Winds West – 3

     Papa was sitting in the big chair and the little ones had been shoo’d off to bed. Liza sat in the rocker and reached into the darning basket for the next pair of his stockings that needed mending. She turned toward the coal oil lantern to thread her needle.

     “Elizabeth, you know I wouldn’t let you go to Langdon`s if I didn’t have to. He offered room and board and five dollars a month. That’s good pay for someone your age. God knows we need the money, but I want you to keep one dollar of it. That way you’ll have something put by to help furnish a home of your own someday.

     “I know, Papa. I’m glad to help any way I can. I just hope you and the others can get by all right. Maybe Effie and Helen can take care of the house. I don’t know who’ll take care of you and Ryan.”

     “We’ll make out, girl. It’s you I’m thinking of. You shouldn’t have to work so hard, so young. Maybe some nice young fellow will come calling in a couple of years and you can at least be doing the work for your own family. Langdon’s is a closer to town and they have a lot of church socials and such, more people for you to meet. You’re a pretty one. Remind me of your mother when we met.”

     “Maybe. Maybe I’ll go West. They say women are scarce out there. Remember Mr. Luby saying every woman who comes into town get a dozen proposals the first day?”

     “Every woman, yes. It seems like yesterday you were just a little girl. Now you’re a woman, or close to it. You’ve had to grow up fast, Liza. Faster than I would have liked. It’s too bad you mother isn’t with us. A girl needs someone, and although I try, there are things I just can’t help you with.”

     “I’ll be just fine. I miss Mama too, Papa. I’ll miss all of you, but you and Ryan most. Mama’s dying was hardest on him. I’ll ask Helen to read to him and that will help, but he’ll need to do things with you too. Otherwise, the girls will just run right over him. Are they hiring in Columbus?”

     “There’s a man starting the hiring tomorrow. I’ll be there bright and early and I stand a good chance of getting work for at least the summer. There can’t be too many bridge construction men with engineering degrees. If they don’t need me, I may be able to work with one of Langdon’s friends building houses. Not exactly my cup of tea, but work’s scarce these days.”

     “I know. Johnny Wilson hasn’t been able to find anything for months. His mother says he may go prospecting for gold in Colorado if he can find a way to get there. They say even if you don’t find gold, there’s plenty of work to go around.”

     “I should think there would be. The whole territory is nearly unbuilt. The trouble is, those mining camps are here today and gone tomorrow. Steady work needs more. There’s more future there in ranching. When the gold is dug up and gone, people will still have to eat.”

     “I suppose so. Were you able to buy a paper today?”

     “Luckily, Elizabeth, one of the traveling salesmen at the Garnett House left this behind.” With a sly grin, he took his coat down from the rack and extracted a newspaper. “None other than the Columbus Dispatch.”

     “Mercy! I never heard of it. Is it any good?”

     “Why don’t you read it and find out?”

     “You read it, Papa. That’s more fun.”

     Papa took out his reading glasses and unfolded the paper with ponderous gravity. Holding it at arm’s length, he posed pompously and began. “The world seems much as usual, daughter. Rascality and Ignorance battle vainly with the forces of Light and Right. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.”

     “Read, Papa. Don’t orate.”

     “The Illustrious and Confabulated Senator from Ohio has today confirmed the intention of the President to bestow upon our esteemed citizenry the dubious benefit of his presence in our Capitol during his upcoming trip. While purportedly to hear the view of the natives regarding the Free Trade issue, your correspondent has it on highly questionable authority that his looming arrival is actually intended to give the local Magnates of Commerce the opportunity to contribute to the coffers of the President’s upcoming campaign. In other words, to pay their annual bribes. The President is expected to be accompanied by his wife, who will not allow him to get a word in edgewise and who will sneer daintily at such quaint Ohio customs as civility and washing one’s hands before dinner.”

     “A farm laborer reputed to be one William O’Brian was arrested for public drunkenness. He was brought before Justice R.P. Bumble and sentenced to spend the next ten days at the county workhouse, gluing back together the stones he had broken into pieces during his similar stay three months ago.”

     “Western Union messages carry a tale of a fabulous gold strike in western Colorado. Sources there say that if the native tribes can be induced to allow miners to pursue the issue, precious metals may be found, amounting to as much as $37.53. Several New York moneybags are reported interested and will assuredly swallow up any profits to be had in the affair”

     Liza laughed so hard she couldn’t keep her mind on her work, as she discovered when she stuck herself with her needle.
“Seriously, Papa, I sometimes wonder what the newspapers would be like if you wrote for them.”

     “They might not have as much news, but they’d be more interesting reading, wouldn’t they?”

     “Surely they would, Papa. Probably tell us just as much of what we really need to know, too.”

     “You know, Elizabeth, there’s no way to tell folks what it’s really like out West. The country hasn’t seen the like since my grandparents crossed the Ohio. A frontier is a different world entirely. Even the people aren’t the same. Different needs drive them. Here, we’re used to everything being settled, controlled, polite. A predictable and orderly life. Out West, it’s not so orderly and certainly not so predictable, but a man’s life is what he makes of it.”

     “You liked it out there, didn’t you, Papa?”

     “Yes. It took some getting used to, but on the whole, I liked it. Liked the land, liked the people.”

     “Why didn’t you stay there? You could have sent for Mama.”

     “Well, your mother didn’t want to leave her kith and kin in these parts. And I suspect she was afraid of the West. It can be a pretty rowdy place.”

     “Did she know how much you liked the West?”

     “I suppose, but your mother was loathe to move. And she could be very loathe, when the mood took her.”

     “I still think we should have gone. We don’t often get a chance to follow a dream. Do you still dream, Papa?”

     A sadness crossed his face and he became somber for a moment. “Not often, girl, not often. Mostly for you and the others.” He sat back, pretending to read the paper, but she could see his mind was elsewhere. She wondered if things would have been different for him if Mama were alive. She promised herself she would not let it happen to her. She would follow her dreams! Whether voicing her thoughts or his own, he said, “Don’t you give up, Liza. Ever.”

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