Southeast Wyoming Near Fort Laramie 1860
At thirty-seven, Ally Hart remains attractive, a beauty, at least for now. She’s lost so much weight though, leaving her almost too thin, forcing her to tug at her loose hanging blouse continually. The cursed thing won’t stay on her shoulders, and the way it droops exposes too much of her neck and chest.
Considering himself to be her new knight in shining armor, Elijah Yancy sits worrying about her welfare across her dimly lit kitchen. “Mrs. Hart,” he begins while rubbing his fingers across the green plaid tablecloth covering her table, “I don’t believe you can stay out here all by yourself.” Elijah, likely in his seventies, unassuming, but a gentle spirit lacks any education. “With Mr. Hart dead, this place is too dangerous for you.”
Ally’s thoughts drift back to an earlier time before life stopped being normal. She glances over at Elijah, who appears to want to say something else. When he doesn’t, she gives him a sweet smile and apologizes for not hearing what he said. Most people still practice reluctance, caution about mentioning her husband’s death. She buried him only a week ago. Elijah repeats his concerns, complete with the details of how her husband died.
“I’ll be fine. Friends check in on me,” she says, as much to convince herself as her roughshod friend. “Would you like another slice of pie?”
“Well, if you don’t mind. Cherry is my favorite.”
Ally, the name her friends call her, instead of Alice, cuts him another sizeable slice. “Let me refill your coffee.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Elijah forks into the fresh pie. “Delicious, Mrs. Hart, best cherry pie I’ve ever ate.”
Ever eaten, Ally thinks but doesn’t say. Trying to correct Elijah’s speech would be like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
Ally, an unpretentious woman with light brown hair, fancies herself quite a baker, but not in an uppity way. She bakes well, decidedly well, but she is no braggart. She smiles at her new guardian, accepting the compliment as she sits the tin cup of coffee in front of him.
“I hope I’m not too forward,” Elijah says, watching her walk over and gaze out a window. He hesitates as if waiting for her approval. “But I don’t see how you’ll survive out here, with no man around. I mean, you have friends, but not many,” he adds, making for a somewhat awkward moment. “Why, if you don’t count the Army, we ain’t got enough people within fifty miles of here to hold a revival meeting.”
Ally turns toward the window and sighs. Being late in the day with the sky turning to a rusty color, her thoughts slip back to evenings spent sitting on the porch with her husband.
Often, she would sip tea, listening to Sam play an old harmonica. Because Sam had been talkative, while Ally was somewhat quiet, the harmonica playing substituted for conversation. That was fine because their talks left Ally unsatisfied. While Sam rambled about any topic, for her, their discussions were about—nothing. What else would they be about? Nothing, or at least nothing exciting, ever happened out here.
Sam reveled in discussing the weather, the cattle, how much he fancied a meal she cooked. A discussion about painting the house kept him interested all evening. How long would it take, what color should they paint the shutters? If they ever got any shutters. Those talks bored Ally. She stopped feigning interest. Once, she enjoyed talking about having a family, what life would be like with kids running around. However, having children failed. Children and all dreams were far out of her reach.
Sam brought her out here years earlier. Right to the day he died, he dreamed of raising massive herds of cattle, of becoming a celebrated cattleman. Yet, the dreams never materialized. The years were only marginally successful. Occasionally, they faced some Indian trouble; not much, no killings, only a few stolen cows. Two dry summers and one bone-chilling snow-filled winter killed off several head of their stock. Still, Sam never gave up; he always found reasons for optimism.
Ally considered herself a realist, and her reality put her alone in the woeful middle of damn nowhere. Her circumstances scared her, but strong and practical, she did not run away as soon as Sam died. In truth, Ally lacked the money to leave, and pitifully, any place to go. With Sam’s death, Ally’s most trusted friend was Daniel Starrett, the man who helped raise her and her sister after her parents died. At the time, he was a young attorney in a small Missouri town where she grew up. Now he was growing old as a judge in St. Louis.
Everything, well, everything she hoped for, was unreachable. Ally wondered if the desolation she now lived with would ever go away. She questioned whether she would again experience a single evening without being lonely. Her disheartening situation would defeat other women. Or kill them, but not Ally. She wasn’t going to let hard times defeat her. She still had her home, not the one she wanted, but a home. As far as the emptiness and loneliness? She would beat those demons as well. Elijah Yancy might not understand how she could prosper, but she would.
IN BETWEEN TIME
– Volstead and Fourteen Year Supply –
Looking at the headlines, he was indifferent about Alabamans unveiling a monument to the Boll Weevil. On the positive side, he was pleased about baseball banning tobacco juice covered spitballs. Handsome, smart, athletic, almost everything in his personal life pleased him, except his name, Cecil James Elliott. He hated his name, Cecil, that awful name, the one his mother gave him. He didn’t care much for her. Not after her hospitalization in 1910, the year he was twelve. That’s when his mother told him she wanted to die. It was a Wednesday. Wednesday, October 5, to be exact. The day their relationship began to shatter. Now, in 1919, he referred to himself as C.J., and they barely spoke.
C.J. was glad spitballs and his mother were out of his life. With prohibition passed, she would have worn him out, blathering about how grand forced teetotaling would be. To provoke her, he would have argued prohibition would only increase crime. Yes, it was best she was gone, especially since she disdained the Irish.
It meant he didn’t need her to approve of Maggie O’Sullivan, Maggie Kathryn O’Sullivan, an opinionated Irish girl. Shrewd, stubborn, enticing, and sassy that one was, but, oh, she was pretty: soft red hair, beguiling eyes as green as the emerald isle itself, a warm skin tone, tall, willowy, and a hint of an Irish lilt in her voice. He knew the first time he saw her; she would be his muse.
“Your muse?” she laughed, pulling her collar up, and her red felt beret, down, over newly bobbed hair.
“Yes, my muse,” C.J. responded, conceitedly. “Surely, a Mount Holyoke girl understands what a muse is.”
“Of course, I do,” Maggie replied while noticeably, intentionally noticeably, looking at the novel she was carrying ̶ The God of the Seas. “I’m just astounded an Amherst boy does.”
Happy to take her bait, C.J. obligingly glanced at the title of the novel. “Scandalous,” he decried.
“You know what they say about Holyoke girls and Smith girls,” Maggie grinned, increasing the swiftness of her gait. C.J. rushed to catch up with her. “Elliott,” she said, calling him as she always did by his last name, “You should head back home before this starts to stick.”
Stick? It could hardly be called flurries. Still, there was no point in arguing with this girl. He’d argued himself mindless, trying to make her stop calling him by his last name. He remained Elliott. Surrendering to her, he muttered something about “Saturday then?”
“Yes, Saturday. And don’t you dare be late.” As Elliott turned to leave, she grabbed the back of his coat. “Elliott, aren’t you going to give me a goodbye kiss?” He leaned down to kiss her on the lips, but she turned her face and tapped on her cheek.
Grace Brown, in Maggie’s opinion, was the perfect roommate. Friendly, sweet, neat, and tidy, she never tried to sneak a male in the room. Grace was from a moneyed family in Bar Harbor, Main. Money was unimportant to Grace. “How was your time with the beau?” Grace always showed attentiveness to Maggie’s social life.
Maggie tossed her coat and beret on her bed, something Grace would have never done. “It was lovely,” she breathed. Sitting down in front of her mirror, she brushed her hands through her now short hair, thinking it looked redder at this length. “My folks aren’t going to like this bob.”
“Why’d you do it then?” Grace asked.
“Why not? It’s not their hair.” Maggie gave her hair a good tussle, leaving it sticking in several directions. She loved the bob and side bangs and gave them one more good tussle before hanging up her coat and putting the beret in a drawer, mostly because Grace would like that. Flopping on her bed and picking up her novel, she held it in both hands, at arm’s length above her head, she began to laugh. “Elliot called The God of the Seas, scandalous. I don’t think he thinks it’s proper for me to be reading it.”
“It’s probably not,” Grace chuckled.
“I asked him if he knew what they say about Holyoke and Smith girls,” Maggie snickered, naughtiness in her voice, which Grace loved.
“You mean Smith girls to bed, Holyoke girls to wed?” Grace asked.
“Oh, child, they only say it that way at Holyoke,” Maggie stood up, laughing. “Time to eat. Let’s go; I’m completely famished.”
Leaving their room, heading down the stairs to the dining room, Maggie remained chatty. “I’m going out with Elliott Saturday night. If you have a date, we could do something together.”
“I’d like to,” Grace said, “but Bill says he has something special planned for Saturday night. I think he’s going to ask me to his parents’ house for Christmas.”
“Christmas? Christmas is next week. It seems a little late to ask you now.”
Grace smiled at Maggie’s comment. “Maybe that’s what he’s hoping.” As they walked into the dining room, a formal affair, for a college dormitory, complete with white table cloths for evening meals, Grace asked Maggie about C.J.’s plans for Christmas.
“Elliott’s? Who knows?” Maggie said, sounding disinterested. “I think his family is all dead, except for his mother. And they’re alienated.” Grace suggested Maggie should take Elliott home with her for Christmas. “With me?” Maggie squealed. Well, squealed with dignity. “Three days and nights on a train together? My mother would fairly fall over dead. My father . . . my father, would probably send Elliott to the gates of Heaven, and not care whether the devil knows he’s dead.” Maggie paused before patting Grace’s arm. “Truth be told, I’m hoping the weather gets even worse, and I won’t be able to go home for Christmas. Tulsa be damned as far as I’m concerned.”
A girl with too curly blond hair, a student from England, who everyone called “Curls,” asked if she could join them. Maggie, in her best Irish brogue, replied. “Tis, a private conversation, be away with yourself.” The blond girl rolled her eyes and told Maggie she was “such a pain in the arse.” She sat down with two other girls, who got a laugh out of O’Sullivan’s behavior.
Once Curls left, Grace became chatty. “Maggie O, you should marry C.J. before prohibition kicks in, in January. If you wait, you won’t have any champagne at your wedding.”
Maggie peered at Grace across the top of her teacup. Blowing on the orange pekoe before taking two sips and declaring it to be hot. “Marry Elliott? He hasn’t asked me.
“He will,” Grace assured, quieting Maggie. It unsettled her ̶ marriage. Now there was a serious commitment.