A Love So Bold
by Anon Allsop
Gideon pulled his wagon to the side of the street, and Charles and Forrest pulled in behind. He set the break and wound the reins around the handle. Turning toward Hannah, he gently reached out and patted her leg. "I know the anticipation is probably killing you." He stood and began to climb out of the seat, "Keep the young-uns here in the wagon; I shouldn't be but a bit."
By the time he had reached the street, he was joined by both Charles and Forrest. Together they walked to the Land Office's doorway where they took their place in line with other new arrivals.
Hannah and the children sat and watched the bustle of the small town as people walked and rode past on horses or in wagons. There was an earthy smell from the street, it had not snowed here but it was still chilly. A few passersby tipped their hats toward Hannah, which made her smile and think, ‘If they only knew’.
A soft voice from behind her broke her train of thought, "Ma, are we going to be able to see the town while we're here?" Cade asked after much prodding from Rachel.
Hannah sighed, "I'm afraid not, children. Your Pa will want to locate our land as soon as he has our papers.” Emma began to cry and Hannah had them pass her forward so she could sit in her lap as they waited. Meanwhile, Cade and Rachel leaned over the back, completely mesmerized by what they could see.
From just beyond their wagon, she heard a voice, "Wooo-weee!" She turned to see where it was coming from and she saw three young men standing on the opposite side of the street near a saloon.
Another voice called out, "That's okay, Honey, you don't have to ignore us... we won't bite ya!" She sought out the speaker; it was a young man probably near to twenty. As a response, she returned her gaze forward and tried to dismiss their calls.
One of the three stepped off the walkway and came toward their wagon and then leaned on the wheel. "You are one fine looking woman!" He then noticed Cade and Rachel peering over the seat at him, "All these little critters yours?"
She replied curtly, "They are mine."
He smiled and did a slow shake of his head, "Your mister is a lucky man!"
From the other side of the wagon she heard, "Yes he is." The wagon rocked slightly as Gideon returned to the seat; in his hands were the precious papers for their land. Both Charles and Forrest walked around the front of the mules to see if they would be needed to chase off the cowboy.
He glanced toward them and smiled, "Sir, you are a very lucky man to have this here red-haired beauty. I'd give my eye-tooth to be so lucky."
Another of the young men stepped off the walkway and scrutinized Hannah's face for several long seconds, "Do I know you, lady?"
Gideon unwound the reins from the hand-break, and then glanced toward Hannah. "Mister, I doubt it if you would know my wife... we just got in from the trail."
The young cowboy frowned and rubbed his unshaven chin, "No, I'm sure that we've met somewheres..."
Hannah began to study the face of the man who spoke. Gideon sighed, "Look mister..." he began, but was cut off by his wife.
"Oh we've met." She looked down toward him with her emerald green eyes, "We met right after I left the train that was heading for California."
Gideon quickly snapped his head toward Hannah, who was smiling coldly. "This young man had an unfortunate accident with his saddle horn."
The young man's eyes lit up in fear and he gently reached out and grasped his friend’s arm, drawing him back to the other side of the street. Without so much as an additional word to the man, Hannah quietly spoke, "Children, take a seat." With no further conversation between her and the man, Gideon tipped his hat and gave the reins a quick snap.
They began to roll forward, and Charles and Forrest also returned to their wagons. Once they were all moving further down the street, Gideon leaned upon his knees and looked toward Hannah. "Do you want to tell me what all that was about?"
Hannah pursed her lips as if deep in thought, "I guess they just thought I was pretty."
Gideon chuckled, "Pretty... you're damn attractive, beautiful and breathtakingly gorgeous, if you ask me."
She laughed, patting him on his thigh, "You're supposed to say that...you're my husband!"
"Something tells me there was more to that whole strange conversation. What was the business about the accident with his saddle-horn?"
She giggled, "I had been nursing Emma, and he rode up on us. This was just before I found you."
He smiled while she paused, making Hannah unsure of whether he was more amused at the story or the man's reaction after he realized who she was. She continued, "That man began to climb off his horse and it frightened me... so I shot at him with that big Walker Colt you found me with."
"You hit his saddle-horn... you could have killed him!" He was stunned as he realized that his tiny wife actually fired the gun that she once had pointed at him.
She replied calmly, "I was trying to." She adjusted her skirt as she spoke, making sure it fell correctly over her petite feet, "The pistol was a lot heavier than I thought it would be."
Glancing toward him, she knew he was considering on how to respond. Finally he smiled, saying, "It's nice to know that you can take care of yourself if I'm not around."
Hannah looked over her shoulder; the children huddled under a blanket. They were smiling proudly, obviously listening to their conversation. Their smiles caused her to return one of her own.
Finally Gideon cleared his throat, "Are you curious of where our land is?"
"I figured you would just tell me where it was when we arrived," she quipped.
He smiled, "We were able to get all three claims so they are beside each other." His news caused her to smile widely, "They're going to be our neighbors!" Gideon paused for effect, "But that's only a small part of the news."
"There's more?" She placed her arm around his, turned and patiently waited for him to divulge the rest of his news.
"Our claim was once owned by a young man who had staked his claim on the land for his fiancée and him after they were married. The lass didn't want to come way out here and wouldn't go any farther than Independence, Missouri."
She was engrossed in his story. "And?"
Gideon grinned broadly, "This feller had built a house... with glass windows!"
Hanna's smile broadened even more. "Glass windows..." She sighed happily.
He patted her leg and then gave it a loving squeeze, "There are three rooms and a loft. He even built a small barn and corral!" He grinned at Hannah, and finally continued, "I had to pay an extra two hundred dollars because the land had been built on... but with winter coming on, it was worth taking a chance on it."
She gasped, "A house! We have a house!"
Hannah looked over her shoulder at the children. Though they were quiet, she knew they were bursting with excitement. She felt they had finally come to realize, that home was very close.
As the wagon creaked along, Gideon began laughing with pent up glee then grew serious as what he had done. "It's a mighty chance we're taking, but since we were one of the few arrivals who had the extra money, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take it."
She hugged his arm tightly, "The good Lord willing, it will be fine." The little road peeled off from the main one; as they rounded a bend she looked back beyond Blackie. Right behind them rolled the Bloom and Roland wagons.
Hannah closed her eyes and began praying. In her heart she wanted so much more for this little rag-tag family. They deserved to have a happy ending…she deserved to have that same happy ending too.
The wagon appeared over the small hill as the sun was dropping low on the horizon, down in a small valley below them was their land. Gideon gently nudged Hannah with his elbow, and then patted her thigh, “Hannah honey, we’re home.”
She had been leaning on her husband’s shoulder, sound asleep. She sat up and yawned, as the realization of what he had just said sank in, she began to look across the landscape before her. “Oh my Lord… Gideon, it’s so beautiful!”
He smiled, “Come on, let’s go home.” Giving the reins a snap, he eased the wagon down the road toward the small cluster of buildings.
The setting sun was reflecting against the yellow pine exterior of the buildings, making them glow welcomingly to the tired travelers. Gideon marveled as they entered the ground that surrounded the homestead. “Is it possible that this is truly ours?” he asked in wonderment.
As their wagon stopped, Gideon set the brake and remained in the seat like a statue. “Is this our farm, Pa?” Cade asked over his father’s shoulder. “I like it here!”
Hannah pushed her bonnet from her head; the flaming hair was once again free to drift in the light breeze. “Oh Gideon, it’s wonderful!”
He climbed down and gently assisted Hannah to the ground beside him. He drew her into a hug and just held her there. “I can hardly believe we’re on our own land!”
She looked up into his face, “Are you sure it is our land? Could we have pulled up on someone else’s property?”
“I followed their directions exactly. We’re here on our homestead.” He laughed like a little boy, then lifted Hannah and swung her in a circle.
Charles, Arden and children were climbing out of their wagons; Forrest and his wife were looking over the corral and barn. Hannah began to pull him along, toward the house they walked. “Let’s see inside the house,” she suggested.
Out of habit he knocked on the door. A quick laugh and then he pulled the latch and pushed the door open. As it swung aside, Hannah gasped, “It’s so pretty inside!”
Gideon ushered her into the room, “Looks like a bedroom back there. This here’s the kitchen.”
“Oh Gideon, look at the stove…it looks brand new!” she gushed.
He followed her with his eyes, and then noticed the stove. “That’s one of those new stoves from back east. It’s the kind that can burn both wood and coal…and you’re right, it does look new.”
Hannah noticed the window next to the big stove. She fingered the sill under the window, caressing it as if she had never witnessed anything more beautiful. Her eyes traveled down the long counter toward its end; there was a new pump towering over a sink. Her reaction caused Gideon to laugh, yet very few young families could boast they had an indoor pump!
"You don't see many of those..." he commented after a long whistle.
She gave a short laugh... I've never seen one, especially one that’s indoors!" She began to pump the long handle; at about the third pump water began to pour from it.
Gideon sighed, "It must have really torn up the feller, leaving all his hard work behind." He ran his fingers under the water as it continued to trickle.
The door slowly swung open, as Cade and Rachel stepped in and were lugging Emma with them. "Is it alright for us to come inside?"
Gideon turned toward him, "Come follow me, I'll show you where your bedrooms will be." As they began to follow their father, Hannah gathered up Em and held her.
The stairs to the loft were steep, much too steep for Hannah to attempt it while pregnant and carrying Em. She stood at the bottom and listened to them carry on about their rooms. Gideon stood at the doorway and looked down toward Hannah.
"There's a wall dividing the area into two rooms. It'll be perfect that each will have a room." He said with a huge smile playing upon his face.
She reminded him, "They most likely will have to get used to sharing if this child I'm carrying turns out to be a boy."
He looked over his shoulder toward one of the children, "You hear your mother? If she has a little boy, you will have to share your room eventually."
"Not right away though... right?" His soft voice drifted down from above.
She laughed, "No, not right away. It'll be awhile before either Em or this little one gets big enough to climb that steep stairs."
Gideon nodded, "Maybe in the spring I can add on a room for our overflow."
"Overflow?" Hannah quipped with a laugh.
"It'll give us a place for the baby and Emma and then once they're old enough... maybe we can fill the room with another..." He smiled as he spoke.
Hannah laughed sarcastically, "Another? How about we just work on the ones we have for now?" She shook her head, laughed and then drifted off to look into their bedroom.
Gideon was climbing down as he spoke to the children, "Figure out which room will be yours and we can move what you have in there." He stood on the floor and scoured the room looking for Hannah. "Where'd you run off to?"
"I'm in the bedroom. Come and look at this…its beautiful!"
He laughed, "I'm always ready for looking at things in the bedroom!" As he pushed a door open he was met with her cold stare - the look she had on her face made him laugh. "Hey, it already has a bed!" He said in a sad attempt to divert her scolding gaze.
Gideon gently shook the frame of the handcrafted bed, "That's better than I could have done." He studied the joints and the lacing of the new rope in lieu of springs. "I'll bet that's right comfortable!"
She shifted Emma onto her hip, carrying her where the weight was more easily supported. "I suppose I should be get supper ready." She sighed contentedly, "It will be nice to finally be able to cook in my own kitchen after all these months."
He reached out as she attempted to pass, playfully grasping her long skirt to impede her progress. "For tonight we can just put our curtains from the wagon on top of the rope lacing. I think we'll sleep well until we can get some cloth and straw for a mattress." He sat on the bed, running his hand across the ropes that were stretched from side to side, and top to bottom. "Come on and have a seat beside me... It'll be nice having a real bed to... well, you know."
Voices just outside caused him to release her and stand up quickly, Hannah carried Emma out the doorway and into the kitchen where the Blooms and Roland’s were just entering the house.
The noise that followed them in was enough to make the young couple's head swim; the Bloom children were climbing into the loft to see the bedroom. Each voice was oohing and aahing over everything in the house. As Gideon stepped into the kitchen their conversations seemed to quiet.
"Since it'll be dark soon, Hannah and I want you all to stay the night. You can set up in the barn, or out in the yard, whichever you prefer." He drew Hannah in close as he spoke, "We'll have supper together one last night and in the morning, if you wish, you can go off to find your homesteads. That’s what I would do!"
"We can decide tonight whose house we'll begin on first. If it comes to snowing too soon, we can put you up here and just use the house as our base... if that's okay." He looked at both Charles and Forrest.
Tears were in Forrest's eyes, "You...you folks would just take us in like that?" He looked toward his wife, "I think the Lord was a holding us up until these two wonderful families came along." He held his hand out to Gideon, "The wife and I will take you up on your offer."
Gideon, Charles and Forrest headed outside to inspect the barn and corral. While they were occupied, Hannah and the other women were busy preparing supper. The older Bloom girls were trying to occupy the attention of the younger ones.
Arden and Mrs. Roland had built a fire in Hanna's stove, and for the first time, Hannah felt she was a part of something... bigger than herself. Her heart surged with pride as she took in the vision of her friends as they shared in the work of preparing their evening meal. Her gaze fell upon the small group of children, seemingly as one unit climbed up the stairs into the loft. Katie chose to stay with Em and watch her as she played with a cloth doll.
Hannah moved to the sink to peel the skin off of the potatoes, and periodically glanced out the window and spied Gideon, Charles and Forrest walk past with the animals, placing them in either the barn or corral. Their images were distorted slightly due to the imperfections within the glass, but she could tell them apart.
At one point Gideon stood against the corral with his foot propped on the last rail, pointing toward the west. From time to time both Forrest and Charles would turn to look that way as well. She knew him enough that he was dreaming where this or that would be built, or some such thing that only men would understand.
She filled up one of her pots with water and set the potatoes on the stove to begin boiling, pausing only long enough to wipe her hands upon her apron. She then moved onto the next project.
Well after dark, all of them sat down in the little house and gave thanks. For they had done what many could not; travel from points east to Oregon and arrive there safely. Few families made it through unscathed; the Shepherds had been one - to a point.
One by one, each spoke the names of friends and family who had perished. With heartfelt reverence, they said the names of Ezrah, his parents, Rachel's poor family, Arden's grandfather, and the original Mrs. Bloom among others. However, there was one name that was left unspoken; yet she and Gideon made sure to remember it within their own thoughts... it was of her, of the original Hannah.
She had died in the desert trying to protect her daughter. Through a strange quirk of fate and contact with a strange amulet that had produced a change in a young man in which he took the place of the dying woman, it trapped – no, sealed him forever in this beautiful shell of a woman.
Trapped was a harsh word, because deep down Hannah knew that her transformation was more of a blessing than a curse. The reshaping of Ezrah's body into Hannah allowed her to live on in a way, to remain with her children until she left the world, hopefully as an old woman. That secret would have to remain hidden, buried within her thoughts and those of Gideon.
Those within that humble home had a celebration of sorts, for after the dishes had been cleared, the table and chairs had been pushed aside, and Gideon had rosined his bow, he began to play. The music played was light-hearted and gay; they danced and frolicked around the room laughing until they could hardly stand upon their own two feet.
Long into the night Gideon played, until one by one each family had headed off to their beds outside, or into the barn. The children were all up in the loft, giggling and telling stories even after the adults had gone to bed.
Gideon threw a big log onto their fireplace, and then settled back upon his haunches watching it burn. Hannah stood at their bedroom door wearing her sleeping dress. "Penny for your thoughts?"
He smiled and slowly stood, replacing the poker in its stand. "I was just thinking about us." His gaze never left the flames, mesmerized by the glow of the coals beneath the log.
She stepped closer and stood beside him, and quietly she placed her tiny hand in his, "What about us?"
He looked down at her lovely face, the red hair in disarray but framing it with its beauty. "God how I love you." He sighed, pulling her close.
Laying her head upon his chest she too was focused upon the glowing coals, "When we were remembering those we lost, I couldn't help but think about Hannah," she replied truthfully.
He sighed, "Me too."
She caressed the roundness of her stomach, and then spoke without looking away from the glowing coals. "When our baby is born, if it's a boy... can we name him ‘Ezrah’?"
He replied thoughtfully, "Of course we can." He turned his head and kissed her lightly.
The quiet between them grew deafening, as each was seemingly immersed in their own thoughts. Finally, Hannah broke the silence. "If we have a girl…would it be strange to name her ‘Hannah’?"
He said nothing for a moment, when she finally looked toward his face; he had tears in his eyes. "I…I think she would be proud to have a little one named after her." She gently placed her hands upon his cheeks and pulled his face to hers in a kiss.
She sought out his hand and quietly turned toward their bedroom, "We should be sleeping already. Morning is going to come way too quickly."
He followed her into the bedroom and lit the lantern that was on the windowsill, together they arranged the thick blanket curtains from the wagon onto the ropes of the bed, and then he began to get ready for bed.
He quietly blew out the lantern and climbed into bed. When he had settled in, he adjusted their cover over them both. "You asleep?" he whispered into the dark.
"No, not yet."
He rolled onto his side and faced her, "I was thinking, it won't be fair to Ezrah if we have a girl. I would hate to lose his name to our past."
She chuckled, "Or Hannah if we would have a boy."
Hannah heard him sigh, "After this baby is born... could we try for another one?"
She was lying upon her back, "I suppose we could since it would only be fair."
Gideon's hand absentmindedly began to caress her breasts through the material of her sleeping gown as they talked. "What would happen if we'd have another child of the same sex? I mean, if we name a boy Ezrah, and then have another boy…"
She was trying to ignore what he was doing to her. While it felt good, she didn’t want to take it any further, especially with the Bloom children only one floor above. "Well then, I guess we'd have to keep trying until we fulfill our wishes," she whispered.
Since it was going to take a while for the Roland’s and Blooms to actually locate their respective properties, it was decided that they would go on ahead and give time to Gideon and Hannah to get their own house in order. With winter coming, they would need to begin supplying themselves for the long days ahead.
Everyone agreed that both Mrs. Roland and Arden’s children would remain at the Shepherd homestead, while Arden, Charles and Forrest would locate their land and decide where they would build their houses and farms.
Gideon finished his coffee as he stood on the porch with Forrest. Charles was walking back from the wagon; he looked over his shoulder toward the sky and remarked, “Wagon is all hitched and ready to go. Looks like another mild day.”
Forrest placed his hand on Gideon’s shoulder, “I planted Hannah’s grape starts in the ground beside the barn. When we get back in a week or so, I’ll scout out some favorable land nearby that will grow good and sturdy vines for you. Providing the winter isn’t on us too soon.”
“I sure wish I could come along and help you all…” Gideon sighed.
Charles glanced at him, “Nonsense! You’re already home, your family needs you here to get prepared for winter.”
Gideon nodded, knowing full well that Hannah needed all the help she could get. Forrest gave Gideon’s arm a gentle squeeze, “When we’ve returned, we’ll help you get all the wood to last the winter.”
Pointing toward a lean-to at the side of the barn, Gideon remarked. “The former owner had already started stocking up wood. Looks like almost enough to get through at least half of the winter.”
“Then it won’t take too awfully long to get the remainder before winter is on us. That’s good to know!” Charles observed.
They all slowly began to walk toward Charles’ wagon. While he climbed up and took the seat, Forrest stayed on the ground to assist Arden when she came out. Gideon stroked his mule’s neck as he stood there, “You be a good boy for these fellers,” he softly whispered to it.
Arden and Hannah walked up beside Gideon. “We’re using your mules?” Arden asked.
Forrest took her hand and with Gideon’s help, assisted her into the seat beside her husband. “My mules are faster than your oxen; they’ll get you there and back sooner,” Gideon replied as he noticed Forrest climbing into the rear of the wagon.
“You get enough food to carry you there and back?” he asked, noticing that she had a sack that she handed over her shoulder to Forrest.
Arden smiled, “We’re good. Hannah saw to that.”
Gideon stepped back and smiled, then placed his hand around Hanna’s waist. “You all be careful!”
Charles nodded, “We’ll do our best.” He gave the reins a snap and they began to pull away from the young couple. Hannah followed a short distance so she could watch them on to the horizon. She was in her yellow gingham dress again, the one that Gideon liked most of all. In her condition, it was apparent that she wouldn’t be able to wear it too much longer, since there was no room left for her belly to grow any further in the dress.
Behind her the sun was creating pink and blue hues streaking across the morning sky, reflecting upon the clouds. Hannah stood perfectly still, her hands folded in front of her as she watched them grow smaller in the distance. Her red hair gently shifted in the light breeze, as if caressing her with a kiss. It brought to mind the dream they both shared so long ago.
Gideon knew what she had been, but it was what she had become that drew him to her. To Gideon, she was quite beautiful and he loved her dearly. Her love meant even more since she was willing to sacrifice Ezrah’s existence for Gideon and his family, accepting it as her own. She looked up and noticed him watching, a smile playing upon his handsome face.
She turned toward him and began to walk in his direction; as she came closer she held out her hand. “Come on honey, let’s go home.” Gideon grinned as he took it, and together they walked back toward their little house, and home.
Yes, theirs was a love…A love so bold that it could not be denied.
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