The Woodsman Magazine

Chapter 1, Part 2 - The Lady
Forever guilt ridden about her mother's death Abbey felt a certain
responsibility to her father. But he knew she would never go with him and
leave Prairie. She would never move from the small town or the beautiful two
story house on the hill. It was home and a jewel in the rough sawn and log
architecture of the frontier.
Abbey cherished the security of the big house and close knit community. She
never ever thought about leaving Prairie herself. It was just understood
Matthew would someday follow his dreams and go away, go to the north, but
she never would. The one time she did contemplated going away, going to that
college back East her father always talked about, she was laying in the
front yard, among the cool grass, under the giant oaks. She looked at the
century old trees and said, "Trees don't get up and leave their roots ...
people shouldn't either." That was that! Hometown was the one security that
helped compensate for missing a mother.
After all it was a good life with just enough diversion to keep her busy
with never a concern about the roof over her head or the whereabouts of the
next meal. Abbey even took a daily bath. Her bathtub was a little crude but
oh, so wonderful. It was a large wooden tub, oak, and it was built by the
barrel maker who plied his craft out of the blacksmith shop in town. The
large tub was three feet across and two feet deep with a metal shell around
the bottom. She joked that it looked like her tub sat in a huge frying pan.
This was all constructed on a back porch under its own little roof. The
blacksmith also fashioned a sort of gutter system and attached it to the
roof edge to channel rain water into the tub. It was all built up over a
large fire pit. It would take a fire of large oak logs and kindling about an
hour to heat the water to a comfortable temperature. The metal plate that
kept the wood from being burned by the flames also helped to keep the water
hot. In the winter she would replace rain water with snow and sit in
steaming luxury even on the coldest winter days.
The big house itself was her pride and joy and Matthew had heard her say
many times she wouldn't want to spend her life anywhere else. It was a large
two story house painted bright yellow with ornate trim, large windows all
leaded, huge stone fireplaces, a spacious foyer with imported stone floor, a
wide open staircase leading to bedrooms upstairs; and that wide wrap around
covered porch that overlooked a lush green lawn, and the town and river
below.
The house, her house, was more than just her home, it was a safe sanctuary.
She knew every inch of the place. From the large kitchen with tall, wide
cabinets made of native oak and painted a shiny white, to side boards and
tables made also of oak and finished with many coats of vegetable oil to
water proof and protect the tops. The kitchen had a huge fireplace with
cooking spits and grills, large black kettles and cauldrons and a large
Dutch oven that would be buried in hot coals. The windows were high above
the counters and cupboards. This type of architecture was functional with
the high ceilings. They allowed for many cupboards but also made the room
bright and cheery all the time. They were, however, a dickens to wash as
she'd have to dig out and haul a ladder and buckets of water and then
stretch her arms out as far as she could to even reach them. It was always
warm in the kitchen, even on the coldest January day. Next to the kitchen
was a pantry for storing preserved fruits and vegetables and put-up jams in
small crock jars. There was a root cellar under a heavy trap door in the
kitchen floor where apples and potatoes and other produce were stored deep
in the cool earth. A creepy feeling always came over her whenever she had to
climb down into the cellar. It was really just a deep, damp hole in the
ground, just 8 foot by 8 foot square, with a steep wooden ladder that took
ten rungs to reach the bottom. She always feared someone would come along
and shut the door while she was down in the cellar. Sometimes a feeling of
panic and claustrophobia came over her just thinking about it.
Besides her work in the orchard Abbey did all her own gardening in a half
acre plot out back of the house. She hoed it by hand; planted, nurtured,
harvested and preserved it all. She loved to work in the garden, turn the
soil, feel the mud between her fingers. "Its the only land a person can
really call his own," her father was fond of saying about dirty fingernails.
Abbey somehow felt connected to the earth when she gardened; like it was a
mutual arrangement. She would improve and care for the soil, and Mother
Nature would return the favor by providing a bountiful harvest. And,
nowadays, she would think, that Chippewa woman Dawn had something to do with
the garden success. When the planting was finished in spring she would watch
her garden prosper all summer. She marveled how sometimes it seemed as if
sprouts and buds and leaves appeared before her eyes. There were tomatoes
and cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, onions, potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes,
carrots, lettuce and several other kinds of greenery. Each vegetable row was
separated by a row of colorful flowers. There was a rainbow of colors. There
were lilies that stood tall and willowy along the garden edge, and daisies,
violets, bluebells, geranium, daffodils, roses, Lilly of the valley,
buttercups, goldenrod, snapdragons, and even lilacs, imported upriver ten
years before just for the yard, lots of purple and white ones just outside
the little white picket fence that surround the garden completely.
In the very center was a scarecrow made of an old pair of pants and a shirt
from her father's closet. It wore an old beaver skin hat with an eagle
feather sticking out of the band. The clothes were stuffed with straw and
the dry yellow stems stuck out the shirt sleeves and pant cuffs. Abbey made
the dummy and named him ... Tom. Though it was a secret she kept to herself
for obvious reasons.
Abbey was aware of, and noted, every change, every new shoot and blossom in
her garden. She felt responsible and was so proud of her garden and wondered
if this is how a mother feels when she watches her children grow? Her garden
made her think about her life. Made her wonder what might have been, and
what never would be.
In the house there was the narrow back stairs that lead from the kitchen up
to the narrow hall outside a small servant's quarters. This was actually the
smallest of the upstairs bedrooms, on the opposite end of the hall from
Abbey's bedroom. Though they never had house servants they did employ Marcy,
a woman from town to cook. She had worked for Matthew all of Abbey's life
and cooked supper four times a week and Sunday dinner. Her specialty, like
all of the women from the region was wild game ... she could make venison
taste as tender as beef. Geese and ducks were plentiful along the river in
the fall and turkeys loved the hardwood forest on the bluffs overlooking
Prairie and the river valley. But Matthew also did business with local
farmers and juicy fat hams and beef roasts often graced their Sunday table.
Marcy cooked for them then sat down and joined them for supper. She was
great with vegetables from Abbey's garden; there was never but a lump in her
mashed potatoes. She loved Abbey and showed her many things in the kitchen.
But not just the cooking part. "Half the trick to good cooking," Marcy would
tell Abbey, "is controlling your fire." For instance she told how to start
out burning popple wood and even dried pine to get a nice hot fire going in
the stove, then switch over to dried oak for a longer more even fire. She
made a pie in the Dutch oven, usually apple, for Sunday dinner and then
Abbey and her father picked at it the rest of the week.
"The main thing to remember when cooking for a man," Marcy explained to
Abbey during one of her lessons. "Make it sweet and make a lot of it. And
when you get married that's not bad advice in the bedroom, either."
A man named Quin, a handyman, stayed in the servant's quarters but took rent
out of his wages. He was first to point out he was a tenant, not a servant.
He was a man in his 50s who had been working on the riverboats. He'd been a
river rat since he was 17. But one day Quin decided he'd had enough of a
sailor's life. He wanted some roots. He read the employment advertisement on
the town notice board and grabbed it down only minutes after it had been
posted. The note advertised for a live-in handyman at the Chase house up on
the hill. That was 10 years before, and he'd been with them since. Quin
could fix anything from broken tools to broken wagon wheels, furniture, and
more, but mostly he cut, split, stacked and hauled wood for the 6 fireplaces
spread throughout the house.
Abbey was familiar with every fireplace in the house. They were all made of
cut stone or brick; each was adorned with thick oak mantle pieces, and wide
chimneys with large stone hearths. It took the stone a while to get heated
in the early part of winter. But once all of it was finally heated the rooms
stayed warm and snug. Well, they did as long as Quin kept the fires going.
Every fireplace could hold a load of a half dozen logs 5 foot long. He'd
carry the logs, two on each shoulder, up the stairs and fed fires first
thing every morning and last thing at night. On the coldest winter days he'd
load wood at mid-day, too. He could wield an ax so fast it blurred and he
never seem to grow tired.
The house itself was like an old friend, too. In summer when the heat came
she would go outside to the porch. Abbey loved to sit on the porch and feel
the evening breeze flow across her face and through her hair. The porch was
wide, with a painted wood deck and a large overhanging roof. There were
small white pillars and ornate oak rails with intricately carved rungs.
Abbey had a chair on all three sides.
The parlor was really the heart of the house. It's where she and her father
would spend most of their time. Playing with toys on the floor when she was
little and playing games, reading, or talking when she was older. It was
where, from as far back as she could remember, her father would tell her
about, and beguile her with tales and stories of the wild and scary north
woods. There were Indians and trappers, buck hunters and rough rugged men
who shunned polite and civilized society. These men, and a few women,
survived against the toughest conditions Mother Nature and Old Man Winter
could throw at them. Abbey loved the time in the parlor with her father,
sitting before a roaring fire and listening to those stories.
The parlor was not particularly large. It did have high ceilings and a huge
brick fireplace that took up almost one entire wall. There was the thick oak
mantel with Father's chiming clock in the center as the focal point. But on
one end of the mantel piece was something else Matthew was very proud of, a
hand carved bust of an Ojibwa warrior. Matthew had commissioned its carving
in St. Louis from drawings he'd sketched of an actual warrior. It was made
of polished basswood and carved in great detail from the wrinkled, weather
beaten skin, to the proud eyes, strong jaw, broad shoulders, and even the
muscular biceps which Matthew had decorated with genuine warrior bracelets
given to him by this war chief who was called Red Feather Hawk. He was the
warrior of this bust. The bracelets, four in all, two copper and two silver,
were an inch wide and quite thick. This sort of jewelry was reserved for a
chief and worth a lot of money, but Matthew praised it for its meaning far
more than its monetary value.
There was a large bear skin rug, as black as midnight laying on the floor
before the fireplace. Matthew shot the beast after it raided the apple
orchard one time to many. The windows in the parlor were covered with sheer
white curtains that were never closed all the way. The floors of the parlor
as they were throughout the house were hardwood oak boards finished at the
mill. All the floors except for the stone floor in the foyer at the front
door.
When Matthew first came to what, at the time, was only an encampment for
trappers, military, and woodcutters he realized Prairie offered him the
opportunity to use a small inheritance to start his own business. He built a
mill here in Prairie where he could hire his own men, mustering out of the
military, to cut trees. Prairie's location on the big river was conducive
for a lumber mill. He could use the river current to power his saws to make
lumber; the finished boards were then loaded onto boats and shipped out. It
was a very effective operation and very profitable. The big house on the
hill with its many roof peaks and beautiful big windows was his gift for a
gracious wife who agreed to leave her comfortable city life and move to the
frontier.
That was all years before and now that Abbey had grown to adulthood she
cared for her father. She shopped, paid the bills, and negotiated any
business that concerned or took place at home. She washed, mended, and even
made some of his clothes. She was hostess when they entertained employees
and neighbors several times a year and at a special gala every Christmas.
The house with the wide open foyer and large dining room was built with
entertaining in mind.
Once Abbey was older, an adult, her father implored, even insisted, she have
some fun or social life of her own, to find a husband and raise her own
family. But she declined to pursue any personal life for herself.
Abbey had only one real suitor in her past. Her social life, for the most
part, was nil. She did have constant problem of lewd remarks and passing
gropes from Sam Jackson.
Abbey kept all of Jackson's advances to herself for fear her father's quick
temper could lead to real trouble. Besides, she figured she could handle the
vulgar man who was twice her age and smelled like bad whiskey and rotten
meat.
There was a time when Abbey had a short torrid relationship with a boatman
from one of the steamboats just passing through Prairie. He stayed a week.
They'd met when she accompanied her father to the mercantile on a business
call one day in early spring. The ironic part of it was she didn't want to
go to the post that day for fear of seeing Jackson, but her father said the
business was important and she needed to get more involved in it anyway.
Besides she wouldn't give a reason why she shouldn't be there with him.
The young sailor had come to the general store for some supplies and was
immediately attracted to Abbey. They both reached for the same jar of hard
candy and their hands touched, then their eyes met, and Abbey immediately
felt the fire. A feeling, a warm and good feeling welled up inside of her
the instant their hands touched. She felt her face flush red. She took the
meaning of this chance meeting as fate. She saw the same in him, too. The
red face, the wanting eyes; she let herself be swept off her feet, though
she knew deep down from the first day, it would be a short lived, hollow
romance. But in the mean time it somehow felt so right in all the places it
was suppose to feel wrong. She finally knew how love was suppose to feel,
how the man and woman on the dock those years before had felt, and she
wasn't letting it pass her by.
His name was Joe Butcher. He was a tall, rugged, man with a five o'clock
shadow and an eastern accent; his smile was easy and genuine. He was just
Abbey's age and reminded her of someone who might have gone to school with
her. He dressed in wool and wore a knife on his belt. There was something
about him, this sailor, this stranger, something she read in his rich blue
eyes. His eyes sliced hot and deep into her soul, cutting through her
normally bashful manner in a way she'd never known, never imagined, but
somehow, for some time, longed for. Abbey discovered a feeling that couldn't
be held by the bonds of good manners and refined culture. She felt a desire,
a need to embrace and be embraced, the instant her eyes met his and he
smiled that knowing smile.
Even years later, she caught her breath and loosened her collar when she
remembered his well muscled body. They arranged to meet. It was Abbey's
idea. When Matthew was busy she told Joe to meet her at midnight at the
shipping office along the docks. There was privacy and a cot.
By 10 o'clock that night Matthew was in bed. By 11 o'clock Abbey figured he
was asleep. She crawled out of her bed in the bedroom near the end of the
hall. She slipped out of her nightgown and pulled a dark cotton dress over
her naked body. The dark dress would hide her among the night shadows. The
moonlight shone through the bedroom window as she closed the door ever so
quietly behind her.
Carrying her shoes, though she hated going barefoot, Abbey tiptoed down the
hall past the closed door of her father's bedroom. One of the many qualities
of a solidly built house, there were few squeaks in these floors. Abbey
slipped through the back bedroom, Quin had recently resigned and gone back
east and the room was empty, at the opposite end of the hall and down the
back servants staircase. She slipped through the kitchen and out the back
door. The night was warm, the breeze washed over her. She felt so free, so
excited. She slipped her shoes on and headed down the path toward town,
toward her rendezvous.
On the few occasions Abbey was in town late she marveled at the quiet that
lay across the sleepy little village. Except for a few loud voices and some
bursts of laughter coming from the saloon the town was empty and silent. A
cat startled her when it crossed her path near the bank. Minutes later she
stopped to hide in the shadows as a lone rider passed on the main street.
She saw the oil lamp shining its yellow light in her father's office at the
mill. Probably Tom, her father's right hand man, she thought as she marveled
at his dedication. She moved along to the docks where she hoped Joe would be
waiting.
Joe was there waiting at the foot of the dock. Abbey stood frozen in her
place when he appeared out of the shadows. She didn't speak, couldn't speak,
and when he came close she stared into his soft blue eyes, gentle eyes she
thought. A chill ran along her spine. She was now a little frightened,
though not scared. She reached out and touched his face with the tip of her
finger. She ran her finger over the leathery skin beneath his eyes and down
across the stubble of whiskers. Abbey felt excitement surge through her
entire body, her heart was pounding and she caught her breath when she
realized his hand was touching her. He ran his finger slowly along her jaw,
he marveled at her soft skin. He touched her lips. His fingers were tough
from the burns of a 1000 ropes on the boat.
Once she was finally with him Abbey's apprehension melted like April snow.
The excitement now replaced her fear entirely. She felt drawn to him. She
needed him, wanted him ... would have him.
Abbey pointed to the Dock master's office. It was a small one room building
was several yards down the dock. Inside there was a desk, two chairs, a
window that faced the river, and the cot.
"There," Abbey whispered in her excitement as she pointed to the little
building. "The watchman is gone on rounds for an hour."
They went inside, though not another word was spoken between them. Once
inside, Joe spun Abbey around and kissed her hard, wantonly on her lips. She
succumbed to his embrace ... they lay down on the cot though their lips
never separated. His firm body lay so hard against her, his muscles bulging.
Her breasts heaved under the light, sensitive touches of his fingers, a
caress that sent quivers through her. She would never forget how he reached
for her, how he touched and stroked the soft folds, and secret places of her
body. At first she cried out, not for the shame, but pleasure. He had her
that first night and she wanted him even more. They met every night at that
same small office near the dock entrance. The harbor master had gone home
long before and the night watchman was always away on rounds, and neither
Abbey or Joe was ever aware they were, indeed, being watched from the
shadows, from afar.
Each night, the shadowy room, lit only by the silvery moonlight was filled
with their passion. Then on the fifth night, when she shunned her father's
demands as to where she'd been going so late every night, Abbey left the
house and slammed the door on his pleading, worried words and ran down the
path, under the spreading oaks and down the hill into town. She hurried past
the closed shops. It was late, too late for a lady to be out alone. But she
didn't care and walked with a skip in her step, a sense of purpose in her
mind. She ran through the growing night, her heart beating, her arms
wanting, but when she got to the dock the boat had gone and took with it the
sailor named Joe.
Abbey's heart began to ache a little, she'd lost him, lost her first, her
only love. She cried for an hour. But then, when she was all cried out, and
when she thought about it she realized, though he had left he would never
really be gone, not in her memory, for she finally knew what the fire of
passion felt like and she would never forget, and never again settle for
less. It made her smile, and sigh, and even chuckle out loud as she turned
for home, ironically, more satisfied this night then on any of the previous
nights.
After that, Abbey went back to her work with abandon. Of course, she never
told her father, or anyone else for that matter, about the sailor. In turn,
Matthew had no idea it might be of interest to her to learn that two days
after Joe Butcher's boat had sailed the bloated body of a young sailor
wearing his name tag was found by a passing trapper two miles downstream.
He'd been stabbed through the heart. Though, to Abbey, Joe remained just
another secret she'd never share.
And though Abbey's first real love was gone forever she still didn't fear
not finding a husband. She knew she'd find one, if not, well, she was quite
positive that she always had Tom Chambers from down at the mill. Not only
was he her father's confidante and right hand man he was the bookkeeper and
negotiator and a very hard worker. Matthew often had to order him to leave
the office at night, and sometimes the younger man would burn the midnight
oil, literally. Several years Abbey's senior, Tom was terribly in love with
her. He'd do anything for her and professed the same to not only Abbey but
Matthew, too. Many times.
"I declare, Matthew," Tom said over coffee and shipping receipts one day in
his office. "I'd do anything for that daughter of yours. Abbey is a special
person, and if I do say so myself, what better catch could a girl around
here ask for. I'm a hard worker, I only occasionally drink and, except for
the cigars you hand out at the holidays, I don't smoke. I already know all
the financial and managerial aspects of a business she will some day own.
I'm the best thing that could ever happen to Abbey, and to your business,
too."
Then, as always, Matthew said nothing and smiled.
"For God's sake ... this is your legacy, Man." Tom would get so passionate
when the subject was Abbey. "Don't you care? Doesn't she? She refuses to let
it happen."
That said, Tom paused before adding what he felt was the best excuse of all
for Abbey to take up with him ... now!
"Besides," he said. "I'm not getting any younger and a woman has only so
many childbearing years. I don't believe either of you really want her to
die a childless old maid."
Tom was, indeed, a good catch and some of the few marriage age women in town
made eyes at him. Not that there were more than a few marrying age women in
the entire region. His business and money making potential was the most
attractive trait about Tom. He wasn't much to look at, not really, though
not ugly either. He stood almost six feet tall with narrow shoulders and a
slight frame. He was a little man in spite of his height. His wavy black
hair was neatly trimmed and he had just a touch of gray starting at his
temples. Tom always dressed impeccably in suits and shined boots. If not a
handsome man he at least had class and charm. But he would have none of the
other women. He was in love with Abbey and would forsake all even for one of
her smiles, though he longed for much, much more. There was nothing he
wouldn't do to prove himself, nothing he wouldn't do for Abbey.
Tom's office was on the second floor of the two story lumber building right
on the wharf. His office was next to Matthew's and it overlooked the mill
entrance on one side and the docks on the other. It was a perfect spot to
keep an eye on the comings and goings of the mill. Which, as general
manager, was part of his job.
"I feel for you Tom, I really do," Matthew answered him one day when the
subject was again Abbey. "But Abbey is headstrong in a lot of ways, and this
is one of them. She seems to think because her mother died while birthing
her, she has an obligation to take care of me. She says she needs not
another man to take care of as long as she has me. Quite silly I think. But
there's no changing her mind."
The two men exchanged looks but each fell silent for different reasons.
Matthew studied the figures. Tom studied the man he worked for; a man he
liked and respected, but one who infuriated him because he wouldn't
intercede on his behalf with Abbey. She would do almost anything her father
wanted. And now as it turns out Matthew was standing between Abbey and him
whether the older man meant to or not.
Over the years Tom had done his utmost to win Abbey over. He courted her
with candy and flowers and once he sang under her window by the light of a
full and silvery moon. What he didn't know, at the time, was that she wasn't
even home that night. She'd gone to the other side of town to help the
millers wife give birth to her fifth child; a son like the first four.
Matthew let Tom sing every word of the old English love song before he
opened her bedroom window and roared down in laugher. Tom was red-faced at
work about it for weeks after and made a silent vow to someday get back at
Matthew. But in the meantime, any time Matthew wanted to get Tom's goat he'd
just have to hum a few bars of that tune. Through it all, however, they were
a tight-knit group ... they were like family.
So it all came to a shocking end one early autumn night. They were enjoying
an early supper of roast chicken, potatoes, carrots, cooked apples and apple
sauce all from of the orchard or garden, and the neighbor's chicken coop. It
had been a good apple harvest and Matthew and Tom joked about a two-fold
payment of cash for the crop but enough crop left over for them to enjoy the
entire year. When the meal was finished the jokes were put aside and the
brandy bottle and serious conversation were brought out. Both Matthew and
Tom rarely lifted a glass of liquor but on occasions they would indulge,
usually at a time of serious discussion. It was no different now, for this
night is when Matthew announced what he'd come to realize that morning he
had little over a year to establish the trading post up north and to do that
meant it was time for his retirement from the lumber company. As of the
first of the year he was done, he stated his intention, in the spring he'd
go north to the big woods and establish that trading post at Dogtown. Abbey
would own the business and he'd draw up the proper papers that night while
the office was quiet and there were no interruptions. He said it just like
that, matter of fact, and intended to listen to no discussion from anyone.
Tom took the news the hardest.
Though this had been the plan all along, when it actually happened, it came
as a shock to Tom, and a surprise to Abbey. She never really thought her
father would ever get around to quitting his work and going north. Oh sure
he had visited the north woods before but he always came home. Usually with
a little souvenir, a big lake agate, or an Indian arrow or spear, or like
the one time, a buckskin, beaded band with eagle and hawk feathers, but what
he brought the most were stories about the endless forest, the friendly
Indians and the hostile ones, too. There were some places in the big woods
where the most important daily occurrence is not getting killed and scalped.
He talked about bears and wolves, woods and woodsmen. Tom, likewise with
Abbey, figured that when push came to shove Matthew would relent and abandon
his adventurous dream. He worked hard to acquire all he had to let it go for
some stupid dream. Tom was visibly shaken by the announcement and excused
himself from the table to hurry out of the house, slamming the heavy oak
door behind him.
"I think you surprised him," Abbey said. "And Tom doesn't like to be
surprised."
Matthew smiled and took a second glass of brandy.
"Oh I wouldn't worry about it," Matthew said. "You know what a temper he
has when he doesn't get his way. It is one of his few short comings. He's
made no secret of how he feels about me going north to cash in on that
lease. He says I should forget my silly little dreams and stay here running
my business in Prairie."
Matthew took a sip from his glass.
"I suppose it would be the conservative, the safe thing to do," Matthew
said. "But you show me a man with a safe dream and I'll show you a man with
a nightmare of a life."
Then Matthew looked up and across the table directly at Abbey.
"He's a good man you know, that Tom is," Matthew said. "He only has my and
your best interest in mind. You could give him a second look you know. You
surely could do worse."
Abbey smiled back at her father but fought to hold her tongue. He noticed
her expression change.
"Oh now don't get all female on me," Matthew said. "I'm just saying Tom is
in love with you and would take good care of you. It might be a bit of a
comfort for your old father to know someone capable is looking out for you
while I'm running through the woods with the Indians."
When Matthew finished Abbey took a deep breath and cleared her throat. Then
to his surprise she reached over and picked up Tom's glass. It was still
half filled with brandy. She put it to her lips and sipped.
"I agree with you, Father," Abbey said as she licked her lips of the sticky,
sweet drink. She always called him Father. It's what the nannies and
baby-sitter called him since she was little and she just picked up on it
from the very beginning. It surely didn't mean she loved her father any less
than the girls who called their father's "Daddy," it's just the way she was
brought up. "Tom is a good man and I know you depend on him so, and it's not
that I've discounted him as a suitor ... I'm, I'm just not sure and I'm in
no hurry anyway. Besides, once you run off to the north woods he's bound to
see a lot more of me. I guess he doesn't realize that yet."
"Well, that could be part of the problem too," Matthew said. "Not many men
like working for, or with a woman, to begin with, but to work for the woman
you love ... well, it might not set well at all. That's why I wouldn't wait
too long Girl, your baby clock is ticking. Besides what better
recommendation does a girl need then the recommendation of her own father.
Marry Tom, you won't be sorry."
Now Abbey laughed right out loud.
"It might be enough to sway some girls," Abbey said with a smile. "But we
all know, and your partner's man Jackson is proof of it ... you, dear
father, aren't always the best judge of a man's character."
Abbey took another sip. Her expression became serious.
"And just for the record," she said. "I'm the only one who needs to worry
about my baby clock. That is a subject that is closed for discussion ...
forever!"
That was the last of their conversation as Abbey retreated to the kitchen
and Matthew left the house to go back to the office. Now that he made his
decision the paper work needed doing right away. No sense putting it off any
longer. He hadn't outlived his partner after all, though it was somewhat
comforting to think his partner was probably lamenting the very same thing
about him.
The oil lamp cast a yellow glow across a large oak desk in Matthew's lumber
company office. The desk was covered with legal papers, cabin plans, and
maps of the north woods. It was close to midnight but Matthew had finally
completed the transfer of all of his holdings to Abbey. He would have Tom
witness them in the morning and then file them with the banker and send a
copy back East with a money order to pay the penalty for changing the
agreement. But now, this was well worth the money. For Matthew had decided
to follow his dream the next spring when he still had time left to establish
the post up north and begin trading. Besides, he figured it was time he
pushed Abbey into a life of her own. He couldn't make her get married, he
couldn't even shame her into it. But he could push her into the business
full time.
That night Abbey became concerned when it got late and her father didn't
come home. And a little more nervous when she went to bed and he still
wasn't home from the mill. She could see lightning off across the river and
distant thunder rumbled. But then, she reasoned, it was Friday and he always
worked late on Friday. It was the last day of the billing week. Saturday
brought on another week as far as the books were concerned. There were lots
of 'end of the week' billing, payroll, and the next weeks schedule to go
over.
Matthew had never been this late though, Abbey noted when she dried her
hands and face with a towel and readied for bed. She remembered Tom's funny
expression and wondered how he was doing, what he was thinking.
Later, after completing the paper work, he was still at the office sitting
at his desk and dreaming of the big woods, Matthew heard the door downstairs
close; he didn't think much of it, there was a night watchman and a foreman
on duty somewhere on the premises. He didn't hear any footsteps on the
stairs leading up to his office but when his door creaked open he looked up
with a start.
"Who ... who's there," he said. "Show yourself ... "
Matthew stood up and moved toward the corner where he picked up his prized
Kentucky long rifle, but he stopped when the shadow in the door frame became
clear.
"Oh, it's just you. You scared the dickens out of me," Matthew said with
much relief in his voice as he turned around to put down the gun. The
visitor stepped into the office.

Oh, how Abbey wished her father would come home. But then common sense over
came her again and a more rational muse took hold of her mind. She reasoned
he was probably finishing up those papers he talked about so he could get
the next part of his life in motion. He'd been so excited and when Matthew
got an idea in his head he plowed ahead to completion. It was a trait she
had inherited.
Though she didn't relish the thought of the long hours it takes to run the
business properly, at least she'd have the house and a place for her father
to come home to every couple of years if he wished. After all, there were
some traders and trappers who came to visit Prairie every year. Though few
came from that far north.
Paperwork, that must be what he's doing she thought later. Seconds after
her head hit the pillow, she dropped off into a restless sleep. She dreamed
wild spiraling, foggy dreams of Joe Butcher, Jackson, her father, and even
Tom. They stood together but all looked so separate. Joe was laughing.
Jackson was raging. Her father was looking off toward the north. And Tom,
well Tom looked sick, like sick to his stomach, he was crying. But there was
someone else, someone apart from the others, there was a faceless,
mysterious man. He had long brown shoulder length hair and was dressed in
brown buckskin pants and a tan wool shirt. A woodsman. He stood in the
shadows of a forest, and stepped close enough she could see part of his
face, a bearded face and a ... smile. It was so unlikely, it seemed to her,
to see a woodsman smile. For the most part they were a solemn, edgy lot who
were usually so intent on survival, so solitary in their ways, and not used
to interacting with other people, that they scowled all the time. Trappers
who came to trade in Prairie were always sure someone was trying to take
advantage of them, or trick them, they were always on their guard. A smile
was a sign of weakness and any trapper worth his black powder would never
tolerate being called weak, or let it be perceived he was anything but tough
and strong, a survivor. They smelled of grease and wood smoke, sweat, dirt,
and within a few hours after hitting town, like the sailors, they smelled of
whiskey. There was a wolf too in Abbey's dream, a coal black one, and it
threw back its head and ...
Thunder clapped right above the house and startled Abbey out of her sleep.
She lay awake and tried to clear her mind. Then she realized someone was
banging at the front door. It brought her bolt upright in bed and awake. It
was morning, Saturday morning, why hadn't he ...
"Father?" she called as she flew out of bed, threw on a robe, and hurried
out of her bedroom and down the hall. She stopped briefly in front of the
open door to his bedroom. His bed with a satin cover over, wool blankets and
big, fluffy goose down pillows hadn't been slept in.
The pounding continued. Someone was calling her name. Fear rushed through
her body. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. She could feel
it in her heart, hear it in the tone of the shouting voice.
"Father?" she cried out again.
Abbey ran down the long, wide staircase, her open robe, over her sleeping
gown flowing behind her as she hurried across the stone floor. She peered
out the window on the side. Her heart sank, it wasn't him, it was ...
"Tom," Abbey said as she pulled opened the door. "Where's father?"
Though her mouth said the words, her mind interpreted what Tom's downcast
eyes, rounded shoulders, and sullen demeanor meant. Add it to the fact
Matthew had not come home and ...
"He's dead, Abbey," Tom blurted. "A burglar or robber, or someone, stabbed
him through the heart. He, he didn't have a chance. Oh, Abbey, I'm so, so
... sorry."
The news hit Abbey hard, a numbing blow. How? Why? she wondered. Was she
still sleeping? There were plans ... his plans. There was a future. It just
couldn't be true. She felt nauseous and now so alone. Her head hurt. It
couldn't be true. But it was ... brutally true. Abbey didn't cry though, not
yet. The sorrow welled up inside her. She felt the pain, the physical pain
and anguish. A great overpowering anguish. It rushed through her body,
touched her heart, pierced her soul. She was consumed with the sorrow, she
shook physically and would be hollow inside for weeks and months and even
years after ... she just knew she would. Grief stricken, Abbey fell into
Tom's arms. She needed to hold onto someone, not just for comfort but mostly
to keep her from falling off her weak legs and trembling knees. Her life had
been shattered and she wondered how she'd ever cope. She didn't want to even
try.
Tom held her close, finally, he thought, and wished he never had to let her
go.
Abbey didn't cry three days later at his funeral either. It was a cold, gray
day. With drizzle and fog hanging in the air. The graveside service was high
on top of a rock faced, forested bluff overlooking Prairie. The Indians
believed the higher you were buried the closer you were to heaven. He had
told Abbey that many times over the years. She'd chosen this place for his
final resting spot. Her father had spent so much time on that bluff. It was
the place his dream for the north woods was born.
"You can almost see all the way to the big woods from here," he would say.
"Some day when I go there, for good, to the big woods, I'll climb the
tallest tree and look back here to my bluff."
Then he'd laugh. Matthew so enjoyed his dream of the north woods wilderness,
of Indians, and big buck deer, and bears. Lots of bears. It's what bothered
Abbey most about her father's untimely passing. What about his dream? It's
the one thing he'd never intended to leave unfinished. But that too died
with him.
Abbey spent several days after the funeral packing his clothes and belonging
away in trunks. It was around supper time, one night after she'd finished
packing all of his suits and office clothes, when Tom came over. It was
raining heavily and just about cold enough to threaten snow. It was not
uncommon to get a little snow this time of year though it was still quite
early in the season. Tom wore a long black rain slicker and a wide brimmed
beaver skin hat. He did look a little dashing, she thought. There was a
scowl on his face though, Abbey didn't pay much attention to it at first.
Tom always wore a frown these days, besides what news or disaster could he
bring to equal the news he already delivered the week before, that her
father had been murdered.
Abbey's heart began to beat faster. What could it be now? Poor Tom she
thought, her mind drifting to him, wondering, worrying about him. She and
her father had many friends and business associates. Everyone in town and
from across the region and territory had come to extend sympathy to her, to
offer help and assistance, but no one had been there for poor Tom.
Abbey had been so absorbed in her own sorrow she'd never really given Tom a
thought. How could she be so selfish she wondered, after all, wasn't Tom
close to father, too. And Tom was someone she thought she might be in love
with and now might even marry. That thought had crept into her thoughts,
lately, though it bothered her a little. Even still, why hadn't she thought
about him through all this? She owed him so much. And he tried to be so
brave all the time. Maybe it was time to start making Tom happy. But first,
what business did he bring that needed to be dealt with at this late hour?
Abbey led Tom to the kitchen before he could find the words he needed. Her
supper of stewed tomatoes and beef tips, beans, sharp cheddar cheese, and
fresh baked bread was set on the cutting board. Abbey took a bowl from the
cupboard and began dishing Tom some dinner. He took off his rain coat and
hat and after hanging them on a hook next to the kitchen door he sat down at
the table. Abbey set a steaming bowl in front of him and then poured him
some of her favorite sassafras tea. It was her father's favorite, too and he
and Abbey had shared a cup or two most every night, in the living room,
before a blazing fire. It surprised her but that thought, that fleeting
thought about the tea and her father brought a tear to her eye. It trickled
down her right cheek, it was the first tear shed since all this began, and
she didn't feel like wiping it away. Now she'd miss that time, that fire
too. Tom picked up the cup in both hands and sipped.
"I had a visitor down at the mill today," he said, his eyes again casting
downward. Whenever he had bad news, something he didn't want to tell her or
admit too, Tom would lower his eyes. He could never fool her. "It was
Jackson. First he wanted to express his condolences to you again ... but he
didn't mean it."
Then Tom's head came up with a jerk. There was a fire in his eyes and his
face flashed red with rage. It was a look Abbey had never seen before. It
startled her, scared her.
"But I say to hell with him," Tom shouted. "You don't need him. We don't
need him."
Abbey caught her breath.
"What is it Tom?" she asked. "How could he possibly upset you so?"
"He's a bastard, that Jackson is," Tom shouted. "Him and his employer back
East. They claim, or at least Jackson does, that your father's death was so
untimely, so unexpected that none of the proper paper work had been
completed."
Tom stopped and gulped for breath. He turned and looked away to the high
kitchen windows now streaked with rain.
"Jackson claims," Tom continued. "He says he now owns everything. Says the
partnership agreement with your father gave him and his employer the right
of survivorship, and he has the papers to prove it. Says it's all his, the
mill, the equipment and . . . "
Tom's words dropped off. His rage wilted to sorrow.
"Tom?" Abbey said. "What is it? What else ... "
Now it was Abbey's turn to fall silent. She just couldn't imagine what it
could be ... unless?
"The house," Tom said it before she had to. "He said he owns the house too.
He said that was part of the business worth and collateral. Said he's moving
in it himself. He said you have until next spring to be out. June first."
Tears welled in Tom's eyes.
"He has the papers, Abbey," Tom admitted. "I saw them myself. He has
everything he needs. There is nothing we can do about it ... you have
nothing left, nothing but ... me!"
Abbey turned and walked into the dinning room. She stared out the bay window
she loved so much and looked down the hill to the river banks and the mill
and the town below. Then she turned her head and looked up to the bluff top
where her Father was buried. Another tear rolled down her cheek.
Oh, how Abbey loved looking out that window. All her life, every day since
she could remember she spent some time looking out, watching the world going
past her in front of that window. She always wondered about the people she
saw down in the town. The women in their long cotton dresses and high button
boots, and the workman and shop keepers, the banker, preacher, longshoremen
and sailors from the river boats.
And now she knew she was getting one of her last looks at her world through
the frame of that window. It was hard to believe. Her stomach churned, her
head ached. It was all like a bad dream, a nightmare that you couldn't wake
up from, that wouldn't go away. Tom's message hit her almost as hard as the
one he delivered about Matthew. But then, somehow, when she thought about
it, this turn of events with Jackson really shouldn't have surprised her.
One of the things her father taught her from a very early age was to expect
the unexpected, it is just the way life is; so why, she wondered now,
hadn't' he? He also said it was road blocks that created new paths. Besides,
her life had fallen apart already, anyway, after her father died, she
figured her bad fortune might as well go all the way. She knew for sure at
that instant she would have to start over ... somehow. Of course without the
house she had nothing to start with, no where to begin. She felt so mixed
up, and so alone.
Abbey wasn't sure what she should do. Or maybe it was more that she didn't
know what she could do. Though even as she wrestled with all of her problems
and now these new problems there was a plan formulating in the darkest
recesses of her mind. A picture really, though she couldn't see any
abstracts, she wasn't sure about anything, she could sense somehow, that she
wasn't alone, not really, and that a new life for her was, indeed, on the
horizon.
It was true. Jackson had taken everything, her business, her money, and now
her house. But there was something he couldn't have ... her future. She
figured she had two options. She could fight him and maybe win it all back.
"Yes, or maybe die by some mysterious accident trying to get it all back,"
Tom pointed out later.
Or she could try to start a new life. This idea made her feel a little
strange, like something had come over her ... now her eyes filled up with
tears for the first time since Matthew's death. She stood in front of the
window and cried. Her blurred vision could not blot out her memories and her
gaze began to wandered away from the town and the hustle and bustle below
and moved up to the bluff top north of town again. To that favorite place of
her father's. The place he'd rest in for eternity. That was still hers. The
clouded edges of her tears gave the picture a veiled sort of glow. She was
alone, but not really. She felt it. It was as if she looked straight into
heaven. As if it were some sort of sign from her father. After all, she
still had him in her memory, in her heart, which meant she still had ...
yes, she knew it instantly!
"Not everything, Tom," Abbey said and wiped the tears from her cheeks with
a handkerchief she produced from her dress sleeve. She took a deep breath
and composed herself. "You said Jackson claims he owns it all. But that's
just not true. He can't steal the trading claim up north, or my father's
dream ... at least not until next year."
That's when it all came to her. Abbey could never have her father back it's
true, but she could still honor him, still live his dream and now her dream,
too. She knew he would be proud of her for that, and that was almost like
having him there.
Abbey brushed past Tom and through the room with its ornate and beautiful
furniture. Some of it was made handsomely by local wood carvers and
furniture makers and some was imported from the east. The beautiful dinning
room furniture had been brought from Philadelphia. She went directly to the
dark maple china cabinet. It was the masterpiece of the set with leaded
glass across the front and on the head piece, a finely crafted carving of a
cornucopia spilling food and fruit out of its wide mouth. It was Abbey's
favorite piece as it had been her mother's before Abbey was born. Below the
glass doors in the cabinet top was a set of three drawers. Abbey opened the
top drawer. Papers popped out as if being pushed up from the bottom. It held
all the important papers her father ever brought home. He liked storing them
close at hand. Abbey turned paper corners, quickly, efficiently until she
came to the one she wanted. It was a signed, original deed and agreement to
land along the wild Namekagon River, it started 1000 paces below the meeting
of the St. Croix river and went upstream on both to included 6000 acres in
all, of forest, river bottom and ridge top for the purpose of exploring and
setting up trade with the locals. Abbey scanned for the line in the
document she wanted, then turned to face Tom.
"Like I said, Jackson can't have everything," Abbey said as she silently
read the conditions of the deed. "At least not until a year from this
January."
Abbey could barely contain herself. The idea had spawned quickly in her
mind and barely made her swoon, she had to sit down. It was like, yes
indeed, it was like her father were talking to her from the grave. A great
euphoria over came her. She could still be with her father, if only in
spirit and she did have somewhere to turn, somewhere to go after all. Yes
she thought, at least Jackson will never get his hands on it if ...
"I, as Matthew Chase's only heir," Abbey said more to herself than to Tom.
"Can go up north and establish this trading post on my own. It says so right
here. This deal was exclusive, no survivorship for Jackson or his investor,
like I said, at least not until next year. But by then I could be trading
with the locals and it would be mine forever."
Tom's eyes bulged. He was appalled by this conversation. Abbey must be in
some kind of denial he thought. It was insane. She wouldn't really ... on
her own? Go traipsing through a dark, dangerous wilderness to start a
trading post in the middle of nowhere? There was nothing there for her, a
genteel woman of refinement. Nothing but heathens, low life outlaws, most of
them running from something. Recluses, all of them."
Abbey was staring out the window again.
"On your own," Tom said, protesting with the words his mouth managed to
catch from his racing mind and spit out. "You can't be serious. There is no
way you could ... why, why your a ... woman!"
Tom was dumb stuck. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. In fact, he'd
come here with a plan of his own. A proposal he was going to pitch to Abbey.
Talk her into trading that very deed to Jackson for the house. He was sure
he could talk Jackson into taking the deal. Then Abbey and Tom could live
there after they married. But now, with this turn of events he watched it
fall apart before his eyes. It unraveled like a ball of twine before he even
had a chance to suggest it, to ask her. He'd cooked up the idea when he
realized she would have nothing left ... save for him. This was his chance
to win her over. Take her in. Take care of her. Save her home. Eventually
marry her and then bed that lovely body every night, a body with luscious
lines and creamy white skin. He would have her and this was his chance. He
only hoped now, it wasn't his last chance.
"But ... but," Tom stuttered, still searching for words to stop her,
control her.
"I can do it Tom," Abbey said. "I could go north like my father planned.
What do I have to lose. That's what Dawn did. She just picked up and left. I
have nothing left here either."
Abbey's sorrow now turned to enthusiasm, it bubbled out of her like water
out of the ground. The new horizon was bright. This was the same cock-sure
attitude and great lust for adventure Tom had heard and seen in Matthew's
voice and demeanor, and it bothered him, for there had been no talking him
out of anything.
"You have me here," Tom said in a hushed and painful voice.
"Yes, yes, you're so right Tom," Abbey said. "I do have you here and you
have been so good to father and to me. But you have to understand it's not
like this is something I should do, I have no choice ... this is something I
must do. For my father and for the first time in my life, for me."
Abbey took a step toward Tom and put her hand on his shoulder like a school
teacher comforting a sad little boy.
"You will help, won't you?" Abbey said. "But help or not, I have to at least
try."
Tom breathed a long sigh. He never considered, never had an idea she would
try to do something like this. It all happened so fast and even though it
happened in front of him he hadn't been able to stop her. The plan was made,
formulated, voted on, and agreed to at that instant in Abbey's mind. Tom
knew there was no talking her out of it. At least, in the end, she included
him. Maybe it was a start. What he needed was a way to prove to her it
couldn't be done, this silly little trip to the big woods. It was the only
way. And when she does come to her senses, then he finally would be her
only option. Him and him alone.
"Okay, okay," Tom said giving in. "Maybe in principle. But you know nothing
about the forest and I haven't been to the woods up there in years. How
will you find this place, this promised land your father dreamed about for
so many years? Who will we get to help us ... certainly not Jackson. He
stands to gain greatly if you never go north to claim the outpost, or if you
do and die trying. Don't forget that."
It was a good question. Who could help her? And having grown up on the
frontier, at a crossroads of trade, Abbey had heard all the wild tales and
scary stories about the great north woods. The wilderness up north was
surely no place for greenhorns on their own.
"And who's going to help us when they find out that helping us will mean
going against Jackson?" Tom asked. It was another good point and one he
hoped would help make Abbey come to her senses and abandon this plan, for a
softer life with him. He knew he could continue working with Jackson just
like he did with Matthew's. Tom knew he could provide Abbey with the same
comfortable life she was used to. He could get Abbey's wonderful house back
with the stroke of a pen. Or maybe he would build her a new house. It would
be on a higher hill, and bigger than her old house, more gracious and ...
but then he stopped and realized, like Matthew, Abbey couldn't be bought
off, though maybe, Tom thought she could be scared off.
"If you're not willing to help," Abbey said. "I'll bid you good day, Tom. I
have plans to make."
Tom stared back at her. He still couldn't believe this unforeseen
development. Amidst this turmoil he couldn't help stare at her. He took in
the entire spectacle of Abigail Chase again. He couldn't help it. Her long
reddish blonde hair. The voluptuous body, and he just knew under that ankle
length dress there was a pair of the longest most shapely legs to ever wrap
around a man. That was all now in jeopardy? This outpost, this Dogtown was
an obstacle he'd been fighting for years and now, once and for all he'd have
to fight through it. He looked at her full lips and tightly set, determined
jaw, and those flashing blue eyes. Indeed, she was worth the risk, at least
to a point she was. For now, for a chance at those legs, he would take the
risk and try to think of a way out at the same time he pretended to go along
with her idea.
"Okay, if you can come up with a guide," Tom said. "And I'll go along to
help keep true to your interests and keep the guide away from your legs, er
... I mean, away from you. That way when you realize the folly of this dream
and decide to come home to Prairie I'll be there to help you do that, too."
Then Tom pulled his shirt sleeve across his mouth.
"But like I said, who . . . "
"There is a man," Abbey said shoving the important document in the large
pocket in the front of her apron. "I've heard many stories of him the last
several years. Not only from my father, but from others, too. He is revered
by some, and feared by some; a trapper and buck hunter and friend to the
Indians. A manly name he had ... let's see, it was ... "
Abbey turned her back on Tom and closed her eyes. The image from her dream
of a few nights before, of the woodsman who smiled, flashed through her
mind.
"Stalker," Abbey shouted. "Boss Stalker. They call this woodsman, the Boss
Stalker. He's in all the tales and legends about the north woods. I heard my
father talk about him when he talked about the woods. In fact, now that I
think about it, he even owes father a favor for saving his life once. I
think he was even in my dreams. I've heard the men at the mill, men in town,
at the mercantile, even on the docks talk of this mighty woodsman from up
north."
She turned back to Tom.
"You find me that woodsman."
Tom was flabbergasted. Where did she come up with this stuff he wondered. It
was bad enough for her to consider chasing some stupid dream, even though,
in reality, it wasn't even her dream, at least not until a few minutes ago.
And now she wanted to chase a legend, chase ghosts and she wanted him to
help?
"But you can't be serious," Tom protested. "You can't put any stock in
stories, campfire tales at that, about some ghostly woodsman. I've heard
that name, too. But I don't even think he's a real person. He's just
something ignorant men make up to pass the long, cold wilderness nights.
Besides I wouldn't know where to start looking."
Tom's protest fell on deaf ears. Abbey knew the woodsman was a real person.
Her father said so. Besides she was already making a list of items she'd
need to bring to the woods with her. Tom knew if he was to stop her he had
to come up with a different protest. And do it ... fast!
"Besides, Abbey," Tom said. "Even if this woodsman fellow does exist and
just for the record, I'm saying he doesn't, but that's besides the point,
how are you going to finance this expedition even for just the two of us?
And if you did make it all the way to Dogtown how are you going to finance a
trading post, and stock it ... you have nothing left, remember."
Tom knew he'd struck a nerve by the way her expression changed. The smile,
the excitement drained from her expression. He didn't like hurting her so,
but it was better to do it now before she made anymore plans. Before her
hopes and dreams got any higher. Abbey looked up at the beautiful china
cabinet, then she turned and ran her hand over the back of one of the
matching chairs to the dining room table. She looked so sad, vulnerable, and
alone, again, no one, and now not even anywhere to call her own, not even
the price of a dream to spend.
It's for her own good Tom thought. Life here in town with him would be so
much better for her. And now that her father was dead, Tom surmised, he
would be the man to inform Abbey what was best for her. She looked over at
him.
"It's a dream, Tom," Abbey said as her eyes narrowed. Her tone surprised
him. It was straight forward and determined. "You don't finance dreams ...
you follow them."
Abbey began walking slowly through the house, running her hand across all
the beautiful furniture.
"Besides, Jackson may have the mill, the business, the equipment, the house
and all of our land, but he doesn't have a right to our personal belongings,
to any of my fathers personal tools. I have two good hands and a head on my
shoulders. I'll build my own outpost. My father did it here, my mother
helped. Cut trees from the forest, milled the lumber, then hammered it into
a house, a life. As far as stocking it with trade goods and supplies ... I
only have to do that once, for it will grow at its own pace on its own after
that ... I heard father say it many times. "
Abbey was groping for the words, for the solution, Tom remained mute. He
knew she had hit the dead end ... no money. She was in denial right now.
This beautiful woman before him would soon be his. He just knew it.
"The furniture," Abbey said. "This is the nicest furniture in all of Prairie
and the surrounding countryside. I'll sell my furniture, all the belongings
I have, save for the few I'll take with me. Why I could sell all my
Christmas dresses to the ladies in town in one afternoon."
A delighted twinkle returned to her eyes. In turn Tom felt the twinge in his
stomach. A wave of apprehension washed over him. What was he going to do
now? What should he say? What would Jackson say?
Abbey turned to Tom and stared him straight in the eye.
"I need you to help me, Tom," Abbey said. "You must go now, this fall before
the snow flies. Up the Mississippi, to the St. Croix River, then up river a
hundred miles, through the wilderness, to a place where it meets the
Namekagon River. I know the route by heart. Father talked about it and
showed me his maps many times. When I was younger, a little girl, I remember
closing my eyes and dreaming about going with him whenever he talked about
the big woods. To pine covered ridges and deep cedar swamps. To where the
bucks grow twelve point crowns and the grizzly and black bear roam ...'" she
was repeating her father's words, "'where the trapping is good again. To the
place where the gray wolf howls from the ridge top and a mighty woodsman is
as free as the soaring eagle.'"
They were her father's words all right, and she was so surprised when they
came to her so easily.
"To the woods, to the wilderness."
Abbey took hold of Tom by the shoulder and moved her face close to his.
She'd never been so sure about anything in her whole life, and now so
determined, too.
"Tom," Abbey said in a voice that sounded like her father was talking from
the grave. "You must go to the wilderness. Find me Boss Stalker."

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