might be the lucky one and the tightness round her mouth softened some. There was a pretty soft shawl in rose and grey stripes that brightened her eyes for a moment, and the Reverend looked pleased when she unearthed a parcel of books. He claimed them for himself. Mrs Williams smiled a tiny smile at that and shook her head.
"I don't know what in the world Jane was thinking of," said Mrs Williams, unpacking a big parcel and staring into the contents. "I can't wear this!"
Dorrie glanced over and away again, ashamed because it was none of her business and she should just sit quiet and work hard and not embarrass Mrs Williams any more than she did already. She caught a glimpse of something a bright greeny-yellow—or maybe yallery-green—in amongst the folds of brown paper.
Reverend Williams said something, low-voiced, that Dorrie couldn't quite catch, but when she looked up, Mrs Williams' mouth was hard again and the patience was back. Dorrie excused herself for a few moments and hurried out back, hoping the barrel would be out of sight when she returned.
It was. Reverend Williams was in his big chair by the other window when Dorrie came back into the house, one of his new books open on his knee and his face calm and happy. Mrs Williams was in her own chair near Dorrie's, sewing on the Reverend's Sunday shirt, the baby sleeping in the basket beside her feet under the little quilt that Dorrie had made for a christening gift. Dorrie smiled at her as she slipped back into her seat, and picked up young Jack's pants to mend the rip in the knees. Jack was nine and a caution for ripped knees in his pants, just like Dorrie's own little brother. Andy was 'most two years older than Jack, but he wasn't that much better at keeping his pants unripped.
Mrs Williams said no more about the barrel until Dorrie was rolling up her apron and had slipped her needle though her collar, not to lose it. But when she gave Dorrie the promised dollar, she hesitated then offered her the big parcel.
"There's a whole dress length here, Dorrie, that I wondered if you could use? I… Mister Williams' sister is so very kind, but I don't think she realises that a minister's wife… I really couldn't wear something so very colourful. Folks don't expect a minister's wife to dress so gaily." She laughed. "Besides, this is a young girl's colour, not for an old married woman like me!"
Dorrie stared into the parcel, seeing the bright yallery-green sateen that she'd glimpsed earlier. It had a sheen on it that caught the light, like sunlight on McCall's Pond.
"It will go well with your colouring," said Mrs Williams.
Dorrie opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
"I'd be glad if you'd take it off my hands," said Mrs Williams, as if she was asking Dorrie for a favour.
"I can't take it," said Dorrie.
It was so beautiful. The rolled fabric was tied with a length of pretty green ribbon and a darker green silk-floss trimming. She touched the dress with one finger, carefully. What with helping Pa on the farm and keeping the house, her fingers soon roughened with all the heavy work; without the cream Ma had taught her to make from rose-water and hog lard, her hands would be a disgrace. Still, she was careful not to snag the beautiful dress, barely letting her finger touch it.
"Dorrie," said Mrs Williams, putting one hand on Dorrie's shoulder and using the other to take Dorrie by the chin and make her look up. She smiled. "You're a good girl, Dorrie. A very good girl."
Dorrie tried hard not to let the tears well up. She'd never had a dress so pretty. "I… oh, I want to, but I can't…"
"I know," said Mrs Williams. "I know. So I'll tell you what we'll do. The Reverend is going to slaughter our pig next week. If you come and help me with the butcher work, to salt the pork and make the head-cheese, then instead of paying you a dollar, I'll pay you with this dress instead."
"Oh," said Dorrie, and took in her breath in a long sigh. Earning the dress—that was different. She'd helped slaughter dozens of hogs and her Pa said no-one could touch her for making sausage and chitterlings and head-cheeses.
Dorrie nodded. "Yes. Oh, thank you!"
"I have some copies of Godey's Lady's Book here, too that Jane sent … Miz Williams, I mean. This one has a paper pattern in it for a lady's day dress." Mrs Williams flicked open the pages to show Dorrie the coloured illustration of the dress and looked doubtful. "It's two years old, though, Dorrie, and the fashion won't be up to date."
"Do fashions change that quickly, even back East?" said Dorrie.
Mrs Williams just laughed and shook her head. "I don't suppose it matters."
Dorrie, clutching the yallery-green sateen to her with both hands, agreed. She didn't care how fashionable the Godey's pattern might be. She looked down at the beautiful dress length, her eyes dazzled by colours bright as new leaves and yellow roses, and she smiled.
For a week or more, Dorrie kept the sateen wrapped up in its brown paper, and if she ran half a dozen times a day to fold back a corner of the wrapping and stare at the dress… well Pa was out working and Andy was at school, and there was no-one to see her being so silly. She was careful not to touch the dress though, until she thought her rough fingers had smoothed enough. Every night she scrubbed her hands in soft brown soap, rubbed Ma's cream well in and teased on a pair of old cotton gloves, too soiled and dingy to be worn in church any more.
Andy laughed and hooted when he realised she was sleeping with her hands in gloves, until Pa stopped him from his teasing. Pa's eyes twinkled at her, like he'd like to tease her too. But he didn't and Dorrie continued to wear her gloves. Gradually her hands softened until they looked like Mrs William's hands and Dorrie could think about making the dress.
At first, she wasn't sure about the pattern in Godey's Lady's Book. The lady in the fashion plate was so tall and willowy and elegant that Dorrie despaired that she herself could ever wear the dress and look so well in it. She'd look dumpy, instead.
"She looks like one of them critters in the book I got out of the Church Christmas barrel," said Andy one evening, bringing his chair close to her rocker, to see what she was studying in the lamplight. He scuttled away to the shelf where their few books were, and came back with Marvels of the Animal Kingdom. He pointed to the picture. "See? She's like one of them—" He hesitated, then said, "One of them gee-raffes."
Dorrie looked at the strange creature in the book with its long legs and long, long neck. She laughed and agreed, and felt better. "Godey's say it's a simply-styled day dress that would not offend the most modest taste," she read out, and Pa looked up from the San Francisco newspaper, only a week old, that he'd got from Mr Tracy in town. She met his gaze and laughed again. "It has real pearl and diamond buttons, Pa!"
Pa laughed too, and said he wished he could buy the buttons for her,
"I don't need pearls and diamonds," said Dorrie, and looked again at the fashion plate. If she found some pretty buttons in the button tin, and ignored the six inch deep flounces of real Chantilly lace, the matching parasol and mantilla (whatever that was), and the hoops to hold out the skirt so wide that Dorrie wondered how the lady got through a doorway or sat on a chair, she knew she could make the dress. She thought she might not look such a dowdy in it, after all.
The tissue paper pattern was as thin as a baby's breath. Dorrie had to be real careful not to tear it. She made the bodice lining first from cambric, sewing the whalebones into the seams with tiny, tiny stitches, making sure that it would fit snugly over her stays. She fitted every piece of that paper pattern to use the fabric with no waste—and a fine job that had been, to match the pattern at the seams at the same time! There was even enough left over for an extra flounce around the hem and a narrow belt stiffened with scraps of buckram from her ragbag. But still, when it came to cutting the fine sateen, to putting her scissors to it, she hesitated and checked and checked again. In the end she took a deep breath and went right at it before she could hesitate again.
When it was done and hanging on the hook in her little bedroom, the dress was beautiful. She made the bodice tight-fitting with a plain front, letting the soft gathers at the tops of the sleeves be all the decoration it had other than the darker green silk-floss trimming edging the soft, scooped neckline and the pretty little elbow-length sleeves. It buttoned up the back with a row of little pearl buttons that Mrs Williams had found in her button tin and that came, she said, from the prettiest walking dress she'd had before she even met John… I mean, Reverend Williams she said, and Dorrie smiled to see a Reverend's wife blush. Dorrie bartered for the buttons with a day's help with the spring cleaning. The skirt was gathered full all round, double flounced at the bottom, and the bodice buttoned down over the waist band, the buttons holding it in place hidden by the matching belt.
"It's better with the narrower skirt you've made" approved Mrs Williams, when Dorrie wore the dress for the first time, for church. Dorrie had run over to the Reverend's house to show her the finished dress before the service started. Mrs Williams was wrestling little Jenny into her Sunday best as she spoke. "Hoops and full skirts are all very well back East, but we pioneer women don't need such fol-de-rols."
"Can't use them," said Dorrie, taking Jenny from her to put the ribbons into the little one's hair and letting Mrs Williams deal with Baby.
Dorrie hadn't thought of the Reverend's wife being a pioneer woman, but she hadn't made the skirt narrower because of that. She just didn't have any hoops and wouldn't waste Pa's money on a set. She was more anxious about the scooped neckline showing her throat and the elbow sleeves leaving so much of her arms bare, but Mrs Williams said it was perfect and that Dorrie was a wonder when it came to using her needle. She admired the little belt that Dorrie had added and thought it set the dress off.
Pa and Andy had consulted together, and they'd given her an early birthday present of a cunning little belt buckle, made from metal enamelled dark green to match the trimming. You're a good girl, Dorrie, Pa had said when she protested, horrified at the cost—she'd seen the buckles in a glass case in Tracy's General Mercantile but she hadn't even dreamed of spending a dollar-fifty on fripperies—and he'd bent to kiss her forehead the way he used to do when she was a little girl.
The dress was very beautiful.
She'd never had anything so pretty. She loved it. She looked nice in it. Pa said so when she asked him. And when she went across to the church with the Williams children, Widow Tracy took her to one side. The widow leaned in to whisper, her breath tickling against Dorrie's ear so she could gossip and be confidential.
"Did you hear what Bill Wilson said?" she asked. She nodded her head at Dorrie, pleased and smiling, the lace on her cap stirring Dorrie's hair. "He said that you looked pretty in your new dress, Dorrie. There's a compliment, if you please!"
Bill Wilson drove the local stage some days and in between stage times, he hauled anything anybody needed hauling with his wagon and his team of big Mamouth mules. He was probably older than Pa. Probably, said Pa, laughing when Dorrie told him, older'n sin itself. Dorrie laughed too, the way she'd laughed and blushed when the Widow Tracy told her, but she hugged the compliment to herself to think on it, sometimes. No-one had ever said she was pretty before and even Bill Wilson was better than nobody.
But it didn't make no difference what Bill or any other man thought.
Ma had been dead ten, twelve years now and Dorrie'd been Ma to Andy for all that time, all the Ma he ever knew or remembered. Dorrie couldn't remember Ma real well now either, it had been so long. There'd been three more between her'n Andy, but they'd all died with Ma in the fever that time, Mary and Eliza and Tom, and it had just taken the heart out of Pa to have to leave them all behind when he and Dorrie and Andy came west over the mountains from Utah, looking for a new start. Dorrie had been fourteen, and Andy was more'n twelve years younger. He'd still been a clutcher and a staggerer, following her around the cabin or around the campsites as they followed the migrant trails, one hand wound in her skirts as he found his feet.
It was like he still was clutching and holding on to her, like the baby learning to walk. She couldn't leave him or Pa, even if a man had come a'courtin. Not Bill Wilson, of course, but no man could have done it. She had her duty to look after Pa and Andy, and there was an end of it.
Still, knowing that Bill Wilson had said she was pretty in her yallery-green dress was better than no-one ever saying it at all.
Andy was just fourteen, when Pa was killed, defying the ranchers who wanted to drive their cattle to water across the famers' lands.
Dan Marvin and Toby Jencks offered her and Andy a different piece of land, 80 acres of good farmland away from the disputed waterside and a mile or more closer to town. They gave her a whole two hundred dollars when she signed the land deeds. She had never dreamed of seeing that much money all at once.
She wasn't Pa. She couldn't fight them or organise the other nesters the way Pa had been doing. She had to do what was best for Andy. It was a sort of blood money, she knew, but she took it for Andy's sake, banking it to pay for his schooling later. She didn't want Andy to be a farmer all his life. Pa used to say that it was a fine life, wresting a living from the land, but Dorrie knew that he'd been whistling down the wind. She wasn't afraid of work, not for herself, but she didn't want Andy ground down by it, old and worn before his time, poorer than the dirt he worked in.
Bill Wilson and his mules hauled over the old farmhouse, and some of Dan Marvin's hands put it up again, on the side of the hill near where one of the springs rose that ran down to the river where Pa had died. Dan Marvin made sure they rebuilt it strong and neat, and Toby Jencks sent his hands to lay out the corral and put up a small barn for the stock. They brought the water to the house from the spring in a long, lidded wooden trough and made it so she could pump the water straight into the kitchen. She would never have to carry it to the house or to her vegetable garden, ever again. It was the sort of contriving thing that Pa would have done, and she had a hard time of it thanking Jencks's men and not showing them anything but politeness and pride.
They had bad consciences, she thought. She believed them when they said that Pa had been dragged by his horse accidental-like, but Jencks and Marvin had been fighting the farmers, trying to drive them off the land. They'd been there when Pa had been dragged. They didn't do nothing to stop it, she reckoned, and now they felt bad.
Lucky Morgan was supposed to be Toby Jencks's top hand but everyone knew he was a gunman, pure and simple, brought in to frighten the farmers. Dorrie thought, sometimes, that Lucky might be kinda sweet on her. A little bit. Maybe. When Lucky came with Jencks's hands to oversee the work, he didn't swagger and puff out his chest, the way he did in town or when he was facing down the farmers, as if daring them to face his fast gun. He was quiet and respectful, and he took his hat off the instant he saw Dorrie, and called her Ma'am or Miz Cutler like she was a lady like Mrs Williams. Lucky was the one to come up with ideas to make things easier for her: building the little barn in just the right place, making the hands chop a couple of months' worth of logs, setting up her cookstove for her, even putting in the water trough and the pump. Lucky did all that.
She and Andy had stayed at the Widow's in town while the house was hauled, and on the last day, Lucky came and helped her load the wagon with everything they owned. Andy stood off to one side and sneered and brooded, hurting bad for Pa, she knew, and refusing to do anything. Lucky didn't drive them to their new home, though. She'd been able to drive a team since Andy was a pup and she didn't need him or any other man for that. So Lucky had touched his hat with his hand, real respectful, and stepped back.
"I'm real sorry about what happened to Mister Cutler," he said. "Send word if you need anything more, Ma'am."
"Thank you," she said, though the words burned. She kept one hand on Andy's arm to keep him silent and sulky beside her. She nodded to Lucky and clucked her tongue to signal to the horses to start off.
She didn't think she'd send.
Andy disappeared a few weeks after Pa died, with no more than a note left to tell her not to worry and that he'd back with help, real soon.
For the first time in years, Dorrie didn't know what to do. She was too frightened to think. Andy was fourteen now, and thought himself a man grown. She didn't think that, but she knew he wasn't a little boy any longer. She was trying hard to let him be the man of the house now it was just the two of them, but all she could see was the little round-faced toddler who'd clutched at her skirts as he learned to walk. Her heart couldn't ache more if he'd been her own child.
Sometimes she thought that he was the only child she'd ever have.
"Help? What help?" she kept saying, on her fruitless trip to town to seek advice from the local law officer. "Help with what?"
Mrs Williams put her hands over Dorrie's, stopping them from their endless writhing over each other. Dorrie's hands shook in her friend's kind grasp.
"I don't know, Dorrie."
"He can't have much money. He took this week's egg money, but that ain't much. He can't go far, can he, with just a few dollars?"
"I'm sure he can't. What does the Sheriff say?"
"That boys do run off and nothing comes of it. That Andy'll be back when he's finished kicking up a lark." Dorrie shook her head. "It's not like that. It's not. He doesn't do them kind of things. He wouldn't leave me just for a lark. And he ain't been right, not since Pa…"
"John," said Mrs Williams, and the Reverend walked behind Dorrie on his way to the door, and touched her shoulder as gently as Mrs Williams held her writhing hands.
"I'll talk to Sheriff Kinsey," he said, took his round hat from its peg and was gone.
Dorrie barely noticed, all her mind on Andy. "He's been so mad since Pa died. I can't talk to him. He doesn't mind me the way he used to." She choked out a laugh that was more than half a sob. "He's getting too big for me to whale him. He's near on as tall as me now."
Mrs Williams smiled at Dorrie's funny little laugh. "I thought when I saw him in church that day, how much he'd grown this last year."
Mrs Williams didn't need to say which day; the day they'd buried Pa in that closed-up casket. Dorrie hadn't been let to see Pa, and when the Sheriff and the Reverend told her Pa'd been dragged, she knew why they'd got the undertaker to seal the lid down real tight on the plain pine box. It had hurt Andy so badly, though, that he couldn't say goodbye. She remembered him standing beside her in the church in his Sunday suit, rigid with a grief he refused to show. He'd cried a little when she'd given him Pa's watch, and even then he'd jerked away from her and run out to the barn where no-one could see him. Dorrie's heart ached for him, but she didn't cry much either.
What couldn't be cured must be endured. Ma used to say that, and she was right.
"Andy… Pa was Andy's hero, you know," said Dorrie. "It's eatin' at him, that Pa died and the Sheriff said there was nothing he could do. Andy blames Dan Marvin and Toby Jencks."
She choked down the words that Andy had tossed at her so many times since Pa had died: that Pa was murdered, that Marvin and Jencks had dragged Pa deliberate-like, that the two ranchers had to pay for what they'd done, that he'd darn well make them pay. She feared for what Andy might do, what help he'd gone to find. No-one in McCall's Crossing would sell Andy a gun, of course, but the Lord alone knew what might happen in a bigger town where folks cared less.
"I know things are difficult," said Mrs Williams.
"I don't know what happened. I don't know who's to blame. All I know is Pa's gone and I have to keep Andy safe. He's so angry…" She let her voice falter and for one dreadful moment, thought that she might cry in front of the Reverend's wife. She blinked back the tears and said no more. She let Mrs Williams fuss over her. She drank the sweetened tea that Mrs Williams made for her and she even let Mrs Williams touch a linen handkerchief, drenched in lavender water, to her hot and aching temples.
The Reverend came back within the hour, and by that time Dorrie was calm and thinking hard about what she could do.
"I talked with Bill Wilson," said the Reverend, taking the chair opposite Dorrie's and looking at her, his face calm and grave. "He said that Andy got on the stage yesterday evening—"
"The stage?" repeated Dorrie.
So it seems. He headed south towards Fresno. Bill says he didn't think much about it—"
"He wouldn't," said Dorrie, not scornfully but just because that's the way it was. Bill was built like one of his Mamouth mules but he wasn't anywhere near as smart.
"Bill doesn't know where he went after that, but I talked to Sheriff Kinsey and he's sent out telegraphs to as many lawmen down there as he can. If Andy's in the area, they'll find him."
Dorrie nodded. "I've been thinking," she said. "I could go after him, but I don't know where to go. I could miss him. And if he comes home and I'm not there…"
The relief on Mrs Williams face was almost funny. "I think you're right, Dorrie," she said. "Why, I'm sure that Andy will be found and brought home in a few days. You're much better off waiting for him there."
"Yes," said Dorrie. She got to her feet, looking around rather blindly for her shawl. "I'd best go back."
"The Reverend will drive you home," said Mrs Williams, giving the Reverend as grave a look as the one he gave Dorrie. "And as soon as we hear anything, the Reverend will come and tell you." She hesitated, then kissed Dorrie's cheek. "Let's pray, Dorrie."
They did, right then, all three kneeling in Mrs Williams' pretty living room, and afterwards the Reverend drove Dorrie home to the emptiest little house in the world.
The only way Dorrie knew to keep busy was working. With Pa gone and Andy the Lord alone knew where, she worked and worked to tire herself out. Each night she was almost too tired to pray before falling into bed and despite the gnawing ache, she slept without dreams.
Dorrie cleaned that house and everything in it as if it were to have a visitation from the Lord Himself.
She washed every sheet, blanket and quilt that they owned; even Ma's treasured wedding quilt was taken from its careful wrappings, lavender sprigs shaken from its folds and taken to the tub. There was something comforting about the rhythm she set up, pushing the big quilts into the hot, soapy water again and again, watching the colours brighten as the dust washed out of them. She was a strong girl, sturdy with a lifetime of keeping house, but her arms ached with lifting the heavy quilts soaked and dripping from the tub to put through the wringer Pa had made from two logs, shaped and smoothed and fitted on a crank handle like the boughten ones he'd seen in the stores. She lugged out the straw ticks, emptied them and washed the covers and when they were dry she filled them again with fresh sweet-smelling hay from the stack behind the barn. While the sun warmed the ticks and the hay, she scrubbed the bedsteads and then the floors until the boards were white. She scrubbed walls and polished windows until they glittered. She scrubbed the chair and table, scrubbed the kitchen shelves, blacked the stove every single day, and washed every dish in the house. She scrubbed everything once, and when Andy still wasn't home, she got up the next day and started all over again.
She was almost angry at Lucky Morgan for his contrivance to pump water into the house. She would have welcomed the labour of taking the milk yoke and trudging backwards and forwards to the spring with heavy buckets of water. One day, the third full day that Andy was missing, she did just that, She pretended the hand pump in the kitchen wasn't there. Instead she forced herself to carry water until her legs trembled with weariness beneath her and her shoulders bowed under the weight of the yoke. The little pains made the greater one more bearable, somehow.
What can't be cured, she'd say to the quiet house.
What can't be cured.
And then she'd start cleaning again.
Throughout her labours, all she saw in her mind's eye was Andy, sleeping safe and warm on the hay-filled mattress, under the bright quilts that had dried in a sun that shone through windows pure as clear air.
There was no word from the Reverend.
On the sixth full day since Andy had taken the south-bound stage, Dorrie was once again washing his few clothes—the strong workpants and the shirts she'd made him—when he came back. He didn't come alone.
He brought a gunfighter home with him.