The Farmer’s Wife — Warriors of St. Antoni

It’s Friday, so it’s time to post the next chapter in the ongoing serial the Warriors of St. Antoni.

Warriors of St. Antoni is the first of my new Portal World Tales series. The book is still being written and edited, so what you read today is subject to change without notice in the published version.

On St. Antoni, you got tough or you got dead. The only defense is a gun; your safety depends on your ability to use it. This is the story of three sisters and the choices they make to survive on St. Antoni. Bethany marries a mercenary warrior to shield her family from a predatory neighbor. To protect her baby sister, Iris chooses an arranged marriage with a beloved old friend. Jeanne and the son of their greatest enemy defy both their families to find love.

This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any persons living or dead is unintentional and accidental. © Gail Daley 2017 All Rights reserved. Any duplication of this work electronically or printed, except for brief publicity quotes, is forbidden without the express written permission of the author. Cover Art © by Gail Daley’s Fine Art 2017

 

Serial Chapters are posted on Fridays. Check in next Friday for the next chapter of Warriors of St. Antoni

Click below to Download a PDF copy and start reading  The Farmer’s Wife

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The Farmer’s Wife

 

JEANNE FOUND an empty seat toward the back. The seats were set up so two benches sat facing each other. The cushioned bench opposite Jeanne was empty. Samuel stored the basket of food they had brought for the journey in the open luggage carrier overhead. The trip to Azure City would take several days, and although the train had a dining car, it would be unlikely that a prosperous farmer and his wife would eat there. As Samuel stepped back from the rack, he leaned over Jeanne and stared intently out the window.

“What is it?” she asked. The Train moved, and he staggered a little before catching his balance.

“You’d better sit down before you end up in my lap,” Jeanne remarked.

“I thought I saw Max Franks out there on the platform,” Samuel said, joining her on the seat.

Jeanne’s brow wrinkled. “Who is that? The name is familiar, but I can’t recall a face to go with it.”

He reached for her hand and lifted it to his lips, brushing a kiss across her knuckles. “Max Franks is an acquaintance of my father’s,” he said. “He may have recognized me.”

“Oh. Is that going to be a problem?”

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It bothers me some though, because if it was him, he was standing right behind your sister.”

“Will he tell your father we got married?” Jeanne zeroed in on the most important thing.

“If there is money in it for him, then yes, but only if he could gain something from it.”

“In that case,” Jeanne said firmly, “I think we should concentrate on plans for our new farm.”

That evening, the train stopped to pick up water for the engine at a small depot. Water tanks built along the rail lines and manned by men and women who made sure an adequate supply was always ready to refill the trains gaping water maw were stationed at each site. There wasn’t much to see; the depot consisted only of the tank on stilts holding water, a small depot office and a house for the depot attendant. The landscape along the rail line had changed as they traveled toward the coast; the dark red grass had grown shorter and coarser. The thick forest of Skinwood Trees surrounding Junction City had given way to a flatter, sandier ground with scattered, low-lying blue bushes hung with ripe yellow fruit. The blue color of the bushes had given Azure City and its surrounding country its name. The air was warmer and more humid.

The train’s steam engine ran on the steam created by heat from Bluestones mixed with water. In the early years after the Portal opened, a man tripped and spilled water on a pile of blue colored stones and they burst into flame. his partner, an engineer, had brought printouts for an old-fashioned steam engine with him when he came to St. Antoni. Immediately seeing the possibilities of using the stones as a power source, the two cast the parts for an engine from a home-made alloy of iron, carbon, copper and tin. They experimented with adapting the chemical reaction from the mixture of stones and water to create enough heat to run a steam engine. The bluestone steam engines became the basis for an industry, and the mining of these minerals kick-started St. Antoni’s economy.

During the layover, a few of the passengers got out to stretch their legs. Jeanne got up and went to the car lavatory. On her way back to her seat, she was stopped by the car attendant, a soft-eyed young man, barely over adolescence.

“Ma’am?” he asked. “Could I speak to you for a moment?”

Jeanne looked at him in surprise. “What is it?”

He swept his hat off his head and stood turning it uneasily in his hands. “Well, I’ve been watching you and your husband and you seem like good people.”

Jeanne suspected he was about to ask for money and tried not to stiffen. “Well, I hope we are,” she said. “How can I help you?”

He took a deep breath. “Do you see those two kids over there?” He cocked his head toward a bench by his Station.

Jeanne turned her head to look. The two children who sat there were alone. A boy and a girl around eight or nine. They were grubby and wearing old, worn clothes.

“What about them?”

“When I came on board for my shift yesterday, they were already here. The woman I relieved told me a man had put them on board by themselves day before yesterday. They didn’t have food with them so I’ve been feeding them. They have tickets to Azure City, but I don’t Think anyone is meeting them there.”

“Do you want me to ask them about it?” she inquired.

“Well, I’ve done that. All they will say is Jeryn sent them away to be safe. I don’t think they know anymore than that. It’s just, well, my shift is over tonight and my relief isn’t much for Kids. I would hate to see them dumped off the train with no one to look after them.”

She frowned at the attendant; he did want something from her but it wasn’t money. He wanted her and Samuel to take on the kids. Samuel, noticing her delay in returning, got up and came toward them.

“Is he bothering you, dear?” he asked, as he approached.

Jeanne smiled at him. “Not that way.” In a soft voice, she filled her husband in on the problem.

Samuel looked over at the children and a resigned look came over his face when he looked back at his wife.

“That’s a big responsibility,” he warned her. “Are you sure you want to take them on?”

“I can’t leave them on their own,” she said. “I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them.”

He nodded, then turned to the attendant. “Bring them over to us for supper. We’ll talk to them. If they agree then

they can come home with us.”

When the attendant brought them over, Jeanne handed the children a damp rag to wipe their hands. She gave them each a plate of cold meat, cheese and bread, and poured water into tin cups. Both children ate politely. Someone must have spent the time to teach them manners, Jeanne thought.

The girl’s name was Katrina, the boy was Kevin. It turned out that they weren’t brother and sister. Abandoned by parents and left on the street, they had banded together for protection.

“Who was Rufus?” Samuel asked.

“Rufus works the streets. He knew there was going to be a sweep, and he put us on the train. He said we could start over in another city,” Katrina said.

“A sweep?” Jeanne asked.

“The city doesn’t like kids living on the street. They do sweeps and put the boys in workhouses,” Kevin said.

“And the girls?”

The children exchanged looks. “We aren’t really sure,” Katrina said. “They get taken away and no one ever sees them anymore.”

“Do you have anyone to stay with when we reach Azure City?”

When the children shook their heads, she asked “Would you like to stay with us?” Jeanne asked.

“Why,” Katrina asked suspiciously. “What do you want us for?”

“Because my family would never forgive me if I didn’t help you,” Jeanne answered. “We would be adopting you. You will have to go to school, but you’ll be fed and have a place to stay. There will be chores, but nothing major and you would need to obey us the way you would a parent.”

“I’ve been watching these two,” the attendant offered. “They seem like good folks. You could do worse.”

The two children exchanged glances. “Alright,” Katrina said, “we can try it, but if it isn’t as you say we’ll leave, understand.”

“Yes, we understand,” Jeanne said, smiling.
“After all, you don’t know us.”

The young attendant left the train that evening. An older, sour-faced woman took his place. It took another two days to reach Azure City. Before bedtime, Jeanne took the children along with her to the lavatory and helped them clean up. She couldn’t do much about the state of their clothes, but clean faces and brushed hair gave them a more presentable appearance.

Azure city was a seashore town with a good port. Fishing boats sailed the waters off shore, and a brisk trade in dried and canned fish was done. She could see the wharf with ships coming into the bay from the depot. The ground underfoot was sandy. A warm breeze from the ocean wafted the smell of the canning factories to Jeanne as she stepped down from the train onto sandy soil.

“I’m going to check on our stuff, and see if I can find some transportation,” Samuel told her.

Jeanne nodded, looking around. “It’s certainly different here,” she said.

Most of the passengers had left the platform when Jeanne was approached by a tall, dark skinned man in neat work clothes. “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he said, “But are you Jeanne Clancy?”

Jeanne looked him over. “Yes, that’s my name.”

The man looked relived. “I wasn’t sure, Mother didn’t tell me you had children. I’m Larry Nguyn. My Mom Marie is Lisette’s sister. I was sent to meet you and your husband and take you to Mother’s house. Where is your husband?”

“Samuel went to find us a wagon,” Jeanne said. Just then she saw Samuel coming toward them leading the four fidgety tricorns. “There he is.”

“Every time I turn my back on you, you pick up someone,” Samuel complained, laughing. “Who is this?”

“It’s a talent,” his wife retorted. “This is Lisette’s Nephew Larry. His mother Marie sent him to help us.”

Her husband looked relived. “That’s a good thing because I just discovered we would need to store our stuff until tomorrow morning when a wagon will be available to take us out to the farm.”

“No need for that, Samuel, is it?” Larry assured him. “I brought ours. Let’s get your stuff loaded. Miss Jeanne, why don’t you and the children wait in the shade under the station porch? They have benches if you want to sit down.”

“I’ve been sitting for three days,” Jeanne told him. “But I think we will wait in the shade. Come on, Kids.”

From the depot, they drove into the main street. Dusk was beginning to settle, but most of the stores were open, and from the saloons and eating houses catering to sailors down by the wharf came the sounds of music, laughter and the occasional bang from a gun being shot off.

Marie’s family lived above a large, general merchandise store in the center of town. When they arrived at her house, Larry and Samuel took the tricorns and the loaded wagon through the alley to the back of the house where the Nguyn’s kept a small stable and a large vegetable and fruit garden.

Marie looked so much like her sister Lisette that Jeanne would have known her anywhere. Jeanne and the children were greeted with hugs and led upstairs to the large, comfortable family quarters.

“I’m so glad you got here safely,” Marie exclaimed. “I’m sure you’ll want to freshen up. I’m afraid the children will have to sleep on the trundle bed, tonight. I have a houseful tonight; Larry’s wife’s family arrived last night to be here for the birth of their child, and I Chloe is here tonight too.”

She opened the door to a large, well appointed bedroom overlooking the back of the house, and bustled away to get bedding for the trundle.

Jeanne and the children were making up the trundle bed when Samuel arrived. He made a face when he saw the sleeping arrangements.

“I can wait one more night,” he said, kissing his wife, “but when we get to the farm, they need their own rooms.”

Jeanne laughed and rubbed his scruffy chin. “You need a shave,” she remarked.

Samuel looked in the mirror. “I was thinking of growing a beard,” he said. “Would you mind?”

Reminded of their need for disguise, Jeanne frowned. “It will be okay if it’s a neat one,” she allowed. “But not if it makes you look like a berry bush.”

Downstairs, Marie made it a point to introduce the family to Chloe, a young, fresh-faced girl about sixteen.

“I thought she could stay with you for a few days and help you get things set up the way you like them,” Marie said. “When Giselle’s runner told us you were coming, we tried to set up things out there for you since I didn’t know how much household supplies you brought. There is a rack of Bluestones, the cold cellar is stocked with food and we spent yesterday cleaning it as best we could. We put a newly stuffed mattress on the bed, but you will need to bring more for the children.”

“Thank you,” Jeanne said gratefully. “I brought some household things, but Gran felt it would be easier to buy what I need here. I’m afraid the children will need clothing, and I want to get a few hens and a Drake. Back home I had an egg supply business, and I’d like to start one here.”

Marie’s eyebrows rose. “We can pick clothing for the children downstairs in the store. I have some ready-made items I think will fit them. After dinner, we will go down and see.”

“What kind of crops do we have on the farm?” Samuel asked.

“There is a good-sized kitchen garden, and a nut and fruit orchard,” Larry said. “There is room also for a few cows and goats, and a grass field that can be harvested for feed. I know of a neighbor who would sell you livestock. I saw that you brought tricorns with you, but they don’t look like they’ve spent much time on a plow.”

“What type of farming equipment do I need?”

Larry smiled. “Well it is a working farm, so it does have a plow and a few other tools. In the past, Giselle was having us pay a man to work it for her. Seasonal labor mostly, but I think I can find you a field hand to get you started.”

When Jeanne and Marie took the children downstairs after dinner, Marie took Jeanne aside. “I know I kind of sprung Chloe on you,” the older woman admitted, “but I would consider it a huge favor if you take her out of town for a while.”

“I’ll be glad of the help,” Jeanne said slowly, “But I want to know why she needs to leave town.”

“You may have noticed Chloe is very pretty. She has been helping in the store, and she attracts men like bugs to honey. She isn’t ready to settle down yet, and sometimes the man is hard to shake off and too powerful to scare away. He might decide to try to take her by force if she doesn’t go willingly.”

“Would he follow her out to our farm?”

“I don’t think so. Someone else will attract his attention soon. I think he will forget about her if she disappears for a while.”

“Alright, she can stay with us.”

They left for the farm, early the next morning. They had been met at the wagon by a thin, goose-necked man in worn work clothes.

“I’m Martin,” he told Samuel. “Larry allowed as you might be needing a hand for a few days.”

Samuel nodded. “I do. Are you interested in more permanent employment?”

“Yes, I am. Are you hiring?”

Samuel nodded. “I’m going to need a permanent worker. If you work out, I pay wages in addition to room and board. Climb up.”

The children sat on either side of Samuel on the wide wagon seat, and Martin took his place beside them. Jeanne and Chloe had elected to ride. Jeanne mounted Samuels showy red and black tricorn who danced impatiently at the delay. The other two animals were tied to the back of the wagon. Chloe showed up on a nondescript gruella striped tricorn and threw a duffel bag into the back of the wagon.

Chloe’s mount might have looked nondescript, but Jeanne’s experienced eye noted the clean lines on him.

“That’s a well-bred animal,” she told the girl.

Chloe looked startled, then eyed her with some respect. “Yes, he is. Most people just notice the color and pass him over. I was lucky to pick him up as a colt.”

The farm lay a few miles outside of the city along a well traveled road. As they moved away from the shore, the sand changed into a dark, clay-like earth that would water well.”

“Do they use the soil to make pottery here?” Jeanne asked.

“Yes,” Martin answered. “There is a pottery just outside town. The family makes all sorts of things, dishes, vases, statutes and stuff, and I hear they make good money selling it. Some of the ships take it to other coastal cities and sell it for them.”

 

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