Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter 1: A Light In The Mountains

Outside of Hellgate Trading Post,
Idaho Territory, May 1861

Abram Nash was rousted from his sleep by the dog tugging on his hand. She had his hand firmly, but gently, in her mouth and was trying to pull him out of bed.
“Peaches, what is it?” Abram said in a sleepy whisper. The dog pulled until Abram’s feet were on the floor. She waited in the hall until he slipped his boots on and followed her. Peaches trotted to kitchen door and looked back.
“Can’t you wait ‘til sunup like the rest of us?” He grumbled, thinking the collie-mix dog just needed to do her business. Abram opened the door and turned to go back to bed, but Peaches darted back and grabbed his hand again.
“What? Girl, are you smelling things again, or what?” But Abram followed Peaches, anyway, in spite of his grumbling. The whinny from the barn startled the sleep from his brain and Abram Nash figured out what his dog was trying to tell him.
The buckskin mare was having her foal. She was confined to her stall in the barn and the Nash family was keeping a close eye on her. This was her first foal and she was Geneva Nash’s favorite mare. Abram was anxious to see this foal, with a buckskin dam and palomino sire, it was sure to be handsome. It wouldn’t matter. Geneva would love it no matter what it looked like.
Abram whispered in his sleeping wife’s ear, “Geneva. It’s foaling time. Gen. Genny. Wake up Gen. We have work to do.”
He brushed the caramel strands from her face and waited for her green eyes to open. Geneva was a ranch wife and woke early every day with never a complaint; she worked cheerfully until the day’s chores were done. But when she slept, she slept like a dead thing. Hard, quiet and damn near impossible to rouse.
At last, she rolled to her back and opened her eyes.
“Wake up Mrs. Nash. There’s going to be a new mouth to feed this day.” Abram said.
“Is Cupcake having her foal?” Geneva was awake and on her feet in the same breath.
Abram smiled at his impulsive wife, running out to the barn in her bare feet and nightgown. Thirty-six years old and she still had the exuberance of a girl. The moonlight shining through her nightgown showed still had the slim, supple build of a girl, too, except for the softness of her belly, so newly after childbirth.
The early May morning was chilly, and within just a few minutes, Geneva was back inside to start the coffee and get dressed. First foals, like first babies, generally took a while.
When the bacon was fried and biscuits ready to bake, Geneva Nash rang the bell, waking her brood and starting the day. One by one, their sleepy faces appeared around the kitchen table. Daughter Patience helped Geneva get breakfast on the table and the oldest sons, Genesis and Exodus milked the two dairy cows before it was time to eat.
It was Leviticus’ job to fill the wood bins, and Deuteronomy had to bring in enough water to fill the reservoir on the wood stove, plus two buckets besides. On wash day, he had to fill the laundry tub, too.
Judge Nash was ten years old, and he helped Abram feed the stock. Temperance made the beds and Faith, Hope and Charity, ages 7, 6 and 5 respectively, fed the poultry and gathered the morning eggs. Joshua and Samuel, only 3 and 1, sat in their high chairs attended by Patience, while Geneva put the newborn twins Isaiah and Ezra to breast.
Morning in the Nash family was a whirlwind.

“I heard that George Yeager joined up to fight the Rebs.” Genesis Nash told his brother Exodus. Their milking chores gave them a little time for confidential talk.
“But George ain’t old enough to join. He’s only seventeen.” Exodus said.
“He told them he was eighteen, and nobody checked to make sure.”
“So? What are you saying?” Exodus knew it wasn’t just conversation.
“If he can get away with it, I can, too. I look older’n seventeen, don’t I? I know I look older than George. What you think Pop would do if I lied about my age and joined up?” Genesis asked.
Exodus thought a while. What would Pop do? “I don’t know what he’d do, brother. He might be mad, but then, he might understand, too. If I was you, I’d be more worried about what Momma would do.”
Genesis sat up on his milking stool and pictured what his Momma might do. She was only about five feet tall and maybe a hundred pounds, but the thought of crossing her gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his gut. The streaks of red in her caramel hair were a comment on her personality. Most of the time she was cool headed and warm hearted. But get crossways of her, and the red showed itself.
Thinking back over his seventeen years of life, Genesis couldn’t remember her ever actually doing anything in particular when that crimson fury showed up behind her green eyes. It was just that the feeling of having Momma displeased with you was so uncomfortable. She didn’t say anything, or whup up on you like some Mommas did. She wasn’t mean when she was mad. That just made it all the worse. She was always so patient and cheerful, that when she ever did get mad, you took notice. To have been the one who made her mad made you feel like a real snake. Momma didn’t have to do anything about it. You beat yourself up, feeling terrible that you could be so bad that you made Momma unhappy.
Now, Pop: he was different. Genesis could picture the way Pop’s black eyebrows came together in a frown, and how his almost-black eyes snapped with anger. He might use the bible to teach you the lesson he wanted you to learn. He might show you the verse that told you what was wrong with what you did. He might make you copy down that verse many times, depending on your transgression. You might earn yourself a long lecture that sounded and felt a lot like a sermon. Or he might just make you go out to the creek bottom and cut a switch from the willow tree. You could never tell with Pop.
“What about you? You’re sixteen. Ain’t you tempted to go join up and fight them Rebs?” Genesis asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve thought about. But it such a hard decision. I’d have to lie, and I hate to lie. Pop needs us both here. With all the little ones, he needs us bigger ones to work. Anyway, I bet that fight will be over by the time we can get all the way from the territory here to South Carolina. But then, we might never have the chance to have such an adventure again. We’d see places we might not ever see otherwise, and meet people from all over. Plus, those Rebels, firing on Fort Sumter: it makes me mad. It’d be like slapping Pop. You just don’t do that. They need to be punished, that’s sure. But I don’t know about us being the ones to do it. We’re just ranchers. What do we know about fighting wars?”
Temperance bounced her little blond pigtails into the barn and told the boys that breakfast was almost ready. At nine years old, she was already growing into a beauty and was so sweet that even her big brothers never picked on her. She didn’t flounce or priss around, but was such an angel child that no one could ever be cross with her.
“Mommy says the biscuits are brown and coffee is hot. Are you done with the milking, yet?” Temperance asked.
“This old cow is just about played out.” Genesis said. “We’ll need to get her freshened before long. Here, walk on this side of me, little cookie. Sometimes that cow kicks and her big foot would kick a little nubbin like you into next week.”
Temperance took his hand and bobbed along beside him like a kite on a string. Walking with her big brother was one of her favorite things in life.
The rest of the family was already at the table when the oldest two and Temperance walked in.  She slid into her chair, Genesis and Exodus plunked the milk buckets down and sat, too.
“We’ll bow our heads”, Started Abram. “Heavenly Father, King of the Universe, we thank Thee for the food on our table, the health in our bodies and the strength of our family. Forgive us our sins and make us worthy of Thy bounty. Amen.” The morning prayer was usually short and to the point with Abram Nash. He was homesteading a big spread and had a lot to do every day. God would understand.
“I think we’ll have a new foal around her by nightfall, youngsters.” Abram told his brood, while he slid four eggs from the platter onto his plate. Ten of his fourteen children were old enough to understand what that meant. The girls all squealed with joy, provoking a quick hush from their father.
“Piglets squeal, not girls.” He said.
They ducked their heads, but were still smiling, because Pop was smiling, too. The clinking of forks on plates and blowing on hot coffee replaced the chatter and giggling, until newborn Isaiah howled. He wasn’t quite full when the biscuits were done, but had to be put in his crib for a moment, anyway. He was not a tolerant baby. By the time Geneva could put him to breast, he was purple mad and hiccupping in his howls.
“Oh, are we all going to have trouble with this one, family.” Geneva smiled. “He is going to be the one to punch sweet Patience here in the nose, when he gets bigger.”
“And he’ll spit in Faith’s eye.” Patience said. She looked at Faith like she was passing the ball to her in a game.
“And he’ll pinch Deuteronomy on the arm!” Faith said, and looked at him to give him his turn.
“He’ll twist Judge’s ear!” Deuteronomy said.
“He’ll slap Genesis upside the head” Judge took his turn at the game.
“He’ll bite Hope’s finger!” Genesis said.
“He’ll pull Charity’s pigtail!” Hope said.
“And he’ll give Temperance a horse-bite!” Hope said, but she lisped it ‘Tempwance’.
“He’ll trip Exodus and make him fall down!” Temperance said.
“He’ll poke Leviticus in the eye!” Exodus said.
“And then what will he do?” Leviticus asked. “He’ll take little Joshua here and squeeze him until he sneezes all over Samuel, and Samuel will only have Ezra left to pick on.” Leviticus took Ezra out of his crib and cradled his baby brother in his arm. “And nobody could ever pick on Ezra because he is so handsome”
Geneva and Abram looked across the table at each other and smiled.
“I never heard such a bunch of silly children in my life.” Abram scolded, though he wasn’t really mad. “Now eat your breakfast and get to your chores. And I don’t want to see you all hanging around Cupcake’s stall and making her nervous, either. She has a big day ahead of her and it will just be harder on her if you make her nervous. You hear?
“Yes, sir.”  Even 3-year-old Joshua said it in unison with the rest. Game time was over, and Pop was serious.

Always, feel free to comment! Trish in AZ

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