A Yellowstone ChristmasBy: Peggy L Henderson
“I’ll be back later to let you out into the pasture,” she said, patting the bovine on the back. Millie swished her rope-like tail, and resumed munching contently on a bushel of fresh hay. Evelyn doused the lantern that hung on a peg on the stall’s wall, and headed for the barn door. Thin ribbons of golden light found their way through the cracks between the wooden boards, creating striped patterns along the hard packed dirt floor. It was well past sunup. Apparently, she’d been in the barn longer than she had thought. Her mother was surely waiting for this morning’s milk.
She leaned her shoulder against the heavy barn door with the intent of pushing it open when her brother’s loud and excited voice reached her ear. Evelyn stopped to listen.
“Let me see that advertisement, Alex.”
Alex! Evelyn’s heart sped up. He hadn’t stopped by the farm in almost a month. The passing of his mother had to have been quite a shock.
Evelyn remembered folks saying that poor Mrs. Ada Walker was probably in a better place. People in town whispered, speculating whether Silas Walker had finally struck his wife hard enough to kill her. It was common knowledge that he beat his wife on a regular basis. Even Alex had shown up here, sometimes limping, other times clutching at his ribs, or holding a piece of raw meat to a swollen eye.
“I met that fella, William Ashley, after I read the notice in the St. Louis Gazette. He’s startin’ up a fur company.”
Paper rustled, and Henry cleared his throat, then read out loud. “Seeking enterprising young men to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years.” He paused. “You’re actually going into Indian Territory? They hire men only eighteen years old?”
“Yes. I signed up. Mr. Ashley hired me on.”
Evelyn’s heart pounded in her ears. She quickly held her hands over her mouth to quiet the gasp that escaped her lips. Alex was leaving? For up to three years? That seemed like a lifetime. She blinked rapidly. She couldn’t stop the tears from falling. Alex couldn’t leave.
“I wish I could go,” Henry said excitedly. Then his voice dropped with a twinge of disappointment. “But pop depends on my help on the farm. Evie’s only thirteen. She can’t help out in the fields.”
“Maybe in a few years,” Alex suggested. “After my ma’s passing, I ain’t staying here. This is the perfect chance for me to get away.”
The barn door suddenly pulled open, and Evelyn jumped back in surprise. The milk sloshed over the sides of the bucket in her hand, soaking her skirt.
“Evie!” Henry sounded equally surprised to find her standing there. Her eyes darted quickly from her brother to Alex. In the month since she’d last seen him, he’d grown some more. Her brother was still taller, but Alex was not as skinny. His shoulders seemed to have gotten wider, and his arms more muscular. She wiped a hand down her skirt, hoping neither of the boys noticed how her face had flushed.
“Did you hear the news, Evie? Alex is going to be a fur trapper. He’s leaving for St. Louis today.” Henry’s joy grated on her nerves. She ventured another quick look at Alex. He glanced her way, but the expression on his face was unreadable. His dark, almost jet-black hair hung over his forehead, partially covering his blue eyes.
“Guess your plans are going to have to change, Evie,” Henry continued, almost in a mocking tone.
“My plans?” she echoed.
Henry snorted. “Come on, Evie. We all know you fancy yourself in love with Alex. I bet you’re hoping he asks you to marry him someday, when you’re all grown up.”
Evelyn’s mouth fell open, mortified that Henry would spill her deepest, most guarded secret in front of the very person who shouldn’t be hearing it. She sucked in a deep breath of air, then raised her chin. With her hands on her hips, she glared at her brother.
There was only one way to save face. With her eyes narrowed, she advanced on him, and said, “I have no such notions, Henry Lewis. Why, I would much rather marry a warthog than someone like Alexander Walker.” For emphasis, she glared at Alex, then pushed past her brother through the barn door. She paused and lifted the milk pail, tossing its contents at her brother’s face, then stormed toward the house. Her long braided hair whipped behind her back, the tears streaming uncontrollably down her face. The last thing she heard before escaping into the house was her brother and Alex laughing loudly behind her.