FIVE MILE CREEK, THE CONTINUING SAGA
"Good-bye," the last cry echoed in their ears as Con and Kate waved once more and settled down in their train seat. Con put his arms around his bride for a day and lovingly pulled her close. She looked up at him and smiled. Dabbing her last tears with her handkerchief she leaned into his embrace. “You know what?" He leaned closer brushing her ear with his lips.
Her pulse quickened and she in turn responded in a whisper, “What?"
“As much as I’ll miss everyone I like the chance to be alone with you."
“Mm,” she agreed resting her head on his shoulder. The happy couple sate together in blissful silence listening to the sound of the train rolling along the tracks. “Con, Kate broke the silence. "Do I have time for a nap?"
He grinned at her mischievously. “Well, I suppose if you really want to."
She stifled a yawn. "I can’t believe how busy the last few days have been and I didn’t get much sleep last night," she finished giving him a playful poke in the ribs. He caught up her small hand in his and kissed it, then settled his arm around her more comfortably. The steady rhythm of the train combined with the flurry of events in the past few days lulled Kate to sleep. Con looked down at his sleeping wife and his heart swelled with love for her. He could never put it into words how much this woman had changed his life, and brought him out of the blame and despair he’d lived in. He could scarcely believe it now that she was finally completely his. All the events of the past two years seemed like a dream now that they were together. With that last thought in his mind, he allowed himself to drift off to sleep beside his wife. As they slept the train rattled along bringing them closer to their first destination of Sydney. Once in Sydney, they would board the boat that took them to America. Little did they know what lay in store for them.
Just the Two of Us
Con started awake and noticed that Kate was already alert and staring out the window at the passing landscape. “Sleep well?" His Texas accent was soft as he posed the question.
She turned back to him with a smile on her face that spoke volumes, but simply replied “Yes." He ran his fingers up and down her back causing her to tingle all over and say in a low voice, “not now." Realizing his overtures were embarrassing his wife, he reluctantly stopped and simply put his arm back around her. Kate was flushed over how she was feeling, and in a way she regretted stopping it, this sense of intimacy was entirely new to her and she enjoyed it. However, she would not make public displays in front of people. In the privacy of their room that was one thing, in public view was quite another. She glanced around their car to see if anyone had been paying attention. They didn’t appear to be, but Kate’s suspicious nature would not allow her to let people off the hook that easily. Con watched as her flushed complexion returned to normal and she settled back against him.
“It’s all right," he whispered, "we’re married now." As he said that their eyes met and all of Kate’s insecurities melted away. Con turned and captured her lips for a long deep moment and Kate eagerly returned the kiss. When at last they broke off, Kate laughed a little but made no apologies.
Con, figuring that would have to hold him for awhile, changed the subject, “Should be in Sydney anytime."
“Will we be staying there for awhile?" She asked suddenly realizing she knew little about his plans, their plans, she corrected herself mentally.
“No, we will be boarding the ship pretty much right away and leaving for America. We want to try and make it to New Mexico before the snow really starts up."
Maggie Scott stepped in the quiet kitchen. Just yesterday this room had been a place of much bustling and activity, she thought to herself as she begin to set the table. Some last minute preparations for Con and Kate’s wedding, and the reception had been held there too. How everyone had enjoyed themselves and Con and Kate had been truly blessed. Then this morning, good-byes all said, the newlyweds had loaded their belongings onto the stagecoach and Maggie and Jack had taken them to the train depot.
They were going to America. Who knows how long it would be until she saw them again. A tear trickled down her cheek and she sat down at the table. She was so delighted for Kate and yet, she missed her so much! She shouldn’t cry though, Kate was so happy, her long awaited dreams had at last been fulfilled. She had wanted to get married for so long and Con had finally taken that step. After two and a half years of being engaged, they had tied the knot. Maggie and Kate had both cried at the train station and Maggie had told her “We all have to move on sometime”. Kate was moving on, with Con and she had so much to look forward to. Maggie? She didn’t what she had to look forward to except an empty house and a missing friend. “Oh well, she thought as she got back up, enough of this feeling sorry for myself. I am happy for her and that’s that!” With that last thought in mind, she began to prepare the rest of the meal and tried not to think about the void that was yawning wide every time she turned around.
Out in the barn there was also silence. Usually there was much good natured small talk at this time of the day, when everything was drawing to a close, but not today.
Matt was the only one not there. He hadn’t returned from his Saturday run yet. Jack, Ben, Paddy and Sam were all out there, but no one spoke. They were all thinking about the Madigans leaving.
“Come on you blokes, Jack finally spoke up. We’ve got to stop acting so down. What’s the latest yarn you’ve heard?”
“If I had something to talk about I’d be “yarning” about it now, Ben replied impatiently in his raspy voice. Truth of the matter is I don’t feel like talking right now!”
“Well as you know," Paddy began interrupting. "Miss Kate left me as her overseer and all…"
“That’s overseer of whoever you may hire, leprecorn," Ben told him pointedly, "not over us!"
Jack begin to wish he’d never started a conversation as Ben and Paddy continued to dicker back and forth. He walked over to where Sam sat in the middle of the feed bags, head in hands.
“Sam you’re taking this pretty hard aren’t you?" Jack asked him as he sat down. "I am sure they’ll send for you real soon.”
"I know," Sam said, wiping his red eyes. "It’s just you don’t realize how much you care about someone until they’re not around."
“That’s the way life is, son," Jack replied. "It’s happened to me before, too" he finished, growing strangely quiet. Then he added almost in a whisper,"I just realized too late." As he said that he got up abruptly,"Need to finish the barn chores, Maggie will have dinner ready real soon."
“Yeah,” Sam agreed as he watched Jack walk off. Jack didn’t hear him though. His mind was a million miles away, and even Ben and Paddy’s fussing at one another didn’t rouse him.
Jack shook himself. It was dark and he was strangely cold. Then he saw Maggie standing there holding a lantern.
“Is something wrong, Jack?" Maggie asked him. "I called everyone in for dinner half an hour ago."
“I was just thinking about Arabella," he replied. "Wondering how she was doing”.
Maggie raised her eyebrows, but said no more. “Dinner is ready," she said brightly, "and I believe all the work in the barn is finished."
“Yeah, I suppose so," Jack replied, slowly as he shut the barn door and joined her.
“Matt is sure late tonight,” Maggie remarked trying to get Jack’s mind off Arabella. Jack started. “You’re right," he exclaimed, "I sure hope he didn’t run into any trouble."
Just as they reached the porch a lone rider came galloping up, he brought his horse to a halt and jumped off breathless he ran up to Jack and Maggie. “What is it, man?” Jack asked.
“Need help," he gasped. "Stagecoach held up, driver shot," he could say no more.
It took Jack only a second to register what he had said. “Maggie, go get Ben while I saddle up the horses. We’ll ride out there straight away. Do you think you can show us the way?" he asked the rider. The man had gotten a chance to catch his breath and nodded. "Let’s go!" Jack shouted and as they rode out he yelled back to Maggie," Be prepared to take care of the injuries!"
“God Speed,” Maggie called after them and then they were gone.
“Will Matt be all right?” Annie asked anxiously. "He won’t be hurt bad, will he?"
"I don’t know for sure, Annie," Maggie replied, trying to comfort the distraught girl, "he is in God’s hands."
Annie looked at her and said, bitterly," God took everyone else that I cared for from me, why not Matt, too?" She said this through trembling lips and Maggie put her arms around her.
"Annie," she whispered “We don’t understand the Lord's ways, but He has reasons for what he does, and we must trust Him no matter how painful the situation. Annie turned a tear-stained face up to Maggie and said nothing.
As if things weren’t bad enough Paddy, who had been sitting in the corner smoking his pipe, chose this time to say,“Many people don’t survive bullet wounds."
“Paddy," Maggie scolded him, impatiently, "don’t say things like that!”
“It’s true, mum…” he tried to continue but she cut him off.
"Have the fences been checked for the night, Paddy?" she asked him.
As if on cue he arose from his chair and after banging his pipe and setting it on the mantle walked out of the door.
“Don’t pay any attention to him," she told Annie." I am sure," she was interrupted by the clatter of the stagecoach. Annie jumped up and dried her eyes. “Young love," Maggie thought, wistfully that had once been her, but that seemed a long ways off now. Her husband, Adam had been dead for nearly six years and their daughter (who was away at boarding school) was nearly grown. Maggie brought herself back to the present as they brought Matt through the door on a stretcher.
“Matt are you okay?” Annie asked as she walked beside him. Matt was grimacing in pain, but he ignored her question and turned to look into her eyes.
“Annie, I’ve wanted to ask you something for a long time," he said, then paused and drew in his breath raggedly.
“Matt, don’t talk right now," Annie said, trying to quiet him.
But he would not be silenced and continued,”If I recover from this bullet wound would you," he paused, "will you marry me?" Annie blushed to the roots of her curly hair and stood there for a moment speechless. Matt by this time was laying on the table and wincing in pain as Maggie looked at the wound. He looked only at Annie though and with his eyes implored her to accept. “I knew ever since I met you," he said,"that I’d met my match.”
Annie seemed to recover then and replied fiercely back to him, “First I don’t want to hear any of this if I recover nonsense, you will recover!" Then in a quieter voice, a voice unbeknownst to the people that knew her best, she replied “Yes, I will marry you.” Everyone in the room cheered, but Matt and Annie didn’t hear a word. They stared at each other and smiled then Annie blushed again and ran from the room.
The Madigans had been at sea for about two months, and Kate had found once they set sail that she became dreadfully seasick, so she laid in her bed and tried to pretend the boat wasn’t moving. It had been unusually bad weather since they set sail, so Con said it was understandable and she would feel better soon. It was during one of these mornings that something very unusual happened. Con came into their berth with a puzzled look on his face. “Kate, when did you last go on deck?”
“Darling, you should know that," she replied, with reproach in her voice,"I haven’t been anywhere without you.”
“That’s what I thought, but I could have sworn I saw someone that looked like you not five minutes ago.”
“How very strange,” she murmured.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe I was just seeing things, you know every girl looks like you to me." He gazed at her and she smiled wanly back at him. He took her hands in his and looked into her eyes. "Are you feeling any better?”
She took a deep breath and then nodded. “Yes, I just need a few days to get my strength back."
"Let’s go for a walk on deck, we’ll take it slow, and the fresh air will do you good. She nodded slowly and he grabbed her shawl and arm in arm they walked out the door.
As they walked on deck she took deep breaths of the fresh salt sea air and began to feel better. As they rounded one of the corners, Kate almost fell over a man crouched behind a pile of cargo. He spun around to face her with a shocked look on his face and she realized it was the sullen sailor she had seen a few weeks earlier. “Hey, what’s going on here?” Con asked, sternly stepping forward.
“Just had to re-secure these boxes because of the bad weather." He pointed to where the ropes had been retied.
“Well, you’d better get on with the rest of your mates.” Con said, after a moment of looking at the ropes.
“I’ll get along when I’m good and ready, Yank,” the man replied, insolently, “And not a minute before.” Con did not answer, but he motioned for the man to be on his way. With one more backward glance toward Con he turned on his heel and strode away.
“I don’t like the looks of that character," Con whispered to Kate, "We better keep our eye on him." Then changing the subject he turned to her, "You got the color back into your cheeks,” he told her in a proud tone.
“I do feel much better,” she assured him. Just then the dinner bell sounded.
“If you’re feeling up to it, that’s the dinner call." Con remarked. Kate hesitated for only a brief moment and then slipped her hand through the crook of his arm, and they walked into eat.
The next several days were uneventful, but then one morning, as she sat folding the laundry she had just labored washing, Con came in bringing a breath of salty sea air in with him. “Kate, you haven’t been anywhere lately have you?”
She looked up at him quizzically, “What are you talking about, I haven’t been anywhere since we went to breakfast earlier.”
“Huh, could’ve sworn I saw you just a little while ago, thought it was kinda strange though." She again shook her head, almost in wonderment and went back to the pile of laundry on their bed. "I was probably just seeing things," he finished, "you know everyone looks like you to me," he said giving her a playful pat. She looked at him and smiled. The look broke up the pensiveness of the moment, and a little time later found Con working on the plans for the new stage line. Kate finished her work and soon joined him. “I want to have a real concrete plan when I talk to Hank Harris." Hank was the person who had requested him to come and start another stage line in New Mexico. He and Con had been old friends, and in their much younger days had worked together on several small business enterprises. Now it seemed he wanted to take on a little more with running thirty to forty stagecoaches all across New Mexico and into Texas. “With a lot of the land in New Mexico still unsettled, (he had told Con in his letter) it was the perfect place to provide a new mode of transportation." So Con was now embarking on putting the entire stage line, runs and half way houses together. “This is a big job," he remarked to Kate as they both looked at a rough map of New Mexico and the upper part of Texas.
“Well," she responded with her usual frankness. "I am glad we know a thing or two about stagecoaches."
Con looked at her out of the corner of his eye, and almost started to say something. Then he abruptly changed his mind, grinned and put his arm around her. “Yeah, it’s a good thing we do know." As she relaxed in his embrace, he wondered again how God could have blessed him with such a woman.
His plans were almost complete. The stage was set for his act. He would prove that he could be captain of this ship. The ship commanders would surely applaud him after he brought the ship in, taking it over for a captain too sick to carry on command. It was a good thing a few of his mates wanted to help him out. How else could he pull his plan off. Thomas O’Rian looked around him one last time while securing the rigging, making sure no one was around. He then pulled a packet out of his pocket. In the pouch was a white substance. He smiled to himself. A jeering smile, as if he were laughing inwardly at someone or something. And so he was. For his revenge was nearly complete. Thomas had grown up on the Australian coast and had always wanted to go to sea. He had studied hard as a young man, determined he would be captain of a ship one day. Just when he thought his opportunity had come (his superior was retiring), the shipyard had hired a new captain and a Yankee to boot. He would make them all pay. His smile turned to a frown as he heard foot falls and quickly slipped the substance back into his pocket. The footfalls receded as he listened and he breathed a sigh of relief. Soon would be the time.
Con awoke in the middle of the night. Something wasn’t right he felt. He lay still for a moment and listened. Did he hear crying? After lying there for a moment longer, he slipped out of bed and pulled on his trousers. He was sure now, he heard crying. Soft sobbing was more like it, for it was very muffled. Glancing at Kate, he saw that she was still sound asleep. So he walked quietly to the cabin door and opened it. The moon was shining bright and full, as he stood at their doorway, and once again paused. The crying was a little louder now, but still muffled. Then he saw her. A woman with a slight figure, with auburn hair, shining in the moonlight. Con could not see her face, but he was almost certain this was the woman he had seen about a week ago, who looked so much like Kate. His surprise soon passed though and he stood watching her in the shadows. Her shoulders were shaking from her quieted sobs, and she took deep shaky breaths in effort to calm herself. All of the sudden the woman stiffened, as if she had heard a sound. A whistle was heard in the distance. It must be the sailor on night duty Con thought, turning his head in the direction of the new sound. When he again looked towards the railing the woman was gone. He peered around once more, then walked out to the ships railing, where the woman had so recently been standing. Still but seeing nothing. He made his way down the deck, coming face to face with the whistling sailor. They fell back from each other both startled. “What’s up?” the sailor asked after recovering his composure, "it’s awful late for a passenger to be about."
Con paused a moment trying to figure out if he should report all he had seen. “Thought I heard crying a little while back," he finally stated.
“Oh mate, that’s just the wind, we call it the Weeping Widow. It’s the way it blows through the decks.”
“Maybe so," Con pretended to mull over what the sailor said. "Sure created quite a racket.”
"Well, you aren’t used to the ocean and how it works," the sailor asserted in return. Con stifled a yawn, “Better be getting back. Night." The sailor nodded as Con made his way back to their berth and closed the door. Getting back into bed carefully so as not to disturb his sleeping wife, he closed his eyes to sleep, but it was a long time in coming as his mind mulled over the past events. He knew he had seen someone and it wasn’t just the wind weeping, and he would keep trying to figure it out.
As the rest of the ship slept, Thomas O’Rian was continuing his deadly mischief. He slipped into the ships kitchen, so as to familiarize himself with the surroundings. Even though he had been a ships mate for several years, the kitchen was one area where he did not often go. He crept around the unit, every now and then pausing to listen for any new sounds. Satisfied there was nothing he continued his perusal. “Got it," he breathed to himself. He had found the captains food allotments for tomorrow morning's meal. The captain always took his meals in his cabin before joining the crew to start the day. He had learned that through careful observation over the last several trips. Slowly and carefully he removed the tin which contained oatmeal, he pulled the packet out of his pocket and dumped a small amount of the contents into the container. After shaking it a little, he replaced the lid and slipped the remaining powder back into his pocket. Looking around once more, he smiled quietly to himself and slipped out the door. “Sleep well, captain," he said under his breath as he drifted out into the night.
Cook Pritchard was an excellent cook. Originally from England he had provided meals on ships for the last fifteen years, and prided himself greatly in his cooking ability. This morning however was proving quite a trial for the seasoned veteran, as nothing seemed to be where he had put it the night before, and consequently he seemed to be running out of food. “This is preposterous!" he stormed," I knew exactly what we were going to serve this morning, and we seem to be short."
His assistant Robert was a young man of about seventeen, new on board the ship, but proving to be a very good helper. This morning he patiently waited as cook stormed around. Then glanced at his pocket watch, and said quietly “Sir, we are going to need to start serving in about twenty minutes."
"I know lad, I know,” he replied, slightly irritated. "It’s just I don’t know what happened.”
Robert took a deep breath trying to calm his superior. "Let’s just get breakfast out of the way, then we can determine the cause," he suggested.
“Alright," Cook Pritchard finally acquiesced. "Get me some of the captain’s portion out of the tin. I will have to find something else to serve him this morning, as we are short." Robert quickly set to his task and soon breakfast was underway.
Con and Kate made their way to the dining area fairly late that morning for Kate was again not feeling well. She had wanted to stay in their berth, but Con had insisted she come, telling her she would feel better once she got something into her stomach. She had reluctantly agreed. As they entered the dining room. Breakfast was under full swing, and Kate felt her stomach lurch at the smell of the food. She began to hang back right at the door, but Con took her firmly by the hand and led her in to sit down. The boat was rocking slightly, and as Robert made his way to their table, Kate whispered to Con, \“I don’t know how long I can handle this."
He kissed her on the cheek, and replied “Just hang on a minute, you’ll be fine.”
“What’ll it be this morning?" Robert cheerfully set silverware in front of them. (This was a joke because they only served one thing per morning, but it helped to make people smile and the young man liked to see people have a good time.) "We have oatmeal with toast."
“Oatmeal for me," Con said and after looking again at Kate’s green complexion he finished,"toast for my wife."
Before Robert could retreat to the kitchen, a sudden commotion was heard from the other side of the room. “Someone get the doctor a man shouted,"My wife has been taken ill." The woman sat in her chair shaking with convulsions almost falling from her chair if her husband hadn’t held onto her.
“I am a doctor," a middle aged man said, coming through the crowd that was already beginning to press around the couple. "What happened?”
“We were just eating, doc, and all of the sudden she started getting real pale and shaky."
The doctor felt her pulse. "I need to move her to my quarters,” he said quietly.
“Doc, what’s wrong?" the man requested, "is she going to be alright?”
"I don’t know, son," the doctor replied. "We need to get her to where I can examine her immediately." The man tenderly lifted his wife in his arms and followed the doctor out of the door.
Con and Kate returned to their table, but both of their appetites were now gone. “Come on Kate, let’s head back to our berth” Con said after a moment of sitting there. She nodded wearily glad of another reason to leave, and arm in arm they walked back out into the early morning.